an interview by Sandy Novy Chvostal
Pick up a Barbara Benedict book and be prepared to travel–to embark on a journey of adventure, romance and self-discovery.
But while treading her own path to success, Benedict has discovered a few shortcuts to making each writing â€œtripâ€ just a little bit easier . . . . .
Q. Barbara, in this monthâ€™s Orange Blossom interview, you mention you approach each of your books as an adventure or a journey, and in a speech you gave at OCC, you also said this journey involves â€œbaby steps.â€ Can you please elaborate on this?
A. Anyone who has ever sat down to write a book immediately understands what a daunting prospect it is. I’m not even going into the peripherals, (like learning basic mechanics, honing your self discipline, making contacts in the business) I’m talking about putting the actual words–the right words–on the page. Even the most prolific writer can blow a whole day watching that blinking cursor, wondering how you’re ever going to write the perfect ending when you can’t even come up with an opening line. I admit, I still find it overwhelming. The only way I get through it is to remind myself to take it one step (or word) at a time, knowing each addition brings me that much closer to where I want to go.
Taking one baby step at a time, I finished my first book, only to realize that I now had to start another story. And another after that. Which led to the discovery that the act of writing is a journey in itself and I had miles to travel before I’d get anywhere close to where I wanted to go. Again, I was overwhelmed. This, I realized, could be my Great Adventure, but where to begin? Take the wrong fork in the road and I could be lost forever. The solution, I finally found, was baby steps. I simply had to tackle the journey one tiny segment at a time, making the most of every step along the way.
Yes, I’ve had my share of frustration and disappointments, but each time I’m tempted to quit, I remind myself that all I have to do is put one foot in front of the other (or one word after another) and before long, I’m back on my way.
Q. Speaking of that first book, Lovestorm, I know you wrote–and sold–it all on your own, without the benefit of an agent, critique group, or help from any writing organizations. How has this affected your attitude toward writing?
A. Part of me wants to shudder at how ignorant and naive I was back then, yet another part recognizes the toll that knowledge and experience can take on creative freedom.
To be successful, a writer needs the advice of an editor, agent, and critique group–and everyone knows the information and support from OCC/RWA is invaluable–but with all those voices whispering in my ear as my career progressed, I began to over-analyze until I found it harder and harder to retain my original vision. Obviously, I can’t ever go back to the blissful ignorance I started with, but I can remember that sense of freedom when I didn’t stop to think everything to death. That’s what I’m working on now; relearning how to write from my heart, and not just my head.
Q. But although you write from the heart, you have the reputation of being a complete, â€œunemotionalâ€ professional, focused on getting the work done on time, even when–and this makes me shudder!–one of your editors actually shortened a deadline, when you were under contract for two books for two different houses! Drawing from this context, how do you personally define being a professional writer?
A. “Being professional” is probably the hardest part of being a writer. I mean, really, my work clothes double as pajamas. Still, here are a few basic rules I’ve picked up over the years.
1. Put your emotion into the writing, not into any disagreement with your editor or publisher. Wait until you can talk in a calm, rational manner before you call them, or better yet, let an agent tackle the problem for you.
2. Put your money where your mouth is–try not to promise anything you can’t possibly deliver. Remember, your editor/agent’s reputation (if not job) is in just as much in jeopardy as yours. Let them down and they’re not likely to take a chance on you again.
3. Never burn any bridges. Publishing is a surprisingly small world and you never know who’s suddenly going to show up, yet again, in your career.
4. On your rise to fame and fortune, never forget the people who helped you get there.
As far as my making deadlines, I consider it just a personal quirk: once I give my word to do something, I feel compelled to make good on it. I don’t know what I was thinking, agreeing to deliver a contemporary on the Ides of March and a historical on April Fool’s Day, but once I signed the contracts, I had to find some way to make it work. I wrote day and night, learned how to power nap and relied heavily on my critique group to point out where medieval England intruded on modern South Carolina, but somehow I managed to make both deadlines. And on this leg of my writer’s journey, the “what have we learned today” was never to do that again.
Q. Jumping from medieval England to South Carolina and back again, had to be tough! But along with the unusual settings you tackle, another way you often transcend the common boundaries of â€œwhat a romance should beâ€ is with the heroines you create–very modern day women who are inherently independent, self-sufficient, and free-thinkers such as Ica in Destiny; Jude in Every Dream Come True; or Monica, in A Taste of Heaven. Why are you especially drawn to this type of heroine? Why do you think they work well in a romance?
A. At the core of any riveting story–especially a romance–is conflict. We might hate conflict in real life, might even actively avoid it, but we’ll invariably put down a book if it isn’t there on every page. And who better to provide it than a feisty, you-can’t-get-the-best-of-me heroine?
More importantly, women have been making great strides in proving we are far stronger than our culture has acknowledged and I want to play a part in that. Any woman who attempts to control her own destiny, despite the obstacles thrown in her path, is my idea of a real hero.
Q. Another common trait of your heroines is their zest for adventure. Where does this originate?
A. At heart, I think we all crave adventure, even if we only experience it vicariously. What better way to feel the thrill of being swept away to new, magical worlds than tucked safely in your favorite chair reading about some fictional character’s travels? Writing about them provides the same benefit, with one added bonus; often research requires that I visit the places I write about, and that’s often an adventure all its own.
Q. In your current release, The Tycoon Meets His Match, the hero and heroine set off on a madcap trip together, that I understand is similar in some respects, to your own travels. How?
A. Unlike my heroine, Trae, I never actually took a road trip in college, but years ago when my husband and I decided to move from New York to California, we packed up the van and hit the road to “see America.” Not only did it establish my own “zest” for adventure, I’m still using the places we saw and the things we did on that three week odyssey in my work.
Q. So what are you planning to work on next?
A. Well. there’s always the sequel to my December Special Edition involving another of the girls in the “Just Say No To Marriage” club but my first love has always been historicals. Right now I’m busy planning a series involving a murder mystery set in Victorian England but I’ve got an idea brewing for another retelling of an ancient myth.
Q. Hurry and get going on them, Barb! Reading your books is my favorite way to travel!
An English major in college, Barbara Benedict went on to teach high school but sheâ€™s always been drawn to the magical process of writing. In 1985, she published her first novel, an historical romance set in colonial South Carolina, and has since written about eras and locales as far apart as present day Louisiana to Arthurian England and Minoan Crete.
Barbara’s next book is Silhouette Special Edition The Tycoon Meets His Match is available now.