Interview with a Swede: On Writing a Series of Standalone Romance Novels
For today's post, the Sheila sat down with the Swede to talk about plotting a series, writing, and publishing.
Sheila: So, I'm lucky enough to be sitting here with the Swede. Usually, our conversations take place over Skype, but today we’re actually sitting down at my dining room table – our makeshift business and office space while the Swede is visiting us. Hi, Swede.
Swede: Hi, Sheila.
Sheila: I've heard you've just finished your first book in the Mercy series. Congratulations on that.
Swede: How have you heard that, I wonder...
Sheila: Ah, you told me.
[Sheila and Swede laugh]
Swede: Yes, I’ve finished. Finally, after five years.
Sheila: Five years. What took you so long?
Swede: I have no idea. [laughs] The majority of it I probably wrote in the first year and, yeah, then it was the ending that would not come about.
Sheila: The ending would not come?
Swede: [laughs] It would not.
Sheila: But you’ve finally finished it?
Swede: I have.
Sheila: Why don't you tell me a little bit about this Mercy series?
Swede: Well, so, Mercy is a small town - a fictional small town, obviously - in upstate New York, close to Albany. It's inspired by Cohoes. I wanted a small town that was disconnected from the present because obviously you want a story to last for a long time, and by placing it full on in reality, it will be dated. Obviously, this will be too. There are a few references that were up-to-date in 2013, and they are not up-to-date in 2018.
Sheila: Do you want to share those?
Swede: For example, a supporting character says "this is going to be the dude ranch of the 10s", and my main character says, “the ‘10s? You sound like we're heading into the ‘20s and we'll all be flappers soon.” She's like, “it's going to catch on.” We now only have two years before we hit the 20s. The new 20s. So, um, I don't know. But I really like that quote. I'm thinking about taking it out and putting it on the blooper reel.
Sheila: Blooper reels for books, I like that idea. We need blooper reels as much as we need montages for books. Why don't you tell us a little bit about the heroine? And do you want to share the name of your heroine or the title of your book?
Swede: The title of the book is Leap of Faith. So, shockingly, my main character's name is Faith. She's a young woman.
Sheila: How old?
Swede: Around twenty-eight. And she’s living in a duplex. She has an elderly landlady who sells the duplex, which is what starts things off because she sells the house to Faith’s long-ago best friend and big crush, Chase.
Sheila: Ooh, exciting.
Swede: Chase returns to town after being away for a while. He went off to college and got married, and you’ll have to read the books to find out how that played out. Faith herself works at a cafe called Books ‘n’ Buns, and she is also running a hiking business. She takes tourists into the Adirondacks and teaches them survival skills. When Chase returns, Faith reconnects with her former friend who she had a major crush on. A crush he never knew about.
Sheila: I guess that tells us a little bit about the hero and the storyline as well. So, we've got Faith and Chase, our couple. Would you label this a contemporary romance?
Swede: I would. It’s also a coming home story and a second chance romance.
Sheila: Is there anything else you want to share about your book?
Swede: This book means a lot to me, as I first started writing it as wish fulfilment, for the one who got away. Obviously with very different circumstances and characters who are not based on any actual persons. I think this theme will resonate with a lot of women and girls who hold back from expressing their feelings out of fear of rejection.
Sheila: Okay, so this is you rewriting history? Turning back the clock?
Sheila: How many books are in the series?
Swede: Three in total.
Sheila: Can you tell us about your process for writing a series? Did it take much planning?
Swede: It took quite a bit. I realized that since I'm setting these stories in the same small town I need to co-ordinate the characters who are going to show up in later books. There are a lot of minor characters that make up the town of Mercy and influence the main characters of each standalone book in the series. Each book is set five years apart, so I needed to make sure that all the characters in this Mercy-universe align with the timeframe of the main storylines. I made an Excel sheet where I wrote down the ages of each character during each book. For example, people that the main characters may have gone to high school with need to be the right age. And a minor character in one book may have a more significant role in another, so they need backstory, too.
Sheila: So, the next book takes place when Faith is thirty-three?
Swede: She won't really be in it, but yeah, Faith will be thirty-three. The main character in book two, Hope, is four-to-five years younger than Faith. She's not in Mercy in Leap of Faith, but she is mentioned. I can't really tell you how the epilogue goes - big spoilers! – but it does set up the next book.
Sheila: Have you started on the next book yet? Hope’s book?
Swede: Yes. And the third book is partially written. It will need a rewrite because it was initially not supposed to be part of the series. It was just another book, but it works as part of this series, so I've set that up as well. The main character in the third book is around in both previous books and mentions certain things that will be important in book three.
Sheila: Who would you say your major influences are when writing contemporary romance?
Swede: I wouldn’t say I’ve been influenced by anyone in particular when it comes to writing romance. I read extensively, and I have learned a lot about the formula from genre romance. Leap of Faith is a warm story, not dramatic. Okay, a little bit dramatic, but not much dramatic compared to other stuff that I write. My humor is influenced by Sophie Kinsella, but I don't know how much of that humor is coming into these books. There's some banter, but I've written way funnier books according to you. Like my thrillers.
Sheila: Your thrillers are hilarious. If you haven't read the Swede’s thrillers then you should because they are highly entertaining. I recommend The Poolman for its standout scenes. Check it out on Wattpad. Circling back to my question, though, you wouldn’t compare this story to another out there?
Swede: Not any I can think of. When I wrote this book, I just wanted to…I think you were the one who said ‘you should write your story and your wish fulfillment.’
Sheila: I did say that.
Swede: So that comment was kind of my inspiration.
Sheila: I do love wish fulfillment. So much. Can we assume because of the second-chance element that there’s no insta-love?
Swede: There is a bit of a build-up. Actually, there is a long stretch of build-up because there is friendship first, so this is more of a slow burn.
Sheila: I love slow burn romance. Can you tell us where can we go for more information about the Mercy series? And when is the book coming out?
Swede: Well, you can always find the latest information by subscribing to our newsletter at Sheila & Swede. [laughs] And I'm sounding like such a marketing person right now. Of course, you can also follow us on Instagram and Twitter for regular updates.
Sheila: And the release date?
Swede: The release is scheduled for November 22nd, but we’ll see how that goes. It's not yet up for pre-order but it will be. The second book of the series – Dash of Hope – is tentatively planned for release in May.
Sheila: That’s fantastic news. Is Dash of Hope your current WIP?
Swede: It is.
Sheila: Well, I can tell you all now that I’m excited to launch it, and I hope everyone is as excited to read it. And if you’re reading through this interview, you rock! Don’t forget to sign up for more information and updates on the Mercy series. You don’t want to miss out on this small town, second-chance romance.