Kristan Higgins is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of ten contemporary romances. Her latest release is SOMEBODY TO LOVE, available in bookstores and online everywhere. She and her family live in her hometown of Durham. Visit her website at www.kristanhiggins.com.
Some early reviews: “Romance fans and lovers of women’s fiction will devour this witty and tender novel.” (Library Journal, starred review)
“SOMEBODY TO LOVE is heartwarming, funny, poignant…Another winner for this excellent storyteller.” (Romance Reviews Today)
Here’s what Kristan has to say.
Tell us about your new book.
SOMEBODY TO LOVE is about reinvention and forgiveness. Parker Welles discovers she’s broke after her father steals her money in an insider trading scheme, and she has six weeks to flip a tiny house in order to earn some income fast. When her dad’s attorney shows up to help her, she’s stuck—she doesn’t trust the guy further than she can throw him, but she’s got quite a mess on her hands, too. James Cahill, meanwhile, knows he’s got a lot to make up for, which seems to be the story of his life, due to a childhood accident that changed his family dramatically. He’s had a thing for Parker since the day they met, but her life never seemed to have any room for him. Until now, that is.
Where did the germ of the story come from?
When I was a little kid, I read Mandy by Julie Edwards (Andrews), the story of a little girl who comes upon a hidden, abandoned house and proceeds to fix it up. That book fascinated me! I must’ve read it 10 times. I loved the idea of Parker having to completely rethink the course of her life in so short a time, and the house—which is more of a shack on the northern coast of Maine—is a vehicle for that inner transformation.
Did this book come to you easily, or did you have to wrestle it to the ground once or twice? Did you ever give up on it?
I wrestle all my books and often throw in a few well-placed kicks, too. It’s part of the process, I guess. Most of my books are terrible in the first draft, so sure, I muttered many a dark phrase and mentally wadded up entire chapters. What I’ve found is that in order to find the heart of any story, I have to write a lot meaningless drivel first. I’m a big believer in revisions. I wouldn’t be published without revisions.
Do you have a writing process you could share with readers, a way you like to proceed when you’re writing a book? (Some authors say they write the first draft out in long-hand, on yellow legal pads, with a special, sacred pen, after throwing salt over their shoulders and repeating an incantation…while others say they write the first draft in a two-week-long fever and then spend the next two years revising. Others don’t even begin until they know the whole story).
I try to slaughter a goat or two in an offering…no, I treat writing very much like a regular job, because it is my job. I do a lot of character sketches and outlining before I start the first draft. If it were up to me, I’d probably outline forever. But since I can’t, I then try to get through the first draft as fast as humanly possible (though never in two weeks…I’d like to meet the person who can write a first draft in two weeks, the show-off). Then I spend another 4-6 weeks revising before passing it onto my agent and editor for another overhaul with them. That’s pretty much it. I’m very ruthless when it comes to my own writing—definitely a slasher/burner rather than “my words are jewels” kind of a writer. It’s not easy to be so hard on oneself, but it’s served me well, too.
How do you get yourself to write when you don’t feel inspired? Is there anything that can bring that mood, or voice, back to you?
I have a very cheery office these days (as opposed to the Pit of Despair, which was an unheated room in our basement, where I worked before). A comfy chair, some plants, usually a song that seems to sum up a particular mood, which is then played over and over and over in an orgy of OCD. I start the day off by editing what I wrote yesterday, then try to write a new scene. But again, writing is my job, and I can’t wait around for the muse or what have you. Inspiration comes to those who type, to paraphrase Thomas Edison.
When did you first know you were a writer?
Well, looking back, I can see hints here and there—my teenage obsession with coming up with a better ending for Gone With the Wind (by the way, I’m fairly sure now that Ms. Mitchell got it just right), my preference for the occasional imaginary friend vs. real person, my lifelong love of reading. That being said, I didn’t start writing fiction until my mid-thirties (ten years ago, give or take). Once I started, though, I found it was pretty addictive.
If you weren’t a writer, what job would you like to do?
Pediatric surgeon. Or horse trainer. I’m torn.
What’s your favorite, and least favorite, part of the writing process? One writer describes the “sticky phase,” when everything you see and hear seems destined to slip into your novel somehow. Does that happen to you? Do you love the first draft, or prefer the last revision?
Yes, I steal from all around me! Usually, it’s not blatant thievery as much as a person or phrase or idea that triggers something. I have an absolute sponge of a memory, and things that were said decades ago often pop up in my books. I love revisions, as I said above, because it’s during that phase when my manuscript becomes a book someone would actually buy.
What’s your process of revision? Do you have readers who give you advice? At what point do you enlist their aid?
I like to let the book sit (advice taken from Stephen King’s wonderful book, On Writing), then read it in its entirety, noting what’s good and what’s ridiculous or boring or fluff. I make myself a map of the book with instructions about navigating each chapter, whether it’s to leave it entirely alone or toss the whole thing.
I don’t have readers who weigh in, though I might run an idea past a writer friend here and there. I enlist their aid when I’m really stumped, and they either reassure me that the idea would work and it’s just my basic insecurity, or help me brainstorm a few more ideas.
Readers tend to think that everything authors write is autobiographical. How do you handle those sorts of questions—people assuming that everything in your book really happened to you?
I actually don’t get that question too often—maybe because I’ve been married for a long time now, and my books are romances. But in a way, all of us writers are using autobiographical experiences, because if we haven’t felt the emotions we’re trying to convey, we can’t write about them. Which is not to say the circumstances are the same, but the feelings are. We’ve all felt loss and love and anger and helplessness, and that’s what we pour into our pages.
Have you ever written a character who’s close to someone you know, and have you worried that that person will be furious with you?
It’s funny…if there’s a character I’ve based on a real person in my life, that person never seems to see the resemblance. So far, so good, in other words. Conversely, sometimes people will think I’ve based a character on them. Usually a character they love, so I try not to disabuse them of that notion.
Have you ever gotten up in the middle of the night to write a scene that simply will not let you rest?
No! I sleep like the dead. I sometimes dream about scenes, though.
Do you procrastinate? What’s your favorite mode of procrastination when you’re supposed to be writing?
I’m excellent at procrastination under the guise of research…which is why I don’t have Wi-Fi in my office. But I’m clever. I might answer some interview questions or work on a class (I teach workshops on various aspects of writing once in a while). Do the dishes. Look at photos of Jeremy Renner. That kind of thing.
What about being a writer has made you truly happy?
The response from readers. I love hearing that a scene made someone laugh or cry. I even had a girl tell me she left her abusive boyfriend because of my books. She said, “Your books taught me what love should be, and what I deserve.” I’ll keep that one in my heart for the rest of my life.
And I love the simple joy of a day spent imagining. There’s something very childlike about being a writer, making up worlds and people, and I’m very happy I get to do that so much.
What do you tell people who want to be writers, too?
Get to work! Go for it! Do it!