NEWS/BLOG

My Writing Journey. My Future Plans.

cmh-jom-notebooks

Two of my book notebooks (CARRY ME HOME and JUST ONCE MORE.)

So here I am, one week after release of NO KIND OF HERO, my twenty-third book, at loose ends. A little surreal, considering that I started this journey on a whim five years ago, and almost accidentally found a passion and a vocation.

As always after finishing a book, I’m wondering what to do next. Unusually, I actually have the start of a book written (in a new series), and ideas for three more (one, yep, new series, one in the Portland Devils series, and one–which I’m dying to write–Karen’s story, the follow-on to Hope and Hemi’s story). All of those books are completely different in location and tone, which has made me realize one unusual thing about my writing career thus far—that I’ve written so many different types of books, with different tones and in different subgenres. The usual advice is to stick with the thing that brings you success, but then—I started this journey to learn and grow, and the thing I like best (afterwards!) is challenging myself to do something new and succeeding. Not always as well as I could hope, but with every challenge I meet, I get a little better. Who knows—maybe someday I will be the writer I hope to be!

As I way of working through what I want to do next, I thought about the “turning points” on my writing journey thus far. And because I think best when I write things out, I did that. Here they are, in order of publication, little goalposts along the way.

Just This Once

JUST THIS ONCE (Hannah & Drew). You never forget your first. The idea that I could take this cool daydream of an American woman and the captain of the All Blacks and actually write a BOOK about them—it still amazes me. I felt like I was on drugs while I wrote this book. It was euphoria. I’d go to bed with the printed manuscript and read it over until I fell asleep. I dreamt and slept and lived the book. Writing it was the most fun I’d ever had in my life. Is it my best book? Nope. But it was still amazing.

Just for Now

JUST FOR NOW (Jenna & Finn–and Sophie and Harry). Something clicked when I wrote this book. I got better. I felt like I knew how to do it. I wrote it when I was very sick, when my priorities in life became very clear. It’s my warmest, sweetest, most “family” book, and it was a pure joy to write. I got through difficult physical times by taking myself away to my “happy place” and imagining Finn and Jenna, thinking up the next part of the book. And that was the book when I discovered how much I loved writing kids and loved writing funny.

Welcome webWELCOME TO PARADISE (Mira & Gabe). The New Zealand books had just started to sell big, my career was taking off, and I was panicking. I feared putting myself in a box—the very thing I’d started writing to get out of. I didn’t know if anybody would read me for anything but the NZ angle. I thought of the coolest book I could possibly create, and then I researched and wrote it, and it was a blast. Huge cast of characters. Blend of contemporary fiction and romance. The historical aspect. So much fun to write.

 

Asking Trouble webASKING FOR TROUBLE (Alyssa & Joe). I’d always written fairly articulate and emotionally available guys. Writing somebody like Joe, somebody who felt so deeply but buried his emotions all the way down, was a huge challenge. How could I let the reader see Joe when he didn’t talk, and when his emotions were often invisible even to himself? I took the journey along with Joe.

 

 

Just Not MineJUST NOT MINE (Josie & Hugh). My funniest book in my opinion. Certain scenes from it still make me laugh to think about. Also the book where I had the biggest crisis. I had horrible insomnia and incredible anxiety during the last few weeks of writing it. I was alone in New Zealand and not sleeping. I woke up at two AM on what turned out to be Finish Date -1 for the book, realizing that the reason for the anxiety was that I had the ending all wrong. That day, I started writing Josie’s scene with her mother. Well, I started “jotting down some ideas.” Standing at the kitchen bench with my anorak on. I ended up writing the whole chapter that way in a heated rush. Then I packed my notebook, went to the pub, and wrote the entire rest of the book in longhand. The whole last three or four chapters got written that day, and it was awesome. I learned to trust my gut and my process, that the anxiety is just my brain niggling at me that something’s wrong, but that my brain will eventually get it right.

Hold Me CloseHOLD ME CLOSE (Kayla & Luke–and Eli). Along those same lines—my most emotionally gripping book (at least to me), and my best book ever, in my opinion. Going down into some darker places. I’ve always loved writing kids, and writing Eli’s feelings, his point of view, was immensely satisfying. The one thing I wasn’t so satisfied by was also a lesson. It was my second time working with a developmental editor. She’d been incredibly helpful on CARRY ME HOME with pace and suspense plot points, but on this book, I felt much more confident. I still let her convince me to change some things, and afterwards, I was sorry I had. I realized that she was very good on pace, but I was better on character development. In the original book, Luke had a few more rough edges. She objected and I smoothed them out, and then wished I’d left them. The one big criticism I get on this book is that Luke is too perfect, and I agree. After that, I became much more confident in “standing up for” my people.

FierceFIERCE (Hope & Hemi–and Karen). Writing in first person was an absolute revelation. It was so immediate and so engrossing, and let me absolutely inhabit the voices of my characters. It was HARD to go back to third person afterwards. I’ve stayed with third because it’s much more common for my contemporary romance/romantic suspense genres, but I think I’ve kept some of that immediacy of voice, that sense of being right inside the character’s head, and that’s good. I do want to write more in first person, though.

Just Stop MeJUST STOP ME (Nina & Iain). I had the idea for the three generations and three stages of love, and how they’d be woven together over the book. I wrote it half in New Zealand and half in Australia, in various locations in Sydney, and wow. It was a PUSH. It’s my second-longest book, and I was on a deadline. I finished it on Christmas Eve at 9 PM, and the final version had to be uploaded by New Year’s Eve! I loved it because it was sexy, it was funny, it was heartfelt—and I just loved Iain. The whole book was a huge challenge and a treat to write.

silver-tongued-devil-smlSILVER-TONGUED DEVIL (Dakota & Blake). Nothing but fun. I had the idea for Blake and Dakota while standing outside the Coeur d’Alene Resort, and I just loved it and couldn’t wait to write it. I had to finish another book first, but then I got to do that one. I love, love writing funny, and having that interspersed with some harrowing stuff and Dakota’s vulnerability made it better. I realized I had grown better at writing a complex character. Dakota is tough, but she’s vulnerable, too, and when she thinks Blake has betrayed her—it was harrowing to write. That book was a reminder that I CAN get good ideas for books. Those good ideas, those strong characters can carry me through.


The thing I realize, looking back over this? I’ve learned something from writing every book, and I’ve liked every book. There’s really no “fail,” even if some books are bigger reader favorites than others. That’s a heartening thought in the middle of the book, when I’ve wondered if it’s any good at all and have feared that it stinks. (Along those lines–which books have I been most scared about? You might be surprised. JUST FOR FUN (Emma, Nic, & Zack). CARRY ME HOME (Zoe & Cal). JUST SAY YES (Chloe & Kevin. MAJOR angst there. I was sure it stunk. I almost threw it away four times. Literally. Turns out it has my highest review average. Before that, the honor belonged to JUST FOR FUN. Shows what I know. My writing career has been all about being scared and doing it anyway.)

So with all that—what am I going to do next? When I ask readers, I always hear, “Escape to New Zealand”! But you know–I think readers only still like those books because I only write them when I have a really good idea. I don’t want to bore myself, and I don’t want to bore my readers. I want to do this right. I want to learn and grow, or it’s just another job.

So what WILL I write? Something with all the above. The suspense I’ve learned to do after a lot of practice. The humor that I always enjoy. Something with kids, because I love writing them. Something with sexy times, because life’s short and sexy feels are good. And something that’s FUN and challenging and new. Something that comes to me like Blake and Dakota did, I hope.

Something I’ll enjoy and despair over, something I’ll be sure stinks at about eleven points along the way, something I’ll do my very best on. And something I’ll learn from.

 

 

Get Off the Churn Train! Writing Books That Stick

Note: what follows is NOT an assertion that good books can’t be written fast. It’s about finding YOUR personal sweet spot where you do your best, most memorable work.

I’ve read a lot of posts recently about the increase in “churn” with ebooks, particularly on Amazon. Conventional wisdom says that in order to have success selling on Amazon, particularly in KU, you have to be releasing new books every month.

I think that’s wrong. Here’s why.

The authors I hear that from most are also the most vocal about the need to “write to market,” by which they seem to mean, not what I believe Chris Fox was originally outlining, but more like “write to trend”–to identify what the market wants now and supply that, in a format (presentation) that makes it instantly identifiable.

The problem with that? You are inviting churn. You’re inviting obsolescence. You’re putting yourself on the writing treadmill, and on the promotion treadmill, too.

Why? Your books look the same as everybody else’s. You’re going after a trend-loyal, a niche-loyal reader, NOT an author-loyal reader.

Does that work? Yes and no. Yes, there’s sure as heck a big audience who are picking up books right now featuring Navy SEALs. Books with a man’s nekkid torso and a short title written in bright blue script. Books featuring a bad-boy Mafia hitman with a jaggedy sort of title. Short books priced at 99 cents and in KU. (Or to mention some of the trends in other genres: books with a spaceship on the cover. Urban fantasy showing a skinny girl with long hair and leather pants. Not that those books can’t be great. I’m talking about jumping on the train because that’s the hot thing.) Some of those authors are making great money putting out a book every month within that trend. They pivot fast, too. When the trend changes, they’ll write the new trend and present that well.

But their books don’t stick. What’s my least sticky series? Not Quite a Billionaire, even though, she says modestly, it’s really kinda awesome. It is the only series I wrote to any kind of trend (super-alpha multimillionaire boss, blonde virgin employee). I did that for Reasons (it was the book Faith was writing in Just in Time–to go along with a photo shoot featuring those two characters), and the books, especially the first one, sold very well–but they don’t stick. People read FIERCE, thought “That was fun” (well, unless they thought “I hate Hope,” which also happened), and went on to the next billionaire/virgin book.

Those books respond to promotion (Facebook ads, etc.) better than my other books do, because the audience is so defined, and the books hit that spot–but they don’t stick.

The key to getting off the Churn Train? Books that stick.

That Churn Train can take you straight to the bank. Yes, it can. But it’s not the only way to get there. The other way is to go after YOUR reader, to write YOUR brand of books instead of today’s brand, and to present those books so they’re clearly identifiable as (a) yours, and (b) a certain type of read.

NOTE: What I discuss below is not the only way. It’s one way. It’s something to try if you long to step off the writing/promoting treadmill. If you have a strong voice and some writing chops. And, perhaps, if you have some spirit of adventure and you want to make your own, more personal mark.

This way has worked for me. My first book has sold almost 150,000 copies in ebook, German edition, and audio. It came out almost five years ago, and it still sells well.  (Even though, yes, it’s my first fiction, and yes, that shows.) My top-selling book right now is over four years old, and it’s currently ranked in the 700’s on Amazon. It is the LAST thing from trendy. The absolute last. But it’s sticky. Because it’s a cool idea, it’s presented intriguingly, and it’s written hookily.

So here’s my best advice.

Know your brand. Author brand underlies all else. Who are YOU as an author? What are YOUR strengths? What is a “Madison Kimberly” book? (I made up “Madison Kimberly.” If that’s your name, I don’t mean you.) If you don’t know the answer–spend some time thinking about it. Ask your readers. And, yes–read your reviews, however painful that is. Find out what isn’t working. Fix it.

Knowing your brand and writing to it doesn’t mean every book has to have the same sort of hero and heroine, the same tone, or be in the same genre. I write in three or four subgenres, even within series, and my books are quite different in tone. SILVER-TONGUED DEVIL, for example, Book 1 in the Portland Devils series, is funny and snappy and I guess you’d say–bold. Whereas Book 2, NO KIND OF HERO, has a bittersweet tone and a very reserved hero and heroine. That kind of difference among books is part of my brand. (Scary, because readers who love one book can feel very meh about the next, but part of what I like to do as a writer and what my reader enjoys.)

Your brand also isn’t “bad boys” or “billionaires” or whatever specific thing you’re writing right now. Dig deeper. Do you spring surprises on the reader, make them gasp in shock? Do you deal in realism in characters and situations, anchored in details, or are we strictly in fantasyland and archetypes? (Either thing can work.) Are you edgy, putting your reader on the verge of discomfort, or–not? For me, consent’s a Thing. A great, big Thing. So I’ll never put a reader in that uncomfortably-aroused-but-disturbed spot. It’s a place I don’t go. Other authors go to the bank on that spot. (And yes, it’s fiction. Personal choice for author and reader.)

Know your genre. Know your reader. What is your reader reading for? I don’t mean “hot guys” or “kissing scenes,” I mean what emotions? From the beginning, I wanted to write “Calgon, take me away” books–a concept that resonated so deeply that, decades later, the Dixie Chicks had a hit with it. 

The concept embodied in this song is the one that was embedded in my mind while I wrote JUST THIS ONCE. I knew it was a hooky idea. Calgon and the Dixie Chicks had already proven it. I wanted to write that concept for my reader, a reader like me–a smart woman with a demanding life–kids, job, and all the rest of it–who wanted to escape into a book. To feel good, not bad, except during the weepy moments. Who wanted to get stirred up at times and reminded that she was more than just a mom, but without any squicky feelings.

When I see writers talking about not selling well and not understanding why? It’s usually (a) cover, and, more importantly, (b) not understanding what their reader’s looking for. There’s a world of difference between a good romance concept and an unappealing one. I see questions a lot on forums like, “Can you write a romance hero who isn’t strong and hot?” Well, sure, if you don’t want to sell books. He doesn’t have to be good-looking, and he definitely doesn’t have to be perfect. But he sure does have to be strong and hot. Know your reader.

Show your brand. Your author name needs to be more visible than that “hot niche” branding. Every series does NOT have to look the same–check out my Escape to New Zealand covers vs. my Paradise, Idaho, Kincaids, and Portland Devils covers. All those are quite different, because the series are quite different in tone and content. But my author name is similar on all the covers, and the “look” of each series signals its tone.

New Zealand Graphic_10_books

 

 

 

 

 

Portland Devils Graphic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paradise Website Slide

 

 

 

 

 

Overall, I’m going for a clean look (I don’t mean not sexy, I mean design-wise), and a look that would attract a reader who reads multiple genres (romance and others) or multiple types of romance. That’s my reader. I’m also trying to tell her that the books are about more than the romance–that there are other layers to the books. Because that’s my reader too.

Which brings us to . . .

Writing sticky. AKA “writing re-readable books.”

***(Note: what follows is NOT a claim that good books can’t be written fast. It’s my personal experience and my personal path.)***

Many bestselling romance authors, as noted above, write eight or ten or fourteen books a year, where I can write only four or five. But when I’ve tried to push my pace, I’ve found that despite the fact that writing is pretty much all I do, my books stubbornly refuse to get thought up faster. My one experience where I started writing without really knowing my characters, without getting fully into their heads, was JUST GOOD FRIENDS. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to write a second book, I jumped into it too fast. I finished it and was happy, but I sent it to my beta readers, and they said, “Ehhhh…” I was so upset! I’d only had one good book in me after all. Then I slept on it and realized what the problem was. Kate’s character wasn’t developed enough, because I hadn’t thought enough about what it would FEEL like to have been in her situation, to have been stalked and terrorized. Once I did, I rewrote the book, and you could see what she felt, where she was in her life, which informed her reactions and her decisions. I sent it out again, and guess what? It was a whole lot better.

Same thing with writing. It takes me 4-6 weeks to write a 100k (350-page) book once I start, and while that sounds fast to non-writers, for many romance writers it would be a snail’s pace. But I find that I need a certain amount of time to write, edit, polish the prose–and most of all, time to think and let the book “rest,” to come back the next day and edit some more, to have the characters’ reactions, on and off the page, unspool in my head, in order for the book to have some richness, for the other things to occur to me that make the book more, that make it better.

I’m not saying that all those who write faster aren’t writing rich books with great character development. I’m saying that for me, there’s a pace where that happens, and a pace where it doesn’t. Find YOUR pace, and resist the urge to write 8K words a day if those won’t be your best words. (If they are? Yay, you–go for it!) People say that the writing doesn’t matter anymore. It does. That doesn’t mean perfect mechanics. It means that the writing resonates at your readers’ fundamental frequency.

How about other genres? Urban fantasy? Annie Bellet writes books that stick. She writes a book a YEAR right now–and they stick. Yet–skinny girl with blowing hair, check. Black leather pants, check. Glowy colored light, check. BUT . . . her books are different. They stick.

Paranormal romance? Kristen Painter. Cozy mystery? Jana De Leon. Billionaire and virgin that veered from the norm? Brenna Aubrey. More examples of authors in “currently hot” genres who stick.

Character counts. Write at the pace where you can produce a multi-layered book, a book that can be read as a simple romance or mystery or whatever, but also on another level. For me, that other level tends to be personal growth toward courage and self-expression, and also family dynamics. It’s writing characters who feel real. I strive to get better at that with every book, because those things are my brand, and it’s by improving those that I connect better with MY reader.

Write hooky. I’m gonna invoke myself here–my post on “How to Be Hooky, which is my very best “craft” advice. 

Your re-readable book. It’s got that–the depth and “reality” of the characters, that they’re people you remember after you finish the book. LaVyrle Spencer? I can still remember her characters literally 30 years after reading the book. THAT is voice. THAT is richness. Eva Ibbotson. Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Jennifer Crusie. And, of course, Jane Austen.

Then it’s the flow, the ease of it, and the writing quality, too. It’s some indefinable spark that makes that book come alive, where you’re escaping into that world and just—immersed. Whether it’s a thriller, a mystery, a historical novel, a romance, a literary novel, you’re THERE. As a writer, during that 4-6 weeks when I’m writing, I’m totally wrapped up in my book. I’m with the characters, believing that they’re real, living in their heads and hearts. My goal, my dream, would be that I could transmit some of that “life” to my readers as well; that they could believe, for just a little while, that they were there, too. That’s the sharing and connection that makes it all worthwhile for me.

And best of all? It’s what keeps me off the Churn Train.

How to Be Hooky

New Zealand Graphic_10_books

Hookiness. It’s what a good book is all about, really. When I look at the books I really enjoy, that I burn through, they’re (a) pulling me in and (b) pulling me on. But how do you do that? How do you grab a reader? How do you KEEP the reader? How do you entertain a reader enough that she will go on to read the next book? How do you (I) consciously do those things better?

A while back, I was writing a book, FIERCE (Not Quite a Billionaire) that was quite different for me. KU2 had also just begun, paying authors for the first time by pages read. That meant you wanted, more than ever, to have people finish the book. I wrote that book thinking hard with every chapter about pulling the reader along. About making them want to turn the page. Here were some things I thought about:

Start strong. Chapter One really matters! Even though not all my books have lots of “action,” I start most of the New Zealand ones, especially, with a more gripping scene. Since the book is called “Escape to New Zealand,” that chapter is usually what the person is escaping from. Something pretty important should be happening in Chapter One. The reader has to be engaged from Page One.

Here’s the first line of FIERCE:

Have you ever noticed how, when you’re around certain people, you seem to grow an extra thumb, and not in a good way?

That hooks the reader, because she’s immediately relating it to her personal experience (I hope). It also establishes the conversational, almost confessional tone of the book. FIERCE was my first book written in first person, and I wanted it to feel like your entertaining friend was telling you a story about this guy she just met–the kind of story where you can’t wait to hear what happened next.

My first book ever, JUST THIS ONCE (Escape to New Zealand), starts out,
Wow. Welcome to New Zealand.

And then the heroine almost dies. I honestly think that first chapter is what made my career.  You want to say, “BOOM. Here is the book.”

Last lines of chapters. Every chapter is a cliffhanger, even if it doesn’t end with action or whatever. There need to be questions asked to which the reader wants an answer. In the case of FIERCE, it was mostly, “What will Hemi (or Hope) do NOW?” I realized that I always spend a lot of time on the endings of my chapters, trying to pull the reader along in the story.

Here are some last lines of chapters from FIERCE:

So, yes, you could say I was at a low point that day I met Hemi Te Mana. But it wasn’t as low as I’d go.

Nobody should be treating her like that. Nobody should be doing anything to her. Nobody but me.

“Be ready,” he said softly. And he left.

I pay attention to this on the paragraph level as well. If there’s a new thought, a leap–that happens at the beginning of the next paragraph. If there’s something the hero or heroine is going to find out, I don’t telegraph it.

Story arc. This seems simple, but you really have to be building to something. It does NOT always have to be conflict. One of my best-reviewed books, JUST FOR FUN, has almost no conflict in the whole second half between the hero and heroine, but it has plenty of drama. When I first wrote it, though, it didn’t have enough of a climax/resolution. My best friend said, “Something else has to happen.” I called another friend and wailed, “But the whole POINT is that she trusts him! She isn’t going to do one of those ‘misunderstanding-run-off-things!'” She suggested something with their son that she’d wondered about–whether he wouldn’t react strongly to the thing that had happened. BOOM. In another hour, I’d written three chapters of nail-biting tension, then resolution and weepfest, that totally worked and drove the story to the finish line.

Which brings us to . . .

Pacing. It’s about waves. I shift mood a lot within the book. That’s partly because romance is all about eliciting emotion. I want to make the reader laugh, cry, think, steam up, be scared, be excited, and sigh. So–different chapters will do different things. I actually think of my pacing sort of like waves. If I were to draw a diagram, the mood would go gradually up in a series of smaller waves, gradually increasing. The peaks of the waves aren’t just sex (which for me happens about 40-65% through the book)–they’re also action, danger, or just strong emotion. But I want to have quiet, sweet, and funny times in between those. In JUST STOP ME, there’s a really sexy chapter followed by a funny chapter where the hero messes up. Then a sexier chapter. I think the “rest periods” actually help intensify the stronger emotion periods–keep the reader from getting numb by it being all nonstop action. I don’t like that Disney-movie thing where it’s just racing, racing, racing–you know, when Cruella’s chasing the dalmatians around all the corners until her car goes off the cliff.

The waves build to up to a great big wave at the end, and a fall down to a sweet, satisfying wrapup. The last 20% or so of the book should be building, building, building, with the reader pressing the “next” button on the Kindle pretty frantically and staying up late to finish. At least that’s the goal! But again–not all the same emotion. I want there to be a buildup of suspense if it’s suspense, then that climactic scary/action thing, then a big, sweet emotional scene, then a wrapup, then another sweet emotional scene. Suspense, fear, tears, satisfying tie-up-in-bow, tears, The End.

But that’ll be different for different genres, of course. Just one example of how suspense might look. Like a conductor, like a piece of music. Building, building, building. The climax. And then the tailing off, the sweet finish.

Oh, and . . .

Take out the boring stuff. If nothing really important is happening in the scene, it probably doesn’t need to be in the book. If there are lines or emotions or information that are necessary, maybe they can go at the beginning of the next chapter or something. [Of course, people who don’t like your book will always say it is “boring.” My most common negative review is “slow and boring.” (Well, that and “too much sex.”) But lots of times, you can spot your boring passages/chapters and remove them.]

BUT–it’s personal. Your personal voice and style. That thing that turns some people off, but what turns others ON. That first group? They’re not your reader. You’re writing for yourself, and your reader. My books don’t gallop along at breakneck speed, nope. Because if I’m going to read about two people falling in love, I want to SEE them falling in love. And that means, yep, talking, not just thinking, “He’s so hawt.” :) I’m pretty darned leisurely for a romance author–but I try to make sure every scene is moving the story along.

When I say “boring,” I mean this. Originally, in JUST STOP ME, I wrote this whole thing showing what the Iain’s house/neighborhood was like, where the beach was, how you got to the grocery store, etc. Editing the book, I thought, “Gah. Rosalind. Who CARES?” I could show the reader how you got to the beach when the bad guy was chasing Nina there. A little more interesting in that context!

Instead, I put Iain and Nina in the grocery store already having their intense conversation while Iain stares at the pink lamingtons (squishy coconut thingies . . . never mind). Take out whatever you realize your story doesn’t need. Whatever isn’t advancing character or plot or story. Which YOU will be able to determine for your own story.

And finally . . .

End strong. The ending sells the next book. Think back to some books with “blah” endings. Even if the rest of the book is good, it doesn’t make you want to buy the next book. For me: I want readers to cry! In romance, you want a happy sigh at the end, that lingering feel-good hum that makes the world look a little brighter. 

Another common criticism I’ve had is that my endings are “rushed.” I write terrific epilogues if I do say so myself, but I’ve been told that my final action scenes could allow more time for savoring. My loyal readers have also mentioned that they want it ALL. They WANT the proposal. They want the wedding. They want the dress. They want the ring. That’s what they’re reading for, and dammit, they WANT it. So in this latest book, NO KIND OF HERO (which by the way, yep, is done and ready to release!), I gave them the works. That doesn’t mean everything wraps up in a perfect bow. Not every conflict will be solved. You will feel sad for one character (if you don’t, I haven’t done my job). But that is life too.

For a thriller, you want a nice solid recap that reminds you that Good won. I swear, one my favorite parts of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the epilogue, where you find out who married whom, that Sam is with Rosie and they have a daughter. Where you get to savor that it worked out, and you get to linger in the book a little longer before you say goodbye. If it’s good, you don’t want it to be over. Not quite yet.

Those are my tips. What are yours? Feel free to comment and share!

Escape to NZ Cheat Sheet!

Just Say Yes

How about a cheat sheet for those of us who have trouble remembering the names?

That’s what a reader asked me yesterday. And I said: What a good idea!

So here you go. In preparation for JUST SAY YES, coming … soon (as soon as I finish it), here are the people and places from the Escape to New Zealand series!

JUST FOR YOU (Prequel):  Reka Harata & Hemi Ranapia (35), Takapuna (Auckland), and then Papamoa (Tauranga). Hemi: former No. 10 (first-five) for the Auckland Blues and All Blacks; after retirement, becomes backs coach for Bay of Plenty rugby team. Reka: former kindy teacher and mum to their four children: Ariana, Jamie, Luke, and Anika.

JUST THIS ONCE/JUST ONCE MORE (Bk 1): Hannah Montgomery & Drew Callahan. St. Heliers (Auckland), and then Papamoa (Tauranga). Drew (eventually Sir Andrew): blindside flanker (#6) & captain of the Blues & All Blacks, and after retirement at age 34, becomes head coach of the Bay of Plenty professional (provincial) rugby team. Hannah: marketing executive for 2nd Hemisphere clothing firm. Parents of Jack,  Grace, & a new baby boy.

JUST GOOD FRIENDS (Bk 2): Kate Lamonica & Koti James. Koti: No. 13 (centre) for the Auckland Blues and All Blacks. Kate: accountant for the Blues team. Parents of Maia & pregnant with a new baby.

JUST FOR NOW (Bk 3): Jenna McKnight & Finn Douglas. Finn: former No. 8 for the Auckland Blues and All Blacks; now retired from playing and serving as strength and conditioning coach for the Blues. Jenna: former Year 1 teacher. Parents of Sophie, Harry, Lily, and a new baby.

JUST FOR FUN (Bk 4): Emma Martens & Dominic (Nic) Wilkinson. Nic: No. 15 (fullback) for the Auckland Blues and All Blacks. Emma: knitwear designer for 2nd Hemisphere. Parents of Zack and George.

JUST MY LUCK (Bk 5): Allison (Ally) Villiers & Nate Torrance (Toro). Nate: Captain of the Wellington Hurricanes and, for the past two years, successor to Drew as captain of the All Blacks; No. 9 (halfback). Ally: rock climbing and kayaking instructor/guide. Kristen Montgomery & Liam (Mako) Mahaka Liam: No. 2 (hooker) for the Wellington Hurricanes and All Blacks. Kristen: Hannah’s younger sister, and a buyer for a Wellington department store. Parents of a baby girl.

JUST NOT MINE (Bk 6): Jocelyn (Josie) Pae Ata & Hugh Latimer. Hugh: No. 7 (openside flanker) & eventually captain for the Auckland Blues; also on the All Blacks. Josie: TV star. Parenting Hugh’s half-siblings, Amelia and Charlie.

JUST ONCE MORE (Bk 7): all of the above. Reunion book & Hannah and Drew again.

JUST IN TIME (Bk 8): Faith Goodwin & Will Tawera. Faith: Apartment manager, photographer’s assistant, & copywriter in Las Vegas; eventually, novelist. Will: No. 10 (first-five) for the Auckland Blues & the All Blacks. 

JUST STOP ME (Bk 9): Sabrina (Nina) Jones & Iain McAllister. Nina: lingerie & swimsuit model. Iain: Lock for the Auckland Blues & the All Blacks.

JUST SAY YES (Bk 10): Chloe Donaldson & Kevin McNicholl. Chloe: former principal ballerina, currently runs a dance studio attended by Hugh’s brother & sister (JUST NOT MINE). Also Josie’s best friend. Kevin: Wing (No. 11) for the Auckland Blues and All Blacks. Kevin is entrusted by Drew to look after Hannah in the bar scene in JUST THIS ONCE, and takes out Kate (semi-disastrously) in JUST GOOD FRIENDS. In JUST NOT MINE, Hugh takes Chloe out on a date that fizzles, but during which Chloe meets Kevin. 
 

Silver-Tongued Devil is here!

silver-tongued-devil-smlSilver-Tongued Devil (Portland Devils, Book 1)

Release day is always exciting. And nervewracking. And thrilling. And scary.

All of which is to say: I not only have a new book out, but a new series. And I’m doing all sorts of things new.

1) It’s a football book without that much football in it. Blake defines himself by football, but it’s no longer in his life. In fact, that’s his problem. What is a quarterback when he isn’t a quarterback anymore?

2) It’s a New Zealand-style book set in Idaho. I really wanted to write a feel-good book, a book about family and friends and loyalty and the best kind of love. But I wanted to write THIS book.

How did it happen? I went to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho (near where I’m from) last Northern Hemisphere summer. I was standing and looking out at the lake, and this book just came to me in a flash. I knew Blake was opening up a resort in a north Idaho lake town. I knew Dakota was a house painter. And soon, I realized she was a stained-glass artist as well. It was all I could do to finish writing FOUND, I wanted to write this story so badly.

3) It’s not the book I was expecting to write.

I started the book with two stories: Dakota and Blake’s, and Evan’s story as well. But Evan’s story started overshadowing the book. I ended up doing something I never have: I changed my book. I pulled Evan’s story out, wrote the best Chapter 1 of any book I’ve ever written, and kept it there. Now that book is sitting there, fully 15% written, urging me to write IT.

I think this series might just end up being my best. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

 

Four-year anniversary!

4 year anniversary books

Four Years, Twenty Books!

September 1, 2016 marks something special. It’s my four-year anniversary in publishing. On September 1, 2012, I held my breath, pushed the big “Publish” button on Amazon’s KDP, and launched my first three books into the world.

I had no idea what would happen. I just prayed I wouldn’t crash and burn, and in my wildest hopes and dreams, I thought maybe I could make my $1,400 initial investment back by Christmas.

It took ten days.

In the past four years, I’ve sold about 750,000 books and audiobooks and have seen five books translated into German.

I guess I want to use this moment to say a big, huge “Thank you.”

– To my husband, for saying “Of course” when I asked him, “Do you think I could write a book?” For giving me permission, two weeks into my book-writing career, to quit my job and “try it for a year and see.” A huge leap of faith, without ever having read a line I’d written. You did it because you wanted me to be happy, sweetie, and you sacrificed and cut back to give me my shot. Thank you. 

– To my family and friends, for putting up with my all-consuming focus on my “book world.” (I’m finally coming out of it now, I promise.) It was so much fun, it seemed more real than the “real world” lots of the time–but it isn’t. Family and friends are more important. I know that, and I’m trying to live that better now.

– To my fellow authors, many of whom I’ve grown to know over these past years. Thanks for making room for me, for answering my questions and helping me out. I appreciate you.

– To my readers. A big, huge, “thank you” to everyone who downloaded a free book, who took a chance on a new author. To everyone who’s written to me and told me you enjoyed a book, who’s joined my Facebook page, signed up for my newsletter, and bought or borrowed the books. I couldn’t do this job if you didn’t read what I wrote. THANK YOU.

What’s next? I’m going to keep dancing with the one what brung me. That means that when a story starts filling my head, even if it’s not the book I’m supposed to be writing, I’m going to follow my heart and write it. Life is too short not to follow your dreams sometime. I’ve been working since I was 9, and that’s almost 50 years now. I’m going to take this shot and keep doing this job just because I love it. I hope you’ll stay with me on the journey.

Interview–Indies Who Sell

Author rank Amazon thru 7.15

Listen to the interview here.

(That’s my Amazon author rank from the beginning, over there.)

Well, this was pretty cool, and, if you’re an author or aspiring author, a useful podcast to add to your list. Romance author Sylvia Frost and developmental editor Mary Novak have a “craft” podcast in which they interview indie authors who sell well, in a variety of genres. Their show is unusual because they aren’t looking at marketing so much as craft–WHY does a particular author sell better than average? What about their books is compelling to their readership?

I was flattered but amused to be asked to appear on their show, because, as I told them, I consider myself the “Grandma Moses of writing.” I confess that I didn’t really know what I was doing when I wrote my first few books, and I’m still often bemused by “craft” discussions like “plot holes.” (What ARE plot holes?) or “deep point of view.” (huh?) So it was interesting to get their take on what I do differently and what I do right.

 

FRACTURED is here!

FracturedFRACTURED (Not Quite a Billionaire, Book 2)

It’s here! And it’s intense.

What do you do with a person who’s out of control and won’t listen to reason? Especially if that person might be you?

When I’d taken Hope Sinclair and her sister to New Zealand to meet my grandfather, I’d known I’d be making the return journey as her husband. I hadn’t reckoned, though, on the demons of my past coming back to threaten our future. And, as always, I hadn’t reckoned on Hope.

I had hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of employees to tell me I had better judgment and more self-discipline than most people, and neither my self-control nor anything else I possessed had been won the easy way. That was why I was a New Yorker with a fashion empire instead of a dirt-poor Maori boy in New Zealand with too much tattoo, too many muscles, two alcoholic parents, and not much more. So why did Hope continually dig in her heels and refuse to go along with my perfectly rational plans? And why did I keep compromising?

Because I couldn’t resist her, couldn’t say no to her, and couldn’t stand to see her unhappy, that was why. And there’s more than one way to bring a strong man to his knees.

Note: This is a full-length, 400-page novel with a cliffhanger that will be resolved in Part 3, FREED (early August). It contains one Maori multimillionaire with control issues, one fierce blonde with a mind of her own, and some very dirty loving.

Here’s what one reader, Monique, says about FRACTURED:

“I really liked Fierce, the first book in this series but I *loved* Fractured. Basically, take all the emotion, all the sass, all the struggles and frustrations from Fierce and then take it up by a factor of 100 and that’s Fractured. More and deeper of everything.

“Hemi is more: more controlling, more sexy, more frustrating, more loving, more wrong, more under siege. Hope is more too: more confused, more sexy, more sassy, more open, more frustrated. Their roller coaster ride of a life together just goes from bad to worse the longer the book goes on and ups the angst, the emotion, the deepening sense of “OMG!”.

“And I loved every sexy, angsty, drive me crazy minute of it.”

Is this a different book for me? It sure is. Will Hope and Hemi frustrate you? Yes, they will. Is it steamy? Uh . . . yeah, it sure is.

Fractured (Not Quite a Billionaire, Book 2)

Look for FOUND in early August!

NZ Rugby Romance Tour 2017!

All Blacks app home pageWhat could be even bigger and better than the 2016 New Zealand Rugby Romance Tour? The 2017 tour!

It’ll be August 2017, and it’ll be amazing. This one has it all: Nearly three weeks to take in New Zealand in a fully personalized small-group tour run by the absolutely fabulous Sharron Hickman of Exclusive Tours. You’ll journey from Auckland to Dunedin, from pristine, empty beaches to snow-capped mountains. Go from relaxing in natural mineral hot pools near Tongariro National Park to bungy jumping or jetboating in Queenstown, New Zealand’s adrenaline capital.  And at the end, of course, watch the All Blacks take on the Wallabies of Australia in one of sport’s greatest rivalries!

Here’s a brief rundown of the highlights. For full details, view the itinerary with estimated prices.

Note: This tour is expected to sell out quickly. However, there is a 2018 tour already being planned. To get on the list to learn more, email sharronh[at]exclusivetours[dot]co[dot]nz.

8 August – Tuesday

ARRIVE AUCKLAND

9 August – Wednesday

AUCKLAND

Morning Auckland sightseeing tour (including 1 hour guided tour of Auckland Museum) followed by ferry to Devonport, lunch break in Devonport, Devonport tour afternoon tea and ferry back to Auckland. Rosalind James will be with the guests during the visit to Devonport.

Torpedo Bay and North Head – Devonport.

Pre dinner drinks and a chance to meet some New Zealand readers and Rosalind will sign books.

Welcome dinner this evening with Rosalind.

 

10 August – Thursday

AUCKLAND TO ROTORUA

Stop en-route at Zealong tea tour and tea tastings and lunch followed by a guided tour of Hobbiton – the world’s largest green movie set.

Free evening and time to enjoy the Thursday Night Market in Rotorua.

11 August – Friday

ROTORUA

Free morning – possible Zip Lining or massage and or facial or visit the Rotorua Museum and Art Gallery.   This afternoon participate in a flax weaving class followed a guided tour of Te Puia and a Maori concert and hangi dinner.

Te Puia Maori concert – Rotorua.

 

12 August – Saturday

ROTORUA TO TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

Stop en-route at Lava Glass, Huka Falls and Tokaanu Hot Pools to soak in the hot mineral water pools.

Free evening.

 

13 August – Sunday

TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK

Free day for hiking, or scenic flight, or visit Department of Conservation Centre.

 

14 August – Monday

TONGARIRO NATIONAL PARK TO WELLINGTON

Stop en-route at Bulls and RJ’s Licorice shop – delicious!

Group dinner at Mac’s Brew Bar.

Wellington city and harbour.

 

15 August – Tuesday

WELLINGTON

Morning tea with Rosalind at Picnic Cafe, Wellington Botanic Gardens.   Meet some New Zealand readers and Rosalind will sign books.

This afternoon a guided 1 hour tour New Zealand Parliament buildings including question time in the debating chamber.

 

16 August – Wednesday

WELLINGTON TO BLENHEIM

Free time in Wellington.   Time to perhaps participate in a guided tour of Weta Workshop, or visit Te Papa Museum and or relax.

This afternoon travel by ferry from Wellington to Picton (3 hours on the ferry) and then by road to Blenheim.

 

17 August – Thursday

BLENHEIM

Visit Makana Chocolates followed by wine tasting tour and lunch at a vineyard and more wine tasting.

 

18 August – Friday

BLENHEIM TO KAIKOURA

Today travel to Kaikoura.   Free time to go whale watching either by boat or aircraft.   

 

19 August – Saturday

KAIKOURA TO CHRISTCHURCH

This morning travel to Christchurch.   Free time to visit such places as the botanic gardens, Cashel Street Mall, New Regent Street etc.

 

20 August – Sunday

CHRISTCHURCH TO AORAKI/MOUNT COOK

Stop en-route at Geraldine, Fairlie, Burkes Pass, Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki viewing area.

 

21 August – Monday

AORAKI/MOUNT COOK

Free day in this very scenic mountain area.   Maybe a walk on the Hooker Valley trail or participate in the Glacier Explorer tour, or visit Department of Conservation Centre etc.

 

22 August – Tuesday

AORAKI/MOUNT COOK TO QUEENSTOWN

Stop en-route at Tarras, Mrs Jones’s Fruit Shop, AJ Hackett Bungy jumping site and historic Arrowtown.

Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkable Ranges.

 

 

23 August – Wednesday

QUEENSTOWN

Free day in the adrenalin capital of New Zealand!     Here is your chance to chill out or experience some adrenalin action!   Jet boating, bungy jumping, white water rafting, tandem hang gliding, shopping, massage, facials, walking in the Queenstown gardens, riding the gondola to Bob’s Peak etc.

Early this evening travel on the TSS Earnslaw boat to Walter Peak Station for a group dinner tonight followed by sheep show including dogs working sheep and sheep shearing.

Overnight: Scenic Suites, Queenstown.

 

24 August – Thursday

QUEENSTOWN TO MILFORD SOUND TO TE ANAU

This morning travel to Milford Sound, cruise on the sound, including picnic lunch.   Then travel to Te Anau.

 

25 August – Friday

TE ANAU TO DUNEDIN

This morning visit the Te Anau Department of Conservation Bird Park (including visiting with some rare and flightless Takahe birds) before travelling on to Dunedin.

On arrival in Dunedin visit Larnach Castle and gardens.

Larnach Castle and gardens – Dunedin.

 

26 August – Saturday

DUNEDIN

Guided walking tour of downtown Dunedin followed by a guided tour of Olveston historic homestead.

Free afternoon to prepare for the big Bledisloe Cup rugby match – All Blacks v Australia.   Rosalind will accompany you to the match!

Forsyth Barr Stadium – the fabulous covered venue for the Bledisloe Cup match tonight!

 

27 August – Sunday

DUNEDIN

Free day to and recover from the excitement of last night!   Maybe visit Cadburys Chocolate Factory, Dunedin botanic gardens, Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin Chinese Garden etc.

Late this afternoon Speights beer tour and tastings followed by dinner at Speights Restaurant.

 

 

28 August – Monday

DEPART DUNEDIN

 

For full details, view the itinerary. 

To get on the list, email sharronh[at]exclusivetours[dot]com

See you in New Zealand!

 

I’m on NZ TV–with Piri Weepu!

Piri Weepu 50shades

Well, not WITH him, exactly. Let’s say that he’s involved.

When I got an email from Dan Parker from “Story,” New Zealand TV3’s current affairs show, it arrived in typical Kiwi fashion. No official masthead, just, “Hi, I’m a reporter for TV3, call me if you’d be interested in an interview.” If I’d been in the States, I’d have thought it was spam. Instead, I called him.

A week later, there I was, in Wellington, being interviewed for primetime TV! And what was more, the cameraman was Billy Weepu, former rugby league star and the brother of famous All Black Piri Weepu, one of the heroes of the 2011 Rugby World Cup and the longtime leader of the haka. Here’s Billy filming me in the gorgeous Wellington Botanic Garden.

Book thoughts billy weepu

 

 Then it got funnier, because Dan and Billy told me that they were going to try to get Piri to read steamy excerpts from the book in his dressing gown in a flash hotel suite. I laughed HARD, but I thought, surely he wouldn’t. Except that I know Piri has a wicked sense of humor, and Billy IS his big brother, so just maybe . . .

Dan made it super easy  (I was nervous; can you tell?) Then, on Sunday, it got even more fun when another cameraman showed up to film the Rugby Romance Tour group and me (plus wonderful Kiwi romance authors Tracey Alvarez and Kris Pearson!) at the cafe in the Botanic Gardens. Here Tony the cameraman is doing that:

 

 

Filming Botanic Gardens 2

He made me read from the book about 8 separate times. These poor ladies had to look interested at hearing the same passage from the book read 8 times in a row! They did pretty well, I thought.

On Saturday night, we were on the bus to the All Blacks game, and the guy across the aisle said, “I saw Piri Weepu on Sky Sport today reading from one of your books! It was a trailer for the story, and it was hilarious.

 

 

Piri Weepu 50shades

 So yesterday, fortunately at my friend Anne’s house as I was nervous, I turned on the TV, and there I was!

When I had this wacky idea four years ago, a day after the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, walking around the rhododendron gardens of Mt. Taranaki, for a story about the All Blacks captain–I would never in a million years have dreamed that this would be the outcome.

So–thanks to my husband, who said, when I asked him, “Do you think I could write a book?” “Of course you could!” Who encouraged me to quit my job and write more (a leap of faith if I ever heard one), and who’s been so supportive the whole time since. Thanks to Daniel Parker and Billy Weepu of TV3 for making the magic happen. Thanks to Piri for being such a good sport. And thanks to YOU, my readers, for letting me spend my life doing this job! You are awesome!