On How Do I Book?, Christina had the opportunity to interview Beth Reekles about rom coms and why we love this kind of lit!
Check out some of Beth's books!
Sincerely Yours, Anna Sherwood (releasing in the UK on November 9, 2023!)
Faking It (US release is February 13, 2024!)
The Kissing Booth
Lockdown on London Lane
And here's a list of our recs from the episode:
The short answer: Anyone!
The longer, much more accurate answer: Anyone who will write their queer characters with the same level of respect and dignity and research that they would any other character.
Queer characters should exist in stories, the same way they exist in the real world. Even if you’re not part of the LGBTQIA+ community, any world you create needs to acknowledge that queerness is part of life, part of story, part of humanity.
Plus, writing stories is about blending our own unique reality with creative license, with imagination and deep ponderance of the world around us, including the parts we don’t know everything about. Great writers have great empathy, the ability to imagine what it’s like to live in someone else’s shoes. And wouldn’t this world, and literature in general, be incredibly boring if authors only wrote characters like themselves?
What’s important is how you write queer characters.
Here are some things you need first.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you think about your characters.
We love celebrating queer literature, so we’ve pulled together some of our favorites. If you haven’t checked these out, please, be our guest!
Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
What happens when America's First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?
When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius―his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There's only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.
Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston's Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn't always diplomatic.
Storygraph review: kaebee_
“Loved, loved, absolutely loved this book. One of my all time favs this year by far. There were so many times where I just sat and laughed at something in this book and then moments where I held my breath and wished. Also definitely recommend listening to the audiobook and reading the book at the same time. Makes those funny moments even more funny.”
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Linus Baker is a by-the-book case worker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He's tasked with determining whether six dangerous magical children are likely to bring about the end of the world.
Arthur Parnassus is the master of the orphanage. He would do anything to keep the children safe, even if it means the world will burn. And his secrets will come to light.
An enchanting love story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.
Storygraph review: audrey01
“There are two types of authors in this world: the ones that don’t impact you and the ones that do. TJ Klune is the latter. This book seems to have all the elements you would want: love, adventure, self-discovery and self-reflection all cooked up in a wonderful 398 pages. You’ll melt at Chauncey’s kindness, Lucy and Talia’s sass, Sal’s growth, Phee’s adventurous nature and Theodore’s quiet yet moving heart. But even more, you’ll find a love story that’s highlighted by the simple moments like a disagreement between two philosophers. A love story made real. Dear god I absolutely loved this story! I don’t want to spoil anything else but I will say two more things: special mention Calliope, Zoe and Helen (which btw I want more of!) and special mention to all these gorgeous gorgeous parts of the book (p 116, 119, 124, 158, 180, 182, 194, 208-209, 223, 231, 239, 247, 280, 283, 305, 307, 326, 333, 336, 338, 341, 360, 372, 376, 383, 396. A magical experience that I would recommend to anyone!”
Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens by Tanya Boteju
Judy Blume meets RuPaul's Drag Race in this funny, feel-good debut novel about a queer teen who navigates questions of identity and self-acceptance while discovering the magical world of drag.
Perpetually awkward Nima Kumara-Clark is bored with her insular community of Bridgeton, in love with her straight girlfriend, and trying to move past her mother's unexpected departure. After a bewildering encounter at a local festival, Nima finds herself suddenly immersed in the drag scene on the other side of town.
Macho drag kings, magical queens, new love interests, and surprising allies propel Nima both painfully and hilariously closer to a self she never knew she could be--one that can confidently express and accept love. But she'll have to learn to accept lost love to get there.
From debut author Tanya Boteju comes a poignant, laugh-out-loud tale of acceptance, self-expression, and the colorful worlds that await when we're brave enough to look.
Storygraph review: mstanley79
“This book felt like coming home. It felt like a hug. It felt safe in the best way possible. I wanted to disappear into it and soak up all the magic.”
The Stonewall Reader by New York Public Library with Edmund White (Contributor)
June 28, 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, which is considered the most significant event in the gay liberation movement, and the catalyst for the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Drawing from the New York Public Library's archives, The Stonewall Reader is a collection of first accounts, diaries, periodic literature, and articles from LGBTQ magazines and newspapers that documented both the years leading up to and the years following the riots. Most importantly the anthology spotlights both iconic activists who were pivotal in the movement, such as Sylvia Rivera, co-founder of Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries (STAR), as well as forgotten figures like Ernestine Eckstein, one of the few out, African American, lesbian activists in the 1960s. The anthology focuses on the events of 1969, the five years before, and the five years after. Jason Baumann, the NYPL coordinator of humanities and LGBTQ collections, has edited and introduced the volume to coincide with the NYPL exhibition he has curated on the Stonewall uprising and gay liberation movement of 1969.
Storygraph review: wowshecanread
“WOW I loved this book. Being able to read first-hand accounts of life as a queer person during the ‘60s from numerous points of view was absolutely illuminating in every sense of the word. For me, each story I read added another layer to the world I was able to visualize in my head, helping me imagine what felt like the real, immersive 3D world that these writers and activists once lived in.”
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn's luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the '80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn's story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique's own in tragic and irreversible ways.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is "Tinseltown drama at its finest" (Redbook): a mesmerizing journey through the splendor of old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means--and what it costs--to face the truth.
Storygraph review: thebookishgamerr
“Honest to God, this book... I can't put into words. Just... READ IT. LGBTQ+, bi-racial, all different types of races and people; so good and so beautifully handled.”
Golden Girls Forever: An Unauthorized Look Behind the Lanai by Jim Colucci
The complete, first-ever Golden Girls retrospective, packed with hundreds of exclusive interviews, behind-the-scenes and never-before-revealed stories, more than two hundred color and black-and-white photos, commentary, and more.
They were four women of a certain age, living together under one roof in Miami--smart and strong Dorothy, airhead Rose, man-hungry belle Blanche, and smart-mouthed matriarch Sophia. They were the Golden Girls, and for seven seasons, this hilarious quartet enchanted millions of viewers with their witty banter, verve, sass, and love, and reaffirmed the power of friendship and family.
Over thirty years after it first aired, The Golden Girls has become a cult classic, thanks to fan fiction, arts and crafts, podcasts, hundreds of fan blogs and websites, and syndication. Now, Golden Girls Forever pays homage to this wildly popular, acclaimed, and award-winning sitcom. Drawing on interviews with the show's creators, actors, guest stars, producers, writers, and crew members, Jim Colucci paints a comprehensive portrait of the Girls both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes.
Bursting with fun facts, anecdotes, reminiscences, and insights, Golden Girls Forever is the ultimate companion to the show for fans old and new.
Storygraph review: nicolemhill
“This is the greatest book I have ever read. I am not exaggerating. This is the ur-text for the rest of my life.”
All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores their childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting their teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with their loving grandmother, to their first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys.
Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of color, All Boys Aren't Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalization, consent, and Black joy. Johnson's emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
Storygraph review: redlikeroses
“I usually don't pick up memoirs-it's just not my thing.
I usually don't like them.
All Boys Aren't Blue however, is an exception.
“As a bisexual, I always have had a craving since childhood to see myself in other people. My struggles, my heartbreak, my fear and my love. This book did that. I truly could relate to all the trauma and hope that George Johnson has gone through, though we may have been from different backgrounds.
“Reading this was like reading a part of my soul, a part that has been tucked away for so long I started to doubt, even wish it didn't exist. After all, who wants to be afraid for their lives for being different? Johnson ends it by saying "Whether this book is a bestseller or a flop, if one person is helped by my story, then it was all worth it." (297)
“It was worth it. Thank you Mr. Johnson.”
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood.
Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues--a bee, a key, and a sword--that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.
What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians--it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.
Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose--in both the mysterious book and in his own life.
Storygraph review: amhud1030
“This is a favorite for me, and this is a reread however my first time listening to the audio. Which I highly recommend as the narration is excellent!
“I find it difficult to describe this book
All I can say is every time I read it, it consumes me and I can’t read anything else. I must give this book my full attention.
“It seems per other reviewers that this tends to be a love it or hate it book for many. For me it is a love, one of my favorites.
“This book is stories within, stories that are non linear however the characters and stories are all woven together.
“It is so visually descriptive you feel like you are in these places, and can see, touch, smell and taste what’s being described.”
Wilder Girls by Rory Power
It's been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty's life out from under her.
It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don't dare wander outside the school's fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.
But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there's more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.
Storygraph review: swamp_wytch
“This book was so good. The pacing was great, and the core story is haunting. I wish it hadn't ended so abruptly, but it feels like it's setting up for a sequel, and if that's the case I'll buy it ASAP”
Sistersong by Lucy Holland
King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure.
All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.
Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.
Storygraph review: irfoxwriter
“An absolutely brilliant book! I adored the characters and found myself very emotionally attached to all three main protagonists, despite sometimes disagreeing with their choices. I loved that it is written in first person present - unusual but so compelling and allows you to feel very close to the characters.”
Loveless by Alice Oseman
Georgia has never been in love, never kissed anyone, never even had a crush – but as a fanfic-obsessed romantic she’s sure she’ll find her person one day. As she starts university with her best friends, Pip and Jason, Georgia’s ready to find romance, and with her outgoing roommate on her side and a place in the Shakespeare Society, her ‘teenage dream’ is in sight.
But when her romance plan wreaks havoc amongst her friends, Georgia ends up in her own comedy of errors, and she starts to question why love seems so easy for other people but not for her. With new terms thrown at her — asexual, aromantic — Georgia is more uncertain about her feelings than ever. Is she destined to remain loveless? Or has she been looking for the wrong thing all along?
Storygraph review: geodrite
“growing up as a hopeless romantic aroace without realizing i was aroace was terrifying because i always felt like i was broken in some way when other people described their experiences with sexuality and romantic attraction, but the older i get the more i realize just how many of us aroaces are out there. it's so liberating to finally see the representation and recognition that i needed and i hope that no one ever has to feel like they're alone again.”
Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao
The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.
Storygraph review: cristina_m_casas
“I will always root for feminine rage so Zetian was someone who was easy to get behind. I really appreciated how her initial mission was over so quickly & so much of the book was her constantly pivoting & honestly going a little power mad.
“The relationship development was so amusing to me because as a reader it was fairly obvious where it was heading but the characters are so oblivious.
“I couldn’t answer a single question you asked me about the chrysalises or the war; but the vibes were excellent!! I look forward to the sequel & the author’s inevitable book about the French Revolution.
“This book majorly gave the hunger games for me despite them being so different”
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Max Gladstone, Amal El-Mohtar
From award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone comes an enthralling, romantic novel spanning time and space about two time-traveling rivals who fall in love and must change the past to ensure their future.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, becomes something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean the death of each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win. That’s how war works, right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.
Storygraph review: vicsbookishthings
“This book has my soul in the palm of its hand. The prose, the beautiful descriptions of love, the nicknames, the banter are *chef’s kiss* the best things I’ve ever read.”
Nimona by ND Stevenson
Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic from ND Stevenson. Featuring an exclusive epilogue not seen in the web comic, along with bonus conceptual sketches and revised pages throughout, this gorgeous full-color graphic novel has been hailed by critics and fans alike as the arrival of a "superstar" talent.
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are.
But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.
Storygraph review: kaseycanread
“I loved every second of this”
The Midnight Girls by Alicia Jasinska
In a snow-cloaked kingdom, two wicked rivals secretly compete for the pure heart of a prince, only to discover they might be falling for each other.
Karnawał season is a time for mischief and revelry. For the next few weeks, all will be wintry balls, glittery disguises, and nightly torch-lit sleigh-parties.
Unbeknownst to the merrymakers, two uninvited girls join the fun. Zosia and Marynka are drawn to each other the moment they meet, until they discover they're rivals, who both have their sights set on the prince's heart. If one consumes a pure heart, she'll gain immeasurable power. Marynka plans to bring the prince's back to her patron in order to prove herself. While Zosia is determined to take his heart and its power for her own.
Their ambition turns into a magical contest with both girls vying to keep the prince out of the other's grasp, even as their attraction to one another grows. But their attempts on his life draws the attention of the city that would die for him, and suddenly their escalating rivalry might cost them not just their love for each other, but both their lives.
Storygraph review: chuuzone
“oh this had EVERYTHING i wanted... ya sapphic fantasy with the two mcs being the "i fucking hate you pls just drop dead so i can win this round you infuriate me so bad oh my god i wanna kiss you so hard" kind of rivals who get such a thrill from fighting and competing with each other that the sexual tension is coming off from the pages in waves and you're waiting for them to kiss in the middle of the battle, the gay ass prince x knight side characters who also hate each other but not really because they have underlying affections for one another, all the banter between the mcs mid-fight, and the banter between one of the mcs and the prince who she's supposed to kill, THE "DON'T TOUCH HER!" TROPE BUT SAPPHIC, the kiss scene, everyone is gay I NEED MORE”
written by Grace Ball
These days, libraries are so much more than physical books. Librarians don’t just find books or make reading recommendations (though they’re still great at that), they also make a wide variety of important resources available to their entire community. And you don’t even have to go to the physical library to access them–much of those services and resources are available online, both on library websites and through apps on your phone, computer, tablet, or e-reader.
Libby (by Overdrive)
Libby is essentially the digital version of your library. Once you create an account using your library card number, you’ll have access to thousands of e-books and audiobooks you can read immediately from your phone, computer, and even your Kindle or e-reader. You can search for a specific title or author in a specific format, or browse through genres and librarian-curated guides like new releases, kids’ classics, books by Black authors, queer stories, and more.
The app was created in June 2017 and is the most popular library app, likely because of its wide selection and its simple, clean design. In less than six years, over one billion books have been checked out through the app. In fact, the billionth title checked out through Libby happened on January 21 of this year (An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lepena, if you’re interested).
Much like the physical books in the library, your library system has a specific number of digital copies available of each e-book or audiobook it offers, so some popular titles might not be available at a moment’s notice. But never fear–on Libby, you can put titles on hold just like you would at your library, and the app will let you know about how long you’ll have to wait for that book and will notify you when it’s available.
In fact, notifications are one of the best parts of using a library app: Libby will notify you when the due date for a book you’ve checked out is coming up (so you can re-check it out if you need to), and if a book you were searching for has been added. It’ll also keep track of what you’ve previously borrowed, and you can make personal book lists, like “TBR,” “favorite middle grade,” or whatever you want!
Pro Tip: If you’re as big a book nerd as the staff at Wildling, you know that sometimes you hear about a great book and you simply must read it right now! In that case, may we recommend belonging to multiple library systems (the author of this post belongs to five *humble brag*) so that you’re more likely to find an available copy of what you want when you want it.
The app is available for Android, iOS and Windows devices.
Hoopla is another popular library app that offers e-books and audiobooks, but it also offers thousands of graphic novels and comics, music, movies, and TV shows. Some of the newest, most popular music albums (like Taylor Swift’s Midnights) or TV shows are available on Hoopla, and just like all the other library apps you love, they’re all free.
Hoopla also offers something called “BingePass,” which gives you days of unlimited access to online content like The Great Courses, the Highlights collection, Kidz Vidz, storytime videos for kids, and more.
Hoopla also offers “Kids Mode” so parents can feel totally comfortable letting their kids browse the vast selection of music, TV, and movies.
If Hoopla isn’t available from your local library, there’s a good chance that they offer access to Kanopy instead. Kanopy doesn’t offer books, but it’s specifically for videos. Through Kanopy, you can stream over 30,000 classic and indie movies, documentaries, and television series.
So get downloading!
Remember those times when your doctor’s appointment was taking longer than expected or you got stuck at the DMV and you cursed yourself for forgetting your book at home? Thanks to library apps, as long as you have a phone with you, you’ll never be without a book to read or an album to listen to or a movie to watch. Library apps are free, easy to use and access, and full of hours of entertainment and information.
The number of bookish podcasts out there truly seems infinite. There’s a podcast for the whole book spectrum, from writing to reading to marketing, and more. It’s comforting to know there’s something out there for you no matter what you’re looking for, but it can feel a little overwhelming at the same time. Where do you even start? Well, we’re highlighting some of our favorites in three categories: book recommendations, the craft of writing, and author marketing.
The Craft of Writing
Author Marketing Information
Well, there you have it! Use these recommendations as a jumping off point because this list just scratches the surface of the bookish podcast land. And please let us know about any of your favorites that we didn’t mention here. We’re always looking for new bookish podcasts to listen to!
written by Grace Ball
It's National Poetry Month and Wildling is diving in deep. Poetry is so much more than just pretty words. Poetry is community, poetry is healing, poetry is a revolution. Don't miss this powerful conversation with spoken-word poet GM about how making space for poetry in your writing community creates a safe space for all of us.
Mary-Peyton Crook 00:23
Welcome to How Do I Book? by Wildling Press. We like to chat about book writing, book publishing, book marketing, and of course, the 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.
Mary-Peyton Crook 00:26
I'm Mary-Peyton, and today I have a very special guest with me! I'm so excited to be joined by GM. GM is a twenty-two-year-old trans non-binary poet and dessert baker based in Richmond, Virginia. Over the past year, they have dedicated themself to introducing the writing community of the city to the experiences of qtpoc individuals. Before debuting as a slam poetry artist, they wrote an anthology of poetry and prose, which they plan to publish--a body of work that removes the burden of gender from its characters. You can find them and more of their work on Instagram @o.k.gm. Welcome, GM, and thank you for being with me today!
Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
Mary-Peyton Crook 00:45
Of course. So GM, what are your pronouns?
Mary-Peyton Crook 00:54
Okay, perfect. I know we just did an intro about you, but tell us a little bit in your own words about you and your life so far with poetry.
I actually love this question. Because I feel like, in short, I've been writing my whole life. I grew up with readers--me, my mom, and my sister, we used to go to restaurants together, and when we would wait for our food, we'd all pull out our books and we would read.
Mary-Peyton Crook 01:49
Oh, I love that.
Yeah! For most of my life, my sister (she's seven years older than me) . . . we would all kind of pass around our books after we were done with it. And seeing their love for reading made me want to write something that they would be proud of, and that they would enjoy. So I've spent my entire life trying to craft something that would bring my family joy in a way that tethers us.
It's really exciting because even though I've been writing for such a long time, it's been very recently that my family has started to see me actually on stage. I'm a little bit of an introvert and perfectionist, so I try to like . . . once I'm proud of it, that's when I want to share it with them. So it means a lot that they've stepped in on this journey once I feel like I'm in a place where I'm proud of the work that I'm sharing.
Mary-Peyton Crook 02:36
That's awesome. That's got to be a great feeling.
Mary-Peyton Crook 02:39
So for listeners who may be unfamiliar with the poetry that you specifically do, which is performance poetry, spoken word poetry, and specifically slam poetry, give us a little insight into what that is.
So for a really long time, I was mostly a poet on paper and I was going to a lot of slam events, but I never saw myself getting on stage. But I think that I grew such a respect for the vulnerability that people displayed in front of audiences of people that don't know them. And there's something so special about work that is meant to be shared through oration. You can feel the emotion, you can feel like there's a there's a cadence, there's a rhythm. Especially in Richmond, Virginia, there are so many powerful people with powerful stories, and hearing it come from their mouths and seeing the whole room share in this experience and hold the artist on stage . . . I think that's what spoken word is about. I think poetry in and of itself is very important, but I think there's something very niche and specific about sharing the story through oration.
Mary-Peyton Crook 03:43
Yeah, absolutely. A lot of people, when they think of poetry they think of on the page. But poetry started as an oral practice. So, naturally, poetry is about that cadence like you're talking about, that sound. And so hearing it spoken out loud is a completely different experience than reading it on the page. It's an important part of that experience.
Mary-Peyton Crook 04:02
I love that I'm getting to talk to you today just in general, but also because I used to be really into watching and listening and going to spoken word and slam poetry events. I never did it myself. I never got up the courage to do that. But I love listening to it and I used to listen to videos all the time because of that. There's something so soothing--even a really strong, intense poem--something so soothing about hearing another person's voice speaking those words, especially when they've written it beautifully in that cadence, you're right. And hearing, like you said, hearing the audience respond when they hear a really good line is so cool. It gives me goosebumps.
Yes. It's my favorite part to hear. I love being on stage and knowing something resonated with someone because I can I can hear that response.
Mary-Peyton Crook 04:48
It's very like we're experiencing this all together.
Mary-Peyton Crook 04:52
I love that. Yeah, I feel like a lot of parts of the writing community are very formal, you know, on-the-page kind of stuff. And I feel like a lot of people should really check out performance poetry, because it is such a beautiful experience you can't get from just reading on a page.
I think it's very similar to performance art, when people are demonstrating a piece of art and there's like . . . the audience is there to watch them and take what they want from it. I feel very similarly about poetry being on the page versus seeing it in real life.
Mary-Peyton Crook 05:22
And you mentioned being an introvert, which doesn't surprise me--a lot of writers tend to be introverts, you know? But then you do this performance . . . and I've gotten to see a few of your performances through your Instagram account, which are fantastic! Absolutely shook me. They were so good. And so I really was like, "Wow, here's a writer who is not an introvert, because they're out here performing, and performing so confidently and beautifully." How do you do that? What is that like for you?
I think that's an interesting question, and I think that it is slightly tethered with gender in a way. When I get on stage, it feels like I'm performing drag. I am a very characterization of myself, whether it's like the outfit . . . the energy that's coming from me is very not what is offstage. It's a lot of getting myself into this mindset of like, "I'm a performer right now."
Mary-Peyton Crook 06:14
Yeah, and so many of my loved ones perform drag as well, and so there's so much inspiration. . . . I love that art form, and having them support me in that way. My roommate (who I live with, love him to death), he's a drag performer. And so he's a very big part of building me up before I get on stage . . .
Mary-Peyton Crook 06:30
. . . as GM versus who I am in real life. Yeah, I think a lot of times, I think that when you get on stage, it does seem like I'm a lot bigger than I actually am. I love crafting a space for myself to be loud, while also having space for myself to be small and alone and enjoy that time with myself.
Mary-Peyton Crook 06:54
Oh, that's awesome. As an introvert myself, that makes sense to me where that would really help, you know? The idea that when you are performing, you can put on this persona, even if it's not like in drag where there's that full costume, right? You're still thinking of yourself as a different person in that moment, so that you have that confidence and that ability to say these things out loud, especially since a lot of your poetry is very personal, that you're able to say these things to the audience and perform it in a more comfortable space for yourself.
I feel like GM is kind of like the shield for the person that I am.
Mary-Peyton Crook 07:29
I know that you have also written poetry for the page. What does your process look like? Do you make an active choice to make something performance versus written? What is that like, that decision when you're writing a poem?
I think that when it comes to performance . . . well, one of my favorite prompts of all time is The Audre Lorde Questionnaire to Oneself. And it's a four question prompt, asks you: What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies that you swallow to make your own? And lastly--and this is in short, but--what is the worst that can happen if you speak this truth?
And I feel like when I really have something that I want to say that I want to share, I feel like those are the things that I bring to the stage especially because, differing from that, one of my favorite messages from Toni Morrison--and I may misquote this, but--she talks about how if there's something that you want to read that has not been written yet, it is up to you to write it.
Mary-Peyton Crook 08:27
That's one of my favorite quotes too!
I spent a really long time in the audience of slams. And though I felt this connection with the poets, I also felt that I wasn't seeing enough queer and trans people of color on stage. And I think that's when I decided that I would like to do that. I would like to create a space for us within this space. And it's been a really beautiful process of when I feel like I have something to say, it gets really scary getting on stage, but for . . . I want to say the last couple of times I've done it, there's always been at least one queer person in the crowd that comes up to me and says, like, "I have never seen someone share our story on stage like that, and I really appreciate that." And I appreciate them! Because I feel seen and I feel held in those moments. And I'm like, "You are here with me, and we are sharing this experience together." So that's definitely what I bring to the stage, what I want to spread awareness [about]. I want to share these stories that I think that we're either not listening to or moving past, if that makes sense.
Mary-Peyton Crook 09:26
Yeah, absolutely. It's very cool that you can see the need that you felt going to those events and seeing that space that's open for trans non-binary people, and deciding that instead of waiting for someone else to make that happen and make that safe space, that you're like, "I can be this person for other people."
Mary-Peyton Crook 09:44
Have you read--not to put you on the spot about what you've read, but--have you read All Boys Aren't Blue?
Uh uh, I should write that down.
Mary-Peyton Crook 09:51
It's a series of personal essays by George M. Johnson, and he's a queer Black man and also a journalist and activist, and (I actually just read this quote earlier this weekend) apparently when he wrote it and he wanted to publish it, he said [something] like, "I don't care if this book is a huge success, or if it's a flop, as long as there's one person out there who sees this, sees themself in it, feels seen, then . . . that's the goal." And that book has become a really huge success and also is banned in a lot of places, unfortunately. But yeah, that just sounded very similar to your experience of wanting to get up there and make that space for someone else too.
Yeah, I think--speaking of things being banned, and like there's a little bit of unsafety of sharing stories--I recently made the Writer's Den poetry slam team, and the nationals competition that we're going to is actually based in Tennessee . . .
Mary-Peyton Crook 10:48
. . . which, I don't know if you know what's going on right now, but it's a very daunting feeling going into a space like that and still speaking, because I know, I know that there's going to be someone there that needs to hear it, especially in a place like that.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:05
That's so scary, though. I am a straight, cisgender white woman--my experience, my fear of getting up on stage is, like, "I'm afraid because I don't want to be embarrassed," you know? And so I don't have that perspective of real fear of something like that, like being in a space that's unsafe to exist in.
But I will say that I think it is like a genuine fear to get on stage regardless. Roscoe Burnems, the poet laureate of Richmond, he always says that the number one fear amongst the populace is public speaking, and that death is number two . . .
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:41
Oh my god.
. . . so, completely . . .
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:44
I believe that.
I one-thousand-percent get it.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:48
Well, congratulations on making the team! That's so exciting.
Thank you. I'm really excited regardless. I know it's gonna be a fabulous time.
Mary-Peyton Crook 11:56
Good. Why do you think that it's important for a community to have a space for poetry, whether spoken word or on the page? Why do you think that's important for a community? To you, what does poetry do for a community?
I find that poetry spaces are incredibly therapeutic. Especially because therapy in a lot of spaces [is] inaccessible to a lot of people, but the ability to write down and share an experience and be held in those moments is really important. And I think fostering artistry, no matter what age you are, even just for yourself, or for other people, I think that it's incredibly important to have that ability to release in front of people and have people give you that, "Yes, yes, I see you, I hear you, and you are valid for feeling this way. And you're not alone."
Mary-Peyton Crook 12:45
That's cool. So you're based in Richmond, Virginia, which is where I am based as well. Do you feel like Richmond has a decent space for that? Do you think they have that space for poetry?
I think there's definitely a lot of spaces, you just kind of have to look for them. A lot of people reach out to me and they're like, "Ah, you're doing open mics! Where can I go to?" And I have done my digging. So I will send them away. There are so many lovely spaces. I think my favorite space has to be The Verses [aka Tuesday Verses] open mic, happens every Tuesday at Addis Ethiopian downtown. It's the best open mic in Richmond! Maybe I'm a little bit biased, but you have poets that are going there and singers and you have rappers and there's a band in the background, and everybody kind of just enjoys having this experience together. It's always so much fun and I always meet so many different people. It's beautiful, being able to come back and be like, "Oh my gosh, you're here again!"
And then so many of them they also go to these other open mics, like there's Open All That Soul, which I don't remember exactly where it is, but it's on Instagram at @openallthatsoul. The Writer's Den, they have slams every month. I want to say it's every Sunday or every first Sunday. There's so many spaces, you really just have to look for them, because I feel . . . At the Visual Arts Center yesterday there was the Poetry Festival--so much fun, so much fun--but I feel like there are a lot of people in Richmond that are like, "I'll go next year, I'll go next year, I'll go next year." And it's like, "You should come now!"
Mary-Peyton Crook 14:15
I think that's a human thing to always put things off, you know? To be like, "I'm too busy right now. I don't want to go right now. I'll go next time." That's such a human thing to just keep putting things off.
Mary-Peyton Crook 14:25
What would you . . . What advice would you give to someone who is looking to get into either writing poetry or performing poetry?
I would say to write as yourself and not as another person. I think a lot of times, especially when you're in the audience at first, you have this knee-jerk reaction to be like, "I want to write like this person." But truly I think that you should write the best version of yourself. I journal constantly and a lot of my poems actually come from journal entries where I'll take a specific feeling or a specific image and then I will translate that into an artistic piece to share. Definitely writing all the time . . . and again to talk about Toni Morrison, I've watched her documentary multiple times. It's incredible. I want to say it's called The Pieces of Me [correction: The Pieces I Am]. But she talks about how she always writes in the morning because she's more tender, and I think that after you wake up, there's something so soft about yourself. And I always find that that is the best time to write, starting the day that way and starting the day off peacefully, and crafting a good space for yourself to be vulnerable. I think it definitely has to do with writing as much as possible.
Mary-Peyton Crook 15:33
It's the people who actually write every day and get into that practice that really find themselves open to ideas. And so therefore, they end up having more to write about in the future, because they're in that practice.
I think a lot of people will judge themselves before they actually start writing. And the real tea is that you've got to just throw it out there! Like mad-man writing . . . no one can judge you but yourself if you are in your journal. You just write as much as possible and let yourself sound cringy or not good or . . . a line doesn't actually work. You can always go back and change something or alter something or flesh out an idea more.
Mary-Peyton Crook 16:14
Yeah, I love that. I love the idea of having your writing space to be a journal. I feel like people . . . a lot of times writers will separate their kind of journal-writing from their "Okay, now it's time to write something that I want to get published," or "I want to write something more formal to share with other people." And they separate those. And I also hear a lot of writers say, like, "Sometimes it's hard to sit down with my writing [notebook] or at my computer to actually start writing something. It's hard to freewrite." That's a good point that maybe if it's your journal where you do your writing, you can be comfortable with the fact that "No one's gonna read this, I can embarrass myself, I can write something ridiculous, I can write an inner thought that I'm ashamed of." And you never feel like you have to share it with the world. But you can take from that, which is very cool. I like that. That's smart.
I'm also a bit of an eighty-year-old man on the inside, so the computer is very, very daunting. I'm very much so a handwritten person, and then when it comes to a final draft, or when I was writing my manuscript, it was transferred from writing onto the computer. Thankfully I have friends that love me a lot, and so when I get tired, they'll read what I've written to me so I can jot it down.
Mary-Peyton Crook 17:23
Aw that's beautiful! I love that, that's so nice.
It means so much to me, because it's always something that people have heard before, or that I've been talking about a lot. And I think it's also very vulnerable between the both of us, seeing something that I wrote and seeing my handwriting and seeing the smudges on the page, or maybe it was something really sad, so you can see some wet spots. There's a very, I don't know . . . I feel very connected in those moments when people are reading my own work to me.
Mary-Peyton Crook 17:48
I feel like that would be a really strong friendship moment to be able to share that with each other, and also supporting your art, they're supporting your art. They're also there to listen and to read your thoughts. You're open to sharing that with them. That's a beautiful exchange in a relationship.
Mary-Peyton Crook 18:06
How do you then take something that's so personal and try to edit it? Especially something like poetry where poetry can be so freeform, can be so open to however the writer wants to put it together. How do you take it and then sort of edit your own work and get it ready for either page or stage?
I really like to read everything out loud, whether it's meant to be read or meant to be listened to. If I'm not comfortable saying something out loud by myself, then I know that that's probably something that I won't like to share in front of an audience. Or, it's kind of like when you're writing an essay, I feel like teachers are always like, "You should read it out loud, so that you know that it flows really well," almost kind of like a song in a way. And I feel like, especially when it comes to spoken word, a lot of times you have this cap of three minutes, and so you've got to fit "What do I need to say?" versus "What do I want to say?" So once all the necessary information I feel the need to share is in there . . . and also if I finish reading a poem and I'm able to deep sigh, I feel this release and I feel like it's done. I feel "chef's kiss"!
I also love talking to other poets and collaborating with them. One of my favorite poets, she doesn't live in Richmond anymore, but Ayana Florence, she actually just won Women of the World Poetry Slam. She's the number one woman in the world.
What?! Oh my gosh
Yeah! You can find her on YouTube, on Button Poetry's YouTube . . . one of her pieces that she did at WOWPS, which is Women of the World [Poetry Slam], it's called "Boy Calls Me Pretty." It's fantastic. I love sharing my work with other people and having their eyes on it. And seeing, like, "You should say more here. This is where this part can grow. I think you can extend this part. I think this part is unnecessary." I think that once you start sharing with other writers you kind of get a feel of "This is where I can grow." I also feel like when it comes to writing, you grow by other people being able to see your work, whether they're listening to it or seeing it on a page. I feel like that collaborative process, as a community . . . I think you can build yourself individually.
Mary-Peyton Crook 20:22
Yeah, if you want to write and keep it in your bubble that is totally fine. Writing is good for a lot of things. But I agree if you want to grow, then you've got to be allowing others to see your work, give you feedback (even if it's feedback that you don't eventually end up taking, that's fine). But you know, being open to learning from other writers is crucial, for sure.
Mary-Peyton Crook 20:45
So what do you think--this might be a little hard to to answer, but--what do you think is the hardest part about writing poetry, for you?
That's a great question. I want to say, I think it's hard to be honest and vulnerable with another person if you're not honest and vulnerable with yourself. I think once you overcome that hurdle within yourself, it's so much easier to do it with another person.
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:11
Do you feel like you had a time in your life where you finally broke through that? Because I know that you are open and vulnerable with the with the room when you're performing; do you feel like there was a time in your life when you were younger that you finally understood that honesty actually helps in your writing?
So I think there were a lot of things that were happening in childhood that I had a really hard time processing on my own, and so in my poetry, I felt like I was expressing these feelings and I was saying something without saying something. And I still think that that was very powerful, and I look back on these pieces and I . . . I think I started being really honest on stage once I was able to process things in therapy. For instance, one of my favorite pieces that, if I'm able to share, I would love to . . .
Mary-Peyton Crook 21:57
. . . I talk about something that happened [that was] really hard, after I came out to my family. And this is now eight years ago, and I had only shared it for the first time this year. It was in February.
Mary-Peyton Crook 22:12
It was really scary getting on stage with it, because, prior to that, most of my friends had no idea. It's not something that I talk about. But after that, being able to be honest, not only with myself, and relinquishing blame and just saying, "This is what happened and these were my emotions," being held by that audience and being appreciated, even with people that don't have that shared experience, honestly propelled me to get more raw on stage. But it definitely took a really long time processing those feelings on my own.
Mary-Peyton Crook 22:47
That's wonderful. It sounds like being on stage and having that moment and having people react positively and kindly and with gratitude when you're sharing those stories is almost like the opposite of what can be really traumatizing in life, [which] is when you're expressing yourself and what you need and people respond negatively to that. That just is such a beautiful . . . it sounds like it's such a beautiful full-circle moment to come to that and realize that you can help other people through being that honest, even if it's hard to do.
I remember after I performed it for the first time, there was this lady who was kind of in the front row, and after I got off stage, she pulled me and she was like, "Can I give you a hug?" and just embraced me so tightly. And it was someone that I don't know, and someone that does not share that experience. Being validated and [told], "It's okay that this hurt," made it not hurt as much anymore. It was a very healing process. It feels really special to be able to share something that was buried deep for a very long time. And then in conjunction with seeing other queer people in the audience when I share that story . . . I know that they know. I know that they know, and they feel it as well.
Mary-Peyton Crook 24:04
That's so beautiful. I love . . . you know, I think about how much I love writing and reading and books and poetry all the time, and it's for moments like that, that really solidify how magical writing and communicating with each other can be. That's the whole point there.
I would say poetry is for everyone. And above that I think poetry and sharing spoken word is a revolutionary act.
Mary-Peyton Crook 24:35
Especially . . . I'm so excited to go to nationals. It's called the Southern Fried Poetry Festival. I feel like that is such a revolutionary space that all of these people, and above that, queer folk in the South, are coming together to storytell with one another. I think that that is a revolutionary act. I think it's an act of rebellion being able to connect in a community, because I feel there's an emphasis on being an individual and doing things solely by yourself. And I don't think that that is a way to heal. I think that we heal together in a community and lift each other up.
I think that even if you are in the audience, there's just so much love in the room. It's such a healing experience of like, even if you're not getting on stage, feeling fulfilled in the art that you have heard and knowing that you were able to hold someone, whether or not you went up and spoke to them. It's a beautiful thing. I think that poetry saves lives; especially in the spoken word community, a lot of times we're talking about really niche, taboo things, and saying that it is okay to talk about them, and feeling not alone when someone shares it or you share it and someone gives you those good snaps! I feel like it removes you from isolation in a way, being able to share experiences.
Mary-Peyton Crook 25:56
Would you be willing to share with us a piece of your poetry?
I would love to. I'm gonna flip through my little journal really quick.
This poem is titled "Mirror".
When I was a child,
my mother and sister, seven years my senior,
would sit me down on my childhood home’s porch
and beg me to use my angry voice.
to get mad at my tormentors in grade school.
but little did they know,
that the bully who would truly bend me
until my spinal cord folded
had at one point lived in our house.
And that even as a teenager,
I still hadn’t found the angry voice in me to talk back–
to tell that middle aged black boy
that the privilege he chewed up and spit in my face
made his breath smell
like that of a deadbeat uncle
rather than a father of two black women–
one he would disown at 15 for being transexual.
outside of a Starbucks
that I can’t bare to step foot in again,
drinking black coffee that would claw its way up my gullet
every time someone would express care towards me,
and I would feel the decade old caffein high
every time I felt that bittersweet abandonment again.
Ironic to now know,
that I was raised by a raging narcissist,
destined to become his warped reflection,
yet I left home a shattered mirror,
and promised to never harm someone the same way,
whilst piercing the skin of every soul
that attempted to scoop my fragments
into uncalloused palms
and I told each of them
not to look too closely,
as they would only witness the worst of themselves staring back at them.
I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder
in February of 2020,
five years after he promised to pray for me
but I gather that his words weren’t holy enough for God.
Though he cries he is a christian man,
I guess he believes that thou shalt love thy neighbor,
but not thy children
that you should not pass judgment
unless it’s to shove his youngest child into a box
where their pieces would just never fit.
That if he did not like what he saw in the mirror,
he should shove his fist through it.
A few years back,
I had a spiritual awakening
and cried so hard that the breathless silence resonated off the walls of my church,
and felt inside me that my father
would die before I celebrated 20 years.
And the summer before my birthday,
he stumbled into a fire.
Barely survived but now walks around carrying the trauma on his now scorched skin,
and if my life were written by Toni Morrison,
then this would be symbolic.
And the flames that engulfed him,
were actually just my angry voice
and God had heard his hateful prayers and smited him
so that he could no longer avoid the mirror to hide from his sins.
I do not look much like him,
I have my mothers dutch facial features.
Yet I still sometimes contemplate my reflection for hours,
just to see him again.
And I realized that my eyes actually belong to this boy,
And we were witnessing the world through the same brown orbs.
And if I let reality slip through my fingertips
like polluted sand,
I could wave goodbye to his memory at any time.
And only hope he saw me looking back at him,
and his own mirror would begin to crack.
Episode transcribed by Mary-Peyton Crook
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
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!
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 Book?
We'll try to find the answer to that question in our blog.