Escape Publishing, a digital-first imprint from Harlequin Australia, is doing a pretty damn huge blog tour, and because I was so curious about the books being published by Escape, I joined the mayhem and interviewed Kate Cuthbert about the books, the focus, and what we can expect from Escape.
Can you tell us about the debut titles, and, if possible, which you're most excited about?
Kate: Eek! That's like asking a mother for a favourite child (it's totally whichever one is asking at the time ;)). Look, I chose each of these titles because they were extraordinary in some way. But I will share that Chaos Born ( A | BN | K | S | iB) revitalised my very flagging interest in urban fantasy with its unconventional heroine (she has a limp – and totally works the accompanying cane) and the fascinating militant religious order that patrols her world (to make it 'safe' for everyone, you understand?) and Grease Monkey Jive ( A | BN | K | S | iB) was something I haven't seen in a very long time: a big, thick, meaty, long, ensemble-cast peopled contemporary romance that reminded me of the best things of early Susan Elizabeth Phillips (without the 80s fashions).
Clearly, this will the the interview of parentheses!
Can you tell me more about the different books, and who you think they might appeal to?
Kate: Chains of Revenge ( A | BN | K | S | iB)is a hot erotic fantasy novella about a slave who becomes a warlord and returns to enslave his slaver. It's got this awesome power dichotomy all the way through, but really cements that romance novel ideal about emotional equality. Chaos Born I already mentioned, but it's a debut novel that kicks off a new UF series.
Christmas Wishes (( A | BN | K | S | iB) is by Rhian Cahill, a writer you guys may already be familiar with through her many erotic romance novels with publishers like Samhain. Rhian came to us when she wanted to stretch out and try something new. CW still has heat, without explicitness, and it's just a gorgeous friends-to-lovers story with a holiday twist. Grease Monkey Jive as I mentioned is a contemporary romance that mixes Strictly Ballroom with Pimp My Ride, and In Safe Hands ( A | BN | K | S | iB)is a very polished, sophisticated romantic suspense that really plays with the notion of privacy in our internet-obsessed world – and I love that the 'suspense' part isn't murder, it's blackmail. I love romantic suspense that has crime other than serial killers.
Kate: All of these writers are Australian, but I think from a place perspective In Safe Hands and Grease Monkey Jive really use Sydney as a setting, its unique characteristics, its geography. And, actually, Rhian has followed up Christmas Wishes with New Year's Kisses in December which plays against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour on New Year's Eve, which is our Times Square.
What are some things you really want readers to know about Escape?
Kate: What I'm most excited about as both a reader and publisher is the freedom that we have to make acquisition decisions. Our only mandate is that the books be romances – that is, a focus on a romantic relationship and an emotionally uplifting ending. That's it. No restrictions, no trends, no marketing considerations. If the book is fantastic, I can take the chance, acquire it, publish it, and let the readers decide. So from an editorial perspective, readers can start expecting something different: cross-genres, maybe, or new subgenres altogether. Riskier choices. Niche titles. Rule-benders or even breakers. All on top of some really fantastic examples of good, solid, more traditional romance. It's all about the stories.
Cool! Are there any risky choices or new subgenres to be enjoyed in upcoming books, in December or January?
Will you be running any holiday sales or specials? Bundles? Free TimTams with ebook purchase?
Kate: Oooh, now that's a good idea! I wonder if we can get Arnotts on board as a partner. Chocolate and romance novels together at last! (not that, we, uh, play into cliches or anything).
We've got a few titles that I'm really excited about coming up soon: an erotic science fiction novel with a soldier-heroine, a couple of contemporary romances that feature Aussie characters with international heritages, and speak to how they balance the demands of both cultures, and a very sweet, very funny romance in which both hero and heroine are over 40!
Oh, tell us more, please? Are these available for preorder?
Kate: Absolutely – they're not up for pre-order yet, but they will be soon.
The first is called Short Soup, by Coleen Kwan. Both of the protagonists are from a small beach town on the east coast of Australia, and both come from a strong Chinese background. Their parents own a Chinese restaurant together, and Toni and Dion have known each other since they were babies. Toni grows up dreaming of getting out of the town, being successful and sophisticated. She leaves for university and never looks back – until a bad marriage and a lost job force her to return. There she finds Dion in the process of taking over their parents' restaurant – and revitalising it. Sounds like a pretty standard coming-home romance, but two things make it different: one is the resolution, which of course I'm not going to spoil for you :), and the second is the way the protagonists' heritage informs their actions and the overall story.
The second novel is called No Strings Attached, by Bridget Gray, and takes place during and after the Boxing Day Tsunami which devastated large swaths of Asia. Many Australians holiday in south-east Asia, especially around Christmas time, so on top of the millions of residents who were aversely affected, thousands of Aussies were also injured, displaced, or killed. The story begins with the heroine, Mei Jing, rescuing the hero, Rod, in almost an off-hand manner (he was there, she was there, she did what anyone would have), and then returning home. Rod was unconscious for most of this, so he only remembers that a woman of Asian descent helped him. Fast forward a few years, and Mei Jing and Rod meet again in a bar in Brisbane. Mei Jing knows exactly who he is, but he doesn't remember her – and the attraction is instantaneous. Mei Jing learns that Rod is obsessed with finding the woman who saved him and repaying her in some way, and she's worried that if she tells him that his feelings will morph into gratitude – and gratitude is not what Mei Jing wants from Rod. On top of this is Mei Jing's traditional parents who want to follow their cultural norms to find Mei Jing a husband.
There are also a few more stories in the pipeline that celebrate Australia's cultural diversity, and I'm really proud of that.
Can you tell me a bit more about the other stories that are so uniquely Australian?
Kate: I think there's something in all of them that mark them as Aussie – not just the ones dealing with contemporary Australia. I think you'll find the heroines a bit different – particularly in Rebekah Turner's Chaos Born, one of our launch titles. She's a mercenary, and bad ass, but she's never allowed to get too big for her britches – everyone around her makes sure of it. That's a very Aussie trait, the piss-take. You witnessed it first hand at Genrecon with the debate between plotters and pants-ers. In Australia, to make fun of someone really shows you care Lora, to get back to Chaos Born, has a support network who love her deeply, but also never let her forget that one job that went wrong. You'll see it in Grease Monkey Jive as well, with Dan's best friends.
There's also a lot of travel – characters in these stories go walkabout. Whether it's in Australia or overseas, they seek to find themselves and their place in the world through travel, which is a big Australian tradition.
Finally, no one takes themselves too seriously. Even the angst doesn't get overly angsty. There's an underlying practicality there, and a sense of getting on with things, even when your world is being torn apart.
Yes, I definitely noticed the Aussie teasing, which seems not much part of the US sense of humor.
Why is travel and finding one's self a big thing in Oz? Because it's so far away from everything, you kind of have to travel long distances to see other places in the world, and, well, as long as you're flying 10 hours, why not a few more?
Kate: It's in the air here, I guess – the indigenous people had the tradition of 'walkabout' long before anyone else arrived, a rite of passage and connecting with the world. It's very normal here to take a year or two between high school and university, or between university and the real world, and work and travel your way around the world. Your point on isolation is well-taken. It might be necessary just to recognise that other places exist.
Also, and this is tangential, US small town romances often feature characters returning home (at times with much snobby dread) to small communities after living in the big city or larger urban areas. Does that same small-community emphasis exist in Oz romance, or is it different because the walkabout culture encourages folks to leave?
Kate: A few years ago, I would have said no, but Aussie rural romance is the biggest story in publishing here at the moment, and publishers can't get their hands on enough. This isn't necessarily small town, but station life, almost a romance in both senses of the word, with a return to the pastoral, the land, battling with nature and reaching compromises. It's almost inevitable that characters leave in these novels, only to realise that they can't function away from the land, or in a place that doesn't hold their history. So yes, that's becoming a very strong parallel to the US tradition.
Thank you to Kate Cuthbert for her time and answers! So, which of these books sound interesting to you? I kind of want to read all of them.