Betsy St. Amant
If you’re an author (or even an avid reader), you have probably heard of the term “branding”. Publishers, editors, and agents want authors to “brand” themselves, which essentially means doing something consistently and giving your readers what they expect.
For example, Colleen Coble writes amazing suspense stories. Sometimes historical, sometimes contemporary, but you can always trust you’re going to get a suspenseful tale with dash of romance and a well-plotted mystery. Or think about Francine Rivers. You know when you open her novels that you’re going to get a story with rich biblical themes and a powerful message of love. Other names, like Frank Peretti, Jaime Jo Wright, and Ted Dekker—well, you know it’s best to shut the curtains and hide under a blanket while you read their work! We would never expect Francine Rivers to write horror novels, or Ted Dekker to whip out an Amish women’s fiction, right? That’s branding.
Over the course of the last several years, I’ve somehow gotten myself branded with bakeries! This is a tad hilarious because I really don’t cook or bake well. (My middle-school daughter, on the other hand, is a genius in the kitchen!) It all started with my 2014 novel All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes, where a cupcake baker is trapped making the same boring flavors day in and day out. It’s a friends-to-more romance that heats up when the heroine’s best guy friend enrolls her in a national baking reality show. This was followed by a novella called Love Takes the Cake. In that one, a wedding cake chef who is “always the baker, never the bride” falls for the best man at a wedding she’s catering.
After that, I wrote the The Key To Love, which features a romantic pastry chef named Bri who manages a Parisian bakery in a tiny town in Kansas. The bakery goes viral for their matchmaking schemes, and Bri is stuck having to impress a scorned travel writer, Gerard, in order to save her dreams. That story includes plenty of macarons and petit fours, and I might have gained a few pounds while writing it!
So, when I first started brainstorming the next book in my contract with Revell, I wanted to get out of my (bakery) box a little, but still give my readers what they expected—a fun romance, with humor and deep characterization and yummy snacks. My editor pointed out there never seemed to be any food trucks in Christian fiction, and I was immediately intrigued. Here was a way to step outside the kitchen and do something fresh! I was so excited to get started.
But writing Tacos for Two in the middle of a world-wide pandemic was exciting in a much-different-than-expected kind of way. All my grand plans of touring a local food truck and getting the inside scoop on the ins and outs of the mobile food industry disintegrated faster than you could say “cheese”. (Or COVID-19!)
For me, Tacos for Two is an achievement over and above my other novels. This book took so much more focus and effort. It was hard, honestly. And not because I didn’t love the story, but rather, because writing under duress is a game-changer. There was anxiety and fear over the state of the world in general that I was constantly battling with prayer and Scriptures. There was homeschooling a fourth grader and a seventh grader for the first time, all while working a day job from home and attempting to meet my novel deadline. (I haven’t even mentioned my devotional-writing and freelance editing side-gigs!)
Top all those pressures off with an extensive revision letter from my editor, during an already emotionally volatile time, and well—it’s a wonder I didn’t collapse. I remember getting the revision suggestions from my editor and riding that initial wave of feeling massively overwhelmed. Then, I took a deep breath and reminded myself of something that had proven true during former hard moments in life: “take one step at a time”. I trusted the book would be all the better for the extra work. (And it was—my editor is brilliant!) I simply had to dive in, one line at a time, and shape the book into what it needed to be. Just like I was learning with everything else in a pandemic world—looking too far ahead brought anxiety but looking at the very next thing that needed to be done brought peace and accomplishment.
In hindsight, I think Tacos for Two contains all the emotions that were poured into it. (Along with the extra cilantro!) Humor (because hey, if I didn’t laugh, I would cry, right?), my character’s deep need for connection (via an online dating app), fear of things changing (along with the fear of them never changing!), high stakes (you’ll have to read to see!), pressure under deadline (the food truck cook-off!) and of course, romance.
While there were definitely a few times I wished I had the house to myself, I was very grateful at the end of each day to have my family, quarantined or not. There was a time in my life where it would have been just me—a single mom—and my young daughter figuring things out alone in that unknown season. But because of God’s grace, I made it through the pandemic and my deadline with the support of a loving husband—who thankfully didn’t seem to mind a lot of leftovers and unvacuumed carpets!
I think Jude and Rory, the hero and heroine of Tacos for Two, are highly relatable characters for readers during this unprecedented time we’re all still figuring out. They, too, had to navigate uncertainty, anxieties, unknown futures, and pressures they would have never chosen. Along the way, they discover truths about themselves, create some delicious cuisine (and burn a few things!), and learn important lessons about forgiveness, second chances… and that sometimes love really does begin in the kitchen!
Betsy St. Amant is the author of more than fifteen inspirational romances, including The Key to Love, and a frequent contributor to iBelieve.com. She lives in north Louisiana with her husband, two daughters, a collection of Austen novels, and an impressive stash of pickle-flavored Pringles. When she’s not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white chocolate mocha—no whip. Learn more at www.betsystamant.com.