I like to loosely plot my books by looking at my characters’ major emotional turning points. I ask myself how will these two very different people overcome their internal obstacles in order to fall in love with each other? It’s one thing to be physically attracted to each other, but that’s not enough to hold two people together for a lifetime. The journey to a happily-ever-after must be earned through growth and real character change. They must earn each other’s respect and gain each other’s trust before they can fall in love. When two people find each other and discover home, they will always have a safe haven when life gets tough. That’s what I want my characters to have after I write the final words of my stories. Why? Because I have that in spades. And I’ve needed that safe place to fall countless times.
When I began writing The Maverick’s Red Hot Reunion in 2011, I had a totally different concept in mind. I was planning a four book, small town series set in North Carolina. I had a town mapped out, names, and a series arc. I was happily playing with my words. Personally, my life was rolling along very well. My family had adjusted to our move to Northern Alabama, my husband’s career was flourishing, and my daughter was a happy high school student. And then I got a call from my dearest friend about my sweet surrogate mother: she’d been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, and the prognosis is paralysis and eventually death. Devastated, I had to find a way to deal with the incredible well of sorrow filling my heart.
I turned to the Internet and researched the illness. While there is no cure, many advances have been made in the treatment of this disease. What really struck me was that people who had been diagnosed with this disease wanted something good to come out of their illness. I realized that I could make a difference, too, and cope with my grief the only way I know how: through my writing. First I spoke with my best friend—she’s more like a sister friend—and asked permission to use ALS as part of my story. She said yes. Then I went back to the drawing board, distilled the four stories into one, and began working on a reunion novel based on two people who will do anything to give happiness to their best friend—even if it means faking an engagement.
I had a lot of fun putting Zach and Kennedy into sticky situations where they were forced to prove they had fallen back in love. More so, I had a place to pour my tears and sorrow and grief. I worked on the story for two years, on and off, while entering contests with other manuscripts and getting lots of interest from publishers in my genre. Often I’d park the story to work on another request, but my heart always went back to these two incredible characters.
The Maverick’s Red Hot Reunion was never tested by the writing contest gauntlet of judges. Only one other person besides my critique partner had read the first three chapters. I wasn’t even sure where the story belonged, but then I did an interview with Alethea Spiridon Hopson for a writing contest I was coordinating. When I read her replies to my questions, I felt compelled to query her with The Maverick’s Red Hot Reunion. She liked it, and on May 30, 2013 she emailed me to tell me The Maverick’s Red Hot Reunion had been approved. This story of my heart, the one that I had written out of a desperate need to heal my grief, would be published in June 2013.
Frankly, I trembled when I read the email. Not only had I realized a lifelong dream, now I had a way of reaching out to people and making something good come out of something bad. I can’t change what happened to my surrogate mother—truly the kindest and most loving woman I’ve known throughout my life—but I can contribute a portion of my royalties to my local ALS Association and raise awareness about this disease.
If you want to make a difference in your corner of the world, check out www.als.org for details about where you can help.
The Maverick’s Red Hot Reunion Excerpt
Beside her, Zach inhaled a sharp breath. She could feel his grief as if it were palpable. Her own sadness threatened to burst through her internal blockade. Kennedy reached under the table and took Zach’s hand, squeezing it. They glanced at each other and something beyond their attraction and their grievances about the past connected them.
Whatever happened between them during the resort’s renovation, she and Zach had one thing in common. Their love for Michael. As long as Michael was happy, they would do whatever was necessary to get along.
As they ended their Skype call, she recognized the longing for connection in Zach’s good-byes to the entire Sullivan family. And Kennedy promised herself that she’d do anything to keep their relationship strictly friendly despite her heart and body desperately craving so much more.