I love these Saturday blog features that give a bit more insights into the stories behind the Heartwarming books. Before I was a writer and author, I was a reader (from waaaay back) and I've always been curious about how "an idea" becomes a full novel, so I eagerly look forward to a sit down Saturday to share what was going on in my head when, in this case, RECIPE FOR REDEMPTION came to fruition.
Where did the idea for RECIPE FOR REDEMPTION come from?
In truth? Desperation. I think I shared earlier this week that the original plot line for this book isn't what it turned out to be. I had an entirely different story in mind for Abby and Jason, but for whatever reason, it just wasn't a right fit. So...I had to come up with something pretty quickly. Fortunately, my obsession with cooking shows filled in the gaps and I was able to latch onto the idea of a cooking competition. Except, I needed both conflict and a bit of humor added in. Having the heroine be completely inept in the kitchen seemed the right way to go...giving her something to fight for (trying to win money to save the inn her grandmother has called home most of her life worked), but who would she come up against that could both help and hinder her? How about a snobbish celebrity chef who's dealing with a serious personal and professional crisis. Yeah...that's a nice recipe for a romance.
In looking at the cover, if you could add a caption or captions, what would they say?
I think Jason would probably be thinking, "Please don't slice off a finger, Abby." Abby is probably thinking of something else she'd rather be doing, LOL. She's very "Dory" like...ooooh, shinny!
How long did it take you to write?
About 2 months from the time I landed on a solid story (thanks to my critique partners) to deadline. I'm normally at least a day or two early with my books. This one took me right up to due date.
What is your favorite scene?
Hmmm...I have a couple, but the one where Jason is first trying to teach Abby the basics in the kitchen probably tops the list. I wouldn't have thought helping someone learn to use a chef's knife could provide comic fodder, but I love the way that scene turned out. Here's a snippet:
“Do I pass inspection, sir?” Abby curtsied.
“Better.” Better than better. That orange shirt of hers brightened her face and showed off curves he now realized had been hidden beneath the flouncy skirt. As if he needed any added distractions. “Next time salute. Okay, step one, always step one, wash your hands, please. Then we’ll get to know these knives.”
He pointed a finger at the drawer in the worktable he’d left open.
“Awesome.” She did as instructed and joined him at the spacious island. “Ooh, I like this one.” She pulled out a twelve-inch carving knife and poked her finger against the end. “Sharp, too.”
He pushed her hand down to the work surface and reconsidered the idea of protective gear. “Let’s begin with this one.” He indicated the more flexible six-inch vegetable knife with a forgiving blade. “Hold the hilt in
your palm.” He waited for her to pick it up, then arranged her grip into the proper position. “See? You don’t want to hold it too tight. Ease up.” He put his hand on top of hers, then shook. “Relax. Too tight and your hands will cramp up. Nice and easy hold, thumb in.” One of the most common mistakes amateurs made. "With your thumb out, it limits your mobility. Keep it in and you can move around easier.” He rotated his wrist, combining the movement with a slow slicing motion. “Okay?”
“Yep.” She turned her head and grinned over her shoulder at him. This close, he could smell lavender and
the ocean clinging to her skin and hair. “Do you think I’ll ever be able to cut air as well as you do?”
He was not going to laugh. “We’ll start slow and easy. No rushing, remember?” He placed the bamboo cutting board in front of her and handed her a stalk of celery. “Curved side up. The knife goes in easier. And hold the other end of the celery with this hand here, fingers tucked under your knuckles.”
“Like this?” She chopped a good chunk off the end.
“Smaller. And we want pieces to be as uniform as possible so they all cook evenly.”
She tried again, putting too much arm into it.
“Stop. It’s good, but you’re making this too difficult.”
“You said cooking was difficult.”
“You’re cutting, not cooking. And no sassing, please.”
“Sassing?” She grinned at him. “Oh, am I helping you expand your vocabulary, Scooter?”
“You know this will go faster if you stop playing around, right?”
“Fine.” She heaved a sigh. “Forget the fun. If I’m doing it wrong, then show me, Super Chef.”
Who was your favorite character and why?
I loved Abby from the second she walked on the page in THE BAD BOY OF BUTTERFLY HARBOR. She was just so alive and spunky and I adore writing characters like that. But as I dived more deeply into the story, I really fell in love with Jason. He's had some great successes in his life, he's talented and smart, but there's always been something missing, something he's never really found in himself. His journey to Butterfly Harbor helps him discover who he really is, what's really important, and that all the "stuff" he's stressed over for so long, none of that matters in the grand scheme. Honoring the life his brother led, continuing the work they started together, it becomes his mission, but in a way that I don't think he'll let weigh him down. He'll use it to celebrate his brother's life instead of dwelling on the loss.
Tell us one thing you learned during research.
I'm truly shocked at just how horrible some people are in the kitchen. I used to think it was an exaggeration to hear about those who can't boil water, but after watching some of those reality cooking shows focused on "the worst cooks", there's no way they could cook that badly on purpose. They honestly stink. Made me a little sad since I love cooking as much as I do. Baking? Not so much--it's more of a science. Cooking is where you get to really be creative, in my opinion.
This is your fourth book with Heartwarming (following 2 novellas and THE BAD BOY OF BUTTERFLY HARBOR). Exactly what does that mean to you?
It's proof positive that dreams come true. I can still remember the day I picked up my first romance novel (I still have that book). That's the day I knew what I was supposed to do and I knew I wanted to write for Harlequin. Did I have doubts that would happen? Absolutely. Did I almost quit? More times than I can count, but thank goodness I never did...and thank goodness I have incredible friends like Melinda Curtis and Cari Lynn Webb, among others, who wouldn't let me. Sometimes all you need are friends who believe in you more than you believe in yourself.
What do you plan to work on next?
I'm hoping I get to write more Butterfly Harbor books for Heartwarming. I've got a lot of characters who are chomping at the bit for their stories. Fingers crossed! In the meantime, I'm jumping over to romantic suspense (with Harlequin!). MORE THAN A LAWMAN will be released this November, much to my heroine's relief. I got her into her opening scene situation a looooooong time ago and finally got her out--with her happily ever after. Trust me, she was not a happy camper living in the back of my head all these years.
What are you reading for pleasure right now?
Well, once I write "the end" on the holiday novella I'm currently writing, I'm diving into Nora Roberts's THE OBSESSION. And I've got a stack of Heartwarmings I need to catch up on. There are so many amazing books being written in this line...it's hard to believe I can include myself in these fabulous authors' company.
USA Today and national bestselling author Anna J. Stewart can't remember a time she didn't have a book in her hands or a story in her head. Early obsessions with Star Wars, Star Trek and Wonder Woman set her on the path to creating fun, funny, and family-centric romances with happily ever afters for the independent heroines she writes. Anna lives in Northern California where she deals with a serious Supernatural & Sherlock addiction, surrounds herself with friends and family and tolerates an overly affectionate cat named Snickers (or perhaps it's Snickers who tolerates her). Visit her online at www.authorannastewart.com.