I met with Susan Mallery in a pastry shop just outside Seattle, where we talked about her Fool’s Gold series, what comes next after the series ends, and her new standalone novel, Daughters of the Bride. Funny and smart, Mallery was brimming with energy and ideas. No wonder she can write four books a year!
Book Store PD: In Best of My Love, I loved the “alternating gender events,” which Aidan and Shelby did instead of dating because they weren’t interested in dating each other—at least at the time. How did you come up with that idea?
Susan Mallery: I knew who they were, and I knew their book was coming. I go to a plot group twice a year. We meet and we brainstorm our books. It’s the same four authors. We’ve been together forever. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, but I didn’t know how. It came out of brainstorming. As soon as we came up with the alternating boy/girl events, I could see that it was going to be hysterically funny. I touch on serious topics, like abuse, but I don’t write that book. I write funny, sexy, heartwarming romances. And that’s what I promise my readers. I want to deliver it, and they expect me to deliver it. I’d never done the alternating gender events before, even though I’ve written a lot of books. It was really fun for me. I had a great time. The dog is funny, too. I support the Seattle Humane Society, and every year I auction off the chance to “put your pet in a novel,” and that’s who Charlie is. When I did the auction, I knew which book this animal was going to be in, and I kept thinking, “Please let it be a dog, because a cat would be challenging.” And Shelby’s never home, so it’s wrong for her to have a pet—I have very specific ideas about that. And you can’t take a cat to a bakery. So when the humane society told me that the winning animal was a dog, I thought, Great! And when they told me it was a Bichon Frise, I’m like, “Ooo-kay.” Because I was hoping for an outdoor adventure dog for Aidan. But it turned out to be perfect for the story because we got to see a whole side of Aidan that we wouldn’t have seen if he got a German shepherd. So I think it’s one of those serendipitous things that allowed a character to grow. When he puts the little boots on his dog, we all love him and know he deserves a happy ending.
How do your ideas come to you?
It depends on what I’m doing. If I’m writing a series such as Fool’s Gold or its spinoff, Happily Inc., I tend to define the books in groups of three or five. I tend to know which characters I want to deal with next, and who goes where and how they will pair up. And it doesn’t always work. I had some ideas a few books ago in Fool’s Gold about who was going to go with whom, and when I did a scene with them in another book, I thought, “They’re never getting together!” And I had to revisit that. So with the books like Fool’s Gold, I’ll put together a focus on books about cowboys or former football players.
For my standalone books, it’s different. For Daughters of the Bride, it was just a gift. I was minding my own business, and the idea just slammed into me. I even knew the title. I admit, for the last thirty books, I’ve titled only one of them, and that was Daughters of the Bride. It just came to me fully formed. That happens to me every six or seven years, and I write four books a year, so it’s not often. I still had to work a lot to build it up, but the idea was a gift. For the women’s fiction books I write, I usually pick an idea I want to write about, and then I explore that. For example, families are crazy. There are so many twists and turns in family relationships. And the thing about family is that if you hate them, you can just walk away. But if you love them, you’re stuck. In romance we have so many dead parents, because it’s convenient. In women’s fiction, you have so much family because you want the twists and turns. It’s fun for me to write on both sides of those genres.
For my next hardcover after Daughters of the Bride, which is called Secrets of the Tulip Sisters (though we’ll see if I get to keep that title), the focus is also on family. And I’m having a great time writing it.
I love the cover of Daughters of the Bride. It’s fabulous.
One of the advantages of the Daughters of the Bride cover is that there’s no people to worry about during a photo shoot. You just move around the dresses. I can’t tell you the number of discussions we had about what color the shoes should be, and whether there should be flowers, and the color of the dresses. I have no graphic ability and I have a tiny attention span, so I start playing Solitaire during the more drawn-out cover discussions we have over the telephone. But I love the cover; it’s gorgeous. This year I’m having great cover karma.
Can you tell me about Daughters of the Bride?
Oh, it was so much fun to write. Mom is the bride, and her three adult daughters don’t have dates to the wedding. We follow all of them as they go through their lives. I like the interaction between them, though Courtney, the main character, was actually the hardest for me. I couldn’t get her. When I was talking to my agent about her, my agent said, “Well, she’s kind of a screw-up.” And I thought, “That’s it!” I didn’t feel that screw-up was exactly right, but she is the misfit. I told my agent, “Can I call you back in three days? I have to go.” And it all came together. Weddings are stressful. And when it’s your mom…? The mom got married when she was nineteen, and her own mother planned the wedding. She now has all these wedding ideas that she never got to do, and she’s going to do them now. It doesn’t matter that the powder blue tuxedo is forty years out of style. Mom wants what she wants, and the more pink the better.
I heard that Best of My Love is the last Fool’s Gold novel. Is that true?
Yes, though I have an e-novella coming out in the fall. I think it’s called A Kiss in the Snow, but I’m not sure because I think I titled it “Fool’s Gold 2016 e-novella.” They never keep my titles… [laughs] And so I’m spinning off to Happily Inc. I might then come back or I might not. I think it was time for all of us to take a break from Fool’s Gold, not that I don’t love it. And it’s been really hard. I don’t know the new town; I don’t know the new people. I miss Mayor Marsha. But it’s good for me.
What’s the background for Happily Inc.?
Happily Inc. is set in a corner of Palm Desert, but it’s more east. In the 1950s, the town was dying. Grandpa Frank owned the bank, and if the town died, the bank would die. So he created a story about how in the 1800s, a stagecoach of women going to the gold rush had their stagecoach break down in Happily Inc., and they all had to wait for parts. As they waited, they met local men and fell in love. By the time the stagecoach was repaired, they had settled in town and were living happily ever after. So Grandpa Frank created this story that was complete crap, and all the Hollywood types suddenly wanted to be married in Happily Inc. So Happily Inc. is now a destination wedding town. I also transplanted to Happily Inc. a nonpredatory animal preserve that actually is situated in Austin, Texas. So in book one, we meet one of the destination wedding planning companies, called Wedding in a Box. In book two, we meet Millie the giraffe, and Millie gets a herd. I was going to have a guy giraffe get a herd, but while I was doing my research, I learned that the boys are solitary, while the girls live in a loose herd. For those of you who are reading Fool’s Gold, Del and Maya get married in Happily Inc. in book two, when they come in to town for a destination wedding.
Did you always write romance or women’s fiction?
I started writing romance. My first books were category—I wrote for Silhouette. It was great. Category let me do a lot of different things, including stuff I realized was not for me, like romantic suspense. I got to write sheik novels. I learned how to write a book so that the reader is in the story by page two. After writing 80 books, I started writing single-title romances. I also learned that I like to write holiday novels and e-novellas. Some authors get stuck writing them in January, when you’re sick of Christmas, but I always make sure I’m writing them in November and December so that I’m fully immersed in the season. I learned that the hard way.
What have you read lately that you’ve been recommending?
Darn it, I can’t remember the title… I read a book set entirely from a boy’s point of view. He turns 18, he’s diagnosed with a horrible form of cancer but doesn’t tell his parents, and decides he’s going to live his life as if he’s going to die, which he is.
I loved Easy by Tammara Webber. I love it so much. The first time I read it, I jammed through it. I went back and read it again. I have her next one to read, too. The last book I read was Tessa’s Dare A Week to be Wicked—that was fun.
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