Sunday, January 26, 2014

Jennifer Hayward: An Exquisite Challenge

This is my first time visiting The Tote Bag, so I wanted to say, first, thank you for having me!

When I sat down to write this blog post, I started to think about my current release, An Exquisite Challenge, and the road stories travel before you type those wonderful words ‘the end’. Or in this case, those not so wonderful words because I had fallen head over heels in love with these characters and didn’t want to let them go!

Sometimes when you write a book, lightening strikes and you nail it on the first try. You just know. Other times you have to work your way into it to find the magic—the point at which you know your story sings and you have two very special people on your hands. That their journey is going to take you on a true emotional roller coaster ride…

Right from the moment I finished my So You Think You Can Write-winning novel, The Divorce Party, I knew Lilly’s smart-mouthed sister, Alexandra, and the man she loves to hate, Riccardo’s sexy winemaker brother, Gabriele, would star in the following book. They were extreme opposites—oil and water—but oh when you put them together—were there fireworks!

So I had my characters and I adored them, but how was I going to make the most of the special dynamic they share?

I knew I wanted the story to dive into the glamorous wine-making world of Napa Valley where Gabe was forging a name for De Campo with groundbreaking new wines.  And so I started to think, what if Gabe is in the middle of the biggest launch of his career—the wine that will set the industry on fire? But he has a rival, a man out to destroy him and his name—and Alex, PR woman extraordinaire—is managing his rival’s equally critical launch.

How messy is that?

I was inspired. I sat down to write. I loved the book. Then my editor came back and said she wasn’t sure if the rivals element worked. Yes it was high-drama external conflict, but it didn’t help me get at the heart of my character’s internal conflicts. That emotion that was going to make this a powerful love story. It also didn’t put these two characters in a situation where they had no choice but to face their feelings for each other, to battle their inner demons and learn and grow.

She was right.

What if, my editor suggested, we flip the concept entirely and have Alex battling to secure the contract with Gabe to do his launch for him—the contract she needs to save her own fledgling business? Now we’ve upped the stakes for both of them, we’ve set them on an inescapable collision course with each other, and we have problems. Big conflict. The theme of this book is trust. Having Alex & Gabe work alongside each other meant they had to trust each other with their livelihood. The stakes don’t get much higher than that.

What emerged was a story that was so much more powerful, so much more emotional than what I’d originally created.

But most of all, I loved the dynamic Alex working for Gabe under his roof, added to this book. Their constant battles of will, the inescapable sexual tension between them, their desperate quest to convince themselves they don’t want each other when they so patently do.

The scene in the hot tub where Gabe finally decides to seduce Alex is one of my favourites. Here’s a taste.

He pressed his fingers into her arch and she yelped. ‘Relax,’ he murmured. ‘Out of curiosity, if you were to agree to one night, how would you like it, Lex? Hot and heavy or long and drawn out?’
Her insides seized. ‘I don’t think so, Gabe.’
‘We’re just talking,’ he drawled, eyes glittering. ‘Hypothetically, of course.’
She should have shut him down, but she couldn’t resist the challenge in those to-die-for eyes of his. And then there was that curiosity about him that was burning her up.
She gave him a thoughtful look. ‘I like both. But I think I’d start with long and drawn out.’
He nodded. ‘Good choice. It’s been a while, after all, hasn’t it?’
‘Excuse me?’ She tensed and pulled her foot away, but he held it firm.
‘When’s the last time you were on a date?’
She was not admitting it had been a while. He smiled. ‘Exactly like I thought. So theoretically, if I were to be the one to break your slump, I would move my hands up over your calf like this and work those muscles too, first this leg, then the other. Make sure you were loose, relaxed.’ She swallowed hard as his fingers kneaded the tight muscles of her right calf. Dear Lord that felt good. ‘Then,’ he continued, ‘when I was sure you were in the zone, I’d move over there, slowly, making sure you knew my full intentions. You’d give me that fight or flight look of yours. I’d wait until you bit your lip in that way you do when you want to be kissed, because you would want to be kissed. That would be my cue to give you one, and I would, but only a teasing, fleeting pressure. Just enough to generate heat. When you’d gotten into it, I might want to taste that bottom lip myself.’
She closed her eyes as he dug more firmly into her calf. ‘You with me?’ he murmured.
‘Yes.’ Her voice was low, thready, nothing like her.

Alex is in deep now! You’ll need to read the book to find out what happens. I can say, I still miss these two – a ton!

An Exquisite Challenge is on shelves now. Leave a comment to win a signed copy! 

***Jennifer's winner is Laurie G!  Please email with your full name and mailing address.  thanks!***


Sharon Kendrick said...

Jen, this excerpt absolutely SIZZLES….I can't wait to feel the heat by reading it! :-)

Mary Preston said...

Pleased to see you here.

It sounds like the flip made the story stronger.

GREAT excerpt thank you.

Unknown said...

Thank you Sharon & Mary :) I really loved writing this book!

traveler said...

Wonderful excerpt and post. Best wishes and much happiness.

Eli Yanti said...

Nice excerpt :)

Unknown said...

Thank you Traveler and Eli :) Glad you dropped by!

Laurie G said...

WOW! I really want to read the rest of Alex and Gabe's love story!