What was the inspiration for Will's character?
Despite the fact that I am a first generation high school graduate (not to mention my college and advanced degree), several of my current family are educators, including myself as a college English instructor. I am well acquainted with the challenges of teaching at many levels. Never has teaching been more challenging than it is currently. I wanted to show the real "humanity" of teachers which is a subject rarely talked about. I made Will a retired principal and his ex-wife a math teacher (okay I guess both psuedo-"bad guys" in this novel are math teachers). I also wanted Will to have a sexy, interesting alter-ego and I personally am a fan of nude sculptures. William Everett Larson was born in combining all that into one character. However, Will became a hero to me as he interacted with his adult sons in the novel and met my heroine. I wanted to celebrate his faithfulness to himself, his values, and the people in his life which is not often treasured as much as it should be. And I have always had a soft spot for bald guys and continue to find them very attractive. I liked the idea of Will reinventing himself and of his sons helping him. I did this myself after my divorce. I think it's a rite of passage in most cases.
“Dad, you know Michael and I love you. At least let me give you my best dating advice,” Shane said, sliding into the nearest chair. He heaped six pancakes on his plate and covered them with a lake of syrup before he paused and schooled his voice into the businesslike tone he had learned from the man he addressed.
“Shave your head, get an earring, and ride your bike around town. Your body is great for a man over fifty. You could be picking up the kind of women I do. Look, I got a tongue stud. You need to get one of these. Women love this kind of stuff.” Shane stuck out his tongue to show his father, who only rolled his eyes. He heard his brother snickering around a mouthful of pancakes, but merely ignored his jealous sibling.
Will studied the tongue stud with a mixture of horror and shock. He looked at Michael, who only laughed, shrugged, and went on eating.
What was the inspiration for Jessica Daniels?
When my daughter gave birth in Feb of this year, there was a piece of art in the waiting area that her in-laws and I were joking about because it was so obviously symbolizing breasts. My daughter's mother-in-law and I were putting our hands on it and discussing the ample attributes it represented. It was a funny, precious moment in the midst of our joint concern for my laboring daughter. My writer's mind then started looking around and asking "Who makes art for birthing centers?". When I combined the creation of female body art with Jessica being an art teacher at a local high school, her character just evolved so naturally that it was a surprise to me. But then so was her traumatic past, which is what happens to me in the process of discovering. About five chapters into the book, I realized that I had a chance to say someone significant about a woman who found a unique way to survive and thrive after something so horrible. I did not want Jessica to be a victim of her past. I wanted her to be a warrior with battle scars instead.
Will sighed, and gritted his teeth. “Okay, yes. I knew you wanted me, but this is not the right time. I’m not going to take advantage of you. And being with you is sure as hell not the same thing as being with Ellen.”
“Oh, you made that very clear just now,” Jessica said harshly. She sat up and swung her feet to floor, giving Will her back so he wouldn’t see how much his rejection had hurt her. “I get that I’m damaged goods, a fragile woman, someone you can’t be passionately honest with now. Don’t you think I’ve been down this road before?”
“That is not what I meant,” Will said, surprised and hurt by her interpretation of his self-control. “Look—can we talk about this tonight? I know you have to go to work shortly.”
Jessica stood, grabbed her shoes, walked to the chair and started putting them on. “No. We can’t talk tonight. I have plans tonight.”
“You got something more important to do than talking this out?” Will asked, fighting not to be seriously hurt by her refusal.
“Yes. I have a date with a man who doesn’t know anything about me other than I seem like a fun woman. It beats the hell out of looking at the pity in your eyes any day,” she said honestly.
What is this story about other than the romance between Will and Jessica?
I always say the Never Too Late series was about the friendships among the characters and I believe it was. I want to do more of those types of stories.
Having a similar focus, the Art of Love series is about family. There is the loving, supportive, but very male bonding between Will and his two adult sons. There is the bickering and teasing among the two brothers, but also their uniting to help their father and Jessica. There is the aspect of children dealing with divorced parents and trying to love and support both of them. There is the accepting of new people into the fragmented family unit, such as stepfather not much older than the oldest son. And finally, there are divorced spouses of 30+ years trying to hammer out some kind of friendship so their children still have as much stability as possible. Here is a sample from the book that I think explains the process of forgiving that must happen for this to work (Ellen is Will's ex-wife, Luke is her new husband, Shane is Will's and Ellen's youngest son who is getting a Doctorate in Psychology):
Ellen laughed, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes. “Reckless heathens. Your sons are heathens, but brilliant, handsome ones. Thank you for being a good father, William. I truly am grateful for that and how you stay so involved in their lives. Luke’s daughter barely even talks to him.”
“Well, you always wanted a girl. Maybe you can win her back to the family,” Will said easily. “It can be another chapter in Shane’s book. We’ll be that weird blended family everyone talks about, and we’ll sue Shane for a share of the money he makes during the TV interviews about us.”
Ellen was openly laughing now. “Shane and his damn book. Are we really that awful?”
Will stopping laughing and glanced over at the woman he’d spent most of his life with, but no longer wanted in the same way.
“We’re not awful at all. We’re just changing and trying to do it with as much grace as possible,” he said.
Why did I choose Lexington for a location?
As well as being surrounded by incredibly beautiful horse farms, Lexington, Kentucky also has a tremendous number of colleges. Recently I saw a billboard downtown announcing that a significant percentage of the population had advanced degrees. I would say that is true from my experience of the town. I am from rural Kentucky natively, but have lived in Lexington and surrounding areas for over twelve years. I like it here. It is a friendly town with lots to do when you want to be entertained. The community is diverse and the people wonderful to interact with as business owners and friends. Most of the stories I read that are set in my location play up the rural aspect of my state, but not the growing reality. Other writers, like Jennifer Crusie from Ohio, writes and mentions Kentucky sometimes in her novels. The Kentucky she describes is one I am familiar with and live in myself. So I decided in this series to set all three books here even though I am fictionally creating the businesses, the houses, etc.