Hello, all of you lovely readers!
If you’re a lover of Small-Town Romance, or really Romance in general, we’re sure you’re well aware of our guest for today’s post, Alexa Aston! She last stopped by to give us a little insight on her Maple Cove series, and today, she’s here to answer all of our questions about Sugar Springs and the love that thrives there.
So, Alexa, first and foremost, what was your inspiration for the town of Sugar Springs, TX?
Simply being a native Texan and living in Texas my entire life. I’ve written two previous contemporary romance series prior to Sugar Springs. Maple Cove was spurred on by my vacation to the Oregon coast, while Hollywood Name Game portrays how Hollywood really is a small town, with everyone knowing everyone’s business!
I decided Texas would be the next spot to set my new small-town romance series. East Texas is full of beautiful rivers, lakes, and woods, and the people are warm and friendly. I wanted a mixture of heroes & heroines, with some having been raised in Sugar Springs, leaving their hometown for the big city, and returning because they missed that small-town feel and sense of community. The other heroes & heroines are new to the community, and they bring their own experiences as they are folded into the mix.
Along those same lines, what’s it like to set a series in a town born of your imagination versus a pre-existing one? Do you prefer one or the other?
I find it liberating to create a town from scratch. I always map out the town, noting which stores are where around the town square or scattered along Main Street. I also place where my characters live on these hand-drawn maps and add in local features, such as a lake. That way, I have everything in my mind and know where everyone is located, from the gas station to the hair salon. While I refer to other Texas towns in my Sugar Springs series (such as Tyler, one of the larger cities in East Texas), it’s fun to play around and build a town, taking a little from places I’ve visited, adding in a dash of things I’d like if I lived in a small town, and mixing everything together, baking it to perfection. This way, I’m not tied to specifics of existing towns. I have to admit, I simply love the name Sugar Springs.
So do we! Now, since this series is all tied together by the town, what came first in the writing process? Did you have stories already in mind that you decided would fit perfectly in Sugar Springs once you created it, or did the town come first and you slowly moved in each character?
I created the town and thought of various businesses to populate it—a diner, a bakery, the bank—those kinds of thing. But my writing process always starts with hitting on the just-right name for my hero & heroine. Once I land upon the perfect name, I can begin to see the characters and write up a physical description. From that, I start thinking of personality traits—and those can be influenced by the backstory of each character. Their occupations also have a lot to do with the storylines I develop.
Once I had my five couples’ character sketches and the ways to bring them together and pull them apart, I allowed the town of Sugar Springs to take on a life of its own. It truly becomes not only a setting, but it’s also a character in this series.
Tell us a little bit about Vivi and Ford. Did they spring to your mind sort of fully formed, or did they slowly let themselves be known as you wrote the book? Were they already in previous books at all?
I created Ford & Vivi as I explained above, and I definitely let them appear briefly leading up to their romance in RECIPE FOR LOVE. I think it’s important to tease upcoming heroes & heroines when you’re writing a series.
Ford’s uncle and aunt are key citizens in Sugar Springs, and he visited them every summer while growing up. That allowed him to have a connection with Walker (Learning to Trust Again) and Gideon (A Fresh Start). Ford also went to college at SMU with the pair, serving as a trainer for the football team Gideon played on. That meant Ford was always in the background, with a friendship and history with these two guys from Sugar Springs, both whom were successful at jobs in Dallas, but Walker and Gideon were drawn home to Sugar Springs. Ford always loved his time in the town growing up, and he’s eager to return to Sugar Springs full-time and go into practice with his uncle.
Vivi’s family owns Romano’s, a mainstay on the town square, and the pizza parlor where people love to hang out. She leaves home to spread her wings a bit, learning to cook (as does her brother Dante), and she builds a successful career at a Dallas steakhouse. Her parents are ready to retire after putting in long hours at the restaurant for decades, though, and she is drawn home by the prospect of taking over Romano’s and putting her own stamp on it. Vivi is best friends with Paige (Shadows of the Past), and she also has been seen in previous books before getting her own starring role in RECIPE FOR LOVE.
We love that Vivi traveled to Tuscany and learned the food of her ancestors while living with family there. What sort of research do you do for something like that? Did you treat yourself to a lot of Italian food while writing this book?
Were you a fly on the wall as I wrote this book? I did a LOT of research into Italian cuisine, which I love. I researched recipes. Read blogs. Went to Italian restaurants throughout the Dallas area so I could sample some of the dishes and desserts Vivi tries out on her customers (and Ford). I did gain a few pounds—and I still need to get them off! I’m going on a Mediterranean cruise in October, so I need to lose a few pounds now in order to be able to eat well on the cruise and not have to buy a new wardrobe.
I also had to research different occupations for the entire series. Hope is a vet, and I searched all the shots she would give pets, as well as various ailments they might have as they came into her clinic. I researched screenwriting since Paige writes screenplays in secret. Some of the research came more easily to me because I made Paige and Rory teachers—and I taught for many years. Cole is a head football coach, and I contacted one of my favorite coaches I worked with and got the skinny on what occurs during coaches’ meetings after practices and games. I enjoy injecting bits and pieces of research into my romances and hope not only to give readers a great romance to read, but I hope they learn a little something new, as well.
Without giving too much away, will readers get to see some of their previous favorites from the series, since it’s the final book before we leave Sugar Springs.
Absolutely! Whether I’m writing contemporary or historical romance, a huge theme for me is the family you cobble together. They may not be blood relatives, but friends can become your chosen family. These five couples in Sugar Springs definitely reflect that philosophy.
Readers will see (some in smaller roles, some in larger ones) Tanner & Paige; Walker & Rory; Cole & Nova; and Gideon & Hope. The epilogue in this final book of Sugar Springs wraps everything up for readers, and they’ll know exactly what’s going on with all these couples, both professionally and personally. I found it very satisfying to write and admit I was a bit teary-eyed when I completed the epilogue. It’s always hard to let go of a series and the characters whom I’ve grown close to.
And, finally, for something fun, if you lived in Sugar Springs, who would you be? What role would you play in the town?
I’m afraid I’d typecast myself and be a high school teacher since I spent so many years as one. It’s a world I know and love and a role I feel is so important. I wanted to teach my students not only academics but a little about life and kindness and character. In Texas, a small town often revolves around the local high school and its various activities, especially football games in the fall. A high school is at the heartbeat of these towns—and I’d enjoy being in the thick of things!
Award-winning, internationally bestselling author Alexa Aston lives with her husband in a Dallas suburb, where she eats her fair share of dark chocolate and plots out stories while she walks every morning. She loves reading, watching movies, and attending sporting events when she’s not watching Survivor, The Crown, or The Great British Baking Show.
A former history teacher, Alexa’s historical romances are set during the Regency, Medieval, and American Old West Eras—where she brings to life loveable rogues, dashing knights, and rugged cowboys and lawmen. She also writes contemporary romances which are light and flirty and sometimes contain a bit of suspense.