Christina Kann 00:24
Welcome to How Do I Book? by Wildling Press. We like to chat about book writing, book publishing, book marketing, and, of course, book reading. We're trying to help new and experienced authors develop their craft, widen their perspectives, and learn to get a little wild every once in a while. I'm Christina.
Grace Ball 00:41
Christina Kann 00:43
We are so excited because we have a very special guest with us today: Lucy Holland, author of Sistersong and the Worldmaker trilogy, host of Breaking the Glass Slipper, an intersectional feminist podcast celebrating women in genre fiction, and a pretty freakin cool person. Lucy, welcome to the show.
Lucy Holland 01:03
Thank you! That makes me seem cooler than I actually am. I'm really happy to be here.
Christina Kann 01:09
I just read facts. That's exactly how cool you are.
Lucy Holland 01:13
Well, thank you. It's really nice to be here, too.
Christina Kann 01:16
We are so excited to have you here. Before we move any further, please tell the listeners your pronouns.
Lucy Holland 01:22
She or her.
Christina Kann 01:24
Awesome. Thank you so much. We invited you on this podcast because last year, Grace and I both read Sistersong. Not to fan girl too hard, but I read 100 books last year, and it was my favorite book of the year.
Lucy Holland 01:43
Oh, wow. Okay! Thank you very much.
Christina Kann 01:49
I'll just let you tell the listeners a little bit about Sistersong, in case they haven't read it.
Lucy Holland 01:55
Sistersong is a reimagining of an old English murder ballad called "The Twa Sisters." It is also called "Bonny Swans," "Binnorie"; it has many names. It is basically the story of sibling rivalry. Two sisters fight over a man in the ballad. The older one kills the younger one, and the younger one gets made into a harp. It's usually a harp; sometimes she turns into a swan. But the version of the ballad that I heard first was when the sister gets made into a harp. That intrigued me so much that I wanted to do a retelling of it. So my retelling is set in sixth-century Britain. It restores and resituates the history of the stories of women in the period. At the same time as retelling the ballad, I thought it would be a really great opportunity to look at women in the period, and also marginalized identities in the period as well.
Christina Kann 02:56
It does such a wonderful job of all of those things. We read it with a book club that we're both a part of, and someone did share that legend. I'm the person where, when I'm reading, I can really turn off my critical brain. I'm just like, "Wow, what a cool story!" But other people were like, "This seems like it's based on something." But they were sure to say, "Don't read this if you don't want any spoilers." Reading the myth and then reading your story was a really cool thing.
Grace Ball 03:24
Yeah, I went into it in a similar way as you did, Christina. I'd never heard the myth or the ballad or anything. So I was along for the ride. Let me tell you, I had no idea what was coming.
Christina Kann 03:35
And what a ride it truly is. Yeah, it can be a bit of a shock if you're not expecting the -- the "thing." Read the book to learn more about what we're talking about.
Grace Ball 03:55
Lucy, you mentioned that you'd heard the ballad and the myth, but what actually inspired you about the ballad so much that you wanted to write this book?
Lucy Holland 04:06
I heard the ballad first by Loreena McKennitt, who is one of my favorite artists singers.
Christina Kann 04:13
Oh my gosh. I know her!
Lucy Holland 04:19
Wow, fangirl moment!
Christina Kann 04:23
Oh my god. Yes. I've watched her live concerts or whatever, her concerts on streaming. I love that so much.
Lucy Holland 04:32
I love meeting Loreena fans as well.
Christina Kann 04:34
She has Celtic Women energy, you know, like, very ethereal and timeless. I don't know. You'll just have to check it out for yourself.
Lucy Holland 04:50
I love Loreena's music and her version of "The Twa Sisters," which is called "The Bonny Swans." It's my favorite rendition of the ballad, and I've listened to quite a lot of them. There are many, many good versions out there. But Loreena's remains my favorite. I first heard it about, gosh, getting on for 10 years ago now. My colleague at work brought Loreena in one day and played it to me. From the first moment I heard it, I was intrigued by the weirdness of the story. The sibling rivalry is not weird; we see this quite a lot, especially jealous women. We often see tensions between siblings in ballads, but not at this extra level, which is this girl being dismembered and then made into a musical instrument. In the ballad, I just thought that was such a weird image, and also a powerful image, this heart that is made of bone that sings the story of what happened to her and condemns her sister. I just thought that was so so weird. But at the same time, because it is, after all, just a ballad, we don't really get a good idea of who these women were. We have no idea what really motivated them. They've become very stereotypical. On one hand, we have the evil older sister who is jealous and lustful and scheming. And on the other hand, we have the younger, chaste, virginal, innocent victim. And these two very different roles, our women often have to play them. We see them a lot in traditional folk ballads and throughout stories. It's why it's one of the reasons why I feel like women's stories are important, because we just don't get to hear them actually speak authentically. They all too often fall into these very broad, very tropey, very stereotypical roles. So I wanted to get behind the ballad and find out what really happened.
Christina Kann 07:01
And you did a wonderful job! Teading this, I felt so much for Riva the whole time. I didn't necessarily support her actions, her positions, but I really understood where she was coming from. And Sinne as well. It is pronounced like that? "Sinnuh"?
Lucy Holland 07:17
I mean, you can pronounce it however. I just made it up. It was the one name in the book that I literally made up.
Christina Kann 07:28
Sistersong has three siblings in it. Is the eldest sibling part of the original ballad?
Lucy Holland 07:38
In lots of versions of the ballad, there are two sisters. And it is called "The Twa Sisters," two sisters. Loreena's version was, I think, adapted from James Child, who was a folklorist in the Victorian age. He collected about 10 or 11 variations of the same ballad. But a couple of those variations have a third sibling in there. This third sibling is mentioned in the first verse, and then totally disappears from the rest of the story. This was another one of the reasons why I wanted to retell or reimagine the ballad: I was so intrigued as to why there was a third sibling, and they just didn't do anything, and they didn't feature in the story. That was fascinating. I will talk about this a bit later, but it was the idea of erasure, and how some people are erased from history, and why are they erased from history? What was it about their identities that the dominant narrative has overridden? So that is a really big part of Sistersong as well.
Christina Kann 08:46
How did you conduct your research? I know that you said you read like, a million different versions of this ballad, but what other kind of worldbuilding research did you do for this?
Lucy Holland 08:56
My first idea was to write it as a secondary-world fantasy novel, which is where I came from, because I've also written epic fantasy. And then I felt like I wanted to grow a bit as a writer, and I also thought it might be really interesting to choose a real time period in which to set the story. But I obviously hadn't decided which one that would be. I don't even know how it happened. I just got really interested in very early medieval Britain. The great thing about this time period is that there's not a lot of information about it, which can be a boon because it means you can slot your story in there.
Christina Kann 09:45
Right, it's hard for historians, but it's good for writers.
Lucy Holland 09:49
Exactly. Once I'd settled on the period, I started doing research. The internet is an amazing, amazing resource, particularly things like local archaeology sites by amateur archaeologists. Sistersong is set right here where I live in Sidmouth in Devon. So it's set really right here, and in Dunbriga, which is the main settlement in Sistersong, where all the siblings live. That was inspired by, about a mile and a half from my house, up on Peak Hill, they discovered the remains of the Neolithic settlement. On top of the Neolithic settlement were sub-Roman remains, which date exactly to the time when Sistersong is set. So conceivably, there could have been a Dumnoni settlement up there. The Dumnoni tribe controlled this area of Devon in the sixth century AD, and they were kind of itinerant; they moved their capital around the area, and this conceivably could have been one of the places that they had their capital. So I was really interested.
Christina Kann 10:59
That's so cool! And you can just walk there easily in like under an hour. Oh, my God, that is so cool. I have chills right now.
Grace Ball 11:12
Lucy Holland 11:13
So that was part of my research. I went up there and stood on the hill. And there's nothing there. It's just a hill. And there's a bit of information. But I had a look at the cliffs. You're right on the cliffs. On one side, you're looking out across the ocean. And the other side, it's forest and fields. And I just went up there, I came back down, and I did some stream-of-consciousness writing to try and get the feel of what this location was like at the edge of the world, because that's kind of what it feels like for the characters.
Christina Kann 11:45
Oh my god. Wow. So cool.
Grace Ball 11:49
So you're obviously very versed in the fantasy genre. So what's the importance of the fantasy elements in Sistersong?
Lucy Holland 12:00
The magic in the book is chiefly the means of articulating one of the central narrative tensions, which is the conflict between Christianity and the established paganism of the native Britons. That came slightly later in the novel process, and it really came from me reading about Gildas. Gildas is pretty much one of the only contemporary sources we have from this period. His treatise on the ruin and conquest of Britain is not so much a history as a rant. He's very angry, angry man, and he rants a lot about the state of Britain, how the Saxons are the natives' punishment for not being very pious and not embracing Christianity as they should. He had a very big rant about Constantine, one of the British kings, as well as another four British kings. In fact, he devotes one entire half of this tract to insulting them and calling them all sorts of names. I thought he would make a great character because of that.
Christina Kann 13:24
He probably didn't realize how much he was discrediting himself by being so violently opinionated.
Lucy Holland 13:31
So opinionated! I'm sorry, Gildas, you're 1500 years dead, but you're a character now. The other part of the magic was also a vehicle to illustrate the bond between the king and the land, which is another really big theme in Sistersong. Obviously, it showed the disastrous consequences of forsaking the bond we have with the land. A reader pointed out to me later -- and this shows how everything is subconscious -- they were like, "Oh, it's more relevant than ever," because we live in the era of climate change, where humans are basically shitting all over the world in which we live, which nourishes us. This is more relevant than ever, that we recover what was lost. I feel like it's very important to remember that we are the world and the world is us; we come from the world, and we come from the Earth, and to the Earth we return, and that kind of cyclical nature.
Paganism includes the idea of living as one with the seasons -- like the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth itself. These elements were so important to the native Britons, early practitioners of paganism, across a whole region. That was really, really intriguing for me to dig into too, and that again feeds into the encroaching Christianity and how that was not always a good thing. People who preached Christianity thought they were saving the natives. And native Britons were like, "Well, hang on a second! We've already got our own beliefs." And they possibly didn't sit very well together.
Christina Kann 15:24
That kind of answered our next question about how you balance fantasy with historical facts. It seems like a lot of the fantasy came from things that were inspired or directly connected to historical facts. Do you have anything else to add to that?
Lucy Holland 15:38
The facts are so scarce or contradictory. As I mentioned before, it's a really interesting period to set a story in. This carries over with the rest of my work that I'm still doing with this time period. I'm really interested in the line where history becomes myth, and you can't begin to distinguish between the two of them. A perfect example of this is the Arthurian legend. This time period is basically squarely in Arthur's time. I was quite careful not to belabor anything, because the Arthurian myth is so powerful, if you let it into your story, it can overtake what you want to say. So I was quite careful not to make too many references to that. But the Legend of Arthur is so powerful that multiple nations have adopted it as part of their country's cultural narrative. That began with Geoffrey of Monmouth in this country, and but it's amazing how powerful it became.
This is a little like mini anecdote. I went to Glastonbury Abbey a few months ago to do some research. The history of the abbey is really interesting. At one point in the 12th century, I think, there was a big disaster, some of the abbey crumbled, and they ran out of money. And amazingly, soon after that, the monks were digging in the gardens, and they unearthed these amazing skeletons. And the skeleton was a grant of a grand man and a beautiful -- well, as much as a skeleton can be beautiful -- and delicate skeleton lying beside him. They decided that these were obviously the bones of Arthur and Guinevere themselves, lying in Glastonbury all this time, amazingly! These people have no proof that they actually lived. They're mostly just a folk story. But it was such a big deal that the bones were removed, and they were reburied in this lavish ceremony that Edward I came and attended in the beginning of like the 1300s or so. Obviously the abbey needed money, and lots of people came and donated money. The fact is that the Arthurian legend is not history, it's not fact. But it's so strong and so powerful. People want to believe it. It's part of the fabric of Britain now.
Christina Kann 18:19
I think most cultures have those stories that are not proven or patently false. I'm thinking about here in America, some of the super false historical narratives we get taught in elementary school.
Grace Ball 18:34
Yeah, absolutely. Getting to the actual characters in the book, how did you conceptualize the three siblings? How are their similarities and differences important?
Lucy Holland 18:49
With Riva and Sinna, who are the sisters -- the two sisters of the ballad title -- I began by using their basic characters, just how are they described in the ballad, identified those traits, and then explored why each sister might have those traits. This is all part of trying to make them less stereotypical. You know, there's always two -- or in this case, three -- sides to every story. For example, the bitterness in Riva; she is described as bitter in some of the ballads, she's jealous. There's obviously a darkness in her, and I wanted to think about that and how it could be more nuanced. And Riva had a really tough hand. She had a terrible accident when she was young. It's left her with disabilities, and she's shunned in some respects by the people around her. They don't like how she looks, how her injuries have made her look. They've made her feel like she's not ascribing to the perfection that a young princess has to ascribe to. I thought that there's got to be a reason for this seed of this jealousy. Where did it come from? And with her, I thought, it's got to come from somewhere.
Christina Kann 20:32
Very real trauma.
Lucy Holland 20:34
I mean, it's physical trauma, and then it's mental trauma and emotional trauma from having to live in a society with such strict gender roles and assumptions about how women should look and what women should do. And then on the other side, we have the innocence of Sinna, who is the younger sister, who is always described as the wronged character, the victim. She didn't do anything wrong, her only crime is to be beautiful, all of this stuff. For me, that ended up becoming the immaturity of a slightly spoiled child, who was the youngest, she'd been given everything she always wanted. She didn't have Riva's problems and her difficulties. She chafes against -- like all the siblings do -- they chafe against the rules of their society and the bones of the cage that they're locked in.
Christina Kann 21:31
So to speak.
Lucy Holland 21:35
Yeah, so that's where I began with that, trying to dig down past, "You're lustful and jealous; you're chaste and innocent." I wanted to find out what traits those actually were, where they came from. For Keyne -- or Constantin --
Christina Kann 22:04
We've been ducking around his character because I don't want to spoil anything, but he makes it pretty clear on like, page three that he is trans. There's not really ever any question about it. So it's not really a spoiler.
Lucy Holland 22:19
No, no. And Sistersong was published in the UK in April 2021. My God, almost two years ago.
Christina Kann 22:29
Lucy Holland 22:30
I just don't know where the time has gone. Yeah, I'm just gonna call him Constantine. Hey, spoiler, Constantine is his name by the end of the story. Constantin is a little bit more complicated, because this is the person who was missing from the ballad. And it's a difficult one, because a lot of people say that he is the main character of Sistersong.
Christina Kann 23:09
I totally agree.
Lucy Holland 23:10
Yeah, I would agree as well. But the irony is that he's still invisible in the ballad, because the ballad is a binary song. It's actually a horrible song that I do recreate in Sistersong. It is a horrible song. And it doesn't tell the truth. It's literally just about a murder. It's not fair. It doesn't portray either of the women in truthful, or at least in three dimensional, terms.
I wanted to echo the fact that Constantin is not part of that. He belongs to a better world, a world that is forward thinking, forward looking, that is embracing every different identity. It's not prescribing to people all the roles that we should play when we're just children. It was a journey of discovery, because I'm cisgender. I don't share Constantine's life experience. So it was a journey getting to know him and figuring out how I could tell his story. I did my own bits of research for that. I have a couple of friends who were very, very helpful early on in the book, and he was so kind to share their insights. My sensitivity reader, she's wonderful. She's a transgender historian. I learned an absolute ton. Some of the transgender history in the book wouldn't be the same without her insights. So I was so lucky to find her and so so happy that she agreed to sensitivity read for me.
But yeah, I suppose, obviously, Constantine was my favorite character to write, because it's wonderful, right? It's wonderful writing any sort of human being who discovers themselves and blossoms and fights and achieves what we all deserve, which is to be ourselves and to be recognized as who we are and lauded and respected for who we are. So that was very close to my heart. It was really wonderful to go along the journey with him.
Christina Kann 25:28
During his story, particularly in the third act, I was just weeping. I was nannying when I was reading it, and I was like, "I hope they don't come home and find me just like blathering on their couch." Because it's hard to explain to people who don't read, "Sorry, this book is just really affecting me right now."
Lucy Holland 25:50
Thank you. The extra theme running through the whole book is that it's the power of stories. The fact that we like to tell stories, and stories have a life of their own. They outlive us by thousands of years, and they always will. But, you know, their stories have power. And it depends who's telling the story, as to what survives throughout the years. It's really important to reclaim our stories. It's important for women to reclaim their stories. It's important for marginalized people to say, "We lived in this time period. We have always been here." Kameron Hurley's essay "We Have Always Fought," I love it. I love "We Have Always Fought," this idea that women have always been warriors. We've been here. It's only the dominant narrative has overridden the roles and the very existence of people who've always existed. So that idea of reclaiming stories, reclaiming identities, reclaiming the truth of ourselves in the world is at the heart of Sistersong.
Christina Kann 27:08
Amazing. So is Constantine your favorite of the three siblings in this book?
Lucy Holland 27:15
I mean, it would be a lie to say no. He's definitely my favorite. But because I feel like she she's probably the least liked of the siblings, I always like to give a shoutout for Riva, because she is dealt a really tough hand. And like Constantine, she really struggles with being different in a very unaccepting and intolerant world. And she chooses to defy tradition. She trusts her instincts. And even though everyone tells her that those instincts are monstrous, she sees it through. She sees her choices through to the end, and that takes integrity. And it takes self belief. So I feel like giving her a bit of a shoutout.
Grace Ball 28:09
Christina Kann 28:11
She follows through on her choices way farther than I would ever have a dreamed. That was very shocking. No spoilers, but the end of her story really shocked me, which is cool. I love when a book just really catches me by surprise.
Grace Ball 28:31
So on the flip side of your favorite characters, which character did you hate the most?
Lucy Holland 28:39
It would be easy to say Gildas, but I think he's a love-to-hate character. I so enjoyed writing him. I loved coming up with the image of him gliding around as a kind of carrion bird. I thought he was actually really enjoyable to develop as a character because he's so he's such a great antagonist and a great foil to Myrdhin. They kind of play off one against the other.
Grace Ball 29:16
I liked that dynamic a lot.
Lucy Holland 29:18
They were great rivals across the board. I don't know. I actually think the most horrible characters are like the kings and lords who are just so intolerant. Even when Constantine is standing in front of them saying, "I am king. It's my right. I am your lord. I'm going to give my all to preserve our people's lives and our traditions," they're still going, "This is wrong. You're a woman," and trotting out that level of ignorance is in a way more dangerous than Gildas's active defiance. In a way is a defiant ignorance. "No, this is the way it's always been, and I'm continued going to continue to behave like you don't exist and you haven't changed anything." Unfortunately, it's that kind of character that we see a lot in the people around us. It's a really horrible thing to say, but you know, they're out there. They're exemplified by those lords who cling to what they know.
Christina Kann 30:41
Yeah, I think for similar reasons, I also had a really hard time with the mom. The unwillingness. You're making changes in the wrong direction with this Christianity thing, girl. Come on.
Lucy Holland 30:58
She's not a lovable mom. Definitely not a lovable mom.
Christina Kann 31:04
Yeah, she's cold. And that one scene with Constantine and the clothes was awful.
Lucy Holland 31:10
Yeah, that was not a nice scene to write.
Christina Kann 31:13
Lucy Holland 31:15
That was really an unpleasant scene. I think I actually ended up toning it down slightly. I think the first version was just a bit worse. It was physically painful for me to write this. I think I made her a bit more sympathetic as well, in the sense that she knows she's done wrong. She knows what she's done is wrong, and I'm not sure if she was quite so sympathetic before then. But I thought it was important to know that she has this internal struggle, that there is a voice in her saying, "I don't think what you're doing is a good thing." That was important to have, because I think every character has to have a little degree of sympathy and also a bit of nuance. But ultimately, she is a headstrong person who sticks to her beliefs to the detriment of those around her.
Christina Kann 32:14
Yeah, absolutely. You touched on this earlier, but I definitely want to drive this home considering that this is Women's History Month. Why is writing history from women's perspectives important?
Lucy Holland 32:26
I mentioned the need to challenge the dominant narrative already is really important. We're going through this amazing, like, a renaissance. It's this wonderful movement with reclamation of women's voices in established epics, stories, we think we know. I know everyone's doing Greek myth at the moment, and actually, it's almost too much.
Christina Kann 32:56
Um, yes. We've read Ariadne, Circe. I know there's more than just those two, but those are the two that come to mind.
Lucy Holland 33:06
Yeah, there's like a dozen Persephone retellings, Medusa.
Christina Kann 33:10
People are very into the Persephone/Hades as like a sexy thing right now. There's a lot of it, but I'm still down.
Lucy Holland 33:20
I'm a massive Hadestown fan. So yeah, I'm really into that. But yeah, women's stories. Yeah, it's great. This is happening. It's really, really wonderful to see. And I think it's very important to say, "Hang on a second. Women are present in all of these stories." Like Penelope, Odysseus's wife, is obviously a named part. But in the original Odyssey, what does she do, but remain as a shadow figure far away? And when we do get to meet her, she's not had the best of times. She's never given any kind of chance to say what's actually been happening from her point of view.
Christina Kann 34:04
If you think about the strength she must have had all that time, not knowing anything about her husband. And the tapestry! Isn't it that she unravels every night to try and keep the suitors at bay?
Lucy Holland 34:18
It's like Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights.
Christina Kann 34:24
It's like exactly like One Thousand and One Nights!
Lucy Holland 34:26
Yeah, she's obviously very clever. She's come up with this plan, but it's awful because it's also a plan born of desperation, because her husband's off somewhere and might never return. I love that we're getting these stories. I love that these these women are like, "Hang on a second. We've always been here." It's not only important, but it's also extremely entertaining and vital. I just love reading their stories. It's not just like, "This is something that must be done so we can have a broad understanding of women's stories." They are exciting stories. I want to see women on the page; I want to see mothers especially on the page. Mothers have always been a group of people who are unfairly dismissed in so many great mythological tales. Grendel's mother from Beowulf is a wonderful character, but does she have any time to shine? She almost defeats Beowulf himself, and this is the great undefeatable warrior. And in the end, she's just slaughtered, so it's kind of frustrating. But here was a great character; you could have done so much more with her.
Grace Ball 35:51
Do you have any advice for people who are interested in writing historical fiction?
Lucy Holland 35:58
I suppose I'd say read some historical fiction.
Grace Ball 36:02
That's a great start.
Christina Kann 36:03
That is a very good start.
Lucy Holland 36:04
I don't actually read that much historical fiction. I know it's bad. I should read more historical fiction. I tend to read a lot of speculative fiction, because it's my genre. Breaking the Glass Slipper is mostly focused on women in speculative fiction. It's interesting, because I'm trying to develop a workshop at the moment that looks at cross genre writing, specifically historical fiction and fantasy, and how to weave these two genres together, and how they complement each other. So it's difficult to talk about advice for specifically historical fiction.
I think the exciting stuff that I've watched and things that have excited me is like looking into my local area. Wikipedia gives quite a broad sweep of what's been going on, but you don't really get the interesting details that you get on a local historical level, things like visiting the Abbey and hearing the stories about Gweneviere and Arthur; finding out that Peak Hill, a mile from my house, had a settlement there. You can't, say, type in "sub-Roman Britain" and Google will say, "Oh, there was a sub-Roman British settlement in Devon!" You just can't find out that sort of stuff on these broad Google searches. Rather than starting from a very broad place, how about you start from a very narrow place and expand outward? Because I learned a lot about the Saxon invasion just from focusing on how Devon changed how Dumnonia, this area where I live right now, how it evolved from the departure of the Romans, through to the invasion of the Saxons, and that really turbulent liminal period. It was vying for power; it was also the birth of the country. But all of that came from a very local angle. What was happening right here, where I live on this soil? What impressions have those kind of cataclysmic events left behind? I feel like that's a nice way to get into it.
Christina Kann 36:27
Yeah, that's awesome. Probably makes the story you're telling so much more important to you because it hits close to home. It super literally does. I guess that's where the expression comes from. Is there anything else you'd like to say about Sistersong or about women's history in fiction in general?
Lucy Holland 39:08
I feel like I've talked for ages. I feel like I've covered quite a lot of what I wanted to say. It is a serious book, I suppose it is a serious book. But I also hope that it's -- I hate to use the word "entertaining," but it also is a fun story to read. It's got characters you come to care about and maybe leads some people to have a Wikipedia page open at the same time and learn a little bit about history as you go along. That's the best thing, when you open a book and you're like, "Oh my god, this is made me interested to find out what else was going on at the time because I didn't know anything!" That's a wonderful thing when you can enjoy a book but it also makes you think about like the wider concerns.
Grace Ball 40:00
A bit of a selfish question. Are you working on any other book projects right now that we can be looking out for? Because we definitely are.
Lucy Holland 40:12
The next book is waiting to be edited. Actually, it's taken me two years to write it. It's been through a rewrite. And I'm now waiting on the verdict. So let's hope it's -- fingers crossed -- a bit more book-shaped than it was the first time. Don't ever say you can write a book in seven months. Especially when you only have a 50-word concept. You haven't sat down and asked yourself, what do you really want to do with that concept?
Christina Kann 40:51
Writing a book idea and writing a book could not be more different things.
Lucy Holland 40:55
Yeah. It's very different. And it's been the most challenging thing I've ever written. Sistersong benefited from a lot of fallow time, because I couldn't write Sistersong when I first had the idea for Sistersong. I was working on my trilogy.
Christina Kann 41:12
Lucy Holland 41:15
Yeah, it sat on the back burner for four years or so, and I never forgot about it. But I think that time allowed me to mature as a writer, so by the time I started writing Sistersong, I had the skills to write it, which I wouldn't have had before.
Christina Kann 41:32
Oh, my god, that's so cool.
Lucy Holland 41:34
It is really interesting, especially in the context of my struggles with writing a loose followup. It's had no time. You know, the thing about publishing and the capitalist world in which we live: you feel like, "I've got to be relevant, I've got to keep writing fast, I've got to produce another book." But art doesn't really work like that. And ideas don't work like that. And a lot of thet really good stuff comes from just lying fallow in the back of your mind for an interminable amount of time -- not necessarily very long, but longer than I thought I could write the book in. But it's okay!
Grace Ball 42:22
You just take your time. We'll be here. Okay?
Lucy Holland 42:26
It's coming out next year. It should be here around spring, this time next year, in the US as well as in the UK. I think they're going to be out at the same time. It's called Song of the Huntress. You can read about it on Goodreads. That's the most up-to-date place. I've seen the UK cover. It's amazing. I can't share it yet because it's not finished. They're still tweaking, but it's an amazing, amazing cover. And it retells the story of the Wild Hunt which is a motif that lots of people have probably heard of. The story is just really really fascinating. Actually, because you've read Sistersong, you'll know that Constantine tells the story of Herla and the Wild Hunt in as a mini story.
Christina Kann 43:16
Oh my God. Constantine knew what was gonna happen next all along.
Grace Ball 43:22
We should have known
Lucy Holland 43:24
Actually, that was what gave me the idea. I was retelling the story as Constantin was telling it, and I was like, "This would make a great novel. Maybe I should do this next!"
Christina Kann 43:34
Thanks for the idea, Constantine! Right, I've read a couple of different books about that. It never goes well.
Lucy Holland 43:35
I did do it next. But my my King Herla is not an old British king. My King Herla -- she's actually a woman, for starters. She's an Iceni war chief fighting against the Romans. She's the lover of Boudicca. Yeah, she makes a pact with the king of the other world, which you should never do! You should never make pacts with the fae! It does not go well. You get cursed, and you become the Wild Hunt, and you have to ride eternally reaping souls.
Grace Ball 44:17
Tale as old as time.
Lucy Holland 44:18
So if you don't want to become an immortal reaper, don't do that. Yeah, I love the story of Herla. I love the story of the Wild Hunt, the incarnation of the Wild Hunt, and all of the mythology that goes along with it. And I also wanted to write another historical novel, so this one is even more historical than Sistersong. I think if I redid it -- I wouldn't want to -- but I would want more history. There's few things, a few mistakes I made. I'm a bit better informed now about the period and how things worked. And this this book is set in around 705 AD, so about 175, 180 years after Sistersong, but it's in the same world. If you've read Sistersong, there'll be some Easter eggs in there. The biggest easter egg is that one of the main characters is the direct descendant of Riva.
Christina Kann 45:25
Ah, that's very exciting.
Grace Ball 45:27
I'm really excited.
Christina Kann 45:28
I can't wait to read that. That's amazing. Awesome. Are you reading anything yourself lately that you're excited about?
Lucy Holland 45:35
I am reading this book! *shows in Zoom* It's Sam Shannon's book. It's the prequel to The Priory of the Orange Tree.
Christina Kann 45:51
The cover has a similar tone.
Lucy Holland 45:56
Have you seen how long it is?
Grace Ball 45:57
Wow. That's a chonk.
Christina Kann 45:59
That's like Order of the Phoenix. That's a chunky one.
Lucy Holland 46:03
It's so impossible to read when you're lying in bed.
Grace Ball 46:10
Christina Kann 46:11
Drop it on your face. Knock yourself unconscious.
Lucy Holland 46:15
It's really good. I'm really enjoying it. I'm interviewing Samantha Shannon, the author, in a week's time in Cornwall. I think she is in the US at the moment doing her US leg of the tour for the book, but I'm gonna meet up with her in Cornwall, so I get to talk to her about it. It's really good. It's really good.
Christina Kann 46:36
I'm excited for you. Because, you know, it's fun to meet the authors you love.
Grace Ball 46:41
Yeah. We're doing it! It's happening right now.
Lucy Holland 46:43
That's very sweet.
Christina Kann 46:46
Lucy, where can people find you on the internet if they want to connect with you?
Lucy Holland 46:50
I am on Instagram mostly. That's my platform of choice. I am on Twitter as well, which is now less my platform of choice. I'm the same handle. I'm @silvanhistorian. "Sylvan" with an I, not a Y, because some other person stole the Y. So I'm @silvanhistorian everywhere. I have a Patreon if you like my work so much that you'd like to pay me some money to carry on writing every month. I post extra stuff about the books and behind the scenes things and research. So if you're into that, then check out my Patreon.
Christina Kann 47:39
Lucy, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. It's been a delightful conversation.
Lucy Holland 47:47
Oh, it's been so fun. I don't get to talk about Sistersong as much as I did a year ago, so it's lovely to carry on revisiting the book.
Christina Kann 47:56
I just love that throughout this conversation, we've been able to really feel your passion, and that's really awesome, having read it and felt the passion through the words and you obviously put so much of yourself into it. Thank you for writing it.
Grace Ball 48:09
Lucy Holland 48:10
Thank you for reading it!
Christina Kann 48:14
And that's how you book.
Middle-Grade vs. Young Adult
The difference between the middle-grade and young adult book categories may seem obvious—one’s for younger kids and one’s for older kids . . . duh! Well, that explanation is a bit reductive because there are loads more things to consider, but it’s also not even incredibly true given the fact that I know plenty of thirty-somethings who read books in both categories (raises hand). Really, the categories exist for folks like us, publishers, who are desperately trying to get books into the hands of a target audience, and people with children who want to make sure their kids are reading at what they deem to be an appropriate level. Slapping a label like middle-grade or young adult on a book makes it infinitely easier to market and infinitely easier to pick up for readers. So, what might you expect to see in a book placed in the middle-grade category and what might you expect from a book labeled as young adult?
The first detail people generally look to when determining which age category is most appropriate for a book is the main character’s age. How old is your protagonist? Oftentimes, young readers want to read about characters who are just slightly older than they are, so for a middle-grade book, you’re looking at characters anywhere between ten and thirteen years old; and for a young adult book, the characters are typically between fourteen and twenty-two. But the differences don’t stop there! Let’s break it down even further.
If you’re writing a middle-grade or young adult book, we hope these guidelines will help you figure out where your book might fit best, and if you’re reading a book in either category . . . have fun! They’re two of our favorites!
written by Grace Ball
What Is a Proofread?
March 8 is National Proofreading Day!
Edit, proofread, revise, beta read—there are so many different terms for the act of reviewing a manuscript, and they’re all connected in some way. But proofreading is the easiest to define, and it’s the one thing people should do out in the real world, in emails and other correspondences, rather than just within the realm of their manuscript. So what is proofreading? And why is it so important?
What is a proofread?
A proofread is a cursory review of any written document in which the reviewer is looking for any glaring errors, like spelling, grammar, and mechanical issues.
A proofread does not involve comments about plot, character, or theme (that’s developmental editing or beta reading).
A proofread does not involve recommendations for smoother, clearer language, tone, voice, or concision (that’s line editing).
A proofread is merely meant to correct small and objective errors like misspelled words, dropped commas, incorrectly formatted ellipses . . . and so on.
When does a proofread occur in a book’s production process?
No matter when or what kind of proofreading you’re doing, it’s almost always the final step.
When you’re building a book, the proofread occurs last, after all the other editorial steps mentioned above. After the developmental edit, after the rounds of line and copy editing, after the book is “done”—that’s the right time to conduct a proofread. The point of the proofread is to catch lingering glaring errors, so you wouldn’t want to keep messing with the manuscript after. In the odd case that bigger work does need to be done on a manuscript after its proofread, it’s a good idea to get a second proofread.
A proofread might also be conducted on your book after the printer’s proof has been printed. A printer’s proof is one single copy of your book that the printer provides so you can ensure the book looks the same in real life as you thought it would based on the computer files. Because this is a new way of looking at your book, a proofread is advised. There may be some errors in your book that didn’t stand out on the computer, but in print they may be more obvious.
Who conducts a proofread during a book’s production process?
It’s a good idea to let a fresh set of eyes proofread your book. If you’ve been working with one editor through the developmental, line, and copy edits, you won’t want that same editor proofreading your book. Why? If the editor has already missed this error once or more, the odds are good that they’ll miss it again on the proofread.
Often, your publisher will ask a new editor, one you haven’t worked closely with, ideally one who has never read your manuscript before, to proofread it. If they’ve never read your manuscript before, they have no expectations of it, and therefore they’ll be able to catch glaring errors more readily.
Where does proofreading happen outside of a book?
This is really important! Proofreading isn’t just for writers. When you write an email to a friend or a coworker, when you draft language for your kid’s school bake sale flier, when you write a report—when you write anything, ever, that matters at all—you should proofread your own work.
This isn’t hard or time-consuming! All this means is that you should read through what you’ve just written before smashing that “send” button. What if you typed something wrong? What if the computer flagged a misspelled word for you to review? What if you phrased something super weird, and simply reading it back could help you realize there’s a much clearer way to say it?
Proofread your own work, always. You owe it to the other people around you to make your correspondence easy to digest, and you owe it to yourself to come across as smart and thorough.
How Do I Create an Author Brand?
Your book is written, it’s in production, and you are waiting for its release with bated breath. So, what do you do in the meantime? The short answer is . . . a lot. Writing your story is just the first of many steps in getting your book on the market and into the hands of readers. One important element to work on during this time is creating and building your author brand. Let’s touch on the main points of building your brand.
What is an author brand?
Your brand is how you represent yourself and how readers and industry professionals perceive you. It’s a mix of your personal and professional values, interests, and skills. Ultimately, your author brand is what people think of when they hear your name or see your book out in the wild.
How do I define my brand?
Step 1: Define Your Target Audience
Knowing who you are writing for will make it easier to know how to talk to your ideal readers. You want to present yourself in a way that connects to your readers, whether that is through the way your website is designed or how you talk to them. You want your readers to find you relatable, that way they want to follow you throughout your writing career.
Step 2: Define Your Style Guide
The main goal in having a style guide is to remain consistent. You want your reader to know that it is you when they visit your website or see a post on social media. Your style guide can be kept to a simple document, with a few key elements:
• Your color choices
• The fonts you use as headers and text
• How your logo (if you have one) can be used in different settings
I recommend looking up other style guides for examples as you create your own. Be sure to share your guide with anyone who will be helping you with marketing your brand and your books.
Step 3: Define Your Content
Again, consistency is key. Your content should be consistent with your brand. When a reader visits your website/blog/social media, you want them to know what to expect. People find comfort in the expected. If your posts are all over the place, your following will not stay for very long. Think about how many times you have followed a content creator for a specific reason and once they derail from the expectations you have of them, you click that unfollow button. No one wants that. Decide on what your voice is and stick to it. Post what you are passionate about, people can see right through you when you are just posting something simply because it is trendy. And when you do make a post that aligns with a current trend, make sure that it is clear that the post still aligns with your voice and brand.
Now that you have your author brand defined, it is time to project your brand across all platforms that you are using; this includes your social media, website, and emails. Are you doing anything with local or national press? Follow your branding guidelines. Are you going on a blog, vlog, or other media tour? Follow your branding guidelines. Just get out there and represent yourself the way you want people to perceive you. You got this! You know who you are and what you want to accomplish, so let’s make it happen!
Finally, there is one major note I want to share with you. You are going to evolve, as a person, as an author, and as a social media presence. During this time, your author brand will evolve, too. So don’t feel like what you pick now as your style and content is what you have to be for the rest of your writing career. Don’t stress while you are figuring out your brand, and if you need help developing your author brand, ask for it. If you are working with a publisher, chances are they will be more than happy to assist you through this process. A sound author brand can lead to a successful author, and that’s what we all want in the end.
by Michael Hardison
Why Are Black-Owned Bookstores Important? with Krystle Dandridge of The Book Bar
Wildling Press chats with The Book Bar’s owner, Krystle Dandridge, about why indie bookstores matter and why Black and brown books, bookstores, and book communities are so important (and how she manages to run a great bookstore in Richmond, VA!).
Mary-Peyton Crook 00:25
Today we have with us a very special guest, Krystal Dandridge, owner of The Book Bar in Richmond, Virginia, which is a Black-owned, woman-owned bookstore that centers BIPOC authors and brands in an effort to uplift and support a culture that is often silenced. Welcome, Krystle, and thank you for being with us!
Krystle Dandridge 01:01
Thank you! Thanks for having me.
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:03
Of course! I know you have a very busy schedule; you had a big event yesterday, which is awesome. Krystle, what are your pronouns?
Krystle Dandridge 01:10
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:11
So just give us a little intro to The Book Bar and tell us what it's all about.
Krystle Dandridge 01:15
The Book Bar is a bookstore and wine shop. It's really a boutique bookstore. We center Black and brown voices, Black and brown creatives, Black and brown authors, Black and brown wines, art . . . everything in there is very much to promote and uplift Black and brown people. And the events that we do also reflect that. And so it's just kind of a space for community, a safe space for people just to come in and take a load off, you know? A little self care.
Christina Kann 01:43
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:46
You can definitely tell when you go into that space, that it's set up for relaxation, and for community to be together. There's lots of space for seating and for groups to sit together. It's really awesome.
Christina Kann 01:58
Yeah, take away the books, and it even could be like a wellness spa, you know what I mean?
Mary-Peyton Crook 02:04
Absolutely. And I love the story on your website of how The Book Bar came to be, how you came to open a bookshop. Can you tell us a little about about that?
Krystle Dandridge 02:14
Sure! It's always a funny question, because I never remember what I say to people. But it really comes down to, I mean, I've been a reader my entire life, and growing up, the difficult thing was finding books by people who look like me with stories about people who look like me and had similar experiences. I've walked into bookstores, and they would have an urban book section, which is fine, that's great, except Black people are not a monolith. So what are some other stories that are not urban fiction stories?
Krystle Dandridge 02:44
And that's if I found somebody who looked like me in the store. If they were in the store, it was like, in a section in the corner somewhere in the back with very few books, and I just, I got tired of that. And that was growing up. And so to, you know, now be in my 30s, to still walk into some bookstores, and that's the same exact experience . . . to me, it was problematic. And so I figured why not create a space? Especially given Richmond didn't at the time currently have one, and hadn't had one for some years--well over, I think, two decades going on three decades, Richmond had not had a Black-owned bookstore. And so for me, it was just kind of like, well, this is what I want. Let's create it.
Christina Kann 03:21
That's so wild and so important, because there's so many wonderful Black writers and readers here, you know? It's such an important part of the readership community here.
Krystle Dandridge 03:32
Mary-Peyton Crook 03:32
Absolutely. Yeah, it's wild to me because Richmond . . . you know, I love living in Richmond, I've lived here for a long time, but I feel like it thinks of itself as a cool place to be, as really a more modern place to be, but it took until 2022 to get a Black-owned bookstore in Richmond, [a place] that considers itself a really literary town.
Krystle Dandridge 03:52
Richmond is full of bookstores. Which is a great thing! Richmond is full of independent bookstores, but you just can't find Black or brown bookstores. And I just, I never understood why.
Mary-Peyton Crook 04:03
And you talked a little about it, but maybe flesh out a little bit about why it's important that that kind of space is in our community. Why is it important to the community of Richmond or to any community to have that Black-owned, woman-owned, but specifically Black-owned bookstore?
Krystle Dandridge 04:17
Representation. Representation matters. At the end of the day, everyone wants to be able to see themselves in any role there is, any role possible, and when you have so many forces kind of working against you, like the media, whatever you have, everything that you're seeing is very much mainstream, very much white. It's like, "All right, so where do I fit in?"
Krystle Dandridge 04:39
And so to have representation right in your own backyard is extremely important because it's, you know, yes, times are changing, yes, things are reflected on the TV, but again, I'm in my thirties. That's not how this looked when I was growing up. And so while things are shifting, it's still important because there's going to be a little girl or a little boy who wants to own a bookstore or who loves reading books or who wants to see stories about people like them.
Krystle Dandridge 05:04
And so walking into a space where you know it's no question: there is acceptance (because we know that that's not everywhere you go), walking into a space where you know, without a doubt, you're going to be accepted, you're going to find people who look like you, and you're going to have something that you can aspire to--that's important. Representation just . . . it matters.
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:21
Absolutely. That importance has been so clear through the outpouring of support and community engagement that you've had for your year that you've been open. You just celebrated your first anniversary on February 5! Congratulations!
Krystle Dandridge 05:35
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:35
Christina Kann 05:36
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:37
And I know it's just gonna blossom even more as you're running it. What does it mean to you to know that you've successfully provided that space for the community for a whole year now?
Krystle Dandridge 05:47
You know, I don't know how to answer that, because I think I'm kind of still processing it. Like, I still am trying to process everything, the fact that I've been around for a year, the fact that it's not the easiest thing to do. And it's interesting, because everyone's like, "Oh, you just, you know, I'd love to own a bookstore, you just kind of read books all day." And I'm like, "I wish! I wish that's all I did!" You guys walk in, and you might see me reading a book; however, that's probably in the midst of everything else I have going on, because I still love reading books, but I also have to read books! So sometimes you walk in to see me reading a book, and I'm actually working, it's not just me lounging around reading.
Krystle Dandridge 06:23
So trying to process everything and still stay grounded, still keep the mission forefront, because it's not always the easiest thing to do. It's hard to really understand what it truly means, you know, that it's been a year. And so for me, I'm like, a year's not that long. But on the flip side, I'm also like, but it's been a year, it's been a year.
Christina Kann 06:43
So long, yeah.
Mary-Peyton Crook 06:45
Especially for a business!
Christina Kann 06:47
Especially for a business with a storefront. At Wildling, we don't have a location. So it's like, all you have to do is have an email account, you know?
Krystle Dandridge 06:55
The storefront, that's the other piece of it. The storefront has been around for a year, but the business opened Juneteenth of 2021 virtually. So, the storefront has been a year, the business has been around a little bit longer, not much, but a little bit longer. And like you said, that storefront makes the difference, because you don't pay rent on an email! Trust me, I remember those first six months or seven months, and I was like, "Okay, I got this," and then that storefront hit, and I was like, "Okay, what's this?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 07:25
Yeah, Wildling, you know, being remote, we still have plenty to fill our days and plenty of work to do all the time. Tell us a little bit about what a day in the life of a bookstore owner is like, because I know you're juggling a million things all the time. Do you get any breaks for yourself? Do you make sure to take breaks for yourself? And what's your sort of day-to-day look like?
Krystle Dandridge 07:47
I do my best to take breaks. Just because self care is important to me. So I do my best to take breaks. However, I am still a therapist. I'm still a licensed therapist, and so I am still doing therapy on the days the store's closed.
Christina Kann 07:58
Oh my gosh.
Krystle Dandridge 07:58
Mary-Peyton Crook 07:58
Krystle Dandridge 07:59
Yes, so I try to schedule--and I do have someone who works very part time for me, just to kind of give myself a day off. And that took a long time to get to, because for the longest . . . I went almost a year without a day off.
Christina Kann 08:11
Oh my god.
Krystle Dandridge 08:11
And so there's that. Chaos is probably how I would describe my days. There are some days where it's not, but for the most part, it's chaos, because I've been placing orders, following up on orders, trying to figure out what the next order is going to be, just trying to plan an event, getting events together that are already planned and making sure I have everything in order. . . . Or like if we speak of like yesterday's event, trying to figure out how I'm going to seat everybody, because those tickets sold out and people are still showing up! And you know, now I gotta figure out what to do.
Christina Kann 08:43
What a good problem!
Krystle Dandridge 08:43
Right! And it's funny, because everyone's like, "That's a great problem to have!" And I'm like, "Yes, after the fact!" In the moment, it's not a great problem to have.
Christina Kann 08:43
Krystle Dandridge 08:43
In the moment, I'm like, "I don't want to turn you away, but I don't know where you're gonna sit, and I don't want you to have to stand for two hours," which, you know, doesn't seem like a long time. But I'm like, you know, these people coming in, we're not talking about teenagers who don't have thirty-plus-year-old knees and backs.
Mary-Peyton Crook 08:56
That's so important.
Krystle Dandridge 08:58
We're talking about adults who can't stand that long. So you know, great problem to have, but like, this is where the day-to-day is like, "Okay, do I have all the inventory I need? Oh, shipping is delayed? Okay, how long is shipping delayed? Okay, so I won't have any books for the holidays, I have none, like none of my books are coming, none of the hundreds of books I ordered. Nothing's showing up? Oh, okay. No, that's, that's fine. I can be a bookstore without books. Why not? Who needs books in a bookstore?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 09:35
You have to really learn to pivot.
Krystle Dandridge 09:37
You adapt. But I'll also say the community has been super supportive. Because I'm very transparent. I will tell you, "Hey, I ordered books; I don't know where my books are. I can order some more for you." And they're like, "Oh, it's okay, we'll wait! Let's go ahead and place an order. It's okay." And you know, that to me is the support that I need and the support that is helpful because that's what kind of keeps me going. I feel bad when I don't have books, but I'm like, "I promise I ordered them. I just don't know where they are!"
Krystle Dandridge 10:06
I just had a shipment of over a hundred books come in on Friday, and I placed that order like three, three and a half weeks ago. And I placed it knowing I had this event. I was like, "Let's over-order, let's get some books." And I'm like, "Okay, well, you know, I placed the order. I don't know where my books are, but I placed the order, and I'm about to have over 100 people in the store, and I don't have a book for them! I don't have anything!" It showed up, thankfully, but . . .
Christina Kann 10:33
We can definitely relate to that, trying to get authors their books in time for their events as well. There's so many elements of buying books that are just out of your hands.
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:42
Krystle Dandridge 10:43
Most of it is out of our hands.
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:44
You try to really prepare well in advance, but it still can show up late even then. It's crazy.
Krystle Dandridge 10:50
It's, you know, it's part of the business. But again, it's that year, that year is learning. I learned over that year a lot.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:00
Yeah, and it's great that you still have that support. I remember, on your grand opening day, obviously, you know, it's grand opening day, day one of the first year, so anything could happen. And I remember you coming out and right before we were able to go in you were talking about the fact that you didn't have the books that you had ordered yet, you were still waiting on so many books. And I walked in, and I know that it's much more full now, but it still was so beautifully set up and the books looked great. You had them facing out, which I love because that lets you see the cool covers. And people were still just flooding in and having the greatest time.
Krystle Dandridge 11:37
It was great.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:38
You know, I think that's because you've created that sense of community and the sense of space over just a place to buy books. Ordering that book is important, but I don't think you'll ever run out of people that still support you and love that space.
Krystle Dandridge 11:52
That's the great part about it. The grand opening was a shocker for me. I don't know what I expected to happen, but when I walked out and saw the number of people . . . in my mind, I was like, "Oh, it'll probably be like twenty, maybe fifty people, it won't be a whole lot. Very naive of me, because I walked out and like . . . My family was there. If you came to the grand opening, you saw my family because they were everywhere helping everyone--
Mary-Peyton Crook 12:15
Krystle Dandridge 12:15
--behind the register, mostly, but they were definitely everywhere, them and my friends. And prior to the grand opening, as we were standing inside, I was like, "No, I'll cut the ribbon. A few people are coming, but you guys can probably just go back to my house and just, you know, relax. I won't need any help." And then we opened the doors, and everyone came in, and I was like, "So y'all can't leave. You have to stay, I just need all hands on deck. Don't ask me what I need you to do, because at this point, I don't know, I wasn't expecting everybody to be here, so thanks for staying. Sorry you're hungry, but we're here now. We're in this together, we're gonna make it through, and I appreciate the patience."
Krystle Dandridge 12:16
That line . . . if you were there, that line was wrapped around the store. And there were just all these people, and the store was packed. I'm in panic mode because I was like, "Oh, the city said my capacity is this, and we're like, way over that. Should I put people out? Like what do I do?" Again, I was brand new to retail. I was like, "What do I do? Do I not let them in? It's cold outside. It's February. It's freezing outside. Do I take a chance? Because I don't want anyone catching pneumonia trying to get into a bookstore! That's ridiculous.
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:32
Maybe those rules are a little bit soft for a grand opening.
Krystle Dandridge 13:35
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:36
It was great. It was so much fun.
Mary-Peyton Crook 13:37
What's your favorite part of running a bookstore?
Krystle Dandridge 13:40
Christina Kann 13:41
Yeah. That's a good answer.
Krystle Dandridge 13:44
Getting the books early, because if you're a book addict like me, then your TBR is ridiculous, but you still want the next book. I think it's a tie. I'll say there's a tie between the books and the authors. I have posted about it. I absolutely love meeting authors. Authors are my rockstars. You guys can have all the music artists you want. I love them too, but there is nothing like meeting authors, especially because they're down to earth! They're down-to-earth rockstars, or at least the authors that I've met. They are down-to-earth rock stars! They're like "Yeah, sure, let's chat!" And I'm like, "Really? You wanna talk to me?" So I think that's amazing. And the books! I have arcs sitting right in front of me right now. I get so many arcs (way too many sometimes, but I'm okay with that. I give a lot away, actually.) But getting those arcs, being front and center trying to see, like, what's coming out? Can I read it? When I read it, I'm like, "Oh, let me make a video about it. Let me post on social media but try not to spoil it. Let's talk about this book and not tell you all why it's so amazing when I just want to be like, "Oo, and then they did this and then they did that."
Mary-Peyton Crook 14:54
That's so hard, because the ending can really make or break (obviously) a book, and and it would be so hard if you're genuinely giving your reviews to not include that part of it.
Mary-Peyton Crook 15:06
And that brings me to talk about your social media presence @rvabookbar on Instagram and Tiktok. Those are my favorite places to find you, because your presence on social media on those channels is so authentic. I was thinking about it, and I think it's obviously because so many of the posts are just you talking to your followers, talking to this community of readers, and giving genuine book reviews. And you seem to post a lot, which I can't imagine with your schedule.
Mary-Peyton Crook 15:35
What kind of advice would you give to--I know you're in a particular position as a bookseller--but what advice would you give to someone looking to create sort of an authentic, compelling Bookstagram, BookTok, whatever channel they want to use?
Krystle Dandridge 15:49
Ignore what's already out there. And I say that because when I first opened my IG account, I was going with, you know . . . Well, when you're on Bookstagram, all you see is the mainstream, white faces, that is what you see. You have to literally search for people who look like me. What you see are aesthetic pics, that's what you see. And there is nothing wrong with the aesthetic pic; I actually think they're pretty, I just don't get anything from them, personally. But when I started, that's what I was doing. I was like, "Okay, well, people want to see aesthetics, because of course, these people's aesthetics got thousands and thousands of likes. So that's what people want." But then I realized I wasn't using my voice.
Christina Kann 16:27
Krystle Dandridge 16:28
And then again, going back to the [book] reviews, you would see the aesthetic, and then you would see the synopsis of the book. I don't like that, because I can read the back of the book myself. So because I can read the back of the book myself, you're not really helping me want to buy the book, because you just told me what the book was telling me anyway. How was that helpful? And what I learned was I was actually getting better traction when it was my voice versus the voice that matched what you saw on Bookstagram, which was, "Here's a picture of a book. Here's what the back of the book says."
Christina Kann 17:01
Krystle Dandridge 17:01
Cool. But I see that on the hundreds of profiles I see every day. So that's not helping me, versus people who are like, "Okay, but why should I buy this book?" which is what people want to know. They're looking for book recommendations.
Krystle Dandridge 17:12
There are a lot of people that are cover buyers; I'm a cover buyer. So yes, the pretty book catches my eye because I'm like, "Ooh, what's that?"
Mary-Peyton Crook 17:19
For sure, for sure.
Krystle Dandridge 17:20
But now what? Why should I buy it? So the advice that I have is for BookTok and Bookstagram, because BookTok is very much videos, Bookstagram is both pictures and reels. But I say use your voice. Like for me, my personality comes through in my videos; it's kind of like talking to me. I love books, and I love talking books. So I'm just kind of like, "Hey!" I'm animated. I like to be very animated. And so I'm like, you know, "What would make somebody really understand why you should get this book?"
Krystle Dandridge 17:54
And I'm recommending what I like, I'm not just kind of like, "I'm a bookseller, here's a book that's in my shop and I have to sell it." No. Some books are just not for me. And that's okay. So when people come into the shop, and they're like, "Well, what about this book?" I'm like, "Well, if you like XYZ, then you'll like it. It's just not my cup of tea, because I'm not an XYZ reader." But on my Bookstagram or my BookTok, I'm like, "Oh, did y'all read this? Let me tell you why you should read this. Because you're not going to regret it!" I like the books that I'm recommending. So I'm not just going to be like, "Oh, I have to sell this. Let me just shove this down your throat and hope that you believe me and come by. No, I thought this was amazing."
Mary-Peyton Crook 18:32
Yeah, I love watching your book recommendations, because you are so passionate about them. And for lack of a better term, you give more of the vibe of the book; you talk about what it's really like versus just, "Okay, this is a mystery. This is fantasy." You really give us the elements of the book that are a reason to read that book over others. Which is what what we're looking for as book readers.
Mary-Peyton Crook 18:56
And that's such a strong case for why it's so important to buy from local bookstores over things like Amazon over even looking on Instagram or Booktok. Because the bookseller should be a book reader like you are. And that's where you're really going to have a conversation with someone about what kind of books are coming up, what book recommendations they can make for you, and it just makes the process so much better than, say, just scanning on Amazon for a book. That's why bookstores are so important.
Krystle Dandridge 19:29
Bookstores will forever be important. Bookstores . . . first of all, they're in your community. So we're talking about tax dollars, all of that, that goes back into your community. So why would you not want to support a bookstore that's in your community? I understand the ease of shopping online and just having it delivered to you in a day or two. I get that. But there are so many reasons to choose an independent bookstore over choosing shopping online and supporting something that isn't in your community. It's not in your community, it's not benefiting your community in any way, shape, or form. And then the interesting thing is people wonder when they're like, "Oh, well, bookstores are obsolete" or "They don't stick around, they don't stick around," because instead of walking in and talking to a person, you decided to click on it.
Krystle Dandridge 20:13
And I'm not against online shopping, but there are also ways to shop online to purchase books that are not through Amazon so you can still support what's in your community: Bookshop.org! Independent bookstores through Bookshop.org. You can go through Bookshop.org, choose the bookstore you want to select (The Book Bar) and your purchase benefits that store. It still supports the store in your community, and you can get it shipped directly to you, easy.
Mary-Peyton Crook 20:40
That is so nice. We love Bookshop.org. I literally just used it the other day, and my purchase . . . I bought one book, one paperback book, and it said it gave $5.99 to a local bookstore, which is crazy considering that the book was like $18, you know, so that's a huge amount for online, which is awesome.
Krystle Dandridge 20:59
It's great. We get a huge portion of that percentage. And then you also have Libro.fm for those who are like, "I only do audiobooks." Libro.fm, same concept.
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:09
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:11
To sort of wrap up, what are ways that people can support RVA Book Bar if they don't live nearby?
Krystle Dandridge 21:18
Online! You can always support me online, RVABookBar.com, www.rvabookbar.com. Events are posted there, and there is a link to my Bookshop page. You go under "Shop," it'll say "Shop Books," and you can search all of the books you want. You can always come inside! You can't lose with that either. But there are so many ways you can follow me, on IG, TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube @rvabookbar. Or come down to the store: 1311 East Main Street in Richmond, Virginia.
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:47
Well, thank you so much, Krystle, for being with us today, for taking time out of your busy schedule. I love The Book Bar, we all do at Wildling, and however we can support you, we are here to do that.
Krystle Dandridge 22:00
I appreciate that.
transcribed and edited by Mary-Peyton Crook
Join us for a chat with C.K. Fullerton as we talk about all things romance: how she got into the genre, her tips and tricks for writing in the genre effectively, book recommendations, and more!
Grace Ball 00:23
I'm so excited today because Mike and I are joined by Wildling's very own C.K. Fullerton, author of the upcoming Blood and Brujeria.
C.K. Fullerton 00:54
Hi, I'm so excited to be here.
Michael Hardison 00:56
Yeah, we're definitely happy to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Grace Ball 00:59
Thank you so much for coming on the pod today. Okay, first things first, what are your pronouns?
C.K. Fullerton 01:05
She and her.
Grace Ball 01:06
Awesome. Well, Happy Valentine's Day, everybody. We asked C.K. to come on the show on this particular day of love because we want to talk about romance baby. We consider C.K. to be an expert on the romance genre, so we want to pick her brain a bit. But before we get into it, C.K., do you want to tell the listeners a little about your book and how you got started writing in general?
C.K. Fullerton 01:37
Yeah, definitely. Blood and Brujeria: In the Shadows is the first book of three. And it's a paranormal urban romance about a half witch half vampire named Cassandra, who comes from a family of vampire slayers that protect the city of San Diego. And while she's out slaying vampires, she discovers an influx of all these new vampires coming into the city causing trouble. And so she works together with her friends to try and figure out where all these vampires are coming from. And on the way she rescues a troubled vampire named Landon, who ends up kind of being a part of the mystery, but not everything is as it seems with him. So the first installment of this book of the series features a plus size Chicana female lead, a diverse found family, lots of magic, and lots of unapologetic smut.
Grace Ball 02:26
Michael Hardison 02:27
Grace Ball 02:29
We are so excited about this book. I've had the pleasure of working with C.K. on it throughout production so far, and we're super excited about it. It's going to be awesome.
Michael Hardison 02:40
Yeah, even with the sneak peek that I got of it, it was just really exciting. I can't wait to read more of it.
Grace Ball 02:45
Yeah, C.K., I don't know if you know this, but Mike is actually the one who, like, acquired and like recommended your book to the rest of us.
C.K. Fullerton 02:53
Oh, how cool! I didn't know that. Well, thank you.
Michael Hardison 02:55
Yeah, that was me. It was one of my first like entrances into reading romance. And I've read a few before, but this one just really piqued my interest, because of the paranormal side of it too, just that combination was just, it was fun to be part of, and you know, dive into that world.
C.K. Fullerton 03:10
Awesome. Yeah, and I feel like the genre is really exploding right now. So I consider like paranormal romance to be a subgenre of fantasy romance. And in general, it's just having a huge upsurge. You know, one of the reasons I got into writing again, I wrote when I was a teenager, and then kind of fell out of it in college. But during the pandemic, I rediscovered reading, like so many people, and I used to love fantasy, YA fantasy, and then I discovered fantasy romance. I was like, oh my god, this is like the adult version of what I loved as a teenager. But these characters are dealing with things that I deal with, you know, and so I got to still get my fix of escapism with fantasy, and it was like going into a new world, but also it was for an adult. So I actually related to the characters because when I would read YA as a thirty-year-old woman, it was like, it wasn't really hitting the same way because my life changed. So that was really what inspired me to get involved in the genre as well.
Grace Ball 04:11
That's so cool. So you said you did some writing in like high school?
C.K. Fullerton 04:14
Grace Ball 04:15
What kind of stuff would you write?
C.K. Fullerton 04:18
Still paranormal. I mean, I was a huge Anne Rice nerd, so lots of witches, lots of vampires. Some of the stuff I read back, I'm like, that was Anne Rice fanfiction. I read like so many fantasy romance novels in 2020 and 2021. Like once I got into it, I was like I'm gonna just immerse myself, and I read like, probably forty books in two months. Like it was like really intense. And like a book a day sometimes. Yeah, and then not all of them were great. Like I feel like I went from like the really top tier down into like, some of the stuff that was not so great. And that's when I went you know, I could . . .
Grace Ball 04:55
Kind of spiraled
C.K. Fullerton 04:55
Yeah, I was like, I could probably write something, and like I want to because I'm running out of good stuff. So I really wrote it because I was like, I am at a loss here like I'm, I haven't found anything good. I think it was like I read like, probably four or five just really bad books back-to-back, and then I was like, okay, I'm gonna do something about this.
Grace Ball 05:15
C.K. write the book you want to see in the world, am I right?
C.K. Fullerton 05:18
Exactly. Yeah, and then you know the other thing too is that so many of the books I was reading were really focused on white characters. There are not a lot of brown vampires out there. And then not a lot of like representation in the genre, and then plus sized characters as well. I feel like, even if there is that representation, it's still in kind of, sometimes a fatphobic lens, where we're still kind of focused on their body size, almost like hyper-focused.
Grace Ball 05:49
Yeah, that's so true. And I feel like that comes up a lot in the romance genre, just as like an issue, because, you know, there is so much body description.
C.K. Fullerton 05:59
There is and it can be so unrealistic as well.
Grace Ball 06:03
Yeah, that is so true. So, you said that you read just an insane amount of books, particularly during the pandemic, were they all sort of romance related?
C.K. Fullerton 06:15
Yeah, I like kind of hyper-focused on fantasy romance right at the beginning of my reading journey. Now, I've really gotten into contemporary romance as well.
Grace Ball 06:24
Do you have any recommendations?
C.K. Fullerton 06:25
Oh, yes, I wrote them down. For contemporary romance, anything by Emily Henry, like she deserves all the hype she's getting on social media. I'm so glad they're making a movie out of one of her books. And like they're just all fantastic. Great romance, but also just wonderful, like character development. And she's just really smart and her characters have really great voices. So I love her. I also really enjoyed It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey. Really good dirty talk in that one, if that's what you're into.
Grace Ball 06:58
C.K. Fullerton 06:59
And then, Set on You by Amy Lea has great plus size representation. Delilah Green Doesn't Care is a super cute sapphic romance, if you're looking for that, that female/female. And then from the fantasy romance perspective, I really love Scarlett St. Clair's Hades X Persephone series. Also, we can't talk about fantasy romance without mentioning the queen, Sarah J. Maas.
Grace Ball 06:59
C.K. Fullerton 07:01
She's popular for a reason. They are really good. The hype is true. Crescent City is like one of my all time favorite books. So you really can't go wrong with those.
Grace Ball 07:35
Do you think that's a good place to start for anyone who's wanting to get into the genre?
C.K. Fullerton 07:40
I would actually recommend Scarlett St. Clair's Hades X Persephone series to start, or "The Bridge Kingdom" series by Danielle Jensen. They're just not so long. So with Sarah J. Maas, they get really long and there's a lot of them, so that one's an investment. So if you know you really like the genre, after you kind of do some of these smaller series, then you can really dive into those books. Because, you know, buying books is expensive. I mean, I'm a library person. So that's, that's great, too.
Grace Ball 08:00
Oh my gosh, that reminds me that we also have to wish, in addition to Valentine's Day, wish everyone a happy Library Lovers Day. Because that's what today is too!
C.K. Fullerton 08:22
That's so cool!
Michael Hardison 08:23
I'll celebrate that one. That's a single one. I'll celebrate Library Day. I love the library!
C.K. Fullerton 08:30
Me too! Thank god I have a library because I would have gone broke reading all those books.
Grace Ball 08:37
We love our libraries. So with writing romance, there's probably a particular approach to this genre. It sounds like maybe you've written just mostly in this genre, but how would you say that it might be different from writing in another genre, if that makes sense?
C.K. Fullerton 08:55
Yeah. I think that, you know, falling in love takes a particular kind of self-awareness and some compromise and empathy. And so I think if you're going to write about that experience, as an author, you really have to be able to dive into that. And so you really need to come from an empathetic place, you've got to dive into your characters' thoughts, their emotion, and really look at your characters' personal grow, because usually they need to do some sort of growth in order to make a relationship work. And so you can build the most complex world with like, epic fantasy, like, you know, this great world building, but if you are not rooting that love story in some very familiar human experiences, it's just not going to click. So I think that's the biggest aspect of it, and that I see across the whole genre--contemporary fantasy, paranormal--and that's one of the things I really love about it is that it does have this very human aspect to it no matter if you're on a planet with blue aliens, like you still have this very familiar experience that most people have had. And so I think that's the the thing to focus on.
Grace Ball 10:06
That's a great way to approach writing in the genre, because that's ultimately what people are looking for is to like see a human experience reflected in a story. And it's fun to have all these cool, different realms and settings, but I think you're right that people are looking to really read that human experience. So I love that. So when you are writing, are there any aspects particular to this genre that you find to be difficult? And if so, how do you meet those challenges when come up against them?
C.K. Fullerton 10:44
It's so funny, because, romance, of course, we're talking love, love scenes, sex scenes, and those were actually the hardest parts for me.
Grace Ball 10:52
C.K. Fullerton 10:53
Yeah, because you can just get so in your head about it, and you kind of have to let go of it feeling a little cringy sometimes. Particularly when you have characters like talking about being in love, it can feel very cliche and cheesy. But you want these heightened experiences and moments, you want it to feel climactic, you want it to really jump off the page. And so you've got to be able to go there and laugh at yourself and let go of the fact that some of the things that you're saying, maybe seem cheesy, but if it's rooted in the truth of the character and what they're feeling, and it makes sense, then it works. So to overcome that, definitely, I just let myself be playful with it. And part of that was I wouldn't read over anything that I had written while I was writing. So I was only allowed to go forward, I wasn't allowed to go backward until the scene was fully fleshed out. Because I felt like if I was in a good flow with it, whatever they were saying, or whatever was going down, it was meant to happen that way. And then I could go back and say, oh, that line didn't work, or does this physically make sense? Like, logistically, how are they doing this? But I will say it did help to have Grace as an editor because you did an amazing job of of being like, I don't think that they would say that or, like how, how is this happening? Which is one of my biggest complaints in romance in some of the sex scenes is like, I just don't understand, like, physically, I can't see it in my mind.
Grace Ball 12:25
Yeah, because you are visualizing.
C.K. Fullerton 12:28
Grace Ball 12:28
So if all of a sudden somebody's doing something crazy, you're like, well, I'm not sure exactly how we got from point A to point B.
C.K. Fullerton 12:36
Michael Hardison 12:38
That makes me think too, talking about the logistics of the scene and everything, and I wish I had pulled some up before we started this interview, but when you go back and read the excerpts people find of men writing women badly in romances.
C.K. Fullerton 12:51
Michael Hardison 12:52
That brings me so much joy to read how cringy those sections are, just like, you didn't go back and read that? Is the woman's body really shaped in a way that you can do that?
C.K. Fullerton 13:03
Michael Hardison 13:04
And it's so funny to me. You need to know what you're doing before you write it.
C.K. Fullerton 13:09
Some basic anatomy.
C.K. Fullerton 13:10
Yes. Yeah. And so like, I learned to really love writing those scenes, because once you build up the relationship, and it finally happens for your characters, it's so fun. But even as a super sex positive person, it's still like, kind of weird at first to actually put that down on paper.
Grace Ball 13:34
Well, you do a great job with it. I feel like I didn't really edit too many things in the spicier scenes of your book, because I was like, she nailed it. So on the flip side, what kind of brings you back? What makes you really, really excited about writing romance?
C.K. Fullerton 13:52
I think that the community of readers is the thing that inspires me the most, like everyone is usually just so welcoming and inclusive and excited about sharing different books. And throughout my writing journey, I've just found so many different little pockets of wonderful people that I can reach out to that are also writing. And I feel like a lot of people in the community felt the same way I do, where they didn't see the books that they wanted so they just started writing, which is super inspiring. And also I just love good banter. So I feel like that's one of the great tropes of romance is there's always some good back and forth. And so that's one of my favorite things to write. It just really like helps build that tension. And then those are the scenes that I hear in my head, where I can't keep up with the characters because it is just going and I'm just trying to type it as fast as I can. So that's where I get like the most excited.
Grace Ball 14:46
That's cool. So you mentioned that you talk to people in the community. What is like the most effective way you found to connect with other people because I'm sure that our listeners, you know, would be interested in hearing about any sort of groups or platforms that you that you're able to share?
C.K. Fullerton 15:04
Definitely, I really found going on Instagram, finding other people that are writing in my genre. So other like indie authors. And then a lot of them have Discord groups or are part of different Discord groups, and so if you message them and see what groups they're a part of. I'm part of a couple of different Discord groups. And we'll do writing sprints together on there. So that's been really helpful and really fun. And then you know, you hype each other's books up when they come out. And you're just kind of there to brainstorm with other people, even about like making reels, or marketing ideas, and how to use social media, kind of picking other people's brains that have already been doing it, too, has been really helpful. So I think Discord has been like the best platform for me personally in building those relationships.
Grace Ball 15:50
That's so cool. That's awesome. Alrighty, so what are some strategies you use to effectively build tension in a romance novel? I think, you know, you said, the banter is really important. How do you make that happen on the page?
C.K. Fullerton 16:00
I wish I could give like an a, b, and c to like how that happens. But honestly, like I said, the characters start talking in your head, for me, at least. And that's when like the best banter comes in. I think, of course, you need to set up a situation where there are obstacles for your characters, you can't really have sexual tension, if the characters have nothing stopping them from hooking up and seeing where it goes. So you have to have a very clear reason why these two people who are attracted to each other can't get together, or else it's just pointless. It doesn't make sense.
Grace Ball 16:41
C.K. Fullerton 16:41
I think, yeah, having that conflict, knowing what that is, having it be something that is a true obstacle, that isn't something that a reader would go like, really, that's the reason why they're not getting together? Like it's got to have higher stakes. And then I think that having a good idea of how the attraction started, and how it builds--kind of the middle of that tension--that is making it maybe go from a physical attraction to an emotional attraction. And then finally, knowing what the catalyst is going to be for them to overcome that obstacle. I think, you know, depending on how high stakes your obstacle is, your event that's going to make them finally get together needs to match that.
Grace Ball 17:26
Yeah, there's obviously the physical element, but there's the emotional element too that could even be potentially more important to make convincing.
C.K. Fullerton 17:34
Yes, yes. I mean, you know, that kind of idea, like insta-love. And I think a lot of readers in the genre don't necessarily love that trope. And I feel like it is very based on the physical, and if they don't bring in the emotional later, it just, it just really falls flat. So I do think that ultimately, to make it feel like that human experience we were talking about earlier, you really do need to find that connection between these two people. Otherwise, just watch porn?
Grace Ball 18:07
Yeah, that's so true. There's a story there. Just kidding! So I forgot to ask you, I meant to ask you earlier. Do you have favorite romance tropes? I think we all do.
C.K. Fullerton 18:24
Yes. Yes, I do. I mean, I'm a sucker for enemies to lovers. I just love it. I can't get enough. If anything has it, I'll read it. And I also love a good "who did this to you?" scene. Those are always fun. And I feel like those are very specific to fantasy romance. That's like a very popular trope. Also, friends to lovers, I read a couple friends lovers books, I did not think I would like it as much as I did. But those have a great emotional connection because there's already a backstory, they obviously are good friends, so they trust each other, and so it kind of builds from there. And then I do love a good fake relationship, but it has to be a believable reason why they're faking. If it's not a good reason why they're faking, I just can't buy in. So that one I feel like it's hard to do, but when it's done well I enjoy it. And then of course the one bed trope, you can't go wrong.
Grace Ball 18:24
Oh my god, I was gonna say, I always have to mention the one bed trope. That's my favorite.
C.K. Fullerton 18:49
Yeah. So good.
Grace Ball 19:27
Classic. I love that. Okay, so we've touched on this a little bit, we've talked about some of the ways that the genre is kind of currently evolving and how its evolved in terms of inclusion. So what kind of changes in that vein are you seeing and like, what do you see for the future of the genre?
C.K. Fullerton 19:48
Well, I think that because more readers are taking it into their own hands and writing their own things, I think we're seeing much more realistic sex scenes, in particular. Women aren't orgasming by penetration alone or like fifteen times in a row or like the anatomy doesn't make sense, like we're really seeing realistic female pleasure focused sex scenes, which I think is really important. And I think it's really empowering. When you're able to have a language to talk about what you need, you kind of close that orgasm gap in your own relationship. And readers are also really talking about that as well. So it's taking away a lot of the shame around sexuality. And that's something that I think is really changing the way that people are writing. I also think that the group of people who grew up reading YA, we're older now, we want different things. And we want to see older characters too. So I feel like there was so much focus on like teenagers for such a long time. And now I'm seeing a lot more books about people in their 30s--I read a book about a woman in her 50s--you know, like we're starting to see age inclusion as well, not just different body types, not just different races, but also different ages. And I think it's really important because sexuality doesn't stop. And so I think representing different phases of life as well is really cool to see.
Grace Ball 21:06
Yeah, me too.
Michael Hardison 21:08
Y'all are lucky with YA, and growing up on that--that wasn't really a category when I was young. And my actual first like romance book I read when I--because there wasn't YA accessible--so I grabbed a book from like, my mom's shelf.
Grace Ball 21:21
Michael Hardison 21:21
I started reading it, and it was seventh grade, and it was V.C. Andrews. I don't know if you're very aware of them or not, but they write some pretty like, wild stuff. And after she passed, they continue to use her name to write more, but it's just all of this really like grocery store level, trashy novels, about like rich, rich families, and there's a whole lot of sex, and all these things, and I'm in seventh grade earning my like, Pizza Hut points reading V.C. Andrews books. I read an entire, like seven book series my seventh grade summer, and I was like, wow, adults are weird.
C.K. Fullerton 21:59
Oh, there is certainly a place for that, too.
Grace Ball 22:02
That's so true. Oh, man, this has been so fun! Okay, so, C.K., could you give our listeners like one final piece of advice about writing romance, just to wrap it all on up?
C.K. Fullerton 22:16
I think I'd want to go back to just letting yourself be uncomfortable a little bit. You know, there are going to be times when I think writing the emotions and writing about love can sometimes feel awkward and cheesy. But if you are really rooting it in your characters' truth, if you've really set up scenarios that put them in a place where they can be vulnerable, I think you can't really go wrong. And so also being very clear about "the why" they're getting together. What is it about these two people that they're relating to each other about? And why are they attracted to each other beyond the physical is really important. And from there, I think you'll have a great foundation, and then you can start to play, then you can start to work on the banter, then you can start to add in some tropes, then you can create your world around them, and give them some different conflicts. But ultimately, you need to have that foundation there to build on.
Grace Ball 23:17
Beautiful. Wow, thank you so much for talking with us today, C.K., and being the first guest on our new season of "How Do I Book?"
C.K. Fullerton 23:27
Thank you. I'm honored!
Grace Ball 23:29
Really, yeah, it was truly such as such a pleasure talking with you. And thank you for sharing your valuable perspective.
C.K. Fullerton 23:36
Thanks so much for having me. Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.
Grace Ball 23:39
Happy Valentine's Day!
Michael Hardison 23:40
Happy Valentine's Day!
Grace Ball 23:41
And that's how you book!
transcribed and edited by Grace Ball
Follow CK Fullerton online!
How Do I Set a Reading Goal?
Happy 2023, y’all! With the start of a new year come all the resolutions—personal, professional, and, of course, literary.
Tons of readers all over the world set annual reading goals for themselves with each new year. This means that around New Years, they choose an ideal number of books they’d like to read in the following year. Some readers take their goals quite seriously, while others might forget their goals right away—and plenty of readers don’t track their reading goals at all.
Why do people go different routes? What’s the big deal with reading goals?
Where do I track my reading goal?
There are a couple different ways to track your reading goal, independently or through a program, in writing or digitally.
Lots of readers use apps to track their reading. Storygraph and Goodreads both ask readers at the beginning of each year if they’d like to set a reading goal, and then readers can keep track of their books read compared to how much they still need to read to stay on target. These apps also keep track of when you read a book and what you thought of it as well.
Some readers may choose to keep track of their own reading goals. You could start a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets to keep count of the books you’ve read so far this year. Others might prefer to keep a handwritten account of their reading in a journal and tally their books on the inside cover.
What are reading goals good for?
Setting a reading goal for yourself is a great way to make reading a priority. If you want to make sure you’re reading consistently throughout the year, having a goal you’re trying to hit can keep that momentum going. It’s harder to let yourself fall into a reading slump or drift your attention to Netflix or doomscrolling if you’re always keeping that reading goal in mind.
What are reading goals bad for?
You should not set a reading goal for yourself if you’re going to use that to guilt or shame yourself. Reading should be a fun, relaxing activity that makes your brain work juuuuust a little bit. It should not feel like a burden or a punishment! If you’re setting this goal to trap yourself rather than inspire yourself—don’t. Be gentle with yourself, and only read when and if you actually want to.
Set realistic goals.
A good compromise if you want to set a reading goal but be careful not to trap yourself is to set realistic, attainable goals. If you read 5 books last year and it felt hard, you’d be setting yourself up for failure if you vow to read 50 books next year. A realistic goal can feel like an attainable challenge, and you’ll be more inspired to dive in.
If you set a reading goal last year, use that as a guide for setting your reading goal for this year. If your goal last year was 30 books and it felt really easy and you still had time to read more at the end of the year, maybe try doubling your goal and go for 60 books this year. If your goal last year was 52 books and you only read 12, and you’d still like to try to read more books, go for a small increase and aim for 15 books next year. If your goal last year was 100 and you hit it with a week or two to spare and it felt challenging and great, set the same goal for next year, or stretch it slightly to 105.
If you set your goal too small and you find yourself nearing that magic number in May, you can always update your goal later! It’s better to start with a small goal, blow it out of the water, and get to set a stretch goal than it is to set your goal too high and never really feel like you can get there.
Should I set a reading goal for myself?
This is up to you. You don’t have to jump on the trendy bandwagon and set a reading goal just because the readers around you are. Ask yourself why you’re considering setting a reading goal for yourself and why you read, and be real with yourself about what you can do.
At the end of the day (often literally), reading shouldn’t be a chore. It should be a pleasure.
written by Christina Kann
How Do I Celebrate Bookish Holidays?
Hey there, booklover! We’re compiling a list of our absolute favorite bookish holidays, so mark your calendar and celebrate with us.
Library Lovers Day: February 14
Don’t have a valentine? Wrong! You absolutely do have a valentine, and it’s your local library! Head down there, check out a book, and get reading!
National Children’s Book Day: April 2
This list would not be complete without a holiday dedicated especially to children’s books. We absolutely love kids’ books here at Wildling, and we plan on reading our favorites on April 2—we hope you do too.
D.E.A.R.: Drop Everything and Read Day: April 12
We’re all about a holiday that gives us an excuse to ignore our responsibilities and read instead. We also love celebrating the birthday of the fabulous, wonderful, incredible Beverly Cleary!
National Get Caught Reading Month: May
Wow, have we gotten caught reading in some weird places? You bet we have! And it’s pretty comforting to know there’s a whole month dedicated to something we do on the regular.
Rainbow Book Month™: June
We love celebrating Pride Month in all the ways, and of course that includes the bookish variety! The month of June is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ authors and the stories that reflect the lives and experiences our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, genderqueer, queer, intersex, agender, and asexual community.
Be Kind to Editors and Writers Month: September
Hi, uh, yes. This is a completely objective choice. Obviously.
National Read a Book Day: September 6
We were debating making this day an employee holiday—thing is, we’d probably be reading a book if we were working anyway! Occupational hazard, but at least we’re celebrating!
National Novel Writing Month: November
NaNoWriMo—you know the drill! The goal is to write 50,000 words of a novel over the course of November. Will you be participating?
National Authors Day: November 1
We’ll take any excuse to celebrate our favorite people: authors! Wow, y’all are awesome, and have we mentioned you’re looking great today?
Jólabókaflóðið: December 24
It’s the Icelandic Christmas Book Flood, and we absolutely love this tradition. It is customary for every person in Iceland to receive at least one book on Christmas Eve. Just settle in with a cup of hot cocoa and read till you fall asleep!
Whether you choose to observe these holidays by reading, writing, or both, we can’t wait to celebrate with you all year long!
written by Grace Ball
How Do I Find Bookish Gifts?
Got a lot of book-loving friends? Of course you do--bookish friends are the best kind of friends. And those great friends deserve great gifts, whether it’s for a birthday, a holiday, or maybe just to thank them for introducing you to your new favorite author.
Here’s a wrap-up of our favorite bookish gift ideas of the season.
A book from Bookshop.org
It might seem too obvious to say, but get your book bestie . . . a book! There’s still nothing like the gift of a new book, fresh with that new-book smell. *Deep inhale* Yep, it’s a high like no other.
But this time, instead of ordering on Amazon because it’s easy, or maybe because your favorite bookstore’s online selection is more limited, you can now support your favorite indie bookstore by shopping the super-convenient, massive selection of books available on Bookshop.org. Bookshop works with local, independent bookstores to provide an immense selection of books that are as easy to find and order as they are on Amazon--but instead of your money supporting billionaires and completely bypassing authors, your money goes to your local bookstore! It’s a win-win!
(Can’t figure out which book they’ll love? Get them a Bookshop.org gift card!)
A set of dust jackets from Nerdy Ink
The art of Nerdy Ink is otherworldly--and surprisingly affordable. It’s apparent that the artist behind the brand is a book lover themself, because so much passion is put into every piece. As of now, they’ve got dust jacket sets for collections like the Percy Jackson, Shadow and Bone, Red Rising, Throne of Glass, and Tolkein series of books, and at only $30-39 for an entire set, they often sell out. So hop to it! Your book bestie will cherish these (and you).
A cute tee from Inkwell Threads
You. Will. Love. These. Tees.
There are a lot of bookish T-shirts out there, and Inkwell Threads repeatedly comes out with the best designs. They are bright, colorful, modern, and clever as heck. Plus, there are so many options that you’re bound to find something for every kind of reader: your super-sarcastic friend who’s into horror, your daydreaming pal who wishes they lived at Pemberley with Mr. Darcy, your witchy sister who gives off all the fae energy, and even that one friend with kids who often struggles to find the time to read at all.
They’re so well designed that your friend will want to wear these tees with every kind of outfit. There’s nothing like getting to wear your favorite bookish attire out and about and looking chic and stylish. Pair one with a blazer, a high-waisted pant, and voila!
A protective book sleeve from Book Beau or DreamingofCelie
A true book-lover has at least one book with them at any given time. But taking your favorite book out into the world is a dangerous game: those book covers can be dented and torn and spilled on, the ends get all bent-up if you try to put them in your bag, and what if you’re reading in the park when it suddenly starts (*shudder*) raining?
Get your friend a gift that will protect their books in any situation: a pillowy book sleeve from Book Beau or the DreamingofCelie, two shops with lots of designs, cool options (some are waterproof and zip-up!), and even related accessories, like mugs, e-reader sleeves, tote bags, and reading pillows.
Book Beau is a company that’s grown a lot in the past few years, so their quality and variety are great. The designs are gorgeous, and their thick sleeves comes in sizes “Mini” (for trade paperbacks) through “Jumbeau” (for your giant hardcovers).
DreamingofCelie (an Etsy shop) also has high-quality products and a great variety, plus it’s full of designs purposefully made to bring more inclusivity to the bookish world, like the infectiously joyful "Latina Joys" sleeve, the unique "Black Woman Comic Panels" sleeve, or the freaking adorable “Women on the Go” sleeve. The shop is a Black-woman-owned business boasting almost two thousand sales and rave reviews for quality, design, originality, and customer service. You can’t go wrong here.
A book holder
Your bookish friend may want to read everywhere and at any time, but the reality of reading is sometimes frustrating and messy. You want to read on your lunch break, but holding your book open with one hand and eating with the other can lead to hand cramps, your book flipping closed when you’re in the middle of a juicy scene, and mustard splattered across the pages of your favorite hardcover. Or maybe your kid fell asleep in your arms again, and while you’d rather die there than wake them from that peaceful sleep, you know if you had an extra set of arms you’d be a hundred pages into that novel you’ve been dying to start.
Well, the world of cheap and clever items has heard your cry!
Coffee/tea/wine that they can enjoy while reading
written by Mary-Peyton Crook
How Do I Support Indie Authors?
These days, there are a lot of ways to publish a book. The hard work of indie publishers, combined with self-publishing sites, have cleared the road to publication for a lot of talented authors, including those in marginalized communities, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get the attention of the elite traditional publishers. But for every talented author who puts out a great book, there are a hundred other people using this opportunity to publish anything they want, good or not. Even the best books and indie authors can be lost in the sea of noise, never finding their audience, never getting the attention they deserve.
If you’ve ever met an indie author in person, odds are they are exhausted. They’ve probably been working on a whole suite of marketing efforts for months, using all their mental energy, their time, their money, their social connections, and their best ideas to get even just one more share, one more review, one more book order.
If you find a book or author you love, it’s important to do what you can to support them. In fact, if you want them to survive their marketing efforts long enough to publish more books, you have to support them.
Can’t afford to buy copies of their book to hand out to everyone you know? No problem. No matter what resources are available to you, there are lots of ways you can support indie authors.
Leave them a 5-star review (free)
This is one of the absolute best things you can do for an indie author, and it costs you zero dollars (and less than five minutes). Find their title on Amazon, Goodreads, Storygraph, etc., give them five stars, and leave a few words about why you like the book. Easy peasy.
Like/follow their social media accounts (free)
Every modern author should have a social media account, because it’s a stellar way to grow and communicate with their audience. Help them by liking, following, subscribing, and sharing that account they’ve worked so hard to create and maintain (even if it’s not a great account quite yet!).
Comment/share/save their social media posts (free)
Thanks to that little thing called the algorithm, the more interaction (likes and comments) a post gets on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., the more that post is shared to new audiences. Follow indie authors, but more than that, leave comments and likes on their posts! It makes a big difference.
Add their book to your TBR (free)
Pre- and post-publication book buzz from readers on the internet is one of the strongest forms of book marketing possible. Sites like Goodreads or—our favorite—Storygraph are specifically made for readers to track and share the books they’re most excited about. If you add a book to your “Want to Read” list or leave it a positive review, other readers will see and take note of that praise.
Post about their book on your own socials. (free)
You have friends on your social media accounts who don’t know the indie author you love so much. Posting about that author to your network is like free advertising to people they may have never been able to reach otherwise. The vast reading communities on Instagram and TikTok are proof that readers love to hear recommendations from other readers. Even if you have a small network, your post will reach at least one person, and that means everything to an indie author.
Lend their book to a friend. (free ish)
No matter how the times change, the strongest, most-trusted book recommendations is still a book loan from a friend. Share your copy of the book with other readers who will love it. And when they love it too, ask them to leave a 5-star review or do any of these other suggestions too! Again, if you want your favorite author to keep writing, you gotta help their audience grow!
Ask for their book for your birthday/holiday gift. (free to you)
If you can’t buy the book yourself, add it to your birthday or holiday wish list. That way you get a copy of the book you love, and the author gets another book sale. It’s a win-win!
Attend an author event (some are even virtual!). (often free)
When an indie author makes the effort to be a part of a book signing, talk, or reading, whether in person or virtually, it takes a lot of planning, investment, and nerves. Writers are often introverts who force themselves to be social for the sake of their book, so having a supportive fan like you in the audience means the world to them. Many events these days are virtual, and most are free, so the cost to you is minimal.
Recommend the book for your next book club read. (free ish)
Recommending a book to a friend is a great way to promote it, but recommending it to an entire group of friends who will literally purchase and read that book together? Now that’s supporting an indie author in a big way.
Write the author a nice message. (free)
Indie authors are tired and overwhelmed and constantly doubt their book’s worth. Send them a message of support and gratitude for making a piece of art that affected your life in some positive way. It will mean more to them than you can know.
Buy their books. (paid)
Authors often offer limited-time-only discounts on their book so more affordable people have the opportunity to purchase it. It can cost a lot of money to market their book, so of course they’d like to make that money back, but the most important thing is to get their book to those who will love and appreciate it.
If you can afford to buy their book, do it. Do it do it do it. Do it! And do your best to get it straight from them or their publisher, instead of through Amazon or other third-party sites. If you can afford to buy it from them at full price, girl, ya gotta. Whatever level of affordability makes sense to you, go for it. You can’t begin to imagine what a single book order means to an indie author (unless you’re an author yourself).
The point is to do what you can in whatever way you can. It may be easier these days to publish a book, but it is not easy to be an author. If someone sacrifices their time and money to write a book that makes your life better, repay them by doing at least three things to support them. You won’t regret it!
written by Mary-Peyton Crook
How Do I Book?
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