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Interview with Carolyn Miller

A sweet moment in real-life, that occurred more than a decade ago at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, is what sparked the idea for Australian author Carolyn Miller to write a "slightly sporty Christian contemporary romance," which would later turn into a six-book series.

"When I saw an Aussie female athlete holding hands with a US male athlete as they entered the closing ceremony, I was struck by how two people from different countries—and (presumably) different sports—could meet, let alone sustain a relationship, especially given the grueling nature of their elite athlete training schedules and all those time zone differences."

Despite Carolyn's best efforts, she never did find out who they were, so she made up a story about them, turning the heroine into an Aussie short track speed skater and the hero an ice hockey player. This was the very first novel Carolyn penned. The second novel she wrote was set in Muskoka, Canada, and again involved an ice hockey player as the hero.

After this, Carolyn began writing a series of Regency historical novels and a different contemporary series. All the while, she was wondering how to connect her first two novels, and then she finally realized the two teams involved in these books, Toronto and Chicago, were part of the Original Six National Hockey League (NHL) teams. So, she decided she could connect the stories through this, but that the characters needed a reason to be connecting, so that characters from one book could pop up in others for something deeper than just playing each others' teams.

Well, a couple of years ago, in what Carolyn calls "a moment of utter-God provision," she came across an online Bible study group for Christian hockey players who played for the Boston Bruins (another of the Original Six teams). She decided this could easily be extended into an online Bible study group for players from all sorts of teams. And voila! All kinds of connection points were now in mind, so the Original Six series was crafted, with each novel set in one of the six cities of the original six teams of the NHL: Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Montreal, New York, and Toronto.

The first book in this series, The Breakup Project, was just released this December. It's set in Boston, one out of four places from the Original Six cities that Carolyn was fortunate enough to have visited with her husband when they took "the trip of a lifetime" to the US and Canada. Some of the attractions they checked out were: a Chicago Blackhawk's game, The Art Institute of Chicago, and Montreal's Jardin Botanique.

"I kind of view this series as my love letter to North America. It was so fun to write about places I've enjoyed seeing in person or through research, while incorporating Australian characters, expressions, and settings along the way. And obviously the NHL is in North America, so it was important to base things there."

Other than traveling to some of these cities, Carolyn says this series did demand a fair amount of other types of research, such as learning about short speed track skating and the Olympics, or exploring New York state's foster care system.

She says she wants the books to be enjoyed by hockey fans—which meant getting the hockey terms right—but she also wants the books to be accessible to non-hockey fans, so that makes it a delicate balance.

"Really though, the romance is key in the books in this series. I always love exploring relationships and how they come about, so while there are hockey references, they take a back seat to the romance."

The Breakup Project has Bree as the heroine, who is the twin sister of "hockey's hottest forward." Featuring twins in her book, particularly brother/sister twins instead of the same gender twins, didn't happen because Carolyn has any twins in the family.

"I just think sibling dynamics are always interesting, and brother-sister dynamics can be even more so, as there can be a sense of protectiveness and awareness, which can lead to fun banter, teasing, tension, and straight-talk dialogue."

Speaking of research, and knowing how long that sometimes takes, how long did it take Carolyn to do the research for this first novel and then to write it?

Six weeks.

What? Yes, only six weeks! Talk about Olympic speed skating … but instead Olympic speed writing!

"This was a funny book to write, as I'd written Love on Ice back in 2010 (and spent months tweaking it), so I had to make sure the elements I put in that novel were reflected in The Breakup Project for series consistency. Once I had those things down, I wrote it in about six weeks. Hey, I enjoy doing NaNoWriMo!"

Carolyn also enjoys having a deadline, which is a good thing, since all six books in this series are rapidly releasing in the first seven months of this year (so Love on Ice will release in time for the Winter Olympics in February). This has meant a juggle of writing, editing, and marketing—and plenty of deadlines—so Carolyn says she's needed to be really organized.

Sometimes authors just want to "tell a really good story." Sometimes there's a distinct message authors want to get across. For Carolyn, there were two things in particular she wanted to touch on from The Breakup Project. One, the illusion of romantic ideals at the expense of real connection, which is something hero Mike points out to romance-loving heroine Bree. Two, the challenges of professional sports for Christians with a heart for the world.

"Pro sports can see obscene salaries for something which some can dismiss as entertainment, so how long do you negotiate when you have a heart for the poor? One of the things I loved about this book was the chance to include a real missions organization, Mission Possible for Future Generations. MPFG was started by friends of mine and helps children in Filipino slums gain education and a future. My husband has visited the Philippines a number of times. I was excited to use some of his experiences in the scenes, so it’s grounded in reality."

Hero Mike in the novel visits the Philippines as part of his role as a spokesperson. This visit leads to tension as he returns to his North American lifestyle and tries to reconcile what he’s seen with how he lives, which is something, Carolyn says, that many people struggle with after they've gone on short-term mission trips.

"I really hope this book helps put a spotlight on MPFG and people will support this important work, as well as be encouraged to see the world a little larger and gain perspective."

As for the message Carolyn wants to get across in the other books in the Original Six series?

"The underlying message in all my books is trust God, but the focus shifts and sharpens depending on the story. Upcoming releases see messages about letting go of fear, loving your neighbors, the dangers of gossip and speculation, and working through forgiveness – all things I’ve been working through myself. I want this series, like all my books, to give readers stories of hope, heart, and humor."

This is one of the reasons Carolyn chose to write romance over other genres, and in particular, Christian romance.

"Regardless of whether it's historical or contemporary, I love to write novels that encourage and inspire, that entertain with good romance and banter, but also have relatable characters who are flawed (just like me) and touch on deeper, sometimes grittier issues. I love to write Christian fiction as it helps me work through some of my own faith questions and gives a whole-of-life reading experience, where matters of the soul and spirit are as important as the physical."

Carolyn's books have been called "unapologetically Christian." She says that's because she doesn't shy away from talking about Christian things. Her Christian characters pray, attend church, read the Bible, and try to apply it to their lives. She says even with all that, she's had non-Christians tell her they enjoyed her novels too.

"Writing Christian fiction means there are more books out there like what I want to read, and I’m so encouraged that readers have enjoyed my books over the past years."

Okay, there are two last questions that just must be answered when you have an Australian female writing a contemporary romance series involving hockey players in the US and Canada. One, do they even play hockey in Australia? Two, is Carolyn a big sports fan?

Carolyn says yes, they do have an ice hockey league in Australia, and she's seen a few games, but due to Australia's climate, field hockey is played more often. She says funnily enough, she's not hugely into sports, but for some reason she has come to like hockey.

"Maybe because it's the sheer toughness that's required (82+ games per season – wow!), the physicality and skill of skating at fast speeds, the danger and excitement of the games, and the stories behind the players who play at an elite level."

That certainly is all true, but Carolyn admits there is also another reason she enjoys hockey.

"There is the other element that certain NHL players make it really interesting and fun to watch hockey. Hello! Carrie Underwood obviously thought so, marrying Mike Fisher, a well-known (and handsome) Christian NHL player."

Amen to that, Carolyn, Amen to that!
Melinda Freeland wrote her first "novel" at age 8 about Mr. & Mrs. Texas Toast, and their struggle to get off the plate before someone ate them. Today, Melinda writes fiction you can relate to—about humans—and their real struggles, not only in relationships, but also with understanding and trusting God. Love, Texas – Population 2 is her debut Christian contemporary romance novel. It was inspired by Melinda's reunion with her first love, her life as a small-town reporter, and her faith journey. Melinda lives in Texas with her handsome husband, two great kids, and her lovable Pug. She'd love to connect with readers at and on social media @authormelindafreeland and @melindafreeland.

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