BookPage Icebreaker is a publisher-sponsored interview.
What would it be like to discover as an adult that everything you thought you knew about your family was wrong? And that you have birth relatives you've never met? That's the dilemma facing Quinn Weller, the Los Angeles chef at the heart of Jill Shalvis' intriguing new novel, Lost and Found Sisters.
Still grieving the death of her sister, Beth, two years earlier, Quinn receives the shock of her life when a lawyer informs her that she was adopted when she was two days old. Shaken and confused, she leaves her busy life in L.A. behind and heads to the small town of Wildstone, California, to find out more about her inheritance from the mother she never knew.
This compelling women's fiction title is a departure for Shalvis, who made her career as a romance writer. A true multi-tasker, the author told us more about Lost and Found Sisters while walking three dogs on a trail near her home in the Lake Tahoe area.
Lynn: This is your first book in the women’s fiction category after almost 20 years of writing romance. It’s good to see a successful author make the move to branch out creatively like this. What was the impetus for this new direction?
Jill: I had wanted to write a bigger story for a long time, and this particular idea has stuck with me. I tried to do it as a regular romance but it was too big and it needed more point of views than would work within my mainstream romances. So I was lucky enough that HarperCollins wanted a bigger story from me. They contracted me to do both—romance and women’s fiction. The idea was all mine, they just gave me an opportunity to do it and I’m happy to go for it.
What was different about the way you approached this book, compared to writing a romance?
In a romance, which I love and will never stop writing, the romance is the core of the story. And in this book, the sisters are the core of the story. There’s still romance in it—in fact there’s two romances in it—but I think it’s the sisters that drive the story.
"I feel like my yearning [for a sister] was fulfilled, in a way, by writing this book."
You get to write about some issues and situations in Lost and Found Sisters that you probably haven't broached in your romance novels. Which ones were the most interesting for you to explore?
In addition to being women’s fiction and romance, I think this is also a New Adult story because Tilly is a young character. And that excited me the most. I have three daughters, and they're at an age that fascinates me—they’re all in their early 20s. I’ve always wanted to write a younger heroine, but I didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do in a romance. You can't give a 22-year-old a happy-ever-after and expect it to be real and lasting. That’s a little unrealistic. So when I started writing Tilly, I thought I’m finally going to get to do this voice that I have inside me that I’ve been yearning to write. I really enjoyed writing her story. And with the longer word count and the extra point of view, I was able to take things deeper in this book.
Let’s talk about sisters, which, as you said, are at the core of this novel. I have two sisters, and they’ve always been an important part of my life. I can’t imagine not having sisters. So I wondered: Do you have sisters? What was your relationship with them growing up?
I didn’t have a sister and I always, always wished for a sister. It was a deep fantasy of mine to find out that maybe I had been adopted and had this huge family I didn’t know about. But that never happened [laughter]! It was something I yearned for, and I feel like my yearning was fulfilled, in a way, by writing this book.
But you do have daughters, and I assume that after raising three girls, you’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly of sibling relationships?
Yes, I’ve seen it all. In fact, we had my three daughters and then we took one in, so I really raised four teenage girls. And I have truly seen it all and experienced it all through their eyes. That also lent some power to the voice in the book, I think, because I could see the things that are real that are going on in their lives, and fictionalize them. I love studying them and I love studying their relationships, which are very complicated, as you probably know, with sisters.
Yes, I think it’s probably one of the most complicated relationships in life. How close in age are your girls?
Very close. Let’s see, I’ve got 22, 23, 24 and 26.
I can only imagine the teenage years!
I call them the deep dark years of hell. I’m not sure how we all survived, but we did.
In addition to sisters, adoption is also at the core of this story. At one point, Quinn's good friend Brock tells her, "I'm sorry, [your parents] should've told you, but it doesn't change anything about who you are. It doesn't. You're still smart, funny and amazing." Is Brock right? How do you feel about the decision by Quinn’s parents not to tell her she was adopted?
There are two points of view—one is the writer in me, or if I were, say, a friend of Quinn’s. Both of those people think she should have been told. But the mother in me can understand why they didn’t tell her. It doesn’t make it right, but I can understand.
And would you say the same thing about her birth mother, Caroline, and the choice she made to give her daughter up for adoption?
Again, as a mother, I don’t understand the choice Caroline made, but I can appreciate that she made it, and that she wanted Quinn to have something she thought she couldn’t give her.
Let’s talk about more about Tilly, Quinn's younger sister. She’s such an interesting character and so believable as a teen who’s just lost her mother. How did you approach her part of the story?
In my original vision for this book, it was going to be told from Tilly’s point of view. But that was years ago, in my head, and the reality was that Quinn really needed to be the narrator so we could fully understand Tilly—because Tilly was too young to understand all the nuances of everything that was going on. So if I’d done it from her point of view we would have missed a lot.
Quinn's antagonist, Lena, must’ve also been a fun character to write.
Oh yeah. I love her.
You love or you hate her? Which is it?
Both! I think she’s incredible. She’s been through a rough time and she’s a survivor. I tried to make her more than just a villain so we could understand where she was coming from. I needed someone for Quinn to butt heads against, a brutally honest point of view so Quinn could hear some hard things, and that’s where Lena came from. I needed that person for Quinn.
And she worked very well in that role. And then there is Lena’s old flame, Mick. Sparks start to fly between Mick and Quinn, and you’ve included some steamy scenes between the two of them. But those scenes don’t dominate the story. Was that hard? Did you have to fight the inclination to focus more on the romantic parts of the story?
Definitely. I love Mick and I love Dylan and I really wanted to write about the two romances, but there was also the core relationship of the two sisters that was drawing me. So I was lucky that I got to write all of it.
Wildstone, the small town in California where much of the story takes place, doesn’t have street lights, billboards, drive-throughs, reliable cell service, Thai takeout or Uber. Why did you want to set the novel in a town like this one and what does it contribute to the story?
It makes Quinn an automatic fish out of water, for one thing, coming from the big city of L.A. We’ve all heard about small towns but not everyone has actually experienced one, so I was trying to make that setting come to life—and poke a little fun at it, the culture of it. There’s a place in the middle of the state of California where we go—there are a couple of beaches in the area, it’s outlined by ranches and green rolling hills, and it’s one of my favorite places. So I kind of “stole” it, let’s say, for Wildstone.
You also had some personal inspiration for Quinn’s experience, I assume, because you live in a small town now but you grew up mostly in L.A.
Yes, and growing up, I was that girl who couldn’t imagine a small town and who poked fun at it if I went to one. I’d never tried to live in a small town until about 15 years ago. We moved to a small town near Lake Tahoe and it was quite the transition. I still have that big city girl in me, but now I’m happy to visit the city and go home.
Your books have always included a lot of comedy, and this one does as well even though it deals with serious subjects. Why is that important to you?
Life can be really hard if you let it. Certainly I’ve had a lot of complications and trials and tribulations like everyone else, and it’s my way of coping, to try to find the funny in everything. I’ve found that really works in fiction, too. If I’m talking about something really serious and there’s something funny going on in the background, that makes it OK.
Do you think your romance fans will follow you to this new book? Or do you expect to attract a new group of fans?
All of it! I hope my romance readers follow me. I think I gave them enough romance in this book to make them happy. And I also hope to reach new readers—people who haven’t given romance a shot before and people who love women’s fiction.