Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Jo McNally Interview - Love Blooms

Photo Content from Jo McNally

Jo McNally is an award-winning author who writes contemporary romances with love, laughter and hard-won HEAs.

Jo lives in Upstate New York with 100 pounds of dog and 200 pounds of husband - her slice of the bed is very small. When she's not writing or reading romance novels (or clinging to the edge of the bed...), she can often be found on the back porch sipping wine with friends while listening to an eclectic playlist. If the weather is absolutely perfect, she might join her husband on the golf course, where she feels far more competitive than her actual skill-level would suggest.

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I first learned I had a creative calling back in 5th grade. Before that, I’d played at writing stories with my best friend, but it was literally kid stuff. Then my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Williamson, started taping four or five pictures from magazines on the blackboard once a week and told us to write a story about the picture. There might be a cowboy in one (remember the Marlboro Man?), maybe a couple of businessmen in another, a mom and kids in another, a ballerina in one, and maybe a little boy with a puppy in the last. We could pick whichever picture we wanted, and we had maybe thirty minutes to create a brief fictional story about the photo.

Most of the kids groaned, but I lived for that little writing session every week. I loved imagining a backstory for the image, and an explanation of what might be happening. Sometimes it was funny, sometimes dramatic, sometimes corny (it was 5th grade, after all). But writing those little stories, with a beginning, a middle and an end, was life changing for me. It felt like I was creating magic. It took me another forty years before I made a serious commitment to write a book, but it all started in Mrs. Williamson's 5th grade classroom.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
It’s not a singular experience, but what is most rewarding for me as an author are the reviews that tell me I got it right. I’m not talking about reviews from people that like my books (although I love those, too!), but when I tackle a subject or a setting and a reader tells me I did it justice, it makes me so proud.

My February release, Her Mountainside Haven - Gallant Lake Book 5, featured an MC with anxiety issues and agoraphobia. I’ve received several emails and DMs from people who have dealt with those issues personally. They told me that I accurately and compassionately captured what anxiety felt like, and how a woman might navigate through her life, and through a romance, while dealing with it. Those messages meant more to me than any award or 5-star review.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Umm...I wrote most of this book in 2020, so...yeah. That entire year was nothing but a “single worst” distraction! The news cycle was so relentlessly negative and/or chaotic that it was extremely challenging to get into the right mindset for writing romance. But at the same time, the world needed Happily Ever Afters more than ever.

I found it took me longer than normal last year to settle into the fictional world of Rendezvous Falls when I sat down to write. I started limiting my social media time and how much news I exposed myself to. I stayed informed, but I just couldn’t take it all in and still write fun, light-hearted romance. And I stuck to a regular writing routine to keep myself grounded.

In many ways, writing Love Blooms was my saving grace in 2020. It was such a surprisingly sensitive, complex story to write, digging into how true love can bring people through some pretty big mistakes. Once I was in the story, I was really in it. And when I was in the story, I was removed from the distraction of 2020.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
I’m going way back on this one, but yes. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R Tolkein the summer I was twelve. I’d never read anything like it. I didn’t expect to like it. But I read it and reread it so much that my original copies are too fragile to read anymore. I loved the varied storylines of good vs evil and all the gray areas in between.

But most of all I loved the incredible world-building. How Tolkein made everything so believable—from locations to language. I’d already started dreaming of being a writer, but this was next level stuff. He used words on paper to create an actual, amazing place I could visit. Those books gave me an escape during a summer when I was having one of those silly arguments with a friend and feeling very lonely. Tolkein showed me the true power of words and books.

It was a couple years after that when I read my first romance—Victoria Holt’s King of the Castle. I immediately understood that a romance novel could also be an escape, and that world-building was just as critical. The right words can create a place that readers believe in.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
That’s a really big question! The short answer is that storytelling is what makes us human. From the beginning of time, around the campfires, good storytellers have used the right combination of words—the right story beats—to keep the attention of their listeners or readers. To hand down their history, yes, but also to entertain.

Storytelling is a safe way for us to see characters who may be very much like us. We get to follow them through situations where they may do things right, or where they may stumble and we can see how they recover (or not). We also are able to see characters who are not like us in stories, in situations that may not feel familiar. Being exposed to those characters or situations is how we learn and grow as individuals. And when it comes to romance, stories with HEAs give readers hope as well as an escape.

Can you tell us when you started LOVE BLOOMS, how that came about?
I was putting together a series of story pitches to Harlequin for the Rendezvous Falls series continuation, and jotted “runaway bride” on the list of ideas. As authors, we’re always thinking of ways to flip tropes and do something a little different to set our stories apart.

I don’t know about other authors, but for me, building a plot is based on asking myself “what if?” over and over to dig into the possibilities. In this case, it was: what if a bride runs out on her wedding and ends up in Rendezvous Falls? Okay, that’s cute. And…..what if the jilted groom wants her back? And what if he deserves to win her back? Oh...now I was getting somewhere! A cute story idea just got more interesting. What if their families, innocently or not, led to both her panic and his determination to “follow the plan”? What if he’s a bit of a lovable dumbass who isn’t exactly sure what he’s done wrong or how to fix it? That might be fun. And, then...oh my god, what if he uses a phone app for groveling advice? How much fun would that be? And from there, a story was born.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
This entire book was a surprise! Before I started it, I thought it would be a fun, light-hearted romp. But once I dug into it, I realized that writing a romance between these characters was a path paved with landmines. I wanted to keep things light, but without making light of their decisions and the consequences. And this is a romance, so the reader needs to be rooting for them to make it to their HEA.

You see...Lucy dumps Owen the morning of their wedding. With a note. She left her family and the entire state of North Carolina in her rear view mirror. How could I make someone who’d do something so impulsive still be likable to the reader? How could I make Lucy both relatable and sympathetic?

Even trickier was Owen. He follows Lucy to Rendezvous Falls, determined to bring her back to North Carolina to marry him. That last sentence can be read several ways, including in a creepy won’t-take-no-for-an-answer voice—not at all what I wanted the reader to think! Lucy gives him permission to stay in Rendezvous Falls for one month to try to win her back. She figures she owes him that much after ditching him the way she did. And she really does still care for the man. She’s just not sure she believes in happily-ever-afters now that her own parents are divorcing.

I had to make sure Owen’s life experiences explained how he unintentionally messed things up with the only woman he’s ever loved. He was raised to follow the plans his family made for him. He joined the army and followed the plans there, too. That’s how you stay alive. Then his bride left him standing alone, upending all the plans. He’s determined to show Lucy that he truly does love her, and that he can be the man she deserves.

In other words, the book was a lot more challenging to write than I anticipated, but I’m really happy with the way a second-chance romance can also be a bit of a slow-burn as they cautiously fall back into love.

What is the first job you have had?
My first part-time job was as a horseback riding instructor. I was a horse-crazy kid—my mom always said the first word I said was “horse”. I had my first horse at fourteen, and by eighteen, I was helping to train horses for other people and giving riding classes. People would bring their horses with them and take classes together so I could help them become a winning team. It was incredibly rewarding. I was more nervous when my students were in the show ring than I was when I was riding!

My first full-time job was as a proofreader for a check printing company where my mom worked. I read names and addresses and account numbers all day long. And yes, I’m still very good at proofreading...unless it’s my own work. The brain automatically assumes your own work is correct. That’s why I treasure Harlequin’s copyeditors so much!

Best date you've ever had?
I once agreed (very reluctantly) to go on a blind date set up by a co-worker. I insisted on meeting the guy at a popular local restaurant rather than have him pick me up at home, since I didn’t know him. He greeted me with a single rose, and we started with a drink at the bar before going to the table. The conversation was nonstop from the time we met—laughing, debating, and a little flirting, too. After dinner, he asked if I wanted to drive into the city with him and check out a blues band playing at a famous barbecue joint. Hell, yeah, I did! We stood at a cafe table with our drinks, listening to some amazing music, and he traced his fingers up my spine. To this day, he swears I purred when he did that. Ladies and gentlemen, I married the man twenty-five years ago this June.

What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
Now that I’m writing full time and my husband is retired, it’s surprisingly easy to lose track of what day it is! So the first thing I do every morning (usually while still in bed) is to think what day it is, what obligations I have, and what I’m going to tackle first. So it’s basically: “It’s Wednesday. Himself is golfing and I have a Zoom workout class tonight. The best time to write will be in the morning while he’s golfing, so get up!”

What is your most memorable travel experience?
We took an amazing trip to Iceland two years ago, and I would love to go back.There weren’t any volcanoes erupting while we were there, but the island is simply amazing. Boiling water bubbles up out of the ground—so much that they heat much of the island with it. The North American and European tectonic plates meet there, and you can stand with your feet on either side of the divide. There are so many waterfalls, and a gorgeous black sand beach. The Blue Lagoon is a hot water spring where you can soak in warm, blue geothermal seawater, get a silica facial mask, then swim up to the bar for a cocktail! I definitely recommend putting Iceland on your bucket list. The people are wonderful, the history is fascinating, and the scenery is stunning.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
Without a doubt I’d choose true love, even knowing there was heartbreak ahead. I don’t believe in living life too safely. Avoiding heartbreak means avoiding the incredible experience of true love, like the love I have with my husband. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
What on earth was I doing in my sleep last night that left my baby-fine hair standing on end???

What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I’m usually thinking of whatever book I’m writing. Once the lights are out and I’m easing into sleep, I start spinning scenes in my head. I tend to “see” my scenes almost like a film reel, so I’ll play it out one way, and if it doesn’t work I’ll rewind and try something else. And yes, that means that, if I really land on a gem of dialogue or something, I have to get out of bed and jot it down so I don’t forget!

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
I don’t know how unique it is, but I’m very afraid of the dark. I’m talking pitch dark—if I can’t see what’s around me, I start imagining the most ridiculous things and my anxiety escalates quickly. That’s why I have LED lanterns stashed in almost every room of the house. And nightlights. And motion-activated lights outdoors. Seriously—I want light!

It’s never too late for a second chance…

Tonight should be the best night of Lucy Higgins’s life. Tomorrow she’s finally marrying Owen Cooper. She’s been waiting to start a life of wedded bliss, like the happy marriage her parents have. Except…she just learned her parents are divorcing and she’s freaking out. Owen has been so distant lately, shutting her out. Suddenly this big wedding seems like a really bad idea. Packing up her car, Lucy bolts for Rendezvous Falls and finds work at a flower shop while she gets her life together. The last thing she expects is for Owen to show up, wanting her back.

Owen Cooper’s carefully planned out life is ready to begin. He’s home from the military to join the family business and marry the sweet girl who captured his heart…until Lucy runs out on him. That was not part of the plan. Armed with an article that promises to help him win her back, Owen heads to Rendezvous Falls. But from the moment he sees her again, she seems…different. Happier, more confident and at ease. Can he convince this new version of Lucy that he’s become the man she deserves? He might need a little help from the local book club to accomplish this mission…

You can purchase Love Blooms at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JO MCNALLY for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Love Blooms by Jo McNally.


  1. The dumbest thing I ever did was backing the car into a pole at a gas station.

  2. I've done a lot of dumb things, so it's hard to say which is the dumbest. Probably walking while wearing my reading glasses. The worse is in the grocery store, because I can't judge distance with them and sometimes hit other carts.