Five years ago, Jodi Ellen Malpas overturned romance conventions with Jesse "The Lord" Ward, a hero who refused to be bound by social norms. Readers galloped through the three books in Malpas's This Man series, and continuously pleaded for more.
Finally, their wishes have been fulfilled. Malpas's With This Man returns to Jesse and Ava Ward, now 12 years into marriage. But when Ava suffers a head injury that makes her forget Jesse and their years together entirely, Jesse has to woo Ava all over again.
Adrian Liang: It's been five years since you wrote the last book in the This Man series. What prompted you to return to Jesse and Ava Ward's story?
Jodi Ellen Malpas: When I finished This Man Confessed, I told myself that that was it. And it ended so wonderfully. My readers were so happy and fulfilled, and I thought to myself I'd be mad to go back to the books.
But it wasn't long before I just had this idea ticking over in my mind. And Jesse Ward was a really hard character to shake off, but I distracted myself by writing other stories. I have so many other stories to tell as well. But five years later, it was still there. The idea just wouldn't go away. So I didn't commit myself to it, and I definitely didn't tell my readers about it, but I sat down and it flowed so easily! It was like I'd never been away from them. It was just like going home, really. It's where I started in my writing career, so I so enjoyed going back.
But this really is it now; there can't be any more. I know I'm a little bit biased, but for me With This Man is the best This Man book of them all.
Although Ava's viewpoint is the bulk of the first three This Man books, a lot of With This Man is from Jesse's point of view. How easy was it for you to slip into his head?
The epilogue in This Man Confessed was from Jesse's point of view. And readers just loved hearing his [thoughts]. I think because I knew him as a character so well—to his soul, really—I found it quite easy to be inside his head. And it's amusing as well, because he's such an unreasonable asshole sometimes. Hearing his thoughts and his justification process—it was amazing what he did and said—it was really funny for me. So yeah, it was quite easy.
He's a complete control freak! [Laughs] He tramples over people, and he has these domination tactics, like how he picks out Ava's clothes. But you make him sympathetic. How did you tip him from being a jerk into someone sympathetic?
When I first wrote This Man, I didn't have any plans to publish it. I didn't think anyone else was going to read my words. I just went with it and pushed the boundaries as far as I could. Then people started falling in love with [Jesse]. I was so shocked because I just didn't think anyone could love him like I loved him. [Laughs] He's so infuriating. One minute you want to throttle him, and then next minute you're swooning over him. But I think it's that conflict between loving him and hating him—and ultimately knowing why he's like that and why he does the things he does—which makes my readers sympathetic toward him. It's a funny mix, but it seems to work for Jesse.
And I think his love for Ava... They do like that power struggle between them both, but he understands his limits. He knows when he's going to win and when he's not going to win. And this time with Ava, especially in With This Man—they've been married for 12 years—they know each other inside out. There are times when she knows she got to give him what he needs, and Jesse knows there are times when he has to give Ava what she wants. So it works well for both of them.