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A young woman, struggling with fertility, meets an eligible fireman, and the duo clicks. But when she discovers he wants a large family, something she can never give him, she refuses to date him. Welcome to The Friend Zone from author Abby Jimenez. (Yup, that Abby Jimenez, owner of Nadia Cakes in Maple Grove, Woodbury and Palmdale, Calif., Food Network champ and motivational speaker.)
With all of that on her proverbial plate, why add “author” to the mix? “I looooove romance novels,” Jimenez says. “I remember reading bodice rippers back in high school. I was having a harder and harder time finding romances that didn’t make me roll my eyes, and I thought, ‘I can do this. I want to write the kind of romances I want to read. Neurotic, realistic, hangry women and the men who love them.’”
The idea for this book and others has been percolating for quite some time. “Actually, I wrote the second book in the series first. It was so well received, and everyone liked Kristen so much, that I decided to go back in time and write her love story, as well,” Jimenez says.
“[The Friend Zone] is this really funny, witty story about friendship and loss and accepting yourself as you are. And it touches on a topic that I don’t think we see enough of in romance [novels]. So many women deal with infertility. It’s a very relatable topic, and it’s hard to find stories that address it,” she says. “I actually wrote my dog, Stuntman Mike, into the book, as well, which is kind of fun because he’s sort of famous on social media in his own right.”
“In developing [Kristen’s] story, the first thing I had to ask myself is what kind of guy would be into a girl like this? She’s moody and sharp tongued, very opinionated and hard to get close to. And I said, ‘I bet a guy who grew up with six older sisters wouldn’t be fazed one bit by Kristen.’ And that’s how we got Josh.”
As she hopes readers will feel, Jimenez is a fan of one of the book’s characters. “Oh, Josh. He is my book boyfriend,” she says. “I fell so in love with him. I have this theory that, in a romance [novel], the girl’s job is just to not annoy you, so you can root for her, but the male main character? You need to fall head over heels for him. And I have to say, I nailed it.”
Art can imitate life, and The Friend Zone is no exception. “… Kristen and her best friend, Sloan, are based loosely on my best friend and me in personality. And my best friend’s real life circumstances were the source of the story’s conflict,” Jimenez explains. “My best friend dealt with infertility. She had a full hysterectomy at the age of just 29. I watched her struggle with this, and I thought this is so common. So many women go through this, and nobody’s writing about it in romance [novels]. What if you couldn’t have children, and you met a guy who really wanted them? What would that look like?”
“I think I’ve tackled this topic in a way that feels very authentic because it comes from someplace real,” Jimenez says. “And I’m excited there’s going to be a novel that talks about it and the feelings that come with this challenging diagnosis.”
Creativity doesn’t come with an on/off switch. There can be days when a writer just didn’t “feel it” in terms of writing. Jimenez found her own ways to get creative juices flowing. “This is a real problem, and one I’ve had to work through often,” she says. “First, I have a rule. I never write before noon. I need to wake up, have food and coffee and get the sleep out of my brain. I find that helps a lot. And if I’m still struggling, I take a break. I put the book down and read somebody else’s novel. I talk my book over with my critic buddies. I watch a [romantic-comedy]. Usually, that shakes me out of it.”
Humor is an important ingredient in Jimenez’s life, and she brings it to her novel. “I tend to look at life through a sarcastic lens, so it [sort of] comes naturally,” she says. “It wasn’t hard to write wit into my characters. I just asked myself how I would experience that particular circumstance, and I go from there.”
Jimenez didn’t start right out of the gate with a published novel. She had a false start and recommitted herself to learning all she could about fiction writing. “I had this idea for a [young adult] romance, and after some prodding from my family, I decided to give it a go,” she says. “It was awful. I sent it to a literary agent, and she gently told me that I might benefit from a critique site, so I joined Critique Circle and starting submitting chapters.”
While the site’s members agreed with the literary agent’s assessment, Jimenez did glean something important. “… I learned that I was great with dialogue, so I decided to embrace what I was good at,” she says. Jimenez started writing a new book—this time a contemporary romance that she filled with her brand of witty, wry banter. Returning to Critique Circle, Jimenez’s new submission was met with positive responses. The experience gave Jimenez a confidence boost, fortifying her to send off the second attempt to another literary agent. “I snagged my agent on my very first query, and the rest is history,” she says.
Jimenez credits Critique Circle with providing her with valuable lessons. “This site was like a four year degree in writing, smashed into six months,” she says. “I lived on Critique Circle. There’s a ton of resources there, tips, forums and critic buddies to be had from all over the world.” Jimenez had people from all walks of life reviewing her chapters, and, in turn, she offered critiques for other writers. “It was truly a full-time job. My husband was a very patient man during this period in my life. I was constantly writing, editing, reading other people’s work and then juggling Nadia Cakes all at the same time. I’m happy to have graduated from it,” she says.
Jimenez must have graduated with honors. She has a three book deal with Forever Romance, the romance division of Hachette Book Group. The Friend Zone (July 9) is the first in the series.
A sequel is set to be released March 2020, and a third book is to follow. “I have three full novels written and ready to go at the moment and am working on a fourth,” Jimenez says. “So there’s many, many more to come.”
Abby Jimenez's The Friend Zone
To preorder The Friend Zone, check out Jimenez’s social media pages for links, or look for it on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.
Instagram: @authorabbyjimenez & @stuntman.mikey