Lisa Brackmann has worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, an issues researcher in a presidential campaign, and was the singer/songwriter/bassist in an LA rock band. Her debut novel, Rock Paper Tiger, a thriller set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel. Her second novel, Getaway, won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award.
Why I write
I think primarily I write to make sense of the world as I experience it, and then to communicate that sense to others. I spend a lot of time thinking about why the world works the way that it does and what the meaning behind things is, what the larger systems at work are, and I want to share it when I think I’ve figured something out that’s important.
I also really enjoy the craft — writing nice sentences, creating tension in the narrative, just nailing some scene or image — I want to write a book that entertains and engages the reader, and I get a lot of satisfaction when I think I’ve successfully completed a really challenging and complex project.
At some level it’s about entertaining and engaging myself. Essentially I write the book that I want to read.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
Yes. The number of hours depends on your definition of ‘writing.’ If you include ‘thinking about writing,’ hey, I write most of the day!
Worst source of distraction?
Probably the Internet. Instant knowledge, instant connection, instant serendipity… very hard to resist. But I’d be hard-pressed to determine if the time I wasted has been greater than the time I’ve saved, having all that access.
Best source of inspiration?
Real life. I try to have interesting experiences, and I suspect that this is largely because I want to write about them. I like to go to interesting environments, observe them and see what they have to say to me.
Also, see worst source of distraction, above. I am an information junkie with a short attention span.
How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?
Multiple times a day.
Particularly when I start a project. Really hard for me to overcome the inertia, panic and dread that come with starting a novel. It’s a lot of work.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
There are plenty of writers that I love and whose work I try to catch, but I can’t think of anyone whose work I never miss. I’m an eclectic reader — I love to read literary mysteries (Ruth Rendell); I’ll read China-related mysteries (Qiu Xiaolong). I try to read works by my Soho label-mates; I read some literary fiction (loved Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union), I read about China; I read about politics…
There are particular journalists whose work, when I see it, I know I’m going to enjoy it and be educated by it.
A few off the top of my head — Dana Priest on security state issues, Ching Ching Ni, who does lovely reporting on China (as do James Fallows, Peter Hessler, Philip Pan, there’s a bunch of really good ones!), Glenn Greenwald on civil liberties, and Chris Harrison’s Bachelorette blog.
This is a random assortment. I could easily list a dozen more.
I most regularly read writers in my critique group, so it’s fair to say I rarely miss anything they write. I read agents’ and editors’ blogs (including my own agent’s, the wonderful Nathan Bransford), I read China-related blogs (my good friend Richard Burger’s Peking Duck, the Granite Studio, Far West China, Inside/Out by Xujun Eberlein, Danwei, Eastsouthwestnorth…).
I think it so much depends on what I’m working on and what my mood is and in some cases, where particular writers are in their careers and whether the work still feels relevant to me and my life.
Favorite Chinese writer?
I don’t have one. But I’ll say that Ha Jin does amazing work.
Best book about China?
Too many to name, and I like them for different reasons. I’ll mention Roderick MacFarquhar’s multi-volume Origins of the Cultural Revolution because it was one of the first more ‘academic’ books I read about China and it really had an impact on me when I read it.
Also, any biography of Zhou Enlai. He’s fascinated me since my first time in China.
I absolutely cannot answer this. I have a memory for lists like a sieve. Ask me what my favorite anything is, and I’ll shrug. Ask me if I read something and what I thought of it, and I’m much better.
See above! I tend to like writers who are compact and precise in their prose — writers like Hemingway, Lydia Davis, Didion, Le Guin all had an influence on me.
The book you should have read but haven’t?
Peter Hessler’s River Town. Yeah, I know! And I own it and I love his writing!
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
Well, Rock Paper Tiger is the first thing I’ve published, and I think a lot of things. At the moment, I mostly think about how weird it is to actually achieve something you’ve always wanted, what an amazing feeling it is to write a book that connects with readers, and how incredibly lucky I am.
How did you get started writing?
I’ve been writing ever since I learned enough words to put a few sentences together. It’s just something I’ve always done.
Does writing change anything?
I like to think that it does. Chaos theory tells us that from small changes can come great effects. And also, I look at it like you’re putting a drop of ink into a bowl of water — ideas have the power to spread through the collective consciousness. Maybe I can’t make great big changes, but if I can bring a little more light to the world, then I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.