by Mina V. Esguerra
Welcome to the first post in what I hope to be a series, featuring the international romance authors we in RomanceClass love reading. RomanceClass as a group was formed to help Filipino authors write a complete romance novel, but continuing to read more romance, and supporting more authors, has been central to what keeps us going. We encourage our authors to read the best of what’s out there, because we know our readers already do.
If you write romance in English, and you’re Filipino and live in the Philippines, chances are you grew up reading US published romance. I looked forward to my weekly trips to the bookstore, to get the latest monthly releases (Sweet Dreams when I started out, then categories a few years later), and catch up on backlists and new-to-me authors in between. Now, we don’t get all the new books on release day, or release month even. By the time we see a book on the shelf, we’ve already been talking about it online, have read it through ARCs or digital release, or saw a friend read it and post about it. Now, the “shelf” we browse to discover books we could love might be someone’s Goodreads, or Instagram, or Twitter.
At RomanceClass we recommend books to each other all the time, but now we’re including their authors in the conversation, yay! We will be talking to authors we love, about books we love. We start with Kate Clayborn. Romanceclass readers Chachic, April, and Ben, who champion romance books in various online platforms and are lovingly called the #Besfluencers, tell us why they love Kate Clayborn’s books.
“[Kate’s books] always emphasize the power of friendship and the significance of it for character growth. I love how easy-flowing and elegant her words are, making the emotions of the characters so heartfelt it feels like you’re one with them.” – April @readbyher
“[Kate’s books] begin with the heroines already at transitional phases in their lives. They’re stuck or undecided on how to proceed with their great fortune (winning the lottery for the Chance of A Lifetime girls, and a big career advancement for Meg in Love Lettering), and then comes in their love interests that inspire and push them to face whatever is holding them back. And it’s never easy, making the romance richer and so entertaining to read. By the end they’ve not only conquered the struggles within themselves, but also found worthy heroes to share their new lives with.” – Ben @bentchbites
“…she writes the most emotionally layered romances, so much so that she makes you FEEL for her characters. And all of them are complex individuals who have careers, friends, families and so many other things going on in their lives aside from the romance. I love how fully fleshed out her characters are, and how strong their connection is once they fall in love. They make each other feel seen and understood, and it’s amazing how they’re just so attuned to each other. It’s the very essence of what a good relationship should be. If I ever find myself in a relationship, I wish it could be similar to the type of romances Kate Clayborn writes!” – Chachic @chachicsbooknook
Love Lettering is Kate’s new book. Here, Ben and Chachic ask Kate about it, and some of Kate’s answers are hand lettered by Carla de Guzman.
Ben: What inspired you to write a romance featuring a letterer? And who are your favorite letterers/artists?
Kate Clayborn: I think it was really a combination of things–I’ve always loved playing with my own handwriting, and my mom used to do calligraphy when I was growing up. But also, a couple of years ago, I started doing bullet journals for myself, and that led me down many Instagram rabbit holes of gorgeous bullet journals designed by such talented, creative people. So I think somewhere in between all those forces, this idea found its way into my head and my heart.
I don’t know that I had any particular favorites until I was sent some of the gorgeous work of Janus Aragones-Zate, who did some beautiful Love Lettering-inspired pieces that were commissioned by Chachic! Beyond this, I usually just love to follow handlettering hashtags on instagram, and also signpainting hashtags–sign painters are so incredible! I wish more people knew about their work.
Ben: Meg and Reid started as reluctant friends until they gradually turned into lovers. What elements, in your opinion, makes a great friends-to-lovers story?
Kate: I think there are a lot of ways to do this well, but when it’s two people who don’t know each other at the start of the book, like Meg and Reid, I think the key for me is that you have to show the small moments where both friendship and attraction are made. So, I try to think a lot about what friendship means to me–trust, for example. How can I show small moments where it’s clear your characters are making small efforts to trust each other? When Reid mixes his hummus with his tomato salad, he’s showing something to Meg; he’s saying, “okay, if you’re doing that, I’ll try that, too.” And then I think you have to keep “live” those moments of attraction the whole time you’re building up the friendship–one character noticing the way another character smells (you know it’s Irish Spring!), a character watching another character in a particular way, a casual touch that suddenly feels more than casual.
Ben: Meg goes through a creative dry spell and some of my favorite parts of the book were the ways she worked through and got over her block. Have you done the same things she did (i.e. go on walks to find inspiration) or do you have a different approach to overcoming it?
Kate: Writing about creative block felt really personal, really revealing–it was challenging! Walks actually do help me, though I don’t necessarily need to be looking for anything in particular. I think when I’m stuck, the key thing for me is to find a way to like…loosen my brain enough to get going again, and that means I almost always have to do something extremely different from anything related to writing. But also I want to say, I do think that block sometimes is a symptom of just regular life fatigue; it’s your brain telling you to rest. Being creative is challenging, and I think we should all remind ourselves of that as much as we can.
Ben: As a reader, I strongly connected with Meg’s fear of confrontation. Can you tell us more about your process in writing this aspect of her personality?
Kate: I’d hoped people would relate to this–confrontation is such a difficult part of life, and for me it’s even more difficult with the people I love the most in the world, because with the people we love most, we know the things that hurt them most. When I was thinking about Meg’s character, I tried to think about what it looked like in real life to be non-confrontational; I tried to think about all the different ways we get socialized to avoid confrontation. For Meg, that’s more than just not speaking up when she’s angry or upset; it’s also keeping conversation really light and surface-based, and being able to do that even when she’s struggling a lot on the inside. Being creatively blocked is so painful to Meg, but it’s so striking at the start of the book that literally no one in her life knows. That’s part of being non-confrontational, too, I think.
Chachic: In all of your books, the main characters’ relationships with their family and friends are just as important to them as the central romantic relationship. How do you balance all of those complex human interactions when you write?
Kate: For me–and this is a really personal opinion, and not true for all readers, of course–an HEA will feel fuller and more hopeful to me if I’ve also seen characters demonstrate love in other areas of their lives. It can be challenging to do this without overshadowing the romance, so I think what I try to do is develop other relationships on the page that complement the central romance in some way. In Love Lettering, Meg’s relationships with Lark and Sibby and Lachelle and Cecelia are all, in some way, extensions of the difficulty she has with confrontation–and so learning how to manage these relationships is actually essential to how she is able to find an HEA with Reid. For me, that’s the key–making those relationships unique and important and independent, but also reflective of the character’s romantic arc.
Chachic: Your heroes and heroines always have such well-described jobs and careers, how do you research about those various roles and fields?
Kate: For almost all of my characters, I’ve been lucky to be able to talk to people who are in the job I’m writing about–materials scientists, recruiters, EMTs, lawyers, social workers. So interviews have been important, but I also do a lot of reading. When I wrote Best of Luck, I read some amazing memoirs by photojournalists, and when I was writing Love Lettering I read a lot about quantitative analysts and financial crimes (though most of this didn’t make it into the book). Sometimes I make adjustments for the purposes of plot/worldbuilding, but I try to maintain a really strong sense of realism. In the case of Meg, I read a lot of books about lettering/calligraphy, because I wanted to have a sense of the terms she would use–it was important to me, writing solely in Meg’s point of view, that readers had a strong sense of how she saw the world around her, so having that language was key.
Chachic: Your books are so emotionally complex and layered, how do you work on writing those emotional scenes?
Kate: They take a long time, and they often get written in pieces–so I might have a line of dialogue in my head for a long time, and know that is central to the story (I always, always knew, for example, that Aiden would say to Zoe, “You were my rescue boat, Zo”), and then I build out the scene around that line. I guess that your question kind of has the answer in it–I try to layer things a lot, so that by the time you get to a really important, emotional line, it’s bolstered by all of the emotions that have led up to it, and I’m able to write those because I know the characters really well by that point. But again, I don’t write them all at once–they become clearer to me as I get to know the characters better.
Chachic: What have been your favorite romance reads in 2019?
Kate: Oh, man, I just love books; I could go on and on. A couple of romance highlights: I loved Diana Biller’s The Widow of Rose House and Ruby Lang’s Uptown Series, and I’m really lucky that I got to read an ARC of Mia Sosa’s upcoming The Worst Best Man, which is great. In nonfiction, I loved Dr. Jen Gunter’s The Vagina Bible. I also just finished a novel by one of my favorite journalists, Taffy Brodesser-Akner; the novel is called Fleishman Is In Trouble and I thought it was really brilliant.
Chachic: What are you working on right now? Will you be releasing standalones like Love Lettering moving forward or do you have any series in the pipeline?
Kate: I’m working on another standalone right now, and I hope the blurb for that will be out soon. After that, I’m not quite sure–I’ve had good experiences writing both series and standalones, so I think I’ll just have to see where the ideas take me!
Thank you, Kate, Chachic, Ben, April, and Carla!