How To Survive a Summer by Nick White w/ a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc

33257569I really enjoyed this book, it had a bit of a meta feel to it, which really worked to its benefit, and made it a more compelling read for me. It was hard and sad, but it felt so genuine and raw that I could not help but feel for Will Dillard the narrator of the story. We meet Will right when he finds out that very dark part of his adolescence has been made into a horror movie. Literally, one of the worst times of his life was now a slasher flick, and it sends him into a tailspin. That secret and pain he has been pushing down and ignoring for ten years has finally come for him. And it will change everything.

Before I get into more of the book though, let’s talk wine! This book does involve a few pretty intense moments (read very well rendered slasher flick scenes) so a refreshing glass of vino will do you good. When browsing my local wine store with this novel in mind, I spotted this bottle of Sauvignon Blanc by Chilean winemaker Root 1 Wines the label I felt connected well to the mystical women who were Will’s ancestors, and their tag line “Character Comes for Your Roots” was just too good to pass up. Happily is a very nice bottle of wine, not too sharp as some Sav Blancs can be, but with sufficient bite, it also goes for under $10 bucks a bottle, so a total win.

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Back to the story…Will has been barely living for the last decade, he was in doctoral program he had no desire to see through, he barely had any friends, he was like a ghost. Living life in a fog of apathy and disdain. He was careless with the few people in his life that cared for him, and the rest he had pushed away.

His father, that was a no-go. Being the gay son of a Baptist preacher was going to have its complications, and the wound that had opened when the camp his dad sent him to “rehabilitate” him of his unnatural desires had ended in tragedy never healed. Amends where never made, he just shut his dad out, had not time to look back, until the movie. He can’t escape it though, no matter what he does he is drawn to watch it, to relive memories he has worked so hard to bury.

On a whim he gets on the road back to Mississippi to visit the old ghosts of his past, and there are many them. He has to make peace with the memory of this mother, the love he had for her and the pain of her loss.  He wanted to see the other boys who had endured those horrible four weeks in the Delta with him. He wanted to go back to the place it happened and finally put it all to rest. What ensues is a strange and painful journey that allows Will to finally be free.

I found the story not only compelling,  but incredibly thoughtful and deep. The inner struggle in Will, of needing to be the son his father wanted, even when he knew it was impossible. The pain and guilt he carried for the things he did to try and be that boy he just could never be, were heartbreaking.

Also I think the author does a really amazing job of portraying the effects of trauma. The fog that Will existed in, how every ounce of his energy was spent in keeping all the monsters of his past at bay. How forcing himself not to remember the powerlessness of the camp experience robbed him of the ability to feel anything at all.

To reclaim his life he had to finally face what was taken from him, and he had to try and see the people who had lived through that summer with him for what they were, fellow survivors. I liked that the author was not trying to create heroes or villains in this story, he was just trying to save Will from himself and give him a shot at a fuller life. The messed up things and the bad choices would always be there, but the ability to live a life with meaning was all there for him too.

The storytelling is also dynamic and blends in lots of elements I really loved, a strong sense of place, an almost fairy tale feeling for the parts when Will talked about the stories his mom told him as child, and even the horror scenes were rendered with a lot of skill.

I look forward to more from Nick White.

You can buy How To Survive a Summer HERE.

You can learn more about the author Nick White, HERE.

Hope you give this novel and wine a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Cheers and Happy Reading,

Lauraa

 

An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles w Chicken Potato Leek Pie & Riesling

32161804 (1)This book is the second installment in the Sins of The Cities  Series. Our heroes are Nathaniel Roy a barrister turned journalist with a chip on his shoulder the size of Gibraltar, and Justin Lazarus an incredibly shady and clever medium whose goal in life seems to drive Nathaniel out of his mind. He has EVERY kind of trick up his sleeve, and and he has the Medium game down to a science. These two are hot and cold, and then hot and hotter.

The setting as always is top notch, this time we get a London covered in a thick fog that shrouds the city in darkness for days. The perfect time for sinister goings on to happen.  The universe and cast of characters from the first book in the series are all here and it continues to grow. Once again, KJ made Victorian London her playground and her characters brought the city and its secrets to life all while delivering a very satisfying love story.

Before I go further into the book, let’s talk food! I decided to go with a savory pie, with some British flavors. I must confess that a  couple of months ago I fell down the Netflix rabbit hole and watched all three seasons of the Great British Baking Show. Since then I’ve been itching to make a “proper” savory pie. This book features a few meat pie cameos, and Justin seemed to love them, and I love Justin,  so I took my chance! I’ve made a chicken, leek and potato pie, which honestly came out DELICIOUS, my judges (read very opinionated 8 yr old girl, 38 yr old man who will eat anything as long as he doesn’t have to cook it) approved and declared that it should enter the family dinner rotation. I paired it with a lovely Dry Riesling I from German winemaker Bex. This bottle was not sweet at all, but had a very prominent fruit profile, some stone fruit a little pineapple. It was lovely with the pie and the bottle was on sale for $8.99. Total win.

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Back to the story…Nathaniel has a problem and his name is Justin. He can’t stand the man. He just knows he is up to no good. Granted for the first time since he lost his lover five years ago, he is feeling anything other than utter apathy, he is not sure what to do with that, but he knows who is to blame, Justin Lazarus. Justin, who he is convinced is a hack and conning people out of their hard earned money by telling them he can give them a connection with their dead loved ones. The man is despicable, he can’t stand the little cheat, and is determined to show the world he is a fraud. The only issue is, that every time he encounters Justin the man gets deeper and deeper under his skin. There is something broken and fragile about him calls to something in Nathaniel. He too smart for his own good, he is beautiful and Nathaniel can’t seem to stay away.

In  an unexpected twist of fate, Nathaniel and Justin end up needing each other to get out of a potentially deadly mess.  Nathaniel’s friend Clem is at risk of losing everything if his nephew, and heir to the family’s fortune can’t be found. Justin just so happens to be able to get to the people that know where he might be, the only trouble is these people are not above killing them both to get their hands on the money. What ensues is a pretty fast paced adventure, where there are twists and turns literally to the last page. And while we escape to the countryside  and back with these two we get quite a romance.

I think Justin is one of the best characters KJ has written, and that is saying quite a lot, since some of her characters feature very prominently in my favorites list. What makes Justin so intriguing to me is that he refuses to apologize for what he must do to earn his livelihood, even if it make him despicable in the eyes of others. He was given a rotten lot in life and he turned that into something he could use to provide himself and his family security. He is a trickster and he is a fraud, so what? At least he is not walking around feeling like he is better than anyone, or sitting down reaping the benefits from the work off someone else’s back. Especially not a sanctimonious arsehole like Nathaniel Roy who was not idea what it’s like to be so hungry you’d sell your soul for a meal.  Justin takes care of his own and is completely unfazed by anyone’s opinion of how he does it.

Nathaniel is judgmental, he has been too comfortable his whole life to grasp the reality that some people literally have had to crawl up from the gutter to stay alive. He sees Justin is too fixated on his views on right and wrong. But when he finally gets over himself and can see Justin for who he really is,  Justin humbles and entrances him. They have so much to give each other once Nathaniel lets go of high handed bullshit, and Justin opens himself up a little bit and let down his guard…Neither are easy things to do for these two, but the pull is too strong between them.

The romance here is solid, the intrigue and drama quite delicious, and the chemistry between Justin and Nathaniel is phenomenal. Thankfully there is one more book in the series which I cannot wait to read. Another great romance by KJ Charles.

Now the recipe

Chicken, Leek and Potato Pie

1 tablespoon of margarine

2 slices of turkey bacon sliced

2 Cups of small read potatoes diced

1 carrot diced

1 chicken breasts cut into cubes

3 leek stalks sliced thin

2 cups of chicken broth

1/4 cup white wine

2 tablespoons of flour

1 pie pre-made pie crust just for top

1 egg white

1 tablespoon milk

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°. Cook bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until almost crisp, stirring frequently. Increase heat to medium-high. Add potato and carrot to pan; sauté 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken; sauté 3 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour and next 3 ingredients (through pepper); sauté 1 minute, stirring frequently.

Slowly add broth and wine to pan, stirring constantly; as you mix in the liquid should start to thicken. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly thick, stirring occasionally. Spoon mixture into a deep pie dish. Top with dough, folding under and pressing down on edges to seal. Poke some holes on the crust with a fork.

Combine milk and egg white; brush mixture over top of dough. Bake at 450° for 20 minutes or until crust is golden. Let stand 10 minutes.

Serve immediately with a mixed green salad.

Thanks so much for stopping by, I hope you read this awesome story and maybe bake this delicious pie!

You can buy An Unnatural Vice HERE.

You can learn more about KJ Charles and her work HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

Small Change by Roan Parrish and Wild Mushroom Pate on Rye

Small Change eCover high res (1)To start, I will say that this book, Small Change by Roan Parrish is the kind of romance novel I’ve been waiting for since I started reading this genre as a teen. Finally, I got to read a heroine who didn’t mold her womanhood to the social constructs girls and women are expected to assume. Those things that we are told we need to be, in order to be deserving of love. Feminine, nice, thin, proper… Ginger has been fighting all those paradigms fiercely her entire life, and she’s pissed. She demands that the world see and listen to her on her terms, and all of this comes at a cost to her. She is a woman though, one with desires and who like all of us wouldn’t mind falling in love, for a person that deserves the person she has become, and in Chris she  finds a man who not only sees her for exactly who she is, he loves her for it, he RESPECTS her for it.

I know a book has impacted me deeply when I finish it and immediately ask myself what it would have meant for a teenage me to have read it. I think the teenage me would have felt deeply connected to Ginger and more importantly validated, like she was not alone. For me Roan Parrish with Ginger has delivered a heroine that feels closer to the woman I am than any other one I’ve read in a romance, maybe ever.  After thousands of romance novels read, being able to feel like I have a connection to a heroine on the page, is not just nice, it’s monumental. This book worked for me in pretty much every way. The characters where amazing, the romance was well developed and sexy as hell. The universe holds lots of promise and if that is not enough, there is a whole part of the book which is essentially an ode to sisterhood and women and empowering women. I mean I KNOW Roan didn’t write the book just for me, but totally feels mine. 🙂

Before I get further into my review, let’s talk food. For this book I had troubles! I was not sure what to make, because Chris made Ginger so many delicious things! There is one recipe that he literally created for her and even though I don’t really eat meat any more I wanted to recreate part of it with a vegetarian adaptation. So in lieu of chopped liver, I made a Wild Mushroom Pate that I used to make delicious open faced sandwiches. The taste is not chopped per se, but it is earthy and delicious spread over toasted rye with some chopped eggs and pickled onions. Eat this with a glass of rosé to sip and you will be loving life.  The rosé I picked is from from a French winery Chateau Montaud in Provence and it’s from their table wine line.  This wine is CHEAP, like $8.99 a bottle or $19.99 for a 3L box (WHAT?!) yes, that cheap, and it is DELICIOUS. I just got one box last weekend since I had visitors and man that thing went very rapido. So, give it a try if you see it!

FullSizeRender.jpg So more on the book. Like I said, I love me some Ginger, she is essentially a Jewish version of me if I was a tattoo artist and lived in Philly. I also mentioned that the book worked for me not just because of my love for Ginger, the romance is solid. Chris as a hero is so appealing, because he is such a regular dude in so many ways, and yet his heart and his openness make him so unconventional. Chris is pure sunshine and smiles, he wants Ginger and he tells her, shows her, and when that doesn’t work he just keeps trying until it does, because he is certain she is everything he wants.

Ginger is at a loss and a bit annoyed with all the interest from this guy who is beautiful, seemingly perfect, and worse, with a what appears to be a functional family. None of these things are in Ginger’s wheelhouse. She is not sure she can relate to someone that wholesome. She makes assumptions of course, but Ginger has her reasons to be skeptical. She’s not sure she can relate to someone with all the privilege that Chris walks around with, even though he does seem like a nice man. To someone like her who has had to be fierce and a little scary to be able to get just a fraction of the respect men are given everyday without question, it seems unlikely she’ll be able to be with someone like him. But every interaction with him, every conversation, reveals to Ginger a person that is not only interesting and sexy, but a man who carries his own pain and battle scars.

The big conflict in this romance is all within Ginger, and the road she has to travel to learn to let herself be vulnerable with someone and for someone. The process of seeing her let Chris in is beautiful and in the end delivers a truly satisfying happy ending. Along with the romance though we get so much that one rarely gets to experience when reading romance.

For one, Ginger takes on the toxic masculinity and misogynist culture of the tattooing world and it is glorious. There are hard moments too, Ginger’s family is hard, and so is Chris’ in a different way. Living in this world while trying to be a decent human being can leave one bruise and battered, but Ginger is a warrior and she gets hers, oh yes SHE DOES.

This universe promises more love stories, there are some budding pairings there that I would love to see unfold. I already know which I one I want to read next! 🙂 I am looking forward to all of them.

Now the recipe:

Wild Mushroom Pâté  (adapted from Smitten Kitchen Blog)

Pâté
1 ounce dried oyster or porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup boiling water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
1  diced yellow onion
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms, any tough stems discarded and roughly chopped ( I used a mix of shitake, oyster and crimini

2 Portobello caps
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (use half if dry)
1/2 cup white wine

Directions

Combine dried mushrooms and boiling water in a small bowl and let soak for 30 minutes. Remove mushrooms, finely chop and set aside. Strain soaking liquid through a paper towel or coffee filter to remove any grit and set it aside.

Heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. Add onions, if using, and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until they brown at the edges. Raise heat to high and add fresh mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook, sauteing, until mushrooms brown further and release their liquid. Cook until all of the liquid has evaporated then wine and do the same. Add re-hydrated mushrooms and their soaking liquid, and cook this almost completely off. No liquid should run into the center if you drag your spoon through the mushrooms, clearing a path. Adjust seasonings to taste, seasoning is key here, then stir in last of the butter.

Let mixture cool to lukewarm, then blend in a food processor or blender until desired consistency. Mine was not totally smooth, as I wanted consistency that was more like chopped lover. Let chill in fridge for a few hours before serving, giving the flavors a chance to settle. Pâté keeps in fridge for 5 days, in an airtight container. A suggestion for leftover pâté , warm up and served tossed with some cooked papardelle pasta and little bit of olive oil, topped with lots of freshly grated parmesan for a delicious quick dinner.

Serve on slices of toasted rye bread, topped with chopped boiled eggs, pickled read onions and minced parsley.  To pickle red onions, combine 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup cold water, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar in a jar. Add thinly sliced onion or shallot and cover with lid; let pickle in fridge ideally for at least an hour. Pickled onions will keep for two weeks in the fridge.

Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope you enjoy this amazing book and the yummy recipe.

You can purchase Small Change by Roan Parrish HERE.

You can learn more about Roan Parrish and her other work HERE.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Mature Content by Megan Erickson & Santino Hassell w Poke Bowls and Chenin Blanc

MatureContent-f.jpgLet’s get the basics covered before we move on to more “in depth” coverage of the Beau and Zane Show:

  1. Hot as Hell, like with lots and lots of flames. Actually just listen to this song before you start (just think of it as the gay romance version of pre-gaming).
  2. Funny as Hell. Zane in particular is just that bit of extra extra I was hoping for.
  3. Vernacular and Pop Culture references ON POINT and a plenty (I personally find these very amusing), almost like a guided instruction of millenial lore.
  4. This universe keeps growing and I expect more Cyberlove is in our future.

So, this is the fourth book in the Cyberlove series  co-written by Santino Hassell and Megan Erickson and for all intents and purposes it was what I was hoping for. Entertaining, sweet when it needed to be, with a heavy dose of intense smut, and a happy ending that came about with a pretty swift resolution and didn’t leave me feeling on edge or ragey.  Like with the other books in this series, Megan and Santino took an interesting look at yet another part of the social media machine and how the players in it operate. I have to give it to them this series is so damn clever and fun, honestly how had no one done this before?!

OK before I get a bit more into the story, let’s talk food! For this book I was not sure what to make, there are some foodie moments, but I wanted to make something VERY SoCal and SUPER trendy, basically the edible version of Beau and Zane. I decided to go with Poke Bowls, if you have been to the West Coast recently or watched Food Network for longer than ten minutes in the last year, you will have heard of Poke. Poke is originally Hawaiian made with raw fish (tuna or salmon mostly) which is cut into large chunks and marinated with spices and soy sauce. I am CRAZY about poke and whenever I visit my BFF in Cali, he knows that my request will be to stop at “the good poke place.” Poke is delicious, easy to make and a slam dunk “impress your date” meal. It goes great with ANY dry white wine, I served mine with a lovely Chenin blanc, from one of my fave wineries Indaba from South Africa.  Chenin blanc has a more delicate taste and not the bite of a Sav blanc and goest great with fish or seafood was $8.99, it is a DEAL.

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Beau and Zane are explosive in all ways, in bed, on camera, on text, EVERYWHERE, they just crash into each other. Beau can’t stand Zane’s messiness he is crass and careless with his privacy, but what he hates the most is how open Zane is about it. He’s trashy and completely unrepentant about it. Beau is annoyed by it all and yet there is something about the way that Zane goes about his life, that makes it hard  for Beau to stay away.

Zane on the other hand sees Beau as nothing but a sanctimonious fake. He dismisses him as a hypocrite who is just trying to push his own internalized shame and hang ups on his viewers. To Zane, Beau has just fallen into the bullshit heteronormative trap that he refused to fall prey too.  Zane gets to say how he will live his life as a gay man, and he’s just no interested in hearing from anyone who wants to put labels on him or try to make him into someone he is not interested in being. And yet when they are together it all feels so right, so real, he keeps coming back even if he hates himself for it.

The funny thing with these two is ,they are both so black and white, they are one polar opposite ends and Judge Judying (gonna coin this one!) the hell out of each other, but when the clothes come off it is all PERFECT. They give each other exactly what they need. It’s a classic enemies to lovers trope done well, all with that sassy/edgy/clever combo that Megan and Santino achieve so well together.

There are  also moments of pretty insightful reflection on celebrity and how it transforms a person’s perception of themselves. All the things that it can take away as it gives you popularity or wealth. There were also so pretty important moments in there related to friendships and loyalty that made the book feel more grounded, and even a bit different in tone than the others.

If you like the fist four you will love this one. It’s exactly what I was expecting and I had a ton of fun reading. Can’t wait for the next one.

Now the recipe:

Poke Bowls (Serves 2)

2 cups of cooked brown rice (I made mine in the Instant Pot in 22 minutes, what was life before the Instant Pot?)

4 Oz of sashimi grade ahi tuna (if you have a sushi counter at your local grocery you can just ask for it and they will just sell you a chunk of tuna!)

1/4 of a sweet yellow onion VERY thinly sliced

3 tablespoons of soy sauce

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

dash of rice wine vinegar

1 1/1 teaspoon of honey

1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger

2 sliced scallions

kosher salt to taste

black and golden sesame seeds to sprinkle on top

Directions

Cut the tuna into 1/2 inch chunks, then mix in all the ingredients, except the sesame seeds. Let sit in fridge for 5 minutes before serving. Adjust soy sauce or salt if need.

Serve on top of rice, topped with sesame seeds and pickled ginger of the side. It makes an awesome meal for two!

Hope you enjoy the book, the wine and the recipe. They go GREAT together!

You can buy Mature Content HERE.

You can learn about the rest of the Cyberlove Series HERE.

You can learn more about Santino Hassell and his other work HERE.

You can learn more about Megan Erickson and more of her work HERE.

Enjoy your weekend guys! Cheers and Happy Reading!

Lauraa

Chat with Roan Parrish: Her New Book and Feminist Heroines

Small Change eCover high res (1).jpgI am so excited for today’s post! The amazing Roan Parrish, who if you read this blog you know is one of my favorite romance authors, has stopped by to talk about her latest book Small Change. This is Roan’s first M/F book and as with everything she writes, it is absolutely gorgeous. I loved this book so much for so many reasons, but her heroine Ginger made a huge impact on me. Ginger is a strong, passionate character who is unapologetic about how she lives her life. She’s out there getting her shit done and she has no time for bullshit.

I wanted to ask with Roan about Ginger and what was like to write her. I also wanted to hear her thoughts on the role of feminism in the genre. So last week, she and I had the amazing conversation I am sharing with you today.  So here it is:

Laura Adriana: Thanks so much for doing this Roan. I think you have written a much needed book for romance readers. I can’t tell how powerful it was to feel like I was finally reading a woman that I could relate to and who didn’t induce self-loathing or shame with her perfection or perfect reactions. So again, thank you.

Roan Parrish: Thank you, Laura! I’m so gratified that you felt that way about Ginger.

LA: Ginger is bad ass, and I loved her for it. Especially I felt like I was reading a character that I shared a history with. Even though Ginger and I are very different in background and other very important traits like race and country of origin, for some of us there is a shared history in forging an identity as a woman that challenges the social constructs around gender. In a world that is telling us what it should look like, sound like, feel like to be a “proper woman” those of us who refuse to inhabit that box usually pay a high price for claiming our “womanhood.” Ginger is fierce, she’s angry and she’s trying very hard to be strong for herself and the valuable people in her life, and that can look messy at times. At least that’s how I see her. Can you tell me a bit about how writing Ginger was for you?

Roan Parrish: Yes! I think that’s incredibly well said, it’s been my experience too: that there is a shared history for those of us who have paid that price to be true to ourselves when those selves don’t comport with society’s expectation. The very real, ever-present problems of gender norms, gender expectations, and the material affects that our patriarchal culture has on women are things that I (and my friends and community) think about and talk about every single day. And yet, they’re themes that the romance novels I read very rarely dwell on.

And I understand why. Because it’s supremely difficult to write simultaneously about hating patriarchal culture that wants to control you, and about falling in love with a man who has benefited from that culture (no matter how wonderful and self-aware he might be). It’s a problem I’ve struggled with deeply in my own life, and it’s something that the genre of romance isn’t really designed to contain neatly.

I found writing Ginger really painful, for precisely this reason. In the first draft I wrote, I vented a metric ton of fury about this issue, even though I knew that I’d have to edit much of it out—not because it wasn’t true to Ginger, but because it wasn’t the way that I wanted to communicate those feelings.

LA: I can’t stress enough how much this book worked for me purely as a romance. The chemistry between Chris and Ginger was fantastic and he was a gorgeous hero. But mixed into the love story there are some profound reflections on misogyny, double-standards, sexual and domestic violence and many other kinds of aggression women have to navigate everyday. There is a strong feminist side to Ginger, and it’s clear from your other work that feminist values influence your writing. Can you share some feminist voices that inspire you and why?

RP: I’m so glad you think so! For all that I struggled with writing this book, I wanted so badly to believe that a romance novel really could function with a character like Ginger at its center. In order for that to happen, her love interest, Christopher, had to be the kind of person who Ginger would genuinely fall for. He had to love and appreciate her for all the things that she believes as well as all the things that she is—and he had to be willing to do the work in the moments when his privilege really did get in the way of their intimacy.

The feminist voices that inspire me the most are the people I surround myself with, in friendship and in work. My sister, in particular. These are people who are, in nearly everything they do, working to make the world more positive for more people, and I’m endlessly inspired to see it. Of course there are influencers and artists whose words and work has inspired me in large ways, but nothing compares to the daily, repeated microinspirations of seeing the people in my life act.

LA: How do you think writing more feminist heroines could impact romance as a genre? 

RP: I think one of the things that has been central to the genre of romance is the notion that it is, in essence, feminist because it’s a space where female characters and authors have agency over their bodies and their desires, without social punishment. And while I celebrate the genre for the power that it allows women, I don’t believe that any genre can ever be essentially feminist—not when the culture that created it is not.

Romance is a genre that places falling in love and having a relationship at the center of books. (Duh, it’s why we love them!) There’s no way to avoid the long, problematic history that also saw being in a relationship as the main—or only—function for women. For some people, and I’m one of them, the idea that a woman’s greatest happiness rests in finding a relationship, is fraught—in that it’s a constant internal battle. On one hand, you have this really problematic way in which women are reduced to their desire for or desire by men. On the other, you have the wonderful joy of falling in love. They’re both always there, in my head, and in the genre.

There are already a lot of heroines in romance that identify as feminists, which is awesome. But the presence of those characters alone doesn’t explode the conventions of the genre. Genre is a tricky beast, in that its conventions are what make it recognizable—push them too far in any direction and the book won’t feel like a romance anymore. But genre conventions become conventions through repetition. Which means that, no matter how set in stone they seem at any moment, give the genre ten years, or fifty years, or two hundred and fifty years, and what (arguably) started out as Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded (1740), morphs into the romance novels of today.

My suspicion is that the first thing that would happen if there were more explicitly, politically feminist heroines in romance is that the current divide between m/f romance and queer romance would erode a bit. While there is certainly a great deal of gay romance that isn’t at all progressive or political, there are also a number of queer books that are taking on political issues explicitly. And there are readers for whom those are the stories that speak the loudest. These are the same readers, I suspect, who would be interested in m/f romance novels if the genre included more characters who were queer, or feminist, or political, as Ginger is.

At the most basic level, the more different types of characters there are in romance novels, the more different readers they’re going to speak to. I hope we do see more explicitly feminist heroines in romance novels, if for no other reason than that I want to read them.

Thanks so much for talking to me about these issues, Laura—they’re in my heart.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Microinspirations, I LOVE THAT.

Thanks so much to Roan for coming on and having this amazing talk with me about two things that I care so much about. I think our genre is ready for more and more characters that break the molds we have gotten used to, and for books that reveal to us important truths about about finding love, while living life on our own terms.

I hope you guys enjoyed the chat and that you read this book.

You can buy Small Change HERE.

You can read more about Roan and her other work HERE.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Lauraa

Are we Really so Hard to Find? POC and Minorities in Romance

I’ve never gone on a rant on this blog, which frankly is surprising since I seem to spend most of the time in breathless outrage lately. When it comes to the world of romance readers and authors I usually try to keep things in perspective, I adjust my expectations and try (for the most part) to appreciate it for the joy reading this genre brings me. I am a devoted fan of romance. It’s the part of my life that I always find myself defending to my loved ones. Explaining and educating them on how rich it is with smart and thoughtful books. That they are wrong to generalize what romance is or what I get out of reading these novels.

I tell them how much more enlightened we are compared to most literary communities, that we get to read books with heroes an heroines who are fearless and brazen in their pursuit of happiness. As Damon Suede one of the most popular gay romance authors out there likes to say, “romance is the literature of hope.” 

There is so much about this genre that I love, and yet every so often I feel so slighted and frankly hurt by the lack of care there is when it comes to the representation of people of color. Not to mention the teeny tiny number of authentic heroes and heroines of color in romance. I am not saying there aren’t some out there, there are. Amazing ones actually. Unfortunately we are still along for the ride in many ways, just happy to be remembered.

What brought on my rant today was a recent event put on by one of the biggest, if not the biggest independent bookstore in NYC, a bookstore I love, go to all the time and that always puts on awesome and thoughtful events. Being a voracious reader in pretty much all genres, this store is basically the equivalent of my book Cathedral. So, when I saw that they were having an event on “Feminism and Romance” I was thrilled, my two passions together. When I saw the authors that would be on the panel, I was even more excited, all of them are wonderful, and I’ve read many of their books. Then at a second glance, I realized they are all white women. A conversation about feminism in romance and not a single woman of color on the panel. In New York City, in 2017, it was not possible to find a Black, Latina or Asian woman who writes romance who could come and speak on her thoughts about feminism and romance.

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It was disappointing to say the least, and discouraging. Not because I don’t think that the women who were on the panel did not have important things to say on feminism (on the contrary from what I saw on the clips it seemed like a great conversation) but because once again our voices just did not seem to be important enough to have seat at the table. In one of the clips from the event on Instagram, (I watched them since I decided to skip the event), one of the authors talked about the need for intersectionality in romance. As much as I vehemently agree with her, I could not help but notice the irony. Because she is right, we do need more intersectional characters in romance, and a good place to start is more people of color and minorities being part of the conversation.

Romance like so much of what out is out there for women’s consumption is solidly grounded on an Eurocentric and White  (and patriarchal) perspective. This is something which cannot be dismantled just by hugging it out, or by saying we’re all about the love. These narratives and paradigms run deep and we have to do the work to break from them. To make romance more inclusive and well represented by all ALL kinds of people. I am not going to go further into my views on cultural imperialism (although maybe I should), but I will challenge this community to take a harder look at how we go about things. To be honest about who makes up our community, as opposed to who gets to speak for it. Whose voices do we consider to have value? Who gets to define what romance means to all of us?

I was at another literary panel last month, it was a panel called Badass Women: Speaking Your Power, put on by the PEN World Voices Festival, all the panelists were women who belonged to minorities, it was a powerful conversation and one where the challenge was made: “We are here. What we have to say has value. We are ready for the invitation, but if you can’t see that we won’t do the work for you.”

It is on all of us as a community readers, authors, reviewers, bloggers, publishers, editors, cover artists, ALL of us to start asking these questions. Why am I at a panel on Feminism and Romance and there is not a single woman of color here? How are minorities represented in the genres’ leadership positions? Is there value in adding their voices? Really, that question needs to be asked, and there needs to be action in the answer. Because, sadly I think that for many in the genre, getting the answer to that question right is not nearly as important as we’d like it to be.

Personally, I’d love to be say that I believe there is will in the genre as a whole to be more inclusive, to see more of us represented. The reality on the other hand is that I am an Afro-Caribbean, immigrant woman, who has read thousands of romance novels and very very few of them have a heroine that looks like me. As the author from the panel on feminism said, despite how far we have come, we have a long road ahead. I hope that soon we can start having the conversations which will start paving a way with room for more of us.

Lauraa

Amy Lane on Why She Believes in Happy Endings

7544649Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by for my third and last post in the  series. This week I’ve shared my conversations with Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe where they discussed writing characters with PTSD, and my chat with Dal Maclean who came by to talk about her process writing a character with severe childhood trauma. Today I delighted to have one of my favorite authors of gay romance, Amy Lane, to talk about why she is so passionate about given HER broken heroes happy endings.

If you are a fan of gay romance you surely have read at least one Amy Lane novel. She is a prolific author putting out multiple novels every year, and although she is known for her more angsty books, she has quite a collection of lighter romance as well. A common thread in many of her books is to have characters who have suffered abuse and neglect (sometimes extreme)  or some kind of trauma in their childhoods. They reach adulthood with some emotional battle scars and happily in her stories they get to find unconditional love. 10821000

Amy’s stories can be raw and sometimes the emotional pain her characters carry can be almost too much to bear. I love her books because I can relate to the struggle in her characters, especially that yearning we all have to be seen for who we truly are by someone. To be loved even with our wounds.

I don’t think I could list every book of Amy Lane’s that I’ve loved in just one blog post, but I will briefly list some I think are particularly notable in relation to the theme of this blog series.

“Locker Room”, which is my favorite of all her books, and believe me that is saying a lot, gives us Xander, the basketball player who pushed himself of from a childhood of neglect and abuse to become a professional basketball player with the love and support of his lover Chris, who also has his own demons.

Others include, the “Promises” series  which has powerful stories that show not only how much the world can hurt people, but also how healing and happening is possible. “Racing for the Sun” delves into the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. It is a harsh and bloody story, almost like an avenging fantasy, but I loved it for how raw it was. “Bolt-Hole” touches upon the incredible damage that systematic racism can have on the life a  young black man. I think this is one of Amy’s more profound books. The “Johnnies” series, which starts of with “Chase in Shadow.”  A heart wrenching love story, the whole Johnnies universe is frankly some of her best work. This list is pitiably short, Amy as I said is very prolific, and her back list could keep you in books for months. I just wanted to highlight some of my favorites.13423284

So let’s get on with my chat with Amy, she was kind enough to answer some questions I had for her. I hope you find her answers as moving as I did, I as humbled by her honesty and willingness to share some of her personal reasons for writing the stories she does.

The Tipsy Bibliophile: Why is it important for you to give happy endings to men that have endured so much emotional damage? 

Amy Lane:  I think it’s because we ALL have our damage. Yes, my ten on the Amy scale damage may be three on someone else’s damage scale–but there was still a moment in my life when I was terrified and powerless, and it affected me profoundly. My family doesn’t do psychologists or counselors– we just power on through–so the first person to really see the extent of my damage was the first person I fell in love with. Luckily, he saw that I was more than just that damage, and we’ve been married for nearly thirty years, but still: rendering yourself naked before someone else, painful scars and all, is an act of bravery. 

And if you believe that people deserve love, forgiveness, a chance for absolution if they have sinned and to be productive and positive if they’re innocent–if you truly believe that, showing your naked painful scars is something everybody must do to find happiness. 
17700033So I write people with that damage, who do the unspeakably brave and live and love to tell about it. 
It’s a belief in humanity and hope. 
TTB: Trauma is a theme you have explored widely in your books, childhood trauma, sexual and domestic violence, PTSD in veterans, grief. Are there any traits in the characters or how you write them that are are consistent for every character or are they always different?

AL: As far as I can tell, there are two ways to react to trauma.

You can keep it quiet and let it make you weak, or tell the world and let it make you strong. 
But I don’t believe in absolutes–so most of my characters are on some sliding scale between these two extremes.  Deacon keeps his pain silent, Crick is pretty vocal about his, and Shane is somewhere in the middle.  Chase’s pain is so profoundly buried that he’s practically two people–the screaming child on the inside and the clueless man he pretends to be on the outside, and Kane just deals with each blow and keeps on rolling when it’s passed.  I know my own personal damage is known to a few people–but every now and then, somebody will say and do something that will resurrect it, and I’ll have to expose it to sunlight again and kill it. So if you’re writing damaged people, you need to acknowledge not only what the damage is, but how the character has reacted to it in the past–and what they’re going to have to do to expose their hearts and tell the world (or their significant other) so they can have a viable future.  And it’s always important to acknowledge that this is an ongoing process–even if you “rip off the bandaid” of your psychic pain, that wound still has to heal when exposed to air. 
Each person’s journey in healing from trauma is different and it takes a lot of strength to openly share that with others. I am grateful to Amy for sharing with us some of her own journey and those that she takes her characters on. She is a phenomenally brave human, I am honored to know her.
Again a big thanks to all the authors who joined me this week to talk about trauma and romance, and of course to all of those who stopped by to read the posts!
Have a great Memorial Day Weekend.
Cheers and Happy Reading!
Lauraa

 

Dal Mclean: Writing Heroes with Childhood Trauma

Welcome Back! Today I have the fabulous Dal Maclean to talk about her process in writing her amazing (and I mean SERIOUSLY AMAZING) book “Bitter Legacy“. This book was one of my favorites of last year, and one of the biggest reasons for that was how Ben, one of the main characters, was written. Ben survived severe trauma in his early childhood, and even after long years of therapy and family support there were still ways in which that trauma impacted him. I appreciated Dal’s, portrayal of what a trauma can look like for an adult survivor. I use the word “can” because trauma like everything else, is different for everyone. With characters like Ben, what I look for when I read fiction, is for a rendition that is thoughtful, and allows the character dignity and the possibility of healing.

I really wanted to chat with Dal about how she wrote Ben, his inner workings and why she decided to let him show his emotional pain, even if it did cost her some points in with the readers! In romance we have certain expectations on how a character should behave, and Ben broke some of those rules. He is such a layered character, and his pain was so palpable, he actually reminded me of some of the clients I’ve worked with over the years. So, I reached out to Dal with some questions about her process and other things that I was very curious about after reading her book.

Before I get to the interview though, I’d like to talk briefly about childhood trauma.  So what makes trauma in childhood different than trauma suffered as an adult? Aren’t children resilient and get past these painful events faster than an adult would? According to Judith Herman in her book “Trauma and Recovery”,

“repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation. She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in  a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, power in a situation of helplessness. Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protections with the only means at her disposal, an immature system of psychological defenses.

The pathological environment of childhood abuse forces the development of extraordinary capacities, both creative and destructive. It fosters the development of abnormal states of consciousness in which the ordinary relations of body and mind, reality and imagination, knowledge and memory, no longer hold.”

We can use that passage as an answer to my first question, which makes it pretty easy to guess what the answer to the second one would be. In short, trauma in childhood can have severe and lasting effects. And even though healing is VERY MUCH possible, there are no simple solutions, falling in love (even if it would be nice if it was) is unfortunately not a panacea. If anything depending on the type of abuse, it could trigger memories and old defenses that can be very hard to manage.

I will leave the lesson there, and go to my chat with Dal, I hope you enjoy reading her answers as much as I did. For the those out there who are as geeky about books as I am, I think you will like just how deeply into Ben’s mind Dal got.

30777300The Tipsy Bibliophile: Writing characters with childhood trauma, specially trauma that comes from abuse, can be very hard. It can definitely create empathy for the reader, the issue is, people with trauma can be erratic and messy. Fiction (especially romance) tends to like their heroes a bit neater. So it can be hard to accurately portray the emotional pain and sometimes destructive ways in which that trauma can present.
It is not done often frankly, most times those self-destructive behaviors or poor coping skills just wash away once that romance begins to build. Which leads me to Ben, one of the heroes in your mystery Bitter Legacy, why was it important to you to continue to show the dark parts of Ben, even after he became involved with James?

Dal Maclean: I should say first of all as a disclaimer that I’m not a trained expert in mental health issues.
But as a writer, I think it WAS important, because those darker parts of Ben were vital to who he was as a character, and to the plot as it turned out. What Ben went through as a child was extreme and it didn’t seem to me realistic that it wouldn’t have a lasting effect on his emotions or outlook on other people and his relationships with them.

From a certain point,he had emotional support from his parents and extensive and expensive therapy (like his siblings) but because of certain traits in his character and the particular relation ship he had with his tormentor, he emerged the strongest and probably the healthiest emotionally of all the people affected by the ‘bitter legacy’ of the book. Ben has a very high IQ and EQ and an extremely strong will. Of them all he was most in control of how he dealt with his wounds but no, his behaviour wasn’t ‘neat’.

I wanted to show that there is hope of course for a happy ending for survivors of abuse, but equally I didn’t want to diminish it or make it facile. I didn’t think it was realistic to suggest Ben would easily lower a lifetime of learned defences and innate suspicion because he ‘fell in love’, or that he would necessarily think ‘falling in love’ was a good thing even if he could recognise it.
Ben is above all, a survivor. He wouldn’t have come through what he did in such good shape, if he weren’t, but having survived, throwing himself under the wheels of someone else’s emotions isn’t going to be done lightly. For Ben I would say, the greatest issues were always going to be control and trust.

How could Ben find anyone he could trust to tell the truth of who he was, and believe they’d still want/love him, when he’s himself repelled by it? How could he ever trust another person not to betray his secret or change their mind– and remember he’s seen graphic proof as a child of how much ‘love and commitment’ weren’t worth? How could he allow himself to relax and try to be with anyone who didn’t know his past, always fearing the truth would emerge somehow? Much easier to keep people close enough for fun and company but always at a safe emotional distance, through his …behaviour (trying not to give everything away here…)

You describe his behaviour as self destructive, Laura, but I think for Ben it’s the opposite – for him its self preservation, which is, after his childhood, his most basic instinct.

Then along comes James — not just someone to whom he’s overwhelmingly physically attracted, but also, that rarest of things — a white knight — truly honourable, brave, kind, almost innocent; a force for good.

And that is an unbelievable pull to Ben; he’s caught from the start by that potential to trust him. He’s in just as deeply as James is, all the way, though, through James’s eyes, it’s hard to see. (That ‘white hat’ thing is why Steggie is so attracted to James too, incidentally).

But for Ben, falling in love, and depending on someone else for his happiness – someone who could find out who he is and turn away from him – is ceding control of his own destiny. Not something to be welcomed, but to be resisted at all costs. Which he does manically, and sometimes cruelly. though that’s more desperation than conscious choice.

Finally it’s proved to Ben both that James deserves his trust, and that he genuinely doesn’t care who Ben is. So Ben finds the courage and desperation to make the most terrifying leap of faith, against everything he’s ever lived by, to try to hold on to this one person. And it works out. I thought that was actually kinda romantic in the end. ☺

TTB: Did readers react to him in unexpected ways because you chose to let his character stay “broken” even when he had James’ love?

DM: Oooh. Well. Yes! I’ve said elsewhere that I don’t think I’m a romance writer so much as someone trying to write romance and I think Ben’s character in Bitter Legacy sort of proves that. It definitely went against… expectations? And I think because maybe some readers had those expectations – which is perfectly reasonable given its ‘a mystery romance’ — people took Ben to the very end at face value, as a romantic love interest who hadn’t behaved romantically enough.

Ben says at the end ‘its what I did, not what I am’ and that is the essence of his behaviour. It had a purpose far beyond enjoyment – as I said above, it’s his shield, his protection, distancing him from involvement, leaving him in control. But some readers did see ‘what he did, as what he was’ and decided it wasn’t realistic that he could be anything else.

In my view though Ben’s behaviour was not compulsion. It wasn’t pathological; it was a behaviour usef/chosen made for specific purpose.

An important clue really that Ben probably isn’t ‘cured’ is, that James is unique to Ben. He’s unique from the start as is shown by Ben breaking his rules for him and lying by omission to try to hold on to him. And James becomes more and more singular right through until the end– the one person who, by what James is shown to be (the white knight; a friend Ben can confide weakness to), and by what James knows and accepts – can be trusted by Ben. I don’t think anyone else can fit that space for Ben. And Ben will not voluntarily risk losing him.

I think perhaps in our genre though, Ben’s behaviour, especially in persisting in causing the hero so much pain even after the love affair begins, is one of the worsts thing a character can do really. Some readers were very much more sympathetic to the murderer because his character arc and his way of dealing with his experiences had been hidden behind a more sympathetic (to the hero) pattern of behaviour. It surprised me I admit, as a rookie, that what Ben did, even with reasons behind it, was seen by some readers as less forgivable than murder. But… lol
TTB: While reading “Bitter Legacy” I was happily surprised just how flawed you let your characters be and without taking away their humanity. It can be easy to let a label, determine where a person can go, or what they get to have in a story. That includes love and compassion. However in your novel, even the “villain” had deeply redemptive qualities and was a character with which I had a lot of empathy. Was showing how complex people can be, and that there is a lot of gray when it comes to relationships something that you went about with intention?

DM: Thank you so much! I’m glad you appreciated the flaws. ☺ I think imperfect characters are my favourite thing. My biggest driver is trying to convey what makes different kinds of people tick. I love reading complex characters who have that layering which we all have as people. Relationships and people ARE complex things; that’s what makes them so fascinating.

So yes, definitely with intention –though maybe not always with success.

Villains are more interesting if they’re sympathetic, though sometimes outright scenery-chewing evil ones are fabulous too (Take a bow Dal Carrington Colby Dexter, nemesis of Nicole Kimberling’s Binky and Brutus!! :D)

But I absolutely love imperfect heroes best of all,,. with flaws and issues that cause genuine – not easily resolved — conflict.

I like heroes who’re sometimes messy and behave badly or stupidly or stubbornly or selfishly. Or hurtfully. People who’re afraid, or make mistakes, or occasionally think less than perfect things. But hopefully always for reasons that make sense, with who they are at that point. And they can still be heroes.

Romance is I suppose, ultimately, wish fulfillment, which is one of the reasons I love it and I’ll always want the happy ending. But when a writer gives me a believable HEA after getting me emotionally invested and making me feel the characters are real and have fought hard emotionally to get there, and for a while I even thought they may not make it… I love stories with an edge like that, that then take me home ☺

Thanks so much to Dal for this amazing chat. Please come back Friday for talk with Amy Lane, where she gives me incredibly honest answers about why she writes the characters that she does.  She made me cry…

If you would like to read more about childhood trauma here are a few books I have read over the years and have found to be incredibly valuable:

The Boy Who Was Raised as A Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiastrist’s Notebook by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalvitz

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror by Judith Herman

Bastard Out Of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

You can buy “Bitter Legacy” by Dal Maclean HERE.

You can find out more about Dal’s work HERE.

Thanks for reading! If you have any book recommendation fiction or nonfiction on this subject, please share them in the comments!

Cheers!

Lauraa

Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe Talk About Writing Veteran Heroes and PTSD

Welcome! So, today I have Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe on the blog today, to talk about what it was like for them to write characters who have come back from war, and are struggling with the effects of the trauma they experienced. I think both Megan in her book “Overexposed”, as well as C.S. in her “Snow and Winter” series do a great job of putting out there how hard it is to walk around wounded on the inside, but to the outside world looking completely fine. The fear of being “stigmatized” or being labelled as “crazy” is yet another layer of difficulty that veterans have to confront. Espcially when most people don’t even understand what PTSD even means or looks like.

So what is PTSD? According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs “PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Some of the symptoms can be, “reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms), avoiding situations that remind you of the event, having more negative beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal).” Imagine dealing with all that and trying to rebuild a life or starting a new relationship. It’s a lot, and even if it is doable, it does not magically disappear because they have fallen in love.

So, this leads into my conversations with our guest authors. First, I will share my chat with Megan about her heroes Thad and Levi from Overexposed, and why it was important for her to show their emotional pain as accurately as possible. Here it is:

28490317TTB: In “Overexposed” you had two characters who had each experienced traumatic events. Thad is a veteran who has recently come back from his latest deployment, and is still reeling from those experiences, and Levi is grieving his sister who died in active duty.  

While reading the story I was really struck by how their ways of dealing with their pain was so different, and yet so similar. Thad’s complete silence, he was almost unable to speak about anything. Levi who was such an extrovert, had to find quiet in order to finally let the grieving happen. And yet,  they both ended on the same path, literally. However even once their connection happened, still they could not heal the other person. Each of them had to find a way back from their journey on their own. I thought that was a beautiful analogy, and letting their pain be part of the story made the novel a really wonderful read. Can you talk a bit about why you chose to let the effects of their pain and grief linger, and not just dissipate once the romance began?

Megan Erickson: Thank you so much for your kind words on “Overexposed”. This book was difficult to write because I knew there would be a lot of pain and grief. Regarding letting the effects of their pain and grief linger: I think it’s important to show that grief will change us. It’ll change how we live, love, make decisions, etc. And with Thad and Levi, I wanted to show that love and romance can break down some walls inside of ourselves. Meaning, once we start to see how others view us, especially ones that love us, it gives us a chance to look closer at ourselves. Love can be a mirror. I’m sure there were times Thad was thinking–why is Levi into me? What is it about me that he sees? Do I see myself that way?

TTB: The “Damaged War Veteran” is not an uncommon theme in gay romance. It’s a well used trope, however a lot the portrayals of these character’s experiences can be pretty superficial. It’s hard to develop a romance while trying to accurately portray what the effects of PTSD really look like, without resorting to graphic details or images that could affect the reader in a negative way. How did you approach writing Thad’s PTSD, and how was it different for you than other characters in your novels?

ME: The thing about PTSD is that it affects everyone differently. For Thad, he’d always been a quiet guy, an introvert, and he hadn’t really found many people at all that understood him. So when his brain was actively fighting itself over trauma, his solution was to get away from everyone. He couldn’t understand himself, how could others? Thad was different for me, because I admire those who serve so much, and I wanted to treat his situation delicately. He didn’t feel like a hero, and never really wanted to be.

Some would say that romance is a less serious genre, that the focus should be on getting that believable “HEA” and that getting too deeply into a character’s trauma could hurt the story.

TTB: Why do you think it’s important to be mindful of portraying trauma accurately? Have you found the reactions to Thad and Levi’s characters to be positive or any different from other books?

ME: I think it’s incredibly important to portray trauma well. Mainly because even if a character didn’t go through the same experience, they might have dealt with another traumatic experience similarly, or had the same thoughts. And for them to see themselves reflected on the page and treated with care and respect is everything.

I had no idea how readers would react to Thad and Levi but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s an angstier read, so I’m sure it wasn’t everyone’s thing, but the responses have been amazing and very intense emotionally. One reader got a tattoo with a line from this book, and another got a tattoo of a tent and moon to signify Thad and Levi’s journey on the Appalachian Trail. Which just blows me away. I’m grateful every day for being able to do what I do.

29759618In the “Snow and Winter” series one of C.S. Poe’s heroes, Calvin Winter is a NYPD detective who is still suffering the effects from what he experienced while serving in the military. He is haunted by his memories, and even though he has tried to push it all down and keep going, things are slowly falling apart.

One of the things I really like about Calvin’s character is that C.S. shows how much his struggles with showing weakness, how opening up about his trauma would mark him some how. I think that conflict made Calvin very appealing to me, and I think was a great issue to address. So I had a chat with C.S. about her book and why she chose to approach Calvin in the way she did. Here is what she had to say.

TTB: PTSD in a character, specially in a romance, can be quite heavy if portrayed accurately. For your first novel you decided to delve in the trauma that Detective Calvin Winter had suffered while in combat. I think the book is better for it, and certainly makes Calvin a much more intriguing hero. What parts of Calvin’s struggle with his trauma were important for you to get right?

C.S. Poe: Writing Calvin’s character came with the very serious task of accurately representing aspects of PTSD, and it was in the forefront of my mind throughout the entire writing and editing process. It was important to me to show Calvin as a strong, smart, and brave man, while at the same time reflecting an inner struggle he acquired later in life. Calvin has a battle raging inside, where he is trying to be the man everyone sees– a hero, while accepting the fact that war has changed him and he may need help to overcome what he has experienced. It was his reluctance to seek help that I wanted to portray, the concept that he feels weak or has somehow let people down by not being Captain America.

Another important element to his character was to not make the PTSD who Calvin is. He is a man. He is a highly decorated army veteran and metro detective. He’s a son, a brother, and a boyfriend. He is not PTSD. In order to show this, I had to do a lot of research, which involved days of documentaries and videos, reading articles and support groups, researching VA hospitals, and more. I wanted to represent symptoms of PTSD subtly that suggested Calvin was struggling hard, but that he won’t let it consume his life.

TTB: Something I struggle with when I see it in a novel, is the minimization of trauma once the romance begins to emerge. The idea being that love can make the PTSD go away, when in fact it is a lot more complicated than that. Do you think that putting Calvin’s struggle right in the midst of his relationship with Sebastian gives their love story a depth that would not have been there otherwise?

CSP: Absolutely it did. Through my extensive research on PTSD in veterans, I’ve learned that in fact, many relationships struggle to stay afloat, and even more can often fail. Of course a relationship that doesn’t succeed breaks the single rule of a romance novel, that being there needs to be a Happily Ever After, or at least a Happy For Now, in the case of this ongoing series. Calvin’s happiness and success with Sebastian is a very critical and key element of the character arcs in these books. When the two meet in Nevermore, Calvin is pretty low, and because of how PTSD can intensify with emotional stress from a relationship, especially a new one that didn’t start so easily with Sebastian, it was important that in Book Two, Curiosities, Calvin basically hit rock bottom. I needed to stay true to how devastating PTSD can be, to not belittle what real people experience, while at the same time giving hope and belief that things can get better, as seen through a man like Calvin.

To Sebastian, Calvin is his knight in shining armor. Sebastian doesn’t think anything less of Calvin when the armor is too heavy to hold up without some help. There is a raw, naked honesty between the two men. The ability to ask for and receive help during the darkest moments, while remaining equals, that I think solidifies their romance, and makes them so very special to one another.


I am always grateful to have stumbled upon this genre, and one of the biggest reasons is that it is filled with authors who feel such passion for writing their stories. Thanks so much to Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe to taking the time to talk with me about their heroes and their writing process.

Please comment if there are any other books out there with veterans or those suffering the effects of PTSD that you recommend.

Other favorites of mine are:

Think of England by KJ Charles

Marlowe’s Ghost by Sarah Black

Racing for the Sun by Amy Lane

If you would like to read more about Trauma and PTSD in particular here are a couple of books I recommend:

Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence- From Domestic Abuse to Political Power by Judith Herman

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk

You can buy “Overexposed” HERE.

You can learn more about Megan Erickson and her work HERE.

You can buy “Snow and Winter” series HERE.

You can more about C.S. Poe and her work HERE.

Please stop by again on Wednesday to read about my chat with Dal Mclean and our chat about writing a hero with childhood trauma.

Cheers and Happy Reading!

Lauraa

Real Talk: Reading (and writing) Romance with Heroes who are Trauma Survivors

As I have mentioned before I am a social worker, and most of my work is doing advocacy for survivors of domestic and sexual violence (a big reason why I read so much romance, I need to gorge on those HEAs sometimes , ya know?).  So that means I have a critical eye for how trauma is portrayed in books. Those stories with veterans suffering from PTSD, characters who survived sexual or physical abuse as children, or those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted as adults. Are their stories told with care and respect for what they survived? Does is it ring true, is it fair, or is it simplistic? Does it minimize the struggle living with the effects of trauma can be for the person who has experienced it, as well as the loved ones who are there to support them? These are questions that I constantly have in my head when I pick up a book with this kind of story, and the answers matter.

So what is trauma anyway? According to Judith Herman in her book Trauma and Recovery: The Aftemath of Violence From Domestic Violence to Politcal Terror (which I HIGHLY recommend for anyone doing research about trauma) “psychological trauma is an affliction of the powerless. At the moment of trauma the victim is rendered helpless by overwhelming force. When the force is that of nature, we speak of disasters. When the force is that of other human beings we speak of atrocities. Traumatic events overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.” That last line is the important one when it comes to relationships and one that I think has a lot weight when thinking about romance.

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Heroes with histories of trauma are a popular theme in Gay Romance, which frankly is one of the reasons why I love the genre. These stories are hard, and provoke empathy and a connection with the characters that is quite powerful. However, there is also a tendency to try and fix that brokenness in the characters once love is part of the equation, in ways that to me feel a bit simplistic. It would be wonderful if love could solve everything, but the reality is that for most people who are struggling with the effects of trauma, even when they are loved and supported unconditionally, those wounds don’t go away. They can be managed and healing is definitely possible, but they don’t just disappear. These are subjects that need to be approached with care, because implying that they can be solved so easily could be hurtful or feel like judgment for readers who are going through similar situations. However when they are done well, they make for some of the very best reading the genre has to offer, and they could be sources of hope and validation for those out there trying to heal.

So who is out there writing this stuff in ways that rings true and are also delivering on those powerful HEAs? Well, lots of authors actually! I reached out to a few who have written some of my recent favorites, and chatted with them about why it was important for them to show accurate portrayals of what the effects of trauma looked like for their characters even if it was a messy sight.

Over the next few posts I will share my conversation with Megan Erickson whose book Overexposed, is one of my favorites and I think does a beautiful job of rendering both of her heroes’ struggles. Thad’s PSTD from his time in Afghanistan, and Levi’s grief from losing his sister to the same war. I also talked with C.S. Poe whose hero Detective Calvin Winter in the Snow and Winter series, struggles to adjust to civilian life after leaving the military. The portrayal C.S. does of how violent and pervasive PTSD can be is fantastic, and she still manages to give us a funny and robust love story.

I also will be chatting with Dal Mclean and her book Bitter Legacy, which deals with a hero who is survivor of horrific child abuse. This topic is particularly important to me, and I think Dal does one of the finest jobs in rendering it that I’ve read in this genre. And yet her heroes still get their happy ending. Finally we will hear from the Queen of Angst herself, Amy Lane. She will talk about her writing and why she keeps going back to those broken heroes.

So, more than a lecture on what trauma is, although I will give definitions and such! 🙂 I hope this is more of a conversation starter. These authors have been quite generous to share some insight, and I hope to hear some more thoughts about this topic, and maybe get some recommendations on other books that approach this topic well.

Also, I will be listing some resources during the posts, of books on trauma that I have read over the years which I think are incredibly informative, and could be of use for those who write these kinds of heroes. And finally, I will list other novels that I have loved over the years and I think broach these subjects well.

Ok, that is all for me today! Come back Monday for my chat with Megan Erickson and C.S. Poe about writing heroes who have come back with from war emotionally wounded.

Happy Friday All.

Cheers and happy Reading!

Laura