Q&A: Bestseller Brenda Novak on how she wrote 35 novels in 11 years, how to conquer writer's block, and more.

Bestseller Brenda Novak has written nearly three dozen novels since her debut from HarperCollins 11 years ago, and has three romantic suspense titles forthcoming this summer—White Heat, Body Heat and Killer Heat. (To read her article on the current state of romance books in the publishing business—and how you can make it in the genre—check out the May/June 2010 issue of WD.)

Moreover, Brenda hosts an online auction for diabetes research every May, featuring oodles of publishing-related items and opportunities, from author promotion packages to book editing to getting your name in a John Lescroart novel to a manuscript critique by yours truly. She’s also offering a writing contest with a grand prize of a six-month mentoring package and guaranteed reads from her editor and agent. Check it all out here.

Finally, feel free to comment or respond to her writing prompt below for a shot at winning an autographed book. We’ll pick two random commenters for the swag next Monday.

* * *

You used to think you didn’t have a creative bone in your body, and math and science were your subjects of choice. How’d you end up unlocking your writing potential?

Desperation. Seriously. I had just caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while she watched soaps. At the same time, my husband was a real estate developer with 30 homes in various stages of construction, all pre-sold, but because of a big slump in the market, the appraisals were coming in below our cost. We were losing his business, our home, everything—and yet I felt as if I couldn’t leave my children to work because I no longer trusted others to care for them properly. This forced me to figure out something I could do at home, in snatches, while I babysat. I decided to try my hand at writing fiction—and finally figured out what I was meant to do with my life (the silver lining to a dark period).

You’ve now written 35 novels since your 1999 debut. What’s the key to such a strong output?
Basically, I give myself permission to write whatever comes out, and worry about refining after. I find this really increases productivity because my internal editor can’t stifle the words before they even hit the page. Sometimes I’m surprised when a story will veer off from what I expected, something that wouldn’t be possible for me without this free-flowing process.
Pacing is another answer to this question. Because I have five kids who come before my work, I have to pace myself and work consistently in order to accomplish so much—and to make sure it’s all the best work I can produce.

In your regular writing process, what slows you down the most on a daily basis?
Interruptions. Because I also run a major charity event—my annual online auction for diabetes research—it’s as if I have two full-time jobs. I’m constantly juggling. Add to that the kids I mentioned when answering the last question (one of which has insulin-dependent diabetes), and you can picture the amount of interruptions I get. 
Now that my kids are getting a little older, however, and I’m able to concentrate on one job or the other for longer stretches of time, I’m finding I interrupt myself by checking e-mail way too often. This addiction costs me a lot of productivity and is something I have to work on in the future.

What best fuels your creativity? 

Movies, books, TV, music. Anything that’s done well in the creative field—even a painting that speaks to me—can work as inspiration. I remember the first time I saw Les Mis. I loved it so much and felt this sort of hum of excitement every time I heard the soundtrack.

Have you ever endured a particularly nasty patch of writer’s block?
Writer’s block can hit at any time because it generally happens when I’ve taken my manuscript in the “wrong” direction. The creativity suddenly dries up and it feels as if I have nowhere to go.

How do you overcome it?

My writing process is a bit like sculpting. It’s as if my subconscious sees the shape and form of the story long before my conscious mind. So I retrench to a point where I feel confident the book was working and branch off in a new direction. It always ends up being better than the original and seems to solve the problem. So I’m safe from writer’s block as long as I remain in sync with what my subconscious has already created.

What’s the overall best craft advice you can offer?
I think it’s important to keep filling the well. It’s tough to have something to offer if you don’t constantly absorb fresh ideas. For me, remaining inspired is all about continuing to learn, then offering up my own particular slant on the world.

How about the best publishing advice you’ve ever received?
Rejection isn’t personal. It’s part of the process and is valuable in defining a non-market. I think this advice helped me put rejection in perspective and to expect it as part of the normal course of a writer’s career.

Finally, do you have a personal writing mantra?

I don’t have a writing mantra unless it’s, “Never give up!”

WRITING PROMPT: Courtesy of Brenda Novak


free to take the following prompt home or post your
response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail it to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

You’ve just arrived at your brand new cabin at the lake and are excited to start your summer vacation when, using a pair of binoculars, you see one of your new neighbors carrying what looks like a body out of his cabin and putting it in the trunk of his car …

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7 thoughts on “Q&A: Bestseller Brenda Novak on how she wrote 35 novels in 11 years, how to conquer writer's block, and more.

  1. Martha W

    Nice. Nice. Nice. Love the story, Mark.


    Mario Brothers wasn’t helping this time.

    Jack yanked his ear-buds out and tossed his DS on the deck chair next to him. He looked around, trying to find something interesting, even if it was a squirrel taunting his dog. But there was nothing. He still had no idea why his parents thought this was a good place to come.

    The Upper Peninsula of Michigan. No man’s land.

    Nothing but trees and lakes. No arcades. No stores. And only one neighbor. Bill. Some guy Dad went to school with at Michigan State. Jack rolled his eyes. They were forever talking college crap.

    Sandy, his cocker spaniel, growled low and crouched down, her nub of a tail sticking straight up in the air. Jack leaned forward, smacked her on the butt. “It’s only that friend of Dad’s. Go lay down.”

    She scooted forward to press her nose between the railing slats, growling louder. Jack stood to shoo her away and saw Bill hauling a rolled up blanket to his car.

    “C’mon, girl. Go lay down.” He gave her a little push with his foot, earning himself a snap at his ankle. “Hey!”

    Sandy flattened her belly to the ground, still staring at Bill. Still growling.

    “Fine.” He crouched down next to her, smoothing his hand down her back, quieting her. “Let’s see what he’s up to.”


    Bill shifted the heavy load over his shoulder to pull his keys from his pocket. He only knew one thing. John had better appreciate this.


    Jack watched as Bill popped the trunk, dumping the blanket inside. The car dipped with the weight of the impact. A tennis shoe bounced on the edge of trunk lid and landed in the dirt.

    What the heck? What was in that blanket?

    Sandy growled again, scooting backward this time. Jack looped a finger through her collar to keep her beside him. Bill picked up the shoe and pitched it in with the blanket. He dusted his hands, knocking the dirt off in a shower of tiny pebbles, and looked around. Sandy barked, jerked at Jack’s restraining fingers. Bill’s gaze shot to the deck.

    Jack fell backward, his heart thundering in his chest. “Oh my god.” He grabbed Sandy’s collar and yanked her away from the railing, still barking. “Shut up!”

    He crab-crawled back to his chair, dragging Sandy snarling the entire way. With shaking hands he picked up his ear-buds and turned his DS back on. He shot a quick look into the living room where his parents sat drinking coffee and reading the paper.

    Something wasn’t right next door. He’d have to keep an eye out. See what was what.


    John kept the paper high enough to cover his face as he tried to suppress his laughter. “Do you think he’ll still be bored after today?”

    “I think he’ll be furious when he realizes his father set him up.” Sara giggled into her coffee cup.

    “Yeah. But it’s going to be one hell of a summer.”

  2. James Ashman

    I just saw Brenda at a local author fair, and am glad to see publicity about her. Good article with solid, real-world advice. Thank you, Brenda, and keep up the great work. You’re yet another inspiration.

  3. Martha W

    Zac & Brenda, this was an amazing interview. I am constantly in awe of all the two of you do for others.

    Brenda, the auction is *awesome* and the extensive list of authors, editors and agents willing to go the extra mile for charity is wonderful. Keep up the great work (in real life and in the fictional world – your work is a true inspiration!).

  4. Mark James

    Zac: Great interview.
    Brenda: Thanks for the advice. I love your mantra.

    “What are we doing here?”

    “It’s our first family vacation,” Raphael said.

    “And for brothers,” Lucifer said, “we don’t hardly rub wings enough.”

    “What’s the matter with you two?” Michael fluttered his wings. “We don’t need vacations. We’re immortal.”

    Raphael squinted through the binoculars he was holding to his eyes. “Thanatos is here.”

    Michael grabbed the binoculars. “What do you need these for? I can see perfect across the lake. It’s a cabin and two guys carrying a dead lady.”

    Thanatos floated down from the ceiling, rested his scythe on the wall below a stuffed deer head. “We have it,” he said and held up a glass ball filled with a tiny sparkling light. “Our first soul.”

    Michael pulled his sword, threw it into the fireplace. Fire sprang up, and his sword sailed back into his hands. “Could one of you tell me why we came all the way to a lake on the edge of no place to get a soul?”

    “Time’s up,” Lucifer said.

    “It cost our brother quite a lot to fall.” Raphael’s voice was as soft as a prayer in a dream.

    “He didn’t fall,” Michael said. “I hacked off his wings and kicked him out.” He glanced at Lucifer. “It’s what I do. Fight. Nothing personal.”

    “The ones who fought with me against you,” the dark archangel said, “I promised them all the souls they could carry.”

    “So what?” Michael said.

    Lucifer floated to the fireplace, sat cross-legged in the flames. “Rafe, he told me about mortals and how bad hell feels for them.”

    Michael nearly flung his sword at Raphael. “What did you do that for? He was fine the way he was.”

    The angel of healing bowed his head. “It’s forbidden for me to deny a question whose answer has the power to heal.”

    “You answered his question and now Dad’s all over it, right?” Michael said.

    “Our Father has accepted his son’s repentance,” Raphael said, “and we’ve been given a mission.”

    “Forget it,” Michael said. “I’m not wandering around the world saving souls.” He kicked up a shower of sparks into the flames around Lucifer. “No.”

    Thanatos, who had been silent until now, spoke up. “It is only for the Time of Grace. Then the legions of Dark Angels will be unleashed.”

    “And we will be helpless unless a mortal calls upon us,” Raphael said.

    “What am I supposed to do about that?” Michael said. “Make peace?”

    Raphael held out his hands. “Give me your sword.”

    “No,” Michael said. “You’ll make it dull and – – ” He flung his arms Heavenward. “I don’t know. Happy.”

    “And you will become mortal,” Thanatos said. “You are the only one of us who can move among them unnoticed.”

    “Then what?”

    “Where you go, we can go,” Raphael said. “And save souls who are taken unjustly by the Dark ones.”

    “I don’t believe I’m doing this.” Michael folded his great wings and heaved his sword at his brother. In Raphael’s slender hands, it went dull, lost its bloodthirsty shine.


    Near a lake at the edge of nowhere, a black motorcycle roared out of the wilderness. The man riding it wore black leather. He had the sleek, muscled body of a warrior, the hard eyes of a demon, and the face of an angel.

    Mission begun.

  5. Brenda Novak

    Thanks so much for doing the interview, Zac! And thanks for participating in the auction. You’re awesome (yes, I’m from Cali! LOL). WD has been very generous to support the auction, too. I’m really grateful to everyone who lends a hand!