SS: Today I’m interviewing Carrie Nichols, the author of The Marine’s Secret Daughter, a romance about forgiveness and second chance. Carrie is a hardy New Englander transplanted to the deep South, where two inches of snow can bring a city like Atlanta to its knees. She loves to travel, is addicted to British crime dramas, and knows a Seinfeld quote appropriate for every occasion. To her dismay, Carrie’s characters, much like her family, often ignore the wisdom and guidance she lovingly offers. USA Today called her short story, Snowbound with the Stork, “a charming debut.”
Welcome, Carrie. Where did you get the idea for this sweet story?
CN: I actually got the hero first. Years ago I was a member of a local writer’s group and each month we’d write a very short piece using a ‘prompt’. That month’s prompt was: You get a call from an old high school friend who needs help and asks that you meet them in a favorite hangout. It was a nothing little piece but the guy who answered the call, Riley Cooper, wouldn’t leave me alone. He continued to tell me his story and that the person needing help was his best friend’s younger sister. When he told me he’d do just about anything to help and not ask questions, I knew I was onto something.
SS: What’s the story behind the title?
CN: As I was working on the story, I called it Rescuing Riley. The story won the 2016 RWA® Golden Heart® for short contemporary as Rescuing Riley. Harlequin asked me to come up with possible titles; and I knew from years of reading Special Edition what sort of titles they had. I came up with a few including The Marine’s Surprise Family which the editor loved and it was that title for about 30 days, but marketing thought The Marine’s Surprise Daughter worked better and that one lasted about 30 minutes before it had morphed into The Marine’s Secret Daughter.
SS: No spoilers, but tell us something we won’t find out just by reading the book jacket.
CN: The cover shows the little girl holding a stuffed dog. In the story the toy dog’s name is ‘Mangy’ because it’s referred to as “Fiona’s mangy mutt,” and she does something with the toy that reduces my big tough marine to tears. My eyes misted as I wrote the scene, so I hope some readers feel the same.
SS: Who’s your favourite character.
CN: Fiona, the little girl in the story. But she gave me fits because she was larger than life and threatened to hijack the story whenever she was on the page. I had to let her personality shine through without letting it overshadow the romance between her parents.
SS: If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and what would you do?
CN: I would spend the day with my heroine Meg, and we’d go for the spa day she never got in my teaser.
SS: How long did you take to write this book?
CN: Years and years. LOL! The story underwent a lot of changes since I knew nothing about plotting and story arcs when I first wrote it as a series of scenes. But these characters wouldn’t let go, and I’d learned enough by the fourth draft to win contests and to sign with my dream agent.
SS: What kind of research did you do for this book?
CN: I love research so I did way more than I needed. I researched the fictional setting of Loon Lake, Vermont, including the loons that make the lake home. I consulted several nurse friends for the hospital scenes, a friend whose son was a marine and my critique partner whose husband is a Respiratory Therapist.
SS: How do you carve out your writing time?
CN: I write in my home office. When my youngest moved out I cried when I walked into his empty room until I realized I had an empty room! As my husband observed, I wasted no time in making that room my own with paint and some bookcases. I am also lucky enough to not have a day job. I lost my job about a month after signing the contract with Harlequin and since my husband was already retired, I decided to join him.
SS: Which book influenced you the most?
CN: It wasn’t books but authors that inspired me. As a kid I loved Beverly Cleary, as a teen I loved Gothics by Barbara Michaels and Phyllis Whitney. Later I loved Anne Stuart’s dark and tortured romance heroes. Anne Stuart made me want to write about heroes who find redemption through the love of the right woman.
SS: What are you working on right now?
CN: I actually have two stories started, The Sheriff’s Little Matchmaker and The Fire Fighter’s Twins.
SS: What’s your favourite writing advice?
CN: The romance is not the story goal. The romance should make the goal harder to obtain.
SS: What’s the elevator pitch for your story?
CN: The Marine’s Secret Daughter is a story of second chances filled with heart, home and humor.
“She has his eyes. Her mother has his heart.
Years have passed since marine sergeant Riley Cooper last held his best friend’s sister in his arms. Bound for Afghanistan, he believed walking away from Meg McBride was the kindest thing he could do. Now that he’s home, he doesn’t blame Meggie for hating him. But she hasn’t told him everything. And he hasn’t met the little red-haired girl whose gray eyes so resemble his own…”
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