Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sweet Inspiration by Stephanie Kepke

When I’m asked how I come up with inspiration for my stories, most often my answer is that a character or story line pings around my brain until I can’t help but write it—or risk going a bit insane. You & Me, my Candy Hearts Series novella, is quite unusual in the speed with which it percolated and burst forth on the page. It was also the first story I have ever written in response to a “call for pitches” (a request by a publisher for story ideas).

I was getting ready to embark on a road trip to Florida with my three children (in a snowstorm, no less) when I received the email from The Wild Rose Press requesting stories around the theme of Candy Hearts for an exciting new series. In a rush to get on the road, I snapped my laptop shut and hopped in the shower, but that pitch request whirred around my brain.

Suddenly, as I shampooed, it hit me—I had the perfect inspiration...and the perfect story. Starting when I was 16 years old my high school sweetheart sent me a box of Candy Hearts every year for Valentine's Day. He even sent me one of those iconic pink boxes for Valentine's Day for another two or three years after we broke up when we were in college. A character came to me: She's escaped an abusive relationship with the father of her child and has been on her own with her teenage daughter for five years. As Valentine's Day nears, Candy Hearts mysteriously begin arriving in her mailbox, leaving her wondering if her high school sweetheart—the boy she loved, but left—has sent them.

I even had the opening scene already written in my head—she's dropping her daughter off at school (the same high school she attended) and a love song comes on that reminds her of her boyfriend. The inspiration for that—I was dropping my son off at school (my old high school) a day or two before, and a cheesy love song from the eighties came on, spinning me back to when I was sixteen.  It was a bit surreal and I mused that it would make a great opening to a novel or novella—now I had the rest of the story to build from there.

As soon as I stepped out of the shower, I emailed my editor. I was dripping wet in a towel typing furiously on my iPhone. That was, without a doubt, the most unusual pitch I had ever sent—and it got accepted. The story evolved, along with a twist I hadn't anticipated when I pitched it—Alex, the heroine, can’t find her long-lost love, Billy. Even in this age when everyone leaves a digital footprint, Billy seems to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. But, those Candy Hearts keep arriving in the mail…Are they from Billy? Will Alex get a second chance at happily ever after? You’ll have to read it to find out!


Note: Unlike Grace, the heroine of my novella, A New Life, which is quite autobiographical, Alex and I only have those Candy Hearts in common. I’m still close friends with my high school sweetheart—he never disappeared…and I’ve been happily married to my Valentine for over twenty years. For Valentine’s Day this year, I didn’t receive Candy Hearts, but I did receive a silver bangle bracelet stamped with “I LOVE YOU TO THE MOON AND BACK” and beautiful flowers.
Stephanie Kepke
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