Donna Soluri (DS): Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. Being a born and bred Tarheel, I always have a soft spot for books set in my state. Make it a second chance romance between former high school sweethearts with a dash of enemies-to-lovers and butter my biscuit, I am done for! Thanks for giving me that! Let’s talk about The Merriest Magnolia.
Michelle Major (MM): I’m so happy to be talking with you and “butter my buns and call me a biscuit” is one of my daughter’s favorite sayings so I’m all in!
DS: Sometimes a setting can read a little bit like a secondary character in a book. Magnolia is an actual town in North Carolina. It is in Duplin County, famous for things like scuppernong grapes and the Duplin Winery. For readers who might be new to this series, tell us about your Magnolia and why you chose it for your setting.
MM: I have to admit I did not know about the real Magnolia until I’d written the first book in my series. But now I want to visit! I grew up in Ohio and we vacationed in North Carolina—mostly the Outer Banks—each summer. I love that part of the coast. When I started The Magnolia Sisters I was coming off of writing an eleven-book series set in the mountains of Colorado. I think the natural world lends so much to books and really wanted to include the beach and the ocean as part of the series.
DS: Carrie Reed, our heroine, is the hometown Good Girl. Now, coming from the south, having that label can be just as good as it can be bad. In earlier books, we learn how Carrie discovered some sisters she didn’t realize she had, Avery and Meredith. How are these sisters alike, and how are they different? How was writing Carrie’s story different from the others? What would you say her best quality is?
MM: The main thing that the three sisters have in common is the father they didn’t know they shared. They are all reeling from the news and coming to terms with what it means for them and how they forge a bond with “sisters” who start out as strangers. Carrie was her dad’s only legitimate daughter and the only one recognized during his life, which gives her a unique perspective. She’s hurt by his betrayal but also has some guilt for having a relationship with him—even though that relationship really did a number on her self-confidence. I think Carrie is a true steel magnolia. She embodies the traditional femininity of the south but also has an inner fortitude she doesn’t even realize. A big part of her journey in this story is recognizing her own strength.
DS: Dylan Scott is a multi-layered hero just waiting to have his onion layers peeled back, don’t you think? Where did you draw inspiration for his character, and what about him surprised you the most as you told his story?
MM: Here’s a secret Easter egg in the story that involves Dylan. During the time I was first plotting The Merriest Magnolia, the actor Luke Perry died. I’d been a huge Beverly Hills 90210 fan back in the day and was currently watching him in Riverdale with my teenager. His 90210 character, Dylan McKay, was such a classic bad boy so I changed the original name I’d chosen to Dylan as a nod to him. I would say that helped fuel my inspiration for the character of Dylan Scott—a traditional bad boy who is secretly the BEST boy. I think the way his gentleness evolved from his feelings for Carrie as well as the relationship with the teenage kid he’s now raising—the little moments where readers get to see his true heart.
DS: I realize reading is a subjective sport, and everyone takes what they need from a book. When you started The Merriest Magnolia, did you have a particular theme or feeling you wanted your readers to experience or take away from the book?
MM: As much as I love writing romance and all of those sweet, emotional ‘almost kiss’ moments, I also really enjoy exploring how characters transform through my stories. One of the themes that resonates with me is finding home—whether it’s a place or a feeling. I’m a Midwesterner who was determined to live in the mountains so came to Colorado thirty years ago with almost nothing. How people build a life is endlessly fascinating for me. Carrie and Dylan both have quite a journey to find the place they were meant to be and I hope readers will love taking that journey with them.
DS: While The Merriest Magnolia is the second book in this series, it’s the fourth story. Can we expect to see more from these characters and Magnolia, North Carolina?
MM: Yes, each of the full-length Magnolia books has a companion novella featuring secondary characters from the books. The third sister, Meredith, gets her story in The Last Carolina Sister, which releases in March 2021. I’ve enjoyed writing in the world of Magnolia so much that I’m expanding the series after that. The spin-off series is called The Carolina Girls. It will be set in Magnolia and introduce more characters and facets of this town.
DS: I love asking authors with so many books under their belt how things have changed since you started this career path. Once a week, I ask my kids the best/worst part of their week. If we were having dinner and asked you about the best/worst writing/publishing changes, how would you respond?
MM: For me personally the best thing is that I’ve written myself into a job. Like many writers, I started pursuing publication when I was working a day job and had babies underfoot—babies who never slept like mommy needed them to so she could write! I would say the low moment was the near implosion of the romance community as it struggled with years of systematic racism but then the glimmer of light from there is the authors and publishing professionals working to change that. And have I mentioned releasing books in the middle of a global pandemic? In some ways such a challenge but also an opportunity to try new things and reach readers in different ways. At the heart for me is always the writing. And I feel grateful every day to be able to write books that hopefully resonate with readers.
DS: Also, has your idea of success changed over the years? What did it feel like the first time you felt it?
MM: While I still have benchmarks of success that I want to achieve, I’m much more likely right now to focus on the little things. Right now it feels like that’s all I can control in many ways so success to me is getting the words written, engaging with readers online and crafting the best books I can every day.
DS: What’s up next for Michelle Major? Do you have anything new that’s tinkering around in your mind you’d like to tease?
MM: After The Merriest Magnolia comes The Last Carolina Sister. I’m a huge animal lover—fostering kittens for a local rescue has become a labor of love in our family. So the fact that the heroine of that story, Meredith Ventner, runs an animal rescue was so much fun for me to write. And I have to mention my deep and abiding devotion to holiday stories—every time I think of The Merriest Magnolia I want to make a cup of hot chocolate and curl up with a festive book. Is there any better way to spend an afternoon?
About Michelle Major
Michelle Major grew up in Ohio but dreamed of living in the mountains. Soon after graduating with a degree in Journalism, she pointed her car west and settled in Colorado. Her life and house are filled with one great husband, two beautiful kids, a few furry pets and several well-behaved reptiles. She’s grateful to have found her passion writing stories with happy endings.
Michelle loves to hear from her readers at www.michellemajor.com.
Donna should be an empty nester, but she's not, thanks COVID-19. She's a voracious reader of all books; she can't pick just one sub-genre. A staunch supporter of seasoned romance and a lover of cupcakes, you'll often find her with a cup of tea and a mountainous TBR pile close at hand. Follow her @DonnaSoluri on B+M Bites.
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