February is often associated with romance and love—and one of our favorite subgenres of the season is the power of love and healing within family. So that’s why New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Probst’s The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti was perfect for our February Guest Editor feature.
Probst is known for her charming, sexy romance novels; her writing makes you laugh and cry throughout the emotional, captivating ride. The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti is no different, taking the reader on a quest for healing and hope with three sisters who reunite after the unexpected passing of their mother. They are as different as they can be: Priscilla is an ex-ballerina whose dreams faded as she embraced motherhood; Devon, a hardworking rigid academic; and Bailey, an untethered dreamer. As the sisters work quickly to settle their mother’s affairs and go back to their separate lives, they find a hidden chest, containing the deed to house in Positano, Italy, and multiple love letters written by a man who is not their father. The women, shocked at their mother’s secret love affair, travel to Positano to discover who their mother really was, and find the man she seemed so madly in love with years ago. Situated along the dazzling Amalfi coast, the story is told in alternating timelines and from the perspectives of the sisters and their mom. As secrets are revealed, the estranged sisters must find their way back to the sisterly bond they once shared, navigating grief, mental health issues, heartbreak and love.
Read on for our exclusive interview with Jennifer Probst on writing about family dynamics, her love for Italy, and what she’s working on next.
The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti focuses on the relationship between three very different sisters and the secrets they reveal about their mother. As with your other books, how do you go about developing your cast of characters?
I think characters are the backbone of a great novel. Creating a family readers can identify with is key, and I’m always fascinated with how different each sibling can be within the same family. I made sure to go deeper and explore motivations, personality, quirks, and traits that make up unique human beings. Being raised with multiple siblings, each of us take on a role, and sometimes that role is encouraged by parents—another interesting idea I try to put in the book. For instance, one is the good one, one is the rebel, one is the dreamer, etc. Drawing on my own experiences, other friends and family, and eavesdropping on the world as a whole are ways I bring in fresh ideas to make each a true individual.
You’re known for your intergenerational storylines—as well as your steamy romances. What’s your process of writing more than one book in different genres at once?
I love delving into different stories and genres to keep my writing fresh. The world is full of stories and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to contain all of mine, lol! I adore the romance genre but writing women’s fiction allows me to go a bit deeper into family dynamics and female relationships that fascinate me. My process is the same—I do need more time to develop and flesh out a women’s fiction book, though, because of the multiple characters and points-of-view. And I write one book at a time with a bit of a break in between. I’ve never been a writer able to juggle writing two books at once!
A few of your books have been based in Italy. How has this setting played into developing your storylines?
Italy calls to me—from the lush landscapes, food and rich history. It’s a perfect place to set many of my bigger books to keep readers entertained. Each time I travel to Italy I feel changed in some small way, and I love to bring readers on the same type of journey.
What are three things that really surprised you when writing (or even researching) this novel?
- I’m always surprised at the challenge of writing a bigger book with multiple points of view, but this one was a bit of a stretch because I needed to juggle Olivia’s story—the mom—in a different timeline. It’s a delicate balance to pull off so it kept my writing chops sharp!
- I was also surprised at the rich history of Positano and how it became so well-known to the rich and famous, a playground of sorts for the upper class, yet home to so many year-long residents. It’s extremely old and many of the houses haven’t been updated.
- Finally, I’m always surprised by how the romance between Olivia and Rafe flowed so easily for me. The exploration of first love by a young girl and the bond they had throughout the years kept me engaged throughout every page. As I wrote – even I had no idea what was about to happen!
Can you tell us about any challenges you faced while writing The Secret Love Letters and how you were able to overcome them?
I wrote this book during the pandemic, so that’s always a challenge. Fortunately, I felt as if I was escaping to Positano and the story so it helped me retain a bit of dreamlike fantasy around a difficult time. Showing up daily to write is always a struggle, even when things are easy.
What are you working on now?
Shortly, I’m about to start my next women’s fiction book, A Wedding in Lake Como. I also finished writing a brand new romance series The Twist of Fate – which has three books. The first one comes out in April and is called, Meant to Be.