Passions of a Modern Woman

by Allen Pierleoni — Sacramento Bee Staff Writer

Published: Monday, August 10, 2009 – 12:00 am

A door to Brenda Novak’s home suddenly opens and in rushes her husband, Ted Novak. He’s a muscular guy who, like his wife, seems very self possessed.

“Hi, sweetheart, how are ya?” she calls out from a comfy chair in the expansive living room.

Ted is ducking into the kitchen to make a quick sandwich, Brenda explained. He’s on his way to pick up their two boys at soccer camp and then head out for a bike ride.

Hold on – let’s hit the “pause” button. First, we’re talking about Brenda Novak, 45, an award winning, best-selling romantic suspense novelist. Her bibliography will list 31 titles by the end of September, when the sixth entry in her second “The Last Stand” trilogy hits bookstores. The setting in all six is Sacramento.

Second, “the boys” are 12 and 14. The Novaks’ three daughters (the oldest is 23) are away at college. “We’re feeling the house is sort of empty, but it’s easier to manage with all we have going on,” Novak said.

Third, the house itself, a wonder of wood and glass built in the 1950s, decorated partly with large framed photos of the family. It sits on 2 acres in Carmichael.

Out back, inside the remodeled guest cottage, is where Novak maintains her office. A can of Blue Diamond almonds is next to the Dell computer keyboard. Sometimes there’s a bag of Coffee Nips.

“My husband brings me treats,” Novak said, endearment in her voice.

And lastly, husband Ted, with whom Novak is “madly in love” and whom she has described elsewhere as “an entrepreneur who regularly risked more than we could afford to lose.”

“His company does lighting retrofitting for big companies,” she said. “He’s a workaholic, too, which is kind of a problem.We have to consciously slow down and make sure we take plenty of time for the kids.”

All this adds up to a very kinetic dynamic, one with a plot that reads a bit like… well, like a contemporary romance novel.

In shorthand: After two years at Brigham Young University, Brenda gave up her academic scholarship to marry Ted in 1984. She was 20. By 1990, he was in real estate development and she was a loan officer at a Sacramento mortgage company.

Then, twin disasters: In 1992 their baby sitter was caring for their three young ones while the Novaks worked. Turned out the sitter was drugging the children with cough syrup so they slept while she watched soap operas undisturbed.

“At that point, I couldn’t leave my kids anymore. My trust had been shattered,” Novak said.

She was a newly minted stay-at-home mom when “my husband’s business (failed) during the real estate downturn (of 1992-93) and we lost everything. I felt like I had a ball and chain on each arm and leg because I couldn’t go out and work. I knew I had to do something from home.

“At the time, I was reading (‘A Knight in Shining Armor’ by Jude Deveraux), which really swept me away from the situation. I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll try this.’ Once I started (writing romance), I thought, ‘This is what I was meant to find all my life.’ It was a silver lining to a dark situation that forced my life onto a path I probably wouldn’t have taken otherwise.”

Not so fast. Five years passed before Novak mastered her craft (“I learned how to write by reading what other writers had written”), finished her first book (a historical romance, “Of Noble Birth”) and entered it in a contest sponsored by the Romance Writers of America. As a finalist for the Golden Heart Award for unpublished authors, it caught a publisher’s attention and hit bookstores in 1999. While all that was going on, two more Novak children had entered the picture.

A Passionate Fundraiser

Novak is most passionate about three things: her family, her annual online auction for diabetes research – which are related – and her writing business.

When her youngest son (now 12) was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 5, she had a brainstorm: Hold an online auction as a fundraiser for diabetes research.

“I already had all this traffic at my Web site,” Novak said, “and I figured I could offer unique things other people couldn’t.”

She figured right. In May, Novak’s fifth auction featured about 2,400 items, including autographed books by top-tier authors and the opportunity to name a character in Davis-based John Lescroart’s 2010 novel, “Treasure Hunt.”

This year, the auction raised about $280,000; in total, the figure is up to about $770,000.

The money goes to the Miami-based Diabetes Research Institute.

“I recently toured it,” Novak said. “I got so excited about how close the scientists sounded to a cure.” Let’s not forget why she created the fundraiser in the first place. She gets up every night to test her son’s blood sugar.

“People are so familiar with (the concept of diabetes) that they are desensitized,” she said. “They think, ‘People live with diabetes all the time.’ What they don’t understand is what it takes to live with it.”

New ‘Last Stand’ Trilogy

Last year, Novak published the first trilogy in her “Last Stand” series – “Trust Me,” “Stop Me” and “Watch Me.”

The first title in the second trilogy, “The Perfect Couple,” was released July 28. It will be followed by “The Perfect Liar” (Aug. 25) and “The Perfect Murder” (Sept. 29).

The premise: Three women who were the victims of crime – Skye, Sheridan and Jasmine – meet by chance at a victims support group and form the Sacramento-based The Last Stand, a charity organization for crime victims. In one way or another, all the books have what’s known in the romance industry as “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.”

The “happily ever after” conclusion is one of the essential elements in romance, of course. But Novak pointed out that getting there is just part of the process.

“A lot of it is marketing expertise as well,” she said. “These days, publishers are looking for that.”

Novak’s Web site, www.brendanovak.com, makes it clear that she has quasi-personal and full-on cyber-relationships with her fan base.

There’s a newsletter and contests, for instance, and she answers all her e-mail. In December she even hosted a virtual Christmas party on Second Life, an online “virtual world” (www.secondlife.com) where visitors play roles.

In a couple of weeks, Novak will join 36 other California writers at the Authors Booth at the California State Fair (a complete schedule is at www.bridgehousebooks.com).

Like it or not, the romance genre is huge. One survey showed that 74.8 million people read at least one romance novel in 2008, and worldwide sales consistently hover around $1.4 billion.

Against that backdrop, where does Novak see the industry going?

“It’s redefining itself. As we (writers) try to get more creative, (readers) are seeing the lines blur between romance and other genres,” she said. “Our readers are willing to follow us into new places, yet still want to feel satisfied and go ‘Ahhh …’ when they close the book.”

How To Make Love Last

As a well-established romance writer, Brenda Novak is viewed as an authority on relationships between men and women. As such, her readers expect her to know a few things about how to keep love alive.

Here, then, are some of her ideas on “how to make love last.”

  1. Avoid negative thought patterns.
  2. Remember that this person means more to you than anyone else – including your parents and your kids.
  3. Be more flexible and forgiving with your spouse than you are of your friends and neighbors. Reserve your patience and kindness for the person who means the most to you.
  4. Understand that relationships work on a spiral: The more thoughtful you are with your loved one, the more fulfilled and happy he or she will be, and the more he or she will give back to you.
  5. Don’t get too practical. Some couples forgo the flowers, the cards, the dinner dates and the chocolates in favor of saving money. But what’s worth more to you? A few bucks or a relationship that will likely affect your whole life?
  6. Try to do something nice for your spouse every day, even if it’s just a chore he or she typically does.
  7. Be physical and touch a lot. These little reminders that a spouse cares are nurturing to the soul and send wonderful signals to your children.
  8. Remain loyal. Have the grit it takes to stick together through thick and thin.
  9. Be unselfish. Life isn’t all about you. Worry more about whether you’re being a good spouse than whether your spouse is being a good mate to you.
  10. Take care of yourself mentally and physically. In other words, be someone you’d like to be with.
  11. Laugh. It’s no fun to be around someone when everything means too much and weighs too heavily.

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