I've known Lorelle Marinello since 2003, our first year of being Golden Heart finalists. So I'm excited to host her today to talk about her debut novel, Salting Roses.
Tell us a bit about Salting Roses.
SALTING ROSES tells the story of Gracie Lynne Calloway, an Alabama girl who discovers on her twenty-fifth birthday that she is the kidnapped daughter of a late New England financier and heiress to an enormous fortune.
Gracie has grown up under the notion that she was the abandoned love-child of her Uncle Ben’s runaway niece. She suffered mightily for her questionable ancestry over the years and has found herself a quiet niche as a bookkeeper in the local market where she can fly comfortably under the radar of the town busy bodies. But when the press gets wind of Gracie’s new identity, they descend on the peaceful town of Shady Grove and proceed to turn Gracie’s life upside down. The folks of Shady Grove can’t understand why she’s not happy with the glorious turn of events. The handsome PI who’s been sent by her Yankee grandmother to charm her into submission is doing one heck of a job on her heart, which only makes her dilemma worse. As Gracie struggles to stabilize her world and come to terms with her new identity she learns that belonging is not about where you came from but who you are.
Your heroine, Gracie Lynn Calloway, grew up in a small southern town after being abandoned on a front stoop in a coal bucket. But on her 25th birthday, she finds out she's not who she thought she was and is actually an heiress. How did this story idea come to you?
In 2002, I had returned from a writers’ retreat with the Sacramento chapter. I promptly came down with a terrible case of the flu and was stuck in bed for a week. I read three books in a row and was looking around for something to entertain myself. I had recently settled my late father’s estate after a two-year brouhaha between warring factions of family members. I had plenty of time to think about people and how crazy and desperate a bit of money could make them. I pulled out a notepad, outlined the story, and wrote one chapter. It was two years before an agent spotted a log line for the story on the bottom of my resume list under works-in-progress and asked to see the full manuscript. I spent the next six months writing it.
What do you like most about Gracie? Is there a part of you in her?
Years ago, Jenny Crusie said, “Publishing is like dancing naked on the table-just get used to it.” Boy, is that true. There is a good deal of me in Gracie. It’s a bit scary. Gracie plays baseball in the story. I did grow up playing sports with boys. I was fairly athletic and loved being outdoors. I did take ballet lessons for five years, but gave it up for horses. Again, the need to be outdoors was calling me. Like Gracie I was often barefoot, in jeans and a T-shirt, and more than likely dusty and bedraggled. Gracie is also naïve in many ways. I have to admit, in that aspect, she and I are much alike as well.
But I also think we imbue characters with traits we wish we had. Gracie is strong and not afraid to say what she thinks. She’s smart-mouthed when she’s being put upon unfairly. I admire her sass. It’s not meant to be mean-spirited, but honest. I think it’s her honesty and naivety that charms Sam, the hero. Oh yes, and I happen to be married to an Italian from Connecticut, both of which Sam is.
You're a Southern California gal, but you like southern characters and settings. Why do they speak to you?
My fascination with the South and all things Southern confused me until I listened to Earlene Fowler, a mystery writer, speak at my local RWA chapter. Earlene is another author with Southern roots who was raised in California. Like me, she grew up listening to stories. My grandparents came to California during the 1940s when my mother was 14 years old. They came from Alabama via Richmond, Virginia. My grandmother was happy anywhere, as long as she was surrounded by family, but my mother and grandfather never really made the transition to California culture. I grew up hearing about how this and that were not done where my mother grew up.
My grandfather soothed his homesickness by telling me stories of his boyhood on Mrs. Brock’s farm in Decatur, Alabama where he boarded while his daddy ran a train on the L&M line. My papa loved to fish and hunt, and was quite the young inventor. Boy, did he have stories!
Along about my third manuscript, FAIRHOPE, the voices I’d heard throughout my life just sort of came flooding out. FAIRHOPE gained me attention in the beginning of my writing career. I signed with my first agent and finaled in the Golden Heart contest for the first time. It took me two more years to realize what had excited contest judges, editors, and my agent was my voice.
I was drawn to the voices of Mark Twain, Fannie Flagg, and Billie Letts. I finally realize why they appealed to me so much. I was listening for my grandparents’ voices. I missed them terribly. It was not just the voices but a way of thinking and considering things that set me apart from my peers. I always felt a bit out of sync with my friends growing up in the California beach community, which is just another reason why I can relate to Gracie’s struggle to fit in Shady Grove.
Your title is Salting Roses? What is the significance and meaning of that title?
The original title was WALTZING WITH ALLIGATORS, which seemed like a good title to illustrate Gracie’s experience with her new-found relatives. But I suppose alligators don’t create a warm fuzzy feeling in a women’s fiction novel so my editor suggested we look for something else. There is a reference in the novel to a feud between two neighbor ladies. They’ve been pouring table salt on each other’s roses to kill them. In some ways Gracie is caught in a similar battle with the press and the folks who want her to accept her new fortune.
If you suddenly found out you were an heiress to a large fortune, like Gracie, other than taking care of family and paying off bills, what would be the first three things you'd do with that money?
Boy, that’s a tough question! There are so many worthy places to put money. I work with special needs teens at a local high school. I see many places where their lives could be improved by more specialized regional job training and support for their families so many of the children would not be put in institutions while it they can still live at home.
We have an epidemic of mentally handicapped folks on the street who need medical help, job training, and homes.
Cancer, diabetes, and autism research come high on my list of things we need to work on. I’d like to see progress made on these rampant diseases in my lifetime.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a Southern Gothic novel set in Louisiana titled THE PRINCESS OF POSSUM HOLLOW. The story has a mystery at its core. The heroine’s mother, a descendant of the French aristocracy, was thought to have been murdered by the gardener many years ago, but her body was never found. The gardener is back in town and the heroine wants the truth and will make a deal with the devil to get it.
There’s an old estate with world-class garden gone to ruin, the gardener’s son-a handsome lonely arborist who talks to trees with magical results, his mysterious Native American grandfather who knows the bayou like the back of his hand, and a peacock named Chuck who has heroic qualities. Like SALTING ROSES, it’s got a little bit of everything, mystery, humor, and romance.
Lorelle is giving away a copy of Salting Roses today to one commenter today. What she wants to know is: How would inheriting a huge fortune change your life?
To learn more about Lorelle and her work, visit her website.