Writers Who Read: Tiffany Reisz

TiffanyReisz-2The Writers Who Read series continues this week with bestselling author Tiffany Reisz.

Who are you?
I’m Tiffany Reisz! I write the bestselling ORIGINAL SINNERS series from Mira Books, which has won an RT Editor’s Choice award, a Lambda Literary award, and the RITA Romance Writers of America award. The series features a quirky and beautiful Dominatrix, her various lovers (including a Catholic priest), and her wealthy and powerful clients.

Which book or series was your gateway into the world of reading?
I’ve always been a reader. I can’t remember a time before books. My mom read to my sister and I at night every night. The first book I remember reading on my own and loving so much I wanted to read more more more was THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE in the fourth grade. It blew the top of my head off. After that it was A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle.

Nowadays, what makes you crack open a book instead of pressing play on your favorite Netflix show?
I’m one of those jerks who doesn’t watch Netflix or TV. Sometimes I’ll watch a Poirot episode on DVD, but I’m literally that obnoxious hipster who watches no TV unless someone makes me (although my husband and I do watch Portlandia, but I confess I wouldn’t watch that if he didn’t put it on, because I don’t know how to work any of the remote controls).

But back to your question…I’m reading a lot of holiday romances right now. I have a nice pile of Christmas romances stacking up that I plan to binge read in November and December.

Which authors are auto-buys for you? Why?
No author is an auto-buy for me. Even if I love everything I’ve read before by that author, I’ll still read the back cover to see if it appeals to me. I loved THE KEEP by Jennifer Egan and it’s easily in my Top Five Fave Novels EVER, but I haven’t read her two most recent books because they don’t call to me. I own a ton of books by Mary Balogh and Georgette Heyer. I love Agatha Christie mysteries. If I see one in a used bookstore, I’ll almost always buy it.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique settings, tropes, or character types that make you unable to resist reading?
I love love love marriage of convenience romances and May/December romances. Give me a marriage of convenience romance between a 17 year-old bride and a 35 year-old groom and I am a happy girl. That’s actually the couple in Georgette Heyer’s A CONVENIENT MARRIAGE (she’s 17, he’s 35, they are near strangers when they marry and he wins his wacky bride’s heart with kindness and patience and a great sense of humor) ergo that’s my favorite romance novel ever.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I love reading in bed at night with my sad little kitteh-cat Honeytoast curled up on my stomach or chest. I’m definitely a bedtime reader. I get in bed a little after nine and read until midnight.

Are you a re-reader? Why or why not?
I’m absolutely a re-reader. I’ve read Anne Rice’s “Sleeping Beauty” series a few dozen times (so sexy). I’ve read Elizabeth Wein’s Arthurian retelling THE WINTER PRINCE at least a dozen times. If I picked up A CHRISTMAS PROMISE by Mary Balogh right now I’d be reading it all day. I know I’ve read ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren at least three times and it gets better every time I read it.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your own writing?
Probably the Bible, Anne Rice’s vampire and kink books, Jacqueline Carey’s first couple of Kushiel books, Julie Garwood (I love a writer who can make me laugh) and C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. If I could write one novel half as good as THE VINTNER’S LUCK by Elizabeth Knox, I could die happy.

What makes a book a satisfying read for you?
Great story, great writing, believable rich lush characters, and a good punch in the gut. Probably the best two gut punch books I’ve ever read are THE VINTNER’S LUCK by Elizabeth Knox and AN INSTANCE OF THE FINGERPOST by Iain Pears.

What are you reading right now?
Started ONLY A KISS by Mary Balogh last night and read over half of it before finally falling asleep. Just finished THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford and it was Good Madox Good!


Tiffany Reisz is the author of the internationally bestselling and multi award-winning The Original Sinners series from Harlequin/Mira. She lives in Oregon with her husband, author Andrew Shaffer. Find her on Twitter @tiffanyreisz.

Writing is My French Lover (on BIG MAGIC)

I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear last weekend. While I Girl on Cardon’t normally review novels on this site, I thought I’d highlight a nonfiction book that may especially resonate with some of you fellow writers and other creative people.

Unlike other books on how to unlock creativity or be a writer, Gilbert’s book is more philosophical, more a collection of thoughts, quotes, and stories around six ingredients she sees as part of creativity: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity. So if you’re looking for a clear path to Becoming an Artist, this ain’t it. But it is a breezy, accessible, inspiring, funny, and often poignant view of creativity that we don’t always read about.

Gilbert suggests we should all have a light, playful relationship with creativity and the inspiration that flows to us (what she calls “Big Magic”). This can be the calling we feel to be a novelist, but it can also be the simple interest we have in taking tap lessons or cooking casseroles. It’s all making. She’s not a fan of quitting your day job to do pottery full-time, or getting a MFA, or crocheting an afghan until it’s perfect. Above all, she’s not keen on the idea of the miserable starving artist. Instead, she wants us all to approach the creative pursuits that interest us diligently–but not so seriously, and with a sense of joy and wonder.

Particularly for a romance author like myself, Elizabeth Gilbert’s metaphors on having a relationship with creativity can delightfully veer into sexy, even tawdry, territory. In Big Magic, as in an episode of her Magic Lessons podcast (“Sexy, Dirty, Nasty, Wicked”), she says to have an affair with your art. When people have affairs, she reasons, they make time to see that person, even if it’s just for a stolen kiss. It’s exciting. It’s special. It’s something you can hide away.

I love this, since writing is often this for me–something I steal time to create, something just for myself as I’m drafting, something thrilling. Seeing writing this way, or whatever art gets your blood pumping, is a great shift to embrace, since it then feels like something you crave and yearn to get back to…versus that story you really ought to finish.

Gilbert also extends the sex metaphor to how we should treat art lightly, regardless of outcome. In the Magic Lessons podcast episode “Access Your Joy,” she advises a songwriter who’s having trouble penning lyrics to commemorate her sister. “I think it’s possible that you might have a little bit too much respect for music…You know how sometimes… when someone respects you too much, the sex is no good?” Though likely controversial, I get her drift: take your creativity too seriously, too reverently, too concerned with making A Great Thing, and you risk losing the joy and passion for it–and perhaps even the momentum to create.

I’m curious: do you other writers (/knitters/painters/potters/poets) out there see your art like a French lover?

I’m trying to with a short story I’m writing now. But, don’t tell anybody: I don’t want the novel I need to revise finding out.

Writers Who Read: Kieran Lyne

imageThe Writers Who Read interview series welcomes Kieran Lyne this week.

Who are you?
I am Kieran Lyne, author of The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes and the youngest writer to be endorsed by the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate. I live in the middle of nowhere in Suffolk, England, where I work for a local charity for adults with physical and sensory disability called Mid-Suffolk Axis, as well as at a local pub.

I spend my time reading and writing, watching films and F1, and recovering from various self-inflicted injuries. In what has become a running joke, I will one day also one day continue rebuilding my Series 1 Land Rover.

Which book or series was your gateway into the world of reading?
Tricky one as my reading history is a bit sporadic! When I was young I read mainly James Herbert, Roald Dahl, and Anthony Horowitz: and in my teens I was swept away by the Harry Potter craze. At around the age of 15 I stopped reading fiction and mainly read autobiographies of musicians and political activists, before the discovery of Sherlock Holmes reignited my passion for fiction.

If I can cheat and have several gateways I would opt for: (pre-teens) The Fantastic Mr Fox and The Fog, (early teens) The Prisoner of Azkaban, (mid-teens) The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and (late-teens) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Nowadays, what makes you crack open a book instead of pressing play on your favorite Netflix show?
Living in the middle of nowhere certainly helps! But personally I get a different kind of enjoyment from reading than I do from watching films or TV. When you read something special you can delight in the author’s turn of phrase, the beautiful descriptions, or the subtle observations. It is almost impossible to satisfactorily translate the magic of prose.

I would point to two of my favourite books The Great Gatsby and A Clockwork Orange: both have plots that are easily transferable, and yet their adaptations don’t quite suffice. There is always something missing, and I think it’s that extra delight that only truly special prose can inspire.

Which authors are auto-buys for you? Why?
This might sound odd but I’m not sure I have any. Sebastian Faulks is one of my favourite contemporary writers, but if the subject matter really wasn’t my cup of tea, I wouldn’t buy one of his books just for the sake of it.

If I’m unsure what to read I will usually spend ages staring at my book shelf, reading bits and bobs of certain titles before concluding that I’m still not in the mood for that particular tale: for some reason I have done this several times with Charlotte Grey despite Faulks being the closest person I have to a “go-to” author.

This is probably because my current reading habit is to chop and change between different styles and genres. For example over the last few months I have read The Magician by Somerset Maugham, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Prophet by Kahil Gilbran, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carol.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique settings, tropes, or character types that make you unable to resist reading?
I don’t really have any one specific kryptonite to be honest! My main criteria are a book has to be well written, and the characters have to be engaging.

As I mentioned earlier I recently read We, which is the novel George Orwell credited as his inspiration for 1984. I thought We was absolutely fantastic: it’s brilliantly written and most importantly I felt a genuine connection to the characters. Whereas I thought 1984, which is extremely similar in content, was incredibly dull. I didn’t enjoy the prose, and I really didn’t care what happened to the main character, so much so I can’t even remember his name.

This is an example of why I don’t really have a kryptonite per se, but my favourite time period extends roughly from around the 1880s to the late 1930s. The immense social upheaval which takes place throughout this period, as well as the vast contrasts in settings, means it was and is a thick vein for literature: whether it is the atmosphere of gothic tales such as The Picture of Dorian Grey, the splendour of Brideshead Revisited, or the tragedy of Birdsong, my kryptonite is to be found lurking somewhere in this 50-year period.

I still maintain however, that I would much prefer to read something of quality set in an unfamiliar period, than read 50 Shades of Dorian Grey.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I don’t enjoy reading with lots going on in the background and prefer to be the only person in the room. I don’t know why, but I really don’t like being in the same room with other people reading. So long as I have my solitude I’m not too fussy: I can read at anytime of the day, so long as I’m not too tired, but usually it will be in the afternoon or early evening.

Are you a re-reader? Why or why not?
I am, but only if the book is truly special: I have re-read Gatsby because of its stunning prose, The Autobiography of Malcolm X because of its raw power, A Clockwork Orange because of its sheer uniqueness, and several Sherlock Holmes stories because of the relationship between Holmes and Watson.

You don’t always want to read something profound, and plot-driven thrillers are of course extremely popular, but if there is little else to be gained from a book other than the thrill of the plot then I would not usually bother reading again. I find this with authors such as Robert Goddard, who spins an excellent yarn, but does not fill me with any desire to return to the same story again and again.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing? image
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes remains my favourite Holmes book, and it had a huge influence on my decision to write a Holmes novel. I loved the interaction between Holmes and Watson, and also the subtlety of the plots: which I believe is best encapsulated by the stories which include no crime at all.

Recently I was greatly impressed by The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman. I loved the simplicity of his prose, but also the feeling that virtually every word was chosen correctly, and that he was in complete control. He is simply telling a story, nothing more, nothing less: and I think it is a core lesson that is often too easily forgotten.

I have also found that non-fiction books can have an impact on the way I consider writing fiction. Actors are almost entirely focused upon character, which is also the most important ingredient for authors, so I found Al Pacino: The Authorised Biography particularly insightful and is also one of the few books I will read again and again.

In terms of books which have aided me in the craft, I found On Writing by Stephen King, and Write Away by Elizabeth George, both to be very helpful, and compliment each other nicely.

What makes a book a satisfying read for you?
“There are many perfect short stories, but no perfect novels.” When I first read this quote by Ballard I remember being quite surprised, but when I started to think about it I couldn’t help but agree.

The majority of my favourite books happen to be fairly short: but even Gatsby isn’t perfect. I do like long novels, but in terms of satisfaction, I seem to prefer my books short and sweet. Similar to a short story, I like a novel to be a snapshot: filled with atmosphere, character, and great prose.

Though no matter how long or short, I find that the most satisfying books are the ones that alter your perception somehow: whether it is something as profound as your attitude toward life, or as trivial as where you want to go on holiday, the most satisfying books carry a weight beyond their words.

What are you reading right now?
At the moment I’m reading Cosa Nostra by John Dicke, A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.


You can find out more about Kieran on his website or Twitter (@Kieran Lyne). You can also check out The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes here.


I’m thrilled to announce that my New Adult romantic comedy novella, CRAZY, SEXY, GHOULISH: A HALLOWEEN ROMANCE, is now available! Crazy Sexy Ghoulish Cover Publishing Version

A zombie. A vampire. A witch. Nora Travers is none of these things.

But the former mean girl has to hide behind costumes if she wants to scare the pants off Brendan, the horror geek with the power to make or break her haunted house. Because Brendan is the nerd Nora used to torment in middle school. But now he’s all grown up and so scary hot, even her zombie heart starts beating.

And he’s looking a bit too long at her bloody fishnet stockings.

Nora has to be everything she’s not this Halloween so she can hide her true self and terrify Brendan. Not to mention protect her heart.

Because what happens when he realizes she’s a monster behind the mask?


You can click here for an excerpt of the novella–or, better yet, go listen to the excerpt read aloud by the wonderful Betsy Talbot  during the latest episode of the Quickie Romance Podcast. I’ve dug listening to this new podcast that gives you a quick, ten-minute sample of a current romance novel along with interesting facts about the author, and I am so happy to be featured on it…especially since it required the host to do a zombie voice.

CRAZY, SEXY, GHOULISH is free until early October at all sellers except for Amazon (and my fingers are tightly crossed that Amazon will price-match soon; in the meantime, Kindle users can get a .mobi file that will work at Smashwords), so grab a copy at your favorite store below before they run out. (That’s something that happens, right?)

Get it Now!
Barnes & Noble

Writers Who Read: Jason M. Hough

Jason BookThe Writers Who Read series continues this week with Jason M. Hough.

Who are you?
I’m Jason M. Hough, author of ZERO WORLD and THE DARWIN ELEVATOR.

Which book or series was your gateway into the world of reading?
The first book I can remember picking up on my own and enjoying was Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, back in the mid-80’s.  Right around that time I also read Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke, and let’s just say I was off to the races with both Fantasy and Sci-fi.

Nowadays, what makes you crack open a book instead of pressing play on your favorite Netflix show?
To be honest I’m not that much of a purist when it comes to reading versus other mediums. I enjoy books, television, movies, games, and everything in between. I try to keep pretty well-rounded on all these, so I’m always switching between them. I read for work a lot, as editors send me books to possibly provide a cover quote for.  My kids, who are quite young, prevent me from getting much time to actually sit and read for pleasure these days, however, so I listen to audiobooks whenever I’m driving or doing chores.

Which authors are auto-buys for you? Why?
Guy Gavriel Kay is, I think, the only author I auto-buy.  I just love losing myself in his stories, his language, and his characters. There have been other authors who have come and gone from this auto-buy category, but Guy is the one who has been there consistently since I read The Summer Tree back in 1989 or so.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique settings, tropes, or character types that make you unable to resist reading?
Isn’t kryptonite the thing Superman wants to avoid at all costs?  Sorry, I’m being pedantic!  I think you mean something more like catnip.  My reading is all over the map, so I don’t think there’s a specific thing I’m drawn to.  As long as something is well-paced and unpredictable, it doesn’t really matter to me what the genre or setting is.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Oh, I wish I had such luxury! Before kids it would be just before bed, in a comfy-but-not-too-comfy chair. Now, I think listening to an audiobook while taking the dog for a walk is the best reading time I get.

Are you a re-reader? Why or why not?
Not too much. Mostly because I just don’t have time. As an author I keep meeting other authors, and always want to read at least one thing by them.  Which these days means I’m often reading the first book in some series before I have to move on to someone else. Re-reading the same book? I only do that occasionally, usually for research or just for the comfort. It’s a rare treat when it happens!

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
I suppose I have to say John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, because it’s what got me back into sci-fi and made me want to write. However I think everything I read influences me to some extent.

What makes a book a satisfying read for you?
There’s lots of things.  A great setting or world, great dialog, a clever mechanic.  But the one consistent thing for me is pace.

What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore, and Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley Beaulieu, both of which are excellent!

Thanks for having me on the blog!

Jason M. Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dire Earth Cycle and the futuristic thriller Zero World. In a former life he was a 3D artist, animator, and game designer. He has also worked in the fields of high-performance cluster computing and machine learning.

Web: http://www.jasonhough.com
Twitter: @JasonMHough
Books: http://www.jasonhough.com/books/index.html

Writers Who Read: Daniel Hales

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with Daniel Hales.Tempo Maps pic

Who are you?
A writer, musician, collagist, teacher, kayaker, salsa junkie. I’m the author of Tempo Maps, a poetry chapbook with the companion CD: Miner Street Symphony (ixnay press). My poems, flash fictions, and hybrid writings have appeared in many places in print and in the aether, including Verse Daily, Conduit, H_NGM_N, Sentence, Quarter After Eight, and Booth. I’ve released three eps with The Ambiguities and three albums with The Frost Heaves, most recently Contrariwise: Songs From Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Which book or series was your gateway into the world of reading?
Like so many young readers of my generation, The Chronicles of Narnia was the first series I totally immersed myself in. I’ve been looking for secret portals into alternate dimensions ever since.

Nowadays, what makes you crack open a book instead of pressing play on your favorite Netflix show?
Books are richer in detail and description and, simultaneously, more open to “audience participation” than films. Film is such a powerful sensory-saturating medium, it can be hard to separate how you see the characters and settings from the way they’re depicted on the screen. Books demand more of you, require more effort and imagination, but the payoff is bigger if you rise to the occasion.

Which authors are auto-buys for you? Why?
I have to confess that I rarely buy new books, even new releases that I’m excited about. My preferred book-buying experience is excavating funky used bookstores, preferably with big, eclectic poetry sections. I do the most book-buying when I go on sacred pilgrimages to odd and awesome bookstores around the world. If I spot a book I don’t have by Italo Calvino, Denis Johnson, Fernando Pessoa, Dean Young, or Russell Edson, it’s an autobuy.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique settings, tropes, or character types that make you unable to resist reading?
Settings: places I’ve lived, places I’d like to live, extreme places, unlikely or impossible places, any setting that is richly evoked. Tropes: Ninjas disguised as chimney sweeps in Dickensian England, recluses in submarines, beloved cats who murder their people, kids lost in labyrinths, taco stands that appear at will, competing rock bands stranded on a desert island. Characters: dreamers, losers, loners, misanthropes, musicians, rebels, risk-takers, seekers, hot air balloon smugglers, self-doubting wizards.

Are you a re-reader?
Yes, especially of favorite books of poetry. I keep coming back to those. There are Stevens, Pessoa, Rilke, Whitman, Dickinson, Pavese, and Dylan Thomas poems that I re-read every few years. I’ve re-read my favorite stories in Nabokov’s Dozen, Stanford’s Conditions Uncertain and Likely To Pass Away, Borges’ Labyrinths, Saunders’ Civil War Land In Bad Decline, and Johnson’s Jesus’ Son many times. My most fun reread of the summer was Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I found twice as beautiful and fantastic the second time.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
All times of day are good for different reasons, but in the afternoon I seem to have the most focus. Reading outside in hammocks or beach chairs is preferable, when the temperature of the world permits it. With a cat on the couch otherwise.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
See my list of favorite books of prose poetry. Also, Another Republic edited by Charles Simic and Mark Strand, Wallace Stevens’ Harmonium, James Tate’s Worshipful Company of Fletchers, Dean Young’s Strike Anywhere, Lawrence Raab’s Mysteries of the Horizon, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

What makes a book a satisfying read?
The sense that the writer was having fun and making discoveries along the way. When a book promises a lot and delivers. The right balance of abundance and concision, extravagance and restraint, just the right amount of semicolons and Oxford commas. A writer who is in love with language, danger, and the sensual world. Believable characters, settings that are characters in the book, not to mention ambient music, a beer, and a sandwich while reading.

What are you reading right now?
Books I’m currently reading or have recently finished: Sleeping It Off In Rapid City by August Kleinzahler, After I Was Dead by Laura Mullen, Exile On Main Street by Bill Janovitz (33 1/3 series), Get In Trouble by Kelly Link, Dr. Strange: The Oath by Brian Vaughan and Marcos Martin, and Sunblind Almost Motorcrash by Daniel Mahoney. This is an incredibly fun book of reviews for fictitious bands in various sub-sub-sub-genres of music. Dan asked various musicians to write and records songs pretending to be these imaginary bands and Spork Press released a companion cassette. I became the band Umbral, and had so much fun recording my song “Dawn Undecides,” that I’ve continued recording as Umbral. I hope to have the first Umbral album finished before the year’s out. In the meantime, Mahoney and I are in the process of organizing a fall reading tour in New England. We’ll both read our own poems, and I’ll accompany him with Umbral drones and ditties while he reads.


Daniel Hales is the author of Tempo Maps. Tempo Maps, comprised mostly of prose poems, is a tough book to pin down, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have fun trying. Longer than a chapbook, but not quite long enough to be a full-length volume, attempts to map its tempos are further complicated by its 2 covers, 2 possible points of entry, 2 alternate beginnings and ends, 2 equally correct orientations. Tempo Maps also comes with a companion CD comprised of 46 tracks: Hales reading the poems, instrumental interludes, and a long piece called the Miner Street Symphony. You can order it by emailing Daniel at: selahsongs@hotmail.com.

Sex Danger: Six Things on IT FOLLOWS

Photo via IMDB.

Photo via IMDB.

Horror season is nigh, and along with my steady diet of rom-coms, I’ve started watching more scary movies.

This week I viewed IT FOLLOWS, which is a cross between THE RING and a bad afterschool special: A girl, Jay (Maika Monroe), finds herself being followed by a shape-shifting monster after having sex. If she wants to lose the monster, she’s got to have sex and pass it on–and hope that person doesn’t die. To make matters worse (better?), she’s surrounded by a closeknit group of her sister, friends, and neighbors, and there’s sexual tension between various members of the group.

Six thoughts I had while watching the film:

1. This movie is terrifying all the more because it feels so real. It’s set in the suburbs, with lawns and people I recognized–not slick characters or quirky types. This street could’ve been the one I grew up on. I could’ve known that guy.

2. The sex in the film is very real, too. It’s not glamorous or particularly titillating. It feels authentic, and there’s a strong sense of seriousness about the act, owning to how it’s functioning in the movie as a defensive maneuver for Jay and others: it’s something you do to make the boogie man go away.

3. The sexually-transmitted monster can transform into any body: an old lady limping toward you, a naked man standing on your rooftop, your best friend. It can disturb in its alienness as much as it disturbs in its familiarity. It can represent different things.

4. The creature is also only seen by its victims. Jay can see it, and so can Hugh, the boy who gave her the monster. But to the rest of the world it’s invisible. This adds a twist of madness to the terror of the victim. Is there really no one there? What if no one believes them?

5. It many ways, this story is the ultimate anti-romance: two people get together, and A Bad Thing Happens. Keep having sex, and the badness spreads. Sex is dangerous. It causes you fear, pain–even death. But you can’t stop.

6. Jay’s friend Paul (Keir Gilchrist) has a crush on her throughout the movie. At times I thought of him as alternately pathetic and brave, because even when he fully believed she had a sexually-transmitted monster, he still wanted to have sex with her. Or maybe he just didn’t want her to have sex with anyone else? Paul’s intentions and arc, and the way Jay responded to him, was one of the biggest surprises of this film.

Writers Who Read: Rebecca Brooks

The Writers Who Read series continues this week with romance author Rebecca Brooks.rebecca brooks headshot

Who are you?
I’m Rebecca Brooks! I write contemporary erotic romance about independent women who step out of their lives to try something new. I’m into travel, adventure, small towns in beautiful places, and strong, outdoorsy men with big hearts.

My debut, Above All, is about an artist who runs a campground in the Adirondacks and falls for a younger chef just passing through. My next book, How to Fall, is coming out in November and I can’t wait—it’s set in southern Brazil and features a Chicago math teacher and a sexy Australian screenwriter who are both bent on escaping the past, but find it harder to escape each other.

I just last week sent my agent a brand spankin’ new manuscript called Make Me Stay, set in a fictional ski town in Washington State. I don’t want to say too much about it but I’m so in love with the hero, a former Olympic skier and coach, that I feel terrible for what he has to go through!

Which book or series was your gateway into the world of reading?
I’ve been reading (and writing) forever, but I didn’t get into romance until more recently. I wrote my dissertation on the romance plot in contemporary feminist utopian and dystopian literature (yep, I got to write about The Hunger Games). As part of my research I read an amazing book by Janice Radway called Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. This was a huge turning point for me. I realized that if I’m interested in opportunities and possibilities for female characters in literature, then romance is an amazingly rich and varied genre to explore (and way more fun that academia).

The first romance novels I read were Liberating Lacey by Anne Calhoun, Tempted by Megan Hart, and Good Girls Don’t by Victoria Dahl. Needless to say, I became a total convert. After I finished my degree, I didn’t pursue academia and started writing my first romance instead!

Nowadays, what makes you crack open a book instead of pressing play on your favorite Netflix show?
That’s hard because TV has gotten so much better at storytelling over the years, so I can almost kind of justify it as work. But I spend so much time on the computer that sometimes I can’t stand the thought of more time in front of a screen, and that’s when I pick up a book (my kindle screen feels different than a computer, although it’s still a device). I’ll admit that it can be hard to get into a new book instead of pressing play on a favorite show, but if I’m in the middle of a book I can’t put down, then all I’m going to want to do is read.

Which authors are auto-buys for you? Why?
I write contemporary erotic and that’s a lot of what I like to read—I mentioned Calhoun and Dahl; another favorite I’m always recommending is Charlotte Stein. But I’m in two romance book clubs in NYC and a lot of what I read is dictated by whatever the groups choose for the month. I ready widely and am incredibly unfaithful—I like to jump around from one thing to the next, and will pick up YA, middle grade, science fiction, literary fiction, classics… you name it. These book clubs expose me to a lot of different things I might not gravitate toward on my own, like paranormal or highlander time travel, for example. I love the experience of trying something new and broadening my tastes.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique settings, tropes, or character types that make you unable to resist reading?
Anything outdoorsy will immediately make me interested, and dynamic, picturesque settings that are central to the story and transport me somewhere beautiful I’d love to be. I go for characters who are competent, humble, and kind—the kinds of people I’d want to drool over myself, or hang out with over a beer.

I can’t stand major clichés, women who are always falling down (literally) and need a man to save them, and alpha men with no character traits beyond washboard abs and some deep dark secret that’s not actually a big deal but nevertheless makes them so brooding that they become mean. (And let’s all agree that “washboard abs” isn’t actually a character trait, ok?)

Here’s one more big thing: since I gravitate toward the erotic, I want my women to be sexually empowered and get what they want. Things don’t always have to go perfectly—this is romance, so they probably won’t! But if the hero is getting his then I want to be damn sure the heroine is satisfied, too.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
I can’t go anywhere without a book, whether it’s a physical copy, my kindle, or something on my phone. I read on the subway, or when I’m waiting around, or any time I can find a few stolen moments during the day. But my ideal spot is in the big comfy chair in my living room that’s under a good light and has a small table next to it—perfect for a drink or cup of tea. In the evenings my husband and I will often sit and read aloud to each other, or read silently to ourselves and then stop and talk about what we’re in the middle of. It’s the best.

Are you a re-reader? Why or why not?
There are so many books that I love and want to go back to re-read, but to be honest it rarely happens because there are so many new books I want to dive into! I’ll re-read if there’s something specific I’m looking for in my writing, like if I want to remind myself how another author tackles a particular problem. But I rarely find myself picking up a book to re-read for pleasure, even though I often tell myself I should because I know I’ll have a different perspective after time has passed.

Above-All-CoverWhich books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Octavia Butler is one of my favorite writers; her essays have been a huge influence in terms of reminding me to persist and keep writing. Likewise, Margaret Atwood is so eclectic, even though I don’t like all of her work I appreciate the reminder not to pigeonhole myself or limit my imagination.

Lastly, Russell Banks’s Lost Memory of Skin was a big “aha” moment for me because it seems like a book that shouldn’t work and that I’d never, ever like—it’s about a sex offender who lives under a causeway in Florida—and yet I couldn’t put it down.

None of these are romance novels, but they’ve all reminded me to be bold, take risks, and not talk myself out of trying something before I’ve found whether or not it might actually work.

Every time I write there are moments when I think, “Can I write this? Can I get away with this? Are people going to tell me I can’t do this?” That voice only gets louder as I’ve gotten deeper into the industry and can hear my agent, my editor, reviewers, and readers in my head. But if it’s true to the story, true to the characters, and it works, then the answer should always be Yes.

What makes a book a satisfying read for you?
I want to feel like the writing is careful and thought through, so not a lot of cliché or repetition or uninspired language, and I want to feel like each character is multidimensional and real. I feel unsatisfied when I close a book and don’t understand why a character does or feels something, or why an event plays out the way that it does. When the character, setting, dialogue, and plot all fit together; when I can’t imagine the story happening any other way; when I feel like I’ve been transported into another person’s consciousness—that’s when I want to linger in the pages and can’t wait to tell everyone about it when I’m done.

What are you reading right now?
Yikes. Well, I just finished Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Afternoon Delight by Anne Calhoun, and now I have no idea what to do next. On the pile next to my bed are: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marissa Pessl, Again the Magic by Lisa Kleypas, Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, Joyland by Stephen King (which a student I mentor said I absolutely have to read), and a stack of Denton Welch books that I can’t remember why I have because I’m probably not going to read them anyway. So! I guess I’ll pick one or two from this list and get cracking.

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 in order to try something new—and find the passion, excitement, and purpose they didn’t even know they’d been missing. You can find her at her website and on Twitter and Facebook.

Want to read more interviews with romance writers who read? Click here.

Writers Who Read: Devi Lockwood

callioperoadThe Writers Who Read series continues this week with Devi Lockwood. Welcome, Devi!

Who are you?
Devi K. Lockwood. I’m a poet / touring cyclist / storyteller from Boston, currently traveling around the world by bicycle to collect 1001 stories from people I meet about water and/or climate change. As I write this I’m in Wooloweyah, NSW, Australia, taking a break from the bicycle to learn how to surf and skateboard.

Which book or series was your gateway into the world of reading?
I first fell in love with a poem––”Zinnias” by Valerie Worth.


Zinnias, stout and stiff,
Stand no nonsense: their colors
Stare, their leaves
Grow straight out, their petals
Jut like clipped cardboard,
Round, in neat flat rings.

Even cut and bunched
Arranged to please us
In the house, in the water, they
Will hardly wilt––I know
Someone like zinnias: I wish
I were like zinnias.


I must have found the poem on my teacher’s bookshelf in the third grade. I remember thinking to myself wow, words can do that?! And then, I want to write like that.

Nowadays, what makes you crack open a book instead of pressing play on your favorite Netflix show?
The only Netflix show I watch is Orange is the New Black, which makes it super-easy to resist that particular addiction! There is some great storytelling in television, but to be honest I don’t like sitting still for the length of an entire movie or episode. Plus, books are about a million more times practical for my lifestyle than TV shows. I like that I can leave off and pick up a story at any time, regardless of whether or not there’s Wifi. Reading, for me, is relaxing. I read most nights before I get to bed. When I’m stealth camping in the bush alone, there’s nothing like opening up a good book to make me feel relaxed and centered before sleep.

Which authors are auto-buys for you? Why?
Mary Oliver’s poetry speaks a kind of truth that I can come back to again and again and always get something different. Adrienne Rich is more academic in her writing––I love to read her poems aloud and dream. Neil Gaiman writes stunning stories that stick to the inside of my ribs. Sharon Creech’s narratives wove through my childhood as an early reader and stick with me still. I love her mode of storytelling and would read anything she writes.

What is your book kryptonite–those unique settings, tropes, or character types that make you unable to resist reading?
I like stories that deal with both an external and an internal landscape in a non-glossy way. I fall and get back up. I like characters who do the same. Travel is a plus. Quest narratives with female leads are my kryptonite.

What is your ideal time and place to read?
Snuggled in my down sleeping bag having just boiled water for a mug of tea, readying myself for a night of sleeping outside in my tent.

Are you a re-reader? Why or why not?
Only sometimes. I like to wait a long time before rereading a story so that I have forgotten.

I recently reread Garth Nix’s The Old Kingdom Series that I loved when I was younger. The same goes for Sharon Creech’s Bloomability. I could read that book 100 times, but I have only read it three times. There is so much good writing out there that I want to make sure I am constantly widening the scope of voices that make it into my life.

Poems are the exception. I find that the more times I read a collection, the more I get out of it. Poems are magic like that — they morph to show their many truths depending on what I bring to the table each time I open the slim volume. At the moment I’m rereading Jorie Graham’s Sea Change.

Which books have had the biggest influence on your writing?
Maggie Nelson’s Bluets.
Adrienne Rich’s The Dream of a Common Language.
Anna Deavere Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist.

What makes a book a satisfying read for you?
I studied Folklore & Mythology at university. I am fascinated by the intersection between poetry and storytelling. When a writer’s words and sentences flow together and make something bigger than themselves––when the writing matters, somehow––I am satisfied. I like writing that guides me but also lets me bring my own story to the table.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman––what a beautiful story! Right now I’m in the middle of The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison.

Devi K. Lockwood is a poet / touring cyclist / storyteller from Boston, currently traveling the world by bicycle to collect 1001 stories from people she meets about water and/or climate change. You can keep up to date with her travels at http://www.onebikeoneyear.wordpress.com, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr.

Writing by Rom-Com: Old Fashioned

Resurrecting the writing series I started last winter, I’ve begun watching more romance films

Photo via IMDB.

Photo via IMDB.

with an eye to seeing what they can teach me about writing a good love story.

Recently I saw Old Fashioned, a sweet inspirational tale about a quiet guy who doesn’t believe in dating or even kissing before marriage and a carefree woman who thinks that’s kind of crazy. But she winds up settling in his small town and renting the apartment above his antique shop, and–well, you know how these things go.

What did it teach me about how to write (or not) a compelling romance? Three things:

Lesson One: Build a world. Yes, even if it’s not a fantasy.
Even in a story without speculative elements, world-building is so important. Old Fashioned does a great job of showing this. Set in a small town, its setting mirrors the attitudes of the hero Clay (Rik Swartzwelder). When Amber (Elizabeth Roberts) rents his apartment, she finds a rotary phone and a big, old-timey fridge. She listens to the radio, as do others in town. The theme of old-fashioned ideals and courtship is enriched and made cohesive by these elements, which reminds me to make my own stories richly woven with setting and theme, in large and small ways.

Lesson Two: Use foils to emphasize character traits.
Clay’s friend in the film is radio shock jock Brad (Tyler Hollinger), who calls women stupid and asks their weight on the air. Without him in the movie, we might’ve been tempted to see Clay’s beliefs and behavior as weird and off-putting, but against Brad’s over-the-top behavior, we see the appeal of a quieter, steadier guy. (Though many women might’ve opted to look behind Door C.) Foil characters like this serve to highlight differences, and this is good to remember in fiction, particularly when writing a character with an extreme personality or beliefs. In Old Fashioned, it was a way of pointing out the benefits of a man like Clay.

Lesson Three: Make the ultimate pairing the steamiest. Even when it’s clean.
Here’s where Old Fashioned struggled for me. Near the climax of the story, after the two leads fight, they are both faced with the temptations of other romantic partners. But during these scenes, we see Clay in particular in an intense, physical closeness with a woman that’s not Amber. Even though these scenes are meant to be shown as unhealthy, this physical intensity somewhat overshadows the sweetness of the Amber/Clay scenes, and as a result left me a little cold at the end. I’ve seen this before, too: movies that show sexy scenes of ill-advised ex hookups or bad boyfriends, but without the final couple having an equal or steamier moment. Writing scenes with old lovers and potential partners can show character development, but these scenes shouldn’t undermine the intensity of the ultimate love connection.

Watch this space, because I’ll be sharing more Writing by Rom-Com reviews soon from a wide-range of films!




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