Today's guest is women's fiction author Sheila Roberts. She's dishing on her novel, The Cottage on Juniper Ridge.
Sheila will be awarding a $25 Barnes & Noble gift card and an e-copy of The Cottage on Juniper Ridge to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. To be entered for a chance to win, leave a comment below. And to increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit other tour stops and leave comments there, too.
Sheila Roberts is married and has three children. She lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her novels have appeared in Readers Digest Condensed books and have been published in several languages. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her novel The Nine Lives of Christmas has been optioned for film. When she’s not writing songs, hanging out with her girlfriends, or trying to beat her husband at tennis, she can be found writing about those things dear to women’s hearts: family, friends, and chocolate.
Welcome, Sheila. Please tell us about your current release.
I'm very excited about The Cottage on Juniper Ridge because I think a lot of us can identity with the theme of simplifying our lives. Isn't it amazing how quickly the commitments can pile up and the stuff collect in the attic, basement and garage? Pretty soon, before we know it, we're buried. But, after reading Muriel Sterling's book Simplicity, the friends in the Icicle Falls Book Club have gotten inspired. They are going to cut back on commitments, clean out closets and simplify their lives. At least that's the plan. Sometimes the plan doesn't go according to plan. Their newest member, Jen Heath, who has left her high stress life in the city and moved to Icicle Falls to do simplify her life is finding that life isn't so simple when a girl has a hunky landlord to distract her. And, after going on a cleaning binge Stacy Thomas is realizing that some things weren't mean to be gotten rid of. But change is in the air and while these women are determined to help each other improve their lives. After all, isn't that what girlfriends are for?
What inspired you to write this book?
Actually, my own chaotic life inspired the book. I realized my schedule was getting way too full .... rather like my house. It was time to do something! (And, in talking to other women, I realized I wasn't alone in this.) So I started lightening my load a little bit, and let me tell you, that was really freeing. Of course, I still tend to commit to more than I should and I still have a hard time resisting braking for garage sales, but now I have a new rule. If something new comes into my house then something must leave. At least that way I'm keeping the clutter down.
Toni was up to her eyebrows in gift bags and wrapping paper when her sister called. “Hey, I was beginning to think you’d run away,” Toni said. “I haven’t heard from you since we had lunch.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“What a surprise.”
“What are you doing this weekend?” Jen asked, ignoring her sarcasm.
“With ten days to go until Christmas? Shopping.” Most of her shopping had been done by November, but she still had a few last minute things to purchase.
“Want to go shopping in Icicle Falls?”
“I want to go check out Icicle Falls. We can go up Friday and spend the night. Come back late Saturday.”
Toni wasn’t spontaneous. She was a planner, and she had her weekend all planned. She was going to the gym on Friday, then out to dinner that night with her husband at Anthony’s. Wayne was a programmer and sometimes it seemed he was married to his computer instead of her. But come Friday they were going to have a romantic night out whether he wanted to or not. She’d already told him to program that into his computer. Then Saturday she’d finish up her shopping.
“I can’t go until after Christmas.”
“Come on. Please? My treat.”
“You can’t afford to treat.”
“Okay, we can go halfsies, then we can both afford it.”
Toni propped the phone between her shoulder and ear and set to work using a pair of scissors to curl the ribbon on the package she’d just wrapped. “Why are you suddenly in such a tear to go to Icicle Falls?”
“Because I think I might want to move there.”
Toni dropped the scissors. “What? What are you talking about? You just bought a condo.”
“I know. And now it’s on the market. My realtor is holding an open house this weekend.”
All right. Spontaneous was one thing, but this was crazy. “You can’t put your place up for sale just like that,” Toni protested.
“Yes, I can,” Jen said, her tone of voice sounding deceptively sane.
“No. You can’t. You don’t have any equity built up. You won’t make a cent.”
“I don’t need to make anything. I need to get free of my debt. Never mind the cheese, just let me out of the trap.”
Toni frowned. That didn’t sound like something her sister would say. “What’s this all about anyway?” And then she remembered. The book. She groaned. “Oh, no. Don’t tell me.”
“Don’t tell you what?”
“You read the book I gave you.”
“Isn’t that why you gave it to me? And yes, I did, and it made perfect sense.”
“That was just to help you prioritize your life, learn how to be less busy.”
“That’s exactly what I’m doing,” Jen said. “I’m shedding all the things that have been complicating my life and holding me down.”
“I didn’t give you that book for you to go off half cocked, sell your place and move to the mountains.” She’d only wanted her little sister to learn to say no, to manage her time better. She should have known this would happen. This was such a Jen thing to do.
“I don’t know if I’m going to move to the mountains yet. I’m taking this slowly, checking it out.”
“Slowly? You read a book and two weeks later your place is up for sale.”
“Okay, fine. If you don’t want to go.”
“Oh, no. You’re not going up there without me,” Toni said firmly. Who knew what her sister would do if left to her own devices? “I’ll pick you up Friday at eleven, after I’m done at the gym.” The romantic Friday night dinner with her husband would have to wait. Right now she had to keep her sister from simplifying her life with a new complication.
And so that Friday afternoon found the sisters on their way to the quaint Washington town of Icicle Falls. Nestled in the Cascades, it was the perfect place ... to visit.
“Why way up here in the mountains? Why Icicle Falls?” Toni demanded.
“That’s where Muriel Sterling lives.”
“You know, the woman who wrote Simplicity. I read it in her bio on the back of the book.” Jen frowned. “Sometimes I wonder if you even read that book.”
Of course she’d read it. That was why she’d given it to her sister. Now Toni wished she’d never heard of the dumb thing.
“So, just on a whim you decided you want to live there?”
“I’ve been checking it out on the internet,” Jen said. “Did you know that the town sponsors a yearly chocolate festival?”
“Well, there’s a reason to move.”
Jen matched her sarcasm with a grin. “I thought so.”
“This is nuts,” Toni said, frowning at her sister.
“Hey, watch the road,” Jen scolded.
“Don’t worry. I can drive in the snow. And the Outback has all wheel drive and snow tires. We’re fine.” She shook her head “But listen to you. We’re on the highway and it’s barely sticking and you’re already nervous. You hate driving in the snow and so you’re moving to the mountains? That doesn’t even make sense.”
“I hate driving in the snow in Seattle, which is all hills,” Jen corrected.
“This, in case you didn’t notice, isn’t just a hill. It’s a mountain.”
“It’s a highway and you just assured me we’re safe.”
Toni sighed. “I can’t believe I’m doing this,” she muttered. Aiding and abetting her sister in her insanity - - what was she thinking? I must be crazy, too.
But once they hit the town she could understand why her sister had wanted to come check it out.
“Look how cute this is,” Jen said, gazing out the window at the Bavarian architecture of the shops as they drove down Center Street.
The downtown was cute, Toni had to admit, and especially so with everything all dolled up for the holidays. The old-fashioned street lamps were decorated with fat, red bows and greenery, the trees were strung with lights just waiting to bloom come evening. The town was surrounded by glorious mountain peaks frosted with snow. So were the rooftops here in town. It made Toni think of gingerbread houses.
“Let’s check in and then come back and shop,” Jen suggested.
That sounded fine to Toni and they made their way to the Icicle Creek Lodge.
“Oh, my,” Jen breathed as they pulled up in front of the rustic, old place.
It looked like what a mountain lodge should look like -- large, rough timbered and accented with stone. The sweeping front lawn was thick with snow. A trio of children, probably staying there, was busy taking advantage of the abundance of the white stuff and building a snowman. Inside, the lobby was done up to the nines for the holidays with greens and ribbon and little twinkle lights everywhere. And in the center of the lobby sat an old fashioned sleigh, piled with presents. It looked like a postcard. Somewhere, someone was roasting nuts and the aroma filled the place.
Toni could envision bringing her family up here for a holiday vacation. Jordan would love this.
Well, maybe. Jordan would have loved it a couple of years ago. These days she didn’t enjoy doing much of anything with her family. Dad was mean, Mom didn’t understand, and Jeffrey was stupid and a pest. Sigh.
Their room was all charm – wood paneling, a bed with a white down comforter, a view out the window that took Toni’s breath away. It would be so easy to fall under the spell of this place.
Jen joined her at the window. “Gorgeous, isn’t it?”
Oh, no. Jen couldn’t afford to fall. “It’s a great place to vacation,” Toni said, hoping her sister would get the message.
“It might be a good place to live.”
Living here would feel like stepping inside a storybook. But her sister had some real life issues to deal with. “You have a place in Seattle you haven’t sold.”
Jen frowned. “You don’t have to remind me.”
“Yeah, I do.” Someone had to keep Jen in line. Toni felt a sudden respect for Jiminy Cricket. It was no easy task keeping someone out of trouble who was always looking to dive in nose first. “I don’t want to see you get the cart before the horse.”
“I’m just looking. Remember? Come on, let’s go check out some of the shops.”
Jen had been right about the shops. The first one they walked into sold imported lace goods and teapots, and within ten minutes Toni had purchased a lace tablecloth for their grandmother. And a holiday table runner from Germany for herself.
That was only the beginning of the shopping spree. After that she went on to buy novelty hats for both her kids in the hat shop, several ornaments for the tree in a shop that specialized in all things Christmas, and a box of chocolates from Sweet Dreams Chocolates, the town’s chocolate company.
Jen purchased some, too. “For us for later tonight,” she said. She gave Toni’s arm a sisterly hug. “Isn’t this fun? Aren’t you glad you came?”
“I am,” Toni admitted. Who didn’t enjoy girl time and shopping? And everyone here was so darned friendly. Even she was beginning to harbor dreams of moving to Icicle Falls, ogling the beautiful scenery and stuffing her face with chocolate. “But remember, I have to be back by six tomorrow,” she reminded both her sister and herself. “Wayne and I have reservations for seven.” She was still determined to get in that dinner with her husband. They were going to be romantic even if it killed them.
“Look,” Jen said stopping in front of Mountain Meadows Real Estate. She studied the pictures of homes for sale displayed on the window and her eager smile fell away. “Prices up here aren’t cheap, are they?”
“It looks like real estate has held its value,” Toni said. Another plus for residents of the town, but Jen couldn’t afford those prices. “Of course these are houses. Condos might be less.” What was she saying?
“Good point. Let’s go in and find out what’s available,” Jen said, starting for the door.
Toni held her back. “Come on Jen-Jen, let’s just have fun this weekend and leave it at that. You really shouldn’t even be looking until your place is sold.”
“It can’t hurt to look,” Jen insisted, and went in.
“Yeah, it could,” Toni muttered and followed her inside.
What exciting story are you working on next?
I'm very excited about The Teashop on Lavender Lane, a tale of love and sibling rivalry which will be out this summer. And, oh, does that book have some great recipes in it! It makes my mouth water just thinking about the lavender cake.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I've been writing since I was a child, but I suppose I felt most validated when I saw my first magazine article in print. That was years ago and I haven't stopped writing since. I truly love writing fiction, and if I can find a way to tell a good tale and inspire readers at the same time, well, that's icing on the cake.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I am a full-time writer. But I pace myself. And I always try make sure I balance writing with family and friend time. It's important to sit at that desk every day and write but it's also important to feed your soul. So writing and business correspondence happen in the morning starting around nine a.m. and then I pull the plug around two in the afternoon. This is providing I don't have a lunch date or errands to run, then the schedule has to get flexible. The one constant is I do write every day.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
How sad and boring! I don't think I have one.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A ballerina. Considering the fact that I'm a klutz, it's probably just as well I went another direction.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I'd just like to say thanks for spending some time with me today. Readers are one of the most wonderful perks of the writing life and I love getting to know them and talking books.
Ways to connect with me:
Thank you, Sheila! Readers don't forget about the giveaways!