Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Interview with Renee Bernard, THE DEVIL TO PAY

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book? Is it part of a series?
DEVIL TO PAY is the first in my new Eternity Gambit series and is nothing you really expect in a paranormal romance about Angels and Demons.  First of all, it’s a romantic comedy so no blood splatter or apocalyptic battles over mythic turf… Because Heaven, Inc. and Hades Enterprises, LLc (or H.E.L.Lc) are companies working for one Corporation and while the working hours are beyond extreme, I think a lot of people will appreciate the humor of office politics and a universal respect for the special chaos that can only come from Human Beings.

In DEVIL TO PAY, the Archangel Lucifer (the seventh unlucky angel to have the job) is just a guy trying to survive a job he never wanted and certainly isn’t enjoying because H.E.LLc is tasked with tracking evil and reporting statistical anomalies to Upper Management, recording all misdeeds and managing what they can without upsetting the balance of the Universe.  No souls are tortured and the only thing that Hell manufactures is paperwork.  The Prince of Darkness is more of a figurehead than a general and is doing his best to keep up morale in between dreaded Mondays and casual Fridays (not that Upper Management believes in weekends off). 

So when he meets a mortal woman named Jayne Hamilton who turns his world upside down, all bets are off.  Because angels can’t lie and it’s very, very hard to get a girl to let her take you to dinner after you tell her that you’re Satan.  In fact, if true love can overcome that obstacle, then miracles do happen.

Do you have a favorite character? Have you ever had a minor character evolve into a major one? Did that change the direction of the novel at all?
My favorite character is one that I originally had set out as a very secondary character but who almost immediately squashed that misguided idea.  Malcolm is tall, dark and handsome, possesses a wicked sense of humor and the impeccable timing of an English butler.  He is Lucifer’s Executive Personal Assistant and Demonic Liaison, putting him right next to the black onyx desk and for all practical purposes second in command of Hades Enterprises, LLc.  He loves tradition, has a passion for technology and is the one who insisted that all the break rooms in H.E.LLc have state-of-the-art espresso machines.  He is unapologetically naughty when allowed to be but no one works harder with a closer eye on schedules, report deadlines and meeting agendas.

He pushed the novel to open up to the rich world of the internal departments and processes in H.E.LLc where I had planned to keep it mysterious. He gave Lucifer the close friend and confidant that he needed and I hope shows readers where demons can have hearts, too.  At the climax of the book, Malcolm shocked me and became the quiet hero of the day. Of all the characters in the book, it was Malcolm and surprisingly, Azrael, the Archangel of Death, who received the strongest reader responses and requests to see more of them.

What is your writing process? Do you outline your story or just go where your muse takes you?
I rough outline the books by scenes/chapters and then just start layering it in.  A synopsis rarely matches the finished book entirely but I think it’s good to have that launching point and to have a general idea of where you are going before you start.  I tell people that writing a book is a trip (as in you have a destination, an itinerary, some goals and limited time/resources) but that doesn’t mean you won’t have adventures along the way, include a few side roads, see something unexpected and learn something new.   You can plan and be spontaneous in good measure but writing a book shouldn’t be a journey (as in you just start walking and hope it doesn’t get dark and start raining before you reach shelter.)  That’s called journaling or prose.  That’s a different fish.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
I was traditionally published when I started by Simon & Schuster with Pocketbooks, then with Berkley.  I walked the traditional path with an agent and if you’d asked me after I signed that first contract, I’d have sworn that I’d made it to the promised land and all my worries were behind me.  Ah, the innocence of youth!  I learned some hard lessons about the business side of publishing, the lack of real care or attention to debut authors and the cutthroat approach to make-or-break calls.  I had editors that couldn’t remember what period my historical romances were set in, covers to cry over (or laugh depending on where you were sitting) and even as I improved my craft and writing as I went and won awards, it didn’t matter.  It’s like being in a marriage where it’s over before the rice has been swept away…and I was dreaming of anniversaries to come.

The break to self-publishing came because of this new series and because of DEVIL TO PAY.  My historical romance past made any genre change forbidden but I was also relegated to No Man’s Land like so many mid-list authors where no one wants to see anything new from you unless you’ve decided to transform into someone else and write Fifty Shades of Seen It Before But Let’s Make Money. 

I wanted to write light, funny paranormals in between the historical romances.  NY told me directly that paranormals required hard-core sex scenes, at least one shape shifter and gritty, kick-ass heroines.  If my book didn’t have any/all of those elements so that they could market it as the usual story readers expected, they weren’t interested in picking me up.  As it turned out, I wasn’t interested in writing the ‘usual’ anything.  I walked away from a contract with one of the last, big NY houses and my agent promptly fired me.  But I believed in The Eternity Gambit and I knew in my heart that DEVIL TO PAY was worth the risk.

Self-publishing now gives me the freedom to write the stories that I want to without someone else dictating what it must have or what I can’t do.  I love being able to decide what’s next for me and where I want to go.  It has its own challenges and despite what so many will say, it isn’t an instant get-rich-quick environment.  I self-published four books last year.  It’s all the work of being your own business, from the ground up. But the rewards have come in the form of peace of mind, creative freedom and amazing readers.

I haven’t abandoned writing historical romances at all! The Duchess Club series comes out this year and I don’t think I’ll ever give it up.  But with self-publishing, I know that there is nothing I can’t try.  Dystopian fantasy, Historical Romance Single Titles, biographies, YA, Erotic romances, you name it.  Nothing is off the table.  But it’s my table.  And great readers get to choose from an incredible electronic buffet now and they can read whatever they want.  That’s huge.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
I’m very lucky to have incredible beta-readers and my mother is a very gifted editor and proofreader.  She is actually working for several authors now and building her own editing business—but she has assured me that I’ll always be treated equally with her paying customers and that she’ll always take my calls.

What have you’ve learned during your self-publishing journey?
I learned to let go and not to worry about perception of others or the opinions of traditional vs. self-publishing.  This is my road to walk and I am not a ‘vanity press’ writer.  I’m a USA Today bestselling author who won Best Debut Historical Romance of 2006 from RT’s Reviewers and I’m sixteen books into this journey.  I don’t need to apologize for the choices I’ve made and the mistakes are mine.  Self-publishing has helped me truly define myself as an artist and an independent person.  Win, lose or draw, I’m so grateful I stayed in the game.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, anywhere books are sold, I hope!  Audiobooks are also available via ACX.com and translations are out there in Spanish, Russian, French, Thai and Japanese.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
Put your best foot forward.  Write your best book and then have it edited.  It’s easy to hit the ‘publish’ button but taking back a nightmare impression of bad grammar and sickening prose is almost impossible, so make sure you’re ready before you jump.

And then, JUMP!

What’s next for you?
I’m continuing The Eternity Gambit Series with DEVIL MAY CARE, DEVIL OF A JOB and DEVIL IN THE DETAILS and will have a digital comic book out about Azrael called AZRAEL’S GIRL.  I am also working on The Duchess Club Series with THE WILD DUCHESS, THE WILLFUL DUCHESS, THE WANTON DUCHESS and THE WICKED DUCHESS, all set in Victorian London and a gift to my historical romance fans as a follow up to The Jaded Gentlemen Series.

I have a novel called THE IMBALANCE in progress and also THE CONCUBINE’S DAUGHTER, so at this point, 2015 looks to be a big writing year for me.  I have my fingers crossed that no matter how someone finds me in the crowd out there on Amazon, I do hope they enjoy the stories and stay with me for all the exciting books to come!

Thank you so much for having me here and for supporting authors and readers in their love of books!

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