Virginia'dele Smith - Captivating, Heartwarming Romance in a Small Town Setting
Virginia'dele Smith is a wife, a momma, and an author whose passion is sharing love stories, books, quilts, yoga, recipes, and all of her favorite things in life. She is quilting to mend the mind by spearheading and educating a community of friends who love quilts and quilting but hate Alzheimer’s disease through Quilt 2 End ALZ, Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit she launched to use her quilting hobby as a platform to advocate for an end to Alzheimer's disease. Ashli writes wholesome and heartfelt, small-town romance under the pen name Virginia’dele Smith to honor Syble Virginia Tidwell, Adele Gertrude Baylin, and Etta Jean Smith. These three cherished grandmothers were beautiful role models, teaching Ashli to love without judgment and to always put family first. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Grocery Girl.
Please give us a short introduction to what Grocery Girl is about.
Grocery Girl is a love story about two people who meet in their local grocery store and are immediately attracted to one another. She is a fabric designer, and he is a fireman. Those careers are very reflective of their personalities: Maree sees beauty all around her while Rhys feels a responsibility to save the world. They’ve both experienced great pain and loss, yet their characters have used the impact of those sorrows to approach life in very different ways. As you can imagine, there are challenges along the way to finding the courage to choose love and discovering their happily ever after.
What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this?
When my daughter was in high school, we volunteered to provide fresh fruit to a youth shelter each week. On Monday mornings I would go pick up the fruit, and after school, my daughter would deliver it. Oftentimes, when I arrived at the grocery store to purchase that week’s donation, a fire engine would be parked in front of the store. I would see the firefighters buying the food they needed for the station, and one day I had a silly thought: how cute would it be for a fireman to meet the love of his life right here in the produce section? That meet cute scenario lived in my head, and the characters in it refused to go away. I would lay in bed at night and envision their conversations. I would dream about scenes from the story. I had to try writing it down.
Tell us more about Maree Davenport. What makes her tick?
Maree Davenport is all about family. Because she lost her parents at such a young age, the family she has forged is very important. She has a giving heart and needs to serve others to feel complete. She has a strong faith and a gentle demeanor. Maree is incredibly patient, but she is also very strong. Don’t let her kind, sweet temperament fool you — she has a backbone and stands up for herself. She simply chooses to do that in a way that is more about caring than drama. Maree is not only gorgeous with her crystal blue eyes and long, curly strawberry-blond hair, she is truly lovely as a person.
Why did you pick the produce section as the place where your main characters meet?
When I knew that the meet cute had to take place at the grocery store, I envisioned funny interactions in the produce section…fruit rolling away, room to accidentally run into another basket or person, and of course, being in a small town, curious bystanders enjoying the show.
What makes Rhys such a great love interest?
Rhys is a chivalrous but brooding, beautiful but damaged hero. He doesn’t believe that he’s worth loving, but he has a huge heart and a lot of love to give. He doesn’t think he is worth saving, yet he dedicates his life to saving others. Rhys needs a love he can’t keep at arm’s length. It’s the only path for him to heal from the tragedy that befell his family. That love is Maree…whether he likes it, or not!
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I wear a lot of hats! Besides writing, most of my time is spent with my family, at football events (my husband and son are college coaches, and my daughter is a college cheerleader — all at the same university), quilting, advocating to end Alzheimer’s disease, doing yoga, cooking and baking, playing Mah Jongg, and reading books. I wish there were more hours in each day, but I am sure I would overfill those as well.
Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent, refusing to do what you had planned for them?
Absolutely! I wrote about three chapters of Grocery Girl that were taking off in their own direction. When I took a break and read back over that section, I knew I liked the pages, but they were in the wrong book. I did a quick cut and paste into a new document and saved it under “Scenes I Like” to use as the starting point for another book down the road.
Why Green Hills? What drew you to a small town in southeast Oklahoma?
I grew up in a small Texas town and love that environment, so I knew I wanted to create my book world around a small town. I chose to set Green Hills in southeast Oklahoma because I have driven through that area several times and wondered about the communities that are hidden by the lush canopy of trees that reach as far as the eye can see from the turnpike. I just know there are majestic little communities underneath that veil, and I imagine they are fabulous!
Both Maree and Rhys have experienced loss and heartbreak before. Why did you create them this way?
For me, coming up with conflict is the toughest part of the writing process. I see meet cute scenarios everywhere I go, and I can dream up the HEA (Happily Ever After) without any problems at all. But the middle — the adversity and hang ups that the couple must overcome — is difficult. I want to create characters with real-life, believable struggles, but they can’t be too cliché or too insurmountable. In the end, these are parts of Book 1 that kind of wrote themselves…Maree needing to create a family unit from friends to feel love around her, and Rhys needing to fight fires after losing his loved ones in a fire. These elements felt right for this plot.
Readers say your characters are really relatable - how did you pull this off?
When I write, I look to my family and friends for inspiration. I don’t copy an entire person, but I think about the personality of the character. Then I ask myself how someone I know who exemplifies that trait would act/move/speak. That helps me visualize the character as a real person. When someone who knows my daughter reads Book 1, they will immediately recognize her in Maree; she was the model for the character inside and out, even in naming as Maree is my daughter’s middle name. In Book 2, Maree’s older brother Max is the main character, and Max is very much a combination of my son’s fun-loving nature, my husband’s forthright nature, and both of their loves of football, family, movies, and food. I am surrounded by wonderful family, friends, and community, so there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when I’m molding new characters.
This is book 1 of the Green Hills series. Can it be read as a standalone? How do the other books in the series tie in with this one?
Grocery Girl can definitely be read alone, and every book in the series will be that same way. But for those who love learning about a literary world, the Green Hills series will be right up their alley! I am a book collector, and I love how books look on a shelf. When I decided to publish these love stories that live in my head, I closed my eyes and tried to see my books on a shelf in our home. I wanted them to be in order of publication date when they were in alphabetical order by title. The only way I knew to do that was to number them…Book1: Grocery Girl, Book 2: In the Trenches, etc. These first four novels center around the Davenport family and will be a boxed set. But the people of Green Hills will continue. Books 5-7 are already in development, and I have outlined story arcs for over twenty books to come.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
I’m better in the mornings than later in the day, so whatever I want or NEED to accomplish has to be done first thing. To make writing my top priority, I tackle it first. I wake up around 5:30 a.m., brush my teeth, and climb right back in bed with my laptop (that’s where I am as I type these interview answers right now). At 7:15, I jump on a Zoom call with fellow indie authors across the country. We spend about fifteen minutes sharing what we are working on that day, helping one another brainstorm or problem solve when hurdles present themselves, and then we turn off the camera and microphone to write for two hours. We come back together at 9:30 to share our progress. At least two to three days a week, I reserve the rest of the day to continue writing. I’ll take a short break to throw on comfy clothes and let the dogs out back, but I get right back to writing. On those days, I will easily write for ten to twelve hours.
What are you working on right now?
Today I am finalizing edits on Book 2: In the Trenches which is scheduled to release on May 3rd. I’ll be emailing the ARCs to my launch team tomorrow afternoon, which is very exciting! Once that email is off, I’ll begin the sequence for finishing Book 3…order cover art, submit information for the book description, and write, write, write to see how this next installment of life in Green Hills unfolds.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I’m very active with my readers through my weekly newsletter, The Gazette, and I have a private Facebook Group called Welcome to Green Hills which is exclusively for my newsletter subscribers and “residents” of Green Hills. I blog and sell autographed, limited edition hardcover books and Green Hills merchandise on my website: AshliMontgomery.com. I can also be found on Instagram, Goodreads, BookBub, and my Facebook and Amazon author pages.