In Therese Beharrie's And They Lived Happily Ever After, romance novelist Gaia has an unusual way of working through her stories: She personally experiences the passages she's written in deeply vivid dreams. But when she bases a hero on her best friend's hunky brother and he starts sharing the dreams with her, the path to romantic satisfaction gets . . . complicated. South African author Beharrie digs deeper into the multilayered magic of her latest romance.
In the early stages of writing, are you able to dive in, or do you need to plot things out first? Do you have a particular routine to help you get in the right mindset to write?
The only thing I plan before I begin a book is the emotional arcs of the characters. Once I know where my main characters are at the start and where I'd like them to be at the end, I jump right in. Each day is an adventure! As for my routine . . . does grabbing my computer whenever my kids are asleep count? Because that's the extent of my writing routine these days. Like I said, an adventure, haha!
"The predictability writing offers is in such contrast to the unpredictability of life that I honestly find it to be a form of therapy."
Gaia struggles with anxiety, which she deals with by focusing on her writing: a world that she can control. As a writer, what does that control mean to you? Is it empowering? Or does it feel like a responsibility, with all those characters dependent on you to get them where they need to be?
This is a great question! Since I share Gaia's anxiety disorder, I appreciate being able to control what happens in my books. The predictability writing offers is in such contrast to the unpredictability of life that I honestly find it to be a form of therapy. Particularly writing romance, because the emphasis is on good, hopeful, wonderful things.
Gaia's difficult early life made it hard for her to feel like she has agency as an adult. Was the impact that would have on a character something you intentionally set out to explore, or did it arise organically in the writing process?
Oh, it was definitely intentional. I think growing up without even the illusion of choice deeply affects your ability to make choices as an adult. You might struggle to choose, or make choices without considering the consequences. For Gaia, it's the former. She overthinks everything and punishes herself for it, and all of that contributes to her anxiety.
The idea that heroines don't need rescuing comes up a couple of times in this book. What they need instead is someone to support and encourage them as they work toward a solution. Is that your preferred romantic lead, less fairytale prince and more friend and ally?
Absolutely! I love the fantasy of a fairytale prince—who doesn't?—and I think there are places in romance to explore that. But personally, I prefer the reality of a collaborative relationship. Two people making a choice to be together, to grow together and to share their lives. There's a beauty and hope in that that I love exploring.
In the book, we visit Gaia's favorite place, which is a bookstore. Where do you go to cheer yourself up?
I loved going to the movies. The entire experience was such a pleasure, not in the least because it doubled as date night. But with the pandemic, we try to stay away from confined spaces like that, so it hasn't happened in almost two years now.
Gaia deals with some public criticism for being a romance writer. How have you handled the way people sometimes disparage romance novels?
It's frustrating, for sure, but for the most part, I ignore it. I know how much romance novels have done for me, and so many other people feel that way too. Romance gets the credit it deserves within our community. That's good enough for me.
Read our review of And They Lived Happily Ever After.
The way we inherit things from our families, for better or for worse, is a strong theme in the story. How has your own family legacy shaped you and your choices? What legacy do you plan to pass on to your children?
Another great question! My parents have taught me the value of hard work, and I think that determination is part of what helped me to pursue writing as a career. I think that's what I'd like my children to know, too—that hard work and passion can truly help you reach your dreams.
If you could live one of Gaia's stories in your dreams at night, which heroine would you pick, and why?
Princess Jade. Yes, she was trapped in a castle for most of her life (oops?), but I think that's given her the strength and resilience she'll need to rule a kingdom. Plus, now she gets to experience the freedom she lost, getting to know herself and falling in love. Not a super bad deal! (Disclaimer: I do not endorse being trapped in a castle for any person, princess or commoner.)
Both you and Gaia have taglines of sorts for your writing that emphasize diversity. Yours is "Diverse, emotional romance" and Gaia's is "Diverse romance with laughter and heart." In what ways is it important to you personally to add diversity to the romance landscape?
It's been a great pleasure to write characters and settings I didn't see much of growing up, particularly ones that I relate to. This is why my characters are generally all South African, and my settings tend to be in or around South Africa. But the most important way I'd like to add to romance is by representing a wide range of diverse characters, so that my readers can experience more than the stereotypes they've been exposed to thus far.
Author photo by ForeverYours Photography.