Elizabeth Hoyt's latest romance in her Maiden Lane series, Darling Beast, is out today. In this guest post, Hoyt writes about her love of myths, second chances and the unexpected inspiration behind the novel.
Myths and fairy tales have always fascinated me, perhaps because they’re a pre-Freud peek into how the human brain works—what frightens us, what awes us and what we desire deep in our hearts. Fairy tales and myths are storytelling at its most basic. There is no room for character development. Dialogue, setting and description are all usually very sketchy. What remains are stories in which the fat has been removed; underneath are bare, beautiful bones in which it’s easy to trace motif, themes and morality.
I like to include an accompanying fairy tale in each of my books as a sort of foil to the main story. My latest book, Darling Beast, is no exception. The hero of Darling Beast, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne is on the run from the law after escaping Bedlam. He’s a big, rather physically intimidating man, and he’s lost his voice after being viciously beaten by the guards in Bedlam. Apollo is in hiding in an isolated, ruined pleasure garden where he’s supervising the restoration of the grounds. Living in the back of the burned-out theater in the gardens is Lily Stump, a successful actress and playwright who’s a bit down on her luck. As far as Lily knows, she has the gardens to herself. . . that is until her 7-year-old son, Indio, comes home one day and informs her that he’s seen a ‘monster’ in the gardens.
Now you might think that the obvious fairy tale for this story would be Beauty and the Beast—and in a way you’re right—but I chose a much older myth to highlight the story—The Minotaur. If you know your Greek myths, you’ll remember that the Minotaur was half man, half bull, born out of the unnatural union of a spell-bound queen and a magical bull. The Minotaur was a monster in the true sense of the word—in the original myth he lived at the center of a labyrinth and he ate human sacrifices. He provokes some of our most basic fears: deformity, unnatural sexual urges, cannibalism and being eaten by a big scary monster.
But what of the Minotaur? What does he think about a fate he never asked for? After all, he didn’t choose to be born a monster. Is he a cannibal by choice or because no one ever sends in anything else to eat but nubile youths and girls? In the original myth, the Minotaur has no voice. He’s simply a thing to be feared. He has the head—and tongue—of a bull and, like Apollo, he’s physically unable to speak. And isn’t speech the thing that makes us human and sets us apart from the animals?
Here’s the thing. I believe that often monsters—both in real life and in myth—are simply ourselves in a form we cannot recognize. We get caught up in that bull-head thing, in primitive fear and faulty first impressions, and fail to look beneath the outer horror.
Fortunately for Apollo, Lily is a kind woman—a woman willing to allow her opinions to change when she gets to know more about him. And isn’t that all each of us needs? Kindness and the willingness to give people—even monsters—a second chance.
Series following emotionally (and physically!) intense relationships have been big the past few years—especially when they feature tormented leading men with some devilish proclivities in the bedroom.
E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey series launched this insanely successful, broodingly sexy bandwagon, and Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series followed shortly after, with huge amounts of success as well. Day's Crossfire novels are all international bestsellers, and have sold 15 million copies worldwide (that is a lot). The books were so popular that Day has extended Crossfire from a trilogy to a five-book series, delighting her fans. Today, Berkley Books announced that book four, Captivated by You, will be in stores on November 18. The series follows the (of course) passionate, obsessive love affair of the (of course) wealthy and tortured Gideon Cross and his wife, the (of course) beautiful and witty Eva. Read our Q&A with Day for more background on the series!
The series has also been optioned for television by Lionsgate. I have no idea how they are going to put this series on television, but it should be interesting.
In Janet Chapman's Spellbound Falls series, time-traveling Scottish Highlanders (you read that right) keep popping up in a small Maine town. Luckily for the women of Spellbound Falls, they're a handsome bunch. The Highlander Next Door, the latest novel in the series, focuses on Birch, a no-nonsense woman who harbors no desire for a man in her life. Watching her mother's four divorces and running a women's shelter has made her swear off men for life. The case for males is not helped by her gruff, stubborn neighbor, Niall MacKeage. But that Scottish brogue is quite charming, and as Birch discovers, Niall is not at all like other men.
In this blog post, Chapman discusses how her foray into time travel began—and how much fun she's had on the journey.
When my agent set out to sell my first book, Charming the Highlander, I asked her to please tell the editors she submitted it to that this time-travel gig was a one-time thing, as I really wrote contemporary romance and didn’t want them to expect more magical stories from me. (If only I’d been listening at the time, I would have heard the Universe laughing its ethereal head off.) But in my mind even that book was a contemporary, because besides the prologue, the entire story took place in 21st-century Maine.
I think readers believe authors are deliberate creators—which may be true for many—but for me, the characters are in control. They suddenly show up in a book and start demanding a book of their own, and no matter how outrageous their stories are, I am compelled to tell them.
Good Lord, I actually rearranged my wild and beautiful state of Maine! Well, it was really Maximilian Oceanus who moved those mountains and turned a large freshwater lake into an inland sea, but I wasn’t about to argue with the powerful magic-maker. And anyway, the Bottomless Sea gave me an even more amazing venue for my stories.
Wait. There. Do you hear that? The Universe is still laughing.
And so we come to Niall MacKeage, a 12th-century highlander who was brought forward in time as one of six suitors for Maximilian’s sister, Carolina. Niall wasn’t really interested in marrying Carolina; he just wanted to see if the fantastical tales his long-lost, time-traveling father had told him were true. And becoming Spellbound Falls’ chief of police gave the displaced warrior a good excuse to stay, for not only did Niall embrace modern technology, he also found himself attracted to 21st-century women—and to Birch Callahan in particular, the pint-sized spitfire hired to run the town’s new women’s shelter.
I often feel like nothing more than a stenographer furiously taking notes.
Oh, yeah; instead of leaving me alone, the magic seems to be ramping up. But I suppose that’s what I get for letting my fictional characters run the show. Yes, I know they’re not really real, but I simply don’t have the heart to tell them. And besides, they keep providing me with all sorts of wonderful—albeit outrageous—stories.
I silently chuckle when people say they’re amazed by my imagination, because what they don’t know is that instead of being a deliberate creator, I am merely. . . heck, I often feel like nothing more than a stenographer furiously taking notes. Oh, sometimes my characters let me make suggestions, and sometimes they even use them. But for the most part I graciously do their bidding, since they in turn graciously allow my name to appear on the cover of their books.
So with that being said, I invite you to come join me in Spellbound Falls by way of The Highlander Next Door, and let’s see if I can’t persuade you that the magic truly is real. Okay, the mountain-moving part might be a bit of a stretch. But all that other stuff in my stories? Well, I can’t imagine anything more real than the magical power of love.
The fast-paced world of romance publishing is always offering up great new authors to discover. As part of our #FirstFictionMonth coverage, we're spotlighting three new voices who are each debuting in their own way this year.
Jennifer Ryan will be making her print debut with At Wolf Ranch (on sale February 24, 2015), the first in her thrilling romantic suspense series, Montana Men. The novel focuses on Ella Wolf as she flees to her family’s ranch, certain that the man who murdered her sister is now after her. Luckily for Ella, a ruggedly handsome cowboy is bent on protecting her from the killer.
Despite finding eBook success with her best-selling The Hunted and The McBrides series, Ryan is excited to finally have a novel in bookstores, admitting during our discussion at RWA that she's “really more of a print person.” And her path to print publication is the stuff of writers' dreams. While attending a panel discussion during a previous RWA convention, Avon editor Lucia Macro mentioned that she would love to see more romantic suspense novels. Taking the cue, Ryan sent Macro her manuscript, and a short three weeks later, Avon bought her series. It's no surprise, really; Ryan is adept at writing those gripping scenes that leave you flipping pages till the end.
Ryan’s romance-writing career took off with a bit of a happy shock: the discovery that she was pregnant with third child. “I was reading all the time—I read 10 books a week while my kids were growing up!” she says of her time as a stay-at-home mom with her first two children. But when they grew older, she decided it was time to go back to work as a computer programmer. That plan quickly changed when she discovered that she was pregnant again with her daughter. With another baby on the way, she decided that writing romance novels from home just made sense.
So what inspired her to base her series on the cowboys of Big Sky country? “When I was younger, I had a friend in California with a small ranch and horses. I would spend my weekends riding horses with her, and I just thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world," she explains. "I grew up daydreaming about cowboys, because who wouldn’t? I remember thinking, there’s got to be a cowboy our there for me—And I ended up marrying a military man!" Ryan lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and three children, and can usually be found immersed in a world of books.
We chatted with debut author Lillian Marek over email about her first novel, the Victorian romance Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures (on sale November 4). This novel answers the call for romance in exotic locales, since its heroine Lady Elinor and a distractingly handsome family friend find love while exploring Italy and the ruins of the ancient Etruscan civilization. Marek writes with humor, historical knowledge and just enough spice to keep things interesting.
Writing historical romance was an easy choice for Marek. “I’ve never wanted to do anything else—you could call it a compulsion. For a number of years, I got my writing fix, so to speak, as a journalist, but it’s much more fun writing fiction,” she says. Her focus on romance was inspired by a friend’s suggestion to pick up Loretta Chase’s romance novel Mr. Impossible. “I absolutely adored it,” she says. “I started devouring romance novels, especially historical ones, and had a glorious time. Then I thought it would be fun to write them, so I did.” As simple as that!
Getting published was a bit more complex than her decision to write, but after winning a few romance-writing contests, Marek felt confident enough to pitch her book to Sourcebooks. Not only did Sourcebooks buy Lady Elinor’s Wicked Adventures, they bought the rest of the proposed series as well. "I was, as you can imagine, ecstatic," she says. Marek lives near Long Island Sound with her husband, where she enjoys taking long walks along the coast. We're excited to see where the next intrepid installment in Marek's Victorian Adventurers series takes us!
Rhonda Helms is venturing into the world of New Adult print with her love- and music-inspired novel, Scratch (on sale September 30). Scratch is a departure from her usual romantic young adult novels, which are “frothy and fun,” she says during our conversation at the hotel Starbucks. New Adult is an up-and-coming genre, marketed towards young women in their early 20s—a grown-up YA reader, if you will. New Adult focuses on characters finding themselves and struggling with choices and consequences, from first jobs to first loves, as they explore life after high school. “It’s got that young adult voice [first person], but with more adult situations. I like the fact that you can write these characters that are a little bit older, and there’s lots of high emotion,” Helms explains. Helms has a knack for writing convincing dialogue between her young characters, perhaps inspired by conversations with her 18-year-old daughter!
In Scratch, college senior Casey attempts to keep memories of an unpleasant past at bay by losing herself in her gigs as a DJ. She tends to keep others at a distance, but when a fellow student takes an interest in her, she wonders if letting him in might be worth the risk. Helms knew music would be a big part of the book, and explains, "Music is really important to me. I was a DJ too for a while—It was awesome!" Scratch even includes a track list which “reflects stuff that would be on Casey’s personal playlist or music that she would play in the club,” Helms says. Here's a sample track from the list.
Along with her interest in music, Helms has always loved romance novels. “I started reading romance when I was a kid,” Helms says. “I would hide in my mom’s bathroom and read her Harlequins!” Growing up with those Harlequins, she knew she wanted to write. However, she says, “The first book I wrote, I had no idea what I was doing. I just sort of vomited out five chapters, and then didn’t know what to do next. . . It took me a year, but after that first book, I learned my process. But that first book was rough!” Seven books later, it looks like she’s gotten the hang of it.
Helms lives in Cleveland with her family, where you may find her enjoying time with her pets, reading or perhaps sampling her favorite cheeses. “A good aged Gouda is divine, and Asiago cheese is exquisite,” she says. Romance with a side of cheese: what more could you want?
Sabrina Jeffries' latest book in her Duke's Men series, How the Scoundrel Seduces, catches the heroine, Lady Zoe, in the midst of a bit of an identity crisis. Raised as the only child and heir to her family's Yorkshire Estate, Zoe is shocked to learn that she might actually be the daughter of an unknown Romany woman. Desperate to discover the truth and avoid the marriage her father is intent on arranging, she hires Tristan Bonnaud to help her track down her supposed mother. In this guest post, Sabrina Jeffries writes about the inspiration behind How the Scoundrel Seduces.
A few years ago, I realized that all my novels have at least one character pretending to be something he or she is not. Apparently, issues of identity are a big deal for me.
It shouldn’t surprise me—I grew up in Thailand as part of an American Protestant missionary community plunked down in the midst of an Asian, predominantly Buddhist community. Meanwhile, my high school was filled with kids who were military brats or diplomat’s kids or children of parents who worked for foreign companies with offices in Bangkok. None of us knew quite where we belonged or who we were. How could we?
That’s probably why my books often have masquerading heroines, spy heroes, or just plain men and women who aren’t what they seem as they struggle to figure out how much of their façade is real. Because I can relate. When you grow up in a mix of cultures and communities, you learn to blend in anywhere, and it makes it hard to figure out who you really are.
At first glance, the heroine for How the Scoundrel Seduces, Lady Zoe Keane, should be very secure in who she is. She has been raised with the expectation of taking up her father’s mantle. She’s that rare thing in the English peerage—a peeress in her own right, a woman who can inherit land and a title from her father (or mother, if her mother was the previous title holder). That should make her feel comfortable with her identity, right?
Except that it doesn’t. Bad enough that her situation has already made her different from all the other ladies, who are peeresses by reason of being daughters or wives to a peer. But Zoe’s father, who was an army major before he inherited the title, has raised her to be his heir. So she acts a bit like a man and not like the other ladies, who are waiting around for a husband.
I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I?
Plus, she doesn’t resemble her parents—she’s olive-skinned and exotic-looking. And her aunt has just revealed to Zoe that she may secretly be the child of gypsies (the Romany). That would mean Zoe couldn’t inherit a thing if anyone found out, since England didn’t have a legal construct for adoption during the Regency.
So Zoe is truly confused about who she is . . . or who she should become. And I had great fun with that. It’s always more interesting when a heroine (or hero) is in a period of flux. It gives the author a chance to capture the character emerging from the cocoon, unfolding her wings and learning to fly.
In Zoe’s case, she has to figure out what she wants. Marriage to her father’s cousin and second heir, to solidify her claim to the estate? Independence, even if it means losing her inheritance? Love with a man who might keep her from getting what she’s been bred to have?
By throwing in the possibility of Zoe being from another culture entirely (Romany), I got to have her question some of the same things I questioned growing up. Which culture is mine? What do I believe? Who am I? After all, it’s hard to figure out what you want when you don’t know who you are.
Which brings us back to why I create characters who are trying to work out their true identities. Because with every one, I get a little closer to figuring out my own. And what more can a writer ask for?
(Author Photo by Jessi Blakely for Tamara Lackey photography)
In Falling for Max, her latest book in The Kowalskis series, Shannon Stacey chooses quite the unlikely hero to sweep readers off their feet. He's shy, awkward and filled with anxiety about women, and Tori Burns is determined to fix him right up. But does he really need fixing? Because honestly, who's the more realistic dream boy—A pirate on a motorcycle with a heart of gold, or the sweet boy-next-door you never saw coming? In this guest post, Shannon Stacey writes about her decision to cast an unlikely leading man.
Sometimes a secondary character comes along who’s meant to fill a role in the lives of the main characters, but then takes on a life of his own. Max Crawford, the hero of Falling For Max, was such a secondary character. He was simply a friend of Josh and Katie (from All He Ever Dreamed), but as his character developed, I became more intrigued.
Whenever he appeared, I’d uncover more details about Max: Why he liked sports so much; why he’d moved to Whitford, the fictional town in Maine where the Kowalski series is set. I started a file to gather little tidbits about him, but all the while I was thinking, “What am I going to do with Max?”
I tend to write men who are confident and charming. They don’t worry about how to talk to a woman and don’t have trouble finding a date. They’re mostly blue-collar guys who work hard, play harder and walk tall in their worlds.
Max isn’t like the other men in my Kowalski series. He isn’t like many other romance heroes at all, actually. He’s shy, awkward with people he doesn’t know well and he likes his life a particular way. He has a great sense of humor, but most people don’t get it. He has an interesting hobby that he turned into a career, but not many people know a lot about model railroading. Between finding social interactions awkward and working from home, Max finds it hard to meet people—especially women.
I loved writing Max’s story. He’s inspired by several people very close to me who share a lot of his traits, so his journey to happily ever after was important to me. And it came as a bit of a surprise to me when I realized his heroine would be Tori Burns, another secondary character from the series.
Tori is younger than Max and quite the opposite of him personality-wise. She’s friendly, if a little cynical due to her family situation, and has no trouble talking to people. If she wasn’t purposely avoiding serious relationships, she wouldn’t have any problems attracting a man. She begins spending time with Max after watching him get shut down while attempting to talk a woman. In a little twist on My Fair Lady, she wants to help coach Max and make him more “dateable”.
Watching her slowly come to appreciate qualities in Max that people around him tend to find weird was personally satisfying to me as well as professionally. As I mentioned, Max was inspired by several guys in my life who are close to me, and I want them to find women who love them the way they are. I wanted the same for Max. I didn’t want him to change in a way that made it easier for a woman to love him.
It was a challenge, balancing Max’s quirks with expectations many readers have when it comes to leading men in romance novels. He’s physically attractive, of course. But I’m also hoping that, along with Tori, readers will find Max interesting and fun, and slowly fall in love with him just the way he is.
Thanks, Shannon! See more from Shannon Stacey on her website. Readers, what do you think about non-traditional romance heroes?
This weekend, Trisha and I had the pleasure of attending the annual RWA Conference. RWA (Romance Writers of America) is an organization that supports and advances the careers of romance authors, and the RWA conference is a four-day gathering of publishers, writers and supporters with over 2,100 attendees. It is held in a different city each year, and this year it was held in San Antonio, Texas, home of the Alamo and puffy tacos.
The conference is a fast-paced affair. Days are packed with panels about pitching novels to publishers and developing realistic characters, as well as book signings by favorites like Nora Roberts and Jill Shalvis. It all culminates in an award ceremony for the best books of the year in which the winners recieve a RITA or a Golden Heart award. And at night, there are parties! Fabulous parties with great food, plenty of drinks and incredibly friendly guests.
That's the thing about RWA: It's a gathering of the friendliest, most helpful bunch of people you'll ever meet. The romance writing community is famously supportive, and the RWA conference is a chance for writers who have been sending emails back and forth for months to finally meet in person. Many authors we met said they couldn't have finished their book if it wasn't for the support of romance writing chatrooms and friends along the way.
Stay tuned for more posts about RWA, including romance trends to look out for, a roundup of the party circuit and more!
With an entire trilogy coming out in three months, Grace Burrowes has been busy! The first in the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, was released this month. This Regency romance trilogy focuses on the troubled, but of course swoon-worthy, veterans of war and the women they return home to. The next two installments, The Traitor and The Laird, will be released in August and September respectively. In this guest blog post, Burrowes reveals the perks of widowhood for Gillian of The Captive.
Widowhood is a time of sorrow, and widows above all women are to be pitied. Gillian, Countess of Greendale, has waited eight years to earn such pity.
Gilly has obeyed society’s rules and married the man of her father’s choosing. Eight years later, she’s finally a widow, and more than prepared to take advantage of the very same rules that consigned her to a loveless marriage. Now those rules say she’s entitled to live quietly on her own. As a widow, she will endure poverty and obscurity happily to have the peace and contentment that even society admits are her due.
Two problems stand between Gilly and contented widowhood. First, her late husband left her dower house in atrocious condition. Creeping damp isn’t the worst of it. Bats, possibly; a leaking roof, surely. Second, her young cousin Lucy is much in need of a father’s love and attention, but that good fellow has only recently ended captivity in French hands, and is otherwise occupied.
Gilly stirs herself for Lucy’s sake to confront the girl’s father, Christian, Duke of Mercia. Gilly is prepared to give His Grace a sound dressing down—Lucy needs her papa!—but His Grace dangles a lure before Gilly that tempts her from her plans of obscure widowhood. Gilly wants peace and contentment, and she wants to ensure Lucy’s well-being. Christian offers Gilly a place in his household—they are cousins by marriage, after all—and asks her to join him and Lucy at his country estate.
Oh, the blessings of widowhood! Because of her widowed state, Gilly is free to accept Christian’s offer and join him in the tranquil, bucolic splendor of the Severn family seat. She has company, she’s in comfortable surroundings, and she has a widow’s autonomy. She can also keep an eye on Lucy, but increasingly, she finds herself keeping an eye on Christian as well.
He’s not a particularly impressive figure at first—weak, mentally troubled, overwhelmed with the effects of captivity and the burdens of resuming his ducal responsibilities. As much as Gilly longs for independence, she can’t help but sympathize with a duke who was cruelly deprived of his own independence and taken captive. Christian can’t help but admire Gilly, whose relentless independence becomes both an inspiration and a challenge.
Gilly thinks she’s playing by society’s rules as the story opens, but by the end of the book, for Gilly and Christian, the only rules that matter have to do with love and honor. Propriety and the social expectations? Not so much.
You can see more about the trilogy on Grace Burrowes' website.
Molly Harper's latest paranormal romance, Better Homes and Hauntings, is the spooky, oftentimes hilarious tale of talented landscaper Nina Linden as she attempts to restore the dilapidated mansion of wealthy entrepreneur Deacon Whitney. But she keeps running into obstacles that keep her from finishing the job, not to mention exploring her feelings for Deacon. Namely: ghosts. In this guest post, Harper shares the inspiration behind the book and her thoughts on played-out horror tropes.
As a child, I watched a little too much Scooby Doo. I remember sitting in front of TV, practically twitching as the ending credits to Guiding Light rolled by, whining, “Is it coming on now, Mom?” Because that day was going to be the day: The day when Fred and Daphne failed to catch the spooky culprit—using Scooby and Shaggy as bait—and Velma would be forced to say, “Jinkies, gang, I guess this carnival really is haunted by the ghost of an evil Cotton Candy Clown.”
I was never happy when the phantom turned out to be a guy in a rubber mask. And their reasons for posing as phantoms never satisfied my curiosity. This turned out to be a lifelong problem. Whether it was a TV show, a campfire tale or a non-fiction paranormal-science book, it was rare to find a haunting explanation that left me feeling sufficiently frightened.
And frankly, I got a little judgmental about the actions of the Scooby Gang and the characters in the horror movies. Why did they always split up? Why did they go investigate spooky noises coming from the basement armed only with a flickering candle? Why did they ignore walls dripping blood and disembodied voices telling them to “GET OUT”?
So when I set out to write Better Homes and Hauntings, my first-ever ghost-based paranormal romance, I had three goals for the characters. I would devise the scariest, twisty-est ghost story possible. I would spare the characters the stereotypical, “let’s split up” moments. And no one would lose their glasses, ever.
Based on the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, The Crane’s Nest of Better Homes and Hauntings is an enormous, stylish structure on a private island. However, it never quite made it as a family home since Gerald Whitney, the business tycoon that built it, murdered his unfaithful wife, Catherine, immediately after it was finished. Gerald died disgraced but unprosecuted, and rumors of a curse followed the family as their fortunes crumbled. Over the years, locals insisted Catherine’s spirit was still wandering the halls of the mansion, hiding from Gerald’s angry ghost and searching for her lost lover.
Tales of ghosts and curses persist until Deacon Whitney, the first successful Whitney in more than a century, sets about restoring the mansion to its former glory. A team of restorers, including comely landscape architect Nina Linden, plan to stay on the island for the summer to breathe life back into the Crane’s Nest, and the weird phenomena begin before Nina sets foot on the island. The characters are drawn into the mystery of Catherine’s death, but the spirits inhabiting the mansion are none too happy with their sleuthing.
As someone who has grown up with the horror movie tropes, it was a lot of fun to play with those themes and the characters’ awareness of them. I loved hiding clues in strange places around the house and letting the characters stumble into information. My “Mystery Gang” experience fear, ferret out the truth and find love – because this is a romance, and even though Fred and Daphne never got together, I’ll do what I want. And in the end, there is a real ghost and a twist, without a rubber mask in sight.
Better Homes and Hauntings is a childhood dream fulfilled and I hope the readers enjoy it.
Will you be picking up Molly Harper's latest romance?
Set in sunny Southern California, Lauren Christopher's debut romance novel The Red Bikini begins at a low point. Giselle McCabe's life has long revolved around her daughter and husband, but everything is turned upside down when he suddenly leaves her. At a loss, Giselle and her young daughter seeks refuge at her sister's beach house in idyllic Sandy Cove. Giselle expects some relaxation and recuperation, but what she finds is love in the most unexpected of places. In this guest post, Lauren shares the inspiration behind The Red Bikini.
I love summer. And I love books. Some of my most wonderful memories of carefree summers involve sitting in my back yard under the orange tree and eating pistachios all afternoon in the heat while getting lost in a great book.
So I guess it’s no surprise that when it came time to write my first romance novel, I started with a romantic, summertime setting. I wanted to bring alive everything I loved about my hometown area in Southern California since I was a kid: the sunsets, the palm trees, the mist on June mornings, the greenbelts, the way the bright-green ice plant meets the sand, the ocean-facing restaurants and how it always smells a little like suntan oil and open grills when you’re walking down the sidewalk in a beach town.
I also set out to write about a slightly older heroine. (Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?) Giselle is 35, and, like most women in their 30s, she’s a little set in her ways. And there’s no way she’s wearing that red bikini her sister left her.
She also has a lot of preconceived notions about things, and that was fun for me to work with. I think everyone in their 30s can relate to that – you’ve decided how things are, and how things are going to be, and it’s hard to open your mind to new possibilities; especially when it comes to love. Giselle has her certain routines for grocery shopping, her “Excel sheets in her head” about her daughter’s nutrition, her assumptions about suburbia and what her life should entail.
So I wanted to throw a hero Giselle’s way who would challenge all that. And that’s how Fin, the 28-year-old surfer, was born!
I knew that Giselle would bristle at everything about him. I guess I wanted to explore how often, perhaps, our assumptions or misperceptions might get in the way of letting us fall in love. Giselle assumes Fin’s too young, too irresponsible, too used to groupies and easy sex to hold her interest or be interested in her. And Fin assumes she’s too well-bred and well-educated to be interested in him. But one by one, they both have their stereotypical assumptions stripped away.
Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?
The surfer stereotype was a fun one to use. People still hold onto the idea of the laid-back surfer “beach bum.” But here in Southern California, a guy in a wetsuit with a board under his arm could just as easily be your CEO as a professional surfer making six figures a year. Surfing is a $6 billion industry now, and there’s a lot of cut-throat competition involved, both in the water and in boardrooms. So I wanted Giselle to stumble into this world and have some of her stereotypes questioned, which opens her up to challenging lots of things about her life. As she does, she becomes more accepting of other people and, ultimately, more accepting of love and respect in return from the most improbable sources. Fin goes through a similar journey, and together they find that “connection” doesn’t happen on a superficial level – same interests, same hobbies, same lifestyle – connection happens on a deep, gut level.
Beyond that, I just wanted to make the story fun and romantic! For a couple of summers, my family and I stayed in a beach house in San Clemente where sea spray actually splashed the patio when high tide was in – and that’s the house I modeled Fin’s home on. I love going to the huge outdoor art pageant here every summer called the Pageant of the Masters (my husband takes me every year for my birthday). It has a long, romantic history, so I put Fin and Giselle there for one scene, too. And I put them in Laguna Canyon for a couple of scenes, which has its own golden beauty and real eucalyptus groves. Throw in some good wine, walks along the pier, sultry Spanish street names and delicious tacos, and I hope to transport readers to a summer of romance – where they can relax under the shade of their own backyard tree, eat pistachios in the heat and get wonderfully lost in a book…
Thanks Lauren! If you want to read more about the inspiration behind The Red Bikini, check out Lauren's author website.