Rexanne Becnel, the author of many best-selling historical romances, credits her childhood in Europe for fostering her love of history. Living with her husband and children in a big old house in New Orleans (it has a dungeon!) provides continuing inspiration, and she does all her writing in a coffee house, working long-hand. When not writing, Rexanne can usually be found puttering in the garden, or else playing competitive volleyball. All in all, she considers herself blessed with lots of love, great health, and the best job ever.
Hi Rexanne and welcome to Debbieís Den. Itís so nice to be able to talk to you again, I so enjoyed meeting with you in NY at the RWA conference. We have the Den all decorated for Christmas, so letís sit, relax and chat for a while.
Rexanne, you have written many historical romance books, won numerous awards and still find time to play volleyball. (For those who donít know, Rexanne was on a Senior Olympic Volleyball team!) How on earth do you manage to find time for yourself?
It was much harder to write when I had two young children and still worked outside the house. I wrote on my lunch hours at work; everyone knew not to approach me in the cafeteria. Even then, I was an avid volleyball player. I think sports and having a balanced life has contributed greatly to my writing and my sanity. Now that my kids are grown and on their own, I still write long hand, but in a coffee house. Every few weeks I put everything into the computer. And I still play volleyball several times a week.
What made you decide to become a writer?
I have always been a bookworm, and had even begun a novel back in college. It was a sort of survivalist/thriller book. In 1983 I became an image consultant. (Remember Color Me Beautiful?) Anyway, my partner and I were great at the make-overs, but we were awful at selling makeup and beauty products. As the business began to go downhill, I started writing 'the great American novel' during slow times at the shop. Then I read a eye- opening article in Cosmopolitan about writing for the romance genre. I'd never read a romance, but after a visit to the bookstore, I realized that's exactly what I was writing. That's when I became driven. I wrote constantly ó six books in less than four years before I finally sold one.
When you were a new author, was there anyone already established in the business that you aspired to be like? Did you have a mentor?
If not for Emily Richards who helped start the New Orleans chapter of Romance Writers of America, I would eventually have given up writing. She heard about me from a mutual friend and in late 1985 called me to join her new group. I was reluctant because these women were REAL writers whereas I was just a wannabe. I kept thinking about The Scarlet Letter, only in my case the scarlet letter on my chest would be 'U' for Unpublished! Thank goodness Emily was persistent. It only took one meeting for me to know that these were my kind of people. I've been a member ever since.
How long did it take you to write your first book and get it published?
Because I was initially writing without input from any other writers, I was afraid to try anything too long. Though I was inspired by the long historical romances of Kathleen Woodiwiss (weren't we all?) I first tried to write short contemporary romances. It took me five books ó all rejected ó to decide to write what I loved. I sold my first historical to Pageant Books in 1988, almost four years after I first decided to write. I might add that it never came out because Pageant closed down. I sold my next book, My Gallant Enemy, to Dell in 1989 and it came out in 1990.
All of your books are set in a historical setting from Medieval to Victorian to Regency. Do you have any one favorite time period? Why?
I love the medieval and the regency periods, but I think it's more about geography than the time periods. As a child I lived for three years in England and another three years in Germany. I love castles, and the English countryside, and especially the English sensibility. I did write two historicals set in the United States, Thief of My Heart, and When Lightning Strikes. Ten years ago I also wrote two contemporary novels: Christmas Journey and The Christmas Wish. I absolutely love Christmas stories. As a reader, however, I'm too often disappointed by book set during the Christmas season but which don't really have anything to do with the Christmas spirit.
Have you considered writing in a different genre?
I'm currently at work on a contemporary novel about three forty-something women. I love what I call girlfriend books. And there's always the thought of doing another Christmas book. But I'll always write historicals. Always.
Rexanne, what is a typical writing day like for you? Do you have any kind of set routine?
I get up at 6:30. My husband and I take turns serving each other coffee in bed, where we read the paper together until about 7:45. He goes to work and after I walk the dog, so do I. I try to get to the coffee house by 9:30 at the latest. My goal is to write three of four pages a day. (I'm the tortoise, not the hare?) I'm very faithful about my writing routine, however, so within six months or so, I have a finished book. Every few weeks I get on the computer for several marathon days. And two or three times during the writing I submit my work to my critique partner, Sabrina Jeffries. We've been working together for thirteen years, and I trust her implicitly. Plus, I get an early peek at all her wonderful work!
In your spare time, what kinds of things do you like to do?
As I said, I'm a volleyball fanatic, and am on three different teams. I also love to garden, although it might be more accurate to call it puttering in the yard. I prune and weed and feed the fish. Every spring I plant a few new things. It's a small urban garden, but thanks to the tropical climate in New Orleans, it's always lush and green, and smells good. Just recently I completed training and have begun tutoring a struggling second grader through a program called STAIR, Start the Adventure in Reading. Though I've been involved in literacy issues ever since I started writing, helping a child to read is a whole new world. It's wonderful and fulfilling, and I encourage anyone who loves books and kids to get involved in tutoring/mentoring in your own community.
When you sold your first book, how did you celebrate? Does your family read your work?
Because my very first sale went sour (see question #4) I did not celebrate my first book until I actually saw it in a book store. We went out to eat, and I started counting down the days (months) until I could afford to become a full time writer. My husband gamely tried to read my books, but he gave up around book number four or five. He is not a fiction reader, so I finally cut him some slack. But he has always been very proud of my career. If not for his encouragement, I never would have kept at it. As for my kids, my son cannot face the idea of his mother writing about anything sexual. His girlfriend constantly teases him about it. On the other hand, my daughter's boyfriend has read one of my books. I don't know what to think about that!
The Heartbreaker is your newest release and the follow up to The Matchmaker and has gotten rave reviews. Whatís next on your agenda? Can you give us any hints?
I recently completed The Girls of Summer, my girlfriend book and am shopping it around. Currently I'm working on the first book of another historical series set in the regency period.
Rexanne, what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Everyone is different, however I strongly encourage aspiring writers to find a local writing group and from its members create a small critique group. A regular critique group forces you to keep writing, and you leam both from their critiques of your work, and your analysis and critique of their work. If the first critique group doesn't work out, find another. Keep looking until you find the perfect match up. You didn't marry the first man you dated, did you? Because writing is such a solitary occupation, most of us need the connection with other writers. A writers group gives you that, and may provide mentors as well. Speaking as a multi-published author who still goes to her local RWA meetings, I am always happy to help those aspiring authors in my chapter whom I believe are really serious about their work. If you only show up once or twice a year yet want me to read your work, forget it. But if you come to most of the meetings, and have created a critique group of your own, and then ask me to read your work, how can I say no? People said yes to me, and they helped change my life. My fondest wish is to be able to do that for others.
You currently do not have a web site. How can your fans get in touch with you?
I'm a technophobe. It's an awful affliction and I'm not sure there's a cure. I keep saying that with the next contract, I'll go ahead and get a web site. But please, don't hold me to it. What I probably need is Aversion Therapy, or a good Twelve Step program. But until then, the best way to contact me is through my publisher, c/o Jennifer Weis,St. Martin's Press,175 Fifth Avenue,New York NY 10010.
Rexanne, youíre a doll and a wonderful writer. Thank you so much for spending time with me and I so enjoyed our lunch together in NY. Best wishes to you and your family during this holiday season! Hugs!!
Next month...A New Year...new friends...
Our Editor-in-Chief, Pam, takes a break from her duties,
and sits down with Lisa Renee Jones.
Please join them
- and Happy Holidays from everyone at Debbie's Den