Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Author Interview: Janelle Brown {& Giveaway!}

Readers, today I have something so fun to share with you. Have you ever read a book with such a great twist -- a book that obviously took much planning and plotting, and wondered how the author did it? I wonder this all the time. I wonder, too, what it's like to be an author -- to have a job where your career is based upon your own imagination (as a blogger, my work is based off the imagination of others and as a teacher, there's no shortage of imagination in my students). Today, readers, we have a guest here on TST to give us an inside peek at what it's like to be an author. 

Janelle Brown is the author of All We Ever Wanted Was EverythingThis Is Where We Live, and most recently, one of this summer's most popular thrillers -- Watch Me Disappear. If you haven't already read Watch Me Disappear, you can read my review here

(Hint, I really enjoyed it. I sent Janelle this emoji --> 😱  in response to the twist. Sometimes, emojis are the best way to show your feelings for a book.)

AND readers, just yesterday, it was announced that Watch Me Disappear is going to be made into a movie. So I'll say it again -- you definitely want to read this book.

Janelle was kind enough to agree to answer some of my questions and we've teamed up to giveaway one signed copy of Watch Me Disappear from Janelle's personal stash! Read on for a peek into Janelle's author life and a chance to win the book!

Tell us about your path to becoming an author. Did you know you wanted to be
a writer when you were a child? 

I did! I’ve been a huge bookworm since the moment I could read; and as a little kid I
used to write and illustrate my own books. (Talking animals were heavily featured.) At
one point in first grade, my teacher made the offhand comment to me, “You should be
an author when you grow up.” I took that suggestion and ran with it, and never looked

Although I spent my twenties working in journalism (I had staff writer positions at Wired
and, I always knew that someday I wanted to really try to make a go of
writing fiction. So I took the fairly radical move of quitting my great journalism job in
2002, and went freelance in order to have time to start working on a novel. I took a
bunch of fiction-writing workshops; wrote and rewrote and rewrote and rewrote ad
nauseum, and by 2007 I’d finished my first book, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Do you have any special
rituals or circumstances that you need to be in place before you can write?

You know, there are writers that are totally ritual- and schedule-based, and then there’s
me. My only real ritual is a) coffee and b) reading over the previous days writing before I
start on fresh pages. Plus, embarrassingly, c) a fair amount of procrastination on the

I have two young children and so my writing day is fairly circumscribed by their school
hours; but I try to go into my office every day to work. (I helped found a co-working
space for writers in Los Angeles, and about 20 of us work out of it.) But other than that,
I’m not a terribly disciplined writer. I always marvel when I read about those authors who
disable the Internet and then diligently produce 2000 words every single day because I
am so not that kind of author.

In a nutshell, I’m either “feeling it” and am totally inspired and know what I want to write
next -- in which case, I’ll often wake up at 4 a.m. raring to go and will write thousands of
words by lunchtime -- or else I’m unclear on where the book needs to go next. When the
latter is happening, I’ll sometimes go weeks at a time in which I barely get anything on
the page (but get a *lot* of posts up on social media.)

Where do you source your story ideas? Where did the idea for Watch Me
Disappear come from?

It’s really difficult for me to pinpoint where, exactly, each book idea comes from. Usually
it’s a long gestation process, with a lot of disparate inspirations – things I’ve read,
stories I’ve heard, people I’ve met that interest me as characters – slowly weaving
together until I suddenly “see” a story forming in my mind. Quite often, too, I’ll start with
what I think is an idea; and then as I start writing, the story will evolve until it becomes
something quite different.

I can say that one of the sources of inspirations for Watch Me Disappear was my
husband, Greg, who has temporal lobe epilepsy and has experienced these curious
audio-visual sensory seizures since he was a kid. That always fascinated me – that he
could see and hear and experience things that I couldn’t, that his brain could completely
alter his perception of reality. And then I watched the terrific movie “Take Shelter” –
about a man experiencing apocalyptic hallucinations who can’t decide if he’s crazy or
psychic – and it all wove together into the kernel of an idea about a teenage girl who is
seeing surreal things that she doesn’t quite understand. In other words, the story all
started with Olive’s visions/hallucinations, and it grew from there.

Watch Me Disappear has one of those endings that leaves readers with wide
eyes and open mouths. I think I actually yelled out loud at the very end. Without
spoiling it for future readers, can you tell us how you go about plotting a thriller?
Is there a method to writing such a good twist?

Oddly, I didn’t even realize I was writing a suspense novel until I got about a third of the
way into a first draft; I’d never written in this genre before and I had just imagined that I
was writing a domestic drama like my last two books, but with a mysterious element (ie:
Olive’s visions.). And then I had an epiphany one day that I was actually writing a
mystery; at which point I had to go back and tear the entire book apart and really think
about what that meant. I’ve always written very plot-driven books, but I knew that with a
mystery, action had to tick at certain moments, the plot had to twist at certain times to
keep a reader’s interest, and there had to be a sustained level of anticipation and

That’s when I started seriously plotting the story – thinking about what needed to
happen, and when, and why. I put together some pretty elaborate timelines and a lot of
chapter-by-chapter character breakdowns (i.e. Jonathan and Olive’s emotional states
had to evolve with each new revelation about Billie; which then of course would effect
what actions they would take next.)

As for the ending – it changed three times during the course of writing the book. I had
two other ending ideas that just weren’t as effective; and each time I changed the
ending I had to tear the entire book apart again in order to rebuild towards the new
ending. But when I finally figured out what the proper final twist was, I knew I’d nailed it.
I wish I could explain some clear “method” for this but really it was just intuition -- plus
trying to think about what the obvious twists might be, and eliminate those out of hand.
I also have a terrific editor, with a good eye for mystery, whose insights I was able to
use to help shape a satisfying ending.

Tell us a little bit about your reading life. How does reading for pleasure fit into
your life when writing and reading are both part of your job?

I’m a voracious reader – generally a book or two a week. I keep a massive list of books
on hold at the library, throwing on anything that I hear about that sounds interesting. I
read mostly contemporary literary fiction, though occasionally I’ll hit up a nonfiction
book, or do a deep dive into older (20th century, mostly) fiction. Books either go on the
list because a reviewer I respect recommended a book, or enough people I know have
been talking about it, or my book club is going to be discussing it, or one of my friends
wrote it (which is always fun!).

In general, I almost always find reading a pleasure – it’s my favorite thing to do, so it
never really feels like “work.” I did find myself reading a lot of suspense novels while
working on this book, because I wanted to immerse myself in the genre and really study
how other authors assembled a satisfying mystery. But I’ve always had a real love for
well-written suspense novels (see: Megan Abbott, Sarah Waters, Gillian Flynn, Kate
Atkinson) so this was no hardship.

I find myself reading my favorite books twice – once for the sheer pleasure of reading
the story, another time to think about the author’s craft.

And I also often read during the day when I’m feeling “stuck” at work – sometimes, just
reading a few pages of a great book is enough to start feeling inspired again.

We love to share recommendations here on Top Shelf Text. Can you
recommend to us 3 books that you've loved?

Hmmm… So hard to know where to start!

Arbitrarily, I’m going to pick out some non-suspense books I’ve loved over the last year:

That’s eight, but once I get going I can’t narrow it down to just three!


Thank you so much Janelle, for chatting with TST readers!

Readers, I also asked (because I know you're probably wondering too), what Janelle is working on now. She said it's a little early to share any details, but we can expect another suspenseful story from her in the future. I'm sure you could guess this, but my response was an enthusiastic sign me up



One TST reader will win a hardcover, signed copy of Janelle's newest release, Watch Me Disappear

Open to U.S. AND Canada!


Comment below with your recommendation for a novel with a great twist.


Like the photo of Watch Me Disappear on Instagram.

Follow @topshelftext and @janellebrownie.


Repost my Instagram photo on your stories or feed and tag me!

Giveaway closes on Saturday, August 12th at 9pm EST.

Winner will be announced on Sunday, August 13th!



  1. A giveaway for open to Canada! Yipee! My recommendation is The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

  2. Great interview! I'd have to say The Breakdown by BA Paris.

  3. Ashley @aprsk on IGAugust 9, 2017 at 8:46 AM


  4. Yah! Ok so I'm going to throw something out here...if you haven't tried Aleatha Romig's Betrayal series look over the fact it's romance and give it a's a 5 part series but personally I feel it's more thriller than many twists and family deception and secrets you will be hiding in a closet from your kids (or housework) to finish it!

  5. Ummm I'm going so predictable here, but Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn... it's the book that made me give thrillers a try again and had me itching for more!! I loved this interview ❤️😍🙌 and also I am a fan of emojis too so I feel ya on that one!!

  6. The last twist I read was in The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. It was great and totally unexpected!

  7. While I didn't love Fates & Furies as a whole, the twist TOTALLY surprised me!

  8. I really loved The Dry by Jane Harper. Thanks for posting the interview, I really want to go pick this up now!

  9. So the book " Behind her Eyes", by Sarah Pinborough has a total surprise ending! Also the book " The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle" made me stand up and exclaim " WHAAT!!?!?" At the end. Enjoyed this post! Thanks!

  10. I just finished The Kind Worth Killing. Several great twists and a lot of creepy murderous fun!

  11. This was so neat to hear from Janelle! My book recommendation is Emma In The Night by Wendy Walker.

  12. Awesome interview!! This year, I've really enjoyed the twists in Where'd You Go Bernadette, Dark Matter, and The Girl Before.

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  14. I read "I See You" this summer by Clare Mackintosh and I really enjoyed it. I loved the twists and turns.

  15. The Couple Next Door by Shari LaPena

  16. The Couple Next Door had a great twist I didn't see coming! And I watch a lot of Law & Order: SVU so I feel like I'm good a predicting twists ;)

  17. I agree with The Couple Next Door but We Were Liars got me too!

  18. I've enjoyed the Kate Morton books I've read lately. They are historical mystery, but always seem to have something you didn't see coming and it's so good! My favorite so far is the Secret Keeper.

  19. Ok I'm betting you've never read this one but IT IS SO GOOD! Put it on your list:
    Sister, by Rosamunde Lupton. 👍

  20. This book looks great! I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh has a big twist.

  21. Eleanor Oliphsnt Is Completely Fine

    1. Not really suspenseful... But totally delightful, with a surprise ending.

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  23. She's so Dead to Us by Kieran Scott

  24. Thanks to MMD I have been reading the Louise Penny books and really enjoying them. I just finished book 4 so I've still got a few to go.

  25. Ooh, I can't wait to read this one! Honestly, I'm torn-- Behind Her Eyes had a CRAZY twist, but I still didn't enjoy that book-- it made me feel all shades of icky. But it was definitely an insane twist!

  26. Talking to the Dead by Helen Dunsmore is a beautiful novel with a wonderful twist.

  27. I just read No One Knows by JT Ellison & was really surprised by that story more than once. Also, I know it's not a suspense book, but I loved the twists in The Almost Sisters.

  28. Thank you for this awesome post; I don't use social media, so I will log my entry here.
    I recommend Confessions by Kanae Minato.

  29. I recently read Dark Matter but Blake Crouch and it was amazing! Thriller with a good twist in the end :)

  30. Some of my favorite plot twist books are by Agatha Christie, and as a high school reader my most favorite was And Then There Were None. :)

  31. I don't read a lot of suspense type novels so I don't know that I have a good one to recommend, but one I did read that had a twist I didn't see coming was God's in Alabama.

  32. Great giveaway! He Said She Said by Erin Kelly

  33. The Survivors Club by Lisa Gardner (or just about anything else by her). Read Amazon reviews for trigger warnings because there are some in this one, but it's so suspenseful and twisty!

  34. I let you go by Clare Mackintosh!!

  35. Behind Her Eyes! That ending still has me in awe!

  36. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

  37. I Found You by Lisa Jewell. Just finished it and lover it!

  38. We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson is one of those books that has really stuck with me, years after reading it. The twist was delightful and creepy. Loved it. Thanks for the great giveaway!

  39. The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon was crazy! I did not expect what was coming toward the end. These giveaways are so fun. I hope to win one at some point!

  40. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton!

  41. I'm not a huge suspense reader, but I remember Gone Girl knocking me off my feet. I also love Kate Morton's twists, and even the twist in A Man Called Ove

  42. It's been mentioned above but I recommend The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton! I also enjoyed The Girl Before, The Likeness, Deborah Crombie's series, Big Little Lies, and The Husband's Secret!

  43. I just finished the Final Girls - a satisfying twist!

    While not a thriller, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a surprise in itself and it has a twist ending.

  44. The Dry by Jane Harper was a great twisty one I read this summer!

  45. I recently read Since We Fell and could not predict that ending! So twisted!

  46. I thought Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn had an interesting twist.

  47. I know a lot of others have already said it, but Gone Girl gets my vote. My Sister's Keeper and Atonement also have super shocking twists!

  48. I just finished reading The Child by Fiona Barton (one of my BOTM picks) and I really enjoyed the twists!

  49. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty!

  50. The Winter People has a great twist, and surprised me by being one of my favorite books!

  51. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough has the biggest twist of any book I've ever read.