When Terri Brisbin, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, read romance novels during her third pregnancy, she had no idea she would eventually be a best-selling author of the genre. But that’s what happened for this dental hygenist who carried around ideas of novels in her head, and started writing them over 25 years ago. Today, she’s a USA Today bestselling romance author of 50 historical and paranormal romance novels, novellas, and short stories released in 20 languages in 25 countries. And miraculously, she’s still working as a dental hygenist, teaching writing workshops, traveling for research, and penning her next book, all while balancing time with her grandkids and friends. We caught up with this Berlin mother of three adult sons about how she handles two careers, where she finds inspiration for her books (and what she does if she can’t), and the local South Jersey spot she goes to for a killer French Martini.
Tell us a little about your family and career background.
My husband, Chris, and I have been married for 44 years, and we have three grown sons, all five years apart. Matt is now 40, Dreu is 35, and Mike is 30, and I also have four grandbabies. I’m a dental hygenist, and the closest I came to writing before I was an author is when I took over a dentistry newsletter with no intention of ever writing outside the field. Still, I started reading romance when I was pregnant with my youngest, and when he was 3 or 4, I realized I had all these story ideas in my head just waiting to come out. My husband encouraged me to give it my best shot and go for it. My first book was published when my youngest was 5— probably why I like to think of it as my fourth baby.
What did you do to prepare before you wrote your first book?
Though I wrote a bit of poetry and short stories when I was growing up, I’d never considered it a career until I started reading romance. I didn’t study writing formally nor had any idea of where to begin. But doing dental hygiene, I knew the importance of networking with professionals in the field. I searched through writers’ boards and found workshops, and got feedback on online forums. Eventually, I was invited to come to meetings where I learned so much, including how to connect with publishers and agents and all the little details you need to know on becoming an author.
You have two careers and balancing it all must be a challenge. How do you manage your time?
Women are told they can have it all, and though I agree they can, it can’t be without a lot of help. It’s hard to do everything yourself and perform your absolute best. The only reason I was able to raise my boys and have two careers simultaneously is that my husband is an equal partner and respected my time as much as his own. When I’m on deadline, he’s extra protective of my time so that I can stay on track. He is a resource that makes it possible for me to do what I do.
What do you wish you had known before becoming an author?
I have a science background, so I’m ideally suited for my dental hygiene career, where you have a hypothesis, test it, and then have an outcome. You have a pretty good idea of how things are supposed to turn out. When I started, I assumed writing books would be similar since the traditional publishing model was constant and the market was stable —until it wasn’t. Digital marketing came along and changed everything, so I wish I had known I’d have to adapt to constant changes and reinventions. I don’t know if I would have done anything differently, but it might have been nice to be forewarned.
Where do you find inspiration for your stories, and what do you do if you’re feeling uninspired?
I find inspiration for my stories everywhere. I always want to know what will happen next, and I always ask myself the extra “what if” questions. If I’m watching a movie or reading a book or see something on the news or look at historical events, I think about what could have happened next. Or what would happen if the main character didn’t do it, but another one did instead. For me, the story is never really finished—one little twist can change everything into a completely different account.
If I’m not feeling inspired, I make time to nurture myself. It’s hard for me to feel motivated if I’m not feeling my best. I curl up with a good book from one of my favorite authors or head to the beach—I find both rejuvenating and relaxing.
What are some of your favorite places to go in NJ?
For local places, we love Ragazzi, a casual, family-friendly restaurant with fabulous Italian food, deli, pizza, and burgers. Another go-to for us is Cap’n Cat, a no-frills BYO with really great seafood. And last, but certainly not least, is The Pub. They’re famous for their extensive salad bar, and their prime rib and French Martinis are to die for. When we want to get out of town, we go down the beach and the boardwalk at Ocean City or Wildwood.
What advice do you have for a mompreneur just starting?
Know what you want to do, why you want to do it, and what you need to do to get there. It’s essential to assess your strengths and your weaknesses—build up your strengths while strategically working around your weaknesses. Also, take advantage of NJ’s Small Business Administration, which has many resources for small businesses, including expert advice, capital, and workshops.