Skip to main content


June 6, 2012

Lisa Brackmann on her Father’s Inspiration

Lisa Brackmann is a writer, Chinese student and beach bum. Her first published novel was ROCK PAPER TIGER (Soho Press, 2010), which made a number of year’s end “best” lists, including Amazon’s Top 100 Books of 2010 and Top 10 Mystery/Thrillers. Her second, GETAWAY (Soho Press, 2012), is about a Mexican vacation gone very wrong. She blames the margaritas…Here, she talks about her father's approval of her writing career. 

My dad, like my mom, was a big reader. He tended to favor suspense: mostly spy novels and techno-thrillers, the kind of book where the fate of the world was often at stake. I read a ton of them when I visited him, sometimes two, three books in a day. In my memory they are a blur of foreign locales, exotic weaponry, a fairly high body count and a sex scene or two. My mom prefers mysteries. It occurs to me that in my writing I often split the difference between the two: I like suspense, I like “big” issues but am more concerned with “ordinary” protagonists and more personal stakes.

Back to my dad: when I think of him now, I think a lot about the contradictions in his life. He was a kid from the Bronx with a chip on his shoulder who wanted to be a cowboy, and later lived in the country, where he could own and ride horses. He worked in the defense industry and claimed to hate Vietnam War protestors, and one of his favorite albums was the soundtrack to “Hair --- America's First Tribal Love-Rock Musical.” Later in life, my dad the macho man started adopting little Shih Tzu dogs. I even heard him speak baby-talk to them. It was disconcerting.

What was interesting about our relationship were the mixed messages. He had his ideas about proper roles for men and women, but he was proud of what he perceived as my accomplishments and wanted me to follow in his footsteps as a corporate executive. He wasn’t very happy when I decided to go back to college and study a succession of liberal arts subjects because I wanted a creative life, not a corporate one. But the older he got, starting, I think, from when he was in his late thirties, the more creative stuff he liked to do himself. He made chess sets out of some prefab ceramic kits, with different glazes. He took up wood crafting --- I still have a freestanding cabinet based on chuck wagon cupboards that he made me. Later in life, he became obsessed with building dioramas. His last project was the Invasion of Normandy --- well, okay, a particular battle between German and American forces in a French countryside town --- spread out over a five-foot square table. All these hand-painted metal soldiers, artillery pieces, wagons, buildings that he constructed out of painted Styrofoam and toothpicks.

And for all his expressed disapproval with certain of my choices, he actually holds a big chunk of responsibility for them. Because the bottom line for my dad was, and something he told me in various forms over the years: “Life is short. Don’t stay in a job that makes you miserable. If you have a choice, choose the adventure.”

Choose the adventure. It is the message I carry with me from my father that I treasure the most.

For Father’s Day, I have two fathers to think of. I wrote about my dad, who passed away two and a half years ago. I’m especially grateful that I can thank my step-dad, Bill, for his love and support and for being there when it’s really counted --- Bill, you are awesome!

Pictured above is my father as a child with his grandfather.