November 17, 2015 (San Diego’s East County) - New York Times and USA TODAY best-selling author Kristan Higgins will be appearing at the Mira Mesa Barnes & Noble (10775 Westview Parkway San Diego, CA 92126) on November 18 at 7PM. Higgins is the two-time RITA award-winning author of more than two dozen books, including the acclaimed Blue Heron series. I caught up with the romance and women's fiction authoress to discuss her latest novels, what's she most looking forward to during her trip to San Diego, and helpful advice for writers.
SJ: Have you ever been to San Diego, and if so what stands out most in your memory? Is there anything in particular you're looking forward to on this trip, besides seeing your readers? The weather perhaps?
KH: I’ve never been before, and I’m looking forward to pretty much everything—the weather, the food, the Navy SEALs frolicking on the beach…
SJ: Your most recent novel, If You Only Knew, came out in September and a new book is already available for pre-order. Do you sleep or have you found that cuts too much into your writing time?
KH: I write two books a year, which isn’t considered that fast in the romance industry. I do work almost every day (even when soaking up the vitamin D in sunny San Diego). And I love to sleep! I should probably include “champion napper” in my bio.
SJ: I noticed that the first five chapters of If You Only Knew are free on Amazon. Have you found that giving away a teaser has grown your readership or do fans tell you they go straight to buying the whole book?
KH: I think the free chapters experiment, which was the brain child of my publisher, worked really well in attracting new readers. If You Only Knew is my first women’s fiction novel; my other books are considered contemporary romance, though there’s a big crossover—the romance novels have women’s fiction elements and vice versa. The free chapters seemed to do the trick—I got a lot of mail telling me that readers clicked “preorder” as soon as they read the first five chapters. But I also got a lot of mail that said they’d already pre-ordered as soon as it was available, which is hugely flattering.
SJ: Many authors confess that their characters begin to take on a life of their own, especially after they've been writing for a while. Do you find that happens with you? Just in the first two pages of If You Only Knew you take on some challenging topics: being friends with your ex, being nice to your replacement with said ex, and being civil to friends who jumped ship after your breakup. Do you have a hard time reining your characters in when they don't want to take the high road or are they well-behaved?
KH: Yes, absolutely, and especially in the first chapter. Jenny’s presented with an interesting conundrum—this rather tricky concept of staying friends with the ex-husband who just didn’t love you enough. What I love about Jenny is that she admits this is a really crappy situation. On the one hand, she really does love and like both Owen and his new wife because they’re wonderful people, and she can’t yet face not having Owen in her life at all. On the other, come on. She knows she’s being pathetic. But the food at the baby shower is really good, and she knew she’d be talked about if she didn’t show up, so…
I love the duality of human nature. As a reader, I’m frustrated when a character doesn’t have that duality—he or she always knows what’s right, never has a weak moment, never indulges in wine and Cheetos for dinner. I like to think my characters are very honest about their emotional struggles, and what’s really gratifying is to see them evolve to a better self by the end of the story.
SJ: Are there any themes you haven't tackled in your writing that you are hoping to address soon?
KH: I’ve always been interested in the theme of leaving it all behind. I live in the town where I grew up, and so the idea of starting over as a stranger in a strange land has always sounded really romantic and exciting to me.
KH: It’s clearly fate.
SJ: Anything for You is described as an emotional and gripping tale about unrequited love. Why do you think the idea of unrequited love is so romantic despite being universally painful?
KH: Deliciously painful, don’t you think? That notion that all these years, you’ve loved from afar…there’s a sense of ridiculous nobility about it, with a dollop of martyrdom thrown in. And I’m Catholic. We put dollops of martyrdom on everything. Of course, in a romance novel, that unrequited love is going to be requited (is that a word?). And all that faithful longing will be rewarded.
SJ: The protagonist in Anything for You, Jessica Dunn, is a waitress, and you were once a waitress as well. Do you ever miss getting tips? What would you do if a reader tried to tip you?
KH: Ha! Having been a waitress, I did love getting a healthy tip, and I’m quite a generous tipper myself, knowing firsthand how hard it is to do the job well. If a reader tried to tip me, I’d tell her or him to give the money to a charity or to buy their kid a book.
SJ: Anything for You is a new volume in your Blue Heron series. Do you enjoy writing books in a series more than stand alones?
KH: There’s a lovely sense of continuity in a series; you get to see characters you loved doing well, you can revisit a setting. I try to write all my series books as stand-alones, so the reader doesn’t feel left out if she reads the books out of order. Stand-alones are gratifying in a different way, because everything is wrapped up by the end of the book. There’s a deeper sense of completeness.
SJ: In addition to being an award-winning author, you're also an award-winning baker. Which do you think your family is more proud of? I imagine your children more often beg you to bake than write. How do you fit it all in?
KH: I think the book awards may have edged out my blue ribbons from the state fair. I bake less now, largely because my daughter’s in college and my son is a runner and (irritatingly) models all sorts of healthy eating. But the other night, I whipped up some of my signature brownies, and there were no complaints.
SJ: What is the best piece of advice you've received in your writing career?
KH: “Keep your head down and do your thing.” This was from Cindy Gerard, a super-successful romantic suspense writer who has the same agent as I do, and I was brand-new and a little terrified. I keep those words close—try to ignore what’s trendy, ignore negativity, ignore gossip—and just do my job.
SJ: What would you tell someone just starting out and looking to get her first book published?
KH: I’d tell her not to rush, to read the best authors out there, and work on that book until it could hold its own.
SJ: Besides your author events, where can fans find and connect with you?
Thank you so much! This was a lot of fun!
Thank you, Kristan, for the fun interview. Readers can learn more about her signing on the Barnes & Noble event page. Don't forget to check out her free teaser of If You Only Knew, and if you like free funny and romantic women's fiction get Sarka's novel Spin Control free Nov 23-27 on Amazon.
Sárka-Jonae Miller is East County Magazine's Ask an Author columnist and the author of five romantic comedy novels, including the Between Boyfriends trilogy and the All for You series. Her Between Boyfriends Collection is always free to Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime members. Join her on Facebook and Twitter.