Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tuesday Special Author Interview: Brenda Novak

Author Name: Brenda Novak
Website: www.brendanovak.com
Genre: Romantic Suspense/Series
Latest book in shops now:
Every Waking Moment, Romantic Suspense from HQN Books; The Other Woman, in stores May 06.

Before we begin this interview, I need to check that you’re still grounded and that your head isn’t swollen from all of your success, so with that in mind, when was the last time you did the ironing in your house? *g*

Years—but I’m not sure that’s all because of the writing. LOL It only costs $1.50/each to have someone at the drycleaners iron my husband’s shirts. I consider that one of the last great bargains. It probably takes me 20 minutes per shirt, so you can see why I’d rather pay $1.50 and be done with it. :)

Oh a woman after my own heart, surely everybody has somebody who does their ironing for them? *g*

The first book of yours that I ever read was
Snow Baby, and I recall how moved I was by Chantel and Dillon’s story, as well as the complex relationship that Chantel shared with her sister Stacey, where did the inspiration for this book spring from?

I tend to build all of my stories around the conflict. Although my sister and I haven’t had the particular problem that Chantel and Stacey faced, we’ve had our difficulties in the past, together with the anger and remorse that those difficulties have caused.

I built the sister relationship in this novel on the love/hate feelings we have experienced for each other because of our particular upbringing and situation.

Having read quite a few of your books, I’ve noticed that a lot of your stories involve babies and/or children, is that because you’re particularly passionate about them, or do certain publishers insist on their inclusion when writing for lines such as

Children tend to make everything more complex. A decision that would be fairly easy to make if you were the only one involved suddenly becomes difficult because you’re responsible for another life. I think children up the ante and the risk, which is why I use them. I love lots of conflict and drama and difficult decisions.

Children also infuse a great deal of emotion into a novel—what do we feel more passionate about than our children and family? That said, Harlequin is big on a “family” feel for the Superromance line, so children have a good place in those stories.

I try not to sacrifice the sexual tension that can often get lost in a story that includes children, however. My focus is still on the hero and heroine and the thrill of experiencing their emotions as they get to know each other and overcome the obstacles keeping them apart.

I noticed that in your 2005 release,
Every Waking Moment, the heroine wasn’t married to the guy she was living with (Manuel), and so this meant that she was able to get involved with the hero (Preston), after running away from Manuel, is it difficult to avoid the implication of adultery, when the story is based around a love triangle?

Yes. I personally would never have had a problem with the heroine falling in love with Preston even though she was (technically) married. To me, she didn’t owe Manuel anything. He’d trapped her, abused her, obsessed over her and neglected their child (emotionally). She’d fallen out of love with him years earlier, and was only in the situation because Manuel wouldn’t let her go.

But many people are very literal. If it says on paper that the heroine is married, then she’s committing adultery by getting involved with someone else even though she’d be divorced already if she’d had a choice.

I didn’t want to deal with this whole moral issue or have it get in the way of what I considered a very exciting chase story, so I had them living together instead. Also, this fit well with the character I saw as Manuel’s very controlling and jealous mother.

She was large and in charge and wasn’t willing to acknowledge Emma’s place in his life. His concession to her was not to marry. He thought he could control Emma enough that he could have his cake and eat it, too.

Do you think there are circumstances where adultery in a romance book is acceptable?

Wow, tough question! LOL I think you can probably guess from above how I will answer this. Adultery to me is more than a Marriage Certificate. Adultery is a betrayal of trust. If the only reason you’re not divorced is because your husband is forcing you to remain in the marriage,

I would certainly be sympathetic if such a person found his/her true love and would probably not condemn them for being open to falling in love again. But there aren’t many such situations involving adultery that I can condone. Marriage is a sacred thing and must be treated as such, especially if children are involved. That’s how I feel about real life.

That said, there are many books that explore the reality of the human condition, and I wouldn’t toss a book aside that involved adultery for that reason alone. It would depend on the characters’ frame of mind, the intent of the author, the message of the book as a whole.

Lots of people make mistakes and I think we often learn through literature by experiencing all facets of our existence. Just because I like thrillers doesn’t mean I condone killing. It’s the same with adultery. I may read an occasional book that contains adultery, for various reasons, and wouldn’t condemn it for that alone unless I felt it was glorifying and promoting selfishness, dishonesty, hurtful actions toward others, etc.

Your writing seems to be heading more and more towards the romantic suspense route, is there a particular reason for this?

I like a lot of emotion in my books. Suspense adds another facet to work with, the opportunity to build a bigger plot. I’m not a huge fan of the stereotypical “thriller,” where someone is out there killing this person and that person, thinking up more and more diabolical ways in which to do it simply because they’re psychotic. I’m more interested in the emotional complexities that drive individuals to do certain things—and how those around them deal with the consequences.

My next romantic suspense book,
Dead Silence, which is out this summer, deals with the Montgomery family and the dark secret that they’ve hidden for years. It was fascinating to me to write this story and explore why they did what they did, why they kept it secret, and how they’re going to handle the natural results.

What are your thoughts on writing love scenes? Do they present any particular challenges? Do you let anyone else read them before they are published?

I don’t have any problem with writing love scenes. They’re a natural outcropping of how my characters are feeling toward each other, so I let them “speak” to me, or do what they would naturally do as unique individuals.

These scenes are definitely challenging in that I want them to be good, however. I always hope to include just the right amount of sensuality—not too much that they’re overly graphic or gratuitous yet not so little that I don’t pay off on the sexual tension humming through the story.

It’s often said that category romance books are usually predictable and too formulaic, what do you say to people who hold that opinion?

I think every genre can be accused of being “formulaic.” What’s more formulaic than the standard thriller? Yet a *good* thriller can be wonderfully engaging and frightening and fun to read. It’s all in being able to convince the reader that what’s happening is really happening, that it matters to the characters, and that the characters themselves matter.

I think that holds true for romance, even in series. Fortunately, I write for the
line, which is the longest and most mainstream of the series lines.

My editor has been great about encouraging me to branch out in my story choices and to try new and more challenging things. I’m not sure if you read
Sanctuary, but this is a perfect example of a book you wouldn’t typically find in series.

I haven’t actually, but I’ll be sure to check it out!

When you develop your characters, do you model them on people you know in your life, or do they all come from inside your head

I think a writer can’t help but imbue her characters with some of the characteristics of those she knows well. I can’t say I model my characters after a specific individual (real people are far too complex—my sister is a perfect example. She’s both generous and selfish, but that would come off as inconsistent on paper if I were to highlight both of these traits exactly how she is in real life).

Do any of members of your family read your books, and if so, what kind of feedback do you get from them?

My mother and my two oldest sisters read my books. They’ve been very supportive and often encourage their friends to give my work a try, especially Tonya, my oldest sister. She loves books as much as I do and is always reading. Maybe that’s why she’s more involved than the others, who don’t typically read fiction.

What were your favourite books as a child?

I loved the classics. My favourite books have long been JANE EYRE, THE THORN BIRDS and GONE WITH THE WIND, but I started reading romance in high school. When I found Kathleen Woodiwiss, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I still love her books. I really liked Sidney Sheldon and Barbara Taylor Bradford, too. I also started reading Harlequin novels in high school and really enjoyed them.

What does a typical day as a writer consist of?

Sitting at my computer! I get up, get the kids off to school and start writing. I stay put until they get home from school. It’s the only way to meet my deadlines and do the other business I do each day. This time of year, beyond trying to meet my daily page goal, I’m putting together Brenda Novak’s On-line Auction for Diabetes, a fundraiser designed to help my son, who has diabetes. It runs May 1 – May 31st at www.brendanovak.com

What a fantastic cause!

If you only got 5 books to keep for the rest of your life (the horror!) which would they be?

Ones I wouldn’t mind reading over and over--GONE WITH THE WIND, THE EYE OF THE NEEDLE, SHOGUN, CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR, THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES, THE ALIENIST and …a compilation of the classics, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series and Susan Elizabeth’s work. (Okay, so I couldn’t narrow it down to five! LOL)

Which authors are you glomming at the moment? (reading a lot of?)

Christine Feehan, Debbie Macomber, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Janet Evanovich are my favourites. But I’m actually reading quite a wide variety right now. Currently I’m in the middle of THE ILLUMINATOR by Brenda Rickman Vantrease, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I just finished A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY by Libba Bray, which was good. Up next on my reading list: THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, THE COURTESAN, THE KITE RUNNER and THE FAR PAVILIONS.

Wow, I’m impressed that you manage to fit in reading, and writing into your schedule!

Do you have other close romance writer friends, and if so who are they?

Because I spend the majority of my time writing or going to sporting events for my children (I have 5), I don’t get to spend as much time with my writer friends as I’d like, but I do have several whom I really treasure:

Christine Feehan, Debbie Macomber, Tara Taylor Quinn, Debra Salonen, Roz Denny Fox, Melinda Curtis, Susan Floyd, Linda Style (oh boy, I can see that I’m going to get in to a long list here—so let me just say ALL the Superromance authors.

They are wonderful and very supportive, some of the best women in the world). I also have close unpublished friends, including Kendra DeSantolo, who often reads for me, and Anna Stewart, who is making another lovely Reader’s Retreat Miniature Box for my on-line auction for diabetes (coming in May, don’t forget! LOL).

Lots and lots of well known names!

When did you realise that you wanted to write books, and who or what inspired you?

While growing up, I never dreamed I’d write a book. I didn’t get the idea until I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with Tylenol and cough medicines to get them to sleep all day so she could watch soap operas. After that, I couldn’t trust anyone with the care of my children and quit my job to stay home with them myself. But my husband’s business was floundering, so I needed to do something. I hit upon writing as a way to work from home!

Gasp! I hope you kicked your babysitter’s butt!

If you could have a one-to-one conversation with a famous historical figure, who would it be with and what would you talk about?

Jesus Christ. Whether you’re a believer or not, who wouldn’t want the chance to meet Him, speak with Him? I’d probably ask if I’m measuring up to my potential as a person and see where He would have me improve, but I’d also want to ask Him a lot of questions about the universe. I’m fascinated by astronomy. LOL

What is the greatest challenge facing women in today's world? Have women's issues been given short shrift by the mainstream media and/or politicians?

I think the greatest challenge facing women today is building happy, healthy families—children who are mentally and emotionally able to function at a high level. I think we need to remember to stand fast when the wind blows, no matter how tough it gets, and to spread more love and peace and calm.

I think we need to have a quiet confidence in who we are and what we can do, and never let anyone tell us we can’t obtain our dreams. And I think we all need to be anxiously engaged in a good cause.

Incidentally, I think the same goes for men. :)

How many times did you get rejected (if indeed you did) before you got published?

I was only rejected a handful of times before HarperCollins bought my first book, so I was lucky in that way. I faced rejection again, however, when HarperCollins bought Avon and I was orphaned before my first book ever came out.

My agent submitted my historicals to half a dozen other houses, who rejected them, before I began to focus exclusively on the contemporaries I was writing for Harlequin. At some point, I’d like to see those story ideas published.

What is your ultimate goal when it comes to your writing?

I’m always chasing my BEST book. The book I’ve just finished is never quite good enough. I want to start another one that is even better, that is unforgettable, that everyone in the world will love.

If I could write something, just one book, that is as good as some of my favourites, I’d die a happy person whether that book ever met with commercial success or not. To me, it’s all about writing a good book and being proud of it.

How has the romance industry changed from when you first started writing, and which of these changes were you happiest/unhappiest with?

I know everyone claims that the market is getting tighter, and I’ve definitely seen some of that. My first book came out in November of 1999, so I’ve been around for about six years (in the published realm), and that’s been long enough to see some trends. When I was trying to sell
Taking The Heat, which is a romantic suspense with a prison setting, my agent told me it was too “dark.” She wanted me to write romantic comedy, because romantic comedy was as hot as paranormals are right now.

For once, I’d like to hit one of those trends just right. LOL But I’m good at certain things and not so good at others, so I’d better stick with what I do well, which is (I hope) writing dramatic, evocative stories about everyday people.

In your experience, what would you say was the most effective method of marketing a romance novel?

Boy do I wish I had an answer for this—but I have no clue. LOL

Although they account for more than half of all books purchased in the U.S., with over 51 million romance readers in the United States, the genre has not always received the respect it deserves in the literary world. Why do you think that is? Could the scorn be based on the fact that 90% of the readers are female? Is this merely sexism in the form of literary snobbery?

Perhaps sexism is partly to blame, but I think genre fiction typically gets shortchanged.

Which of your books is dearest to your heart, and why?

Dead Silence, which will be out in August. The conflict in this story, and the heroine, are both so complex (as well as her relationships with those around her—for good reason) that it kept me glued to the pages as I wrote it.

This is the beginning of a romantic suspense series from MIRA Books that is set in a fictional small town in Mississippi (so even the setting was evocative to me).

Which of your books has achieved the most commercial success so far, and what do you think made it so successful?

I’d have to say
Cold Feet has probably been the most commercially successful. I think the idea of having the heroine be the daughter of a possible serial killer was intriguing to people. Also, Harlequin gave the book a good cover, which didn’t immediately scream *ROMANCE*, so I think I got some cross-genre readers.

Wow, I haven’t read that one, but you’re right, it certainly does sound intriguing.

Which of your books do you feel you’re best known for?

I think I’m best known for my Dundee series. It’s a series I’ve been writing for Superromance, and it’s been very well received. I get lots of reader mail on it.

I’ve always wondered about this, but as an author, once your books are published, do you actually go back and read them yourself, and if so, are you able to enjoy them, or do you perhaps see things that make you want to chew your own arm off in frustration? (grin).

I’ve never gone back to read one. Mostly, there are so many other books waiting to be read that I pick one of those up instead. I already know what’s going to happen in my own books, so I haven’t had the driving interest, you know?

Just recently, it was suggested that reader reviews aren’t as credible as reviews by your peers, and that only writers/authors should be able to review books in the first place, what are your thoughts on this?

I disagree completely. Authors read with a completely different eye than regular readers, and they’re not my target audience. I’m looking for the average booklover, who can still get lost in the magic, not someone who is as picky and jaded as I’ve become. LOL

Has anything a reviewer or reader said or written about you changed the way you write?

It’s made me more cautious. I hate when there’s a mistake in a book and I have someone contact me to tell me about it. LOL So I try to be extra cautious. That doesn’t mean that a mistake won’t sneak through, but I now rely more on notes, etc., than my own mind.

Last year, RWA attempted to try to define romance, and it caused a bit of a furore round the blogosphere, due to the limitations of the definitions. What were your thoughts on this at the time, and do you think it’s possible/necessary to define romance in a way that doesn’t exclude other sub-genres?

I’m sorry, I haven’t really kept up with this. I’ve been so buried with my own work that I didn’t get involved and don’t really know the issues.

When was the last time you went overseas and where did you go?

I went on a tour of Scotland with Novel Explorations. Patty Suchy puts trips together for authors and aspiring authors and they are AWESOME. Check out her tours at www.novelexplorations.com

Who are your favourite romance hero and heroine of all time?

The heroes are far easier for me to remember. Hmmm…wonder why. Could it be that I’ve fallen in love with them myself? LOL I think Susan Elizabeth Phillips creates the best heroes ever. They are SO masculine, and sexy and funny. I really like her grasp of the male/female dynamic. So Bobby Tom Denton would be my favourite hero. My favourite heroine would be Stephanie Plum. Boy, would I like to be her and have to choose between Ranger and Joe…. (G)

If only one person could read your book, who would that be? (as in the person who you would want most to read your book)

Last year, a fan named Jenna finaled in the Golden Heart. When she got up on stage, she said that she’d been inspired by her favourite authors and named me as one of them, along with several really big names that I admire myself. I was so flattered; it really made my whole conference. So I’d probably like her to read my book (especially because she always offers such encouragement).

If you had to pick, who would you say has been most influential within the romance genre?

Kathleen Woodiwiss. I glommed onto every book she wrote when I was in high school, and it was her that really showed me how much I love this genre.

Name your top five favourite romantic films.


What was the last book you read, and did you enjoy it?

A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY. I did really like it. I’d probably give it a B-.

Have you ever written a book that you didn’t particularly care for, and do you cringe if you see people picking it up to read it? Jennifer’s question

Fortunately, not yet. I often worry that the older stuff isn’t as good as what I’m writing now, but I still really like the stories over all, you know? I like the conflict and the characters, etc. If I had to pick my least favourite, it would probably be SNOW BABY {K: Nooooooooo! SB was great!}, but that seems to be one of my readers’ all-time favourites, so go figure. (shrug)

What do you enjoy the most and least about being a writer?

I love writing. It’s the most fulfilling job I could ever have. I love the challenge and the sense of accomplishment. I love hearing from others who enjoy what I’m doing. The only thing I hate is that I can’t write a book in a day, and that there is limited shelf space. LOL

Have you got any words of wisdom for the aspiring writers out there? Any good research sources?

Believe. That’s the best advice I can give anyone.

Finally, when’s your next book due out, and what’s it about?

The Other Woman is the next book in my Dundee, Idaho series and will hit bookshelves in May. I’m excited because I really like the way this story turned out. It was difficult to write because the back story is so closely connected to the book that came out in September Big Girls Don’t Cry, and yet it’s a very different story from that one.

Thanks so much for taking the time out to answer these very nosy questions!

You’re welcome! Thanks for inviting me to share in your blog!

That’s all for this week folks, I’m sorry it took me so long to get this interview up, but you know how it is, when life gets in the way!

Well next week there wont be an interview, but hopefully, I’ll start again the week after!

Ciao for now!