white heat Those who read romantic suspense probably already know Brenda Novak’s name. She writes about some dark, gritty things, and balances the mix with hope and romance. The result is often quite the thrill ride. Her latest novel, White Heat, is no different. With White Heat, Novak kicks off a new series amid the story of protagonists who must infiltrate an Arizona cult.

The book will be released on July 27, 2010, and to celebrate, Brenda Novak is offering one lucky AAR reader a mini tote containing an autographed copy of White Heat, a lip gloss from Three Custom Color Specialists in the White Heat shade designed especially for the author, and a $25.00 Borders gift card. To enter, please comment below anytime from now until the contest closes at 5:30 p.m. EST on July 22, 2010. I recently had a chance to interview Brenda Novak, and without further ado, here is the interview!

1. First of all, could you tell readers a little bit about the plot of White Heat?

In White Heat, Dept. 6 operatives Rachel Jessop and Nate Ferrentino must go undercover to stop a dangerous cult. As private security contractors, they’re used to danger, but this is a bit different than anything they’ve done before. The Church of the Covenant has taken up residence in what was once an old ghost town (Paradise) in the middle of the Arizona desert, which means they will be completely cut off from any support. The history they share adds to the difficulty of their mission, especially because they have to be able to depend entirely on each other. Ethan Wycliff, the charismatic leader of the cult is getting more dangerous by the day. One disenchanted member claims he and the others tried to stone her. Not only that, but a teenage girl has recently gone missing. The reports are alarming. They suspect Ethan is getting out of control, soon learn he must be stopped. But Rachel and Nate have to risk their lives in order to stop him.

2. In your author’s note, you discuss why you decided to set your latest trilogy in Arizona, but what made you decide to use a religious cult as the key plot in White Heat?

I’ve always found fanaticism in any form to be fascinating, especially when linked with religious fervor because it gives those who believe an excuse to do just about anything they want “in the name of the Lord.” That they can do terrible things and feel JUSTIFIED is something that makes me shake my head. This book definitely doesn’t diss religion, but it does look at the various types of individuals who go to extremes and feel perfectly justified–even called on–to do so, as if they have some special permission from a higher power. White Heat also looks at real faith and those who are pure in heart in their search for spirituality. I found the heroine’s journey, the way she comes full circle (although her destination is a much healthier version of what she’d been forced into growing up), uplifting because it’s a journey that so many of us take. (Finding out who we are and what we believe about God regardless of what our parents have taught us.)

3. In White Heat, you’re definitely not shy about digging into the inner workings of a cult and the motivations of the leaders and followers. What kind of research did you have to do to set up this story?

I had just finished reading SHATTERED DREAMS, a memoir about a woman who was raised in a cult and how she escaped it. I found it so heartbreaking to think she sacrificed a huge portion of her life and happiness in order to be “saved.” It showed me how easily people can get caught up in something like this, the power of the group mentality, etc. I also did a great deal of research on the Internet because it was hard for me, at times, to believe that some cult leaders get away with what they get away with. I had to keep checking to make sure mine were well within believable bounds–and The Church of the Covenant turned out to be quite tame by comparison! LOL

4. I found it interesting how you were able to use your heroine’s religious background to both give her a unique perspective on her mission as well as a deeper understanding of the workings of a cult that say, an agnostic, might not have. How did you come up with Rachel and her backstory?

My intention here was to add more depth to the novel and create a strong internal conflict for the heroine. I pulled on some of my own background for Rachel. I was born into the Mormon church, which is a mainstream religion that has often been called a cult by other Christian religions. There are break-offs of the Mormon church–the Fundamentalists that we’ve all seen on TV and in National Geographic–who still practice polygamy and live in communes in the desert or elsewhere. I’ve often asked myself, as “a good little girl,” would I ever have rebelled had I been born on the Fundamentalist side instead of the mainstream side?

I’m afraid I wouldn’t have. At the least, it would’ve taken me years to overcome the influence of my parents and church leaders, especially when kept in such an isolated state and taught that this is what God demands of me. So I can identify, to a degree, with Rachel. (But my upbringing was a healthy and happy one so please don’t read too much into this answer–I’m just saying that I can imagine how being born into a real cult would’ve affected me, because there is a cult so closely related to my own church. Imagining how I probably would’ve reacted sort of frightens me and made it possible for me to sympathize with someone in Rachel’s shoes.)

5. And speaking of backstories, Rachel and Nate have quite the story between them. I won’t spoil it for readers, but since bringing these two together must have been difficult, what was your favorite aspect of their story?

I thought bringing Nate and Rachel together was a blast, my favorite part of the book. I admit that I was squirming for Rachel at first (and readers probably will, too), but that makes her triumph at the end that much more enjoyable! :-)

6. White Heat definitely has a hard-hitting suspense plot, as do your other novels that I’ve read. What do you find most challenging about balancing this darker subject matter and romance?

I love a good angsty, dramatic read, especially when I know it will all end well. Then I can sit back and enjoy the ride. I don’t find it hard to mix suspense with romance, because I believe that good will eventually conquer evil and love will always reign supreme. :-) I enjoy watching the transformation of characters who face great difficulty–how they find the strength to cope and conquer. That inspires me.

7. As you write your own romantic suspense, are there any books or authors that have inspired you?

I probably get most of my inspiration from true crime. Ann Rule is a favorite read. She brings so much about the offender’s background into the mix and explores so much of the psychology behind what was done.

8. In White Heat, I noticed that if Nate and Rachel are anything to go by, Department 6 does some very outside the box thinking. Is this a fair assessment? What can we expect from Department 6 in the future?

Yes, out-of-the-box thinking was a very fun part of creating this series. Because these operatives are part of the private sector, they have a certain renegade aspect that spices things up and gives me more leeway than I’d have otherwise (they sometimes bend rules police officers would never or could never bend).

Thank you so much for your time, and thank you for the giveaway!

– Lynn Spencer

About the author

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I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.