Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Interview with Brenda Novak

I really appreciate Brenda Novak's patience with me while I did this interview. I hope you enjoy the interview with this New York Times bestselling author as much as I did. Remember when Lisa Gardner said she kicked off her career at seventeen? Wait until you read Brenda Novak's account, telling why she started writing. Parents will find it frightening. Thank you, Brenda!

Lesa - Brenda, for those of my readers who aren't familiar with you, would you tell us about yourself?

Brenda - I'm a New York Times Bestselling Author of romantic suspense. I've written nearly 40 novels since I was first published in 1999. (Could it really be that long--already? Wow!--LOL) When I started, I thought I had ONE idea, and here I am. Fortunately, I was wrong about that. My first book was a historical romance titled OF NOBLE BIRTH. Everything I've written since has been contemporary. For a number of years I wrote for Harlequin Superromance line, the longest of Harlequin's series lines. Then I veered into suspense and started writing connected books that were bigger and quite a bit scarier.

Lesa - I understand it was a terrible experience that brought you to writing. Can you tell us how you became a writer?

Brenda - I never dreamed I'd write one book, let alone forty! I thought I was left-brained, better in business than any of the creative arts. Then I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while she watched soaps and I worked as a loan officer. When I found the medicine in my baby's bottle and realized what had been going on, I was angry and hurt (since the daycare provider had been quite close to our family), and I could no longer trust others with the care of my children. I quit my job to stay home with them, but we were in the middle of a very difficult time financially. My husband's business was failing and we were losing everything. I had to do something to help, but I wasn't sure what (I had three kids at this time--I now have five). Fortunately, I was reading a great book, one that gave me a wonderful escape when I needed it most, and that's when the idea first occurred to me that maybe I could become a writer.

Lesa- Tell us about your new Heat series.

Brenda - Each book stands alone but they all revolve around a private security company called Department 6 and the retired special forces, private investigators and police officers who make their living working as “hired guns.” These men and women face some diverse and unusual circumstances—and some very frightening challenges.

In WHITE HEAT, Nate Ferrentino and Rachel Jessop, two members of Department 6, are hired to infiltrate a dangerous cult that has recently settled in the former ghost town of Paradise, Arizona. Members of this cult worship at the feet—and in the bed--of its charismatic leader, Ethan Wycliff. But with one woman claiming to have been stoned, and another missing, Wycliff might be more of a devil than the prophet he claims to be….

In BODY HEAT, Police Chief Sophia St. Claire finds herself out of her investigative league when someone starts shooting people at pointblank range and leaving them to rot in the desert sun just outside her small town. Help arrives in the form of California’s Department 6 Roderick Guerrero. But as the half-breed bastard of a wealthy local rancher, he has a history he can’t get past--a history that includes Sophia St. Claire.

In KILLER HEAT, the remains of seven women have been discovered in Skull Valley, Arizona. It’s up to Jonah Young, from Department 6, to assist the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Department in solving these murders. But he doesn’t anticipate the complications that arise when he’s forced to work with an old flame. Then everything grows more complicated—and far too personal. They quickly zero in on the most likely suspect, but betting on the wrong man might be the last thing they ever do….

Lesa - Why set the books in Arizona? Isn't there something about you growing up in Chandler?

Brenda - As you've mentioned, I lived in Chandler for eight years while I was growing up--back when it was still a farming community and not the sprawling metropolis it has since become. I miss those days, especially the long days of summer. Arizona is so atmospheric--with the history attached to so many of its small towns and the monsoons and the heat….

Also, Arizona has more than its share of ghost towns. Paradise, the setting of the first book, is one of them. I took a little (or a lot) of artistic liberty when I settled my fictional cult in Paradise, but it’s a unique place that really exists. With such a perfect name, I couldn’t resist.

Lesa - White Heat deals with a cult in Arizona. Can you tell us about the first book in the series, and how you came to write about a cult?

Brenda - In White Heat, Dept. 6 operatives Rachel Jessop and Nate Ferrentino must go undercover to stop a dangerous cult. As private security contractors, they’re used to danger, but this is a bit different than anything they’ve done before. The Church of the Covenant has taken up residence in what was once an old ghost town (Paradise) in the middle of the Arizona desert, which means they will be completely cut off from any support. The history they share adds to the difficulty of their mission, especially because they have to be able to depend entirely on each other. Ethan Wycliff, the charismatic leader of the cult is getting more dangerous by the day. One disenchanted member claims he and the others tried to stone her. Not only that, but a teenage girl has recently gone missing. The reports are alarming. They suspect Ethan is getting out of control, soon learn he must be stopped. But Rachel and Nate have to risk their lives in order to stop him.

I’ve always found fanaticism in any form to be fascinating, especially when linked with religious fervor because it gives those who believe an excuse to do just about anything they want “in the name of the Lord.” That they can do terrible things and feel JUSTIFIED is something that makes me shake my head. This book definitely doesn’t diss religion, but it does look at the various types of individuals who go to extremes and feel perfectly justified–even called on–to do so, as if they have some special permission from a higher power. White Heat also looks at real faith and those who are pure in heart in their search for spirituality. I found the heroine’s journey, the way she comes full circle (although her destination is a much healthier version of what she’d been forced into growing up), uplifting because it’s a journey that so many of us take. (Finding out who we are and what we believe about God regardless of what our parents have taught us.)

Lesa - What has surprised you about the writing field, writing, publishing, or touring?

Brenda - I think what I found most surprising is that being a writer means running a business. I pictured myself writing books and sending them off and didn't realize all that went on besides that. I spend at least half of each day handling the business aspects of my vocation--writing content for my newsletter or web site, planning promotion for new books coming out, writing speeches, etc.

Lesa - Who do you read and recommend to others?

Brenda - I love Debbie Macomber, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Janet Evanovich, Nora Roberts, Karen Rose, Elizabeth Gilbert, Linda Howard, Malcolm Gladwell, Ann Rule, Christine Feehan, Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Mallery--too many to list!

Lesa - Is there something I've neglected to ask that you'd like to talk about?

Brenda - I'd like to mention my annual online auction for diabetes research. My son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was five years old. When I learned exactly what he would face in his life, I was distraught and felt I had to do something to fight back. It took me a couple of years to decide what I was going to do--but then I hit on the idea to have an annual online auction at my web site every May in honor of Mother's Day. I started six years ago. This past May we passed $1 million as a cumulative total and are now shooting for $2 million. Visit www.brendanovak.com to learn more about the auction and how you and your readers can get involved. It's a lot of fun and you can register all year.

Lesa - Brenda, thank you for taking time for this interview. Now, I always end interviews with the same question. Since I'm a public librarian, I'd like you to tell me a story about libraries or librarians in your life.

Brenda - It was the school library that made books available to me as a child so I credit libraries with my love of reading. I remember when I was in fourth grade, I found a shelf of classics. Until that point, I thought I didn't like reading. But then....I fell into those books and went through all of them. I used to hide under the dining room table so my mother wouldn't see me and ask me to do something that would take me away from whatever story I was reading. JANE EYRE was my favorite, then GONE WITH THE WIND.

Thank you, so much, Brenda, for offering readers a glimpse into your books and your writing life.

Brenda Novak's website is www.brendanovak.com

White Heat by Brenda Novak. Mira, ©2010. ISBN 9780778327950 (paperback), 400p.


brizmus said...

what a HORRIFYING experience that started her on the road to writing. Seriously.
Just for that I kind of want to read one of her books.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

That story makes chills go down my spine! What a horrible thing to try to process as a parent--I can completely see feeling driven to write after that.

Lesa said...


I'm not a parent, and I was shocked to read what Brenda said about her former babysitter. I knew parents would be shocked. Quite a reason to go into writing, isn't it?

Lesa said...

Terrible story, isn't it, Elizabeth? It's a good thing Brenda caught her, and found a way to stay home with her children. I don't know if she ever used that plot in her writing, but it's enough to jumpstart an author's imagination.

kathy d. said...

Great interview, very interesting.

I am curious as to what book Brenda was reading when she was having the problems with the babysitter that led her to think of writing.

Also, reading about the religion part, it dawns on me that survivors of child sexual abuse by priests have said that they were told that they were being told to do what God wanted them to do and their going along would bring them closer to God.
And in the current FLDS cults, when it was in the news a lot, it came up by women who'd fled that all of the abuse of children and youth was done in the name of religious dogma.

So I can't wait to read the book in this series about cults.

Lesa said...

I think you'll find this book interesting, kathy, including the sections about Rachel Jessop's upbringing.

That's a good question. I don't know what Brenda was reading at the time that made her think she could, or should, take up writing.

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