Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Interview with romance author Virginia McCullough

Awarding-winning novelist VirginiaMcCullough is here today chatting about her newest romance, The Jacks of Her Heart.

During her virtual book tour, Virginia will be awarding a $25 Amazon or Barnes and Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner. To be entered for a chance to win, use the form below. To increase your chances of winning, feel free to visit her other tour stops and enter there, too.  

Virginia McCullough’s award-winning novels speak to hope, healing, and plenty of second chances, with humor and laughter emerging even in her most serious stories. The Jacks of Her Heart is her fifth released novel, with The Icing on Her Cake soon to follow. Her other titles are Amber Light, Greta's Grace, Island Healing, and The Chapels on the Hill.

A lifelong writer, Virginia broke into publishing in her twenties, when her family moved to Maine and she began writing articles on family living, sailing-cruising topics, women’s issues, and children’s literature. Later, Virginia broke into book publishing as a coauthor and ghostwriter with titles written with and for healthcare experts, professional speakers, business owners, and many others. Her most recent medical book, The Oxygen Revolution, was coauthored with Paul Harch, M.D., a pioneer in hyperbaric medicine. Virginia has written well over 100 books for her clients, including 12 titles for neurologist Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., the creator of the popular weight loss program, Sensa.

Virginia also writes about writing-related topics with Lynda McDaniel, cofounder of The Book Catalysts (www.bookcatalysts.com), a book writing coaching service. They’re the authors of the e-book, Write Your Book Now: An A to Z guide to unleashing your creativity, writing your book fast, and finishing strong, and two other titles.

Welcome, Virginia. Please tell us about your current release.
Lorna Lindstrom and Jack Young fell in love—and married—in the heady atmosphere of moonlight and dancing on a tropical cruise. But now they’re back in chilly Capehart Bay, Wisconsin, and it’s time to face the music. Feeling like a couple of fools, it seems that ending the marriage is the best solution. Their three adult kids sure think so. But, what do their hearts want?

Lorna, a professional organizer and lifestyle coach, is a little too wedded to her spotless home. She fell in love with Jack’s generous heart, but must he rescue every abandoned dog in town? Jack, a laidback kind of guy, owns a popular, nostalgia café, with menu items named for ‘60s and ‘70s songs. He feels right at home in Lorna’s bedroom, but he might as well be a stranger everywhere else in her perfect house.

Once they decide to give their marriage a shot, it’s only a matter of days before they become entangled in each other’s families, and between them that includes two elderly parents, three kids in their twenties, and a toddler grandchild. Lorna soon puts her organizing skills to work to help Jack’s elderly father make a difficult move, while Jack takes on a new rescue mission, this one involving Lorna’s daughter.

But despite good intentions, Jack and Lorna are a classic “opposites attract” duo and can’t quite get in sync. So, they’ll either have to admit defeat and go their separate ways or find a way to make peace with their dueling quirks and have some fun with their second-chance romance.

What inspired you to write this book?
I got the idea for The Jacks of Her Heart after overhearing a couple of sisters in their twenties complain about their parents’ “behavior.” They were criticizing relatively small things, too, like their parents heading to Vermont to ski, when they’d never been skiing before. And their 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 not only amused me, it spurred my imagination, resulting in Lorna and Jack, two fiftyish people who fall under the spell of a tropical cruise—and getting 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—great big ones? The new book was born, and now Book 2 of The Capehart Bay series is underway (The Icing on her Cake).

I’m not sure where I got the inspiration for Both Sides Now, Jack’s ‘60s and ‘70s nostalgia café, but I had great fun creating 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—I got to dress up some characters in swing coats, midi-skirts, and bell bottoms.

Although Jack’s canine friends become a big 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 as a dedicated eavesdropper, I’ve heard many of these one-way conversations. It seems that dogs and cats—and horses, too—are the most understanding companions.

Excerpt from Jacks of Her Heart:
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…”

What exciting story are you working on next?
In The Icing on Her Cake, Lorna encourages her best friend, June Angleton, an attorney, 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 bright red evening gown at Lorna’s vintage clothing tent sale, taking place 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 asks her to dance. Then, before June has a chance to even learn his name, he says goodbye to the “lady in red,” and disappears into the crowd. But the experience makes June agree with Lorna. She needs some fun in her life.

June and 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 when they realize they shared a dance at the festival, but somehow 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.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I know many writers start scribbling stories as little kids, but I wasn’t like that at all—I was an avid reader, but I didn’t think I could ever be a writer. But in my mid-twenties, some inner voice nudged me in the direction of writing and publishing magazine articles, and after completing my first piece, I knew I’d found my calling. I also realized how lucky I am to truly love writing, even when I’m struggling to make a project work. I eventually moved on to writing nonfiction books and ghostwriting, and finally, my first love, fiction.

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?
Some people say they envy my life because I write fulltime and can set my own schedule, and while that’s true, writing is a business like any other. So, most of my time is spent working on nonfiction books I’m either writing or editing for clients. I’m also writing about writing these days, which is part my coaching practice. I have to laugh sometimes, because my work schedule sounds so incredibly dull. I start very early in the morning, often around 6:00 or 7:00 and I try to finish up for the day around mid-afternoon. See? Nothing very exciting or exotic about that. In order to write fiction, as well as keep up with client work, I often work weekends, and my very best days are those set aside to be with my characters and work on my novels. The next best days are those I spend with my writer friends. Do I want to write fiction fulltime one day? Absolutely. That’s my most important current goal. But I realize how fortunate I’ve been to have had an independent writing business virtually all my adult life.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
My writer friends tell me that the way I feel about my characters and their lives after the novel ends borders on “eccentric.” It’s true that I see them in their locales going about their new lives. It’s as if I refuse to say goodbye to characters that mean so much to me. In writing about them, they become like family and friends, so why would they not simply go on with their lives, you know, have kids, take vacations, buy new houses? All the usual things we do in “real” life.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was a lucky kid, in that I grew up in Chicago with access to all kinds of opportunities. That meant my dream of being a ballet dancer could be matched with a Russian-trained, very strict dance teacher, who turned out professional dancers. At one point, I took the train from my city neighborhood downtown several times a week in order to take five dance classes in a single week. Wow—it was all about discipline and practice. I loved it. For various reasons, I decided not to become a professional dancer, but the discipline and focus I learned carried over to writing and was enormously beneficial. When I see young kids practicing their scales on the piano or devoting themselves to excelling in a sport, I think of the wonderful training they’re getting. No matter what they do in the future, that focus they’re experiencing will carry over. So my childhood dream has served me well!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?

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 good story. The yearning for stories is a part of us—our brains are wired for stories.


Thanks, Virginia!

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Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thanks for hosting!

Mai T. said...

What do you consider to be your best accomplishment?

Victoria Alexander said...

Great interview, I loved reading it! Thanks for sharing

Rita Wray said...

Great excerpt, thank you.

Stormy Vixen said...

I enjoyed the interview, sounds like a great book, thanks for sharing!

Virginia McCullough said...

Thanks for hosting me today, Lisa. I'm thrilled for this chance to introduce your readers to Jack and Lorna.

Glad for the chance to say hi and thanks to Mai, Victoria, Rita and Eva! Thanks for visiting today.

On the question of what I consider to be my best accomplishment, that's hard to say. I'm proud of my family, honored to call wonderful people my friends and fortunate to do what I love for a living - write!

Unknown said...

Great interview! I enjoyed learning about you and your book! Thank you for sharing!

Stacey Joy Netzel said...

I am enjoying The Jacks of Her Heart right now! Love the cafe and can't wait to get to the festival. :)

Kathryn Albright said...

This sounds like such a fun book! It sounds a little bit (just a little!) like my husband and me--opposites and me rather compulsive about neatness and my husband way too laid back! But we've been together 36 years with a lot of compromising. It's worked. I love the idea of the 60s & 70s restaurant in your story! How fun.

Unknown said...

I really enjoy learning about new authors and their books. Thank you for the post and the giveaway!