Today's guest is a darling, darling lady with a big, positive personality and over-the-top talent, RENEE BERNARD. I just love this woman... AND her books! When I sent her the interview questions, she came back with an "essay" - written very candidly - about her difficult but exciting venture into the world of writing romance. Big emotions and big dreams characterize her journey, but it is so clear that, along the way, she never lost herself... only became stronger. I am just so inspired when I hear stories like Renee's. I become utterly convinced that there's no excuse to bail out on ourselves, ever. It's the best lesson we can impart to those we love.
Before I go ahead and share this interview with you, let's please take a moment and say a prayer or spare a kind thought for another talented writer who left us this year, to pass on to her next great adventure way too prematurely. L.A. Banks (pseudonym for Leslie Esdaile Banks) - who was near and dear to Renee's heart, and that of so many others. Rest in eternal peace, dear Ms. Banks, your life and beauty will continue to shine through the words you left behind.
And life goes on...
How long have you been writing?
I’ve been “seriously” writing since 2001. I’d written a book “shotgun” and tucked it away in 1998, but I hadn’t really pursued it. One or two rejections and then I went into hibernation until 2001. I wasn’t very happy at my day job and the lure of the craft was making me restless.
What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?
When people asked me what I did, I started saying “I’m a writer.” Even though I had the cubicle with my name on it for fifty plus hours a week…it wasn’t who I was. The more I said it, the more I was ready to make the leap because I was almost instantly more satisfied with my life. I was writing like a fiend every minute I could find (and a few stolen ones, I’ll admit) and the goal was to “get good enough”. I asked my spouse (at the time) if I could quit my job and he said yes. I made plans to attend an RT conference and was very excited about that leap of faith.
I wrote a novel in less than two months and it was the purest joy I’d known up until that point. And then the floor fell out from under me. The spouse confessed that he was leaving me high and dry, didn’t love me and had already packed his car. I was then unemployed and adrift. The man wasn’t known for his timing—or his sensitivity.
But it was “fish or cut bait”, and I’m grateful to him in a strange way. My job had evaporated so there was no retreat. I’d inadvertently broken the first cardinal rule of writing: “Don’t quit your day job.” But it was survival then, and I decided that life was too short to throw away the opportunity to pursue my dreams. If I starved, I would die without a single regret.
And so I limped to that first RT conference, and the world of romance writers opened up to me and I never looked back.
Did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job?
It was ignoble part time jobs and endless yard sales, financial loss after loss, and too many setbacks to count, but the writing was constant. I just kept thinking that if nothing else came of it, I’d line my grave with some of the hottest stories ever written and meet my Maker with a wicked smile on my face.
So, what happened after that? Please tell me this story has a "happy ever after" :)
It wasn’t until 2005 that I landed an agent after RT was in New York, and got “the call”. As for getting that first agent, that’s an entire story to be told over drinks but needless to say, I was in the world’s craziest group pitch session and am happy to have survived the experience. (Alcohol is required to get the details…but if a reader asks…I’ve been known to share this story just to get a few laughs.)
Then, it was a fantasy scenario with three publishers vying for the book (my working title was “A Widow’s Pleasure” but the book became “A Lady’s Pleasure”), and while it wasn’t lottery money (or quit your job money ;-), I didn’t care. Someone wanted to publish a book I’d written and it was a knee-knocking moment.
In all the ups and downs since, (and there are a lot of downs and ups…), I’ll never forget that first wonderful experience of being “wanted”. I hadn’t sent out the manuscript beforehand, so I was blessed to avoid a lot of rejections. (They came later, but I skipped that step without realizing it up front.)
What about crit groups/mentors/support?
I definitely recommend that writers network, and not just online, but face to face whenever you can manage it. There is nothing that will ever replace the power of seeing someone and looking them in the eyes, sharing your passion for your work but also taking that opportunity to listen to what they have to say. The tidbits and advice you pick up are invaluable, but the friendships—life-changing. Writing is so solitary a pursuit. It’s important to connect with like-souls and recharge your creative batteries.
And if it’s all negative harping and whining about the dips in the road from one source or scarred veteran, walk away. Clear business advice is one thing, but don’t get sucked into someone else’s miseries and contractual complaints. Their path may not be yours, so don’t let their bogeyman be your undoing.
Do you read industry or writing related blogs? If so, can you share some useful links that helped you along the way?
With industry and writer blogs, I try to stay on the bright side. “Beyond her Book” with Barbara McVey at Publisher’s Weekly is a thrill and of course, I love the author sites with humor and flair. For the most part, I don’t have a lot of time to surf—so I try not to get bogged down online. It’s a time trap and when you’re swinging for the fences, time becomes your most valuable resource.
What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends?
As for what agents and publishers are looking for in a new author, I think we have to hope the answer they generally give is the honest one. What they want most is a great story—so I’m going to lean toward the talent camp. Trends are trends, and usually by the time you notice it and try to write to it, it’s a losing battle. Write what inspires you and You Inspire the Market. You have more power than you know, and Cathy Maxwell gave me goosebumps when she talked about shutting out the noise and accepting that it’s the writer that decides where these wonderful stories are going. Seriously. Write your heart out, and then let them race to catch up to you.
What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going? And how do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US?
As for the changes and stores closing, it’s about the delivery of that story. Carriages to cars, it was all about getting where you needed to go. Paper or cyberspace, the reader still wants a great experience and the market for material will only increase as it gets easier and easier to access the books they want. Publishers have been eerily slow to figure it out, but I think it will all come out all right in the end. For writers, it’s a brave new world. I’d say the fear factor is on the other side of the fence, but the industry will figure it out. I’m excited to work with my publisher, and enjoying the freedom that comes with Kindle and Wordsmash, etc.
I think the small booksellers will enjoy the shift and it’s the packaging that’s going to change. Buckle in, everybody! It’s going to be fun!!
Do you think writers should consider self-publishing?
Self-publishing is definitely a more solid option, but always remember that you’re one in millions and the stigma lingers. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t! Just weigh it out carefully and make sure you know the hard work involved in marketing and promotion that lies ahead if you’re going to debut online. There are benefits to working with established publishing houses, and don’t reject them before they’ve rejected you. As long as you’re making good choices that suit the book, I say go for it!
Are your books available in print or in digital format?
I published a science-fiction/fantasy romance in Kindle, “Treason’s Heart” as Robin Geoffreys because it was such an odd change and I didn’t want to dilute my brand name/pseudonym. What fun! But most of my books are available online as well as in print, so it’s been interesting to see the evolution.
What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?
Advice for aspiring authors? Anything I say will sound like clichés reworked, but the old wisdom really does hold true. You have nothing to fear but fear itself. Write. Just write. And then, let someone read it. Keep yourself open to criticism and absorb what they are really saying—not just the specifics to one manuscript. General notes are a godsend. If you’re too defensive, you can’t improve your game. I’m always eager to hear from another author and “how they do it” to pick up a new approach or just assure myself that I’m not crazy. ;-)
What are you working on now?
Right now, I have quite a few projects on my desk. I’m starting on the last two books in my “Jaded Gentlemen” series with Berkley, drafting a stand-alone historical romance set in Meiji Restoration Japan and Victorian London, an erotic romance with a pirate and a sorority girl (I miss those time travel books, don’t you?) and a new series, sci-fi/fantasy, called “The Imbalance”. Those are just the biggies…
Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story? Do you read only books from the genre you write in?
I never read romances when I’m writing. It’s all non-fiction reference books, or fiction books from that time period, but it’s my greatest fear that I’ll accidentally channel something from my reading pile. I love textbooks and reference books, and I’ve amassed a very odd collection.
What book inspired you to write romance (or whatever genre you write in)?
For inspiration, it was Laura Kinsale. I’ve never met her. I think if I did, I’d pass out. I’ll never match her for skill, but she’s a lovely goal to attempt to reach for her wonderful layering of psychology and depth. “Flowers from the Storm” is iconic.
What hero/heroine/villain/other character was the most fun or challenging to write for you? Do you prefer heroes or villains?
All the characters are fun, but I love heroes and villains and the idea of them switching places sometimes. Heroes are, of course, nearest and dearest to my heart, but villains offer some refreshing moments. They can thrill and wound, and never have to apologize. I lose myself in the characters sometimes and they are very real during that process. I’m attached to the men and protective of the women in my stories. It’s very strange. And no, no favorites. That would be like naming one of your children as your best.
How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?
There are no secrets to time management. Sadly. I keep wishing I could do it more gracefully and have color charts and post-its and demonstrate a magical skill to make me look more accomplished. But with two children (one is five and one is almost two), a darling husband, his mother to care for, and well, life… all I can say is that I don’t squander time. I don’t make plans without an eye on a deadline or without consulting my computer. Whatever works for you, works. Don’t apologize for it. As things crunch, I am brutal about dividing word counts into daily quotas and then it’s a matter of “you can’t go to bed until you’ve hit it!” No rollover minutes allowed.
And when the muse is firing and it’s rolling, you roll as far and as fast as you can! When it’s not, you push that rock up the hill until you hit the word count you need and get out! I treat it like a job. This is it. Make or break. Because the pressure is real and I can’t let the team down. Not my family and maybe, in my fantasies, not that reader who was really looking forward to an escape from a very bad day. I owe her my best.
Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?
As for rituals, not really. I sit. I write. If it’s a love scene, I’ve been known to light some sandalwood incense to make sure my brain is in the correct gear…but that’s it.
What message do you want to send readers with your writing? How do you want readers to remember you?
And messages for the readers? I hope it’s coming across. Every book answers a question, like a little dialogue that I’m having with my dearest friend. She touches the pages and behind every love story, I hope she’s getting it. The first book (A Lady’s Pleasure) was about being courageous and stepping out of your comfort zone to find happiness. The next (Madame’s Deception) was about the difference between knowledge and experience. The next (A Rogue’s Game) was about what makes a hero heroic—and how bad can he be before he loses that “hero” mantle?
Then came the Jaded. The message of these books varies a little, but the theme has been about how strong women can be, how resilient and graceful—and how it makes them so amazingly beautiful. If a woman can see herself in these heroines and see how beautiful she is when she’s fighting the good fight, then I’m a happy person. In these grim times, a romance novel should offer an escape and entertainment, but I’d like there to be a lovely bonus in the takeaway for the reader. I want the books to be “keepers” even if the reader isn’t sure why.
As for being remembered…that’s an emotional subject right now. I just lost a dear friend, L.A. Banks, on Aug. 2, 2011 and I still start crying when I think of her. But if I could come close to her legacy of people telling stories about how warm and loving she was, how accessible and caring… It can’t be about the books. It has to be about who I am and who I was able to help and who I could reach to make their day a little better. That’s my goal.
Where do you see yourself, careerwise, in 5 years time?
Five years from now, if I’m really playing the “what if” game—I’d love to make the NYT bestseller list, have a series on HBO based on “The Imbalance”, and be knocking it out of the park with multiple romance genres just to keep things lively. I’ll make a living at this and be able to tell my husband, “Retire and buy that pub!” I’ll travel to Japan for the Black Ship Festival and see if they have a romance readers convention they’ll let me attend. Dream big, right?
What's your website URL?
How do you connect with readers?
Readers can always find me on Facebook or just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Latest and Upcoming Releases:
ECSTASY WEARS EMERALDS is just out, released on 9/6/11!! - More info and book trailer here.
PASSION WEARS PEARLS is out in April 2012! More info here.
Excerpt from “Ecstasy Wears Emeralds”
By Renee Bernard, Berkley
If only it were just physical, this odd pull he has with me. But the more I know of him, the more I wish to be near him. The way he respects his household staff and the way he spoke to his patients today—my father always said it was how a gentleman treats the common man that betrays the most about his character.
And why am I so obsessed with Rowan’s character? Why does it matter so much what he thinks of me or of anything beyond medicine?
It matters because I’m falling in love with him.
The shock of the revelation made her fingers go numb and breathless, the heavy tray of vials and delicate glass containers sliding out of her hands and striking the hard floor with a soul-jarring crash. The expensive crystal shattered in an explosion of sound, and she cried out in horror at the clumsy mistake.
Gayle quickly began to kneel to try to salvage something from the shards to ward off her useless tears. He’ll be furious when he sees… and what am I doing? Acting like a mindless ninny because I’ve lost my heart to a man who barely tolerates me.
“Don’t move.” His voice was gentle, but firm from the doorway into the lab.
“I’m sorry for the dreadful mess. I can clean it—“
“Don’t! Move!” It was a firmer command, arresting her movement this time as she registered the unexpected urgency in his words. Gayle straightened, her cheeks burning with embarrassment, unsure if he meant to lecture her where she stood or if the mishap were somehow worse than she’d estimated.
He lit several lamps to ensure that he’d have the light he needed to see and came toward her.
Before she could ask what he intended, he’d bent over to use his handkerchief to brush aside the largest sharp pieces from a small area in front of her. And then he knelt on one knee and gingerly began plucking the glass slivers and tiny shards from the hem of her skirt. In the glow of the lamplight at her feet, she now realized that the last few inches of her skirt had transformed into a glittering display of nearly invisible bits of broken glass.
“I could just shake them out, Dr. West.” She had to swallow, for the lump that had formed in her throat at the sight of him at her feet—so intimately close, so tenderly focused on his compassionate task.
“Just stand still, Gayle.”
And there she was—trapped in an impossible moment of chivalry.
He worked efficiently and quietly, cleaning up a small section of the hem of her skirts and petticoats to brush it with his handkerchief wrapped fingers, pulling out the glass that remained, then clearing the floor to allow himself to shift over a few inches and repeat the process.
“You don’t have to do all this.” She was breathless at the sensation of his hands moving against her skirts, never making contact with her ankles or slippers, but still there, his head bent and level with her thighs, his forehead a scant inch from the pleated fabric and the temptation to reach down and touch his hair was making her dizzy.
“I’d rather this than finding my kit to teach you how to pull glass splinters out of your ankles. I imagine they’re too pretty to be scratched up needlessly, Miss Renshaw.”
“I don’t think you’re supposed to imagine what your apprentice’s ankles look like, Dr. West.”
He laughed, but didn’t cease his efforts. “I’ll do my best to refrain from doing so, Miss Renshaw.”
“I’m…this is awkward, Dr. West. You wouldn’t do this if I were a man.”
“You’re absolutely right. I would have gotten the scissors and just offered to let you cut off your pant legs and then I’d have left the matter of your stockings to you.”
“Oh,” she tried to ignore the shocking image of Rowan cutting her out of her clothes. “I see.”
He mercifully changed the subject. “It was a long day.”
She shook her head. “It was a wonderful day.”
He smiled. “Wednesdays in this house are not everyone’s idea of wonderful, but I’m glad you thought so. The hours fly for me on these days, and there is a selfish pleasure to having everyone about to lend a hand. Even if Mrs. Evans does fuss a bit at the state of her floors afterward.”
“So many different patients on a single day—I loved it!”
He moved again, now kneeling almost directly behind her. “Good. I was afraid I’d exhausted you and caused this—”
“I am not prone to accidents.”
“Of course, you’re not.”
“Please don’t mock me. How is it that every time I wish to convey how reliable I am, something happens and one of us is kneeling on the floor over some mess I’ve made?”
“Fate,” he replied gently.
Why wasn’t he yelling? There’s a month’s wages for most physicians on this floor—but the man is speaking to me as calmly as if we were talking about the weather.
“Why are you so…kind to me? You needn’t be. I mean, I don’t expect you to be kind, Dr. West.”
“Perhaps that’s why.”
She closed her eyes, wishing she knew how to fight off the sentimental tears that threatened and ward off the maelstrom of emotions inside of her. I am not falling in love with this man—I won’t! I’ve come too far to surrender my dreams and transform myself into a joke. “I’ll pay for the glass. I’ll replace all of it, Dr. West.”
He shook his head. “There’s no need for that. I’d needed an excuse to visit the glass shop and—”
“I’m not Ada Featherstone! I’m not some addle-headed woman that you need to coddle! You have every right to be angry, Dr. West, and I insist on being allowed to restore what I’ve broken.”
“Gayle,” he spoke softly, the use of her first name capturing her attention. “Trust me when I say this. There may well be an extensive list of things that invoke an angry reaction from me, and God knows, I’m not always very good at keeping myself in check, but broken glass—hasn’t been on the list for a very, very long time.”
Rowan sat back on his heels and shifted again, this time returning to his starting position in front of her to survey his progress. “I’m almost done, Gayle. Just hold still for another few seconds, and allow a small liberty.”
“A s-small liberty?” she asked, but the answer was swift and left her speechless as his hands lightly trailed up her ankles and calves, circling the muscles there to gently caress her up to the back of her knees.
“Just one last check for any glass slivers that may have strayed onto your stockings.”
“Oh!” His touch was efficient and feather soft, but the miasma of fire and delight that spread up her limbs to form a molten pool between her hips was intoxicating. Her knees turned to rubber, and she bit the inside of her cheek to stare at the ceiling as a thousand wicked thoughts nearly overcame her. The splay of his warm fingers were telegraphing electric sweet storms all over her body and she wasn’t sure she could survive another pass of his hands without betraying herself with a moan or a sigh.
“Ah, there’s one.” He sat back on his heels and sucked a small piece of glass from an index finger to discard it with the rest. “Not life threatening, Miss Renshaw, but you don’t deserve a miserable end to a wonderful day.”
She nodded in stunned silence, one hand gripping the work table’s edge to keep her steady on her feet and the other pressed against her chest to keep her heart from pumping out of her ribcage.
“Well, I’ve pushed it under the table far enough for now and Florence can bring up a dustpan in the morning to clear it. As for this, I’ll just throw this handkerchief into the bin.” He stood like a graceful panther rising from the floor. “You should get some rest, Miss Renshaw.”
All she could do was nod, like a mute child, miserably blushing but hypnotized by him.
“Good night, then.”
Rowan left her there, returning to the second floor, and Gayle began to cry.
Some things just are. You don’t have to understand them.
What in the world is a retired Navy chaplain’s daughter doing writing scorching hot historical romances? Renee Bernard is applying a great education from traveling all over the world to story telling and doing her best to keep her father proud. Truthfully, her father is her number one fan, even though he has sworn never to read a single word of her books (a vow he has kept to this day!) Nothing stops him from telling everyone he knows that his daughter is now a USA Today Bestselling author or from handing out bookmarks on the golf course. Love can make even a minister do strange things!
Renee Bernard is a freelance writer and a contributor to Romantic Times BookReviews magazine. A Lady’s Pleasure (Pocket Books, November 2006) was her first novel and won an award from RT for “Best First Historical Romance of 2006”. She also wrote a story for the School of Heiresses anthology (Pocket Books, January 2007), which made the USA Today Bestseller List. Madame’s Deception, was nominated for “Best Sensual Historical of 2007” by RT and A Rogue’s Game, the final installment in the Mistress Trilogy, received 4 ½ stars and a Top Pick from RT and is available now.
Her next books are known as “The Jaded Gentlemen Series”, starting with Revenge Wears Rubies (Berkley, March 2010) and Seduction Wears Sapphires (Berkley, August 2010)!
Renee currently lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California. (Note an interesting proximity to great wineries!)
For more information, please visit her website at www.reneebernardauthor.com.
~ Angela ~
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love. "Mile High to Heaven" and "Mr. & Mrs. Foster" available at Whiskey Creek Press Torrid.