When readers list their favorite writers of category romance, Sarah Mayberry consistently makes the lists. Her characters feel very real, and her ear for dialogue makes their stories a delight to read. In addition, she tends to be a versatile author, writing stories with heat that fits in well with the Blaze line while also exploring family situations and deep emotion within the Superromance line.

In her latest release, The Other Side of Us(due out this Wednesday!), Mayberry takes readers to a beach community in Australia where the hero and heroine have retreated from their usual lives. For one, the discovery of an affair has led to the end of a marriage, while the other is still on the long road to recovery following a devastating car accident. The new neighbors are prickly with each other at first and there’s certainly a lot of believable baggage between them, but watching them create a relationship is a delight. Mackenzie and Oliver are both mature, intelligent characters and both the emotion and heat in this book made it good reading.

And we have three(3) copies to give away! If you’d like to win a copy of The Other Side of Us, just comment below by 11:59 p.m. on January 3, 2012. This contest is open to both US and international readers. And without further ado, here’s the author:

First of all, could you tell us a little about your newest book, The Other Side of Us? What was your favorite thing about writing this book?
Sarah Mayberry: The Other Side of Us is about two people who meet each other at a tough time in both their lives. Neither of them think they are ready for love – but life has other ideas on the subject. They both have dogs – a wire-haired dachshund (her) and a miniature schnauzer (him) – and their dogs’ love affair plays a big role in them seeing past their first impressions of each other. I have made no secret of the fact that this book is full of my newly discovered love for all things canine. We bought our dog, Max, early last year and I was in the thick of writing this book as we were falling love with him. So definitely the favorite part of the book was writing the doggy stuff. I also really enjoyed writing about a curmudgeonly heroine. It worried me at times – that people might find Mackenzie too unlikeable – but I kept reminding myself that if a hero could get away with certain things (i.e. being a grumpy loner after an accident) a heroine should be able to, too. At the end of the day, I’m all about giving my characters reasons for doing things and being the way they are, and I hope I succeeded in doing that.

Both your hero and your heroine come into this story in very painful places in their lives. How challenging do you find it to turn that around into a happily ever after?
Sarah M.: It’s always tough dealing with serious subjects and delivering readers plausible happy ever afters, but I’m a big believer in the pay-off being even more worthwhile if the journey has been a tough one. At the end of the day, I rely on my characters and their liking and love for each other to deliver the warm feeling we all crave at the end of a romance. I firmly believe that friendship is an integral part of love, especially long-lasting love, and I always try to build a sense that my characters like each other as well as loving and lusting after each other. I think love is essentially an optimistic emotion and when there’s so much goodwill and hope I think a couple can overcome anything.

Your characters always seem very real to me, and that’s one thing that makes your books stand out in my mind. How do you go about creating your heroes and heroines?
Sarah M.: I spend a lot of time thinking about my characters before I start writing. I’m a plotter, so I have a very detailed road map of my story before I start tapping out Chapter One. I like to know what my characters are afraid of, what they want in life, what they are passionate about, and why they are alone at this point in their lives. I prefer to write about people in their thirties, and usually that means they have some miles under their belts before they meet the person who is going to be The One. Careers, family backgrounds, romantic histories and various other elements all go into the pot and by the time I’ve finished pondering and musing I have a fair idea of who my hero and heroine are. The first few chapters are often a proving ground no matter how much time I’ve spent up front trying to nut things out, and I’ve been known to throw out a chapter or two as I get a feel for who my hero and heroine are.

The main characters’ dogs are a large part of what brings them together. What gave you this idea?
Sarah M.: I have to credit my lovely and talented writer friend Joan Kilby with inspiration for this one. One day we were having lunch and she was telling me about how her dog used to always somehow find his way into the neighbor’s house at the property they lived in before their current place. Toby (her dog) was infatuated with the neighbor’s dog and was always inveigling his way through the fence to play with her. I was so tickled by this idea and I thought it was a great way to force two people who didn’t think they liked each other to interact and take a second look. I mulled on it for a while before ringing Joan up and asking her if she was okay with me using the idea as a story seed. She was (very generously) cool with that, so I was off and running. Which was good, because my story brain was already firing off ideas for who these two people might be.

I know that you’ve written for both the Harlequin Blaze line and the Superromance line. The two lines tend to be very different, so I’m curious how this has affected how you develop your voice?
Sarah M.: I’m not sure that I am the best person to ask about the development of my voice! It’s not something I’ve been very conscious of. Obviously, I am keen to always further my craft and improve my writing and (hopefully!) get better with every book. But a lot of those things are unconscious learnings, if that makes sense. I have enjoyed the greater freedom of writing Super Romance, however. Blaze has a very specific agenda, because the sex is very much at the forefront of the story, which is very liberating sometimes and enormous fun. But Blaze is not big on dogs and families and parents and lots of the other messiness of real life, and after a while I found myself itching to write about those things. It took me a few Super Romances to work out that I could write an emotionally “meaty” story with some Blaze-y sexy elements in the mix, however. These days, I’d like to think that a signature of all my books would be some hot stuff coupled with emotional depth.

What have been the biggest influences on your writing?
Sarah M.: I bless the day I wound up on my editor’s desk. Wanda Ottewell is a fantastically talented story person as well as the best supporter a harried writer could have on her side. She pushes me to think beyond “first thoughts” and to stretch myself. I always bless her for her insight and honesty. I also owe a huge thanks to my husband, Chris, who is also a writer. He asks all the right questions when I am stuck and often leads me to “aha” moments or scenes that have eluded me. Some of my favorite scenes have come out of conversations I’ve had with him. Lastly, I am, of course, hugely influenced by the writers I love. Lisa Kleypas is a particular touchstone. Smooth Talking Stranger and Blue-Eyed Devil are my all time comfort reads and I constantly come back to them when I feel like I need reminding why I do what I do.

If you could write your dream novel already knowing that your publisher would publish it, what would you write?
Sarah M.: Harlequin have actually been very open to anything I’ve wanted to do, but I would like to attempt a single title romance with an Australian setting. Australian writers are constantly being told by the big mainstream publishers that US and UK audiences don’t want to read about Australian heroes and heroines and settings, so I’d love to be able to write a good, emotional friends-to-lovers, full length romance set in Australia with no restrictions regarding word length or language. Just me and the hero and heroine and whatever unfolds on the page. Heaven.

And getting back to reality, what’s next for you?
Sarah M.: I’m working on a Super Romance at the moment that’s a little late (eek!). And I have plans to write the first of what I hope will be several self-published books featuring the Fitzgerald family and their decrepit winery, all set by the bay near Melbourne in Australia. On the personal front, we’ve just finished major renovations at home so I am looking forward to taking off my project manager’s hat and firmly reinstating my author one and concentrating on writing without a thousand and one other distractions getting in the way.

Thank you so much for joining us!

-Lynn Spencer