Last Thursday, I attended Kristan Higgins book signing at Durham Public Library, which is a cozy library where one expects to encounter Lorelei and Rory from the Gilmore Girls. The activity room was filled to capacity with fans of Ms. Higgins work.
If you ever have the opportunity to hear her speak, GO! Ms. Higgins is a lively, eloquent, and entertaining speaker, who kept her audience enthralled the entire time.
Ms. Higgins has published seven books. Her current book, My One and Only, is on the USA Today and New York Times bestseller list. The story centers around a divorced couple. The heroine learns she’s maid-of-honor at the same wedding where her ex-husband is the best man. Because it’s a destination wedding In (Glacier National Park) Montana, they must ride together to the next airport.
This book is a departure from Higgins’ plucky classic romantic comedy heroines who believe in love. As usual, she decided to make things hard on her characters and contemplated the worst hero for her heroine– her ex.
At the time, she thought it was very original and didn’t realize there’s a class of books called reunion stories. For this type of story, a sunny heroine would not work. So Higgins created Harper, a woman who saw flimsy commitments her whole life. She did have a brief moment where she believed in love, but within a year she was divorced.
To avoid making her a cliché, Higgins wanted her to believe in marriage in a control freak sort of way. Then she set her off on the road, a place she’d never been before. She needed her characters far from the things they were comfortable with. And she needed the plot twists to be believable that they would end up stuck together.
Making it the best option for them to drive to the next airport required heavy usage of Google maps.
Higgins finds that the more she, writes the more she loves back story. In order to understand how things got so screwed up between them, she had to write about their history because the answers to their problems lay in past events.
Higgins loves to write about first love because it’s so seductive and the characters believe that as long as they love each other everything will be okay.
Her characters had to deal with the very real issues of communication in security. This may be her most emotionally mature work.
The heroine’s mother, Beverly, was originally envisioned as “Trailer Park Barbie.” however, the character fought back and refuse to obey Higgins. Instead of the very insensitive character she tried to write, the mother became kind and nice.
Every detail of the book was carefully selected, including Harper’s dog, Coco, who is half Jack Russell, half chihuahua. That made the dog part bold/brave and part fearful, reflecting on the duality of Harper.
To research Harper, Higgins picks the brain of a divorce lawyer friend.
Setting is very important to her. She went to Martha’s Vineyard to get a feel for the place. She’d never been to Glacier National Park, but someone in her writer’s group gave her hundreds of pictures. In order to capture the look and smell ,Higgins also went to the Park Services National Park website, where you can listen to the sounds you’d hear at each park.
In order to make the road trip from Glacier National Park to the airport realistic, Higgins employed Google maps, using the camera to see what the road looked like. The road trip went across Montana and North Dakota.
Higgins is a diehard Yankee fan. But her books are usually set in Red Sox territory. However it’s important to note the Red Sox hardly ever win a game.
When she started out as a writer all she wanted was to hold her book. Her agent told her that goal will change and she’d want to hit the lists.
Her kids are priority. But after hitting the lists and winning awards, she has traveled more. She’s spoken all over the country, but usually only sees the airport and the hotel. She attends conferences and writers groups’ events. Her busiest season is the spring and summer.
The more she writes, the faster she’s gotten at writing a book. As for self-doubt and worry, they remain a part of the process.
She enjoys her research, but it is scary to step outside what you’re used to. The road trip, the non-perky main character, the divorced couple–these were all risks.
To celebrate her placing on the New York Times list, Higgins called her friends and family and then helped her son with his math homework.
She is excited to have her publisher hire a publicist for her. She’s done interviews, blog radio talk show, and live chats with Q&A.
She just completed a book in March and turned it into her publisher. Her next book will be the last book of her contract.
The next book she’s writing will include the hero and heroine’s point of view in the third person. She’s very excited about it.
There are times, she and her publisher will disagree. For example, her publishers did not like how Harper was a departure from the typical romantic heroine. Higgins considered their feedback with an open mind, but felt strongly that Harper had to be this way. It looks like Higgins was right.
She has thought about doing a series, but hasn’t yet found a story for it.
In terms of her writing process, she starts with the character first, thinking what if you were x. She’s like a cat with a mouse, seeing if she likes it long enough to write a book. She has a file of 50 ideas, 49 of which did not become books. She’s also a big outliner, creating chapter by chapter outlines including setting. She’s very detailed and knows what will happen next.
Of course, things change in the first draft and many things have to be reworked. But that’s just part of the process of knowing your characters and spending time with them. She’s very hard on her characters and very realistic about her books, creating very high standards.
She read an excerpt from the book and it was absolutely brilliant. In this scene, Harper proposed to her boyfriend. Total Trainwreck.
Higgins loves kids and has them in her books. She has written three novels with fathers. Her 10th book will feature a heroine who is also a mom. Personally, she found the father is easier to write because she didn’t want to dive into motherhood in her romance novel. She also names novel kids after kids she knows in real life.
She tries to write everyday or do writing related activities. In the morning she gets her kids off to school, does housework, and goes to her office to write. Her office is located above her mother’s garage and does not have WiFi. A few hours of writing makes up a lot of pages.
She said the best and worst aspect of being a writer is that you are never away from your characters. There is no vacation from them.
She mentioned that her son wrote a novel at 11 and is now typing it with his cousin. Sounds like another Higgins author on the way.