Blog Series: Fave Summer Reads-Author Robinne Lee, Part Two

Welcome back, readers! 

Today on my Fave Summer Reads series, I’ll be featuring Part Two of my conversation with author, actress, and producer, Robinne Lee. Robinne’s book, The Idea Of You, is a swoony, beautiful, and emotion-filled read, that has kept me thinking about its characters ever since.  While I didn’t read this book when it first released, I believe that this book came to me when I needed it most–during Covid Lockdown, when I was turning 50. It’s a real gem!

In the last post, Robinne and I discussed the inspiration for the story, as well as the rationale for how much of it was written.  A link to that post is here.

**A note about the heat level: The love scenes in Idea Of You are steamy.  Really steamy. Incredibly steamy.  

For this post, we’ll dig in to the relationship between her amazing characters, Solene and Hayes, and what makes their journey such a beautiful, emotion-filled adventure. We’ll also get a glimpse into Robinne’s personal experience and connection to Hayes and Solene’s characters. My heart…Get ready…Here we go…

Writer’s Block: I am so glad to be able to continue our discussion with my readers today. Something I had on my list of notes for you was about the relationship of Solene and Hayes. It’s so multifaceted to me. It’s beautiful, imperfect, emotion filled. There are so many layers to their relationship all the way through to the very end. The end, by the way, nearly broke me. But, you know, for that reason, for all those different facets, I feel like the story really appeals to, and resonates with, so many people. I was curious what it must have been like for you, as the writer of all of these characters and all of these feelings that they were going through. What was that experience like?

Robinne Lee: It was a psychological and emotional rollercoaster, the likes of which I’d never experienced, up until that point and have not experienced since. It was very intense and intimate, and overwhelming. I felt that I was walking around constantly with different voices in my head, like his voice, her voice and my own voice. Like their thoughts would enter my head constantly, No matter what I was doing. It was very bizarre to have access to these people in a way that I don’t remember ever having before, as a writer. I don’t feel like any of my characters have ever been that intrusive. I was like, “You guys. I’d like for you to come to me when I’m sitting down to write.” I felt like they were there all the time. It was a little overwhelming and a little scary. And I remember thinking, oh my gosh, I’m gonna need therapy. I have these people living in my head, and they’re so loud that it doesn’t feel normal. I should probably talk to someone about it. (laughs). But I mean, I would cry a lot. Yeah, it was, it was scary. But then I was afraid that if I talk to someone, and I was “fixed”, then the voices would go away. And I wouldn’t be able to write.

Writer’s Block: Right? Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that. That’s a really powerful reaction.

Robinne Lee: I remember thinking, hopefully I can make it through. And I did. And it took a long time to come down, and to separate from it. There was a lot of crying at the end, particularly, the last two or three months of writing, partially because of what I was writing and partially because I knew I was coming to the end of my time with these people. And I enjoyed it, as insane as I felt. I still enjoyed having them around at times. And so, just separating was really difficult. I finished the book in February, 2016, and it sold in March 2016. It came out in June 2017. I wouldn’t say I really finally started separating from it until fall of 2017. It took me that long to separate. And then the book came out. And then I got this overwhelming demand for sequel.

Writer’s Block: Goodness! I don’t know what to say. I can only imagine. Here’s a funny story, well, I can laugh about it now… I was in the car, and I was listening to the audiobook at that time, and I had my headphones in. My husband was driving. The last part of the book was playing out, and I just started shouting in the car, “No! No, Hayes! You can’t !” It was just happening, and my husband was looking at me like, “What’s going on?” I was so emotional about that ending! And I just thought to myself, there has to be more, there has to be more. So I can understand the desire for a sequel. But if it was so emotional for me as a reader, I just couldn’t imagine as the person writing it. I just couldn’t imagine what that was like.

Robinne Lee: Yeah. Like I said, I’ve never experienced anything like that. Extraordinary.

Writer’s Block: Another question I had for you. So much about Solene and Hayes’s relationship felt like it was supposed to be taboo, right? I’m thinking about their age difference and gender expectations. I’m way closer to Solene’s age than I am to Hayes’, and yet as their story and romance grew. Somehow, I just felt like their relationship could possibly work. You know, it could possibly last forever. They connected together on so many levels. So, as the author, did you grapple with the expectation that a 40 year old guy could easily date a 20 year old woman, but the reverse is often frowned upon?

Robinne Lee: Yes. So, I’m gonna say I’ve always been attracted to younger guys. You know, when I was a sophomore in college, I dated a freshman. Then in another relationship, I was 25, and he was 20. And it was pretty intense. I got a lot of slack from my friends and family like, ‘This baby’s still in college’, and I was out of college living in the real world. To me, he was incredibly mature and sophisticated for 20. He traveled the world, he lived a little, he was really smart and well read and loved poetry. I felt like many things about him were just wonderful and mature. So much of Hayes’s character came out of that relationship. And, by the way, that relationship was the inspiration for the book that I spent six years writing prior but I could not sell. So, when I was writing Hayes’ character, I knew he was going to be this kind of precious age. There’s something really special to me about a 20 year old guy; they’re still boyish in many ways, but they’re, like, men physically. But, I feel like, internally, they’re going back and forth. The beauty of them, I think, is that most of them have not been completely destroyed (laughs); their hopes and dreams. And so, there’s this kind of optimism and hopefulness and energy, that you will not find in a 30, or 40 year old man, or a 60 year old man for sure. There’s something that’s really kind of beautiful; they’re not jaded in the relationship. Their eyes are still wide open. It’s such a great age to capture.

Writer’s Block: Yes.

Robinne Lee: I knew I wanted to make Solene old enough that their relationship was going to be a bit scandalous. I was 40 when I was writing this book, and I was going through a lot. I’d been an actor at that point for, like, 20 years, and suddenly, there was a shift in the kind of roles that I was seeing at auditions. Suddenly, you’re not the “Ingenue”, you’re not the “Leading lady”. You’re the part of the “mom”, or, you know, the DA, the police detective that comes in. Unfortunately, a lot of those roles were not very multidimensional. They were kind of like peripheral characters, and they just served the purpose of getting the story moved forward. They weren’t seeing the internal life of what it was like to be these women. And I kind of felt like, you really become a shell at 40.

Writer’s Block: Wow…

Robinne Lee: And then I thought, I’m black and a woman in this industry, and there are so few parts anyway. But now I’m black and a woman and over 40, and there’s nothing here. And I was also really angry at the fact that women were being portrayed so two dimensionally. I felt like I was put in a box. And I did have a moment, that was a literal box. I was sitting in a casting directors office. When you’re there, their assistants are calling agents about using this person for this part. And you’re hearing all this, and you’re supposed to be focusing on your role and in tune with what you’re going to do in the room, but you’re hearing all these conversations. In the waiting room, they’ve got lines of boxes of how to place their actors; where they put their headshots.

Writer’s Block: Oh…

Robinne Lee: It was kind of like “Children under 18” in this one, and here’s an “Ingenue”. And then it said, “Leading lady”. (Laughs) And those are broken down: “Leading lady-white”, “Leading lady-ethnic” and “Non-ethnic” or whatever it was. And then it was “Over 40”.

Writer’s Block: Oh, goodness…

Robinne Lee: At home that day, I had this epiphany that I’m now in the same box as Cicely Tyson. I couldn’t stop thinking about that for the longest time. I had this idea when I was writing stuff. I was like, that’s it! Solene’s not living in a box. She’s not. She’s not just a divorced women of a 12 year old. She’s gonna do everything. She’s gonna be an incredible mom, as well as you can be. She’s got an incredible friend, she’s gonna run this business and she’s gonna have like, this incredible sex life and have the love affair to end a love affairs. She doesn’t want to be placed in a box like, “You’re just a mom now. And that’s all you can do.” Sorry, this is very long. So many things were spinning in me during that time.

Writer’s Block: No, no, I get it. And I think that that’s what resonated so much with me in your book. Yes. Hayes’s the swooniest guy, you know, he is, and Solene, at 40, is this artist, traveling the world, on the arm of her swoony boy-band pop star. And that’s awesome! But, I was in my upper 40s when I read this, and I thought, “You know what? I’m almost 50… I’m not dead! (laughs) I can still be awesome!” So, I was glad that you tackled that age dynamic in the story, because it mattered to me, you know, it just mattered to me to be able to see it, and feel it. It helped me to see that I am not defined by any one thing, no matter what age I am. It’s just great that you tackled that notion. Thank you.

Robinne Lee: I mean, (laughs) it was necessary to put all my my own baggage in there. If I’m going through this and other woman turning 40 are going through this, I don’t see our stories out there, in this way. When you have these hot and sexy love stories, it’s usually somewhere in the mid 20s, like discovering it for the first time.

Writer’s Block: My gosh, well, thank you. This has been a terrific conversation. I just have a couple other questions. Did I hear there’s going to be in a movie adaptation of The Idea Of You? And if so, are there any details to share?

Robinne Lee: I don’t have any real details to share other than what’s been put out there in the trades.

Writer’s Block: Okay. That’s alright. Question: Are you working on any new books at this time? Or do you have any new projects, acting or otherwise going on?

Robinne Lee: I am working on a new book, but this one is not a sequel. That’s not to say I might not do a sequel eventually down the line, but not right now. I wanted to do something else before I returned to Hayes and Solene, I still need space from them. And that is coming along. It’s taking longer than I’d like, but it’s coming. And, yes, I’ve been working as an actor. I’ve got a couple of projects in the works. I’ve got something right now on a streamer called All Black, which is part of AMC. And it’s titled A La Carte. That’s available now. And then, I’ve got a project coming on Netflix, the limited series called Jigsaw. I don’t know the details yet about the release. I saw a rumor that it was coming in the fall. I’ve also heard it might be up here into the winter. Jigsaw stars Giancarlo Esposito and Rufus Sewell, and I had an amazing time working on it. I’m looking forward to seeing it. It’s got a really, really great premise and structure. I can’t say anything about it, but I think people will really, really enjoy it. And I’m so excited about that.

Writer’s Block: Finally, if there were one takeaway you would like my readers to consider, what would it be?

Robinne Lee: I wish I could say there was one specific thing readers should take away from reading my book — but there isn’t. I filled it with messages about female empowerment and sexuality and agency and sexism and feminism and motherhood and happiness and celebrity and fandoms and the toxicity of social media and so much more. So, if you plow through it quickly just focusing on the love story — you might miss it. Take your time.

Writer’s Block: That’s an awesome “Takeaway”: Take your time. It’s perfect. Robinne, I wish you all the success with everything. Thank you so much for your time. This interview has been probably one of the highlights of my life. When I get into a book as much as I did your book, it just feel this feels like a fantasy to me to actually get to speak to you, the author. And I just really appreciate your time. And I don’t even know what else to say, but thank you. I hope to have you on again when your new book is out.

Robinne Lee: Well, thank you. That’s so very kind of you. Thank you very much.

And that concludes my interview with Robinne Lee. Her book, The Idea Of You, is available in print, ebook, and audiobook. As a reminder, Robinne Lee, herself, narrates the audiobook, and it is FABULOUS!

Buy The Idea Of You here!

Have you read Robinne’s book? Let me know in the comments!

Follow Robinne Lee on Twitter! @robinnelee

Follow Robinne Lee on Insta! Robinnelee

Check out Robinne Lee on her website: robinnelee.com

Blog Series: Fave Summer Reads-Author Robinne Lee, Part One

Welcome readers! I’m so glad you stopped by! For this edition of my Fave Summer Reads blog series, I am featuring The Idea Of You, by Robinne Lee. Robinne Lee is an author, actor and producer, and has been gracious enough to chat with me about her swoon-worthy summer read. The details of our discussion will take place over two posts.

A little bit of background: Right before I turned 50, I was searching for a new book to read, when I saw the following: “What if your teenager’s fantasy was your reality?” That was the tagline on the cover of the paperback for Robinne Lee’s novel, The Idea Of You. Upon further research of the book, I learned that the main character, Solene Marchand is divorced, turning 40, an artist and gallery owner, and mom to a pre-teen, Isabelle. The incident: By a strange twist of circumstance, Solene finds herself backstage at an August Moon concert, face to face with the lead of the band, 20 year old Hayes Campbell, who is also her daughter Isabelle’s fantasy crush. My thought at that time? BRING. IT. ON…

As someone who was a teen in the 80’s, frequent concert-goer, British pop music enthusiast, and woman way closer in age to Solene than to Hayes, I could relate…So, I bought the book, and read it immediately. The result: The Idea Of You is beautiful, heartbreaking, glorious, and oh-so-steamy in every jet-setting chapter. If you have ever fantasized about traveling to luxurious locales, sunbathing on a yacht, taking a romantic getaway in a villa, and living life on the arm of the world’s hottest and most charming British pop star, this book is for you. 

The Idea Of You resonates on so many levels: the age of the protagonist who is a career woman in the art world, the pop star fantasy, the mom of a pre-teen and everything that goes along with that. On top of that, the glittery, jet-setting travel in this book presented itself at a time when no one was going anywhere, due to Covid-19. This book did not disappoint. I have read and re-read this book. I have also listened to and re-listened to the audiobook. 

**A note about the heat level: The love scenes in Idea Of You are steamy.  Really steamy. Incredibly steamy.  

**A note about the audiobook: It is not to be missed. Robinne Lee herself narrates this story to perfection. But, be forewarned: If you have kids that ride with you in the car, you will not want to play the audiobook over the speakers, due to the steam factor. *no comment*…Wait…maybe one comment, from my teen who was in the car when a steamier scene unexpectedly came on when I started the car (The longest 1.8 seconds, ever)…”Seriously, mom?” My response, as I frantically pressed the pause button on my Audible app: “It’s for work.” 

Within the pages, Robinne Lee has created characters and a story arc which is so well written. Every character has depth, and the real-world implications of their choices, the good and the bad, are written with finesse. There is a glorious, glitzy side to this story, but there is a flip side to that glamorous life, which Robinne Lee relates to the reader as well. All that glitters isn’t gold, and there is a dark side to all of that beauty.  The consequences of their relationship can be dire. Seriously, this book is so good.

So, getting back to this blog series about some of my favorite summer reads, I decided to reach out to author Robinne Lee, to ask if she might be interested in doing a little interview for the post. To my wonderful surprise, she said she would, and we had a wonderful chat together about all things The Idea Of You. In the end, I had so much material, so much I wanted to share, I realized that I will need to break up the interview into two parts. Part one will focus on her background, some of her insights into the travel depicted in the story, and the musical thread woven within the story.

Which brings us to part one of my interview with author Robinne Lee!

Writer’s Block: Thank you so much for speaking with me today! I wondered if you could just give us a really brief background on what brought you to become a writer. I know that you’re also an actor.

Robinne Lee: I have always, I would say, acted, wrote or written for my enjoyment since I was little, since I was very young. Those two things were most interesting to me, and I guess they were hobbies, as I would describe them. And I always just kind of wrote for myself. I wrote my first book when I was 14 years old by hand, it was like 884 pages, and it was for myself. Then I started another book, when I was 16, and it went on for a few years. When it got to 1200 pages, and I had no real end goal in sight, I stopped writing. And then I worked on a book for about six years, and I thought I was definitely going to publish it, but I could not sell it. After that I kind of shut down for two years, until I got the idea for The Idea Of You. That was kind of like the wake up call. But I kind of thought, “You know what, I like this idea, I’m going to write it.” But because I’d had the experience of the last book, I was not going to give up seven years of my life to sell it. So I decided I was going to write it as quickly as possible, which is kind of in real time. I knew this story was going to take place over the course of the year. And so I gave myself about a year to write it. And I was never more than three months behind. It took me 15 months to write the first draft. I edit as I go along, so I end up with a very, very polished first draft. I spent another two months doing notes and then sent it out to an agent. The first agent I sent it to loved it, and he spent about three months doing notes, and then I spent three months on his notes. We sold it within like two weeks of putting it out there.

Writer’s Block: Well, I just love the story. Obviously. I have read it and reread it. I also have the audio book. And I love the audio book. I think you are masterful at the voicings and everything else. It’s a pleasure to listen to. It’s a pleasure to read. I thank you for writing it.

Robinne Lee: Thank you so much. 

Writer’s Block: So this blog series is about some of my favorite summer reads. And of course, The Idea Of You I definitely put into that category. A lot of that has to do with the different locales that you take Solene and Hayes to.  Summer means ‘travel’ to me and I was curious, did you have a favorite place that you took those characters? Have you been to all those places? I just think that for someone like me, getting to live vicariously through these characters was amazing. 

Robinne Lee: It’s hard for me to separate the location from the actions or what happens in those chapters. Right? I love them each for different reasons. I can’t see them apart.

Writer’s Block: While the locales that Solene and Hayes visit, as well as the events and activities they experience may seem glamorous and fantastical to us, as readers, there is also another side to those experiences.  Tell us about that. Were they all places you had been to visit first-hand?

Robinne Lee: Yes, most of them I’ve already been to. Maybe there’s one or two that I haven’t been to but I researched it well enough that you wouldn’t be able to tell.

Writer’s Block: No, I couldn’t tell!

Robinne Lee: Most of the locations I had been to over the course of my life and then I’d go back and visit either while I was writing or shortly after I was writing to fact check. I had the idea of the place already in my head and kind of knew what would work and what wouldn’t. It’s kind of escapist in that way, I suppose. For Solene I wanted it to feel a little escapist. But for Hayes, it should feel a little bit like the drudgery of being on tour and what it’s like to be a celebrity in a band that’s that famous and that much in demand and that you’re never home. I very specifically never show you Hayes’s home. We’ve never seen where he lives because the idea is that he’s living out of a suitcase. He’s doesn’t have time to himself, and he doesn’t have time to get his grounding anywhere. And so, well, people will read it and be like, “Oh, it’s so incredible.” But I want you to also think of it from his point of view as, not being this wonderful, escapist, but kind of just a necessity.

Writer’s Block: Yes, yes. That’s actually a very fascinating take. I wear many hats, just as many people do. But one of my hats is that I’m a music educator. And so, I love music. I’m a frequent concert goer. And you know, I grew up in the 80’s and was a big Duran Duran fan. And during those times, let me tell you, being able to go to those concerts and just kind of fantasize about what it would have been like to actually be on tour with these people… It’s fascinating to me, and you rarely think about the drudgery of it, like you said.

Robinne Lee: What that does to you psychologically, not even the packing and unpacking of some suitcases, which I really hate to do. I love to travel. I hate packing. It’s exhausting! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve tried narrowing things down. But traveling nonstop is just, you know, it can take its toll on you. I also wanted to show what else travel does, not just physically but psychologically for someone.

Writer’s Block: In The Idea Of You, Hayes Campbell is one of the swooniest characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading, and part of the reason for that is that he’s the lead singer for the sensational posh British boy band, August Moon (if only it was real!). Can you tell us about your inspiration for Hayes Campbell, and for August Moon?

Robinne Lee: I don’t want to say it’s my dream group, but if I was a 16 year old girl, I think that August Moon would be my dream group. When I was younger, I wrote fan fiction about Duran Duran. At the time, I would just write short stories about what I thought their lives were like, based on what I could tell from reading interviews and watching documentaries or whatever. So I had an idea. It’s not like I just made things up some things I made up out of the blue, but a lot of it I was trying to stick with what I what I saw in videos and documentaries and so forth, and what I knew of what their schedules were like, the kind of craziness of travel etc. So, I’ve always been a bit of an anglophile and I love a British accent. I particularly love a posh British accent. But you know, I’ve never seen a band of posh guys. Most bands, when they’re together, to make it in the music industry, it’s just grueling. It’s not something that comes easy. And so most people are willing to kind of really go after it. They can’t rest on their laurels and just do something else if they fail. For them, it’s got to be something passionate, like, they’ve got to make this work. In August Moon, they have a posh upbringing, and still have a successful group. In the 90s, I managed a singing group with a friend of mine, a girls singing group, and one of the producers was one of the guys who was in the New Kids on the Block. I got to know them at the height of their fame, so I got to see that up close. And I got to see all the parts of it that I didn’t like. And so, I wanted to shed a light onto the industry that was, for me, kind of dark, you know, not all happy go lucky. But I also realized how, what a gift it was to be able to see what they were experiencing and how rare that was. And, and in ways it was magical, and in ways it was painful, and I wanted to try to capture all that, but also mix in the British charm bit. I had to make them contemporary, I wanted to make it current, because I also wanted to factor in fandoms today with the introduction of social media. 

Writer’s Block: Yes. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc., fans can connect with their idols, which the outcomes can be good, bad, or even terrible.

Robinne Lee: Yes. Just click a button, and they can tear apart your new album, your girlfriend, or whatever. I really wanted to show what that might be like.

For now, we’ll take a pause from our interview with Robinne Lee, but I’ll be back soon with part two, where Robinne will talk to us more about the writing of the story, and her relationship and connection to her characters. As someone who had the pleasure of talking to her first-hand about it, you will not want to miss it.

In the meantime, check out Robinne Lee’s novel, The Idea Of You, here.

Blog Series: Fave Summer Reads-Author Jenn McKinlay

Welcome! Today, I’m kicking off my summer blog series, all about some of my Fave Summer Reads!  Summertime is prime reading time for me, and I am here for it. Throughout the month of July, I’ll be sharing three reads which I consider to be absolutely perfect for the season. 

For my first Summer Reads post, I’m featuring the book, Paris Is Always A Good Idea, by New York Times Bestselling Author, Jenn McKinlay. This book, to me, straddles a line between RomCom and Women’s Fiction, and it works, really well. Witty dialogue, personal struggles to overcome, a wonderful cast…it’s all there.

A little bit of background about this story: This book features Chelsea, who has suffered the loss of her mom to cancer, and can’t seem to recall when the last time she felt happy was.  Her job focuses on cancer research, which is as noble as it gets, however, the emptiness she feels with the loss of her mom is overwhelming.  

It’s not until her sister helps her realize that the last time she seemed happy was when she was on a visit to Europe years earlier, that Chelsea makes a plan to retrace the steps of that trip, and in the process, reconnect with the three men who made her feel alive. But, what if her happiness is too far gone?

This book is a summer fave of mine, largely because of the “escapist” quality to it.  I discovered this book during a period of time when travel was not an option, and as a writerly person, I turned to books for escape.  In addition to that, the locales mentioned in this book (France, Italy, Ireland) are places I dream about often. I have been fortunate to travel to France and Italy during a time when I was close to Chelsea in age, and I can remember the feeling of seeing parts of the world I hadn’t before. There is a sense of romance about it all, and I appreciated this book for the re-visit, if only in my mind.

Jenn McKinlay does a wonderful job with the humor in this book, as well.  As an agent, I feel that I need to connect with the voice delivery and humor in books that are pitched to me. It’s really important for me to feel like a part of the story, and that’s where this one really shines.

Additionally, the plot line of the love interest in Paris Is Always A Good Idea, Jason Knightley, is equally as strong as Chelsea’s. He and Chelsea have a tumultuous work relationship, and Chelsea is all too glad to be rid of him as she heads off to Europe to find her happiness. But Jason has his own reasons for being the way he is, and author Jenn McKinlay makes the reader empathize with every single one.

The question remains: Can you ever really go back again? I don’t know the answer to that, but going through the experience through Chelsea’s eyes was charming and beautifully flawed, and I adored every single minute of the trip. I hope you’ll grab your Reader’s Passport, and check this book out. It’s a gem!

Knowing how much I love this story, I was prompted to reach out to Jenn McKinlay in the hopes that she might be interested in answering a few questions for this blog series. Imagine how tickled I was when she agreed to chat with me over Zoom! Below, you’ll find my interview with her, where we discuss her background, her characters, the travel that inspired this book, among lots of other things. I am so grateful to Jenn for the time she spent with me! She is just as bubbly as the banter between the characters in her books. I hope you enjoy our discussion!

And now for my interview with author Jenn McKinlay!

Readers, after I concluded this interview on Zoom, I reached out to Jenn with one final question: Is there one takeaway you would like your readers to grab after reading your books. Her response was beautiful, and encapsulates my own feelings about Paris Is Always A Good Idea:

“If there is a takeaway for my readers, I hope it’s that they see themselves in the characters and know that on this journey we call life, they’re never alone. I see you, I like you, and I believe in you.” ~Jenn McKinlay

I do hope you’ll check out Jenn McKinlay’s book! It’s romantic, breezy, escapist and fun. And if you read it, please let me know!

You can purchase Paris Is Always A Good Idea here.  

Connect with Jenn McKinlay!

Twitter: @MckinlayJenn

Insta: mckinlayjenn

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JennMcKinlayAuthor

OK, readers…let’s connect! Have you read any of Jenn McKinlay’s books? Do you have a favorite Summer read? Let us know in the comments!

Next week, I’ll be featuring another New York Times bestselling author, Abby Jimenez…Hope you’ll join me for that one! 

My July Blog Series is Coming–you won’t want to miss it!

Welcome Readers!

Where I live, the summer months take their sweet time to arrive, and once they do, it’s fleeting. I wait all year for these few glorious months, and I relish them. Throughout the year, I read a LOT. Sometimes my reading list is client-based, as I prep manuscripts, submissions and proposals with clients. And sometimes my reading time allows for me to read the books of published authors. My tastes in reading for pleasure is varied, but I will say, that since Covid, I have been craving books that allow me to escape these crazy times. And for that, I found myself drawn to what I call “Summer Reads.”

To me, a “Summer Read” often has some or all of the following qualities:

  1. Travel
  2. Locales which take me away to someplace different
  3. A breezy vibe, letting me escape and relax for a bit
  4. A love story

Beginning on July 3, 2022 and continuing through the entire month, I will be launching my next blog series: Fave Summer Reads. I am super excited about this series. During the series, I’ll be featuring three “Summer Reads” books, and interviews with the authors who wrote them. I’m so fortunate that I was able to connect with the authors of these books which meant a lot to me, especially during these uncertain times.

Special thanks to the authors who’ll be featured:

Jenn McKinlay

Abby Jimenez

Robinne Lee

I hope you’ll join me for this very special blog series!

Drop a comment below…I love to connect with my readers!

Novel Noshing Blog Series Part 3: Jen Gilroy

Welcome back to my Novel Noshing series! Today, for the third and final post of the event, I am featuring Jen Gilroy, author of The Sweetheart Locket, dual timeline historical women’s fiction.

Author Bio

Jen Gilroy writes sweet contemporary romance and dual timeline historical women’s fiction—warm, feel-good stories to bring readers’ hearts home. 

A Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® finalist and shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Joan Hessayon award, Amazon named her third book, ‘Back Home at Firefly Lake,’ a ‘Best Book of the Month: Romance’ in December 2017.

A dual British-Canadian citizen, Jen lived in England for many years and earned a doctorate (with a focus on British cultural studies and social history) from University College London. 

Returning to where her Irish family roots run deep, she now lives with her husband, teenage daughter and floppy-eared rescue hound in small-town Eastern Ontario, Canada.

When not writing, she enjoys reading, ice cream, ballet and paddling her purple kayak.

About the Book/InspirationJen’s own words!

What if the key to your present lies in the past? 

From England and France in the Second World War to San Francisco 2019, “The Sweetheart Locket,” is a dual timeline historical women’s fiction story of love, loss & family secrets, intertwined with courage & hope. The family heirloom locket at the centre of the story is inspired by the “sweetheart jewellery” men serving in the armed forces during the war gave to loved ones at home. 

Filled with heart, heroism and humanity, reviewers have called the book “a beautiful tale…[of] friendship, love and loss…[and] how three generations of women come full circle and find happiness.” 

The Victoria Sponge or Sandwich Cake is a popular and traditional British cake. It’s also my own favourite which I have fond memories of sharing with English family and friends. As part of a book that’s my love letter to Britain, I included references to this cake in “The Sweetheart Locket,” my first primarily British-set story. 

When Willow, the American heroine of the contemporary storyline arrives in England for a work trip, she’s also determined to find out about her British grandmother, Maggie’s life, including what she did in the war. 

When Willow meets an historian at London’s National Portrait Gallery they have afternoon tea, a special British ritual. 

“Willow took a forkful of cake, white with a jam and cream filling…called a Victoria Sponge.” 

And as Willow discovers Maggie’s past, including her work as an undercover secret agent in 1940s France, Willow’s life also changes. 

As expressed via my fictional Maggie and Willow, one of the book’s core messages is this one: 

“Even if it wasn’t in a war, everyone had to fight some kind of battle what mattered is that you came out the other side.” 

Recipe

Victoria Sponge/Sandwich Cake (Traditional British recipe)* 

Ingredients:

170g (6 oz) butter or margarine

170g (6 oz) caster sugar

3 eggs, lightly beaten

170g (6oz) self-raising flour, sieved

Jam and sieved icing sugar to fill and decorate 

Method:

Base line and grease two 19cm (7 1/2 inch) sandwich tins

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 350 degrees Fahrenheit / Gas mark 4

Beat together the margarine and sugar until the mixture is light in colour and fluffy in texture. 

Add the eggs to the creamed mixture a little at a time beating thoroughly after each addition. 

Add the flour and fold in carefully with a metal spoon. 

Divide the mixture equally between the prepared tins. Smooth the top so that the mixture is fairly level. 

Bake for 25-35 minutes (or until well risen, golden brown and firm). 

Leave in the tins for two to three minutes to cool. 

Turn out onto a wire rack. 

When cold, sandwich the two cakes together with jam and dust the top with sieved icing sugar. 

*This recipe comes from ‘Church House Recipe Book: Love and Charity: Cake Recipes from Hughenden Parish Church, Church House Teas.’ High Wycombe, England: Fairprint, 2004, p.37 (Christine Rose). 

For those in the US & Canada, a comparable recipe, using North American measurements, can be found here:  https://www.christinascucina.com/victoria-sandwich-traditional-british-afternoon-tea-cake-recipe-for-us-kitchens/

I have got to say…this Victoria Sponge looks so elegant and delicious…seriously! If you make this recipe, or have a similar one that you love, please tell us in the comments.

Book Links

“The Sweetheart Locket” is currently available in ebook (most vendors) with a paperback following later this year. http://mybook.to/TheSweetheartLocket

Author Jen Gilroy is on Social Media! You can connect with her here:

Website: https://www.jengilroy.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JenGilroyAuthor

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/JenGilroy1

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jen.gilroyauthor/

Thank you so much for stopping by my writer’s block! I had a blast meeting these three authors, and learning about their latest releases. I can’t wait to try all these recipes!

Next month, July, 2022, I will be featuring a series on some of my favorite summer reads, including interviews with amazing authors who wrote the books. I hope you will join me here on my Writer’s Block for that!

Please leave comments below…I love to connect!

Novel Noshing Blog Series Part 2: Kate Chambers

Welcome Readers!

Thank you so much for stopping by! My Novel Noshing blog series is up and running. It’s a series where a different author is invited to guest post for the week, featuring their latest work, and discussing a food and recipe associated with it. This week on my Novel Noshing blog series, I am featuring author Kate Chambers! Kate has a novel-in-progress, a RomCom, SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW.

Author Bio

Kate is a rebel librarian, glitter covered crafter, and lifelong storyteller who wrote her first full story at ten. She also writes fan fiction, but that’s another story. When she’s not writing or reading, Kate can be found watching her Atlanta Braves with her handsome husband and adorable little girl.

About the Book/Inspiration (In the author’s own words!)

SOMEWHERE ONLY WE KNOW features tons of food, as you would expect of a novel about a baker and chef, from pastries to pasta, but this is the first dish Jane, our heroine, makes for her professional chef celebrity crush, Lincoln. Jane admits that while it’s one of her favorite meals her grandmother made in her childhood, and one of the first things she ever learned to cook on her own. she’s never made it for anyone else before. 

The inspiration for this recipe is my Nonnie’s stroganoff, which is my favorite food in the world, and she used to make it for me, even packing up leftovers for to take back to college. It’s pretty simple, but it’s so warm and cozy, it just fills up your soul.

Recipe-Kate’s own!

Stroganoff

Ingredients:

1 16 oz bag extra-wide egg noodles

8 oz stew beef

8 oz sliced white mushrooms

1 10.5 oz can cream of mushroom soup

¼ cup beef broth

¾ cup sour cream

3 TBs canola oil

2 TBs butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare noodles according to package (you can do this simultaneously with the rest of your prep) and salt and pepper beef.

In a large skillet, heat oil until shimmering, then brown beef. Remove from the skillet. 

Return the skillet to heat, add mushrooms and butter. Saute until golden. 

Add mushroom soup and stir to combine. Add beef broth, stir to combine, and allow to come to a bubbling simmer. 

Return beef to skillet and add sour cream. Return to a bubbling simmer and let simmer for five minutes.

Serve over cooked egg noodles and enjoy!

Thank you so much, Kate, for sharing about your book, and for the delicious Stroganoff recipe!

Readers, you can connect with Kate! Check out her social media links below:

Social Media

Twitter: @the_librarygirl

Goodreads: the_librarygirl 

I’d love to hear from you!

If you try Kate’s Stroganoff recipe, tell me about it in the comments. I love to connect through my blog, so if you have any questions for Kate or me, reach out! If there is a novel you love, where food is featured somehow, I’d love to hear about it. Share the info in the comments!

Next week, I will be featuring author Jen Gilroy. I hope you’ll stop by again to learn about her latest novel, and food inspired by it!

Novel Noshing Blog Series Part 1: Darby Baham

Welcome Readers!

I am so excited to begin this blog series. My Novel Noshing posts are often some of my favorites, because it brings together authors, their books, and the foods that are featured within their novel’s pages. This time around during my Novel Noshing series, I will be featuring three authors, beginning today, with author Darby Baham, author of Bloom Where You’re Planted from Harlequin Special Edition (2022)

About the Book/Inspiration (In the author’s own words!)

Bloom Where You’re Planted is the second book in my Harlequin mini-series, the Friendship Chronicles. It tells the sexy but introspective story of Jennifer Pritchett, a young Black woman who lives in Washington, DC, loves her boyfriend, ’90s R & B, and her friends—but lately, not much else. In the beginning of the book, Jennifer finds herself comparing her life and relationship to that of the people around her, and unfortunately she feels that every part of it is lacking. The job that she has is secure, but she wants more from it; her relationship is three-years in but has seemingly lost all fire; and her friends are leading exciting lives with grandiose stories while she’s often stuck in a classroom cleaning up crayons or on the sofa watching her boyfriend who has fallen asleep on the latest TV show they were supposed to be watching. Throughout the story and the mini-series, readers get an intimate viewpoint of how a group of close knit friends provide the comfort and foundation each woman needs as she navigates the ups and downs of her life, career, and relationships, figuring out along the way what truly makes her happy. One major activity among these friends is a weekly meet-up that they lovingly call “Nacho Thursdays,” even though it doesn’t always happen on a Thursday. During these weekly meet-ups, they may go to a restaurant, but more often than not, they are gathering at someone’s place, making their own nachos, and spending time together laughing, sometimes crying, and generally helping each other get through life.

My inspiration for this food & friendship connection probably comes from my cultural background of being from New Orleans. Often, family & friend gatherings are based around some type of significant meal, whether it’s gumbo at Christmas or a seafood boil in the summer. That tendency to gather with friends & food has certainly stayed with me even as I’ve lived in DC and New York. My friends and I love to meet up for brunch, for example! And more specifically–I simply just love nachos. So, I figured if the group of friends were going to commit to eating any meal once every week, nachos were the best option. They are shareable, you can change them up constantly so you don’t feel like you’re eating the exact same thing, and you don’t need a ton of ingredients to make them taste amazing.

Nachos Recipe-Straight from Darby!

As I mentioned earlier, I think the beauty of nachos are that you can change up the ingredients all the time. You may want vegetarian nachos one day or shrimp the next, and each can be just as tasty. However, the last chapter of Bloom Where You’re Planted starts with a simple ingredient list for not only a delicious pan of nachos, but specifically Nacho Thursday nachos. Here it is: 

– an overwhelming amount of tortilla chips

– ground beef sautéed with taco seasoning

– strips of chicken

– chopped tomatoes

– green onions

– shredded Mexican cheese

– fresh salsa or pico de gallo

– sliced limes 

– black beans

– lots of laughter

– and even more love

+ tequila and margarita mix

Instructions (for at least 2 separate pans of nachos):

Instructions (for at least 2 separate pans of nachos):

1. Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

2. In separate containers, season ground beef and uncooked chicken with Tony’s Chaceres Creole seasoning. (This is my personal preference, but others can use salt and pepper and season to their desired level of spice.)

3. In two separate frying pans, brown the ground beef and sauté the chicken on medium-high heat for approximately 10 minutes if these are about 1b each, stirring the ground beef and turning chicken on both sides.

4. Drain ground beef and add taco seasoning + 1/4 cup of water, cooking on medium-low heat for approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Then, cut the cooked chicken into smaller pieces as needed.

5. Sit both pans of meat aside.

6. Line two separate baking pans with foil, then add your base layer of tortilla chips in each.

7. Spread a layer of black beans on top of and in between chip pockets.

8. Then add your meat of choice to each baking pan.

9. Add tomatoes and green onions to both.

10. Finally, add as much shredded cheese as your heart desires.

11. And place the baking pans in the oven uncovered. Bake for approximately 15 minutes.

Author Bio

Darby Baham (she/her) is a writer/editor who has had personal blog posts appear in The Washington Post’s relationship vertical, Blavity, Femi magazine, and more. She’s also worked in the communications industry for more than two decades. Now residing in New York, the New Orleans native previously lived in the Washington, DC area for fifteen years. There, she cultivated a beautiful, sprawling shoe closet and met some of the best people in her orbit. Her debut novel, The Shoe Diaries, was released in January 2022. The follow up, Bloom Where You’re Planted, was released on May 24, 2022.

Book Links

Recently, Darby read directly from her book, live! You can check out her video, here.

Direct purchase links to Bloom Where You’re Planted are available at www.darbybaham.com/books.  This includes all major retailers and a link to access indie booksellers by zip code.

Connect with Darby Baham via her social media links below!

Social Media

Website: http://www.darbybaham.com

Twitter: @darbybaham

Instagram: @darbybaham

Thank you so much for joining us for part one of Novel Noshing! Next week, I will be featuring author Kate Chambers…Come back again and check out her novel and inspired recipe!

I’d love to hear from you!

If you try Darby’s Nacho recipe, let me know! And let me know if you read Bloom Where You’re Planted. Finally, if there is a novel you love, where food is featured somehow, I’d love to hear about it. Share the info in the comments!

Coming Soon! Novel Noshing: A Summertime Blog Series

strawberries on brown wooden bowl

Welcome Readers!

Food and Books: Two of my favorite things!

I am so happy to announce that I am going to be hosting a blog series during the month of June, called Novel Noshing. During June, I will be featuring three authors, who will tell us about foods that have been inspired by, or featured in, their novels!

During the month, you will be hearing from authors Darby Baham, Kate Chambers, and Jen Gilroy. I can’t wait for you to hear all about their books and the recipes they feature!

Darby Baham

Kate Chambers

Jen Gilroy

I hope you’ll join us for the series…the first installment drops June 5, 2022!

As always, I’d love to hear from you! Have you read any novels which featured specific foods? Also, have you been inspired to make any of the featured foods from novels? Tell me about it below!

The Chicago Writing Workshop: Join Me!

Dear Writers,

The 2022 Writer’s Workshop of Chicago is taking place on June 10-11, 2022. It is an all virtual event, so anyone from anywhere can attend!

During the weekend, there will be workshops on craft, as well as pitch events. I will be there taking pitches via Zoom, and love to connect with authors. So…I am seeking:

*Romance/RomCom

*Cozies/Whodunits

*Mystery/Crime

*Women’s Fiction

If you think we might be a good fit, I’d love for you to pitch to me at the conference! Details here:

https://chicagowritingworkshop.com/

This is my first pitch event since November, and I am so excited! I Hope to see you there!

Author Interview: Rachel Mucha, author of Another Day, Another Partner–A Perfect Summertime Read!

Welcome Readers! I am so pleased to introduce you to Rachel Mucha, author of Another Day, Another Partner. Released in January, 2022 from City Owl Press, Rachel’s RomCom/Crime novel features fun characters, punny boats, and an out-of-place “big-city” crime to solve–a perfect read for summer! I have had a blast reading this book, and getting to know Rachel. I can’t wait to share her insights with you!

SMNystoriak: Welcome!  Rachel, I was hoping to give my readers a little bit of information about you.  Can you provide them with a little snapshot into your background?

Rachel: Sure! I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and unsurprisingly, I spent a lot of time reading as a kid. By elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I wrote a lot of short stories, and attempted my first novel when I was about fourteen, handwritten in a notebook (it did not go well!) Later, I attended Ithaca College as a journalism major, but I took a ton of English and creative writing classes while I was there. Post-grad, my day jobs have involved business writing and editing, but I continued writing books in my free time, because publishing one had been my dream since I was little. Now that I’ve done that, the next dream is to be able to support myself by writing books full-time!

SMNystoriak: What influenced you to become a writer?

Rachel Mucha: I was such an avid reader as a kid, I knew one day I wanted to write a book of my own. I got so attached to fictional characters, I loved the idea of creating some myself.

One of my biggest literary influences when I was younger was Meg Cabot. Her YA books, specifically The Mediator and 1-800-WHERE-R-U series, got me hooked on stories with mystery and romantic elements. Right before I sat down and started working on my debut novel, I read Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, and it’s no exaggeration to say those books changed my life! I devoured them. The combination of mystery, romance and comedy felt like it was crafted just for me, and I knew that when I wrote a book, I wanted it to be like that. Evanovich is a huge reason why Another Day, Another Partner exists! A few readers have mentioned my book reminds them of Stephanie Plum, which I take as the ultimate compliment.

SMNystoriak: Your first published novel is Another Day, Another Partner, from City Owl Press.  Prior to that, had you written any others?

Rachel Mucha: Before Another Day, Another Partner existed, I had an idea for a police procedural trilogy. It centers around detectives at a Cape Cod precinct, the crimes they deal with, corruption within the department, and their friendships and romantic relationships with each other. I actually have two books in this series finished, just sitting on my laptop. I tried querying the first book, Undertow, for about a year, and didn’t get any interest (which is when I then wrote and queried Another Day, Another Partner). I would love to revisit these books and polish them up. I’ve definitely grown as a writer since, but I still adore the characters I’ve created there, and I think they have a lot of potential.

SMNystoriak: Tell us about your writing process.

Rachel Mucha: When I’m pondering a new book idea, I always start with the characters before the plot. I usually think up two leads (who will eventually fall for each other, obviously!) and pick what kind of relationship I want them to have, whether that be enemies or colleagues or exes (or some combination of those).

Once I have a clear idea of what my characters’ personalities are like and how they’re going to interact with each other, I build the plot around that. (For example, my upcoming book Bad Press was born from the simple idea of “What if a crime reporter annoyed the crap out of a detective, and then they fell in love?”) I like forcing my characters to interact, and solving a mystery is a fun way to do that.

I used to be a hardcore “pantser,” having no plan and just seeing where the story ended up as I wrote. Those days are behind me! I’m way more of an outliner and planner now. I even have random notes and scenes written for my characters that are two or three books down the road, just so I don’t forget. I love thinking really far ahead. I have long-term plans for so many of my characters – so I’m a little all over the place, but there’s definitely organization amongst the chaos.

I try not to jump around to too many different WIPs, but…sometimes I get so excited about a new idea, I can’t help myself. I probably have about eight WIPs started, and I have no clue how I’ll have the time to finish them all.

SMNystoriak: A comment: So much about what I love about Another Day, Another Partner, is the relationship between Lulu and Dom.  The enemies-to lover’s trope is alive and well with them!  And you write their banter so well.  Brilliant!

Rachel Mucha: Thank you! Enemies-to-lovers is my all-time favorite trope. It’s so fun watching two people go from annoyance/hate to love; it’s the ultimate emotional journey. And who doesn’t love characters teasing each other and bantering because they’re trying to ignore growing feelings?! I had a blast writing Lulu reluctantly realizing that Dom is the perfect guy.

SMNystoriak: Your book takes place in a small Rhode Island town.  Have you ever visited it?  What prompted you to choose that locale for your story?

Rachel Mucha: I absolutely love New England. I’d move there in a heartbeat if it weren’t for the winters. A few years ago I went on a road trip and visited several towns in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – and I fell in love. Coastal settings in books are my favorite, so I knew I wanted Another Day, Another Partner set on the New England coast. There’s also something interesting to me about the juxtaposition of a crime happening at the beach. People expect crime in big cities, but small coastal towns? Not so much. It adds a cool dimension to the story, I think.

SMNystoriak: Another Day, Another Partner is such a fun read! Without giving away too many specifics, what were some of your favorite parts to write?

Rachel Mucha: I touched on it a little already, but definitely the progression of Lulu and Dom’s relationship – how a young cop with trust issues was able to open up and accept her new partner, when she really didn’t want to. It was fun figuring out how to gradually get Lulu to warm up to Dom.

And while I liked writing the banter and the humorous parts, I also loved when I got to write the dramatic scenes. There’s one scene where Lulu and Dom have an argument that gets pretty heated, and that was so fun to write because up until then, Dom had been such an easy-going guy. It was an enjoyable challenge to write him frustrated and upset – it added more depth to his character and showed readers that this nice guy would stand his ground.

SMNystoriak: Many of your readers have also commented that they LOVE Lulu’s younger sister Val in this book.  How did you come up with her character, and the role she would play in the story?

Rachel Mucha: It’s funny how much people love Val, because I hadn’t really planned on her doing much in the story at first. I knew I wanted Lulu’s family to be included in the book, and I liked the idea of giving her a meddling little sister. But as I wrote, Val’s involvement in the story really evolved, and I thought it would be hilarious to have this teenager helping cops take down drug dealers. I wanted to create a rag-tag team vibe, which is one of my favorite parts of cozy mysteries. And Val interfering in Lulu’s love life, as little sisters are wont to do, was a great added bonus.

SMNystoriak: Speaking of Val, here’s a fun question:  What kind of music would she be streaming?  What about TV shows/Movies?

Rachel Mucha: Val would definitely be obsessed with reality tv and probably follow the Kardashians religiously. I could see her watching crime shows, both fictional and real. Maybe Lulu would comment on how inaccurate the detective shows are and Val groans dramatically and says, “Why do you have to ruin everything?”

As for music, I think I have Val listening to Britney Spears at some point in the book. I could see her listening to mid-2000s throwbacks a lot, since she’s a “2000s kid.”

SMNystoriak: Along those lines, it’s time to think about the writer’s dream for a bit: If Another Day, Another Partner were to become a film, what would you want to be included on the soundtrack?  Are there any specific actors you would love to see in the main roles?

Rachel Mucha: I know a lot of writers assemble playlists for their books, which I love…but I haven’t done that! I have no clue what kind of music I’d like to hear in a movie adaptation, but I’d love to get suggestions from readers.

As for actors, I think Selena Gomez would make a great Lulu. (I came to this conclusion after watching her in Only Murders In The Building). As for Dom, I have no idea! It’s funny, when I’m working on a project, I can often think of actresses to play my female leads, but I can never pick actors for the male leads. It feels like no real man can compare to the perfect image I have in my mind! Whoever plays Dom would definitely need to be very charming. I also imagine him as boy-next-door handsome, not necessarily some rugged, sexy guy. Again, I would love to hear reader suggestions for this!

SMNystoriak: So many of us absolutely love Lulu and Dom, and can NOT wait to read more about them!  Is there a sequel in the works?  If so, are there any little gems you can tell us about it—without giving away too many details?

Rachel Mucha: Yes, there’s a sequel in the works! I definitely want readers to see more of Lulu and Dom’s adventures, and how their relationship will continue to progress. The sequel is a lot of fun, and probably just as outrageous and far-fetched as the first book. The basic gist is Dom takes Lulu to his sister’s wedding out of town, and while they’re there, a guest in the hotel is murdered. So, naturally, Lulu and Dom join the investigation and are determined to catch the killer (with some assistance from everyone’s favorite supporting characters, too, of course!)

The picture above really makes me think of a certain Boat scene in Another Day, Another Partner, lol! Thank you so much for taking the time to let me readers get to know you. I have loved every minute I have spent with your characters, and can’t wait for the next installment!

Your turn! Let me know in the comments if you have had the chance to read Rachel’s Debut! And, as always, I’d love to hear what books you have on tap for summertime reading!

If you are a fan of RomCom/Crime with Romance, check out Rachel Mucha’s debut, Another Day, Another Partner: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09NDZ95PT?ref=KC_GS_GB_US

9NDZ95PT?ref=KC_GS_GB_US

Connect With Rachel!

Author website: rachelmuchabooks.com

Twitter and Instagram: @rachmucha