Behind the Book: “Twelve Days” in SUGAR AND SPICE

Q: Where did Natalie and Jake come from? Were they fully formed when you started the book?

Well, yes and no. I form them as I go, really. I start with a what-if. I had the basic idea of a Cyrano de Bergerac type story of a woman who has twelve days (based on the Twelve Days of Christmas) to make a man fall in love with her alter-ego so he would see past her “big nose”, i.e., the stuttering. I like to play off the same theme in the hero, though. So I wanted a hero who also wasn’t really seen for who he was, who was only seen for his exteriora wealthy playboy, rather than a man with some depth, with something to give.

The stuttering came when I started looking for something unique. I thought of myself and how I get when I get nervous. I used to do a TV show on cable and before the show, I’d get really nervous. My thing was burping. I’d burp, these little burps, every few seconds just before I went on air (I know, I hear you laughing). Once the camera light went on, I was fine, but I lived in total fear that the red light would come on and I’d be Beer Guy. I remember stammering to the cute guy in high school. Getting tongue tied around people I admired. I think all of us could relate to my characters, so that’s where the stuttering came from.

Q: How did you shape them and breath life into the characters?

That happens with each page. I ask myself WHY on every page. WHY is she this way. WHY does someone stutter. My research showed that it can happen as a result of a traumatic event. Well, what kind happened to Natalie? WHY would she be skittish around Jake? WHY wouldn’t she trust that he could love her as she was? And WHY was he the way he was, distrustful of commitment, unwilling to get involved?

FWIW, breathing life into characters was the hardest thing for me to learn before I sold. I learned that it was in the simple things. A character looks outside and sees a tree and has a trigger of a memory. To have a fully-formed character, to make them 3-D, they have to have pasts, presents, and futures, and you need to SHOW that, but not bash the reader over the head with it. So, a tree in a back yard becomes one that the hero climbed as a kid and broke a leg falling out of. Or a road in a small town becomes the one that the hero escaped from town on eleven years ago (THE VIRGIN’S PROPOSAL, my first book) and then returns onbut breaks down on, before he can make his triumphant return, a little bit of irony. The “Welcome to Mercy” sign that he sees upon his return triggers the memory of his wilder days. Just a couple snippets, but they were things that rounded him out.

As I learned to do that, I began to create 3-D characters. So that EVERYTHING in a book added to that 3-D effect of the characters, from the coffee Natalie orders in the Starbucks to the presents Jake gets her in the Secret Santa exchange. Every single thing takes on meaning, a layer to the character. I choose everything, from the brand of shoes they wear, to the cars they drive, to be a part of shaping this character, their past, their present and their future.

Q: Where did the plot idea come from?

Honest to Pete, I don’t even know where some of this stuff comes from. My first women’s fiction, out now with Harlequin Next, is called THE OTHER WIFE. It’s a woman who goes to her husband’s funeral and finds out he not only has another wife on the side but has secretly been traveling the country with Harvey the Wonder Dog. It’s a dark comedy, to say the least :-). Now, I don’t have a bigamist husband, nor do I have a wonder dog (trust me, my dogs are the complete opposite ). So I don’t know where this stuff comes from.

What I do like to explore, though, is the lies we tell ourselves, the masks we wear. My favorite poem in the entire world is TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” That poem forms the basis of every one of my books, and is especially the basis of THE OTHER WIFE and THE BRIDE WORE CHOCOLATE. Yes, Penny’s husband lied to her in THE OTHER WIFE, but I wanted to explore what kind of lies she’d been telling herself all those years that allowed this to happen in her marriage. It was a cool book to write.

Same thing with SUGAR AND SPICE, albeit a little lighter tone. It’s about wearing masks, and telling lies to others, to ourselves. It’s only when we get honest and real that we can find happiness…and bring happiness to those around us.

One side note…my writing has taken a decidely more emotional bend in the last year and I am really proud of my three fall releases (the other one is RESCUED BY MR. RIGHT) so that makes me extra happy that readers are responding so well to “Twelve Days”.

Q: When/why did you discover that the heroine stutters when she’s nervous? Was that a conscious decision that she does that?

I just drew it from my own life. I’m much more used to speaking publicly now, so I barely get nervous now, but I used to be pretty bad before. And I truly think we all can relate to Natalie and sympathize with her. To be honest, I never in a million years thought Kensington would let a stuttering heroine through because it’s not exactly sexy 🙂 but my editor backed me 100% and I just love her for it :-).

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