New York Times bestselling author Susan Mallery has entertained millions of readers with her witty and emotional stories about women and the relationships that move them. Susan is honored by enthusiastic readers who say that her books make them laugh, make them cry, and make the world a happier place to live. Susan lives in Seattle with her husband and her tiny but intrepid toy poodle. She’s there for the coffee, not the weather.
Susan’s latest book is BAREFOOT SEASON, the heart-wrenching story of two wounded women who heal their friendship – and find love with two fabulous men – over one long, lovely summer on Blackberry Island, Washington. BAREFOOT SEASON is the first book of Susan’s new Blackberry Island series of women’s fiction novels.
Susan, what made BAREFOOT SEASON a story you had to tell?
I find female friendship endlessly fascinating. I feel very blessed to have several strong, supportive friendships that have endured for years. We celebrate each other’s successes, grieve for each other’s losses, nurture and praise and lecture – whatever is called for at that moment. I know how strong friendship between women can be.
But friendship can also be fragile.
One day, I asked myself, What if you and your best friend fell in love with the same man… and then he chose her? Could you be truly happy for her when your heart is breaking? What would you do if he then came to you – this man you both love – and told you that he made a mistake, that he should have chosen you? Could you turn him away? From this spark came BAREFOOT SEASON.
As children, Michelle and Carly were as close as sisters, running free on Blackberry Island. Now, ten years after their friendship was destroyed by love, they’re forced together again by circumstances to save the Blackberry Island Inn. Along the way, they’ll each find love with two great men and the sense of family they’d been missing for so many years. I do love a happy ending!
BAREFOOT SEASON is the first book of your new Blackberry Island series. What can you tell us about Blackberry Island, both the books and the place?
On Blackberry Island, life is sweet and the happy ending is guaranteed! I’m a firm believer that life is better with romance, so you can rest assured that the women on Blackberry Island will find love with men who will make your toes curl. The Blackberry Island books will also allow me to explore other relationships. We women often define ourselves by the relationships in our lives. Not just by our romantic relationships, but by our friendships, our relationships with our mothers, our children, our bosses, our neighbors… For us, it’s not so much “what do you do?” as “whom do you love and who loves you back?” that determines how we feel about ourselves. It’s nice to stretch my wings a little to write about some of these other defining relationships, as well.
Blackberry Island is a quaint island off the coast of Seattle, a popular weekend escape for Seattlites who want to get out of the city. You can get to the island either across Getaway Bridge or by ferry. Locals are friendly hosts, happy to direct you to one of several wineries on the island, the daisy fields that have made it the Daisy Capital of the West Coast, and the Puget Sound Crane habitats. You can learn more about Blackberry Island at www.blackberryisland.com. And yes, it’s fictional, but it’s real in my heart, as I hope it will become real in yours!
BAREFOOT SEASON is more of a women’s fiction, then, rather than a straight romance. Are you moving away from writing romance?
Absolutely not! I love romance. There is still nothing more exciting to me than watching two people fall in love. I adore the first kiss, my heart always sinks when things are at their darkest and it looks hopeless, and I am as thrilled as ever when love triumphs in the end. My next romance will be SUMMER DAYS, book 7 of the Fool’s Gold series, which will land in stores on May 29. Well, that’s the next full-length romance. On May 1, I’ll release ALMOST SUMMER, a Fool’s Gold ebook novella. Then there will be two more Fool’s Gold romances in July and August, plus a Christmas gift-sized hardcover in October called A FOOL’S GOLD CHRISTMAS. If you’ll sign up for my mailing list at www.susanmallery.com/members/, I’ll send you an email on release day.
Do you think book clubs will enjoy BAREFOOT SEASON? Why or why not?
I do! I belong to a book club, and the books we most enjoy discussing are the books that feel like a slice of life. In BAREFOOT SEASON, the two women at the center of the story are both decent people who have legitimate reasons for feeling the way they do, which means that book club members can legitimately fall on either side of the issue that’s causing the conflict in the book.
I’m always very proud when readers and reviewers say that they really identified with the characters in my books. Those characters feel as real to me as people in real life – a fact which is endlessly confusing for my poor husband, who has to ask for clarification when I tell him about something that someone did that day. “Is she a real person?” he’s forced to ask.
I think readers will really connect with the characters in BAREFOOT SEASON. Carly is a hard-working, loving single mom. She would do anything for her daughter, including put up with the woman who betrayed her. If the inn goes under, Carly doesn’t just lose her job – she loses her home, the only home her daughter has ever known.
Michelle is sarcastic and funny and kind of crabby. I do love a crabby woman! Michelle is prickly, but beneath that prickliness, she’s loyal and has a heart that won’t quit. Wait until you meet the dog she rescues – and who rescues her.
I’ve included a readers’ discussion guide in BAREFOOT SEASON to help get the conversation started. There are even a couple of recipes! I’d be happy to chat about the book live via phone or Skype with any book club that selects BAREFOOT SEASON. Just email my assistant at jenel (at) susanmallery (dot) com to set it up.
What kind of research did you do?
In BAREFOOT SEASON, Michelle is struggling with post-traumatic stress after being wounded in Afghanistan. Since I’ve never served in the military, I wanted to be sure I got those details right, to honor the women who serve our country. I did a lot of research online, then I spoke personally with Sergeant Betty Thurman. What struck me time and again was how proud our soldiers are of what they do. Rightfully so. These are strong, resilient women. Although they are barred from certain duties, they can and do serve in war zones. They can and do put their lives on the line, and they do it because they love our country.
After I finished the book, I asked a fan of mine who has been deployed twice to read it for a “gut check.” Did I get the emotions right, I wanted to know. She told me that she felt as if I was in her head. On top of being a soldier, she is a wife and mother to four children. She loved the book so much that she has preordered ten copies to send to her “battle buddies.”
What do you hope your readers take away from reading BAREFOOT SEASON?
Friends can become family. We’re not all lucky enough to be born with the family we deserve, but we can build a family by surrounding ourselves with loving, supportive friends.
How did you come up with the title BAREFOOT SEASON?
In the book, Michelle spots Carly’s young daughter in the back yard, barefoot and spinning in circles with her face raised toward the sun and her arms outstretched. It makes her long for the long summer days of her own childhood, when she and Carly ran barefoot around Blackberry Island. In her mind, being barefoot is closely connected with innocence, with the time in her life before she had been hurt, before she knew there was darkness in the world.
What’s next for you, after BAREFOOT SEASON?
This summer, I’m heading back to Fool’s Gold, California – the Land of Happy Endings – with four brand new full-length novels, plus an ebook novella. The titles and release dates are:
ALMOST SUMMER – May 1 (ebook novella)
SUMMER DAYS – May 29
SUMMER NIGHTS – June 26
ALL SUMMER LONG – July 31
A FOOL’S GOLD CHRISTMAS – September 25