Saturday, August 13, 2016

Q&A with Nicola Rendell, author of PROFESSED

Several weeks ago, I fell in love with a book called Professed and I took a chance and messaged the author, Nicola Rendell, to spew gushy book love her way. After several back and forth messages I asked if she'd consent to answering a few questions. She agreed and then I bumrushed her with more than a few. (Sorry Nicola!!) and here they are:

1. Why nihilism and mysticism (loved her essay on it by the way)--did you study philosophy because the references seemed so apt? From the very start, I wanted to make Naomi and Ben opposites in the way that they view and live in the world. As a nihilist, Ben believes in nothing and this makes a really beautiful contrast to Naomi, who believes in and hopes for so much. Something I have studied for a long time is how human thought continues to evolve and sometimes doubles back on itself. Why do we believe what we believe? What is belief anyway? Why do beliefs fall in and out of favor and why do we fight so hard for the intangible? Those kinds of questions fascinate me. I am also fascinated by the mystics and medieval beliefs, so they fit in very well. Nihilism and mysticism are not mutually exclusive, which surprised me a little as I researched this book. As you might have noticed in the acknowledgements, Ben’s character is based on Prof. Eugene Thacker at The New School… his books taught me a lot.

2. Will we learn more about the secret society in the next book--I'm still so curious about who picked these two and why and how? I purposefully left the society shadowy and mysterious to show how the societies function on campus. I had some very forthcoming sources that told me a lot, so I made some intentional choices and omissions. Unless you are really taken into a member’s confidence, you get a lot of headshakes and shrugs if you start asking too many questions. Maybe I just gave you an answer that is the equivalent of a shrug and a headshake!

3. Why this book and why write it now? I am traditionally published in another genre. Earlier this year, I found I was beginning to lose my love and passion for writing…I had stopped writing for myself and was writing exclusively for my agent and my editor. That wasn’t a good situation for me as a writer, so I decided to do something completely different: Create a new name, find a new genre, and write for the love of writing again. So I did, and now it’s out in front of readers. The indie publishing world has really given that artistic freedom back to writers; having creative control allows many of us to find our voices as freelance artists, which is not really possible in traditional publishing. Erotic comedy has allowed me to fall back in love with words-as-art rather than as tools of the Big Five publishers. And I don’t mean to slam the Big Five; they’re awesome; they’ve been good to me and many others and they have a tremendous history of excellent works. But there are a lot of cooks in the traditional publishing kitchen, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor. To be able to write a book like Professed and see it through in a relatively short period was such a thrill. In traditional publishing, that would have taken years. E.B. White once said that “a book is a sneeze,” and I feel that way too. I also think that the traditional publishing apparatus has fairly strict ideas of what readers will like because for so long, they were the tastemakers. This isn’t true anymore. Readers now have the power to be both tastemakers and trendsetters, and I think that’s just amazing. As for why this book and why now, I thought to myself, “If I could write anything, anything, what would it be? What world would I love to get lost inside for a few months?” This was the answer. At first, I thought I would write dark erotica because that’s something that really turns me on, but the humor soon bubbled up and I went with it. Also, Alex Lucian’s Tempting was the impetus for me to start fantasizing about sexy professors in a fairly focused way. I love that book a lot and am so lucky to have Alex’s support and endorsement.

4. This novel felt like a love note to the northeast--did you have to do a lot of research (I'm a southern girl so it was educational and just seemed like you (the characters) had this wonderful love hate relationship with the weather, like we do here in swamplandia)? I was born in New Mexico and grew up in the desert; now I live in the Northeast, and you’re right! It is a love note to this area in many ways. People complain about the weather and the heat, and right now, as I write this to you, there is a charming sheen of sweat all over me because it’s seven thousand degrees, but it’s so beautiful here. It is so old-fashioned in so many ways. Do you know they say “carriage” instead of “grocery cart”? I mean! And the leaves, the plants, the flowers. The seasons. I so look forward to holing up at home during a snowstorm; for instance, getting snowed in this winter. Put a stew on the stove, binge watch a series from start to finish and just be with my husband. I find that really romantic. Of course, if you ask me how I feel about winter in six months…

5. Are you a fan of True Detective (my husband went to high school with/grew up with the man who wrote the book!) Yes! I love True Detective! I’m so jealous that your husband is 1-degree from Nic Pizzolatto! I remember that when the first season of True Detective came out, Pizzolatto took a lot of flack for drawing too heavily from Thacker’s work in the way he wrote Rust Cohl’s monologues. It didn’t bother Thacker, and ultimately I think it proved Thacker’s point that nihilism is catching and that it’s the philosophy of bad-asses. Thacker didn’t mind, which is what really matters. But yes, I love shows like TD. There are a lot of British shows set in Wales, like Hinterland, that have a similar, spooky, world-apart vibe. I love that.

6. I was wondering about the staff at Ben's house--were they always there--how did they not get caught? The staff at the master’s houses don’t live-in, so they go home late at night. They do tend to mill about during the work-day and for events, so that added an extra element of danger.

7. Was Ben's past purposely not revealed (other than the paragraphs we get throughout about his past) because he's 'let it go' ? I was so curious about him and then the more I knew, the more I wanted to know. This wasn’t entirely intentional, but I didn’t want to frontload the book with too much backstory about the two of them. I focused on Naomi at the beginning and Ben as we moved forward. One thing that was purposeful though was that at the beginning of the book, Ben is in a very career-oriented place in his life, and I think in that mindset, people do kind of lose focus on their personal histories. Naomi helped him rediscover that as he rediscovered himself.

8. Do you see a future for Ben and Naomi after she graduates or will the age difference be too much at some point? I do see a future for them. I think she is an old soul in a lot of ways. Eighteen years is a lot, but you see couples like that all the time. Some of my readers are already asking if I will be writing a sequel, and I am thinking about it.

9. Why that big of an age difference? In order for Ben to have finished school and be so close to tenure, I figured he’d have to be at least that old. (I may or may not be speaking from experience!) Also, I find male professors in their late thirties to be incredibly yummy.

10. Not a question but something I noted and if you want to comment on it... I loved that you made Naomi so strong and it didn't really make him weak--he was strong too. She held a lot of power in their relationship. It never felt like his age and experience made her less than--he only used that once (I think). And I loved that you gave her knowledge that he didn't have.  Part of the fun of this book and those who will follow is that I just wrote people I really, really enjoyed. I tried, especially with Naomi, just to let her be. She came out strong, confident, and yet almost sweetly na├»ve. Many of my early readers have responded favorably to seeing that Naomi isn’t awkward or clumsy. I really believe that female characters can be “likeable and relatable” even if they are strong and confident in themselves. Strength and softness can definitely go together.  As for Ben…he isn’t alpha, but he isn’t beta. He’s just Ben. I found him so damned sexy. I wrote him as the kind of guy that I would like to fall for. I find that my characters are almost all switches. That’s really fun to write.

11. Did you have particular Yale buildings or images in mind when you were writing? Yes, actually. Some very, very particular ones! Durham College is not real, but it’s a mash-up of a few different residential colleges at Yale, including Branford and Davenport. Other locations—The Harkness Tower, The Study, Batell Chapel, The Beinecke Library, Blue State Coffee—those are all real places. There is a particular place called Linonia Court that really stuck with me.  

12. Are there any parts you deleted? The original beginning of the book was deleted. Naomi was in her room sewing up her yoga pants when the invitation came under the door. I liked that quiet time with her, but it was more of a literary exercise than anything; ultimately, it became clear that everybody—including me!—just wanted to get to the point of magical interaction between Naomi and Ben. I realize it’s a little insta-lovey, but I happen to find that very sexy. That electricity in the air in the first moment! Yes, please! So that’s where I shifted the beginning. That decision was also the product of the strong urging of one of my betas. She was definitely right.

13. Anything unexpected happen to the characters that surprised even you when writing (I know some characters 'talk' to their writers in unexpected ways)? Instead of them talking to me, I felt like I was almost observing them out there in the world… riding along with them in their lives perhaps. When Ben went to the adult goodies store, he was there on his own. I was just taking notes as I walked behind him. Same at the florist. Naomi came to life very organically and softly, as if she were a young woman that I actually had just met and was getting to know. On the other hand, Lucy surprised me at every single turn and that’s why she’s going to be starring in Confessed. Just wait until you meet Vince. Swoon!

14. Any parts that were hard to write or you were nervous about writing? I was very nervous about Naomi’s essay about her mom. I was actually pretty close to cutting it because I was so nervous readers would find it too sappy. But they haven’t. Readers have really enjoyed that essay and I’m so pleased. I was also a little nervous about making Yale seem snobbish or unfriendly, which is the opposite of the truth.

15. What was the first scene that came to you? God, these are amazing questions! The first scene that came to me was the clandestine meeting at the Guest Suite. Every Yale college has one and I've long thought that somewhere, sometime, someone must have had a clandestine rendezvous in one of them. I sure hope so anyway! Maybe some couple is rendezvousing right this very moment.

16. How did you pick your beta/early readers?--is that important to you or do you just do editors? I use both and they are equally important to me. My betas are so incredibly valuable to my process. They offer much needed support and excellent criticism. Beta reading is hard work because it’s difficult to be critical, especially as you become friends. Because I wrote this under a new name and wanted to keep my professional reputation separate from my erotic work, I only used one beta that I had worked with previously. She is a trusted friend. Then I found the Goodreads beta group and found a few betas there. I also have another author friend who read an early version. Now that I am gaining more readers and making friends in the romance/erotica community, I have met more betas and used some new ones for Confessed. My editors are just as important to me. I really believe that editing is a gift, not a learned skill. Right now, I work with three different editors for different things at different times. I really think that the more eyes a writer can get on their work, the better. The beta-writer relationship, like the writer-editor relationship, is a lot like a marriage, so when you find a good one, you have to hang on tight!

17. Do you have to juggle a day job with writing. If so, how is that? If not, do you have a certain daily writing routine? I do have a day job. I thought a long time about how to answer this without giving away too much about my real identity. The broad strokes are that I work more-than-full-time and write as well. I have a routine of getting up about 5 in the morning and then writing for as many hours as I can before I have to go to work. I don’t have any children though, and I think women who both raise children and make art are absolute superheroes.

18. Are there other things you'd like to write in or out of this genre (in addition to the other books in this series)? I would just love write some historical fiction one day. All I have done so far, both inside this genre and out of it, is contemporary. But I love history, and I think history is rife with comedy. To make that switch, I would probably have to reinvent myself with a new pseudonym, and I don’t mind that idea at all. I am naturally pretty shy so the pseudonym allows me a lot of freedom and a little bit of a buffer. Within the genre, I am fascinated by second-chance love stories. I don’t know that I could do one very well because that first-encounter trope is so sexy to me, but I do love reading second chance romances because I think that’s something we can all understand in the context of our personal lives. We don’t all have the chance to meet a sexy professor at a ball, but we all have that one past lover who haunts us.

19. Who do you read (in and out of the genre)? In the genre, I try to get my hands on everything I can. Our Patron Saint of Smut, Alexa Riley, is one of my go-to quick reads. Helena Hunting. Rissa Brahm. I love Alex Lucian, which I’m pretty sure everybody knows by now. I adore Lauren Blakely. Do you have a comfort book or author who is your go to when you need it? Will it surprise you if I say Patrick O’Brien’s Aubrey/Maturin series? Naomi and Ben quote it to each other on that beach in Rhode Island. I am obsessed with maritime stories for reasons that are completely mysterious even to me! I have no idea how to sail and I am petrified of the open ocean. And yet, I love these stories to death. There are 21 O’Brien books and I am embarrassed to admit how often I’ve read them. I've also listened to them all on audio. Beyond that, my second language is Spanish, so I read a lot of non-English work as well. Much of the short fiction that came out of Latin America in the ‘70s speaks to me really deeply.

20. What do you do for fun (in addition to cooking) and/or stress relief? My husband and I both have really mentally taxing jobs, so when the day is done, there is a lot of couch/TV time with the dogs. We have two and we love them absolutely rotten. I also love to garden, sew, and play the piano. I sound like an 80-year-old woman. I have no problem with that. One of my many spirit animals is Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote. I’d like to be her when I grow up.

21 Does your family know about your novel (their thoughts)? Will you let them read it? My husband is an incredible brainstorming partner and yes, he knows about and he reads the work… but it’s tricky. Usually, he reads when I’m already asleep and then invariably stumbles on a sexy scene and wants to wake me up to “talk about it”! My mom knows I am up to something but she doesn’t know what exactly. I have a few friends who know my pseudonym, but it’s really limited to my inner circle. I like it that way. This sounds silly now that I’ve answered these questions, but I don’t really like to talk about myself very much. I’d much rather know about everybody around me.

Thank you so much for taking the time to ask me all these wonderful questions (Shel--no, THANK YOU, Nicola, for being so willing to answer them!). I really hope your readers enjoy spending time with Ben and Naomi. Lucy will have her own book, Confessed, releasing in September. And there will be many more after that.

Thanks again to Nicola Rendell for her kindness! We cannot wait to read Lucy's book!

Stalk Nicola Rendell here:
Instagram: @cute_chameleon
Twitter: @AuthorNRendell


At a secret masked ball at Yale, Naomi Costa is literally swept off her stiletto-blistered feet by a man with a killer jawline, a perfect body, and an even-better kiss. They bust out of an emergency exit and have axis-shaking sex. He pours whiskey in her belly button and after they run out of condoms, they have to get creative. That kind of sex. 

The next day, she learns that he is none other than Dr. Benjamin Beck, a brand new member of the Yale faculty and the hottest thing to happen to academia since… well, ever. She has to take his damned junior seminar to graduate, but it gets worse. He’s also her College Master: her boss, her advisor, her everything. And he’s just moved in, right downstairs. 

They can’t stay away from each other. They're either fusion or fission or both. They’re making out in libraries, hiding notes between stones, and sneaking off to nautically themed AirBnbs. Hear that sound? It’s the academic code of ethics going up in flames. 

If they're found out, he’ll lose his job and his reputation. She'll lose her scholarship and be forced to return to the life of lobster fishing that she thought she’d escaped. 

And they will be found out, yes they will. 

So what the hell are they going to do? 


To the reader: Things get damned dirty in this book. The characters curse, the sex gets explicit. It’s an erotic love story with fury. Be advised. This is a stand-alone novel.

Other tasters’ notes: HEA. Sweet. Funny. Dirty. Muddy. Wet. Inspired by a real professor.

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