THE APPEAL OF THE "COMMUNITY" ROMANCE NOVEL
Stephanie Bond is one of the most accomplished women I know. A talented writer as well as a savvy businesswoman, she understands how to build a career and grow her readership and is always willing to share her expertise with others. On the eve of launching her new Southern Roads trilogy with three back-to-back releases in June, July and August, Stephanie made time in her busy schedule to be with us today. Please join me in welcoming Stephanie to Seekerville.
When I was trying to break into fiction-writing more than a decade ago, it was the kiss of death for an aspiring writer to mention their book was the first in a series. Editors weren’t willing to buy anything but standalone books under the anecdotal rationale that if the first book flopped, the rest of the books would be dead on arrival before they even left the warehouse.
Slowly, publishing houses realized if they were willing to take a risk and invest in linked books or a full series, they were richly rewarded by reader loyalty which not only led to big sales, but—more importantly—sales velocity so vital to launching an author/title onto a bestseller list.
Suddenly linked books were all the rage and publishers helped readers by adding “flashes” to the covers of the books to identify stories with overlapping characters. Whatever romance subgenre was in vogue at the time took advantage of the series format, with trilogies emerging as a preferred presentation.
In a community romance, a high concept ties together several stories, and the setting is equally as important as the main characters and individual book plots. Readers respond to the idea of “returning” to a place they know and revisiting characters they met in previous books, as if they were stopping by for a chat and a glass of lemonade. Indeed, covers of community romances typically feature a panoramic backdrop of the book’s setting. Successful authors of the community romance include Debbie Macomber, Robyn Carr, and Sherryl Woods.
When my publisher Mira asked me to come up with an idea for a community romance trilogy, the only guidance they gave me was to set it in the South and asked that I avoid strong suspense elements. These books would be romances, pure and simple. To brainstorm the high concept, I made lists of “Southern” things, from the landscape and climate to music Southerners listen to and the way they talk to influences that shape Southerners and the beliefs they hold. After some massaging, I came up with the idea of a remote town in the Georgia mountains called Sweetness being obliterated by a powerful tornado ten years ago and the three brothers who decide to rebuild their hometown. We settled on a series title of the Southern Roads trilogy, with individual titles that included the word “baby,” something a Southern man would say: Baby, Drive South; Baby, Come Home and Baby, Don’t Go.
(I couldn’t have known that just as the series would debut in the summer of 2011, the South would be bombarded with tornadoes just as powerful as the fictional tornado in my book. So tragic.)
The twist to my trilogy is the Southern brothers are bumping along fine in their efforts to rebuild Sweetness, when their workers threaten mutiny because of the lack of women! So the brothers decide to run a newspaper ad in a Michigan town hard-hit by the economy to “import” women with a pioneer spirit looking for a fresh start—sort of a “Here Come the Brides” theme.
When Mira asked me to write a prequel to the trilogy as an e-novella that will be available free of charge on eHarlequin.com May 2011, I decided to go back in time and depict the actual tornado that destroyed the town in a short story called, “Baby, I’m Yours.” In the prequel, a young soldier returns to Sweetness, Georgia to propose to his high school sweetheart, but winds up being the town’s hero.
I understand the allure of community romances—while writing the Southern Roads trilogy, I got caught up in the make-believe world I created, and I’m already eager to go back there! (This is probably where I should add that I grew up in a tiny town in eastern Kentucky, so the Southern Roads trilogy put me back in touch with my roots.) At the end of book three, the town of Sweetness is firmly established, but has a lot of growing left to do. The trick to developing a community romance is to satisfy the reader while leaving enough loose ends to keep going with new stories if the opportunity avails itself. I left the fate of a lot of characters open-ended with the hope that readers will want to go back to Sweetness again and again. (She said with fingers crossed.)
Questions welcome! Post a question or comment and be eligible to win one of 5 copies of the first book in the Southern Roads trilogy, BABY, DRIVE SOUTH!
Stephanie Bond left a corporate computer programming career to write fiction full-time. Today Stephanie has over 50 published romance and mystery novels to her name, including the BODY MOVERS humorous mystery series, which was recently optioned by Sony Pictures Television for TV series development, and the upcoming SOUTHERN ROADS romance trilogy. Read more about Stephanie Bond and her books at www.stephaniebond.com.
To celebrate Stephanie’s new trilogy, we’re serving a Southern brunch today: Egg Casserole, Fresh ham and Maple-Glazed Bacon, Flaky Biscuits, Peach Preserves and Cheese Grits. Starbucks is providing the coffee. Enjoy!
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