Travel Inspires Romance Novels

Between my old “day job” and my inherited wanderlust feet, I’ve done a great deal of traveling–and can’t wait to get out and do some more! Travel gives me a broader perspective and helps me come up with new ideas for plots and characters for my romance novels.

Inspiration for a romance  novel on the Bitterroot River.Travel doesn’t have to be far. My husband and I took a walk a few weeks ago and I snapped this photo on the Bitterroot River. A romance novel could evolve from this picture. Or a romantic suspense. What if the fisherman found a dead body? Or a woman crying by the river? What happens then?

Or maybe he’s the villain in the piece?  Let your imagination run wild. I know I will. Once I’m done with my California Romance series, I know I’m thinking about a series set in my home state of Montana.  I’m just not sure where exactly to place it.

Inspiration for romantic suspense

A traveler could break down near this hardscrabble ranch on Montana’s Eastern Front. Will she find welcome or danger? Maybe she could help the son bring the ranch back to life and discover love in the process.

Grizzly bear paw print inspires romantic suspense

A grizzly bear paw print definitely leads to romantic suspense.  For the man or woman? What if its a woman and her child and the rescuer is a forest ranger?  Or a nerdy scientist from the University of Montana? So many possibilities…

Make sure you always have a good book when you travel, as well as lots of paper to make notes and a camera. Take some time to stop and see, really see, the amazing world around us.

As writers, we hope to evoke the world around us or invent worlds of our own for you to visit for a while.

Fishercap Lake, Glacier National ParkOne of my favorite places is Glacier National Park. Sooner or later I know I’ll have a story that takes place in that craggy country.  There are plenty of animals to invite into my stories, including the bull moose in the lake to the left.

California Romance beach

In the meantime stop by and visit the land I’ve created in the California Romance series (California Sunset and California Wine). Costanoa is quite beautiful this time of year.


Food, Wine and Books

The winter snow blankets the ground here in Montana. I used to live in California and all my California friends are tormenting me with temperatures in the 70s, while the temperature here averages in the 20s and 30s. But, I retort, I’m not gardening (also known as fighting an ever-losing battle against weeds) all the time.  I can do other things! Like cook!

Frankly, my husband and I are foodies.  We love a good meal out and explore restaurants wherever we are. Over the years we’ve learned more about wine, so the wine list, even if it’s an inch thick, isn’t as intimidating as it used to be. Every year he buys me an issue of Cook’s Magazine for Christmas. Last year I made him suffer (?) as I tried out every recipe in the magazine. Some were keepers and we discovered a marvelous tool along the way–no boil lasagna noodles!  Good for everything from manicotti to lasagna.

This year’s issue wasn’t quite as inspiring, so he’s safe for now.

Food and wine are constant themes in my California Romance series. Readers have told me they enjoy vicariously eating along with my heroes as they court each other. While doing research for a book on Santa Cruz Mountains wineries that we did, my husband and I had amazing opportunities to get behind the scenes of winemaking and winemakers. I’ve let a little of this knowledge seep into my latest book, California Wine.  An excerpt is below. In this scene, Marcos, a man Elizabeth has met while on vacation in Italy, shows Elizabeth and her daughter his winery.


Marcos plunked the basket on the table and unlocked the padlock to the winery building. When he spread the door wide, cool air rushed out from the dark within. He gestured for them to follow him into the damp, sweet-smelling room. Barrels were stacked ceiling-high in the back of the room and four stainless-steel tanks lined one wall. To the left a plank spanning the tops of two wine-barrels held glasses, beakers and two hand-labeled bottles of wine.

“My humble blending table,” he said gesturing at the crude surface.

Elizabeth picked up one of the bottles of wine. Her face became more alive with interest. “What does it mean?” She gestured to the scrawled numbers on the bottle.

“Not much,” he said. Their fingers touched hers as he took the bottle from her and the flash of heat took him by surprise. “I have the date of the blend and a number that references my notes.” He pointed to a wine-stained notebook at the edge of the table, making an effort to get his thoughts back on winemaking and away from lovemaking.

“What kind of a blend is it?” she asked.

“How much do you know about winemaking?” he asked.

“I took a class at the community college. I enjoy wine, so I wanted to learn about it.”

“And?” He poured wine from the first bottle into a glass, swirled it, sniffed it, and took a sip. Faint notes of blueberry were chased by a heavier hint of tobacco. He was almost there.

He poured two more glasses and passed them to the women. Sarah took hers and wandered toward the barrels at the back of the building.

“I found winemaking fascinating,” Elizabeth said. “A lot of patience is required, isn’t it?” Her eyes peered over the rim of the glass and he became entranced by the warmth of her gaze.

His heart cracked a little more.

“Most good things require patience. You will need it when you develop your lotions. I’m sure you’ll be trying to balance aromas with the texture you need for a silky feel.” He rubbed his thumb and index finger together to demonstrate.

She turned away and he saw her shoulders square before she turned back to look at him.

“Is what’s in the other bottle just as good?” she asked, a small smile on her lips.

“We’ll have to find out, won’t we?”

Place as a Character in a Romance Novel

Vicarious travel.  Don’t you love it?  Especially, if travel involves a luscious romance.

Sheik in romance novelsPlace has been an important character in romance novels from the very beginning.  It was not only the handsome sheik leading warriors to abduct the heroine (and, of course, eventually fall in love with her), there were rich tycoons, pirates, ranchers with spreads the size of Texas…you get the idea.

A good writer can bring you to a sense of place in a few words. She or he can set the mood and give you a sense of anticipation about what’s to come. And for people who consider their lives ordinary and humdrum, being whisked off on a private jet to Paris sounds heavenly.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has one of the most famous opening lines in literature, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Right then, you know that Manderley was going to be an important influence in the novel. And who can forget the hulking home that became a nightmarish prison to the young bride?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The opening words of A Tale of Two Cities immediately lets us know that the setting for the novel will have an enormous impact on the characters. Indeed, the French Revolution has served as the backdrop for many sweeping romances. One of my favorite movies is The Scarlet Pimpernel with Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour (1982). I highly recommend it for a winter afternoon’s escape.

While I don’t begin my novel, California Sunset, with description, the Central Coast has shaped the heroine and provides one of the motivations for her actions. In the following scene, Annie, the heroine, is bringing her sleeping teenage son to soccer practice.  She knows she has a choice–stay in California and lose her job or move to New Jersey. In this passage, California tugs at her heart:

She took the southern route over the Coastal Mountains, climbing the switchbacks to Hecker Pass on Highway 152. The road always soothed her, even though its twists and turns required concentration. Glimpses of Watsonville’s morning-lit strawberry fields framed by the curve of the Monterey Bay lifted her heart as she ascended. The early spring air was clear, washed clean by the rain of the previous two days.

The landscape abruptly changed from sunlit ocean edge to secretive forest when she crested the summit. She always felt as if she was entering one of the fairy forests from Lord of the Rings. Maybe this was where the mountain knights lived. Maybe that wasn’t a patch of dogwood in the trees, but a knight’s white stallion. Song of India played on the car radio and she could almost believe in dreams coming true.

Almost, but not quite.

What book have you read where the place holds a strong spot in your memory? Let us know about it!

Blog post by Casey Dawes,

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc

Falling in Love Again…and Again….and Again…for the Very First Time

When I was a kid, I had a very ordinary name. In fact, it was so ordinary that there were other people using my name! Well that wasn’t going to do! Fortunately, a fellow camp counselor decided she was going to rename me and I became Casey Martin/Clark/D’Elia/Young/Dawes…..Oh well.  Danielle Steele once wrote a romance about a woman who had five marriages.  It happens.

Especially if you don’t know how to love yourself and you fall for…well…men with issues.  But it’s all good, because it gives me lots of material to write about :-).

Now that I’ve finally gotten it right, I’ve moved back to Montana with my love.  I live right on the Clark Fork River where I get to watch the birds, fox, neighbor dog and deer play during the day.  I have my own “woman cave”  for my writing, quilting and daydreaming.  Between us, we have three grown boys, three stepchildren, seven grandchildren and two cats who think they own the joint.

Clark Fork River in early springPeople frequently ask where I’ve lived.  In chronological order — New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Michigan, Montana (in a town with 350 year-round residents), New York City (42nd and 9th to be exact), Pennsylvania, California, and back to Montana.  Yes. I like Montana best.  I feel like my soul is complete again.

My current first story takes place in California, with a Montana connection.  Because I’ve done a great many things (if only in my mind), my characters have a variety of occupations. What, you ask?  I’ve got a Masters degree from the University of Michigan in theater. Which totally explains why I spent 25+ years in the tech industry — right?  I’ve taught college and junior high school, worked in the theater, been a life and business coach (my current occupation), written books on wineries (research was fun on that one) and technical books. I love to reinvent myself!

I’m in love with love in all its forms, which is why I’ve finally settled into the romance genre.  Watching someone grow and change as they adapt to another person’s characteristics is interesting. It took me a long time to learn, but I finally know you have to love yourself first before you can find the love of your life.

That’s one of the lessons the heroine of my first novel, California Sunset, has to learn.  There are, of course, others.  I look forward to hearing your reaction when it comes out.

And, of course, I’d love to receive your comments and thoughts about romance and how it has played into your own life.