My New York Times bestselling Grayson Brothers series set in 19th-century New York state echoes the sounds and smells of my childhood. I was raised in western New York. My seven siblings and I were as wild and untended as the land around us, nurtured by nature and sunshine. We swam in a shallow creek and made forts in a cornfield where I would lie beneath the vast blue sky and imagine epic adventures. There I would become the heroine of the tales I imagined. There I began my life as a writer.
Like me, my characters are driven to understand what it means to be alive, to embrace the unknown. They are complicated, complex characters on a journey of self-discovery, learning what it means to grieve, to forgive, and to love. My books are emotion-evoking, character-driven stories. They have been called tearjerkers with awesome underlying emotional power, and readers love them for that reason. They say it’s a gift to be moved so deeply, to hurt and heal and love as if they’ve lived in the pages of my books.
A deep longing for something is a universal feeling, and it’s one I know. In the early days of my career, I longed to write full time, but there were many obstacles in the way of my dream. I didn’t know how to write a book. Educating myself on the craft of writing while working a full-time job and raising a family was extremely demanding. It takes effort, hard work, and grit to push through roadblocks, but that’s what heroic characters do. My first novel, Shades of Honor, took three years to write. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, but it was deeply rewarding.
Nowadays, there are numerous opportunities for authors to publish their work, but when I started writing the only option was traditional publishing. It was incredibly difficult for an unknown writer to break into publishing. An author usually needed an agent, but getting an agent was nearly as difficult as securing a book deal. In 2000, when Shades of Honor won the Golden Heart award from Romance Writers of America, it garnered offers of representation from agents, and a two-book contract from St. Martin’s Press.
Those two books were written in hotel rooms, in my car, and at my kitchen table because I traveled for my full-time job and needed to write wherever I could. When I later received a two-book contract from Leisure Books to continue my Grayson Brothers series, I took the leap and quit my job. I spent the next year writing twelve plus hours a day to meet publishing deadlines. But my path to becoming a bestselling author was full of trials. I burned out. I went back to a day job. And I didn’t write for several years.
The writing journey is physically and emotionally exhausting at times, especially when working on tight deadlines. Throughout my years as a writer I’ve struggled with chronic fatigue syndrome, a state of deep exhaustion and brain fog. I took up tai chi to keep myself moving during those dips in my health. Then I began kickboxing. That path led me to jujitsu, and I fell in love with martial arts. Over an eight-year period of intensive training, I earned my black belt and returned to vibrant health.
During that time I began writing again as an indie author. That brought added pressure because I had to write the books, work with cover designers and formatters, and then publish and market the books myself. It’s disheartening to work so hard on a book and not be able to sell it or get it into readers’ hands. But partnering with great companies like Findaway Voices and BookBub allowed me to reach a wider audience than I ever did writing for a traditional publisher, and afforded me the opportunity to commit to writing full time.
I’ve written and published eight books in the Grayson Brothers series, all of them making appearances on bestseller lists. Shades of Honor won the prestigious RITA award from Romance Writers of America, and became a USA Today and New York Times bestseller. But it’s the work itself that matters to me.
In an effort to create a more vivid story world for my readers, and to make my books available to those with disabilities, I began producing my Grayson Brothers series in audio book format. I learned straightaway that narrating a book is a far different skill from writing one. While I can bring my story to life with words, I leave it to my narrator and her amazing voice to bring my stories to life in audio format. If you’ve never listened to an audio book, you’re missing a truly wonderful experience. The freedom to do other things—for me it’s walking or gardening—while listening to a book is a multitasker’s dream. And if you’re a writer who’s on the fence about producing audio editions of your books, check out Findaway Voices. They’ll make the process easy.
Reading, in any format, connects us with each other and the world around us. Books are important. They change lives. They create a sense of community and connection. As an author, creating a genuine bond between the reader and my characters is vital to me. So is treating my readers with respect and appreciation. I connect directly with them by sharing stories about my writing life and the rustic studio I built in a wooded area behind my home. My studio is surrounded by evergreens and maple trees—and lots of deer and other wildlife.
Outside my windows I can see my water garden full of colorful flowers and waterlilies on the pond. The sound of waterfalls and birdsong creates a soothing backdrop while I write. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to work, a place much like my Grayson Brothers’ world.
Readers ask what I do when I’m not writing or kicking sparring partners. I rescue cats, or so it seems. In my newsletters, I share personal photos and stories about Team Tiger, as I refer to my crew of five mischievous cats, and about the adorable new fawns that seem to arrive each spring, and about my garden and house projects, as well as what’s happening with my books. My readers love that behind the scenes look, and though I’m a private person, I enjoy sharing those things with them.
The sense of family and community is one of the most common comments I receive about the Grayson Brothers series, and it’s a theme in my own life. I chose to write historical fiction because I enjoy immersing myself in a slower time when people connected in person and family was central to everything. I’m comfortable creating a rural small town setting because I grew up in one. The romance genre is about relationships and love between friends, family, and lovers, and it intrigues me to explore what characters will do or sacrifice for love.
But writing historical novels requires a lot of research, which slows the writing process and, for me at least, means extended delays between books. That’s why I ask readers to subscribe to my newsletter so I can notify them when I have a new book. I also suggest they follow me on BookBub to be notified about sale prices on my ebooks and Chirp Deal discounts for my audio books. BookBub is such an amazing tool, both for readers and for authors, and it’s the one source I credit for launching my books onto bestseller lists. Using Findaway Voices to distribute my audio books allows me to set my own prices and offer discounted audio books to readers. As an indie author, writing and publishing a book can be accomplished alone, but making that book available to the world and letting readers know about it is a joint effort. So my advice to other writers is to make sure you have the right players on your team.
Writing novels is hard work, but it’s the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done. I’m still training in martial arts and writing full time, and loving both pursuits, but what I’ve learned on this journey is to rest when I need it, to give myself permission to not write, and to know I don’t have to do it all. I feel extremely fortunate, and deeply grateful to my readers and team players, to be able to follow my passion and do the thing I love.