Jen: Today we welcome Danielle Ellison to Romancing the Book. Danielle, will you share a short bio with us?
Danielle: Danielle Ellison is a nomad, always on the lookout for an adventure and the next story. In addition to writing, she’s the founder and coordinator of the NoVa TEEN Book Festival and is studying to be a teen librarian. When she’s not busy with books, she’s probably watching her favorite shows, drinking coffee, or fighting her nomadic urges. She is newly settled in Oklahoma (for now) with her cat, Simon, but you can always find her on twitter @DanielleEWrites.
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from
Danielle: My new book, The Sweetheart Sham, is about a teen girl who pretends to date her gay best friend, so he can be free to go out with a boy he likes, only to then have her first love return to town.
Inspiration is often thrust upon me in a weird time and I was brushing my teeth the first time I heard Georgie’s voice. She shared the opening line of the book with me (“Only three people in Culler, South Carolina who know Will Montgomery is gay: Will Montgomery, God Almighty, and me.”) and then from there I went on to explore what that meant and what the story was.
Will smiles at me. “Georgie.”
He has this nervous but determined look on his face. The same look he gets before a big football game. “Remember when you said you’d do anything for me—did you mean it?”
“Of course I did.”
“I have a completely insane idea,” he says then pauses.
He shuffles in his chair so he’s facing me and his legs are tucked under him. “What’s the one thing our family has wanted for generations?” He doesn’t let me answer. “A Monroe/Montgomery union.” He points at me, then himself. “Us.”
I pause because Momma texts me and because my brain is trying to pick up whatever he’s putting down. “Us?”
“You should be my girlfriend.”
I laugh, but he’s wearing his serious face. “You want to date me?”
“Not for real, just for the summer. Look, I can’t go missing for dates with a house full of Montgomerys and all this wedding stuff. Plus, someone will want to meet whoever it is, and telling them no is like trying to kiss a rattler.”
The town watches everything he does; as the Golden Boy it’s sorta the requirement. They talk, they gossip, and if anyone sees Will with Mystery Boy, everyone will know. Now there’s no escape for him.
“If we’re dating, they’ll all be happy about it and I can go out with someone who really likes me.”
As he’s saying it, I try to imagine my summer as Will’s girlfriend. Even if it’s not real for us, it is going to be real for everyone else. Too real.
“I don’t know,” I start.
“It could also help you have a break from the wedding craziness,” Will adds. “You know your momma is going to be all about it, more than she is now.”
He’s got a point there. Momma is going to be in Planning Mode all the time. She already is, and we have months. It darn well feels like a good solution for both of us. It’s the only way no one will suspect anything. The only way Will can be sure no one finds out his secret before he’s ready to share it, and the idea of having a little bit of my own life is real appealing.
Will sighs heavily and turns to face me, his arms resting on his knees. “Never mind, this is dumb.”
“No,” I say. I’m quiet because I’m thinking. He’s not wrong. Everyone in town will buy it, especially his family. I point between us. “We’re literally the dream.”
We are the chance, one they all want, to finally unite the Monroe/Montgomery lines after decades, nay centuries, of “bad luck, bad timing, and birth order.” The Howells and Lexingtons are as inbred as they come, but us? Nope.
Will smiles. “You think it will work?”
“More than work. They’ll all be so tickled that we’re finally together that they will practically push us out of the house together. You know they would. They’d encourage us to be alone. They’ll want us to fall so hard for each other that there’s no turning back.”
Will looks at me, his eyes a dark shade of blue, which only happens when he’s worried. “It’s going to crush them when we break up.”
“If that’s the case, then you’ll crush them anyway when you come out,” I say. I don’t mean to be harsh about it, but it’s our job to keep each other grounded. Otherwise, other people’s expectations of him would carry him away. “One day you are going to come out, and until then you deserve the chance to go on a freaking date with Mystery Boy,” I say. “I’ll do it.”
“He smiles his little side smile at me. “You’re really serious.”
“As a heart attack,” I say. “You’re my best friend.”
Will loosens up again, letting his smile spread across his face and those worry lines on his forehead disappear. I meant it when I said I’d do anything for him, just like he’d do for me. He’s never let me down, never not been there. This is the least I can do for him after everything with my momma and how much he helped us. Heck, this is the least I can do since he’s been mine every day of our lives.
“This is a great idea. I’m kinda shocked I didn’t come up with it,” I say. Momma texts me again and this time I pick up the phone to read it.
“You’re really doing this for me?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say, scrolling through Momma’s texts about place settings, stores to call, and seating chart colors, and why am I not answering her? “I’m yours for the summer.” It will be a much-needed break to get some time away from town.
“You’ll tell me if you change your mind for any reason.”
“I won’t change my mind,” I say.
Will smiles again, the same smile he had after the party. Unfiltered and rare. “Are you sure?”
I lower my phone. “I’m sure, but only if you ask me properly.”
With a chuckle, Will gets down on one knee and says, “Georgia Ann Monroe, will you be my fake girlfriend?”
I rest my hand against my chest. “Why, I’d be honored.”
Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to you at odd times?
Danielle: I have notes in my phone, word docs, old notebooks full of ideas, lines and characters. I have discovered, over the years, that these sometimes collect there. There’s always a new, shiny idea to write. Sometimes it is impossible to ignore the idea or the character, and those are usually the stories that end up being written.
Jen: What kind of research did you do for this book?
Danielle: I’ve called this book my Will & Grace meets Gilmore Girls story since day one because that’s what it was: a small town and best friends — so part of my research was watching a lot of TV. It was fun. I also have a hand drawn map of the town, one I spent a lot of time developing so I could physically see the space where the characters were. Besides that, it was little things like details I needed to do the wedding planning and the Southern Belles.
Jen: What’s the most challenging aspect of writing? Easiest? Most rewarding?
Danielle: For me, the most challenging aspect is the first draft. I usually go into a story with a plan, with clear voices, with a plot and direction—and then when I’m trying to get all of that out, I spiral. I struggle. I have to start over, and it’s stressful but then I eventually get it together and the first draft happens.
The easiest, if that’s a real thing, is the characters. I think of stories through characters, so writing means getting to explore these people who are really vivid in my head. I love that aspect.
The most rewarding is the finished product. It’s amazing to look back on a story and see how it got to the end. It’s a long journey sometimes, not easy, and never straightforward so it’s this feeling of pride and power because you did this thing. I also love getting to share the story and hear the response from readers, because that’s the whole point.
Jen: What are you reading now?
Danielle: I’m a grad student, starting library school in January, so I really feel the pressure to get through this TBR pile while I still can. Right now, my list is:
Jen: What’s next for you?
Danielle: I am working on the second book in this series, which follows different characters in the same town, and it should release in the Fall of 2018. Then, I’m writing a fantasy book with my best friend.