[REPOST: As appeared on Avery Brooks’ blog on August 27]
My fellow Bywater authors Anna Burke, Jenn Alexander, and I sat down this summer to discuss what it’s like writing wlw romance. Here is part two of our discussion. If you missed part one, check it out on Anna Burke’s blog.
(Photos are from the #dogdaysofsummer Instagram campaign featuring the authors’ pups. Click on the photos to be taken to each book’s Amazon page.)
Do you have real-life inspirations for your books?
Avery: Other Girls is set in New Orleans, a city that I love. The time I spent living in New Orleans impacted me and, in many ways, the city acts as an additional character in my book. Many of the places I wrote about in Other Girls not only exist but are places that were significant to me. Other Girls includes several types of trauma, including bullying, loss, and domestic violence. Writing about many of those topics comes from personal experience, whether directly or indirectly through people I’ve known.
Anna: [Laughs] Spindrift is what happens when a writer marries a veterinarian. I know too much about the field to not use it in my own work. The novel is also set in Maine, and many of the places are based on real places I know and love. Writing Spindrift was fun, in this sense, because I got to explore areas I had personal experience with, as opposed to my other books, where the settings are more fantastical, futuristic, or pseudo-historical.
Jenn: I get asked this a lot about The Song of the Sea, and I have gathered that people want to know if I’ve had a personal experience that inspired me to write about child loss. I was three drafts into The Song of the Sea before I realized what the plot needed to be about, and it really grew out of the characters and themes that I had written up until that point. The book itself was inspired by me listening to a lot of Mumford and Sons, and wanting to write a book set on the coast. Home, on the other hand, was completely inspired by my real life. I wrote a book about being homesick in Texas while homesick in Texas. I’m working on a new project that will follow various members of an all-lesbian band, which was inspired by my love of music and of playing drums in a band.
Sevvie loves curling up with Other Girls, her favorite book.
Are animals, in fact, better than people? Do you include them in your books?
Avery: Absolutely. Most of my life, and certainly my academic career, focused on animals and their environments so it would be hard for me to not include animals in my writing. If an author never included animals in their books, I would find that odd because it doesn’t reflect real life. Ash has a dog named Goose in Other Girls and though she’s largely a private person, the dog helped illuminate her character and motivations. I agree with Rachael Ray that dogs make people better humans. Maybe cats too 😉 Animals bring out a different side of people and that can be used as a tool for character development in a novel.
Anna: I’m a huge animal lover. My mother once told me I needed to marry a vet to support my animal habit (I took her advice) and animals often play a role in my work. Spindrift has quite a few animal characters, who I hope you’ll love. As Jenn says, animals reveal aspects of character. A villain who loves their dog is more complex; a woman moving to a new town might cling to her pet more than usual, revealing her insecurities; seemingly soft and squishy characters might have monstrous mutts that reflect other sides of their personality. Animals reflect their people, and vice versa, and that is a powerful narrative tool.
Jenn: Where possible I include animals in my books. I wrote a dog named Roxie into The Song of the Sea, and if you didn’t already know from the cover, Home has horses. I like animals and I like writing about animals, but also, it wouldn’t be very true to life to write novels that never include animals. Pets are such an important part of people’s lives. They can also be used to show a softer and more genuine side of characters.
Artemis gives Spindrift two paws up.
Why did you decide to write romance?
Avery: I don’t think I ever set out to write a romance per se. I set out to write a book. I had been reading primarily romances at the time, so that probably came easiest in terms of story ideas. My main goal was to write complex characters who had been through some really tough situations in their lives and weren’t necessarily fully recovered from those experiences but could still find love. I think there are a lot of romances that are lighthearted and based on idealized characters who are beautiful, fit, and largely have their shit together. I’ve definitely enjoyed reading those books and they can be really helpful when a reader is looking for something light to escape all of the heaviness, especially nowadays. But it was really important to me to write imperfect characters who are struggling with real and even gritty issues that the readers may have struggled with as well, and to show them overcome insecurities, loss, and pain to reclaim themselves and find a happy ending. Or more of a happy match on their journey because that’s never-ending. When you are a minority and/or have experienced something traumatic and finally see yourself being represented in a book, it has a profound impact. If even one person’s experience resonates with my writing and it makes them feel less alone, then it’s all been worth it.
Anna: It happened by accident. I started out as a speculative fiction writer, but there were always romantic subplots, and gradually the subplots began to become the main plot. Thorn and Nottingham are in some ways structurally classic romances–what’s more romantic than a fairytale? And then the idea for the Seal Cove series popped into my head and I fell in love with the characters and wanted to see them happy–which, if you follow me on social media, you’ll realize is unusual. Which isn’t to say all my books will be romance from here on out–I hop around far too much to make any kind of guarantees.
Jenn: For me, writing romance was a really natural transition from reading romance. I love romance novels. I love watching the journey a couple takes to fall in love, and I wanted to explore those journeys in my own writing.
Delia loves reading Home while at home.