Kristen Strassel, author of the Night Songs Collection has a new book that just released. Her book, Secondhand Heart, is a New Adult contemporary romance novel about a struggling country singer, a military widow, and their journey together as they find their way back home and into a new stage of life. I asked Kristen if she’d be kind enough to talk a bit about her book, and she was happy to do so.
1. Your first three books, Seasons in the Sun, Because the Night, and Night Moves are all paranormal romance novels with vampires. Yet this newest novel, Secondhand Heart, is a New Adult romance starring a country singer. What made you decide to take such a different direction with this book, and what did you find was different about the process of writing in such a different genre?
I decided that I was going to write books about musicians or vampires, or any combination of the two, so Secondhand Heart fits the bill. Once these characters presented their story to me, I knew it wasn’t paranormal. Everyone has pointed out how different Secondhand Heart is from the books in The Night Songs Collection, but I feel that they all have my stamp on them. The process for this one wasn’t different. Once I met Daisy, she spoke to me in a very strong voice. The main difference between paranormal and contemporary is that you have to stick to the facts in contemporary, which is sometimes easier and harder. You can’t make something up to get the characters out of a situation. I tried to stick to “the rules” of contemporary romance in SHH, but I’m not much for those.
2. Your books tend to include characters who are celebrities in some form or another. Secondhand Heart includes a country singer and reality TV show competitor, and your other books include rock stars and the Las Vegas nightlife. But you also work on movies as a makeup artist. How much inspiration for your celebrity characters and their rock and roll lives comes from your real life experience working in the entertainment industry?
Even before I worked in film, I was involved in the entertainment industry. I’ve always been very connected to music, and have had friends who’ve enjoyed all levels of success. I pull from equal parts work and play.
3. Every author tends to put a little bit of themselves into their characters. What parts of your life, experiences, or relationships went into Cam and Daisy, and how did those inspirations help shape the narrative?
There’s a lot of me in Daisy. We have similar senses of humor, similar bodies, and we’ve been through similar things. If we met in real life, we’d love each other or claw each others’ eyes out. I binge watched “The Voice” while I wrote Secondhand Heart, and I have a giant crush on Blake Shelton, so I’m sure you can do the math on my inspirations for Cam.
4. Will Secondhand Heart be the first book in a series, just as your Night Songs Collection has been, and if so, what can we expect from the future?
I think it will be a series. They’ll all be stand alone books that build on each other, if that makes any sense. I’ve drafted another book which also features a Spotlight winner in a very different story.
5. There may not be any vampires in this novel, but do you see Secondhand Heart and the Night Songs Collection as having any connections? Do they take place in the same “world,” or is Secondhand Heart set in the “real” world where nothing supernatural exists, even behind the scenes?
Night Songs exists in this world, there are just vampires in it. 🙂 When Daisy and Cam go to the drive in, the movie they go see is a complete nod to We Own the Night. Other than that, there are no supernatural elements in Secondhand Heart.
6. You just published We Own the Night on September 1st of this year, Secondhand Heart is being released just over a month later, and you have another book, Silent Night coming out later this year. Are you secretly a robot? How do you manage to produce books with such drive and dedication?
Hahahahaha. I wish. It was actually just circumstance. We Own the Night had been finished for a while, but in order to coordinate the digital release with the Audible release, it had to wait until September. Silent Night is a Christmas themed story, so I’d been sitting on that one as well, and that will release November 18. I could have waited on Secondhand Heart, but why? I won’t be able to keep up this pace forever, but it sure is fun!
I’m totally self-employed, and I think that’s really helped me be able to produce material consistently and oversee the release of the books. You can’t ever get comfortable in a creative industry. There are always ten other people willing to take your place.
7. After branching out from paranormal romance into New Adult/contemporary, do you ever think you’ll expand into any other genres as well? Do you have any future plans for your writing that you’d like to share?
My writing partner, Julie Hutchings, thinks I should write horror, but the story has yet to present itself. Right now, I’m pretty content with paranormal and contemporary, but I would never rule anything out. I’m playing with some ideas in these genres that are different that what I’ve written, but they aren’t fleshed out enough to talk about yet.
8. You’ve mentioned on your blog that writing and releasing a book is both exciting and scary (something I think all writers can relate to). Taking a different direction with this book compared to your previous works is probably scarier than usual. How do you cope with that fear? Can you offer any advice to other authors who might be struggling with fear of their own?
I will cry and drink most of this week. Ha. I’m only sort of kidding. Branching out into something new is scary, because there’s nothing there yet for me. It’s strange because I’m not a debut author, but I’m still in the door-to-door phase, working for every sale. But with this one, there are different opportunities and avenues to explore, and I’m exited. My advice would be don’t be afraid to try new things, especially if you’re an indie author. If something’s not working, you can always change it.
9. Stephen King has said that every writer has to have their “toolbox” well-loaded with all the writer’s tools they need for success. Obviously on a basic level, this includes strong prose, an understanding of grammar, and a personal voice and style that makes their writing unique. What other “tools” would you say have been most valuable to you as a writer, and what tools would you say you’re still learning or you’d like to acquire in the future?
Going through the editing process and understanding what makes a story work were both huge for me. I feel like that’s the biggest thing that improved my writing. I’m a Pitch Wars mentor this year and helping other people with their manuscripts has been an invaluable learning experience. The number one thing that people seem to struggle with is bridging the emotional connection from character to reader. That’s something I want to master. I want my narrators to sound like a friend telling you a story over drinks.
10. Lastly, you’ve said that this is “a story about coming home.” What does that mean to you on a deeper level, whether it be literary or personal? If you could hope for readers to gain one important thing from reading your work, what would that be?
Man, it really is, on so many levels. Both Daisy and Cam thought they had gone from wanting something to having something. Daisy had married her childhood sweetheart, and was working towards living overseas and becoming a teacher. Cam had won The Spotlight, and was releasing albums and going on tour. He was also married. But both of them are now back home, starting all over again unwillingly. For me, “home” is something that doesn’t change, no matter how much I do. And at times, that can be a real struggle to reconcile the past, present, and future. No matter how successful you are, or how much you’re on cruise control, it can all be taken away at any time. Then it’s up to you what you do next.