What attracts you to a particular novel? Are you ever drawn in primarily by the setting? I certainly am. Such was the case with Liz Johnson’s The Red Door Inn, set in North Rustico, Prince Edward Island.
For our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary years ago, Tim and I went to Nova Scotia and PEI. Of course we did the expected sight-seeing on the island: the site of Anne of Green Gables—capturing a bit of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s brainchild.
We wandered through the white, green-gabled house where red-haired Anne would have inadvertently used liniment oil instead of vanilla in the cake, and accidentally got Diana Barry drunk with currant wine instead of serving raspberry cordial. I imagined hearing Anne yell at gossipy Rachel Lynde for making fun of her red hair, and could practically smell Marilla’s Plum Puffs.
Altogether a thrilling experience, as Anne might say. But not as thrilling as Anne discovering unexpected kindred spirits.
“Kindred Spirits are not so scarce as a I used to think.
It’s splendid to find out there are so many in the world.” —Anne
I’ve felt that kindred spirit with many a literary character. Including Anne with an E.
Tim didn’t feel that connection. My husband never read one word of the books, nor saw one clip of the films. But he didn’t complain. His patience was stellar.
That’s because he’d already experienced his favorite part of the island—a little port town called North Rustico which we just happened to stumble into. We lingered on Rustico Harbour’s pier, soaking in sunshine, warmth, ocean tides, and fish smells. For hours, Tim chatted with a fisherman who’d just come off the water. I sat with them a while, then wandered to a nearby quilt shop.
North Rustico had a magic of its own. We both felt it. Like kindred spirits.
So when I discovered Liz Johnson had written a novel series set in North Rustico, I knew I had to read this book.
The Red Door Inn was a Christy Award finalist in 2016 for contemporary romance.
Marie Carrington is running from a host of bad memories. Broke and desperate, she’s hoping to find safety and sanctuary on Prince Edward Island, where she reluctantly agrees to help decorate a renovated bed-and-breakfast before it opens for prime tourist season.
Seth Sloane didn’t move three thousand miles to work on his uncle’s B&B so he could babysit a woman with a taste for expensive antiques and a bewildering habit of jumping every time he brushes past her. He came to help restore the old Victorian–and to forget about the fiancée who broke his heart.
The only thing Marie and Seth agree on is that getting the Red Door Inn ready to open in just two months will take everything they’ve got. Can these two wounded souls find hope, healing, and perhaps a bit of romance on this beautiful island?
Step into the Red Door Inn, a lovely home away from home tucked along the north shore of fabled Prince Edward Island. It’s a place where the wounded come to heal, the broken find forgiveness, and the lonely find a family. Won’t you stay for the season?
I feel the need to return to North Rustico, this time to stay at the Red Door Inn. In the Montgomery Room, of course. Even if it only exists in imagination.
The opening chapter drew me in with Marie’s plight as she rode the ferry to PEI, running from haunting memories. We don’t yet know exactly what those are. Neither does Jack, an elderly man who’s renovating an old house into an inn to create a place of healing for hurting people, and to honor his wife’s memory. It’s a labor of love.
Jack takes desperate, distraught Marie under his wing by offering her a job as a decorator, which is her expertise. It will also help him meet a deadline.
There’s more than house renovation going on here. Marie, Jack, and his nephew Seth struggle for their own personal renovations after recent devastating events. For Jack, it’s the loss of his wife Rose. For Seth, it’s a girlfriend who betrayed him. For Marie, well, hang in there. We don’t discover the details till later, but it revolves around her father who only acts in self-interest.
Seth is less than happy about his uncle bringing home a stray young woman. He’s trying to forget women, and this one jumps in dismay every time he walks in the room. For good reason, he later realizes. While he aims for practical renovations, he deems Marie’s expenditures as over the top. Plus, they have a deadline and limited budget.
Townsfolk add their own flavor to the inn. Aretha at the antique shop helps Marie pick out appropriate furniture and accents for each room. Caden from the local bakery offers plenty of delicious ideas for the inn’s menu.
An additional bonus is the Anne of Green Gables references throughout. First-rate descriptions of the island put me right there.
Even with some predictability, the gradual revelation of new details occurs at the right moments. Each reveal brings better understanding of these authentic, relatable characters and fosters believable interactions.
By the book’s end, the Red Door Inn, created to be a place of healing, hasn’t even started hosting guests yet. But the inn has already begun its healing job in the lives of Jack, Marie, and Seth.
For its lovely setting and its theme of redemptive hope, this is a perfect summer read. Follow up with the others in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series: Where Two Hearts Meet and On Love’s Gentle Shore.
Then try the next series: Prince Edward Island Shores. Book 1 is Beyond the Tides. Book 2, The Last Way Home, releases today!
Join me for some Q & A with Liz Johnson.
Questions about The Red Door Inn and the PEI series
What inspired you to write stories set in Prince Edward Island? What is your personal connection to PEI?
Liz: Like most girls growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I fell in love with the 1985 Anne of Green Gables miniseries on TV. My mom had taped it off of PBS, and I watched it until the VHS ribbon wore out. I didn’t read the book series until I was 19—another gift from my mom—when I was doing a semester of college in Orlando. Through Anne, I was smitten with the Gentle Island. So in 2010, my mom and I visited for the first time. And I absolutely fell in love.
I had no plans to write about PEI. I just wanted to walk where L.M. Montgomery had. I wanted to tour Green Gables house and see the famed North Shore. But I think the island has a certain magic for storytellers.
On my second trip there, I discovered North Rustico and this beautiful boardwalk and quaint village. One without an inn. And standing on that boardwalk, I looked up and saw a beautiful two-story blue home. And in that moment, I knew it needed to be an inn. So I wrote it into existence.
Where do your story ideas usually originate from—character, plot, setting, theme, or a combination? Share an example or two or how one of your PEI stories grew.
Liz: My stories almost always come from a “What if” question. What if someone had to sever all ties with her family? What would cause her to do that? And how would she get by? What if the inn was her sanctuary? What would compel her to leave it? (If you’ve read The Red Door Inn, you know which character had to answer those questions.)
I also look for opportunities to put a character into a position where they feel uncomfortable and then make them discover their hidden superpowers. In Where Two Hearts Meet, the sequel to The Red Door Inn, I forced Caden out of the kitchen (her haven) and even when I let her back in, I invited others to invade her domain. Only then could she realize that she was so much more than just the (mouthwatering) food she made.
How well did you know your hero and heroine at the outset? Or did you primarily get to know them as you wrote?
Liz: I usually spend a few weeks or months thinking about a story before really diving in to write it. But I didn’t have that luxury with The Red Door Inn, so writing the book was really a discovery of the characters, what they wanted, and how they were going to get there (or not). I love that discovery process, and I enjoyed falling in love with the characters as they fell in love with each other.
Did the plot for The Red Door Inn stick to a pre-determined plan or did it evolve? Did you know you wanted the inn in the story from the get-go?
Liz: The inn was always the main character of that series. I wanted it to be a place where the broken found healing. So in that sense, I always knew the characters coming to stay there were going to be in need. And I knew there was something special about the inn that drew those who needed hope and rest.
It’s probably the same thing I feel about the island. It’s just so refreshing and relaxing, and I wanted even those who had lived their whole lives there to rediscover it.
Questions about writing
What books have been most influential for you as a writer? Was there a book that sparked or confirmed your desire to be a novelist?
Liz: It’s hard to pick just one influential book, but I will say that the Appomattox Saga by Gilbert Morris is probably the series that made me want to be a writer. When I was 12, I’d stay up until the early morning hours reading those books. Even after my mom would tell me to go to bed, I’d keep reading.
Then I proceeded to write a book of my own. It’s one of those that will NEVER see the light of day, but it was my first real book. It was 40,000 words of my own. Terrible, terrible words. But after I wrote that book, I was hooked. I haven’t stopped writing since. And I think Mr. Morris is at least partially responsible.
Are you an outliner or a pantser? Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
Liz: I’m mostly a pantser, although I like to spend several months mulling over the characters and where they’re going. But inevitably I’ll start writing and the characters will take me places I never expected. That’s one of my favorite things about discovering the story as I write it.
A full-length novel can take me anywhere from 4-8 months to write. They always get off to a slow start and pick up speed the farther we get. I usually write the majority of the book in the last two months before deadline—which stresses my mom out. 🙂 But I write well under pressure.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go.
Liz: The second book in my current Prince Edward Island Shores series, The Last Way Home, releases in August (today!). Now I’m working on the youngest Ross brother’s story—the third and final in the series.
I’ve loved writing about these brothers, but I confess that Levi, who’d rather have his nose in a book than speak to anyone, has been a challenge. I love him, and he loves to be silent. Characters who don’t talk are extra challenging, so I’ve been slowly drawing him out of his shell, which is more fun than I thought it would be. Levi’s story will come out in summer 2023.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
Liz: My advice for aspiring novelists is pretty boring. It’s also terribly difficult. Write your book. It may sound simple, but for many writers (including myself) writing a whole book is hard. It’s also the most important first step. It’s evidence that you can finish. It’s also the jumping off point for editing that manuscript. It can be tempting to jump to a different story that may seem more exciting. But I challenge you: finish writing your book!
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy small town and/or shore settings like The Red Door Inn, you might enjoy my story, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. Set in Holland, Michigan near Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa, this split-time novel spotlights The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author, L. Frank Baum. It alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s, and there’s even a character from North Rustico, PEI! I’m currently gathering a launch team. Learn more and watch the book trailer here.
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Liz Johnson Bio
By day Liz Johnson is a marketing manager. She makes time to write late at night—that’s when she thinks best anyway. Liz is the author of more than a dozen novels, a New York Times bestselling novella, and a handful of short stories. She’s a Christy Award finalist and a three-time ACFW Carol Award finalist. She makes her home in Phoenix, Arizona, where she enjoys exploring local music, theater, and doting on her nieces and nephews. She writes stories of true love filled with heart, humor, and happily ever afters. Find out more about Liz at LizJohnsonBooks.com.
Join me next time for a visit with author Suzanne Woods Fisher.
Meanwhile, have you read The Red Door Inn? Are you an Anne of Green Gables fan and/or have you been to Prince Edward Island? Answer in the comments below.