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I live in a quiet, historic town where the only exciting things to happen occur in books. Most days, you can find me with a cup of tea in one hand, hunched over my laptop as I write, read, or research.

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Guest Post – A Romantic Dot on the Map: The British Columbia Gulf Islands

Romance is the last thing Eden is looking for, but her gorgeous seaplane pilot has her wondering if a carefree rebound fling is exactly what she needs. As Aaron Gabriel helps her search for her missing aunt, the casual relationship he imagined quickly becomes something much more passionate—and much harder to give up.

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When I first started to write romance fiction (way back when), I knew that the biggest market for books was the United States, and I was told (repeatedly!) that American readers and publishers were only interested in American settings. But I’m Canadian.

Sure, I’ve traveled to many places in the States, but I don’t know them well enough to write about them from the viewpoint of a resident. A visitor, yes, but not a resident. Besides, I love Canada. I resented being told that I had to write about some other country, and I thought it disparaged American readers to think they were so narrow in their focus that they weren’t interested in reading romances set in other places.

So, I wrote stories set in British Columbia. For years, I didn’t manage to sell them. And I wondered how my principles would stand up if a publisher told me they’d buy one of my books, but only if I changed the setting to the U.S.

Thank heavens, it’s never happened. I’ve now had roughly thirty books published and only three of them are set outside Canada (one in Belize; two in Greece). My first books were set in Vancouver, where I lived at the time. Then, with my Caribou Crossing series, I wrote about horse country in the interior of the province, an area I love. But really, I’ve always been a West Coast girl. I grew up in Victoria on Vancouver Island, lived in Vancouver for a long time, and then moved back to Victoria.

The ocean’s in my blood. As a kid, my parents and I would often rent a little powerboat and visit a tiny nearby island. As a university graduate, my first job had me monitoring job creation projects, several of which were on the Gulf Islands near Victoria. And then, a few years ago, my partner and I got an old wooden boat (a Shepherd, which looks like a classic old Chris Craft). Now we spend a good part of our summer cruising around the Gulf Islands.

We anchor in quiet coves, go for long walks on beaches and in forested parks, and explore charming little towns. We admire sunrises and sunsets, and love seeing all the wildlife. Each inhabited island is its own little community and, as I’m sure you know, small communities can be quirky. Well, small islands can be even quirkier! After all, an island is, well, an island. You’re semi-isolated, accessible only by boat or plane, and your ability to get on and off your island depends on the weather.

The Gulf Islands are relatively undeveloped and quite “green” but they’re also very close to two big cities: Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, and Vancouver, the host city for the 2010 Olympics. City dwellers often seek a peaceful retreat on the islands, and islanders can hop over to the city to shop, go to the symphony, or attend a hockey game.

Of course I developed a craving to write about this part of the world: the rugged, gorgeous scenery, the eccentric characters, and the romances that can develop in such an unusual setting. Rather than use one of the actual Gulf Islands, I created one that is true to the essence of the islands but also better meets my story purposes.

Here’s what I said about Destiny Island in the proposal I sent to my publisher. Destiny, a tiny island in the Pacific Northwest, is blessed with craggy bluffs, forested hills, secret coves, and meadows dotted with wildflowers. The locals are individuals—make that eccentrics!—reflecting the island’s history of aboriginal people, loggers and fishermen, African-American and Japanese immigrants, hippies, artists, boaters, and escapees from the city. The picturesque town of Blue Moon Harbor provides the necessities of life for residents as well as attractions for tourists.

And the Blue Moon Harbor series was born!

Seaplanes are a popular mode of transport among the islands, and I love them, so making my first hero (in Fly Away With Me) a seaplane pilot was a “well, duh!” kind of thing. Aaron Gabriel loves three things: his tiny family, his little piece of the world, and flying. To shake him out of his complacent rut, who better than a driven, perfectionist lawyer from Ottawa, a big city thousands of miles away? Eden Blaine doesn’t come to Destiny Island on holiday. She’s allocated a week of her busy life on a mission for her ailing mom: to try to find her mother’s long-lost runaway sister. A newly-discovered letter indicates Eden’s aunt joined the island commune back in 1969.

When Eden tells her pilot Aaron about her quest, he offers to help. He has a mission of his own, too: to help the city girl loosen up and have fun, preferably with him. Early in her visit, he persuades her to take a break from her quest and go kayaking—another activity that’s very typical of the islands, and a favorite pastime of mine. Here’s a short excerpt, to give you the flavor of Destiny Island.

Aaron paddled more quickly, heading to shore. She didn’t try to match his pace. In the bay, the water was even calmer, the surface like deep, bluish-green glass. She almost hated to disturb it with the dip of her paddle, and after each stroke she paused to watch a crystal cascade of droplets tip off the end of the blade and splash onto the ocean’s surface, creating rings of ripples. The sun warmed her back and the top of her head; gulls soared and cried overhead. She stopped paddling, closing her eyes for a moment to simply drift with the tide. Utter serenity. Had she ever experienced anything like this before?

By the time she arrived at the shore, Aaron had pulled his kayak up on the beach and was waiting to guide hers into shore and help her out. She caught his arm for balance, raised herself, and then gingerly stepped out into the water. “Brrr.” The soles of her feet met a strange surface, and as she splashed ashore she studied the grayish-white particles that made up the beach. “It’s not sand.”

“Shells, mostly. Pounded by waves.”

The beach felt coarse underfoot but pleasantly so, like an exfoliating massage, if such a thing existed. She’d never had time to spare for massage or mani-pedis. Nor did she have much occasion to wear a bathing suit, and she felt exposed, even though her tee was long enough to cover her bikini bottom. It would be silly to put on shorts, though, because that bottom was damp.

She freed herself from her life jacket and wandered down the beach, picking up a pebble here, a shell there, a colored bit of weathered glass. If she were back in Ottawa, she’d be busy at her desk, dressed in a suit and low-heeled pumps.

The unique setting reveals aspects of Eden’s life and character, shows how different she is from Aaron, and hints at how the island’s magic—and the man’s!—may lead her to make some changes in her life.

The Destiny Islanders have all sorts of sayings on the basic theme of “You’ll find your destiny on Destiny.” They can point to loads of examples, and Eden’s and Aaron’s love story becomes one of them. But only the first.

The second is a novella, “Blue Moon Harbor Christmas,” in Winter Wishes (October 2017). The third is the novel Come Home With Me (December 2017), and the fourth is Sail Away With Me (October 2018).

No community is perfect, and I don’t portray Destiny that way. But it is a special place in my special corner of the world, and it’s a place where many people find happiness and love. For me, it feels like my second home, and the characters are my good friends.

I hope you’ll come visit with us in our dot-on-the-map fictional Gulf Island. And if you’re ever looking for an extraordinary holiday, come visit Victoria and Vancouver and be sure to hop a ferry or seaplane and check out the real-life Gulf Islands!

Susan is a Pacific Northwester with homes in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. She has degrees in law and psychology, and has had a variety of careers, including perennial student, computer consultant, and legal editor. Fiction writer is by far her favorite, giving her an outlet to demonstrate her belief in the power of love, friendship, and a sense of humor.
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