Also: a sneak peek into what’s next in her Sirens series and for the Charlotte Street series!
TW/CW: talk about sexual harassment, the price of being female and speaking up for yourself, the challenges of owning sexuality, domestic violence, workplace harassment and assault, and specific crimes against women – to quote Feminist Survival Project hosts Emily and Amelia Nagoski, Patriarchy, UGH.
Thank you to Jacqueline, Carrie, Aarya, Leigh, and Claudia for the questions!
Looking for a new show to enjoy? Check out My Imaginary Friends with L. Penelope.
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
And you can take a peek at the audiobook art for The Rakess – don’t miss it!
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Thanks for listening!
This episode is brought to you by the fake engagement, secret attraction, Cuban sandwiches, and Key West setting of Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras.
Social media influencer Sara Vance, in recovery from an eating disorder, is coming into her own, with a potential career expansion on the horizon. Despite the good news, her successful siblings (and their perfect spouses) have a way of making her feel like the odd one out. So, when her unreliable boyfriend is a no-show for a Florida family vacation, Sara recruits Luis Navarro—a firefighter paramedic and dive captain willing to play the part of her smitten fiancé.
Luis’s big Cuban familia has been in Key West for generations, and his quiet strength feeds off the island’s laidback style. Though guarded after a deep betrayal, he’ll always help someone in need—especially someone with a surprising knowledge of Spanish curse words. Soon, he and Sara have memorized their “how we met” story and are immersed in family dinners, bike tours, private snorkeling trips . . . sharing secrets, and slow, melting kisses. But when it’s time for Sara to return home, will their fake relationship fade like the stunning sunset, or blossom into something beautiful?
Island Affair was listed on Goodreads, Bookish and Glitter Guide as a Best Of & Most Anticipated Books, and it was a Frolic Book of the Week. Take a trip to Key West with Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras, available now wherever books are sold. Find out more at kensingtonbooks.com.
❤ Click to view the transcript ❤
Sarah Wendell: Well, hello there. Happy Friday, or whatever day you’re listening to this, and thank you for inviting me to hang out with you! I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, and this is Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, and today I’m talking about rakes, rakesses, and historically ferocious women with Scarlett Peckham. We talk about what calls her feminist primal scream book, The Rakess, and we talk about steely, steadfast, cinnamon roll heroes and deep dive into what we love about characters who destabilize each other. We also get a sneak peek into what’s next in her Sirens series and for the Charlotte Street series, so if you’re a Scarlett Peckham fan, this episode is entirely your catnip.
Now, I do want to mention, we talk about sexual harassment, the price of being female and speaking up for yourself, the challenges of owning your own sexuality, domestic violence, workplace harassment and assault, crimes against women – basically, throughout this episode, to quote the Feminist Survival Project hosts Emily and Amelia Nagoski: patriarchy – ugh! So, yeah, there’s a lot of that.
But I also have to say thank you to Jacqueline, Carrie, Aarya, Leigh, and Claudia for some brilliant, brilliant questions for this episode.
And speaking of this here episode, it is brought to you by fake engagements, secret attraction, Cuban sandwiches, and the Key West setting of Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras. Social media influencer Sara Vance, in recovery from an eating disorder, is coming into her own, with a potential career expansion on the horizon. Despite the good news, her successful siblings and their perfect spouses have a way of making her feel like the odd one out. So when her unreliable boyfriend is a no-show for a Florida family vacation, Sara recruits Luis Navarro, a firefighter paramedic and dive captain willing to play the part of her smitten fiancé. Luis’s big Cuban familia has been in Key West for generations, and his quiet strength feeds off the island’s laidback style. Though he’s guarded after a big betrayal, he will always help someone in need – especially someone with a surprising knowledge of Spanish curse words. Soon, he and Sara have memorized their “how we met” story and are immersed in family dinners, bike tours, private snorkeling trips, sharing secrets, and slow, melting kisses. But when it’s time for Sara to return home, will their fake relationship fade like the stunning sunset or blossom into something beautiful? Island Affair was listed on Goodreads, Bookish, and Glitter Guide as a Best Of and Most Anticipated Book, and it was a Frolic Book of the Week! Take a trip to Key West with Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras, available now wherever books are sold. Find out more at kensingtonbooks.com.
In addition to the fantastic folks who sent in questions, I also want to say thank you to the Patreon community who keep the show going every week. And I’ve got a number of cool episodes planned for the next month. The Patreon community gets to help me figure out questions and make suggestions, so if you’re thinking that is a thing you’d like to do, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. It would be delightful to have you in our Patreon community, and you get to tell me what I should ask our guests, which is always fun, because they ask brilliant questions. All of y’all know all the things; it’s pretty great.
This episode is also brought to you by Ritual, which is a daily multivitamin obsessively researched for women. Ritual is vegan-friendly, sugar-free, non-GMO, gluten-free, allergen-free, and all of the sources for the nine nutrients inside are provided for you to read and research on your own. Ritual is designed to be the easy way to build your daily ritual! A subscription box of vitamins arrives on your doorstep, and your next bottle will be arriving just as you finish the last one! It’s only a dollar a day to have your daily multivitamin delivered. I really like the convenience, the researchable ingredients, and the details as to why these essential nine are in there. Plus there’s this mint tab inside that keeps them from having that weird aftertaste if you’ve ever had that from vitamins? I get that from vitamins. There’s, they don’t have that. There’s a mint tab in there that makes that go away. Ritual is offering you – yes, you – ten percent off your first three months. Fill in the gaps with Essential for Women by visiting ritual.com/SARAH – that’s S-A-R-A-H. You can start your ritual today. That’s ten percent off your first three months at ritual.com/SARAH.
Now, I have two more things to tell you about. First, please stay tuned to the end of the episode, which is called the outro, because I have a truly spectacular bad joke to share with you, sent to me by Ms. June Ammidown, daughter of Steve Ammidown of the Bowling Green Popular Culture Library. I was told to credit her – I beg your pardon – June Ammidown, age five and a half. June Ammidown, age five and a half’s joke is so good, you do not want to miss it. Seriously, it’s amazing.
And I have a podcast to tell you about! As part of the Frolic Podcast Network, I get to work with all these nifty podcasters, and here’s one you can listen to:
- Penelope: Hi, I’m L. Penelope, and I’m an author of epic fantasy and paranormal romance and also the host of My Imaginary Friends, which is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. On my show you’ll get a weekly look behind the scenes of an author navigating the publishing world, as well as thoughts and tips on creativity, inspiration, writing routines, and more. So if you’re an established or an aspiring writer or a reader who always wanted a peek into an author’s life, you can find me at myimaginaryfriendsshow.com or wherever you get your podcasts.
Sarah: Now you know that I will have links to not only L. Penelope’s podcast but all of the books that we talk about in this episode, so let’s get started with it! On with my conversation with Scarlett Peckham.
Scarlett Peckham: Hello! My name is Scarlett Peckham. I am a historical romance novelist. I just had the debut of a new series a couple weeks ago; it’s called the Society of Sirens, and it is set in the 18th century. It’s about three radical libertine ladies determined to weaponize their scandalous reputations to fight for justice and the love they deserve. And the first book is called The Rakess, which is about a women’s rights reformer who is also a bit of a rake and a man who is not looking to have a love affair with her, and I think you can probably imagine what happens. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, that never works out the way they intend.
Scarlett: I know! It’s funny how that works.
Sarah: So I mentioned to my reviewing team, and I mentioned to the Patreon community, that I was doing this interview, and there was so much excitement. I have not seen that many exclamation points used. So many people are excited about this book! Congratulations! That’s amazing!
Scarlett: Oh, thank you! I’m so glad people are excited; I’m excited!
Sarah: So I know that this story inverts a lot of tropes, which is one of my very favorite things! And it, it, it not only inverts and subverts tropes, but it also messes with power dynamics in a way that is absolutely delicious. What led you into this story?
Scarlett: I think usually when I begin to write any story, a trope is usually at the top of my mind, and in this case, obviously, the trope was the Rake, and I was thinking a lot about power dynamics, because I feel like there’s a lot of power and privilege baked into the idea of the Rake, particularly the privilege of being sexually promiscuous and how it relates to what kind of body you live in. I was thinking a lot about –
Scarlett: – you know, what is it, what is it like to be a rake in the age before birth control if you have a uterus and are able to get pregnant? And the inherent vulnerability of that, which is not shared by a cisgendered male, which is usually the person who embodies the Rake trope.
Scarlett: So I was thinking about that in terms of just the, the baked-in freedom that we have with our bodies in various different times in our lives and how that changes, depending on what’s happening in society and the progress of medicine, and then also just the privileges of the double standard, which, you know, what do men get to do? What do women get to do? And then how does society view them for the choices that they make? So I was thinking a lot about power dynamics. The book is very much about those power dynamics; it’s definitely not subtle. [Laughs]
But I also love to just write heroines who are very strong and empowered and have a lot of agency, and this heroine in particular, I thought it would be fun to sort of couple that part of the Rake trope where they just give absolutely no fucks about anything –
Scarlett: – to this, this female rake. Like, and that was actually, it turned out to be much more complicated than I was expecting, because it, it turned out that it’s more that Seraphina, the heroine of the book, purports to give no fucks, and it’s something of a performance or an act of self-protection? So dealing with that duality of who she is on the surface and who she is underneath is sort of the heart of the book, but not really the heart that I intended to get to when I was initially thinking of the idea.
Sarah: It’s a very difficulty balance and, and a set of boundaries to figure out how to give no fucks without being a completely ruthless person, right?
Scarlett: Absolutely. Yeah, and I think Sera comes up against that in many ways, because part of giving no fucks about the things that you do is giving no fucks about the consequences of what happens when you act that way, and so –
Scarlett: – kind of, one of my questions is what, what leads the Rake to behave in this way? Why is the Rake so determined to behave in a way that is sort of out of touch with the consequences of what they choose to do, and what sort of backstory would lead to someone wanting to behave that way and to sort of asserting the power that comes along with that, even when sometimes that power can be a bit indelicate to the happiness of other people? [Laughs]
Sarah: Yes, and the fact that a man who chooses to give zero fucks and act as if their, their behavior has no consequences is often admired, whereas a female who does that is absolutely vilified.
Scarlett: Ugh, absolutely, and that was so, so, so top of mind for me when I was writing, just because I started writing the book in 2016, so in the lead-up to the Trump election, and then –
Scarlett: – having, continuing to sort of – [laughs] –
Sarah: Ohhh, gosh!
Scarlett: Oh yeah! I mean, that’s sort of why we, we had a, not just a female rake, but an angry feminist reformer female rake? Everything –
Scarlett: – kind of came together when that happened. And then, you know, #MeToo was happening, and the Harvey Weinstein thing was happening, and I was thinking a lot about, you know, just this, these women who are on the front lines of sort of pushing forward the conversation about feminism and about rape culture and about what the conversation should be around these topics and who are just tortured in some ways because of the scrutiny they face and the trollery they face –
Scarlett: – and I thought that that was something that it was sort of powerful to be honest about in the book, so yeah, there’s a lot of that kind of percolating in this text. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. And you, you mention in your author’s note that when we think of the female rake, we already call her the ruined woman, and so you combined those two con-, those two concepts, and I want to ask what was a sort of essential to creating that, that combination, but also, it, it occurred to me just now, listening to you talk about the consequences of speaking up and trying to push against all of the things that try to limit women’s freedom to own and operate their own bodies, that we’re still ruined; we still pay such a high price –
Sarah: – for daring to speak out. We still face this horrible ruination, even though the application of the word isn’t necessarily the same in today’s context. The, the, the feeling of it, it, it is!
Scarlett: Absolutely. I mean, I – [laughs] – sort of somewhat jokingly referred to this book when I was writing it as my feminist primal scream book, because –
Scarlett: – it was just so much anger about that exact idea when I was writing it, and – so when I talk about the Rake trope, I’m, I’m often more specifically referring to the one that I grew up with? So I’m in my mid-thirties, and I –
Scarlett: – started reading romance when I was like ten, and so I was reading them in the ‘90s, and a lot of these were, like, backlist titles I got from the library, so, you know, the sort of older school romances –
Scarlett: – from the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, and, you know, I was looking at this dichotomy between the Rake, who is feckless but sort of harmless and often secretly depressed, and oftentimes he’s depressed because his life just lacks no stakes? Like, he can make any wild decision he wants. He can drink himself into literal cirrhosis of the liver by the time he’s thirty-two, and it just doesn’t seem to matter because he’s rich and he’s just living in a society that allows him to do whatever he wants without consequence.
Scarlett: And then you have a woman who is, perhaps has had one transgression in her past. Like, maybe she had a youthful affair, or maybe someone just said in a public setting that she had a youthful affair, or maybe she was just seen in the wrong person’s carriage at, you know, dusk, once, on the Serpentine or something. [Laughs] And –
Scarlett: – and her life is over, you know. It’s just her, she has all the stakes, and he has none of them, and so that was kind of so baked into my first experience of romance when I first fell in love with the genre as, like, a ten-year-old. And I think that was happening at the same time, like, to sort of connect it to how these books sort of play into the culture and feed back into them, you know, that was the Clinton era, where Monica Lewinsky is getting shamed for sleeping with a person who is her boss and also the president.
Scarlett: You have the O. J. Simpson trial, where Nicole Brown Simpson gets murdered after, like, a horrendous situation of domestic abuse, and the person who ostensibly may have been guilty of it is acquitted and celebrated for being acquitted, and it just, this message of men are blameless when they act egregiously and women are, are targets, even when they don’t –
Scarlett: – do anything wrong? It’s sort of, to me, is very tied to this double standard of the Rake and the Ruined Woman. And so –
Scarlett: Yeah, I started thinking about that, and I started thinking, like, well, what has changed and what hasn’t? And I think it’s actually interesting, because romance has done interesting things with the Rake trope since the ‘90s in ways that I’m not even sure society necessarily has? Like, I think romance might be a little – [laughs] – ahead of it? Like, you think about, you know, like, Loretta Chase wrote Lord of Scoundrels, where she’s, like, digging into the trauma behind the Rake trope and trying to sort of turn that character into something more fulsome than just the give-no-fucks energy that he purports to have, and then you have the sort of softer rakes that Lisa Kleypas writes and Sarah MacLean writes, and I think that’s really cool, and it’s a really interesting look at power dynamics, but I’m not sure that we necessarily have seen such a clear shift in society, because I just look at this double standard. [Sighs] Or, I mean, that’s simplistic, but I don’t know; you just think about 2016, 2017, 2018 –
Scarlett: – and what was happening, and it just, it kind of sent me back into a place of, like, does this dichotomy still exist, and how can we poke at it, and is there worth something, is there something worth exploring or saying about this?
Sarah: Yes, and how, how has it changed, and how has it very, very much not changed?
Scarlett: Exactly. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. Now, was there a guiding phrase or idea or concept that led you into the hero? Because it’s, it’s a lot to be the hero in a romance when you have a heroine who is, as you say, the embodiment of, of, of frustration, rage, and anger.
Scarlett: [Laughs] Well, when you put it like that! [Laughs more] Yes, I think that there was a very clear sort of foil that had to exist because Seraphina has so much frustration and rage.
Scarlett: You know, he needs to be someone who can somehow handle that, which means he needs to be someone who’s just kind of an emotional force. And I think –
Scarlett: – that’s something you see in the rake books that I was thinking about too, because usually, like, the, the canonical rake, you know, his foil is this woman who’s sort of prim and reserved and maybe sexually inexperienced, but she’s an emotional dynamo. You know, she sees right through him, and ultimately she brings him to his knees, and also she has to be cautious because she has very good reasons not to be with him, because he’s dangerous, be it because of –
Scarlett: – his reputation or because of his sort of, you know, aforementioned give-no-fucks attitude about the consequences of his lifestyle. So when I was thinking about what to do with Seraphina and the kind of person I wanted her to find, I was thinking about someone who would be threatened by her revolutionary sentiments and her reputation but would be completely unthreatened by her emotional defenses. So I needed someone who was sort of –
Scarlett: – he, he sees through her vulnerability, and he sees that she’s an extraordinary person, and he finds that inspiring and unusual and exciting, and he is totally up for it, and because he finds her so extraordinary, he puts up with a lot of things from her, because he’s just trying so hard to get into the vulnerability that he sees percolating underneath all of that? So he’s kind of a cinnamon roll, but he’s a really, really, really steely, steadfast cinnamon roll. He helps her sort of do the thing that happens in a Rake book, which is that, you know, the rake sort of learns how to love and learns that love can be more nourishing than they initially assumed –
Scarlett: – and then the rake expands the boundaries of the other person’s life. Usually the rake reawakens, you know, the heroine’s sexual passions, and that does sort of happen with Adam and Seraphina, although he’s very sexually experienced, but he’s also quite repressed, and he has a little bit of trauma around casual sex, and so he’s protecting himself from that. And she kind of reawakens his passions, but also his artistic passions and his political beliefs that have been kind of pushed under the surface in order to conform with society. And so it becomes, like, this nice marriage of what does she bring out in him, and what does he bring out in her? But a lot of that, like, in terms of his component of that, it’s that he just has so much emotional capacity, and he’s so emotionally intelligent, and that’s really what she needs, because she’s sort of emotionally shut down, at least for the first half of the book.
Sarah: And they threaten each other in very different ways.
Scarlett: Yes, they definitely do.
Sarah: I mean, they are threatening and terrifying in completely unexpected ways. I’m trying not to be spoiler-y, but they’re terrifying to each other!
Scarlett: They destabilize one another, and I think –
Scarlett: Yeah. Like, they really, really, really do destabilize one another, and to me, that’s the delicious part of romance? Like, whether you’re doing that in a highly comic way or in a deep, intense way like this book is trying to do? That’s the part where, I don’t know, that’s what gets me going. Like, when the other person is just sort of completely shattered by – [laughs] –
Scarlett: – what the other one brings out in them.
Sarah: Yes. I, I love that? I also love the incredible vulnerability between characters who’ve, who realize that they other person sees who they really are?
Sarah: And it’s a particular sort of being-seen vulnerability like, well, crap, I can’t get anything past you, and you, you –
Sarah: – oh damn it! You know, that’s terrifying!
Scarlett: It’s so terrifying. Yeah. That’s another of my favorite aspects of romance novels, that unpeeling process where one realizes –
Scarlett: – that they’re another person’s onion. [Laughs]
Scarlett: Which is pretty cool from the reader’s perspective, pretty bad from the onion’s perspective. [Laughs]
Sarah: Exactly! Absolutely terrifying when it’s done to you, but watching it done to someone else is like, oh yes! Next page, and yeah? Mm-hmm?
Scarlett: [Laughs] Exactly.
Sarah: Do you have any favorite onion characters where you’re like, oh yes! [Evil laugh]
Scarlett: Great onion character. I feel like K. J. Charles writes really good onion characters?
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Scarlett: I haven’t read it in a while, but I’m thinking of A Seditious Affair. Have you read that? The one about the –
Scarlett: I love that book. I think it’s, like, a masterpiece of plotting, but I also, I, I felt surprised by the ways that the characters came into focus, because on the surface they were kind of who they were at the beginning, and then as she kind of –
Scarlett: – just unpeels their vulnerabilities, and it’s so just, like, it’s like she has a scalpel in her hand at all times. Like, she’s really in a class by herself, but yeah, just seeing how the, the vulnerabilities and how those are completely almost oppositional to the power dynamics that you expect them to have, it’s just –
Scarlett: – oh! It’s a very wild ride. I highly recommend that book. [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh yeah. Now, I know that Seraphina was very largely inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft, and that they were both sort of determined to devour as much of their own lives as they can, and in your author’s note you, you point out that Wollstonecraft was, was driven in her own sort of astonishing life –
Sarah: – by seeing how her friends’ lives were limited by the restrictions placed on them by, because of their gender. I also have to tell you that Carrie asked me to tell you, because she loves Romantic Outlaws –
Scarlett: Oh, me too.
Sarah: – and did a lot studying for the Year of Frankenstein, and she said, please tell Scarlett thank you –
Sarah: – for giving Mary Wollstonecraft a happy ending –
Sarah: – because she has always wished that something, that things could have ended better for Mary. Was this, was, was writing this and spending time with, with, with both Mary Wollstonecraft and Seraphina, was that inspiring to you as well?
Scarlett: Yeah, it was very inspiring, and I completely agree with the sentiment of wanting to give Mary Wollstonecraft a happier ending?
Scarlett: I think I even say that in the author’s note. Like, I want to give her a romance-novel-style Happily Ever After, where it’s not like things are good for a minute, and then you die in childbirth. It’s like things are good, and then that’s, like, the start of the rest of your life. It’s kind of a – I don’t know; I was thinking about wanting to do this and thinking about who Mary Wollstonecraft was as a person and critic, because she was sort of scornful of romantic novels during her career.
Scarlett: But at the same time, I just, I, when I think about her story and think about the incredible transgressiveness of her life, and like you said, the astonishing things that she accomplished, and then I just think of how much she was pushing and pushing and pushing, not just for reform in terms of getting education and opportunities to women who she had watched literally suffer her entire life from not having them and then seeing, you know, men in parallel circumstances not having to suffer in those ways, which is just – ah! – just the way that in her own relationships, like in her relationship with William Godwin, who was the person she ended up with at the end of her life, the fact that you read their letters – and a lot of them are excerpted in this book, Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon – and they’re just constantly negotiating how to form an equal domestic partnership so that Mary can continue building her career and writing her novel, and Godwin can continue with his own career, and they can both take care of their two children.
Scarlett: And it’s just such a modern conversation, and one that, the idea of it happening in the 1790s is just so wild to me. So yeah, I thought that was incredible, and I wanted to imagine Mary getting into a relationship with someone who passionately loved her and also passionately respected her intellectual force and –
Scarlett: – who made her really happy for the rest of her life. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yes. ‘Cause she deserved it! I mean, the costs that she paid for the things that she did were, are so painful to read about.
Scarlett: So painful! And then the fact that she was slut-shamed upon her death! Like, it, it’s just, I, I’m aghast. Every time I think of it I get sad. But I also get happy, because of course she got her redemption in the end and wrote one of the most seminal, you know, feminist texts of all time. It’s not that she didn’t make a tremendous stamp on society. I don’t think that Mary Wollstonecraft necessarily has a sad ending? It’s just, like, I want one because she suffered so much, in part because of love. You know, she had these tempestuous love affairs, and several of them ended badly, and she suffered depressions and attempted suicide. Like, she really, really, really was a very passionate, very emotional, very sensitive person, and someone who I think would have really enjoyed, you know, getting to have the thing that she was fighting for the whole time, which is sort of this, like, balance between passionate, romantic love and a fulfilling domestic arrangement and an intellectual career that could continue to push forward all of these principles that she was so, so utterly devoted to her whole life. And –
Scarlett: – we really can’t have it all! [Laughs]
Sarah: No. It’s, it’s a Goddamn shame, but it’s true.
Scarlett: [Sighs] I know, I know.
Sarah: So Jacqueline, who is part of my Patreon community, wanted me to ask if you had any say in the, in the cover? It’s a very throwback clinch image, but the power dynamic is visually reversed, and she also wants to know if there’s going to be more in the Secrets of Charlotte Street series, because she hopes so.
Scarlett: Ah, well, thank you for the question, Jacqueline! Yes, I was very much involved in, let’s say, demanding a throwback cover.
Scarlett: I would, I would hesitate to say that the fine people at Avon were delighted with me by the end of the process, because I was like, how maximalist can we be? Like, can there be fire in this? Can there be more lightning? Can there be a unicorn? Like, I wanted it to be like high Robert McGinnis, Johanna Lindsey, like, if Bobby O is available, please hire him, but they were more like, you know, let’s, let’s make this something that is understandable to the consumer as a romance novel and not just a vintage book that got placed on a shelf accidentally in Walmart, so we compromised. But yeah, no, I really, really, really wanted a throwback; I really wanted a clinch; and I really wanted the power dynamic to visually, to be reversed, because of course this is a book about the woman being the one who’s sexually powerful and the man being the one who looks like he’s about to pass out from his vulnerability and lust, so – [laughs] –
Scarlett: Yeah. And I wanted to honor the books that inspired this type of story, because this, the book itself is kind of, it, it’s not just the cover, but kind of the themes and the structure, it’s a little bit of a throwback to, you know, the romances of the ‘80s and ‘90s that were quite tempestuous and, like, really, really long, and they had a lot of side plots, and I really loved that as, you know, an eleven-year-old with a long summer break. [Laughs] And so the way those books were just really kind of sprawling and absorbing and highly, highly melodramatic and quite Gothic was also on my mind, and I wanted the cover to capture that too.
Sarah: And it works because it’s, it’s both emblematic of what you and I both remember as the style of romance when we started reading the books in the, in the ‘80s and, and the ‘90s –
Sarah: – but at the same time very clearly communicates who’s in charge in this situation.
Scarlett: Oh hell yeah. [Laughs]
Sarah: I take it you like your cover then.
Scarlett: I do like my cover. What I actually love is, if you look online or you have the audiobook, the audio cover is even more dramatic? It’s, like, a little bit more dark and stormy, and I really like the print cover, I think it’s very beautiful, but the audio cover is like, mwah, chef’s kiss. I love it so much! [Laughs]
Sarah: I will, I will link to both so everyone can see them –
Scarlett: Okay! [Laughs]
Sarah: – because –
Scarlett: Yeah. The audiobook, by the way, is amazing. If anyone likes to read in audio, I was blown away by it. Like, I’m not even biased; like, it’s just so good. [Laughs]
Sarah: Well, the, the, the audiobook, because – it’s so interesting to me that so many audiobook covers almost look like album covers? Like they’re for LPs?
Scarlett: Oh yeah! That’s a good point!
Sarah: ‘Cause they’re square, so this is a, it’s a wider, full version of the whole art. Like, you see –
Sarah: – all the art. It’s fabulous!
Scarlett: Yeah, I really like it. It moved me.
Sarah: Posters for days. Posters for days.
Scarlett: [Laughs] Exactly!
Sarah: So Aarya, who writes for me, wanted to know, you write some angsty books, and she’s always wondered about the writing process, because, she says, I am stressed and worried when I read angsty books. Does she feel that way when she’s writing, or is it just business or, as normal? And also she says, I enjoyed The Rakess, and I am so looking forward to more.
Scarlett: Oh, thank you, Aarya! I am going to be honest: no, I do not get stressed out.
Scarlett: Quite the opposite! I’ve been working on a rom-com screenplay as, like, a little side project with my friends because the world is intense right now and I need a, a chuckle? And I actually find that a lot harder, like, just creating zany hijinks!
Scarlett: I don’t know! I’m, like, an emotionally dead person, so –
Scarlett: – I really need to be operating at a ten in order to even be interested in my own book.
Scarlett: So let that be a warning to all of you delicate types. Like – [laughs] – read the content advisories. Things get, things get wild and dark.
Sarah: It makes me think of, of cooking, ‘cause we were talking about peeling the onion characters, and there are some times when you’re cooking with an onion that’s extremely fresh and it’s very, very tight, and you can’t get the skin off, and you can’t peel it, and you can’t – I’m like, yeah, that’s the kind of hero or heroine we’re talking about here. You really have to fight for those layers!
Scarlett: You may even have to chop them in half. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. Just pole to pole.
Scarlett: Violently, with a butcher’s knife. Sorry! [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah. [Laughs]
Leigh says, when I posted on the Patreon group that I was going to interview you, she said, I am so excited to hear this! I’m very curious if Scarlett has a background in marketing, because I have been so impressed with her social media and newsletter presence from the very beginning. She seemed to burst onto the scene and immediately know how to present her debut in a way that had me sprinting to sign up for her email to get access to the first chapter. So well done, ma’am! Do you have a marketing or, or social media background?
Scarlett: I do, in fact, and also, Leigh is hired to be my, to be my PR person, because thank you very much for that summary!
Scarlett: Yeah, I, I spent about ten years working in the kind of evil form of PR, like the kind where you’re like – [laughs] – like on Scandal? So I have a, a background in, like, crisis management and corporate communications and financial communications, but also a bit of branding, and so, like, I know the drill in terms of, you know, crafting a story, and then I also did internships in college writing for blogs, and I worked at a couple of literary agencies? So I feel like between the PR piece/branding piece and then, like, the writing for the internet piece and then the sort of knowing how books are sold piece, I had had a –
Scarlett: – sort of holistic education in how to develop an author brand by the time I started writing books, so it worked out very nicely –
Scarlett: – and I really appreciate the compliment. [Laughs] It makes my, my early career feel less like a, a strange diversion.
Sarah: So does your, does your background in crisis management influence the development of the angst of your characters? Because that’s a very angsty situation to be in when you’re managing an online problem or a, or a, a PR crisis in any media. Does that influence your writing at all?
Scarlett: That’s a really interesting question! I think my therapist might say that my –
Scarlett: – my stress addiction is what links all of these things.
Scarlett: Yeah, I mean, I, I do sort of get off on intensity, and there is such an intensity of the narrative when you’re dealing with a crisis situation? Like, that job is like an up-at-dawn, asleep-at-four-in-the-morning, up-at-dawn-again, relentless, like, battling on all fronts. Like, it’s so fascinating, and it’s so character-driven, because a lot of the times, you know, I was, I was working for, like, Fortune 100 companies that were doing, like, giant mergers and acquisitions or, like, having massive product recalls, or, you know, all these really, really terrible market moving – or not terrible; sometimes they were fine and out of the company’s control, and it was just that you had to, you know, be across everything and manage all of their different audiences? But a lot of times it’s, you know, really, really personal with, like, a chairman of the board ousting a CEO that has run a company for ten years, and you’re sort of doing cloak and dagger shit behind their back, and it’s – [laughs] – while trying not to, you know, slip any words to anyone who might be able to influence the stock market behind the scenes, so it’s really, really high stakes, because if you mess up, people will lose, you know, billions of dollars, including, like –
Scarlett: – trusts that, you know, pay the pensions for firefighters and stuff. Like, you really, really don’t want to do a bad job of it –
Scarlett: – and there’s a lot of egos involved and a lot of adrenaline, so yeah, I think all of those things are at work in my novels, and that’s a really interesting parallel!
Sarah: Claudia asked me to ask you if, if working with Avon after self-publishing changed your writing process at all.
Scarlet: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question! I was thinking about that, actually, because I’m about to start writing the next book in the Society of Sirens series, and I was sort of thinking, is there something I should do differently this time, and I’m not sure that it has changed my writing process, because I always tend to write several books at once. I think that it just helps my brain regenerate to work on one project for like a month and then put it aside for a couple of weeks and work on something else and then come back and feel like ideas have just sort of, like, re-entered the well without my having to do anything to get them there, which is really nice; it’s like the artistic jackpot? [Laughs] So I, I didn’t find it difficult to straddle different projects. I did, I think the thing that, that really threw me in moving from strictly indie to working with a publisher is just having to be on someone else’s timeline! I was exceptionally spoiled coming out with, like, an indie debut, ‘cause I’m kind of a perfectionist, and if I want to write, you know, seventy-nine drafts of something, great, fine; I put it out when it’s done, you know?
Scarlett: Avon wants the book to be really good, of course. That’s why they bought it, they want to make money from it, but they also, like, have to print the book? Like, you have to send them the book or it won’t get printed.
Scarlett: So it doesn’t matter if, like, there are still, I don’t know eleven sentences that you haven’t perfected yet; you still have to give them the book. So I found myself working so much harder because I can kind of work at my own pace when I’m doing indie stuff, and if I’m feeling a little bit, like, exhausted by it or uninspired, you know, I can just step away and it’ll come out a month later, whereas, you know, you have a deadline and you just have to hit it. So I think I, I, I learned to work a bit harder and more intensely on one project, and I would like to be better at I guess kind of hitting the creative vision in a way that stresses myself out less while also, you know, being a, a good author and, and doing her deadlines and being responsible. [Laughs]
Sarah: Yeah, it’s, it’s a balance. I look at, I look at things that I’ve published like ten years ago, and I’m like, I would like to completely rewrite this!
Scarlett: [Laughs] Right?
Sarah: Right now.
Scarlett: Yeah! It’s like, oh! You can’t send the baby out the door with its hair messed up! I need to brush the hair! You know.
Scarlett: It’s all fine. It all worked out in the end.
Sarah: Do you have a favorite part of this book? Is there a scene or a moment where you’re just like, yes! I nailed that? Pass me that onion.
Scarlett: Hmm. [Laughs] Wow, that is such a good question! I really like the prologue, actually. I was a little bit on the fence about whether a prologue would work, and I was also really confused about how to set up the overarching series story in a book that is so intensely set in this little, you know, small town in Cornwall where Adam and Seraphina are neighbors. I wanted to get –
Scarlett: – to the wider world of the story, but I also really, really, really wanted to keep a kind of insularity and this sort of place in the space-time continuum where they could just sort of have a mini love affair at the beginning and then kind of, you know, pan back and, and get back into the wider world? And I just couldn’t figure out how to do that, and then I thought, well, Sera’s a writer, and I have all of these snippets from her past books at the beginning of certain chapters, so why not just do it from Sera’s perspective and have Sera write the beginning of her own story? And I just, I don’t know, that kind of emotionally resonates with me as a writer, because sometimes it’s nice to be able to just speak for yourself? [Laughs]
Sarah: Yes. And it’s, well, it’s a major theme of the book, after all.
Scarlett: Absolutely! So, I don’t know; I feel like when I figured that out, like, I don’t know if it’s my favorite passage of prose in the whole novel, but I think in terms of figuring out the kind of book I wanted it to be, that, figuring out that I wanted her to sort of frame the book within her own narrative really, really set the tone for what it turned out to be, so I’m very proud of it from a sort of structural and also thematic standpoint, I would say.
Sarah: Yeah, that makes, that makes sense! That makes sense. How many books are planned for this series, and are the, the other Sirens going to be inspired by other historical figures? Claudia also wanted to know about that as well.
Scarlett: Yeah! So I’m contracted for three books with Avon, and each –
Scarlett: [Laughs] So in the book there is Seraphina, who is the heroine of The Rakess, and then she has two best friends who form the Society of Sirens, and one is named Cornelia, and one is named Thais, so the next book in the series will be Cornelia’s book. It’s tentatively titled The Jezebel.
Scarlett: And then the third book in the series will be Cornelia, or, sorry, Thais’s book, which will be called, hopefully, The Harlot? And those two characters are less inspired by historical people so much as they are inspired by aspects of the historical moment that were sort of –
Scarlett: – capturing my attention when I was researching the world of 1790s Great Britain. And Cornelia is a painter. She’s a political portraitist, and that idea came to me just because it was really interesting how the role of art was playing and fomenting ideas about dignity and equality and sort of humanity and using imagery to sort of forward things like the abolitionist movement and revolutionary sentiment, and of course, you know, paintings are, art in general, has always been highly instrumental in shaping popular notions of sexuality? So in the way that Seraphina is using her memoirs and her words to push forward the cause of women’s rights, Cornelia is using political portraits. So the next book will be her story, where she is sort of reversing the lens of the gaze in various different ways and trying to, you know, recontextualize women in society and raise questions about how they’re viewed, while also raising a shitload of money by causing a big old scandal. And that’s going to be a –
Sarah: Crisis management!
Scarlett: [Laughs] You’ve really tapped into a theme here.
Sarah: Yeah! Well, it’s your theme! I’m just pointing it out like the asshole I am.
Scarlett: [Laughs] I know! I’m going to send my therapist this podcast when it comes out.
Scarlett: But so that book is going to be a House Party trope, so I’m excited about that one because I’ve never written a house party book, and it’s like my, one of my number one favorite tropes.
Sarah: Ohhh, house parties.
Sarah: It’s like a closed-room mystery, but with sex!
Scarlett: I know! And the bed hopping? So –
Scarlett: – many bed-hoppings are going to take place in this book, I cannot even tell you. [Laughs] Yeah. So I don’t have the exact pitch for the book yet, because I’m still working on the outline and still researching, but I’m very excited to sit down and write it. Can’t wait.
Sarah: What are some ways in which art influenced the por-, the, the ways in which people understood humanity, or specifically women’s rights as such?
Scarlett: It’s interesting, because – I should preface this by saying I’m not an art historian, and there are probably people far more knowledgeable than the likes of me who could answer it better, but so much of art, in the same way that so much of literature, it survived and became enshrined in the canon because of what the dominant culture was. It was easier for a male writer to become a writer professionally because society is set up to allow men to become writers, and so women who did it had to fight a lot harder in order to get their words read, and those who are still read now were, like, tremendous geniuses. And in thinking about art, where I have never been a huge scholar of it, and so when it comes onto my radar, and as I was sort of reading these books and, like, looking at the kinds of portraits and themes that were being captured, it was really poignant to me that women were so much in the focus of the frame and so rarely behind it, you know. It’s not a very interesting perspective to say there’s a male gaze; like, I’m the seven billionth person to say that, but I really, really like the idea of turning the woman from the subject to the artist herself. And –
Scarlett: – so, and when I’m thinking about Cornelia’s character in particular, Cornelia is half Black, and she has an aristocratic father, and then her mother was a woman who was born into kind of like the sex trade in London, and her mother was Black, and so she’s been straddling these two worlds, and the way that she kind of is able to navigate them both is through, like, becoming an artist, where you can kind of get away with more in terms of bridging cultures. So I was thinking about Dido Belle, who is – I, I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie Belle – and I think the reason Dido Belle was specifically interesting to me when I was thinking about, like, people who I would, would research in order to come up with more nuance to Cornelia’s story is because one of the reasons why Dido Belle is a subject of cultural fascination is because there’s this really, really famous painting of her and her sort of – I can’t remember exactly; I, I think they were both wards of Lord Chief Justice Mansfield –
Scarlett: – who is the man who famously made one of the early rulings opposing the legality of the slave trade in Great Britain. But we don’t know a lot about Dido Belle, because there aren’t a lot of surviving writings or letters that, like, give us her interiority in a primary sources type of way, but there is this surviving painting where she’s, you know, this kind of happy, frolicsome young woman, and she has this kind of impish quality to her, and there’s just so much life and interest in the –
Scarlett: – way that she is in the painting, and it’s been a subject of fascination for literal centuries, and again, it’s like, this is giving us a view into society, but the view is of the person, not out of the person. You know, she’s the subject of this painting; we aren’t getting the story from her own perspective. And so, I don’t know, I think a lot of my ideas about why I wanted to do a female painter are tied up in this idea of, like, I’m seeing all of these pictures of women throughout this era, and they’re all painted by men, and it’s just, like –
Scarlett: – I don’t know! It’s an interesting one to mine for cultural resonances now. [Laughs]
Sarah: And it’s another form of telling your own story. Like Seraphina writing her memoirs, painting is, is taking ownership of her point of view.
Sarah: What are you working on right now?
Scarlett: So right now I’m working on a little bit of everything and nothing? I’m researching my next Sirens book and also refining the outline. I want to give that to my editor soon and sort of agree on the exact story that we’re going to do. And then I am also sort of thinking about my next Charlotte Street book, which is going to be the fourth in the series, and there’s this woman called Elena Brearley who’s been in the background of all of the books. She is the owner and head governess at a whipping house, and she’s, like, one of my favorite characters that I’ve ever written, and she’s going to be the heroine of the next book, and it’s going to be kind of like a girlfriend experience trope? I’m not sure that even is a trope, but I want to make it one. [Laughs]
Sarah: Well, why the hell not? Who’s stopping you?
Scarlett: Exactly! Yeah, so that’s going to be my project once I write the manuscript for the next Sirens book, and I’m also thinking of doing some erotic shorts for the Charlotte Street series? So I have a little Notes file going in my phone with some naughty ideas that is quite exciting when I am taking a break from exploring the revolutionary 18th century. [Laughs]
Sarah: You want to just start reading those? I, I have a feeling many people who will be listening will be like, ah, yeah, could you just read them now? Just read them into the microphone; it’s fine.
Scarlett: I’m going to give you-
Sarah: That’s going to make so many people so happy.
Scarlett: Yeah, yeah, yeah. [Laughs]
Sarah: And it’s nice to go back and, and, you know, play with prior characters!
Scarlett: Oh yeah, or just invent characters that I’m not sure if I want them to become a character full-time, but people who have sort of been on the fringes, and I’m like, should I give them their own book? Should I not? I don’t know; maybe I’ll just try it in a thirty-page story, see what happens, and if they take, we can go from there. [Laughs]
Sarah: Okay, so I always ask this question: what are you reading that you want to tell people about?
Scarlett: Okay. I came prepared for this question because I have listened to the podcast before. [Laughs]
Sarah: Aw, thank you for that!
Scarlett: I love it!
Sarah: Thank you for coming prepared and for listening! I really appreciate that!
Scarlett: Oh my gosh –
Sarah: That’s really lovely!
Scarlett: – I have been listening for, like, literally years, and it is always so, so very interesting and entertaining and gives me lots to think about, so thank you!
But yeah –
Scarlett: – so I have to be real with you that something is going very haywire in my brain right now and making reading almost, like, impossible?
Sarah: You are not alone in that.
Scarlett: I know.
Sarah: You are not at all alone in that.
Scarlett: I know! I’m talking to so many friends who are like, I just can’t read.
Scarlett: But! I have had a great time sort of jumping between like seven different books that I have going, and a couple of them I think are awesome, so I thought I would mention those. One is one that came out I think yesterday or two days ago, which is He’s Come Undone, which is an anthology?
Sarah: It’s an anthology –
Scarlett: I love anthologies! They’re, like, so fun, and they go down so easy, which is exactly what I need right now, because I just, for some reason, like, have a really hard time finishing an entire book in anything less than seven months? [Laughs] But yeah, so that one is by Adriana Herrera and Emma Barry and Olivia Dade and Ruby Lang and Cat Sebastian, and I read the first story in it last night, and it’s just like, oh! Like, the tone is so perfect for right now, because it’s all very, like, exquisitely written but kind of dark, but, like, kind of comforting and always, you know, like, optimistic and sexy, so that is a very welcome addition to my Kindle.
And then, I literally started this morning K. J. Charles’s new book, Slippery Creatures, which, like all of her books, just is sort of like reading diamonds? Like – [laughs] – just every single word in it is so good. I’m only on page, like, twenty, but I think I actually will –
Scarlett: – maybe, potentially be able to finish that one in the next like, you know, three weeks, because, oh! It’s just delightful.
And then I have been really enjoying an ARC that I got from Avon, actually, called – it won’t be out for a while, so it might be kind of unfair of me to mention it, but it’s really delightful, and it’s called Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur, and it’s like –
Scarlett: – a female, or an f/f adaptation of Bridget Jones’s Diary? But where the Bridget Jones character is an astrologist? [Laughs] And I love astrology, and I love Bridget Jones, and the voice of the book is just, like, hilarious and also –
Scarlett: – the subject matter is dead center in the Venn diagram of my interests, so.
Scarlett: I haven’t finished it yet, but I am really enjoying it.
Oh, there’s another one that I read a while back and loved that came out recently, so I will mention that too, which is The Tourist Attraction, which is a contemporary rom-com debut by Sarah Morgenthaler? And it is about, like, this kind of grumpy townie in a tourist town in Alaska who lives across from a hotel that he absolutely despises, and obviously he then falls hopelessly in love with a woman who’s staying at the hotel, and they –
Sarah: Of course.
Scarlett: – run around in the snow, and mooses try to have sex with things, and hijinks ensue, and it’s just, like, so zany and light, and the voice is astoundingly funny, in my opinion, so. That one is a really good one for just, I am depressed; the world is ending; what can I read that will make me happy?
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Scarlett Peckham. Thank you again to Jacqueline, Carrie, Aarya, Leigh, and Claudia for the questions.
Now, I will have links to all of the books that we talked about, and I will have links to all of the books that Scarlett Peckham, Peckham wrote, ‘cause if you have not read them, you might want to give them a try at this point. I mean, who doesn’t want to read feminist primal scream romance, right?
And if you want to email me, you can email me at [email protected]. I love hearing from you.
This episode was brought to you by the fake engagement, secret attraction, Cuban sandwiches, and Key West setting of Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras. If you are interested in learning more, I will have links to that book and all of the places you can buy it in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast.
And do not forget, the joke this week is super, super, super great! Don’t miss it. Keep listening.
This episode is also brought to you by Ritual, a daily multivitamin obsessively researched for women. It is vegan-friendly, sugar-free, non-GMO, gluten-free, allergen-free, and every source for the nine nutrients inside is provided so you can read and research on your own. I really like the convenience of having a subscription box of vitamins that shows up just as I’m finishing one bottle; I get the next one! I don’t even have to think about it. And the details as to why these nine nutrients are the ones included, plus all of the sources for them, is very interesting as well. Ritual is offering you ten percent off your first three months. Fill in the gaps with Essential for Women by visiting ritual.com/SARAH to start your ritual today. That’s ten percent off during your first three months at ritual.com/SARAH.
Thank you again to the Patreon community, because they keep the show going, and they give me amazing questions to ask these really cool guests who are hanging out and talking to me, so if you would like to join our Patreon community, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
Now, I promised you an incredible joke, and indeed, I will deliver, and it’s not actually me delivering it. This joke comes – if you listened to the intro – from June Ammidown, age five and a half, who is the daughter of Steve Ammidown, past podcast guest and the librarian at the Bowling Green Pop Culture Library, which is probably the coolest place on Earth to work. You know, aside from inside this sound box where I record this podcast. June Ammidown, age five and a half, sent the following joke, and then said I could use it in the podcast. It’s so great. Are you ready?
What did the snowman say to the other snowman?
[Laughs, clears throat] Serious podcaster voice: what did the snowman say to the other snowman?
Do you smell carrots?
[Laughs] I love it so much! I love it; it’s so good! [Laughs more] Do you smell carrots? Thank you, June Ammidown, age five and a half. That joke is absolutely spectacular! [Still laughing] I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!
On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend. We will see you back here next week for more podcasting magic.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to listen to at frolic.media/podcasts.
Do you smell carrots? [Laughs]
[end of mellow music]
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.