Crack of Dawn Conspiracies: An Interview with Lisa Brackmann

By - August 23, 2013

It's 3 a.m., and we're just getting started. It's time for the CRACK OF DAWN CONSPIRACIES segment of TRADE THE DAY, one of my personal favorites, as I do love a good conspiracy.  New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Lisa Brackmann has dropped by to answer some questions and hang out with us for a while.  

And don't forget to check out the bottom of this post for details on how to win Lisa's giveaway, as well as an additional giveaway from yours truly!  It's also not too late to have a chance to win our previous TRADE THE DAY prizes, so be sure to check out the other posts from today and comment for your chance to win!

Now, let's give a warm welcome to my friend and fantastic thriller author, Lisa Brackmann, and hear what she has to tell us!

CM: Both your bestselling debut Rock Paper Tiger and your newest thriller, Hour of the Rat, are not only set against the backdrop of China, but the premises of the books delve deeply into the geopolitical and economic situations of the country. When writing about a land foreign to much of your audience, how do you go about making the settings and states of affairs depicted in your novels more real for readers?

LB:  I think having a character who is both an outside and an insider is helpful. She knows more than the reader, but she’s not totally a part of the scene that she’s observing—so she doesn’t take much for granted. This makes for a good filter for readers. What’s key is just to describe what’s there without ascribing too much to it. I don’t need to be telling readers over and over again, “China is different.” You know, it’s a place. Yeah, it’s not like California, where I’m from, but then, California isn’t much like New York, either. I just want readers to be able to form a vivid picture of a place that I try to make as accurate and specific as I can.

CM:  In Rock Paper Tiger, your main character, Iraq War veteran Ellie Cooper, finds out she can safely communicate via online role-playing games. Where did the idea to use role playing games come from?

LB:  I wish I could remember! In part it came from hanging out in a lot of dingy internet cafes in China and noticing the passion with which young people, mostly young men, played online games, and just how much social time they spent in these places. I also always liked the idea of a conspiracy that is rooted in something banal and more or less out in the open. There’s a book called The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon that I read while I was in China over thirty years ago that influenced me in a subtle way. It had nothing to do with China, but there was a conspiracy whose purpose was never really explained. I think it might have been just to exist and to continue.

CM:  Did you play any of these games for research?

LB:  I messed around with World of Warcraft and Second Life to try and get a feeling for them. I’ll admit, not really my thing. Though I did actually play Dungeons and Dragons a few times, back in the day – with actual dice and a dungeon on paper!

CM:  In Hour of the Rat, Ellie Cooper searches through the bowels of China for a buddy’s sketchy brother and in the thick of the hunt, comes face to face with shocking truths about the use of genetically modified organisms aka GMO’s. With the subject being a hot news topic right now, how do you weave a controversial, often polarizing topic into a novel without “preaching” about it?

LB:  You have to keep in mind, always, that you’re telling a story, that what you can’t have are didactic info-dumps telling people about the state of China or GMOs or what have you. It’s always a question of trying to embed your setting and your real world issues so deeply into the bones of the story that you can’t imagine them not being there.

CM: In what ways do you find yourself similar to your main character Ellie?

LB:  Mostly that we both seek a sense of purpose and mission in life and have only been partially successful in finding that.

CM: Besides the obvious post-war boozing and pill-popping, what about you and her are as different as night and day?

LB:  I’m older, not as adventurous and not as prone to seeking out trouble. I’ve had a lot more formal education. I’m also not nearly as brave and not as willing to risk what she does to do the right thing. And I get along great with my mom!

CM:  What’s something readers would be surprised to know about you after they read one of your books?

LB:  I’m not sure, honestly. I don’t think there are all that many contradictions between who I am and what I write. I’ve had a few readers who were surprised that I’m not a veteran, which I consider a huge compliment.

CM:  If your house caught fire, what are the four things (rather than people) you’dsave?  (Because everyone asks “three,” and I think you should get four!)

LB:  My laptop, my cats, my bass guitar and my books. “Books” count as one thing, right? If not, then my photos, the ones that aren’t digitized.Oh, wait, that’s more than one thing too.

CM:  What is the one question you’ve always wanted to be asked that no one has ever asked in an interview?

LB:  Why do you do what you do?


***Lisa is giving away a signed hardback copy of Hour of the Rat to one lucky commenter on this post. So, don't forget to comment!***

ABOUT LISA:  Lisa Brackmann's debut novel, ROCK PAPER TIGER, set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several "Best of 2010" lists, including Amazon's Top 100 books and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers. Her second novel, GETAWAY, a thriller in Mexico, was chosen as an ALA Summer Reading Pick and an Amazon Best Novel of the Month and was a finalist for SCIBA’s T. Jefferson Parker Award. Lisa’s new book, HOUR OF THE RAT, features the return of ROCK PAPER TIGER heroine Ellie McEnroe, on another ill-advised quest that will take her to some of China's most beautiful and surreal places.

Lisa is a California native and a former film industry professional who has lived and traveled extensively in China. Find out more about Lisa at !


With An Additional Giveaway From



***Another lucky commenter will win a Chain of Command prize pack!***

ABOUT CHAIN OF COMMAND: The road to the Oval Office is paved in blood…

The simultaneous assassinations of the President and Vice President catapults the Speaker of the House into the White House as the first female President of the United States. Evidence points to a former Navy SEAL as one of the assassins.

Relegated to writing sidebar stories instead of headlines, journalist McKenzie McClendon composes a scathing story about the Navy training killers.

Former Navy SEAL Noah Hutchins doesn’t believe his partner could have committed the heinous crime. They’d endured the horrors of Afghanistan together. His buddy was a hero, not a murderer.

Thrown together in a search for the truth—and a career-making story—McKenzie and Noah must unravel a dangerous web of lies that includes a radical foreign faction, a violent ultra-feminist group, and corrupt politicians willing to kill to keep their secrets.


Comment for your chance to win both Lisa's and Colby's giveaways!

What famous conspiracy most interests you?



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  • 8/26/2013 - 12:56pm Colby Marshall says
    *****WINNERS!***** Here are the giveaway winners for this post. TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE, winners must e-mail colby [at] colbymarshall [dot] com and provide a shipping address for their items by Mon., September 2, 2013 (7 days following notification). If winner does not claim prize by this date, another winner will be selected at random from the original contest entrants. Lisa Brackmann's giveaway goes to Karen. Colby Marshall's giveaway goes to Catherine Coyne.
  • 8/24/2013 - 12:05am Lisa Brackmann says
    Colby swears my comment is here but I can't see it. The other reason I do what I do...I'll admit it. I want to change the world for the better. Yeah. I'm that nuts.
  • 8/23/2013 - 8:27pm Lisa Brackmann says
    OMG, I feel terrible that I missed all these comments and questions! To answer...a couple of them: TINA, I've spent a lot of time in China, starting in 1979. I try to go back once a year because things change so quickly in the big cities any more. I decided to set books there because I thought it was an interesting setting for a suspense novel, and I figured that my China background was something I could bring to the table that not everyone could. CATHERINE, so glad that you enjoy the books! Why do I do what I do? You got me! I think it's an illness. :D I think, actually, that writing books around complicated topics is my attempt to make better sense of the world.
  • 8/23/2013 - 8:04pm Karen says
    My fave conspiracy theories are all military related ones - but I think that's mostly because of my family's military background. I definitely think I'm going to check out Lisa's books!
  • 8/23/2013 - 7:06pm Danielle says
    I feel very out of touch, because despite the amount of time I spend online, I'm not really up to date with the latest in conspiracy theories. I do really enjoy reading about them, though!
  • 8/23/2013 - 6:52pm Tina Meyers says
    Though I've lived in Asia, Japan specifically, I love being able to picture and escape to the areas a writer is portraying. China, while interesting, has never been one of those bucket list places that I have to visit, but you are making me rethink that. Have you been there yourself? Or was it research in other ways that led you to use this as your backdrop?
  • 8/23/2013 - 6:48pm Shera says
    Colby's Chain of Command peeked my interest more than any conspiracy theory based books I've read thus far.
  • 8/23/2013 - 6:32pm Catherine Coyne says
    Lisa, I really love your books! My daughter was born in China, so I am always interested in reading about the country. I love the idea of an "outsider" trying to work within a very structured political system. The idea of using the computer game to "meet" is quite unique. I cannot wait for your next title! By the way "Why DO you do what you do?"
  • 8/23/2013 - 4:41pm Maer Wilson says
    Great interview, Lisa and Colby!
  • 8/23/2013 - 7:43am Colby Marshall says
    Kate- I like hearing the 9/11 conspiracy theories, too, though I'm like you and not sure if I believe them. Thanks for the mention of Chain's!
  • 8/23/2013 - 7:29am Kate Crumbley says
    As far as conspiracies go: I think my favorite is the one that was concocted in Chain Of Command. I'm honestly surprised that no one has attempted something like that. But as much as I dont believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy and anything other than a terrorist attack, I did enjoy hearing the theories and arguments. I haven't read any of Lisa's book but I am going to add those two books to my book bucket list.
  • 8/23/2013 - 5:05am Tracey Martin says
    Great interview, ladies! I love the way Lisa describes China in her writing, really gives me the sense of being there. Something I've yet to get to do.
  • 8/23/2013 - 4:51am Colby Marshall says
    Lisa does have a way of entertaining and bringing up the important topics at the same time. It's a rare talent.
  • 8/23/2013 - 4:48am David says
    I love the titles of your books very much. They're very cool and different. Though I would expect nothing less from someone who values their base guitar so much. Thanks so much for the wonderful interview!
  • 8/23/2013 - 4:44am Kelly Andrews says
    "Mostly that we both seek a sense of purpose and mission in life and have only been partially successful in finding that." Lisa, I hope this means you keep writing books and speaking out about important issues. Great interview
  • 8/23/2013 - 1:20am Colby Marshall says
    Comment to win throughout the day Friday :-)

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