Savanna Walker

When Charlotte Hilaire gets stranded in Madrid on a snowy winter night, she takes a chance and gets in touch with Adrianna Coates, a fellow art academic whom Charlotte was both intimidated by and attracted to during her grad school days. Once reunited, the connection between the two women is electric, but they'll have to grapple with diverging career goals and all the perils of long-distance dating before finding their happily ever after in Verity Lowell's Meet Me in Madrid. We talked to Lowell about her warts-and-all portrayal of academia and the joys of gorgeous clothes and good food. 

What makes the art world a good setting for a romance? 
The art world contains multitudes. It has very public, social sites, like museums, auction houses and galleries, but also more personal, even intimate spaces, like art studios, classrooms and offices. Romance can bloom anywhere, of course. But I like the kinds of questions around beauty and appearances and history and seduction that are sort of embedded in art whether we like it or not. In romance, I really enjoy being immersed in subcultures, so my hope is that Meet Me in Madrid gives readers an insider's view of the art worlds particular to Charlotte and Adrianna. Strange as it might seem, museum people and academics don't always cross paths—so Charlotte, the courier, and Adrianna, the professor, might never have reconnected if it weren't for an unexpected storm!

"I wanted to write a bit of a love letter to my talented, driven colleagues."

What are some of the most common misconceptions about academia? Did you set out to correct any in Meet Me in Madrid?
Would that I could! But yes, as a college professor, I do often wish people knew how much more we do besides hold forth for a few hours a day in a classroom (or on Zoom!)—which is not easy to do well. At times, there's an almost pastoral dimension to teaching: We counsel, we listen, we support, we defend. Ideally, we grow and learn. And many of us do this until our lives are consumed by the lives of students. Meanwhile, the academy, in addition to being stubbornly elitist and homogenous, really is cutthroat. Some years there are only 20 or so available jobs in a given subfield of art history—that's for everyone with a Ph.D. basically in the English-speaking world. So it's rough, especially when you've done everything right for seven or eight years of grad school, to not get a job at the end. I guess I wanted to write a bit of a love letter to my talented, driven colleagues on the job market, especially feminists and people doing anti-racism work.

How did you decide what Charlotte's and Adrianna's jobs would be? Was it an opportunity for you to fictionally explore roads not taken, or would you dislike having either of their specialities?
I love this question. I'm a midcareer specialist in 17th-century Baroque art. But I'm also a closet lover of 19th-century French painting—Manet, Corot, etc. If I could go back, I might well follow Charlotte's path exploring race and impressionism in the American South. Thinking outside the canon is still the exception in art history. But I wanted Charlotte to be someone who did that anyway.

Adrianna, frankly, has followed a path closer to mine. She's the more conservative scholar, and she's reaped the rewards of playing it safe. I have enjoyed curating and would like to do more. It's pretty unusual for professors to organize shows, but I liked that access to the public, that kind of conversation. When I grow up as an academic, I want to be more like Charlotte!

How did you decide upon Madrid as a setting? Have you traveled there yourself? What appeals to you about that city in particular?
A mí me encanta Madrid! I was a Fulbright scholar in Madrid and lived and researched there for about a year and a half. It's a wonderful, complicated, austerely gorgeous place. The Prado is, to my mind, the best European museum. And Madrid is captivating: The wine is lovely. The terrace bar culture is addictive. And it's very queer!

"As the book and the romance itself evolved, I tried to show the ways Charlotte and Adrianna become stronger together."

Which of the marvelous meals that Adrianna and Charlotte share would you most like to enjoy yourself? 
Each meal in the book demonstrates care, emotional connection and delight in life's sensual pleasures. Cooking and entertaining are definitely some of the ways I express my feelings for people. I've traveled to the American South fairly regularly, and I make shrimp and grits all the time! But I also do a pretty decent tortilla de patatas.

I also absolutely love a great restaurant experience. Madrid is fascinating in many ways, but to me, it's got nothing on the other cities in the book—L.A., New York, Chicago and New Orleans—in terms of diverse and creative food culture.

As a devoted summer person, this book really made me reconsider winter as a romantic season. Is it your personal favorite, or was it more that it made sense for Adrianna and Charlotte's love story? 
My work is done! I grew up in the Rockies and love a good blizzard. Also, the academic life is such a cyclical one. It felt important to take Adrianna and Charlotte's relationship through several seasons. I do think cold winter nights are wonderfully conducive to getting on with the coziness though!

Clothing plays a large role in Charlotte's and Adrianna's lives. "They were both women who loved to dress," as you very elegantly put it. Did you have any specific inspirations for either character's personal style? Were there any outfits on the page that you'd love to have in real life? 
So happy that came across. Clothing is definitely a facet of identity to me. I saw both characters as worldly, sophisticated queer women who understand how fashion communicates their gender and power and sexuality. I'm a big fan of the late, great and impressively diverse shows "Suits" and "Pearson," and I will say, Gina Torres performs clothes like nobody else—and I think Adrianna would agree. Charlotte's wardrobe is loosely based on a lovely, stylish young woman I once knew, whose name will remain a secret. As to the outfits—who says I don't have some of those in my closet already? 

Charlotte and Adrianna's geographic distance from each other, individual career goals and age difference all put strain on their relationship in ways that felt incredibly believable and organic. How did you balance all of these factors? Were any present right from the beginning, and did any arise later in the writing process?
That framing captures so much of what I was aiming for: a sexy, plausible-feeling contemporary romance in which real-life circumstances—and overcoming a variety of obstacles—make the ending feel earned in a love-conquers-all kind of way. Present for me from the start was the desire to be candid about the challenges of being a lesbian of color in the professional world. I think romance as a genre has room for that kind of honesty. I also wanted to write tender but tenacious main characters who would find support and humor among their excellent friends. As the book and the romance itself evolved, I tried to show the ways Charlotte and Adrianna become stronger together, each learning from the other, each giving some things up, bridging all sorts of distances until they both land in the same happily-ever-after place.

What's next for you?
Writing my debut romance has been a fantastic and fulfilling adventure so far! Now I'm just eager to see how it resonates with readers. Going forward, I have a few balls in the air, one of which is another contemporary romance between two very different, ambitious and complex women in a very different setting—but that's all I can say about that!

We talked to Verity Lowell about the joys of gorgeous clothes and good food, and why the art world is a perfect setting for a romance.

Author Katee Robert is something of an expert when it comes to morally grey but seriously sexy heroes. Her O’Malleys romances follow a modern crime family, and her Wicked Villains series takes its inspiration from classic Disney characters such as Jafar, Ursula and Hades.

In Neon Gods, Robert returns to the character of Hades, this time reaching all the way back to Ancient Greece for inspiration, turning the myth of Hades and Persephone into a love story that touches on public perception and political gamesmanship.

The myth of Hades and Persephone is a perennial fascination in romance. Why do you personally find it so compelling? Why do you think we keep coming back to it, as well as revising it?
I love this myth because there are so many different lenses to see it through. Was Hades really the villain? Did Persephone choose to eat in the underworld intentionally? Was Demeter a controlling monster of a mother or simply overcome with grief? Every retelling brings a different point of view, and I’m totally addicted to reading the different interpretations because there’s always a new perspective to be told. I think a lot of people feel similarly.

"There are a lot of Greek myths, in particular, that are brutal. Happily ever afters are in short supply."

You wrote another version of Hades in Learn My Lesson, inspired by the 1997 Disney film Hercules. What was it like to write two different versions of Hades only a few years apart?
Hades is one of those mythological characters that I feel like you could tell a thousand versions of because he’s so nuanced. The portion of his myths I pulled from for Learn My Lesson was the dark lord of the underworld that people feared. Greek mythology is basically a soap opera, complete with sex, scandal and murder. I really leaned into that source material with Hades and his Furies ruling over the “underworld.”

The portion I pulled from with Neon Gods is more of the misunderstood character who’s not as monstrous as people believe him. I’d honestly like to write a lady Hades someday, too.

The myth of Hades and Persephone is one of the most popular to retell. Are there any myths or stories that just don't appeal to you in that way? Why?
There are a lot of Greek myths, in particular, that are brutal. Happily ever afters are in short supply. I wouldn’t say there are ones that I would shy away from retelling, but I’d retell them my way and give them the endings I craved when I was a teenager. If I had to retell them faithfully, I would definitely avoid most of the hero stories (Jason, Theseus, etc.) because those guys were AWFUL people.

I have to ask or I'll never live with myself: Did you always know that your version of Hades and Persephone would feature some very public (and very hot) sex scenes? When did that element of the story click for you, and why do you think that becomes such an important part of their relationship?
I write very high heat naturally, and both Hades’ and Persephone’s character arcs surround the images they project to the public and also how their public image conflicts with how they view themselves. From there, it seemed a natural extension to bring that conflict and growth out through sex scenes.

A world-building detail I really enjoyed in Neon Gods is that the gods aren’t immortal beings, and they are actually titles bestowed upon people. How did you come up with this way of translating Greek mythology into a more modern setting? And how did you decide which positions would be elected, like Demeter, and which would be inherited titles, like Zeus?
I kind of went back to my roots when I formed my version of Olympus. I am garbage for mob-type of division of territories and responsibilities. I like the number 13, so that’s how many gods I chose out of the pantheon to bring into modern day life. I knew Zeus, Poseidon and Hades would be legacy roles with inherited titles going to the firstborn. From there, I used the various gods’ specialties to inform both their responsibilities and how the title is passed on. (For example: Demeter is elected, Aphrodite chooses their successor, Ares is chosen via a tournament in the arena, and Hera is Zeus’ spouse.) Also, none of the titles are gender specific.

How did you choose what other myths to incorporate into Neon Gods? How did you pick which mythological women would make up Persphone's family? Why do their stories fascinate you?
When it comes to family lineage, the Greek pantheon is messy, to say the least, and there are so many random kingdoms in the myths. I decided to condense things where I could. I knew I wanted to tell Persephone’s, Psyche’s and Eurydice’s stories, so it was simplest to combine them into sisters instead of princesses/nymphs, to give them those foundational sister relationships to pull readers through the series. I love writing women who are strong in very different ways, and Persephone and her sisters fit the bill.

Many of the characters of Neon Gods are between socialites and politicians, due to their prominent and powerful places in society. Were there any real-life public figures or media narratives that inspired you?
Not particularly. My fictional worlds are reality-adjacent, so I try not to delve too much into real-life events or people. The themes often circle back to that old saying about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Examining how different characters react to power (Demeter versus Persephone in Neon Gods, for example) is really interesting to me, so I circle back to that theme again and again.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Neon Gods.


I was delighted by Hermes and Dionysus' ride-or-die friendship/alliance. Were you inspired by a mythological story in which those two figures team up? What about them made that pairing work for you?
I have a deep and abiding weakness for trickster-type characters who just chaotically move through the world, especially the world of the powerful. Hermes gets boiled down to the Messenger in a lot of myths, but I was really inspired by a few different retellings in recent years that touched on different perceptions of him (Hadestown, Lore Olympus and Circe). Dionysus feels like a natural pairing for friendship there because of his area of influence in the myths.

Most of the characters in the Dark Olympus series take themselves exceedingly seriously, so throwing into th emix two chaotic characters who are too powerful to stomp on or curtail has been a lot of fun.

What's next for you?
I have a bunch of indie stuff going on, but Dark Olympus will continue with Psyche and Eros’s story in Electric Idol. I’m writing the third book right now, which is a ménage with Helen, Achilles and Patroclus. Suffice to say that book will divert from the tragic fates of both Achilles and Patroclus in the Trojan War.

 

Author photo by Bethany Chamberlin

Katee Robert shares why she’s written not one but two romances inspired by Hades, the Greek god of death.

Some occupations are more rom-com friendly than others, sometimes even to the point of cliché (Why do so many male love interests work as architects? How on earth do writer or journalist characters earn enough to live in such enormous apartments?). But Sophie Breeze, the heroine of Katy Birchall’s The Secret Bridesmaid, has a job that is both refreshingly unique and perfectly suited for the genre: She’s a wedding planner who goes incognito as a bridesmaid on the big day (and sometimes before), allowing the happy couple to maintain a facade to their guests that all the festivities have been put together with no professional assistance. We talked to Birchall about her favorite wedding traditions, the real-life inspirations for her rom-com and why she’s anti-canapé.

Where did you get the idea for a professional wedding planner going incognito as a bridesmaid?
A few years ago, I read online that professional bridesmaids genuinely exist and I remember being amazed at the idea. The more I thought about it, the more I considered how it must be both fun and incredibly stressful to go undercover at someone’s wedding. You’d meet so many interesting people and find yourself in the most bizarre and joyful scenarios—there’s nothing quite like a wedding—but also have to learn everything there is to know about someone in a short amount of time to pass yourself off as their close friend. I mulled over the idea for a couple of years before I had the courage to start writing the book!

"I could definitely live without the first dance. The idea of everyone watching me attempt to dance is a genuine nightmare."

How long do you think you would survive if you had to do Sophie's job? Or do you think you would be great at it?
I’m not sure I could be nearly so levelheaded and efficient as Sophie in such high-stress situations, especially as a wedding is one of the most important days of someone’s life. It’s a lot of pressure to get it right!

Having said that, I absolutely LOVE being a bridesmaid and have been lucky enough to be one a few times. All those bridesmaid experiences made me so passionate about weddings that I wanted to write a book that revolved around them.

What is your favorite wedding tradition? Which one could you live without?
My favorite wedding tradition is the speeches. I love the personal anecdotes that are revealed in speeches, especially the comedy ones. Also, a lot of people I know don’t declare their love for one another openly—maybe that’s down to the classic British stiff upper lip—so I think it’s quite sweet that it’s a rare opportunity in life to stand up and say how you feel about that one person.

I could definitely live without the first dance. The idea of everyone watching me attempt to dance is a genuine nightmare. I will certainly be scrapping that tradition when I get married!

All of the weddings Sophie works on are so unique and fun! Which one would you most like to attend as a guest? Are there any that sound like a nightmare to you?
I would love to attend Nisha and Luke’s. I had so much fun writing that chapter! I love how many days the celebrations run over and the fusion of the two cultures. I also would happily attend Cordelia’s as I’d say that would be rather spectacular.

None sound like a nightmare to me. That’s honestly the best thing about weddings, they are all so different, but always fun, because the happy nature of the day means that everyone there can just let go, celebrate and have a day off from life.

Was Cordelia inspired by any real-life celebrities or socialites?
When I was at school in the 1990s, there was a huge obsession at the time with “It Girls,” British socialites who were rich, fashionable and always photographed at celebrity parties. I’ve always loved glossy magazines and those It Girls were constantly on the front of them. I think Cordelia was influenced by a mix of those women, and also by modern, reality TV stars—specifically the ones who end up surprising you.

Are you Team Sophie or Team Tom when it comes to the subject of canapés? If you are Team Sophie, what is your ideal appetizer situation?
I am Team Tom on this one. I genuinely panic at the thought of eating one. Do you attempt to eat half and risk a mess? Or do you throw caution to the wind and eat it in one, risking an awkward pause in conversation because your mouth is too full to speak? What if you’re holding your clutch and a glass of champagne and you’re offered a canapé? What then? How do you hold everything? And, on top of all that, sometimes you’re offered a napkin too. How can you hold a napkin in one hand under the canapé in the other, as well as holding a glass?!

Canapés boggle my brain. They have to be teeny tiny for me to handle the situation or I completely avoid them.

One of my favorite things about this book is that Sophie so clearly, clearly is her parents' daughter. How did you develop their characters? Did they spring more or less fully formed once you had Sophie down? Or did it take a few drafts for their personalities to come into focus?
Once I’d worked Sophie out, I could imagine her parents quite vividly. They’re so different, but their personalities complement each other, a dynamic that is a lot of fun to write. Sophie is efficient and determined like her mother—I knew right from the start that her mum was much more preoccupied by Sophie’s unique career path than her romantic relationships—but has the gentle nature of her father.

Your website says you are "mildly obsessed with Jane Austen." Who is your favorite Austen heroine, who is your favorite hero and do you have a firmly held but unpopular opinion about any of the books or characters?
My favorite Austen heroine is Emma Woodhouse. She’s smart, elegant and sure of herself, but is also snobbish, self-centered and stubborn. She makes so many mistakes and ends up acknowledging that and doing her best to learn from them. She’s not a perfect heroine in the slightest, which is why I love her. I aspire to be more Lizzy Bennet, but Emma’s story has my heart!

My favorite hero is a toss-up between Mr. Darcy (too obvious?) and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey. Mr. Darcy has that attractive broody-but-secretly-nice-guy vibe, but Tilney wins by a long way when it comes to excellent chat and a corking sense of humor.

I’m not sure if it’s that unpopular an opinion, but I root for Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. Her materialistic flaws aside, she’s brilliant, fun, charismatic and a lot more interesting than our irritating protagonist, Fanny. I’m not convinced Mary is a villain at all.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of The Secret Bridesmaid.


What's next for you?
I’m currently having a ball writing my next wedding-themed romantic comedy, which will be hitting shelves in 2022, as well as working on a few children’s and young adult novels. It’s very busy, but in the best way.

 

Author photo by Imogen Forte.

Katy Birchall’s latest heroine has what might be the perfect rom-com job: She’s a wedding planner who goes undercover as a bridesmaid.

The idea for Sally Thorne’s latest romance sprang from a joke she and a close friend used to make about the hijinks they planned on getting up to when the day comes for them to move to a retirement home. And Thorne clearly has a blast portraying the lovable residents and charming quirks of her fictional Providence Luxury Retirement Villa in her latest novel, Second First Impressions, which blossoms into a moving tale of self-love, liberation and second chances.

All three of your romances have been standalones. Why do you love writing a standalone novel as opposed to writing within a series? Have any of the worlds of your books tempted you to return to them? And if you were to write a series, what would it be?
The challenge with writing a series is that if the reader has not read the first book, they are unlikely to dip into that world partway through. A standalone can be picked up by anyone, and they are satisfying to write because I get to create one great big happily-ever-after-forever. As more readers get to know my writing style, and hopefully decide I’m a one-click author for them, I think I’ll have more scope to try writing a series. They’ll trust that the journey will be worth it.

In my second book, 99 Percent Mine, there are sparks between the main character’s twin brother and her best friend, and I did want to write a standalone book for them. If I had carte blanche to write a series following a large group of characters, I’d do something unexpected, dark, sexy and gritty, like a motorcycle club.

Your books have also all been entirely told in the point of view of your female main character. Why do you think you gravitate towards this way of telling a love story? Have you ever thought about writing from the perspective of both halves of a central couple?
I like writing from one point of view to give the reader an intense experience of falling in love that the protagonist often doesn’t understand. It takes a lot of skill to be able to balance both perspectives and conflicts of a romantic couple when alternating chapters—it's a challenge I haven’t tried yet, but maybe one day!

"One of my top requests from readers is to have 'The Hating Game' rewritten from Joshua Templeman’s perspective. I would sell a lot of copies of that, and even my mum wants me to do it."

If you could choose the perspective of one of your male love interests to write from, which would it be?
One of my top requests from readers is to have The Hating Game rewritten from Joshua Templeman’s perspective. I would sell a lot of copies of that, and even my mum wants me to do it, but I don’t think I could do justice to the Joshua my readers hold dear in their imaginations. If you knew what he was thinking the entire time, your experience of rereading the original book would be changed.

If I could pick one of my characters, I’d go back to Jamie from 99 Percent Mine. I’d love to tell the story from the perspective of an arrogant overachiever who enthusiastically hits the dance floor at weddings, falling in love with his sister’s homebody best friend.

Speaking of perspectives, there is a lot going on in Ruthie's head during Second First Impressions. How did you get into her headspace? How do you write a character who is often shying away from bad memories or hard truths?
Ruthie’s humor and observations are very dry, and hopefully she is a fun narrator for this book. No character comes to me fully formed, and writing Ruthie required many drafts of adding layers to her. She has a trauma from her past that she processes this in the book. It’s a balancing act of what to reveal, and how to creatively “show” rather than “tell” the impacts that this has had on her, and especially difficult to do in a book that is essentially a comedy. I hope I did it.

". . . he [gives] Ruthie the open-hearted affection and love she has craved all her life."

The Providence retirement community was such an enjoyable setting. What was fun about that for you? Where did you get the idea to set a romance in a retirement community?
A friend and I used to joke that when we were old and wealthy, we would share a room in a luxury retirement villa and hire a handsome young man as our personal assistant. That’s pretty much the plot of Second First Impressions—but it’s told from the perspective of office manager Ruthie, who supervises the hijinks of her wealthiest residents, the Parloni Sisters. They try to break Teddy’s spirit, Ruthie tries to resist his gorgeous hair and a good time is guaranteed.

Which of Renata's incredible outfits would you most like to own?
Renata Parloni was a fashion editor for a (fictional!) magazine called Hot or Not, and she still walks around at 91 years old dripping in labels and jewels. I am a sucker for Chanel, so that’s the tag I’d be searching for when ransacking her closets. I’d wear a pink tweed skirt suit, a matching quilted flap bag, a beret and about 10 pearl necklaces. Then I’d go have a fancy lunch.

The question of who is the "taker" and who is the "giver," and whether someone can be solely one or the other, is constantly hovering over Ruthie and Teddy's interactions. When did this question become clear to you in the writing process and what drew you to explore it?
Someone once told me their theory that every relationship has a giver and a taker, or an adorer and adore-ee, and that was something I wanted to explore. At the beginning of the book, Ruthie has decided to attempt dating after six years of barely leaving the retirement village. Then she meets Teddy, who literally has “give” and “take” tattooed across his knuckles. He sure gives the first impression as a taker—he even borrows her shampoo.

Teddy is hired in a caregiving capacity to be at the beck and call of his employers, which makes for some of the most tender moments in the book as he also gives Ruthie the open-hearted affection and love she has craved all her life. It’s equally enjoyable seeing Ruthie begin to take things for herself.

As someone who has used many, many TV shows as comfort objects, I felt uncomfortably seen in Ruthie's obsession with the fictional TV show "Heaven Sent." Why do you think Ruthie is devoted to this show in particular? Have you had similar relationships with media in your own life?
“Heaven Sent” is inspired by “Seventh Heaven,” and it is Ruthie’s comfort show because she grew up in a religious household and this show became her weekly touchstone, grounding her and providing stability. Now, she runs a forum dedicated to keeping this show alive.

When I’m living in a luxury retirement villa one day, you will find me binge-watching “Party of Five,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Veronica Mars,” “Degrassi,” “Gavin and Stacey” and “30 Rock.” I assume I’ll either be watching these via a chip inserted into my skull, or high-tech 5D glasses. My young assistant will work it out for me.

I loved Ruthie's coworker Melanie so much. What type of person do you think she'll eventually end up with? Or will the genius behind the Sasaki Method ironically end up happily and contentedly single?
Melanie Sasaki, matchmaker extraordinaire, developed a return-to-dating plan for Ruthie called The Sasaki Method (patent pending): a program of worksheets, checklists, a makeover and (eep!) an eventual date with a human man. She warns Ruthie most ardently to not fall for the first man she meets. Ruthie disobeys.

I like to imagine Melanie as a version of Jane Austen’s Emma, and I think she would end up with a dry no-nonsense Knightley; perhaps a guy she’s known all her life.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Second First Impressions.


What's next for you?
I am looking forward to The Hating Game movie finding a distributor and hopefully making its way to a screen (large or small) near you soon. It finished shooting just before Christmas in 2020, in what was a very challenging year to make a movie, and it stars Lucy Hale and Austin Stowell. It’s utterly fabulous and I’m very happy with it.

I am also working on my next book, which is still a work in progress and a mystery even to my publisher. I will do my best to create heart-flutters in readers for many books to come!

 

Author photo © Katie Saarikko.

The idea for Sally Thorne’s latest romance sprang from a joke she and a close friend used to make about the hijinks they planned on getting up to after moving to a retirement home.

The couple at the center of Betina Krahn’s new romance, Hero Wanted, are seemingly the opposite of “meant to be.” While on a boating excursion to get to know each other, Lauren Alcott urges her new fiancé Rafe Townsend to save two women whose vessel has overturned. When he dithers, she frustratedly rips off her dress and jumps in to save them herself. Outraged by his seeming cowardice, she promptly breaks their engagement, only to have both of their fathers urge them to try again, given that a merger between their two companies hinges on Rafe and Lauren’s marriage. We talked to Krahn about the real life (and truly disastrous) date that inspired Hero Wanted and how she ultimately brought this mismatched couple together.

You mention in the afterword that Lauren and Rafe’s disastrous boating excursion is based off of something that actually happened to your niece! Can you tell us more about that? 
Yes, well . . . it was a canoe, not a rowboat, and they were certainly not engaged. In fact, it was a first date that the wealthy young man had asked for more than once. She kept expecting him to help the two women floundering, but he just sat, watching them struggle. She finally stripped off her shirt (over a swimsuit) and dove in to help them. He was astonished and declared her “amazing” and a “hero.” She was appalled at his inaction and when she retrieved her car from his driveway, he apologized for not inviting her into his home. He said his lawyer told him never to be alone with a woman in private, for fear she could claim something untoward had happened and try to get money from him. My niece was appalled. Though he tried to ask her out again and again, she refused all approaches. I can’t really blame her. To hear her tell the story is hilarious . . . and also a sad commentary on the effects of sudden wealth on some people.

You’ve written romances set in so many different time periods, from the American Revolution to the late 1800s to the medieval era. What do you enjoy about the Victorian era?
For a long time I avoided the Victorian period because I thought of it as stuffy, restrictive and morally hypocritical. When my sister did a master’s thesis on Lady Audley’s Secret and began researching the era, she showed me personal ads from period newspapers and I was shocked to learn the true nature of English Victorian society. Fascinated by the imbalance of the numbers of men to women (so many men went abroad to seek their fortunes or served in the army or navy at the time that many women had no chance to marry), I began to research it myself. What I learned was astounding and so human and oddly “modern” that I fell in love with the era and began to set stories in it.

"I love that we’re all a little ridiculous at times—it’s a human thing."

I thought Lauren’s Ivanhoe obsession was such an adorable and funny character trait. Who is your favorite hero in fiction? Do you share her love for Ivanhoe?
I do love Ivanhoe, though I confess, I have tried to wade through the book, but find it wordy and tough going. I prefer the movie version made in the heyday of Hollywood and starring a wonderful cast. He is the ultimate heroic figure . . . the quintessential “white knight.”

It’s hard to pick a favorite fictional hero, but Wulfgar in The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss has to be in my top five.

Your website prominently features the phrase, "The only thing the world needs as much as love, is laughter." Why do you think laughter and humor is so important to a love story?
Laughter is found in the wonder and unpredictability of our world and ourselves. It is the balancing factor in our hearts and minds and is the leavening that permits joy in our relationships. In laughter, we find hope, commonality and acceptance. Sharing such things is critical to loving relationships and gives us a foundation for genuine love. I love that we’re all a little ridiculous at times—it’s a human thing. And the ability to laugh at ourselves is one of the most revealing and endearing personality traits a person can have.

At one point, Lauren reveals that she’s learned how to pick locks because the iconic Victorian advice book Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management said that it was a useful skill for a lady of the house to have. Did Mrs. Beeton really recommend learning to pick locks? Have you read her household guide?
I’m afraid that’s my invention. I doubt Mrs. Beeton would have included detailed instructions for such a thing, but I also have no doubt it was necessary at times for household staff to access things that were locked up for safekeeping.

What jobs do you think Lauren and Rafe would have if they lived in our modern world?
Lauren would probably be the daughter of a hedge fund guru and Rafe would be the son of a rival. She would have gone to Vassar and become a crusader for social causes and a proponent of literacy. He would have attended Annapolis in spite of his family’s wishes and ended up in the family firm. Not so different from the book, actually. See what I mean about Victorian society being so similar to ours—and still different enough to be interesting?

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in Lauren and Rafe’s relationship?
Both of them have preconceived notions of the other, which makes them act in ways that didn’t allow intimacy to develop. And a big part of the problem is their sensual attraction to each other. There are layers here. Neither wants to reveal his or her true self because that makes them vulnerable. The face they present is a defense and prevents the other from learning their true selves. And isn’t that what often happens in real life?


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Hero Wanted.


What was the most difficult part of this book to get right?
Bringing Lauren and Rafe together after such a rocky start was harder than I imagined. It took a tête-à-tête in the drawing room (where humor snuck in) for me to believe these two were meant to be together. I confess, I wasn’t sure if Rafe would be the hero or not, at first. He came through with flying colors in that first meeting after the river incident!

What’s next for you?
Another Reluctant Hero book! This one with a different kind of hero—Rafe’s best friend, Barclay Howard. He’s far from society’s darling. He’s big, muscular and imposing . . . with a wolfish grin and a heart of gold. I can’t wait for readers to meet him!

We talked to Betina Krahn about the real life (and truly disastrous) date that inspired her new romance, Hero Wanted.

Most paranormal romance series take place in our world, or in a place extremely similar to it. But few are as invested in the most pressing issues of our time than Suleikha Snyder’s Third Shift series, which begins with Big Bad Wolf. In Snyder’s alternate version of America, the existence of supernatural beings was revealed to the general public in 2016, leading to mass panic, the creation of a surveillance state and the registration of said supernatural beings. Even worse, the government’s totalitarian bent has amplified homophobia, racism and sexism.

We talked to Snyder about putting her unique stamp on the shifter romance, scene-stealing vampires and more.

You're perhaps best known for your contemporary romances. What led you to switch genres? 
Big Bad Wolf is my first longform paranormal romance. I've dabbled in the subgenre in some of my indie-published short stories, which readers can find in my Prem Numbers collection. Suffice it to say, diving in headfirst to a full-length series and having to build out a whole world was pretty daunting. But I always want to challenge myself!

I don't see it as switching genres so much as hopping around. I will no doubt jump back to contemporaries after this because I want to keep growing and learning as an author. And writing shifter romances has taught me a lot about continuity and just keeping the little details straight. What are the rules of this world? How do wolf shifters heal? Can vampires eat or drink? These are all things you learn to hash out as you pen a paranormal.

"I fully admit that I talked about imprinting mostly so I could make duck jokes."

Your paranormal world is clearly inspired by the political climate of the last few years. How long has this world been in your head? Did it change at all over the years? Why was it important to you to create an alternate reality that so clearly mirrors our own?
I've had some version of this world in my head since 2013 or so! But the shift in the political climate since 2015–2016 definitely kicked it all into high gear and informed how I moved forward with the stories. It became all the more vital for me to use the supernatural community as a metaphor for the challenges all marginalized people face. Not that I left it solely up to my shifters and vampires to carry that. My cast features Americans of all sorts—Asian, Black, Latinx—and characters represent the LGBTQ+ spectrum as well. My goal is to show that an "alternate reality" is often the actual reality that we've lived with our entire lives.

Big Bad Wolf doesn't confine itself to the main couple's POV in the way a traditional romance novel would; you tell parts of this story from other characters’ perspectives as well. What did that choice open up for you as a writer? When did you realize you would need to break from the stereotypical romance structure to tell this story?
I didn't even really think about breaking away from typical romance structure. This is just how I write. I think a lot of that comes from watching serial dramas my whole life. I'm a soap opera fan, both primetime and daytime, and love procedural shows and comic book movies. And most of those forms weave in multiple narratives to show you a full picture of what's happening. "Let's go see what's happening in the villain's camp." "Oh, here's some comic relief." And I love a good ensemble cast, so this was an opportunity for me to create one!

Were there any supernatural creatures you wanted to include and decided not to? Any that you'd still like to incorporate further down the line?
There are no supernatural beings that I deliberately left out. I like to leave myself room to do anything, try anything. But you will see more characters from South Asian mythology as the series continues. It's really important to me to pull from my own background and our rich cultural mine. I grew up with vampires and werewolves because of Western pop culture, but I also had the stories of nagas, yakshas, apsaras and djinn. So readers will get to experience some of that in the next two books.

One of the things I loved about this book is how you play with already established shifter romance tropes, such as imprinting/fated mates. Joe and Neha's attraction to one another both is and isn't the sort of paradigm-changing, life-altering force we would find in similar romances. Can you talk a bit about how you developed your own take on the imprinting trope?
I fully admit that I talked about imprinting mostly so I could make duck jokes. Sometimes I just do things for the quick laugh. But on a larger level, I'm not a huge proponent of the fated mate trope, because I grapple with what that means for free will. So I kind of dug into that with Joe and Neha. Sure, they're pulled toward each other and that might be because he's a shifter . . . but what does that mean about their ability to choose one another?


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our starred review of Big Bad Wolf.


The Third Shift team feels immediately present and dynamic on the page. How did you build out all those characters and their relationships, and did any aspect of that surprise you?
I am a character person. Plot is so much harder. I could create friends and lovers and family members and have them all banter and spar all day long. So creating all these fun personalities was totally my wheelhouse—especially, again, coming from it as a soap viewer. I love relationships of all kinds. The close friendship between Third Shift founders Elijah Richter and Jackson Tate and their recruits is sort of the spine of the series. And then I just add romance wherever I can! One thing that surprised me was what develops between Nate, Finn and Grace. I had very different intentions for those characters, and their spark snuck up on me. The follow-through in Pretty Little Lion might very much surprise readers as well!

Speaking of Finn, he is the definition of a scene stealer—was he as fun to write as he was to read?
Oh my gosh, yes! I think people who follow me on social media know that I can't resist puns and innuendos, so I just leaned into that with Finn. I laughed aloud so many times while writing his dialogue. And please don't EVER do a drinking game to his eyebrow movements. I don't want to be responsible for what happens. With that said, readers will learn more about Finn in book two, Pretty Little Lion, and see another side to this quip-heavy flirt.

There's a really powerful moment near the end of the book when Neha talks about how, despite the darkness of her reality, she finds hope because she expects better from the world. How and where do you find hope?
Hope is the core of why we read and write romance, isn't it? That's where I find it most often. In that “Happily Ever After” at the end. So having Neha talk about hope and expecting better from the world helped me with my own sense of that. Fighting fiercely for who and what you love is what keeps us going in the end.

What's next for you?
I'm finishing up revisions on Third Shift book two, Pretty Little Lion, and after that it's on to book three! Tentatively titled Coldhearted Snakes, it will tie up the arc begun in Big Bad Wolf. And then I might find another subgenre to play in!

 

Author photo by Elizabeth McQuern Photography

We talked to Suleikha Snyder about putting her unique stamp on the shifter romance, scene-stealing vampires and more.

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