Tell me a little about your writing?
I would say that the style of my writing is pretty traditional, meaning that it tends more toward Edith Wharton (The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence) than, let’s say, Paula Hawkins (Girl on the Train). One of the contemporary writers whom I admire most is Sarah Waters. As you might guess, I’m a Downton Abbey fan. What I prefer to read and the dramas I enjoy are, for the most part, historical fiction—so that’s what I write. But I’m also into suspense and mystery, which is a big part of what people seem to like about my novel, The Beauty Doctor.
When did you start writing?
I wrote my first mystery book, or at least 50 typewritten pages of it, growing up in Illinois, during the summer between the fifth and sixth grades. Though I hadn’t yet finished my story, when classes started again I showed it to the school librarian who assured me absolutely I could get it published. That was the first and last time anyone has been so unequivocally encouraging! Anyway, by the time I reached my early 20s I had become sidetracked by my interest in music. I toured for nearly a decade as a singer and flutist. I did a lot of songwriting. After that, I got involved in public relations and marketing for the international music trade and settled in California. Fast forward, a few years later I’m in New York City as Communications Director for a professional society of about 2000 plastic surgeons. Quite a switch! I was also the Executive Editor of their peer-reviewed journal on cosmetic surgery. All this time, my fiction writing was on the back burner. Then about six years ago, I decided it was time to turn up the heat. Writing is essentially all I do now.
Why do you write?
I still believe that music is the highest form of communication that we have as human beings. But I also love words, and I always knew I would come back to them sooner or later. I remember distinctly one of my professors in college telling me, “You were born to write.” That was really special to me, but maybe I didn’t quite believe it at the time. I knew that I was good with words, but I hadn’t yet figured out what I really wanted to say. Now I know—more or less. Of course, it’s different with each book.
What themes are in your writing?
The Beauty Doctor is my way of examining the social and moral implications of beauty in the course of telling an intriguing story that I hope will engage readers. I like to write about the struggles of women determined to pursue their dreams, even when society tells them they can’t. Part of that comes from my interest in history, especially the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And part comes from my own life. I did a lot of things in my youth that were unusual for a woman—like fronting a rock band. My next historical novel, by the way, is about music. It’s called Temptation Rag.
Where do you write?
I have an office in my house done in dark wood with a big stone fireplace—very soothing. It’s a space that I share with my husband. If we didn’t work at our computers in the same room, I’m afraid we wouldn’t see much of each other. I have a computer monitor on my desk and a second one built into a bookcase with a shelf that slides out to create a very cool standing computer. Since both monitors are attached to the same computer, I can switch back and forth from sitting to standing very easily. I try to stand as much as possible, though, because it’s healthier. I tend to get very focused on my writing, such that I can go for hours without stopping.
What is next for your writing?
My historical novel Temptation Rag should be available for preorder within the next couple of months, with a release date in June 2018. The story opens in 1896, when ragtime music began to sweep over New York City in what soon became a frenzied wave. A fortunate few rode on its crest for a couple of decades before it came crashing down. My story follows the interwoven lives of three famous ragtime musicians—their lust for fame, their loves and betrayals, and their ultimate longing for redemption. An interesting side note is that one of the main characters, Mike Bernard (known as the Ragtime King of the World), is my husband’s grandfather.
Something about you?
Hmmm. I’m selfish enough to want to be an artist. I’m married to a very sweet and fantastically funny guy. I love dogs. And, nearly all the time, I feel like about the luckiest person in the world. I have no complaints.
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 following excerpt, from Chapter 2, takes place during Abigail’s second meeting with Dr. Rome, at which she learns that he is, in fact, a beauty doctor and that he wants her to help him promote his practice.
“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.”
The Beauty Doctor is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo. For more about Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard, including her historical fiction-lovers’ blog, “Style and Substance,” visit EHBernard.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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