Rachel Gibson’s The Art of Running In Heels released last week, and if you missed it, I highly recommend you find it! It’s delightful. (You can read the Kirkus review here.)
The book is her first revisit in years to her wildly popular Chinooks hockey series, and it’s also a totally satisfying romantic arc for Lexie Kowalsky, daughter of John Kowalsky and Georgeanne Howard, the main characters of Simply Irresistible, the first book of the series and her first book ever published. It released in 1998 and made Gibson a romance novel queen. While she has written other books and series, the Chinooks is arguably her most popular.
“I’ve often thought about doing Lexie’s story,” says Gibson, “and I was aware that it was coming up on the twenty-year mark since my first book, which happened to have a secret baby subplot. When this idea came to me, it really just clicked. ‘What if the runaway bride has a runaway bride?’ was an appropriate starting point, given Simply Irresistible’s storyline.”
In writing terms, Gibson would be considered a “pantser”—someone who doesn’t have a full-fledged idea of the plot of a book before she starts to write. “I usually have the first couple scenes in my head, and once I write those, the rest just flows from there. Of course I have to do a lot of editing and re-writing after the first draft, but a lot of unexpected elements come out in the writing and then I get to explore them and figure out exactly who the characters are. By the end, I’m just tightening up the things that came out organically on the page.”
It was a fascinating process to discuss with her and it begged the question as to what she started with for The Art of Running in Heels. “It was of a bride, in a wedding dress and high heels, jumping onto a seaplane headed to who knows where right before it takes off. Obviously the runaway bride theme mirrored Simply Irresistible, but I didn’t know much else from there.” She didn’t know who the hero was yet, or what Lexie was running away from. That came later, but it also gave Gibson the chance to explore what had happened to John Kowalsky, who is now the Head Coach of the fictional Chinooks, his wife Georgeanne, and their daughter, who was a character in Book 1. For Gibson, “It was interesting discovering what kind of woman Lexie turned out to be, and who deserved her.”
One of the things I loved most about Lexie’s character—and more broadly, Gibson’s ability to develop characters—was that she was smart and funny, but really layered. In the beginning, you almost expected a stereotypical spoiled rich girl getting her comeuppance. That’s certainly how Sean Knox, her not-yet-deserving hero, sees her. But there is so much more depth and, well, character, to her character. Lexie works hard and interacts with people at their level, with empathy and authenticity. Sean is stunned when she meets his hypochondriac mother and is friendly and straight-forward, but gets through to her in ways Sean has never been able to, in part because he wants her to be something else. Lexie takes her as she is, but subtly asks her if that’s who she wants to be.
It’s also Lexie’s contradictory traits that get her into the trouble that has her jumping into a seaplane in her wedding dress. Lexie joins a reality tv wedding show (think The Bachelor) mainly in order to drive a little publicity for her fledgling pet couture clothing line. Given the circumstances, it’s unfortunate that two major aspects of Lexie’s character are that on one side, she’s very competitive, and on the other, she wants everyone to like her. She’s also a little impetuous. “It’s a perfectly horrible scenario for her,” reflects Gibson, “because when her competitiveness kicks in, she decides she wants to win, without really thinking about the endgame.”
According to Gibson, the reality TV aspect of the plot came about from figuring out what Lexie would be trying to escape, but once it came to her, it made perfect sense and really helped move the plot forward. Making her would-be hero a Chinook wasn’t a given at the start, but also fit nicely into the grander story when she realized that having him work for her father as a hockey player added tension, but also made it more complicated for Lexie, who is usually completely honest with her family but winds up lying to them about her love life.
Lexie has to weather some pretty brutal social censure, thanks to the show and some mean-spirited competitors, and Sean isn’t thrilled by the situation, especially as it escalates. I won’t get into this in too much detail, because I don’t want to give too much away, but in the end, he realizes he loves her for everything that she is.
I know this might be an odd way to describe it, but I loved this about Sean and this book, and it’s one of the reasons I enjoy reading Gibson so much. Her characters are multi-dimensional but in the end, they become their best selves with and for each other. This romance highlighted that. When Lexie designs a grand romantic ruse to publicly save face after abandoning her reality tv groom, Sean agrees to go along for the ride. But every step of the way, we see him appreciating her—her talent, her gift with people, her determination, her courage, her humor, but also the things that kind of annoy him, at least at first.
When I said as much to Gibson, I could hear her smile over the phone. “Yes. He truly falls for her, warts and all.”
Gibson considers her books character-driven, and I won’t argue with that. But I feel she doesn’t give herself enough credit as a plotter, because the plots she comes up with, being driven by her characters, are funny, heart-tugging and completely plausible, given the larger-than-life characters she’s creating. But at the same time, they manage to be down-to-earth and relatable. We truly hurt with Lexie when she’s betrayed by other characters, and we really like the person she turns out to be at the end of the book, still completely herself, but an even better version, and in love with someone who loves her whole-heartedly back.
I found The Art of Running in Heels simply irresistible (sorry, couldn’t resist) and I hope you’ll check it out too!
Thanks to Rachel Gibson for discussing the book and her writing process. I sincerely hope for many more books to dive into and am raising a glass to her success, plus many more years of writing from this wonderful author!