The invitation to blog here today came at a perfect time – the third installment in the Virgin River series – Whispering Rock – will be released in a few days. And I’ve just experienced the most amazing couple of months.
When I started Virgin River, beginning like I always do – on page one, flying by the seat of my pants – I was writing one story, one romance. I became acquainted with Mel Monroe, a nurse midwife in search of peace and meaning in her troubled life. Enter Jack Sheridan, a retired marine who built a small country bar and grill in a town of six hundred because it was the perfect place for him to hunt and fish and wind down from a life far too adventurous. I was getting acquainted with a couple of remarkable people. By the time I was a hundred pages in, I knew there was more than one book in this town. When I met the marines who still hung tight after serving in combat together, frequently gathering in the pristine beauty of the redwoods to hunt, fish, play poker and rally around their leader, Jack, I knew they would be the spinal column for a series. When I met the women, I met the heart.
I wrote like a fiend, like a driven lunatic, the pages stacking up faster than I could count them. Then it got interesting. I had a few people in my life I could pass research questions through, but I had to get serious about this project. I went to Humboldt County, California, the actual setting for the series, and found it to be much more rural and rugged in the mountains than I’d imagined, not to mention more beautiful than I thought myself capable of describing. I went in search of and found law enforcement professionals, hunters, fishermen, business owners, locals. I visited towns, large and small, and went in search of towns that made the map, but were so buried in the mountains, I couldn’t find them! I engaged the expertise of a nurse practitioner and a midwife who had experienced both big city medicine and rural medicine, two incredible professionals dedicated to serving their women. I spent time with marines and heard their stories.
And revised, revised, revised. I passed the manuscripts for the first three books through so many hands and took note of so many professional opinions, I had to create a notebook to follow the books! At final draft, I had a series filled with passion and adventure, with heart and humor, anchored by Mel and Jack – the nurse midwife and the marine-owner of the local watering hole, two people whose driving purpose is to serve the town and their friends.
I thought the payoff was going to come with the release of the books – three in three months – Virgin River, Shelter Mountain, Whispering Rock. But I was wrong – the payoff came in the form of emails – dozens and dozens of them, more than I’ve ever received in my career. Not only did people write me that they loved the series and couldn’t wait for the next book – they wasted no time in telling me who they wanted to read more about. I had countless requests to deliver Jack Sheridan to the homes swooning women! (Get in line, ladies!) I was given running commentary as to when readers laughed out loud, when they cried.
The most illuminating communication came from the families of military men and women. Now, Jack and his boys are not active duty marines, and the stories are not about military conflict. But these men are shaped by their life experiences and there was something about their commitment, their strength of character and loyalty, that brought the wives, mothers, grandmothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to me through notes and letters. I answer every email personally and will until I am completely overwhelmed (please God!) and I wrote back to every one of them. I offered far too many condolences. It is not an easy life for the supporters of our military; it’s harrowing and emotional, and they hold up like finely tempered steel – with astonishing courage and incredible love. They aren’t just patriots – they take it to the next level, it’s personal, it’s part of their existence. And I was reminded that it’s not temporary – it’s a way of life. These emails, these people, validated Jack, Preacher and the guys.
So here it is – my experience in creating this series was quadrupled by my experience in hearing how it’s been received. I am humbled. I am honored. And I’m darn lucky and awful proud. Who knew? We work, we write, we plunder along trying to make that connection. When you get the message through readers that you’ve touched them in a personal and vital place, it’s simply amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone of you who has written to me. I welcome your thoughts, and I listen.