With each book I feel I’m learning more about what I want to do with my writing but especially what I want to say. The town of Leeward is peopled with a variety of personalities, races, religions and ethnicities, much like the community where I live. I want it to represent my home but more importantly, I want to represent the place it could be.
In Janie’s Secrets I introduce two characters, one, an older lady whom I say is from southern Asia without being specific and her granddaughter who is half-Cambodian. My eldest daughter-in-law is Cambodian, a beautiful and amazing woman. I want to portray a character with similar attributes without infringing too much on the privacy of my DIL. Y’all know I use family and friends to influence my characters. Sometimes it might be in how they look, other times it is an attitude or aptitude that I need to borrow but while the character maybe inspired by my friend or family member, they aren’t that person. I take one or two pieces and create a character who is uniquely their own.
But in my warped mind it just made sense that Chanthou would be the muse for Sothy Chhan because her husband, my oldest son is the muse for my character Remy Harrell. Before those of you who know Dustin, start giving me lip because Remy is sort of the bad guy, remember the keyword is muse. As the older brother Dustin could be bossy, he is also very analytical, he has a strong personality and he tends to take charge. These are not all bad attributes but add in a little JR Ewing from the 1970-80’s television drama Dallas, a little imagination and we have Remy Harrell. Remy isn’t bad, but he has learned that sometimes you have to do bad things to get the results you want. He often makes the gray choice for the greater good. I think Remy is basically a good guy who has to live in a bad world. He’ll try it the right way, then he’ll get it done.
Remy and Sothy will have their stories later but for now, I hope you will enjoy Janie’s Secrets.
Those of you who receive my newsletter know there is a second chance romance at play here between librarian, Janie Harrell and Leeward’s Police chief, Mike McKenzie. The story-line from The Leeward Files continues but now we are focusing on one family in The Harrell Family Chronicles.
I do not believe a writer ever stops learning. If we stop learning, we become stagnate and die. Like something caught in the old pool in the back yard, you can swim around in the sludge for a while a little slimy but happy enough. After a while, the things that begin to grow on the bottom of the pool start to choke out the cool water and oxygen turning it into a hot soup of old gross things. No one wants to be a part of some old gross thing.
There are somethings that should never go out of style: good manners, good grammar, and good food. Everything else is subject to change. When I think of the writer I was twenty, thirty years ago, I can feel myself blushing and ducking my head. It is one of those times when I’m actually glad none of my old stuff survived our house fire. As a person I’ve changed a lot over the years. When my husband, David and I married, we talked often of racial differences and how we were raised. Though my parents were not racists, they weren’t inclusive either, part of growing up in a rural southern community. My husband’s mother was raised a lot like my parents, the only other races she knew before adulthood were Native American, Black and Dutch, and that was from working on a farm out in eastern North Carolina.
Our parents were taught that the races were separate but equal but as they became adults in the sixties, they began to see things weren’t quite the way they believed. A conversation with my mother after watching the movie “Hidden Figures,” made me realize just how little the white community really knew of what was going on historically right outside their front door. We lived in Hampton, Virginia from 1967-1973. The last year we were in Virginia, I was bussed across town to Bassett Elementary School. I loved the school and the principal, a black man with a gentle baritone. Yet until that movie, my mother and I (I was only 9 at the time) were unaware of the racial problems and Virginia’s refusal to integrate. As a nine-year-old black child I would have known.
After marrying my father-in-law, a marine who grew up in upstate New York, my mother-in-law became exposed to many more races: Puerto Rican, German, Italian, Dominican, Chinese, Caribbean and West Indian when she visited his family in Amsterdam, but in the marine corps she learned that there was only one race, olive drab. She raised her children with no color barriers.
My husband and I often discussed whether I’d have been brave enough to take a chance on loving him had he been of a different race or religion. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have been thirty years ago. He is part of what has made me stronger, braver, he’s expanded my world and given me the courage to take chances, even disagree with him.
As children our worlds are often small. They include family and friends, maybe a few neighbors, church members. When we venture off to school we are exposed to more people, teachers, faculty and students from places just a little out of your neighborhood, maybe people who have moved from other places. If you are lucky enough to travel, you might be exposed to other races, religions and cultures but most of us grow up knowing only what is in our own backyards.
The Romance Writers of America (RWA) and writers in general have been fighting a battle of inclusivity and diversity for several years. Romance and especially love, should not come with qualifiers. Everyone deserves to be loved. Reading authors who are different from us, about heroes and heroines of other races and religions, writing about characters who are unique with an educated and respectful attitude, that is allows us to live in another’s skin and share their experiences. Not all rednecks are racists, not all blacks are thugs and not all Asians are submissives. We need to stop typecasting and start doing our homework. We need to keep learning. Will we make mistakes and say something or do something that comes across as prejudiced or unenlightened? Probably. We are human and we make mistakes in everything else we do, but if we are truly trying to learn and be different than the person we were before, then we need to open the dialogue and ask the intelligent questions. We need to look further than our own backyards, heck, maybe we need to add a few more people to our invitation lists. Learn about real people of color, real people with physical and mental challenges, people with other lifestyles and from different cultures, take time to read, listen, and discover more information. No one says you have to join a movement, but if you plan to write about someone diverse characters then learn about them first.
I like to people my stories with characters who represent my friends and neighbors. In “Titanium Blue” my hero lost a leg in Afghanistan. My son, a former soldier with two tours in Afghanistan answered questions for me. Two of my friends have prosthetic legs. One lost his leg in a farming accident as a child, the other a car accident as an adult. Both men were willing to answer my questions about their prosthesis.
Firsthand information, books and the internet offer readers a realistic experience. Modern technology has allowed writers something they’ve never had before, a chance to go places without ever leaving their chairs. We no longer have the excuse of ignorance for the information is too easily available. We, as writers, owe it to our readers to do our best to portray diverse characters with honesty and respect.
I’m looking for sources to add to my list. If you have any suggestions, I’d appreciate your input.
Reese and I met when she was
president of the Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, her open, engaging smile
and outgoing personality made her an excellent and inclusive president,
welcoming all who attended. I am so excited to welcome Reese Ryan to Creekside
Reese: Thank you for this opportunity.
Sherri: I’ve been wanting to ask you back to the
area since the workshop you gave the Pamlico Writers’ Group. It’s too bad this
is only a virtual café. Shall we have a bourbon drink in honor of your Bourbon
Reese:I’ll just order a Caramel Macchiato hot–even in the height of
Sherri: I drink hot coffee any time of the year so I’m
right there with you.
You’re not native to
North Carolina, are you?
originally from Cleveland, Ohio, where I spent the majority of my life. I’ve
been living in Central North Carolina for the past ten years.
Sherri: What do you think about Eastern North Carolina? My virtual café
exists in my dreams on the banks of the Pamlico River.
Reese: I’ve had a chance to spend time in New Bern, Duck,
Jacksonville, and Little Washington. We adored our trips to each of these
little towns. We can’t wait to return for our next Eastern North Carolina
Sherri: If you get down my way, give me a holler and
I’ll show you around. I believe I owe you a dinner.
Do you write full time
now, or do you hold down another job as well as write? When did you start
writing full time?
Reese: I have been writing full-time for at least the past two
years. Before that, my day job was writing marketing copy for small businesses.
Sherri: I work at our local ABC store, for those of
you not from North Carolina that’s a liquor store owned by the county and
regulated by the state. People are always asking if my job ever influences my
writing. Has your career influenced your writing?
Reese: I spent several years working in the non-profit sector. This
manifests itself in my writing because many of my characters either work in the
non-profit sector or they are passionate about philanthropic endeavors. My time
as a copywriter is likely the reason so many of my heroines work in PR or marketing.
Sherri: How long have you been a writer/published
author? First discovered your love of writing?
Reese: I first discovered my love of writing when I was in middle
school. I started writing stories and submitted my first short story to a
magazine when I was about seventeen. I stopped writing altogether until I was
in my mid-thirties. I’ve been a published author for six years. My first book
was published in July 2013.
Sherri: Well, you know I’m a huge fan but tell
our readers what genre of books your write.
Reese: I write steamy contemporary romance with a diverse cast of
Sherri: It’s your awesome characters that keep me
coming back for more. I just love the way you people your stories. Everyone
feels real. Your characters are multidimensional, generational and cultural. In
your recent Cattleman Club Book, “His Until Midnight,” you have an older couple
in the background with a bit of history. They are so well written I want to
know their story. I want them to have their HEA.
Do you plan to write
any other genres in the future?
Reese: I have plans for future romantic thriller and historical
Sherri: Historical romance is my first love, I love Beverly
Jenkins’ Old West Series. I’ve started reading her Women Who Dare series and I
want to read more about the LeVeq family.
Amanda Quick aka Jayne
Ann Krentz is the author who inspired me to move to contemporary books both
reading and writing.
I’d be happy to be a
Beta reader if you need one.
Tell us, what is your
latest writing or publishing project?
Reese: I just signed a three-book deal with Grand Central Forever
to write a diverse, small-town series set in the Outer Banks. Starting
Over, the first book in my new Holly Grove Island series, is scheduled for
a November 2020 release.
Sherri: Oh wow, you know I loved your Pleasure Cove
series. Will this have more of a small-town feel?
Reese: Yes. My Pleasure Cove and Bourbon Brothers
series are contemporary romance series that happen to be set in small towns.
But the Holly Grove Island series will be a bona fide small-town series.
Sherri: What are some of the things you love about
Reese: I love writing strong entrepreneurial or
career-minded women and heroes that while strong, also display some type of
Sherri: And you do it so well.
What do you barely
tolerate about writing?
Reese: For me, the hardest thing is always getting through that
first rough draft. Revisions, I love. For me, that’s where the real magic of
storytelling happens. I can fix anything, but a blank page just taunts me.
Sherri: I’m a bit of a foodie. With six sons and
my herd of grandchildren food plays a big part in everything we do. I often
post recipes on my website. Do you have a favorite food/recipe?
Reese: It should come as a surprise to no one who has read my books
that I enjoy food. LOL. My characters like to eat and often cook together or
for one another. My favorite comfort food is chicken and dumplings. My favorite
dessert is peach cobbler, which I make for most family functions.
Peach Cobbler Recipe
1 pkg of Pillsbury or other refrigerated pie crust (taste matters, so get a
2 bags of frozen peach
slices (about three pounds)
¼ cup lemon juice
¾ cup orange juice
½ cup butter
2 cups white sugar
(modify this to your taste)
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon butter,
Preheat over to 350
degrees. Roll out one sheet of dough thin enough to cover the bottom and
partial sides of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Bake until golden brown, approximately
While the bottom of the
crust is baking, combine the frozen peaches (fresh or canned can also work),
lemon juice, and orange juice in a large sauce pan. Add the ½ cup of butter and
heat until the butter melts. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the 2 cups of
sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cornstarch. Mix dry ingredients well, then add it
to the peach mixture. Remove the peach mixture from heat and pour it into the
baking dish on top of the pie crust.
Take the second pie
crust sheet, roll it out a little thicker than you rolled the bottom crust. Cut
strips approximately ½ inch wide. Use strips to create a lattice crust over the
Sprinkle the lattice
crust with the tablespoon of sugar, then drizzle the tablespoon of melted
butter over it.
Bake cobbler in 350
degree, preheated over for 35 to 40 minutes. The top crust should be a nice,
Sherri: I know how difficult being a full-time writer
can be so in all your free time, do you have any hobbies or interests and do
any of these show up in your writing?
Reese: I’m forever looking for a new outlet for my creativity. I
have tons of knitting and jewelry making supplies, though I do very little of
either. LOL. My fascination with jewelry making (my mother and I can watch
YouTube videos on the topic for hours) showed up in Book #3 of my Bourbon
Brothers series. The heroine owns a handmade jewelry and consignment shop.
Sherri: I think the Bourbon Brothers series is
my favorite but then I do enjoy a good bourbon.
What are your writing
strengths and weaknesses? As one of your readers, you make it all look so easy
but as a writer-friend, I know we all have our struggles. What comes easy for
you and what do you have to work harder to get?
Reese: The thing that seems to come easiest is the dialogue between
the characters. Sometimes it almost feels as if I’m just typing out what the
characters are already saying to me. I struggle with poetic descriptions.
Mainly because as a reader, that’s not what I want to wade through. I just want
to know what happens next.
Sherri: I think you hit it on the head, writing the
way we want to read is important. If we don’t want to wade through beautifully
crafted, poetic descriptions, other readers probably won’t either. A writer
friend told me you cannot be an effective writer if you are not an avid reader.
Who are your favorite
Reese: Though I watch mostly murder mysteries at home. (The Murdoch
Mysteries is my current obsession, and I eagerly await the Miss Fisher’s Murder
Mysteries movie.) However, I primarily read contemporary romance. There are too
many incredible authors out there for me to pick one or two as my faves. But
some of the authors I enjoy reading include: Elle Wright, Sheryl Lister, Karen
Booth, Jules Bennett, Delaney Diamond, Naima Simone, Michelle Styles, Beverly
Jenkins, Rochelle Alers, Kathy Douglass, Cheris Hodges and many, many more.
Sherri: You turned me onto several wonderful writers:
Nana Malone, Delaney Diamond and Karen Booth, I can’t wait to check out some of
these other authors.
Thank you so much for
joining us at Creekside Café, Reese, you truly are one of my favorite people
and I can’t wait to read Off Limit Lovers, your newest in
the Texas Cattleman Club series.
Reese Ryan writes
sexy, emotional romance with captivating family drama, surprising secrets, and
a posse of complex characters. Past president of the Heart of Carolina Romance
Writers, a panelist at the 2017 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books and recipient
of the 2018 Donna Hill Breakout Author Award, Reese is an advocate for the
romance genre and diversity in fiction.
A Midwesterner with
deep Southern roots, Reese currently resides in semi-small-town North Carolina
where she’s an avid reader, a music junkie, and a self-declared connoisseur of