Alexis Harrington Interview and Excerpt

Available: NOW Amazon/B&N

Type: Historical Romance

Publisher: Montblanc

The futility of war… An invisible, indiscriminate enemy, striking without mercy… Hearts broken, then restored and sustained by love… A story of two worlds—one at war on the Western Front, the other grappling with an unseen adversary at home. In October 1918, Dr Jessica Layton stops in her hometown of Powell Springs, Oregon, on her way to a new position at Seattle General Hospital. She has stopped to visit her sister Amy, now being courted by Cole Braddock, the man Jess once expected to marry. But before she can escape the heartache of seeing him again, the influenza epidemic that is ravaging the world comes to town. With no other doctor available, she must stay to care for the patients who are falling ill in alarming numbers. She must also deal with Cole, the love of her childhood, who broke his promise to wait for her to finish her medical training.

Cole Braddock isn’t happy to see Jessica. Her promises to return home after medical school proved to be as insubstantial as mist. He’s sure that Amy Layton, sweet and domestic, is the right woman for him. With his brother fighting in the trenches of France, he’s busy operating the family horse farm and supplying mounts to the Allied Forces. He assumes he won’t have to see much of Jessica. But time and again, their paths cross when they are faced with duplicity, treachery, and the ultimate betrayal…

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Alexis, welcome!

Readers are excited to hear that Home by Morning will be available as a reissue from Montlake Romance on Christmas Eve.  How did that come about?
Modesty aside, editors from Amazon’s newly created Montlake Romance imprint got in touch with me and were very excited about the book, which I had self-published as an ebook, as well as my plans for Home by Nightfall.  That book continues the story of several characters from Home by Morning. I’m excited to be part of the imprint’s start up year and to be among the first wave of writers and readers exploring their debut publishing program.

You’ve already had some terrific response from readers, especially in their comments posted on different book sites.  One reader (“adventurat” on Smashwords) praised “the historical context, the sensory descriptions…the realities of medical practice and challenges in the period…really worked for me. Harrington does her research, and it shows.” Why this setting and that time period?
Setting and time period are always very important to me.  The town, Powell Springs, Oregon, is fictional and it’s loosely based on a few towns around me, though I changed some of the geography.  I tend to write about Oregon.  It’s my home state and the place I know best.  Plus, I can compare old photos to the streets as they look today, which helps me place much of the action in a book.
For Home by Morning, the time period loomed even larger than for other books.

Why was that?
This is a topic of ongoing debate. It was part of why I chose to self-publish Home by Morning.  In presenting the book to editors, it seemed that, at least within the romance genre, after 1900 was “recent,” not historical. More so, perhaps, to anyone over the age of 35 or 40. An editor once told me, “no cars.” That was the guideline. Since we don’t remember men fighting duels or using swords in battle, or women strapped into corsets or washing their hair with plain soap because shampoo didn’t exist, there’s no question that a book is historical. But 1900 was 111 years ago. It just seemed to me that was enough time to be considered “historical.”

Would your plot have worked set farther back in time?  
Not for me.  Stories are so much more than plot. And I really wanted the challenge of setting the strength of human nature and the power of emotion against that unique background of more than four years of anxiety, mourning and hope on the home front.  I also wanted to find out if I was right—that Jess and Colt’s love story could be set amid the extremes of good and bad brought out in people in these extraordinary circumstances and still grab and hold readers’ attention.
For me, writing Home by Morning was intensely connected to my desire to write about characters facing the Great War, the challenges on the home front and the ravages of the flu epidemic. I have very strong opinions on the subject of World War I, having devoted 10 years of research to it.  So much has been made of WWII—The Greatest Generaton—yet I learned very little about “the war to end war” in high school.  There were so many lives lost to that meat grinder war of attrition—over fifteen million deaths and twenty million wounded.  It was a very complicated affair and its resolution led the way into WWII and the rise of Adolf Hitler. During the same time period, the world was gripped by the “Spanish flu,” which in 1918 and 1919 killed more people than the Great War.

Did you ever worry that the events of the time would overshadow the relationship between Jess and Colt in Home by Morning?
I didn’t worry about it, but as I mentioned, I considered it a major challenge for me as a writer to stay true to the genre, especially with how emotional I can be when talking or thinking about those horrible years.  Fortunately, at its heart, the book always stayed a love story, a romance with a happy ending. The story may be shaped by the affects of events but it’s ruled by personalities, something I see as the hallmark of character driven contemporary and historical romance novels.

Please tell us more about Jess and Cole’s backgrounds.
Jess is a burn-out case. As a woman of her time, she had to fight for her medical education. She wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps, helping people, but her time working with New York City’s poor left her hopeless, believing that no matter how much she tried she’d never overcome the squalor, ignorance and poverty surrounding her patients.  She lost heart, found a research position with Seattle General and headed back west. She stopped to visit her sister in Powell Springs even though it meant facing Cole, the man who she expected to marry and who broke her heart instead.
Cole and his brother Riley were very competitive in their young years, a situation fostered by their father who pitted them against each other, believing it would make them both excel. When the US entered the war Riley was the first brother to enlist—a fact that rankled Cole. Riley had a wife and the family business to run. Cole felt very keenly the stigma of the times: a man not in uniform and overseas was considered a slacker. But the horses raised on the family ranch are desperately needed for the Army. He knows he can’t leave. Riley had beat him to it.
Jess’s return simply means more pain for him, as he once again comes face to face with the only woman he has ever loved.

Can you tell us more about the book you’re working on now, Home by Nightfall?
Yes, but not too much or I’ll have to include a “this answer contains spoilers” warning.  This book has been difficult. The execution is giving me fits. It has a love triangle and though I’ve written them before, this has been the most challenging.  Let’s see…it’s two years after the end of the war and the flu epidemic. Cole and Jess will be back, so will Susannah, Cole’s father, and several of the townspeople.  There are some surprises and I think I’d better stop right here.

 

You’ve been writing full time for twenty years, which in many ways is very solitary work. I would think that makes your work environment very important.  What is yours like?
I have an office in my home and settling down to work usually begins with me watching all the pets wander in—except the finch who is already there.  I have two Great Pyrenees and a cat that all seem to want to be with me while I’m trying to work.  Getting up to step around them is like maneuvering an obstacle course, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.  They are very dear to me. I also have three chickens who are not allowed in, but who would be thrilled to get into the house if I let them.
I keep dreadful hours. I’m not a morning person and I tend to be up late while the rest of the world is sleeping.  I love the quiet. Just the kids and me, candles burning, and elevator music playing. It’s even better in the summer because the still, fragrant nights are so inspiring.

You’ve been a full time writer for over twenty years and have published eleven historical romance novels.  That must take up most of your time, but what do you like to do when you step away from the keyboard?
I enjoy so many things!  I make jewelry, I’m a fine needlework artist specializing in embroidery and I thread crochet and sew. My grandmother on my mother’s side was a homemaker and a sewing whiz. She taught me to embroider, crochet and cook while my mom was at work. So it’s no surprise that I enjoy cooking, as well.  I also love to read, entertain friends, spend time with my pets, pursue craft projects, and decorate. Animal welfare is very important to me and I belong to several organizations, including the Oregon Humane Society and the ASPCA.  I’m also a strong proponent of preserving our historical buildings and sites; developers would bulldoze them all to put in subdivisions and malls.

What jobs have you held besides writing?
My jobs were mostly in offices, administrative assistant, receptionist, eventually administrative manager. Before I made the leap to full-time writer, I spent about twelve years working for consulting civil engineers. Riprap, anyone? How about a nice detention pond?
Most of your novels are set during various time periods in the Pacific Northwest.  What appeals to you so much about the area?
I’ve lived here my entire life, specifically in the Portland, Oregon area which is where I set Jess and Cole’s story in Home by Morning. It helps me to be able to go to some of the places that I’m writing about.  I’ll often bring old photos and compare them to the streets and buildings of today. It helps me orient myself and never fails to feed my imagination. Today, my fictional Powell Springs, which is also the setting for my July 2012 novel  Home by Nightfall, would be a pretty crowded suburb of Portland.  Back in 1918, it was a long distance from the city.

You share many of the historical details of Home by Morning in a very subtle way.  You mention patriot songs such as Over There and You’re a Grand Old Flag, Mary Pickford, calls handled by a telephone operator, prohibition, suffragettes.  Do you think subtlety is important in creating the mood and ambiance of your setting?  For any writer?
Yes, definitely, and I hope I was subtle. Otherwise the writer’s craft shows like a chartreuse slip hanging from beneath the hem of a burgundy skirt.

How has your family reacted to your writing and success?
Certainly, my mother is very proud. Her mother helped to raise me and she died two years before I sold my first book.  That is one of my greatest regrets. My grandmother was a voracious reader, not bad for someone who came to this country without a word of English.

Where did your family come from?
My maternal grandparents came from Asia Minor in the early part of the 20th century. They were Turkish nationals but ethnically Greek. I grew up hearing Greek spoken in the house and although I didn’t pick up speaking it, I can understand my American-born mother when she tells me something in public she doesn’t want anyone else to understand.
So, there are no claims to historic fame such as my family journeying west via the Oregon Trail. We were a family of immigrants. My grandmother was first married to an American naval officer and at that time, automatically became American as well. There’s a book in that story but I’ve been putting it off.

What are a few of the things you believe readers have come to expect from an Alexis Harrington novel?
Detailed reader reviews almost always note the vivid descriptions and feeling of “being there.” When I started writing, my goal was, and still is, to write believable stories about believable characters. I try to write the kind of books I like to read. That being said, I’m a huge fan of the Harry Potter, Outlander, and Twilight series.
I also do my best to crank up the emotions. If a reader tells me I made her cry, I know I’ve done my job.

Who are some of your favorite writers and books in general?
Although I’m not a horror fan, I’ll read Stephen King just because he writes so beautifully. I love that in the tensest moment, he’ll throw in something funny that makes me laugh. He’s one of those intimate, conversational authors who make me think of a rainy night, sitting in a kitchen with a bottle of wine, and he pushes out one of the chairs at the table and says, “Sit down, Alexis, I want to tell you a story.”
I also loved Frank McCourt and was stunned and felt bereft when he died. I’m keeping a sharp lookout for Suzanne Collins’ next work—I thought The Hunger Games trilogy was brilliant…Pete Hamill’s Forever… Anthony Bourdain can also write very entertaining stories that center around food, but really are so much more. Anya Seton wrote some fabulous books. I’m sorry she’s gone.

Which is your favorite among your own books?
A good friend taught me to always say that my latest book is my favorite, but privately, I think it’s a tie between Allie’s Moon and A Taste of Heaven.

How can readers keep up with your writing, books and everything else you’re up to?
Everyone is always invited to visit my website, www.alexisharrington.com.  Also my email is alexis@alexisharrington.com and mail still goes to PO Box 1229, Fairview, Oregon 97024. Please keep in touch.

Lastly, War Horse, the Steven Spielberg directed film based on Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel and Nick Stafford’s stage adaptation of the book opens in theaters on Christmas Day, 24-hours after Home by Morning debuts as a Montlake Romance.  Considering your interest in the era, will you be among the first in line to see it?
You know, I’ve seen the trailer for War Horse and as much as I would like to discover how the story and the times are handled, I probably won’t see it at all.  It’s got nothing to do with Steven Spielberg (he’s a brilliant storyteller) or the cast or anything of that sort. In fact, I’m delighted that the film will make many more people aware of this time in our history. It’s quite simply that I don’t think I’ll be able to watch it.  Movies about animals in danger or otherwise injured or abused are too much for me to handle, even if there’s a happy ending.  Not so surprising since I share my home and yard with two dogs, a cat, a finch and three chickens. So far.

Thank you, Alexis for joining us and best of luck with the new publication of Home by Morning and this summer’s Home by Nightfall!

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EXCERPT

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Cole found the coffee, ground the beans, and soon the room was filled with its rich redolence as it perked. Without help, he also located the cups, cream, and spoons. He searched for something to go with the coffee—Granny Mae was right, they had to eat. The best he found was a loaf of bread and a square of butter on a saucer. Jessica hadn’t been wrong about her lack of food.
But then as Amy had often reminded him, Jess had never had much talent in the kitchen.
He’d never cared.
Although the bread looked more like scraps by the time he’d butchered it, he was glad for the distraction. But he could feel Jessica’s eyes on his back as he puttered.
“Eat your sandwich,” he said over his shoulder. “The coffee’s about ready.”
Satisfied to see her nibbling on the chicken, he balanced the cups, coffee pot and other stuff to carry to the table. He’d never had much talent in the kitchen, either.
“Sorry about the bread,” he muttered, putting it down.
Jessica looked at the uneven hunks he’d sawed off the loaf and smiled. “It would probably look the same if I’d done it. She ate mechanically, simply because she knew she had to.
He poured coffee for both of them. Then he sat down in the chair across from her and splashed a drip of cream into his coffee.
“How long before you know . . . how will we . . . ”
“How will we know if Amy is going to live?” Jessica’s interpretation of his stumbling question sounded blunt and clinical, even to her own ears.
He sighed. “Yeah.”
“I wish I knew. Some people who ought to die seem to hang on through sheer will or what I can only call luck. Others I expect to improve don’t survive. Some people who’ve been exposed again and again seem to have immunity, but I’ve had cases from outlying farms that have had no visitors.” She put down the sandwich and rubbed her temples. “Talk about feeling useless—that doesn’t begin to describe how I feel.”
Cole nudged her foot under the table with his boot. “I’ve never seen a useless person work as hard as you.”
“It’s not difficult to look busy when you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”
“So you’re not really busy?”
“Of course, I am. But I’m scared too.”
“You? Jess, I don’t think you’ve ever really been afraid of anything in your life.” He said it not as a compliment, but as a statement of fact.
“What on earth makes you say that?”
“You’ve tackled jobs that would have knocked some men flat on their backs. And you’ve succeeded.”
“Obviously, you haven’t listened to some of the things I’ve told you.”
He stared into his cup. “Trust me, I heard all of it.”
Suddenly a pocket of pitch exploded in the wood stove, sounding as loud as a gunshot in the quiet room. Jessica flinched.
Cole laughed, startling her even more. “Hey, remember that Halloween night we snuck up to the Leonards’s house? You weren’t scared that night.”
She grinned then, the cloud of doom hanging over her suddenly lightened. “I haven’t thought about that in years! You had those firecrackers left over from the Fourth of July. And I was so scared!”
His own grin showed off the dimples that she’d always found endlessly fascinating and attractive. “Amy heard us plotting and made us take her along or she was going to squeal to your dad. We made her the lookout, but she was so nervous and jumpy, I thought she’d get us caught before we even started.”
Jess stirred her coffee. “Yes, she never had the heart for adventure, and I think she was all of ten or eleven at the time. When you climbed the trellis and got to the top of the Leonards’s roof, even I was sweating. I could see the whole family through the window, holding some kind of prayer meeting in the parlor. Then you dropped those firecrackers down their chimney—”
By this time, they were both laughing, the kind of desperate, happy, hysterical laughter that sometimes overtakes people in their darkest moments. Tears streamed down Jessica’s face.
“Blam, blam, bang-bang-bang—”
“Oh, I wish you could have seen them. You missed it all, up there on the roof. They jumped in every direction, knocking over chairs, prayer books flying. Old man Leonard grabbed his shotgun and actually pointed it at the fireplace! Poor Dolly dove under their dining room table with the kids.”
They laughed until they exhausted their wind, then drew breath and began whooping again. Cole slapped the tabletop a few times, howling until he’d emptied his lungs. By this time, she had a cramp in her side. Someone watching would think they’d taken leave of their senses.
His face red with the exertion, Cole said, “He was probably expecting the devil to leap out of the flames into their parlor, armed with a pitchfork. But then I got hung up in that rotting rose trellis of theirs while I was trying to climb down. The whole thing gave way. That was when he came outside. He practically yanked the front door off the hinges.”
With mock seriousness, Jess said, “I was sure my heart stopped then. At least there was no moon that night, or he would have spotted you, lying there in the flower bed. And Amy, she was hiding in their privet hedge, wringing her hands and crying.” She dissolved into high-pitched giggles again.
“Jesus, he would have shot the first thing that twitched. All I could do was stay there and not move a muscle until he went around the house in the other direction.”
“Then we ran. I didn’t know I could move that fast. I had to grab Amy and drag her along or she probably would have hidden in those bushes all night.”
“I was scratched up from those roses. They had thorns like arrowheads.” He looked at his bare arms, revealed by his rolled-up plaid shirt sleeves. The scars were no longer visible, only the muscle and sinew of a man who’d worked hard for years.
“You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck.”
“We were all lucky we didn’t get caught. I thought Amy would spill the beans for sure.”
“Actually, I thought she would too. She’s such a poor liar. But no one ever found us out.”
“I was scared to death they would.”
She raised a brow. “You told me you weren’t afraid that night.”
He waved off the comment. “Yeah, well, I couldn’t let you know.  I had my sixteen-year-old ego to defend. But old man Leonard would have staked me out in his backyard and let the dogs eat me. He’s such a sour crank.”
Their laughter finally faded, like a rocking chair that had coasted to a gentle stop, leaving a palpable silence.
“We had some fun back then, didn’t we,” Cole said, a bittersweet catch in his voice.
They’d had more than that. They had a history together, one that began in childhood. “We sure did. Before everything got . . . complicated.” She bit on the sandwich crusts,
but they’d dried out so she pushed them aside.
“Jess, I wish you had come home to stay when your father died, instead of going right back to New York .”
“Sometimes I wish I had too. I learned a lot in New York, but I’m not certain I’m the better for it. It cost me my peace of mind. I still have nightmares about the things I saw.”
His eyes locked with hers, his gaze pinning her to her chair. “No, I mean I wish you had come home—to me.”
Jessica’s heart squeezed in her chest like a fist. Her throat turned dry and felt as if she’d swallowed a burr. “How can you bring that up now?”
To her utter surprise, he slid off his chair and dropped to one knee beside her. His eyes never leaving hers, he reached up with one work-roughened hand and pushed loose strands of hair away from her face. The backs of his fingers grazed her cheek and goose bumps bloomed on her entire body, giving her a delicious shiver. Then his hand snaked around the back of her neck and pulled her face down to his. She felt his warm breath, smelled the scent of him, and she was powerless to stop him.
She didn’t want to stop him.
His lips touched hers, tentatively, seeking. For that instant, all the years and hurts and betrayals fell away. This was Cole Braddock, the man she’d always loved. She remembered his kiss well, yet it felt brand-new at the same time.
She pulled back, her breath coming fast. “We can’t do this,” she protested.
“I know.” Then he kissed her again.

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