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Miami Heat

KAYLA PERRIN MAKES THE PAGES SIZZLE WITH THE FIRST BOOK IN HER SINGLE MAMA DRAMA SERIES

By Lauren Spielberg

If you're Kayla Perrin you know a thing or two about firsts. Harlequin kicked off its spicy-hot Spice imprint in May 2006 with Perrin's Getting Even, and now her new novel, this month's Single Mama Drama, is perhaps the first series from Harlequin's Mira imprint to feature an African-American protagonist.

Born in Jamaica and raised in Canada, the former actress and single mother of a 4-year-old daughter started writing children's fiction when she was just a child herself. As she
got older, so did the characters in her books.

When she was 20, Perrin wrote the young-adult book The Disappearance of Allison Jones, a "cute children's mystery about how misunderstandings can go too far, about how hard it is for some kids to fit in," Perrin says. After a slew of rejections from major publishers, largely stemming from a naïvete about the industry, Perrin turned to romance.

"A visit to a friend's place opened me up to the world of romance," she says. "She owned hundreds of Silhouette Desires, and I wondered what the appeal was. Long story
short, I ended up writing a romance, and after some research, learned it was a huge part of the market and that there were many publishers who would take manuscripts without agents."

One such publisher was Genesis Press, which released Perrin's debut novel, Again, My Love, in 1998, and later, in 2000, published The Disappearance of Allison Jones.

She's now writing for Harlequin's Mira and Spice imprints, HarperCollins and St. Martin's Press in a melange of different genres. Shortly after selling the African-American romance If You Want Me to HarperCollins, she branched into straight women's fiction, selling The Sisters of Theta Phi Kappa to St. Martin's. Her HarperCollins editor also recognized Perrin's mainstream voice and crossed her over from straight romances to the Avon Trade line, now known as Avon A.

"The stories I wrote under that line were still romances
but a bit bigger in scope, and they didn't necessarily follow the romance rules to a T," she says. "For example, in Gimme an O! (2005), the hero is married to someone else at the beginning of the book. It's funny and light, and the marriage issue
is thoroughly worked out. I also make it very clear that the hero's wife is a gold-digging witch who isn't worthy of him. One reviewer, however, said she would have closed the book the moment the hero slept with the heroine, because she
likes her romances to be one-man, one-woman. She went
on to say that she was glad she'd had to read it for review purposes, because she was very pleased with how the book ended."

Publishers are also pleased with Perrin, not just because of how her books end but also with the overall execution of her stories. Perrin attributes it to fantastic storytelling that reaches beyond any one particular community of women, as well as the multitude of ideas and genres -- i.e., suspense, romance, erotica, women's fiction, chick lit, even funny mysteries -- that she manages to consistently tackle.

Her latest creation is Single Mama Drama, the first in a three-book series from Mira. "If the series takes off, I'm open
to the idea of doing more books," Perrin reveals. Although
the series features an African-American heroine, Perrin is emphatic that women of all races and backgrounds will be able to relate. "This is a story that the 10 million single
mothers in America can relate to, as well as those looking
for Mr. Right but meeting a lot of Mr. Wrongs."

Starring a multicultural cast, Single Mama Drama takes place in Miami and tells the tale of Vanessa Cain, a gorgeous single mother who's unlucky in love but doing the best she can to fight the good fight. Engaged to a former athlete while working full time and caring for her young daughter, Vanessa gets the first of many shocks when it's reported by all the major news outlets that her fiance, Eli, has been killed while
in the arms of another woman. As if that weren't bad enough, someone from Eli's past is doing their best to evict Vanessa and her daughter from the home they once shared with him.

Unwilling to back away from a challenge -- even with such a formidable foe -- Vanessa is determined to come out with her head above water.

"I definitely wanted to be able to tell this story with a bit
of humor, even though it deals with a serious subject," the author reveals. "Yes, it can be hard to strike that right balance. Some of my earlier books were quite heavy, but my tone has changed over the years. I think, in part, because I became a mother and it's
harder emotionally to write emotionally wrenching stories. I'd like to believe the world isn't as cruel as it is, at least for my daughter's sake. I think humor can help a lot of people get through rough times."

In the book, with Eli dead and ex-beau Lewis chomping at the bit to get back together, Vanessa focuses on two things: caring for her daughter and earning enough money to pay for her home outright. Unfortunately, her choices seem bleak -- until she tries landing a high-profile, self-help guru as a client for her agency, which represents motivational speakers and winds up falling in love. But with her shaky track record with men, can she trust Chaz, who is seemingly perfect?

Wanting to tell a story about single motherhood that was first and foremost hopeful, Perrin took the story's message to heart. "I think a lot of women rationalize a bad relationship," she muses.
"I really noticed this after my marriage fell apart. I'd meet women who'd been dating a guy for, say, eight months, yet didn't want to let go even when all the signs said they should. I know some
single mothers who are always looking for a father for their children, instead of realizing how much they have to offer.

"For me, having a child made me realize I had to expect better out of a relationship, and if I couldn't get what
I needed, there was nothing wrong with being single. Not to get preachy, but it's far more import to focus on being strong for your child as opposed to constantly hoping you'll find a man who will be a perfect father."

With an emboldened worldview and veritable flair for
storytelling, readers can expect plenty of laughs -- and
single mama drama! -- in Perrin's latest series. (Book
two, Single Mama Gets More Drama, is tentatively slated
for a late 2008 release.)

And new stories keep coming. Obsession, her next Spice novel, a dark, erotic thriller about obsessive love, is set for release in April. And she's hard at work on We'll Never Tell, another suspense novel for St. Martin's. Plus, next summer the sequel to How To Kill a Guy in 10 Days is sure to make
a killing.

Unlike some of Perrin's other accomplishments, it wouldn't be the first time.

Excerpt from Single Mama Drama

Once again I pressed the "hold" button, realizing for the first time that maybe it was Eli on the line. I cleared my throat and started speaking in
my most professional tone. "Thanks for holding -- "

"Oh, Vanessa. Thank God."

My heart picked up speed at the sound of Carla's voice. She was my neighbor and babysitter, and if she was calling me so soon after I'd arrived at work, that meant something was wrong with my daughter.

"Carla -- "

"Vanessa, you have to come home. You -- you just have to. Right now."

"Oh my God. Something happened to Rayna." Had my 2-year-old fallen down the stairwell, or gotten into something poisonous, or burned herself?
Panic clawed at my throat. "Carla, tell me what happened!" I pushed my chair back and shot to my feet, already reaching for my purse. "How bad is it?"

"No, it's not Rayna."

My pulse was pounding so loudly in my ears, I wasn't sure I heard her
correctly. "Rayna's okay?" I asked.

"Yes, she's fine. She and Amani are beside me, coloring." Carla blew out
a frazzled breath. "Vanessa, it's ... it's Eli."

"Eli?" Panic turned to confusion. Why would Carla be calling about Eli? Had he returned home already and by chance gone to pick up Rayna? I fully expected him to leave Leroy's place and head straight to the studio, where he and a few former athlete friends were working on their new passion -- a hip-hop demo. I had my doubts as to whether or not they'd get a record deal, but I supported Eli nonetheless.

"Maybe you don't have to come home," Carla said. "You have a TV there, right?"
"Why do I need a TV?"

"Vanessa, listen to me. Turn on the TV to CNN. Right now. There's a commercial playing, but the story's coming up next. Oh, Vanessa. I'm so sorry."

I caught the tail end of a Viagra commercial, and then CNN began again. The female news anchor spoke about what was making headlines. I bit on a nail, waiting for her to say something about Eli.

"Also this hour, the bizarre death of Eli Johnson."

I gasped, stumbled backward. I landed against the
conference table and gripped it for support.

Bizarre death? Eli was ... dead?


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