Thursday, May 17, 2007

Writers Wednesday with Helen Brenna

This week we here at the Pink Heart Society bring you the journey of Romantic Times Top Pick, double Golden Heart finalist, Superromance and Nascar author, the fabulous Helen Brenna!


I grew up the seventh of eight kids in a small town in central Minnesota. Surrounded by brothers and a neighborhood populated primarily with boys, I was destined to become a tomboy. Football, baseball, matchbox cars and building forts filled my summer days.

Until I turned thirteen developed a chest, and discovered Harlequin romances.

All of a sudden, the boys became decidedly uncomfortable huddling with me in football. Go figure. And for my part, instead of racing boys on my bike, I was racing up to my room with my latest library picks from the likes of Anne Mather, Janet Dailey, Mary Wibberley, Kay Thorpe and Rosemary Carter.

So, like many writers, I grew up with my nose in a book. Unlike many writers, I never dreamed of writing. I went on to receive my undergraduate degree in accounting and practiced as a CPA for years. Then, almost seventeen years ago, when my oldest child was about a year old, I decided to stay home for a short time. My daughter was taking two-hour naps every day and I remember finishing a LaVyrle Spencer book and thinking, “Hey, I’ve got a computer. Why not?”

That why not turned into a commitment to get published. I studied, took classes, joined RWA and a local chapter, went to conferences, entered contests, wrote two complete manuscripts and found a wonderful critique group. Two of my original critique partners finalled in the Golden Heart and sold their first books, Susan Kay Law and Connie Brockway.

When my turn came and I finalled in the Golden Heart for the first time back in 1994, I thought, “This is it.” About a month later, the day I came home from the hospital with my second child, I got my first agent. I thought, “I gonna sell for sure.”

Only I didn’t. No one would touch that book. How did I know that a Middle East setting killed a romance from an editor’s perspective?

The let down was terrible. I am not a quitter. I have never quit anything in my entire life. But the Golden Heart is it, baby. If you can’t sell after that, what’s the point? I cried. I got angry. I was paralyzed with writer’s block. I quit writing for five years.

Over time, creative urges sabotaged me. Stories bounced around in my head. I had loved writing. Maybe a more marketable setting was the ticket. I started writing again, but tried not to care about getting published.

Yeah, right. Seventh of eight children, remember? I crave attention.

I wrote my third book for fun, something that excited me. It didn’t do great in contests. It didn’t sell. It didn’t get me an agent. But I’d enjoyed the process, so I wrote a fourth book. It finalled in the Golden Heart, along with my second book. I was a double finalist! This was it! I had three agents offering me representation. Three! But I’d been in nearly this exact position ten years earlier. I knew what could happen and what might not happen.

Sure enough, during the course of the next year, my worst fears were realized. In one of the most agonizingly slow processes know to womankind, one editor after another turned my book down. While they loved my writing, they didn’t know how to market my book, an adventure romance revolving around the search for lost Incan holy city hidden in the Peruvian rain forests. Did I have anything else they could read?

My agent, Tina Wexler, bless her heart, encouraged me to rework my third book, another adventure romance, this one revolving around the search for a 400 year old sunken Spanish galleon and a cursed Mayan cross. I was skeptical, but I did it. In fact, I rewrote that darned manuscript three times for three different editors. Finally, I got it right!

Ten years of serious writing, four completed manuscripts, three Golden Heart finals, a Georgia Romance Writer’s Maggie win, too many regional contest finals to count, three critique groups, two agents, and one study group later, I’m finally a published author. In fact, as one of my critique partners pointed out, I’d sold three books before my first one was on the shelf.

Sometimes when it rains, it really pours!

Helen’s first book, TREASURE, a 2/07 Superromance is available on-line at eHarlequin, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Her second book, DAD FOR LIFE, which just received a 4 ½ star Top Pick designation from Romantic Times, will be available 6/07. And her third book, a Harlequin NASCAR romance, BACKSTRETCH BLUES, is due to be released 5/08.

To read excerpts check out Helen’s website at, or visit with her and eight other writers at


  1. Helen, welcome to the world of Harlequin. I loved reading about your journey and look forward to tales of your continued success!


  2. WOW. And I mean that. I really enjoyed reading your call story. To be so close and still have it take so long...well hats off to you for sticking with it. You've more than paid your dues.

    Congrats on the sales!

  3. Continued success, yay! That's what I hope for too. (Well, that and an eventual NYT nod. We can dream, right?) Thanks Yvonne.

    And thanks, Donna!

  4. Thanks for sharing and congrats on getting that call! :) And for sticking it out!!!!! to that point.


  5. Great story--your perseverance really paid off! I'm looking forward to reading your books.

  6. you personify perseverance, determination and fortitude. Way to go!!