Historical romance is my first and lasting writing love, and I’ve been writing it continuously since—heavens, 1986! But the muse craves variety, so I’ve written in other directions along the way. Always there is romance and a happy ending, and almost always there is history—except for my venture into contemporary romance.
I wrote three novellas and one related novella in my Circle of Friends series, and it was a wonderful and challenging experience. I had to develop a contemporary “voice,” and all the books were demanding, high research stories. They were actually halfway between contemporary romance and mainstream women’s fiction. If I had to categorize them, it would be as “romantic women’s fiction.”
From a marketing point of view, my timing was terrible. I was writing serious books at a time when the market was moving to very frothy, light contemporary romances. (Remember all those cartoon covers?)
The books were well reviewed, but they didn’t set the world on fire. I learned many interesting things, such as the fact that there isn’t a huge crossover between historical and contemporary readers. I got emails on the contemporaries asking if I’d ever written any other books. <G>
So after the trilogy was done, I didn’t write any more contemporaries. I had never quit my “day job”—I was still writing historical romance--so in the great scheme of things, the contemporaries were an interesting side excursion. When they went out of print, I got the rights back as a matter of principle and that was that.
Then came the e-book revolution, and all of a sudden, it was possible to make backlist books available to readers. Authors LOVE this! All of our children, free at last! The contemporaries were the very first books I published in e-form since they wouldn’t conflict with my ongoing historical work.
So the series has been available, though never selling as well as my historical backlist. Then Nina Paules, who has built an amazing business producing and publishing e-books, casually mentioned that she thought the contemporaries would do well if they were renamed, repackaged, and relaunched with a more women’s fiction look. (Nina and I met through this blog, One of many benefits I’ve received at Word Wenches!)
I was reluctant to change titles because I don’t ever want to confuse readers into accidentally buying a book they’ve already read. But I was persuaded that the titles needed to be changed to escape bad earlier reviews in online sites. Most of these reviews were for the first book, The Burning Point, and they dated back to the original release in 2000.
STIRRING THE EMBERS
All of the COF stories had edgy, controversial elements because I like exploring complicated issues and complicated people. And in TBP, I tackled the most challenging situation I’ve ever done: Is it possible for two people who divorced over domestic violence to move on, grow, change—and then come together again to build on the love that never died to create a strong, healthy relationship?
The story is built around a romance, but the premise is very mainstream. Escapist? Not even close. But powerful, important, and ultimately romantic? Well, I thought so. So did others—TBP was listed by LIBRARY JOURNAL as one of the top five romances of the year 2000, a recognition I’m very proud of. It was also a Top Pick at Romantic Times.
But light hearted escapism the books were not. I understand that readers who were looking for more traditional romance wouldn’t like the story line. But since I love all my books and want to find readers who enjoy them, I decided to work with Nina to repackage the contemporaries in hopes of finding a more women’s fiction audience.
And so the Circle of Friends Series has become the Starting Over Series. The Burning Point became Stirring the Embers. The Spiral Path became Phoenix Fallling. Twist of Fate became An Imperfect Process. The covers are dramatic and emotional, but not particularly sexy.
But the story hasn’t changed. Stirring the Embers is one of the rare books where I remember the exact inspiration: a feature article in the Baltimore Sun Sunday business section about the world famous explosive demolition company Controlled Demolition, Inc.
CDI is a Baltimore company founded by Jack Loizeaux, a former army explosive expert who started by blowing up tree stumps and over time developed techniques for demolishing buildings in one grand bang rather than bashing away piece by piece.
These days the company is run by his two sons, Mark and Doug. In the article, they talked about studying a building till they know it on a deep, almost spiritual level. They work with such precision that they don’t always feel the need to clear the parking lot next door to the imploded building.
I thought, “Wow, this is really interesting!!! It would make a great story if a daughter of the company wanted to be one of their demolition engineers but her old-fashioned father won’t allow it. So she goes away and comes back later…”
I had years to think about the story before I had the chance to write it. I decided that a romance that had exploded and now might be rebuilt seemed like a good fit with the story of an explosive demolition company. And by setting it in my hometown of Baltimore, I could use the flavor and texture of the city as my backdrop.
I did lots of research! Stacey Loizeaux, a third generation demolition engineer, was tremendously helpful in explaining how the business works. Some of her anecdotes are in the story. I looked at lots of movies of imploding buildings , and watched a couple of them live.
I also researched violence, a subject that I have been exploring in my books since my very first Signet Regency. I talked with the director of the House of Ruth, Baltimore’s safe house for battered women and children. I studied the role of substance abuse in domestic violence, and found people who had overcome abusive tendencies and saved their marriages.
The result was Kate Corsi, daughter of a mother who comes from old money and an energetic Italian American father who’d founded Phoenix Demolition, Inc. She and Patrick Donovan fell madly in love and married young, with Donovan becoming the son Sam Corsi had always wanted. When the marriage implodes, it’s Kate who takes off to California to become an architect while Donovan becomes Sam’s right hand man.
When Sam is killed in an accident, Kate returns home for the first time in ten years—and finds that her father has left a diabolical will that requires Kate and Donovan to live under the same roof for a year, or the firm will be sold to a competitor. Kate and Donovan are equally horrified—but ultimately agree as a way of finally laying the past to rest.
As Kate finally gets her chance to blow things up, she also sees how Donovan has grown and changed—and maybe dealt with his issues better than she has. As they discover who they are now, they also find the old attraction is burningly alive. But they discover that a broken heart isn’t the only danger that faces them and the business they both love, and maybe Sam's death wasn't an accident….
Here’s an excerpt of Stirring the Embers if you’d like to take a look. I guarantee a happy ending! At some later time, I’ll blog about Phoenix Falling and An Imperfect Process and give you the story-behind-the-story on them.
As a lagniappe of the relaunch of my contemporaries, I’ll give away an original print copy of Stirring the Embers/The Burning Point to someone who leaves a comment between now and midnight Saturday.