By Maureen Lee Lenker
June 07, 2018 at 11:00 AM EDT
Simon and Schuster

For fans of Judith McNaught, it’s been a long wait for a new release. The romance author hasn’t dropped a new book in 12 years.

But now, she’s finally returning to shelves with The Sweetest Thing, an expanded reworking of “Double Exposure,” a short story that was featured in two different story collections, Simple Gifts and A Gift of Love.

The Sweetest Thing follows Corey Foster, the visionary behind family business and magazine Foster’s Beautiful Living, which has spawned a lifestyle empire. Corey is the creative brains behind the magazine, designing and envisioning its look. The company is expanded into wedding-focused reality TV, but landing the rights to film one of the biggest weddings of the year will put Corey in the path of an old flame who broke her heart.

The cover leans heavily on the wedding theme at play, featuring a bride holding a bouquet. EW called up McNaught to get the details on how the cover came to be, why it’s been so long between books, and whether we’ll see new titles from her more regularly going forward. Check out the cover above, then read on for more from McNaught.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is your first new book in more than a decade. Why the long gap?
JUDITH MCNAUGHT: I never stopped being inspired, but life got in the way with a series of events that were wonderful and not so wonderful. That’s the best way I can explain it. It was quite a historical pile-on of events. Anyway, I am a mother and a grandmother, and I was a daughter, my mother died when part of this was going on, so it’s distracting, especially when you want to write entertaining, humorous, witty dialogue. 

You’ve written in so many subgenres: historical, suspense, contemporary. Can you tease where The Sweetest Thing might fall genre-wise and tell us any more about the story?
The Sweetest Thing is a contemporary romance, but what makes it special is Gallery is letting me go back and significantly expand a short story that I wrote years ago for a holiday collection. That story has always stayed with me because I could only give the characters a short story, even when I suddenly realized partway through that this deserved a full-length book. I couldn’t lengthen it because I couldn’t come up with anything else to put in that collection in time for Christmas, so I let it go. Readers clamored for a longer version of that one, and of another short story I did. So this time I’m getting to do it, and I really enjoying spending time with characters. And I’m not only expanding it, I’m radically rewriting it as well.

You wrote the short story for a holiday anthology, so will this also have a holiday element or setting?
Yes, but it’s not the main feature of it anymore.

Can you tell me more about the cover design and why it’s a good representation of your story?
Because among other things, the story is centered around a heroine who is part of a very big company, family-owned, who has just signed a contract with Netflix to film special weddings as part of their thing. They own a company called Foster’s Beautiful Living, and they do photography, work with wedding planners, very, very big-time. So we definitely wanted a wedding theme.

So this company does things like film the wedding of Bachelor contestants?
Yes and no; it’s the opposite of Bridezillas. The heroine has got quite a reputation — did you see the photos for the engagement of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry? That’s her speciality, is unusual things like that. When the book starts, they are filming a wedding and it’s the very first time they will have done it. They’ve done a pilot. Obviously, it’s going to have some very lush settings. It takes place in Palm Beach, in an estate. That enables me to bring back a couple that was super-popular in a novel called Night Whispers, and they will pop in just as a neighbors. If readers haven’t read that book, they would not know that there was anything special about them other than the fact that they’re good and fun. I re-introduce characters kind of a lot as secondary characters, but I make a real serious effort not to go too far into detail with them.

In the past, your books have actively responded to social issues — literacy in particular in Perfect — and that’s become an even bigger part of romance as a genre in recent years. Is that something you’re doing in this book?
No, I’m not. I did feature literacy in that novel. In fact, I rewrote that whole novel to feature literacy and it raised a quarter of a million dollars, and 8,000 women volunteered to teach another woman to read. At the point where I did that, I also knew that I could use [literacy] as an exciting and meaningful feature in the book. In other words, I do not preach, and I don’t like having someone preach to me about any issue. I’m an entertainer, and my job is to make readers have a vacation from some of these travails. I’m going to make you laugh out loud, and I’m going to make you cry, and when the book is over, if I’ve done my job, I will leave you feeling really good. That’s what I do for women. We have enough aggravation going on and enough dreadful issues in the world around us. I don’t even recognize it sometimes politically. I don’t want to go into that, so instead of that we’re going to have fun.

The romance industry has changed in so many ways — publishing formats and ebooks, how consent is addressed, etc. — in the 12 years since your last title was released. What do you make of those changes, and were you nervous at all about writing again?
No, I’m not nervous about it, and they haven’t affected my writing at all. I wouldn’t want them too. Now perhaps more than ever, I believe there is a huge segment of the population that still yearns for the sweetness and thrill and excitement of finding true love. If you have any doubt of that, 2 billion people got up or stayed up to watch Meghan Markle marry Prince Harry [marry]. If anything, as long as it’s sophisticated and challenging as a read, as a book, there will always be a great market for a great romance. All I have to do is figure out how to write one.

Can we expect this to mark a return to writing for you? Do you have something in the works after this?
Absolutely. I’m halfway through with another book that’s called The Wonder of Us. And it is the modern-day version of the Westmoreland Dynasty, so I know readers will be happy about that.