The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

The Next Best Thing by Kristan Higgins

One of my best discoveries of the past year was the author Kristan Higgins.  I ripped through all four books in her backlist and found them entertaining and thoughtful, funny and romantic.  She’s become a comfort read for me, actually, so I was excited to learn that there is more comfort forthcoming.  On February 1st, HQN releases The Next Best Thing.  Kristan graciously took time to answer my questions about the book, and will be giving a signed copy of it to a lucky reader.

All you need to do to enter for the giveaway is to leave a comment to this post by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, January 28th. The winner will be randomly selected and posted here on Friday morning.  The usual caveats apply:  This contest is open only to readers in the U.S. and Canada and, since the purpose of the giveaway is to put early books into the hands of readers who wouldn’t  otherwise get them, if you review for another Web site or blog that receives advance copies, please don’t enter.

And now, here’s Kristan!

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, The Next Best Thing?

The Next Best Thing is about Lucy, a young widow who’s trying to get on with life five years after the death of her husband, Jimmy. She’s not looking for love…stability and predictability sound a lot better this time around. Lucy figures she’s already had the love of her life, lost him and suffered so much because of it that what she wants now is a nice, slightly boring guy who won’t thrill any part of her.

First order of business for Lucy: suspend the benefits package in her friendship with Ethan, her late husband’s brother. For the past two years, she and Ethan have, er, comforted each other, and while Ethan is Lucy’s best friend, he’s the last guy she’d pick for a husband. He’s way too dangerous, way too lovable. Ethan, however, has other plans. He’s lived in his brother’s shadow all his life, and while he’s initially willing to let Lucy try to find Mr. Not-So-Bad, it’s harder than he thinks to stand by and watch.

I’ve heard this will not be the only book readers can expect from you in 2010?

You are correct! All I Ever Wanted is scheduled for an August release. This one’s the story about getting over a one-sided relationship…Callie was madly in love, he wasn’t…and even worse, he’s her boss. When she learns he’s seeing someone else, she forces herself to get out there and find some other man…even though Mark seemed so perfect. Ian McFarland is clearly not that guy…a rather unsociable vet who prefers the company of animals to people. Callie will have to find that what she thinks she wants may not be what she really needs.

I love this book! Callie tries so hard to make people happy, and she’s usually so good at it! She just can’t understand A) why her boss and she didn’t work out, and B) what exactly is in that that grouchy vet’s past and why he gets under her skin so easily.

One thing I’ve noticed about your books is that your heroines’ parents are not only living but involved in their lives.  Since this is rare in romance novels, I assume this is a deliberate choice?

Is it rare? I didn’t know! I think most people would say that parents play a huge role in their lives. No one loves you more than your mom and dad (one hopes, anyway), no one knows you better…and no one can home in on that sore spot faster or more effectively. That being said, in The Next Best Thing, Lucy’s father is dead. One of the things Lucy deals with is not only this loss, but her mother’s seeming detachment from Lucy’s struggles to patch her life together.

Additionally, in at least two, possibly three of your books, the heroines’ parents are pretty unhappily married.  Is there a reason you choose to highlight their relationship problems?

Oh, that makes me sound so cruel! As soon as you asked that question, I had to go back and count, and yep, I’m batting .500 in the divorced parents department.

There’s a quote by J.R.R. Tolkien:

“Things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are not much to listen to, but things that are palpitating, uncomfortable and gruesome make a very good tale.”

In other words, it’s more fun to have some trouble brewing…not in life, of course, but definitely in a novel! Often, the parent situations in my books reflect the heroine’s worries…it’s harder to have faith in lasting love if your parents can’t make it work. Certainly, Lucy looks at her mother and sees herself, which can be both comforting and lonely. In my defense, I must point out that all of the parents in my books have ended up happy…not necessarily married, or not necessarily to each other, but happy nonetheless.

How would you classify your books – as contemporary romance or Chick Lit?  Personally, I think they straddle.  Both the humor and the first-person point of view (lack of the hero’s voice) makes the librarian in me want to pick Chick Lit.

When I started writing, I was blessed with a healthy degree of ignorance — I just wrote the type of book I wanted to read. I didn’t realize there were so many subsets within romance. The truth is, I’ve never been completely clear on what chick-lit is…I always picture Sex in the City, and since my most of my heroines can’t hold their liquor and wouldn’t know a Jimmy Choo if it hit them in the head, I guess I’d go with romantic comedy. Contemporary romantic comedy. How’s that?

Do you find humor easy to write?

Yes and no. I see humor everywhere, am the queen of inappropriate laughter, and tend to store funny things in my brain for decades. Writing it down takes some practice, especially scenes that involve physical humor (a scene in Just One of the Guys leaps to mind, in which Chastity gets stuck in a closet at her boyfriend’s parents’ home). I pay attention to timing, clarity, all that good stuff. I always go back and revise. But when I’m in the groove, it flows pretty well indeed.

My sister describes your book, Catch of the Day, as “a romance between a woman and her dog” – which makes me laugh.  I am a dedicated dog person, and I love the animals in your stories.  When in the process of deciding and defining characters do you choose your animal protagonists?  Could you write a book without an animal sidekick?

Tell your sister I love that description! For me, owning and loving a pet is a statement of commitment, love and tolerance, so given that all my heroines want that with people, it makes a lot of sense that they’re pet owners. I’ve always had animals…dogs, cats, horses, fish…so it was very natural to have my heroines do the same.

You’re right…I do make a very careful choice about what pet best matches the story, usually when I’m clear on what my heroine is struggling with. For example, in Too Good to Be True, Grace owned a dog who walked all over her (metaphorically and literally), and she loved him for it. This symbolized Grace’s relationship with her family, too…one of the things she had to overcome during the story. Buttercup in Just One of the Guys had a lot in common with Chastity herself and showed Chastity’s desire to befriend those in need. In The Next Best Thing, Lucy owns Fat Mikey, a cat given to her by Ethan. I know, a cat! Shocking! But for me, cats are more independent, less reliant on human adoration, and more quietly comforting…which was just what Lucy needed. As Ethan well knew.

Could I write a story without an animal sidekick. Sure! I’m working on a story now where the heroine has commitment issues. I think she might need to earn a pet, if you will.

Your heroines seem to be pretty physically active – rowing, running, biking, walking.  Is there a reason for this?

It’s me living vicariously. No, I love to take long walks — I live in a beautiful area of woods and farmland, and I even still run, albeit painfully, slowly and awkwardly (the neighbors are petitioning me to stop). But I love for my heroines to be outside, and I like giving them an activity that gets them moving, both in their thoughts (because a lot of deep thoughts happen during these times), and physically.

Do you read fiction for pleasure?  Do you read romance?

Of course I read romance! And plenty of fiction…in fact, I rarely read nonfiction. I read romance, horror, literary fiction, historical fiction, women’s lit. But all my life, ever since I first swiped Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss off my grandmother’s night table at age 13, I’ve loved romance. In high school and college, I’d reward myself after reading the Iliad or Heart of Darkness with a Johanna Lindsay or Linda Lael Miller. Romance novels have been one of the most constant things in my life, have seen me through some very sad times and some very happy times as well. I can’t tell you what a such a privilege and thrill to write romance for a living.

What authors, if any, have influenced your writing or style?  Whom do you like to read?

Well, in some ways, every author I’ve ever read has influenced me somehow, whether it’s Margaret Mitchell or Stan Lee. I never sat down and said, “I’d like to write a book just like that one,” but I’ve always loved honesty in writing — Elinor Lipman, Monica McInerney and Jonathan Tropper leap to mind as writers who are very honest about their characters’ flaws and feelings, and they’re all very funny, too. I love Sherry Thomas, Deanna Raybourn, Elizabeth Strout, Stephen King and Dean Koontz.  Hm. In making this list, I can see that I’m fairly schizophrenic on this front. Maybe that’s a good thing. A rolling stone gathers no moss…or something along those lines.

– Kristan Higgins with Rachel Potter

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