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Beneath The Covers, Past
A Romance Column

An Interview with Barri Bryan (Billie and Herb Houston)

      I had a delightful chat with Billie and Herb Houston, aka Barri Bryan, prolific romance authors. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Billie and Herb several times at romance writing conferences, and even chasing ghosts with them at a haunted hotel in French Lick, Indiana a couple summers ago.

    If you’ve ever met Billie and Herb, you know what delightful people they are. Luckily for romance readers, their love of life and romance vibrates in their many novels.

    In case you’ve missed the wonderful news, Billie just took home an EPPIE for her poetry book BRUSH COUNTRY. Congratulations Billie!

ELAINE: Congratulations on your EPPIE win! I'm so thrilled for you. How long have you been writing poetry? Is this your first published book of poems?

BILLIE: Thank you so much. I had one other book of poems published in 1995. I’ve been writing poetry since I was a child.


ELAINE: What did it feel like to win the EPPIE? What place of honor did you put it in your house? What was Herb's reaction to your win?

BILLIE: Winning an EPPIE is wonderful believe me. I was so surprised and so excited. I don’t have an inkling of what I said when I accepted. I think Herb was as excited as I was, if that’s possible. The EPPIE is front and center on the mantle in our living room.


ELAINE: Please tell us about BRUSH COUNTRY, your award-winning book.

BILLIE: BRUSH COUNTRY is a collection of poems that vary greatly in style, tone, length, and content. Their unity is in the setting. Each poem celebrates the distinctive environment, the ambiguous nature and the paradoxical people who inhabit the South Texas Brush Country, my unique and unusual little corner of the world.


ELAINE: Do you have more poetry books forthcoming? If so, can you tell us a little about them?

BILLIE: Hard Shell Word Factory published my poetry book titled CHAPTER AND VERSE in February of this year. It is a collection of one hundred poems that have one theme--love. The poems run in length from four short lines to a poem with twenty verses and 45 lines. The rhyme schemes are many and varied. The subject matter addresses the charm, the mirth, the drama, the chivalry, the bliss, the gravity, and the mystery of love.


ELAINE: As you know, I've read several of your books and I love them. You and Herb are one (or should I say TWO?) of my all-time favorite authors. Please tell us how you came up with the idea for LUCKY, HONKY TONK COWBOY, and NO ORDINARY HERO. Sarah in Honky Tonk Cowboy fascinated me. Where did you get the idea for her character? Her situation is unusual for a romance heroine.

BILLIE: Again, thank you. We got the idea for LUCKY from a story my father told me about a young man he knew in the 1920s who, when he had no luck wooing the young women in his small rural community, went to an orphan’s asylum seeking a bride from among the three young women there who had just turned eighteen and were no longer permitted to live at the orphanage.

The plot for HONKY TONK COWBOY came from a rather heated discussion Herb and I had about the difference between true love and sexual attraction. We decided at the onset of the story that our heroine in this story should be both strong and vulnerable and that she must have suffered in her adult life some traumatic, life-altering experience. As we wrote, the character of Sarah evolved and became sharper and more defined.

The idea for NO ORDINARY HERO grew out of our remembered experiences during World War Two.


ELAINE: Please share where you got the premise for LUCKY.

BILLIE: Herb and I both grew up in West Texas. From childhood we were both acquainted with characters like Lucky, the story’s hero; good-old boys, salt-of-the earth, somewhat ornery and completely lovable cowboys. Their paradoxical nature and off-center view of the world fascinates us both. From that fascination and those recollections, we fashioned Lucky.


ELAINE: Barri Bryan is your chosen pen name. I love the story of how you chose it. Would you mind sharing it with your readers?

BILLIE: Back in 1998 when NCP published our first novel, A LOVE LIKE MINE, they posted on their web site a fairly torrid love scene from the book. Our younger son has a business in San Antonio. Some of his employees were pulling up that love scene, reading it and then asking, “Robert, are these people related to you?”

Our over-the-hill hippie son got on his motorcycle and rode the twenty-four miles from San Antonio to our house in record time. He rushed into the house, took off his helmet exposing his ponytail and then he shed his leather jacket. I noticed he had a new tattoo on his arm and a new diamond stud earring his ear. He then told his father that we, and I quote, “Were embarrassing him publicly.”

When we stopped laughing we asked him what he wanted us to do. His answer was, “Get a pen name.”

We did. The name Barri Bryan is a combination of our two grandson’s names Barry and Brian.


ELAINE: Please tell us about your current NCP paranormal romance, 'Another Time, Another Place'. It sounds absolutely fascinating. Of course I love time travels.

"Two lovers, cursed to wander time in search of one another find, in their love, the strength to break the curse at last..."

BILLIE: This is our first attempt at writing a paranormal. It involves elements of time travel and reincarnation. The story tells how two lovers finally break the curse that has kept them apart for several millennia.


ELAINE: Please tell us how you and Herb came to be a writing team and how you work together.

BILLIE: I began trying to put a novel together in 1990. I kept calling on Herb for assistance and advice. He finally said, “If I’m going to help write this thing, I may as well get credit for it.” We began to combine what we’d written but it was a long time before we learned how to make two writings into one cohesive whole.

We often laugh now and say that we work together apart. We began by sharing an office. We soon found that was not a good idea. Now we have separate work spaces in separate rooms. We begin by making an outline for our story and use that as a kind of road map to guide us.

We usually work individually in the mornings and compare and discuss what we’ve done over lunch. If we have revisions or changes we do that in the afternoon.


ELAINE: Besides writing together, you conduct several workshops at writing conferences and trot around the country. Please tell us about some of your adventures. (Don't forget the fun times we had at the WRW conference in French Lick, Indiana at the haunted hotel.)

BILLIE: Wasn’t French Lick a charming place to visit? I don’t think I’ve ever stalked ghosts before but that was so much fun and a little scary too. We love doing workshops and we like traveling too. When we drive we enjoy stopping and visiting historical sites. Once we got lost and were almost late for a workshop. We flew to a conference shortly after 9-11. That was scary too.


ELAINE: What prompted you to start writing romance?

BILLIE: I’ve always read and loved romances. Herb loves and reads westerns. When we write, we combine elements from those two genres.


ELAINE: Romance writing isn't the first career for either of you. Please tell us about your other careers previous to this, and concurrent.

BILLIE: For many years I was a high school English teacher. It was a job I loved. I left it to care for my parents who were both ill and no longer able to care for themselves.

Herb taught school and worked for the Air Force. He’s also an auctioneer. He loves woodworking and gardening.


ELAINE: You write the most wonderful nostalgic books. I adore your Decades romances. How much research do you put into them? How do you pick such interesting plots for them?

BILLIE: We do quite a bit of research before we begin the novel. We try to find some historical event from a particular decade to serve as a catalyst for each Decades story. A SINGLE THREAD is set in 1907. The pivotal historical event for that story was the instigation of a poll Tax in Texas. That may seem a small event but it pretty much took the vote from poor voters who couldn’t pay the tax and in so doing changed the entire political scene.

LUCKY is set in 1922. The historical event that drives that story is the rise of the Ku Klux Clan.

NO ORDINARY HERO is set in 1945-46. The historical background for it is the aftermath of a global war.


ELAINE: What is your website and your publishers websites?

BILLIE: Our website is:
Our publisher’s websites are:

ELAINE: Is there anything else you would like for your readers to know about?

BILLIE: Yes, we have two new books coming soon from NCP
In April look for A LONG SHADOW, a Decades Romance set in the 1950s.

In 1955 Tyler Carson celebrates her thirtieth birthday by ending a two-year, going-nowhere love affair. She is determined that from this day forward she will live life on her own terms. Then the return of old love and the upheaval of social change converge to cast a long shadow of doubt across her firm resolve.

In June look for CANAAN, a historical romance.

Luke McDade is a drifter and a hell raiser with no ties and a lust for living. Coral Morgan is a woman with a past running for her life. Together they begin a journey to a place called Canaan. But will they ever reach this Promised Land?


ELAINE: Would Herb like to add anything?

HERB: I’d just like to say Hello to everyone and a special hello to you Elaine. Thanks for the interview.


ELAINE: Thank you so much Billie and Herb for chatting with us and letting us peak into your world. As always, I eagerly await your next story. Keep them coming, I can't get enough.


No Ordinary Hero
By Barri Bryan
New Concepts Publishing - 2004
ISBN 1-58608-405-4 - Download
ISBN 1-58608-672-3 - Paperback

Decades Romance
An Eppie and Quasar Finalist
Buy a Copy
Read an Excerpt

Reviewed by Elaine Hopper, MyShelf.Com

      Barri Bryan's charm and wit shines through this nostalgic tale of post WWII American life as seen through the eyes of Cara and Rand Williams.

      This tale of marriage on the rocks, individual and joint growth, is a psychological exploration of a world torn apart by world war through the eyes of one family, and one not so ordinary hero who returns to a world and family alien to the one he left behind before the world war. Not only has the world changed at large, but his own world is irreparably changed, perhaps broken. He comes home to discover that everyone believed him long dead and buried. His father has died, his mother is remarried, his own son considers him the enemy, and he has a new half-sister who calls his wife "Mommie", but worst of all, the wife he has come home to, is promised to another man, his own cousin.

     Romance, psychology, and historical detail are expertly woven together to create this beautiful tale of growth and forgiveness. A beautiful portrayal of women coming into their own at a time the world needed strong individuals to march into a bold new future, it is also a frightening depiction of how heroes who come home to marching parades have lost their place in society and even their own families. Too often they have to carve a new niche in order to survive.

    Barri Bryan’s magical writing transported me to the 1940s, losing me in Cara’s and Rand’s angst-filled world. If you’ve not read this gem, be sure to do so now. Whether you love romance or history, it is a powerful work of art that is sure to captivate.

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