It’s been an uber-busy week in the Alexander household. Niece 2 starts school soon so we’ve been doing the clothes shopping thing. *Holds back of hand to forehead* What a chore, huh? 🙂
Fortunately, my dear author friend, Lily Santana, kindly agreed to post this week, and guess what? She’s offering a copy of her debut novel, Unexpectedly You, to one lucky visitor. Leave a comment for a chance to win! Easy, huh?
And now, on to the interview.
MA: How long have you been writing towards publication? What have you learned along the way and would like to pass on to us wannabe authors?
LS: I got serious about writing in 2009 when after I’d read the book The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel: From writing the perfect love scene to finding the right publisher by Christine Haig and Faye Hughes, I decided this is the perfect genre for me and I wanted to give it a shot. Soon after, I enrolled in Romance I and II, each was a 10 week course taught by super multi-pubbed Harlequin author Leigh Michaels through Gotham Writer’s Workshop in NYC. I read, oh about a hundred other craft books (check out my blog where I list the top 10 books that helped me get published.) But the most important thing I learned was to cultivate the right relationships with like-minded writers who share similar goals so that you have a supportive group that will push you toward success.
MA: Tell us about “the call” — what was the biggest surprise to you?
LS: I had already received another offer via email for Unexpectedly You from a traditional publisher who was just starting off their digital book line. Though I was thrilled, I had my heart set on publishing with Carina Press because I truly believed that for a newbie author, I wanted to go with a publishing house that had romance in their DNA. I wanted the infrastructure and wide support that Harlequin provided. After anxious hours debating, I decided to send an email to the Carina editor whom I’d sent my submission and asked if Carina might still be considering my manuscript. The editor, none other than the fabulous Rhonda Helms, asked if I would consider waiting till the following Tuesday to make a decision. Like I wouldn’t? Heck yeah. So of course I did. Then, on Tuesday, my cell phone rang and the number was unfamiliar. My heart dropped. I picked up with bated breath and when I heard the words Angela James from Carina Press, my heart stopped. The rest, as they say, is history.
MA: I’m always interested in what inspired an author to write. For Unexpectedly You — I love that title, by the way! — Was there someone you knew, or a stranger you’d met who provided the inspiration for the hero or heroine? Without giving away an identity, what was it about this individual that intrigued you the most? Or, at least enough to provide that inspiration?
LS: It wasn’t so much someone but someplace that inspired Unexpectedly You. I was staying at this quaint bed and breakfast in the coastal town of Manzanita on the Oregon Coast and I woke up one morning, inhaled the sweetness of the summer rain, watched the sea gulls swoop down the sea for their breakfast and I was struck with the beauty of the place. I wondered about the people who lived there…what were their lives like? If I lived there, I’d butt heads with anyone who tried to ruin the quiet serenity of the small town. And my heroine Emma LeFleur does just that when Mitch McKenna, a commercial developer, decides he’s going to build condominiums and revitalize the sleepy beach community.
MA: What was the most fun part of writing this manuscript? Why?
LS: The most fun part was writing the scenes where Emma and Mitch fall in love and I don’t mean make love (which they do – spoiler alert!) But the scenes where they discover something about the other that made them see the person a different way. I loved injecting humor into those situations because it’s who the characters dealt with their vulnerabilities. I think readers can relate to those moments because we all remember what it’s like right before we fall head over heels with someone. It’s like climbing a steep hill at times, but at others, it’s like falling off a cliff. Here’s an example of just that moment.
The steady drizzle outside and the hum of the air warming the truck filled the silence. He drew in a long breath and caught the faint sweet scent of her floral perfume. The same damn scent had infiltrated his dreams last night after she’d left his trailer. He’d woken up to the mother of all hard-ons.
He shifted slightly now in his seat and kept his eyes glued to the road, though he did notice her fingers fidgeting on her lap. So this was how she was going to play it, was it? He’d play along.
As soon as he’d had a decent cup of espresso and his head finally cleared of a hangover, he had serious morning-after regret about the plan. He knew damn well the chance of Emma convincing David Bruin and her neighbors to approve his plans without further delay was slim to none.
How would she convince them to trust him if she didn’t even like him? How would she charm Bruin enough so that the building official would be enticed to do her bidding? It wasn’t impossible—he’d seen himself how animated she could be. But looking at her now, he had to remind himself he hadn’t been hallucinating.
When he finally pulled into the VFW, he chose the farthest parking spot from the entrance, out of the way from the crowd of people exiting their cars to hurry inside. He kept the engine running. “Here we are.”
She turned to him, her expression guarded. “Mitch, I have a favor to ask.”
Here we go. “Favor?”
Her eyes blinked several times. “Most of my neighbors, especially the matriarchs of Bella, will be here tonight.”
“And I think this provides a really good opportunity to show your good side.”
“As compared to my bad side?”
“You know what I’m talking about. It’ll already be weird that we’re walking in together. I’m just asking you to be discreet. These ladies have certain expectations. They see me as a married woman.”
She pursed her lips. “Don’t be crude.”
He shot her a look that conveyed his meaning. “I must have hit a nerve because you’re blushing.”
“I am not blushing,” she said, turning so she faced the passenger window.
He clenched his jaw. Maybe she was lying. Maybe she was aware of David’s interest in her and she liked the attention. Fortunately, Mitch also realized that meant she was his best chance at getting the building official to sway his way in a short period of time.
Interesting. So Bruin had it in for his ex-wife’s cousin. Had the infatuation with Emma had anything to do with his divorce? He lost what little respect he had for the man. Not that he had a stockpile anyway. There was something about Bruin that didn’t sit right with him.
“You’re blushing, and it’s very sexy.” He laughed.
She rolled her eyes. “Shut up.”
He didn’t know why he found it so amusing to get her riled up. But he loved to see her green eyes shoot deadly aims straight at his heart. He loved to see the color infuse her skin, making her appear wild and alive. She may want to hide behind her oversized clothing and beehive of curls, but beneath it, he’d bet his entire life savings that Emma was one hot babe. What the hell was he talking about? He fucking did bet his entire life savings on her ability to charm a man. Granted, a different man. But shouldn’t he at least test the waters and make sure she was up to the task?
Emma’s throat constricted and she couldn’t help but feel suffocated, being so close to Mitch inside the truck. “Do I have your agreement about tonight?” Her very deliberate attempt to change the subject widened his smile in a dangerous way that made her heart skip a beat.
“I’m not sure what I’m agreeing to exactly.”
“You are agreeing to behave neighborly. I don’t want people to get the wrong impression about us.”
“How does that help my case? How am I supposed to believe you’ll have my back when you can’t even pretend to like me?”
“I can pretend to like you.” Her gaze shifted to a small glass vial filled with sand hanging from his rearview mirror.
“Yeah? Prove it.”
She licked her parched lips. “And just how am I supposed to prove it to you?”
He killed the engine. When he unbuckled his seat belt and scooted over closer to her, her breath caught in her throat and tension built up in her stomach.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
His hand reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear. “Being neighborly.”
She swiped at his hands. “Stop that.” His nearness had her pulse rate idling at sixty and accelerating to one-twenty faster than she could blink. Her gaze dropped to his lips, which still held his lazy smile. Dorinda was right. When Mitch turned on his charm switch, it was high octane.
“Come on. Are you forgetting I saw you with Bruin yesterday? Don’t even pretend you don’t know I was watching you.”
“What’s your point?”
“I want you to be friendly like that with me. I want to make sure, before we go in front of all of these people, that you seem as if you at least like me.”
“No one will believe that. They know how I feel about you.”
His eyes hardened. “Then you have some work to do, because we don’t have a whole hell of a lot of time. Do I have to remind you of the stakes?”
“You don’t have to remind me of the stakes. I live it every day.”
“Then you’d better get moving. Here, I’ll make it easy for you. Just pretend you’re giving me a friendly, neighborly kiss.”
She grabbed her bingo bag with jittery hands and scooted as far from him as the space would allow. “No! That’s ridiculous. I don’t go around kissing my neighbors.”
“Are you afraid you’ll hate it or like it too much?”
“Save your charm. It does nothing for me. I want this night to be G-rated. Think Disney.”
Mitch shook his head. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a G-rated movie.” Again, he reached for a strand of her hair and twirled it between his fingers.
In one quick move, she scooped up her hair and flung it behind her back. “I said stop that.”
Instead of heeding her demand, he focused his attention on her face, tracing his fingers along her jaw, inching toward her slightly parted mouth. “I may need a demonstration as to what actually constitutes as G-rated.”
He was going to kiss her and she really needed to stop him but instead her gaze fell on his full lips, curved up at the corners in that arrogant way she detested. Except when she found it incredibly sexy. Like now. She drew in the musky scent of his aftershave.
He leaned in, his breath fanning her face. The intimacy of the moment wasn’t lost on her. He was so close, all she needed to do was move a few inches. The intensity of his gaze blocked the air from getting through to her lungs. She felt dizzy with anticipation.
Heat spread through her extremities. Her blood turned into lava. She felt exhilarated. Exposed. Excited. She shut her eyes and lifted her face toward his.
In slow motion, she peeled open heavy lids and then instantly cringed inside when she saw the amusement hidden behind his deep blue eyes. He was playing with her. Her blatant invitation was funny to him. Whereas his actions created turmoil inside her body, he was blissfully unaffected.
Dear God. Could I be any more pathetic?
Before she could pull back from the magnetic force of his nearness, he lowered his head. She was prepared this time and kept the kiss as chaste and unoriginal as she could manage.
He straightened slowly, watching her. “How old were you when you got married?”
Her gaze fell to her tightly clasped fingers and she tried to slow her breathing. She prayed he couldn’t hear what sounded like a child with a new set of drums in her chest. “Why do you want to know?”
“Was your husband your only sexual experience?”
Fury spread to her temples, making the roots of her hair itch. She shot him a look that she hoped made him squirm like a little boy. “That’s none of your business!”
“You kiss like a teenager.”
His words had the desired effect, reminding her she was a thirty-five-year-old widow with a seventeen-year-old daughter. She was not a sexy twentysomething who made out in parked cars. The sharp contrast cut deep, bringing shame along with a twinge of sadness. She unbuckled her seat belt. “Good, now you know what I mean by G-rated.”
Oooh, love this scene, Lily! Thanks so much for filling in for me this week.
Now remember, everyone, Lily’s giving away an e-copy of Unexpectedly You to one lucky commenter. The drawing will be held on Friday, August 30th. Good luck!