Even writing two books a year for Penguin, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Sarah Jio still can’t write fast enough for her eager fans. With her fourth novel The Last Camellia out May 28 and Morning Glory following on Nov. 26, the Seattle-based author is plenty busy as a novelist, wife and mother. To keep up with Jio visit her website www.sarahjio.com and her Facebook page www.facebook.com/sarahjioauthor.
In The Last Camellia, Jio strays from her familiar Pacific Northwest settings and takes her readers abroad to England where she adds a mystery twist to her trademark romance. Jio returns to Seattle in Morning Glory, which takes place on Lake Union.
Last winter Jio resigned from her position as the health and fitness blogger for Glamour.com to chase her dream of penning books. The talented multi-tasking author also collaborates with author Camille Noe Pagan on Books and Bites, a Facebook page that offers book recommendations paired with tasty recipes.
SH: Your latest novel, The Last Camellia, strays from the Seattle/Pacific Northwest setting familiar in your other three books and takes place in England. What inspired the setting of an English country estate?
SJ: It was hard for me to move away from Seattle, but this storyline lent itself to a New York/England pairing, and as an author, I was longing to escape to the English countryside in my imagination, so I allowed myself to take a trip (in my mind, at least!). My ancestors are British, and my late grandmother Cecelia was a huge fan of British literature and culture, so in many ways, this was something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time.
SH: I couldn’t help but picture the characters of Downton Abbey while reading The Last Camellia, are you a fan of the British period drama? Who is your favorite character?
SJ: Fun! I love Downton Abbey, so this is a huge compliment. My favorite character is Flora, I think. I love her passion for botany and her adventurist spirit. I also admire how she hopped on a ship to England alone when the world was on the brink of war. That took some bravery!
SH: The Last Camellia has a darker, more mysterious side than your previous novels. Was it easier or more difficult to write?
SJ: It was harder for me in many ways. The darker subject matter (in places in the novel) wasn’t easy for me to write, especially the scenes from Addison’s past. I didn’t plan for this, but it all just flowed as I wrote it. It felt right.
SH: Did this novel require a lot of research about botany? Is it a subject you are passionate about?
SJ: Indeed! And yet, I’m sort of a closet gardener (my idea of a perfect day is to spend an entire Saturday weeding and planting). I also love camellias—always have—so the garden setting was very appealing to me as I wrote this book.
SH: All of your novels flash back to the 1930s-40s time period. What is your fascination about that era?
SJ: I love these decades. I thank my mom and my late grandmother for this. They had me watching more vintage movies than your average teenage girl watches, and in turn, I became infatuated with the music, style and lifestyles of the past. Seriously, I grew up with a huge crush on Cary Grant. I feel very nostalgic about the 1940’s.
SJ: I’m a total romantic at heart, I admit. I love a good love story! I write the type of stories I love to read, and when there’s an element of romance in them, even better.
SH: For your fifth novel you rented a houseboat in Seattle. How was that experience? Can you share anything about that novel?
SJ: Renting a houseboat for four months was one of the most brilliant things my husband has ever thought of! When I set out to write this novel, set on a houseboat in my hometown of Seattle, my husband, Jason, suggested that we rent a houseboat to get a feel for the houseboat lifestyle. I thought, “Ok, so we’ll rent one for a weekend, maybe?” And, being the generous person that he is, he said, “No, let’s rent one for several months!” We found an adorable houseboat for rent, with a loft bedroom, rooftop deck (with views of the Space Needle!), and a porthole window, and we snapped it up immediately. Those four months on the houseboat will always remain some of the happiest months of our family’s life: feeding the ducks, kayaking, sipping wine on the dock. I could not have written the novel without this rich experience.
As far as the plot, here’s the text that will appear on the book jacket:
New York Times bestselling author Sarah Jio imagines life on Boat Street, a floating community on Seattle’s Lake Union — home to people of artistic spirit who for decades protect the dark secret of one startling night in 1959…
Fleeing an East Coast life marred by tragedy, Ada Santorini takes up residence on houseboat number seven on Boat Street. She discovers a trunk left behind by Penny Wentworth, a young newlywed who lived on the boat half a century earlier. Ada longs to know her predecessor’s fate, but little suspects that Penny’s mysterious past and her own clouded future are destined to converge.
SH: What is the story behind Books & Bites?
SJ: My novelist friend Camille Noe Pagan and I both love food and books, so we thought it would be fun to create a Facebook page where we could pair them and share with our friends. Shelf Awareness featured us in a recent newsletter, and we’ve had a surge of positive feedback from readers — including bestselling authors Jodi Picoult and Jen Lancaster. We’re having a ton of fun sharing our book and recipe recommendations!
SH: You recently resigned from your position with Glamour.com to pursue fiction writing full-time. How has the transition been?
SJ: It was really hard to say goodbye to Glamour. They have been so lovely to me over the years, and it was a wonderful job. And although magazines were my first love, books have my heart, and I decided to follow my heart! It was so hard to say goodbye, but the time was right. I am now writing two books a year with Penguin, and I have three little boys six and under, so I have a lot on my plate!
Somer Breeze-Hanson is a journalist and blogger in Tacoma, WA. When she’s not reporting or watching PBS’s Masterpiece Classics, she’s reading and blogging about the books she reads. She views herself as a full-time writer, part-time reader, and always with her pug at her side.