602. Foundations of Fantasy Romance with Jennifer L. Armentrout


[music]

Sarah Wendell: Hello there, happy Friday, and welcome to episode number 602 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books, or, you know, happy whatever day you’re listening to this. I’m Sarah Wendell, and with me today is Jennifer Armentrout. We’re going to talk about the books that she considers the foundation of her fantasy romance reading, and we take a long side trip into classic historical romances that we both love. Her newest book, Visions of Flesh and Blood, is out next week, so we’re not only looking forward, but we’re also looking back. Like way, way back. We talk about a series that she’s paused and why and what it means to update a book that doesn’t age well. There’s a lot of reminiscing, and I hope you enjoy this very meandering conversation as well as all of the recommendations. I would love to know what books you consider the foundations of your fantasy romance reading, and under what genres they were listed when you found them way back in the day.

Hello and thank you to our podcast Patreon community, and a special hello to Houston, who’s one of our most recent members. If you have supported the show with a monthly pledge of any amount, thank you. You are keeping me going, you are making sure that every single episode has a transcript that is hand-compiled by garlicknitter, and you’re making sure that the episodes are accessible to everyone. Patreon members get some nifty benefits: there are bonus episodes, there’s a wonderful Discord, this year we did a Valentine’s Day card exchange, and it has been delightful, so if you would like to join, it would be wonderful to have you. Have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.

Support for this podcast comes from the new graphic novel Age Matters. A hopeless romantic and a reclusive billionaire rewrite the rules of friendship, love, and work in a graphic novel version of the hit webtoon series Age Matters. Age Matters follows twenty-nine-year-old Rose Choi as she decides to pick up her life after her ex-boyfriend cheats on her, then dumps her. In need of employment, she takes over her best friend’s odd job to cook and deliver meals to a mysterious boss. (You know where this is going.) The boss turns out to be the twenty-three-year-old CEO of Lime, Daniel Yoon. She finds him too abrasive, while he finds her too desperate, but they eventually learn to get along with each other, and fall for each other. This book collects episodes 1 through 15 of the webtoon, which had over 3.6 million subscribers and more than 390 million reads. If you love addictive slow-burn romance, then this is the book for you, and it is just in time for Valentine’s Day. Publishers Weekly calls it charming and says it’s got plenty of romantic heat. You can pick up your copy of Age Matters Volume One by Enjelicious now, and look for other print versions of your favorite hits from Webtoon, published by Webtoon Unscrolled wherever books are sold.

All right, are you ready to get started? We’re going to go back in time and forward in time, and we’re going to talk about fantasy romance back in the day with Jennifer Armentrout. On with the podcast.

[music]

Sarah: What books do you consider, like, the foundations of fantasy romance that have influenced you as a reader and a writer? What is your, like, Okay, these are the ones that shaped me?

Jennifer Armentrout: So I think this is actually a harder question to answer because I, because I think fantasy romance, and for, and it’s like it’s funny that we now have given that a new name, and I’m always like, Guys, this is, this has been, been a thing for quite…

Sarah: It’s been a thing for a very long time, but now we have a name for it.

Jennifer: [Laughs] It’s like, Yeah, this is not new! It’s just now more accepted. Like, it’s, that’s the difference! It, it –

Sarah: That was exactly my reaction, too. Like, oh –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – we have a name for that? But that’s been around for a while!

Jennifer: Yeah, like, why are we renaming this? It’s just that fantasy was always heavily dominated by, you know, male authors with main male characters and, you know, that was what we know of fantasy, where – and also, it’s almost like fantasy was not allowed to have any type of, you know, happy ending or have romance; it somehow made it less-than, you know –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – having that, but it’s always been there.

Sarah: Always.

Jennifer: It’s just – always – it’s been actually put into the paranormal category is where you usually found it. Or, at one time, as you will know, urban fantasy!

Sarah: Oh yes!

Jennifer: It was what I think we call contemporary fantasy now? I don’t, ‘cause I don’t think they call it that now. UF. And, and that’s where you found it! It’s, it was always there. So for me it’s hard to say, to pick one book and say that’s what shaped, shaped it. I mean, of course you’re going to have, like, you know, Sarah’s books, Sarah Maas’s, like, A Court of Thorns and Roses, like, that series. But for me, it also is the paranormal. Like, most of your fantasy actually relies very heavily on paranormal, like…

Sarah: That’s very true!

Jennifer: So it’s, so a lot of para-, just, just regular paranormal books is what inspired me, plus my favorite genre will always likely be historical romance. That is my go-to; that is my, like, when I’m, when I’m working, that is what I’m reading usually. I feel like you do see a little bit of that, or sometimes a lot of historical context in your fantasy, where you could see, I could honestly see historical authors easily making that jump.

Sarah: Oh, for sure! Because a lot of fantasy –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – requires –

Jennifer: Yeah!

Sarah: – very rigid –

Jennifer: A knowl- – yeah!

Sarah: – social structures, very rigid movement between classes, and with fantasy you have to have a history to make the worldbuilding accurate. I totally agree!

Jennifer: And, and, and, too, it’s like you’re also having authors who are able to write in a world that they do not live in. So it’s like, and that is, that, that is difficult, because when you’re writing contemporary you have the contemporary wor-, you’re, you have the world that you can rely back on.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: But when you’re creating something that took place hundred, three hundred years ago, or something that doesn’t exist, you’re having to build that in a way that people can see that and visualize it, usually in their head, and so I think historical authors are probably really kickass at fantasy.

But I think, for me, it’s, it was paranormal. It, it was paranormal from when I was a teen reading L. J. Smith. [Laughs] Like, you know, all the way from that, reading up, reading Johanna Lindsey, and just, that is really what shaped my love of that type of world and having the paranormal element, because you do see in most of your fantasies, there are paranormal elements that are in them, whether it’s the type of beings that you’re dealing with or special abilities. These books existed; they always did. They were just called paranormal –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – at one time. They were just looped – because you couldn’t have romance in a fantasy.

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: So that’s why!

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: Like, you, the, this is not new!

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: You just couldn’t have it. Like, it was just no-go. And once, once you, your, your book went to a bookstore and they saw it was written by someone who, who looks like they may have a lady name and it had romance, and you went immediately into paranormal, and nine times out of ten it also put you into Young Adult…

Sarah: Yep. And there was this weird overlap, right?

Jennifer: Yep.

Sarah: Very weird.

Jennifer: And so now they don’t do that anymore, so it’s, so that’s why you now have this, this genre, I guess. [Laughs] So.

Sarah: It’s so, it’s so interesting to have been in this industry for so long, and then you see a trend come back, and you’re like, Oh, but we did this before!

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: Like, when I started Smart Bitches –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – in 2005, paranormal was it. It was vampires and werewolves –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – all the way down, and then you had the urban fantasy, and you knew it was urban fantasy because there was a girl on the cover with leather pants –

Jennifer: Right.

Sarah: – and a studded belt.

Jennifer: And she had a dagger or a gun…

Sarah: A dagger or a gun.

Jennifer: …in her hand.

Sarah: And there was that one belt. They all wore the same belt with the metal square studs. It was the urban fantasy –

Jennifer: And there’s a city behind them.

Sarah: Yes! And it was dark.

Jennifer: Pretty sure, like, one of my books has a cover just like that…

Sarah: Exactly! And that was, that was it! And everyone –

Jennifer: Yeah!

Sarah: – was hot for vampires and werewolves, and that’s what was selling.

Jennifer: Since you, you, you again, you’ve, you’ve been doing this longer than I have, so I’m going to test my theory on you. My theory is that whenever the real world gets too real, like whenever there’s too much going on in the real world, where it’s, whether it’s like a horrific disaster that happens, economic strife, anything like that, you find that readers then will tend to really want true escapism.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: They want the fantasies; they want the vampires, the werewolves, the, the Fae, the historical times. They don’t want really anything that resembles their life at that moment.

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: And, and when things are really good, when things are, you know, you look at, towards your late 2000s, right? When the economy’s looking good for the most part – I mean, I don’t know, there were some moments there – [laughs] – to the economy, but, you know, overall. Like, things are starting to look good; things are starting to improve; you start to see a swing back towards contemporary!

Sarah: Yep! I completely agree.

Jennifer: And I, that is my theory! That, that is when you see – that is how you can do your trends: look at the world you’re currently in, and that can almost guarantee to tell you what is going to trend. And also understanding that – and if I could ever give, like, a message to any author: Just because something’s trending does not mean the opposite is no longer read. It’s like, people always still look for this; it’s just, what’s going to happen is you’re going to have outliers, right?

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: That are going to go through the roof, that are going to be like the biggest selling books of all time, and so then you’re going to think, Oh my God, everybody’s got to be writing contemporary; everybody’s got to be writing fantasy. No! It’s just, it’s just these books.

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: And then they’re going to raise more books like them, but people are still looking for the other type. It’s just –

Sarah: Absolutely.

Jennifer: It’s just –

Sarah: It’s just not the popular thing. And I had a campaign! I had a campaign with Dear Author called Save the Contemporary. I think, okay, first of all, I think contemporary is fine right now. I think it’s been saved. It’s good. We’re good, yep.

Jennifer: And also, when you said, it’s like when you said Dear Author, I’m like, Oh gosh, I’m having a flashback, like in a good way, to, like, when we get to – [laughs] – like, so, it’s like you realize how long you’ve been doing this…

Sarah: Oh my gosh.

Jennifer: …Dear Author. There’s, yeah, and I’m trying to, you know, there’s just so many blogs that, oh my gosh, like, I just think back sometimes and I’m like, Aw, man.

Sarah: The, the fact that I’m still around every year, like every year –

Jennifer: Yeah!

Sarah: – when I file my taxes and I file my annual report with the state, I’m like, Still here! Still going! Just paid my hosting.

Jennifer: But you, you also adapted. Like, you know what I mean? Like, you’ve seen that, like, like doing, like, the podcast and things like that –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – doing Patreon. Like, things were changing, like, and I think that, you know, is one of the main – you know, not main, but helps when you’re doing that.

But yeah, that is my, my, my theory is that you see, when you look around you, that’s when you see, when you start seeing these upticks in certain genres, and –

Sarah: Yes. And that homogeny is the enemy, and –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – conforming is the enemy, and you –

Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – still have individuals who form groups to overtake a negative authority. Like, that is a consistent theme, but you see more of it in a much more dramatic and massive way –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – immediately following scary stuff. And it’s also, it’s really hard to write contemporary romance, I think, right now, because do you include COVID or do you not? Are you –

Jennifer: Oh my gosh, yeah. I mean, I – [laughs] – I was writing – I have this other series that’s a sci-, like a sci-fi series? And –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – it was, you know, gearing up, like three of the books came out in it, and I was introducing, like, has to do with, it was a spinoff from my Lux series, and so it had to do with, like, aliens and basically, like, the world, you know, we, like, we’d been experimenting on them, creating, like, you know, serums and stuff to improve humans, and it all started from someplace good, right.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: Because these aliens in my series, they didn’t get sick, and so it all started from a good place of –

Sarah: This is The Darkest Star, right? The Origin series?

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. Those were the four, yeah. And it all started from, like, this good place or these good – ‘cause, you know, I feel like some of the worst evils started from somebody in there – not everybody, ‘cause there’s some people I just believe were just born bad –

[Laughter]

Jennifer: – and they’re…but, like, it is – but usually it starts from one little speckle of good, like I want to eradicate cancer or something, like, in, in my world, and, that I had built, and, but then it just, capitalism.

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: It’s, which came in and was like, But we can use this from the military! We can, we can create soldiers out of this, and so things had spiraled in there, but one of the things that they were doing, basically, is, like, you know, I kind of modeled it after real, like, history, like some of the things that have always, like, destabilizes countries, which always makes them better for takeovers or a new regime to rise from that –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – is destabilization, and one of the, the biggest destabilizers are usually natural events, so if you can’t create weather events, the next best thing was – [laughs] – like, a pandemic. So in that series –

Sarah: Ee!

Jennifer: Yeah, like, uh! So in that series, they manufactured a virus, a flu, and basically if you had gotten the flu vaccine you were, there was something – yeah, I hate it. And again, I don’t believe this! I don’t believe this at all, so…

Sarah: I have chills now, ‘cause I’m like, yep, mm-hmm, yep!

Jennifer: …I don’t, I don’t believe in this, but this is what I created, that if you had gotten the flu vaccine, there’s something in the flu vaccine that basically would deter-, like, would see how it reacted in your body. And if you survived that, like, if you, some people it would have made okay; other people, once they release this virus, it wouldn’t have killed them.

Sarah: Oh boy.

Jennifer: And it basically, they were weeding out the weakest, but at the same time creating a destabilizing event –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – for the…like the, you know – oh God – like, the – again, this, I don’t believe this! I mean, I – so they, but, like, creating, like, the really, like, you know, the shadow government, the people who, in my world, who do run things to finally step in and take control. And so the series was leading up to that; it was already written pre 2020, and then COVID happened, and –

Sarah: Ahhh!

Jennifer: – it was the – and the thing was, it, it was eerie, because it, some of the things that were happening in the beginning had already happened in the book, and there, it was like these pockets of things you were starting to hear about, and people, and then people downplaying it, and then other people being like, No, something, they wouldn’t shut down an entire apartment building. Like, something bad is happening. And it, it just, it made it – and I still have been unable to finish that series. Like, I –

Sarah: Oh gosh, no! Of course!

Jennifer: Yeah, because I have to, because I don’t feel comfortable? ‘Cause the final book would have been the fallout, ‘cause the virus had already been released, and, and of course in my book the virus was obviously much deadlier, but I didn’t feel right, like, you know…

Sarah: No, I completely understand!

Jennifer: And, like, my husband’s grandfather passed away from it, so, you know, we have, you know, obviously a very close family member who had died from it, and it just, it just didn’t feel – I mean, like, I, it’s like you’re ta- – even though I know I’m not, I created this before this happened –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – but, you know, I based it off, like, the Spanish Influenza. Like, I, I – and the worst part is – oh my God – like, even in the beginning – oh gosh – before COVID, there were, I had one of the doctors who was doing RNA…

Sarah: No! Oh my gosh!

Jennifer: So I, so I know, like, a stupid amount about viruses and actually how viruses, you know, because she, before the, before the alien invasion happened in the previous series, she worked in biochemistry, because you know how they are actually creating viruses to target cancers, like –

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: – but, you know, creating in, like, nanotechnology, basically.

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: And so it was like all this stuff, and I’m just like –

Sarah: Ahhh!

Jennifer: – Am I – [laughs] – I’m like, Am I psychic? I don’t know what’s happening! I’m like, ‘cause this is so weird! But it’s because that technology has always been there –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – but it never got used. Like, you know, they couldn’t get the funding off the ground for RNA technology, and you know, everybody’s freaking out about that. It’s like, guys, that’s been around for a while.

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: They’ve been…on that stuff for decades.

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: It’s just that it’s expensive to do, and, you know, and so – but yeah, it, it, so I just have to, like, I felt like had to kind of basically rewrite the plot somehow. Like, because I was like, I can’t do it this way, because also, I don’t want, because I wrote this way with, like, the flu vaccine, and not really thinking anything about it or thinking, Hmm, yeah, this is so, you know, I’m so, you know, this is going to be so creepy! But now, knowing that there’s so much misinformation about vaccines out there now –

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: – even though I’m writing completely made-up shit – [laughs] –

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: – I don’t want to add to that.

Sarah: Nope.

Jennifer: I don’t want to add to that; I don’t want people to think that I believe that? [Laughs] Like, so –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – so it became this, like, like, what is it? Real, realer than fiction moment of how do I back myself now out of this?

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: How do I – and Tor has been amazing, because they, because, you know, my editor there at that time was like, What the hell? Like, you know, it was like we were, ‘cause she saw, like, the synopsis too, and, and she, like, completely, she was like, We can’t do this right now. Like, we –

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – we can’t.

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: ‘Cause I was like, I don’t feel right doing this. Like, I don’t feel right continuing down that path knowing that it’s still here, people are still dying, too; a lot of people are still dying from it. Nurses and doctors and first responders are still very traumatized –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – what they had to do and are still having to see and do, and –

Sarah: This wasn’t fantasy anymore; this wasn’t fiction anymore.

Jennifer: …yeah. So I’m still trying to figure out how to close it out without exploding it, but that was – we, we all tried…but that’s, like, probably one of my most bizarre, frightening moments I think I’ve ever had, where it’s like I’m literally writing something, or had written something, that’s coming true –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – and it’s like, it’s like, if you ever watched Veep?

Sarah: Yes! Oh my God!

Jennifer: I can’t even tell you how many times I was like, Wait a minute, didn’t that happen in Veep two years ago?

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: Like – [laughs] –

Sarah: Who’s writing this season?

[Laughter]

Jennifer: And it was like, Wait a minute! Like, that happened!

Sarah: And yet it, it fits with what we’ve been talking about, that everything comes back; everything returns I call it the, the Bruce Springsteen Theory of Publishing: Everything dies –

Jennifer: [Laughs]

Sarah: – but maybe everything that dies someday comes back? We went through this same pattern of behavior with the Spanish Flu! We went through the same Oh no, you, you can’t do that; you – there, there was always a, an anti movement towards treatment and public health at that time, just like there is now. Anti-vaxxers have always been around; they just got more popular and connected over social media and became louder, but that has always been a subset of society. And now everything, everything that has happened before will happen again, and so you, you just, you were real close with that prediction there! I’m assuming you play the lottery often.

Jennifer: I do not, which I feel like…

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: Because you know what the other funny thing is? It was just so hilarious, and this kind of went viral, like, on, during the early stages of the pandemic, like this actual part of the, one of my older books? Like, people, like, it just took off a life of its own was – and again, I don’t believe this!

Sarah: Yeah?

Jennifer: I am not the person who’d do this, but I’m like, people really won’t do this, so in the Lux series, the, the, the original series of this world, the aliens – SPOILER ALERT, whatever – eventually invade. Like, the rest of – ‘cause there’s aliens already here; they’ve been hiding. But then the rest of them are like, Well, we’re coming! We’re going to –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – make this bitch our home! Like, so they’re coming, and they’re not exactly friendly. And so people are panic-, panicking, right, so the main character, Katy, they’re going to the grocery store, and she’s looking around like, Chaos everywhere! He realizes that there is toilet paper, and so I have her say something like, Well, I know the first thing I’ll be buying is toilet paper. Me? No! The first thing I’m going to be buying is shit like water; like, you know, like, but also like whatever. But then – and this book came out like 2015, 2016, probably? Years later, people had got that little bit of dialogue, and it just went like, and I was like, Oh my God. It’s like, again, the same world. Like, I was like, I, I don’t, that’s not my fault!

Sarah: Nope.

Jennifer: …but –

Sarah: You’re just writing human nature!

Jennifer: Yeah, human nature.

Sarah: Accurately predicting what humans will do.

Jennifer: …because it is kind of a running thing when you think about, Oh God, like, when you’re watching, like, you know, post-apocalyptic shows, you’re like, Do they have toilet paper?

Sarah: Do they have tampons? What do you do for maxi pads?

Jennifer: Right? I’m always wondering that! I’m like, Are you, like – I do like The Last of Us

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: That they actually showed her…

Sarah: Using a cup!

Jennifer: Yeah, grabbed the cup. That was funny, because she was just like, What the – ohhh! [Laughs] It’s like –

Sarah: Oh.

Jennifer: – like…think about that, but I do like that, ‘cause it’s something that always kind of crossed my mind about that, and why does everybody in a post-apocalyptic TV show have amazing white teeth?

Sarah: What is with that?

Jennifer: Like, come on, put some yellow on her teeth, people. Like, that, that just takes me out. When you, when I see that, I’m just like, Why are their teeth whiter than mine?

Sarah: Well, the, the, the apocalypse –

Jennifer: …supposed to be zombies everywhere. [Laughs]

Sarah: The apocalypse has spared the dentistry industry: specifically the dentists that have teeth whitening components to their practice.

Jennifer: But then maybe –

Sarah: They were saved.

Jennifer: …they’re eating less sugar now, so they’re having –

Sarah: Less processed foods – who knows?

Jennifer: So, but, like, that’s just the weird thing I think about sometimes when you are writing; it’s like, you don’t know, like, how much of it can come true – [laughs] – like it is here.

Sarah: Oof! Ahhh!

Now, you mentioned that you love Johanna Lindsey. I, I, I also love Johanna Lindsey. Do you have a favorite Johanna Lindsey that you reread a lot?

Jennifer: Oh gosh. I know, and I, I, you know, many of these did not age well? Just going to…

Sarah: No! But the one that I love the most has aged terribly; wait till I tell you about it!

Jennifer: I think mine – oh God – is probably Hearts Aflame?

Sarah: Oh, that’s a good one!

Jennifer: I think that’s the one. That’s the one with Kristen, right; she’s a Viking who, like – ‘cause I get, it’s, it’s, I get some of them confused, because there was, because she had a bunch of those families. Like, one is The Conqueror and the Rose, I think, or The Wolf and the Rose.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: Or the…I’m thinking of the one, I think –

Sarah: Yeah, that’s Heart’s Aflame.

Jennifer: …yeah. I –

Sarah: Beautiful and defiant Kristen.

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, yeah, and honest- – oh God, it’s so bad! I mean, like, in a way of holding up to, oh, you know, today’s, like, in, well, there’s some stuff in there, but I don’t know; I just loved it. I always – I mean, I honestly, I, I was reading Johanna Lindsey when I was twelve and thirteen.

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: Because we didn’t have Young Adult like they do now. We had, basically, R. L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and a few other, right, that you could read, and it wasn’t that much. You would go into Waldenbooks; it would just be like one shelf –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – like…books and…

Sarah: Unless you wanted to read like Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High –

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, and that, and you –

Sarah: – which was soap opera books.

Jennifer: Yeah, and I was like, you know, I was reading probably, I was reading higher than, you know, what I was, should have been reading. And then my mom, I mean, she was, she was a huge proponent of reading, and she didn’t care that I was reading that. So, I mean, and, you know, I always tell people, it’s like, Look, I was reading Johanna Lindsey at twelve years old. I turned out fine. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: Like, you know, I may have had a little bit higher than normal expectations for sex, you know, and then it was like, Oh, it’s not really like that? Where you’re, like, soaring through the clouds and, you know, stuff like that, but, like, it’s, that, Hearts Aflame, that, there was a, God, there’s so many – Brenda Joyce is another one, and – I always say her name wrong – Gaelen Foley? Gaelen – it’s G-A-E-L-E-N.

Sarah: Gaelen Foley?

Jennifer: Gaelen, yeah.

Sarah: That’s how I’ve always said it in my head: Gaelen Foley, yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. Oh my gosh, The Duke, the Lord of Ice, the Lord of Fire; oh my God, they’re my favorites! [Laughs]

Sarah: That was my first, I think Gaelen Foley was the first book I ever read with a princess falling in love with her bodyguard? And I was, I was too young to be reading that, but I just remember being like, Oh! Oh my word!

Jennifer: And there’s a couple, like there’s really, like, historicals that really go back into time?

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: Those have fantasy vibes to us, right?

Sarah: They really do.

Jennifer: Because we can’t, like, ‘cause we can’t even comprehend a world like that now, right? When you actually have legitimate knights running amuck and you’ve got all this stuff going on. You see a lot of that in fantasy now, and that, that always kind of seems like a fantasy vibe to me. What was your favorite Johanna Lindsey?

Sarah: It’s so problematic. It is so –

Jennifer: [Laughs]

Sarah: – deeply problematic. And I, and I reread it, and there’s a part of me that reads it and goes, Oh my God, oh my God, oh God; and there’s a part of me that’s like, Yes! Okay! So my favorite Johanna Lindsey that I can reread anytime and it works every time is Silver Angel?

Jennifer: Okay, what, so what was the character’s name? I’m, I know I’ve read it. I just have to always, like, they kind of blur together after…

Sarah: Oh, they do! They do, because, I mean, if, especially if you read Bertrice Small? Which has been called Fucking Through History books? Yeah, Bertrice Small was here to take you to the Tudor era of the world where everyone was having good sex, and nobody had body hair. It was pretty wild.

But Sil-

Jennifer: But like, let’s not talk about the fact that they only could bathe, like, bathing at that time was considered –

Sarah: Oh yeah! I mean, you think about like –

Jennifer: – healthy.

Sarah: – A Knight in Shining Armor, where the heroine goes back in time in A Knight in Shining Armor, she invents a shower!

[Laughter]

Sarah: And cleans her teeth! I’m like, Go ahead, girl.

So Silver Angel – whoo! Okay, Silver Angel, the heroine’s name was Chantelle, and the original cover was this guy –

Jennifer: …

Sarah: – on top of her, and her hair is just spilling over the –

Jennifer: Yeah, I could see the cover.

Sarah: Oh yeah. And she’s, okay, so there’s, there’s twins, and one of them is a sheikh – I’ve just wandered –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – straight into problematic territory – and she is kidnapped and sold into slavery, but the sheikh –

Jennifer: …this guy who’s pretending to be the brother, right?

Sarah: Right, is his secret twin, who happens to be an English lord (of course he is).

Jennifer: I do like that one, so.

Sarah: So he’s pretending to be the sheikh, but he really likes her, but he’s got to shtup all the other wives or they’re going to get mad, and he can’t do it because he loves her, and there’s a scene where all of the eunuchs, like, depilate her? Like, they pluck all her body hair?

Jennifer: Yeah! I, oh, I know! I re-, this, I read this – I mean, I haven’t read this one in a long time, but that scene has stuck with me and actually has inspired a scene in Fall of Ruin and Wrath.

Sarah: No! Get out –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – of town!

Jennifer: Yeah. When she has to be, you know, I do-, where she says, I’ve already been waxed, but she’s being bathed, prepared? That scene has stuck in the back of my head –

Sarah: No!

Jennifer: – all of these years, because –

Sarah: Oh my God!

Jennifer: – I don’t, because I think that probably is one of the first times I read, right? When that was even shown, right? Because it was really never discussed; like, body hair was never discussed –

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – and it was kind of like this, you know, suddenly being presented with this idea that there were different cultures that have these different views, obviously, on body hair, right?

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: Keep in mind, when we were reading this, you didn’t have the internet. [Laughs]

Sarah: No!

Jennifer: …like, what was this? But yeah, I know exactly what scene, ‘cause I remember being like, What? [Laughs]

Sarah: And I remember reading that, and I have dark hair, and I have fair skin, so I’m a hairy person –

Jennifer: …yeah.

Sarah: – and I’d be like, Well, how come all the heroines in history never have body hair? Her smooth legs? How come her legs are smooth and mine aren’t? And they all have flat stomachs, and they all have perfect teeth and long legs, and I was like, Well, something’s wrong with me.

Silver Angel is one of, like, it just imprinted on my soul in a number of ways.

Jennifer: Yep.

Sarah: That book is, it is so problematic on so many levels.

Jennifer: …Most of them are. Oh my God.

Sarah: They are! And yet I reread them, and I’m like, yep, suddenly I’m twelve years old and I know I should not be reading this book.

Jennifer: Yeah, and it’s, I, that book, I do remember. As soon as you said that I was like, There were two brothers, and –

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: – and then one was hiding, you know, basically pretending to be the other. But they’re, oh my gosh, like, they were, I think Johanna Lindsey also had one with one of the czars of Russia? Like, where he just pretty much, like, just picked her up off the street and, like, kidnapped her? Like, it was one of the princes as – I think that was Lindsey. That may have been one of the other ones. But again, with things like nowadays where you’re like, oh God! [Laughs] Like –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: But I, I am, and I will die on the hill, I’m sorry, I will die on the hill that those types of books are not causing men to go out there and kidnap women. You know, they are not, they are not causing that.

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: And they’re not causing women to think it’s okay for that to happen.

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: It’s fantasy, because a lot of – and coming from a psychol-, psychological standpoint, people do have, women do have those fantasies. And men have them too.

Sarah: Oh, absolutely! It’s a way of, it is a way of negotiating –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – the peril that is in real life.

Jennifer: Yeah. Then there are the other stuff in there that I always, that, yeah, are really problematic, like the…

Sarah: Well, this is super racist!

Jennifer: Yeah, so.

Sarah: It’s so rac-, and –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – all of the sheikh/harem historicals, there were so many, right?

Jennifer: Yep. ‘Cause there’s another one that’s popping into my head, and I can’t think which one it was, where she was, she was hiding because they would have, like, I think, these, kind of reminds you of the stuff that you see at, when, when you do confession at Catholic places, where they have, like, these screens that you can kind of, like, see through a little bit?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: And so they had, like, the, the main wife, the main – like, it was, I just, there was another one, I can’t think what it is, is stuck in my head, that, like, the main wife was trying to – and that may have been Silver Angel, actually – was trying to kill her?

Sarah: Yeah. Oh yeah, there’s a jealous, there’s a jealous, there’s a jealous woman who’s very angry –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – and she does not realize that the hero is not her husband –

Jennifer: Yep.

Sarah: – that he’s in hiding and, you know, his – how are, how are they twins? How? How are they – wait – [laughs] –

Jennifer: You know, science just didn’t exist there.

Sarah: Johanna Lindsey just wrote magic, right? Like, it was just –

Jennifer: …You didn’t question it; you just –

Sarah: No!

Jennifer: – bought in, and, you know, there, there was one, there was one of the, I think it’s one of Foley’s books, where they get to the point where it’s a lot of the – oh gosh, what’s it called? – the, the, the – I’m going to say it wrong – like, the western spice – East India Company.

Sarah: Oh, the Dutch East India.

Jennifer: Yeah, which is whoo! That’s, that’s another thing that you really don’t learn about in school, and, you know, that, ho my God.

Sarah: Yeah, Gaelen Foley wrote a whole trilogy, the Spice trilogy.

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. And there was one of the books, and I don’t think it was a part of that one. I think it may have been, like, it was a part of the, the main series that she had, but it could have been one of the books that spun off into that series –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – like showing them, and I will say there was one, there, there was one of them where she was probably the first one I read that actually handled it like a bit realistically, where the, it was not showing the English, the French in good light…

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – at all. Like, it was showing, and it, and it didn’t have, like, the white savior undertone in it either. It was, it was something that, she had it actually shown, kind of in the background, happening?

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: That, you know, and having the, the main characters realize that this is not okay, kind of –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – you know, that we’re doing, but it was…that is another book that stuck in my head, because, again, it’s not something they covered in school. Like, what this, this actually did and what this meant for people and the, the colonialization that came from it and, yeah. And –

Sarah: And that’s happening now! With legislature, legislators determining what can and cannot be taught about actual history.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: It’s wild, right? And you’re so right that when you read these older historicals, they read like fantasy novels.

Jennifer: Yeah! Yeah!

Sarah: And when you see that fantasy reflected in reality, it is so jarring! It –

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. And there’s, there have been some books that I’m not going to say the author’s name, but there was one of them – ‘cause I’m not sure if I’m correct. I’m not sure if it’s the book I’m thinking of, but there was a contemporary book that was written in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s that I had read ages ago and really, really liked. And then I picked it up again a couple years ago and read it.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: And stuff that was in it, the homophobic, the blatant racist undertones –

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Jennifer: – that, you, like, I did not even catch. Like, either – and then…I will say I’m glad I read it, because – I’m glad I read it then, and I’m glad I read it now, because it helped me also realize that, how did I, like, how, you know, blind is the best word I can think of, that a lot of us are if we don’t live that life?

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: If we haven’t experienced that?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: That we are to what’s right in front of us. And I remember reading it and just being shocked, like, again. And then realizing no one has even updated this. Like, and I’m sorry, it’s, it’s pretty – like, I know a lot of people have, they have feelings about that, but this is so bad that if I was the author I’d be like, Oh my God, we need to…update this all.

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: ‘Cause…none of it pertained to the plot. None of it mattered. If you can remove it from the book and it does not change the book –

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: – you’ll remove it, right?

Sarah: I have the same feelings –

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah.

Sarah: – about The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer. There’s one chapter where she goes to a Jewish moneylender, and it is just, this is the anti-Semitism chapter. Here it is.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: And I’m like, you – and, and people will ask me, like, you know, which, which Heyers do you love? And, I mean, okay, first of all, there are some abridged Heyers narrated by Richard Armitage, and I can listen to those anytime, ‘cause wow! Ooh, he’s good at books! But if someone asks me about that book I’m like, When you get to the chapter and she’s going to the money-, you can just skip it. Just skip to the next chapter. It does nothing to the story; there’s nothing important to the plot. It’s just, I’m going to put the anti-Semitism chapter here.

Jennifer: Yeah!

Sarah: And it’s like, but, but, but it doesn’t do anything except be racist!

Jennifer: Yeah, and it’s like –

Sarah: Like, that’s the whole point.

Jennifer: – when you look at the, our generation especially and older, this stuff was on TV. It was on TV.

Sarah: Oh, it was everywhere!

Jennifer: Everywhere. Nobody questioned it. And that doesn’t make it okay, that doesn’t make it right, but what it did is it helped put in a lot of this unconscious bias into people that they do not realize they have. They aren’t necessarily willing to confront it sometimes –

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – to fully acknowledge that, yeah, you’re not actively discriminatory, you’re not actively racist, you’re not actively biased. However –

Sarah: However –

Jennifer: – you…beliefs that were put into you because everybody was showing it. So…

Sarah: It was in the atmosphere. It’s like, it was like Palmolive: you were soaking in it.

Jennifer: I mean, that’s where the whole thing, the whole phrase of That didn’t age well came from –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – basically, is realizing things that we accepted –

Sarah: And did not question.

Jennifer: …realize was not okay.

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: And…and that’s one thing that you, it’s like you think about what reading has done for people. It’s, it’s like you realize that sometimes that, wow, like, you learn. Like, you learn what – I mean, I, I even looked about, like, write, having written over ten years now, there are things that I put in my books ten years ago that I’ve had removed –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – from my books now, that I’ve actually gone back, asked the publishers, and they’ve always been amazing with doing that. Like, and honestly, I can tell you right now that I don’t think this is a secret: a lot of the publishers are actively doing sensitivity reads on their backlists.

Sarah: Yes, I have heard that.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: I have heard that.

Jennifer: And they’re pulling, and, you know, and ultimately they do leave it up to the author. They leave it up to the author. I mean, these publishers I work with, if you want to change it or not, and, you know, and there’s been times where there’ll be things that I may not understand, like, but then I realize, Wait a minute, Jen! I’m not the person who gets to decide that! Like, you know what I mean –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – like, I, I may not, I may not be seeing what somebody else may be seeing.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: …I may not –

Sarah: That’s not your bruise

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah.

Sarah: No one’s pushing on that bruise on you.

Jennifer: And again, and especially, and, and nine times out of ten, none of this stuff affects the plot, the character development. These are just things that inherently were in the backs of our minds –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – that we never thought were a problem. And one of the best examples I can give for myself personally was, in one of my books, the character made a comment like, You’re acting like Rain Man. You know, that’s what I had in the book, so, and again, I’m, I was born in the ‘80s. The, Dustin Hoffman, I think, played that character?

Sarah: Yeah, Dustin Hoffman was Rain Man. That movie was –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – massive! Absolutely massive!

Jennifer: Tom Cruise and him, and he was never diagnosed. It was never, there was never a diagnosis for him, right?

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: But obviously, apparently, as we get older, I think people have realized he probably was autistic, Dustin Hoffman’s character.

Sarah: Yeah. Certainly neurodivergent in some way.

Jennifer: Yeah. Some way. And –

Sarah: We didn’t even have that word back then, I don’t think.

Jennifer: No, no, no. We just lumped all of the neurodivergent into one group.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: …They, they were just one group, and a lot of that – and again, that’s another hill I’ll die on. Like, some of them shouldn’t even be underneath mental illness brackets –

Sarah: Agree.

Jennifer: – because they are totally, these, these are totally different things. But it’s, but again, I, you know, I wrote that not even thinking, like, not even thinking, and then, you know, X amount of time later I’m like, Oh, wait a minute. I’m like, like, you know, a, a, a reader had actually brought it up, and, and it, it, it took a moment for me to understand, like, okay, that was, that was bad. And, and, and again, it’s like, there was no ill intention on my part, right? But it was realizing, okay, that’s a misstep; that’s something I need to fix!

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: Like, you know what I mean, like – and going back and having all the old files, like, updated to remove it, and, and there’s things like that that I think, that people just, it’s, you know, it’s human nature to always be, to be defensive. Like, you know what I mean?

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: …human nature to come off on a defense, but lots of times – and anyways, but the whole thing, when I removed that, it didn’t change anything. It was, it was unnecessary.

Sarah: It didn’t change the book at all.

Jennifer: Other than it’s going to do less harm to people.

Sarah: Yeah! And –

Jennifer: You know.

Sarah: – you know, when you know better, one way in which you do better is to update things that you may have done wrong and make it, and be like, Hey. And, I mean, you see that on, like, television shows. Like, you’ll see old reruns on, on Disney and, and they’ll, or on, on streaming services, and they’ll put like a placard: Please understand that this cartoon reflects views of that time and they are not okay. And it’s like everyone has to figure out how to negotiate their work, right?

Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and it’s, and you know, and I think that people always, like, want to say, Oh, people are being too sensitive.

Sarah: Mm-mm.

Jennifer: It’s, it’s not being too sensitive.

Sarah: No, it’s being caring. Sorry that’s a problem. [Laughs]

Jennifer: …recognize, really think that we probably are not sensitive enough to other people’s needs.

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: …that’s, that is actual the reality. But it’s, but I do think with writing, and, and that’s one thing too, with romance, romance, there’s so much you learn from it that has –

Sarah: Gosh, yes!

Jennifer: – nothing really to do, sometimes, with the romance aspect or not, but it’s because romance is one of the genres that create such realistic characters.

Sarah: Absolutely true.

Jennifer: Whether it’s contemporary –

Sarah: ‘Cause it’s all character work!

Jennifer: – fantasy – yes, it’s all, and, and it’s like, you know, you can be reading a fantasy and forget that you’re in a fantasy; you can be reading a paranormal and forget that you’re in a paranormal. And I think that it has, it does so much in terms of exposing you to other beliefs –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – or…realizing, wait a minute, if I have a problem with this happening in this, this book and this is fake, then I should maybe have a problem with the way we treat refugees – [laughs] – in the real world! Like –

Sarah: You don’t say!

Jennifer: Yeah, and so it’s, I think that is what, that’s the power of these types of books, and I think it is often, often, unfortunately, forgotten.

[Crosstalk]

Jennifer: Yeah. All the time?

Sarah: All the time.

Jennifer: That’s the power of these books it that people are being exposed to things and learning while they’re reading something that also makes them feel good, and people tend to learn and change that way –

[Crosstalk]

Jennifer: – any other ways. And it’s the power of those books.

Sarah: That is fabulous! Thank you so much for doing this. It has been such a delight. I, I had such a good time, and I, I love that we totally vibe on the same level of Yeah, it’s a problem, but I still love it.

[Laughter]

Jennifer: I don’t even like calling it, calling them your guilty reads –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – but I do think they are probably the guilty reads? [Laughs] Like, like, I, I, ‘cause we – but here’s the thing: I, I think that you can read it –

Sarah: Yes, you have two minds while you’re reading.

Jennifer: – and you, and you know. You’re, you know what’s wrong. And honestly, when you’re reading stuff like that at that young of age, it does help you recognize in real life when it’s wrong. Like, earlier, probably, and more easily than some people, because you, you have been exposed to things that you may never –

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: – have been exposed to in your town growing up. Like, but you’ve seen it in, you know, or read it, so I, I do think –

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: They serve their purpose.

Sarah: Empathy is never wasted, and romances are all about empathy. Empathy is never wasted.

[music]

Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. I will link to all of the books that we talk about in this episode; there were many. And I’m really curious: do you have a favorite deeply problematic Johanna Lindsey novel? Do you have a historical that you love and can read with two minds at the same time, your present brain going, Oh! and your past brain going, Oh yeah, this still works on me. I, I know I’m not alone in that. I would love to know what your foundational historical romance and fantasy romance titles are. It would be so cool to know which ones got you started or which ones you look back on and go, Oh wait, yeah! Romantasy! It’s been here a while.

I always end with a bad joke. This week’s joke comes from JF Hobbit through our Valentine’s Day card exchange.

What did they call sunrise in prehistoric times?

Give up? What did they call sunrise in prehistoric times?

Megalo-dawn.

[Laughs] One thing I love online is when people post pictures of the sunrise from different parts of the world, so I’m going to just tag them all megalo-dawn! Thank you, JF Hobbit!

And thank you so much for listening. It is, it is really an honor to keep you company.

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend. We’ll see you back here next week.

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[end of music]



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