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Interview: May 1, 2009

May 1, 2009

Nancy Bush has written over 40 mystery, romance, historical and YA novels, including the Jane Kelly Mysteries and the Nancy Drew Files series. Her latest work of fiction, UNSEEN, is her first solo attempt at penning a suspense/thriller, which features some of the characters she created in a book she had co-written with her sister, author Lisa Jackson. In this interview with's Joe Hartlaub, Bush weighs in on the controversial psychological condition that figures greatly in her book, Dissociative Identity Disorder (or Multiple Personality Disorder), and explains why this story is darker in tone than many of her previous titles. She also discusses why she likes exploring several different genres in her work, shares her personal cure for writer’s block, and talks about future projects in the works --- both solo efforts and collaborations with Lisa Jackson. One of the more interesting elements of UNSEEN, your new novel, concerns Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), which used to be referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder. Gemma LaPorte, who seems to have been committing murders during periods of time for which she cannot account, is suspected of possibly having DID. How did you become interested in DID? What sort of research into the condition did you perform leading up to your writing of the book?

Nancy Bush: DID is one of those disorders that is simply fascinating. I've been interested in it for years and let's face it, it's one of those soap opera staples that gets trotted out every other season! But that doesn't mean it's not fun. Gemma has different people suggest to her that she suffers from DID, and that's why she doesn't remember the murders. She senses there's something else going on, but can't explain what that is.

BRC: On a related note, DID continues to be an extremely controversial diagnosis. What is your opinion of DID, based on your research?

NB: I'd have to say I'm a skeptic. Really? I mean, really? You have different personalities that you don't know about? But...on the other hand, I've seen the devastation of Alzheimer's and brain chemistry is certainly a mystery, so maybe there's something physical that causes DID? The jury's still out for me on that one.

BRC: Gemma LaPorte also has a reputation in her community as a psychic, or mindreader. Again, what is your opinion of psychics? While there are certainly some charlatans in the field, do you believe any to be genuine? And isn’t it true that a psychic might have indirectly influenced your own career as an author?

NB: Psychics...hmm.... Again, I'd have to say I'm not sure. I have been to several psychics/future readers. The great thing about those visits is they were definitely therapeutic for me. I was told a lot of positive things that gave me the impetus to take chances and mostly improve my life. And yes, I had a palm reader once tell me that I was going to be a writer at a time when it was about the furthest thing on my mind. In fact, writing had never been my dream, so I thought she was a complete quack. And then about seven years later, I started my writing career and now, many, many years later, I'm still at it!

BRC: UNSEEN, while standing on its own, shares some characters and situations with WICKED GAME, a novel that you co-wrote with your sister, Lisa Jackson, concerning an enigmatic group called The Colony. The ending to UNSEEN seems to leave open the possibility of a sequel. Will we be seeing any of those characters again in the future? Will you be taking your readers to Deception Bay anytime soon? And will you and Lisa be collaborating on more books dealing with The Colony, writing about them separately, as you have done with UNSEEN, or both?

NB: Some of the characters from UNSEEN definitely have more story to tell! It was kind of a question at the end: who lives, who dies, and why. I'm revisiting The Colony in my next thriller, which I'm writing now and will be out next year, and it will answer more questions about the secretive cult. Also, Lisa and I are currently developing another Colony story together, WICKED LIES, which picks up where WICKED GAME left off.

BRC: On a related note, what is the best part about writing a book with someone? And what are the advantages to writing a book on your own?

NB: The best part about writing a book with someone is the sharing of ideas. Although Lisa and I always bat ideas back and forth for our solo projects, when we were creating the WICKED GAME plot together the story just became so much more complex and complete. I have NEVER written a 72-page synopsis before! Usually, mine are about 25 pages. But WICKED GAME's synopsis was developed down to the last detail. It made it very easy for each of us to follow where the story was going. As far as writing alone, the opposite is true: the best part is that you're on your own schedule; you make your own choices and you don't have to explain yourself to anyone but yourself. So, I guess it's really six of one, half a dozen of another.

BRC: UNSEEN is much darker than a great deal of your other work, such as your historical romances, which are somewhat lighter in tone. Do you have a preference of genre when you are writing? What types of books are more difficult for you to write? And which are easier?

NB: I like switching genres from time to time. Definitely keeps the writing fresher. Although, when I changed from writing the Jane Kelly Mystery Series --- CANDY APPLE RED, ELECTRIC BLUE and ULTRA VIOLET --- to writing UNSEEN, I also changed from first person to third person and that was a challenge. In the mystery series we're always in Jane's head, seeing through her eyes. In UNSEEN, we have multiple viewpoints and yet I kept trying to write as if there were one character telling the story. Sheesh. I had to keep correcting myself. But as far as the type of genre, I think I'd go a little crazy if I only wrote one type of book, which is why I'm planning another Jane Kelly along with my thrillers. The thrillers are darker in tone than the mysteries, and I found that helpful, something different to explore. Love a good sick-o!

BRC: Another extremely interesting element of UNSEEN is the romance that slowly develops between Gemma LaPorte and Detective Will Tanninger of the Winslow County, Oregon Sheriff‘s Department. Tanninger and LaPorte are strongly attracted to each other, even as Tanninger is investigating murders that LaPorte may have committed. If you would, please explain to our male readers why men in uniform such as Tanninger are such popular figures of interest in romantic suspense novels.

NB: Will Tanninger is one of those laconic, serious lawmen who hides a sense of humor under a quiet exterior. He's the guy you want to know. The one who drives women crazy because he seems so impenetrable. Also, he's necessary to solve the mystery. He's with the sheriff's department, so he learns information while Gemma is also learning information. Getting the two of them together meant driving opposite forces at each other, which fueled the romance.

BRC: UNSEEN is set in a rural area near Portland, Oregon. I’ve noticed recently that there seems to be a creative wellspring in the arts, particularly in music and literature, in and around the Portland area. How do you account for this?

NB: Good question, one that I don't have an answer for. Lisa and I grew up in Molalla, Oregon, a logging town about 30 miles south of Portland. I've met a lot of writers who grew up in the area, and I've met some who've moved to Oregon from other places such as California or the midwest. Maybe it's something about the northwest geography. Or maybe they love the rain, which makes everything green...and wet.

BRC: If you could cast UNSEEN for a film or TV movie, who would you put in the leading roles of Gemma LaPorte and Will Tanninger?

NB: Oh, wow. Hmmm. Well, probably Jennifer Garner for Gemma and Luke Wilson for Will.

BRC: One of the aspects of reading the book that I really enjoyed was that the experience was somewhat like a rollercoaster. UNSEEN built slowly and mysteriously over the first two-thirds or so of the book; then during the last 100 pages or so, as all was revealed, I could barely read fast enough. From an author’s standpoint, how do you know when your pacing is just right, particularly when you are writing a suspense or romantic suspense novel?

NB: UNSEEN is one of those stories in which I knew the ending right from the start. I had to kind of backtrack and place the scenes in order from end to beginning. Then I started writing the actual manuscript from the beginning and the story started immediately gathering speed. I realized I needed a touchstone for Gemma, something to keep her centered amidst a lot of uncertainty and danger, and that's when the character of Charlotte was created. When Charlotte hit the pages I really felt like the pacing settled into place, and she turned out to be one of my favorite characters, too.

BRC: You are an extremely prolific author, writing not only under your own name but also under a number of pseudonyms. How do you get it all done? What sort of organization system do you use to keep track of characters and ideas? Is there any particular trick you use to stay focused? And what about writer’s block? Have you experienced it? How do you break through it?

NB: I used to be a crazy-fast and focused writer. Then, I don't know...I decided to have a life, I guess. Now, I tend to turn up the juice when a deadline's approaching, but the months in between are used for publicity and/or just plain fun. When I'm really writing, I'm at the computer two hours, take a break, two hours more, take a nap, etc. But when the deadline's still out there a ways, I write maybe just in the morning, or just in the afternoon. Sometimes I get waylaid by Oprah.... I've never really had writer's block. If I find myself delaying, delaying, delaying, then I'll go for a walk, or pick up a novel and read a couple of chapters, or check back with Oprah (I really like those HGTV shows, too). Anyway, I tend to find that my mind's been working while I've been doing other things, and then I'm able to get back to work.

BRC: You have written a number of novels for the Nancy Drew Files series. Did you read the Nancy Drew mysteries when you were younger? What authors and/or series in any genre have influenced your adult work?

NB: I was a HUGE Nancy Drew fan. I just devoured them, and I've been a mystery/suspense/thriller fan ever since. I wait for every Sue Grafton book, and I've read Dick Francis's stories over and over again. Right now I'm deep into a John Sandford book and also one by Harlan Coben. And it goes without saying that Lisa Jackson is one of my favorite authors!

BRC: What are you working on now? Do you write several novels at once, or one book at a time?

NB: I'm working on my second solo thriller, still untitled, which is scheduled to be published in 2010. Lisa and I are also wrangling through the synopsis for WICKED LIES, which is scheduled for publication in 2011. I mostly write one book at a time, but stories are always percolating.

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