Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Interview with historical novelist Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

Historical novelist Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard joins me today. We’re talking about her new suspense, The Beauty Doctor.

**The Beauty Doctor was just named one of six finalists in the Published Fiction category, 2017 Arizona Literary Contest. Winner to be announced in November!**

Elizabeth began writing her first mystery novel during the summer between fifth and sixth grade. She always knew writing was in her DNA, but she also had a passion for music which ultimately set her on a different course. For most of her twenties, she toured the country as a featured vocalist and flutist. But after nearly a decade of life on the road, she again changed direction.
She earned a Communications degree from Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), settled in California, and promoted international expositions for the music trade. Later, in 1997, she moved to New York City where she was Communications and Marketing Director for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) and Executive Editor of the internationally subscribed Aesthetic Surgery Journal. 

Her in-depth knowledge of plastic surgery lends a unique perspective to her historical novel, The Beauty Doctor, set in New York City in 1907.
Elizabeth currently lives in Arizona with her husband, Bob, and their black Labrador retriever, Pearly Mae.

Welcolme, Elizabeth. Please tell us about your current release.
The Beauty Doctor is the story of Abigail Platford, a young woman of the Edwardian era, whose fascination with the world of medicine leads her down an unexpectedly dark path. Abigail's father was a physician, and it had always been her dream to follow in his footsteps---to become a doctor and devote her life to serving New York City's poorest. But his sudden death, for which she feels responsible, changes everything. Penniless and adrift, she happens to meet the flamboyant Dr. Franklin Rome and is persuaded to accept a position as his office assistant, never imagining the bizarre world she is about to enter and the web of treachery in which she soon will become entangled. The plot is full of suspense, with many twists and turns, as Abigail searches for the true meaning of beauty and the answer to a haunting mystery.

What inspired you to write this book?
I've always heard that you should write about what you know. Having worked for many years in the plastic surgery field, and being fascinated with the early history of cosmetic surgery, I thought it would be a great idea to weave a suspenseful tale around the concept of the old-time "beauty doctor" who, even back in 1907 when my story takes place, was straightening noses, trimming eyelids, and injecting faces with paraffin to smooth out wrinkles. Being a bit of a philosopher at heart, I also wanted to delve deeper into the meaning of beauty, how people see themselves and others, and how each of us needs to feel comfortable with who and what we are. Of course, at the turn of the century, outward beauty was equated with inward goodness, so physical attractiveness had not only social implications but moral ones. To show you what I mean, here's an exchange between the beauty doctor Franklin Rome and Abigail which takes place after she first learns that he is not the kind of doctor she imagined him to be and that he wants her as a "foil" to help promote his new practice of transformative surgery.

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Beauty Doctor:
"Oh---you're a beauty doctor." The inflection in her voice no doubt came across as somewhat disparaging. She dipped her head in an effort to obscure the visual evidence of her skepticism beneath the plethora of ostrich feathers emanating from the brim of her blue velvet hat.
"Just imagine it for a moment, Miss Platford," he said, seeming not to have noticed anything disturbing in her reaction. "Your mere presence by my side would stimulate in any average woman an intense longing for beauty; then, arising quite naturally from that, an urgent curiosity. With just a hint, she would be eager to learn what I offer in the way of beautifying procedures. That's how one goes about building a thriving beauty practice. Stimulate the need, offer the solution. Or, if you prefer, think of it this way---you would be helping to enlighten women about advances that can greatly enhance their lives. It's no different than selling a product---a product that people would certainly buy if they only knew its benefits."
So he wanted her to help him sell the concept of beauty surgery to other women? That was not what a doctor does! To participate in such activities would be a compromise of everything she believed in. "So your idea is to use me as a sort of walking advertisement?"
"I wouldn't put it exactly like that."
"Forgive me for being blunt, but are you really a doctor?"
He gave her a scorchingly indignant look, shoving aside his coffee cup, nearly knocking it over in the process. "Would I call myself a doctor if I wasn't one?"
"I don't mean to offend you," she said, again regretting her lack of decorum. "It's just that I don't know of any other doctors who are engaged in your kind of work."
"That's because no medical school in this country has yet had the foresight to embrace transformative surgery. That's why it was necessary for me to receive advanced training in Europe. As a matter of fact, I returned from Paris only recently."
"But you did train in medicine? Here in America?"
"Certainly, though that doesn't make me any more enamored of our system. The medical establishment is very set in its ways, I'm afraid. It resists anything that might challenge the status quo. And that is exactly what transformative surgery does. The social implications are immense. It represents, in fact, possibly the greatest force for the empowerment of women in all of human history."
"Empowerment of women!" Despite her disappointment, she had to smile. "I'm sorry, but I don't see what your transformative surgery could possibly have to do with the movement for women's rights."
"Maybe you've never thought of it this way but, simply put, beauty is power," said Dr. Rome, with the calm certainty of a man who knows he speaks the truth. "And with enough power, Miss Platford, one can achieve anything."
She remembered what her father had always told her: As a woman, her looks meant she would need to work doubly hard to convince others that she had a brain. “I’m afraid I can't agree. Besides, I wouldn't feel comfortable encouraging vanity. It's not a trait that I find admirable."
"Rubbish!" He leaned back in his chair with an exasperated sigh, as if weary of confronting attitudes like hers. But when he spoke, his tone and manner were conciliatory. "That's fine for a Sunday school lesson, but in the real world, appearances are everything. Beauty is a woman's greatest asset and the most reliable predictor of her future happiness. What you naturally possess, my dear, many others covet and believe impossible to attain. But what do you think they would give if they could achieve it? Not entirely, of course. But maybe half your beauty? A third? Maybe just enough to feel there was, after all, hope?"
"So your patients will be paying you for hope. If that's all they stand to gain, I doubt they'd feel it money well spent."
"Hope is only the beginning. Ultimately, what I offer is happiness. They say money can't buy it, but I'm here to prove them wrong."

What exciting story are you working on next?
My next historical novel, set for release in 2018, is called Temptation Rag. It's the fictionalized story of the famous ragtime pianist Mike Bernard---his brutal battle to become Ragtime King of the World, the amazing women in his life, and those he trampled over to make his way to the top. It's a fascinating time in history, and everybody loves ragtime! But there's a personal angle to this story as well. Mike Bernard is my husband's grandfather. So you might say I have a bit of an "inside scoop" on a legendary figure whose life and career at the turn of the century remains mired in mystery and contradiction.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
All my working life, after my music career, was based on writing---but not the kind of writing that I aspired, in my heart of hearts, to do. It was public relations, marketing, speech writing, proposal writing, newsletter and journal writing, and so on. I was a professional making a living with words, and so I knew I had a certain gift. But I still needed to dig deeper to discover the stories I felt passionate about telling---and that took me some time. Even though I've devoted myself almost entirely to fiction writing over the past six years, it wasn't until I held the first copy of The Beauty Doctor in my hand that I felt truly entitled to call myself a writer.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Yes, I do write full time now. It's a real luxury, and I am grateful every day for that opportunity. I like to get up early and start writing after I've taken my black Lab, Pearly Mae, for her desert walk. I'm definitely a "day" person when it comes to writing. I seldom write at night. Probably my greatest asset, and maybe my greatest curse as well, is that I am extremely focused. My husband is astounded at the way I can write for hours and hours, barely looking up from my computer. Where I have to exert discipline is in making sure I do other things---like go to the gym, get outside and enjoy all the beauty of the Sonoran desert. Just take a break! Even for an obsessive writer, there has to be balance.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I like to write standing up. I had a standing computer built into a bookcase in our library, with a shelf that pulls out for my keyboard. It's very discreet and works like a charm! That monitor is attached to the same computer as the monitor on my desk, so I can easily switch from sitting to standing and back again. The other "quirk" I have is that at the end of every writing day, I email myself the updated manuscript, open it on my iPad in Kindle or iBooks, and review what I've done. Reading it on a tablet, as I would read an actual book, really helps me get a better feel for how I've done with my writing.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember very distinctly telling my mother that I couldn't decide whether I wanted to be a nun or a Spanish dancer. I am neither Catholic nor Spanish---so I'm not sure where this came from! But it does speak to a certain dichotomy in my personality, one that exists to this day!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Getting the word out about a book is challenging, which is why opportunities like this are so important, especially to a new author. Lisa really does a great job with her blog. It is a tremendous service to readers and authors, and I am so grateful to her for bringing The Beauty Doctor to your attention. If you read my book and like it, I hope you'll dash off a quick review on Amazon or iBooks or wherever you purchased it. It really helps! Thanks so much for sharing some of your time with me today.

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Thank you for joining me today, Elizabeth!

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