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Interview: May 27, 2005

May 27, 2005's Suspense/Thriller Author Spotlight Team (Carol Fitzgerald, Joe Hartlaub and Wiley Saichek) interviewed Iris Johansen, author of COUNTDOWN. Johansen talks about the inspiration for the character of Jane MacGuire and the decision to "age" her fiery protagonist, her disciplined writing schedule and details of her next novel, which will be released in December 2005. A great deal of COUNTDOWN is set in Scotland, in MacDuff's Run, a castle that apparently has some ties, directly or otherwise, to Jane MacGuire. We were impressed with the description of this castle, and the way you brought it so sharply into relief. What inspired the book's Scottish back story? Is MacDuff's Run in COUNTDOWN modeled after a real castle? If so, did you actually visit it in preparation for your writing of the novel?

Iris Johansen: I've always loved Scotland and have visited there many times. I've toured all of the well-known castles and several of the less publicized ones. However, MacDuff's Run is purely fictional and concocted from my imagination. By the time the story was finished, MacDuff's Run was very real to me. I chose Scotland as the background when I was writing BLIND ALLEY and realized that there was going to be another book. Why? I suppose even then I knew where the plot was going and it had to be Scotland.

BRC: COUNTDOWN is an extremely ambitious work, with Jane MacGuire's personality containing elements reminiscent of fictional characters ranging from Nancy Drew to Indiana Jones to Emma Peel, among others. Who, ultimately, inspired Jane's fiery, and arguably controversial, persona?

IJ: Who inspired the character of Jane MacGuire? Not Indiana Jones or Emma Peel. It was Eve Duncan. If you'll remember when they first got together in THE KILLING GAME, I stressed how alike they were. Jane is the person Eve probably would have become if she'd never had Bonnie and all the tragedy that followed. Jane also had a tough life but she's still learning and growing and has had no real trauma to turn her from the path she's set herself.

BRC: Do you see yourself in any of the characters you create? Do you share characteristics with Eve more than Jane, or vice versa/neither?

IJ: I don't believe I'm like either Eve or Jane. If I bear any resemblance, it's probably to Eve. I'm focused and something of a workaholic and I hope I deal with the world in a professional and mature manner.

BRC: Reincarnation is a theme that was hinted at throughout BLIND ALLEY and further explored in COUNTDOWN, with respect to the relationship between Jane MacGuire and Cira, a proud, beautiful and rebellious slave who apparently lived during the years of the Roman Empire. As you were writing BLIND ALLEY did you already anticipate continuing the Cira storyline in another novel? Do you plan to explore the apparent relationship between Jane and Cira in subsequent novels?

IJ: When I started BLIND ALLEY I had no idea there would be a sequel. But toward the end of the book I realized that I couldn't wrap up the story in a neat little package. There was too much to say, too much development that had to happen in the Jane-Cira relationship. Now I could leave the relationship without too much regret but I don't think that's going to happen. Cira is as much alive to me as Jane. If there's a Jane story, Cira probably will be featured in it.

BRC: One of the more interesting, and perhaps controversial, elements of BLIND ALLEY is the emotional and physical attraction between Jane MacGuire and Matt Trevor. While Jane was a minor in BLIND ALLEY she is fully of age in COUNTDOWN, which takes place four years subsequent to the events of BLIND ALLEY. COUNTDOWN resolves at least some aspects of their relationship. Do you plan to develop and explore their relationship in future novels?

IJ: I'll most certainly have to explore the relationship between Trevor and Jane in a future book. At the end of COUNTDOWN I couldn't have them ride off into the sunset together, though I believe the ending was satisfying on a romantic level. It wouldn't have been true to the characters to tell you they were now set to live happily ever after. Jane is too wary and their relationship too turbulent and new. She'll have to have a good many more of those silver mornings before she'll give herself totally to any relationship.

BRC: Did reader/editorial feedback about Jane and Trevor's relationship help you decide to "age" Jane in COUNTDOWN, or had you already planned on aging the character for the next book?

IJ: I was not influenced by either readers or editors to age Jane for the next book. I knew it was going to happen before I finished BLIND ALLEY. I was feeling a little frustrated and planned to put her on an even playing field with Trevor. Eve and Joe always will have an influence on Jane but I wanted to see her old enough to shape events to suit herself as an adult. I'd waited a long time for Jane to grow up and be counted.

BRC: Your characters frequently cross over into your other series. When you first introduced Jane MacGuire in THE KILLING GAME did you anticipate having her step to the forefront of a novel? Do you plan to have Jane MacGuire, Joe Quinn, or Eve Duncan appear in any of your other series as supporting characters?

IJ: I had no idea that Jane MacGuire would someday have a book of her own when I introduced her in THE KILLING GAME. She was a child of ten at that time and although I really liked her courage and toughness in the face of the odds, it was Eve Duncan who was the center of the story. I'm one of those authors who let the characters of a story often dictate the plot, and when Jane appeared I knew she and Eve would be close because they were so much alike. At the end of the book Eve could not let her go and neither could I. She had to stay in Eve's life and therefore she had to stay in mine.

Will I bring Jane MacGuire, Eve Duncan or Joe Quinn in as secondary characters in other series? It's entirely possible. It will probably not be a deliberate decision but it's always easier and more pleasant to deal with old friends than strangers when writing a story. They usually just pop up out of the blue when I need a character to move the book.

BRC: COUNTDOWN introduced new supporting characters such as MacDuff and Jock while others such as Bartlett returned. How much time to you spend on fleshing out your supporting cast? Is there any chance we'll see a novel with Bartlett at front and center?

IJ: I enjoyed the interaction between Jock and MacDuff enormously in COUNTDOWN. I'm sure they will be in other future books. Bartlett is a honey but he'd be harder to feature as a lead in a suspense. He doesn't have an edge.

BRC: What is your writing schedule like? Do you have an assistant who helps with your research or do you do it all yourself?

IJ: My writing schedule is very disciplined. I try to be up in my office by nine every morning and I work until I've completed at least ten pages. Sometimes that takes four or five hours, sometimes ten or twelve. It depends on the flow, the research, and the pace at which the characters are moving the story. There are times when the story is streaking like a bullet. Then I just hang on and stay with it. I do have a research assistant, my daughter, Tamara Brooking. I wouldn't know what to do without her. She's invaluable in finding out both the small details and the big picture, though I do make her want to pull her hair out in frustration sometimes when I ask her if there isn't a way we can make a certain plot point happen. But then she starts to dig and quite often comes up with a way that can be truthful and factual and still keep my story humming.

BRC: What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

IJ: I've just completed ON THE RUN and I had great fun with it. It has entirely new characters and I really liked them, particularly Grace Archer's daughter, Frankie. Grace is a horse trainer being pursued by a criminal who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. This was one of those stories that almost wrote itself. I was surprised when I realized I was almost finished with it. It will be on sale the last week of December 2005.

I'm working on an exciting new project now. I'm only at the beginning and everything is tentative but an old friend just came into my heroine's apartment. I was glad to see him. I hope you will be too.