He pushed himself to his feet, disconcerted by his unsteadiness. He made a few halting steps toward the gate as Blair ran into the yard.
“I forgot my sweater,” she said, grabbing the garment from the back of a chair and slipping it on. “It’s cooler than I thought. Are you sure you don’t want to watch the fireworks with us?”
His words were cut off by a loud explosion, and his only thought was that he had to protect Blair. He grabbed her and threw her to the ground, covering her body with his. He was under attack. Why was Blair in Afghanistan? How could he keep her safe?
Through the chaos and noise he heard her muffled voice beneath him. “Garrett, you’re crushing me.”
He shifted his weight slightly. “Shh. I’m sorry. You have to stay down and quiet. I can’t let them hurt you.”
She stopped struggling. “Who’s going to hurt me?”
“Can’t you hear the mortar fire? I have to protect you.”
Her hand rubbed his back in gentle circles. “It’s all right, Garrett. It’s only fireworks. It can’t hurt us. We’re safe here.”
He lifted his head and looked around. He was in Cole and Lauren’s back yard in Masonville. There were no bombs, no shelling, no Taliban. He looked down into Blair’s face, into the pity in her eyes. He rolled off her, disgusted with himself.
Disgusted and scared. He was losing his mind.
Stuff About Me
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
My first book was published in 2007 and I’ve been going strong ever since. I wrote and submitted (and was rejected) for many years until a publisher took a chance on me and my work. I like to say I had a very long apprenticeship as a writer!
I write primarily contemporary romance, but I’ve also written romantic suspense, and historicals set during World War Two, one of my favorite time periods to write about. I’d love to write more suspense and WW2 stories in the future.
What are some of your pet peeves?
Cruelty to animals, wastefulness, unkindness. There’s a lot of things to be peeved about in the world, but much more to be thankful for. Like love and family and friends.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I’m Canadian and I grew up on a farm in western Canada, in the province of Saskatchewan. We lived fourteen miles from the nearest small town where we did our shopping and where I went to school. Perhaps that’s why I gravitate to writing small town romance novels. I feel that I “get” small towns.
If you knew you’d die tomorrow, how would you spend your last day?
If I knew I was going to die tomorrow, I certainly wouldn’t worry about my diet today! I’d be helping myself to an extra piece of cheesecake! But seriously, if it was my last day, I’d want to talk to the people I love and care about, share a laugh or two and tell them I love them.
What kind of world ruler would you be?
I hope I’d be a fair world ruler, and a compassionate one. I really dislike intolerance of any kind. On the downside, I can be somewhat disorganized, so I might be something of a scatter-brained ruler. Hopefully, the title of World Ruler comes with an assistant or two!
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I find that yoga helps with relaxation, as does a nice, warm bath. But my favorite way to relax will always be to read a romance novel.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Back in 2007 when my novel “Her Best Man” was first contracted, I was working on edits with my editor. She pointed out, in bold yellow highlights, the number of times I used the terms “He smiled” or “She smiled”. The amount of yellow on that manuscript was truly shocking! I had no idea how repetitive I’d been. I mean, really, how much smiling could my characters possibly do? She suggested that I change some of those “smiles.” So, I took up the challenge and either changed or eliminated 99 percent of those repetitions. When my editor got back the manuscript after I’d had my way with it, she told me that only a “real” writer would put in that much work to make the writing better. Her praise made me very proud, and I’ve been calling myself a “real” writer ever since.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
I would love to see “Flawless” as a movie since it’s set in France during World War Two. The story takes place in a beautiful old French chateau. The setting would be fabulous. It’s got a suspenseful plot with spies and evil Nazis, jewel thieves and priceless diamonds. And spoiler alert, the good guys win!
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
I think it would be a Pug. In January of 2020 we lost our seventeen-year-old Pug/terrier cross Lou and I like to think she’s looking out for me from somewhere over the rainbow bridge.
Stuff about the Book – To Heal a Heart
What inspired you to write this book?
This book is number two in my Masonville small town romance series. In book one, “Child of Mine”, Lauren is the female lead and we’re introduced to her brother Garrett. We don’t know much about Garrett except that he’s a supportive brother and that he’s recently retired from the military after serving in Afghanistan. I wanted to tell his story and what he’s been through, and I wanted to help him find his way back to his life through love. But the path isn’t going to be easy, because as difficult as things have been for Garrett, things have been even tougher for Blair. She’s been through a lot.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m currently working on book three of the Masonville series. In this one, with the working title “Unexpected”, I’m telling Blair’s brother’s story. Ben has experienced profound loss in his life, but right now he’s found family by raising his two stepdaughters and giving them a stable family, something he and his siblings never had. When he falls in love, it’s completely unexpected. Hence the title.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in “To Heal a Heart”? What makes them tick?
Blair is compassionate and caring. As a veterinary technician, she tends to the health needs of animals. In her free time, she rescues and cares for horses. She moves to Masonville so she can better look after her grandfather, whose health is fragile. Through her work and her love of animals, she’s trying to move past the deep hurts of her childhood and youth.
Garrett, on the other hand, had an idyllic childhood and young adulthood. Unlike Blair, he has supportive, loving parents. He was strong, athletic and the guy girls wanted to be with. He always knew who he was and what he wanted out of life. But all that changed in Afghanistan and now he’s not sure where he fits in the world. What is he supposed to do with his life? He’s not even sure who is anymore, or why any woman would want to be with him.
Who designed your book covers?
Rae Monet is the talented artist responsible for the beautiful covers for both Masonville books. Rae also designed my website (www.janarichards.com) and created the cover for my self-published book, “Take a Chance on Me”. I think it’s probably my favorite cover of any of my books, mainly because of the adorable Pug featured prominently on it!
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
Horses play a large role in this book. I may have grown up on a farm, but I know zip about horses. I enlisted the help of friend who owns horses and she helped me a lot, mainly with things like the feeding and care of horses, and their behavior. For book one, “Child of Mine”, my hero Cole is a veterinarian who specializes in equine medicine. I have a scene where he takes Lauren along on a farm call to assist at the birth of a foal. I researched the scene thoroughly and then had a veterinarian who works with horses read it through for accuracy. He said I got it right so I was pretty proud of that. Did you know that mares can completely stop labor if they feel threatened or frightened? Fascinating.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
For the male lead, I would want Garrett to be played by Henry Cavill. Even though Henry has light colored eyes and Garrett has dark brown eyes, Henry is tall, handsome and muscular, everything I imagine Garrett to be.
The character of Blair has been a little harder for me to nail down. I know she has long, curly, light brown hair and green/hazel eyes. I think she’s pretty and definitely attractive but not drop-dead gorgeous. After an Internet search, I think the real-live person who comes closest is Emma Watson.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story?
I like to think I’m in charge of my characters and the story, but I usually turn out to be wrong. Part way through writing “To Heal a Heart”, Blair confessed something to Garrett that I had no idea she’d done! I begin every book I write by plotting and planning and I think I have everything under control, but at some point, the characters take over and start telling their own story.
Stuff About Writing/Reading
How long have you been writing?
I started putting pen to paper in the early 1990s. I wrote in longhand back then with a pen on loose-leaf paper. My kids were very young and I didn’t have a lot of time, but I’d jot down ideas whenever I had a chance. I even wrote an entire manuscript in longhand. However, that manuscript will never see the light of day because honestly, it was really bad! I had a lot to learn.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I do quite a bit of planning before I begin writing a book, so I have a pretty good idea who my main characters are at the start. I know their backstories (at least some of it) and what they want, or think they want. I know who I want to pair together; it’s usually two people with conflicting goals. As I write, their personalities form more fully and I learn who they really are. It’s an exciting process.
Most of my secondary characters come to life for me as I write them. I know they’re someone’s mom or best friend, but I don’t know that they’re funny or have a sarcastic sense of humor until I’m writing their scene. Other secondary characters, like Blair’s mother in “To Heal a Heart”, are a little different. I knew from my initial planning that Victoria was going to be self-centered and entitled. It surprised me how ruthless she eventually became.
When it comes to names of characters, I’m all over the place. Fortunately, both Garrett’s and Blair’s names came to me as soon as I started planning this story. I can’t tell you where the names came from, only that they felt right. But some characters go through several name changes before I can settle on the right one. Same with book titles. For this book, I went through dozens of ideas and suggestions with writer friends and my editor before finally settling on “To Heal a Heart”. In contrast, I knew from the outset that book one’s title would be “Child of Mine”. Sometimes, when you know, you know.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
I do a lot of Internet research on topics big and small. I read books on the subject I’m writing about, especially history. I wrote a novella called “Home Fires”, set just after the end of World War Two, about an English woman who comes to Canada to marry a Canadian pilot but discovers when she arrives that he’s already married. I read several books about Canadian war brides, many of them written by the bride herself. The books talked a lot about the culture shock of coming to a new country, and of marrying a man the war bride barely knew. Some war brides said that, upon their arrival, when their husbands picked them up at the train station wearing civilian clothes, it was the first time they’d seen wearing something other than a uniform. It was fun research about an era I’m fascinated with.
Nothing beats talking to someone about a research subject. A friend of mine helped me with some of the horse information in “To Heal a Heart”.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I prefer to write in a quiet room, mainly because I’m easily distracted. I know a lot of writers enjoy listening to music as they write. Some even create playlists for each book based on its themes. But if I listen to music, I end up listening to the lyrics and it totally derails my train of thought. Even instrumental music distracts me. White noise isn’t too bad, like the background hum of a busy coffee shop. But if I can distinctly hear someone’s conversation, I’m sunk.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I’m usually better off if I stick to writing one book at a time, but sometimes circumstances don’t allow that to happen. I was writing the first draft of “Unexpected”, book 3 in the Masonville series, when the edits for book two, “To Heal a Heart” came back to me from my editor. An editor will make all kinds of suggestions and corrections to a manuscript and it’s the writer’s job to take care of them. So even though I was deep into Ben and Jamie’s story, I had to pivot back to spend time with Garrett and Blair as well. I managed to accommodate both couples for a few days, but honestly, I’m more of a one-book at a time kind of girl.
Pen or typewriter or computer?
Does anyone use a typewriter anymore? I gave mine up years ago when I could no longer buy typewriter ribbon. I mostly use my computer, either my laptop or my desktop, but occasionally I’ll break out a pen, especially if I’m trying to work out a plot point. There’s something about cursive writing that connects the brain to the hand in a way that doesn’t always happen for me at a keyboard.
Tell us about a favorite character from a book.
In my own writing, one of my favorite characters is Zane in “A Long Way from Eden”. I don’t write a lot of alpha male characters, but Zane fits that description. He thinks he knows what’s best for his pregnant teenage daughter Erin and her boyfriend Tom – marriage. Meg, Tom’s mother, knows from experience that pregnancy is not a good enough reason for marriage, and she and Zane butt heads immediately. But even though he tries to control the lives of people around him, he does it from a place of love. He grew up not knowing who his father was and he doesn’t want that kind of shame for his grandchild. I like the way Zane takes care of his daughter and his mother, and eventually Meg and his granddaughter.
What made you want to become an author and do you feel it was the right decision?
That’s a hard question to answer because I feel that in some ways, becoming an author was the only decision for me. I’ve been an avid reader all my life and when I read my first romance novel I thought, “I could do that.” I eventually learned it’s a lot harder than it looks and I had a lot to learn. But once the writing bug bit me, I was hooked. There isn’t anything else I’d rather do.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I start by coming up with a premise. I need to know the conflicts the characters face and what their goals are. I do character sketches for each main character to try to figure them out: what do they look like? What are their mannerisms? What’s their backstory? Then I write out a sort of synopsis of what I think will happen in the story. The synopsis gives me a starting point and a point of reference when I get stuck; I hate staring at a blinking cursor. I might do some initial research on a pertinent topic to get me started. And then I jump into the actual writing. My process is a little messy and I always wish I was more organized, but it seems to work for me, so I figure if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
A trap that I fell into when I first started to write was believing that my first draft had to be perfect. I would endlessly polish the first three chapters, and often that was as far as I got. When I finally embraced revision, I was able to keep writing without worrying about mistakes and imperfections. It allowed me to continue until I could finally write those two sweet, little words: The End. I can always go back and fix something, but I can’t fix something that isn’t written. I’ve come to believe that revision is where the magic happens in writing.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I think what romance readers always want in a romance novel is a hero they can love, a heroine they can identify with, and a satisfying ending to their love story. That’s definitely what I try to deliver with every book I write. However, I don’t want to use the same plots or characters over and over again. I try to be a little bit original with every story. Sometimes it’s the setting, the character’s backstory, or details of the plot. I want something new and different about each story or series.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
When writing a male character, I have to watch the dialogue. Men, or at least some men, tend not to be as wordy as women. They tend to speak in short, to-the-point sentences. And they probably don’t gush about their emotions. That point was driven home to me as I was writing “Secrets and Solace”, book two in the Love at Solace Lake series. Cameron Hainstock is not a chatty guy. He keeps most of his opinions, along with his thoughts and feelings, to himself. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel things deeply. As I was writing his dialogue, I was constantly aware of the need to keep his answers short and succinct, and to keep his feelings from showing too much. Where I may need ten words to answer any given question, Cameron can do it in two.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
That’s a little like asking “How long is a piece of string?” It varies from project to project. And of course, the length of the book matters as well; I’ve written several novellas that took far less time to write then a full-length novel. Some books seem to write themselves while others fight ferociously, kicking and screaming through the entire writing process. I’m not a particularly fast writer, but I can get a messy first draft completed in about four months, IF I’m working on it consistently, which doesn’t always happen. Getting that sucker polished and ready for submission can take some time longer, depending on how stubborn it’s being. Of course, like many writers, I have books/series that have been waiting for completion for months, years even. I hope to go back to one such abandoned series once I’ve finished book 4 of the Masonville series. It’s a time-travel romance series that’s been calling my name very loudly lately.
Jana Richards has tried her hand at many writing projects over the years, from magazine articles and short stories to paranormal suspense and romantic comedy. She loves to create characters with a sense of humor, but also a serious side. She believes there’s nothing more interesting then peeling back the layers of a character to see what makes them tick.
When not writing up a storm, working at her day job as an bookkeeper, or dealing with ever present mountains of laundry, Jana can be found pursuing hobbies like golf (which she does very badly) and reading (which she does much better).
Jana lives in Western Canada with her husband Warren.