In Gray’s Take a Chance (Blackstone, Sept.), Kurt, an Ohio landscaper, is raising his younger brother, Sam, and unexpectedly falls for Sam’s English teacher, Emily.

You usually write Amish romances. What led to this non-inspirational story?

A lot of times I write for fun. It reminds me of why I began writing all those years ago. So I started this and it just made me happy to make up this story about Kurt, Emily, and Sam. After I got maybe 100 pages in, I went ahead and wrote my agent, Nicole, and said, “I think I have something here. I’m not sure, what do you think?” She was on the same page. I’m excited about the next installment, All In. I just read over the revisions and turned those in two weeks ago. This whole group of characters means a lot to me.

Why do they mean so much to you?

I think they have a lot of heart. I used to write for Harlequin American Romance as Shelley Galloway and always wanted to write about characters who fell in love but also had a faith. There was more to them than just “boy meets girl and they fall in love.” It ended up that the books I was wanting to write for Harlequin weren’t the best fit. I feel like these are the books I always wanted to write all those years ago, about characters who were a lot like people I know. We all are trying to fit in, we’re trying to take care of our families, and we’re trying to do right by people. We like to have a good time, and we just happen to go to church sometimes.

How was writing Take a Chance different from your other books?

I hate to say it too much because it just sounds so corny now, but I took a chance on Take a Chance. I really did. I didn’t have a lot of expectations. I didn’t even know if it would sell. That’s why I enjoyed it so much—it really felt like I was writing this book for me. I wasn’t trying to please readers who expected something, or anyone else. I wanted to write a book about people that I would like to know. I thought maybe after I got this three-book contract, and I’m writing away, maybe it would start feeling like work, but it really doesn’t. I’ve been published almost 20 years now. For someone who has had any kind of career over more than just a couple of years, I think you have to keep making things fresh and challenging yourself and pushing yourself. Otherwise things might get stale. Taking on new projects like this series definitely helps me. It just pushes me a little bit, makes me think about things I’m doing the research about. It was fun for me. I’m creating characters that are just so different from my Amish ones. After I have been working on one of these books, I’ll go back to working on one of my Amish books and I feel rejuvenated. I’m like, “Oh yeah, I remember these people! I like them!”