Robin Burcell interview with David Alan Binder

posted Jul 25, 2016, 5:40 PM by David Alan Binder

Robin Burcell (she is also a co-author with Clive Cussler) interview with David Alan Binder

 Her website:

Her bio: Robin Burcell spent nearly three decades working in law enforcement as a police officer, hostage negotiator, criminal investigator and FBI Academy-trained forensic artist.  She has appeared on several true-crime television episodes as an expert witness.

            The fifth book in her FBI forensic artist series, The Kill Order, was named as one of Library Journal’s Best Thrillers of 2014.

            Her latest novel, The Last Good Place, was released November 2015, and is a continuation of the 1970s series by the late Carolyn Weston, whose novels were the basis for the hit television show The Streets of San Francisco.

            Most recently, Burcell is co-writing with Clive Cussler on book # 8 in the Fargo series. Pirate will be released September 2016.


1.     How do you pronounce your name (only answer if appropriate)? 

Burcell is like Duracell, minus the “a” in the middle!


2.     Where are you currently living (at least the state or if outside US then Country)?

Near Sacramento, CA.  Wine region.


3.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far?

I’ve realized you can’t please everyone. Most important is to write all the time and find a way to tune out the internet. (So hard with Facebook!)


4.     What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk?

I’m a pretty boring writer. Sit down at the computer and write. Unless I get distracted by the internet—which happens a lot. I’ll go to look up something and bam! An hour later I realize I haven’t written, go back to the book, see that I need to look up something on the internet…  It’s a vicious circle.


5.     Tell us your insights on self-publish or use a publisher?

I think this is a matter of preference.  Regardless of what the writer chooses, I think it’s important to maintain professionalism. If I were to self-publish a book, I wouldn’t do it without paying a professional editor. I want it to be the best it can be.


a.     Who is the name of your publisher and in what city are they?

HarperCollins for my paperbacks. Putnam for the co-written Clive Cussler books. New York, NY.


6.     Any insights eBooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

EBooks are so handy on a plane! I love having several books at my fingertips without having to carry the weight beyond whatever e-reader I have (usually a MacBook Air or iPad, since I am usually writing while I travel). But nothing beats the feel of a real book in your hands. And I love the way books look on my bookshelf! (Now if they only wouldn’t multiply like bunnies. The shelves start to overflow with books!


7.     Do you have any secret tips for writers on getting a book published?      

Read a lot! Read across all genres. Write what you love, not what you think the market is looking for. Know when to put that book to bed and start the next one. (Don’t work on the same book for years. Finish it, put it away, then start the next. You’ll be surprised how much you’ve learned since the last. I think that was the hardest thing for me, but was really instrumental in my becoming published. I had to put that first beloved book to bed. I also put many false starts down after several chapters before finally hitting the book I knew was worth finishing.)


8.     How did you or would you suggest acquire an agent?  Any tips for new writers on getting one?

Boy, this is tough. Back when I first started, I felt it was harder to get an agent than sell a book. (I sold my first book un-agented.) I’d say networking really helps. Writers conferences are great for that. Thrillerfest has this event called PitchFest, and you get to pitch your book to agents. Just make sure you’re ready. You don’t want to send a book that isn’t ready for primetime to the agent of your dreams.


9.     Do you have any suggestions or helps for new writers (please be specific and informational as possible)?

Once I picked what genre I wanted to write in, I started studying the books in that genre like textbooks. I deconstructed them to see how they were written. I used highlighters and pens, writing in the margin notes like “this is where a new character or place is introduced” or “this is how they get a description of a character without slowing narrative” or “here’s a red herring…” etc., etc.  The only problem with this method is that when the book is really good, you forget that you’re studying it, not reading for pleasure (and then you have to go back over it).


10.                        What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process with your books, editing, publishing or illustrating?

Whenever I start a new book, I think it’s the biggest piece of $#!+ I’ve ever written. I start to panic about halfway to three-quarters of the way into it. I thought this feeling would go away once I had a few books beneath my belt, but it hasn’t. 

11.                        How many books have you written?

I’m currently working on the thirteenth.

12.                        Do you have any tricks or tips to help others become a better writer (please be as specific and information as you possibly can)?

The number one trick is to read a lot (and as mentioned, even outside your chosen genre). But I also like to watch the outtakes on movie DVDs. Often they’ll include scenes that were cut from the main movie. It’s informative to watch a good editor and see why they did what they did. If you can learn to self-edit, cut what isn’t necessary to move the story forward, you have won half the battle. I also read a lot of books on screenwriting. I think it helps keep the pacing in my stories from lagging.  Also, read books not only to find out what works, but what doesn’t work.


13.                        Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story?

Ask yourself, “what if?” Or, if you’re thinking a story is going one way, shift it. (You’ve probably heard other writers saying they let the characters take control of the story. Let your characters move it, while you step back.)  Here’s an example of what I mean. In the book EVERY MOVE SHE MAKES (1999), the first in the Kate Gillespie San Francisco PD series. Kate’s partner in homicide is suspected of killing his wife. In the middle of the story I had planned that a pizza will be delivered to Kate, and inside was a message from her partner. And yet when the pizza was delivered, and Kate opened it, took out a piece and took a bite, the note ended up not being from her partner. That changed the entire middle of the book, which took off in a whole different direction. It was unplanned, it veered from my synopsis, but it worked and so I went with it. In other words, be flexible. Sometimes do the opposite and see where it goes. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back. 

14.                        What makes your or any book stand out from the crowd?

In my police procedural and FBI forensic artist series, I use my background as a cop and forensic artist to bring a realistic edge to the books. I put in things that I’ve actually experienced. In some writers it’s their voice. It’s so strong and distinct, you can hear it in every word they write. Others, the story is so strong and compelling, you can’t help but turn the pages.


15.                        What are some ways in which you promote your work?

I attend writer conferences and use Facebook and Twitter to connect with readers. What I don’t do is hit them over the head with book stuff with every post. 90/10 is about the mix I use. 90 everyday chatter, 10 of it book chatter.


16.                         What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning writing or editing or publishing or illustrating) and why?

I wish I’d waited a bit longer until I was a better writer before my first book came out. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but I ended up moving in a different direction. You only get one debut, one big splash. Make sure you don’t waste it. (It’s just so hard when you want to be published so bad that you will do anything, even putting out something before the time is right.)


17.                        What saying or mantra do you live by?

Patience and perseverance is everything. See above!

18.                        Anything else you would like to say?

Keep a notebook and pen everywhere. You never know when inspiration will strike. While I was working full time (for the first 9 books I wrote), I used every opportunity to write (because the day job had to pay the bills). So anytime there was a wait (doctor’s office, car line when picking kids up, airports/airplanes), I wrote. When I came home, I transcribed into my computer.