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Careful or You’ll End Up in My Novel: The Romance Novelist at Work

Posted by Hayley on July 12, 2018
Susan Mallery is listening. The bestselling author of Chasing Perfect and You Say It First finds inspiration for her humorous, heartwarming books everywhere—from fictional families to real-life "meet cutes." Here Mallery shares why she loves meeting new couples, how relationships shape the characters in her new romance, When We Found Home, and what she wants to know about you.

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Whenever I meet a couple at, say, a cocktail party, I always ask, "How did you meet?"

Then: "What brought you together? What got in your way? And how did you overcome that to ultimately be here today, talking to a writer who asks too many questions?"

I'm endlessly fascinated by human behavior and, in particular, by the infinitely nuanced interactions between two individuals. No two stories are exactly alike, even if on the surface they're similar. Every person's emotions, perceptions, actions and reactions are influenced by everything that happened in his or her life to that point. The story of a person's life impacts every subsequent moment of that life.

This must also be true in fiction for the characters to feel genuine, particularly in the character-driven stories of popular women's fiction. The relationships aren't beside the point—they are the point. Relationships drive the plots.

Dorothea Benton Frank's By Invitation Only does this well. It is an entertaining study of two very different families—the haves and the have-nots—brought together for the wedding of a beloved son and daughter. The mothers are forced into an odd sort of intimacy, family but not really family, as they play their roles in helping to plan the wedding.

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What makes it so compelling is that it's not just about the wedding. A wedding is fleeting, but the mothers are facing the reality that they'll have to put up with each other for the rest of their lives. Their interactions ring true because Frank created characters whose personal histories color every moment. And then the events of the story cause the characters to grow and change, which ultimately reshapes the relationship between them.

Mary Kay Andrews adds an intergenerational twist in The High Tide Club. The action takes place in the early 1940s and in present day, and it's a testament to Andrews' skill with characterization to see how the events of 70 years ago still resonate. What happened to the characters long ago affected the way they lived their lives, which in turn affected how the main characters of the present-day part of the tale were raised.

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In my latest book, When We Found Home, I bring together three siblings who never met—who never even knew each other existed for that matter—until the truth was discovered in their late father's paperwork. Because they come from very different circumstances, they're instantly wary of each other, as we humans tend to be.

The stories of their past shape their relationships today, and the growth of those relationships shapes the stories of their future.

So…how did you and your significant other or best friend meet? What brought you together? What got in your way? And how did you overcome that to ultimately be here today, answering a writer who asks too many questions?

Susan Mallery's When We Found Home hits bookshelves on July 10. Add it to your Want to Read shelf here.

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Ivana A. (new)

Ivana A. I am certain that my story of how I met my man is quite unique, but I dare not share it here :)

message 2: by Amber (new)

Amber I'm single so don't need a guy and never dated one or whatever so it doesn't matter. But I met my best friend in middle school; I was in 6th grade and she was in 7th grade as we were both in resource math together and we have been best friends through middle school and high school and have been best friends for a long time. We have written pen pal letters to each other by snail mail and still keep in touch. Nothing ever got in our way cuz she's very strong and threw a guy into a locker for picking on me and she'll always beat me at arm-wrestling contests we sometimes do when we meet up in real life. She's an awesome best friend to have too.

message 3: by Marguerite (new)

Marguerite My husband and I met at 14 when both of our families were transferred to the same town. Our two homes were the only ones built on the block at the time and my brother was the only other boy in the area so my husband used to come over to play video games. He was a budding artist and I was a budding writer and we used to hang out on the lawn between our houses and talk about the stories we wanted to write and the comics we wanted to draw. Our friends realized we were in love before we did. We kept chalking it off as friendship. He went away to college in another state and I was crushed. We started dating a few weeks afterward. Because we're of different races our families were concerned for us but didn't stand in our way and stood up for us when others complained. We've dealt with many health issues in our years of marriage, but we're still going strong. 30 years friends, 26 years as a couple, and 19 years married.

message 4: by Janice (new)

Janice Bolick Have a great day.

message 5: by Sandra (last edited Jul 13, 2018 12:37AM) (new)

Sandra Bensley I met my husband, Ronnie, over 14 years ago, I was helping a friend with a new Yahoo chat room board, when I got an email that asked me if I could fix a 'technical' error on the board. I went totally dumb, but together between the two of us, we figured it out and got it fixed. After that we started emailing each other, then phone calls, then one day I get this phone call...I'm in Portland, Oregon (he's from Seattle, Washington) and on my way down to see you. Is that okay? I'm thinking Yeah that's okay...(I've got three hours to do a quick clean up before he gets here). He came down (all the way to LaPine, Oregon), stayed over...I had a 'panic attack' during the night and became flustered the next day (this was my clue that I had deeper feelings that I knew I had before). Pushed him away emotionally and thought I'd lost him. This is when it became interesting...I found out later that he'd just broken up with someone in Canada. So from there, we continued to email and call, and became closer meeting in Portland for a weekend, in Seattle a couple of times, he even came down again to take care of me when I was so sick the doctor said I could not be alone over night. We moved in together about 6 months after our face to face meeting, lived together for 7 years. Each year Ronnie would ask me to "marry him", while I would tell him..."You're not ready yet." Then he asked, "How will you know when I am ready?" My response was, "God will tell me when we are ready." In 2010, he asked again, and I realized he was serious, cause he didn't just ask and let it go, he kept bringing it up, so I started asking him questions, until one evening at an "Alpha" program at our church, I asked if he was serious about wanting to know more about the church information for weddings, he said yes. So I stopped my friend Sharon and asked if she was available after the meeting to talk with us. At that meeting, in a triangle, with Ronnie on my left, Sharon on my right (who was hanging on to my right arm and jumping up and down) while she asked Ronnie questions. "Do you know what date you want? Do you have a budget in mind? Do you know what you are....(and the questions went on, while Sharon kept getting more and more excited)." My mouth had to have dropped completely open as I realized that indeed he was ready and so was I. January 8, 2011 I walked down the isle with my Daddy to see my Ronnie standing waiting for me at the alter of our church crying as I came down. I kept thinking ....don't look at him, or you'll start crying too! It was a beautiful ceremony and reception and one we'll never forget. To this day, Ronnie can tell you the exact time frame of our years together. July 8, 2018, he says to me....we have been married for 7 1/2 years. I love this man, he remembers the little things and is the best gift God has given to me. By the way, I was 45 ( Ronnie was 49) when we got married, it was my first marriage (Ronnie's second)....I had been engaged when I was 14 for four years. This marriage was so worth the wait and to be so blessed by God through it, is my delight. Thank you for letting me tell you my story.

message 6: by Alexandria (new)

Alexandria Jane I've been together with my boyfriend Matt for about 3 1/2 years now. If you told me in 10th grade that I would fall in love and coordinate colleges with someone I would have laughed in your face. And yet I can't imagine my life without him.

I went to a very small, very wealthy, private high school in the Bay Area. Case in point: in 9th grade we had a school trip to Peru, and in 10th grade we had a school trip to Costa Rica. I was always sort of friends with Matt, but I didn't know him that well.

When Matt and I got together I was in a very difficult part of my life. My best friend was leaving at the end of the year and we had begun to drift apart (this is February). At the time I thought it was just because she no longer wanted to be friends, but later on (I'll get to this) I found out she was deeply depressed.

Anyways, I was looking forward to Costa Rica because I thought my friend and I could repair our friendship. However, I wound up in a group that was literally on the opposite of the country as the rest of my friends. I was completely alone.

Well turns out all of Matt's friends were in the other group too. And so we spent that week getting to know each other... I told him all about my mom's crazy diet, and he told me about his plans to win the national debate championship (he did btw in senior year). We held hands looking at baby turtles at sunrise and he bought me smoothies.

When we got back school, I thought that would be over. I mean, come'on we were 16 and I wanted to spend as much time with my friend as I could. And yet as things got worse, I found myself looking forward to Matt's and I's conversations. It was the only time I smiled anymore.

The week after my first kiss my friend came to school and left in the middle of the day. Because of her depression, her heart failed. She would be in the hospital for the next four months and I wouldn't see her again for another six.

Everything fell apart, but Matt was just there. He was my lifeline, the reason I wanted to go to school, etc.

Junior year, I faced my own mental health struggles where I would be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and would nearly be hospitalized myself.

Yet, through all the bad times, Matt has always managed to put a smile on my face. Today both me and my friend are mentally stable and happy. Matt and I's relationship is thriving and we just went on vacation to Thailand together. We discuss current events, gossip, and political philosophy with each other. While he does not love romance novels (my kryptonite), he completely supports my failing attempts to start a blog and diligently reads all of my posts even though he mocks me relentlessly :P

I've read hundreds of romance novels and I honestly believe that my romance and my boyfriend is the best of them all.

message 7: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Party line. Anyone remember those? You'd call a number and talk to other people. I called on a goof, and ended up talking to a guy that I never guessed I would marry. I wasn't looking, and even after talking to him, wasn't particularly interested. He wore me down over a long period of time!

He's a good guy, loves animals as much as I do, pretends to care when I'm talking about books, supports me in anything I do, moved 800 miles away from home to live where I wanted to live, and is definitely the person I belonged with, even if it took me a long time to realize that.

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