Thank you, All About Romance, for inviting me to guest post in celebration of Holding Out’s release! Holding Out is the fourth book in my Returning Home series, stories about veterans returning wounded from war and finding their ways back to life—and love.

Holding Out is also a virgin-heroine, brother’s-best-friend, friends-to-lovers story, because I love tropes—especially messing with tropes. Many readers have told me that they love the first book in the series, Hold On Tight, which is a secret baby book, even though they hate secret baby books. I take that as a very high compliment.

When I began writing this blog post, I realized that I wasn’t sure what readers would want to know about the series, so I asked one of my newest readers. She’d just finished reading all four books in a row, and she’d written me after each one to tell me how much she loved it. Here are her questions about Holding Out and the Returning Home series—and my answers.

How did you get the idea for the story?

Well, first I wrote eight thousand words of a totally different story, about Griff and another heroine, but it felt heavy and plodding to me. And the longer I’ve been writing, the more I’ve learned to trust that if a story feels wrong, it probably is wrong.

It’s really hard to throw out eight thousand words, especially in this age when many authors are writing as fast as they can to release as many books as they can. But the liberating thing is that when you decide to trash that many words, you can really rethink everything.

In the course of doing just that, I thought, Well, Becca needs a book, too (she’s the sister of the heroine from the second book), what if she were the heroine? And right away, things started to fall into place. She’s a virgin! They could make a deal! And what a mess that would be, because Griff is her brother-in-law’s best friend! And they all hang out together, and that would be fun, and awkward! And there’s a cute baby!

From that point on, writing was the opposite of plodding, and I knew I’d found my story.

One thing I love is the Friday night dinners [Griff and Becca and their friends eat different cuisines together every Friday night]—is that something you’ve done yourself, or where did that come from?

Actually, until you asked this question, I never quite made this connection, but yes! At one point, my husband and his best friend and I used to have Sushi Friday every Friday night (our version of Friday Night dinner involved much less cooking and variety than Nate and Alia’s). Occasionally my sister, who was then in medical school, would show up. One Sushi Friday, my sister was there, and she and my husband’s best friend spent most of the evening making funny, ridiculous sentences out of the magnet letters on our refrigerator. Not long after that, they started dating, and they are now the parents of my adorable niece and nephew. I didn’t consciously use any of that material in the book, but as my writer-mom likes to say, “Never underestimate the power of the subconscious.”

Does a veterans’ retreat like the fictional one [where Griff and Alia both work] exist in real life?

Yes. I didn’t base R&R on a real retreat, though. It’s purely fictional. So real life ones may be very different!

I love this group of characters in part because they’re committed to something important—making sure that when veterans come home from war, they’re not forgotten. A recent high-profile veteran suicide has prompted renewed bipartisan interest in veterans’ mental health—veterans are 1.5 times more likely than non-veterans to take their lives, according to VA data. That said, there are many real-life heroes who, like my fictional heroes, are doing their best to change those numbers.

In writing these books, I became aware of a number of these real-life heroes, some of whom work for wonderful support organizations such as Project Hero (formerly Ride2Recovery), where I donated some of my early earnings from Hold On Tight.

Did you come up with the entire series at once, or did different characters grab you as you went along?

I wish I had come up with the entire series at once, because planned serieses go more smoothly! But when I wrote Hold On Tight, I didn’t know there would be more books. Then, when Hold On Tight became a USA Today Bestseller, my publisher asked for two more books, which became Can’t Hold Back and To Have and To Hold.

Griff and Becca both showed up in Can’t Hold Back. The instant Griff made an appearance, I knew he was going to get his own book some day. He had this way of talking about himself that made me want to know everything about him—especially what he was going to do next.

Have you based any of these characters on yourself or people you know?

I go out of my way not to do that. Not only because it feels uncomfortable to imagine someone reading about and recognizing themself in one of my books, but because there are other good reasons not to write about people from your life. One is that it’s a writer’s job to torture her characters—that’s what plot is—and it’s hard to torture people you know and love. Another is that it’s often hard to be fully creative about a character who’s based on a real person—you tend to get stuck in your ideas of who they really are and what they’d really do. And even though truth is often stranger than fiction, real doesn’t make the best books.

Which character/plot was easiest/hardest to write?

Can’t Hold Back pretty much killed me. If you read the acknowledgements for it, you’ll see—I had to thank the small army of people who preserved my sanity. I think it was so tricky because the back story is complicated—I needed to make Alia’s behavior believable, even though it wasn’t always relatable.

To Have and to Hold was the easiest. It might be because the premise of a soldier returning home with amnesia more or less wrote itself: I think most people can identify pretty easily with how painful it would be to have someone you loved—and who loved you—not remember anything about the time you spent together.

The part about tutoring felt really realistic—have you tutored before?

Yes! I was a writing tutor in college, which means that fellow students brought me their papers late at night when they were desperate and stressed out, and I had to try to help them make sense of material from books I hadn’t read and classes I hadn’t attended. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. More recently, I worked in my son’s classroom helping him and his classmates with writing. That was pure joy—my job was to get students to tell me what they wanted to say, and then guide them in putting it on paper. There’s nothing more satisfying than helping kids who think they hate writing to realize that writing is another way of talking to people. That must have been what I was channeling when I wrote about Becca and Jed.


Here’s a short excerpt from the book!

As Becca approached the archery range, she saw Griff with the big bow in his arms, slinging arrow after arrow into the center of the target so they stuck out like bristling porcupine quills.
She hung back, watching. He wore a plastic chest guard and a leather arm guard, which made him look a little bit like some medieval hero. And she wasn’t sure which was more mesmerizing: the clutch of muscle in his back and shoulders, the cords in his forearm, or his absolute laser focus.
She imagined what it would be like to have all that intensity and concentration turned toward her. That precision. That devotion to his task.

Her body warmed and softened in appreciation. Which was unusual for her. She didn’t get turned on looking. She didn’t get turned on that easily, period. She usually needed a lot of warming up.
Except, apparently, when it came to Griff Ambrose.

He reached into the quiver hanging across his body and came up empty.

“Hey,” she called.

He jumped. When he turned, the expression on his face was dark. Angry, she thought.

“Sorry—I didn’t mean to startle you.”

He crossed his arms. “I’ll do it.”

“What?”

She’d heard the words but couldn’t make sense of them.

“If you still want me to. If you haven’t already enlisted CJ or some other boy. I’ll—take your V-card.”

She felt a huge smile threaten to break out all over her face, but her gut told her to play it cool. She shrugged. “CJ wants to take me out for dinner. He was actually quite the gentleman about asking me on a date.”

His expression darkened further. “No. No dates with CJ. That’s the deal. If I’m going to do this—”

She raised her eyebrows at his grim tone. God, he was making it sound like a household chore.

“It’s not like you have to. I told you, I’ll find someone else—”

“God. No. I’ll do it. I said I’d do it. I don’t want you to pick some random guy. Then Nate would really kill me.”

“It’s sex with a virgin—a friend, even—not a death march,” she snapped.

She was aware of an ache in the center of her chest. For a minute there, she’d thought—

But he was just doing her a favor, of course.


Question for readers:

My turn to ask a question! What are you reading this week that you’re loving? I’m always on the lookout for a wonderful, new-to-me author.

Serena is giving a copy of this to one lucky reader. Make a comment below to be entered in this drawing.