Christina Lauren on Empowered Heroines and Fighting Everyday Sexism

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

As our loyal readers know, the Bookish team adores Christina Lauren. We’ve followed along with their Beautiful and Wild Seasons series, and were ecstatic to dive into their first standalone, Dating You / Hating You. It’s a contemporary romance that follows two talent agents who find themselves competing for the same job and fighting their growing sexual tension. We caught up with both Lauren Billings and Christina Hobbs (the writing duo behind the pen name Christina Lauren—often affectionately shortened to CLo) at BookCon and chatted with them about their latest release, everyday sexism, and the best parts of romance novels.

Bookish: This is your first standalone, and it shares a few elements with your debut, Beautiful Bastard: an office romance, a mix of desire and aggravation. What was it like to revisit that setting and explore it in a brand new way?

Lauren Billings: When we had this idea, we weren’t thinking about Beautiful Bastard or trying to redo it in any way. But as the concept evolved, it started to feel like a grown-up BB and the more we discussed it the more we thought, “Yeah, this is something we can do. This is our wheelhouse.” One of the reasons why people really like BB is because it is sort of ridiculous and over the top. We wanted Dating You to be grown-up CLo but still have that element of the absurd. The shenanigans that Evie and Carter engage in bring that absurdity. Now instead of banging all over the office (like in BB), these are characters who are resorting to really terrible behavior and pranks because they’re driving each other crazy.

Bookish: What is your favorite part of romances to write?

Christina Hobbs: I’m realizing I have a very specific male character that I enjoy writing. I love the Carters, the Ansels, the Lukes—the really charming, funny guys. So for me, the scenes that are the most fun to write are the ones where the leads make each other laugh.

LB: My favorite part is when the characters first meet. I love meet cutes. That’s where you set up their personalities and their dynamic. It’s so fun. When I get stuck, I write kissing, but my overall favorite part to write is that first meeting.

Bookish: All of your books have strong feminist themes in them, but this one deals with sexism in a very head-on way. Evie and the other women in her office face a lot of everyday sexism, the kind that even Carter is sometimes oblivious to. Aside from being relatable to your readers, why was it important for you to feature that in this book?

LB: Both Christina and I had experiences in the workplace where we’d work equally hard as a male counterpart and be relegated to a different place on the hierarchy, but I think the more common experience is inadvertent sexism. I worked with people who reported to me who would call me kiddo or sweetie or honey. These are subtle things that chip away at you bit by bit.

When we first meet Evie’s boss Brad in this book, the reader notices the ways that he’s sexist towards Evie because she notices it. But when it happens in your own work place, often you initially let those little insults slide. You think, “Is it just me? Am I being sensitive?” And the insults build up over time. The subtle sexism is where it all starts; it’s the root.

CH: With sexism, there is also a level of privilege. Carter isn’t affected by it in the same way that Evie is, so he doesn’t have to see it if he doesn’t want to. The first time he does he has a moment of realizing he receives preferential treatment.

Bookish: Carter is described often in this book, and Evie thinks a lot about how hot he is. Carter is definitely attracted to Evie, but at least on the page, he doesn’t focus on her body in the same way. Similarly, her pleasure always takes center stage in their intimate moments. It reads like a subversion of the male gaze. Is that how you intended it?

LB: Absolutely, 100%. Like you said, what we notice about Carter is how he looks walking off down the hall in his pants, and a lot of that is for the romance reader. We want our readers to be able to visualize the hero and identify with the heroine. Carter looks at Evie and he sees her intelligence, her strength, her frustration, and he admires all of those things about her. We hope readers will see him appreciating those parts of her and maybe they’ll appreciate those aspects in themselves.

Bookish: In romantic comedies, women who are “married to their jobs” take a lot of heat and get told to take a step back. But here, Carter is also married to his job and he doesn’t ever expect Evie to step back. What made you want to play with that trope in this way?

CH: It’s something we deal with in our own lives. When you’re on a deadline, you have to work. We both have marriages that are truly equal partnerships and husbands who support that.

LB: And our husbands are just as dedicated to their own jobs. To be honest, it’s one of the reasons I’m passionately in love with my husband. He’s so good at his job and it matters so much to him. I think that’s incredibly sexy. I value hardwork and if Carter was slacking while Evie was working hard, it would be difficult for me to write him in a swoony way.

CH: I also don’t think we’d root for a heroine who would give all of that up for the hero. Writing strong women in our books is absolutely intentional and important. Those are the women we surround ourselves with, and the women we are. We’re opinionated and strong, so it’s natural that our characters would be as well. And we like to show that there are different types of strength. Some of our women are loud, some are quiet, but they all know who they are and what they deserve. Especially when it comes to writing sex in our books, we want our women to own their sexuality and not be ashamed of it.

Bookish: Evie is older and established in her career, Carter is young and talented but a bit naive sometimes—which is another flip of popular tropes. How did this influence how you wrote their dynamic?

CH: You wanted that.

LB: I did! We’ve written a bunch of books where the man was older, and not because we thought it was sexier. It stemmed from each character’s backstory and life experience up until that point.

Here, we wanted Evie to be older and more experienced because the job that they are both up for should be hers. Logically, she should get it. But because there isn’t a level playing field there it’s called into question.

Bookish: Female friendships are important in all of your books, and a lot of your characters work together. Do you gravitate towards these relationships because you two work together?

LB: That’s so funny! I think you may have pointed out something that we’re not totally aware of. The workplace dynamic comes naturally to us. Our working relationship really is like a marriage. We lean on each other for more than just work stuff; we lean on each other for everything that goes on in our day. In some ways, I feel like writing the female friendships in our books is just as intimate as writing the couple’s dynamic.

CH: Also, people spend such a huge chunk of their day at work so it’s only natural that those people who help you get through it become important to you.

Bookish: You’re capturing a fascinating point in life. Basically from kindergarten to college, friends are on roughly the same track. But after that some get married, some follow their career path, some travel, some have kids. It’s easy to feel like your own accomplishments don’t stack up, and both Evie and Carter feel this way, like they’re failing at adulthood. How do you see this affecting each of them as characters?

LB: We do hold out those yardsticks. Even when you’re married with kids and have a job, you still compare yourself to your friends who are doing other things. Society has these expectations of a specific track you go down, and I think a lot of that is bullshit. There are more paths now, I believe, but I still feel like 30 years old is that flashing sign: You’re supposed to have some of these boxes checked by now.

The very first moment you see that is when Evie is going to Michael Christopher and Steph’s house. She sees that they have a mailbox with their name on it, and a doorknocker, and a three-year-old kid and she doesn’t even have a significant other. For Carter, he had a failed engagement, his younger brother is more successful, he doesn’t want to disappoint his parents, and now he might lose his job.

In a lot of our other books, the characters’ careers were set so it was fun to write characters who were struggling with it.

Bookish: This is a standalone, but if you were able to give one of the characters a spinoff, which would you choose?

Both: Daryl.

CH: I also really love Michael Christopher. I would send him, Steph, and Morgan on a roadtrip. But I’d still pick Daryl. There was a point where our editor asked if we were intending for Daryl and Eric to be having a thing. And we said, “Maybe they are…” It was totally inadvertent.

LB: Our editor also called us out because at one point Jonah was named Derrick, and he was like “You have Daryl, Eric, and Derrick.”

Bookish: You’ve written so many books. Do you ever run into the issue of accidentally reusing the same name?

CH: I never remember anything. I would most definitely write a book with the same name for a different character. Lo would stop me; she’s good remembering thing like that.

Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of long-time writing partners/besties/soulmates and brain-twins Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, the New York Times, USA Today, and #1 international bestselling authors of the Beautiful Bastard and Wild Seasons series, Sublime, and The House.

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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: (un)Conventional Book Views
Blog URL: https://unconventionalbookviews.com/
Your name: Lexxie Lin

A nice place to start is with your blogger origin story – how did (un)Conventional Bookviews get started?

I first discovered Goodreads in 2010, and after finding some friends there, I discovered the wonderful world of blogs and blogging. It still took me until June 2nd 2012 before I jumped into creating my own little space on the Internet where I could share my thoughts and feelings about the books I read. I had no idea what I was doing at first, and changed fairly quickly from a free blog to a self-hosted blog in order to make my space as personalized as possible.

Do you have a preferred approach to writing reviews for books? Has your style evolved over the years, particularly since becoming a blogger?

I think the way a book makes me feel is really important, and I always include something about the emotions a story brought me. I also include something about the point of view, tense, what kind of narrator and things like that. I guess that comes from having a degree in English. Nowadays, my reviews are shorter than the ones I wrote in the beginning, as I want the people who stop by my blog to be able to stay for a little while reading one review, and possibly clicking somewhere else to read another. Sometimes, I like to jot down some notes in a notebook before I actually type out my full review, and I like to have one or two sentences to try to catch people’s attention at the start.

You were a round table host at BloggerCon as part of BookExpo America in 2016. Could you talk a little bit about this experience?

BloggerCon was a lot of fun! I was able to meet many other bloggers, some I had interacted with online, and others that I hadn’t ‘met’ before that. I shared the round table hosting with Kate from Mundie Moms, and our topic was about organization and time when it comes to blogging, having a family and working as well. I found it to be an enriching experience to share my own tools for keeping my blog updated, and the rest of BookExpo was fun as well. Hosting  a round table was an honor, as I feel like my blog isn’t among one of the very big blogs.

Are there particular subgenres that you prefer or find more interesting at the moment? Are there any trends that you are excited to see come or go?

I still consider myself a genre omnivore, and I love that there are more and more subgenres in romance these days. One of my favorites – apart from urban fantasy and paranormal – is romantic suspense, as that brings me the best of two worlds. When there is suspense and a little mystery added to the romance it becomes even more delicious in my opinion.

Which upcoming Romance book(s) on NetGalley are you the most excited about reading and recommending to your followers? And are there any covers on NetGalley that you’re loving?

Archangel’s Viper by Nalini Singh is one of my most anticipated books for 2017, and I can’t wait to read it. There is also Worth the Wait by Lori Foster, which I have already read, and I loved it. Some of my favorite covers these days are those that have a lot of covers, and no people gracing them, like The Calculus of Change by Jessie Hilb, or Your One and Only by Adrianne Finlay.

 

 

 

Lightning Round!

Your blog in two sentences:

(un)Conventional Bookviews is all about the books, be it paperbacks, audiobooks or e-books. I also have two original weekly features where I use quotes from recent books: Thirsty Thursday and Hungry Hearts for food or drink quotes, and Safe & Sexy where I share a quote where the sexytimes are safe, but still hot.

Your favorite two publishers for Romance titles:

Harlequin and Avon.

The one book you wish was never-ending:

The Siren – or even better, the whole Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your go-to snack(s) to eat while reading:

I don’t really snack while reading, but my favorite snack these days is cherry tomatoes with hummus.

And to finish off our interview, if you could have coffee (…or something stiffer) with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and why?

I would love to have drinks with William Shakespeare – there is just something about the way he invented new words to make a rhyme, or how in depth his plays were during his time, and which is still something I can relate to today.

Thanks so much, Lexxie, for spending time with us and answering our questions! 

Please make sure to check out the (un)Conventional Bookviews blog and more Romance on NetGalley!

Would you like to nominate someone to be featured in our Reader Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

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K.A. Tucker’s Favorite New Adult Romance

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

K.A. Tucker’s latest new adult romance is the perfect summer read (we named it one of the best of the season). It follows Catherine, a 24-year-old mom and waitress, who saves the life of Brett, a hockey star. Catherine doesn’t want any fame or attention, but she can’t help her attraction to Brett, who is determined to learn more about the woman who rescued him. To celebrate the book’s publication, Tucker shared five of her favorite new adult romances. Check these out once you’re done reading Until It Fades.

Five of my favorite contemporary romance books are stories written by ladies with strong, identifiable voices and the ability to weave stories that bring to life not only profound romances but multifaceted characters. Here they are in no particular order.

God-Shaped Hole is the destined-for-tragedy love story about two lost, artistic souls finding each other in LA, a city which they both abhor. Tiffanie DeBartolo has a personal way of writing. Her words flow fluidly and honestly, and her main characters feel real in all their peculiarity. This story gripped me from the very first pages.

This is a classic story about two people with tragic pasts finding each other and love, but with a twist: Archer cannot speak and is somewhat of a social pariah in his small town of Pelion, Maine. Mia Sheridan’s writing always enthralls me. She writes with emotion. Her stories are well-developed and beautiful, her prose is poetic, and the romance is jump-off-the-page sensual.

It Ends With Us tells the story of florist Lily, who meets and falls in love with charming and gorgeous neurosurgeon, Ryle. Their relationship seems picture-perfect… until it isn’t. I can’t say much more without giving too much away, but I will say that it puts readers into the shoes of a very real and difficult situation that many people struggle to make sense of.  It’s a sobering tale, but it’s delivered in Colleen Hoover’s signature style, laced with comfort and brimming with her inimitable humor.

This is a darker love story about the cunning Olivia Kaspen, who uses her ex-boyfriend’s amnesia as an opportunity to rekindle their romance, despite the fact that he has moved on. Olivia is not the most redeeming character and she does some despicable things, but you find yourself rooting for her all the same. I credit that to Tarryn Fisher’s writing; it evokes emotion and deep consideration for human nature. This is a book I read years ago, and yet I have never forgotten the visceral feeling I was left with at the end.

This novel tells the story of two characters—thirty-year-old tutor Anna Emerson and sixteen-year-old T.J. Callahan—who end up stranded on an uninhabited island for years after their plane crashes. Don’t let the age difference deter you from trying out this book. Tracey Garvis-Graves strings readers along at a painstakingly slow pace and in an honest way, allowing them to experience the growth between these two characters as they face the many challenges of their situation and, over time, as T.J. matures into a man.

K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA TODAYThe Globe and MailSuspense Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. She currently resides in a quaint town outside Toronto with her husband and two beautiful girls.

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What Men Can Learn From Romance Novels

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Good books are for everyone, regardless of genre. In fact, some of the most enlightening and exhilarating reading experiences can come from stepping outside of your comfort zone. Julie Ann Walker, author of Wild Ride is definitely on our wavelength. Here, Walker writes about what men who read romance novels know. Men who avoid the genre you assume it isn’t for you: You could be missing out on something great!

They say romance novels are written by women, for women. While that’s true, while the books most often feature female protagonists, cover issues women are interested in, and celebrate women’s sexuality, that doesn’t mean men shouldn’t be picking them up and reading them cover-to-cover. Why? Firstly, because so many of them are darn entertaining reads. Secondly, because romance novels are windows into women’s wants and desires. Discerning gentlemen can use them as guidebooks for how to be a better partner.

And what will they learn in these “guidebooks”, you ask? Read on!

It’s the little things
So often men fall for the fallacy that what women need are wide, sweeping gestures to make them happy, like skywriting marriage proposals by biplane, trips to exotic lands, and candlelight dinners that cost more than a month’s rent. But the truth (and what most good romance novels show) is it’s the small, everyday things that women really appreciate. A man who takes out the trash without being asked, brews the coffee so it’s waiting for her when she gets up, and volunteers to walk the dog so she can take a long, lazy bath is a god. (And just FYI, men who do these things are often invited to join their lady in the bath when they get back from walking the dog. *wink, wink*)

It’s the big things, too
But what if a man wants to bring tears to his lady’s eyes with a sweeping romantic gesture? Whether it’s Kyle Rhodes renting out the top floor of the restaurant where he first saw Rylann Pierce “nine years ago on this very day” in Julie James’ About That Night or Ian Eversea using every last dime he’d saved to buy Tansy Danforth her childhood home in Julie Anne Long’s Between the Devil and Ian Eversea, romance novels are chock-a-block full of inspiration for grand gestures.  

The difference between being an arrogant a-hole and a charismatic, confident man
Yes, it’s true. We women love a self-assured man. But there’s a difference between confidence and egotism, between tenacity and imperiousness. Good romance novels show the way to toe that line.

How to approach a woman
Forget the pickup lines. Pick up a romance if you want to learn some techniques for getting a woman to notice you. From Cole Langston standing up for a harried counter-girl in Marie Force’s Everyone Loves a Hero to Dean Robillard pulling over to give a woman in a beaver costume a ride in Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, some of the most amazing meet-cutes can be found between the covers of romance novels. Read, relate, repeat, gents.

The dos and don’ts of bedroom etiquette
Anything and everything you ever wanted to know about what women like and don’t like, from how to kiss, how to unhook a bra, how to talk dirty, and far, far more can be found in a good romance novel. Want to be stellar in the boudoir? Pick up a romance novel and take notes.

Julie Ann Walker is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of award-winning romantic suspense. She has won the Book Buyers Best Award, been nominated for the National Readers Choice Award, the Bookseller’s Best Award, the Australian Romance Reader Awards, and the Romance Writers of America’s prestigious RITA award. Her books have been described as “alpha, edgy, and downright hot.” Most days you can find Julie on her bicycle along the lake shore in Chicago or blasting away at her keyboard, trying to wrangle her capricious imagination into submission.

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Exclusive Interview with Rory Harrison

We’re excited to share this special Q&A with Rory Harrison about her book, Looking for Group, and something exciting she’s doing with Quarterly:

This quarter’s box is curated by Rory Harrison, featuring an exclusive, print copy of Looking for Group and a letter from Rory herself! Also find in the box two more books, handpicked by Rory that inspired her as an author, plus awesome bookish goods — perfect for YA book lovers. (Psst: Act fast, subscribe by April 21st to get this box and use the discount mentioned below)

NetGalley Author Interview

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing?

I was a poor kid, who grew up in a lousy neighborhood, and my mom took me to the library every single Saturday. I was allowed to go anywhere in the library, pick out any book, and just be. It was my happiest place; my safest place. But sometimes the stories I loved best would run out — one book and over. I wanted more. So I started writing the more for myself. Some of my earliest works included Sarah returning to the Labyrinth when she realized that the real world was dull, and a companion novel to Lois’ Duncan’s Stranger With My Face — it turns out the twins were triplets, and I too, could astrally project!

Now I’m a grown up, in a better neighborhood, and I can take myself to my library. (Or bring the library to me — I love checking out e-books!) I live in a yellow house with a red door, with my wife and my youngest daughter. My eldest daughter is grown and lives in a town not too far from here.

I still read and write fan fiction, by the way. It’s just now I spend most of my time writing books, first. (Usually.)

What is your favorite novel of all time?

Completely impossible question to answer. But I will say that The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, IT by Stephen King and The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause were my best friends as I was growing up. And I admit, every summer, I re-read all of Harry Potter. I appreciate The Deathly Hallows a lot more each year.

In your opinion, has there ever been a movie that is better than the book?

Oh absolutely. Going way back, The Godfather was an amazing book, but the movie completed it. And I’ll probably get eviscerated for this, but I think the first Twilight movie was better than the book. Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplay cut down to the heart of what made Twilight a sensation and Catherine Hardwicke’s choices as a director were disconcerting and beautiful. (And you can check out Rosenberg’s work now in Jessica Jones. She’s just so great!)

Which three authors would you invite to a dinner party?

I’d love to have dinner with Malinda Lo, Shaun David Hutchinson and Anna-Marie McLemore. I follow them on Twitter, and I think that would be an amazing, illuminating night. And if I could cheat and invite one more, Mary Roach. She’s hilarious and has researched so many things, who knows where the conversation might go?

Your novel, Looking for Group, features two very real and relatable--though not frequently depicted in YA fiction--characters. Did you always plan on writing the characters as is? What inspired you to get them on paper?

In the beginning, I wanted to, very much. I wanted to tell stories like mine and my wife’s and my friends’, because so often, you’re allowed to be One Thing in a book. You can be poor, and that’s all Or you can be queer. Or you can be sick. Or you can be a gamer. But real life isn’t like that; a lot of times, those things stack because of each other. So I wrote the book of my heart, and made my wife cry each day, when she read my pages.

But when it was done, and it came time to do business, I was afraid that a book about a queer boy and a transgender girl wouldn’t sell. So I broke my own heart, and straightened everybody up, and sent it to my agent. He realized something was missing — I’d never told him about the original version. Finally, though, I did, and he was loving and stern and said, “I’ll worry about what sells. You worry about writing a great book.”

So I put Looking For Group back the way it was supposed to be. And now it’s a real book, in the real world, with the real characters I hoped and dreamed and wished for all along.

There is so much travel in Looking for Group. Are you yourself a traveler? How did you pick the places Dylan and Arden visit?

I love to be in new places, but I hate to travel. Ugh, getting there is awful. I hate that part the most! But I do enjoy weird roadside attractions — some of the things that Dylan and Arden see in the book are from my real life. Others, are things that I looked at online. I “drove” to the Salton Sea probably fifty times on Google Maps.

They’re all special and have stories behind them. But here’s a tiny spoiler: when I was a kid, my parents would save up all year so that we could go to King’s Island — an amusement park — in the next state. They’d pack us in the car when it was still dark, and we’d go back to sleep for the drive. Mom would wake us up when we were close. She’d say, “Watch for the Eiffel Tower,” because in the middle of King’s Island’s International Street, they have a replica of the Tower, light blinking on top and everything. Seeing it was a revelation, every single time.

It meant so much to me that I deviated Dylan and Arden’s “I-70 or bust!” driving plan, just so they could go down the right highway to see it.

If you could visit one fictional world, which would you chose?

I expect I would go to Hogwarts. Aren’t you still waiting for your letter, too?

Do you have any advice for young writers?

Read, read, read. But mostly, only listen to advice that makes you feel like a better writer. Everybody has their own process. There’s no one way to write a book. Trying to follow the wrong advice can make you feel defeated and small.

I’ve tried to follow both good and smart advice that wasn’t for me, and stupid advice that was just stupid, and none of it helped me to write a book. The advice that felt like blooming instead of burying worked for me. So read, read, read. Learn how your favorites tell a story. But only listen to advice that helps you grow.

What is your favorite thing that you have received in the mail?

This is the best question ever. When I was in high school, I had several Japanese pen pals. We’d write snail mail* to each other; we corresponded for years. And one of them, Michiko, taped several entire anime series for me on VHS tapes, as a surprise. It was this HUGE box, full of anime, turning up out of nowhere — back in the 80s. It was unexpected, and anime in the US back then was so rare, it was like getting a box full of gold.

(*Because we had to. There was no Internet yet. SpoOooOoky!)

Click here to get Rory Harrison’s YA Fiction Box, complete with an exclusive, annotated copy of Looking for Group! (Plus! As a NetGalley member, you get an exclusive 10% discount! Just enter the code: NETGALLEY10 at checkout – expires April 21st.)

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NetGalley Author Interview

Riley Callahan’s plans to reveal his secret feelings for his best friend Paige are derailed when his life is drastically altered in Afghanistan.

After an IED leaves Riley an amputee, he plans to put some distance between himself and Paige. But when he returns home, he finds his family has arranged for him to stay with her. As the weeks wear on, Paige’s feelings for Riley begin to shift into uncharted territory. Will she be able to deny her feelings for another Callahan brother? And will Riley let his heart heal so he can let Paige in?

Just a Kiss

Request It!

Pub Date: September 06, 2016
Romance
Published by Thomas Nelson

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Romancing the Bookstore

How two sisters are turning convention on its ear and bringing the biggest eBook category back to the shelf, to the delight of their customers.

the_ripped_bodice
Sisters Bea and Leah Koch, are the adventurous proprietresses of The Ripped Bodice in Culver City, CA, a brand new store focusing on Romance. They recently sat down with Kat Meyer, the co-chair of the upcoming Nielsen Romance Book Summit being held during RWA on July 14th in San Diego. Both sisters will be joining the Summit to talk about their experiences—their first public appearance since they opened the store–and what other booksellers can learn by example.

Kat: What have you learned as a bookstore owner/bookseller that has surprised you most about romance readers (that you hadn’t known before operating the store)?

Bea: I was surprised to discover how many readers read across sub-genre. I’ve always read historical romance, and Leah has hopped around more, but I love our customer’s willingness to try something new. As one reader said to me, “I know there’s going to be a happy ending so I’ll take a chance on a new setting or characters.”

Kat: I’ve spoken to Leah over the phone while she has been working at the store, and it’s so cool to hear shoppers in the background talking about how much they love the store — what are you hearing from readers who visit the store that they love most about shopping at The Ripped Bodice?

Leah: I think the main things is that their genre is being recognized. There is something so special about walking into a store that is entirely devoted to the genre you love. There is also the beauty of knowing everyone in the store is there for the same thing. So often, we see customers peeking over each others shoulders at what people are buying and saying “I loved that one.” Practically, I think people really appreciate the way the store is laid out by sub-genre so that they can shop just for cowboys or vampires.

Kat: You’ve got a few events under your belt (or bodice?) now. Would you say that an event at your store – one devoted exclusively to romance – is different from one at say, a Barnes and Noble, or even a general indie? If so, why?

Leah: I do think it’s different because everything we do takes romance very seriously. When we do events with authors, you hear people asking really thoughtful questions about “why did you put this sex scene here?” and “how did you choose the heroine’s job?”. The space is also very woman focused which really comes through in all of our events. Our incredibly popular “Romantic Comedy” stand-up comedy night every month has really shown me how starved women are for events that cater to them. I am always delighted to hear mostly female comics talking specifically about the female experience.

Kat: What kind of response has Ripped Bodice had from publishers? Are you sensing they’re excited to have a dedicated romance bookstore? 

Bea: The response from publishers has been fantastic, and very helpful. Especially romance-specific imprints, who are just so welcoming and lovely. I think there’s a real sense of camaraderie in the romance publishing world – like we’re all in this together, and also isn’t everyone else so silly for writing us off?

Kat: You carry sidelines by and for readers of romance. Do specific non-book items help with sales of books? What advice do you have for publishers, authors and other booksellers about the importance of merchandising for romance books?

Bea: Choosing all the things that are not books is one of the more fun parts of our job. Sidelines definitely helps with our bottom line and I think often works in tandem with the books. Often someone who is picking up a book will remember they need a birthday card for next week.

We carry a lot of custom items, like bookmarks and jewelry. We find that customers love wearing something with our name on it, and we love all that free advertising.

In terms of merchandising for authors, I would say the sky is the limit. We see a lot of swag come through here, and it seems like anything that’s not a bookmark does well. Especially something with a tie-in to the story.

Kat: Indie booksellers of all sorts are often anchors of their communities. What kind of reception have you had by your neighbors in Culver City? Is the store bringing in foot traffic of non-romance readers that are converting to romance readers?

Leah: Absolutely! We really try to keep in mind that in addition to being a genre-specific bookstore we are a neighborhood bookstore. We get tons of people from Culver City who have never read romance. Some aren’t necessarily interested and are thrilled that we have cards and other gifts and some are excited to try out a new genre.

Bea: We carry historical fiction, women’s fiction, and other things we call “romance adjacent.” We consider them our gateway books. Often we’ll start someone on a romance adjacent series and see them in the next week, moving more towards traditional romance. There is such a feeling of accomplishment and pride when someone comes in to rave about the book you recommended.

Kat: How big a part does e-tailing play in the store’s concept? And, in what ways? 

Leah: It’s important and we love to be able to reach readers who are not in Los Angeles but right now we are more focused on the in person experience. There is just no way for us to compete online, especially in terms of shipping, so we really try to focus on where we can compete, which is in creating an incredible book shopping experience.

Bea and Leah Koch are sisters and the owners of The Ripped Bodice. They grew up in Chicago. Bea went on to attend Yale and NYU, where she wrote a graduate thesis titled, “Mending the Ripped Bodice.” Leah moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, graduating cum laude with a degree in visual and performing arts.

Bea specializes in Regency and other historical romance. Her favorite authors include Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas, Eloisa James, Beverly Jenkins, and Julia Quinn.

Leah reads widely throughout the contemporary, paranormal and erotica subgenres. She especially enjoys new adult, witches and sports romance. Her favorite authors include Christina Lauren, Kristen Proby, Nora Roberts, Elle Kennedy, Julie James, and Kristen Callihan.

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The 2016 Nielsen Romance Book Summit is taking place on July 14th, during the Romance Writers of America convention in San Diego, CA. Click here for more information, the full schedule and tickets.

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Author Chat with Judy Duarte

Live on June 7th at 4pm EST!

Graham has always thought of Sasha as his "little sister."

Sasha has always considered the rugged rancher out of her league.

Now that Sasha is all grown up, there is nothing keeping them apart… Except she has a daughter. An ex-husband. And a very noticeable baby bump. And the always proper Graham suddenly finds himself thinking very sexy thoughts about the sweet single mom!

Perhaps Fortune is finally smiling on Graham—in the form of the true love this rich, unencumbered cowboy has always longed for!

Wed by Fortune

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Pub Date: May 24, 2016
Romance
Published by Harlequin

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Author Chat with Brenda Minton

Live on June 3rd at 4:30pm EST!

Bodyguard Boone Wilder isn't keen on his latest mission: watching over a pretty politician's daughter. Boone is from quiet Texas Hill Country, and Kayla is a showy city gal. But once safely settled at the Wilder Ranch, Boone watches Kayla enjoy cooking with his family, caring for his relatives and bottle-feeding calves. There's more to her than he ever knew. Still, the former soldier's wounds are way too deep to let Kayla close. But when he discovers that someone wants to hurt Kayla, Boone must risk his heart to protect what he cares about most.

Her Rancher Bodyguard

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Pub Date: May 24, 2016
Romance, General Fiction (Adult)
Published by Love Inspired

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Reader Spotlight

Blog name: Straight Shootin’ Book Reviews
Blog URL: http://www.straightshootinbookreviews.com
Your name: Mandy – Str8shooterM

Let’s begin with your blogger origin story - how long have you been blogging about books and why did you start?

I’ve been blogging for almost two and a half years, which is really hard to believe. It all started in March of 2012 when I stumbled upon Kristen Ashley and I began inhaling contemporary romance. Soon, I realized that I wanted a larger platform for my reviews and I decided to create a blog. I was also frustrated after reading several gushing reviews of a popular book on several popular blogs at the time. After reading those reviews, I wondered if I read the same book. The book was riddled with typos and even used words incorrectly. Why couldn’t they just be honest and tell it like it is? And so, “Straight Shootin” Book Reviews was born. Creating SSBR has changed my life personally and professionally in so many ways.

What genres and subgenres does your blog focus on? Are there any trends within these that you’re excited to see, or would like to see dissipate?

For almost two years I focused on contemporary romance, romantic suspense, military romance, erotic romance, some new adult… you get the picture. Earlier this year, I brought on two reviewers, Tonya and Maria Rose and they have helped SSBR branch out into historical, paranormal, M/M, sci fi romance, contemporary and women’s fiction. Bringing Tonya and Maria Rose has been one of the best moves I’ve made thanks to the diversity they bring.  As for trends, I’ve seen an increase of romantic suspense releases and I’m always happy to see that. As a football fan, I’ve really enjoyed the sports/football romances from Elle Kennedy, Jen Frederick and Kristen Callihan’s The Game Plan. As for trends I’d like to see go away? The stepbrother thing seems to be dissipating a bit, thank goodness.

Have your reading habits changed since started blogging about books?

They certainly have. Now, I have a reading schedule and while I always had a list of books to read, having access to review copies and deadlines to read them by, my reading time is much more structured. That’s not to say that I never read whatever, whenever. I’ve learned to give myself periods of time when I can pick up whatever catches my eye, or to read a book that I’ve read five times already.

On your blog, you have a tagline/motto that says “Reviews That Inspire Confidence” – can you explain the meaning of this and how you came up with it?

That’s an interesting story (at least I think it is). Last spring I had my logo redesigned. A friend sent me a tin that served as the design inspiration. It had a vintage look and was supposed to hold bullets ergo- Straight Shootin’ Bullets. We used some of the slogans on the box as inspiration and they became “Reviews That Inspire Confidence” and “Do Not Read Unless You Mean Business.”  It is my hope that when you visit SSBR and you read a review, you feel confident that we have given you our honest feelings and opinions regarding that book.

Do you have a particular approach to writing reviews for books? Has your style evolved over the years?

My style has pretty much stayed the same. I tend to write like I talk. When you’re reading one of my reviews, it’s like you’re in the room with me. I tend to talk about how a book made me feel and my style is pretty laid back. My approach to writing reviews has definitely evolved. I’ve always read on my Kindle, highlighted and bookmarked pages. This year, I started a journal of sorts where I keep my reading schedule, and I make notes. I record the date I started, title, author and when the review is due. Sometimes, I have lot of notes and there are also times where I get so wrapped up in a book, I forget to make notes other than “AWESOME!” I tend to jot down how a book made feel while reading it.

Do you have any advice for book bloggers who are just starting out? Perhaps advice about managing a blog with multiple contributors as well as a review schedule?

Oh wow, advice for new book bloggers. Hmmmmm. I’d say BE YOU. It’s very easy to look at what everyone else is doing and get wrapped up in a “Keeping Up With the Joneses”. Don’t worry about Facebook followers and how many times you post a day. DO NOT over-commit yourself to review copies. Read what you want when you want. Some of us do better with structure, some do not. Figure out what works best for you.

As for managing a blog with multiple contributors, I’m VERY lucky, Maria Rose and Tonya make it very easy. I also use a WordPress calendar plug in called CoSchedule and it allows me to color code my reviewers, so I can look at the schedule and see who is doing what when. We also tend to talk via email and messenger about who is reading what and if we want to write a review for it. If more than one person is reading the same book, we determine whether or not we want to do a dual or a triple review. We call that post – 1 book, 2 reviews. Those are some of my favorite reviews.

Are there any romance titles on NetGalley that you’re looking forward to reading/reviewing?

Oh gosh, I have a few on my NetGalley shelf that I’m so excited to read. Lauren Dane’s Coming Back (Book 3 in the Ink & Chrome series), Tessa Bailey’s Crashed Out (Book 1 in the Made in Jersey series) and Welcome to Forever by debut author Annie Rains (Book 1 in the Hero’s Welcome series). I’m having a hard time figuring out which one to read first!

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Lightning Round!

Your ideal reading spot:

Curled up in my big brown comfy chair in my living room. Or the beach.

Your favorite holiday reads:

This Christmas and Finding Christmas by Jeannie Moon. I also love Jill Shalvis’s Merry Christmas, Baby.

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Your blog, in 2 sentences:

Straight Shootin’ Book Reviews, giving you reviews that inspire confidence. Do not read unless you mean business!

Your favorite childhood book:

As a child, I had The Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit. I still have it and have read it to my kids. I still love Benjamin Bunny, Peter Rabbit, Flopsy Rabbit, Mopsy Rabbit, Cotton-tail Rabbit, Mrs. Rabbit, and Mr. McGregor.

And to finish off our interview, if you could go on a road trip with any author, dead or alive, who would it be, and where would you go?

Oh my gosh, this is a very hard question! Part of me thinks that a road trip with Stephen King would certainly be VERY interesting. But in the end, I’d have to pick Cristin Harber because I know she’d be a blast to travel with thanks to those incredible Titan men she writes. Where would we go? I’m partial to the beach, so I’d pick a road trip to Destin, Florida. Drinks and reading on the beach!!

Thanks so much for spending some time with us and answering our questions Mandy!
Please make sure to check out Straight Shootin’ Book Reviews and the Romance titles now available on NetGalley! 

Would you like to nominate your blog, or a blog you admire, to be featured in our Blogger Spotlight series? Fill out this form!

*Interviewed by Tarah Theoret

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