Donna Alward on What Makes a Small Town Romance Unique + Giveaway
I adore small town romances, both writing AND reading them! But what makes small towns unique? The ones I love are beautifully similar but amazingly different, so let’s look at a few things that set small towns apart from other settings—and from each other!
Comment Question: Tell us how you feel about series titles and small town romances. Donna's latest book is the first in a new series.
5) Geography. I love Robyn Carr’s Virgin River books. And I love Sherryl Woods’s Chesapeake Shores. But they aren’t the same sort of town at all! Robyn’s is in California, with winding roads and tall trees and a bit of isolation. Sherryl’s is on Chesapeake Bay, and feels very East Coast and “oceany”. I set a series in coastal Maine, with the ocean on the doorstep. This current series, Darling, VT, is different. It’s green, not blue. Instead of beaches and secluded islands, it has parks and ski hills and golf courses. Each small town has its own unique, geographical identity.
4) The Economy. How do the people make their money? Do they live off the land, or off the sea? Are they in a “bedroom community” and commute to the city each day? Is the industry based on natural resources or tourism? Is it self-sustaining and vibrant; white collar or blue? How the citizens make their living is a big contributor to the town’s unique identity!
3) History. I absolutely adore towns with history and legends. In my Jewell Cove series, there was a mystery surrounding a treasure that was reportedly left during the Civil War, and involved the history of the town’s founders. In Darling, there’s a stone bridge called The Kissing Bridge that has a legend surrounding it. I also think of Barb Freethy’s Angel’s Bay series. I loved those books!
2) Main Street, USA. Whether it’s an American Main Street, or an English High Street, or the country’s equivalent, there’s something about the town’s main drag that appeals. Here you find out a lot about your population: what they like to eat, buy, read; where they get their hair cut and their cars fixed and what types of flowers are most often bought. You’ll discover the most popular local “watering hole” – maybe it’s a wine bar or maybe something a little more lowbrow, like Darling’s “Suds and Spuds” specializing in beer and fries. Or Jewell Cove’s “Rusty Fern” where you can get a good meal and a pint and play some darts and pool with friends.
1) The cast. Far and away, the most interesting, individual thing about small towns is the people who populate it. Maybe characters fill certain “roles” – like the best friend, the funny waitress, the kind librarian, the owner of the hardware store who plays Santa for the kids each year—but those characters all have their own quirks and qualities. We care about them. They make us laugh. Or cry. Or smile. One of my favorite town characters I’ve read about lately is Clovis Owens, owner of the Boulder Holder in Marina Adair’s St. Helena’s Vineyard series. She’s a real firecracker! In my town of Darling, I love Willow Dunaway, owner of The Purple Pig Café. She’s got a nose ring and a pink stripe in her hair, and owns a café specializing in organic and locally sourced food. She meditates and does yoga every day. She totally owns who she is. She’s also the best friend of Laurel Stone, the recently-divorced heroine of SOMEBODY TO LOVE.
Can you tell I LOVE small town romances? I hope you do, too, and you’ll step into Darling, VT, make yourself at home, and stay awhile. Let me introduce you….
Somebody Like You - A Darling, VT Novel, #1
A kiss to last a lifetime
Aiden Gallagher was only five years old when he appeared in a photograph on the Kissing Bridge. The town of Darling, Vermont, has used Aiden’s image on the famed bridge—local legend has it that a kiss there results in everlasting love—as part of its tourism campaign. Now, twenty years later, Aiden is asked to recreate the moment with the woman he once kissed: Laurel Stone.
Recently divorced, there’s nothing Laurel wants less than to pretend happily-ever-after with Aiden. As teenagers, their romance was no fairy tale—and Laurel has never quite forgiven Aiden for breaking her heart. But now that she is back in her hometown, and keeps bumping into police officer Aiden, Laurel can’t deny that there’s still a strong flicker between her and her old flame. Could it be that the Kissing Bridge is working its magic on Laurel and Aiden—and that all true love ever needed was a second chance?
Every single terra- cotta pot was smashed.
Laurel Stone blinked quickly, annoyed at the sting at the back of her eyes as she stared the mess. She was angry. Furious. Most people would rant or turn red in the face. But not Laurel. When she got mad, she angry-cried. And right now she was so infuriated that she could barely see through the hot tears.
She’d come in early to do some watering and deadheading before starting the weekly stock order, but discovered the gate hanging limply from its hinges, its lock busted. She immediately took out her cell and called the cops, working extra hard to keep her voice from shaking. Falling apart was not an option. She’d made it through a lot of life changes lately and had kept it together. This time was no different.
Now, as she waited for the police, she swiped at her face and bit down on her lip. It was only six thirty in the morning and she hadn’t even had her first coffee yet. The brew sat cooling, forgotten in her ladybug print travel mug. Normally she hummed away to herself, unwinding the hose in the cool morning air. Not today. Today she had to deal with the fact that crime actually happened in quiet, idyllic Darling, Vermont.
And that left her shaken.
The Ladybug Garden Center was her pride and joy, her foray into building a new life for herself. There’d been little incidents in her first few weeks of opening, but she hadn’t thought much of them. The parking lot had been messed up a bit where someone had pulled doughnuts with their car. Two lilac bushes from the bed by the store sign had been stolen. She’d sighed at the inconvenience, but chalked it up to simple mischief.
This time the intent was obvious. Deliberate. And it felt personal.
All the pottery was in shards on the floor. Six-packs of annuals had been pushed off their tables, spilling dirt and crushed blossoms. Hanging baskets had been carelessly dropped, so that the planters cracked and split. Tomato and pepper plants were strewn everywhere, broken and wilting. The lock on the little safe had been smashed, and they’d taken the small amount of money set aside for a float.
Laurel was sweeping shards of pottery into a dustpan when she heard the gritty crunch of tires on gravel. She stood up and braced her hand on her hip as the cruiser crept slowly up the drive and into the parking lot. Might as well get the report over with, and then get on with the clean-up and the call to the insurance agent.
The cruiser door opened.
Damn, damn, damn.
She’d forgotten, though she wasn’t quite sure how she could have since Darling was such a small town. Aiden Gallagher. One of Darling’s finest, complete with a crisp navy uniform, black shoes, and a belt on his hip that lent him a certain gravity and sexiness she wished she didn’t appreciate.
The last time she’d seen Aiden, she’d been home from school, barely twenty-one, and he’d flashed her a cocky take-a-good-look grin, all the while parading around the Suds and Spuds pub with some girl on his arm. Not that she’d expected any other sort of behavior from him. But still. Ugh.
Aiden approached the gate and she took a deep breath. He was a cop answering a call. Nothing more. And that was how she’d treat him. She definitely wouldn’t acknowledge that they’d known each other since they were five years old. Or that he’d once had her half-naked in the back seat of his car.
“Laurel,” he greeted, sliding through the gap in the fence. “Looks like you’ve had some trouble.”
She would do this. She would not cry again, especially not in front of Aiden. She had too much pride.
“A break-in last night.” She opened the gate a bit wider so he could get through. He passed close by her, his scent wafting in his wake. She swallowed. After all these years, he still wore the same cologne, and nostalgia hit her right in the solar plexus. He took off his cap and she saw his hair was still the same burnished copper, only shorter and without the natural waves, and his skin showed signs of freckles, but nowhere near as pronounced as they’d been. He wasn’t a boy any longer; he was a man.
He looked over his shoulder, his gray-blue eyes meeting hers.
Definitely a man.
A busy wife and mother of three (two daughters and the family dog), Donna Alward believes hers is the best job in the world: a combination of stay-at-home mom and romance novelist.
An avid reader since childhood, Donna always made up her own stories. She completed her Arts Degree in English Literature in 1994, but it wasn't until 2001 that she penned her first full-length novel, and found herself hooked on writing romance. In 2006 she sold her first manuscript.
Donna loves being back on the East Coast of Canada after nearly twelve years in Alberta where her Harlequin career began, writing about cowboys and the west. Donna's debut Romance, Hired by the Cowboy, was awarded the Booksellers' Best Award in 2008 for Best Traditional Romance. She's a two-time Colorado Award of Excellence winner and a 2012 RITA Award nominee.