I am a writer and avid reader of romances particularly historical romances. Please join me on my journey through time
Please welcome author of The Jacks of Her Heart.
Virginia will be awarding a $25 Amazon or B/N GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.
The Jacks of Her Heart
by Virginia McCullough
It sounds odd, I know, but unlike many writers I know, I can’t say that I always wanted to write, even though I was raised by avid readers and book lovers, and I read all the time. My mother was a librarian and the wonderful public library in my city neighborhood was a second home. Still, I never imagined I could learn to write well, and remained convinced of that until I tried it when I was a young mother at home with kids. It was so thrilling to sell some articles, but it was even more thrilling to discover that I’m one of the lucky people who enjoy the process so much. That kept me going, and I eventually turned to writing-ghostwriting nonfiction books when I had to fully support myself and my teenagers. Now, many years later, I still love writing every day—well, almost every day. And I get to write fun novels like, The Jacks of Her Heart and create towns like Capehart Bay.
The ideas seem to pop up fast and furious. I got the idea for my new release, The Jacks of Her Heart, after overhearing a couple of sisters in their twenties complain about their parents’ “behavior.” I’m talking about relatively small choices, too, like the parents heading to Vermont to ski, when they’d never been skiing before. And these parents had a lot of nerve putting their house on the market! Without that huge home available, where will the whole extended family have Christmas?
My eavesdropping spurred my imagination, with Lorna and Jack the result. They’re two fiftyish people who fall under the spell of moonlight and dancing on a tropical cruise—and get married on impulse. Whoa! What will the kids think of that? And how will this couple make sense of their own actions, especially when they discover their differences—big ones? The new book was born, and now The Jacks of Her Heart is available, and Book 2 of The Capehart Bay series is underway (The Icing on her Cake).
I always knew “Jacks” would be lighter fare than my usual focus on serious topics. Both Sides Now, Jack’s ‘60s and ‘70s nostalgia café, gave me a chance to have great fun with the menu—every dish, from the “Love me Tender Roast Beef Sandwich” to “Happy Together Mac ‘N Cheese” to the “Brown-eyed Girl Bran Muffins” are named after popular songs of the era. I ended up creating a Playlist of more than 50 songs mentioned in the book. To add to the nostalgia theme, I added a vintage clothing tent sale—so I could dress up the characters in swing coats, midi-skirts, and bell bottom pants.
Although Jack’s canine friends become part of his conflict with Lorna, I especially enjoyed hearing Jack’s conversations with the dogs he rescues. I don’t have pets myself, but I’ve heard many of these one-way conversations. Dogs and cats—and horses, too—are the most understanding companions.
Finally, all the action happens in a small Wisconsin town I named Capehart Bay, inspired by a particular person. (Can anyone guess who the town is named after? Hint: You might find him on the pages of a prominent newspaper. His name has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?)
What expertise did you bring to your writing?
Actually, I don’t have any special expertise in any topic other than writing. As I’ve often joked, I’m not trained to do anything else. But, before I began writing fiction, I’d already been ghostwriting or coauthoring nonfiction books for many years. I worked with doctors, so I could write about illnesses, as I did in Island Healing, for example, or the doctor’s life, as I’m doing in a WIP, Island Secrets, Book 2 of the St. Anne’s Island Series. And in Greta’s Grace, I wrote about a professional speaker. I worked with many as a ghostwriter and I dedicated The Jacks of Her Heart to a professional speaker who had been a close friend all my life. He died suddenly late last year, but he touched many lives with his speeches and presentations. He was superb speaker and from him, I learned that professional speaking is a way of life. I could bring that to Greta’s Grace.
I lived aboard a classic—old—wooden sailboat with my family for seven years, and that experience has ended up influencing my stories, particularly Island Healing, which was my first published novel (2013). We started in Maine and ended up in the US Virgin Islands, so I can add that note of marine—sailing—authenticity, where it’s appropriate. Sailing-cruising is one of those things, too, that once you’ve done it, you never stop looking at boats and thinking about port-hopping and swapping stories with other people. I used my sailing experiences in a major way in Island Healing, and it comes into Greta’s Grace, too, through Sam, a character who’s building a boat. Sam’s workshop resembles a similar building that belongs to old friends of mine in Maine—a place that kind of gets in your blood. So, in some ways my real life has made its way into some books.
My immediate intention is to complete the series I’ve started, starting with The Icing on Her Cake, Book 2 of The Capehart Bay series. I have other books in progress, including more Simon’s Point novels, which are connected by a magical place in Door County, Wisconsin. I have many huge files of notes and research for enough books to keep me busy at the computer for the next decade—and beyond. I have other series planned, and I’m drawn to 20th century history—the first half of the century, including WWI & WWII. So, the bookshelves in my office are crammed with books to help me write many books from my favorite eras. I’ve been having more fun than I’ve ever had in my life, so I suppose it’s no surprise I’d want to keep writing and writing!
Well, the easy answer is Geneva Saint, from Island Healing…after all, she and Luke Rawley are going to sail around the world one day—and she makes her living making luscious food. But on the other hand, Lindsey Foster, the narrator of Greta’s Grace, is a professional speaker who loves her work, and now Lindsey has love in her life again—she got her second chance at love. And she gets to live in a lovely town on Lake Michigan, Simon’s Point. But, in The Jacks of Her Heart, Lorna is pretty lucky, too, because Jack has a huge heart—and there’s plenty of room in it for her. He has his quirky café, rescues old dogs, and will do anything for anybody. Lorna also has work she loves, so things are on the upswing for her.
When the character, Barly Rhoads, came to me for the hero of Amber Light, I knew that Scott Speedman was the guy for the part. I can’t think of Barly without seeing Speedman. That was the first time I had a direct link between a character and an actor. I even had a line of dialogue delivered in a dream! Sounds weird, I know. I was a big “Army Wives” fan, and I began to see Kim Delaney as Lindsey Foster in Greta’s Grace and Brigid Brannah as Geneva Saint in Island Healing. Now I’m thinking that Tim Daly would be a good Jack in The Jacks of Her Heart.
I’ve had critique partners and groups. I was part of one that included six women, all starting down a path in fiction. That was back in Asheville, North Carolina. We met twice a month for two years, and then I left for Wisconsin, but the focus that critique group provided was invaluable. Later, I found a critique partner—we work extremely well, even though we don’t the write the same kind of books and we’re opposites in many ways. Years ago, our books were finalists in RWA’s Golden Heart contest in the same year—we gave each other a lot of credit for that. Now I belong to a plotting brainstorming group, and I love it. It’s a chance to talk shop and hang out with other writers. Ultimately, a book always belongs to the author, but having input to weigh can be a great help. But the biggest value is probably the focus it provides.
For me, this goes back to submitting essays and query letters to magazines and waiting to hear back—through regular mail back then. It was exciting, but I was anxious, too. It’s not easy to send your work out into the world, but in the final analysis, it’s the only way to break in. My mother was a big supporter, along with my kids’ dad. By now, so many years later, I’ve worked with hundreds of people and have helped them take this step—it’s all part of my coaching business. And I’ve lived this journey myself, so I understand it.
With rare exception, most of us need to accept that when we start out, we don’t know how to write articles, essays, novels, short stories, and so forth. An experienced writer told me that when I was first writing articles. We have to learn how to craft a lead for an article, for example, and we soon figure out that description, dialogue, and pacing aren’t always so easy and for most of us, require practice—lots of it.
I was never praised for my writing in school—in fact, I was stilted and afraid to express myself for fear of misplacing commas and whatnot. Unlike so many colleagues and clients, I was never burdened by messages from other people about being a talented writer, which made it easy to understand that I had to teach myself to write. That was a blessing in disguise, a true gift! And I read and read and read good writing and continue learning. This countered the bad advice I got about how important natural talent for writing is…without any guidelines for how we know if we have talent or not!
Many years ago, at the end of a workshop I was presenting, someone asked me to sum up what I’d learned about writing that I could pass on. My answer popped out of my mouth: “Discipline really is all it’s cracked up to be.”
I know for certain that I couldn’t have made my living as a writer without that “lunch bucket” kind of attitude. It’s my business, my job, so I show up. Some days are better than others, for sure, and days get away from me, too—I end up bemoaning that I’ve spent all day putting out client fires or dealing with email and whatever. But that’s the writer’s life, too. I love the independence that working for myself has allowed, but showing up is the price of admission. And I don’t think I’m unique in any way. Talented or not, we still have to learn and do the work and go through as many drafts as it takes.
It sounds so dull, but I’m a combination of methods. I know where I want to start, and I know the ending—I might even have the first and last scenes fully formed. I try to jot notes for a handful of crucial scenes and then I begin. I’ve found that when I try to do formal character sketches or plotting because I think I “should,” I really just want to dive in and write the book!
11. Do you have any hobbies and does the knowledge you’ve gained from these carry over into your characters or the plot of your books?
That’s a hard one, because I have so many favorites, but I’ve reread Cashelmara and Penmarric, both sweeping sagas by Susan Howatch. I love these generational sagas with many characters. Maybe my pull to writing series starts with the seductive lure of sagas.
In The Icing on Her Cake, Book 2 of the Capehart Bay series, June Angleton, an attorney, knows she needs to get out in the world and have more fun. Yes, June is a great mom to 10-year-old Bonnie, but June’s life has become a bit too predictable. June’s life starts to change when she dons a 1970s-era red evening gown at the vintage clothing tent sale at Capehart Bay’s nostalgia music festival. Out of the blue, a good looking stranger surprises her with a tap her on the shoulder and says, “That dress deserves to dance.” Then, when the magical dance is over, and before June has a chance to even learn his name, he says goodbye to the “lady in red,” and disappears into the crowd.
June and her daughter, Bonnie, soon sign up for a family-oriented cake decorating class, taught by none other than celebrity pastry chef, Camp (Campbell) Swift. Camp has moved to Capehart Bay to be closer to his daughter, Nina, who also happens to be one of Bonnie’s best friends. Camp is regrouping in other ways, too, because he’s made some huge mistakes that led to the cancellation of his Boston TV show.
June and Camp are both flustered at the start of the class, because they recognize each other from the dance at the festival. Despite series reservations, they find themselves falling in love. And that means both are forced to make some important life choices. June’s decisions involve trusting a man again, something she vowed never to do, and Camp’s are about leaving behind the glitter and lure of celebrity in favor of life on the smaller stage of Capehart Bay.
I admire many actors, but when it comes to actresses, I always come back to Meryl Streep, not only because of the range of roles, but because of the way she becomes her characters. I like to feel that way about the heroines in my books, too. Streep one said that she plays women who need defending in some way, and I identify with that in terms of heroines. And I watch her movies again and again. At least once a year, I enjoy seeing her play a complex and difficult character in “Out of Africa.”
For Lorna and Jack, the sadness comes from being unable to find a compromise for their problems—they let too much resentment build and mistakes pile up, so now they’re each alone with their regrets. For various reasons, Jack doesn’t even have a place to live! And Lorna especially dislikes knowing that their adult kids were probably right. It seems the romantic but impulsive marriage to Jack was a mistake after all. And that’s just too galling to Lorna to accept!
I don’t like saying goodbye to characters or places, and once a friend is mentioned, like June in The Jacks of Her Heart, then I start thinking that she deserves a story, too. An author friend called Capehart Bay a “storybook town,” and that’s how I feel about it, too, so naturally, I want to tell more stories set in this town that has everything, from a university to a reclusive multimillionaire widow, who lives in a huge estate. It’s based on a combination of two actual Wisconsin towns. I’m drawn back to St. Anne’s Island, too, in my “Island series,” because I so love the Southeast coast—especially Georgia’s Golden Isles. I’ve lived on islands and never turn down a chance to head to an island off any coast!
Readers apparently like series as much as authors do, and for the same reasons. We like to revisit the familiar and also follow some characters as they continue on with their lives. I think these people almost become part of our family and circle of friends.
I’d like to thank readers for continuing to read stories, even in this age of so many choices. I sure love movies and the wonderful TV dramas being made today, but is there anything quite like the solitary experience of losing ourselves in a book? Like most writers I enjoy picturing readers curled up on their couches or sitting at their kitchen tables or on the beach or traveling on a plane. I like to imagine readers absorbed in my characters’ dilemmas and joys and wondering what will happen next. There’s nothing trivial about storytelling, and I think about today’s readers and writers as being just like our ancient ancestors sitting around a fire listening to a long tale. The yearning for a good story is an innate part of us—our brains are wired for stories.
“A pure delight! I fell in love with Jack instantly—and the storybook town of Capehart Bay.”
—Lily Silver, Author of The Rock Star Next Door
Lorna Lindstrom and Jack Young just got married in the tropics—and their grownup kids don’t like it one bit…
Mere acquaintances in their hometown of Capehart Bay, Wisconsin, Jack and Lorna turn up on the same Caribbean cruise. They soon fall victim to moonlight, champagne, and dancing—and that leads to an impulsive wedding. But now they’re back home, feeling like a couple of fools. Both agree a quick divorce is their best way out of this embarrassing predicament. Lorna’s two kids and Jack’s daughter are all for that, but their meddling prompts the stubborn newlyweds to rethink their plan.
A professional organizer, Lorna is a little too proud of her spotless home. She fell in love with Jack’s generous heart, but must he rescue every abandoned dog in town? The owner of a popular ‘60s nostalgia café, Jack feels right at home in Lorna’s bedroom, but he might as well be a stranger everywhere else in her perfect house. Suspicions that Lorna’s up-and-coming professor son-in-law is a womanizer soon pushes Jack into a different kind of rescue mission. Meanwhile, Lorna steps up and organizes her elderly father-in-law’s move and offers her support to Jack’s daughter in a crisis with baby Joanie. Too bad those classic “irreconcilable differences” appear to doom the pair, even as their kids are beginning to warm to the marriage.
Maybe sharing a couple of romantic dances on the night Jack launches his Blue Sky Nostalgia Music Festival can bring this “opposites attract duo” together again. Will Jack and Lorna decide they can find a way to make peace with their dueling quirks and have some fun with their second-chance romance?
Lorna inched to the edge of her bed, but before sliding out, she glanced over her shoulder to watch the even rise and fall of Jack’s back under the sheet. If she rolled toward him she could reach out and rest her palm against his bare shoulder and soak up the warmth of his skin. No. The man’s warmth—on all levels—got her into this trouble in the first place. That and moonlight, and okay, since she’d started a list, she might as well add the long nights of delicious slow dancing.
Once out of bed, Lorna tiptoed to her reading chair in the corner, retrieving her bra and panties from the floor along the way. Then she pulled the throw off the back of the chair and wrapped it around herself like a towel. Only dim light seeped through the closed blinds, but she felt around the floor and came up with the silk shirt and slacks she’d worn on the flight home the night before. With her clothes draped over her arm, she stepped around the open suitcase blocking the way to her bedroom door. She reached for the doorknob, ready to escape, but took a last look at the scene she was about to leave behind.
A trail of jeans, a sport jacket, and a dark blue shirt led straight to the mound in the bed named Jack Young, age fifty-two, noteworthy only because, by coincidence, she and Jack were mere months apart in age.
Loathing messes as she did, it took all Lorna’s strength not to grab the two half-empty glasses and the champagne bottle that sat as accusers on her nightstand. She slipped into the hallway and shut the door behind her. Home free—more or less. Leaning against the wall, she closed her eyes and exhaled a long breath to quiet her jittery stomach. It worked for a second or two. Next step, get to June’s house as fast as her legs would carry her there.
Lorna brushed her teeth and dressed quickly in her guest bathroom before grabbing her winter jacket off the hook in the kitchen. She escaped through her back door and jogged down the slope of her yard that led to the footpath bordering the lake, the fastest route to June’s house.
She maneuvered around the muddy patches and pools of water left behind from last night’s rain. The dampness left the April morning air fragrant with the promise of spring. Lacking a breeze to disturb it, the lake perfectly mirrored the trees and houses lining the water’s edge. In the stillness, the sounds of a barking dog and children’s voices carried across the water from the opposite shore. A mere day ago, she’d been more than a thousand miles away, tilting her face toward the sun and sighing from happiness as sultry tropical air caressed her skin. She and Jack had made love to the nearly imperceptible rhythm of the cruise ship, dodging any talk of what they’d do when they arrived back home in Wisconsin.
What a disaster. Maybe she’d try to make light of their escapade. After all, Jack was a decent man, a really great guy, if also thoroughly unsuitable for her. He also had a terrific sense of humor. Maybe they could have a good hoot over their silly mistake. “Isn’t this the funniest thing?” she could say while trilling in a charming sort of way. Ha ha, titter titter. She could hold out her hand in a gesture of friendship. “What do you say? We figure out the easiest way to put this embarrassing little episode behind us?” More light-hearted laughter.
At last June’s white frame cottage came into view. Lorna hurried up the stone path and through the picture window spotted her friend standing at her kitchen table with a tall pile of laundry in front of her. Lorna waved to get her attention and when June looked up her face broke into a welcoming smile.
“Come in, come in,” June said after she’d opened the door and with a sweeping gesture invited Lorna inside. “I hoped you’d come over this morning. Help yourself to coffee and tell me all about your exciting cruise while I make my way through my boring laundry basket.”
Shrugging out of her jacket, Lorna peered around the corner of the kitchen into the hallway looking for any sign of June’s nine-year-old. “Is Bonnie gone?”
“The school bus picked her up a little while ago. Why?”
“I want to be sure we’re alone.” Lorna surveyed the table, with the laptop and a pile of fat file folders and legal pads at one end and the heap of laundry at the other. A full basket of clothes sat on the floor. “You’re really busy. I could come back later.”
“Don’t be silly,” June said, shaking out a crumpled bath towel. “This is laundry, not legal analysis.”
Lorna filled a mug from the carafe and went back to the table. Then she drew in a breath. “I’ve done something really stupid.”
June’s eyes narrowed. “Sit down and tell me about it.”
Lorna made a fast decision to blurt it out. “I got married. To Jack Young. In the Dominican Republic…”
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
A lifelong writer, Virginia McCullough has coauthored or ghostwritten over 100 books for doctors, therapists, lawyers, professional speakers, and many others. Her other award-winning novels include Amber Light, Greta’s Grace, The Chapels on the Hill, and Island Healing. The Jacks of her Heart is Book 1 of her Capehart Bay series. Asked to sum up the themes of her fiction, she says her books are all about hope, healing, and plenty of second chances.
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