Question: What was the inspiration for At Last?
Julie Ortolon: I'd have to say determination more than inspiration sparked the story. Like many Texans, I'm passionate in my love for my home state, but the Texas I know has numerous facets rarely shown in movies and novels. So I thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to set a story in a small Texas town but break as many stereotypes as possible?" I allowed myself to be over the top but with a catch: I had to stay true to reality. The result surpassed my original vision with fun characters in a quirky town and a story that makes me laugh even when it tugs at my heartstrings.
Q: You based your imaginary town of Hope, Texas on the real town of Gruene. Why that particular town?
JO: If you want to be quirky but stay true to reality, there's no better place than Gruene, Texas. This tiny town–not far from where I live–feels like a time capsule since nothing new has been built since the mid-1900s. Today, it's a thriving tourist destination with gift shops, antiques stores, a wine tasting room, and the "oldest dance hall in continuous use in Texas," Gruene Hall.
Since Gruene, Texas has nothing to do with cattle, I made the hero, Jackson Hope, a lawyer from Austin instead of a rancher. The way Texas men are frequently portrayed in fiction isn't incorrect, but that stereotype is a definite minority.
Q: Your heroine sings blues and American standards in a bar fashioned after a speakeasy. Why did you pick that type of music?
JO: I grew up in Austin, the music capital of Texas, and we have all kinds of music here. I happen to be a huge fan of blues and American standards, so Riley's love of my favorite music was pure self indulgence. Plus, that era of music best fit the period of the town.
Q: The novel comes with a music sound track. How did the idea for that come about?
JO: As luck would have it, while I was writing At Last, a local singer, Barbara Calderaro, was singing regularly at a neighborhood wine bar. She mostly covers old standards, so that helped me decide which songs to have Riley sing. One day, while sitting at the wine bar, I said, "You should cut a CD to go with my book." To my surprise–and delight–she nodded and said, "Okay."
I'm thrilled with how the soundtrack came out. Howard Levine, the guitar player on the CD, wrote some brilliant arrangements to give the old standards a fresh new sound. He even turned the title track, At Last, into an upbeat samba. Sounds crazy, but I love it.
Q: Speaking of the title track, you changed the title of the print book–Unforgettable–to At Last for the ebook release. What prompted that?
JO: Breaking so many stereotypes made this story a packaging nightmare. How do you convey a bombshell lounge singer going toe-to-toe with a city lawyer over the fate of a historic dance hall in a tiny tourist town in Texas? The original packaging looked too Manhattan jazz club. This time, releasing the ebook version bundled with the digital music sound track, I think we hit the mark. Plus, the flirty but passionate way Barbara sings At Last perfectly captures my heroine.
Q: Throughout the story, you weave in a lot of history about bootleggers and bank robbers. Why did you choose that era?
JO: That period fascinates me, and I loved researching it. Ironically, some of the most incredulous bits of the backstory in At Last are straight from real history. The ploy my character Molly McPherson and her brothers used to rob banks is the exact ploy used by a woman known in Texas as the Flapper Bandit. I also based Molly's brothers on the Newton Brothers, the most successful bank robbing gang in history.
I may write contemporary romance, but I love history. Nothing gets me more excited than to find interesting tidbits from the past to drop into a fun yet heart-tugging contemporary romance. I try to bring that to all my books, but it really fell into place with At Last.