Best-selling romance author Rochelle Alers launches her Cavanaugh Island series with Sanctuary Cove, the sweet story of two adults who have a second chance at love. The novel takes place off the coast of South Carolina and stars Deborah, a widowed bookstore owner, and Asa, a doctor who is attempting to move on after the death of his wife. The two strike up a friendship in Deborah’s bookstore—and cautious romance isn’t far behind. Alers chatted with BookPage about writing a believable love story, her book’s Lowcountry setting and resolutions for 2012.

The heroine of your story, Deborah, owns an independent bookstore. After the store’s grand opening, Asa mentions that “women love reading about love, and are also in love with love.” When did you realize that you love reading—and writing—about love?
I’ve always been a voracious reader, but with the proliferation of romances featuring American heroes and heroines in the 1980s, reading them had become my comfort food. I just couldn’t get enough. After devouring nearly a thousand contemporary and historical titles I decided to try my hand at writing one. To say it was a very long process is an understatement. It took a decade, a very fertile imagination, patience and perseverance before I was able to finally realize my dream to become a published romance writer and experience my own literary happily ever after.

Your story is wonderfully evocative of the Carolina Lowcountry—shrimp and grits, genteel society, Gullah superstitions and all. Have you ever lived in South Carolina? Why did you choose this setting?
Although I have Southern roots and have visited South Carolina many times, I’ve never lived there. I decided to choose this setting to celebrate my own Gullah heritage. It is a culture rich in language, cuisine, dance, superstition and customs that go back to Africa. As an adult, I wanted to know more about my maternal grandfather who spoke a Creole dialect composed of words mixed with English and various African phrases. What binds Gullah people together is the perpetuation of the customs and mores that have existed for centuries—some of these you will be introduced to in the Cavanaugh Island series.

Becoming Forever’s first African-American romance writer is an honor that I will hold close to my heart. And to achieve this distinction with the Cavanaugh Island series makes it even more spectacular, because these books are more than entertainment. They are personal.   

Although they are attracted to one another early in the story, Deborah and Asa’s romantic tension builds slowly. What do you think makes for good (and realistic) chemistry between a hero and a heroine?
It is totally realistic because both are mature adults who have lost their respective spouses. Slowly building romantic tension adds to the plot, while reader interest also builds as the couple resolves their dilemma. And because they are living in a small town, they are always conscious of the reaction of Deborah’s children and the townspeople as to their relationship.

Will you be picking up Deborah’s story in book two of the Cavanaugh Island series? How many books in the series do you plan to write?
Readers will reunite with Deborah and Asa in book two. To date I plan for three books in the Cavanaugh Island series: Sanctuary Cove, Angels Landing and Haven Creek. However, my imagination is in full throttle as I begin the third book because I’m thinking there are many more stories in this series. The island is populated by quirky characters who are just clamoring to take center stage. The residents of Cavanaugh Island are like a large extended family that I look forward to revisiting over and over again.

You have had many accomplishments in your career, such as being honored with the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award and the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. Now, with Sanctuary Cove, you are Forever's first African-American romance author. Which milestone in your career has held the most personal significance?
I have to say they share equal personal significance, but for different reasons. I read Romantic Times when it was in newspaper form and I was an aspiring author; to earn a career achievement award from RT is something I would not have been able to fathom so many years ago.

The Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award, bestowed upon me by Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, Iota Theta Zeta chapter is a personal triumph because not only was Hurston, as a student at Howard University, an early initiate of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., but Their Eyes Were Watching God is one of my favorite classic novels.

Becoming Forever’s first African-American romance writer is an honor that I will hold close to my heart. And to achieve this distinction with the Cavanaugh Island series makes it even more spectacular, because these books are more than entertainment. They are personal.      

Your Cavanaugh Island series launches on January 1. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions or traditions?
I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions because I’m unable to keep them. However, I do prepare a traditional Lowcountry New Year’s dinner with hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice), roast pork, greens and cornbread.

Editors’ Note: Visit the Rochelle Alers’ website in January 2012 for some Lowcountry recipes.

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