Sweet Plains, Texas, wasn’t so sweet to Cody, Noah, and Beau Tucker. But now the Tucker boys are men, ready to take on the questions that have haunted them since they left home…
Cody Tucker shook the dust of his two-bit hometown off his boots ten years ago—right about the time his college sweetheart, Shelby Lynn Harris, married his so-called best friend. But when his dad dies, Cody finds himself home again and knee deep in the past. Except now his rowdy beer buddy is the sheriff, his housekeeper is a blue-ribbon chili chef, and the family ranch is in the red. The only thing that hasn’t changed is Shelby Lynn…
Shelby Lynn has gone through a lot of heartache thanks to Cody. But that’s all over now. She just wants a chance to live the life she’s made for herself in peace. The trouble is, the Sweet Plains chili cook off is heating up, the Ladies of Sweet are as riled as hornets, and as soon as Cody gets near, she’s forgets all about peace. Cody is pure temptation—and she knows just how good it feels to give in…
Here are some questions I asked Marina:
Your website bio says that the New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) first drew you to romance writing. What other facets led to your interest in romance, and can you tell us more about your journey toward becoming a writer?
Oh, New Kids on the Block . . . *dreamy sigh*
My teen-self was convinced that she would meet Jordan Knight after a concert, they would fall madly in love, marry immediately, honeymoon on his tour bus, and their true-love would Hang Tough throughout the ages.
Regretfully, I met Jordan Knight and he was not my Prince Charming, but that crush led to two years of swapping binder-paper-length stories back and forth with my high school friends during algebra class. (I have been told—okay threatened— that those notes still exist.)
It wasn’t until New Kids became a “Where are they now” story on Biography Channel, and my daughter started kindergarten, that I actually got serious about writing. I began in LA, writing screenplays on spec—because everyone there has Oscar-worthy pages in their back pocket—and I got a lucky break that, three years of my life and a Costco sized flat of Kleenex later, lead to the producers deciding to take my screenplay in different direction. Different meaning: we love your concept, we love you, but we love the concept better without you.
It took me two years to get the courage to write again. When I did I wrote a novel, something I had never considered because I’m dyslexic and, for me, writing is a difficult process. But a brilliant screenwriter and mentor, Barnaby Dallas, reminded me, “The only thing you have to do to become a writer is write.”
So I did.
Five years ago I wrote my first novel, a paranormal YA. It was difficult, problematic, a complete disaster, and slow going—it took me three years to finish—and it was also one of my proudest moments as a writer because I finished it—all eleven drafts. Since then I have completed six more novels, the first three never sold but the last four did . . . all within five month of each other.
The secret Barnaby was trying to share? Sit you butt in the chair and write. So that’s what I do now, every day.
I remember NKOTB! I dialed their hotline (remember hotlines?) on a dare back in the fourth grade! Awesome writing advice, too!
SPEAK NOW placed third in the GOTCHA contest before being published. Congratulations! What makes the story unique, and what do you want readers to take away when they’re finished with it?
SPEAK NOW was a unique project because, although it is the third novel I wrote, it was my first in so many other ways: my first romance novel (my other two were YA), the first book I pitched to an editor, and, most importantly, it was the first time in my writing that I found little bits of ME. I stopped trying to be the next __________ fill in the blank with your favorite bestselling author, and wrote people and situations and families that resonated within me. I never took my eye off the market, what was selling, what elements belonged in each subgenre of romance, but I quit trying to be someone else and allowed myself to be heard.
SPEAK NOW never sold, but it did snag me my dream agent Jill Marsal and created the foundation for who I was to become as a writer.
Definitely goes to show that being true to yourself is necessary in writing! KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE is the first in your St. Helena Vineyard series—I grew up in St. Helena! Did you visit the area, and how did you draw inspiration for the story?
Go Saints! (Woo hoo!)
I actually lived in St. Helena for a few years when I was a newlywed. Our house was on 12 acres, surrounded by cabernet grapes, perched in the hills overlooking the Napa Valley. By far, one of the most romantic places that I have ever lived, so I was excited to spend time there again, even if it was in fiction-land.
I was drawn to place a story in St. Helena because I love the collision of old world traditions with the virgin vintners (mainly dot comers and Hollywood expats when I lived there). It is a small town that values community pride, Friday night football games, and deep roots—yes, pun intended. Yet there is an underlying social hierarchy that separates the workers from the owners, the owners from the rich, and the rich from the elite. Add in miles of vines, five-star eateries, a high school that looks like a castle, and a lamppost lined downtown—it’s the ideal backdrop for a small town romance with the perfect blend of elegance, sizzle, and drama.
I can't wait to read it! I still get homesick for St. Helena quite a bit. You have at least one or two books slated for publication later this year—how do you juggle promotion for books that are released at similar times, and can you tell us more about other projects you’re currently working on?
One word: organization.
At the beginning of 2012 I was an aspiring author looking for a publishing house to call my own. Mid-January I sold my first novel, TUCKER’S CROSSING, to Kensington Books. In April the ST. HELENA VINEYARD SERIES sold to Montlake Romance, and in May Grand Central picked up THE SUGAR SERIES. I went from zero sold to 7 books at three different houses in 5 months.
Immediately following, I had a what-if attack. How was I going to write multiple series at the same time? And what if they suck? Worse, what if they are successful and I have to write more and can’t? What if, just like Jordan Knight, my hero turns out to have stage fright, he marries the wrong woman, and my HEA ends up on pieces of binder-paper in a shoebox stowed in my friend’s attic?
The what-if’s were paralyzing, so I did what any professional would do: I cried. To my husband, my friends, my cats, the guy who takes the bus with me and smells like Gouda and Apple Jacks . . . anyone who would listen. Then I wiped off the snot, pulled on the big girl panties and called my agent. Agents rock! We made a schedule, color coded with clear goals and deadlines for each project, and all the what-if’s disappeared. Because I learned there is no time for what-if’s when you sit your butt in the chair and write!
And next month, on August 16th, my first novel finally releases. TUCKER’S CROSSING takes place in Sweet Plains, Texas, where the only thing bigger than the hair, attitudes, and sexy cowboys is the most competitive chili cook off this side of the Mississippi. But at its heart TUCKER’S CROSSING is about family, forgiveness and two lovers who have to heal their past if they stand a chance at a future together.
My second novel, the first in the ST. HELENA VINEYARD SERIES, KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE releases October 16, 2012. This was a fun one to write because what’s more entertaining than two sworn enemies who can’t keep their hands off of each other. Especially when one is a single-mom looking for a fresh start and the other is a smooth talking vintner who is determined to run her out of his town . . . or into his bed. Being a man, he can’t seem to make up his mind.
Right now I am working on the second book in the ST. HELENA VINEYARD SERIES, A SUMMER IN THE VINEYARDS, where my hero and heroine are not only fighting the need to get naked every time they see each other, they are also fighting against their past—Alexis’s cheat of an ex-husband just so happens to be Marc DeLuca’s childhood best friend. So finding a good reason that will allow Marc to break man-law and fall for his best-bro’s ex has been entertaining.
Great advice! Organization is definitely key, and something I'm still trying to hone in juggling the writing irons I currently have in the fire.
Finally--if you were stuck on a desert island and could only bring five books, what would they be?
The complete works of Jane Austin.
The complete works of Julie Garwood (Yes, she is on that level of brilliance and deserves her own collection . . . it isn’t my fault that they haven’t made one yet.)
Christmas in Lucky Harbor by Jill Shalvis (2 sizzling books in one . . . is that cheating?)
The Mediator Series by Meg Cabot (Yeah, I know, 6 books, totally cheating but we are also talking a deserted island and you let me have the Julie Garwood thing.)
Thanks Marina, for a fantastic interview! Readers, keep on the lookout for KISSING UNDER THE MISTLETOE, and click the button below to purchase a copy of TUCKER'S CROSSING!