Despite sipping Earl Grey tea, like one of the characters in her debut novel might do, Ann Herendeen isn’t your average romance novelist.
The Brooklyn Heights native, who lives in the Grace Court apartment she grew up in, is equally inspired by Jane Austen as she is the gay nightclubs — Flamingo, anyone? — that she frequented in the 1970s.
“Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander,” Herendeen’s first novel, takes place in England in 1812, but the characters aren’t unrecognizable to Brooklynites today.
The book’s main players are Phyllida Lewis, a romance novel writer that Herendeen admitted was based, just a bit, on herself; and Andrew Carrington, a suave, comely heir who’s just a bit too perfect to be attainable — for the ladies at least.
And though Herendeen was happy to mine her own experiences to write the book — “Of course I had a ‘boyfriend’ who was gay!” she told GO Brooklyn — it took more than 30 years to work up the nerve to do so.
“It never occurred to me that I could be a writer,” said Herendeen. “The stuff I liked reading, which was good, popular fiction, I thought I didn’t have the talent to do.”
So Herendeen wrote only for herself for years, settling in to her full-time job as a cataloging librarian at a museum in Manhattan.
Not having studied to be a writer, she wasn’t sure her work would be taken seriously. But by reading, writing and stretching herself, Herendeen saw an improvement in her own skill.
“All of the great writers of the past, before there were MFAs in creative writing, [reading] is the way they learned,” she said, in a coffee shop on Montague Street. “From reading Jane Austen and historical romance novels to weird comic novels…it sort of percolated and stewed in my brain.”
In 2005, ready to share her work, Herendeen eventually self-published “Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander.” It was two years later that an editor from HarperCollins, having read the book, contacted her and asked if she was interested in re-releasing the novel with the publishing company.
The writer, well versed in Regency romances, knew a good proposal when she heard it and jumped at the chance.
What her new editor saw was a chance to turn a staid genre, one that had a set fan base but not much room for innovation, on its head.
“No matter how heavy the subject was, it turned out to be the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ version, and I realized that for better or worse, that’s just my voice,” said Herendeen. “I could try to make it good comedy, but I couldn’t make it not be comedy. So, I thought, ‘What can I write that’s original and that’s supposed to be comedy?’ and that’s how I got the idea of historical romance and specifically the romance set in the period between 1811 and 1820.
“I read a lot of that and thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to take the idea of the bisexual hero and of the woman married to him and make that into a Regency romance?’”
Despite being a big time author, Herendeen still keeps the hours of a fan fiction hobbyist and doesn’t make the rounds at local literary haunts.
“It was a fun book to write, but I’m very much a night person,” she said, admitting she prefers staying in and writing to revisiting the nightlife of her formative years. “When I’m most eager to go out and join the world, it’s at least midnight, and I don’t really feel at that point it’s worth it.”
For those anxiously awaiting her next novel, a retelling of “Pride and Prejudice,” her decision to forego nightlife and stay in and work might not be such a bad thing at all.
“Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander” by Ann Herendeen ($14.95, HarperCollins) is available at Barnes & Noble (267 Seventh Ave. at Sixth Street in Park Slope). For information, call (718) 832-9066 or visit www.annherendeen.com.
©2008 Community News Group