For the 34th Member of Exclusive Resorts, adhering to the typical life equation—student, wife, mother, professional, empty nester—was not an option. Instead, author Kaira Rouda continues to reinvent herself with each chapter of her life.

Since she was a little girl, Rouda, now 53, has always followed an untraditional path. As a kid she remembers a peripatetic life—“I must have moved a million times”—and was encouraged to stretch for whatever seemed just out of reach. In the third grade, she fulfilled a school assignment by writing a letter to the person she most wanted to be. She mailed the note to Robert McCloskey, author of the children’s classic, Make Way for Ducklings, and he wrote her back.

That was inspiration enough. She kept writing, penning a couple of manuscripts that were “almost picked up by agents,” but not quite. Still she kept writing, and creating a world for herself that was different from her friends. While watching Bewitched, Rouda recalls, she dreamed not of being Samantha, the female witch, but Darren, the male ad executive. She utilized her English degree from Vanderbilt to work her way up the corporate ladder as an ad executive, ultimately rising to the role of Vice President of Marketing for the house-cleaner giant Stanley Steemer Carpet Cleaner. Still, she kept writing on the side.

When her husband, Harley, “got sucked into his family business,” she quit her job and used her marketing expertise to reinvent his real estate firms. “When I looked at Stanley Steemer and my husband’s companies, I realized it was all men marketing to women,” she recalls of those early days in 2002 (two years after joining ER). “You’d see men in ads shaking hands in front of the ‘sold’ sign, when actually 91 percent of home-buying decisions are made or influenced by women.” So the Roudas created the first women-focused real estate company “back when the notion of lifestyle marketing was new. It was a paradigm shift.” Real Living grew from Ohio into 22 states and was eventually sold to a company in Canada, who in turn sold it to the Sage of Omaha’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Despite all that success, Rouda had that gnawing feeling of a dream unfulfilled: She wanted to be a writer. So when the family—including four children—settled into their dream home in Malibu, Rouda turned her focus to writing full time. She had penned a series of non-fiction books centering on entrepreneurial women finding their “real you.” After unexpected runaway success with those books, “it was just me in that house and it was time to take my own advice,” she says. An incurable romantic, Rouda self-published her first novel, Here, Home, Hope, in May 2011, a story about a woman in crisis thinking about who she wanted to be. “I had always dreamed of living on the beach and finally I could. So it was a fun book to write,” she says. All the Difference, In the Mirror, and The Goodbye Year came swiftly on the heels of her debut novel. When the family relocated to Laguna Beach, she turned to women’s romance.

Rouda’s Laguna Series were such mega-hits on Amazon, the juggernaut publisher asked the author to license the concept for their fan-fiction site, AmazonWorld. She wrote four short stories to get the World up and running, and readers have since posted six of their own stories taking place in that Laguna “world.” Recently, Amazon asked Rouda to create another women’s romance “world,” called Hope Falls. The first, One Night in Tahoe, was inspired by one of Rouda’s ER trips to North Star, when they were snowed in by a 22-inch storm. More are set to come as Rouda finds inspiration in all that surrounds her.

“I try to live in the moment and purposefully disconnect, especially when we’re on vacation, but something that happens in life can be a jumping off place for a story. And details from incredible experiences when we travel do make their way into my stories,” she says.

A great meal, a glorious sunset—they can reappear in story form, bringing to life for others what goes on in Rouda’s rich interior world. “There is magic to certain places,” she says. “And that magic may sometimes become a character in my books.”—