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  • Writer's pictureVanessa King

I am a beautiful, naive, sophisticated newborn baby

I'm having a writerly existential crisis.

Or maybe it's a readerly one?

In any case, I've arrived at it courtesy of an interview I did Friday with the truly wonderful Erin and Clayton of Learning the Tropes, a Romance novel podcast you should really be listening to. It was then that I learned the meaning of a “giving interviewer,” as the two gamely rolled with the rambling answers I gave to their questions, asked follow-ups that suggested I’d actually said something coherent, and repeatedly assured me I was doing fine, even as words failed me altogether.

At one point, Erin asked why I’d chosen to write a Romance. Or, maybe, she asked what I’d read that had inspired me, or what was my introduction to the genre…or was the question why I loved Romance? True, I have the audio file on my desktop right now and could check for the exact question that so thoroughly derailed me, but I’m not about to subject myself to my inelegant response. That's for y'all to delight in when they post the episode on October 29th.

I knew the question (whichever one it was) was coming. I've heard their interviews with other authors and it's a standard. But I had nothing. I don't have a fun story about finding my grandmother's stash of clinch covers or being passed a Harlequin novel in middle school. I spent my early teen years being scandalized by the mating scenes in Anne McCaffrey's Pern series (FYI, when the dragons mate, the humans they're bonded to get it on with each other, too. It was all fade to black, but seventh grade me thrilled in this brush with the sexy. One time, it was on a boat!).

Additionally, there was no "one book" I could point to that inspired me to write. I just... wrote the thing I wanted to write. I went with a P&P retelling because it let me share the glittery, fabulous world of burlesque without my poor plotting skills getting in the way. When querying, I had no idea what to comp the manuscript to, and plugged in The Hating Game at the suggestion of a beta reader. At that point, I hadn't even read it, let alone been aware it was a genre-reviving phenomenon. A beautiful, naive, sophisticated newborn baby, indeed.

And Friday, I stared into the benevolent, slightly pixelated faces of my favorite podcasters, and felt like a poseur.

The thing is, when I did read The Hating Game, I really liked it, Josh Templeman being an actual monster not withstanding. As I queried, I read other books agents were comping on their wish lists. I started listening to romance book podcasts: as I note on my "Stuff I Like" page, the aforementioned Learning the Tropes is fantastic, and I recommend Not Your Mom's Romance Book Club, too. I based my reads and buys off their backlists, and was introduced to Christina Lauren, Alisha Rai, and Beth O'Leary. The Rakess was fierce and Neon Gods was a dark, delicious >chef's kiss<, though the majority of my reads have had illustrated covers, which, at this point, is less an indicator of content and more a signal that a book published within a few years of The Hating Game.

I'm still sorting out what works for me. That was another question I bombed a bit: favorite/least favorite tropes. I don't even know what a secret baby is, but I came out as firmly anti, though surprise pregnancy is a legitimate hard pass on the grounds of being a human female in a family of Fertile Myrtles. Did also I relay to my unsuspecting interviewers the tale of my mother getting pregnant after having her tubes tied? Yes. Yes, I did. I probably owe some apologies for that.

Favorite tropes were easier to identify, though I bungled my answer there, too. Enemies to lovers, but not enemies-enemies so much as two people who are hot for one another and annoyed by this fact for [enter reasons here]. Only one bed is fun--you see it coming, but it's all about the execution! How will it play out? Will there be spooning? The breaching of a pillow-lined no-go zone? So many possibilities!

Coming in at #1, which I forgot in the moment and then erupted with later in a discussion about my cover, is starchy hero comes unstarched. I didn't know the name of the trope at the time I was writing, but I was determined to get that general vibe into A CERTAIN APPEAL. And this inspiration, at least, I can place: the final few frames of Bridget Jones's Diary.

I could do a whole post on Bridget Jones, and will, appropriately enough, be chatting about it on another podcast in the coming weeks, but it's this moment, the "Oh yes, they fucking do," that is the real payoff. I saw this movie the day it was released, and had zero memory of this scene until--and this I remember clearly-- catching the last five minutes while at the Park Slope New York Sports Club in 2010. It wasn't even bleeped.

It's the last line of dialogue in the movie and the culmination of all the yearning looks and sad puppy eyes Mark Darcy sends Bridget's way over the film's running time. Mark is a man who yearns to be rumpled. He wants to get drunk in a rowboat and make thoughtful inside jokes about stirring gravy! The payoff lies in knowing that Bridget is the perfectly imperfect person he can be free with, and she doesn't have to change at all. She's evolved over the course of the movie: she's more confident, she knows her value, and she's still 100% Bridget Jones.

And now that I've written all this out, I think I'll have an answer to that mystery question the next time I'm faced with it. I'm new to Romance as a book genre, but I'm an Elder Millennial with Gen-X siblings; my RomCom education is thorough. The When Harry Met Sally soundtrack lived in the tape deck of my mom's suburban. I saw The Wedding Singer, You've Got Mail, 10 Things I Hate About You, Never Been Kissed, and One Fine Day, in theaters. Anjelica Huston's performance in Ever After is a treasure we do not deserve, and everyone in Moonstruck is doing the Lord's work.

I love these movies. I love the way the best ones care about the lives of the women in them, highlighting their goals and friendships and families as well as the romance that propels the narrative. Now, I'm finding that in Romance novels, and this naive, sophisticated newborn baby is honored that A CERTAIN APPEAL has found a place among them.

Two more weeks, folks, and it's out in the world :)

Pro Tip: Tidy your space before interviews. Not that my mess was visible on-camera, but I don't think that an environment of "unrestrained chaos" was great for my state of mind.

And stay tuned. The pins, pencils, and headdress above are going to become relevant very, very soon...

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