The crown jewel of romantic comedy writers surely has to be Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who starts the new millennium with her first hardcover, a novel harkening back to her most beloved storytelling. This Heart of Mine teams children's author Molly Somerville with pro quarterback Kevin Tucker in a romance with more action than a Super Bowl showdown.
Although Kevin can't seem to remember her name, Molly has been harboring a crush on the Chicago Stars player since she was 16 years old. She's been living out her fantasies through her children's book heroine, Daphne Bunny, a witty gal with a to-die-for-wardrobe. Now 27, Molly decides to swear off unrequited love but can't keep the overpaid, Ferrari-driving, poodle-hating jock out of her mind. The couple battles it out off the field and soon Kevin is on defense against Molly's winning ways.
Where do such warm, charming, sassy-tongued and vulnerable people as Molly and Kevin come from? The clever, gifted heart of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, who talked to BookPage recently from her home in Chicago.
BookPage: So what's a demure romantic comedy writer like you doing writing about brawling, bruising football players like Kevin Tucker?
Susan Elizabeth Phillips: And Dan Calebow, Cal Bonner, Bobby Tom Denton and Kenny Traveler. Odd, isn't it for someone who doesn't really like sports? In my mind, if you don't have to wear mascara to do it, it doesn't count as recreation.
BP: Are you a real-life football fan? Da Bears? Who's your favorite player?
SEP: The Bears suck. I think I watched part of the Super Bowl last year. I can't stand watching baseball because the players spit. Watching golf is less interesting than watching grass grow. Favorite players? You've got to be kidding. I'm just not much of a fan.
BP: Are you a closet children's book reader? Or author, like Molly?
SEP: Now here's something I can get into. I own the complete set of Eloise, which I adore. I've read all but the last Harry Potter. My 23-year-old son tells me it gets really scary. I'd love to be able to write one of the Daphne the Bunny books, but I don't share Molly's talent. One thing I've discovered in the past year: Romance readers are passionate about the books they loved as children and they delight in talking about them. It's also pretty easy to figure out how old everyone is by the books they choose.
BP: Which is the most-thumbed children's book on your own reading shelf?
SEP: Goodnight Moon, hands down. I read it to the boys every night for years and years.
BP: You're a former teacher? What did you teach? Why?
SEP: I taught high school drama, speech and English. My degree is in theater, but I knew by the time I graduated that I was neither beautiful enough nor talented enough to make it on the stage. Thus, teaching.
BP: Would you go ever go back to teaching?
SEP: I loved teaching, especially teenagers. Now I have to get my teaching fix by doing writing workshops, which I adore.
BP: What's the most important banned book you've ever read?
SEP: So many great books have been banned in one place or another that it's pretty hard to choose. I remember reading Forever Amber in the back of the public library because my mother told me I wasn't old enough for it. Catcher In The Rye was a book that knocked me for a loop. It was the first time I understood the concept of author voice. I've never gotten over that book. Currently, Harry Potter. We all should get down on our knees daily and give thanks to J.K. Rowling for all the future readers she's snagging us.
BP: When the Chicago wind chill's 30 below and everything's socked in what do you do?
SEP: EXCUSE ME? We don't get "socked in" in Chicago at a mere 30 below. We're hearty Midwesterners and we go out and meet the elements! After I've met the elements, however, I love sitting snug at my computer and writing while the snow and wind try to shatter my office windows.
This Heart of Mine is just the romantic comedy readers will want to snuggle up with. Susan Elizabeth Phillips delivers a championship story!
Sandy Huseby writes at fireside in Fargo or lakeside in northern Minnesota.