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A Cup of Comfort: Sheila Roberts on 'The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane' (Q&A)

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Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Sheila Roberts.

Ms. Roberts is the author of The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane (Harlequin MIRA, $7.99). Her novels have appeared as Readers’ Digest Condensed Books and have been published in several languages. Her holiday perennial, On Strike for Christmas, was made into a movie for the Lifetime Movie Network and her holiday novel The Nine Lives of Christmas is being adapted by The Hallmark Channel. Prior to writing books, her vocations included owning a singing telegram company and playing in a band. Ms. Roberts is married with three children and lives on a lake in the Pacific Northwest.

The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane was published last week and marks the fifth book in the Life in Icicle Falls series. Book Reviews & More by Kathy noted, The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane is firmly based in reality with plenty of conflict and unexpected twists and turns. Sheila Roberts brings the novel to a satisfying conclusion and neatly wraps up all of the loose ends with a nice epilogue.” Further, #1 New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber has enthused, “Sheila Roberts makes me laugh. I read her books and come away inspired, hopeful and happy.”

From the publisher:

When it comes to men, sisters don't share!

After a fake food poisoning incident in L.A., Bailey Sterling's dreams of becoming a caterer to the stars collapse faster than a soufflé. Now Bailey's face is in all the gossip rags and her business is in ruins. But the Sterling women close ranks and bring her back to Icicle Falls, where she'll stay with her sister Cecily.

All goes well between the sisters until Bailey comes up with a new business idea—a tea shop on a charming street called Lavender Lane. She's going into partnership with Todd Black, who—it turns out—is the man Cecily's started dating. It looks to Cecily as if there's more than tea brewing in that cute little shop. And she's not pleased.

Wait! Isn't Cecily seeing Luke Goodman? He's a widower with an adorable little girl, and yes, Cecily does care about him. But Todd's the one who sends her zing-o-meter off the charts. So now what? Should you have to choose between your sister and the man you love (or think you love)?

Now, Sheila Roberts serves up a dose of good cheer …

1) What inspired the idea for THE TEA SHOP ON LAVENDER LANE – and how do you feel that this book both stands alone and marks a progression in the series’ overall story arc?

I love tea goodies and tea rooms and all those yummy things you can get to eat in them, so I thought it would be fun to open a tea shop/tea room in my fictional town of Icicle Falls. (This also gave me a chance to share some wonderful recipes, including one for my lavender cake, which is my all-time favorite cake recipe.)

I hope readers will enjoy this latest installment in the "Life in Icicle Falls" series. I think when people get involved in a book series they want to see the characters moving through their lives, growing and changing, meeting new challenges. With that in mind, I felt it was time to share more of the lives of two characters who have been popping in and out of previous books: Cecily and Bailey Sterling.

The Sterling family and their chocolate factory are the linchpin of the series, so I want to keep readers up-to-date on what's happening with them. It was time to give Cecily more of a love life and definitely time to bring Bailey back home to Icicle Falls. Since Bailey is a caterer in need of a new start, what better way to do that than to have her open a tea shop in her hometown?

Although this is part of a series I think the story works well as a standalone work, since it deals with a subject that's new and different from previous books. I tried to give enough background on the Sterlings and some of the other Icicle Falls residents that readers should have no problem jumping right in and enjoying this newest small town tale, whether they have read another Icicle Falls story or not.

2) Tell us about the town of Icicle Falls. How do you see setting as elevating story—and do you feel that place can also act as character?

I love my town of Icicle Falls. It's actually based on the charming town of Leavenworth, Washington. Back in the early ‘60s it was on the verge of becoming a ghost town until its few remaining residents decided to reinvent themselves. Inspired by their mountain setting, they turned Leavenworth into a Bavarian village. Nestled in the Cascades, a setting as lovely as anywhere in the Alps, it's now a popular destination, and when you visit you can almost imagine yourself somewhere in Germany. I fell in love with it the first time I visited and have been back many times and have made some wonderful friends there.

I do think the kind of place people live in can't help but affect their lives, because for most of us where we live is all about community and experiences. And those familiar landmarks we grow up with seem to have a way of weaving themselves into our lives. I grew up in Seattle, and I can't help getting nostalgic every time I see the Space Needle. It triggers happy memories of going to the Seattle World's Fair when I was a little girl. And the Seattle waterfront? Every summer my family would go down there and wait for a ferry to take us to Bainbridge Island to our little getaway cabin. (I was a regular visitor to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. I returned many times as an adult, too, bringing my own kids.) As an adult I still ride that ferry across Puget Sound often. I never get tired of the view.

Since a place can so strongly affect us, I think it can, indeed, act as a character in a story. But, having said that, even though I think my town with its chocolate factory is pretty cool, I believe it's the people who live there that make readers want to come back. At least I hope they do!

3) Your books are often classified as women’s fiction, and yet they transcend such categorization. Who do you write for—and what are the messages or ideas that you like to impart on readers, regardless of their gender?

I think I do primarily write for women, since most of my stories center around women's issues and relationships, both with each other and with the important men in their lives. But a good story is a good story, and, since most of mine get a strong dose of the male viewpoint, I hope there's something for everyone. A lot of my friends read the books with their husbands. And I did hear from quite a few men who enjoyed my novel What She Wants, which is about a group of poker buddies using romance novels as textbooks to help them fix their women problems.

Sometimes I joke that I write self-help fiction, since often that is the underlying theme of my books. Past books have talked about women banding together to encourage each other to lose weight (Bikini Season) or forming a club to get control of their money issues (Small Change) or working on simplifying their lives (The Cottage on Juniper Ridge). I like to think my stories not only give readers a fun escape but encourage them as well. The Tea Shop on Lavender Lane deals with sibling relationships, and I hope readers will get a chuckle out of it and also come away reminded of how important family is.

4) One of your earlier roles was as a songwriter. How has that experience informed your current writing (if at all)—and is there a similar discipline required for such creative outlets?

I love songwriting! And I still dabble in it. It's a different animal than novel writing. In a novel I have up to four hundred pages in which to tell a story. In a song I have two verses, a bridge and a chorus. But each creative endeavor requires the same basic thing: discipline coupled with hard work. The ideas may come like a gift, but then you have to open the gift and put it to use. And there's the challenge! Still, when it's finished, and you either get to hear that song all done up pretty by a recording artist or studio musicians or see that book with its pretty cover sitting on the store shelf (hopefully, not for long), well, it's a huge, huge thrill.

5) One of your Christmas stories was made into a movie for Lifetime and another is in development at Hallmark Channel. What has been your involvement with these projects—and how do you feel that such distinct forums can be used to enhance one another?

It's always fun to see the characters in my head brought to life, to see what another person brings to the story. We weren't able to get too involved with On Strike for Christmas, but this time around we did go up to Canada and visit the set where they were filming The Nine Lives of Christmas. My husband and I got to be extras, which was fun! My only concern about that? Well, you know they say the camera adds ten pounds. That extra ten on top of what I already had to offer ... oh, dear. (Maybe wanting to be an extra wasn't such a good idea.) Oh, well. As I said, we sure had fun.

But bringing a story to life in a movie is very different from writing a novel. A book can take you into a character's mind and tell you what he or she is thinking. As far as setting and what the people look like—that’s all up the reader to imagine (with the author’s help, of course). A movie, on the other hand, can't tell you what a character is thinking—unless that character reveals it in dialogue—but the movie puts it all out there for you to see and experience. You can step right into the story and be part of it.

So each way of telling a story is special and unique. If I see a movie I like I always want to read the book, too, because there's usually more in the book. (After all, it's impossible to squeeze three or four hundred pages worth of story and character into an hour-and-a-half movie.)

6) Leave us with a little teaser: what comes next?

I'm very excited for this holiday season. In addition to seeing another novel come to life on the small screen, I have a new Christmas book hitting the shelves. I'm very excited about The Lodge on Holly Road. It has a fun cast of characters, and one of them is a department store Santa who's lost his holiday spirit. All I can say about that is, it's a good thing he's going up to Icicle Falls for Christmas.

***

With thanks to Sheila Roberts for her generosity of time and thought and to Nancy Berland, President and CEO of Nancy Berland Public Relations, Inc., for facilitating this interview.

Keep up with Sheila Roberts on www.sheilasplace.com, and like her on Facebook.

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