Brooke St. James was born to write a love story. A USA Today bestselling author and Amazon Kindle All-Star with 2 million copies sold, Brooke writes contemporary romance novels with Christian and inspirational themes and happy endings. She was born and raised in south Louisiana but has had the opportunity to travel and live throughout the U.S. An avid reader, writer, audio book addict, and fan of all things artistic, she constantly has her hands in some creative activity. She has written and published more than 70 books.
In this interview, she talks with us about her new novel and the first in a new series, Easy Does It.
FF: Tell us about Easy Does It.
Easy Does It is set on Galveston Island during the summer of 1968. Billy Castro is a local street thug with a troubled past and natural ability to fight. Tess Cohen is a young woman from a small town in Louisiana with dreams of becoming an artist who paints beach scenes. She moves to Galveston for the summer with her younger sister as a way to play out her artistic desires before settling into a normal life back in Louisiana.
Tess knows Galveston is her new home from the moment she steps foot on the ferry to the island. She encounters Billy not long after arriving and sees something special behind his rough exterior. So does a former boxing champion and local coach, Marvin Jones.
Billy feels like his past defines him, making him unlovable and destined for a life of crime. Tess helps him to overcome those issues as a summer romance develops between the two of them. Marvin begins to mentor Billy, providing him with a combination of athletic coaching and life lessons. He even gives him the nickname ‘Easy’ during their first training session. This is a rite of passage that typically takes years to happen at a gym, and illustrates the fact that Marvin recognizes the endless potential and raw talent of young Billy.
Ultimately, Billy realizes he can rebuild himself into someone better and sets his sights on becoming a champion and starting a family with Tess. It’s a sort of Cinderella Story if you will.
FF: What inspired you to write the book?
It was almost fifteen years ago when I was initiated into the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). My family and I had just moved to Lexington, KY. My oldest son, 5 years old at the time, had begun taking gymnastics classes at a large athletic training facility. On the second floor of the building was a seating area for parents to watch their children practice. Most of the parents would congregate up there, get to know one another, and watch the kids do things our bodies were no longer capable of doing.
It wasn’t long after I settled into that routine that I noticed some activity in a smaller space on the second floor of the gym. I couldn’t see what was going on in there, but I definitely heard loud thuds, rhythmic popping sounds, chains rattling, and timers going off. Occasionally, groups of sweaty and surly-looking guys would pour out that small space to get water from a nearby fountain. I quickly noticed that even though they looked intimidating, those young men were all smiles and really seemed to enjoy each other’s company.
I was so curious about what was going on in that room that I started talking to a guy who looked like the ring leader for this curious crew of young men. It turned out he was the owner of a small MMA gym and head coach of a local fight team. By the time that conversation was finished, I had signed my whole family up to begin training Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai, and Boxing.
That gym grew and became a second home to us soon after. But a few years later we relocated to Louisiana, where I was born and raised. As soon as we started unpacking our boxes, we found a new gym. We began training under UFC veteran Tim Credeur, and were suddenly surrounded by a new group of up-and-coming young fighters.
As I got to know Tim, the other coaches, and the fighters, I began to see certain patterns emerge. Many of these young men were overcoming struggles. Those might be simple things like trying to lose weight or more complex issues, like dealing with past abuse, abandonment, addiction, and loss. The coaches seemed to simultaneously balance the roles of an athletic trainer and father figure. They helped the aspiring fighters to push the limits of their bodies and minds while also developing the ability to deal with things they were fighting with outside of the gym. ‘Building Better People’ was the phrase painted on one of the walls in the gym, and it really began to make sense to me.
I also got a kick out of seeing new fighters earn their fight names. ‘The Ghost’, ‘The Jellyfish’, ‘The Model’, ‘Danger’, ‘The Diamond’, and ‘Dynamite’ to name a few. These names were born out of things like their physical appearance, the way they trained or fought, or some other personality trait. Regardless of what it was, it was always up to the coaches to pick a fight name, and not everyone earned one.
The more time passed, the more I felt inspired by these athletes and wanted to find a way to tell their stories. I knew that I wanted to create a series that revolved around a gym and explored some of the struggles I had witnessed these young men go through. I also felt that I wanted to spotlight the grit and discipline needed to succeed at the highest levels of boxing. What I hadn’t settled on was a location.
It was during a time when I was beginning to explore the characters in the Bank Street Stories series that my family and I took a trip to Galveston Island. There are two ways to get by car to Galveston. You can either go through Houston and take a bridge or head south at Beaumont and take a ferry boat across Galveston Bay. Of course, we opted for the ferry boat experience.
Like Tess, the heroine in Easy Does It, I knew there was something special about Galveston from the moment we got on the ferry. When we began to explore the island, I was enamored with the vintage feel. There were so many gorgeous Victorian homes and the Strand felt like it was standing still in time.
I began to learn more about Galveston’s history and in particular, the Great Storm of 1900. This was a hurricane that completely destroyed the island and arrived with little to no warning. That was when I began to realize that the city, just like those young fighters, had to be courageous, strong, and dedicated to rebuild itself and become something even better. I knew Galveston would be the setting for this series.
FF: Why is it set in the 1960s?
I enjoy writing multi-generational romance as well as the nostalgic vibe of the 1960s. I wanted to capture the feel and atmosphere of that time period and also allow the reader to follow the love stories of the children and grandchildren of those characters.
FF: Why did you choose for the main character to be a boxer?
I chose for Billy to be a boxer because of my connection with so many MMA fighters. I have watched these young men go through so many physical and personal struggles while using boxing, Jiu Jitsu, and Muay Thai as a vehicle to overcome them. I also have come to appreciate the artistic side of boxing. Granted, it is extremely physical and can appear to be somewhat brutal, but there is a great deal of strategy and science behind what happens in the ring. I wanted to showcase the fact that boxing can build someone into a better person and also be used as a creative outlet.
FF: Are there any aspects of your personal life included in this book?
Yes! I previously mentioned my connection to the MMA community. I train Muay Thai a few times a week and my husband and two sons have been doing Jiu Jitsu for over 10 years. My sons compete nationally at a high level and my husband uses it as a way to connect with students that he works with as a college professor. We also have several friends who currently fight in the UFC and often get together with a large group of people to watch their televised fights.
One other personal aspect that I unintentionally incorporated in the book were the vehicles Billy and Tess drove. Billy had a 1968 gold Mustang, the same car my husband drove when we first met. Tess had a VW Beetle, which was the first car my husband and I purchased together.
FF: Is this book a part of a series? How many books are in the series?
This is the first book in the Bank Street Stories series. There are 10 books total in this series. Nine of them are full-length novels and one is a Christmas-themed novella.
FF: What’s next for you?
Currently, I am working on The Alexander Family series. I will continue to work on this series and others. I also am hopeful that, like Easy Does It, more of my back catalog will begin to hit brick and mortar stores and eventually get adapted for film or mini-series.
Easy Does It
Bank Street Stories Series #1
Brooke St. James
Elm Hill/Thomas Nelson
Release Date: April 5, 2022
Tess Cohen was a 23-year-old aspiring artist with dreams of painting beach scenes. She longed to leave the small town of Starks, Louisiana, and head for California to make a go of it as an artist. Instead, she compromised with her parents and decided to spend the summer of 1968 on Galveston Island with her younger sister, Abigail. It was just meant to be an extended summer vacation. Abigail would return to college in the fall and Tess would finally settle down for good in Starks. But then a chance encounter with ‘Easy’ Billy Castro changed everything. Billy had a troubled past and was orphaned at the age of 16. No stranger to conflict, he’d been using his natural talent for fighting to scrape together a living collecting debts for a local gambling organization. When boxing legend, Marvin Jones, finds out Billy has roughed up one of his fighters, he presents him with an opportunity to turn his life around. Thankfully, Tess also sees his potential and the love that grows between them that summer will only serve as a catalyst for his drive to become a world champion boxer. Brooke St. James unfolds this timeless story at a leisurely Texas pace, and Galveston Island serves as the perfect beach background in a love story that pulls out all the stops.
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