Today on Reading Reality my guest is Kristan Higgins, a two-time RITA award winner and best-selling author of contemporary romances. Kristan is here to talk about her latest book, Somebody to Love, and to giveaway a print copy to one lucky (US) commenter. (The winner will be very lucky, see my review for the reasons why)
I had the opportunity to send Kristan some pretty specific questions about the book, the theme, and her writing in general. (And thanks, Kristan, I was only supposed to send 5-8 questions, I sent 9!)
Here’s the interview:
How do you choose the settings for your books? In other words, what drew you to the remote coast of Maine for Somebody to Love?
Is it shallow to say “rugged lobstermen”?
No, in all seriousness, my settings always play a big role in the story. I don’t just pick a place because it’s pretty. Gideon’s Cove, Maine, was the setting for a previous book, CATCH OF THE DAY, and I wanted to return there very much. It’s a scruffy town graced with breathtaking natural beauty—the rocks of the shore, the pine trees, the ragged little coast—but it’s also populated with hardworking people who all have a strong sense of community. Parker, who’s a little bit of an observer of her own life, had to go to a place where she’d have to roll up her sleeves and get dirty, literally and figuratively. Gideon’s Cove, which is so removed from Parker’s ordinary life, was the perfect place.
And house-flipping as the project that brings Parker to Maine? Why house-flipping? It’s an interesting choice these days…
A person’s home usually says so much about someone, don’t you think? Parker’s from a very wealthy, old-money family, and she’s been living in the mansion built by her great-great grandfather for the past few years. Nice, right? But dear old dad loses all the family money in an insider trading deal, and voila! For the first time, she has to worry about paying the bills and finding a job. A distant relative left her a house on the northern coast of Maine; Parker’s never seen it, so she pictures the Bush compound, maybe. Alas, she finds that it’s not much more than a shack with faulty plumbing, filled with years of accumulated crap. Her job: clean it out, spruce it up and flip it, fast…no easy feat, given her limited funds.
I wanted to challenge Parker in a way she’d never been challenged before, and I wanted her to learn the satisfaction of hard physical labor. So many people have been in her shoes, especially these days—having to reinvent themselves because of financial woes. A lot of people have had to scale down, move, start over.
On your blog you said you decided to write romance novels after reading (swiping from your grandmother’s nightstand) Kathleen Woodiwiss’s Shanna and you bet yourself you could write one. What other romance novels have “inspired” you, and exactly what sorts of “inspiration” have they given you?
Well, actually, I became a romance reader because of my sticky-fingered appropriation of SHANNA. I was thirteen at the time; it would be more than two decades before I’d start writing fiction. But because I was a lifelong romance reader, yes, I felt I understood the genre quite well: the good, the bad, the reasons we love them.
I think any book that can surprise me (in a good way, not in the “and suddenly the evil third cousin she didn’t know she had broke out of jail and kidnapped her” kind of way) with how the romance plays out, any book that makes me literally feel the emotions of the characters, is an inspiration. My favorite authors blend humor and yearning and give characters depth and strength.
So tell us a little bit about your latest heroine, Parker Welles. Your readers have met her before, right?
Yes, readers might remember her as the heroine’s pal in THE NEXT BEST THING. Parker has it all: financial security, a ridiculously beautiful home, an adorable son, a cool career. In that book, she seemed to know it all. And here’s the thing about certain characters. You just can’t shake them. I kept wondering what Parker would be like without all that great stuff (well…she keeps her son, of course). She hasn’t been tested yet in life. So in the first chapter of SOMEBODY TO LOVE, her book series has ended, her father informs her she’s broke, and she has to move.
Parker’s my first single-mom heroine, and what I loved most about her was that she was willing to roll up her sleeves and do whatever it took to ensure her son had stability. She’ll flip that house, find a job, get them a new place to live…and she’s very resolute. Underneath, of course, she’s panicking. Who wouldn’t? And whenever she’s about to lose it, James seems to be around, watching and ready to lend a hand, even if she’s not sure she wants his help.
What made you reach back to Dr. Seuss for the nicknames Thing One and Thing Two?
I’m Dr. Seuss’s biggest fan. You know that question, “If you could meet any author, alive or dead…?” Dr. Seuss is my guy. It also gives Parker the chance to use humor in dealing with her horrible relationship with her dad. She once worshipped her father; now he’s cold and removed and puts just about everyone before her. Using Seussian nicknames for the people he likes best lets her adopt a wry attitude, at least a little bit.
Besides the contents of your grandmother’s nightstand, who else influenced your decision to become a writer?
Listen. Gram left that book right out in the open, practically begging me to take it.
When I decided to give writing a shot, it was for several reasons. First, I wanted to continue to be a stay-at-home mom but also wanted to contribute to the family finances. Figured writing could be a good way to do that. Second, I wanted to read (and therefore write) books about normal people. Back then, it seemed like everyone was a vampire or a billionaire or a celebrity (or a billionaire celebrity vampire). I thought, “I’m none of those things! I don’t even know a celebrity billionaire vampire! Where are the books for folks like me…the slightly overweight, not shockingly beautiful non-billionaires?” So that was type I tried (and try) to write: big, memorable love stories about regular people.
What book do you recommend everyone should read and why?
Er…The Joy of Sex; Essentials of Italian Cooking; and Gone With the Wind. The first two are obvious; the third is because that book is simply one of the best American novels ever written. People tend to think about how handsome Clark Gable was when they hear the title, but don’t forget it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, too. It also taught me more history of the Civil War than I ever learned in school. There’s an homage to GWTW in my fourth novel, TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE. I indulged myself a little there.
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?
Hmm. I’ve learned that writing has a lot less to do with muses and inspiration than it does with showing up at the keyboard and putting in the hours. It’s a hard job! But a wonderful job, too. As for publishing, it’s a fascinating time to be an author. There are so many ways to read a book these days, and so many ways for writers to get their work out there. And I’ve learned how lucky I am to have a publisher who’s done so much for me.
For us cat folks out there, how’s Willow doing at winning Huck over? (The picture to the right below is Kristan’s Huck. Cat lover Marlene couldn’t resist)
The cat has successfully made Willow into her love slave. They cuddle together at night, Willow gazing worshipfully at Huck, until Huck decides he’s had enough and pounces on her. I’ve never seen a cat flip a dog who weights more than three times what he does, but Huck is gifted. When the mood strikes him, he’s very affectionate. But he likes to keep us all on our toes.
Huck is not available for the giveaway. However, a copy of the book, Somebody to Love, is available to one lucky commenter. Because Kristan will be shipping a copy of the print book, this giveaway is open to the US entries only. So what are you waiting for? There’s the rafflecopter form, right there.