The simple adobe house in Honduras doesn't look like much. Typical construction, made from mud and rocks, with a clay roof. The woman sitting in the hammock, quietly rocking her little boy, seemed typical for the region as well.
But as I talked with her, jotting down notes about her situation (she was poor, needed our help), my writer's imagination began to click in another direction.
Later, in the hotel room that night, I made notes about the house, the woman, and the area. And this house, with its thicket of trees and winding dirt pathway along the river, became the setting for a scene in Phantom Wolf, my new Nocturne paranormal. Shay and Kelly must hike through the forest, along the river, to access a remote village where children are being kept captive. They reach this home, meet the woman and she gives them temporary refuge when the bad guys come searching for Kelly.
It's not the first time traveling as a writer for a large international charity has influenced my romance novels. But perhaps it's the most memorable, because a good portion of Phantom is set in Honduras.
When I began writing romance more than ten years ago, it was partly to relieve the intense stress caused by my job. Humanitarian work is extremely fulfilling - seeing the people I meet in the field receive help and improve their lives. But it comes with an emotional toll as well. Not all stories have happy endings, because life is not fiction. The grim times carve out a space in your heart, such as holding a starving child you instinctively know won't make it, wanting him to feel loved and comforted as he is dying, and hours later, he quietly slips away.
Writing romance has always been an escape for me. I try to do my best to create worlds where readers can slip into the story and lose themselves in the world of fiction. Sometimes there are pieces of reality in my books, glimpses into the real world of my demanding day job. But those glimpses are always resolved with a satisfactory ending.
This past weekend, as I worked hard on The Mating Hunt, reality once more slipped into the pages. The Mating Hunt is the second book in my Werewolves of Montana series. It's an erotic paranormal romance; the world is about sexy werewolves who like to hunt down their mates and claim them.
But in The Mating Hunt, there are missing children Arianna suspects have been kidnapped. The children play a large role in the story, and Arianna's own childhood. One of the children is a toddler, thin, scared and unable to talk.
She's based on real child. I didn't meet her in person, but a coworker showed me her photos and told me her story.
When I saw the photos, something inside me just... shattered. In all my years of working in the field - almost 20 - I have never seen such haunting, sad eyes.
Even though my NGO took steps to help her, it wasn't enough. I couldn't get her out of my mind. So I wrote her into The Mating Hunt. Of course, there will be a happy ending for her. And it showcases Kyle's fierce, protective Lupine side, the one that will never allow an innocent child to suffer.
I'm nearly finished with writing The Mating Hunt. The book is a sexy erotic romance, but it's more emotional than The Mating Chase.
And when it's published, and you read about the little girl with big, haunting eyes and a sad expression, know that everything will be fine.
Because I always write happy endings in all my fiction books.
Just as I try to deliver them in real life, too.