Cara Bastone stopped by to talk about romance and her novel, Just a Heartbeat Away, released on June 30. I have read it and loved it and it will be one of my favorite books this year.
There are the good romance novels: the page turners that make you grin at your Kindle and send incoming phone calls to voicemail because there is no way in heck that you’re going to get interrupted in this part of the book.
And then… there are the great romance novels: The ones that you find yourself thinking about three years later on a long drive. The ones that you refer back to after a fight with your partner. The ones you reread when you’re deciding whether or not to go on another date with someone you haven’t quite clicked with. These are the stories that make you say ugh or wow or noooooo or yessssssss, often out loud.
So what’s the difference between the goods and the greats? I’m confident there are a hundred different answers to that, but one thing in particular all the greats on my list have?
The Big Convo.
You know the one I’m talking about? That pivotal moment somewhere in the second half of the story when one character or the other ~reveals~ their ~thing~. (No, not that thing… well, sometimes that thing). One character explains why they are the way they are. They reveal something about their past. They explain their Big Pain or their Big Secret. Sometimes the reader already knows, sometimes the reader finds out along with the other character.
In good romance novels, I’m often surprised during The Big Convo, or intrigued, or gratified or relieved.
In great romance novels… it feels real. A conversation that might actually happen between two living people, forging true connection between the main characters.
I find this to be an excellent litmus test for whether or not a romance novel, for me, will stand the test of time. If, during The Big Convo, the character who is doing the listening is passive or offers only platitudes or thinks only of themselves in that moment… no matter how juicy the reveal was, as a reader, I lose a little bit of sparkle for that book. I thirst for characters who ask questions, offer comfort, think about how this information informs every other aspect of the person they are trying to get to know and love.
The plot of my debut novel, Just a Heartbeat Away (out on June 30th) is very much shaped by the act of truly getting to know someone, and because of what is discovered, falling in love with them.
It sparked to life one autumn day as I was on a long, windy walk through Crown Heights, Brooklyn. A character popped into my head. He was an older guy, maybe a silverish blond fox. He would be calm and honest and hard working. I liked him right away. And I wanted him to have a really special love story. What about, I thought, one that was a little bit like mine?
My husband and I got together during one of the hardest periods of both of our lives. I won’t get into the nitty gritty here, but we fell in love while we were both falling apart. The thing was, no matter how bleak things got for one of us, we never let the other one hit rock bottom. We became fierce advocates for one another’s happiness and well being. If we hadn’t been going through such a tough time as we fell in love, we might not have developed that skill so quickly, but we did, and it has since become a defining trait of our relationship.
I wanted Sebastian (the male MC) to have that kind of relationship. So, I sat down and wrote a scene that happens in the middle of the book. Sebastian is sick with strep throat and, though they are just friends still, lets Via (the female MC) take care of him. He, feverish and vulnerable, begins to talk about the death of his late wife. The splitting grief and disorientation. All the ways that her death changed him, shaped him into the man he is now. So, here I had my lovely character —who had spontaneously burst into existence in my brain— spilling his guts and all the tea and trying his best to communicate and be known by a woman he has a whopper of a crush on.
Now, who was this woman going to be? Suddenly, there she was on the page. A good listener, younger but filled with understanding, and seeing Sebastian crystal clear, even when he couldn’t see himself.
“Via knew when someone was saying something out loud for the very first time. When the words were so raw they were almost a prayer. When a feeling that had been curling and spiking and growing inside you finally, finally found its way to the outside. To the world.”
She sees Sebastian and she sees some of her own experiences reflected back toward her. Her own hardships inform her understanding of who he is, rather than cloud it. She’s sweet with him, but firm. She asks him to stick up for himself to himself.
“He’d probably never heard her speak with such authority before, but she was an expert on this subject. The metamorphosis of grief. And he was her friend. And she was going to drag him out of the swamp if it was the last thing she did.”
And the best part? He hears her.
I wanted, more than anything, for these two characters to listen to one another. To grow from their connection. To become stronger, more actualized people because of their relationship. Toward the end of the book Sebastian tells Via, “You were so kind. So firm. So fucking painfully honest. You told me the truth and I saw it. I understood it. Through your eyes.”
I couldn’t have written those words if they hadn’t been true. Not when this book, when this relationship between Sebastian and Via had been my way of further understanding my own relationship with my husband.
Just a Heartbeat Away is my love letter to flirtatious eye contact, to the skip in your heart when someone you thought was just a friend is suddenly standing a touch closer than they used to. It’s a love letter to that moment when you just know that your crush is crossing the room to talk to you. But it’s also a love letter to doing the personal work that is required to truly connect with someone. To clearing out the cobwebs and showing off all your dusty attic space you thought would stay locked up forever. To offering up the “unfixable” parts of yourself and watching in amazement while your new partner spit shines them clean. This is my love letter to honest communication. To the bravery of telling someone how you feel and letting the chips fall where they may.
The plot, the joy, the juice of this book is in Seb and Via discovering how deep their love for one another actually runs.
Thanks for stopping by Cara! As someone who’s already read this book, I agree that the juice of this book is that discovery of how deep their love for each other is.
About the book
Some people change your life
Others change your heart
Newly widowed dad Sebastian Dorner was unraveling at the edges—until his son’s teacher, Via DeRosa, threw him a lifeline. Now, two years later, they reconnect at Matty’s new school, and an inconvenient but unmistakable jolt of attraction crackles between them. But why does the first person to spark with Sebastian in years have to be a millennial? Is twentysomething Via really too young for him or does fortysomething Sebastian just feel too damn old?
A former foster kid, Via’s finally forged the stable life she’s always dreamed of—new job, steady income, no drama. The last thing she needs are rumors about her and a single dad at school. But why does she keep being drawn into his capable, worn-flannel orbit? And why does being around Sebastian, Matty and even their dog, Crabby, seem to spark so much want?
They’re trying to ignore the tension threatening their friendship. But sometimes what’ll heal you is just a touch—and a heartbeat—away…