Ashley Farley is the author of the new novel Dream Big, Stella!, the first in a new series that also includes Show Me the Way and Mistletoe and Wedding Bells. She lives in Richmond, Virginia.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Dream Big, Stella?
A: I borrowed the title from a line in the book when Stella’s mentor encourages her to dream big in terms of renovating the inn she inherited from the father she never knew she had.
The title embodies the heartwarming and inspirational tone I wanted for this series. Women need uplifting during the challenges we’re currently facing. While there is plenty of drama in the series, the main characters, the staff at Hope Springs Farm, encourage and support one another as they work together to accomplish their endeavors.
Q: The novel is set in a town in Virginia--how important is setting to you in your writing?
A: Setting is important on many different levels. When portrayed well, setting becomes a character in and of itself. Women’s fiction/romance readers long to escape to places they’ve never been or locations that summon happy memories from past visits.
The town of Hope Springs is charmingly sophisticated. The Inn at Hope Springs Farm is a fairytale resort where family is celebrated, friendships are made, romance is discovered, and dreams come true.
Many of my novels are set in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, where I’m originally from. I miss my home—the easy way of life and kind folks, moss-draped trees and Southern cuisine. For me as a writer, when working on a novel set in the Lowcountry, I get to go there every day in my head.
While I’ve enjoyed my time in Virginia, I have returned to coastal South Carolina for my current project. Hence the fun of being a women’s fiction author. You make it up as you go.
Q: This is the first in a series--did you know from the beginning that you'd be creating a series about Hope Springs?
A: Yes, I planned the series from the beginning. I received my first success with the Sweeny Sisters Series, although in recent years I’ve been primarily publishing stand-alone novels. Since readers continue to request more from the Sweeny family, I decided to write a whole new series.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: The main characters in the series are in their early 30s. They are career-driven, family-oriented, hard-working young women looking for friendship and romance. My goal is for my characters to inspire women to live their best lives, to have the courage to take chances in order to find happiness.
Q: Can you say more about what you’re working on now?
A: I’ve returned to the Lowcountry for my current work in progress, another series, Palmetto Island. I hope to release three novels and a prologue novella in Spring/Summer 2021. I also would like to write one more installment in the Hope Springs Series.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I was halfway through the first draft of Dream Big, Stella! when the pandemic struck. With the help of my editor, we formulated a plan to release these installments in rapid succession for readers’ binge-reading enjoyment. These women, this intriguing cast of characters, inspired and motivated me through the worst days of the pandemic. I hope they will do the same for my readers.
Coincidentally, while these books are set in 2020, you will find no mention of COVID during your escape to Hope Springs.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb