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I live in a small city, where not long ago all the commerce was centered on Main Street: the bank, the post office, the hardware store, the library, the shoe repair shop, the book store, the antique store, and many others squeezed in between. Many are brick buildings, some with two stories. There are false fronts and the remains of the original names fading on the sides. I love small towns.

I love the idiosyncrasies of the people you get to know; the defining characteristics that keep them memorable. It almost tempts me to do something my grandmother would have never done, like wear a hot pink paisley scarf and a cocky felt hat. Almost. I think small towns bring out our true selves though. They can be healing that way.

Hometown Girl is Michele Ashman Bell’s second novel in her Butterfly Girls series. (Not her second novel—she has more novels to her name than I have nail polish colors.) In Hometown Girl Jocelyn moves into her grandmother’s home in Milford Falls.

The home has stood empty for a few years and there are several repairs that assault Jocelyn’s patience and her financial resources. It becomes more challenging than she had been prepared for. She remains undecided about what to do with the house or her own future.

But then the town pulls her in. Everywhere Jocelyn is wrapped into new friendships, complete with willing labor and sympathetic hearts. Unwittingly, Jocelyn begins to rediscover a strength she thought she had lost long ago. Milford Falls and the people she meets become the catalyst that leads to a personal healing.

Jocelyn’s new best friend is Jack. He too has buried a part of his past, and found refuge in this small town. He accepts the town, even it’s clean freak mayor and over-eager deputy sheriff. Jocelyn is confused as Jack constantly allows the advances of a woman he doesn’t seem interested in, or is he? Finally through Jocelyn’s friendship, he also begins to heal.

Hometown Girl is about friendships, whether it’s the lasting unity of the Butterfly Girls, or new friends. It is also about healing and new beginnings. And of course, Hometown Girl is about love.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Michele Bell.

Me: In A Modest Proposal we got to know Lauryn, and in Hometown Girl the story is centered on Jocelyn. Of your Butterfly Girls do you have a favorite? Which one is closest to your personality? Do some of them share your talents?

MB: I have probably infused a part of myself in each of the girls, but I am mostly like
Lauryn, but Lauryn is much more brave and determined than I would ever dare be. I think that is what’s so much fun about writing and creating characters, an author can have their characters do things the author could never dare do. Lauryn started off modifying clothes to make them more modest, and I have been doing this for years for my daughters. In fact that’s where I got the storyline for A Modest Proposal. I was certain that there were other mothers and daughters who had experienced the frustration of finding a modest prom dress.

Me: Without giving spoilers, what is the future for your girls?

MB: The next story is Andrea’s. She has been invited to participate in a reality dating show called Finding Mrs. Right, very similar to the bachelor. Her manager thinks it will be a good way to boost her career and give her exposure. The show is being shot on the island of Kauai, in Hawaii, and the setting is like paradise. Along with Andrea’s search for love the book also deals with the final investigation of the Butterfly Box Girl’s friend Ava, and her death on graduation day. The mystery is finally solved and hopefully there are some unexpected twists and turns.

Me: In Hometown Girl, Jocelyn is faced with some hard economic decisions and she chooses to sell a beloved painting rather than go into debt. Have you ever had to part with something you loved for a noble reason?

MB: Yes. When I was 16 my father bought me a red 1965 Mustang. It was such a great car, and so cool looking. I loved that car. When I turned 21 I decided to spend 18 months on a mission for my church and had to sell my car to help pay for it. The guy who bought my car for about $1000.00 restored it and sold it for about $30,000.00. Thirty years later and I’m still not over it.

Me: What a great story! Can I share it when speaking to youth?
Jocelyn is a hard worker, filling her days weeding, painting, and working on the backdrop for the town, yet finds time for a relationship to develop. I assume this reflects a personal value. Can you tell us about your daily schedule as a writer, wife, and mother?

MB: I love this question because more than anything I value my role as a wife and a mother. No success I have in my personal life can even compare to how I feel when I see my husband or family have success and happiness in their lives. I am very diligent in never putting my writing before my family or my church work. Sometimes I’ll tell my husband I have a book coming out and he’ll tell me that he didn’t even know I was writing one. That’s how I know I’m successful in keeping my priorities straight and not taking away time from my family for my own personal pursuits. I do want to say that my family is extremely supportive and proud of me and my writing, but they know they are the most important thing in the world to me. I only write when the kids and my husband are gone. I didn’t get a word written all summer, but now that the kids are back in school I’m going to have to write twice as fast.

Me: In the story you wrote: “Normally she stayed to herself, choosing not to bother others with her needs or problems and consequently not really getting very close to anyone, whether in her ward, her neighborhood, or her job. But here, she’d had no choice when things started falling apart.” Do you have a similar personal experience that you could share?

MB: This is a perfect example of putting my own personality in one of my characters. I tend to be very independent and stubborn. if I am capable of doing something I’d rather do it myself rather than ask for help. And if I’m not capable of it, I hate having to bother other people and ask for help. It’s just the way I’ve always been. One time we were remodeling our house and we needed to remove some old wood flooring in the entry of our home. I decided I could do it and took a hammer and crow bar and went to work. I have pictures of how bruised and swollen my hands and fingers were from how many times I smacked them with a hammer. My husband shook his head when I showed him because he had been planning on doing the job, I was the one who wanted to get it done sooner and took the matter into my own hands, and I had the bruises to prove it. It really isn’t my best quality.

Me: lol. I think most of us can relate at some time. Tell us about Durango’s.

MB: My brother-in-law owns the most amazing Mexican restaurant called, Durango’s. It has delicious burritos and tacos, but the best is the salads, with these flour tortillas, beans, lime rice, marinated meat, lettuce, pico de gallo, crispy strips and creamy tomatillo dressing (I could seriously drink this stuff straight). There are restaurants similar to it, but there is something about his marinated pork that makes me feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven. Think Bajio, Costa Vida, or Chipotle. Durango’s is similar, but so much better.

Me: In A Modest Proposal Lauryn and Jace take a ride over the Grand Canyon. In Hometown Girl, while discussing evening primroses, Harry says, “I think the Creator had a bit of fun when He created this plant, and the Grand Canyon. That must have been quite a show that day.” What is your connection to the Grand Canyon?

MB: I grew up in Southern Utah, born and raised there, but it wasn’t until three years ago that I went to the Grand Canyon. I had lived within an hour and a half drive of it, but had never gone to see it. The Grand Canyon is one of the 7 Wonders of the World, practically in my back yard. Part of what motivated me was my daughter who did some humanitarian service in Zambia, Africa and got to see Victoria Falls which is also one of the 7 Wonders of the World. We thought it would be neat to see how many she could see in her lifetime, and since the Grand Canyon was so close, we had to go. It did not disappoint me. It was definitely worthy of being called a World Wonder.

Ok, some just for fun questions:
Me: If you could plan a perfect day—how would it go?

MB: Hopping on a plane and flying to New York City to have lunch and go shopping then come home. I actually did it once and it is one of my favorite memories.

Me: Is there a place in the world where you would like to visit?

I’ve got an obsession going on with Paris. I’ve been to Europe and need to visit so many more places there, but I need to see the Eiffel Tower in person, then I can move on to something else. I’ve heard differing opinions about Paris, but it’s on my bucket list. Right at the top. Someday, I’m going!

Me: What is your favorite dessert (other than peanut M&M’s)?

MB: Cheesecake. It is impossible for me to turn it down, especially when it has raspberry filling on top. It’s pretty much an obsession with me.

Me: If you had two spare hours each day to do something you are not already doing, how would you fill them?

MB: I would spend them with my granddaughter. I don’t get to see her nearly enough and it would be so wonderful for me and so helpful to my daughter-in-law. Seeing her more, spending more time with her would be priceless.

Check out my review of A Modest Proposal. Michele also has a great blog.

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