Today we are hosting the April Dear Author Book Club pick: Love Irresistibly by Julie James. If you haven’t read Jayne’s A- review, take a gander here. The following is a Q&A with the author to prime our discussion pump. If you haven’t bought the book, you can find it at most bookstores or via these links:
Dear Author Book Club
1) What was the genesis of your story?
I started with a mixture of characters and plot. I had introduced the hero, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cade Morgan, in my previous book, About That Night, and had contemplated doing a book for him next. Along with that, for some time I’d been wanting to utilize a real-life criminal investigation that I’d heard about, where the FBI approached the higher-ups at a famous five-star restaurant in Chicago and said, basically, that two New York mafia bosses were going to be having dinner at the restaurant on a certain date, and that the FBI wanted to listen in on the conversation. In the book, I changed the case to a corrupt state senator instead of the mafia, but the basic set-up is the same. And that’s how the hero and heroine meet—the heroine, Brooke, is the general counsel for the restaurant company, and Cade needs her assistance in order to put the sting operation in motion.
In addition to being an assistant U.S. attorney, the only other thing I knew about Cade when first beginning to outline the story was that he’d played football in the past. Admittedly, I’d started watching Friday Night Lights shortly before beginning to write the book, and I’m pretty sure that influenced my decision to include a football subplot.
2) Small-town contemporary romances are very popular, however your stories feature women with careers in the big city. Have you found that any of your readers have difficulty relating to those characters or you think it is those characters differences that drive readers to your books?
I do sometimes hear people saying that publishers are only looking for small-town contemporary romance—but, fortunately, I haven’t personally experienced that. In fact, I’ve probably been upping the big-city Chicago “feel” in my recent books, and Berkley has been very supportive of that. For me, I think what readers want is variety. I also think that, by focusing on a small subset of the city—the Chicago FBI and U.S. Attorney’s offices—the books have a “community” feel. The characters are friends and co-workers with other characters from prior books—but instead of the local diner, they all hang out at Starbucks, the FBI gym, and Wrigley Field.
As for readers relating to my heroines, I’ve found the opposite to be true—that readers are connecting well to the women in my books. I like to write female characters who are like the women I’ve met while working and living in a big city like Chicago. And I have a test—my heroines have to be someone I would want to sit down and have a drink with.
3) It seems to me that the heroine in your story decided to take a different path that was more in concert with the hero’s path. Do you think that a relationship could have been successful between the two if she had taken a different route at the end?
It would be hard for me to answer this question without discussing the ending, so maybe we could put this in a spoiler box…
[spoiler]Writing Love Irresistibly was interesting for me because I originally started out the book focusing a lot on Cade and his relationship hang-ups. And while that very much is still a part of the book, somewhere along the way I became very passionate about Brooke’s journey. Admittedly, I may have been tapping into personal experience here—going back to my days working at a large law firm—but I really felt what she was going through: her ambition and drive to succeed, but also that gnawing awareness in the back of her mind that she was sacrificing a lot to keep up with the demands of her job.
On the other hand, I knew that the book wouldn’t end with Brooke walking away from the career she’d fought so hard to build. That just isn’t who she is. Instead, the ending is about Brooke taking a step back and asking herself what she wants. And once she realizes that she wants both a career and a satisfying personal life, she has to figure out how to get that.
I do think a relationship still would have been possible if Brooke had chosen a different path (i.e. taken the job in North Carolina), because Cade offers to move there with her. But it was very apparent that she’d be traveling a lot and working a ton of hours if she took the job, and, ultimately, she decides that she wants more time to enjoy her personal life.[/spoiler]
4) You always incorporate the cover models dress into your story. Can you tell us how that came to be?
It started with my first FBI/U.S. Attorney series book. I’d originally written the heroine wearing a black formal dress to a wedding, but when I saw the cover Berkley had done, with a flashy fuchsia dress, I asked my editor if I could rewrite those scenes so that the heroine’s dress matched the cover. That’s something I now try to do with all my books, if possible.
5) When writing your book, do you begin with your characters or does it begin with a plot?
It’s typically a little of both, although what I tend to find is that I start with the basic plot, and then get a true feel for the characters during the writing process. For example, with Brooke, I knew from the outset that she’d grown up as one of the few kids without a lot of money in a very affluent town. At first, I’d thought her backstory was that she’d been bullied as a kid for not having money, and thus had this drive and urge to be successful so she could “prove herself,” so to speak. But that just . . . didn’t work. It felt negative, the idea of wanting prove oneself worthy and successful in the eyes of others. So I changed it so that Brooke worked hard because, simply, that’s what she had always done—she always did everything at full-speed. After I made that change, the story felt much more authentic.
6) You do a lot of interviewing for your books. What are the types of things you’re looking for when you’re interviewing and how are they incorporated later into your stories?
I strongly believe that if I don’t know the ins and outs of both the heroine and hero’s professions, then I’d better talk to someone who does. When interviewing, I’m looking for a variety of things. I ask broader questions, such as: what an average day is like, what a good day is for someone in that profession, and what a bad day would be. Then I also ask specific questions, like, say, what kind of gun an FBI agent carries, or what the inside of a grand jury room looks like.
For Love Irresistibly, I was fortunate in that I was able to interview the CEO of the restaurant company upon which Sterling Restaurants (Brooke’s company in the book) is based. The CEO used to be the general counsel and there were two things he really emphasized about his days as GC: first, that he had to be a jack-of-all-trades and never knew what to expect when he walked into work, and second, that it took some time before the other restaurant employees were able to relax around him—that they’d see him, the general counsel, walk into the restaurant and would think, “Oh, crap, what did we do wrong?” So in the book, I wanted to capture both those aspects of Brooke’s job.
7) In the promotional video that you did for this book, you talk about balance between work and life. What you think is the greatest challenge in finding that balance and how did you portray that in your story?
Like I mentioned in the video, whether you’re a lawyer billing tons of hours at a large firm, or a stay-at-home mom, or a grad student working on your thesis, women today have a lot to balance. That’s something I feel on a daily basis, it’s something I talk about with my girlfriends when we get together—how there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. And I feel like what often gets sacrificed first is the “me” time, so to speak. Meaning, there are so many things we have to do, that the things we want to do—like read a book, or call that girlfriend we haven’t talked to in awhile, or take that yoga class we planned to start, oh, five years ago—fall by the wayside. In the book, Brooke is at a crossroads in her life, when she realizes that she’s been missing out on a lot of those “want to do” things—so the question becomes what she’s going to do about that.
8) What’s next for Julie James?
I’m currently writing my next book, which I haven’t said too much about yet, except that it will be part of the FBI/U.S. Attorney series. I’ll also say that I’d originally thought the lead character of the book was going to be someone else, but then this other character kept nagging at me during the outlining process so I went with that character’s book instead.
Add your thoughts in the comments.