I didn’t set out to be a romance writer. A Second Helping actually started out as a cookbook. As I was writing recipes for my cookbook, I felt like they needed more than just ingredients and directions—they needed to be brought to life. I love food and love, so writing a love story built around home cooking was a natural fit for me.
What inspired you to write this story?
When I was trying to figure out what kind of story to write instead of a traditional cookbook, I stumbled upon a romance short story contest. Since I do well in cooking competitions, I thought a writing contest would be a piece of cake (pun intended). So I entered the contest with a godawful, raunchy short story based on Gerard Butler being my contractor. I let a good friend read it, and all she could say was “I wished Damien would have married Michelle first. Don’t you think she deserves a little more respect?” I rolled my eyes and told her she ruined my fantasy buzz, but I knew she was right. Michelle did deserve respect, so I went to work to make that happen.
Describe your process for writing this particular book.
I didn’t really have a writing process with A Second Helping. I just wrote every day–whenever and wherever. I typed in bed a lot. I took my laptop everywhere. I constantly wrote notes and scene ideas on the back of receipts and napkins. I was that mom in the stands not paying attention to her kids’ games. But at least I cheered when I heard other people cheer.
How long did it take to complete?
It took me nine months to write the first draft, a year to re-write it six times and an additional six months to get it ready for publication.
Did you work on simultaneous projects?
I was writing recipes for a companion cookbook to A Second Helping. My initial plan was to have a recipe at the end of each chapter, but that changed when I realized that my book would be a thousand pages long. I did include ten recipes at the end of the story.
What was the rest of your life like while writing the book? Were you working? Raising kids?
I’m a stay-at-home mom with a bunch of different things going on. After I finished what I needed to do for the day, I was off-limits so I could write in the evening. I also catered small corporate events and cocktail parties, and sold baked goods at a local farmers market. I competed in cooking competitions and submitted recipes to contests. I also cooked on a local morning show once a month. My life is pretty much family and food!
How did you fit your writing into the rest of your life?
Whenever I had free time, I wrote. Sometimes I stayed up late to finish a scene.
Who gave you feedback as you worked through writing the book?
My husband was the first person I let read my manuscript. After he read it he said, “Even though it’s a total chick book, dudes will read it if it’s laying around and like it.” He’s really supportive. He also helped me with all the man stuff in the story so I wouldn’t sound like a woman trying to sound like a man. I also gave my manuscript to several friends for their feedback and suggestions. They were extremely helpful and had great ideas about the direction the story should go.
What kept you going through the process?
I’m a really driven person, almost obsessive. When I start something I tend to finish it. I’m relentless when it comes to accomplishing something I really want to do. Since I started writing a novel, I had to finish it before I could move on to something else.
Did you have a market in mind when you started writing the book?
I didn’t have a specific market in mind when I started writing A Second Helping. I just wanted to write a book that I would like to read. I love my story, and I’ve come to realize that it is a contemporary romance written for someone that wants to be wrapped in a sweet love story with a little spice. You could say that A Second Helping is like a Hallmark movie with a soft R rating.
How many submissions did you send out?
I didn’t submit my book to agents or publishers. I’d gone the traditional route with trying to publish a cookbook, and was rejected by six agents. I learned that I don’t have the personality for repeated rejection. So when I decided to write a novel, my plan was to publish it myself. I hired a local publishing firm, SPARK Publications, to help me with the design and production of A Second Helping. I found a local editor to help me develop the story. I came up with the concept for my cover, and sat in on the photo shoot. My friends were more than happy to pose for the cover, and I made the cake. I had a hand in every aspect of getting my book published. I have learned so much about the publishing processes. It’s a lot of work, but well worth all the effort and expense, especially after I held the book in my hand for the first time. That made the whole thing real.
What has surprised you most about this process?
What surprised me the most was how a negative critique of my fourth draft helped make my book better. I asked someone who I didn’t really know to read my manuscript just to get an opinion from someone without a vested interest in me. Her critique was harsh, borderline hateful and rude. After I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I was able to go back to my friends with specific questions brought up by that reader. My friends stood by their initial reviews but were able to guide me in the right direction to address some of the issues brought up in that godawful critique.
What would you change if you could?
I wouldn’t change anything. Everything was a learning process—good, bad and ugly. I now know what not to do as I prepare to write my second novel. That alone is invaluable and will save a lot of time and unnecessary headaches. But now that I think about it, I would be more selective with whom I let read my manuscript. No mean people allowed. I ate a family-size bag of Doritos after that horrible critique. And I don’t even like Doritos that much.
Following the death of her best friend, Michelle Taylor changed her life. She returned to her maiden name, sold her specialty food store and moved back home with her two boys. Egged on by her sisters, she jumps back into dating, but after a few horrible lunch dates she immediately jumps back out. She decides to focus her energy on refurbishing an old farmhouse she purchased while going through a divorce. A chance encounter at a local barbecue restaurant lands her the perfect contractor. Not only is he qualified for the job, but he’s the first man in a long time to make her flustered and tingly. During the renovation, she struggles to keep their relationship strictly professional.