Message From The Author
'Dead' Set on Storytelling
BRENDA NOVAK'S ROMANTIC SUSPENSE GIVES READERS LOVE AND THRILLS
By Lauren Spielberg
Brenda Novak journeys back to the town of Stillwater, Miss., to revisit a crime that's almost two decades old. In Dead Silence, which launched her heart-pounding Dead trilogy last August, assistant district attorney Grace Montgomery is forced to deal with small-minded townsfolk who believe her family is behind the disappearance of her stepfather, the beloved Reverend Lee Barker. This month's Dead Giveaway (Mira) continues the Montgomery saga, this time focusing on heartthrob Clay Montgomery, who'll protect his family -- and their secrets -- at any cost.
A veteran of series romance, and relatively new to romantic suspense, Novak dreamed up her latest opus while at a Romance Writers of America conference in New Orleans. "I was hearing about connected books and how popular they were becoming and wanted to try writing one," the author of two dozen novels says. "I wanted it to revolve around a deep, dark secret and how this secret has impacted the family trying to keep it, and my thoughts spun out from there."
Deep, dark secrets, however, usually call for deep, dark storytelling. Novak, who stepped into the romantic suspense ring in 2003 with Taking the Heat, was excited to take on the full range of her characters' emotional demons in a longer, more detailed forum than her category romances. Carefully balancing the romance with the suspense, each Dead series novel successfully works as a stand-alone while appealing to a broader audience.
"Although the tone of the suspense novels is darker, it's still my writing, and my fans seem to like both. Or maybe the ones who don't like them both don't typically write to tell me, so this answer may be a bit skewed," she laughs. "I'm hoping that they, like me, enjoy a wide range of stories. I like straight romance, romantic comedy, suspense, true crime -- lots of stuff. I think the single titles are probably leading more people to my series work than my series work is leading to my single titles, but it's really tough to tell."
An avid reader in her own right, Novak pens the type of novels she likes to pick up at the bookstore. It should come as no surprise to her readers that romance comprises a huge chunk of them. "I read almost any genre for the relationships involved in the story," she says. "Long ago I decided that I could only write to please myself. So I throw everything I have into every story and do my best to make it a page-turner -- to me. After that, I can only hope that a large sector of the populace will agree with my personal tastes."
In Dead Giveaway, the mystery of what has happened to Reverend Barker continues, and the occupants of Stillwater are still convinced of foul play by the Montgomery clan. Returning home after a bitter divorce, police detective and single mom Allie McCormick joins her father on the squad and makes a pledge to the reverend's daughter, her childhood friend Madeline, to revisit the case. Madeline is convinced her stepbrother Clay did not have a hand in her father's disappearance, despite what everyone else thinks. And alpha male Clay doesn't seem to be bothered by the gossip. This is nothing more than clever posturing, however, as he's hiding an explosive family secret.
"Clay is one of those men who stands between everything bad and those he loves," Novak says. "He's a true hero."
The book starts out with a bang. Clay calls it quits with his lover, Beth Ann, when she tries pushing their affair to the next level. Spurned and out for blood, Beth Ann phones the police, claiming Clay has confessed to the reverend's murder. This brings Allie to the scene, and into Clay's life. Immediately, Clay and Allie's interactions are fraught with sexual tension and, to Novak's credit, crisp, believable dialogue. No one -- not even Allie's and Clay's closest friends and family members -- is supportive of their friendship, much less a relationship. Which is, in the world of Brenda Novak, a great platform for a budding romance.
"I think we're seeing romance seep into so many other genres because the male/female dynamic is the most interesting study there is," Novak muses. "It enhances what the genre already offers. And hope goes hand in hand with love."
Fortunately for the author, she has tons of support and love from her family when it comes to her career -- a career that started in 1999, as her husband's business faltered during a downturn in the housing market and the Novaks learned that their daycare provider had been giving their small children medicine to make them sleep through the day. Reluctant to leave her children with anyone else, Novak made the decision to stay home with them and soon put pen to paper.
"I feel very fortunate to have found my niche in life," she says. "It was an absolute fluke that I decided to write my first novel -- more like 'necessity is the mother of all invention,' to quote a cliche -- but I think it was meant to be: the silver lining I found during a very challenging period
in my life. I often tell my husband that I'd struggle through what we went through 10 times over to realize I had writing talent, so I feel very lucky."
When she isn't keeping readers on edge with her
pulse-pounding suspenses, Novak is hard at work on her romances for Harlequin. Coulda Been a Cowboy, the next book in her Dundee, Idaho, series for Harlequin Superromance, will be released in May. "I'd like to continue
to write for one or more series lines as long as Harlequin
will have me," says the mother of five. "They're lighter in tone, so that's a nice change -- and I've written so many
of them now that returning to series is like going home."
As for the Dead series, the final story is Dead Right, due out this August. Clay's stepsister Madeline is the "only one who isn't in on the secret," Novak reveals. "Her book will be an interesting look at believing what
we want to believe -- and how we might act and feel when finally faced with the hard truth."
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