Welcome to the one hundred and eighty-first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with historical, romance, suspense novelist Brenda Novak. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Brenda. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Brenda: Until I started writing, I never dreamed I’d be a novelist. I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup and Tylenol to get them to sleep all day while I worked as a loan officer. Once I found the medicine in my baby’s bottle, other “strange” things made sense and I realized that this had been going on for some time. At that point, I was unable to trust others with the care of my children, so I quit my job to stay home with them. But we were going through a difficult time financially, and I needed to figure out some way to help. I was reading a good book at the time, and I thought, “I wonder if I could do this!”
Morgen: And you did. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Brenda: I started out writing historicals. OF NOBLE BIRTH, the book I just re-published myself, came out in November 1999. But I was orphaned before it ever even hit the shelves, so that was the end of my historical career. I’d already sold a contemporary story to Harlequin for their Superromance line, so I just segued into writing for them full-time, eventually moving into single-title romantic suspense. Now that I have the rights to OF NOBLE BIRTH, I’m re-publishing it and will also be publishing other full-length historicals. I’m also hoping to sell a straight suspense novel I’m writing on spec.
Morgen: Suspense is a very popular genre, as is romance… and historical. I’ve just put my first eBooks up and found the process fairly pain-free so I don’t blame you going your own way if you can, although it sounds like you have the best of both worlds. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Brenda: I’ve published forty novels so far, fifteen of which were Harlequin Superromance novels. The rest of have primarily been romantic suspense novels (and a few Christmas novellas). I very definitely remember the first time I saw my book on the shelves. I went to a signing in Utah for OF NOBLE BIRTH, and they had a whole display up. I was with my mother and sister, who were as excited as I was (I took pictures of course).
Morgen: Of course. Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Brenda: I haven’t personally bumped into a stranger who just happened to be reading my book (I have friends and family, of course), but I’ve heard from friends who have seen others reading one of my books on a plane or in a park. It’s fun!
Morgen: Ah but did they take pictures? How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Brenda: I’ve done a lot of marketing over my decade in publishing. Fortunately, I like this aspect of the business, but it would be very easy to get too involved in it. The product has to come first, so I try to keep the two aspects of the business well-balanced.
Morgen: That is fortunate, so many of the authors I’ve spoken to have said their least favourite aspect is marketing but these days it goes with the territory. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Brenda: I’ve finaled in the Rita three times and won The National Reader’s Choice Award, The Bookseller’s Best, The Bookbuyer’s Best, The Award of Excellence, The Holt Medallion, The Gayle Wilson, The Desert Quill and others.
Morgen: Wow, well done.
Brenda: I’m not sure how much they help with sales, but I know they often give me positive reinforcement when I need it most.
Morgen: Absolutely, something to add to the CV. Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Brenda: I don’t write under a pseudonym. I think it’s hard enough to remember one name, so I’ve tried to keep the things I want people to remember as simple as possible. But I know there are good reasons for using a pseudonym (if my name was odd, too long or distracting, for instance, I would definitely choose something that had more marketing appeal). Someday I might be forced into doing it simply because I have interest in writing for so many genres and wouldn’t want to confuse my readership.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Brenda: I do have an agent, and I feel as if they are well worth the money. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that they’re vital. I went many years without an agent and do not feel it adversely affected my career. Also, I recently had one author tell me she’s never had an agent do anything for her that she couldn’t have done herself. I guess it comes down to whether or not the agent is a good agent and really doing his / her job. The right agent can be invaluable.
Morgen: Absolutely and I guess there’s no way of knowing until you start working together. I don’t have one (and have to admit that I’m enjoying having the control ) but I’d say they are worth their money. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Brenda: I just bought a Kindle, so I definitely read eBooks. I love the convenience of it, and the fact that I can carry so many books around without lugging a heavy backpack. All of my books, whether they are published through MIRA (traditional publisher) or they’re ones I’m publishing myself are available as eBooks.
Morgen: It does seem to be the way forward. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Brenda: My first sale happened August 26, 1998. It will always be a thrill. I hit The New York Times on June 6, 2008, and it will also be a day I will never forget.
Morgen: Wow, you remember the exact dates. My first piece appeared in an October 2008 magazine but I can’t remember the date I saw it (I didn’t know in advance that it was coming out). Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Brenda: I’ve had my share of rejections. I think they’re part of the business. In my opinion, if you’re not getting rejected, you’re playing it too safe.
Morgen: I’ve had a couple of interviewees say they’ve had no rejections but from memory they were like me and didn’t submit much (although I’ve had 28 so not exactly none). What are you working on at the moment / next?
Brenda: I’m awaiting the release of IN CLOSE, my next romantic suspense title and THE BASTARD, my next self-published historical. I’m also working on a straight suspense novel I’m writing on spec that I hope to sell and fulfilling my current contract for three contemporary stories to MIRA. They will be released in 2012.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Brenda: I treat my writing like a job. I write five days a week and start as soon as I get the kids off to school. The most I’ve written in one day is probably much less than some writers—maybe 16 pages. I’m big on going back and revising while I write so I typically write slow.
Morgen: Quality though. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Brenda: I don’t believe in writer’s block. I think it’s just my subconscious telling my conscious mind that I’ve taken a wrong turn in the story. Once I figure out where I went wrong, I am able to go back, fix it and move on.
Morgen: I tend to agree. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Brenda: Everywhere! Seriously, it comes from movies, TV, books, other people. My mind is constantly searching and sifting.
Morgen: Mine too… it must just be how a writer’s brain works. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Brenda: I’m a pantser. My stories have to grow organically as I come to know my characters. That way, I’m surprised right along with the reader and don’t lose interest in my own novels.
Morgen: And they’ll spot it if you do. I’ve had a few interviewees describe themselves as ‘pantser’; it’s not something I think I’d come across before but I love it. Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Brenda: No, I start with an idea for a great conflict and figure out my characters in the first few chapters.
Morgen: Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Brenda: I run an annual online auction for diabetes research every year at www.brendanovak.com. The writing community is largely involved—and many aspiring writers have sold books or gotten agents from the opportunities they’ve won there.
Morgen: What a wonderful idea. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Brenda: My husband! As soon as I finish book, he has me read it to him. It’s great for revision because I pick up on things while I read that I didn’t catch on the computer.
Morgen: I’m the same when I read out to my writing group, it’s funny how reading inside and outside your head makes a difference. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Brenda: I do a lot of editing. I think I get pickier as time goes on.
Morgen: How much research do you have to do for your writing? Have you ever received feedback from your readers?
Brenda: I do whatever is appropriate for the story. For INSIDE, the first of my romantic suspense books out this year, I did a lot of research because it deals heavily with the prison system and I wanted it to feel very authentic.
Morgen: And if it isn’t the chances are someone will spot it and let you know. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Brenda: I often lay in bed in the morning for fifteen or twenty minutes, daydreaming about my story and characters.
Morgen: That sounds lovely. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Brenda: Definitely a computer!
Morgen: Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Brenda: I have to have quiet. I can take people around me (I have five kids) but no TV or music. I find that really distracting.
Morgen: What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
Brenda: I typically write in third person, but enjoy reading first person, too.
Morgen: Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Brenda: I use them when bring something to the story I couldn’t get any other way.
Morgen: Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Brenda: I have a couple—one contemporary story and a couple of false starts.
Morgen: Practice pieces perhaps. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Brenda: My favorite aspect of writing is being able to create every day. It’s such a challenge that it keeps me interested and trying to do better every time I sit down at the computer. What do I hate? I guess it would be the pressure. I often bite off more than I can chew! LOL
Morgen: Oh dear. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Brenda: I didn’t realize that you also have to speak. I used to be so afraid of getting up in front of a crowd, but I really enjoy it now.
Morgen: Again I guess it comes down to practice. I use to be so self-conscious at open mic nights but I found that having confidence in the piece helped greatly (and wearing nothing too thick!). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Brenda: One word: Believe. If you believe, you will do whatever it takes.
Morgen: I have another: Passion. What do you like to read?
Brenda: I love a wide variety of genres. A personal favorite in the romance genre is Susan Elizabeth Phillips.
Morgen: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Brenda: I love to mountain bike, play volleyball, hang out with my kids, go to movies, watch my kids play sports, cook.
Morgen: I’m with you on the movies. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Brenda: I find these overwhelming. They often take what I do instinctually and move it into my conscious mind—then I feel as if I’m juggling too many balls to keep in the air at once. So I typically steer clear.
Morgen: Which is why you have time to write. In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Brenda: California—no hindrance.
Morgen: And lots of sun. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Brenda: I do some Twitter and Facebook. They’re easier and more enjoyable than I thought they would be. I’m not sure if they’re hugely valuable. I think the only PR that works for authors is word of mouth.
Morgen: Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: Thank you so much Brenda.
I then invited Brenda to include an excerpt of her writing:
“The babe’s deformed,” the midwife gasped, nearly dropping the slippery newborn.
“What do ye mean?” Martha Haverson rounded the bed in alarm.
“Look at ‘is arm. ‘Tis no more than a stump.”
The housekeeper stared at Mrs. Telford’s moon-shaped face before letting her gaze slide down to the squalling child. Just as the midwife had said, one tiny limb flapped about, ending just above the elbow, as though a surgeon had amputated the rest.
“What?” The mother of the newborn craned her neck to see the child. A moment earlier she had seemed oblivious as she moved listlessly on the bed, all color gone from her fine-boned face, her lips a pallid gray. Now her eyes sprang open with a look of panic in their violet depths. “Deformed did you say? My son’s deformed?”
Martha watched anxiously as Her Grace’s eyes sought the child in the midwife’s hands. After five years and as many miscarriages, the duchess had finally produced an heir. And what a long, difficult birth it had been! Martha thought her mistress deserved a moment of triumph before further worries beset her, but Her Grace spotted the baby’s club-like limb before the midwife could shield it from her view.
“No! No!” she moaned. “My husband hates me already. What will he do?”
New York Times Bestselling Author Brenda Novak has four novels coming out this year. Three romantic suspense titles–INSIDE, IN SECONDS, & IN CLOSE—published by MIRA Books are be available wherever books are sold. THE BASTARD, a historical romance she has published herself, is now available for Kindle, Nook & other e-Readers, as well print-on-demand. She also runs an annual on-line auction for diabetes research every May at www.brendanovak.com. To date, she’s raised over $1.3 million. Brenda considers herself lucky to be a mother of five and married to the love of her life.
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