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.

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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