Shortly after my first book hit the shelves, an acquaintance confided that she almost couldn’t finish reading it because she felt as if she were prying into my life. “It was just so… intimate!” she’d said. I was equal parts astonished that she actually thought it was autobiographical and flattered that she thought I lived (or once lived) such an exciting life. I mean, I love my life, but it’s vastly different from the fictional worlds I create for my heroines.
After I thought about it, I could see where she might have drawn that conclusion. While I’m a bit older than most of my heroines, I do tend to lend them characteristics and features similar to my own. Still, my heroines are not me. I don’t write about myself as much as I write about observations and what I find interesting.
Take, for example, my first book, REINVENTING OLIVIA. It was born one night when my husband and I were out to dinner at a trendy downtown restaurant. As we approached, I heard dance music pulsing from the loft condos above the restaurant. When I looked up, I saw a hand holding a drink over the balcony rail. I thought, wow, if I were young and single that’s where I’d live… and the story took off on its own. So, while Olivia was most decidedly not me, she was definitely a child of my imagination, born out of what-ifs and shades of possibility.
I’ll confess that within the pages of my twenty-five (and counting) books I’ve drawn strongly on my own life experiences (because the first rule of writing is write what you know). I’ve borrowed characteristics from real-life villains (uhh-hmm - bosses) and given them their comeuppance on the page, or rewritten an unsatisfying true-to-life experience so that it ended happily, but the majority of my plots and characters come from the most unexpected places. That was the case with my book WITH VIOLETS (HarperCollins) – written under my historical nom de plume, Elizabeth Robards.
I’ve always been infatuated with the French Impressionists. So when my husband and I went to Paris, I was anticipating a daytrip to Giverny, Claude Monet’s home and famous gardens. Before we boarded a train at the Gare Saint-Lazare, to make our way to Giverny, we stopped at the Musée Marmottan to see Monet’s famous ‘Impression, Sunrise’ (Impression: Soleil Levant), the painting that launched the French Impressionist movement.
Little did I know, but I was about to meet painter Berthe Morisot on the second floor of the Musée Marmottan. Not literally, of course, because she died in 1895. However, I saw her work for the first time and a photograph of her with her family. Something about the photo haunted me and urged me to research her life. In doing so, I discovered the tale of a deeply complex, richly talented woman who bucked nineteenth century convention to become one of the world’s greatest artists and the heroine of WITH VIOLETS.
The research and the story were labors of love. And while the Berthe Morisot I wrote is not really like me – well, except for her strong, independent streak and a great passion for what she loved – I think there’s a little bit of every woman in her.
In my next release A CELEBRATION CHRISTMAS (Harlequin Special Edition, November 2014). I drew inspiration from one of my favorite movies THE SOUND OF MUSIC. To make it my own, I gave it a Christmas twist. Here’s the back cover copy:
THE GREATEST GIFT OF ALL
Lily Palmer is in for the Christmas of a lifetime! When the nanny signs up to watch Dr. Cullen Dunlevy’s four foster kids, she’s got her hands full. The Thomas clan is the most mischievous group of youngsters she’s ever had to wrangle, but Lily loves the job. After all, what girl wouldn’t adore spending the holidays with a warmhearted new family—and their irresistibly handsome foster dad?
Cullen doesn’t mind Christmas, but his Scrooge-like facade is there for a reason—to protect himself. His tough childhood caused him to hide behind his work and avoid entanglements at all costs. That includes avoiding falling for the deliciously tempting new nanny that Santa left for him this year…
Anyhow, when a fertile imagination has its way with an interesting subject… Well, that’s how stories are born. Whether or not the plot is autobiographical, a writer can’t help but infuse a little of herself and the things she loves into the story.
Have you ever related to a fictional character so much that she seemed real? Who was it and what about her grabbed you?
One person who comments will win the book of her (his) choice from my backlist… Can’t wait to hear from you!
Not too long ago I did a blog post on the best romantic comedy movies. Recently I’ve been thinking about why these movies work so well and I think they, in addition to romance novels, work because they hit on tried and true elements that just work for us. These are called tropes or cliches or plot devices, whatever you call them, they’re used again and again because they work. I went through that list of of rom coms we put together and tried to identify the trope(s) that the movie uses, well, for some of them, this list was too long to do all of them. (If you want more info on tropes, then here’s a great blog about them).
- French Kiss – this is classic Bait & Switch, where she’s masquerading a relationship with him to get the attention of another man only to fall in love with the first man. Le sigh…
- Working Girl – this is kind of a spin on the boss/secretary trope paired with mistaken identity paired with the different classes. He’s rich and successful and powerful and she’s an overworked and under appreciated secretary who ends up masquerading as her boss’s partner.
- Six Days and Seven Nights – here we have forced proximity, I mean they’re literally deserted together on an island. There is also an age difference as well as well as opposites attract. And Harrison Ford, which always helps, but you know I don’t think there is a HF trope. There should be though!
- Notting Hill – simple boy from small London neighborhood meets uber famous American actress & they end up forced together.
- 27 Dresses – Here we have mistaken identity paired with enemies to lovers. A good example that the enemies don’t have to hate each other so much they want the other person dead, they just have chemistry and don’t understand it.
- The Cutting Edge - Who doesn’t love a good Taming of the Shrew story? We also have opposites attract and forced proximity, it all combines for a great movie.
So what do you think? Do you have certain types of stories (or tropes) that you will read/watch again and again? I know that I’m a total sucker for marriage of convenience/forced proximity as well as best friends to lovers.
Today we welcome back historical romance author, Michelle McLean. Thanks for joining us again, Michelle.
Top 5 Favorite Things About Writing Romancing the Rumrunner
- The Research – I always have fun researching my books, but this one was particularly fun. Aside from a few movies set in this era (and reading the requisite Fitzgerald and Hemmingway books in school), this isn’t a time period I knew much about so I got to spend a lot more time researching than I usually need to. It was fabulous! This is such a fascinating era, one that I really enjoyed playing in for awhile.
- The Music – The music surprised me. I’d heard some songs (I’d been a huge Betty Boop fan when I was younger so it was fun to listen to the songs of Helen Kane, the woman who inspired the cartoon (despite the creator’s claims to the contrary)). Two things surprised me the most: 1 – it is almost all upbeat. I had a very hard time finding a song that wasn’t peppy. Even the sad songs were something you could really dance to. And 2 – they were naughty! And not all that subtle about it either. Some of the songs will downright make you blush! Check out Bettie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues”
- The Characters – I love all my characters, but Tony and Jessie were so much fun. Poor Tony just wants to get his life back on track and make sure he doesn’t make any more seriously horrible mistakes, and Jessie is in the same boat. They try so hard to stay away from each other but just can’t help themselves. Set against the already clandestine back drop of speakeasies and the flapper era, they were just an absolute blast to write.
- The Setting – I had a lot of fun with this. From Jessie’s butcher shop to Tony’s P.I. office to the speakeasies (Jessie’s underground gothic hangout The Red Phoenix and Tony’s plush and hip club The Corkscrew) the settings were fascinating to research and create in the book. I even spent days researching 1920s automobiles and had Jessie take one for a spin (btw, they had some seriously gorgeous vehicles back then, including Al Capone’s totally tricked out armored and bullet proof Cadillac)
- The Fashions – gorgeous! Fabulous! I don’t have the arms to pull off the dresses, but would love to try The fringe, feathers, sheer overlays, beadwork, rhinestones *happy sigh*. Oh, and the accessories – if I could pull off those bejeweled “across-the-forehead” headbands, I’d walk around in them all day.
- What’s really interesting to me is what a huge leap fashion took. Just ten years prior, women
were still lacing up their corsets, aiming for the tiniest waist possible. While skirts might have gotten fuller, bustles might have been added or taken away, necklines might have gone higher or lower, for the most part the typical silhouette of a woman hadn’t changed much in a very long time.By the late 1920s, when Romancing the Rumrunner is set, fashion had undergone a massive make over. Lacing up until you passed out was a thing of the past, and women moved to soft silky camisoles, panties, and bras along with their short hemlines, strappy dresses, and boxy silhouettes.
All in all, this was a simply fascinating time period to write. In fact, this might just be my favorite of all my books (just don’t tell the others)
In honor of my heroine Jessie, who runs her speakeasy under the alias The Phoenix, I’ll be giving away a 1920s style Phoenix necklace to one lucky commenter!
Romance and non-fiction author Michelle McLean is a jeans and t-shirt kind of girl who is addicted to chocolate and Goldfish crackers and spent most of her formative years with her nose in a book. She has a B.S. in History, a M.A. in English, and loves her romance with a hearty side of suspenseful mystery. When Michelle’s not editing, reading or chasing her kids around, she can usually be found in a quiet corner working on her next book. She resides in PA with her husband and two children, an insanely hyper dog, and three very spoiled cats.
* Where did you get the idea for FORTUNE’S BABY?
Nancy Robards Thompson: FORTUNE’S BABY, book six in my Celebrations, Inc. series, is a friends-to-lovers story. It’s Bia Anderson’s and Aiden Woods’s romance. Readers first meet Bia in TEXAS MAGIC, where she was instrumental in breaking a big news story that threw the entire town of Celebration, Texas into an uproar. Also, it set the hero and heroine of that book on the path to true love. Bia has since appeared in other stories and has proven to be such a strong character that she almost demanded her own story. Naturally, I had to put her in a situation that would test her strength and challenge her independence: what better than an unplanned pregnancy?
* Tell us about the hero, Aiden Woods?
NRT: Aiden is one of my favorite heroes. He first appeared in CELEBRATION’S BRIDE as the friend and coworker of Miles Mercer. Aiden has been in love with Bia for a long time, but the timing was never right. When Bia finds herself pregnant after an uncharacteristic one-night fling with a movie star she’d interviewed for the newspaper, she’s in need of someone to pose as her fiancé and the father of her child. Of course, Aiden steps up to the job, but if he has his way, their engagement will end with them at the altar.
* Why will we fall in love with Aiden?
NRT: You’ve got to love a man who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to go after it…or should I say her. Aiden is a man’s man, but when it comes to the woman he loves, he has a romantic, vulnerable side and he’s not afraid to show it.
* Tell us about the heroine, Bia Anderson.
NRT: Bia is a woman many of us will identify with. She’s strong and independent. She’s been hurt before, and while she’d like to find her happily ever after, she’s decided to take some time out from romance to focus on her career. Her career as the editor of the Celebration newspaper was what landed her the opportunity to interview the “Sexiest Man Alive.” Since she wasn’t looking for anything serious, what was the harm in having a little fling with Mr. Sexy? After he found out Bia was pregnant, Mr. Sexy distanced himself as fast as he could. She loves the chemistry she has with Aiden, but he’s her best friend. She doesn’t want to ruin what they have by crossing that line…until she finally accepts the fact that the two of them are perfect for each other.
* What life-lessons do your H/H have to learn before they can find their happily-ever-after?
NRT: They have to learn to take chances. The answer is always no, if you don’t try. They also have to learn to trust in the power of true love.
* What was your favorite scene to write?
NRT: I had a lot of fun writing this book! But one of my favorite scenes was toward the end when Bia finally gives a tabloid reporter, who has been relentlessly hounding her, his comeuppance. It was so much fun!
* What was the most difficult scene for you to write?
NRT: Again, I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to spoil one of the plot twists, but there’s a pivotal point in the plot that involves Mr. Sexy that changes everything. I rewrote the scenes leading up to that point several different times with different outcomes until I was finally satisfied with the outcome. That’s all I’ll say.
* Can you share if there were any real-life inspirations for a particular scene or character in the book?
NRT: CELEBRATION’S BABY is strictly fiction, but I worked as a newspaper reporter for several years before writing fiction full-time. I drew on my personal experience with the news industry for Bia’s character. But, no, I never had an affair with the Sexiest Man Alive. That is, unless you’re talking about the Norwegian.
* If this book had a soundtrack, what are some of the songs that might appear on it?
NRT: Every one of my books has a soundtrack. Sadly, I can only listen to instrumental music when I’m writing, but I always put together a playlist to listen to when I’m not at the computer. It sets the tone and keeps me in the story. Here’s the soundtrack for CELEBRATION’S BABY:
If It Kills Me by Jason Mraz
I’ve Got This Friend by The Civil Wars
Just Like A Butterfly That’s Caught In The Rain by Diana Krall
Chasing Pavements by Adel
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight by Bob Dylan
Blue Jeans by Lana DelRay
Never Loved A Girl (the way that I love you) by Aerosmith
18th Floor Balcony by Blue October
Landslide by Dixie Chicks
I’ll Be There by The Jackson Five
* Do any beloved characters from your previous books show up in this one?
NRT: Oh, yes! It’s a Celebration’s, Inc. reunion. You’ll catch up with Sydney and her husband Miles (CELEBRATION’S BRIDE); Pepper and her husband Rob (TEXAS CHRISTMAS), Caroline and Drew (TEXAS MAGIC); and A.J. and her husband Shane (TEXAS WEDDING). Oh! I can’t forget Maya the chocolate maker. She has a very special role in this book.
* Why will readers enjoy this book?
NRT: It’s a friends to lovers to story about two best friends finally claiming the true love that’s been there all along, and it’s a chance for fans of my Celebrations, Inc. series to revisit Celebration Texas and some of the characters from past books. Plus, RT BookReviews gave it 4 stars and had some lovely things to say about it: “…Thompson unveils not one but two romances in this latest Celebration, Texas story, showcasing vivid storylines and rich, flowing narrative. Bia and Aiden are so right for each other; it’s fun to watch them get bull’s-eyed by Cupid’s arrow…”
In Celebration (pun intended ) of my new release, I’m giving a copy of CELEBRATION’S BABY to three people who comment below. Tell me anything – have you ever fallen in love with a friend? Have you ever met – or dated- a celebrity? Who do you think is the sexiest man alive? The field is wide open. I can’t wait to hear from you!
When I was fourteen years old I was moaning the fact that I would never have a boy friend. It seemed that every time I liked a boy he liked another girl. I was destined to be an old maid.
My mom laughed and sat on my bed and shared a story of what she called her first love, her lost love. I listened as she told me how before she’d met my dad the small Cajun man with laughing eyes and black wavy hair, she had loved a tall blond man that could sing like a professional and when they danced she felt like her feet never touched the floor. They dated under the watchful eyes of my grandmother for almost a year.
My mom was not allowed to go on a date without her mother accompanying them. But it became too much for my mom’s man she loved with all her heart. He asked permission to take her on an afternoon drive, just the two of them. His request was denied. His pride and I guess his honor was questioned. He told mom that he couldn’t do this anymore and that if he wasn’t trusted now he probably never would be so he walked away, saying he would not return but for her to know that he loved her and would never love another.
Broken hearted she moved to New Orleans to live with an Aunt, where she later met my dad, and after a long while they married. Years went by and I was born, and when my grandmother came to help she told my mom that her first love had returned shortly after mom moved to New Orleans, but my grandmother refused to tell him where she’d gone.
Years later she sat next to my dad in the hospital when she heard a familiar voice. She knew without looking up it was him but there he stood in his dress blues, he was now a service man. She said she so wanted to talk to him and have closure, but just then she and my dad were called into the doctors office. He never saw her.
My dad died at the age of fifty-five and my mother came to live with us, many an afternoon she and I would sit on my front porch and she would recount her past, and the stories would almost always turn back to him. She wondered if he’d ever married, if he knew she thought of him? My mom and I decided to look for him, and that we did for years, but every lead turned into a dead end. She died at the age of eighty-four, without closure between she and her first love. But before she died she did find out from her brother, that he had run into the man ten years before and that he’d never married. He told my mom’s brother, the good one had gotten away.
So when I wrote the second book in my Bon Amie Series, SNOW ON MAGNOLIAS, a secondary romance story was born about a young girl and a young soldier, it is one of my favorite parts of this book. Maybe because in my own way I am still trying to give my mom closure.
Have you ever written any personal stories into your books? As a reader do you enjoy knowing the behind the scenes info on the books you read?
Oh by the way that fourteen year old drama queen, did not end up an old maid, I’ve been very happily married to my best friend for 52 years.
Award-winning author, Hattie Mae was born and bred southern, cutting her teeth on cornbread and greens and running barefoot through the canals of her small Louisiana town. So when it came to writing, there was no question as to where to set her books. She’s now writing her fourth book set in Bon Amie, a busy little town nestled in the heart of Cajun country. She’s also published a short story in The Cup Of Comfort For Teachers. The love of books and writing runs in her family, Hattie’s daughter is award-winning historical romance author, Robyn DeHart. When not writing you can usually find her playing with her grandchildren or cooking up some healthy versions of tasty southern fare. She lives in central Texas with her husband and one crazy cat. You can find her online on Facebook, Twitter or via email.