YOUNTVILLE — Three women are pursuing their dreams toward the same intersection of wine, romance — and writing.
In a setting better known for sparkling brut and rosé, Emily Brown, Cortney Roudebush and Lisa Mattson on Sunday shared with readers their paths to hoped-for literary fame, and how the Napa Valley’s wine country has shaped the plot and spirit of their debut books.
Self-published authors, the trio joined about two dozen visitors at Domaine Chandon for a book signing and wine tasting to showcase their stories of love’s rewards and misdirections, perhaps appropriately on the last weekend before Valentine’s Day.
A names-changed nonfiction work, “Stories From the Sisterwives: How I Survived Dating a Sociopath” recounts Brown’s misadventures with an online boyfriend, described as “the Dark Prince,” and the shame and guilt into which the mystery man leads her — and other women he is simultaneously courting.
“It felt like I needed to share it,” the 39-year-old Brown, a onetime schoolteacher from Kansas City, Mo., said about committing a harrowing experience to paper.
“A lot of other women have the same journey as me but don’t come out of it for the better. I want to help those people claim the kind of life they want, but are too scared to make the leap. ... It was the kind of life where you wake up one morning and you realize your life has become like a Lifetime movie for women!” she said, laughing.
A full-time writer who moved to Napa last July, Brown claims no special connection to the wine world “other than that I enjoy drinking it.” Her two peers, on the other hand, called their books the fruit of careers writing about wine, or promoting it.
The protagonist of Roudebush’s “Where I Want to Be: A Wine Country Novel” is a Los Angeles woman whose three-month stay in Napa County starts a dual transformation. While diving with both feet into the wine industry, the main character, Olivia Goldstein, becomes entranced with the valley’s scenery, easygoing culture — and an easy-on-the-eyes male tour guide.
At the kernel of Roudebush’s novel was a post from her wine blog, Sip, Swirl, Savor, an idea she recalled soon expanded far beyond the vine and bottle.
“I’d written about a blind date I’d set up on Match.com — where the highlight of the whole night was the wine I drank, the date was that bad,” said the 31-year-old Roudebush, a Marin County native living in Corte Madera. “I realized this (anecdote) could be an idea for a novel, that it could be not just about wine and its appreciation, but about finding happiness, finding yourself, finding your passion.”
The journey Mattson outlines in “The Exes in My iPod: A Playlist of the Men Who Rocked Me to Wine Country” is a fictionalized version of Mattson’s own path from a rural Kansas upbringing to her career as a wine marketer — and to the boyfriends and dates, even the disastrous ones, that opened her to new vistas and insights.
“The guy who gave me a bong for a gift — and almost got me arrested — he’s the same guy who convinced me to leave Kansas when I was 19,” said the 39-year-old Mattson, who lives in Santa Rosa. “If he hadn’t been there, my life would be very different. I could’ve been working with 3,000 other people at the Walmart; instead I’m in the Bay Area, doing marketing for a wine company, and married to a wonderful man.”
A passion for the Napa Valley’s signature product, or even an absorption of the valley’s sensibilities, can leave its mark almost without an author even trying, said Roudebush, who plans to write three sequels to “Where I Want to Be.”
“I didn’t set out to write a book about the wine country,” she said. “But because wine has been such a part of my life, it just fit.”