Interview with Barbara Brett

Where did you grow up? How did this influence your writing?
I’m one of those rare birds, a native New Yorker. I was born in Manhattan, lived for a little while in Queens, but grew up in the Bronx. When my husband and I married, we lived for a few years in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, but we moved to our beloved Brooklyn when we were expecting our first child, and we have been here ever since. I love New York City, and it plays a big part in the background of most of my books because my characters love it too and take the reader along with them to all the exciting and intriguing places they visit as their stories unfold.
When did you first start writing?
Probably as soon as I could pick up a pencil and actually put words together on a piece of paper. As a little kid, I used to entertain friends with stories I made up, and I was usually the one who came up with the scenarios for our games of make-believe. My love of writing led me to a career in editing. I started at the bottom as a proofreader, then became a magazine editor, then a book editor, and, eventually, I had my own independent publishing company where I published inspirational nonfiction. You may have heard of the New York Times bestseller WHERE ANGELS WALK by Joan Wester Anderson. That was one of the books I discovered and published. Before I had my own company, I was able to sandwich in some writing of my own. My short stories were published in women’s magazines, and I had three mainstream novels published by big publishing houses. Then my husband, Hy Brett, and I collaborated on a mystery that was a Mystery Guild main selection. The responsibilities of running my company meant giving up my own writing. Recently, though, as the big publishers got even more powerful through mergers and acquisitions, it became harder and harder to compete with them and I closed my company. Now, at last, I have time for my first love, writing.
What motivated you to be an indie author?
Having worn the hats of editor, publisher, and author, I know the industry from both sides of the desk. I’m very aware of how difficult things have become for authors, even those, like me, who were previously published and well-reviewed, to get a foot in the door these days. Besides, I like the idea of being in control of my work from start to finish, and I’m grateful to Mark Coker and Smashwords for giving me and so many other talented authors the opportunity to do just that. Smashwords really is the answer to every author’s dream.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
The Nook.
How do you discover the e-books you read?
On Smashwords, of course!
What do you read for pleasure?
For me, reading is always a pleasure (except maybe reading the newspaper, which can be pretty depressing these days!). Like everyone else, I have a very busy life, with family responsibilities, volunteer work, and my writing. There never seems to be enough time to read everything on my list. My night table is piled high with books—and the piles seem to get higher rather than lower. I’ve always been interested in the world around me, past and present, and so I read a lot of nonfiction—biographies, history, politics, travel, essays. I love fiction too—mysteries and mainstream novels, past and present. How I wish there were “world enough and time” to read everything!
What is your writing process?
First comes the idea for the book. More often than not, that comes just from conversation with my husband, Hy. When two authors are married, ideas are always popping. Just as an example, I remember once we were discussing a novel we’d both read about a marriage gone bad, and I complained that nobody ever wrote the love story of a good marriage. “Why don’t you?” he said—and I did. That’s BETWEEN TWO ETERNITIES, which is now on Smashwords. The idea is the easy part, it’s making it grow into a book that is hard. I write a brief outline, do the necessary research, taking lots of notes. Then I begin. Once I come up with the opening sentence, which is no simple task, things begin to flow. Still, there are days when I seem to spend hours staring at a blank page. When that happens, I get up and do something far removed from writing. I bake bread, or do the laundry, or take a long walk. And I clear my mind, trying not to think of the problem at hand. By the time I get back to work, I find that something in the back of my mind has been working too, and the problem is usually solved. If it isn’t, I discuss it with my husband and, together, we work it out. That’s another advantage of being married to a writer!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
A great joy of writing is the feeling of accomplishment when I finally type those two magic words: “The End.” A greater joy comes when I see the book in print—either on paper or as an e-book. But the greatest joy is when readers take the time to reach out to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it.
What are you working on next?
I never like to talk about works-in-progress, but I will reveal that it’s an exciting novel about the lives and loves of high-powered people in the glamorous and cutthroat world of publishing. Its title is SIZZLE, and it will soon be up on Smashwords. Watch for it!
Who are your favorite authors?
It’s hard to know where to begin, there are so many authors I love and admire, past and present. If I were to start with the classic authors, the list would go on and on, so I’ll begin with the present and more recent past. First and foremost, there’s my husband, Hy Brett. Then, in no particular order, and mixing both writers of fiction and nonfiction, there are Alexander McCall Smith, Barbara Pym, Frank Tallis, Garth Stein, Constance Walker, Penelope Fitzgerald, Maya Angelou, P.D. James, Julie Ellis, Antonia Fraser, Agatha Christie, Jean Arbeiter, John Le Carre, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Mertz, Molly Ivins, Kay Williams, Anthony Powell, Barbara Ehrenreich, Gail Collins, Annie Proulx.... As I said, the list goes on and on. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than coming across an author (contemporary or past) who is new to me and who touches my heart, or opens my eyes and my mind, or tickles my fancy, or sends chills up my spine.
What are your five favorite books and why?
Only five? That’s like asking a presidential candidate what are his or her five favorite states! Okay, I’ll try to whittle it down to five, and, like my favorite authors’ list, this is not in any particular order:

MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor E. Frankl. Viennese psychiatrist Viktor Frankl spent World War II as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps. All through the unspeakable horrors he suffered and saw others suffering around him, he searched for meaning and a reason to keep living. In this unforgettable book he shares what he discovered to help him triumph over the appalling cruelty of the Nazis that took the lives of his beloved wife and parents but could not rob him of his own humanity. I give this inspiring book to loved ones who are going through difficult times, and I keep it always within easy reach on my night table.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARK TWAIN, Volume One (because I haven’t yet had a chance to read volume two). I love Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain. Reading his autobiography is like having a visit with the brilliant curmudgeon himself. He comes alive and so does the time he lived in. Even better, his sharp observations about people, politics, and history are as true for the time we live in as they were for his. I relished every page.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS by Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson). It can’t really be cheating to link the two books as one, since I can’t think of one without thinking of the other. These books delighted me as a child and even more so as an adult. Not only are they great fun, but all the characters and observations can so easily be connected to people and situations in real life. They’re delightful handbooks on living for children and the adults they will become.

A ROOM OF ONE'S OWN by Virginia Woolf. Published in 1929, this long essay about the difficulties facing women who wanted to write in Woolf’s time and in the past is a real eye-opener. It lays out in stark and beautiful prose the hurdles, more often than not insurmountable, placed before all talented women simply because of their sex. Particularly moving is Woolf’s description of the life Shakespeare’s equally talented sister, had she ever existed, would have had and her destined end. It’s a book that should be read by all contemporary women, and men too, so we never forget how long and how hard the road has been for us.

WISHFUL WEDDINGS by Hy Brett. How many times have we been heartbroken at the end of a book or movie because the hero and heroine couldn’t get together? This delightful book fixes that. From Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to Casablanca’s Rick and Ilsa and Toyland’s Barbie and Ken, Hy Brett unites our favorite star-crossed lovers and writes up their weddings as they would be reported in the society pages of their local newspapers. No matter how often I read it, it always leaves me laughing. And these days, we need all the chuckles we can get!
Describe your desk.
I’m glad I don’t have to post a picture of it! That way, I can pretend that the clippings of interesting articles and research notes and bills are in neat piles. My desk has an over shelf attached to it, and that’s my favorite part. On it, bearing mischievous smiles and no doubt ready to cavort when I walk out of the room, are pixies and fairies I’ve collected over the years. One fairy oversees a perpetual calendar where I daily change the date, and a jaunty fellow with a leaf cap constitutes the handle of a big mug with a shamrock on it and my pencils and pens in it. The others just hang out together. I truly believed in these magical creatures when I was a little girl, and I think they’ll always warm my heart. Just between us, I have a hunch they may really exist. Who else could be responsible for my misplaced eyeglasses and lost earrings? Also on the shelf is the well-worn dictionary I love to riffle through to discover yet another fascinating word derivation, and a bamboo plant I was given for my birthday last year, that is reputed to bring good luck. Front and center is a beautiful little clock inscribed with words of Harriet Beecher Stowe: “The past, present, and future are one; they are today.” It was given to me by my dear older sister, who died too young, a victim of multiple sclerosis, and it reminds me not only of her but also that every moment we have with the ones we love is precious and should be treasured.
Published 2013-10-31.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Between Two Eternities
By Barbara Brett
Price: $4.99 USD. Words: 35,200. Language: English. Published: December 15, 2012. Category: Fiction
Married ten years, Robert and Marcie are more in love than ever. With two adorable children and successful careers, they have everything to live for. But a terrible secret is breaking Robert’s heart: he knows that Marcie is about to die.... Intensely romantic and unforgettable, this is the story of a man, a woman, and the breathless romance that comes to mean more than life itself.