As someone who has English degrees, I often find myself perplexed by those who reject the value of genre fiction. Like it or not, some of the most creative and original writing around actually happens within those genre boxes. If the intention of the writers of literary fiction is to move us, then they could learn a whole lot from writers of genre categories.
I am lucky enough to have any number of friends who write and are published in various “genres” – ranging from romance to thrillers to science fiction. In each case, every time I read one of their books, I find something very worth taking away from its pages. This is absolutely true in the case of Alicia Hunter Pace, writer of both romance and fantasy.
“Alicia” is an alias, because the author is actually the dynamic team of Jean Hovey and Stephanie Jones, two women I was lucky enough to meet and have befriend me long before they any of us had publishing contracts.
While their first publishing efforts came in fantasy (nerd girls after my own heart and all), their most recent success has come as authors of chick-lit romances that capture very much the flavor of small town life in the South. Their “Gone South” series published by Crimson Romance – Sweet Gone South, Scrimmage Gone South and the forthcoming Simple Gone South – takes the traditional boy-meets-girl story and layers on broad depths of emotion and energy.
While they might be grounded in the traditional worlds of the Junior League, high school football, book clubs, comfort food, and cotillions, among other quintessential aspects of Southern life, they subtly challenge the formula for these kinds of stories. The characters have minds of their own: no one’s perfect, no matter how much they might seem it on the outside. Inside imperfections, when drawn to the surface and laid bare, make for misunderstandings, hurt, recrimination and alienation that force each character to let go of complacent assumptions about who they are and how they live.
Inevitably, to escape the past and build a solid future, the characters must confront their own assumptions, prejudices and preconceived notions about relationships between people – often built up by past trauma that makes it hard to revisit the why behind those assumptions. Jean and Stephanie understand and make clear that relationships are a two way street, and very rarely is courtship a happy-happy Disney movie. To build a genuine romance, adjustment, compromise and work are all necessary – and strength can be built through conflict.
The three novels follow the lives of a circle of friends in Merritt, Alabama – a classic small Southern town with an actual Southern flavor, instead of a veneer. I won’t give any more away, but I will tell you that if you’re intrigued after reading this interview, you can “like” the Buttermilk Trace Facebook Page and like the link to this article there or comment for a chance to win a copy of Sweet Gone South for yourself.
And now without further ado, let’s let Jean and Stephanie talk for themselves.
One of the toughest thing for some authors to do is work in conjunction with another author – how do you find the balance between your voices? We are such close friends and share so many interests that our voices blend together pretty easily. Each of our characters belongs more to one of us than the other, so, once in a blue moon, one of us will have to say, “Hey, he wouldn’t do/say that.” We seldom disagree about how to proceed.
Speaking of balance – how do you balance your creative life with your day to day one? It’s a work in progress. Some days go better than others. The important thing is to work every day and have some down time every day. Of course, when the edits come in, that’s a different day.
What’s the toughest thing about writing as a team? What’s the easiest thing for you to write together? The hardest thing for us is pacing. One of us likes long, the other, not so long. We try to hit a happy medium and, most of the time, succeed. When we don’t, our editor will cut it or say, “A little more here.” Without fail, she makes it a better book. The easiest thing, by far, is dialogue. There are those who have been kind of enough to say we do a passable job at that. Sometimes, we will each take a character and speak a scene though. That’s when the chemistry between the characters is best.
You’ve shifted from writing fantasy to writing more traditional romance – how did working in the fantasy genre challenge you differently than the romance genre, and do you foresee writing another fantasy book at some point in the future? Unlike with the contemporary, there is little research for the fantasy. You can create any world you like, but once you do, you have to live there—that is, don’t change the rules in your own mythology. As far as writing more fantasy—never say never; we would like to one day see some present day elves running around a small Southern town. Wouldn’t that be fun? An elf princess, pretending to be human, who is president of the Junior League?
In your “Gone South” series, you’ve followed the lives of a group of friends as each finds the right match – in spite of some deeply personal obstacles. You’ve sent the third book in the series off to the publisher – is this the end of the characters, or will we see them again? We have seen too many authors overstay their welcome in a series, and we want to be careful not to do that. However, we find that we have one more “Gone South” story to tell. The proposal is with our editor right now. After that, we have a few more ideas kicking around. Regardless of the direction, what you will see next is a series of connected characters and a small Southern town.
One of the things I really enjoy about the series is you have a strong sense of the small town everything takes place in – small city, really. How much of your vision is guided by Decatur and Huntsville, Alabama, and the areas in which you live? The town is a compilation of the best parts of the different towns where we have lived; Merritt is as much a character in the series as Missy Bragg with all her well-meaning and bossy ways.
Do you find yourselves building personal relationships with your characters? Do you relate to one of them in particular? I think we relate to the ones who are breaking our hearts at the moment. And trust me, your heart has to be broken. We are very fortunate to have as plotting partners two very fine writers and USA Today bestsellers, Lynn Raye Harris and Janette Kenney. They convinced us that we were not hurting our characters enough, and they were right. Shortly after we learned that lesson, we sold. A few months ago, while finishing Simple, I texted Lynn and said, “I hope you’re happy. I’ve cried into my keyboard over Brantley three times today.” She texted back, “Then you’ve got a book.”
I have to ask – your characters have some pretty specific job requirements – candy maker, football coach, etc. how deeply do you have to immerse yourselves in the details to get them right? You really do. When writing Sweet Gone South, we hung out in candy shops all over the Southeast. We know a great many coaches and former college and high school football players, so the research for Scrimmage Gone South was easy. We have found that people are very willing to talk about what they do and love. In Simple Gone South, (November 2013) the hero, Brantley Kincaid, started out as an investment banker. It just wasn’t working so, all of a sudden, he was a preservation architect—which is something we know more about. Looking back, we don’t know how we could have ever thought he would be anything else.
What’s next on your writing agenda, now that you’ve told Lucy’s story (the last in the series of friends)? As we mentioned above, we have one more “Gone South” story to tell. Luke Avery ‘s (Sweet Gone South) sister, Arabelle, has a story. She has made a few cameos and had a few mentions here and there. You’ll see a little more of her in Lucy and Brantley’s story, Simple Gone South—plus you will meet Will Garrett, a hunky artisan furniture maker who grew up on the wrong side of town.
When you finish up a book, how do you escape that world for the much needed break and refresher time? Honestly, I don’t know if we ever escape completely. There’s always promotion and the next project to get underway. Of course, just as you are immersed in the new story, the edits come in from the one you’ve put to bed. When working on Scrimmage we used to tease that the hero, Nathan Scott, hated it when we left him in temporal stasis to edit Luke, from Sweet, and propose Brantley, from Simple. Our Nathan had anger issues.
This business of writing and publishing is one big chaotic carrousel—and we thank our lucky stars that we are getting to go for a ride.
Now for the fun stuff, the Proustian questionnaire!
Jean: Spicy tuna salad and a Madison roll at Edo’s Japanese Restaurant
Stephanie: Chicken Tikki Marsala at Sitar Indian Restaurant
Jean: Black and brie salad at Albany Bistro, Decatur, Alabama
Stephanie: I love it on Wednesday’s when it is Chicken Nugget Day at school. I capitalized it because it is like a holiday!
Jean: I have never been able to commit since the death of Parisian, but have recently liked some fun stuff at H&M.
Stephanie: I buy things all over the place. I am a pretty big fan of a bargain so I love T.J. Maxx and Ross.
Jean: HP Touchpad.
Stephanie: I bought a George Foreman Grill last week and love it.
Jean: Not married to one.
Stephanie: Me either since I hardly wear them, but St. John’s Bay makes a mean trouser jean.
Jean: A local place called Java Jaay. Great sugar free, fat free toffee latte.
Stephanie: Joe Mugg’s in Books A Million. Books and coffee shops just go together like peanut butter and chocolate to me.
Jean: I wore Clinique’s Aromatic Elixirs for years but stopped when perfume allergies became so prevalent. Now, I like a citrusy body wash.
Stephanie: Mine are some of the allergies to which Jean refers so I don’t wear much in the way of perfume; I do like [Bath and Body Works’] Vanilla Bean Noel so much I wear it year round. It is hard to have a bad day when you smell like cake.
Jean: Yes. Almost everything.
Stephanie: Me too and constantly. I am currently reading: a biography of Martha Washington, a military fiction, a werewolf romance, and a book on different methods of teaching reading.
On your MP3 player/Pandora
Jean: Bon Jovi, Blake Shelton, Eagles.
Stephanie: Avett Brothers, Beyonce, and the soundtracks from both the Lion King and Twilight.
Jean: Big Bang Theory, Duck Dynasty, Downton Abbey.
Stephanie: Duck Dynasty, Vikings, Longmire, and Hell on Wheels
Jean: Bloody Mary made with Zing Zang.
Stephanie: I am not so much on the cocktail. I like beer and bourbon, but not usually together.
Jean: Scotland and Ireland.
Stephanie: New Orleans.
Jean: Kitchen Aid mixer. Love it.
Stephanie: As I mentioned earlier. I have a new George Foreman grill.
Jean: Yellow Box.
Stephanie: Espadrilles of all sorts. I am so excited that they are back.
Jean: Barry Manilow, though I don’t feel that guilty.
Stephanie:Readinglate, late, late at night in bed. This is probably because my parents always made me turn out the light and go to bed. You know what they say about forbidden fruit.
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