Here is a text transcript of DBSA 86. An Interview with Shauna Summers, Plus Listener Email. You can listen to the mp3 here, or you can read on!
This podcast transcript was crafted of fine vintage letters by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.
Here are the books we discuss:
Sarah Wendell: Hello, and welcome to another DBSA podcast, which stands for Dear Bitches, Smart Authors, because iTunes apparently doesn’t like the word “bitches” in podcast titles. I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and with me is Jane Litte from Dear Author. Today, we are interviewing Shauna Summers, who is the Executive Editor at Ballantine/Bantam/Dell. She is also currently teaching, or just finished teaching, a romance publishing course at NYU, so we talked to her about her course, what she gave her students to do, the projects that they had to work on. We also talk a little bit about what her role is as an editor and how her responsibilities take up the time during her day. No, unfortunately, she doesn’t spend the entire day reading books, as much as we’d like to think that that’s what editors do. Wouldn’t that be cool? But no, it’s not the case. And at the end of the podcast, I have some listener mail to share with you, with excellent recommendations.
But before we start the podcast, I need to inform you that this podcast is sponsored by InterMix, and they would like you to know about Once Upon a Billionaire by Jessica Clare, a recent podcast guest. This book will be on sale April 15th wherever books are sold! EBooks, specifically. You can pick up your copy of Once Upon a Billionaire on April 15th.
And now, with no further ado, on with the podcast!
Jane Litte: Shauna, why don’t you introduce yourself to our podcast audience and explain your, you have a big title and a pretty important job –
Shauna Summers: Ahh.
Jane: – so why don’t you share that with us?
Shauna: Okay, I am an Executive Editor at Ballantine/Bantam/Dell, which is part of Random House, and I edit and acquire all kinds of romance and women’s fiction. Some of my authors are Karen Marie Moning and Lara Adrian and J. Kenner and Molly O’Keefe and Suzanne Brockmann and I’m –
Jane: Cecilia Grant?
Shauna: Cecilia Grant, Monica Murphy, and a lot of other great people. Debbie Macomber, I work on, so, yeah, so as far as jobs go, it’s a pretty fun job!
Jane: And you’ve been doing this for quite some time, over 15 years?
Shauna: 20 years. I actually am going to be getting my 20 year sabbatical this year, so…
Jane: And you did something cool this summer, or excuse me, this spring –
Jane: – with New York University.
Shauna: Yes, I, they, as part of the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, they have a Masters in Publishing program, and so I taught a class on romance publishing, and it’s the first time that they, shockingly, the first time that they have offered that class, which actually didn’t shock me so much until they sent me other sample syllabi, and they had a class on graphic novels and comic books but not on romance, so it’s like, hm, okay. But since it was the first time that they had offered it, I actually pretty much constructed the curriculum myself. Almost, about a week and a half ago we had our last class, and it went really well. It was really fun, so, and so far I’ve gotten really great feedback, so we’ll see if they offer it again.
Sarah: What kinds of –
Jane: What sort of things – oh, go ahead, Sarah.
Sarah: I, I’m, I’m betting we’re about to ask the same question. What were some of the things you had your students do in the class to prepare for a career in romance publishing? Did you take them, did, did you have to show them how to pace out drinking in a bar when meeting with eight consecutive authors at a conference?
Sarah: Was there shoe shopping? Was there how to avoid being pitched in the bathroom? Like, what kind of course work did you assign?
Shauna: We, it was very much focused, they wanted the class to be very much focused on the publishing of romance and not to be, you know, a literature class, so there were three assignments, three main assignments that they got graded for. The first was, we called it kind of a category analysis where I gave them a list of books, more kind of current romances, and they had to write three to five – was it three to five? Yes, three to five pages. I mean, most of them were, like, about three to four pages long – about the book. How the book worked editorially, how it worked, the cover of it, based on what they could glean online, how the book was successful, anything they might have changed about the publication of it, just to sort of kind of analyze one book within the category. And then the second assignment was breaking out an author from – ‘cause, you know, one of the biggest challenges we have is taking an author from midlist to bestseller list, and so I gave them four, four different authors to choose from and for them to write up a plan, somewhat marketing, but they needed to pay attention to the editorial of it also, just to have a sense of what the author was doing and how they would go about breaking an author out from, you know, to a bigger level. And then the final project was launching an eBook original line. They had to present three titles, and present it as sort of, you know, as though they were in a publishing house presenting it to the whole team of, you know, sales and marketing and publicity or, you know, whoever might be at a meeting like that, and they had to come up with covers, either, you know, cop-, existing covers that would be, you know, where it’s like a cover like this, but some of them got really creative and, and, like, went and found stock art and sort of created their own original kind of covers and, and so, yes, a sort of a vision for the line, everything that would go into that: how they would handle pricing, how they would, how many books they would want to do a year, like, how, just, the, sort of the whole thing, as though it was actually a thing that would happen. So, I had eight students, which was kind of perfect. I’d heard from other people who have taught in this program that, like, they tell you, you know, it’s really hard if you’ve got a day job, but it really ended up being fun. If it had been twice as many students, though, I, the grading would have overwhelmed me a little bit, but eight students was perfect.
Jane: Was there anything interesting that you fou-, that they kind of brought up about romance or – and, and then also, I’m curious as to do you know why they took your class? I mean, do they have an interest in romance publishing?
Shauna: I don’t know, I – there were only three of them who were already romance readers. The others were not. I did, I asked that up front at the beginning of the class. I mean, you know, I don’t know how completely – there’s part of me that wonders if they were like, oh, well, this will be easy, you know? Or maybe they, or thought it would be fun. I think that there is a level of, of recognizing that it’s a big part of publishing. That certainly was one of the reasons that they decided to offer the class was recognizing, you know, it was kind of long overdue. Yeah, so, for some of them it’s ‘cause they love romance and then, and, and obviously all of them are interested in publishing and either already working in publishing or wanting to get a job in publishing, and then the others were sort of like, yeah, I’m just sort of interested, and, you know, were never really all that specific.
Sarah: One thing that I have noticed among people online – this was particularly true with the Life in Publishing Tumblr blog that disappeared a few, a week or two ago –
Sarah: People would talk about graduate programs in publishing and ask, do they actually help you get a job? Is it a, is it a, is it an advantage when you apply for a job within publishing to have gone through one of these programs? And what was interesting was that most of the answers from anonymous people on Tumblr, so take that with a very large grain of salt, were, were evenly split. Some said it’s totally an advantage, especially depending on who your teachers are, and others said it really doesn’t make a difference because it’s a skill set that you can have or you can not have. What, what do you think? Is it an advantage to have a degree like this?
Shauna: I would say, now, I attended the NYU summer publishing program, which I would hugely endorse because it’s only eight weeks; it’s both books and magazines – although I guess this program is also probably books and magazines – so it’s much less of a cash outlay; it’s in the summer. You know, and when I did it, I was finishing up graduate school in Boston and still had no idea what I wanted to do, and did I want to teach, and I’d always been a little interested, you know, I love to read, I love books. Do I, you know, maybe book publishing, and it was kind of a perfect thing because I got to spend the summer living in New York City because that was a big question mark for me of, you know, would I enjoy living and be able to handle living in New York? And is, is publishing actually something that’s interesting to me, and it’s just, you know, again, not a lot of money and eight weeks, and then at the end of it, there is a big job fair, and I did end up, I feel like I did get my job, my very first job in publishing from that. I didn’t get a job immediately out of the program, although I did have a couple of interviews, but then a couple of months later when I was still looking and circled back around, I had all these HR people that, you know, you met with me back in July, I’m still looking for a job, and I got, like, five interviews out of that. And I ended up getting –
Sarah: That’s a lot!
Shauna: Yeah. Well, you know, there were twice as many places to work back then, so –
Sarah: [Laughs] And they hadn’t all merged into one big publisher back then!
Shauna: You know, I’m the picture of publishing consolidation. I would tell people, like, I’ve worked at five different places or, like, four different places, that are all one place at the end of the day, so…
Shauna: You know.
Sarah: You and, you and bankers.
Shauna: Oh, yeah, exactly.
Sarah: You know, there’s J. P. Morgan Chase Wells Bank and then there’s Penguin Random Putnam Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah.
Shauna: Exactly. Well, I mean, I started at Bantam Books, and then I went to Ballantine when it was a completely separate place –
Shauna: – and then I left, and then I left publishing for a couple years, came back to Bantam Dell, and then we were folded in and then folded in, kind of, again, and, you know, so – I, to be honest, I mean, and I’m not, I don’t say this at all to trash the program, ‘cause I think they, they, it’s a pretty intense program, and like, they make them do, you know, they have to, they have to learn, they have, they have a lot of classes that I think I would be sort of intimidated to take, even being a publishing professional. I mean, you know, a lot of, like, financials and, you know, it’s definitely a well-rounded program. I don’t know that you need a Master’s in publishing when you just want to get a job in publishing, you know? But I do know that we interview a lot from the publishing programs, particularly those summer programs, the one at NYU, and there’s one up at, at Columbia too, and it’s just a good way to find people, but, you know, I don’t know. A lot of it is luck anyway, getting, you know, getting an entry-level job in publishing, so… Yeah, my assistant actually did the Master’s program, which is great because, I mean, she’s great anyway, but, you know, so she did a lot of my, helped me with my PowerPoints, and I could really kind of run different things by her. Like, one exercise we did, they weren’t really graded on this, but I had Eloisa James come and speak, and she was fantastic, and then I actually went and spoke, she’s teaching a class on publishing right now at Fordham, and so she asked me to come be a guest speaker in her class, which I did just a couple weeks ago. Anyway, so she came, and I had given them, the week before, a manuscript to read, ‘cause we were kind of talking about author-editor relationship and all of that part of the equation, and I was so on the fence of what to give them because I felt like a lot of the required reading, a lot of it was really good; there wasn’t a lot that was the kind of stuff that I would give if somebody’s like, oh, I want to read a good romance. You know, I mean, it was all stuff, ‘cause I felt like I had to hit certain subgenres with certain, you know, themes, and so there was very little that was like, oh, I love this book, you’ve got to read this book, and so I was debating about what to give them and had actually thought about giving them the new Molly O’Keefe that we’d just seen, like, the first half of in draft, and my assistant said, yeah, but there’s not really anything to talk about that, with that, because it’s in good shape.
So I was like, all right, so I’ll give them this other thing, which I’m not going to say what I gave them, ‘cause, you know, it was something that was a little more troubled, and, oh, my gosh, they eviscerated it. It was kind of hard for me, I have to say, like, you know, I’m sort of left feeling like I’ve been kind of pummeled, but I think it was really instructive for them, sort of recognizing the limitation, you know, as an editor, figuring out what the limitations are of what an author is going to be willing or able to do in the revision process. The fact that you can’t, as an editor, un-see what you’ve already seen, so, like, with this author, this was a second book, and it was so much better than the first book that the bar was adjusted in a certain way for me in how I was reading this, and having gone through revision processes with her, I sort of had a sense of what, you know, what I could expect to have happen and what I thought she could do, so – anyway, it was a really interesting night. So I guess I think it’s probably best that I did give them something where there was really a lot to talk about, but there’s part of me that wanted to give them something would just be a fun read.
Jane: You’ve obviously been in the industry for a long time. Where do you see the industry being tomorrow? Or even, you know, five years from now? It’s just changed so rapidly.
Shauna: I think that that is sort of the big question. I mean, it, it, the, how rapidly it is changing, I think none of us really know, except to know that it’s changing and going, and that it will continue to change. I do think it’s an exciting time in a lot of ways if you can kind of embrace it. I feel like I’m at a place where, I work at a place where we really are trying to be excited about the future and, and embracing it, figuring out what the best way to continue to do what we’re here to do, which is get our authors’ books in the hands of as many people as we can in whatever way they want to read it, and, and then at the same time, you know, I feel like, what, was it three years ago, I guess, when the self publishing thing really, you know, when Amanda Hocking happened and everything, you know, and it was sort of this, a good six months of traditional publishers are on their way out, like, that’s, it’s all going to be over. And, you know, and now here we are three years later, and that is really not at all the case.
Jane: I think there’s a strong sentiment that you aren’t going to be here in five years.
Jane: Yeah. See it a lot from these self published authors, some of whom have suc-, have had success, and – as you know, the midlist and new authors from some publishers have always gotten very low advances –
Jane: – and so when you’re getting $2000, $3000, $4000 advances and then you don’t have very much success, it’s pretty easy to self publish and see, and capitalize upon that, particularly if you’ve had some kind of traditional publishing career –
Jane: – so I, I think that there’s some people that do believe that self publishing will eventually muscle out traditional publishing, but you don’t feel that way.
Shauna: I don’t. I don’t. I – The thing that I think is great is, and that I would say is that I think self publishing has, first of all, brought a lot of books that would be hard for traditional publishers to connect to readers, and I think there’s a lot of that in self publishing, and I hope that that continues. It’s not like I think self publishing isn’t going to last, ‘cause I think now with eBooks and the whole digital age, we’ve, I think that there’s room for both, and I think that there are ways that we both enhance each other, but, you know, there are things that we do and provide, I mean, ‘cause I think that, you know, it’s not like physical books are going to disappear off the planet either, and I think that there is, that traditional publishers are set up to manage that still, at, you know, and maybe that will change, too, eventually; I don’t know, but –
Sarah: Here’s my take: My car does not have a cassette player, but it does have a radio –
Sarah: – so my car still has a radio. If I go buy a car, I can still get a radio. I could also get a satellite radio, I could get a CD player, or I could get a hookup for my MP3 player, but it still has a radio. It may not have a tape deck anymore, but it still has a radio, and that’s what I see for publishing. There is always going to be an interest in a physical book product. There’s going to be –
Sarah: – a mar-, an, an audience for that. When I see an author on a forum or, or a group of readers or a street team saying, publishing doesn’t know what it’s doing! Well, okay. Maybe right now there are some people on the executive level of some publishers who don’t know what the hell digital actually means –
Sarah: – and maybe they don’t even like email. They have a, you know, maybe they have the type of person who has a Blackberry under duress, and they hate it, but there are always going to be people on the executive level of a large multi-piece organization who don’t have the full understanding of how the market is changing so quickly, as much of the people who are, as, who are the ones actually in that market right then –
Sarah: – and those people are going to advance, and then they will be able to make more changes each year as they move up in the company and say, you know what, I have total experience with all of this stuff, and we’re going to make big pots of money figuring out how to make what we do into the next space correctly.
Sarah: So part of it is that if you’re going to have somebody griping and groaning and publishers don’t understand! Well, no. The human beings that I interact with, like you and some people in publicity and marketing, they actually know a lot about what they’re doing, and they’re learning very quickly, but when you have someone who’s like, hey, can I get money for X project and an executive above says, ah, you are speaking language that makes no sense to me; no money for you! That’s the person who probably doesn’t know what they’re doing, and that’s the person who’s going to retire or move, and then the changes will come. The problem is –
Sarah: – individual authors and readers can change faster than a multi-piece corporation.
Shauna: Of course. Yeah.
Sarah: So that’s, that’s my feeling.
Jane: But Shauna, you have a good friend that is a big indie reader.
Shauna: Yeah, my best friend, and in fact, like, last night, I was sort of like, thank goodness for you, because, like, she had all these insights into, you know, a person that we’re kind of looking at that I would not have – yeah. And in fact, in an email today to her, I said, thank goodness! I’m like, you realize how much you’ve helped my job over the last couple of years? Because she is that person, like, she reads voraciously, and she reads almost completely on her Kindle, and she goes to some degree on price but also on reader reviews and on, you know, blogs. Like, she, she is that person that we talk about all of the time, of, you know, that reader that, that we want to get. And can I also say, like, this idea of, like, publishers don’t know what they’re doing, whatever. I feel like that has been the refrain as long as I have been in publishing.
Sarah: You think Charles Dickens said that about his publisher?
Shauna: Probably. I mean, I think –
Sarah: [Laughs] Shakespeare – [grunt]!
Shauna: I think that there is some level of, of that feeling all of the time, and, you know, and, and then, and anecdotally, yes, that is probably true. And different publishers have their strengths, but, you know, and, and we have really made an effort over the last few years to be more transparent about, you know, ‘cause I think that there was always sort of this mystique about – I don’t know if mystique is the right word – but where it was like we felt like it was impolite or indiscreet or something to be open about what we do or what we provide as a publisher for authors, and we have started being a lot more transparent about that. You know, the Author Portal being a good example of where auth-, that our authors can go on the Author Portal and see their sales, I mean, and you know, and, and there are, it’s not like it’s a perfect system as far as how the sales are reported and posted on there or whatever, but, you know, we’re just much more transparent of, like, look, this is what, this is how we partner with an author and what we can bring to the table to help an author. You know, we’re not perfect, but we do a great job more than we don’t.
Jane: You stay on top of the indie market through reading yourself and through your friend, and –
Jane: – you also watch the lists and those sorts of things –
Jane: – so I think there’s –
Jane: – some misconception amongst people that you, you actually don’t know what’s being published outside of your own house.
Shauna: Really? Like, indie authors or amongst other readers think that?
Jane: I think both.
Shauna: Why would they think that? [Laughs] I mean, like, that just seems like, yeah, that would make no s-, I would be terrible at my job if that were the case, and amongst my colleagues, both here and elsewhere, I feel like everybody’s paying a lot of attention to that, at least within the romance community. I mean, there are probably some that are less interested in it, but that’s not at all my experience.
Jane: Why does Random House consider Danielle Steele a romance author?
Shauna: Well, I, we don’t –
Shauna: – consider her a romance author.
Jane: ‘Cause if you go to Romance on the website, Danielle Steele is the first book that pops up.
Shauna: Well, that’s because – but this, this is then where you get into metadata – we are going to put romance as part of the metadata on any author where that can apply, just to be as highly searchable as possible. I mean, if you go on Amazon and search romance, you know, then you get Pride and Prejudice and Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon and a lot of authors that I think we wouldn’t consider traditional romance. You know, it’s, it’s like we’ve, John Grisham, you know, if you search mysteries, I think John Grisham will come up, which he’s not really technically mystery, but it’s, you want to search and re-, you know, if somebody’s searching for a book, you want that book to be discovered. Yeah.
Jane: I remember having lunch with you a few years ago, and I asked you what you were excited about, and you told me about Cecilia Grant –
Jane: – and this is before the book ever came out, and you said that you liked her because it was, her work was so – I, I can’t remember what you used; I don’t know if it was different or challenging. I just remember you saying something like, I hadn’t read this type of story before.
Jane: And –
Sarah: That lunch is infamous, by the way.
Sarah: That lunch you guys had –
Shauna: Oh, that, that’s fun.
Sarah: – it is infamous. It has, it has convinced many people to read this book.
Shauna: Oh, good! Well, you guys, I mean, the podcast you guys did when the book came, right before the book came out and – you guys have been great champions of, of her and that book, so I appreciate that.
Jane: So is that what you look for when you are thinking about buying manuscripts?
Shauna: Not always. You know, as far as being something that is different, mostly I’m looking for something that I love and that I just connect with as a reader, so sometimes that’s something that is much more to the center of, of what people generally expect from a romance. When something is sort of turned on its head or is done differently or there’s something very fresh about it, that’s really exciting too. I feel like I’m very much an all-purpose reader and an all-purpose romance reader, where I like stuff that is straight to the center of, of what all of those tropes are, and, but I also like stuff that is different. I mean, like, a perfect example of that, which, Jane, I think we’ve actually talked about this book, would be The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. I mean, just like reading a review of that book, and we’re like, yeah, and he’s got Asperger’s, and I was like, what?!
Shauna: I’ve, that I’ve got to read, right?
Shauna: ‘Cause I want to see how that is, works, right? So I liked that, but then something that is, that’s the sweet spot of expectation, you know, when it’s done right, it’s satisfying, and I love that too, so… And as an editor, I, you know, I want to have a well-rounded list, and I want to have a broad sampling of, of stuff to work on, but mostly it, it’s a very, kind of, it’s not a science, it’s very much kind of a gut sort of I get this, or I love this, or I can see who the reader is for this. I can see how we would do a really good job publishing this. You know, it, it’s a lot of those kind of things, too. It’s not just, oh, I’ve never read anything like this before, you know? ‘Cause a lot of times the thing that is not like anything else you’ve read before is a hard thing to publish, you know, because it, it’s not necessarily going to connect with the widest readership because it’s a little different.
Sarah: And it’s hard to succ-, explain succinctly. I think a lot of the time many people prefer a very short explanation of what a book is, and if you have to use –
Sarah: – like, more than 10 words, they’re like, yeah, no. No, I can’t read that –
Sarah: -that’s too many words. Whereas I like it where it’s like, okay, well the heroine has this, and then the hero has that, and then the conflict is this crazy thing. I’m like, ooh hoo hoo, click-click buy. The more words the better for me, but I feel like the more you can’t summarize a book very quickly, the less it works.
Shauna: Yeah, well, I think there is potentially, I think, some truth to that. You know, we talk a lot, you know, when I present books on my list to the, you know, at a launch meeting, which is, you know, sales and marketing and publicity and production and sub rights and all of those people, you know, so much of what I’m focusing on is how am I positioning this book so that it’s, you know, I can’t have, well, this is another great historical from this great author that we love, like, uh, God, you, you’ve got to find a way to talk about a book in a way that is like, it’s, for this readership, this is what makes this author special or different.
Jane: A lot of readers say that their dream job would just be to read all day. Is that your job? Is that what, should readers aspire to be an editor?
Shauna: [Laughs] It is not all that my, my job is. I do read a lot on my job. Like tomorrow, I, usually on Fridays I work at home and edit and read and, which is a really nice perk. I mean, it’s like any job. There’s always things that are hard or stressful or frustrating or worrisome, so my job, I always describe it as being three pronged. I have my list of authors that I work with, and that’s where a lot of the reading kind of comes in and working with them editorially, conceptually on the books, editing the manuscripts, all of that, and then I am the in-house advocate and point person for my authors, so I’m working with the art department on the covers, I’m working with the copy department on the blurbs, I’m working with marketing on whatever, what are our plans, and how we, you know, and all of those things, and then I’m also an acquiring editor, which is editing and submissions, and then that’s where there’s more reading again. Getting in submissions and trying to find new authors to, to acquire, so it would be, I don’t that I can really break down how much of my job is spent in each of those things. I mean, probably the working with the authors on my list and, and then being the in-house person is probably the stuff that takes up the most amount of time. I mean, I rely on my assistant a lot as far as submissions. She’s a really good reader.
Jane: What’s the one book that you bid for and that got away and you regret it?
Shauna: Oh, Sarah MacLean. I really wanted Sarah MacLean and didn’t, and did not get that. That’s the first one that comes to mind. I’m trying to think if there are any others.
Jane: And I know from our annual lunches that you are a big reader. What have you been reading that you’ve loved?
Shauna: I actually feel like I’ve been in a little bit of a reading weirdness, and part of it is when I’ve got work stuff that sort of interferes. The last thing I read that I loved that I still kind of, when people are like, what have you read lately? is The Goldfinch, which, you know, I am not a, all that much of a literary reader. I don’t like reading books that are really long, so there are, and I don’t even like Charles Dickens, so there are a lot of reasons, ‘cause you know, everybody described The Goldfinch as Dickensian, which it is and it isn’t. That should not have been a book that connected for me, but I loved it so much, and I sort of feel like everything should be called Not the Goldfinch, ‘cause that’s what it is. Like, I just, I really loved it.
Sarah: [Laughs] That’s kind of how I feel after, after the Cecilia Grant book.
Shauna: Yeah, I know, I mean, it’s hard when you get something that you love like that and then – yeah.
Sarah: Ah, crap, that ruined me for this genre for a little while.
Shauna: Yeah. We just recently published a New Adult author, well, Ruthie Knox, and then writing under the name Robin York, and Deeper is the name of that, and I sort of feel like a lot of New Adult has been ruined for me. I’ve kind of come back around, where now I’m able to, you know, read other New Adult and love it, but, like, after that book came in and I edited it, I was like, am I ever going to love another New Adult book? because it’s all going to be Not Deeper, which is great, I love having that experience, but it’s also a little hard, ‘cause it’s like, no, I want to have every, I want to love everything that I read as much as I love, you know, whichever book that it is.
Sarah: But it is realistic, because there’s, there’s no way for every book that’s published in that genre –
Sarah: – each month to be as good as the top of each, as, as the top of each genre each year. I mean, Jane, didn’t you once calculate that there’s more than 300+ books published every month if you include Harlequin?
Jane: Well, and that’s just traditionally published. I, I, I would guess that it’s probably in the thousands now with self publishing.
Sarah: So there’s just, there’s just no way for every book to be as good as the best one you’ve ever read, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to keep trying.
Shauna: Of course.
Shauna: I mean, and that’s true of everything. I mean, that’s true of food, where I’m like, you know, I can’t have every dinner be Eleven Madison Park or, or Shake Shack. Like, you know, I mean, then how could I ever appreciate Eleven Madison Park and Shake Shack if everything was as good as that? TV. Same thing. You can’t have every episode be as great as the last two episodes of The Good Wife.
Sarah: I hope you enjoyed our conversation with Shauna Summers, and I want to thank her for taking the time to talk to us and sharing so much about her job. I mean, I talk to editors a lot, and I really didn’t understand how many different aspects of their job was not reading. [Laughs] How much of it was not actually reading books, because you’d think that would be writing and editing and reading and editing would be the big thing.
I do have an email or two that I want to share with you before we go. This is from Darth Clavie. I think I’m saying that right, and if I’m not and it’s Clayvee [different pronunciation] , I’m sorry!
Dear Sarah and Jane,
Once again, it’s me, and I listened to you while I was grading my students’ final papers. I have to tell you, I just love your last two podcasts. I had never really heard of Marjorie M. Liu, but I loved, loved, loved the interview with her. She was so funny, and she had so many interesting things to say, and she’s also the reason I spent three days reading all of A Bride’s Story up to date, and she was right, it is a very interesting story.
Your conversation really got me thinking about the whole people of color thing in the books I read. I admit, I practice a bit of reverse snobbery, and I actually tend to avoid books with Mexican and Latina characters in them, mostly because I get REALLY FRUSTRATED [S: that’s in all caps] by their portrayal in the media. I am Mexican, have Mexican-American relatives, and it always give me the fury when I read these books, mostly because the way authors have Latina people speak in them is utterly ridiculous more often than not. [S: Girl, I hear you.] So I kind of started avoiding them, though I had no problem enjoying books where the main characters were from other cultures. There have been a few exceptions, and I want to share them in case there are other youngish readers out there looking for books where people of color, people of color are done right. Both books are YA, but I’m 30 and I love them.
Sarah: Sadly, it’s not a long list, but if anyone is interested, and if you’re not, don’t have to grab a pencil; I will have all of these links in the entry with the podcast, so don’t freak out! It’s okay, I’m going to tell you the books, or Darth is going to tell you the books, but I will link to them, so fear not. She says:
I definitely recommend My Most Excellent Year by Steven Kluger. I recently finished this book, and oh, my God, I loved it! The book tells the story of how T. C. Keller and Augie Hwong meet Alé Perez. T. C. and Augie, one day when they were six, decided to be brothers, and they have stuck to that for over 10 years already. When Alé transfers to their school, I loved it because, though Alé is of Mexican descent and Augie is American-born Chinese, and that’s a big part of their characters, it’s not all there is to their characters of the story. Their backgrounds are always there and they inform the story, but in a very unobtrusive way.
Another book I want to recommend is Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley. If you got a snowboarder whose parents are Chinese and who’s trying to find herself after she had a snowboarding accident a few months prior and you really get to know a lot of their family, particularly on the mom’s side, oh, and it was just a lovely read. [S: I want to read that right now. [Laughs]]
Now, regarding your podcast with Carrie S. She was so totally adorbs. I had so much fun listening to the two of you. She has a great voice, by the way. I instantly felt like I wanted her to be my new best friend. You were going on and on about the tree houses, which totally needs to happen ASAP, and Captain America and body types. I even went and bought Carrie’s book because it sounded funny, and I said, why not? Really, you guys make me laugh so hard, put me in such a good mood, that I didn’t even need to put Outbreak, my go-to feel-good movie for when I grade papers to cheer up after while reading my students’ term papers. That’s quite a feat, and I think they’ve got you guys to thank for their mostly good grades. [S: You’re all very welcome.]
Keep the podcast coming. Lots of love,
Sarah: Oh, those recommendations are awesome, and I totally want to read Girl Overboard, like, right fleepin now. I was totally tempted by that Disney channel movie about the snowboarders that looked horrible just because, you know, snowboarders! Oh, I want to read that. Thank you so much for the letter, ‘cause I’m going to go buy books now. Like that’s a problem.
This next email is from Irene, and she says:
I am also bad with titles, so I feel you. I am even worse with character names, so sometimes I wonder why I review books at all. But anyway, I just finished listening to your interview with Marjorie Liu, and I just wanted to tell you that my new motivation to finish this online course I’m doing is so I can direct my attention and feels towards Back to the Good Fortune Diner, and I’m emailing you about this because your description of it made me want to read it so badly, and the Goodreads reviews are interesting because they’re all more towards the cautious, it was okay, to, meh, instead of a lot of, oh, my God, so good! reviews.
Sarah: Yes, Irene, that is definitely true, and there are some flaws to Back to the Good Fortune Diner. There are some moments that are just completely treacly, over-the-top, sweet, small-town sparkly-pants with ponies flying out of people’s asses, but there’s, the parts that are good, I thought, were so good. But anyway, back to your letter:
I apologize for the ramble-y email [S: You should never apologize for a ramble-y email], but I’ve never encountered this book before, and I see so few Asians featured as heroines in romances, so I’d just like to thank you for mentioning it. I’ve also just eaten a lot of cake [S: [Laughs]], and I’m probably going through a sugar high as I write this email. But no, really, thank you for mentioning it. I’m always scared of reading interracial romance with Asian heroines because I already hear, see, and deal with all of the fetishizing crap, so I tend to stay away from it, and really, I think the only Asian romance authors I knew of before this podcast were Sherry Thomas and Courtney Milan, so it’s just wonderful to find more authors, and of course, I’m also going to check out Marjorie Liu as well.
I did want to ask you if you ladies have interviewed authors who specifically write interracial romance. It’s an avenue of romance I’ve never really explored, so, yeah. Your podcasts are great, and it’s always a joy to listen to them.
Sarah: Okay, thank you for your email, Irene, and I’m so pleased that you’re excited to read it, and I really do want to hear what you think of it once you’ve read it. Like I said, there are some moments that are a little less awesome than others, and there are some parts of this book, because there’s just so much packed into the Superromances now, that some things aren’t dealt with as well as other things, but I, I loved the heroine, and I loved her struggle with figuring out what the heck she wanted to do with herself and what her expectations of herself were and how to separate that from what her family’s expectations were, and her relationship with her brother is so painful and so real, and oh, it’s, it’s really, really powerful, I think, this book, so I really want to know what you think of it, and I hope you like it, and if you don’t, I hope you’ll tell me why, ‘cause then I can try to make better recommendations.
And I think we have time for one more message. Ready for one more? Of course you are! Well, I mean, you could turn the podcast off, I suppose, but I hope you’re ready for one more. This is from Amanda, who has three questions. First:
Dear Sarah and Jane,
I love the podcast. Thanks for keeping me in the loop about the romance world, even when I am stuck in the stacks. I love that even though I don’t have time to read all that often, I can hear about the silly tropes and new books to look for when I do have time. I have a few topics that I would love to hear from you guys about, and I apologize in advance for a bit of a lengthy email. [S: This actually isn’t even that long, but, you know, no worries!]
First, I have a special request for recommendations. I’m an archaeologist [S: Dude, awesome!], and I’ll be spending the summer on a dig. [S: Double awesome!] I love bringing trashy books with me to read when traveling for when I have down time. Shocking the locals is a joy. I was wondering if you had any archaeology, museum, history, scholar romance recommendations, particularly when the hero or heroine is an academic at heart.
Sarah: Oh, mercy! Yes, yes, I do. Are you ready? Don’t worry, I’ll write all these down for you, fear not. First, obviously, I am going to presume that you’re familiar with the Elizabeth Peters Amelia Peabody series, which isn’t romance, and it’s more mystery. If you’re not, those should definitely be your first stop because, well, Amelia Peabody is awesome. The first one is Crocodile on the Sandbank, the second one is The Curse of the Pharaohs, Amelia Peabody is badass, and if you haven’t read those, you’d really like them.
You would probably also like Susanna Kearsley, particularly The Shadowy Horses. Not all of Kearsley’s heroines are scholars, but they always investigate what’s happening to them because those books have sort of a paranormal-esque time-slip quality where past life and present life tend to become a very fluid thing for the characters. The heroines almost always investigate, but The Shadowy Horses in particular, I believe, has a researcher for a heroine.
Another book I want to recommend to you is Zoe Archer. The Blades of the Rose series, the whole series, is filled with people who are scholars or scientists, but specifically, Scoundrel deals with archaeology and research. The whole series, though, is a really great historical adventure romance series, and they’re really, they’re really well written. They’re wonderful. Scoundrel in particular has a researcher, but all four Blades of the Rose books are fantastic, especially the last one with the guy who invites, invents everything; he’s just cool.
And finally, someone will come to my house and kick my ass if I don’t mention Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase, and most of the books that deal with the Carsington brothers also deal with archaeology and, and scholarly research and Egypt and things like that. Specifically, Mr. Impossible because he’s, the hero, Rupert, is stranded in Egypt and is stuck with a scholar-heroine who wants him to rescue her brother, and then it’s Loretta Chase, so then it’s, you know, automatically pretty fleepin awesome!
I hope that’s helpful, and I hope you have a completely kickass dig this summer. I am going to save the last two questions for your email, though, for when I can be on the line with Jane, because I think that she would be able to help me better answer your questions. So stay tuned; I will definitely get back to your questions 2 and 3. But in the meantime, I hope that is a good start of a recommendation list.
And if you have ideas or suggestions or you’re thinking, how did you not remember to recommend that book, what is wrong with you? you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s always a good thing when you email us because, well, it’s fun and it’s awesome! You should do it! Besides [laughs], we might read your email in a podcast. How awesome is that, right? And if you’re really feeling brave or you just want to sing into your phone for a little while, you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number, which is 1-201-371-DBSA. Don’t forget to give us your name and where you’re calling from so we can include your message in an upcoming podcast, and if you do sing, bring it. Just bring it hard. Go hard or go home, right? Just loudly, sing. Or you know, do whatever you want. Yodel! Yodeling would be cool. We don’t have any yodeling podcasts. Or no, there probably is one. There’s also probably yodeling fanfic, because that’s the rules, right?
The music that you’re listening to is provided by Sassy Outwater, and this track is called Pro Terezku or Reels, and it’s by a group called Dún an Doras. You can find them on MySpace – I love that; I love saying MySpace. You can find them on MySpace, ‘cause that’s awesome! – and you can also find them on iTunes, and I’ll have links in the podcast entry to their music, to this song, and to the rest of the album.
This podcast is sponsored by InterMix, and they would like you to know about Once Upon a Billionaire by Jessica Clare. The latest book in the New York Times bestselling Billionaire Boys Club series is on sale April 15th wherever books are sold online. So if you have done your taxes in the United States and you’re not feeling like a billionaire, you should read about one, because you file your taxes on the 15th, turn around, buy the book, and it’s like having a billionaire in the palm of your hand! Thank you to InterMix for sponsoring the podcast. You’re completely awesome!
And that’s it for this week’s podcast! I’m going to stop talking now. Really. No, really, really, really. So wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, do it well, and Shauna and Jane and I and all of the awesome people who emailed you, or me, or us, we all wish you the very best of reading. Thank you for listening.