Part of the best thing about writing is all the surprises that lay in store. When I wrote Cattle Stop, I fully intended it to be a stand alone novel. Drew and Penny existed, but they just sort of floated around in the background. An entire book about the two of them? Not even on my radar.
But then, as all my writing projects seem to do, things started to spiral out of control. During early revisions, I had another character as a bartender at the neighborhood bar and in a moment of clarity that at the time felt like genius and later seemed far more like an obvious conclusion I could have gotten to a whole lot quicker, I realized the bartender should just be Penny. Bring her out of the background as just the 'fourth random roommate', give her something to do, and let her and Drew play off our two main characters as Cooper and Whit stumbled through their communication issues and insatiable desire to make out with each other.
So that was the first surprise: Penny works at the local bar. Soon after, I found out she was Whit's cousin. Who knew? Certainly not me, but there she was, they were not only related but good friends too, and that thread served to tie together this foursome a little bit more tightly. With her job and her cousin-status in place, she started to grow and Penny became Penny in all the ways that a handful of letters on a page grow into a full fledged person: her own way of speaking, her sense of humor, the ways she relates to the other characters, and her own goals, desires, and dreams.
At this point, Drew was still just... Drew. He had, uh, *checks notes* red hair. And owned a farm? Yeah, ok, he owns the farm. And he drives a Jeep because it was too hard to keep Whit's truck and the farm truck straight while I was drafting Cattle Stop, so Drew's main character trait was that he has a Jeep. Great stuff there, isn't it? Ugh.
As I was revising Cattle Stop through the various iterations it took on its journey from 'idea' to 'holy heck it's an actual book', I started to wonder about Cooper and Whit's life after their happily ever after. They're back on the farm, they're living with Drew and Penny and... what then? We have these two other characters who have watched this entire story unfold, have been privy to the changes Whit and Cooper have gone through, and whose own lives have by necessity been impacted. What, then, is the effect when your two friends start dating and it's the most disgustingly cute thing you've ever seen?
Well, when you've been secretly in love with your own best friend for years and years, it's like striking a match. All of a sudden, I had this opportunity to play with an enemies (frenemies?) to lovers story, followed up by best friends to lovers. Two takes on two couples living in the same house, working on the same farm, but finding their way to romance and love in two completely different ways. I could revisit this gorgeous setting of this dairy farm in Upstate New York, get to see Cooper and Whit's relationship flourish, and play around with the idea that Penny and Drew, only side characters in Cattle Stop, could step into the limelight of their own love story.
As I kept developing this idea for While the Sun Shines, I loved the thought that Penny and Drew might have just lingered in this place of pining for each other, trying to ignore their feelings, tamping down on jealousy, and soldiering on with their lives if it weren't for Whit and Cooper. But like a Rube Goldberg machine for romance stories, once Cattle Stop was set in motion, the inevitable coming together of Drew and Penny was already on its way towards happening. Penny, who lost all the free time she spent with Whit as he dove head first into having a new boyfriend, a budding relationship, and the distraction of being in love, and got shown in stark relief just how lonely her life is. And Drew, who saw two people he respects take a flying leap and land safely, learning along the way what it means to have a partner and let someone have your back while you have theirs.
Writing While the Sun Shines felt similarly inexorable to Penny and Drew finding their way to each other. When I started out as an author, I assumed I would tell only m/m stories, and then - surprise! - quickly found myself in the midst of Penny and Drew fumbling towards each other, navigating their friendship and their feelings, pulling me in further each time they took another misstep. I grew as an author as I wrote this, which is always a delightful challenge, and I would have never expected to wind up here at the end of my first two book series back when I started playing around with the tiny little idea that would become Cattle Stop.
Now I love having these two books side by side on the shelf. Drew and Penny helped tip the scales to push Whit and Cooper together, and they did the same in return - accidental and yet unavoidable at the same time. These two couples, and these two books, reinforcing each other just like the four of them do.
Well, five of them. But that's a story for Roll in the Hay.