Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spotlight on: Brenda Novak

Excerpt: TRUST ME by Brenda Novak

The muscles between Skye Kellerman’s shoulder blades tensed as she heard the tires of a car in her gravel drive. It was a cold morning in early January, not dark, but a thick blanket of fog made her feel completely isolated. Cut-off from the rest of the world.


Hurrying to the antique secretary she’d inherited, along with the house, when her mother passed away a year earlier, she selected her Kel-Tec P3AT semi-automatic handgun over her Sig P232--because it was lighter, thinner and easier to conceal--and carried it with her as she ran to get a T-shirt from her bedroom. She wanted to cover the swath of cleavage and stomach revealed by the jog bra and Lycra shorts she wore while working out.

A car door slammed and footsteps approached the house. Heavy footsteps. The footsteps of a man.

Pulling on a baggy T-shirt that said, “The Last Stand: Where Victims Fight Back,” she went to peek through the wooden shutters of her front windows, then the peephole she’d drilled in the door. But the fog was too thick, the morning shadows too murky to make out more than a large, dark shape coming toward her.


The metallic taste of fear rose in her throat, soured her stomach. This was probably just someone who was lost and in need of directions. Sherman Island had only 175 residents and sat in the heart of the Sacramento River Delta. Few outsiders were familiar with the sloughs, natural waterways, drawbridges and levees that made the wetlands so unique. But she would no longer assume that strangers were safe. Not since she’d been startled awake in the middle of the night by a man wearing a hood and wielding a knife.

Burke was now in prison--thank God--but because of The Last Stand, the victim’s charity she’d started with good friends Sheridan Cole and Jasmine Stratford two years ago, she’d made a lot of enemies. This could easily be Tamara Lind’s husband, a wife-beater who blamed Skye for Tamara’s recent desertion. Last week, he’d threatened to bomb The Last Stand. Or it could be Kevin Sheppard. Kevin had appeared at their offices after a flurry of newspaper articles praising TLS for financially backing an investigator who uncovered new evidence on a high-profile murder. Kevin had wanted to help out as a volunteer, but Skye turned him away when a background check revealed accusations of stalking, at which point he’d grown unreasonably angry and stormed out. No one had seen him since.

The doorbell sounded, followed almost immediately by a sharp rap.

She imagined turning off the alarm and opening the door the amount allowed by the chain only to have it kicked wide--and felt her palm begin to sweat on the butt of her gun. Calm down.

She was a damn good aim. But nerves could wreak havoc on the best marksman in the world. So she wouldn’t open the door. She’d pretend to be gone and hope he’d go on his way.

Holding her breath, she pressed her spine more firmly to the wall, wondering what the students from her various shooting classes would think if they could see her now--sweating and shaking over a little fog and an unexpected visitor. Most viewed her as indestructible when she had a gun in her hand. They acted like their own guns made them invincible, too. But they didn’t understand what it was really like in a desperate stand-off, didn’t fully grasp the fact that a woman could own a million firearms and still be vulnerable--unless she was prepared to pull the trigger.

Was she willing to kill Kevin Sheppard? Or Tamara’s estranged husband?

If she had to...

She hadn’t made a move or a sound, but her visitor didn’t seem to be buying that she wasn’t at home. He rang the doorbell again. Knocked. Then his body blocked the window as he tried to see in.

“Skye? Skye, are you in there? It’s me, Detective Willis.”

Slowly exhaling, she consciously released the pressure of her fingers on the gun. David... She wasn’t in mortal danger. But knowing he was standing on her front step certainly didn’t slow her heart rate.

“Your car’s in the drive,” he yelled. “You gonna answer?”

Taking another steadying breath, she flipped the safety on her gun, dropped it into the pocket of her coat, which hung on the hall tree by the door, and dashed a hand across her moist upper lip.

“Skye?” he called again.

“Coming.” After unarming the alarm system, she slid the chain aside, turned the deadbolt, and opened the door.

He was wearing a green shirt and tie and looked good--too good. His tie was a little dressy for his shirt, but his style was as unique as it was appealing. Sort of James Dean “cool” mixed with Johnny Depp “different.” Briefly, she remembered the time, nearly a year ago, that he’d brushed his lips against hers, then kissed her more deeply, pressing her up against the wall in a moment when their volatile attraction overcame reason and good sense.

“Hi.” She smiled, hoping to appear unaffected, but their relationship was too complex to take any encounter in stride. Especially an unexpected encounter. “What brings you out to the delta?”

His manner suggested this wasn’t a social call. She almost wondered if he’d forgotten the night he’d come by to help her move and they’d nearly made love. “I need to talk to you. Can I come in for a minute?”

He was being so formal, so aloof. And he hadn’t called. He’d shown up at her door. What was going on?

Stepping aside, she beckoned him past her, telling herself there was no reason for the knots in her stomach. The worst was behind her. No matter what happened from here she would never have to go through the same hell again. And that was all that mattered. “Can I get you a cup of green tea?”

“Green tea?” he echoed, arching a dark eyebrow.

“Sorry. I don’t have any coffee. I don’t drink it anymore.”

“I’ll pass on the tea. I’m afraid my body wouldn’t know what to do with something that healthy.” His light green eyes seemed to take in every detail of her face and figure, which made her far too aware of him. But he didn’t give away whether or not he liked what he saw. He kept whatever he was thinking locked behind an implacable expression. And a second later, he turned his attention to his surroundings.

For the first time in a long while Skye saw the inside of her house from someone else’s perspective. In the living room, she’d removed her mother’s dated “for company” couch, the walnut veneer side tables, the curio cabinets and vases filled with silk flowers--given them all to Brenna and JoAnna, her two stepsisters, who lived in Los Angeles near their father--and replaced them with free weights, an exercise bike, a treadmill, an aerobics step and a mat for Yoga. Only a slice of kitchen could be seen from their vantage point, but that slice showed the small in-door garden where she grew herbs and wheat grass.

“Wow, I like what you’ve done to the place,” he said.

His sardonic smile let her know he didn’t consider it an improvement. She knew it’d only serve as further proof that her past was taking control of her life, which was something they’d argued about the last time they’d talked.

“Thanks. Seemed a pity to waste so much space.”

“Forever practical.”

She hadn’t been practical at all. Until the early morning hours of July 11th nearly four years ago, she’d classified breaking a freshly manicured nail as a catastrophe. “Having to stab a rapist can change a person.”

The muscle that twitched in his jaw revealed his displeasure. Evidently, she’d just reminded him of the purpose of his visit--if the scar on her cheek had ever let him forget it in the first place.

“Maybe you should sit down,” he said.

“Why would I need to do that?”

He cleared his throat, clearly uncomfortable. “I have bad news.”

You and your ex-wife have reconciled for good? She cringed at her thoughts, knowing, if it were true, she should be happy. David’s eight-year-old son deserved the kind of family David was so determined to give him.

“I’m fine where I am.” When she stubbornly lifted her chin, the line of his mouth softened. “What’s the matter?” she asked. “Can’t you find any evidence that it was Burke who killed those other women?”

“No. Not yet.”

The grudging sound of those words told her that failure ate at him. David didn’t like losing. Somehow it had become personal with Burke, more than just a job to David. But she still couldn’t help being disappointed. She’d been praying he’d finally prove Burke every bit as evil as she claimed. She didn’t care what Burke’s lawyers argued at his trial--that it had been his first offense; that he had no history of violence; that his wife, the person who knew him best, swore he’d never even raised his voice to her; that he was a highly-functioning, church-going, productive part of the community. Skye had been there that night. She’d felt his deadly intent.

“Have you changed your mind?” she asked. “Do you think it was someone else?”

He shoved his hands in his pockets. “No. It’s him. Same pattern of behavior, similar victims. The shoe imprint we found at one of the scenes fits his size feet, which were uncommonly small for a man.”

“That’s not enough?”

“There were no discerning characteristics, other than size, we could point to in order to bring charges.”

“I take it no more bodies have been found.”

“Nothing similar to the other three.”

So why was he here? Worried that Willis’ determination was waning, she grabbed his arm--and felt him tense the moment she touched him. She couldn’t tell if that was because he resented the contact or welcomed it, but she couldn’t lose her only police support. Everyone else on the force resented The Last Stand because of the publicity it brought to unsolved or mishandled cases. “It’s not too late,” she told him. “We’ve got time. We have to figure out a way to keep Burke behind bars.”

Visibly wincing, he pulled away, and that was when the real terror set in. “What?” she said. “He’s not out, right? He’s still in prison. They gave him eight to ten. You said that would most likely mean eight.”

“I’m sorry, Skye,” he muttered between clenched teeth.

She couldn’t catch her breath, couldn’t slow her pulse. “What are you saying?”

“They’re letting him go next week.”


I’m intrigued by what you have done to benefit diabetes research, most importantly the diabetes auction you hold every year since 2005. Can you tell me a little about that?

When my son was diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes six years ago, he was only five years old. I knew enough about diabetes to understand that he would require constant care, but I was shocked and dismayed to learn of the many serious side-effects he'd likely face in his lifetime. It made me want to fight back, but I had five small children at home and back-to-back deadlines. I didn't know where I'd find the time, so I decided there would be a time and a place later in life.

Then I went to a silent auction for his elementary school a couple of years later and while I was talking to one of the committee members who'd gone to so much work to put on the event about the dismal turn-out, I realized there had to be a better way to raise money than to try and get everyone to come to one physical place all at the same time. It hit me that I had already established a great deal of traffic at my web site, traffic I could utilize to make a difference to my son and others like him. From that, the idea of an on-line auction was born. That first year I only raised $35,000, but it was enough to tell me that the idea could work. The next year, we nearly double the original amount; the third year we more than doubled the second year. The growth has been phenomenal--and has me very excited for Year 4.

How did your life change when your son was first diagnosed?

It definitely made me aware of how many people were facing the same challenges we were. Diabetes affects the lives of millions--those who have it, and those who love them and care for them. Yet I believe it's a solvable problem. I want to see a cure in my lifetime so no other has to worry about her son the way I worry about mine.

Diabetes affects every aspect of life, every minute of every day. There's no reprieve. I haven't been able to sleep through the night in the six years my son has had diabetes, and we've had a couple of very close calls.

Have you noticed a difference now in the advancements in healthcare in dealing with diabetes?

Yes, there have been many, and I'm so grateful for this. Every time my son is tempted to complain about having to take yet another shot (or insert his pump), I tell him how thankful I am that he has the needles and insulin to help keep him well.

There are many exciting things on the horizon. One of them is an artificial pancreas that will both monitor blood sugars and adjust automatically. This would be a great blessing. If you think about how many time a healthy pancreas adjusts a body's glucose levels--then compare that to trying to take over manually, as in the case of a diabetic, and you can see why side effects become a problem. There's no way to manually adjust as often as a healthy pancreas would do. This would replace that function with a closer approximation and keep diabetics healthy longer.

Can you tell me a little about some of your auction items this year?

We have some amazing stuff this year. Author Jane Porter has donated a trip to Hawaii, including airfare, accommodations, surf lessons--even spending money. Quilts by Icia has donated three handmade quilts, all of them signed by numerous NYTimes Bestselling authors. Susan Wiggs has donated a weekend stay in her lovely guest house on Bainbridge Island. K.M. Daughters has donated an Amazon Kindle. Carly Phillips has donated an I-Pod Nano with a gift certificate for plenty of downloads. Rogers Jewelry has donated a $1700 diamond bracelet. Margie Lawson has donated an amazing vacation package that includes her husband and their private plane. The list goes on and on. We have over 1100 items, many of which you can't find anywhere else (like a chance to have lunch with Catherine Coulter, Diana Gabaldon, Ripley Pearson, Jayne Ann Krentz, Christine Feehan, Sherrilyn Kenyon, JR Ward, and others). For aspiring writers, we also have evaluations by some of the most powerful agents and editors in publishing.

How can one participate?

One can either donate an item for me to put on the auction block or bid on the items that others have donated, or both. One can also help publicize the auction by telling family and friends and encouraging them to participate.

Tell me a little about your writing career. What got you started in writing? Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?

I'd never aspired to being a novelist. I caught my daycare provider drugging my children with cough syrup to get them to sleep all day while I worked as a loan officer. Once I found the medicine in my baby's bottle and realized what had been going on, my trust was destroyed. I could no longer leave them, but needed to figure out some way to help support the family. I was reading a great book at the time and decided that I'd try my hand at writing. Fortunately, it panned out for me!

Did you choose to write romantic suspense or did it choose you? What made you decide to write in this genre?

I've always been fascinated by deviant behavior and why people act as they do. Romantic suspense is sort of a natural outcropping of that, I suppose. I was writing straight contemporary but found more and more suspense leaking into my stories. So I finally decided to follow my muse.

Do you write in any other genres besides romantic suspense?

Yes, I still write straight contemporary romance for Harlequin's Superromance line--the longest, most mainstream of the series lines.

Do you stick to a writing routine?

For the most part, I do. I have a large family, so I have to be flexible, but I definitely treat it as a job and work the entire time my kids are in school.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how do you tackle it?

I think writer's block stems from letting your internal critic take over. When you're trying to write the "perfect" sentence of a story before a word even hits the page, you lock up. I overcome it by giving myself permission to write something lousy. Then I edit the heck out of it until I feel it's good. :-) Occasionally I'll get stumped in a story and not know where I want it to go. That can stifle the productivity for a while, but it's something that I work out of my continuing to write through it.

What’s the hardest part about writing? The easiest?

The hardest part is the fact that you can never please everyone. The easiest is rolling out of bed and pulling on a pair of sweats for work clothes--and having no commute.

Is there a story that you wrote long ago that is still unpublished?

Yes, I have a completed historical. My first book was a historical, and I planned to follow that up, but then HarperCollins bought Avon and my editor was fired (this is called being orphaned). Avon didn't pick me up, so it was particularly fortunate that I'd already sold a contemporary story to Harlequin. Everything I've written since then has been for the contemporary market.

What were some of the hardest moments you faced as an aspiring writer?

At the same time that I caught my daycare provider drugging my children and felt I could no longer leave them in anyone else's care, my husband's business started to struggle. He had 30 homes in various stages of construction--all pre-sold--but the real estate market in Sacramento fell apart, and all the appraisals started coming in below our cost. We were taking a financial bloodbath, losing our business, our home, everything and yet I was depending on being able to sell a book to save us. Probably not the most practical approach--but it did save my sanity, because I loved doing what I was doing.

How long did it take for you to initially get published? Is it easier now?

It took me about five years to teach myself the craft, do the research for my first novel (which was set in Victorian England) and finish that first manuscript. I sold it a year or so after finishing it.

What's the one book you'd love to write but could never publish?

Hmm...I'm not sure. I have a historical series I'd like to write, and that might be a hard sell, but I think any story is publishable--as long as it's riveting enough.

Are you also a reader? If so, what’s your favorite type of genre to read?

I love straight historical.

What invades on your writing time?

E-mail! LOL

What interests you? What are your hobbies? Collections?

I love to spend time with my husband and kids. I love sports and exercise, traveling, reading, shopping. I collect autographed books because I do signings with so many talented authors, which provides a great opportunity to expand such a collection.

Career wise, what would you be doing if you weren’t writing?

I'm not sure--probably helping my entrepreneur husband run his business.

Do you plot?

Nope, I'm a pantser. If I know what's going to happen next in my book, I'm too bored to write it. LOL

Do you consider yourself an organized person?

Definitely. It's the only way to keep my head above water while writing 3-4 books a year, running my charity auction and caring for my large family.

What’s your favorite color?


What’s your favorite food?

Thai yellow curry.

Do you have any pet peeves in writing?

Not really.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers? What about published writers?

One word: Believe.


Terry Odell said...

Hi, Brenda

Good luck with your auction. It's a fantastic effort, and I know you're going to raise even more money this year.

AND --congrats on your first place in Romantic Suspense in The Lories. (Guess who came in second, right behind you! I'm SO impressed with myself. Me and Brenda Novak. Twice, even.)

Clover Autrey said...

Brenda, you are amazing for doing this. My son has CF related diabetes and I know exactly what you mean when you say you haven't had an entire night's sleep. I'm so grateful for people like you. I'd love to donate some books.

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Cheers all round! Brenda, you're a star. As you know, my son is Type 1 diabetic too, and what you're doing with the auction is just wonderful. LIke you, I'm (quietly) excited about the new developments - let's make sure they get enough funding to move ahead. :) Hugs to you and yours,

Jane x

Sheryl said...

Margie's very generous, donating her husband as well as the plane! Just joking, hun. I filled up reading your interview. I know when it's your children, you just do. But still, it takes a strong woman to keep everything else going and her child's spirits up, too. And you are obviously an extremely talented author, as well! Well done, U! :)

The Blonde Duck said...

Very interesting! Good luck with wrangling five children. I can barely handle two puppies...You sound like a great lady and fantastic writer.

John, An autoresponder Designer said...

Hi, Brenda

I usually dont read any blogs but this time i accidently jumped of to yours; i see that it is pretty much advanced writing with good content, so do keep posting and enjoy blogging !!

John, Alarm Systems