For me, neither! While most romance authors start with a character, I start with a setting and an idea in tandem, then populate the setting with characters who’ve auditioned. After that, I turn them loose to play with the idea. The story (otherwise known as the plot) comes last and is the least conscious part of my process.
This means that, for the Farm Fresh Romance series, I first envisioned a trio of young women who bought a farm together so they could practice sustainable living. Once I’d decided on the location of the farm (northern Idaho) — notice the ‘idea’ was already in there — I began to think about the characters. What types of personalities would find this interesting and/or challenging? What in their backgrounds would motivate them to do something this drastic?
The Riverbend Romance novella series started with my desire to write some shorter works and to write in a Canadian setting. I sketched out the town of Riverbend on a huge piece of paper while thinking through ideas. This series isn’t as focused on sustainability as the FFR series, and the stories aren’t quite as linked, so each story has its own ‘idea’ that came with the characters.
The Christmas in Montana Romance series began with a brainstorming session with my friend Angela Breidenbach, who was crowned Mrs. Montana in 2009. We thought writing pageant-themed stories (idea) would be fun then chose the setting of Helena, Montana. From there, the characters began coming to life and forming the stories and, from there, the series!
The Urban Farm Fresh Romance series is a spin-off of the Farm Fresh Romances. The idea came first: what would local food and sustainability (with a side of romance) look like in an urban setting? Then… which urban setting? I chose Spokane, Washington, for its location near the FFR setting and my own home. From there, I played with assorted ideas of how the aspects of urban farming could play out over multiple stories. Then characters began showing up, curious about what I was doing, and volunteered for one of the basic ideas.
The Arcadia Valley Romance series (which contains my Garden Grown Romance series as well as series by five other authors) began with a similar idea: creating a shared world where various aspects of real food could play out at a local level. We then brainstormed a setting, choosing fictional Arcadia Valley set near the real Twin Falls, Idaho. From there, each author chose a specific aspect of the food scene to explore so that our stories could interact but not interfere with each other’s. I remembered the story of Katie Stagliano, a young girl who grew a cabbage and donated it to charity, sparking a passion for feeding the hungry. With the setting of a community garden and greenhouse, my characters began to show up to tell their parts of the story inspired by Katie.