Interview by Madeline Daniels
What inspired you to write What Matters Most?
I’ve been carrying around this story idea for a very long time, and I was thrilled to finally get to write it. I think the moment I started thinking of the characters and scenario I’d already created living in Nantucket, the whole thing finally came together for me. It was like the missing piece the story needed.
Emma, the protagonist of What Matters Most, is a young widow. How was writing her story different from writing your previous main characters?
I tend to give all my main characters deep wounds in their backstory. However, Emma’s was especially emotional, but the approach I took to writing her was the same as always, which is pretty in-depth. Character creation is truly my favorite part of writing, so I take great care at that stage and just fall in love with my heroes and heroines!
What role does the Nantucket setting play in this story? Is it a place of healing for the characters?
Oh, Nantucket, how I love it! Yes, the settings in my stories play such a huge part of the overall story, and in this case, Nantucket becomes a place of second chances. I love when a setting can be woven into the story in that way, providing much-needed peace for my characters.
The main characters in this novel are keeping secrets about their pasts— is it challenging as a writer to gradually reveal these things within the story? If so, in what ways?
I think it’s important to a story to have secrets that are gradually revealed because that keeps the reader wanting to turn the pages. I DO think knowing when to reveal these secrets is the challenging thing, simply because there are so many different ways to do that. You want to make sure it makes sense to the story and you don’t want to drag it out too long or it will frustrate your reader. I tend to stop in the middle of writing every single book and go back to the beginning to read simply to get a handle on the pacing. Then I finish the last third of the novel with that in mind. For some reason, this always helps!
Emma and Jamie’s romance is a surprise for both of them— why do you think we love unlikely love stories like this one?
It’s hard to say! There’s something fun about rooting for people who don’t realize they’re perfect for each other (despite circumstances or differences, etc.)
Who is your favorite minor character in this story?
Emma’s father-in-law. I love writing older, wiser characters because I think there is so much to be gained from listening to their perspectives. I loved their relationship and the way he helped her navigate her faith journey, and I loved that he ultimately wanted her to be happy.
Several characters in What Matters Most are artists— what wisdom from your life as a creative did you include in the story?
I am always drawn to the arts when dreaming up characters. Creating characters who love art or photography is right in my wheelhouse, so I love researching these things simply because I love it! (You’ll probably never find a mathematical character in one of my books for the opposite reason!) I think my life as a creative informs a lot of these character traits simply because it’s not book research I’ve read about, but experiences I’ve had, so I’m able to make them a little more believable as a result.
What did you learn from writing this story?
That I really want to go back to Nantucket! But also, I think writing a book like this reminds me how important grace is. Not only for other people, but for ourselves and our mistakes. We can so easily convince ourselves that we are beyond redemption, but that’s never, ever the case.
The title, What Matters Most, is an inviting, hopeful title—can you give us a hint at what the characters learn matters most?
Forgiveness matters most. It’s at the heart of every story I write, I think, because it’s not natural for us to want to forgive someone who has hurt us. It goes against our human nature to say, “Yes, you hurt me— a lot— but I’m going to forgive you.” Oftentimes, people aren’t even sorry and don’t deserve our forgiveness, but letting it go, laying it down, that’s critical for our own mental health.
What do you hope readers will take away from this novel?
I hope they find it moving and poignant and swoony. I also want them to fall in love with Jamie because I sure did!
Courtney Walsh is the author of more than ten contemporary romance books. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, was a New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller and a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. In addition, she has written two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives with her husband and three children in Illinois, where she is also an artist, theater director, and playwright.