The question I am asked most often about the Crystal Cove books . . . is the town based on a real one? The answer is yes!
In 2013, I had just finished my YA paranormal romance series, The King Quartet, and I planned to write a spin-off series of those books next. However, one spring day, I was driving home from one of our frequent trips to the beach and suddenly, inspiration struck.
As I made the hour-long trek, the entire story of The Posse unfolded before me. I joked later that it fell into my lap, and that is honestly how it felt. I could see Jude, Logan, Matt, Cooper and the rest of the Posse as though we were old friends.
And it’s not surprising that where I saw them was in the quaint beach town I’d just left. New Smyrna Beach had won my heart over the year that had passed, once we’d moved from the west side of central Florida to the east side. I loved being able to drive onto the beach, and one of my favorite places to eat was a beach-front bar and grill called Breakers. I’d noticed, too, that a bed and breakfast was under construction on the main street. All of these factored into the story.
I’ve been blessed to spend many happy hours in New Smyrna since writing The Posse. Later, we stayed at the Riverview Inn, and that inspired parts of Abby and Ryland’s story.
So is Crystal Cove exactly like New Smyrna? Of course not. It is, in many ways, the skeleton upon which I hung the story and characters of that fictional town. I’ve never lived in New Smyrna Beach, so I see things from a very privileged outsider’s point of view. I’m sure that like any community, it has its troubles and drawbacks.
But if you want a taste of the Rip Tide’s famous burgers and atmosphere, check out Breakers. They don’t offer live music on Fridays and Saturdays the way Jude’s place does, and I added a deck on the outside, just because they needed it, but otherwise, it’s a close match. And if you want to know what the Hawthorne House is like, visit the Inn on the Avenue. Again, the bed and breakfast originally run by Abby and now managed by Cal and Alex isn’t quite the same. I’d described the interior before I’d ever seen the real-life component. But there are elements that are oddly close to its fictional component.
And if I had the chance to take my readers on a tour of New Smyrna Beach, I could show you the house upon which Jude and Daniel’s home was based, the area in which I envisioned Cooper’s house and workshop, the neighborhood where Emmy and her kids live. I could point out Matt’s surf shop and take you to the Riverside–eh, I mean the Riverview Inn.
I’ll admit, too, that whenever I visit NSB now, I feel as though if I turned my head just quick enough, I might catch a glimpse of Jude or Alex or Emmy or Logan . . . for me, this town and these people are as real as any other.
The Meant To Be Girl is my contribution to the Christmas romance anthology THE 12 NIGHTS OF CHRISTMAS, available everywhere now! This is a little peek at the magic . . .
“Hey, Ashley. Did you get drafted, too?”
The smile that curved my lips was completely involuntary, but I had trouble ignoring the spark of pleasure and want that tingled up my spine. Zane was sitting on the floor near me, surrounded by evergreen.
“Ohhhhh . . .” I grinned. “So, you’re the someone who got roped into putting the tree together.”
He shrugged. “I think Darlene overestimated my abilities. It looks like a pine tree murder and dismemberment back here.” Zane glanced over his shoulder and lowered his voice. “It might have helped if they’d saved the instructions. I’m totally winging it here.”
I sighed, and for a happy moment, I simply gazed at him. In the months since Zane had first wandered into my salon looking for a quick haircut, he’d become not only a loyal client but a friend. He had a standing appointment every three weeks, and I’d be lying to myself if I’d said I didn’t look forward to his visits. There was just something about this man . . . between his self-deprecating humor, his kindness, and his charm, I didn’t stand a chance. And that wasn’t even touching on the body that made regular appearances in my dreams.
“Huh.” Tori came up to peer over my shoulder. “Hey, Zane. Yeah, you’re in over your head, I’d say.” She gave me a little shove. “Ashley here just happens to be an expert at Christmas tree assembly. And she’d be happy to help you.”
I glared at my friend. “I thought you and I were supposed to be untangling lights.”
Tori shrugged. “I got that by myself. You should go where you’re really needed, Ash.” She gave me wide and suggestive eyes, and I prayed that Zane didn’t notice.
“Thanks for throwing me into the briar patch,” I hissed to her.
She giggled. “Looks more like a pine forest. And you’re welcome. Because you know, that’s what friends are for—to remind you about what’s important and to kick your ass when you forget.”
There was nothing like having my own words quoted back at me. I was well and truly stuck now. “Fine. But you better make sure I get some of those fries when Darlene brings them out.”
Tori held up one hand, as though taking a pledge. “I promise.”
Still wearing a scowl, I picked my way among the thick wire branches covered in green plastic “needles” and cleared a space to sit down on the floor.
“You’re really going to help me? God bless you. I thought you might just stand over me and direct what I should do.” He gestured to the piles.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” I sighed. “If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. We should find the base first, and then the center poles.” I began to root around the branches. “Sheesh, they all look the same. How’re we supposed to know what goes where?”
“Trial and error, I guess.” Zane frowned and picked up a green-covered stick. “Hey, this might be part of the trunk. I think.”
“Is it longer and harder?” Even as the words tumbled out of my mouth, I heard what I was saying and felt my face going red.
Zane quirked one eyebrow. “Not yet. But there’s potential.”
I don’t remember how I began writing strong women. I do recall, though, an early review of my first book Fearless wherein the review jeered that it should have been FearFUL because Tas was such a timid soul. And I remember thinking . . . well, no. She isn’t. She is just a seventeen-year-old girl who has led a protected life and needs to find her own strength. This is the story of how that will happen.
(And that’s exactly what happened in the four books of The King Quartet and by the fifteenth book in the overall series, Age of Aquarius. So there.)
Still, at some point, I began to internalize this concept as I wrote. I made a conscious decision that the women in my books wouldn’t be damsels in distress or weak creatures. I wanted them instead to be sassy, spunky, confident and able.
Recently, I was at a writers’ conference, where I was discussing romance with a group of other authors. The ages of the writers ranged from (probably) early 30’s to mid-70’s. The conversation was lively and interesting, until some time toward the end, when one author remarked, “Well, we all just have to keep writing strong women.”
To my shock, the younger authors reacted badly to that idea. One replied, “Oh, no, I never write strong women–they’re bitches. Readers hate strong women.”
Those of us who were older hardly knew what to say. It bothered me so much that I brought it up to a bunch of other author friends. And then once I got home, I decided I wanted to do something constructive, which is why today we’re kicking off the #IWriteStrongWomen #IReadStrongWomen campaign.
Please understand that I think strength comes in all forms. I was a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama for over 20 years. That is strength, baby.
Strength doesn’t come from education or money or career or religion or status. It comes from inside you. It comes from experience and choices and–and love. Loving someone else is a measure of great strength and courage.
I write women who’ve never been to college (Jude and Nell and Emmy and Jenna and Ashley and Tori, among them), women who have advanced degrees (Elizabeth, Abby, Maureen), women who would be considered white-collar professionals and and those who own their own businesses and those who are full-time moms . . . what they have in common is their heart and the strength there.
And this is important to me because I have three daughters and will shortly have a granddaughter. I want to leave them a legacy of example–whether that’s in real life or on the page–of women who can do anything they set their minds to do.
I invite you to join our Facebook group, We Read Strong Women. It’s just fun and chatting about our favorite kickass heroines and their stories–oh, and just maybe a little about the sexy guys who love these spunky women!
I also invite you to join our campaign by posting on your favorite social media site. Just share a picture of one of your favorite strong leading women along with a hash tag like:
When I wrote SCHEME OF MANEUVER, the final book of the first six in the Career Soldier series, I realized fairly early in the process that Owen Hughes, the lead soldier, was a West Point grad. It was really only a matter of time that one of these soldiers would be a grad, after all; the Academy is such a part of my family and who I am that it would’ve been odder if I’d avoided idea.
I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t know what West Point was. I can’t remember when Army wasn’t the football team closest to my heart. I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know what Duty-Honor-Country meant. My father had graduated in 1965, two years before I was born, and that was so much a part of him that it naturally became part of me.
When I was a teenager, my dad began to do some unofficial, volunteer recruiting for USMA. I became used to cadets visiting during breaks and holidays, as they often visited local high schools to speak about the Academy. When I was a sophomore in high school, a guy from a nearby high school started visiting my father to talk about attending West Point. They became friends after this kid was accepted to USMA; now he too came by during school holidays.
And then one Christmas break, when I was a senior in high school, he asked me on a date. Little did I know that my entire life would changed based on that date . . . and that once again, West Point would play a huge role!
For the next two and a half years, I spent most weekends up at USMA. As a matter of fact, I think it’s probably fair to say I spent more time there than I did at my own college, University of Richmond. And there is no doubt that I’ve always felt more affinity
It wasn’t surprising, then, that Owen and Jacey decided to get married at West Point. I was excited about setting a book there, revisiting many of my old haunts and the places I’d heard about but could never see. Many of the experiences they have in the book were things that happened to me or to people I knew. Memories that Owen mentions are based on our own.
If you are not an Academy grad or the child of a grad or the wife of a grad, you can’t understand what it means to be connected to West Point. But I hope that Owen and Jacey’s story gives you a glimpse of the old gray home by the Hudson.
You can preorder ARMY BLUE on all vendors now–OR you can buy it right here from my webstore, Buy The Book. Buying it here means you not only get it early–you also get exclusive added content not available anywhere else!