Message From The Author
Island in the Stream
From her Hawaiian paradise, Jill Marie Landis offers up a steady succession
of satisfying reads.
by Tara Gelsomino
Ask any romance reader who her favorite hidden treasure is and shell promptly rattle off a name. For me, that author is Jill Marie Landis. Since her acclaimed first novel, 1988s Sunflower, Jill Marie has been producing warm, funny, poignant love stories set in various locales of historical America. This month, she reveals her latest, SUMMER MOON, in a new format (hardcover) from a new publisher (Ballantine). But dont be fooled. In an industry roiling with trends and rife with authors transitioning from romance to suspense and mainstream womens fiction, Landis is a beacon of tranquility. Shes a consistent heavy hitter, crafting emotional romances with strong character development, humor and adventure. She doesnt rely on gimmicks and shes not about to try cashing in on the latest publishing peccadilloes. At the same time, she isnt stagnating nor delivering the same story over and over again, only taking the time to vary settings and costumes.
What the owner of two RT Love & Laughter awards does deliver
is that ever-elusive Ah read (you know, a book that makes you sigh happily as you close the back cover). SUMMER MOON, which coincidentally was born in a particularly ah moment while Jill Marie was brainstorming in a Seattle hot tub with Kristin Hannah and Jill Barnett, is typical of Landis books in that it is peopled with complicated but not bleak characters, a nod to the authors own rosy outlook on life. In fact, it is that personal optimism that perhaps keeps Landis firmly entrenched in romance rather than venturing into womens fiction or suspense as many of her cohorts have done. I think its that desire for a happy ending, which has a lot to do with my world outlook, that will make me always want to write romance. At the same time, I would like readers to trust their favorite writers more. If its a voice you like in romance, chances are its a voice youll like in another genre. The alternative is bored authors writing the same things over and over again.
Luckily, thats a fate that will never befall Jill Marie. Her body of work includes love stories that play out against the sweeping and exotic panoramas of an African jungle (2000s The Orchid Hunter) 19th-century Hawaii (1999s The Glass Beach) and several tales of the American frontier (After All, Day Dreamer, Last Chance, etc.) Set against the Comanche wars in 1870s Texas, SUMMER MOON tells the story of Kate Whittington, the daughter of a prostitute who abandons her at an orphanage at age nine, leaving her to try and forge a better life for herself. Though Kate is educated and becomes a teacher, shes lonely living as an outsider in her small Maine community, until she sees an ad for a mail order bride in the local newspaper. She soon strikes up a correspondence with Reed Benton, Jr., a rancher from Texas, and her dreams of a home and family of her own seem to be finally coming true. But when Kate gets to Texas, shes faced with a wounded and angry Texas ranger, who has no idea who she is, and his son Daniel, a little boy torn between two worlds, two cultures, two families.
Reed has just rescued Daniel from the Comanche, who kidnapped him six years before. But the scared little boys heart is still with his Comanche family, the only one hes ever known, and his only wish is to return to them. It will take Kates tender heart and understanding as a fellow outsider to bring this family together again. The theme of prejudice and class differences is one that resounds in this novel, as it has in many of Jill Maries previous books, such as 1999s Blue Moon (which featured a half-Native American hero). I really just see it as so unfair to judge a person by their background and not take each individual on their own merit, she says adamantly.
The authors sensitive and even-handed depiction of the historic struggles between Texans and Native Americans is also a somewhat different approach for a romance. I think we have a tendency to romanticize the past, but when you go through the actual research material, its not a pretty time and theres really no one person or party at fault. Likewise, the slow progression that Daniel must make is somewhat atypical of romance, and Landis makes it clear that the boys feelings for both families are very complex. A lot of times in captive/captor romances, its only too easy for the heroine to forget it or shake off the kidnapping, which of course wasnt the case in real life.
Jill Marie will delve into a whole new period rich in history with her next release for Ballantine, Magnolia Creek, a Civil Warera historical set in Kentucky (due out in 2002). It tells the love story of a young woman who meets and impulsively marries a Confederate soldier just before he goes off to war. He is presumed dead and in a few years time she meets a Union soldier, marries him and becomes pregnant with his childjust in time for her very much alive first husband to come back into her life.
If a tumultuous triangle sounds familiar, it could be thanks to its similarity to the plot of the summer blockbuster Pearl Harbor. Coincidentally, Jill Marie is a part-time Hawaiian resident (though she lives on an outer island, about 50 miles from the nearest movie theater and far from the real Pearl Harbor). When shes not writing, Jill Marie enjoys playing the ukulele and gardening (she grows several varieties of orchids, an interest that prompted her last book, The Orchid Hunter). Landis is an accomplished quilter as well, and she and her husband Steve also have a part-time residence in Long Beach, California. With such a charmed life, its easy to see why Jill Marie Landis believes in happy endings!
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