Lily McLemore

Interview by

Our November Romance Top Pick, Cold-Hearted Rake, marks a celebrated return to historical romance for best-selling author Lisa Kleypas. In a 7 Questions interview, we talked to Kleypas about crowns, the allure of the Victorian era, what's next for her and more. 

Describe your book in one sentence.
A handsome, carefree London rake inherits a failing estate and reluctantly fights to save it while battling his attraction to a feisty young widow.

What inspired you to return to historicals after your hiatus from the genre?
Historical romance will always be my favorite genre to write in, but with a career as long as mine, it's important to find ways to stay excited and motivated. For me, that means challenging myself with new kinds of stories and characters and always trying to stretch my skills. After writing contemporaries for a few years, I started thinking about historical plots again, and I became enthusiastic about creating a family series set in Victorian England.

How does it feel to delve back into historicals? Did anything surprise you upon your return to the genre?
Fantastic! There's so much I've missed . . . the elegance and romance of the historical time period and the expansive vocabulary I can use. Contemporary dialogue tends to be choppier and more efficient—I think a lot of us speak in shorthand nowadays. But conversation in historical society used to be a form of entertainment, with a lot of emphasis on wit, intellect and style. There was a sense that after a discussion with your friends, everyone should be a little improved by it afterward. So writing historical dialogue is by far the most fun part of my job.

If there was a surprise for me in delving back into historicals, it was probably the realization of how much easier it is to write an unapologetically alpha hero. With contemporaries, there are far more boundaries for a strong male character—we just don't let guys get away with as much as we used to. However, if you put a hero in a historical time period, he has an excuse to be arrogant and high-handed: It's the 1800s—he can't help it! (Incidentally, I think that’s why my Texas contemporary heroes can get away with being so alpha—they're Texan, they can't help it!)

What draws you specifically to the Victorian era?
So much excitement and conflict is already built into the time period! Technology and industry were changing the world so fast that no one could keep up with it. Aristocrats were losing their wealth while commoners were gaining it, and social reform was making headway. It was an incredibly tumultuous time. I tend to put a big mix of social classes in my stories—I love characters who are outsiders trying to find a place for themselves, and the Victorian setting is ideal for that.

Also . . . I can't help being fascinated by the idea of starched and buttoned-up Victorians trying to conceal all their natural inclinations and desires. There's something sexy about all those layers of clothes and fasteners and laces and stays: It gives a love scene a sense of the forbidden.

What’s your favorite thing about your latest couple, the devilish Devon Ravenel and the sharp-as-nails Kathleen?
I loved this pairing because on the surface they seem so different—he's a pleasure-loving scoundrel, and she's an uptight widow—but deep down, they're very much alike. They're both incredibly guarded and unwilling to trust anyone with their true thoughts and feelings, and they both secretly yearn for a deep connection with someone. And when they're together, they push each other into becoming their best selves. It was so satisfying to see their characters develop together on the same emotional arc.

What do you do for fun while you’re taking a break from writing?
My husband and two children and I live in the Pacific Northwest, so there's always a ton of things to do. We hike around local lakes, go on some pretty steep trails and take in the spectacular scenery. We also love go to the local farmer's market or drive down to Seattle to attend a concert or play. We're foodies, so we're always trying out new recipes with exotic ingredients. This past year, after I had a hysterectomy and a couple of months of enforced bed rest, I discovered the pleasures of binge-watching, and I watched entire seasons of shows I've heard about for a long time. Mad Men! The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt! Game of Thrones! It was glorious.

What can we look forward to from you next?
I'm currently working on the next in my historical series The Ravenels . . . the title is Marrying Mr. Winterborne. It's about an incredibly wealthy common-born Welshman, Rhys Winterborne, who is determined to marry shy, aristocratic Lady Helen Ravenel. He knows the only way he can marry someone like Helen is to ruin her first, so he talks her into coming to his bed and letting him seduce her. And that's just the first chapter!

Bonus Question: We’ve got to ask. As Miss Massachusetts 1985, do you ever take down your crown from the bookshelf and wear it around the house?
Well, it's just a big crown  . . . I have to save that for more formal occasions, so I have a smaller crown (I won it at the local county pageant before the state finals) that's more appropriate for things like vacuuming or light household tasks. If anyone asks, I just tell them it's a little something to hold my hair back.



Our November Romance Top Pick, Cold-Hearted Rake, marks a celebrated return to historical romance for best-selling author Lisa Kleypas.
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Julia Elliott’s debut novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, zips between various genres, from Southern gothic to sci-fi satire, in a clever, wildly imaginative romp through the landscape of the South and the neural pathways of one man’s brain. At times heartbreaking and at times hilarious, The New and Improved Romie Futch announces Elliott as an undeniably original voice.

Romie Futch is a sensitive, deeply lonely taxidermist in South Carolina, and his life consists of pining for his ex-wife, drinking (a lot of) beers and talking about metal bands with a few buddies while sinking into debt. When he offers himself up as a test subject for an intelligence enhancement study, he doesn’t quite know what he’s getting into. He emerges from the neurocenter with a brain housing the rough equivalent of the Library of Congress, splitting headaches and the desire to make some truly beautiful, bizarre taxidermy.

I sat down with Elliott while she was in Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books, and we talked about hog hunting, the tall tales of the South, meat-eating plants and more. 

This is a pretty wildly creative plot for a novel. Where did it come from?
Well actually, it started as a short story, and it was just insanely too complicated for a short story. I was teaching a sophomore literature class at University of South Carolina, and we were reading some dystopian stuff. I would have this game that we played everyday: which fact is fake which one is real. So I would always have to find things that were outrageous that were actually happening. I came upon all this research on brain download procedures. And it’s still in the experimental phases, of course. People had different theories about how it would be done. Some quite horrifying, like that bioengineered nanobiotic creatures would rearrange your neurons to create knowledge. I mean, it sounds pretty ridiculous.

I started thinking about how absurd that was, and the idea of a tech student from South Carolina who never went to college getting a “brain download.” I tried it in a short story, and it was way too short. I didn’t even introduce the neurocenter at all. It was just, suddenly he can evoke fancy diction. I sent it to maybe one or two places, and they were like, “Wow this is pretty crazy, but kind of out of control as a short story.”

Five or six years later, I read my cousin Carl [Elliot]’s piece in The New Yorker called “Guinea-pigging.” It’s about test research subjects who do it for a living. They go from one facility to another, taking all kinds of crazy drugs, and that’s how they live. It’s even such a weird subculture that there’s a zine and stuff. So that was truly fascinating, and that inspired me to return to the story to flesh out the neurocenter and create more of a novel-length work. 

I started thinking about how absurd that was, and the idea of a tech student from South Carolina who never went to college getting a “brain download.” 

Romie is really transformed. He’s a supreme genius, but in the beginning he’s just a regular guy. Is Romie still Romie after the tests, or is he essentially two different characters? How did you write that?
One thing I wanted to convey was that he was a complex and smart character before he gets the brain downloads. That just gave him a certain vocabulary and conceptual framework through which he could analyze the state of being and maybe gain a little more agency because of that—critique the world a little bit more. 

And part of it was investigating what effect does [knowledge] have on you. I grew up in a small, rural Southern town, and my dad was an elementary school principal, so education was important, but I wasn’t from a really sophisticated cultural background. Then I went to grad school all the way up to the Ph.D. level. [The novel] is sort of a way to make sense of all of the cultural realms that I inhabited. 

This novel is about awful things that humans do to each other and the terrifying ramifications of science, but there’s also a lot of humor to it. Was that intentional? 
I just couldn’t help it. In my short story collection [The Wilds], some of the stories are very funny, and then some of them have this kind of dreamy, magic realist quality. So I kind of have two modes I can go into. It’s pretty over-the-top satirical, but I wanted it to have a heart also. The situation is just so absurd, and it was really fun playing around with it. [Romie’s] voice was really fun to create.

Your short stories, like this novel, take place in the South, as well. What about the setting of the South really inspires you?
It’s almost ecological, because I’m tormented by the summers. In several interviews I’ve described them as psychedelic summers. The cicadas are shrieking, and it’s really hot, and you feel kind of delirious, and it seems like it’s never going to end. I do feel very inspired by that exuberance, and the low country is a very jungle-y place. There are even species of meat-eating plants—the Venus fly trap and the pitcher plant.

Are you serious?
Yeah, they’re in certain parts of the coastal plain. The pitcher plant’s really weird, because frogs fall in, and it has these digestive enzymes. There’s this kind of brutality, there’s this beauty. I’m really inspired by the ecology and also the absurd grotesquery.

I feel like also my family has this tradition of telling ridiculous stories, and teasing children a lot with ridiculous stories. Trying to scare them with stories of ghosts, whereas nowadays, childrearing has certain rules about protecting the tender beings. I actually have a toddler, and do I tease her a lot. I play around with the boundaries of what kinds of things are OK to introduce. Because I feel like the things I was introduced to—especially the humor and the teasing—creates a certain form of resilience and humor. 

 There’s this kind of brutality, there’s this beauty. I’m really inspired by the ecology and also the absurd grotesquery.

Do you think that’s just a Southern thing?
Probably not, but it does seem like, compared to say, people I know from the Midwest—they seem more stoical. In Maine, I read a story about some girls who went to a slumber party, and this Jesus-freak granny comes downstairs and starts ranting about the Book of Revelation, and it’s got all this graphic grotesque imagery and lots of humor, and then she levitates briefly. They all stared at me with not one crack of a smile. I asked my host, “What’s up? Wasn’t that story kind of funny? No one laughed.” And he was like, “They were all raised on farms, and life was harsh, and it snows for eight months of the year.” So maybe there’s something in the delirium of the South that creates this kind of thing. You know, the tall tale is very Southern.

There are so many literary and mythological, philosophical and medical references throughout the novel—not to mention hog hunting. Did you just pore over research? 
The academic stuff was already there, so I just made use of it. Most of it was still in there, floating around. To be honest, I’d always considered much of it useless, and so finally it’s put to use. The brain download stuff I had to research. It's all very theoretical, so it was easy to invent. Just throw in nanobots and people are set.

With the hoghunting, the best sites for that were message boards, where they were just talking about stuff in their own voice. I was bowled over by their lyricism and wit. I even stole some of their lines, like, “Hogs take a heap of killing.” They’re very hard to kill, a heap of killing!

OK, can you really make eyes blink in taxidermy?
No, I don’t think so. But we’re close! I mean there’s rogue taxidermy, with weirdo artists doing stuff. I went to taxidermy shows, and all Southern taxidermists that I saw created these life-like mountings with their Disney-esque little scenes. I didn’t see anything humorous—except there was a line of sportsman squirrels playing golf, shooting hoops. But in rogue taxidermy, they’ll add wings to monkeys, that sort of thing. So then I thought, why not make an animatronic hog, almost like an Elizabethan masque, this elaborate crazy diorama. It’d be hard to do, but it was easy to pretend to do it in a fictional work!

The book is also kind of a mock epic, and an epic is a masculine dominant genre. That was fun to spoof.

The Wilds was almost completely focused on the feminine and the feminine voice, but Romie Futch is completely focused on the masculine. What was it like to switch voices? 
Well, a short story collection doesn’t necessarily represent everything you’ve done over a certain period, just the best stories. There are a couple of stories that didn’t make it in that have male narrators. I do teach women and gender studies, so there are definitely feminist themes everywhere, but it’s almost like my macho, "hesher" inner-warrior was dying to get out. What’s even more ironic is that I was pregnant when I wrote the first draft—with a female. So my body had more estrogen in it than it ever had. A female baby was steeping, and out pops this masculine character—but he’s also very vulnerable. The book is also kind of a mock epic, and an epic is a masculine dominant genre. That was fun to spoof.

Romie comes out of the experiment with a new brain, and he’s got all this knowledge, but he chooses to focus on this very cave-man-like task of hunting a hog. No matter how much technology there is, are humans just going to be humans?
Some people believe that! Evolutionary biologists think that we’re all cave people trapped in a technologically advanced place. But one thing that was interesting was that hunting can be quite complex, and it’s very technological these days. You can get all kinds of target-illuminated feeders and weird tracking lights and digital topography maps. Hunters can get seriously into that kind of technology. On the other hand, he’s becoming obsessed with the beast, and having an epic beast theme was a good way to make the plot move a little bit, with the tongue-in-cheek Moby Dick thing. But also, the reason he wants the pig is because he wants to put it in the most ass-kicking diorama in the history of taxidermy, and it is also a mutagenic recombinant DNA freak from a biotech lab. So it’s not your regular hog hunt.

I was wondering about the theme of youth in your work. Romie is continually harking back to youth and the beauty of young women and men. I was wondering why he’s so focused on youth.
Because he’s reached a middle-age crisis. Mostly you think about women in their 40s getting hung up on that, but I’ve applied all those things to a male character, which I think is just as true, but you don’t see explored in fiction as much. Usually male writers explore it in a different way, I suppose. A lot of male writers might explore that by having a male character have an affair with a younger woman. And there might be some anxiety and some feelings of doom, but for the most part, it’ll also be about reinvigorating themselves through the affair. In reality, it doesn’t quite seem to always work that way. Romie does have one encounter with a young woman, in yet another absurd sex scene. I love to write ridiculous sex scenes. I don’t think I could write an erotic one.

The reason he wants the pig is because he wants to put it in the most ass-kicking diorama in the history of taxidermy.

Do you think there’s a future for these brain downloads?
If you look on the internet, they’re always saying, "It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when." There are computers made with biological components already, from leech neurons and things. But they’re not hooked up to human brains. A lot of the stuff that they’re doing, they’ll do something to a stroke victims brain so they can move their arm, and that’s the very basic beginning of it. So thought would be the next step, I suppose. I hope I’ll be dead before that happens.

There’s so many authors references in this novel, like Nabokov and Karen Russell, whom you’ve been compared to. I was wondering what authors you admire and really enjoy reading.
That’s such a hard question because I read so much, and I love so many things. I love magic realism like Borges and Gabriel García Márquez. I also love weirdos like Angela Carter, Karen Russell and Kafka. But I also love many realists, like Jonathan Franzen.

But there are certain books that create a turning point for you. When I was younger, the first one was Nabokov, and it was the language that did it. The second was Angela Carter, and I thought, “Oh my God! She’s rewriting fairy tales from a female perspective. There’s so much that can be done with this! I can have weird magical moments!” And later George Saunders and Karen Russell, definitely. With Saunders it was like, you can use cheesy genre things in a literary way, and with Russell it was like, yeah, the stories are wacked out, but its really her language that appeals to me, because it’s so beautiful and rich and poetic. All of those were inspiring, but there’s so much. Jonathan Latham. Sam Lipsyte. I need to name more female writers! Kelly Link . . . I just read the Amelia Grey collection, and I loved that. 

It’s OK, I won’t pressure you for more.
I feel like when people ask that, it’s like OK, here’s my alphabetized list. It’s five pages long.

(Author photo by JS Dennis)



Julia Elliott’s debut novel, The New and Improved Romie Futch, zips between various genres, from Southern gothic to sci-fi satire, in a clever, wildly imaginative romp through the landscape of the South and the neural pathways of one man’s brain. At times heartbreaking and at other times hilarious, The New and Improved Romie Futch announces Elliott as an undeniably original voice.
Interview by

There’s no better time for romance than the holidays! Celebrate the season with A Knights Bridge Christmas by Carla Neggers, the story of a harried doctor and the woman who helps him slow down and enjoy life—and decorate his grandmother's home for Christmas. In a 7 Questions interview, we asked Neggers about libraries, small towns and her own holiday traditions. 

Describe your book in one sentence.
In A Knights Bridge Christmas, a busy ER doctor enlists a young widow to help him decorate his grandmother’s house for Christmas in her small New England hometown, and the hope, love and memories they discover are more than either ever imagined.

How do you toggle between writing the charming romances of your Swift River Valley series and your romantic suspense novels?
I love writing these two series! I hear from readers who enjoy diving into both worlds, and I feel the same as a writer. The small town of Knights Bridge in the Swift River Valley series and the small FBI unit and community in the Sharpe and Donovan series feature characters tested in different ways, but the issues of trust, love, family and hope they face aren’t all that different. I often think of beloved author Mary Stewart, who reportedly eschewed labels for her writing and once said, “'Storyteller' is an old and honorable title, and I’d like to lay claim to it.”

How did you settle on the career of librarian for Clare Morgan, the heroine of A Knights Bridge Christmas?
Knights Bridge needed a new librarian after Phoebe O’Dunn, who grew up in town, resigned when she became engaged to Noah Kendrick, a Southern California billionaire. As much as she loved her job, she’s embracing a new life. Clare was perfect for the job! She wanted a fresh start for herself and her young son, and the people of Knights Bridge have welcomed her, giving her space but also keeping a protective eye on her.

What’s your favorite thing about the relationship between Clare and ER doctor Logan?
The chemistry between Clare and Logan! It’s unmistakable from the start, but the spirit of the Christmas season, the small-town traditions of Knights Bridge and the old house Clare and Logan are decorating—filled with reminders of his grandparents’ long marriage—all play into their relationship. Logan is the type to move fast and push hard, but his grandparents’ hometown and its new librarian force him to slow down and take care of what truly matters.

You grew up in rural Massachusetts. Do you draw from your own experiences when writing about the small New England town of Knights Bridge?
Oh, yes. Knights Bridge is fictional, but the area where it’s located is real. Our family homestead is on the edge of Quabbin Reservoir, a huge pre-World War II project that changed this part of New England forever. As a kid, I’d climb a tree with pad and pen and look out at the Quabbin “accidental wilderness,” as I wrote, imagining the lives of the people who’d lived in the small towns razed to create the reservoir. I also spent countless hours in my hometown library, which is the inspiration for the Knights Bridge library—including the rumors that it’s haunted.

What’s your favorite thing about the holiday season?
Christmas carols! I’m especially fond of the traditional carols like “Joy to the World,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Every Christmas Eve, we listen to “Nine Lessons and Carols” from England on the radio. For me, the Christmas season connects the joys of the past and the hope of the future through our traditions and celebrations. Carols are one of those traditions. Not that I can sing, mind you.

Do you have any holiday traditions you’re looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to our annual Christmas Eve tea. It’s a tradition that started out of necessity given varying family schedules. This year, we’re adjusting the menu because our 6-year-old grandson has been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that means he can’t consume any gluten. I am learning how to make creme brule, which is naturally gluten-free. A new twist on our Christmas tea tradition!

Author photo by Julie Ireland

There’s no better time for romance than the holidays! Celebrate the season with A Knights Bridge Christmas by Carla Neggers, the story of a harried doctor and the woman who helps him slow down and enjoy life—and decorate his grandmother's home for Christmas. In a 7 Questions interview, we asked Neggers about libraries, small towns and her own holiday traditions.
Interview by

Our Top Pick in March Romance is Cindy Gerard's pulse-pounding Taking Fire, the story of two brave military heroes struggling with their feelings for each other—and struggling to stay alive. We asked Gerard to tell us about her extensive warfare and weaponry research, her favorite type of heroines and her many pets!

Describe your novel in one sentence.
From the first page to the last, Taking Fire is an emotionally riveting and explosively charged rocket of a read, as Talia and Taggart struggle with betrayal and retribution and they fight their way toward redemption.

Talia is a strong, brave woman who must make life-or-death decisions on the fly. What’s your favorite kind of heroine to write?
Talia is a great example. She's been through the fire, lit the fire and fanned the flames. How can you not love to write about a kick-ass heroine like that?

There is a lot of detail about warfare and weaponry in your One-Eyed Jack and Black Ops Inc. series. What sort of research do you do for this series?
I've been writing romantic military suspense for over 10 years now. My research is extensive, from military procedural books to true accounts such as Generation Kill, Blackhawk Down and One Bullet Away, to articles in various military publications. My best sources, however, are my many friends in the military or in private security work. You want to know the best weapon to take out a tank? You go to the guy who's done it. You want to know how to commandeer a chopper out from under the nose of the military in the Philippines? Again, you go to the guy who knows how to get it done. Accuracy is everything, and I've been fortunate enough to rely on people who have been there, done that.

What  initially drew you to romantic suspense?
I've always loved romance. And I've always loved the thrill of a great suspense novel. So it seemed the perfect marriage for me to join the two together.

Have you ever considered writing a series that wasn’t romantic suspense?
Sure. Every writer has a little somethin' somethin' of an idea tucked away that they want to dust off and finish when they have the time. I love straight-out thrillers and might like to try my hand at one in the future.

Tell us about some of the pets in your life!
There's not enough room to go into detail :o) The hubby and I have six quarter horses, two dogs, two house cats, and I have two fresh water aquariums. We also feed a lot of wild birds. Needless to say, we love our critters, the dogs (Margaret the Brittany Spaniel and Tater the Cavapoo) and the cats (Buddy and Sly, both rescues). However, they don't think of themselves as critters. They think of themselves as puppet masters and truth to tell, they are quite skilled at making us dance to their tune. We adore them all.

What’s next for you?
Oh, boy. I'm still pondering that question myself. I HOPE I let myself know soon, as this waiting is driving me crazy :o)

Thank you, Cindy!

Our Top Pick in March Romance is Cindy Gerard's pulse-pounding Taking Fire, the story of two brave military heroes struggling with their feelings for each other—and struggling to stay alive. We asked Gerard to tell us about her research on warfare, her favorite type of heroines and her many pets!
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Emily March's charming story of second chance love, Reunion Pass, is our Romance Top Pick for April. We asked the New York Times bestselling author about the Colorado Rockies and her ideal desert-island hero—and even wheedled out a cherished recipe.

Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
Reunion Pass is the romance that Eternity Springs readers have been asking for since the first book in the series, and it explores whether or not young love can truly stand the tests of time—when aided by dogs, family, friends and maybe an angel.

What inspired you to set your Eternity Springs series in the Colorado Rockies?
My family has Colorado roots, and I spent every summer in the Colorado Rockies when I was growing up. It's such a beautiful place, and when I decided to create a world that may or may not be populated by an angel, I couldn't think of a more heavenly and appropriate spot. 

What’s your favorite thing about the series (and town!) Eternity Springs?
My favorite thing about Eternity Springs is that I regularly get emails from readers who say they want to live in Eternity Springs. That’s how I know I’ve done a good job.

If you had to be trapped on a desert island with one fictional character, who would it be?
Initially, I thought of Roarke [from J.D. Robb’s In Death series], but he is so happily married that choosing him doesn’t seem right.  So, I’m going with Harry Dresden [from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher].

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Long, hot, candlelit, scented baths with a glass or two of nice red wine and a historical romance novel.

Last year you went on a cruise to Lisbon, Portugal, with fellow romance author Christina Dodd! What was your favorite moment from the trip?
Had to have been the night we joined the captain for dinner and plotted murder at sea with fellow diners—a hostage negotiator, a British magazine publisher with strong opinions about “puerile” fiction, an American ex-pat paper artist and a South African lawyer. Guess who I wanted to push overboard.

Your author site mentions a legendary jalapeño relish . . . Dare we ask for the recipe?
Well . . . since you asked nicely:

Emily March’s Jalapeño Relish for Tailgate Fame 


6 jalapeno peppers, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups apple cider vinegar
4 small yellow onions, chopped
1/4 cup of carrots, chopped
1 teaspoon dill seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed

Cooking Instructions:

In a saucepan, add apple cider vinegar and sugar over low heat. Mix until sugar is dissolved.
Add jalapeño peppers, onion, and carrots.
Bring the mixture to a boil.
Add mustard and dill.
Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Great with brats or hamburgers or brisket. Mix it into cream cheese for a wonderful dip. Is it football season yet?

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Author photo by Kelly Williams Photography.

Emily March's charming story of second chance love, Reunion Pass, is our Romance Top Pick for April. We asked March a few questions about the Colorado Rockies, the ideal hero on a desert isle and even wheedle out a cherished recipe.
Interview by

The final book in Mary Balogh's New York Times bestselling Survivors' Club series, Only Beloved, is our May Top Pick in Romance. The series follows seven wounded veterans of the Napoleonic Wars who have returned to England to heal at the home of George, the Duke of Stanbrook. Only Beloved gives the generous and kind George the happy ending he so deserves. We asked the Welsh-born Balogh about bringing her touching and popular series to an end.

Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
After years of grief and loneliness as a widower, the Duke of Stanbrook decides to seek happiness with an unmarried music teacher he met briefly a year ago.

Most romance novels feature young lovers in their 20s and early 30s. For the final book in the series, what made you decide to write a love story between an older couple?
I really forced it upon myself. When I invented the Survivors' Club, I needed a character who opened his home as a hospital for officers. It somehow made sense to make him an older man rather than a young man who should perhaps have been away fighting himself, and so the Duke of Stanbrook was born. He is a very central character to the series, though, and was always going to have to have his own story. I would not pair him up with a young woman, so there had to be an older female character worthy of him. And then there is also the fact that I think there should be more love stories for older couples. Many avid readers, after all, are older people, and love and romance are not exclusive reserves of the very young. I am an older person!

What’s the biggest difference between writing a romance about an older couple and writing about a younger one?
It's the level of maturity. The Duke of Stanbrook is 48 in his book; Dora Debbins is 39. They have done a lot of living. They have gone through a lot, suffered a great deal, dealt with their sufferings, settled into productive and dignified lives. I wouldn't say they no longer feel passion (they do!), but they show it in a more considered, realistic way than is often the case with younger characters. There are fewer fireworks and ups and downs of emotion, but a slow burn can be just as hot.

What’s your favorite thing about George, the Duke of Stanbrook?
He is a man who lives love. He is the one who opened his home as a hospital for the Survivors and others, and he was utterly devoted to their care and wellbeing. Even after the three years are over, he is still totally supportive of his friends and absolutely unselfish. Yet he has deep wounds of his own. His only son died in the wars, and his wife committed suicide a few months later. Some of his neighbors believe he killed her. He never talks about his past. He listens, but he keeps his secrets and his pain locked up. My favorite thing? All through the series he is a hero just waiting to happen! I could hardly wait to get to his book.

Only Beloved is the seventh and final book in your Survivors’ Club series. What will you miss most about this series?
The seven characters, six men and one woman, who comprise the club, are a very close-knit group. And they are strong people, having been variously and severely wounded during the Napoleonic Wars before spending three years together recuperating and fighting their way back to physical and emotional health. I loved taking them one by one and pairing them up with suitable heroines and hero so that they could settle back into happy lives and love again. Characters like these become real people to me, and it is sad to say goodbye. However, there is a certain satisfaction in having completed a body of work and being able to turn to a new challenge.  There are numerous other characters and stories out there just waiting to be discovered, after all.

Has your childhood in Wales influenced your writing at all? And if it has, how so?
I have written a few books and novellas set in Wales (Longing and The Escape, for example), and my love of the country, the landscape, the language, the music, the spirituality carried me onward through those stories. I was perfectly at home writing those books because I knew my subject. I think a Welsh love of music and language shows itself in all my books, though. And the Welsh are a passionate people. My books are character-driven and passion-driven. That does not necessarily mean they are driven by sex. The passion of love includes sex but encompasses so much more.

To come at the question from another angle: I grew up in post-World War II Wales, in a city that had been almost flattened by bombing. We had very little, and our outdoor playground was the bombed buildings. Food, clothing, almost everything was severely rationed. We had few belongings, few toys. But did we feel deprived? Did I? In no way! I firmly believe that it was my childhood that ignited my imagination. With my few toys, I created rich imaginary worlds. I played in those worlds, and I wrote long stories about them as soon as I could read and write.

What’s next for you?
I am working on a new eight-part series, the Westcott family series. It is based on the premise of an earl dying without a will. His son automatically inherits the title and properties and fortune, but his widow and two daughters are well provided for, too—until, that is, a 25-year-old will surfaces, leaving everything except the title to the wife and daughter no one knew anything about. And that first wife died four months after his second marriage, rendering that union bigamous and the three children of the marriage illegitimate. His only legitimate daughter grew up in an orphanage unaware of her true identity. The first book, Someone to Love, is her story—Anna Snow, who is in reality Lady Anastasia Westcott. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are also involved in the turmoil—one cousin inherits the title. The series will tell the stories of the various Westcotts and how they reshape their concept of their family as they deal with its new realities.

Author photo by Sharon Pelletier

We asked Mary Balogh a few questions about writing the last book in the Survivor's Club series, Only Beloved.
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Paige Tyler's action-packed paranormal love story To Love a Wolf, part of the SWAT series, is our June Top Pick in Romance. Tyler, who lives in Florida with her husband and dog, is a New York Times bestselling author of more than 50 novels. In this 7 Questions interview, Tyler talks about zombies, her surprising cure for writer's block and more. 

Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
Snarky alpha werewolf from the Dallas SWAT team meets the beautiful artist of his dreams only to discover that her entire family is composed of men who hate werewolves and would die before they let the hero and heroine be together—think Romeo and Juliet with fur.

What initially inspired you to write about werewolves?
I’d like to say that my inspiration for this book—and the whole SWAT Series—represents a bright, shiny example of catching magic in a bottle. But in reality, I sort of stumbled on the idea. My hubby (who is my writing partner) and I had been working on an idea for an erotic series based on good, old-fashioned, alpha-male cops. The notion was a believable cop drama with a lot of hot sex. Should be easy enough, right?

But as we started writing the outlines for the various stories, we kept running into the same problems. Either the story ended up too procedural (i.e., boring) or too erotic (i.e., completely unbelievable in any realistic police setting). If you’re in the middle of a serious crime storyline, it can get really sticky trying to find appropriate places for the hero and heroine to have sex. They can’t exactly have a quickie in the middle of a blood-splattered crime scene or stop by the lab to drop off trace evidence on their way to the local BDSM shop.

Hubby and I kept working on story ideas anyway, trying to find the right mix of serious cop drama and steamy sex, but nothing was working, and we were both getting frustrated. Over breakfast one morning, we were still trying to figure out where to go with the concept and were close to dropping the whole idea—nothing was popping into our heads, and we were starting to get snarky with each other. After he went to work, I emailed him to make sure he wasn’t still spinning from our latest unproductive attempt at brainstorming. He replied back to me, and I to him, etc. That’s when something amazing happened. When you’re emailing back and forth, you’re forced to clearly put the thoughts in your head on the page, and the other person can’t cut you off halfway through what you’re saying. We still hadn’t come up with a good idea, but at least we were actually making more sense via email than face to face.

Then hubby made a joke about adding a zombie to the story (in his mind, every book can be improved with the addition of a few zombies!). I vetoed that idea immediately (I retain final executive authority on story content. If not, there’d be zombies, ninjas and exploding chickens all over the place.) and said that if we were going to put anything paranormal in the story, it should be a werewolf. Hubby said, “You know, that might just work,” and the SWAT series was born. We moved away from the erotic angle, focusing on the Dallas Police Department SWAT team, which is made up completely of werewolves. The series follows each of their efforts to find The One woman who can accept them for what they are.

The rest, as they say, is history. But it all started with a lame comment about a zombie.

Say you’re in the midst of writing your latest book, and you hit a wall. What’s your cure for writer’s block?
P.F. Chang’s spicy chicken. Seriously. Hubby and I do all of our best thinking and brainstorming while overdosing on spicy chicken. We’ll sit in a booth at our local P.F. Chang’s for hours bouncing ideas back and forth over a big plate of the stuff. The people there know us and tend to leave us alone to work. Luckily, they don’t get alarmed if they walk by and hear us plotting the best way to kill someone or comparing the various pros and cons of using claws versus fangs.

By the way, I’ve been angling for an endorsement deal with P.F. Chang’s for years now, but so far no luck.

You write in a variety of genres, from Western romances to paranormal. Which genre do you find the most challenging to write?
Since our basic brand—alpha hero, feisty kick-butt heroines and plot lines focused on steamy romance, pulse-pounding action and suspense—stays the same whether we’re writing about cowboys, cops, shifters or covert agents, romantic suspense is easy. It’s when we stray outside romantic suspense and write pure, basic contemporary romance that it gets a little harder, because that kind of story is romance stripped down to its core, meaning boy meets girl, without the added drama of cops, cowboys or guys with claws. Generating conflict and maintaining interest in a story of how two regular, everyday people end up together can be tricky.

I also have to admit, I’m primarily into blue-collar heroes. If you look on my Pinterest Boards, you’ll see hundreds of pics of cops, soldiers, firefighters, cowboys, etc. But you won’t see a single guy in a suit and tie. It’s just not my thing, which probably explains why I avoid straight contemporary.

When did you first start reading romance? Do you remember what book it was?
I first started reading romance when I was a teenager, thanks to two wonderful aunts who loved it and shared their books with me. The book that really got me hooked on romance was Gambler’s Prize by Valentina Luellen. It’s about a riverboat gambler who falls for a Southern belle. I read that book so many times, I’m surprised the words didn’t fall off the pages!

You’ve written over 50 books and hundreds of characters. Do you ever get stumped on what to name your next character? Where do you get your character’s names?
I get stumped sometimes. In my head, I have a very firm idea of what constitutes a “hero” name versus a “secondary” character name. I’ve been known to rename characters as a story goes along in those cases where a guy who was supposed to be a background character ends up in a more prominent role and will become the hero of his own book later. We maintain series and story bibles to keep track of all the names so that we don’t re-use them too often, but we still end up doing it anyway. I’m not sure how it happened, but we have heroes named “Trevor” in both our X-OPS and SWAT series. Luckily, one is a werewolf and the other is a coyote shifter, so they’re completely different. Don’t tell my editor anyway, though.

As far as where I look for names, that’s easy. I go to the social security website. You can look at popular names going back decades. I can spend hours collecting names that I might use later.

You’ve written about lots of heroes, including werewolves, cowboys and Navy SEALs. Who would make the best date?
Probably werewolves. I like big, cuddly animals, so a werewolf fits right in with that. They’re also good at keeping the bed warm, which would be a big plus, since I’m always freezing.

My hubby is retired Army and I flat-out worried my butt off the whole time he was in, so the Navy SEAL thing is out. My heart recognizes the fantasy of being with a SEAL, but my head knows what it’s like to worry about a man when he’s off doing something dangerous in some war-torn part of the world.

Cowboys are out, too. As much as I love animals, I don’t think I could be with a man who spends more time with his horse than he does with me. 

(Author photo by Pure 7 Studios)

Paige Tyler, author of our June Romance Top Pick To Love a Wolf, answers seven questions.
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In this month's 7 Questions interview, we talk to Christine Feehan, author of Shadow Rider, the first book in her new paranormal romance series about a family with a magical ability to secretly travel through the shadows. Feehan, a number one New York Times bestselling author of more than 40 novels, lives in Northern California with her husband. 

Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
A man from a powerful family who moves within the shadows to exact justice finds a woman with a secret of her own.

What inspired this new series?
My mind plays around with mafia-like stories, and I read a lot of true crime. I wanted to come up with a story that would give me a powerful family and a small community. Over the last three years, the characters evolved into the Shadow Riders series.

Did you do any special research for this book?
Yes, I had to spend a lot of time researching Italy. I tried to get a feel for their shops, language, etc. to build my own community here in the United States that reflects those roots. I spent time researching longtime family feuds in Italy and researching Little Italy in Chicago, and I had to research mafia families both here and in Italy.

What’s your favorite trait of Stefano Ferraro?
The way he loves his family.

What do you think the biggest misconception about romance is?
I think it’s that many believe they’re not heavily researched, well-crafted stories that have everything from mystery and thrills to comedy and drama. The difference is there is always an HEA. [Editor’s Note: HEA means “happily ever after” in romance parlance!]

Do you think you’ll ever publish anything outside of the paranormal romance genre?
I never say never. Shadow Rider is the closest to this point.

What’s next for you?
I am looking forward to my next Sea Haven series after my last Bound book. I will be writing a motorcycle series set in the town of Sea Haven, which readers know from my Drake Sisters series and my Sisters of the Heart series.

(Author photo by Samantha Goodacre)

In this month's 7 Questions interview, we talk to Christine Feehan, author of Shadow Rider, the first book in her new paranormal romance series. Feehan, a #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 40 novels, lives in Northern California with her husband.
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Our Romance Top Pick for August is Anna Bradley's Regency romp A Season of Ruin, part of the Sutherland Scandals series. We asked Bradley a few questions about her new novel, her favorite romance and her work at the Chawton House Library, a rare books library straight out of a Regency tale.

Describe your latest novel in one sentence.
What begins as a notorious London scandal flames into fiery passion between a prim, proper young lady and an infamous rake.

Before becoming an author, you worked at Chawton House Library, a beautiful rare books library located in an English manor house that once belonged to Jane Austen’s brother and now houses works by British women writers from the 1600s through the Regency period. What was the most interesting book or fact that you discovered while working at Chawton House Library?
I learned so much while I was at Chawton, but the one piece in the collection that never failed to give me shivers was a small stack of closely written scraps of paper of different sizes, housed in an unobtrusive hardcover box—the manuscript of Jane Austen’s play, Sir Charles Grandison.

To actually have the opportunity to read lines in Austen’s own hand—to see where she blotted out words or crossed out lines—well, that never ceased to be an incredible thrill for me. I used to look at those lines and wonder what Austen would think if she knew her writing was at the heart of a literary tradition that still thrives today. Do you think she’d prefer Colin Firth or Matthew McFayden for Mr. Darcy? Would she be a historical romance reader?

Chawton has posted some photographs of the Sir Charles Grandison manuscript online, which you can see here. Chawton has, I believe, since released a facsimile copy of the play.

How has your time at the Chawton House influenced your novels?
Working at Chawton made the historical aspect of the writing easier for me. I was already a 19th-century British novels addict before I started working there, but at Chawton I had access to dozens of books and authors I never would have otherwise, and reading that deeply into a period really gives you a sense of it. I’ve had readers ask if it’s difficult to be historically accurate with my novels. It isn’t, because that historical piece feels natural to me—so much so that I catch myself thinking and dreaming in “Regency-speak”!

I also find myself coming back to classic plotlines and characters, and I’m sure that’s a holdover from the novels I read while I was working at Chawton. When I first started writing historical romance, I didn’t even realize how heavily those works influenced me, because they are so much a part of who I am as a writer, but now that I have a little more writing experience, I can see how they played a significant role in the way I look at both historical romance and historical fiction.

What do you think is so alluring about the ever-popular Regency era?
For me, the allure has always been that it’s an era of such extreme contradictions. There’s the glittering aristocracy, with their debauchery and excess, and I think we’re fascinated with the titles and the manners, the gowns and the balls and the extravagance of the age. But the aristocracy and landed gentry during the Regency was a comparably tiny section of the population. Common people struggled with poverty, disease and, in London in particular, violent crime. When you juxtapose those two realities and throw the rise of industrialization into it, it presents a compelling picture of an era of a society at odds with itself, and to me, that’s a fascinating mix.

What was your favorite part of writing Lily and Robyn’s love story?
Well, I admit I had a terrible crush on Robyn from the outset, so I had a lot of fun writing his character, particularly his dialogue, but I think my favorite part of this story is the way Robyn and Lily fit together like two puzzle pieces. They appear to be so utterly wrong for each other, and yet each turns out to be the one person the other needs the most. I love that it is only Robyn who can free Lily from her fears, and only Lily’s love that can transform Robyn from a hopeless rake into a hero. I also loved writing the final scenes in this book. I won’t give it away, but the book ends with a bang, and those sections were so much fun to write!

If you had to bring one romance novel to the proverbial desert island, which would it be and why?
Just one? Oh, no—tough question! I hate the idea of leaving my Lorraine Heath and Lisa Kleypas favorites behind, but I’m going to have to go with Julie Anne Long’s The Perils of Pleasure, because I fell madly in love with her hero, Colin Eversea (he’s still one of my favorite book boyfriends!) and because it’s the first novel in the Pennyroyal Green series, which is the series that inspired me to become a historical romance writer.

What’s next for you?
More historical romance! I hope to bring readers the rest of the Sutherland Scandals, and I also have a new historical series I’m working on. I’m supposed to be on a little writing vacation for the next week or so, but I’m so excited about this new series, I keep sneaking off to write little bits and pieces of it in secret. No titles yet, but think spinsters, rakes and hussies, with a hoyden or two thrown in for good measure, and that will give you an idea of what I have planned!

Our Romance Top Pick for August is Anna Bradley's Regency romp, A Season of Ruin, part of the Sutherland Scandals series. We asked Bradley a few questions about her new novel, her favorite romance and her work at the Chawton House Library, a rare books library straight out of a Regency tale.
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In Jason Overstreet's debut mystery, The Striver's Row Spy, the FBI's first African-American agent has a secret agenda. Sidney Temple's assignment is to move to Harlem, New York, in order to infiltrate “dangerously radical” Marcus Garvey's inner circle and report any incriminating activity to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. But Sidney is secretly working to thwart the FBI's investigation while aiding black leader W.E.B. Du Bois. As Sidney and his spirited wife, Loretta, rise in Harlem Renaissance society, his mission becomes far more dangerous than he ever imagined. We asked Overstreet a few questions about his new novel.

This is your debut novel, and it’s such a unique view into Harlem Renaissance-era New York, as well as the beginnings of the FBI. What inspired you to write this book?
A film entitled The Lives of Others, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film, inspired me. I wanted my novel to feel like that film felt in terms of pace and suspense. I loved the intimacy of the story and how it presented a spy who had feelings about his subjects. Everything wasn’t simply black and white to him, you know, good guy versus bad. It was complex, and he was conflicted with his assignment, the politics involved. I began trying to imagine a man of color being assigned to spy for a government entity. I looked up who the first African-American FBI agent was and found the name James Wormley Jones. He had been assigned to spy on Marcus Garvey. I imagined a man who might take such a job for a different reason than Jones. I imagined a man who was a W.E.B. Du Bois loyalist, as Garvey and Du Bois were rivals. And that’s when Sidney Temple was born.

I imagine that this novel took a lot of research about topics ranging from 1920s New York to the history of the FBI and its surveillance of Garvey and Du Bois. What was the most surprising thing you discovered in your research?
I was surprised to learn that Marcus Garvey was dead serious about finding a way to return all African Americans to Africa. It wasn’t some pipe dream. I was also surprised to learn how young J. Edgar Hoover was when he was first put in charge of the FBI’s General Intelligence Division. He was only 24.

After spying on Du Bois and Garvey, Hoover used the FBI to monitor Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and groups such as the Black Panther Party. How do you think the monitoring of citizens has continued today?
I really couldn’t say. I’d like to think they’ve evolved, at least past thinking of every black leader as a communist threat.

How do you think Sidney Temple, a—secretly—ardent supporter of W.E.B. Du Bois, would feel about the current climate of race relations in America?
I think he would be so proud that Barack Obama was elected the first African-American President. And I believe he would feel that we’re on the right track and have made tremendous strides. But I think he’d be bothered by the mass incarceration of black men and the seemingly systematic and routine way they are targeted by many police officers. But in terms of voting rights, housing rights and integration as a whole, he’d be ecstatic. He’d be so happy to simply have the right to raise his voice anywhere in the country without the fear of being lynched, as was often the case during the 1920s in the South.

What do you admire most about Sidney Temple?
I admire his idealistic nature, tenacity, love of family and his hopeful spirit.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this novel?
Doing loads of research and making sure that each character’s voice was not only unique, but was befitting the time period. It was also a fun challenge to write fiction around lots of actual history. The book is full of true events. I also tried to talk about racism without hitting people over the head with it. There is a fine line if you really want to make your point.

Have you always been a fan of espionage or did learning about the history of the Bureau get you interested?
The latter.

Did any authors or musicians from the Harlem Renaissance inspire you while writing this novel?
The African-American poet Claude McKay inspired me. He traveled a lot, spent time in the Soviet Union, London, Morocco. He was willing to do anything to keep his writing dream alive, doing various odd jobs, etcetera, all while encountering extreme racism. He was brave and unwilling to settle for being treated as a second-class citizen. He could seamlessly mingle with upscale whites, and genuinely befriended many prominent ones, all the while trying to prove his worth as a colored writer against insurmountable odds. But no matter how much rejection he encountered, he seemed to hold on to his charismatic and positive personality. He was a true artist.

What’s next for you? Will we be seeing more of Sidney Temple and Loretta?
The sequel to The Strivers’ Row Spy is almost complete.  

Author photo by Wendy D.

Jason Overstreet tells us about his mystery debut set during the Harlem Renaissance, The Striver's Row Spy.
Interview by

There’s a reason Susan Elizabeth Phillips has been crowned the Queen of Romantic Comedy. Since publishing her first romance novel in 1983, Phillips has become known for her signature sense of humor and her relatable, flawed and lovable heroines. Not only that, Phillips created the genre of sports romance, has hit the New York Times bestseller list multiple times and was inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame in 2001.

Phillips’ latest novel, First Star I See Tonight, is the eighth in her popular Chicago Stars series and our September Romance Top Pick. Heroine Piper Dove is trying to get her fledgling detective agency off the ground. Her first assignment is to follow recently retired Chicago Stars quarterback Cooper Graham—and she’s failing miserably. But luckily for Piper, Cooper is in need of someone to keep an eye on the employees at his new nightclub, and he hires the headstrong Piper. The pair grate on each other’s last nerve, but they can’t deny a certain spark when they’re together. Nor can they deny that someone has it out for Cooper, and Piper may be the only one who can protect him.  

“We have these two extremely determined people, both of them highly competitive, going head to head,” Phillips says. With most romances, the attraction between the hero and heroine is instant and all consuming. But Phillips prefers to make things a bit more difficult for her characters. “There is an instant animosity. . . . I like this active dislike and how they work through that, and watching that whole journey—that is just my favorite sort of story to tell.” 

A return to the ever-popular Chicago Stars football team wasn’t initially in her plans. In fact, Phillips thought she had closed the series in 2001 with This Heart of Mine. “I really felt at that point that I couldn’t bring anything fresh to the whole series, to that story of the football player,” she says. But after a few years, she felt the pull of Chicago again, and if she’s thinking about setting a novel in Chicago, the Stars inevitably creep into her thoughts, along with fresh takes on the Stars’ many players, agents and the women who love them. “My husband says the Chicago Stars have had more retired quarterbacks than any team in the NFL.” 

One refrain in First Star I See Tonight is Piper’s struggle with sexism. Overt femininity doesn’t come naturally to Piper. She’s trained in offensive and defensive driving, can take down a man twice her size and is most comfortable in a sweatshirt. Yet she struggles to be taken seriously by men. Phillips doesn’t shy away from tackling the issue of sexism. “I think when you’re writing about women, this is something you have to think about. . . . When you’ve got a heroine in a very masculine world, this is something she’s going to have to deal with.” 

Phillips came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, a time when many things we think of as routine today, like a married woman getting a credit card under her own name, were impossible. It was also a time when women’s issues were making their way onto the national stage. “So many young women today don’t know about [how things were then]. So when I hear women say, oh, I’m not a feminist, I just roll my eyes. I think, Honey, if you’d been there when I was there, you would be.” When I ask Phillips, who was involved in the childbirth movement in the 1970s, if she would call herself a feminist, she doesn’t hesitate. “Absolutely! I think almost every romance writer I know would consider herself a feminist. We write about strong women.” 

However, this wasn’t always the case in the romance novel world. When the genre first burst onto the publishing scene in the 1970s and early ’80s, there was one disturbingly popular trope: rape. As a modern romance reader, this trend from the past has always baffled me. According to Phillips, I’m not alone. “Those books don’t necessarily stand the test of time very well. Younger readers do not get those books.” But Phillips has a fascinating theory as to why such a violent act was portrayed as an act of passion instead of a crime. “We grew up having to be good girls. And that meant no sex out of marriage. So the only way you could have great sex outside of marriage was if it wasn’t your fault. That’s where it all came from. And did any of us who were reading that want to be raped? Absolutely not! It was a total fantasy, and it was a reaction to the way we had been brought up.”

Romance writing has changed a lot since then, and Phillips has been there at every turn. “I pretty much got to see it all,” she says. When Phillips started her career, the publishing industry had been working the same way for 50 years. “Then, through the course of my career, I watched the rise of social media, the complete change in the way readers and writers now interact and, of course, the whole eBook phenomenon.” Phillips, who wrote her first few books on a typewriter, says that watching these changes has been exciting. As for her next move? “You know, I’m just exploring,” she says. “So we’re just gonna see where things go.” Let’s hope that exploration leads to a new novel in the near future.  

Author photo by Peter Irman.

There’s a reason why Susan Elizabeth Phillips has been crowned Queen of Romantic Comedy. Since publishing her first romance novel in 1983, Phillips has made a name for herself with her charming romances written with humor and her relatable, flawed and lovable heroines.

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