Staff Picks: We Love Inclusive Romance

On this episode of the Desk Set, we're talking diverse and inclusive romance. If you're working on this year's 10 to Try reading challenge, all the books we mention count as books recommended by KCLS Staff. Adult Services librarian Jennifer Fairchild joins us talk to bestselling author and romance superstar Jasmine Guillory about her new book, Party of Two, and then we talk about diversity in romance more generally, including some of our favorite authors.

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A transcript of this episode is available at the end of our show notes.

Recommended Reading

Jasmine published an excellent essay in Time about the power of reading fiction by Black writers. She raises a point we talk about too: romance is a genre all about joy, and inclusive romance extends that joy to protagonists of different races, abilities, body types, and more. Check it out - and then browse the books we talk about in the show below!

We Love Inclusive Romance











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Contact

If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to deskset@kcls.org.

Credits

The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. Most of the audio heard on the podcast was recorded at the ideaX Makerspace at the Bellevue Library. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.

Transcript

Emily Calkins:
You are listening to the Desk Set.

Britta Barrett:
A bookish podcast for reading broadly.

Emily Calkins:
We are your hosts, Emily Calkins.

Britta Barrett:
And Britta Barrett.

Emily Calkins:
And on this episode we're talking about a special category at staff picks: romance. We'll talk to author Jasmine Guillory about her new book, Party of Two, and then we'll have a conversation with Adult Services Librarian, Jennifer Fairchild who's a big romance reader. We're talking especially about romance by authors of color today.

Emily Calkins:
So thanks for being with us today. Can you please introduce yourself?

Jasmine Guillory:
My name is Jasmine Guillory. I am a romance author and my most recent book is Party of Two.

Emily Calkins:
So I want to start by asking, are you a pie person or a cake person?

Jasmine Guillory:
As I think comes through in the book, I do not think you have to declare an allegiance to either cake or pie. I love both and I just want to celebrate the best of both worlds.

Emily Calkins:
That's fair. How about a favorite pie and a favorite cake?

Jasmine Guillory:
So, favorite cake is obviously yellow cake with chocolate frosting which is the best cake in the world.

Emily Calkins:
Yeah. You're not wrong.

Jasmine Guillory:
And favorite pie, that can really depend on the season because I really love fruit pies and so it really depends on what fruit is available. Right now, it's the summer so I love fruit pies with stone fruit, peaches and nectarines are probably my favorite in fruit pies but I also really love when you combine them with berries like blackberries, oh, I just love it.

Emily Calkins:
I am hungry now. It's 10:30 AM. I would like some pie. So now that we've got that really important question out of the way, can you tell us a little bit more about Party of Two?

Jasmine Guillory:
Yes, it is not just a book about dessert. Party of Two is about Olivia Monroe who moves home to California at the very beginning of the book. She had been a lawyer in New York city, she moves to California to Los Angeles to start a law firm with one of her best friends and early on when she's there, she's sitting at her hotel bar, she hasn't even moved into her new house yet and she gets into a conversation with a charming stranger at the bar.

Jasmine Guillory:
They talk about dessert as well as other things and when she gets back to her hotel room, she turns on the news and discovers that the charming stranger that she was chatting with is the Senator from California, Max Powell. They run into each other again a few weeks later and Max, who has been thinking about Olivia for weeks, jumps on that and starts pursuing her and wants to go out and so they tent - first tentatively and then more purposefully, start a relationship.

Emily Calkins:
So many of your books including this one feature interracial couples. Can you talk a little bit about how race plays out in Max and Olivia's relationship and why it's important for you to include discussions about race in your books?

Jasmine Guillory:
Yeah, I mean, both Max and Olivia are shaped by their race. The experiences that they've had in their lives, race has played a role in all of them and some of that Max doesn't realize because he's a white man, he's a default, he doesn't recognize as much the extent that race has played in his life. But they have real conversations about race that come up if I hope at least in a natural way, they're the conversations that I've had throughout my life with friends and family members as we start to really talk about the experiences that we've had what has shaped us, the work that we've done, why we care about the things that we care about.

Jasmine Guillory:
And so they have those conversations in their relationship throughout the book as they figure out that they really do care about each other and want to be in a relationship with one another and those conversations really helped them to get to know each other.

Jennifer Fairchild:
Well, this question actually goes along with what we were just talking about. While, I was reading the book I really liked the way that Olivia and Max talk about Olivia's experience being a lawyer and a woman of color. And I really liked that Max is totally attuned to how racism and sexism impact her career. So can you talk a little bit more about your inspiration for that and how you wanted to put that in the book and make it realistic?

Jasmine Guillory:
Yeah, I mean so many women that I know have had the experience that I think we can all relate to which is, you're at a meeting, you say something, nobody pays attention to it, five minutes later, a man there says the exact same thing and everyone's like, "Oh, that's such a great point." And you're just sitting there like, "Am I invisible here?"

Jasmine Guillory:
And so those are the experiences that Olivia has had even when she was more accomplished and more experienced than the men that she was working with, they were often the ones who got the credit. And so those are things that she's honest about with Max and Max - he doesn't come into this book as someone who has never paid attention to race or sexism in his life and I don't think Olivia would have wanted to be in a relationship with him if he was that person.

Jasmine Guillory:
And so those are things that he has paid attention to and that he does recognize and so they have honest conversations about that and some of that is the reason why she decided to start her own law firm so that she could be the boss and not have to deal with people like that anymore.

Jasmine Guillory:
And she does still have to deal with people like that, she has clients, she interacts with people in society but it is a different experience than when they're in your day to day life and when they're the people who control your career. And so those are some of the things that Olivia and Max talk about pretty early on in the book.

Emily Calkins:
So I know from following you on Twitter that you're a royal watcher and you have in fact a monarchy-adjacent book called Royal Holiday which is very wonderful also. Was any of Party of Two inspired by Megan and Harry's very public interracial romance?

Jasmine Guillory:
There were a few little things that I really thought about in writing this book because I followed Megan and Harry very closely and in some of the texts that Megan got after Megan and Harry went public, there was a lot of similarity there and some of the attacks that Olivia gets after she and Max go public and so those are things that I really thought about and paid attention to. A lot of times Black women get attacked for similar things over and over again even if they don't make sense at all and so some of that really came into play in this book.

Emily Calkins:
So I am also a royal watcher and I especially noticed - there's a moment where they've gone public and Max wants to make a statement that says, "Hey, you all are being racist basically and you need to back off." And I was reminded of when Harry did that, and I thought it was interesting that Olivia discourages him from doing that. Can you talk about what you were thinking about her character and why she might have a different opinion on that than maybe Megan did?

Jasmine Guillory:
Yeah. I mean, one of the key things in this book is that Olivia is not a person who wants the spotlight on her and she I think throughout the book is trying to pretend to herself that she can have this relationship with Max without there being a spotlight on her. Even when it happens, she keeps thinking it's going to go away, it'll stop, it'll stop, I can do this without that. And there're some ways in which it'll go down and up but when he wants to put out a statement, she just wants to keep hiding. She doesn't want people to pay attention to her anymore. She's had enough, she's done with it, she just hopes that life can go back to normal and she doesn't have to deal with anything anymore.

Jennifer Fairchild:
So Olivia and Max are both active in addressing social justice issues, what made you want to highlight social justice in this book?

Jasmine Guillory:
It wasn't so much that I specifically wanted to highlight social justice in this book as that just seems true to the characters. I was trying to think about who Max would be. Early on I knew he was young, he's in his 30s, he's a Senator, how could someone relatively young, and that age get to become the Senator of the State of California? Which is a pretty big state, very high profile job and so I started thinking about his background and what would he care about and what got him into this job and what inspired him to run in the first place?

Jasmine Guillory:
And so I realized that a person like Max, at least the Max that I imagined would care about criminal justice and that was really what made him want to have this job and what run and that is something that Olivia really cares about as well and so that's something that - where they have common ground and how they grow to talk about issues and then fall in love.

Emily Calkins:
So this is related, something that I really enjoy about your books is that the characters, especially the women, have careers that are a big part of their identity. So what interests you about writing career-oriented characters and how do you decide what their careers are going to be?

Jasmine Guillory:
That's interesting. I mean, when Olivia was a character in a previous book of mine, she's the sister of Alexa, who's the main character in The Wedding Date, my first book and so I knew early on that she was a lawyer but when I came into this book I wasn't quite sure where she was in her legal career because we knew from The Wedding Date that she had been a partner in her law firm but I was thinking, does she move back to California? Why would she do that? What is behind that?

Jasmine Guillory:
And so thinking about someone's job often tells me a lot about who they are as a person, where they came from, what choices that they've made in their life gets them to that spot, what they're passionate about, what they care about. Is it their job that they're passionate about? What do they care about in their community? Those are all the things that I think through and write through as I am writing new characters and learning more about them. And then once I learn about them, I can write about them better.

Jennifer Fairchild:
So speaking of, so I relate many of Olivia's quirks, likes and dislikes and even her relationship with Max mirrors my own in many ways and although I'd like to think that my life inspired your writing, I know that isn't the case, but I'd love to know more about how you created her character.

Jasmine Guillory:
A lot of times as I'm writing characters, my first drafts I'm often just brainstorming and writing through the characters and teaching myself about the character and so I just kept writing Olivia, seeing what she would do, brainstorming on the page. I know a lot of writers do this in many different ways, either they come up with character sheets at the beginning or have a whole idea of the character when they come in.

Jasmine Guillory:
I knew some about Olivia coming into this book, partly because I had written about her and other books and also I knew that I liked her enough to want to write about her. So there were certain things that I knew but some of it I just discovered as I was writing and I had her talk to other people and tell them about her life and that told me a lot. And then seeing, I mean, for me one of the biggest things in any romance is, what are the characteristics in this person that will make someone else fall in love with them, and then what makes them fall in love with someone else?

Jasmine Guillory:
So I learned a lot about Olivia in seeing what would make her fall in love with Max? Why would she care about Max? What in him would draw her? And then vice versa about Max and so, those are the ways that I discovered each of them.

Jennifer Fairchild:
So are you a Dolly Parton fan?

Jasmine Guillory:
I am. It's funny because I feel like I have learned a lot more about Dolly Parton in the past few years than I ever knew about her and the more I learned about Dolly Parton, the more I fall in love with her. There's so much about her that's wonderful. She gives out books to children and she's written so many songs that I hadn't known that she'd written as well as being talented in so many other ways. She's an inspiration.

Jennifer Fairchild:
So is this like a lifelong love of her music or how did you discover her?

Jasmine Guillory:
No, it's actually pretty recent. I mean, I had discovered a lot of music through other friends and so I've discovered some of her music through friends but I discovered more about her through other people telling me things and then reading stuff about her and learning more and more. It's great, the things you've learned as an adult. It's amazing.

Jennifer Fairchild:
Yeah. Well, she does seem like a pretty amazing person and I have to admit like the fact that Max and Olivia like her, I was like, "Maybe I should check her out." I only know a few of her songs. All right, so what are you reading right now?

Jasmine Guillory:
Right now I have been... I always jump in between a number of books, I always have a nonfiction and fiction that I'm reading at the same time and then I'm often rereading something. So the nonfiction that I'm reading is it's called The Black Count, it's about Alexandre Dumas's father which - there's so much in that story that I didn't know of.

Jasmine Guillory:
I have loved a lot of Alexandre Dumas's books, I love The Count of Monte Cristo and a lot in that book was taken from his father's life. His father was imprisoned kind of secretly and taken away and his escape and his revenge was not as exciting as the book is but you find out so much about him in reading the book and so much that I never knew so that one I'm reading in chunks. And then I also just started reading Queen Move by Kennedy Ryan who's another Black romance author who's fantastic.

Emily Calkins:
I have one last question which is about dialogue because one of the things I love about Party of Two is, it feels like you're just hanging out with them and both Max and Olivia feel like these real people, these real characters, people that you would know. And I'm so curious how you get the dialogue to sound so natural. Are you sitting in your house talking to yourself, testing things out to see how they sound?

Jasmine Guillory:
Yes, often. I do talk to myself a lot. I also eavesdrop a lot. It's impossible to do that right now but I listen to other people and see how they talk. I mean, a lot of times you're talking half sentences especially with people that you know well and so learning out those speech patterns and seeing how people will talk differently when they know someone versus when they don't, is also really interesting to me.

Jasmine Guillory:
But then I also have read and reread other books that I feel do dialogue well to figure out why that is? What about the dialogue really resonates with me? And so I pay attention to other books as well as to speech patterns in other people and see how that translates into fiction. So thank you very much. That's something I've worked hard on.

Emily Calkins:
Oh, well I think it really shows. And you just alluded to this but I'm wondering if you can tell us a little bit about how being in quarantine has changed your writing and reading life.

Jasmine Guillory:
Yeah. It has been really different. I mean, I think one of the things that I have gotten a lot of inspiration from in the past is talking to other people. Talking to people about their lives and their experiences and what has changed them and what has inspired them, and a lot of times it's casual conversation, right? I'm not having conversations with people on purpose to get inspiration, I'm just talking to friends and then I think, "Oh, that's perfect." And so I have missed that a lot and I definitely have been reading in a very different way than I did before, my attention span is much shorter now-

Emily Calkins:
Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Jasmine Guillory:
... I feel like we all have short attention spans. Time has no real meaning these days and so I've also been reading a lot of middle grade fiction.

Emily Calkins:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jasmine Guillory:
I feel with children's books are perfect for this moment because they're written for kids who have short attention spans and so they can jump into my brain a lot faster. So that is something that I have been really diving into that I hadn't read as much of in the past few years and now I'm getting really into it.

Emily Calkins:
Nice. Can you share a couple of titles with us?

Jasmine Guillory:
Yeah. One book that I loved which the title will make you laugh because there's a lot of that in my book, it's called The Summer of a Thousand Pies but it is a really delightful book that also there's a lot of real world issues in it. It's about a girl who - it's just her and her dad, her mom had died. He gets arrested and so she has to go live with her aunt who she has never really had a relationship with and her aunt owns a bakery and so that's where the pies come in.

Jasmine Guillory:
But there's a lot in the book about the way that she grew up with her dad, the struggle that she has with her father in jail and trying to deal with that and learning how to live with her aunt in a more stable environment than she's had. I really cared about everyone in the book, it was a really wonderful story and then all the pie baking is fantastic.

Emily Calkins:
So thank you so much for being with us today.

Jasmine Guillory:
Thank you so much for having me.

Britta Barrett:
Jennifer, do you want to tell us a little bit about what you do at KCLS?

Jennifer Fairchild:
Yeah, I'm an Adult Services Librarian at the Renton and Skyway libraries and part of what I do with my programming is run a romance reading series where I have selected four books that we read for once a month. And I'll try to find inclusive and diverse romance so that we're reading all different types of subgenres and with all different types of voices being heard. So it's been really fun and definitely have read a lot more romance than ever.

Britta Barrett:
Sounds awesome. What are some of your favorites that you read recently?

Jennifer Fairchild:
Actually, one of the best books I've read so far this year was actually Jasmine Guillory's, Party of Two, which we just heard about. It's just really funny, super relatable and I just couldn't put it down.

Britta Barrett:
What about you, Emily?

Emily Calkins:
Yeah, I also loved Party of Two, the other one that I've read really recently was Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. She's a Black British writer so her books are all set in the UK and her characters are Black and British and Take a Hint, Dani Brown is about a young woman who's on her way to becoming a college professor and she has this accidental moment with a friend of hers who's the security guard for her building. He's Pakistani and he's carrying her out of the building during a fire drill.

Emily Calkins:
They're caught on camera and it turns into this whole situation where they have to maintain this fake romance to support this charity that he started and of course, because it's a romance novel, a fake romance can't stay a fake romance, but it was just really like Jennifer was saying about Jasmine's books, she's really fun. I love the comfort of reading romance, for me it's something that can always restart me if I get into a reading slump, I know what I'm getting and I really appreciate that.

Britta Barrett:
What do you think are some of the key features that define romance as a genre?

Emily Calkins:
So I think there's two, the first is that the central plot piece is a love story and I will say that as a romance reader, I prefer a romance that has a secondary plot that's not about the relationship between the characters and I like it when the obstacles that they're facing are not just their emotional lives, but also some structural thing or some kind of their jobs can't fit together, like we talked about with Party of Two, but that central love story is the number one. And then number two, the best thing about a romance is you know you're going to get an emotionally satisfying happy ending, happy ever after is a must for romance.

Britta Barrett:
Are there exceptions to that?

Emily Calkins:
I don't think so. Jennifer, can you think of any exceptions?

Jennifer Fairchild:
I can't and yeah, if you look up romance and what the definition is, it definitely has to have a happy ending. So sometimes that happy ending won't be super definitive, maybe they are going to date but you don't know for how long, sometimes they do end up getting married, but yeah, they definitely end up together and happy.

Emily Calkins:
Yeah. So there's the HEA, which is a happy ever after and the HFN, which is happy for now, so sometimes when you have series that have featured the same people, the same couple, I think this is especially true in paranormal romance, although I'm not an expert in paranormal at all. So take this with a grain of salt, but you get that happy for now a little bit more often because they're going to face, I don't know, there's like an invasion of the other people who transform into honey badgers. There is actually a Honey Badger paranormal series, I'm not joking.

Emily Calkins:
This is one of things I love about romance is, it is so deep and wide as a genre, there is something for everybody in there. I really think that's true. As long as you are wanting a happy ever after, which I don't know right now, I don't know anyone who doesn't want a happy ending sometimes.

Britta Barrett:
Are there other subgenres of romance that you think of people new to the genre as a whole might be surprised by?

Jennifer Fairchild:
There is a science fiction romance subgenre. It's maybe not as deep as some of the others like Regency romance where there's just thousands and thousands of them, but there definitely are romances that take place in space in the future and that's a lot of fun.

Emily Calkins:
My impression and again, there's so much romance that I know that I don't know all of the authors, but my impression is that contemporary romances, so like Jasmine, like Talia Hibbert, some other favorites that we can talk about in a minute, there tends to be the greatest diversity there. I think some of the other subgenres are still catching up, but I feel like we're really having a wonderful moment and I hope that it isn't just a moment, I hope that it sticks where we get to see so many different kinds of stories just in contemporary romance ,people writing from different points of view.

Britta Barrett:
And what are a few more we should look out for.

Emily Calkins:
So in addition to Talia Hibbert, I really love Helen Hoang, she wrote The Kiss Quotient, which I think I've talked about on the show before and she has another one called The Bride Test. She is half Vietnamese and she's also on the autism spectrum and you see that represented in both of her books. So in The Kiss Quotient, the female lead Stella is neurodivergent, she's autistic and the male lead comes from a big family that's half Swedish and half Vietnamese.

Emily Calkins:
So he has this Vietnamese grandmother who's a wonderful character and there's a lot about that family and there's a lot of great scenes set around their table and food is a big part of it. And then in The Bride Test, the lead is his cousin Khai who's also autistic. And then the romantic interest is a woman named Esme who's a Vietnamese immigrant, she actually comes over as part of this scheme that Khai's mom has set up to get him to get married because he's too old in his family to be unmarried.

Emily Calkins:
And there's a really nice note at the end of the book, I don't think we think about romance as being inspired by true events, but Helen has written this really nice note about how Esme's life is inspired by her mom's life. So her mom was a Vietnamese immigrant who came over not speaking a lot of English and really did a lot for her family. And that story inspired this wonderful romance, it's about these two people who are very different figuring out how they can take care of each other and how they can care for each other and so I love her. How about you, Jennifer? Other favorites?

Jennifer Fairchild:
Yeah. What you said about the stories being inspired by real life reminded me of Alexa Martin. So she's a newer author to the romance genre and she's married to a former NFL player. And so she uses her experience as an NFL wife to write these books that are all set in Colorado, and it's all has to do with women who fall in love with professional athletes who play for the local football team.

Jennifer Fairchild:
And so there definitely is this big sports or football focus, but you don't really have to like sports to enjoy them. I mean, I'm not a big sports person and I definitely really like these. There's hardworking snarky characters, very steamy romances and there's three books in the series so far and there's a new book coming out in October. They all have football-related titles, so there's Intercepted, Fumbled, Blitzed and the new one is called Snapped.

Jennifer Fairchild:
I also wanted to mention Jackie Lau, she's a Canadian author who writes funny contemporary romance with Asian characters and she has several series with characters that are really easy to like and they also have silly titles that I really appreciate, like Grumpy Ex-boyfriend and Ice Cream Lover, so definitely check her out.

Emily Calkins:
All right, she's going on my to-read list. I'm also a fan of Alyssa Cole who writes contemporary but she also writes historical. And like I said, I feel like historical romance - there is a precedent for authors of color writing characters of color in historical romance. Beverly Jenkins is like a long, long time queen of historical romance about African-American characters, but there isn't as much and so Alyssa Cole writes contemporary, she has this wonderful contemporary series that's sort of like - what's the the YA series where the girl finds out she's the princess of Genovia?

Britta Barrett:
The Princess Diaries?

Emily Calkins:
Yeah, The Princess Diaries. Thank you. It's basically that, but romance with people of color in the lead. So the first one is about this woman who's a scientist in New York and she keeps getting these emails that she thinks are scams. It's like, "We're trying to get in touch with you on behalf of the Prince of this tiny African country." But it turns out that as a child, she was born in this country - it's an imaginary place - and rescued to New York but she was engaged to the Prince and he's actually a real person and she has to go there and have this wonderful romance, they're really fun. And then she has a historical series that set during the Civil War and the characters are part of the spy network that's working on behalf of the Union to take down the Confederacy, so those are pretty fun too.

Britta Barrett:
I don't read a lot of romance because I don't read a lot of fiction in general, but I do have a very soft spot in my heart for teen rom-com movies and TV shows. There've been so many good ones lately inspired by books. Things like To All The Boys I Loved Before on Netflix, which was amazing, the Love, Simon book has also spawned, another Hulu series, Love, Victor which is really great and I'm hoping that someone picks up emergency contact by Mary H. K. Choi. I don't know...do you consider that a romance, Emily?

Emily Calkins:
Maybe, I don't know, it's kind of hard. I think in YA, it's a little bit - young adult books. The lines are a little bit more blurry and that's true across genres, I think in young adult section. I would say yes because their relationship is the central plot in the story and you do get spoiler alert, sorry, a happy ending. But it doesn't have the feel of an adult romance novel in the same way. But yeah, I'm going to go, yes. Sorry, that was a long way of me coming around to say, yes, I do think Emergency Contact is a romance novel.

Britta Barrett:
I'm thinking about it feels different because in some ways, they're new adults rather than young adults, they're college kids.

Emily Calkins:
Right. And because of that, I think there's a real coming-of-age element to the story that feels different than something you would get in an adult romance. Although one of the things that I like about romance is that you get to see characters working through a lot of stuff. It's really like a safe space and it's cool because you get to see like in Talia Hibbert's first book, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, the main character Chloe is disabled, she's chronically ill, she's clearly a fat character but that's not a problem, that's who she is and it informs the story, but it's not a problem to be solved by the story.

Emily Calkins:
And I think that that is one of the really great things about inclusive romance is, it feels everybody gets to have joy in these stories. I think sometimes there's an expectation when we read especially historical literature, but just literature in general about people of color. There's this expectation on behalf of the publishing industry or on behalf of white readers or there's this limitation about what kinds of stories can be told.

Emily Calkins:
We get lots of civil rights narratives and stories about slavery, and those are important stories, but they're not always joyful stories and romance is inherently joyful and so it's really fun to read diverse romances because you get this joy and you get joy for all different kinds of people for neurodivergent people and for disabled people and for Black characters and I think that's one of the things that is really special about it.

Jennifer Fairchild:
Yeah, I think too having a variety of characters is really nice because again, like you were saying Emily, you see all different types of people getting their happy ever after or having that happy ending versus like in traditional romance if you go back further, a lot of times the characters are like these alpha characters and they all have a similar personality and they're all really good looking. So the man is very attractive and sexy and the woman is as well or at least that, I guess, I know traditional version of whatever we consider to be a sexy and attractive. And so it's nice to see other characters that maybe don't fit those molds also find love.

Emily Calkins:
Yeah, there's something about, I think if you go back, especially I think in Regency, but if you read older romances, it's a lot of like, "She's slender and he's chiseled," and one of the things that's fun about these new more contemporary stories is the characters are attractive to each other. It's not like, "Oh, Chloe's fat." And so that's something... He's attracted to her anyway. It's like, no, he's attracted to her just the way she is.

Emily Calkins:
So it's people get to be who they are fully and that's appreciated, that's loved and it's sexy to the other lead in the story. We get to see all kinds of bodies, too like we get to see in Take a Hint, Dani Brown, Zaf, who's the romantic male lead is Pakistani and she talks a lot about how he's this big guy and he's brawny, but it's not like this, "He's chiseled." He's got a beard and his skin is brown and she appreciates that about him.

Emily Calkins:
So it's not even just like, "Oh, we get to see other people who aren't these narrow definitions of attractive getting their story," it's like we get to appreciate them, they get to be sexy too, which I think is really cool. Jennifer, are there other authors you want to talk about?

Jennifer Fairchild:
Yeah, I wanted to mention Mia Sosa. So she's another author whose work I've really enjoyed and an author that I discovered doing the romance reading series at Renton. So she writes steamy and witty contemporary romance with Latin X characters. And she's got several series that you can try out. She has Unbuttoning the CEO, which is the first in her Suits Undone series. And that does focus on bad boys CEOs and their love lives.

Jennifer Fairchild:
And she also has a Love on Cue series that features actors and agents and stunt doubles, who aren't looking for love but they find it anyway. And she even has a new standalone rom-com that came out earlier this year called The Worst Best Man and that got several starred reviews. So she's just really fun, relatable characters, they're just good reads.

Britta Barrett:
I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that there's like a secret code to romance covers that are telegraphing or flagging information about what's inside and then there's also like a heat scale that romance readers can adjust to their liking. Could you speak to those things?

Emily Calkins:
I can a little bit, although I actually, this is an interesting question because I think that's changing right now. So it used to be that you could tell by looking at the cover of a book how sexy it was going to be, like how detailed the sex scenes were going to be by how clothed or unclothed the leads were. Right? Like if the woman's dress is like falling off her shoulders and the man's shirt is unbuttoned down to the waist, you're going to get more vivid, graphically described sex scenes than you are if the woman is buttoned up.

Emily Calkins:
And there's like a whole range there, right? So you're super chaste, often Christian romances, the woman is going to be totally clothed, and maybe she's wearing a bonnet or whatever and then on the other end something like a Sarah McLean, she writes really spicy Regency romances, people are going to be mostly naked or wrapped in a sheet.

Emily Calkins:
But I think there's an interesting trend in covers right now that's trying to get away from that Fabio inspired photos or photo real people on the cover. And we see these really cute hand drawn illustrations, so a lot of the ones we've talked about today, like both of Talia Hibbert's books, Helen Houng's books, the Fumbled series that Jennifer talked about, they have these illustrated covers that are really cute and I think don't read as traditional romance in the same way that those photo covers do.

Emily Calkins:
And I think it's been good for the genre. I think people who might not open - might think that they're not romance readers would be willing to read one of these because it doesn't have that look to it, but I do think that, that's secret code of how sexy is this book going to be? I think that code is lost a little bit in the illustrated covers. I don't know, Jennifer, what do you think?

Jennifer Fairchild:
Yeah, I agree. I mean, I really like the illustrated covers, but yeah, you can't tell what is going to go on in that story. I do think that they tend to be covers that are going to be like a rom-com and you wouldn't see a cover like that probably on a Regency romance because they're still following those traditional guidelines with covers.

Emily Calkins:
Yeah. I think that's true.

Jennifer Fairchild:
But yeah, you don't know how steamy it's going to be when you open it, but I really like those covers. I think they're really attractive.

Emily Calkins:
Yeah. I agree. They're really cute. They're very Instagrammable which I'm sure is part of what they're going for. They want people to share what they're reading.

Britta Barrett:
I understand that a lot of people read Fifty Shades of Grey on a kindle possibly because they didn't want to be seen with them in public while you're commuting. That it was a way to like hide your reading and maybe these new covers open up space for people to not feel ashamed of their reading and they don't want anyone to feel ashamed of their reading, but I'm wondering what you think about like the stigma associated with reading romance.

Jennifer Fairchild:
Yeah, there definitely is a stigma and that was part of the reason I started the romance reading series because I wanted to try and see if we could explore the genre a little deeper and I don't know, maybe just get away from that a little bit. In doing so though I did some research onto why there is that stigma and I guess it comes from the 70s and 80s when they had these lots of romances that were published and they're called bodice rippers because there was usually a scene in them where the lead would rip the clothes off of the female lead and sometimes - definitely there's basically sexual assault going on in these stories.

Jennifer Fairchild:
And so, but anyway, that is also where you get the Fabio stereotypical romance cover and so, yeah they just didn't get a lot of respect I guess in the publishing industry and I mean part of that is because of the content, but I think part of it also is because it's stories that are written mostly by women, mostly for women and so that's something that also just wasn't getting a lot of respect in the publishing industry and so anyway that stigma has carried over to today.

Emily Calkins:
Yeah, totally. There's definitely an element of sexism to it, but it's astonishing actually, because romance is huge segment of the sales of publishing. I think - I didn't look up stats which I should've done, but I think it makes up a very significant portion of sales. So it's this interesting balance of it used to be a much more niche genre, I think. And I do think some of that stigma is going away as readers are talking more publicly and reading a little bit more publicly, sharing on their social media what they're reading. I think some of the stigma of that is going away but for example, I had a coworker when first started in libraries who had a Goodreads account that she used to share what she was reading.

Emily Calkins:
And she told me one day that she had a separate Goodreads account where she was tracking her romance reading and I was like - that made me so sad, to think that there's this whole category of stories that you enjoy and yet you feel like you can't share that because it has this reputation of being trashy or not well written or again by women, for women, about women and so therefore not serious somehow.

Emily Calkins:
I think and I hope that that is going away and I do think that these cute appealing covers are part of that attempt on publishing - on the publisher's behalf to say, "Oh, we don't need to limit who we're marketing this to. We should be marketing these more broadly, making them more visually appealing for all kinds of readers." Because it turns out that people really like stories about people, about people who like falling in love with each other, learning about each other, learning about themselves and again, getting that happy ending.

Britta Barrett:
We hope you enjoyed that conversation with author Jasmine Guillory. Be sure go to our website @cls.org/deskset to find show notes with more information about the books we talked about.

Emily Calkins:
And don't forget to go to kcls.org/10totry to check in for this year's 10 to Try reading challenge. All the books we talked about today count as staff picks and they might fit into some of the other categories too. So thanks for listening.

Britta Barrett:
Thanks for listening.