They've had the wedding, now read the book

Romantic fiction is about to take a leap into the world of real-life hearts and flowers with a new series of 'faction' books based on the intimate stories of happy couples. Guy Adams meets the pair who inspired the genre

Sunday 23 October 2011 08:33

Like any other happy couple on their wedding day, Mike Davoli and Anne Miller felt like the stars of a special, private love story when they looked into each other's eyes and uttered the words "I do" on the picturesque shoreline of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, one August evening last year.

Today, they still feel like the stars of a special love story – but it's one that the entire world will soon be invited to share: having become man and wife, the Davolis have agreed to have their relationship immortalised in a steamy Mills & Boon-style page-turner called Hard to Hold.

The novel is part of a unique experiment in a literary genre called "faction", where writers use slightly embellished versions of real-life stories to create fiction. It will therefore tell how Mike and Anne met at a rock concert, fell in love, and overcame a series of ups and downs to achieve their happy ending.

It will be written by Julie Leto, a bestselling author who has produced 35 romantic potboilers with titles like Kiss of the Phantom and Double the Pleasure. She has exhaustively interviewed the couple to uncover every detail, big and small, about their relationship, and her finished product will hit the shelves in October.

"The novel is one of those things that, 25 years from now, we can hopefully pull off the shelves and show to our kids," says Mike. "We'll tell them, 'Look, this is our story!' We're not famous people who might normally get written about; we're a normal everyday couple, working hard for a living and trying to enjoy life. So to have our tale told like this is a privilege."

At first glance, the project may sound like vanity publishing. But in fact, the reverse is true: Hard to Hold is being released by HCI Books, one of America's most successful publishers of self-help titles (including the well-known Chicken Soup for the Soul series). They are paying Mike and Anne for their help, and hope to eventually produce a line of similarly created bestsellers.

"We really wanted to get into the romance category, but it's an area we had no experience in, and this was our idea of a way of translating what we do well into a new area," says Michele Matrisciani, the firm's editorial director. "We want to provide inspiration to readers of romantic novels who need to know real love can exist outside romantic novels."

The firm is printing 50,000 copies of the first three books in the series, which will all be released simultaneously. A fourth will come out in January, and after that, readers will be able to collect a new one every other month.

They stumbled upon Mike and Anne's story after an account of their wedding was spotted in the "vows" section of The New York Times. Olivia Rupprecht, an editor at HCI, thought it had all the essential elements of a good page-turner: "Conflict, resolution, and a full story arc that will translate into 288 pages."

It tells how Mike suffers from a mild form of Tourette's syndrome, and as they were falling in love Anne had to come to terms with the fact that he was unable to cuddle her in bed because he would constantly twitch during the night. The dilemma, in case you missed it, is reflected in the book's title.

"Every relationship has its hurdles, and we really had to get used to each other's personality quirks and strike a compromise," says Mike. "She's a very messy person and I'm tidy. I had also come out of a rough relationship a couple of years earlier. It took time for me to come round to the notion of launching into another one."

There will also be several amusing subplots in Hard to Hold, mostly related Mike's obsession with the rock band Phish: he's seen a total of 191 of their gigs (attending about 10 of their concerts each summer). Three days before his wedding, he flew to Colorado to watch the band perform. "The Phish thing," Anne wryly noted when the couple's story first appeared in The New York Times, "is far and away something more we have to negotiate than the Tourette's."

Mike, for his part, points out that his beloved wife is "the messiest person I've ever met in my life".

HCI does not require the stable of bestselling authors it has recruited to write "faction" to stick exactly to the script of real-life relationships. Dialogue can be embellished, for dramatic effect, and some names changed. But though a certain level of artistic licence is permitted, the bare bones of the story cannot be altered.

Of course, there are some elements of a romance that most people might be a little hesitant about sharing with the general public. As the firm recruits more real-life candidates via its website, it is finding that not everyone wants to serve up their most intimate secrets – particularly those involving their behaviour in the bedroom – for public consumption. All good romance novels must describe a couple's first kiss, and usually provide a detailed account of how their relationship was eventually consummated.

"There are different levels of sensuality," says HCI's Rupprecht. "At one end of the scale, you have Amish titles, which are very staid; at the other, there's Romantica, which are very exotic and X-rated. Ours will fall right in the middle: we'll have sensual elements, but the emphasis is on the relationship. They'll stay tasteful and won't venture into anything hardcore or voyeuristic."

Mike and Anne certainly have their concerns about that element of Hard to Hold. But while they're prepared for some sniggering from friends, family and colleagues, Mike promises to respond in good humour.

"Clearly there are some pages, if not a chapter or two, which we might not ideally want our parents or children to see. Or our friends and co-workers, for that matter," he says. "But they will read them anyway. We've made it clear that this is going to be out there, so to be prepared. And we'll take their reaction as it comes."

Reality rewritten: The potted love story

From the publisher's synopsis of Hard To Hold:

New York lobbyist Michael Davoli feels like he's been sucker punched when he meets Anne Miller at a concert. When fate leads him to move into same Albany apartment building where Anne lives, Michael falls hard. After all, Anne's hot, his dog likes her, and she's catnip to the senses after she picks a lock faster than Sydney Bristow can disarm a nuke. Always fiercely independent, Anne's crackerjack reporting skills and keen intellect are no match for the chemical reaction she has to this man with electric blue eyes. But while Mike effortlessly holds her with his gaze, he withholds the embrace she longs for. Why is he so distant? Has Anne misread his signals?

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