As some of you may already know, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Chesapeake Diaries series by Mariah Stewart. Prior to this series, I’d not read any of her other works, but soon after I began adding several other of her books to my TBR. I jumped at the opportunity to have her visit Literally Jen because I had so many things I wanted to know about the series. At the top of my list were these two questions: What was the inspiration for beginning this series, and how Grace’s dabbling in the supernatural would factor into future books in the series (or…possibly a prequel of some kind featuring Grace and her friends!
Jen, thanks for having me today!
To answer your question, the inspiration for the Chesapeake Diaries came from several directions at the same time. I’d been writing romantic suspense for several years, and really enjoyed it. Then, within a very short period of time, both my dad and my brother – my only sibling – passed away. It became almost impossible for me to inflict pain on anyone, even if it was a fictional character who existed only in my mind and on my computer screen. It was too hard to write about violence and the loss the survivors experienced. So I talked to my agent and my editor, and we all agreed that it would be a good time for me to return to my contemporary romantic women’s fiction roots, ala the Enright series., stories that were about families and relationships, friends and community. I’d lived all my life in small towns, so that was a given. But where to set the stories?
One of the last suspense novels I wrote was LAST WORDS, which was set on the Chesapeake Bay, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore – one of my very favorite places. I’d named the town St. Dennis, after both my dad and my brother – both of whom were still living at the time. I thought it would make a fun surprise when the first book was released, but unfortunately, by that time, they’d both passed on.
I love to connect books – if you’ve read any of my novels, you know you can trace a path back to others I’ve written in the past. Actually, I can think of very few books I’ve written that don’t have ties to at least one other book (I’m now writing book #33, so that’s a lot of connections!). I really, really liked the characters in LAST WORDS – so much so that once I decided that St. Dennis would be the setting, I wanted that first book to be about Vanessa Keaton – a survivor of domestic violence and the half-sister of the town’s chief of police – and Grady Shields, a widower who’d been married to a woman who’d betrayed him and a member of the Shields family that figured so prominently in my FBI series. I wanted something else – something different – to tie the books together besides the setting and the characters. I don’t know where the idea of the diary entries came from, but it seemed to work!
As far as Grace’s brush with the paranormal is concerned, the question of did she or didn’t she have some sort of ability to connect with those who had passed on – just sort of popped up in one of the first diary entries, and I followed it. Sometimes that happens – a thought comes out of nowhere and you go along with it to see where it leads. I have thought about writing a prequel in the form of a novella to explore Grace’s younger days and maybe meet some of her friends (the deceased ones) “on the page” instead of only in her memories, so we’ll see!
Thanks for asking, Jen!