Romance Writer Rebecca Brooks: In Defense of Stupidity

Above-All-CoverToday I’m welcoming a guest post by debut romance novelist Rebecca Brooks, author of the erotic romance Above All.

When my debut contemporary erotic romance Above All was published this month, I was in touch with several reviewers who wanted to know more about the book. Does it have a happy ending? (Yes!) Is there anything dark or disturbing they should be aware of? (Nope—just beautiful scenery and really good food.)

One reviewer had a specific request. Before she agreed to read Above All, I had to answer a simple question. Is there anything stupid in it? Answer honestly, she added.

I’m dying to know whether anyone actually says yes. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to see what a great question it is.

Every story needs conflict. There’s a reason Happily Ever After comes at the end, not the beginning. Hero and heroine meet, forces pull them apart, but we know they’ll find their way together again. Forces of Evil make stories juicy—well, that and great sex. But tension is the crème filling. Without it, all the chocolately goodness gets dry.

It’s hard to find interesting, plausible reasons to push hero and heroine apart. Too big an issue and there’s no reason for them to get back together—who wants to return to an asshole? Too weak and that’s exactly what the story becomes. I’ve read plenty of books where the pair could resolve their giant misunderstanding in five minutes if they sat down and talked to one another as people in love are sometimes known to do.

So I get what this reviewer was asking. Is there anything dumb, irritating, or utterly flimsy driving the hero and heroine apart? No one wants to read about characters who are whiny, petulant, and overly dramatic, jumping to conclusions and creating drama just to manufacture plot. There’s only so much I want to throttle a character before I’d rather put down the book.

But I find myself feeling a little prickly about this word stupid. The terms I’ve used to describe it, the emphasis on drama and an absence of thought, clarity, or self-reflection—aren’t these the very insults hurled at women all the time? Hysterical. Irrational. Overreacting. Overly emotional.

And so now some stubborn, contrary part of me—the part that someone reading the story of my life would probably call stupid—wants to keep a space for the illogical, the emotional, the thing that might not be perfect but is, in the moment, the truest expression of the self.

In my own novel, Above All, Casey’s family thinks she’s nuts for leaving her unhappy life in New York City and starting over in the Adirondacks. But the reader knows she’s right where she belongs. Meanwhile Ben’s overbearing father wants Ben to work at a fancy Italian restaurant in Manhattan instead of opening his dream café. If we’re going to judge whether something is stupid, then shouldn’t we be asking, stupid to whom?

The reader might want to smack Ben upside the head for even considering anything that would take him away from the woman he’s meant to be with. But is Ben stupid for finding himself pulled in different directions? Is he stupid for ever experiencing doubt? I don’t think so! I think he’s being human. The distinction between stupid and flawed comes down to whether Ben is being authentically Ben, true to his character when he vacillates over what kind of life he wants for himself.

Perfect communication and decision-making don’t make for a very good novel. But if characters are genuine and multidimensional, if they feel so real you want to invite them over for coffee and chat about their lives, if you’re sad when they’re sad and their butterflies flit around in your stomach too, if you believe their anger, confusion, and hurt, and understand why they do things that might not always look “right”—then they won’t be stupid, no matter what dumb things they might do.


RebeccaBrooks
Rebecca Brooks lives in New York City in an apartment filled with books. She received a PhD in English but decided it was more fun to write books than write about them. She has backpacked alone through India and Brazil, traveled by cargo boat down the Amazon River, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, explored ice caves in Peru, trekked to the source of the Ganges, and sunbathed in Burma, but she always likes coming home to a cold beer and her hot husband in the Bronx. Her books are about independent women who leave their old lives behind to try something new—and find the passion, excitement and purpose they didn’t know they’d been missing.

You can find out more about Rebecca on her website, Facebook page, or on Twitter, and you can check out and purchase Above All on Amazon or Ellora’s Cave.

**Rebecca will also be running a giveaway with copies of her book plus an Amazon gift card through August 18th! Click here to find out more.**

Writers Who Read: Tanya Selvaratnam

 

Tanya with author Sylvia Whitman

Tanya with Sylvia Whitman

Our Writers Who Read series continues with writer Tanya Selvaratnam.

Who are you?
Tanya Selvaratnam, a writer, producer, actor, and activist based in New York City and Portland, OR. I was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Long Beach, CA. I’m the author of The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock. Part memoir, part manifesto, it’s about the choices women have to make and how those choices impact the future. The Big Lie is that we can do things on our own timetables. The Big Lie is that there is such a thing as work/life balance. The Big Lie is that we don’t need feminism anymore.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Silas Marner by George Eliot
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton

As a child, I spent a lot of time in Sri Lanka. Being a former British colony, works by British authors were abundantly available. I bought Enid Blyton books in the local bookstore.

When I was young, books were my salvation… an escape, a comfort, a window to unexpected worlds and ideas. Earlier this year, I read a story in the news that, according to Common Sense Media (the San Francisco-based nonprofit which focuses on the effects of media and technology on children), young people are reading much less than the generation before and also they are reading less proficiently. We need to fix that.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. The writing is gorgeous, spare, vivid, devastating, and ultimately uplifting.

What is your book kryptonite—those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Humanity, depth, alternative universes, rhythm, a writer who is putting their guts on the floor, courage, a wild imagination, a fantastic sense of humor, writers who think big but make the ideas accessible, compassion, empathy, and humility.

When I come across a book that blows me away, I then buy many books by the same author and read them one after another. I’ve done that with work by Michael Ondaatje, Yasunari Kawabata, and lately Anne Carson.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
On the subway or bus any time of day or night, and in bed before I fall asleep. I can never read on planes.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
When I was writing The Big Lie, I read a number of memoirs that influenced me, including Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, and Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. I was also inspired by Natalie Angier’s Woman: An Intimate Geography—the depth of her reporting and the openness of her voice.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
The harder aspect of my life is balancing producing and writing. At this point, I do one to support the other, but they require such different types of focus and ways of being. With reading and writing, I have to be reading something while I’m writing. I need to lose myself in one or the other. In my bag, I always keep a book to read and a notebook to write in. As for balance, if I’m actively working on a book or piece, I try to sit at my desk for a minimum of three hours. Whether I write a word or a page, I feel like I’ve done something. I also meditate every day, a practice I started two and a half years ago.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book! I like the touch, the look, the smell of it. I like folding the corners of pages I especially want to remember. I’m working on a piece about book deserts, the possible long-term effects, and tangible solutions. Recently, I saw Sylvia Whitman of Shakespeare & Co (I produced a short film about her a few years ago), and I am so inspired by her steadfastness and joy. In the face of extreme and irrationally unchecked challenges towards physical books and bookstores, she has figured out ways to adapt her business and thrive.

Do you consciously plan your future reading—i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I have a book club that meets sporadically. It’s really just me and a friend, and we invite other friends to join us for sessions. Among the books we’ve discussed are Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Asunder by Chloe Aridjis, Remainder by Tom McCarthy, and the poetry of Matthew and Michael Dickman. Aside from the book club, I read what friends recommend or what I discover while browsing in bookstores.

What are you reading now?
A lot of Cesar Aira, whom a writer friend recommended. I recently finished An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and The Hare. Now I’m on Shantytown. Aira is from Argentina and has written more than seventy books in Spanish. New Directions released translations of some last year, so now I can read them. In addition, I just started Jenny Davidson’s Reading Style: A Life in Sentences, about loving to read.

Tanya Selvaratnam‘s work has appeared in Vogue, Bust, Paper, xoJane, Huffington Post, Pop and Politics, the Toronto Review, Art Basel Magazine, the Journal of Law and Politics, on Women’s eNews and CNN. She has produced work by Gabri Christa, Chiara Clemente, Catherine Gund, Mickalene Thomas, Carrie Mae Weems, and Jed Weintrob; and toured around the world in shows by The Wooster Group and The Builders Association. Tanya has been a fellow at Yaddo and Blue Mountain Center. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Chinese language and history from Harvard University. 

Writing Romance: Sex as Dialogue

dinos-1.jpgThere is sometimes a tendency to read or write a book and think about sex scenes as if they are something separate from the story that is happening. It’s like the story is a salad, and the steamy scenes are cherry tomatoes thrown on top, something small and sweet to add to the lettuce, croutons, and lumps of blue cheese. You can add as many tomatoes as you like, but you can also pick out the tomatoes without ruining the salad.

I don’t think it should be like this. I think sex in a story should be like an ingredient in a casserole. Squash, maybe. Or cheese. (Because, well, cheese.) It can be added, yes, but once it is cooked it’s hard to extract because it’s part of the story, it is the story—it’s not just an add-on. It absorbs the flavors of the rest of the casserole, the characters’ personalities and dynamics and feelings and development. It is within the story, not just tossed on top.

This is what I try to do in my writing, make sex scenes reflective of what’s happening and always moving the plot forward–like a good character conversation does. Because it is dialogue. Within sex, there are actions and reactions, surprises, suppression, subtext. Game-changers. The bickering co-workers have hot angry sex in their sausage delivery van, reflecting their fiery chemistry. The college student finds herself locked in a tender kiss with the girl she’s competing for an internship with, turning the plot on a dime.

Seeing sex as dialogue helps me craft a better steamy moment. Instead of just keeping in mind the goal of writing a tantalizing kiss, I’m also trying to show the unique chemistry and relationship between the people involved. This lends itself to a one-of-a-kind love scene. Sometimes it’s strange or uncomfortable; sometimes there are stapler incidents. And sometimes there are sweet moments the characters don’t see coming.

Sex should be dialogue. Tasty, tasty dialogue.

Writers Who Read: Amy Thomas

Our Writers Who Read series continues with novelist Amy Thomas, author of The Detective and The Woman mystery series.

Who are you?

Author Amy Thomas

Author Amy Thomas

My name is Amy Thomas, and I write The Detective and The Woman mystery series about Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. As a podcaster with the Baker Street Babes, I’m always meeting new people who love Sherlock Holmes and delving deeper into my own love for the character. I wrote my first book, The Detective and The Woman, for NaNoWriMo. After it was picked up for publication by MX Publishing, I wrote two sequels (and have started a third) because I just can’t get enough of writing about one of the most intriguing male characters in literature and the woman who outsmarted him. In the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Irene is an extremely vivid character, but she appears relatively little. My books flesh her out and imagine a friendship between her and Holmes. It’s a little unusual (thankfully becoming less so) for Holmes books to have a feminist twist, but I write half of each book in Irene’s voice, and she’s a feminine force to be reckoned with.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading?
Snarky protagonists, urbane detectives, and characters going through major personal transition.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Late morning, on my lanai, with the sun shining, a nice breeze, and cup of tea next to me.

The Detective and The WomanWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
This is a tough one to narrow down. I would say the depth of emotion and human understanding in the great Russian writers like Dostoevsky definitely influenced my desire to write in a way that truly and completely reflects the human experience. Also, I can’t possibly leave out Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who created many of the brilliant characters who fill my books.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I tend to write a lot in very short spurts. I finished the first drafts of all three of my books in about a month each. I find that if I focus my energy that way, I’m able to finish, whereas if I give myself more time, I tend to write and rewrite endlessly. That way of working means I have a lot of time to read and pursue other hobbies when I’m not in a mad writing dash.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I have a NOOK device, and I definitely enjoy e-books. I also have a large collection of physical books, and I can’t see myself ceasing to collect them any time soon.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I have tracked my reading before, and I enjoyed it, but I’m not doing it right now. I’m a very spontaneous person, and I hate doing the same thing the same way over and over. I might go back to keeping a list some day. Who knows?

What are you reading now?
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. She’s a genius, and I can’t recommend her books highly enough.

Where to find me:
Twitter: @Pickwick12
Tumblr: girlmeetssherlock
Website: girlmeetssherlock.wordpress.com

Book Links:

(Book 1) The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA AmazonBarnes and Noble and Classic Specialities - and in all electronic formats including Amazon KindleiTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 2) The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA AmazonBarnes and Noble and Classic Specialities - and in all electronic formats including Amazon KindleiTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.

(Book 3) The Detective The Woman and The Silent Hive is available from all good bookstores including  Amazon USAAmazon UKWaterstones UK, and for free shipping worldwide from Book Depository. In ebook format it is in Amazon Kindle.

 

What Orphan Black Taught Me About Revising

I’ve been binge-watching some awesome shows this summer with my husband, and the compelling storylines and characters in these shows have made me think about my own writing. Which is one of the wonders of art: the way you can connect it to different creative forms.

So I’m doing a short writing series on the blog this summer focused on what some of my favorite shows have shown me about writing.

First up: Orphan Black. We recently started watching this Canadian show. Or devouring, I should say. For those who haven’t yet watched–and you really should–it’s a science-fiction show involving a woman who discovers she’s a clone.

Between episodes, I’ve been writing and revising a couple of short stories. It has often been wonderful and exhilarating to immerse myself in the words and learn about the characters. But sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I’m writing or revising and I realize that the words aren’t right, the sentences are clunky, or something’s wobbly in the very story structure. And it’s frustrating and disheartening and I wonder what the heck I’m doing, why I’ve chosen to write when clearly I’m so very far from perfect.

But then I think of Orphan Black. Because Orphan Black, upon close look, is not perfect either–at least not yet, or not in certain scenes. I’m only halfway through the first season and the mystery is still unraveling but when I think about some of the minor characters in isolation, one seems inconsistent and one seems a little one-dimensional. But you know what? I love the pants off this show. I love it for its addictive cliffhangers, its surprising humor and explosive sex scenes, and most of all the incredible acting on the part of Tatiana Maslany, who plays a multitude of clone-characters on the show so convincingly you forget you’re watching the same actress over and over.

It reminds me that the art we love, the art that moves us, isn’t necessarily perfect all the time. But maybe loving art isn’t about watching or reading something that’s devoid of bad. Maybe it’s about enjoying a book or show that has an abundance of good. Stories are like people, I think. They’re never perfect, they are flawed in small and sometimes large ways, but you can love them anyway.

This has made me focus my revising not on trying to reach some perfect ideal, but identifying, capturing, and increasing what’s working, what’s enjoyable or moving.

What about you, my fellow writers, readers, and watchers: what imperfect shows, books, or works of art do you love?

Writers Who Read: Amanda Gale

Meredith_facebookcoverOur Writers Who Read series continues with debut novelist Amanda Gale, author of the Meredith series.

Who are you?
I’m a mid-30s mother of three boys. I have English degrees from Vassar College and Boston University. I taught high school English before leaving my job to be with the kids, and I copy edit from home for a scholarly journal. My series is contemporary women’s fiction. Writing about modern, colorful characters has been an outlet for me while I’m home, something fun and uniquely mine.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
I’ve always loved Alice in Wonderland. I read it for the first time in junior high, and for years afterward, I collected Alice memorabilia—posters, boxes of tea, and antique copies of the book itself. I also loved The Little Prince, which like many books is much more meaningful as an adult. As for the third, I can give you an author as opposed to one book: Agatha Christie. I remember one summer before junior high when I went to the bookstore every day to buy another mystery featuring Hercules Poirot (I liked Miss Marple, but Poirot was such a lovable character to me, very complex and fun to read about). That summer I think I read fifty of her books, about one a day.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I think it could be the perfect book. I love the historical setting, the depth of the characters, the romance, and the intricate plot lines. It has something for everyone. Plus, it’s long! (Like most readers, when I love a book, I never want it to end.)

Author Amanda Gale

Author Amanda Gale

What is your book kryptonite—those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
This is a tough question to answer because there are so many. However, I would have to say I can’t resist humor. I love all kinds of humor, but I especially love humor that is tied into commentary about history or even about the characters. Some examples are Catch-22, Confederacy of Dunces, Auntie Mame, and even some works by Dickens.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I like to read any time, but mostly at night when it’s quiet and I have some time to myself. My favorite spot is my living room, next to a table with a little lamp, curled up in an armchair. The walls of my living room are red, and they make the room feel warm and cozy at night.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I double majored in English and Victorian Studies, so Victorian literature had a major effect on me, for better or worse. On the one hand, I think Victorian novels taught me a certain sensibility I might not otherwise have. On the other hand, my writing tends to be verbose if I’m not careful. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Gone With the Wind. I love a good saga. I love Scarlett O’Hara, how she has so many flaws, but we just love her anyway, perhaps because of those flaws. They make her human, and she grows along her journey. I’m attracted to the idea of an imperfect woman learning as she goes, falling in and out of love, and ultimately coming to an understanding of who she is.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
I try to sneak it in during the little moments of the day, like if I have fifteen minutes in car line while I wait to pick up a child from school. Mostly I end up staying up way too late at night to read and write. (As I write this, it is 2:16 am.)

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
Physical book, forever and always.

Do you consciously plan your future reading—i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I don’t, mostly because I never know what kind of mood I’m going to be in. I may see something on a table at Barnes & Noble and instantly know it was what I was looking for, even though I hadn’t known it until that moment. I tend to shy away from book clubs because I’d rather choose for myself what I’m going to read.

What are you reading now?
Actually, right now I’m not reading anything. During the last few months, I’ve been scrambling to finish my editing and finalize some business details in preparation for publication. I am looking forward to reading again once that happens!

You can find out more about Amanda Gale and her Meredith series on her website, Facebook page, or Twitter

 

Writers Who Read: Abby Chew

This is the first interview in the new Writers Who Read series. Click here if you’d like to read more about this series.

Poet Abby Chew with her dog, Alice.

Poet Abby Chew with her dog, Alice.

Who are you?
I’m Abby Chew. I grew up in beautiful Putnam County, Indiana along Big Walnut Creek. I studied English at DePauw Univeristy and earned my MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I worked at Olney Friends School in Barnesville, Ohio for many years. It was there, teaching and working and farming raising goats with Quakers, that I re-learned to listen and re-wrote the poems that would be published as my first book of poems, Discontinued Township Roads. In 2012, I left the Midwest for a new job in California. I teach and live here in Los Angeles now, and I’m trying to figure out how to write poems in this new ecosystem. I don’t know much about deserts, but I am finding they are just as beautiful as my Midwestern creeks. The hawks I loved to see swooping up out of the poplar trees in Ohio are some of the same ones I see circling over the mountains here.

What are three beloved books you first read before the age of 12?
The first book that ever made me cry: Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it the summer between second and third grade, outside in the field beside our house. I just wept. Now, when I reread it, I have to stop before the dogs die. I read almost to the end and I stop. I also loved Madeleine L’Engle’s books, The Arm of the Starfish and The Young Unicorns and A Ring of Endless light, which quotes Sir Thomas Browne’s poem that begins “If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,/ like to a shell dishabited”– I’ve never forgotten that poem. And then there was everything by Jack London. I read them all. I still do. I read White Fang and The Call of the Wild every year.

What is one book you are always recommending to friends and family (and maybe the local barista) as an adult?
I tell everyone to read The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall, because I could’ve kept reading those adventures forever. I also recommend my friend Colin Cheney’s book Here Be Monsters—because I believe in that book and its complexity and beauty.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique elements in a book, beyond just great writing and three-dimensional characters, that make you unable to resist reading? 
When I was young, I wanted to read about the sea. I still do. But now that I live in California, now that I am far from home and unable to visit often, I hunger for books about the Midwest. Wendell Berry and Kent Haruf. I want to read about the place I lived and love.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I love reading in the morning. As a kid, I climbed the silver maple in our backyard and read there. Now, I take Alice, my big white dog, to the park and read there, under a tree. Reading outside has always been my first choice. Reading in shaded light.

abby chew book coverWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
For me, it’s more poets and authors than specific books. Jack London, as I said. But also Chris Offut, Emily Dickinson, James Wright, James Galvin, H.D., Dean Young, Wendell Berry, Willa Cather, Edward Abbey. The authors who write about land because they can’t stop. Writers who have a sense of humor but know how to strike you down with the real heart of the matter at the end.

How do you balance reading and writing in your life?
Because I teach high school, I read for my classes. As I plan my classes, I try to choose books I want to read again or books I want to read with someone else, books I am excited to open.

Choose your penned poison: ebook, physical book, or audio book?
I love audio books! For two years, I was driving forty miles or so between my house and my boyfriend’s house (we live together now, finally!). And audio books saved me. A gal can deal with only so much NPR. And I listen to whatever is free at the library. The Twilight series? I listened to it. But also The Tie That Binds and Prodigal Summer and The Golden Compass and some terrible mystery novels. Loved them all, though, because they were taking me off this damn California freeway.

Do you consciously plan your future reading–i.e., set book goals, keep a TBR list, participate in book challenges or book clubs? Why or why not?
I don’t. Or perhaps I don’t in that way. Perhaps I set a list a bit in the way I plan my classes. But often, I find a book at a library or a book store or on a friend’s shelf, and I say, “This is the one,” and I read it. It feels more like a happy treasure that way. That’s how I first read All the Pretty Horses when I was in high school. I picked it up off a remainder table at a local book store. And I felt like I had discovered a great secret. Of course, it had already won the National Book Award. But I had found it! On my own!

What are you reading now?
Ron Silliman just recommended Lorine Niedecker to me after reading a few of my poems. How did I never know about Lorine Niedecker? She is amazing! So I am reading all of her poems.

I’m also reading The Wild Braid, a beautiful book by Stanley Kunitz very late in his life—all about his garden and poems and the earth. Oh, I’m in love with it. Everyone should read this book! Give it as a gift to every gardener and poet you know. It is beautiful.

Find out more about Abby or Discontinued Township Roads at her website or on Facebook.

Introducing the Writers Who Read Series

photo (6)I’m excited to announce a new series on this blog, Writers Who Read.

I’m both a writer and a huge book nerd, and I’m thrilled at the chance to bring these two interests together through a series of writer interviews particularly focused on books and reading.

I’ll be interviewing writers–of all stripes, at all stages of their writing journey–and sending them ten questions focused on their reading lives. Questions like, How do you balance reading and writing? and What are your three favorite childhood books?

The goals of Writers Who Read:

  • to provide an opportunity for authors to talk a little about what they write and a lot about what they read
  • to help readers (and reader-writers) discover new authors and books
  • to celebrate our shared love of books

I’ve got a group of writers already scheduled, but I’d love to expand this list and make it as diverse as possible. If you are interested in participating, email me at writerggandrew AT gmail.com and I’ll send you more details! In the meantime, check out the latest interview in the series.

**Update: due to an enthusiastic response, I’m booked with interviews until July 2015! I am no longer scheduling guest interviews at this point, but if you’d like to be on the waiting list for interviews after July 2015, drop me a line and indicate if there’s a particular date you want. I’d like to continue the series past a year, I just don’t want to get too ahead of myself!**

Note: I don’t generally review books on this site, and so I won’t be reviewing the books featured in this series. It’s a time thing: between two book clubs, my own writing, and chasing two little boys I don’t have time to read all the books. But one of the joys of this series for me has been discovering new authors and stories, and I’ve been digging learning more about writers’ work as well as their reading…even if my TBR list is growing to astronomical proportions!

Romance Heroines We Love

THANKFULLY YOURS - 2500Today I’m welcoming romance author Carol Rose. Carol, a Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist, has written twenty contemporary romance books–her latest which is Thankfully Yours. Here are her thoughts on heroines (and heroes!) we love. Thanks for joining us, Carol!

She may be testy when she’s on her period and she may not have anything good to say to jerks who try to pick her up with lines like “I have love-fluenza,” but the romance heroine I love is a warm-hearted, real-life girl. She’s just trying to make her way through this life and she knows she’s not perfect. The deal is, however, that the man who wins her heart will say she’s perfect for him.

We all want to be more beautiful, to lose (or gain!) ten pounds, to have a better nose or a better job. Sometimes life sucks and we know we’re not always peachy, but the romances that pull us in are the ones where even less-than-perfect heroines find heroes who fit perfectly with them. Heroines may not always say the right thing and they might struggle to do the right thing, but that makes them more relatable. We can get them.

Perfection gets boring.

Look at the recent heroines and heroes in our favorite television shows. The character of Nurse Jackie struggled with addiction and cheated on her lover. The very successful show House centered around a brilliant, but arrogant, drug-addicted doctor. The main character on Dexter killed people? Yes, they deserved to die. The secret in creating a hero or heroine is to give them a good reason for being as bad as they can sometimes be. House took drugs because he had serious pain. To a large degree, he was snarly because of his physical limitations.

These shows weren’t romances, but we tuned in every week to watch how the characters dealt with their lives and we knew that each of them deserved to be loved. Even if they didn’t believe this themselves.

Romances with less-than-perfect heroines and heroes give us hope. They remind us that we can be loved ourselves and that even though little is perfect in this world, it’s still pretty good.


Carol Rose is an award-winning author of contemporary romances. She has written twenty books, including
Always and Forgotten Father. Her books have won numerous awards, including a final in the prestigious Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award.

Carol is an active member of the North Texas Romance Writers, the Dallas Area Romance Writers and the Yellow Rose chapter. A frequent speaker at writers’ groups and conferences, she has taught workshops on characterization and creating and resolving conflict. She works full time as a therapist.

Her husband and she married when she was only nineteen and he was barely twenty-one, proving that early marriage can make it, but only if you’re really lucky and persistent. They went through college and grad school together. She not only loves him still, all these years later, she still likes him—which she says is sometimes harder. They have two funny, intelligent and highly accomplished daughters. Carol loves writing and hopes you enjoy reading her work.

You can follow Carol on Twitter, find her on Facebook, or visit her website to learn more.

How Do You Choose What to Read?

Recently my friend Jenny Vinyl sparked a discussion on our reading and writing group asking how we “audition” books. This came from a recent episode of the Bookrageous podcast where Paul Montgomery used “auditioning” as a term to describe how readers decide which novels to pick from the vast cast of books waiting to be read.

Since I read about books more than is probably healthy, and because my own book auditioning process is so multi-step and anal-retentive, I thought this merited its own blog post.

For me, auditioning involves the steps of discovery, researching book details and deciding to sample, choosing to borrow/buy, and continuing to read. I’ve organized my thoughts under these steps below–although of course sometimes the process is non-linear.

Discovery
Because of the convenience factor, I rarely darken the door of a bookstore. Most of my discovery of books is online, primarily through ebook deal emails from BookBub, Pixel of Ink, and Smart Bitches Trashy Books. Coming in at a close second are recommendations from online booksellers (like editor picks), friends, blogs, and podcasts. Having a book suggested from multiple sources increases my chances of checking out the book further.

Researching Book Details: The Cover & Blurb
Since I’m seeing book recommendations daily, at least from BookBub and Pixel of Ink, I’ve had to hone my ability to choose books to sample into a fine art. In the past I just downloaded any free ebook that looked vaguely interesting, but you do that too long, you end up with two hundred books and a paralyzing anxiety when you open up your Kindle app.

Now I’m more discerning. With emails like from BookBub, I actually skim book covers and blurbs, which seems like the epitome of lazy but maximizes my time. I stop at covers that catch my eye and/or ones that fit into genres I enjoy like romance, fantasy, horror, cookbooks, or kid lit. I skim blurbs looking for keywords, which correspondence closely with what Smart Bitches’ Sarah Wendell describes as book catnip. My personal book catnips sound like Jeopardy categories–”I’ll take British Heroes or Small Town Cops/Small Time Crime for $500, Alex”–so when I see words that trigger these, I’ll read the blurb more carefully. I’m also drawn to book covers and blurbs that are quirky and hilarious.

I also look for anti-catnip, words indicating character types and tropes that don’t float my boat or that seem a dime a dozen, and I’ll usually bypass these. I see a lot of covers with tattooed dudes and blurbs mentioning billionaires and alpha werewolves, for instance, and while a lot of readers have catnip for these, I don’t, so I often skip them. (Although the story of a British billionaire alpha werewolf who doubles as a cop? Totally buying that.)

With cookbooks and children’s books, I’m less picky. I don’t want a cookbook for spicy gluten-free porridges and nobody here reads middle grade, but other than those, if it’s free I’m downloading. If it’s a couple bucks but it’s an ice cream cookbook, I’m buying.

Researching Book Details: Author, Length, Publisher, Reviews…& Recommendations
If the cover and/or blurb intrigues me, or if I’m getting a recommendation from a friend or other non-email source, I’ll head over to an online bookseller to find out more details like author, length, publisher, and reviews.

Author: If it’s an author whose other work I loved, I’ll likely just skip this step and add the book to my TBR list. Reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians’ Land this summer, for instance, is a no-brainer because I like his writing and have been reading his Magicians series.

Length: Shorter is better for me (see “lazy” above), although I will read a longer work if it’s from an author I love or comes highly recommended.

Publisher: I look at this more out of interest than anything else, since I read both indie and traditionally published books, though I’m increasingly trying to seek out indies to support those authors and broaden my horizons.

Reviews: I’ll glance at the reviews, both the number and average rating, although these are not always trustworthy. (Read this great post from Sarah Wendell about choosing books with ratings graphs that are giving you the middle finger.) But sometimes if a couple of reviews note the book has egregious typos, it’ll make me less likely to add to my to-read list. But sometimes negative reviews make me want to get a book. I’m reading Nick Spalding’s Love…from Both Sides right now, and some reviewers mentioned it was crass, but I’m down with the bawdy so that piqued my interest enough to sample and then buy.

*A note* Personal recommendations also figure large in all these steps. I may not be drawn to a book’s cover, genre, or blurb, but if a book has a lot of critical buzz and praise like Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, or is suggested by a friend, I’m more likely to give it a chance.

Sampling: Choosing to Borrow or Buy
I already wrote this post on sampling, but to sum I usually only read a page or two, sometimes just a couple paragraphs, to decide if a book is in my wheelhouse. I love a great voice, humor, unconventionally. If it bores me, I’ll stop reading. But often I’ll stop reading if a book seems merely decent or okay, because with so many books out there and a mile-long to-read list, who has time for just okay?

As I said in my earlier sampling post, I’m likely missing potentially great books here, but it’s how I choose to maximize my bookful time. And, again, critical and personal recommendations loom large. If I know a book has made a lot of lists, or a friend loved it, I’ll stick with it longer. Jane Austen’s Persuasion is one of my favorite books, but I don’t know if I would’ve read past the first few paragraphs (which start with Anne’s father, not the heroine or hero or love story) had it not been for Jenny Vinyl’s glowing recommendation and Austen’s reputation.

If a book has made it this far down my tunnel of book love (not a euphemism), and I dig the sample, I’ll add it to my to-read list…or buy it if it’s on sale for cheap or free and preferably not available at the library. I’ve got to be really into it to pay, and I usually don’t pay more than $1.99 for an ebook, and more often free or .99 which some may say is yet another harbinger of the bookpacalypse, but I’ve got a mortgage, so…

Sometimes I’m desperate to read a book now now now and maybe it’s not available at my library and I’ll pay more. It’s happened.

Continuing to Read
Even if I’ve borrowed a book from the library or bought it, I don’t always keep reading. Some books are cast to play a role in my reading life, but are subsequently laid off. Sometimes I like the first few pages, or chapters, but then things get boring or unpleasant and I just don’t look forward to reading it at night. This happens to about 20% of the books I attempt, and most often with literary and/or classical fiction. I feel guilty about this often, but if I don’t read the books I crave, I’ll read less–a lot less.

But when a book makes it all the way to the closing curtains? That, my fellow readers, is a show worth experiencing.

What about you–how do you audition books to read?

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