Interview with historical novelist Elizabeth Hutchison Bernard

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
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
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
“But you did train in medicine? Here in
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.”
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.”
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
“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
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
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
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
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,

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