The Admiral's Bride

Bodyguard

Body Language

Everyday, Average Jones

Forbidden

Freedom's Price

Get Lucky

Harvard's Education

Heartthrob

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear

Kiss and Tell

Love With the Proper Stranger

Time Enough for Love

Undercover Princess

The Unsung Hero

  The Interviews
Meet Author
Suzanne Brockmann
by Jean Mason
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Itís happened before and it may well happen again. But itís a rare occurrence nonetheless. And what is ďitĒ? An author winning two Rita Awards in the same year. Thatís what Suzanne Brockmann achieved at the 2000 RWA meeting. Her SIM Undercover Princess was named best in the ďLong Contemporary SeriesĒ category while Body Guard was chosen as Best Contemporary Single Title. Quite an achievement!

Suz (as she is known) kindly agreed to talk to TRR about her reaction to winning the awards, her writing career, and how she sees what is going on in the romance genre.

TRR: Having attended your workshop at RWA, I have some idea of how and why you started writing romance. Would you share your story with our readers?

Suz: I actually started out writing screenplays and TV scripts -- and got nowhere. I sent some of my scripts to an agent in Hollywood, who responded by telling me I was a good writer and that I should give him a call. His question when we spoke: "When are you moving to LA?" Well, I wasn't moving to LA. I was living in New York at the time, and I told him that. His response? "I've got ten people who are also good writers who want representation, and they all live right down the street." Well, I didn't move to LA, and that agent didn't end up representing me.

So there I was, in New York, and right about that time a good friend gave me Tony Robbinsí Personal Power tapes. I did his goal setting workshop and it really clicked for me. And I figured I needed to break my goal of selling a script of screenplay down into easier, more attainable steps. And I figured one of the first things I had to do was set myself apart from those ten other guys living down the street from that agent by become a published author.

I've always been an avid reader, familiar with all three of the main commercial genres of mass market fiction -- SF, mystery and romance. I knew I wanted to get published in one of these genres, so I did a little research. And when I found out just how many romance novels were released each month, I knew right away that there was a very good chance there was room for me! I read, read, read -- about 200 Silhouette Intimate Moments (I chose that line as one of my targets right from the start) and other contemporary romances, and in June of 1992, I sat down and started writing my first book.

It was really cool, because just a few chapters in, I knew I was onto something really good! I was having so much fun writing, and it came so easily and naturally. Romance was obviously really perfect for my writing voice -- I felt it in my bones, you know?

TRR: You set out to write high quality books but you also set out to write lots of books. Can you tell us why you set yourself this goal?

Suz: I knew that writing quickly was one of my strengths. In fact, back when I was writing TV scripts, I recognized that I had the ability to write a script in a very short amount of time. And I actually spent time practicing and trying to shorten that time! (I got the writing of one hour-long (47 page) TV script, from idea to final draft down to about 2 days time. Of course, those were very looong days of work!)

I think it's important that writers look at themselves and learn to identify their writing strengths. So often we look at ourselves and only see the flaws, only notice the things we don't do well. Well, that's important, too, but we tend to overlook the good stuff. A writer should learn what she does well and write books that show off her strengths!

Being prolific was one of my strengths, and I tried to take advantage of it by getting as many high quality books out there with my name on 'em as possible in the course of a year.

TRR: When did you start writing romances? How long did it take you to get published? How many books have you written thus far?

Suz: I sat down in June, 1992 and started writing my first romance novel. In December of 1992, I sold my first (fourth written!) book to Meteor Kismet, Future Perfect. It came out in August, 1993 -- the very last book Meteor ever published!

Just this past June, 2000, my 30th book, The Unsung Hero, was released by Ballantine/Ivy.

TRR: What kind of schedule do you have to maintain to achieve that kind of output?

Suz: An absolutely insane one! I spent about seven years moving immediately from one book to the next, without a real break. It's hard to do that for such a long time. (I'm in total awe of Nora Roberts!) Currently, my goal is to write and release two single title books and two Silhouette Intimate Moments each year. And even that's a little too intense for me right now! I'm working hard to keep up! (Of course books like The Unsung Hero have three or four major subplots woven together -- it's kind of like writing three different books in one!)

TRR: Your Navy SEAL books have a huge following. Why do you think SEALs are so popular as romance heroes?

Suz: I have a couple of theories. The first has to do with military heroes. We live in a post-Vietnam world in which there's really no such thing as a military hero. But I think as a society we miss those heroes. We can have 'em with SEALs -- warriors who are mainly used to PREVENT war! I also think that the loyalty of the men to each other, their friendship and trust is another big draw. In fact, I used elements of the "buddy movies" I've always loved when I conceived of the "Tall, Dark & Dangerous" series.

TRR: You published your first single title, Heart Throb, in 1998. (BTW, this is my personal favorite of all your books.) Was it hard to break into single title? How is writing a single title different from writing a category?

Suz: I'm glad you liked Heart Throb! I learned the hard way that writing a single title wasn't really that different from writing an IM. The word count wasn't THAT much bigger, and I realized 1/3 of the way in, when I was writing Heart Throb, that if I didn't cut out some of the subplots I'd planned, I was gonna have a 1500 page book! I knew at that point that I really wanted to be writing much longer books. This was where the seeds of The Unsung Herostarted to come to life!

As far as it being hard to break in to STs -- I was lucky. I'd worked with Ballantine Editor Shauna Summers when she was a series romance editor at Bantam Loveswept. We had a great relationship, and when she moved to Ballantine, she encouraged me to submit an ST proposal to her.

TRR: How did you feel when you heard your name called for your first Rita? And how did you feel when Mrs. Rutlandís daughter called your name the second time?

Suz: Oh, man... Did you SEE me up there? LOL!

I have to admit that I was hoping I'd win Best Series Romance of the Year. I thought my chances were pretty good with two books nominated. But it was a real thrill to hear my name called!

And that second Rita! Man, I was sitting back, relaxing, wearing in my fuzzy red sweater (because it's always so cold in there!), ready to watch one of the other talented authors give her acceptance speech. Well, okay, maybe in my very wildest dreams did I think for a second that I might win two, but it was only for the very shortest second, I swear! I had no speech prepared, no expectations. I'd won a Rita -- I was happy.

And I actually was able to read Mrs. Rutland's daughter's lips as she whispered my name into her mother's ear. The camera had zoomed in for a close up, and I saw my name spoken on that big screen, even before it was announced. I think I said something like "Oh, my GOD!" And then, sure enough, my name was announced. I remember sitting there and thinking, "Holy Sh*t!" I remember people turning around from the rows in front of me and looking at me. I remember seeing all these smiling, laughing faces -- I'm sure I looked completely astonished because I was!

All I have to do is think about that moment, and I start laughing all over again. It still makes me giddy, just remembering!

TRR: Two of your books were nominated for Ritas in the long series category, The Admiralís Bride - one of your SEAL books - and Undercover Princess, a much lighter and romantic story. Where you surprised when the latter won? Do you have any idea why the judges chose that particular book?

Suz: Yes! I think Undercover Princess was a warmer, more emotional story -- a home and hearth-ier book, rather than my usual romantic action/adventure. And it's heroine driven -- the only book I've ever written that's heroine driven as a matter of fact!

I had lunch on the Saturday of the Rita Awards with my friend Pat White from Chicago, and I told her that I had this feeling that UP was going to win because of those reasons. And I remember coming out of my office after finishing writing UP and telling my husband, "Ironically, this is the book that's going to win me a Rita!" And yes, he remembers when I said that! It's a little ironic to me that this book should win, since I've basically built my entire career on my TDD Navy SEALs. Those are the books that caught the reading publics' attention and established my name as a romance author. And it's also a little ironic since personally, The Admiralís Bride is among my favorites of all my series romances, and certainly my favorite of those two books.

TRR: Do you feel that winning a Rita will make a difference to your career? Will it translate into higher sales?

Suz: Hey, I just got the cover flats for my next single title release, The Defiant Hero (which will be out on Feb. 27, 2001) and it has one of those sales blurbs for booksellers on the back that says all kinds of groovy things about me and my books, including: "Brockmann has won two Romance Writers of America RITA Awards, for Body Guard and Undercover Princess..."

Ballantine is going to be pushing the release of The Defiant Hero. They were intending to do so before I won the Ritas, but this certainly doesn't hurt!

TRR: OK, hereís a tough question. Your last SEAL book had one of the ugliest covers I have ever seen. Do you have any figures yet to determine whether the cover hurt sales?

Suz: No figures yet. I'll be getting a royalty statement in about a month, but even then, I probably won't know until next May. That book was Get Lucky, and you're right, the cover was hideous.

To be honest, I was extremely successful in my "counterattack!" When I saw the cover, I knew I had the perfect ammunition for some great publicity! I started with an email newsletter: "Check out the hideously awful cover that I just posted on my website!" I approached it with humor, turned it into a giant joke on H/S -- instead of the giant joke it would have been on me and the book if I'd tried to take it seriously. But really, I simply can't imagine trying to sell that book at a signing with a straight face! LOL!

The good news is that cover generated literally hundreds of emails from readers and fans. I think I increased my email newsletter list by 300 names. Maybe even more! The buzz on this book was HUGE. I had people write to me to tell me they'd bought the book because everyone was talking about it and they had to see the cover for themselves. (And yes, they loved the book despite the dreadful cover!)

Interestingly, I got a great (and extremely thoughtful) review of Get Lucky by Lyssa Davis who pointed out that one of the themes of this book was indeed, that we shouldn't be fooled by what's on the outside, by surface appearances. It's what's inside that really counts. And this cover certainly fit that theme!!!!

TRR: How do you envision the future of the romance genre? What about your own future plans?

Suz: I think romance is going to be around for a loooong time. My plans are to continue writing romance -- both novels and screenplays. In a few years, I'm going to relax my writing schedule a little bit more so that I'll have time for a spec script or two. And then, look out! I'd also like to be the next David Kelley (the creator/writer of The Practice and Ally McBeal). I'd like to write for television, too -- quality television! Can't you just see the TDD series as a weekly show?

TRR: If you ever do move to writing screenplays, do you think you will be able to translate the sensibilities and conventions of the romance genre to the screen? Why do you think there are so few satisfactory romantic movies today?

Suz: I think there are few satisfying movies today, period. I think Hollywood is so afraid of failing, they keep bringing in more and more writers until a story is homogenized and bland. I think the real future of the movies is in independent films, where writer/directors have control. Those movies are their single vision. That's what I hope to do someday. I'll write 'em, and my son, Jason, will direct. We've already done a number of video projects -- it's a lot of fun...

As far as translating romances to movies go, I think it can be done. But the rules are different for movies -- the HEA ending isn't a given. One of my all time favorite romance movies is Casablanca. What a wonderful, lovely movie! Or Shakespeare in Love. Another fav of mine. No HEA ending there, though. And yet there are plenty of good romantic moviesthat end happily.

November 28, 2000


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