I’m so excited to share my latest Fly on the Wall conversation with you. Join me today as authors Kristan Higgins and Abbi Waxman discuss how they started, how they write and what’s changed for them during the time of Covid. Thank you ladies for taking time out to chat with us…or, let us watch you chat with each other! Let’s start by setting the stage…
Kristan Higgins is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty novels, which have been translated into more than two dozen languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Her books have received many awards and accolades. She is a happily married mother of two entertaining children and owns several badly behaved pets. Kristan is also a cohost of the Crappy Friends podcast, which discusses the often complex dynamics of female friendships, with her friend and fellow writer, Joss Dey. Higgins lives in Connecticut with her family. Connect with Kristan online at KristanHiggins.com, twitter.com/Kristan_Higgins, and facebook.com/KristanHigginsBooks.
Abbi Waxman, the USA Today bestselling author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, Other People’s Houses, and The Garden of Small Beginnings, is a chocolate-loving, dog-loving woman who lives in Los Angeles and lies down as much as possible. She worked in advertising for many years, which is how she learned to write fiction. She has three daughters, three dogs, three cats, and one very patient husband.
Now, on with the show!
Getting Started – What gave you the courage to put pen to paper?
KH: What is this courage of which you speak? I think it was more foolishness and naïveté. The truth is, I wanted to be a pediatric surgeon, and on that front, I’ve failed miserably. As for writing, I think I started because I was a stay-at-home mom and wanted to keep working from home. My life skills were bartending, housecleaning and baby whispering. Writing a book? How hard could it be? (It was very hard, and it gets harder.) But once you get the bug, you’re stuck for life. I had always been a voracious reader, and I’d been a copywriter before having my kids, so I said, “What the hell? Worst case scenario is I go back to bartending.”
AW: Yeah, I’m with Kristan on this one. Writing was what I always did, and the only thing I could imagine making a living from (even when I wrote sentences like that one). I, too, was an advertising copywriter, and that kind of takes the fear out of writing the wrong thing, because you so frequently do. You get used to criticism, you get used to editing, and you realize you’re constitutionally incapable of doing anything requiring clean clothing and an organized desk.
Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes – What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed over the years?
KH: Well, shoot. My first book came out in 2006, so everything has changed. E-books were a novelty, there were six publishers in the U.S., and publishers sent your book out into the world with little fanfare. Now, I think there’s more pressure on new authors to perform well (great job, Abbi!). There’s a bigger push for new authors, I think–better to be debut with a splash than “break out” on your tenth book. Authors are expected to write at least a book a year in our genre, understand marketing and brand, interact daily with readers as part of the job. It’s fun, it’s incredibly rewarding, and it can be exhausting all at once.
For me, writing has gotten harder. Finding new ideas that will stick, challenging yourself to write books that are the same but different, not just sticking with a tried-and-true formula are battles I face every time I start another book. But my confidence has grown, too…I know that the despair and misery are just part of my process.
AW: I completely agree. With each book it feels harder, and I’m only on number 5.
KH: Thoughts and prayers, Abbi. Seriously. Call me.
AW: I tend to make a strong start and then peter out around 15k words, just dangling there for a while, twisting gently in the breeze. Then I panic, write some more, twist some more, panic, write, rinse and repeat. I add characters, I take out characters, I despair…it’s the same every time. If anything the first one was the easiest because no one was waiting for it.
There’s also more heavy lifting than I think most people realize, where you’re just manhandling a giant MS and trying to remember where you said this thing, or that thing, and if you make a change here it affects eleventy-seven other things, etc.
I relish interacting with readers and chatting about the work, and most people are very encouraging (not all: I actually received an email this morning complaining that Nina Hill was too dirty and filled with sex and drinking, which isn’t really true, but that’s ok.).
KH: I was actually wishing it had more sex and drinking…
AW: My mom was a writer (she’s retired now) and I remember each and every time she received reader feedback; back then (80s and 90s) readers would have to write to the publisher and then hope their letter found its way to the author. These days they just email, or reach out through social media, and it’s much more immediate. My mom would have really enjoyed it, I think, and would probably have used reader conversations as an excellent excuse not to do any actual work, just like I do.
Love & Writing in the Time of Covid
KH: Oh, I COMPLETELY freaked out when the pandemic was declared and we all went into lockdown. It was a raw March, I was living alone on Cape Cod due to some planned house renovations, and I had four boxes of pasta and a head of garlic to live on. I became a news junkie (something I try hard to avoid most of the time), and felt the need to read every scholarly article on COVID-19, text my adult children six or ten times a day to remind them to wash their hands and not lick doorknobs, then cry on the phone to my husband. You know. The normal response.
I was also on deadline, and that saved me, in a sense. I had to turn off the internet and write, because that’s my job. It was tough to get into the book some days, but on other days, it was a real gift.
AW: Well, it’s a funny thing. I was actually really struggling with the current book and the pandemic both helped and hindered. Helped because after running around in circles for the first few weeks, sorting out school for my kids, ordering pasta in bulk, etc, I realized I was staring down the barrel of my deadline and had to get my shit together (it might also be a remnant of copywriting that I seem to need a really tight deadline to knuckle down). Hindered because I need space to work, and suddenly all three of my kids were up in my beak all the time. But seeing as I didn’t lose my job, my health or my pajamas, I can’t complain.
However, it does feel like I’m writing historical fiction all of a sudden, because all my characters live non-covid lives, and regularly go out and do things and hug each other, and it seems very strange.
KH: Isn’t that funny? I mentioned going to the movies in my manuscript, and now I wonder if we’ll ever get to do that again. I hope so. I’ve been waiting for Mulan for ages.
It Looks Like You’ve Made It – has your definition of success changed over the years?
AW: I am making a living from my writing, which is as good as it gets. I regularly get notes from readers saying they’ve enjoyed my work, or that it’s gotten them through a tough patch, or gotten them back into reading, and that’s completely thrilling.
I would probably tell my younger self to work out more, or even at all, because it feels like it might be too late for me to compete in the Olympics, or even fit into my old jeans.
KH: Yes, I fear my javelin-throwing dreams are lost now…My goals have always been simple. Stay happily married. Raise good people. Be content with what you have and focus on that, rather than what you *could* have if only you (had an apartment in Paris, spoke four languages, started a foundation that would save the world, understood contouring). I’d tell my younger self that she was doing a good enough job and not to worry so much, especially about the children becoming possessed by demons (damn you, William Peter Blatty!).
Strange Things on Your Desk
KH: I think the strangest thing about me from a writerly perspective is that I’m frighteningly neat and clean. My office is a showplace. It’s scary, really. I suspect I could be a sociopath, looking around. Sometimes I start my writing day by gazing at pictures of Tom Hardy. But then again, who doesn’t?
AW: No, I am boringly normal in every way. I don’t have a desk, per se, but the strangest thing in my “office” is a pair of guinea pigs, who were rescued and were supposed to be for my 12 year old, but which ended up being mine. I love them, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
Thank you, next!
KH: Well, I have a new book just out, so I’ve been putting on makeup and pulling a sweater over my jammies to Zoom and Facebook Live and such. I’m also finishing up revisions on next year’s book. By finishing up, I mean crying and tearing out my hair and binge-eating Hershey Nuggets with Almonds and forgetting which chapter goes where. Then I plan to do some gardening.
AW: Finishing this book, which is due in a matter of weeks and feels months away from being ready.
Always the Last to Know by Kristan Higgins, out now!
From New York Times bestselling author Kristan Higgins, a new novel examining a family at the breaking point in all its messy, difficult, wonderful complexity.
The Frosts are a typical American family. Barb and John, married almost fifty years, are testy and bored with each other…who could blame them after all this time? At least they have their daughters–Barb’s favorite, the perfect, brilliant Juliet; and John’s darling, the free-spirited Sadie. The girls themselves couldn’t be more different, but at least they got along, more or less. It was fine. It was enough.
Until the day John had a stroke, and their house of cards came tumbling down.
Now Sadie has to put her career as a teacher and struggling artist in New York on hold to come back and care for her beloved dad–and face the love of her life, whose heart she broke, and who broke hers. Now Juliet has to wonder if people will notice that despite her perfect career as a successful architect, her perfect marriage to a charming Brit, and her two perfect daughters, she’s spending an increasing amount of time in the closet having panic attacks.
And now Barb and John will finally have to face what’s been going on in their marriage all along.
I Was Told it Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman
Squashed among a bus full of strangers, mother-daughter duo Jessica and Emily Burnstein watch their carefully mapped-out college tour devolve into a series of off-roading misadventures, from the USA Today bestselling author of The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
Jessica and Emily Burnstein have very different ideas of how this college tour should go.
For Emily, it’s a preview of freedom, exploring the possibility of her new and more exciting future. Not that she’s sure she even wants to go to college, but let’s ignore that for now. And maybe the other kids on the tour will like her more than the ones at school. . . . They have to, right?
For Jessica, it’s a chance to bond with the daughter she seems to have lost. They used to be so close, but then Goldfish crackers and Play-Doh were no longer enough of a draw. She isn’t even sure if Emily likes her anymore. To be honest, Jessica isn’t sure she likes herself.
Together with a dozen strangers–and two familiar enemies–Jessica and Emily travel the East Coast, meeting up with family and old friends along the way. Surprises and secrets threaten their relationship and, in the end, change it forever.