Shannon Richard grew up in the Panhandle of Florida as the baby sister of two overly protective, but loving, brothers. She was raised by a more-than-somewhat-eccentric mother, a self-proclaimed vocabularist who showed her how to get lost in a book, and a father who passed on his love for coffee and really loud music. She graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor’s in English literature and still lives in Tallahassee, FL with her adorable rescue dog, Teddy (not that she’s biased or anything).
We were excited to sit down with contemporary romance novelist Shannon Richard, author of the County Roads series (Forever Yours), and pick her brain about her interest in reading and writing romance novels. In Part 1 of our interview, the Florida-based writer, she revealed how she got her start writing contemporary romance novels, where she draws inspiration for her eight (and counting!) novels, and the real-life moment that led to her writing the manuscript for her first novel, Undone.
Check back in next Friday for Part 2, when we find out how Shannon balances working full-time, writing and pitching new novels, and what books inspired her! —Maxine Shen
We’re curious: What got you hooked on romance novels?
Well, I’m a reader first. Before I dove into the pages of the romance genre, I was reading a lot of contemporary books that weren’t romance, though they usually did always have a love story. The problem with these books was that someone typically died at the end and they left me emotionally drained (I’m not going to name names, but I’m sure you know who I’m talking about). Now, don’t get me wrong, these days I love a good heart breaker here and there, I just need to be in the mood for it. When I pick up books like The Fault In Our Stars, Me Before You, or The Time Traveler’s Wife, it’s because I want to feel some pain. But to constantly live in that world? Yeah, it’s too much.
I was in high school and college when I was binging these devastating books, which is maybe not the best time to be super emo. I would have these lingering book hangovers that had me feeling sad for days. Like, really, really sad. After I graduated from college, I was supposed to do some volunteer work in Europe. Instead, an autoimmune disorder I had as a child decided to rear its ugly head and I moved back in with my parents while I got better. So ITP is a blood disorder where your platelets get super low, and the first course of treatment with this tends to be steroids. I was on a lot of steroids. I had terrible insomnia, mood swings, severe hot flashes, the whole gambit. So I wasn’t the most pleasant person in the world (thankfully my parents love me). Anyways, one of my outlets during this time was books, and I went to Books-A-Million often.
It was around Christmas that I stumbled upon these holiday short story books. One was all Lori Foster, and the other was a compilation of Jill Shalvis, Donna Kauffman, and HelenKay Dimon. I dove into those bad boys and did not come up for air until I was finished. And when I did resurface, I immediately went back to the store and bought everything I could get my hands on.
What was it about the romance genre that captured your attention?
I didn’t realize it then, but what drew me to romance was the pretty much guaranteed Happily Ever After. Sure, there can be moments that rip your heart out along the way—and as a writer I always try to pack a big emotional punch in my own books—but at the end of the story, the reader’s heart is always put back together, piece by piece until it’s whole again. I know that when I finish a romance novel, odds are I’m going to be satisfied. There is a lot of messed up, sad stuff in the world, and sometimes you just need a lighthearted escape. It’s comforting to know that when I pick up a romance novel, I can get lost in a story that is going to give me hope and leave me happy.
Did you feel like you had to follow any romance writing conventional wisdom when you were writing your first romance novel?
To be honest, I had no idea about formulas or the genre rules when I started reading or writing romance books. The only thing I’d ever written at the time (a still unfinished manuscript) was more like Twilight fanfic, just without the vampires. When I started writing Undone (my first published book), I just wrote the story that was in my head. Maybe it was because I was a couple of years into devouring every contemporary romance book I could get my hands on that the rules had somehow written themselves into my head without me knowing.
What inspired you to write your first novel, Undone?
When it comes to inspiration, it can be a small thing that triggers a book, or a big thing. For Undone, the catalyst for that story was one hot summer day while visiting my cousins. We were driving back home from breakfast with a family friend when this SUV in front of us broke down. The family friend got out to see if he could help the person in the car. Turns out it was this teenage girl who was on her way to work and she was sitting in the driver’s seat bawling because she didn’t know what to do. Also, keep in mind, she had her hazards on and every jerk on the road that day was honking like a lunatic at her, like this was what she wanted to be doing in 100 degree weather on a ridiculously busy highway. So the family friend and my cousin rigged up her car with a strap and pulled her to the side of the road like the good gentlemen that they were. And thus, Brendan and Paige’s love story began. I just thought it would be a really cool way to start a book, with my heroine stranded on the side of the road when her prince charming comes to her rescue. Though, I added a little more snark and sass to my story.
You’ve now written eight County Roads novels, started a new series and have other projects in the hopper. Where does the inspiration for all these new stories come from?
I have this habit that I cannot and will not break. More often than not, when I introduce a new lovely side-character (one who is obviously not a villain) onto the page, I almost immediately fall in love with them. When I create someone new, I have to know their backstory and I flesh them out as much as I can. I want to know what they look like, what their style is, what is up with their family, what they do for a living, their quirks, their wants, their needs, etc. The more I figure them out, the more I want to write their story.
In Undone, the second I wrote Jax and Shep (my hero Brendan’s best friends) onto the page, I knew they were going to get books. I was invested in them from the get-go. And then I saw how Jax and Grace (Brendan’s little sister) interacted with each other in their first couple of scenes. It was clear to me that they were next and that it was going to be a best friends’ little sister/friends to lovers plot. Undeniable was the second book in the Country Roads series and it was probably my favorite to write because I knew everything about it when I dove in. I knew everything because Jax and Grace had already told me their story.
After living in the imaginary town of Mirabelle, Florida for some many years, I have found it a little difficult to start from scratch again with a brand-new project in a brand-new world. Even my spinoff hockey series is pretty much the same world that I’d been living in before. I think that has been the hardest part about starting fresh for me, and might be a key component to my writing delays of late.
Check back Tuesday, February 9, for Part 2 of our interview with Shannon, when she tells us about what it’s like writing while holding down a fulltime job and what her favorite “Page Turners” are!
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