Liz Johnson is the New York Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels, including Beyond the Tides and The Last Way Home, as well as the Georgia Coast Romance and Prince Edward Island Dreams Series. She works in marketing, makes her home in Phoenix, Arizona, and daydreams of returning to PEI.
In this interview, Liz talks with us regarding her latest novel, Summer in the Spotlight.
FF: Can you please provide a brief summary of your novel, Summer in the Spotlight?
When a hurricane strikes Prince Edward Island, Kelsey Ahern’s beloved community theater is nearly destroyed—putting her job as the high school drama teacher on the line too. She asks her shy coworker Levi Ross to help her put on a benefit show to raise money to rebuild the theater. But interest in the show from the island’s most popular weatherman brings about unexpected changes, leaving the fate of the theater up in the air—and plenty of hearts at risk too.
FF: Please provide some background information on your female protagonist, Kelsey Ahern.
Since she was seven, Kelsey has been performing on the stage, an art form she loved sharing with her late grandmother. With her parents mostly absent during her childhood, Kelsey relied on Grandma Coletta for nearly everything. Although she left the island shortly after high school, Kelsey eventually returned to take the job as the high school drama teacher, and now she’s trying to honor her grandma’s legacy by training up the next generation of young actors.
FF: What is special about Levi Ross, one of the main characters in Summer in the Spotlight?
Levi is a great guy. He’s thoughtful and compassionate, smart and funny. He’s also terribly shy and rarely speaks. Since his father abandoned their family when he was fifteen, Levi has preferred to spend his time with a book rather than with anyone else. But he also reads people well and quickly takes a student under his wing, teaching him how to use tools and rebuild old hay wagons. His superpower is remembering just about everything he reads—including the script of the play they’re putting on.
FF: How are Kelsey and Levi connected?
Kelsey and Levi were in the same grade growing up, and he’s always admired her from afar—too shy to tell her how he feels. But when he rescues her from serious injury during the hurricane, their acquaintance blossoms into a true friendship. As they work on the benefit show together, Levi realizes he’ll have to learn to speak up if he doesn’t want to miss the chance to win her heart.
FF: Summer in the Spotlight highlights the theme of rebuilding. How does this theme impact the characters’ lives?
As Levi and Kelsey work together, he begins to see himself through her eyes, to see that he’s capable of anything he sets his mind to. Slowly, he begins to find the confidence that he’d lost as a child, rebuilding it with her encouragement.
After her grandmother’s death, Kelsey built a wall around her heart, finding it easier to keep people out than risk losing someone else she loved. While she’s always believed Levi can do anything, she doesn’t expect that he can tear down that wall. But with every interaction, he becomes more and more important to her. When the show begins to fall apart, she panics and tries to rebuild the safety wall that will keep her from a broken heart.
FF: What other themes or lessons are found in Summer in the Spotlight?
One of my favorite themes in the book is that we do hard things for the people we love. Society often suggests that love should be easy or without cost, but true love requires true sacrifice. I loved watching these characters come to terms with what that sacrifice truly means in their relationship.
FF: This is the second series that you have set on Prince Edward Island. Why did you choose this location for both the Prince Edward Island Dreams Series and the Prince Edward Island Shores Series?
I could keep writing stories set on PEI forever. I love it so much. The island is tiny—about 125,000 residents—and it’s cold and snowy during the winter. But I’m constantly learning new and interesting things about it that make me fall in love a little more. The first time I visited, I thought I could see the whole island in five days. I barely scratched the surface. And every time I try something new (lobster fishing) or discover a hidden gem (the island’s theater community), I’m inspired to write.
PEI is called the Gentle Island, and it’s earned that name. It’s one of the quietest, most peaceful places I’ve ever been. On my first visit, I realized that it was a place to find healing. And what is a romance novel but two broken people searching for a way to be put back together? Where better than PEI?
FF: What was the connecting element for all of the books in the Prince Edward Island Shores Series?
This series is about the Ross family—three brothers whose dad left them more than a decade ago. Each brother chose to deal with that loss in his own way—lashing out in anger, running away, and turning inward. Now, years later, they’re facing the consequences of those decisions. As they meet women who challenge and inspire them, they discover that God has plans for them beyond their father’s legacy.
FF: What do you love most about writing romance novels?
The kissing scenes. If I get stuck, my solution is usually to throw in a kiss. Okay, honestly? I love that romance novels are filled with hope for the could be. And I want each of my stories to be a reflection of the greatest love of all—the love of God.
FF: Do you incorporate any parts of your own life into your writing?
Of course. There are parts of me in every book I write. Not exact representations—every character is their own and not based on anyone I know. But I enjoy adding elements of my family history, stories from my childhood, and my loves to my stories. I also love to have my characters struggle with and find answers to spiritual lessons that I’m learning in life too.
Summer in the Spotlight features a hero who loves to read, much like I do. He just has a better memory than I do. Maybe the biggest piece of me in the book is my love of Prince Edward Island. I have found PEI to be the most peaceful, gentle place, and I love that my characters have found serenity and healing there too.
Summer in the Spotlight
Prince Edward Island Shores Series #3
Release Date: August 8, 2023
Kelsey Ahern’s childhood was filled with performances at the Victoria Playhouse. She continued her stage presence as an adult until a hurricane destroyed the building. Now, not only is she an actress without a stage, but her job as the high school drama teacher is in jeopardy. However, there is someone who may be able to help. Levi Ross, the facilities director at the school, has a reputation for being able to fix anything—and there is more to him than meets the eye.
Levi has admired Kelsey for years, but he can’t seem to find the courage to tell her. When a popular weatherman arrives in town and takes an interest in Kelsey, Levi realizes he needs to speak up—or lose his chance.
As Kelsey and Levi work on putting together a benefit show to raise money to rebuild the theater, they may just find that they have more in common than they thought and that romance can bloom in unexpected ways.
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