Donna Kauffman’s Blue Hollow Falls series takes the small-town genre and gives it a creative twist—the titular village is an artists and musicians’ enclave, tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the second book in the series, Bluestone & Vine, Blue Hollow Falls is the perfect place for Irish folk singer Pippa MacMillan to recover from a vocal chord surgery. She’s not nearly as famous in America as she is in the U.K., and the creative atmosphere could inspire her next album. Except for the fact that Pippa hasn’t sung so much as a note since her surgery because she’s so overcome with fear that her voice is forever lost or damaged. Enter a supportive community and a very handsome, ex-military vintner. We talked to Kauffman about whirlwind romances, the inherent risk of creation and what she thinks is the most underrated TV show.
I really loved Pippa—her ease with herself and self-deprecating humor were so refreshing. Where did your inspiration for her character come from?
Thank you! I grew up in a family filled with that exact same kind of life attitude. Pippa is sort of an amalgamation of me and my sisters. (Except we’re all very tall and Pippa is, well . . . not.)
Pippa and Seth definitely have a whirlwind romance. What do you think needs to happen for real love to develop in such a short time?
I think being put in close quarters like that, with heightened circumstances, does bring two people together far more quickly. Initially finding themselves stuck under one roof together definitely amplified Pippa and Seth’s reactions and feelings, but it was when they both had to deal with the outside crisis of Seth’s neighbor that they were really pushed forward more rapidly. It’s true in real life that when you have to work together with someone during a crisis, or in a situation where teamwork is required under intense pressure, whatever the ultimate goal might be, a unique bond is forged. If there also happens to be a strong attraction between the two people involved, well . . . anything can happen!
One of my favorite aspects of Bluestone & Vine is how the usual gender roles in romance were somewhat reversed—the hero was hesitant about getting into a relationship, and the heroine was far more open about her desires and emotions. Was that a conscious decision on your part, or did that facet of their personalities just emerge as you developed them?
It was a combination of both. I love to flip gender norms as well as societal norms. The characters definitely direct the course of the story, but any time we can take a look at something we all experience in a new way, from a totally different vantage point, I’m all for it. I think it makes for an interesting read as well as a fun way to explore the myriad reasons that might cause two people to take that leap of faith and let go of their fears. Falling in love is never boring and it never happens exactly the same way twice!
Why do you think small-town romances have such a steady appeal for readers?
I can’t speak for all readers, but for me, I love the cozy feeling I get when I’m reading a story set in a small town—tucked away in a picturesque place, with a group of people who all know each other, folks who I’d like to know and call friends. It’s so comforting. I especially like it when the location adds a distinct flavor, a specific character to the story. Best of all, the setting puts the main protagonists inescapably in each other’s orbit and their burgeoning relationship under the microscope as the whole town weighs in on what is happening right under everyone’s noses. The focus is on the blossoming romance, but the everybody-knows-everybody set up provides plenty of fodder for interesting secondary storylines as well.
At one point in the book, Pippa and Seth have a very lovely and honest conversation about how the creation of art is inherently risky. What was the riskiest thing about this book for you?
The risk is the same with all books I write. Everyone who reads one of my books (or any book, for that matter) brings their own life experience and point of view to the story. Of course, I want them to love it exactly how I love it, feel what I feel, laugh when I laugh, cry when I cry . . . but their own experiences might cause them to have a completely different reaction to this or that story element. The possible points of view are so vast and varied, there is no one-size-fits-all story. And that’s okay! I always write the story that I most want to read, then hope like crazy that enough readers feel the same way I do, love the things I do, to make the book a success. I love getting notes from readers who had strong reactions to elements that, to me, weren’t focal to the story, but to them, meant everything. On the flip side of that, there are readers who are turned off by things that I dearly love, because of their own experiences. As much as I want everyone to love everything I write, I’m also fascinated by all reactions, good and bad, because that informs me. Not so much as a writer, in that I will continue to write the stories I most want to read, but about the human condition, about why people react as they do to this thing or that. I study human nature by default, so the more I know, the more nuanced and interesting my future characters will become.
Every cabin and home in Bluestone & Vine was lovingly described and expressed its owner’s personality so well. What would someone learn about you based on your writing space?
That I love being a hermit. Ha. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, tucked away from the madding crowd, with a bounty of nature as my backdrop. My coworkers are the many types of birds who visit my feeders and deck garden, the deer, rabbits and raccoons who feast in my woods, and the occasional bear who drops by for a visit, often with youngsters in tow. Don’t get me wrong, I love people! I just like that I can venture out and be part of the crowd, observe the ebb and flow of humanity, then come home and be in peace and tranquility while I dream up my next fictional adventure.
You’re a TV critic in addition to writing romance. What would you say is the most underrated TV show? And what is your all-time favorite TV ship?
Hmm . . . hard to say. I think the most wonderful thing about the advent of the internet is that everyone can find folks who love the shows they love. My biggest critique is that, quite often now, new shows aren’t given the chance to develop a following before they are unceremoniously yanked from the lineup. (And, conversely, that some real head-scratchers are still out there banging away at it.) My all-time TV ship? Also a toughie. I have such a broad range of programming that I watch, I can’t pick just one. I’ve been doing play-by-play recaps of NCIS now for a few seasons for USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog, and I have to say it’s impressive that they’ve managed to avoid the pitfalls that so many other long-running shows do, where they write themselves into a corner and can’t develop the storyline beyond a certain point. NCIS has admirably managed to balance the murder-of-the-week storyline with the personal narrative stories of their main cast of characters. A far trickier balance than it would seem. So my kudos go to them.
You’re from the same area that the Blue Hollow Falls series is set. What’s a must-do for a first-time visit to the Blue Ridge Mountains?
It’s impossible to pick just one. Do it all! Last year I drove the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which winds along the mountain ridges, traveling close to 400 miles through my state, Virginia, on down into North Carolina and ending just at the Tennessee border where the Great Smoky Mountain National Park begins. I expected it to be a lovely, scenic drive, with some fun hiking and camping along the way. It turned out to be one of the most spectacular adventures of my life. On par with any other national park I’ve seen, or any exploration I’ve undertaken anywhere in the world (and there have been many of those.) So, if you ever get the chance, make that drive. I did mine in the fall and saw everything from stunning foliage to sparkling ice forests. I plan to do it again in the spring and take in the wild colors of the blooming rhododendron, hike more trails, take in more exhibits. It would never be the same trip twice. You won’t regret it!
What’s next for you?
I’m excited to be continuing this series with a holiday novella coming this October. Christmas in Blue Hollow Falls (with Seth and Pippa’s wedding as the backdrop!) features Seth’s sister Moira and will be part of Fern Michaels’ annual Christmas anthology, A Season to Celebrate. Then readers won’t have long to wait for the next full-length Blue Hollow Falls book. Will McCall gets his forever love story in January’s Lavender Blue. And I’m thrilled to announce I’ve signed on with Kensington to continue the series into next year and beyond. I hope you’ll stop by for a visit and fall in love!
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Bluestone & Vine.
Author photo by Spencer Kauffman.