In the summer of 2013, I had a problem. Kurt and I had just given up on getting pregnant and I had two surgeries in a row sealing the deal. No babies for us. Not biologically ours, anyway.
We started looking into adoption. We knew it was expensive. We were solid financially, but finding another $30k was gonna be tough.
I was still doing photography and had published a few books — Baby Dust was out, and did all right, but nothing that would pull in that kind of money. I wrote two romances but they flopped totally and went in the red.
I was fortunate at that time to make a couple really important friends. One was Mimi Strong, who I’d met on Kboards. Another was HM Ward, who had a similar background as me, photographer turned writer, and also lived in Texas.
Mimi had some big success with a billionaire series she had written and took me under her wing. We looked at my current fan base, all baby-loss moms, and where to go to expand. She told me new adult romances, set at college age, were the big thing.
Well, I had tried new adult already, twice, and those were flops. But she insisted I had done it wrong. So she coached me. Mimi made me sit down and come up with a college romance that hadn’t already been done but would have a very strong hook. Something only I could write.
Well, of course I knew what it had to be.
The character of Corabelle came first. Her baby had died. To make the story happen in college, she had to be a teen mother. Then Gavin, her boyfriend. He had to have something in his past that made him take off when the going got tough, even though he had loved Corabelle.
And I had to find a way to get them back together that wasn’t too hokey. And I had to keep them apart enough to make a book.
Into the fall we worked on the book, Mimi reading my work and telling me what I was doing wrong. When it came time for covers, Mimi was insistent I have the right look. We pored over images, trying to find something that wasn’t overused but still affordable since I had such a low budget (although the moment mine came out, the same image popped up everywhere.)
Here are the couples who didn’t make the cut (and I know what you’re thinking — no way any of those were Corabelle and Gavin!)
We did everything we could think of for the book release. Blog tours. Goodreads giveaways. NetGalley. A book trailer. Mimi was pushing it out to her fans.
And it was doing much better than my other books. Way better. But after a week, it just started to dive. If it was over now, that was it. It would earn out its costs, which were a lot more than my other books had been, but that was about it. Kurt and I talked about me going ahead and going back to work, even though I’d have to quit when we got the children. But at least to earn the fees.
Then I took a wild chance. I knew HM Ward just a little bit. We’d messaged some. She was huge at the time. Just huge. Her Arrangement series was topping every chart. And I boldly asked if she would share my book with her fans.
She didn’t respond for two days. I thought, okay, I’ve overstepped. No way would she do a favor like that for someone she barely knew. I was a little embarrassed to have asked.
I remember going to a football game that night. My daughter was a freshman and marching at halftime. My parents were in town too, to see her. While we waited for them to come out, I pulled out my phone to see how much farther my book had fallen in rankings.
And almost fell out of my seat.
I had sold 1000 copies that day.
I frantically checked my messages, and sure enough, HM had sent a message. “Posted it. Think I sold a couple hundred. :)”
This visibility set off a chain reaction. The book didn’t fall. I hit #4 on iBooks. Top 50 BN. I came breathlessly close to the top 100 on Amazon.
Over 700 readers signed up for my mail list to find out about my next book. Everyone was asking — what’s it going to be?
And a big chorus was insisting — Corabelle and Gavin’s story isn’t over.
I sat down immediately to write Forever Loved. This book did just as well as Forever Innocent. Sell through was something crazy like 90%.
We had done it.
Now, two years later, we’ve come to the last book. The business changed a lot, and college romances fell out of favor. But I wrote a few more. A set of the first three books hit the USA Today bestseller list last January, a huge accomplishment. I couldn’t be more pleased with how it all went.
I’d love to show you a picture of the two little boys who live with us now, but it’s not time yet. Just know that they are here, and that all you fans were instrumental in getting them here. And that putting this series to bed is like tucking in your child for the last time before they leave home. It’s hard.
But what a journey it’s been.
I will be writing a little more slowly now but plan to have a book out in May and a new series starting in the fall. You can stay in touch with me on the email list.
Enjoy the trailer. I have loved being on this road with all of you.
I take very little for granted these days.
I have two new boys now. They arrived last September. The first three months were really tough. Of course they would be. They’ve had a hard journey making their way to us. We only just turned the corner as a family a few weeks ago, in mid January, into something manageable.
So my own life was set aside for a while. That didn’t mean big things didn’t happen. This for one:
Fight for Her hit the USA Today bestseller list in January at #116. This was my sixth time on the list — second time for my JJ Knight pen name.
I’m so grateful.
I didn’t get a chance to talk about it much, as we were in crisis at home. As so often happens when family comes first, even the big personal accomplishments get pushed aside.
But we’re getting there.
I’m not sure when I’ll introduce our new family to the world. Their safety will come first, even after they are adopted and I am legally free to let everyone see their adorable faces. But know they are here, and my life is far more multi-faceted than it ever was before. I’m not quite as available online or at book signing events as I once was.
If you do want me, the best place is my private Facebook group for book fans. I try to stop by every couple of days to say hello. Click to hop over to it.
Today my first boy would have been 17. I can’t even fathom what sort of life I’d be leading if the fork in my road hadn’t gone the way it did, if Casey had been ours to keep. No Emily, for sure, as she couldn’t have come along in time. And probably not where we are now, about to bring more children into our home.
No matter how my life changes, no matter how many years pass, I do not forget. You could make a case for, “It was meant to be” and “Count your blessings,” but sometimes those platitudes just don’t apply. And all that’s left are the “What should have been.”
He should have been…here.
We’ve come so far since that first tentative release of Forever Innocent in October 2013. My life is completely different because of these books!
In Forever Bound, Jenny gets her turn to tell her story. Her meeting with Chance, a singer-songwriter who is hitchhiking across the US, changes everything about her. She goes on a journey to find this mysterious man who was supposed to be just a one-night stand, but ends up being part of her forever.
The amazing Brad Whittington wrote the songs in the book and has even recorded the series Forever song. I hope you’ll go take a listen on his site!
If you missed the release, here are the links:
The Facebook fans have decided that the dedications they want to put into FOREVER BOUND will go to our moms and mother figures.
So make sure you fill out the form right away! It will only be open a couple days. (If the form is open, you’ll know. It will not allow entries after I close it.)
Forever Bound will arrive July 28, 2015! The dedications will be in both the digital and print versions, just like in Forever Innocent, Forever Loved, and Forever Sheltered.
Preorder information for Forever Bound:
And it’s pink-haired Jenny!
Here is an excerpt from the new book. If you want to read the FIRST SEVEN CHAPTERS (YOWSA!) join the mail list! It’s going out in a couple days!
Release date: July 28
The guy I’d been watching walked over to the mike and said, “Hello, I’m Chance, and Paul here has kindly invited this Tennessee boy up to do a number.”
His name was Chance.
“Yeah!” Paul bellowed. He lifted his guitar strap over his head and handed it to Chance.
I made it to the base of the stage, where the crowd had left a gap in its disinterest. I wondered if my boy choice was doing to get their attention, or if he would be terrible.
I was rooting for him.
Chance turned to the other band members and nodded his head. The drummer slammed into a driving beat, and Chance spun to the mike, looking out at the crowd. He hadn’t noticed me up so close, practically at his feet.
“This is a song I think a lot of you will recognize, a little ditty called, ‘Let the Good Times Roll.’”
The band crashed into the opening licks, and when Chance started singing, I wanted to laugh out loud with giddiness. His voice was pure magic, deep and edgy.
He moved across stage like a fury, all energy and muscle. I was so close I could feel the wood floor shifting under his feet. His fingers squeezed the guitar in a steady grip. I was mesmerized by every movement. I could already see how his skilled hands would work on me.
I was hooked.
The band wasn’t quite on, as if they hadn’t rehearsed this one much, but Chance made up for it. The crowd began to turn to look at the stage, moving along to the beat, taking a ride on Chance’s fluid vocals.
I felt myself start to unfurl, to loosen up inside. This would be fine. He’d come off stage. He’d see me. The attention would be directed at us long enough to make the point. And the way the focus was shifting to this hot sensation, it would be logical that I fell for him. People here would get it.
Headline: Blues singing rock god seduces movie director’s girl at party.
The song rollicked along for another chorus, then Chance brought them to a strong stop with a motion of his hand.
That’s when he saw me.
He froze a second, as if he couldn’t believe I was so close after he’d searched for me for so long. His smile spread to a wide grin. I’m sure my panties would have gone flying, if I’d been wearing any.
“Thank you,” he said to the crowd, which was actually showing some enthusiasm now. But he kept his eyes on me.
I thought the lead singer would take back over, but Chance turned and stepped close to the bass guitarist, asking him something. The guy nodded, and Chance turned back to the mike. “We’re gonna bring it down for a second. So grab your woman, if you’ve got one, because this one is for all of you lovely ladies here tonight.”
He looked down at me a second, and I was close enough to see his hesitation, as if maybe this wasn’t a good idea. But his gaze went back to the crowd and he seemed satisfied as a few people drew closer together.
The drummer clicked out a simple count, and when Chance played the opening line, I felt my knees go liquid. That song. Whoa, that song. Behind me, I felt the crowd pause, attention trained on this man, as if they were ready to give his guy a chance.
He closed his eyes as he prepared for that first line. My breath held. Hell of a standard he was about to compete against. A whole blues legacy.
But here he was.
He belted it out, and my emotion surged so hard, I realized I was seriously a goner after a single phrase. I just let it wash over me.
When a man loves a woman…
Chance opened his eyes then, looking at me. I ignored how it was silly to think he was singing anything to me. It was just a song. A romantic song. We hadn’t even met.
I hope you’re excited!
Get the first SEVEN chapters just by signing up here!
Do you ever doubt yourself when life is good? Like it could all just come crashing down any minute?
I try to resist this mindset, but it seems sometimes it comes unbidden anyway.
Life has been amazingly incredibly good to me this January. For example:
How crazy is THAT? USA Today bestseller list for the Forever Series? WOW!
The same week, I released a brand new book and this happened:
So many copies on a brand-new pen name. Crazy!
We definitely had a rough fall. I suppose I could try and shake the worries by saying this is the good stuff that came out of the hard times. Probably most of us are reluctant to get too settled into a happy space out of fear of what might go wrong next.
But I’m going to try and enjoy our peaceful and successful little run here. Selling 20,000 books in one month is no small thing, and I know it. I’ll take these blessings. And work hard to spread the love around.
I’m so excited to be in the Heroes & Shifters book bundle with 11 other amazing authors!
We’re doing a just-for-the-holidays special on it where all 12 books are just 99 cents.
PERFECT for looking through during the holidays when you need a little escape.
Here’s a teaser from one of my books in it![Note that this anthology is no longer available, but I will eventually release this one on its own!]
For one thing, this would be just about the worst sixteenth birthday in the history of sixteenth birthdays. It’s supposed to be Independence Day #1, because in Texas, this is when he could have tested to receive his driver’s license.
But it’s a Saturday. The DMV isn’t even open.
To add to the insult, it’s raining nonstop.
I imagine a cranky boy joking and getting shoved by his friends as they shovel in cake. Looking out the window at the rain, wishing it weren’t a Saturday. The ONE TIME he finally gets a weekend birthday, and it’s the one he doesn’t want to be a weekend!
But these scenes are only in my mind. They aren’t happening. They will never happen.
He won’t drive a car. He didn’t even live to know cars existed. The only way he probably even knew his mother existed was a steady beat of sound that mirrored his own, a slow heavy thud that underscored the warbling muted voices through the walls that held him suspended in the only world he would ever know.
Happy Sweet Sixteen, Casey Shay, wherever your spirit resides these days.[ More about Casey Shay ]
When the first headline mentioning Robin Williams’s private diagnosis of Parkinson’s crossed my feed, I wanted to collapse with shock. I couldn’t believe it.
I’d already been on a two-day crying jag about his suicide. He was a big part of my childhood, and his face was very familiar to me from so many amazing works. But I didn’t know him. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t seem to recover from the news.
I think at first it was because it’s so hard to see someone so beloved, so talented, with so much love in his life, doing this, taking such a final step.
But now, I understand another piece of the puzzle.
For the last year, Parkinson’s has been a big part of my life. My mom was diagnosed, and with every drug change, every new protocol, she calls and asks me to look up side effects, drug combinations, what she can expect.
It so permeated my life that when I wrote Forever Loved and needed a patient for my character to take care of in art therapy, his story line was much like Robin’s:
A great and beloved painter attempts suicide when his diagnosis of Parkinson’s stirs up fear that he will no longer be able to create his art.
I’m starting to understand now just how profound this situation can be. In Forever Sheltered, when this artist takes center stage, the art therapist, who attempted suicide at the age of seventeen, says this:
Albert really must have fallen hard to attempt suicide when his talent was so visceral. Even with the struggle to control his movements, he was easily the best artist I’d ever met or studied under, even in college.
If I were unable to do the one thing I loved, if some disease took that away, I’m not sure I would do any better. One thing I told the students who attended my suicide talks is that once you choose death as your destination, it never goes away. Every upset, every disappointment, every setback has the same way out. You don’t even have to search for it to know it’s still out there, waiting for you to stumble one more time.
In that, suicide wasn’t that much different from alcoholism or drug addiction. You could go to rehab or therapy. You could get it out of your mind for a while. And life could go well for months or years or decades.
But the moment it didn’t, in that instant when your depression or your struggle or your exhaustion hit that critical point, it all rushed back. And your mind went straight to the place you thought you’d twelve-stepped or group-sessioned out of existence. The needle. The bottle. The knife.
I wish there had been some other way, that there had been some treatment, some quick intervention, some help that could have gotten to Robin in time. My story has a much happier ending. Albert does find a way. He does figure out how to manage. And he starts to recognize the treatments will go up and down, work for a while, then fail, then another will work a while longer. It becomes an act of faith to believe that another good time will come, to counteract all those thoughts and emotions coursing through him without his control. But he managed to figure out that the disease didn’t define him, and that he could muddle through.
There was so much greatness still to go for Robin, and it is lost to us now. His brilliant ad libs, his appearances, his voice and acting that added so much to every project he was in. But I am grateful that we got what we did, and that his family shared him with us. And that his life, in death, sheds a little more light on an issue we could stand to learn a lot more about.