Talking Romance with Anna Burke, Avery Brooks, and Jenn Alexander: Part 3

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to talk about writing romance novels with my fellow Bywater Books authors, Anna Burke and Avery Brooks. Anna is a new convert to the romance genre, and has just released her FIRST romance novel, Spindrift. It is getting all sorts of good buzz, and is definitely not a book to be missed.

(Click on the book cover images to be taken to a link to learn more about each book)

Part one of our conversation can be found on Anna’s website: CLICK HERE
Part two of our conversation can be found here on Avery’s website: CLICK HERE

Here is the third and final installment of our conversation about writing romance novels!

What topics or themes are important for you to write about? 

Anna: I don’t usually set out with any specific themes in mind, but they’re pretty easy to see in retrospect regardless of the genre I’m working in. I love writing about strong women, morally gray characters, animals, our relationship with nature and the climate, the importance of found family, and queer love. 

Avery: The experiences of lesbians and the LGBTQ+ community in general. I think we’re just getting started with representation of our community and need to be more accepting of all voices and experiences therein. At the same time, the human experience is universal, so I try to express the pains and joys that unite us all and that we can all relate to on some level, through a diverse set of characters that are primarily LGBTQ+. Beyond that, showing women grapple with their insecurities and obstacles but eventually step into their power and claim their inner badass is important to me not only as a writer but as a person.  

Jenn: I had to really think about how to answer this question! Home and The Song of the Sea are vastly different novels, and I didn’t write either novel with themes in mind. I’ve noticed that themes of family are often present in my writing. I really enjoy writing intergenerational connections into my characters’ lives. I also often find myself drawn to writing stories that center around healing, grief, and redemption. 

What advice do you have for someone who is just starting to write?

Anna: Write the stories you want to read. I grew up writing fantasy, but at some point during college decided I should be writing Important Literature–whatever that meant. As a result, I stopped writing entirely for several years. Relearning the joy of storytelling was one of the happiest moments of my life. For a variety of reasons, I began working on what eventually became Nottingham in 2014. I fell into that world with an urgency I thought I’d left behind in childhood. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, and the more stories I realized I wanted to tell. I’d been denying myself the freedom to write the stories I wanted to read, and by focusing on writing what I thought I should be writing, I smothered my passion. 

Avery: Don’t give up. It’s not easy, but the biggest obstacle in your way is probably going to be yourself. So be kind, believe in yourself and your story, and get your story out there. Also, write for yourself and be true to the story you envision. 

Jenn: Practice self-compassion. Writing a novel is hard work. It is vulnerable work. It is scary work. It can be so easy to listen to all of the self-doubts and fears. Don’t listen to the inner voice that berates you when you don’t write for a day, or a week, or a month, or years. Don’t listen to the voice that says you should have started sooner, written more, or written faster. Don’t listen to the voice that says your writing isn’t good enough. That voice isn’t productive and it’s often a liar. Tell your story, and be kind to yourself along the way.

What has been the hardest part of your writing career so far? What has been the best part?

Anna: The hardest part of my writing career has been battling health issues with the demands of graduate school, day jobs, and writing. One of the things that lets me know I’m on the right path is that, time and time again, regardless of the financial (or health) cost, I put writing first. I’m not saying this is the right choice–self-care is crucial for success in any venture–and I’ve paid for it, but I need stories. Writing is how I make sense of the world. The best part about writing? There are so many. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to do what I love, to the point where it somehow feels like cheating! But more than that, I love the people I’ve gotten to know as a result, from my fellow authors to my readers. I adore you all.

Avery: The hardest part was getting in my own way. Letting doubt try to dissuade me from writing the story I wanted to write. Also, letting go of perfection. Nothing is perfect but doing your best and continually trying to do better as you grow and learn is what matters. The best part has been the community of authors I have become friends with and the mutual support that comes with that, as well as the readers who have supported me and reached out to say what Other Girls meant to them. 

Jenn: The hardest part of my writing career so far has been trying to find time and space to write since becoming a parent. Before becoming a mom, I could usually find some way to work writing into my schedule in a way that allowed me to be consistent and develop a habit. Since having my daughter last July, any semblance of a schedule has gone out the window. I try to write before she wakes up in the morning, while she naps, and after she goes to sleep for the night, but as a general principle, she doesn’t believe in sleep, so there is never a guarantee that I will get any of those opportunities. It means I have to write in short bursts when I can, and I don’t usually get hours to immerse myself in my story in the same way that I used to. (On the plus side, however, when I do have time to write, I procrastinate less. I’ve gotten better about opening my laptop and going straight to my novel).

As for the best part of writing, it has been hearing from readers who have connected with something I’ve written. A part of me has gone into every word I’ve written. My friends and family have read my books, but ultimately lesbian romances  aren’t exactly their thing. When readers come upon my books and tell me that they’ve connected with the story, it tells me that the story that existed in my heart has found a home in someone else’s heart, and that’s a pretty damn cool feeling.

What are you working on next?

Anna: Too many things. I’m currently editing Night Tide, the sequel to Spindrift, which will be out in January if all goes according to plan, and am also finishing up the sequel to my debut novel, Compass Rose, which is titled Sea Wolf and will be out in the summer (2021). In between I write queered myth and fairytale retellings for my Patreon.

Avery: The follow-up(s) to Other Girls. When I wrote Other Girls, I fell in love with Drea’s character and was excited to tell her story. I’ve heard from many readers that they felt the same. I intentionally built several lesbian characters into the story with the plan of writing a series. The characters’ paths have evolved over time from what I originally envisioned, but that’s part of the fun of writing – letting the story lead you. 

Jenn: I don’t want to say too much, as I am still in really early stages of my next project, but I will say that I am writing another romance novel. It may or may not have been partly inspired by the Avril Lavigne song “Sk8er Boi.”