This is the first time I've been asked to take part in an M&B contunuity - a series of books all about a family group. Because of the intricate nature of the family history and of the need to make sure everyone gets their facts straight, the editors for Romance come up with an over-arching storyline and a basic plot for each book. It's up to us authors to take the story, make it our own and breathe life into it.
I've realised since I've started writing seriously that two writers can take an identical idea and craft something very different an unique out of it, so I wasn't scared that being given a basic plot would stifle my creativity. I just had to find my way to tell Jackie and Romano's story - and, to be honest, it wasn't difficult. As I read the story outline my brain started buzzing with ideas to bring the rich conflict to life. Ooh, I knew I was going to have fun with this one!
First up, I had to get to know my characters... Jackie Patterson was never going to be an easy heroine. "Think Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada," the editors said. Ouch. Make your characters identifiable, all the writing books say. And with a M&B Romance, the heroine is supposed to be someone readers would want to be best friends with. I couldn't see anyone wanting to do anything but throttle Jackie. She's high-maintenance, demanding and hard as nails. But... Underneath all of that, there was a headstrong teenage girl who'd had her heart broken, who'd had to grow up fast and had punished herself mercilessly for her youthful mistakes. I knew Jackie's past held the secret to her likeability. The venomous editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine wasn't who she was really - it was just who she'd had to become to survive. And once I worked that out about her, I knew I could make her someone readers could warm to, even if she rarely let down her guard.
I didn't have a picture of Jackie to use as inspiration when I wrote the book, but if I had to find one, I'd say the the actress Jennifer Connelly is the right physical type. She has those refined features and that hint of determination in her eyes that I always imagined Jackie had. If you added honey highlights to Jennifer's long, dark hair, I reckon she'd be a dead ringer for Jackie.
As for my hero, Romano is a fashion designer, and a bit of a playboy. I can't say I always warm to playboy heroes - probably because I think the whole 'double standard' thing is unfair - but I can forgive a hero of this sort if he's got good motivation for being this way, and if he's willing to change once he discovered the error of his ways. Once I got into the story, I quite enjoyed writing a hero with a devilish streak, probably because I knew what was coming! I realised that once Jackie's secret was out, the news would change Romano's life for ever. It would be time to see whether he had it in him to step up to the plate and be the hero I hoped he could be.