Smart Podcast, Trashy Books Podcast

119. Listener Mail: Novellas, Clergy and Religion in Romance and More

This week, Sarah dives into the mailbag, or the inbox that she imagines looks like a mailbag, to answer listener email on topics ranging from novellas, clergy in romance, library behind the scenes information, and more.

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This Episode's Music

Adeste Fiddles Album CoverOur music is provided by Sassy Outwater. This is Deviations Project, again, from their album Adeste Fiddles. I know a few of you also bought it – it’s really great, right?

This track is Here We Come a Wassailing, a traditional holiday carol about caroling.

Podcast Sponsor


This podcast is brought to you by InterMix, publisher of Schooled—the all-new novella in the Mastered series from New York Times bestselling author Lorelei James.

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But culture shock is the least of her worries when faced with the changes in Ronin—it feels as if she’s married a stranger. Caught between his sensei’s demands and pleasing his wife, Ronin is at war with himself over choosing advancement in his jujitsu training, or staying at home with the woman who owns his heart and soul. As the limits of their relationship are tested once again, Ronin and Amery discover that they both have a lot to learn about each other….and what it takes to build a love that’ll pass all life’s little tests.

Download it December 2nd!


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This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

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  1. Lammie says:

    I love your comment about if you complain about something more than twice, you have do something about it. What a great philosophy! I think I am going to try this.

    Regarding the comments about no one in contemporaries attending church: I did read a series by Marilyn Pappano (the Tallgrass series) about a group of military widows (and one widower), some of whose characters attend church. I don’t think they are inspirationals, but faith is a part of some of the characters lives. I did not feel preached to, like I did in the one inspirational I tried to read and couldn’t finish. They were just nice romances involving the difficulties of moving on after a military spouse has died.

  2. Cecilia says:

    @Julia (if this is the spelling of the reader who asked about inspirationals:

    While I don’t know much about inspies, I remember this really interesting discussion on Dear Author The comments include a lot of book recs.

    Of contemporary novels featuring a member of the clergy, I remember Noelle Adams’ Married for Christmas (, which features a widowed pastor. I’ve read only the free sample of it, and it was quite good.

    I have been recommended Noah Gordon’s The Rabbi ( but I haven’t read it yet.

    I’d love too to find more mentions of going to church, praying etc in historicals – general historicals, not inspirationals – since religion and religious gatherings had such an important role in people’s lives, even more than today.

  3. Ashley says:


    Here is a link to what a MARC record is and why it is important.

    Basically it’s a catalog of library information. It contains subjects, call numbers, descriptions, etc.

  4. ReneeG says:

    Listening to your podcast, clicking on the books! (Watching the gift balance decrease, oh well!)

  5. Vasha says:

    Heck yes to other holiday traditions. I have some friends who are pagan & they throw wonderful winter solstice parties and do a ritual around a bonfire at the top of a hill that is quite beautiful. Plenty of things there to inspire a book which I wish I could write; but to give other people an idea, I offer a song: “Welcome in Another Year” by Zoe Mulford.

  6. Christine says:

    Hi Sarah,

    So, I have to say that after listening to this week’s and last week’s podcasts, I’m kind of horrified to realize that I’ve been wasting the library’s money on the occasions when I’ve checked out an ebook through Overdrive and not read it–thanks for the education! I don’t make a habit of it, but I was definitely under the impression that it was a no harm/no foul situation. Apparently not so!

    As for my library usage, I pretty much always look to the library first if I want to read a book. I prefer to borrow ebooks, since it saves me some driving, but if they don’t have the ebook I seek, I place the paper copy on hold and pick it up at my preferred location.(Which is not actually the branch closest to me–that branch’s parking lot is a little secluded and backs onto a slightly unsafe-feeling alley, so I go to the one that shares a parking lot with the police station and also has a zen meditation garden to look at.) I use the Los Angeles County system which is huge, so there’s really a great selection available. The only thing I don’t typically find is M/M romance, although the West Hollywood branch does have paper copies of some things. One thing that I find kind of funny is that while some romances are cataloged in conventional fashion, a fair number just come up as “paperback” or some such thing when you check them out–as if paperback romances are all the same so why even bother? This has been problematic on a couple of occasions when I’ve checked out a binge-worthy number of books over the course of a week or ten days and then some of them come due but I have no idea which ones because they’re all just referred to in the system as “paperback.” You know you have elevated reading tastes when…

    Anyway, thank you as always for the great podcasts–I’m always so excited when Friday rolls around and there’s a new one! (I’m also always surprised–pleasantly, of course–because apparently I have no memory to speak of and can’t retain that Friday is DBSA podcast day.)

  7. Hanukkah story: Crista McHugh has one, SB Sarah liked it last year, but the name is escaping me.

    And there’s another category of holiday novella: Stuck together by forces outside their control! You know — the bad weather, the transportation fail, Die Hard, that theme … Julie Brannagh has one out right now that is a football star stuck in small town by weather, Holding Holly, in her Love and Football series. It’s a novella and only 99 cents.

    Do dinosaurs celebrate any holidays? This we should know.

  8. Paula says:

    How I use my library:
    It is the first place I go to for books. I use overdrive first, then the actual library if I can’t find it there. I belong to my local library Corpus Christi,Tx and I since I have a texas id I can get a free library card from the Houston, Tx and they have a larger selection. I also use the free online magazine service from my local library called Zinio. I also use the audio books.

    Thank you for the new podcast links I love to listen to podcast and will add these to my list.

  9. azteclady says:

    I can’t remember off the top of my head, and I’m dreading that I might have not kept, a category romance in which the hero is a pastor. At least part of the conflict stems from the fact that he is totally committed to being a pastor, and the heroine has some trouble understanding what that means–such as dates being interrupted or even pre-empted, etc.

  10. Amy says:

    Thanks for reading my email! Lol, sorry it was so long!

  11. I will also recommend BBC’s “In Our Time” – weekly podcast from the BBC4 that cover a different topic each week with a round robin of panelists. They cover history, science, culture, etc. The BBC site has an archive of all their previous episodes.

    I love my local library. I try to use them whenever I can, more heavily for their ebooks and audiobooks collections through Overdrive, although I do drop in every week or so to look at the new book shelves. I actually *don’t* use them for romance novels as much as I’d like — when they dropped their “popular” shelves, the mass market paperbacks were shelved in with the rest of fiction, if they’re carried at all and not carried as ebooks instead, and there isn’t a separate romance section to just skim. So it’s a little harder to discover new-to-me authors or backlist titles sometimes unless I go looking for them. They have added browse interface to their interface so I can see what they’ve added for any likely suggestions.

  12. garlicknitter says:

    @Cecilia, I’m with you on wanting to see more mention of characters in historicals going to church, praying, or at least thinking about religion from time to time. I remember years ago I read a Regency where the heroine was walking across the moors, considering whether to have sex with the hero. She thought of a bunch of good reasons it might be a bad idea: She might get pregnant, they might get caught and her reputation would be toast, he might not respect her anymore, etc. The thought that it would be a sin never crossed her mind. She was a vicar’s daughter, but maybe her father didn’t cover that in his ministry? I finished the book (and yes, she did have sex with the hero), but I had to work to keep my disbelief suspended after that bit.

    And I just now, while writing this, realized that that seems to be common in historicals these days. When considering whether to get it on, religious worries never seem to come up. Now, I don’t believe premarital sex is inherently sinful (I don’t believe most sex involving informed, consenting adults is inherently sinful), but it certainly was a prevailing belief in England during the Regency. Didn’t necessarily stop anybody, but a lot of people would have considered themselves sinners for doing what they were doing. I think Regency novels that aspire to be historically accurate should reflect that (and people should wear hats when they’re out of doors and not call each other by their first names within minutes of being introduced unless they’re actually closely related and so forth). Apply as appropriate to other time periods/cultures/etc.

  13. Lostshadows says:

    I have a question about library ebooks I’m hoping someone here knows. If I renew an ebook, does that lower the number of available checkouts again?

    I use my local library system quite a bit, but not as much as I could, because its a mile away, there’s a couple of hills between me and it, and I have no car.

    It is part of a pretty good ILS, which is good because its a pretty small library, which doesn’t seem to buy a lot of books I want to read.

    I seem to have developed a habit of checking the system for things that kinda interest me, adding them to a list on my account, and then never getting round to checking them out because its too cold/too hot/too rainy/I’m reading too many books right now/etc, then forgetting about them for ages.

    I haven’t borrowed that many ebooks from the system, because its worse than my local library for having books I want to read.

  14. tealadytoo says:

    Ah, novellas. I love a well-written one, though a lot of authors just can’t flesh out the characters properly in the restricted length.
    My favorite novella authors are Courtney Milan (“The Governess Affair” is the best introductory novella I’ve ever read, and “Unlocked” is fabulous), and Carla Kelly for Christmas novellas.

    I just haven’t seen many Hannukah novellas, but I did read one last year that was excellent. “Eight Tiny Flames” by Christa McHugh, in the anthology “A Very Scandalous Holiday”. A tale of a military nurse and doctor serving overseas in WWII. Just wonderful.

  15. RevMelinda says:

    Mad kudos to you, Sarah, for writing a Hanukkah story–can’t wait to read it! Here is the story I want–seeing as there’s a major deficit in romances featuring a female pastor or rabbi (ahem, not that I have a personal interest in this or anything), I would like a Harlequin Presents-ish novel (my favorite catnip) where the arrogant Greek billionaire/tycoon/sheik/prince runs into the female small-town pastor and Angst Ensues on both sides. Until this story appears (or I write it, inspired by you, Sarah!), I will have to make do with the various mystery series that feature female clergy protagonists and slow-burning romance arcs (Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson series chief among them). Many holiday blessings to you!

  16. Maureen says:

    I’m about to head out to the library to pick up my holds-so thought I would tell you my library habits!

    I use the library website a lot, checking the catalog, putting books on hold. I use ILL quite a bit-it still amazes me that I can place a hold, and have a book show up from somewhere else in the country-and it is free. I just now started borrowing ebooks and audiobooks-I must admit I find the search feature pretty frustrating.

    I visit the library several times a month, and while I am there I browse both the fiction and non-fiction shelves. So I might go in for a few holds, and come out with 12 other books I saw that caught my eye.

    If I knew my library needed help inputting MARC records to increase the circulation-I would gladly donate time to help them out-I feel lots of people would. I think my library could do a better job at advertising what they need volunteers for-besides shelving.

  17. I visit my local library every Saturday to return whatever I’ve completed and pick up whatever holds are waiting for me. Lately I’ve been checking out more and more ebooks now that it’s so easy and convenient for Kindle readers.

    My I-want-this eyes are always bigger than my I-have-time-for-this stomach, so I all too frequently return books unread when I don’t have time to get to them before my three weeks are up. But now that I know about those counting against an ebook’s lifetime lending limit, I’m going to try to limit my ebook borrowing to cases where I’m longing for that particular book, as opposed to those where it merely sounds worth giving a no-risk try to see if that author will work for me, and maybe I won’t have time to get to it or I’ll hate it and abandon it a chapter or two in.

  18. Oh, and what my library does with most donated paperbacks is slap a sticker on them that reads: “This material on loan from Seattle Public Library. Please return when finished.” They’re then shelved in a separate section from the regular bar-coded library books, and you can keep them as long as you want. It’s possible I have (mumble, cough) several such books on my TBR shelf. The librarians at my branch say they also circulate a lot of those books via bookmobile, at community events, when they visit senior centers, etc.

  19. library addict says:

    Thanks for reading my email, Sarah. I am very much looking forward to your Hanukkah novella. Yay!

    @Julia – the heroine in Carla Neggers Sharpe & Donovan series is an ex-nun. And one of the main secondary characters is a Catholic priest. Granted the series is about art crimes and the heroine and hero are both FBI agents so there isn’t a of of emphasis on religion, but it does play a factor in the series. The books are: (1) Saint’s Gate, (2) Heron’s Cove, (2.5) Rock Point, (3) Declan’s Cross, (4) Harbor Island (Rock Point gets billed as a prequel novella, but it was published after book 2 and just before book 3 and serves as a setup for the mystery in Declan’s Cross. So even though it is technically set first, it makes much more sense to read it between books 2 and 3 when it was actually published).

  20. Just saw this one published this year (possibly the only Hanukkah novella at Amazon):

    Lights, Latkes, and Love: A Holiday for Romance Novella

  21. Dena H. says:

    Christine: A lot of paperbacks (not just romances), have brief records in library catalogs. That usually means that there is just a title and author, but no other descriptive info. This is because it’s much faster to enter a brief record that a full one and traditionally paperbacks have been seen as ephemeral. The assumption was that they would not be a permanent part of the collection but would be discarded and not replaced when they wore out, so there was no reason to fully catalog it. But it sounds like what you’re talking about is that there is just one generic record in the catalog called “paperback” and all the individual books are entered under it just so there’s some sort of barcode that can be scanned and checked out. That sucks, but goes along with previous assumption. When I was growing up the my library did that – there was no way to find specific paperbacks in the catalog. If you wanted to find a book you had to physically go to each branch and see what was on their shelves. It was horrible (although I got to know all the libraries pretty well because I would make my dad drive me around the city hitting 4-5 branches in a day just so I could browse their paperback shelves). They finally started adding brief records for paperbacks only about 15 years ago.

    Lostshadow: Yes, a renewal of an ebook counts as a checkout. But not all publishers meter, so if you know the publisher you can usually know what the metering situation is. Metering publishers (off the top of my head): Macmillan (52 circs or 2 years, whichever is earlier), Harper Collins, Harlequin, Carina, Steeple Hill, Silhouette (26 circs), Entangled (52 or 2 years), Atria, Penguin, and Simon and Shuster (1 year). Inprints of these will also be metered. Sigh.

    And regarding volunteer data entry: One of the reasons we don’t usually let volunteers at our library enter data in the catalog is that they would also then have access to all the patron’s records, which could lead to some privacy issues. Also, Cataloging is a discipline with numerous rules and attention to precision. It’s something that even among librarians only a few naturally gravitate towards. It would be really easy to mess up the catalog if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. Plus, our union might not like non-library folks doing library stuff…

    Hope this helps – and yay for the confirmation that anyone in Texas can get a Houston library card, Paula!

  22. Colleen says:

    Robyn Carr has a contemporary in her Virgin River Series where the local priest is the hero and gives the heroine a job working at the church. Can’t remember the name of course but I think it was one of the middle to later ones. Thanks again for a great show. I found myself answering your questions aloud several times and had to laugh at myself! Happy Hannukah Sarah.

  23. Hillary says:

    I remember when I was in library school and realized just how hard it was to get donations into the circulating system because of MARC records. I did a lot with MARC records in my classes and during an internship, so I count as one of the few who likes them. Ironically, I don’t work in a library because I married a foreigner and moved out of the country 🙂 However, I do want to say that BUYING books from the Friends of the Library stores does help the library stay afloat! That money fills gaps. Whenever I am home long enough to make a trip to whatever library is local to my mother, I always go there first why buying books to bring home with me. I get lots of nice children’s books that way, and well everything!

  24. Maddy says:

    The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness features a romantic hero who is a Catholic vampire who builds a family chapel, and observes the sacraments in church, etc. Now come to think of it I am hard-pressed to think of any other characters who attend services of any kind. Oh! although I did just read a Debbie Macomber holiday novel where the heroine did go to Christmas mass and her family serves at a soup kitchen for the holidays as well, which I remember because I was happily surprised they mentioned either of those things. 🙂

  25. […] Which brings us to today’s post. If you want to know more about the book and why she wrote it, listen here and read […]

  26. […] It’s not that there aren’t romances with clergy out there, it’s just that they are no longer a stock character in the Regencies stories I’ve been reading. RWA has a subgroup called Faith-Hope-Love which specializes in Christian romance. Heroes and Heartbreakers had a post on vicars in romance novels in 2013, and the Smart Bitches podcast has discussed clergy in romance a couple times: see episodes 119 and 124. […]

  27. […] brings us to today’s post. If you want to know more about the book and why she wrote it, listen here and read […]

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