You're in for a treat today. Romance author Amber Leigh Williams is here to share a few behind the scenes secrets.
How Much of Real Life Winds Up In A Novel?
Amber Leigh Williams
Hi Carol! Thank you for letting me share with your readers today.
I’m interested in how many of you ever wonder how much real life informs fiction? Particularly in a contemporary romance novel like my latest from Harlequin Superromance, A Place With Briar, that takes place in a real small town on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. Not only is it a real place – it’s my hometown and very close to my heart. So, aside from the setting, how much reality wound up in my book?
First we’ll take a look at the characters. I will note that not a single character in any of my books is based on a real person. They may have been inspired by something someone did or said in real life or a situation someone found themselves in. But I admit when it comes to dialogue and conversation, things might start to sound really familiar if you’re from or have ever had an occasion to visit lower Alabama. Like any other region, people here don’t just sound different. Speech goes beyond the classic southern accent – the bottom drops out of vowel sounds, particularly the “uh” in words like “love” and “because.” You can hear it in the way words are put together as well. I’ll show you an example from A Place With Briar. The hero, Cole, has just arrived at Hanna’s Inn, the heroine Briar’s bed-and-breakfast on the Eastern Shore of the Mobile Bay. They are sitting down to breakfast with Briar’s cousin, one of the story’s more colorful secondary characters, Olivia –
“Briar hasn’t been on a date in years,” Olivia blurted. “Needless to say, we all think she seriously needs to get laid.”
“Olivia! Honestly, that’s enough,” Briar squealed as Cole choked on a cinnamon roll.
“What?” Olivia asked. “We’re all family. No need to hide the truth. Especially when he might be able to help you out with that. Would you mind loosening her up for us, Cole?”
Briar groaned, pressing a hand over her eyes to ward off Olivia’s scheming expression.
“I’d love to.”
Briar’s hand and jaw dropped simultaneously. Her eyes widened, her heart leaping with surprise and…something else. Delight? She saw Cole’s playful grin then Olivia’s. “Oh!” she shrieked, embarrassment trawling through her.
“I’m sorry, Briar,” Cole said sincerely. “Couldn’t resist.”
“You’ll fit right in around here,” Olivia decided, slapping him companionably on the back.
“I hope so.” He smiled as he scooped a forkful of quiche into his mouth. His eyes flared, softened. “Whoa. Holy smokes.”
Olivia’s conspiratorial twinkle was back. “Look, Briar, he even likes your cooking.”
“That’s an understatement,” he amended, swallowing another bite. He gazed at Briar. “This is incredible.”
Briar’s lips curved warmly now. “Thank you.”
“She’s the best cook in L.A.” At his dubious look, Olivia laughed. “That’s Lower Alabama, newcomer.” Olivia’s digital watch beeped and she cursed. Dropping her fork to her plate with a sharp clang, she pushed her chair back to rise. “Duty calls.”
“You’re going to work already?” Briar asked. “You didn’t finish your breakfast.”
“I’ll survive, Mama.” She took her plate to the sink to rinse.
“I’ll head over later to see if you need anything,” Briar said. She’d fit it in between fixing a leaky sink and weeding flower beds. “Call me if y’all need me before then.”
“You just do what you do best first.” Olivia sent Cole a sidelong grin as she headed out the screen door. “Don’t give her any trouble now, ya hear?”
“I wouldn’t dare,” he assured her. “I’ll come by later for that margarita.”
“You do that. First one’s on me. See you two lovebirds later.”
Ah, the sounds of the South, like music to my ears. If you happen to find yourself in a restaurant down this way, you’ll probably overhear a conversation that sounds something like this at the next table. Only maybe nothing so blunt as Olivia :-)
Now I’ll talk about how much real-life romance wound up in A Place With Briar. When an author tells someone the love story he/she wrote was inspired in some way or another by their own real-life experience, reactions can range from “Awww” to “Ick.” Cole and Briar’s love story unfolds very differently from my own. But as anyone who reads the “Dear Reader” letter on the first page of A Place With Briar will know, there are parts of the story that are very dear to me. The summer after I graduated from high school, a nineteen-year-old man-hunk took me on my first motorcycle ride on a gorgeous stretch of road along the Eastern Shore called Scenic Highway 98 or South Mobile Street. This man-hunk happened to be my future husband. So several years later when I sat down to brainstorm A Place With Briar and I saw a vision of a man riding up to Hanna’s Inn on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, it was only natural to imagine a scene where he would take the heroine on a ride much like the one my husband took me on all those years ago. Especially when I realized the inn was situated, conveniently enough, on that same scenic highway. When my husband first read the “Dear Reader” letter and my mention of him there, he grinned and groaned and asked, “Is this my life?” I kindly told him “no” but that one scene might seem a little familiar….
I’m happy to say I recently signed a two-book deal with Harlequin to write two of the secondary characters’ stories from A Place With Briar – one of them being Briar’s colorful cousin, Olivia. This will be the second book in my hometown series, an October Superromance release. Olivia’s hero, Gerald, is a sexy, British novelist who has been as fun to write as Olivia herself. The conflict of their love story has a lot to do with the fact that they are very different – much more different than any hero and heroine that I have written in the past. A lot of the book has to do with the deep heritage each of them have in the different part of the world where they each grew up in. This leads to some interesting conversations. Because I love the characters so much, I felt compelled to delve a bit into my own ancestry and lend both Olivia and Gerald a few of my own family footnotes. For example, an immigrant on Olivia’s family tree (and mine) was also a predecessor of President Zachary Taylor. Gerald’s family ties show some deeply aristocratic lineage, though not royal – unless you count a distant Scottish ancestor who claimed to be the son of the Duke of Berwick who was the illegitimate son of King James II. Or so the rumor goes. If you read far back into my paternal ancestry, you’ll find a matching footnote. Also, Gerald reveals at one point that he is a ¼th Scottish. His mother’s maiden name happens to be MacLeod and he spent part of his childhood on the Isle of Skye. This is significant because I recently found out that my mother’s family is descended from the mighty MacLeod clan and their stronghold on the Isle of Skye, a castle called DunVegan that is still in use by the MacLeod laird and his family today. In one of my favorite scenes in the book, Gerald shows up to a formal event in a kilt, the MacLeod tartan.
There you have it, readers! That’s how much reality has wound up in my writing so far! I hope you’ll read more about A Place With Briar and its sequels at my website, www.amberleighwilliams.com. Thanks again, Carol! This was fun!
A PLACE WITH BRIAR
He's in some serious trouble….
Cole Savitt does not want to deceive Briar Browning. But if he hopes to see his son again, he has to find the weaknesses in her charming bed-and-breakfast, then get out of town fast! But the quaint inn isn't the only thing charming him….
Cole's straightforward plan becomes anything but when he begins to fall for the beautiful innkeeper. Suddenly everything's on the line—his future with his son, a chance at happiness and the love of a good woman. Cole must rethink his priorities…and the stakes have never been higher.
RT BOOK REVIEWS gives A Place With Briar 4 STARS: “Great description and engaging characters make this story an entertaining read. Cole is nicely developed and his despair over losing his son and Briar’s worry over the potential loss of her inn are both well drawn. The secondary characters, such as Briar’s tenants, are also quite fun and nicely crafted.”
You can purchase A Place With Briar now in stores or online….
Amber Leigh Williams lives on the Gulf Coast. A southern girl at heart, she loves beach days, the smell of real books, relaxing at her family’s lakehouse, and spending time with her husband, Jacob, and their sweet, blue-eyed boy. When she’s not running after her young son and three, large dogs, she can usually be found reading a good romance or cooking up a new dish in her kitchen. She is represented by Joyce Holland of the D4EO Literary Agency. Visit her on the web at www.amberleighwilliams.com. You can also find her on Twitter (@AleighWilliams) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/amberleighwilliams).