USA TODAY bestselling author Anna J. Stewart bids a fond farewell to her long-running Butterfly Harbor series. The final installment, The Mayor’s Baby Surprise, is available this month from Harlequin Heartwarming.
By Anna J. Stewart
When I wrote The Bad Boy of Butterfly Harbor back in 2013, the first of my Butterfly Harbor romances for Harlequin Heartwarming, I could only dream of having to worry about writing “the end.” Not to the one book, but to the entire series. Now, with the release of The Mayor’s Baby Surprise, book twelve, I’ve done just that. To say it’s been bittersweet is an understatement.
For nine years I’ve returned to this small west-coast oceanside town in Northern California (okay, my imagination) time after time and loved every minute of it. These characters aren’t only friends, they’re a part of me. I know that town as well as if I walk the roads every day. I know what the weekly diner specials are. I know when’s the best season to stay at the Flutterby Inn. I can smell that ocean air as we walk along the shoreline and see the butterflies flitting around their sanctuary and across their migration pattern. I can see Calliope standing on the cliffs, hands outstretched as she embraces every ray of sunshine that streams down.
In my mind, I’ve sat on the bench overlooking the ocean, the bench that’s dedicated to Abby’s grandfather (Recipe for Redemption). I’ve mentally adopted every foster and stray that hang out at Cat’s Eye Bookstore (A Match Made Perfect). I’ve taste tested all the donuts and pastries at Chrysalis bakery and stood back as Charlie Bradley, Simon Saxon and all their friends, race by on their bikes on their way to the youth center or beach.
Saying goodbye and writing the final words to these stories not only meant it was time to move on, it meant looking back and seeing how far I’ve come. As a writer, as a creator. As an author. I’ve been empowered by this town. By this series. I breathed life into all of these couples, and subsequently their offspring. I’ve populated a city! I’ve landscaped it and challenged it and, with The Mayor’s Baby Surprise, I’ve propelled it in a new and unknown direction that surprised even me.
From the moment Gil Hamilton, my mayor hero, walked on the page in the first book of this series, I knew he’d be the final story. He has been, if Butterfly Harbor has one, a bit of a villain. He’s wreaked havoc at times, challenged the residents at times, frustrated everyone including me most of the time. But as I stepped back and took a long look before beginning his happily ever after, I realized he’s the one who has grown the most. He is not, as this book opens, who he was when he first sat across from the new sheriff at the Butterfly Diner all those years ago. He’s appeared in just about every story but never in the same way. Of all my heroes, he’s the one I challenged the most. Maybe because he’s the one I liked the most. The misunderstood mayor who always, always had the town’s best interests at heart, even when it appeared he didn’t.
He was happy keeping that truth to himself, by himself. But solitude is rarely a good thing. Introducing family attorney Leah Ellis in book three, A Dad for Charlie, was my
a-ha moment. It didn’t take long for me to realize that she was Gil’s heroine. She fought me a little. I almost paired her off with Monty Bettencourt (Bride on the Run), but she wasn’t having it. She was waiting for Gil. But it would take a six-month-old baby being left on his doorstep for both of them to realize just how perfect they are for one another. Little Eli is an unwitting matchmaker, but rarely has anyone done a better job. He’ll get his forever family—not just Gil and Leah but the entire town of Butterfly Harbor. Which, as readers know, is what the town has always been about: Community. Family. Home.
I don’t rule out a return. I can’t considering the last line of the epilogue. As of now, I need a bit of a break. Writing a series, especially ones longer than six or seven books, is a challenge. Finding new ways to introduce characters who have already earned their HEAs, adding new details without contradicting old ones—it’s daunting! Worth it, but challenging for sure. But when we get to the end, and your readers fall hard for the final romance, there’s no better feeling in the world.
So yes, ideas are percolating but for today, I bid farewell to the town that made my dream of being a Harlequin author come true. Butterfly Harbor will forever stay in the back of my mind and solidly in my heart. For those of you who are writing or dream of writing a long (or long-ish) series, do it! Doing so creates something magical for readers, an escape and a promise that there’s so much to dream about and hope for. Crafting a series with love, about love, and for the readers we all love… What could possibly be wrong with that?
In the meantime, on to the next story. Happy writing!