By Alicia Hunter Pace (Stephanie Jones and Jean Hovey), author of Simple Gone South, Take Me Out, Scrimmage Gone South, and Sweet Gone South
Everything about writing romance revolves around falling in love.
Of course, the hero and heroine have to fall in love—or admit that they fell in love years ago. That’s a given. But before that can happen and before there can be characters and a world that readers will fall in love with, we, as writers, must fall in love. Lynn Raye Harris, writer and plotting partner extraordinaire, claims you don’t have a story until you’ve cried into the keyboard.
Well, we’ve cried plenty, so it was no surprise to Stephanie and me that our readers would love Merritt, Alabama and the main players from the Gone South world as much as we do. They had to; we’d bought that love with our tears.
What we did not expect was the response to some of our secondary characters. There are three in particular that we keep hearing about from our readers and, in truth, have earned a special place with us as well.
We never even thought of Bailey, the nurse who made a brief appearance in the resolution scene in Sweet Gone South, as a full fledged secondary character. She was nothing more than a device to make Luke Avery face his demons and admit his love to Lanie so they could get their happily every after. But in her brief appearance, Bailey stepped up and earned herself a personality—so much so that we kept wondering who might be worthy of her heart. One of Lanie’s brothers? No. Too young. Phillip from Heavenly Confections? No, though we couldn’t say why. It just wasn’t right. Maybe one of Nathan Scott’s assistant coaches? A possibility, but could we really have a hero who had to kowtow to Nathan? And as you may know from Scrimmage Gone South, Nathan must be kowtowed to.
If the Gone South series were a movie, Tiptoe Watkins would have been comic relief played by a character actor. Tiptoe owns the city cemetery, tunes pianos, and studies human nature. He has a classical education but dispenses cornpone wisdom that may or may not be valid. Yet, he intrigues readers. While they have not asked for his story, they want to know more and ask for a Tiptoe sighting in the next book.
Missy Bragg is the happily married linchpin of a book club comprised of a group of women who will make up the heroines of the series. Now, Missy is no calm predictable woman with a pot of tea and endless tried and true sensible advice. No. She is more inclined to buzz up a blender full of margaritas and try to boss everyone into the absolute last place they should go. But she always shows up with her big heart and you forgive her blunders because she is a nurturer, even though she does her nurturing with a jackhammer in one hand and blowtorch in the other.
So what’s a writer to do when readers want to know more about characters that were never intended to have a story of their own? Apart from—as one reader suggested—killing off Missy’s husband and letting her find a second love, that is. (We aren’t killing off Harris Bragg.)
When we got the opportunity to write a short story for Take Me Out, an anthology of baseball stories, we knew we had our answer. Of course, the love of Bailey’s life is a pro baseball player, Of course, she is Tiptoe’s niece. And who other than Missy would be running the charity golf tournament where it all comes together, blows up, and gets put back together?
It did our hearts good to spend a little more time with Tiptoe and Missy, take another walk through the Merritt County Club ballroom, and leave the Gone South gang with one more happily ever after.
We hope it will do your heart good too.