By Andrea Pyros
Inspiration comes at the oddest of moments. For best-selling romance novelist Alice Clayton, the idea for her sexy, saucy, food-obsessed Hudson Valley-based trilogy — Nuts, Cream of the Crop
— came to her while she was waiting in line to buy cucumbers at her local St. Louis farmer’s market. “The dreamiest farmer I’d ever seen was there,” Clayton says. And although, at the time, everyone else was writing romances about billionaire bad boys, she had other plans.
“I thought, ‘Farmers are the new alpha. I think they need their time in the sun.’” She’d wanted to write a story set in a small-town agricultural center, and although Clayton is “a Midwestern girl, born and raised,” she’d always been intrigued by the Northeast, so she decided to set a series of books here.
“The first time the Hudson Valley came on my radar was when I saw Dirty Dancing
as a kid. I'd never even heard of that region of the country. I loved the idea of these wonderful old mountain resorts in the Hudson Valley and Catskills and Adirondacks. Years later, I was watching No Reservations
when Anthony Bourdain visited the Hudson Valley and he went up to Mohonk Mountain House, and I was mesmerized. I started doing research on the area — it didn’t look real! — and I fell in love.”
Clayton and her publicist took a research trip to the RI
region, renting a car and tooling around towns like Hyde Park, as well as Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, marveling all the while at their “picture-book, Disney cinemascope” charm. The pair made a stop at Blue Hill Farm, and Clayton said that was when everything really started coming together.
“As a Midwestern girl turning her gaze towards this part of the country, I loved the idea that you have these wonderful communities, some artsy, some are agrarian, some full of big houses, and wonderful little mom-and-pop stores next to wealthy bankers' wives; it’s a really different way of looking at small-town America and a really different slice of life in the Northeast.” Using inspiration from places she’d seen, Clayton created the fictional Bailey Falls, New York, and its appealing cast of characters.
Each of the Hudson Valley books have sexy farmer types with dirt under their nails, quirky small town characters (if you’re a "Gilmore Girls" fan, we need say no more), plenty of banter and R-rated shenanigans, and a big-city woman who comes to town and finds her life — love and otherwise — completely upended. True to our region, cooking and eating are front and center in the series, from descriptions of lovingly baked pies and vintage flea-market cookbooks to arguments over whether Cadbury Creme Eggs are gross or amazing (answer: both).
“Barefoot Contessa is my life,” Clayton jokes. “And I’m obsessed with "America’s Test Kitchen." I'm a foodie who loves to cook and loves to eat, and in the last 10 years I was taken with slow food and farm-to-table and getting to know the local growers who bring you food. It just seems natural to incorporate that into a writing project.”
Even though Clayton’s not a local, she gets letters from readers in our area asking if she’s writing about their town. “So far, so good in that I’m representing the region. That’s all I want to do — create a place where people who don’t live there want to go there.”
represents the last in this trilogy, but Clayton admits she’s been thinking about another series set in our region. After all, Clayton, who dedicated Buns
to Mohonk Mountain House (“where inspiration becomes reality,” she writes), has fallen in love with the Hudson Valley and says she’ll use any excuse to visit the area. Stay tuned, then, Clayton may have more food, fun, farmers and romance for us.