I've been very much enjoying the 23 for 23 Reading Challenge.
The challenge has a simple premise: in 2023, read (& discuss online) 23 books written by BIPOC authors with BIPOC characters. (BIPOC is Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.) The challenge was created at Steamy Lit Con this summer, and seeks to amplify and elevate marginalized voices in publishing. I encourage you to join me!
Since it began, I've been cataloging my challenge books on TikTok, as well as, of course, keeping my usual reading spreadsheet up to date. I read SO MUCH, so I'm only counting the books I've read since I found out about it. I'm at 13 so far; 10 to go!
A Ghost in Shining Armor by Therese Beharrie
Along for the Ride by Mimi Grace
Full Moon Over Freedom by Angelina M Lopez
Goal by Alexandria House
Just a Few Fake Kisses ... by Jayci Lee
Mickey Chambers Shakes It Up by Charish Reid
Play to Win by Jodie Slaughter
Tell Me Something Good by Jamie Wesley
The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan
The Secret to a Southern Wedding by Synithia Williams
To Have and to Heist by Sara Desai
When Tara Met Farah by Tara Pammi
Wings Once Cursed & Bound by Piper Drake
But before the challenge started, I read 42 other romances by BIPOC authors featuring BIPOC characters. (I mean, I've read loads more than that, but that's my count in 2023 based on a cursory scan of my annual book list.) You'll see a ton of repeat names here: Naima Simone, Jayci Lee, Sophia Singh Sasson, Jeannie Chin, and Kennedy Ryan, among others. But there's much to recommend from all of them!
A Kiss to Remember by Naima Simone
All the Right Notes by Dominic Lim
An Island Princess Starts a Scandal by Adriana Herrera
Ana Maria and the Fox by Liana De la Rosa
Christmas in Rose Bend by Naima Simone
Counterfeit Courtship by Synithia Williams
Crushing on You by Jen Trinh
Full Exposure by Thien-Kim Lam
Her Good Side by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras
Highly Suspicious and Unfarily Cute by Talia Hibbert
Jana Goes Wild by Farah Heron
Jasmine and Jake Rock the Boat by Sonya Lalli
Marriage by Arrangement by Sophia Singh Sasson
Much Ado About Nada by Uzma Jalaluddin
One Night Only by Jayci Lee
Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne
Rafe by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Running Away with the Bride by Sophia Singh Sasson
Say Yes by Kennedy Ryan
Scoring with the Wrong Twin by Naima Simone
Slamdunked by Love by Jamie Wesley
Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni
The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson
The Build Up by Tati Richardson
The Do-Over by Suzanne Park
The Five-Day Reunion by Mona Shroff
The House on Mulberry Street by Jeannie Chin
The Kingmaker by Kennedy Ryan
The Love List by Naima Simone
The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope
The Rachel Experiment by Lisa Lin
The Rebel King by Kennedy Ryan
The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann
The Valentine's Do-Over by Michelle Lindo-Rice
The Year of Cecily by Lisa Lin
Three Months to Forever by Hudson Lin
Tread of Angels by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trouble for Hire by Naima Simone
With Love from Rose Bend by Naima Simone
Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Zora Books Her Happy Ever After by Taj McCoy
I'm an audio person (ask me how I suffered when my kid needed to borrow my spare set of earbuds for a long time. Only one set of earbuds - not counting my noise-canceling headphones, or the ones embedded in a headband. And then I lost one of the buds in my only remaining pair!)
(Now you know what's on my birthday wish list.)
Anyway, in addition to all the audiobooks, I'm a huge fan of podcasts. The list of ones I subscribe to is ... unreasonably long, so I won't get into all of it. But there are a few in my rotation that are hosted or co-hosted by romance authors, and while they cover various topics, they all touch on the topic of writing.
Smart Podcast Trashy Books is primarily hosted by blogger and author Sarah Wendell. This is the OG romance podcast, and in particular I love Sarah's interviews of other authors. when any number of interesting ideas and tidbits about the writing life.
Dear Romance Writer is co-hosted by romance authors Xio Axlerod, Roan Parrish, and Avery Flynn, with fairly regular guest hosts who are also romance authors, They offer advice column discussions at the top of the podcast, and then switch to talking about writing issues connected to the advice.
My Imaginary Friends is author L Penelope's podcast entirely about her writing journey. She talks about where she's at with her ongoing work, often discussing tools she uses, info she gleaned from workshops or discussion with other authors, and the publishing process.
Fated Mates is cohosted by author Sarah MacLean and critic/reader/editor Jen Prokop. They discuss romance novels they love, and the history of the genre, often with other guest authors. While it's not a 'here's how to be an author' podcast, the discussions often touch on craft and publishing in fun and informative ways.
So that's (in last-is-best order) my current top list of romance author podcasts. If you've got others to rec for me, I'd love to hear about them in the comments!
People ask where I come up with my story and character ideas. The answer is ... kinda everywhere? I have things that catch my magpie attention, and I jot them in my notes app or on a sticky note or screen shot a fleeting text conversation or scrawl in one of my many notebooks or ... you get the idea.
So that stuff all percolates, and when it's time to create a new book, one or many of those things magically reveals itself (in other words, I go searching around and see what grabs my magpie attention again.)
But when I start a new series, it gets even trickier! Because when I write the first book in a series, I know there will be recurring characters. But I don't always know what those characters will be like when I get to writing them - or if what I think they'll be like the first time I type them up will indeed be true once their book comes along.
Margo was like that.
I wrote Feather in Her Cap years ago, and rather randomly assigned Jeannie several siblings in a Gulf Coast town, but none of them appeared in the book. When I revisited that family for Twelve Scorching Days, Sarita began to interact with all those siblings, and Margo was mostly just Cole's hanger-on. Part of the set of siblings that Sarita took big-sister charge of while they were first leaving home for college.
And then Margo wanted to go and fall in love with Karl.
(That's a lie. Margo wanted no such thing. I insisted, though, and that's what her book is about.)
The notes on her I had going in were that she was the 5th of 6 kids (I'm 2nd of 4; my dad is 4th of 7, my grandma is 2nd of 10 - I have a real fondness for large sibling groups!), that she looks remarkably like all the other Dunways (another trait from my own clone-ridden family), and that she and Cole were going to be living apart for the first time.
Good stuff, sure, but very much a starting point.
As I wrote Margo of the Bells, I discovered that she never fumbles over her words. She speaks with surety and confidence, and that? That makes it hard for people (Karl) to read if she's got emotions she's hiding.
I learned that she is afraid to get passionate about anything or anyone (Karl), because she's had too many things she cares deeply about yanked out of her life.
I found out exactly how her small hometown, which seems so full of loving family and nice things like tacos, and the ocean, and Karl's dog (and Karl), is actually a place of hurt and anger and betrayal for Margo.
So those are three things about Margo Dunway I didn't know before writing Margo of the Bells. (Neither did Karl, but he learned, too. That, too, is the book.) I hope you check it out and enjoy discovering all this and more about Margo, Karl, and his very good good dog.
Hey, are you a teenager hoping to ask a Stranger Things star to prom? You're in the wrong place!
Are you a film festival in hopes of luring a celebrity judge to France? I mean, go ahead and ask me, but know that I've got no cinematic bona fides.
Every so often I get emails looking for another person named Melanie Greene. She seems to be really good at her job, so that's another thing we have in common. I imagine lots of people with better connections or savvier searching skills can find her correct email, and more power to them.
But, and forgive me, the way people find my email address is by visiting my website, which pretty clearly makes it clear I'm a romance author and not, as the most recent query said, "Melanie Greene, acting agent." So if that's who you're looking for, and you found your way here, sorry to say I've just deleted your message. But good luck with your acting aspirations / celebrity crush / high-profile event!
I love fairy tale retellings, and I love gender-flipped stories, and I love musician characters.
That's the magic that combines in each of my Dunway Siblings books. They each have a fairy tale at the core (the newest, Margo of the Bells, takes on Rapunzel.) But I'm not putting the damsel in the tower when I want to write heroines who go out and get things done, so I flipped things around trapped Karl instead. Which leaves Margo with the job of figuring out how to get him to let down his hair and engineer things so they're both free to live fuller lives. (But first: obstacles!)
Check out what Margo and the other Dunway Siblings get up to and let me know what you think!
One of the ways I envision a novel is to create floor plans for key settings. When I was developing the Pier Three Coffee series, I used a site called Homestyler to create the titular building's images.
Pier Three Coffee was Pier Three Bait Shop, until the Wells siblings leased it from the retiring owners and converted it into a coffee shop with direct access to the beach in their (fictional) Northern California town of Surfside. There are racks at the back of the building where surfers can rest their boards after a morning on the waves. They can order through the side window and take their drinks and treats to the patio overlooking the Pacific. Most days the glass doors to the patio are wide open, allowing everyone inside to enjoy the ocean breeze and sea air.
(Did I mention I enjoy this process? When I was a kid, I created a scale model of my bedroom on graph paper and cut out carefully measured 2-D representations of my furniture so I could play with layouts before shoving the pieces around to the newly-envisioned places. I love a floor plan, y'all.)
In Mocha for Mateo, Book 1 of the series, Mateo pulls his bakery van into the space by the employee entrance and stairs up to Alicia Wells's apartment. In between parking and delivering the muffins and scones Alicia has ordered, Mateo may sometimes slip up those stairs with Alicia.
The apartment above Pier Three used to be an extensive storage space, but Alicia's brother Austin helped her transform it into a perfect little studio space. Sure, she has to be the one to get up early and open up the cafe, but the commute couldn't be better - nor could the views from her balcony. (Personally, I'm too much of a night owl for even this superb location to tempt me to be an early riser, but that's okay. I'm capable of imagining an early bird like Alicia.)
Are you a floor plan kind of person, too? Do you like to visualize settings when you're reading - or writing?
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Still social distancing this summer? Hide behind all our books after you win a Vera Bradley Sling stuffed full of your new favorite reads. (Enter by following my BookBub profile and those of other romance authors.)
Back in 5th grade when I decided Mrs. Heap was right, I was really very good at writing and should, therefore, make it my career (...that may not have been what Mrs. Heap meant, but I drew the only logical conclusion), I filled my head with visions of sitting at a typewriter and being Very Serious and having lots of pens and notebooks.
I did all that, no question.
(Have I told y'all the story of my 16th birthday - this was 1985 - when my parents got me a very fancy-new-tech CD player? And I asked them if I could exchange it for a typewriter. They let me, because they're the best, but can you imagine what a young priss I was?? Be sure your image includes my very large 1985 plastic rim glasses.)
Anyhow, my 5th grade decision to become a writer wasn't accompanied with visions of the actual books I would write. That didn't change until sometime in college, when I realized my real writing focus was on novels. (I've written some excellent short stories, but also some kinda dire ones. And we won't delve into my poetry or screenplays.)
So my adulthood writing career ambitions did always include the idea of novels to my name. (Okay, to my pseudonym. But still.) And yet: did I ever imagine I'd have written TEN WHOLE BOOKS? I did not.
But hi! That's what I did!
ON A ROLL is my 10th published book, and I am a tad verklempt about it, You can check out the first chapter HERE, and order it HERE.
Thanks for taking this trip down memory lane with me. What did you really want for your 16th birthday? Did you get it? Was it as unutterably cool as my Smith Corona Electric Typewriter with TWO DAISY WHEELS?? That's right: Courier AnD Script, my friends! I was - and remain - Very Serious Indeed.
I'm such a fan of the FATED MATES podcast, which spurred me to read Kresley Cole's Immortals After Dark series (squee!) and is such an thoughtful, sharp conversation about that series, about romance as a genre, and about being an author.
Its cohosts are Sarah MacLean (I just finished Brazen & the Beast - such deep longing!) and Jen Prokop (if you like romance & don't follow her work, change that now.) During one of their interstitial episodes of the podcast's first season they delved into the concept of bodily autonomy in romance, and I was thrilled they included ROLL OF A LIFETIME as one of their examples.
Anyway, it's an important topic to me (as you've guessed from reading me) & I loved being lumped in with some of my favorite fellow authors who are also creating characters with power over their reproductive choices. Give it a listen!
I'm honored to be featured in author Raimey Gallant's blog this week with my thoughts on actions individual authors can do to make romance and publishing more diverse, equitable, accessible, and inclusive.
As always, I'd love to hear and incorporate your ideas. Or just for you to share this post if you think it could help others think about the systemic problems in the publishing industry. Thanks!