Rom-coms aren't really my thing. Don't get me wrong, I love some laughter in
my romance novels, but there's something about books that are specifically
labeled rom-coms that turn me off. So, I was incredibly surprised when I
started reading Get a Life, Chloe Brown--how can you not want to read it with
the cute cover and hilarious premise--to find that I was actually laughing out
loud and quite enjoying myself. And pairing a fabulous plot with creative,
out-of-the-norm characters made me fall in love with the book as a whole. I
knew right then that Talia Hibbert needed to be my next Author Spotlight and,
well, how wonderful of her to say yes to me (despite her chaotic schedule!) Please enjoy taking a dive into the mind of the author taking the romance industry by storm.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: At what age did you start reading romance and what inspired you to start writing it?
Talia Hibbert: I started reading romance novels when I was twelve, and from that moment on, writing them because an inevitability. I've always wanted to be an author, and I think I love romance so much that I'm in capable of producing anything else. As a teenager, I attempted some YA fantasy novels, but I spent all my time on the romantic arc and let the rest of the plot fall by the wayside. Then I got older and realised the obvious: I could make the romantic arc central. I could... write a romance novel. *Cue awed, angelic music.* Things got easier after that.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: As a woman of color writing in the romance industry, what challenges have you faced and how have you set about overcoming said challenges? Have you ever received push-back in regards to your characters, be it their race, the interracial relationships they often engage in, or their sexual orientation? Do you feel that the romance industry is diversifying? How do you feel that we--as authors, readers, bloggers, etc--can keep moving forward as an industry?
Talia Hibbert: I think all marginalised people grow up knowing that we'll face extra struggles no matter what we do. The phrase twice as hard for half as much exists for a reason and we learn it well before we ever enter the world of work. The romance industry exists in a discriminatory society, so it has all the usual challenges--but the great thing is, there are so many pioneers carving out safe havens within that space. When I do receive push-back about my characters, whether it's because of their race or something else--their size, sexuality, their neurodiversity--I don't have to look too hard for communities of authors who are going through the same thing and who will have my back.
The fact that those communities exist is proof that the diverse romance authors are not a new phenomenon. Diversity in publishing isn't post-2016 trend; it's a fight marginalised authors started decades ago. Our proverbial bucket may be fuller than before, but it's not because the industry suddenly decided to fix it up; it's because people like Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson, Sandra Kitt, have been filling that bucket, drop by drop, for years. Going forward, especially in traditional publishing, the industry gatekeepers need to give us enough space to fill an ocean. Because we definitely can. I just don't know if that will happen until things are more diverse behind the scenes. Acquiring books by marginalised authors is wonderful, but who are you hiring? Who's running your show? Those are vital questions, too.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the romance industry at this time?
Talia Hibbert: I'd say the same challenge we're all facing right now: finding a safe but moral path in a world run by the violently unprincipled.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: On a more positive note, what are some of your favorite parts about being a member of the romance community?
Talia Hibbert: The love, the enthusiasm, and the constant support! Romance nerds are the greatest nerds on earth, I swear. So many bookish communities and fandoms have such constant, rigid rules, but romance readers are like: Oh, you enjoy this banana-pants thing? Great, we have a vault of it over here. Go wild! And it's not just readers: authors, bloggers, industry people in general, they're all so lovely. Entering Romancelandia is like falling into a pot of warm, beating hearts, minus the horror and gore of that actually happening.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: A lot of romance readers are also prospective romance writers, so I 'd like to ask some questions about your writing process. What does your perfect writing space look like? Is writing your primary full-time job or do you have another career in which you have to balance? Are you a pantser or a plotter or a combination of both?
Talia Hibbert: My perfect writing space involves a few technical requirements: I like to sit on my trusty ergonomic chair, with my laptop on an eye level stand, and my bluetooth keyboard and mouse hooked up. I also wear glasses that block blue light to reduce headaches and insomnia. Beyond all that, I prefer to write in an empty room, facing the wall, because that way I get lost in the story and leave reality behind. You know how the Holodeck on StarTrek is all black before you fire it up? My writing space is the Holodeck and the words I type of my virtual reality.
Writing is my full-time job, which I'm eternally grateful for, because I'm a horrible multi-tasker. When I started out, I was also studying for the final year of my degree, and that did not suit me. I was coming apart at the seams. I have so much respect for everyone who's writing and working in other ways, because that's some superhero behavior. As for plotting versus pansting...it depends on the project, but I think I'm a mixture of both. I like to establish my characters and their goals before I really start drafting, along with story themes and key tropes. But beyond those details, I work best when I wing it.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: What has been your favorite book to write so far? If someone who had never read your work approached and asked which of your books they should start with, what would be you rrecommendation? And, if a different answer, which couple has been your favorite to write so far?
Talia Hibbert: Oh, this is such a tough question. I think my favourite book to write was Wanna Bet?, though it's hardly my most popular. It's a best-friends-to-lovers, forced proximity romance with seven years of friendship and pining behind it, and I got to write all these Very Meaningful Flashbacks and sprinkle them into the story, which I loved. But if someone asked where to start with my work, I'd say A Girl Like Her. It has all the hallmarks of my romance brain: domesticity, grumps versus cinnamon rolls, strong family connections, diverse characters. I started writing that story just for fun, and it turned into a four-book series. So, I suppose I got carried away.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: In your upcoming November 5th release Get A Life, Chloe Brown, our heroine Chloe is a woman of color diagnosed with fibromyalgia. What made you choose to write a character suffering from an invisible disease and what challenges did you face while doing so? How much research did you have to do in order to ensure that you were appropriately conveying what living with fibromyalgia is like?
Talia Hibbert: I have fibromyalgia myself, along with some other invisible disabilities, so I've always wanted to write about it. Especially when you're a black woman, the ableism combines with other forms of prejudice ('women lie about pain', 'black people don't feel pain') to create a very... particular experience. And now that I've said that, you'll probably be surprised to hear that the book is a rom-com. But it is! Because even when the world doesn't seem like it's for you, and lots of people are being grade-A twats, you can still find--and deserve to find--joy. I think romance is the best genre for teaching readers that, which is one of the reasons I'm so proud to write it.
Writing a character with an illness I share required almost no research because, well, I'm already an expert. Not because I live with fibromyalgia, but because the sheer number of NHS pamphlets I've been given over the years should constitute some sort of minor medical degree. Of course, that knowledge brought on its own challenges. I had to be careful not to rely on my experiences too much, or Chloe might've become a self-insert. When you and a character share something like that you have to be careful.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: If you had to recommend three romance novels to a new reader, what would they be? And which authors are one-clicks for you?
Talia Hibbert: Oh my God, that first question is so hard because there are so many romance that should be required reading. But after much consideration, I think I'd go with... Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh, Invitation to the Blues by Roan Parrish, and Tempest by Beverly Jenkins (even though it's the last book in a series, LOL). As for my one-click authors, I have way too many. Seriously, ask my bank account. Too. Many. But, off the top of my head, I'd say: Naima Simone, Kennedy Ryan, KJ Charles, Rebel Carter, Mia Hopkins, Charlotte Stein, and Therese Beharrie.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: Are you attending any upcoming events that your fans should be aware of?
Talia Hibbert: Historically, the only even I can be relied upon to attend is breakfast. However, that will change in the summer of 2020 when I attend RARE Ediburgh, so... be prepared. Warning: I am always taller than people expect and my facial recognition abilities are non-existent. But I am beyond excited to finally meet some readers in person.
Romantically Inclined Reviews: What should we be looking forward to from you? Anything you're currently working on or involved in that we should get excited about?
Talia Hibbert: Well, Get A Life, Chloe Brown comes out in less than a month (who's panicking? I'm not panicking!) and I'm completely in love with it, which is a weird thing to say about your own book, but I have no regrets. It features a fierce, frosty heroine dealing with chronic pain, a charming hero with some issues of his own, some minor enemies to lovers vibes, and one very adventurous list.
Beyond that, I'm working on the next two books in the series, which follow Chloe's sister's, Dani and Eve. If you're interested in prickly, witchy, academic heroines, brooding piny, grumpy heroes, and fake relationship schemes, Take a Hint, Dani Brown has all those things and is available to pre-order right now. It's trope-y and funny and emotional, and I adore it.
Then there's Book 3, which is making me giggle non-stop as I write. Basically, I'm excited as hell about this series. Hopefully, once everyone reads Get a Life, Chloe Brown, they will be too!
To connect with Talia on social media, click the links below:
To pre-order Get a Life, Chloe Brown this blogger strongly suggest you
check out your local independent bookstore. Of course, if this is not
possible then you can follow this link to our digital overlord, Amazon.