What happens when love gets caught in the rain? In this romance anthology, RITA-Award winning author Molly O’Keefe shows us the power of a city thunderstorm from the top of a skyscraper, while Amy Jo Cousins soaks us in a rain in Spain. New York Times bestselling author Ruthie Knox’s heroine is devastated by a winter storm, while a summer thunderstorm grants Alexandra Haughton’s hero and heroine a second chance at love. Rain sparks self-awareness in the robot in Charlotte Stein’s story and allows Mary Ann Rivers’s heroine to fall in love with her hero and her own art. Rain causes romance between the college students in Audra North’s and Shari Slade’s stories, while romance causes rain in Cecilia Tan’s myth-inspired tale of a sacrifice to a demi-god. Nine romance novelettes, edited by Sarah Frantz.
Summer Rain was released today. The book is a charity project: 100% of author proceeds will be donated to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States. Audra North, the organizer of this collection, contacted me and asked if AAR would be interested in writing about the book. I said we would. It’s not often it’s easy to support a great cause AND get a bunch of authors to answer your questions.
Or, in the case of this column, one question: “What was the inspiration for your novelette?
When this anthology first started coming together, I had been thinking a lot about the mental and emotional constraints that we place on ourselves, and how they are often so much more powerful than physical bonds. In Fitting In, both Stas and Leila are dealing with the invisible restriction of shame brought on by their experiences in relation to societal beliefs. Having them work through their perceived shame together also fits nicely with the theme of rain, as rain has the ability both to obscure and to cleanse–actions that are seemingly at odds, but in fact are symbolic of the process of casting shame from our inner self. Fitting In is a story about removing judgment from ourselves and one another and how, in doing so, we can create some very positive human connections.
It’s no secret to anyone that follows me on social media that I spend a fair amount of time on Tumblr. (It’s not just a repository for fandom ranting and porn gifs.) There are a lot of women using their blogs to explore their sexuality. To capture their own image and frame it in ways that help them make sense of their experiences, their bodies, and/or their desires. Sex is so confusing and simple, messy and beautiful. It is all the things. I wanted to capture a little of that lovely mess with my story about a college freshman who creates what some might think is an ill-advised sex vlog. It’s a love letter to beginning.
The inspiration for Sacrifice came from a lot of thoughts coming together at once. That’s so often how inspiration works for me: various facts, symbols, ideas, characters, etc. are all swirling around in my head and then, snap, a couple of disparate things will fit together like a puzzle. And doing an anthology is a bit like Iron Chef. There’s usually one ingredient that you MUST use in order for it to fit the theme. In this case, I knew because the anthology would be a benefit for RAINN, I wanted to turn a story of female victimization into a story of empowerment. I was thinking about fairy tales like Snow White and somehow that led me to Greek/Roman gods, and I was thinking about Chinese history and ways to work more Chinese characters into historical fiction, and BOOM. All of a sudden I get an idea for a historical romance about a Chinese daughter sold by her trader father and a bastard son of Zeus in the age when Christianity is on the rise in Byzantium!
As usual I have the urge to say something clever and meaningful here, but the truth is it was the movie Prometheus that really sparked it off for me. Well, that and my lifelong love of slightly-not-human things creating an interesting commentary on the human condition. I guess it really boils down to: I love androids. And I love writing stories about androids in particular when I want to tackle some pretty deep issues with regard to consent, humanity, sentience and love!
I wanted to explore the difference between what we are able to pin down and intellectualize, and what can only be felt and experienced, so I wrote about man who had been sexually abused as a child and whose parents supported him and found him counseling and who has, seemingly, gone on to be successful and happy. Despite his best efforts, however, he continues to feel the repercussions of that abuse. In reaching out to a surprising and resilient call girl for help, he forges one of the most honest relationships in his life.
Redemption actually uses a situation, and two characters, who I’d once written a third of a novel about. That novel never took off, but the setting — postindustrial Green Bay, Wisconsin, mid-housing slump — and these two people stayed with me. The hero, Mike Kaminsky, is a divorced, out-of-work roofer hero who works in his mom’s diner. The heroine, Jessie Bellin, opened a failing cheese shop in a big, falling-down Victorian house on the wrong side of town. Both of them are flailing, but I liked them. Where some people might see a sad story, or a couple who don’t deserve a story, I saw an opportunity to write about what two people who are down on their luck have to offer each other. It’s about love and hope being for all of us, not just those of us who have money, stability, and achievement.
When Audra first talked about putting this anthology together, she already knew that rain would be a theme for the stories and that immediately sparked a memory for me. The hardest I’ve ever wished for rain was during a trip to Spain years ago during an unseasonably warm spring. The heat was brutal every day, everything dry as dust, including us. I thought about how deliriously happy I would have been to have gotten caught in a rain shower in Sevilla, where the narrow streets of the old Jewish quarter provided shade for exhausted tourists but the heat still flattened me. Once I knew I would set the story in Sevilla, the framework also jumped out at me. One night during my visit to that city, I experienced magic. In an Irish pub off the main campo or square, my companion on that trip and I met an Australian man who had been living in Sevilla for years. After sharing stories of his life as a bar-owner in Spain and offering us his hash pipe, this older man with close-cut gray hair announced that he was off to another establishment and suggested we join him. Having declined the hash pipe, we felt relatively comfortable following a stranger around town and so we said yes. He proceeded to take us on a late night tour of Sevilla’s dive bars, pool halls, and music clubs, including places without names on the door, where you knocked and were inspected by a bouncer before being allowed inside. After hours of wandering and meeting Sevillans, a Moroccan restaurateur, a Portuguese ship captain, and a German bartender, among others, we ended our night at a beautiful little local bar that was clearly closed already. Our guide knew the owner, who welcomed us to the quiet room and hushed us after handing out drinks. And then…something amazing happened. I don’t want to spoil my story, so I have to stop here! I wasn’t romantically involved with my traveling companion, but I have used that memorable night as the base for my Summer Rain story. In The Rain in Spain, Javi and Magda don’t have a guide. They are a little lost, both as they wander Sevilla and in their own relationship, one year into a spontaneous marriage made mere weeks after they met. I hoped to write a tribute both to a beautiful city and to the challenge of taking a relationship past the honeymoon period and into the real heart of love.
When Audra invited me to be part of the anthology, she told me all the works would be unified by the presence of rain—and that they should offer love and hope. Perfect ingredients for romance. My short story had many lives before it became Storm Warning. But even before Amy and Tom made their way to the page, I knew two things: I would write a story about coming home and “home” would be west Texas in storm season. There is so much energy in a storm—the space between calm and turbulence, fascinating. In many ways, that space between calm and turbulence is something I explore in my characters, too. Above all, the inspiration for this story was the RAINN organization, itself, and the love and hope they offer survivors of abuse on a daily basis. I am so proud to be part of an anthology that supports such important work.
I have been thinking a great deal about women artists. For wonkomance.com, I’ve begun a series about women and music, and when I participated in the First Kiss blog hop on my blog at maryannrivers.com, I wrote about a women photographer who had been working as a model in order to save enough to work full-time as an artist (“Ellen and Hank”). In my own life, this last year has introduced a lot of personal, professoinal, and artistic change. As an author, I began collaborating and considering how to bring my own experiences to bear on my goals as a writer, and where that has intersected with choices I have made as a woman. In fact, I can’t stop thinking about these issues. “Rainy Season,” the piece I wrote for the anthology, features a woman potter who had been both ambitious and extremely talented before choices she made with her lover, another artist, meant the derailment of her own career. I wanted to put a choice like that, and its aftermath, into a larger context, and think about what changes in the woman’s life would introduce a change in her thinking about herself as a creator. I wanted to write about needs, and when we decide to address our own, or address others’, and how, as women, we prioritize that. This is the kind of story I could have only written at this point in my life — a woman, a mother, forty, her life under the extreme pressure of dramatic change, yet still vulnerable, still happy, still well.
I was honored when Audra approached me to edit the RAINN anthologies. Honored and, honestly, intimidated. Have you seen that author list? But then the stories started rolling in, each one completely awesome and in utterly different ways, and I was just thrilled to be able to help these stories shine. I adore watching authors take a prompt–an uplifting love story with rain in it–and create beauty and joy and hope and love. Every one of these stories is exquisite, and I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed working on them.
The book is available at Amazon and other sellers.