Impactful & Memorable Setups | #EditorTalk with Ali Williams


Episode Description

This episode, me and fellow editor Ali Williams take a look at trends in the industry and discuss books that not only have standout setups but also really showcase what we’re looking for in specific subgenres—all from the editor perspective. If MSWL and book reviews had a baby, this is it, so join us as we rave about books that have stuck with us!


Show Notes / Episode Transcript

Kate Marope (00:00:01):

This is Kate Marope, and you’re listening to the Path to Print podcast. <music>

Before we start, please be aware that this episode contains in-depth discussions about mental health and trauma, sexual assault and rape, physical violence, COVID-19, police brutality, and doxing. If you’re not comfortable or triggered by such topics, please take care of yourself and skip this episode.

This week, we have our third guest episode on a segment I repurposed from my old YouTube videos called Editor Talk. New Editor Talk episodes are all about having authors hear from editors directly about what books they’re loving and want to see in their submissions queue or in their email tray, without worrying that their asks are more based out of sales numbers than passion and enjoyment of the books they’re requesting. Me and my guest will talk about trends we’ve been noticing, books we’ll forever, forever recommend and peddle, and what books we think really represent what we love most about each genre and subgenre.

Today, I’m joined by an intelligent, vivacious human being who is a scholar, editor, and author friend. Her book are like drinking kinky hot chocolate, and she’s just a source of light and encouragement every time I see her.

Ali Williams’ inner romance reader is never quite satisfied, which is why she oscillates between writing romance, editing romance, and studying it as part of her PhD. She can be fun at the foot of the South Downs in the UK, either nerding out over local mythologies or drinking cocktails on the beach. She believes with all of her bifurious heart, that writing romance is an act of rebellion and that academia will be so much better when studying diverse HEAs is naturally a part of the curriculum. As a freelance romance, novel editor, she specializes in contemporary romance, paranormal and speculative romance and romantic suspense.

Welcome to the podcast, Ali Williams.

Read the rest of the transcript

Kate Marope (00:02:17):

I’m so excited to have you on the podcast because you’re an amazing person. Your energy, like just radiates every time you’re in the room. And I just love that you’re as obsessed with books as I am. It’s fantastic.

Ali Williams (00:02:33):

Well, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited. Actually.

Kate Marope (00:02:37):

I’m so excited. So, books, let’s talk books. What have you been reading a lot of lately and what have you been like, what kind of trends have you been noticing or like what trends would you like to see more of?

Ali Williams (00:02:49):

Well, I’ve literally just finished, uh, binge reading all six of, uh, Sophie Lark’s mafia books.

Kate Marope (00:02:58):

Oh my god! I’ve been meaning to read them. How are they?

Ali Williams (00:03:00):

So cracky. This is one of the things I really like those kinda books where you read one and they immediately set up the second book and the third. And you, you go in knowing, well, I need all of these characters to get happily ever afters, thank you very much. Um, I bought the first one because she’s attending, uh, RARE, which is Romance Authors and Readers Events. Um, it’s happening in Edinburgh, uh, in May. And so I bought the first one and then Katee Robert mentioned that she was addicted to them. And three days later I had read all six. Literally just binge read.

And it’s interesting because I find dark romance, really quite cracky is a good word. They are quite engaging. They work with taboos that I wouldn’t usually be on if I found some of the, you know, I don’t necessarily want to read about people killing each other and being bad guys. And that people who work in the mafia, usually there’s a fair amount of violence. I have to be in the mood for it. But for some reason, yeah, just absolutely delicious. Um, very intense, emotional connections, very intense, um, uh, conflicts, both internal and external.

And I think for me, a dark romance only works if the internal conflicts are as compelling as the external conflicts. There may be, you know, Bratva or, you know, mafia, or, you know, the Irish mob, you know, on their way to hunt you down. But if I don’t care about the individual and I’m not interested in their, um, in their motivations, why they’re trying, why they’re acting the way they are then I’m not going to get sucked in, but Sophie Lark did it excellently.

Um, so I read that recently I’ve read, uh, um, Lucy Parker’s Battle Royale which it the cupcake one.

Kate Marope (00:05:01):

Yes,

Ali Williams (00:05:02):

Yes, that was lovely, which I’m really excited.

Kate Marope (00:05:06):

I really enjoy that one, it was so cute. I read that back, um, where was it I was in Istanbul, and I was like on the treadmill, like cackling myself and my family was looking at me like, um, what, are you possessed? Are you okay over there? Has the exercise gotten to you? Like, no, it’s the book, it’s just super cute!

Ali Williams (00:05:24):

It was so cute and I mean, anything with food, I’m half Italian I’m bred to eat. So anything with food has, has takes my fancy, but it was the delicious of the grumpy sunshine. There is nothing really greater than a grumpy sunshine romance because it can happen in genre it works in and anyways. Yeah. It’s just funny and but with lots of heart. I think that’s the thing I really loved about it.

Um, and the book read months after everyone else, uh, is Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall?

Kate Marope (00:06:03):

I have not gotten to that one yet. It’s in my TBR, but I have not gotten to it yet.

Ali Williams (00:06:09):

Yeah. TBRS last forever. I have at least 1,000 books, probably more probably close to 1,200 physical books in the office that I’m in right now. And then I have another 5,000 on my Kindle. And my TBR is always expanding.

Kate Marope (00:06:24):

Listen, it’s so bad, especially like your digital TBR, because, and then I have like my Scribd, like audiobook, because I’ve been trying to do audio because I do a lot of reading for work and I’m sure you do too. So I’m trying to give my eyes a break and I’ve been like having to get like laser eye treatment. So I’m just like, oh yeah, listen to more audio. And like the TBR on that is like 500 books deep and I’m just like, um, um, I have a problem, but like routinely, like once a week, I will go and I’m like, new releases like romance, audiobooks that have come the last month. And I’m like, Ooh, that looks good. Let me add it. Ooh, that looks good. And I literally have a category on it that’s called Read Bitch Now.

Ali Williams (00:07:06):

<laughs>

Kate Marope (00:07:07):

I have not read all those books yet.

Ali Williams (00:07:10):

By the 14th of January this year I bought 40 books. And that was the point when I was like, you really you really need to start reading some of these ’cause it’s just getting a little bit ridiculous.

Kate Marope (00:07:20):

I mean, listen, everybody has that one thing that they spend their money on. My aunt just loves like shopping sales, not so much because she likes the stuff. Well, not, she doesn’t like the stuff she buys, but she like really likes a good bargain. So like, it’s the process of finding the sale and like, to me, like books on sale or like on audio or like when I get to use my subscription service, like the, like the satisfaction I get—

Ali Williams (00:07:46):

Oh gosh, yes.

Kate Marope (00:07:46):

—adding it to my TBR is why 80% of like my books, like the books on my TBR got on there. I’m just like, oh, everybody’s been talking about that. Now it’s here. So now I can just have it.

Ali Williams (00:07:59):

Oh, it’s just the ultimate dopamine hit. And I have ADHD. So like always looking for that dopamine high and nothing, nothing creates a dopamine high like buying books when a book comes through. I didn’t, I joined the gym in that in December, which is not, I’m not a gym person. Um, I didn’t go to the gym until I had a parcel of seven books arrive. Then I, I was like, I now have so much dopamine. I have the confidence to go across the road to the gym.

Kate Marope (00:08:27):

Do you do audiobooks?

Ali Williams (00:08:29):

Um, I dip in and outta them. I find I have to have the right kind of, uh, narrator.

Kate Marope (00:08:35):

Yes.

Ali Williams (00:08:36):

And often I need to have read the book. Not always, but often I need to have read the book before in order for my attention not to get distracted. Um—.

Kate Marope (00:08:44):

I love that. Two things. One, I was gonna suggest listen to audiobooks when you’re exercising. One, it makes the time while away faster because you’re listening to something pleasant and you’re like engaged with that so it kinda distracts your mind from like, oh, this is really fucking uncomfortable. Why am I doing this to myself? And then on the second thing is that because a lot of like exercise tasks are very repetitive your mind, you like your body is engaged in activity, but your mind is engaged in the book—

Ali Williams (00:09:14):

That’s fantastic.

Kate Marope (00:09:15):

—and that helps me focus on the audio a little bit more right than if I’m just sitting there. Cause normally I’m like listening to an audiobook and playing a game on my phone or like, you know—

Ali Williams (00:09:23):

Yes, I do that or I do some sewing.

Kate Marope (00:09:26):

So Yeah. So I was gonna say, try listening to audiobooks at the gym because I actually really like it. But also I completely feel you on the whole like, um, having to have read the book before to listen to audio sometimes because you know, a lot of the time I listen to audio books when I fall asleep. And so like, unless I’ve like read the book and I know it like really well, I don’t like the fear of missing out, prevents me from asleep, which kinda defeats the whole purpose of like relaxing myself into sleep. So like my mom’s like, why do you always listen to the same like 10 audiobooks before you sleep, I’m like, because I already know these books, I know them so well like that, even if—

Ali Williams (00:10:05):

That makes sense.

Kate Marope (00:10:06):

—turn over in the middle of the night and I wake up a little bit, it’s like, oh yeah, those are like, you know, those people I’m really familiar with. I can go right back to sleep. But if it was like a book that I haven’t heard before, like my ears would like perk up and just be like, oh, what’s that? Ear candy. And I’m just like, no, no.

Ali Williams (00:10:20):

<Laughs>. That’s an excellent idea actually. Yeah. I usually, uh, games on my phone or occasionally some sewing, but I’m in the middle of listening to, uh, Eve Brown, uh, the Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert.

Kate Marope (00:10:33):

Yes.

Ali Williams (00:10:34):

So I, I have signed copy. I have it on ebook. I beta read it for her, like one of the earlier versions for her. Like I love this series so much. Um, and yes, I also have it in all. There’s some things where I’m just like, I need it in all three. I need, I need digital, I need paperback, I need audio. Um, so yeah, I’m listening to that, that would be a great one to actually work out to.

Kate Marope (00:10:57):

Yeah. Is there a format that you feel like you reserve for like your favorites?

Ali Williams (00:11:05):

Um, my favorites, I would get at least paperback and digital. Like I have limited space. So if I buy, I have a book subscription, I have a book subscription with Words and Kisses, which is an independent book shop in the UK, um, who are wonderful. And they send me every month, I get two books, I get one, uh, contemporary and I get one, uh, speculative romance, so paranormal or science fiction, or fantasy. And occasionally she’ll throw in a, she’ll swap it out for a historical if there’s a particularly awesome historical, but it’s amazing. Like I have such great. So those come, I get two of those every month. I just have an email this morning saying my next ones are on the way and I’m very excited. Um, and then aside from that, I don’t, unless I’m obsessed with the idea of reading a book, I try, I try not to buy in paperback because I have limited space.

Kate Marope (00:12:05):

Yes

Ali Williams (00:12:05):

When we moved into this house, I had the two black bookshelves behind me and that was it. I now have five bookshelves, bookcases, like proper bookcases plus a book cart, a book tree, um, some, some shelves on my wardrobe that reserved the books, I fast running out of space. So I’m trying to be a bit more, um, reserved, and I like being able to read on the go.

Kate Marope (00:12:32):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (00:12:33):

Um, find reading in paperbacks in bed, like if I’m trying to sleep or first thing in the morning too, too uncomfortable. Cause I need to sit up, I sit down and I end up fidgeting more than I actually end up reading. Oh pardon me. Uh, I read on my phone predominantly. Um, and then yeah, like cart books around with me, wherever I’m going. It’s good fun.

Kate Marope (00:12:56):

I love that. I used to be a paperback person full stop. Like that was my preferred because like the whole going to the bookstore and like buying the books there—

Ali Williams (00:13:04):

Oh yeah.

Kate Marope (00:13:05):

—that dopamine hit, right? Um, but, and I started traveling too much and at that point, my bookshelf was like vertically stacked, then the row behind that was horizontally stacked, and the row behind that was vertically stacked—

Ali Williams (00:13:19):

Oh, wow. That’s impressive.

Kate Marope (00:13:21):

So when the movers came to take our boxes, they were very, very mad at me. And then we moved to Europe, so I had to leave all of those books behind in Australia. And then I started another thing the movers hated me even more then because they were like, this is the heaviest thing I’ve ever lifted. And I’m like, I’m sorry, it’s just like a quarter of my bookshelf. So really you should be happy that the whole thing’s not here. So I was kinda like forced into like being digital-only, uh, for that reason. Also like when you can like only have like 30kgs of like luggage allowed—.

Ali Williams (00:13:50):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:13:54):

—books kind like, unfortunately have to stay behind, but I’m like, it’s okay, I have my Kindle. So then I went to audio more. So what I’ve started doing is that I put like buying things with my audible credit is like, the peak like this is like now on like my like hall of fame favorites level of commitment for a book. Like when I like, yeah. Cause those credits are not cheap one, two and they don’t, they don’t amass very quickly. So whenever like, yeah. And I’m like, oh my God, that book was so good. I read it like the ebook now I must commit. It’s a huge commitment for me and it’s a—

Ali Williams (00:14:37):

Have you listened to, I think it’s audible only. I’m gonna google it just to double check um, The Stand-In?

Kate Marope (00:14:50):

I have it on my audible by Lily Chu I think?

Ali Williams (00:14:51):

Yes! and I think it’s Phillipa Soo who’s the narrator who was in, uh, Hamilton possibly.

Kate Marope (00:14:56):

Oh yeah?

Ali Williams (00:14:57):

It’s oh, it’s so good. Like it’s absolutely excellent. Um, yeah, I was just, and again, grumpy, grumpy, uh, grumpy cheerful which is awesome. Grumpy Sunshines. Yeah. It’s Phillipa Soo, who was, um, I think she plays played Eliza in the original Hamilton.

Kate Marope (00:15:19):

Oh okay, yeah.

Ali Williams (00:15:21):

Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah. Audible is I have 70, 80 books on audible. Again. I have a problem. I just keep buying.

Kate Marope (00:15:33):

You know, at this point I’m just very happy nobody has access to my Kindle, audible and Scribd libraries because at this point, no mover would move me if these were all physical copies, like let’s just be honest. It would not happen. And my mom’s very glad. She’s like, I don’t have to pay for excess man hours to haul stuff anymore.

Ali Williams (00:15:56):

Yeah, it does. It takes up a long time. Like when we moved in here, I had 40 boxes and bags of books.

Kate Marope (00:16:03):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (00:16:03):

Uh, that my dad helped me move. My poor father, that poor man. He was not impressed. Said I thought you cut down on books, but I have, and then we moved in here and I just bought tons more. I regret nothing. I regret absolutely nothing.

Kate Marope (00:16:18):

I mean, like you’ll never know when you need a book. Like it’s like me downloading like books straight onto my phone. Like I’m gonna read all 400 or 500 books at a time, ’cause gonna happen at the dentist’s office because I’m going to spend like 500 years there.

Ali Williams (00:16:35):

<sneezes>.

Kate Marope (00:16:35):

Bless you!

Ali Williams (00:16:35):

Oh, gosh, sorry. Thank you. Um, yeah, no I’m the same. And I find also a lot of the, um, a lot of books that are trending.

Kate Marope (00:16:44):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (00:16:44):

Like with specific trends often, um, sometimes are, are digital-only because the authors are self publishing. And I think, cause I, I know you mentioned trend, you know, what of my favorite one are the trends that I’m interested in the moment? Um, I’m really interested in seeing things which are slightly different.

Kate Marope (00:17:06):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (00:17:07):

I don’t get me wrong. I love a grumpy sunshine and only one bed can’t get enough of, fake relationship, yes give it to me inject it directly into my veins please. Um, but when it comes to a lot of the new trends, um, like monster love and monster fucking really, really enjoying this. I edited a number of, uh, some of the shorts that been released recently. Um, and I think it’s really interesting looking at how we’ve taken that, the fear of something we can’t see, like COVID, which is this terrifying thing that sort of looms behind us and we can never see and then we’ve gone. Right. Let’s take something that is physically terrifying and we’re going to tame it. We can’t, we can’t control this thing we can’t see. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna tame and we’re gonna fall in love and we’re going to cope with the thing we can see, which I think is really interesting response to the pandemic, um, I kinda wanna see more contemporaries that reference COVID because we’re in this kinda alternate universe in contemporaries. Are they really contemporaries if they’re no longer referencing COVID or are they alternate? You know?

Kate Marope (00:18:25):

I had this conversation with Mary Calmes when she was on the podcast earlier and she was saying that most her, most of her books are her series are interconnected. Right.

Ali Williams (00:18:36):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:18:36):

Um, and they’re also set in the real world. So when you read her newsletter shorts and everything, there’s a lot of reference to COVID, you know, like when it was at the like beginning of COVID, they had like a box system of these are three day, uh, old clothes, like, you know, it was like very detailed and very much present right. Now it’s like, OK, was everybody vaccinated before coming to the barbecue? OK. Like those kinds of conversations. Um, and she got some backlash from her readers who are like, we love you and we love your newsletter normally. But like, I can’t handle the stress of like reading COVID. So she had her like, um, her newer series is it is set in the same world, but they haven’t quite intersected just yet.

Ali Williams (00:19:24):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:19:25):

So she’s been able to have it in this sort of alternate reality where there is no COVID, because of course like the third book, which is like my favorite, has like a, who had like house mansion parties and everybody was getting drunk. Like there was no social distancing at all.

Ali Williams (00:19:39):

No.

Kate Marope (00:19:40):

And you know what? It was, I was totally fine with it because it was very clearly not in a COVID world and given like the tact in the way she handles the other books, it was clear that she was very conscious of it. Right. So that was choice she made. Um, but I thought it was very interesting that she got backlash from it. Like people don’t necessarily wanna see COVID in books. It’s kind of like seeing it in TV shows, you know. Like, it’s like TV shows have reached that weird middle ground of like, we’re just gonna pretend it’s not there when we’re in certain settings, and as soon as like, especially I love it in police proceduals—

Ali Williams (00:20:14):

Oh yeah.

Kate Marope (00:20:15):

—like FBI. And it’s like, when they’re in the office and everything’s fine, nobody mentions COVID as soon as they walk out, there’s like, oh, there was a flash of a mask. Just like you thought we would notice, but we did.

Ali Williams (00:20:27):

Yeah. I, I thought All Rise did it really interestingly cause that’s in the courtroom. So they actually deal with the whole, the impact of COVID which I thought was really interesting. Um, I I’m quite happy that a lot of them don’t, but I am curious to see how that’s going to proceed in the next couple of years. Like everyone’s talking about getting back to normal, but we’re not, it’s not back to normal. We’re never really gonna back to normal. Not that we, as we knew it before in the, before times as I refer to it, in the before times. Um, you know, my day job i’ll be going back to work two days a week from next week, whereas before I was in the office five days a week. That has changed forever. So I’m curious to see what, I don’t think it’ll trend but I think any books that do it well, could sell very, very well. Should be quite interesting.

Kate Marope (00:21:21):

I don’t know. I also think there’s this fear because when COVID hit, of course there were the like COVID romances. Like not two people falling in love during COVID—

Ali Williams (00:21:29):

But yeah, literally COVID. Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:21:32):

—but with the actual <laughs>. Yeah. The actual virus itself. And so I think people like got scared. They’re like, we definitely don’t wanna do that. Um, so like they kind erred on the opposite end which is like, let’s just not talk about it. Yeah. Um, but I do think that we will start to see that kinda like filter in a little bit more as it becomes completely normalized so it would be weird not to mention it, you know. Like right now we’re still saying oh yeah, one day things will be normal but like at some point we’re going to get tired of saying that, right? So we’ll just be like you know, I woke up, I got ready for work, I put on my mask and we moved on with the story, you know what I mean? Like that kinda vibe will just happen.

Ali Williams (00:22:14):

Exactly. Yeah. And I mean the, I write erotic romance and paranormal romance and my paranormal romances don’t really reference COVID, but I feel like you can get away with that cause technically it’s our world, but it’s in an adjacent world where there’s magic and dragon shifters and, and all sorts of and ancient gods and goddesses and therefore, if I don’t really wanna deal with COVID, I don’t really have to because it’s not the same exactly. And the erotic romances are so short cause they’re literally like slices of life, um, that they don’t, they don’t really spend any time around anyone else long enough for long enough for COVID to be a thing.

Kate Marope (00:22:55):

Okay, so can we talk about your book for a minute because—

Ali Williams (00:22:58):

Yes.

Kate Marope (00:22:59):

—I love that basically like it’s a series of shorts, but it’s like a series of setups for like longer works and then I’m like smart cookie she just gave us a taste and left us wanting more. Particularly with the himbo librarian. Cause I was just like he is so, he’s bae.

Ali Williams (00:23:20):

Uh, he is. So I’ve written 3 himbo librarian shorts now. So there’s um, Turning, no Hitting On which is where he meets his domme for the first time. Then there’s uh, Tied in Tinsel, which is where they play at Christmas, which was free with my newsletter at Christmas. And then there is Playing On, which is in the new, like, I have a copy on hand, the new, The Softest Kinksters Collection, which is out in paperback on February the 14th. So it’s exclusive in that. There’s also another exclusive in that as well. Um, so there, and that one it’s just after they’ve, she’s collared him. So you have the three, it’s so cute, and then what I’m going to do in November, is that I think I’m gonna have a, a himbo librarian collection where I’m gonna write another four shorts at various points in their relationship. So we start to see them, you know, and I quite like it cause it’s, it’s very, um, yeah, it’s very low angst. Like the characters deal with anxiety. Um, and whilst fucking copiously basically, it’s great fun. Um, but because there’s slice of life, I don’t have to deal with the ups and downs of a day to day relationship. I just get to show them at the point where they’re being all soft and delicious and sort of falling for each other so fucking hard and then fucking each other really fucking hard as well, although I don’t think, no, I haven’t shown those two having sex yet.

Kate Marope (00:24:53):

No, I was gonna to say that one of the things that I really love about your series is that okay, yes, there’s the sex, but it’s about showing kink or BDSM beyond the kind of titillating parts, you know, like it’s more about the commo, the emotional connection and like really that internal character arc because you do such a fantastic job of giving them like this very traumatizing backstory that you to like hint at, but never go into, but I’m like, but he’s so sweet and I want him to be happy. Um, so like by the time the story ends I’m like, breathing a sigh of relief like, oh my god she really loves him and she’s going to take care of him and it’s going to be fantastic. Like my anxiety over like his backstory, I’m like, who would dare do that to this poor man?

Ali Williams (00:25:48):

Right? I feel so protective of them and I’m creating these damn backstories.Yeah, it’s very, I wanted, I was talking. So when I was writing the planning out, the first one, I was talking a lot to Corey Alexander. Uh, may their memory be a blessing, uh, who is obviously no longer with us. Um, and they gave me a lot of feedback, particularly about the first short story. Cause the first one was for anthology and the premise is these two people are dating. It’s the first date at his house or his apartment. And they go and they makeout, it’s all quite sexy and they eat it’s great. And then she goes to leave and she realizes pouring with rain. Um, and she can’t drive in the rain, she was in, she was previously in a car crash. Um, what eventually happens is she ends up going back to his and he like tells her off and cuddles up with her on the sofa and makes sure she’s okay, and then puts her to bed in his bed and then goes sleep downstairs.

And then, then of course, there is copious fucking as, as, as aforementioned, the aforementioned copious fucking. Um, but I was talking to Corey quite a lot about trauma and how we think about how we write, um, write trauma and when I’d written it originally, I had a flashback. And we had this conversation where Corey said, well, well, if you have a flashback like that, you run the risk of try triggering your readers. So, and we talked about other ways of doing it, of showing as opposed to showing the trauma, the trauma itself, showing the trauma response. And also then cause originally I had her go, well, I can’t drive, I just have to go back to his. And Corey pointed out well, she, she’s, if she’s been, she’s clearly had this traumatic experience, she would have gone through therapy she would know, she would have lots of options. And actually by giving her lots of options and by her choosing to go back to his, she’s choosing to let him see her vulnerability.

And what was really interesting was I had just, when I was writing it I’d come out a relationship, uh, fairly, uh, emotionally abusive relationship previously. And I didn’t realize myself that I needed that, that I needed to go through the therapy that Corey was talking about that I needed to give myself all these other options.

A lot of what I write about, particularly in this series with this collection is, kink and anxiety and mental health and how they intersect. And it’s something that I’m really interested in. Um, don’t get me wrong, always up for like short, dirty, Uh, it’s it’s all monster fucking, it’s just fucking a monster. What’s not to love about that? Um, but I am more interested in where the kink intersects with the psychology of the characters. Like how do they work through their own stuff through kink? Are they working through their stuff through kink, or is kink something that gives them a break from everything else? And that’s kind what I’ve been exploring in the softest kinksters, they’re all super soft, all slightly damaged. The poor characters I’ve, I’ve, I’ve tortured them all at various points. Um, I think Katee Robert does it really well. Uh, Stephanie Simpson, if you’ve never read any of hers is outstanding. Um, I’ve edited a couple of her last ones, but she she’s a disabled author who writes often disabled characters without, without the abled gaze, um, and looks at how at that intersection of kink and conflict and, and also ability like access to kink from a disabled perspective. Sorry, I’ve gone off and got I’ve probably overexcited. I get very nerdy about this.

Kate Marope (00:29:32):

No, don’t worry about it because it’s something that I talk to my authors a lot about the whole triggering the reader, not just because of, yes, okay, if you have a flashback to trauma that in itself is inherently traumatizing, but also like making people, relive types of trauma again, but also seeing somebody like the character then becomes a surrogate for your own trauma. And so you’re experiencing a new sort of trauma in almost feeling like you’re a bystander to that situation happening to the characters. And it happens, it’s like happened a few times. Like back when I first read it, like if you watched my last video, I did talk about how I’m like, you know, a lot of people don’t start with a sexual assault scene, please. Like just don’t, don’t do that. It’s a lot to deal with. First of all, it’s sex and like, you know, sex is kinda like one of those things we wanna lead up to it, but like, we just don’t wanna be like shoved in our face, like a lot of people with that, but a lot of people, um, but specifically sexual assault is just a very, very strong thing.

Like, no, like start with showing, like you were saying, centering how the character’s processing. So what kinda habits have they fallen into because of the trauma and looking at how they deal with those. Are these habits that protect them? Are these habits that maybe aren’t healthy coping mechanisms for their trauma and maybe at the end of the book, that’s something you wanna see change. Um,

Ali Williams (00:31:11):

If, if it’s a dark romance, I, I would be happy to see the aftermath of the assault. Happy is not the right word. I would be okay with seeing the aftermath of the assault, um, but as a real per, as a per personal preference as a reader, I don’t wanna see sexual assault on-page. Sexual harassment is slightly different, but sexual assault, um, is not something I wanna read. Uh, and that’s difficult because I know. And it also depends on what people, what people read as assault.

Like there’s a lot of stuff in kink. Um, especially if you’re playing with CNC that can be seen as push as pushing the boundaries. So that’s why like having consent and having verbal, I’ve been annotating a copy at the moment for a giveaway I did with my newsletter. And what I’m quite interesting is like, there are ones where I’ve deliberately gone, right, I am gonna make verbal consent, super, super sexy. Like you go, oh, verbal, whoa, tell me what to do, how that be sexy. I’m like, I’m sorry if you’re literally breaking down, I want you to lick this and I want you to do this and I want you do this to me, like, that’s not just giving consult, uh, constent, that’s enthusiastically engaging with it, then that’s incredibly sexy.

Kate Marope (00:32:30):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (00:32:31):

And, and I do, there are lots of char, I would say maybe three or four out the characters out the pairings on this, um, make reference to previous relationships or previous kinky relationships that gone, or that were bad and, and quite traumatizing. And in each of them, I don’t show it. I, I never show it on the page because I don’t need to show it on the page. I can show the aftermath, I can show the impact of it without forcing people to relive that.

Kate Marope (00:33:04):

I love what you said about, it depends what you consider sexual assault, because it got me thinking of reading The Love Hypothesis and that scene, my anxiety started ramping up so high. I was like, please don’t do me like this Ali, please, don’t do me like this Ali. Like the whole time, I was just praying, praying, praying that it does not get to that point. And a lot of people are like, oh, it’s so small. And I’m like, yeah, OK. It’s maybe if you’ve never been in that position or seen other people in that position. But like, as soon as like the hints started happening, I started getting really nervous. And so when it didn’t happen the way I thought it would happen, I was like the sigh of relief. I’m like, I did not need that stress. Like the whole book, I’ve just been enjoying this lovely, like fluffy, sunshine grumpy, like the whole thing was like, like wish fulfilling, it was lovely and happy, but that, that scene, I was just like.

Ali Williams (00:34:07):

I still haven’t read that book because of that. Because everyone was going oh it’s amazing, it’s amazing, it’s amazing, so I have a copy of it. But then someone went oh, but there’s sexual like there’s sexual harassment and sexual assault in there. And I went that’s nowhere! There are no content notes, there’s no. And I think I know that not all traditional publishers, uh, adopt content notes as, um, as the standard. I know they don’t. Um, I like how Talia Hibbert has done with her Avon books, where she has an author not at the beginning, where she goes hey just a heads up. I deal, this deals with X, Y, and Z. I hope I’ve dealt with this and carefully. And please look after yourself.

Um, I do a similar thing like at the beginning of mine, I’ve got two pages. Each story has content notes and I I’ve chosen to use the content notes rather than content warnings because people get really funny about content warnings. If you’re talking about sexual content, um, where as I actually think it’s really important to let people know if there’s sexual content, uh, ex explicit, especially the kinda stuff I write, like when, when you got puppy play and dollification and like shibari, and hypnokink, then you definitely need to like write that down. Um, but I think it is important, because you know, there are ace readers out there and aro readers who may not necessarily be in the right head space to read that. So I don’t say content warnings. I say content notes, Hey, there is this in here. Um, and then the list of things where my dad decided to go and look up my books one time, and I was on the phone to him, and he’s like oh, I’m reading this book and there this book, and then he started reading the list and he got to flogging and carthatic crying during play and he went oh! And I was like do you want to stop? Please stop. Please don’t read any further father. Right now.

Kate Marope (00:36:02):

Yeah, no, I agree. Like, um, I also think that sometimes publishers don’t think it through. I know I’ve had conversations in-house where I’ve been like, this might not trigger you, but it will trigger somebody. And I do think we do need some sort of like author note or content warning or something. And I do think it’s not just on the publisher side of things like the author who has a responsibility—.

Ali Williams (00:36:30):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:36:30):

—to say to the reader and not just in the book itself, but when you see it online. Because like you say, you bought The Love Hypothesis, seeing just like all the sunshine, grumpy comments online and none of the, and there’s this horrible scene, like towards the end when you’re thinking, oh, you’re gonna end up together. And then suddenly like you’re confronted with that. It was very confronting. Um.

Ali Williams (00:36:58):

It’s quite actually as an author. Cause there, there is a certain, one of the things that started happening a couple of months ago was they started pulling books from Amazon or saying, no, you can’t put this up. And a lot of it was to do with having content notes in the blurbs. So a lot of authors now have their content notes in the, um, they will have a note saying, and I do it, content notes are available on the official website.

Kate Marope (00:37:20):

Exactly.

Ali Williams (00:37:21):

So that people can go find it because Amazon’s made it harder for you to have those content notes. Uh, and it’s one of the things I do. Like if I’m doing edits for someone, I have authors come to me and go, Hey, do you wanna, would you like edit this? And I’m like, yeah, sure, that great. Um, so I, if I’m sending my stuff out, I, I always send content notes with it. Um, most of the authors I know will send content notes to me and as I’m going through, if they haven’t, I will highlight, hey, this happens here. This is really good. I really like the way you’ve dealt with it, but I do you have a content note so that your readers aren’t taken by surprise by this, etc. And all the readers, all the writers I’ve worked with have been like, oh yeah, that’s a really good idea. Well, you know, I’m just awesome. What can I say?

But yeah, no, it’s, uh, we have a responsibility to look after our readers, I think. Um, and it’s not an easy thing to do because they’re always gonna be people who go I don’t want to, I don’t want it. It’s a spoiler. Well, you don’t wanna read, don’t read the content note, skip over that bit and go to the next bit is kinda my attitude at the moment.

Kate Marope (00:38:33):

Yeah. But also I think going back to the conversation we had about COVID and how more kind of, not fragile, but a little tense in, emotionally tense that I think a lot more people appreciate that kind of warming. And just this has, you know, it deals with sexual assault is not really a kind of spoiler for what exactly happens or how it unfolds on the page or between what characters this happens. You know, you know, the details are kinda just left open. Um, but it is very important particularly to the people, it would do, um, to the most.

Ali Williams (00:39:18):

Yes.

Kate Marope (00:39:18):

And I think it’s very easy if you know you don’t have those triggers, you are not concerned about those things, to flip past a page and it’s, it’s like a minor inconvenience a second out your reading time—

Ali Williams (00:39:33):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:39:34):

—to really just say, oh, none of these apply to me, let’s move on. Um, versus the person who has to then deal with emotional fallout of it.

Ali Williams (00:39:43):

Exactly.

Kate Marope (00:39:44):

And it brings me to one of the books I wanted to discuss as a book that I dunno, I enjoyed this book at the time when it came out and then I was like, re-listening to it, like preparing for the podcast and everything. And I was like, wow, it’s even more relevant now. And it’s Stillhouse Lake by Rachel Caine.

Ali Williams (00:40:06):

Oh see I have this on my, I, I had everything she’s ever written on my Kindle. I haven’t read that one yet. That’s the thriller, isn’t it?

Kate Marope (00:40:15):

Yes. So it opens with this woman who basically, um, has went to pick up her kids because her husband’s like, oh, I can’t pick up my kids. And she comes back to discover that like a drunk driver, somebody has like run into her garage in her house. But, um, it was like her husband’s like studio workshop thing where she, it was like his man cave. So she didn’t really go in there and only to discover that he was a serial killer. Um, that’s how it opens. And so—

Ali Williams (00:40:47):

I mean, that’s a whole opening right there.

Kate Marope (00:40:50):

First of all it, so it was on my list because it’s a very memorable opening, like imagine like that moment unfolding. But what got me was that I was reading through the comments and people were like, and this goes back to what you were saying during, uh, your last romancing the discourse about calling people too stupid to live about how, oh, if she, you know, how could he have been torturing or like killing people in the garage while she’s in the house cooking, and whatever she must have known. And it’s exactly the point of the book, like the whole point of the book is to show how people are insensitive to other people. And I’m like what y’all are failing to realize it that she has been abused. She’s been conditioned to not ask questions to a point that there’s a room in her house that she has no access tobe and somehow in her mind she’s rationalized it to be OK, cause of this conditioning, this has basically done to her. And so you part of problem. Like in not so many words, really speaking, you’re part of the problem.

And going back to relistening to it. One of the things that really also I noticed is that, so of course she like drives up to the house and then there cops everywhere. And she like excuse me officer like, Hey, um, that’s my house. And then he freaks out. So he’s like, his hand is on his gun. And his reaction is like, what your name? And she’s like, yeah, this is my name. And he’s like, step outta the vehicle. She’s like I’ve got kids in here. Do you have a weapon in there? And the whole thing was just, and this is what Black people go through. And what was really funny was that it mirrored her and then she has that thought, but it’s not explicitly said, but it’s like for once she’s experiencing what the legal system does not work in her favor. And like the, the anxiety, and all feelings that come up for her were like, I don’t know what’s going on, I didn’t anything wrong. All I know is that I left to go pick up my kids for the day and now I’m here and there’s this man yelling at me looking very aggressive, really ready to shoot, and I need to protect my kids and all of those feelings.

And I was like, that was actually some really brilliant writing. Cause this book like came out way back. It’s like almost what, 10 years ago or something. It was a while back. And like still having these conversations about, you know, you shouldn’t be calling people too stupid to live because that person is actually a trauma survivor or that, you know, be cognizant that there are ways that you can move through the world that other people can’t because the ramifications for them, if they do the same thing that you do are not the same. And that book is now more memorable for all of the aforementioned reasons, because then like the first three books in the series, then go on, basically she gets, uh, there’s a proper term for this, but basically, um, the, the social media decides that she is equally as guilty as her husband. And they basically, um, release her address online. And so her and her kids have to basically become like fugitives, and change their names, and like move to small towns and like, just try to survive and going back to what you were saying about showing the effects of abuse, she becomes super paranoid, but is it paranoia if they’re really are out to get you?

I mean like, you know, and it really does. And people are like, oh my God, this is so ridiculous. I’m like, it’s only ridiculous because you don’t see the chain of events leading up to like how she got to this point and how you’re part of the problem by saying, it’s ridiculous. It’s not ridiculous to expect safety inside your own home or to have your privacy respected that somebody doesn’t just give out your address or that people just won’t assume that because your husband is a serial killer and certainly you weren’t helping him find these people, either you somehow are also involved. And so your children who are literal minors and possibly couldn’t have driven and, or abetted in any form or way, possibly they too are also miniature serial killers in training, you know.

Ali Williams (00:45:07):

It’s very, it’s interesting who we forgive and who we don’t.

Kate Marope (00:45:11):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (00:45:12):

Um, and romancelandia such as it is, is very willing to forgive good looking white guys. Uh, they’re very willing to forgive white women a lot of the time as characters. I’m not talking about people in it. Like they’re very willing to look past the flaws of certain characters and go, yeah, this is fine. Um, I had a similar reaction to, speaking of The Love Hypothesis, to the Star Wars and when people were going, oh, Kylo Ren, he’s so gorgeous. He’s so this I’m like, he literally reads almost as a Nazi. Like as someone who idealizes his grandfather, who murdered all these people, who was a dictator who was evil. He, he, for some reason becomes he’s, he’s basically an incel. He ends up obsessing about his grandfather, emulating his grandfather, killing loads of people. And yet the whole narrative ends up with him becoming like this, martyr who sacrifices himself. I’m like, no, he doesn’t get to have that redemption arc. Why are you giving him a redemption redemptive arc?

No, he has to take responsibility for his actions. And someone sort of said to me, well, you know, like, no, like if you, you compare him to John Boyega’s character and that opening of that film, which we’ve been talking about openings a bit, um, you know, John Boyega, who is a, who is one of the drones comes out and is told by Kylo Ren, you need to murder all these people. And he doesn’t do it. He’s a stormtrooper, he’s been conditioned. He has been socialized to do exactly what he told and he chooses not to do it because he knows it’s wrong. I do not understand how anyone could then go, oh, but Kylo Ren’s so like, oh the pop, like, no. Also like why would anyone I’m sure Adam Driver is a very good looking gentleman, but I’m sorry, why anyone would pick him over John Boyega is, is a mystery to me, complete mystery, but it’s this we are, and then the abuse that John Boyega got and Kelly Marie Tran as well like being people of color within that franchise. Certain people are forgiven more easily. And it’s something to be aware of.

Kate Marope (00:47:31):

So I had this conversation with Jadesola James because her, her episode should’ve gone live, but then my booster happened and I like basically just shivered in blankets for a whole five days.

Ali Williams (00:47:45):

Oh hon!

Kate Marope (00:47:45):

But we had this conversation about, you know, performative—.

Ali Williams (00:47:50):

Because she’s written, she’s the, uh, the author, who wrote the Harlequin Presents.

Kate Marope (00:47:55):

Yes.

Ali Williams (00:47:56):

Stunning cover.

Kate Marope (00:47:58):

The, the one that’s coming out in March that cover, I cannot. That cover is everything. It is stunning. And even more better is what’s inside that book because I was like, it’s her third book, and I was like, I could tell you wrote this book with joy because it was Black characters, African characters, specifically written by an African for Africans, no white gaze. And she’s like, you know, my favorite part was that I was writing a book that wasn’t set in the west. It was set on the African continent. So immediately. And even like the way she writes, like the way she opens her book, like that opening line thing, everything changed. It was like a revelation. And like, just that like, you know, and she literally said she gave herself the permission to just write from her heart. And I was like, I felt that book hit me in my, like in my neck. Like I was just like, oh, and it was fantastic.

And you know, I think like people think when we’re like, oh yeah, I wanna see own voices some of us are just saying it because it’s sexy right now. But like when I say I want own voices, I mean it, because that is the stuff that gives me joy to read—

Ali Williams (00:49:18):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:49:19):

—and to experience because it’s a new culture. And I love that, you know, I love experiencing new cultures or new points of view because it makes me stop and take, you know, like an inventory of myself, and my perspective.

Ali Williams (00:49:33):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (00:49:33):

You know, and it’s equally, like, it doesn’t even just have to be in contemporary. I mean, like I was thinking of this the other day, like Ann Aguirre, and like she writes Strange, she wrote Strange Love.

Ali Williams (00:49:44):

Yes.

Kate Marope (00:49:44):

And the entire time that poor alien is like, what fucking happened to this place? It was war torn and it was like, just like a civil war reenactment or something. And like his, like his entire perspective of what, uh, like normal human events and stuff like that is very different from how we would see it, you know, because people is just like, oh yeah, those people were dressed up in costumes and reenacting shit again, you know? And he’s just like, oh my God, my maybe girlfriend might be in dire straits. Who died? Maybe we should get away before whoever killed everybody else comes back.

Ali Williams (00:50:16):

Oh bless him!

Kate Marope (00:50:17):

He was in such like a distress mode. And like that that’s low key what makes his accidental kidnapping of her like really like, okay, because in his mind he wasn’t like kidnapping. He was like rescuing her from like a war torn area and maybe the extinction of her entire family. Um, and so it’s not just about writing authentically, you know, culturally or racially or ethnicity wise, but just writing from a point of really considering the other, the, the character’s perspective, whether that person is dealing with trauma or whatever it is, you know, to really go beyond the performative kind of behaviors and the blocking and the mechanics of the scenes to actually, what is, what is, what this character would notice, what would they experience and how would they experience it? That’s what it’s like to me own voices should, should mean that.

Ali Williams (00:51:18):

And I think, I mean, there are so, and I find a lot of the own voices or the lot of best voices that I’m really interested in are publishing indie, self-published or hybrid authors. Um, one of my favorite indie publishing companies is Love Africa Press, which Kiru Taye, uh, runs, um, Empi Baryeh is one of the authors who I love and they just, they publish, um, mainly contemporary, but also there’s, um, paranormal. And I think some historicals as well, and queer romance is in with it as well. And all, all of the characters are African and they’re set in Africa written primarily by African authors. And it’s not, it’s those aren’t voices that we often get to see in that particular way. I mean, there are African authors, like, um, Therese Beharrie phenomenal author, amazing. I read everything she writes and then my eyes out over every single book. Um, there are space people make spaces and I that, um. Queer romances I really excited about.

Neurodiverse romances. I’ve only just started writing neurodiverse characters myself. I have ADHD and suddenly going, you know what, I’m gonna, I’m gonna give this person an inability to do their washing up, unless they’ve, unless they’ve read X number of books or like they’ve got this particular music kind of blasting or the way that you process information. Like, but it, it can’t, it’s not surface. And I think that, that’s the thing that makes characterization and really grabs me in a book. I’m not interested in the surface stuff, and I’m not interested in performative pain, like the way that, you know, when some publishers are say they wanna publish books about the Black experience, what they actually wanna talk about is they wanna publish books. Um, like Angie Thomas’s book. Um, oh, I can’t, I should know the name of it. Of course I—.

Kate Marope (00:53:30):

The Hate U Give.

Ali Williams (00:53:30):

—Ah thank you. Yes.

Kate Marope (00:53:32):

I know because people always ask me, have you read that book? And I’m like, I am not looking get traumatized. No, thank you.

Ali Williams (00:53:38):

And it’s it an outstanding book. And there is of course space for those kinds of books, but there is also space for book, which are about joy as well, or, you know, joy, that’s not pain, that’s not related to the color of your skin even if you are Black, like, you know, or, you know, pain, that’s about having a shitty relationship and, and not to do the, that you only have one leg, et cetera. And, and I find that indie and self-publishing is where we start seeing that, or sometimes where a lot of those voices start honing their skill.

Kate Marope (00:54:14):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (00:54:15):

Um, and that’s really exciting to me. Um, like really exciting. I, I like hearing new voices. Um, I think some of my favorite authors at Penny Aimes, who is the Carina author, uh, For the Love of April French is one of the best books I read last year. Like, um, I rave about it on a daily basis to pretty much anyone who let me, it’s amazing. Not only does it have a trans heroine and a Black hero and not only is it kinky as fuck with orgasm denial and dollification and all of the the good stuff. Um, but she actually fucks with the structure of the novel. It’s not your typical three act structure. And I love that. I, I, I love a three structure. I’m quite happy with a three act structure. I know what I’m gonna get, um, but I like reading romance is that are not based around that. That don’t use the Western, like the standard Western way of things.

I’ve been moving away from writing black moments, um, or those sort of points of no return in my novels, cause I give my, give my characters enough trauma. They don’t a breakup as well, but that just seems mean. And I know Courtney Milan has written about written about doing that in, um, The Duke Who Didn’t, which is really, really interesting, where she talks about, um, spoiler alerts for people who haven’t read it, he think it’s this massive secret and it’s killing him, and he’s like oh my god when she finds out she’s going to be devastated. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. And when he finally turns around and tells her, she’s like, like did you really think that we didn’t know? She’s like oh, you’re a biracial Chinese British posh boy. There’s only one of those in Regency England. And it’s duke who lives down the road, like did you really think that none of us would work this out and he’s oh, you know? And she’s like yeah, I know. You don’t care? No, no of course I don’t care, what’s wrong with you? And that build up of the tension and then the release brings a very different kind of catharsis that I’m really interested in. I, I would love to edit more books that move away from the three act structure like yeah, if you’ve got them, people give them to me, please. I’m dying to work on more of them. Um, yeah. It’s what, what, what are you particularly? I know you said you, you want more, did you say you wanted dark romance as well?

Kate Marope (00:56:40):

Yeah. I want dark romance. I feel like in traditional publishing, we don’t do dark romance, the way dark romance is done in indie publishing.

Ali Williams (00:56:49):

No you don’t.

Kate Marope (00:56:50):

We do what I, like I told Fortune this the other day and she laughed. I was like, it’s like mafia adjacent, you know, it’s like all of the opulence and glamour parts of the mafia lifestyle, but none of the, like the blood and like the basement, like beat up scenes, like all of the gritty darker stuff never happens. And like I love Kenya Wright and her mafia romances are so freaking good that like, like I introduce my mom to it and she’s like, you this on audio so can I can listen to it again. And I’m just like, yes, I agree, you know. But I, I like darker romance because I feel like a lot more people feel comfortable playing with trauma and the process, the healing process within dark romance. And it’s more unapologetic, you know. Somebody can just be like, you know what? I’m still in the I’m mad phase of my process. Okay. I’m just fucking pissed off at the world. And I just really wanna beat some people up. And I just, point me in the direction where I can beat people up and I am OK being at that phase. I’m good.

Ali Williams (00:57:56):

Oh, Katee Robert does it really well. Like I love her books. I’ve just, uh, I’ve just, oh, over Christmas. I edited, uh, Stone Heart, which she’s releasing in March, which is the pre-Neon Gods. Oh my it’s amazing, it’s delicious. It’s Calypso and Medusa and it’s like the f/f dark romance of my fucking dreams. So good. That is, yeah. And the characters they’ve been traumatized and yes, there’s lots of stabbing and yes, there’s lots of not basic, but like in general, like dark romance is yes. You know, I’m gonna kill this person for you because I love you. And in normal life, no, we would run away. This would be a red flag. But there is something quite cathartic about seeing something that is so bad and all of that passion and all that rage being turned to good. The morality chain, I find a really interesting prospect and people push back against it. There are people who do not like being called, like their romances being called morality chain. And I’m like, but he’s clearly an asshole. Like there’s no way.

Kate Marope (00:59:10):

Here’s the thing that I love about morality chain is that it enables the characters to be more authentic and unapologetically them. Right. Like I want to kill this person. OK. At that point, nobody fucking cares why at that point because you like you’ve so surpassed, like, you know what society says is like normal feelings to have, sir. And like at that point we’re just like, OK. You know, like, so at that point you kinda have ti also the reader’s part you’re kind of forced to accept that the character wants to kill this person and you kind of just have to run with it. Right. So a lot of the things that readers get into their heads about, or like, oh, I thought this person would be, no, you don’t have those expectations going into a dark romance because you know that that morality chain component, not necessarily morality chain, but like that gray morality code or shifting moral code—

Ali Williams (00:59:59):

The gray area, yeah.

Kate Marope (01:00:00):

Exactly. Component of the character means that you just have to accept that character for who they are, what they believe in, whether or not you agree with it. And just watch the story unfold. And I really love that about dark romance because it frees the author to play with what the characters are going to do. And it opens the options for writing a little bit more than what you see in, you know, contemporary. And I mean, like you said, it’s lovely. I love reading contemporaries and sunshine grumpy and like friends to lovers I will forever love that trope, but sometimes I just wanna see when people are pushed to their limit and have no like, you know, society’s not in their ear saying you can’t do this. Um, what would they do?

And that to me is like a really like freeing free freeing reading experience because it’s just so much fun. I’m just like, I have no idea how this is gonna end and it’s going to be crazy. And I’m just here for a long the ride. It’s like, um, whenever I read a Kenya Wright book, I have no idea what’s happening next. I have no idea what’s happening next, but I love it. And I enjoy the experience and it’s super memorable and I wanna do it again. It’s like riding a rollercoaster for the first time. We’re just like, oh my God, this is such a bad idea. And then you get to the top and you drop and you’re like, holy shit I’m not dying, but this is kinda fun. That is the exact experience that reading a is like, and I that experience. And I just want to see more of that.

Ali Williams (01:01:37):

Yeah. Like, um, the second, I think it’s the second one in the Sophie Lark series I just finished the heroine is the princess of the Irish mob family and the hero or anti-hero is the new leader of the, I think it’s the Polish mafia, not the Bratva, that’s the German version. I think it’s Bratvast, I’m probably butchering that pronunciation and he’s on a revenge kick. So he kidnaps her. His intention is to eventually kill her, but he’s gonna kill off the rest of her family first. He kidnaps her, and then locks her up in this the most Gothic of all Gothic, old houses, like it is deliberately. It’s so Gothic. Um, and the whole thing is tongue cheek, and it’s very amazing. And it’s dark in places. Sorry, I can hear my partner singing downstairs. Can you hear it?

Kate Marope (01:02:34):

No

Ali Williams (01:02:34):

Okay, that’s good. I’m like for god’s sake, shut up! Listen, I can just hear like the sounds. Oh God. Uh, sorry. Um, yeah. And, and, and they actually talk about like Stockholm syndrome and they talk about the fact that she’s like, it might be a bit of this like, you know, and she talks to her family about it and it’s all incredibly messed up. It’s all like in the first book, the hero orders, the heroine’s brothers need to be smashed, like, and he does, and it ruins his career. And you don’t get to see Sebastian until the very last book. But like in this first book, you know, you suddenly realize that he now has to play nice with his sister’s new husband, even though his husband is responsible for ruining his career. And like, his sister is kind of all mixed up in it as well. And you know, it’s, it’s messy.

I like messy and that doesn’t have to be dark romance. I like, I like messy emotions. I like it when emotions leak out onto the page. I want to see how your characters feel. And they can have sex, they don’t have to have sex, like, whether it’s open door, closed door, no door at all. Um, like there’s no sex, you know, anywhere in vicinity, if you delve into those messy emotions, show me why your characters work, what they’re thinking, why they’re, why they’re reacting to each other the way they’re, I’m sold. Like.

Kate Marope (01:04:13):

I love that particularly because I always think that I like characters who are, who have a lot of agency. And I think a lot of people think that means no mess. No, you can know that you’re messy as fuck and why you’re messy as fuck. But I just want them to own their mess. Yeah. It’s a very different dynamic. You know, like I was saying, I’m a cancer at heart, so I know I’m petty, I know I am very emo, my first reponse is not the right one.

Ali Williams (01:04:47):

Sorry, I’m laughing my ass off because my partner is a cancer and yeah.

Kate Marope (01:04:53):

So you know what we’re like to live with.

Ali Williams (01:04:54):

100%

Kate Marope (01:04:57):

In my family, me, my mom and my mom’s, sister are all cancers in us on a phone call together can be sometimes like the worst thing or the very best thing. It just depends on the day.

Ali Williams (01:05:08):

Yes.

Kate Marope (01:05:09):

Um, but you know, like I’m very cognizant of this, about myself. And I know that I can talk myself into a whole ass mood that is not a great idea to act on. And sometimes I have to like sleep on it and be like, OK, now that I’m calmer we can now have this discussion and like actually go somewhere with it. You know what I mean?

Ali Williams (01:05:29):

Yeah.

Kate Marope (01:05:29):

That doesn’t mean that I don’t make bad choices or I don’t do these things, but it just means that my emotional processing, if you were writing a book would look completely different than if you were writing somebody else. And I think—.

Ali Williams (01:05:41):

Exactly.

Kate Marope (01:05:41):

—that, you know, that’s the difference between like accepting and like writing your characters who know why they behave the way they do versus they have their shit together. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. You can totally know that I am completely being an asshole right now and still do it it’s perfectly fine, but just have that ownership over it. Yeah. I know I’m being an asshole right now and yeah, I’ll probably regret this tomorrow, but I’m still gonna do it, you know, so, yeah.

Ali Williams (01:06:10):

Oh a hundred percent and I like seeing, um, I’ve been really enjoying, uh, those sort of, slew of romance that are kind of based a little bit around TV series. So there’s the duet with Kristen Callihan, which is Dear Enemy and Make it Sweet. And then the Olivia Dade it’s Olivia Dade, not Olivia Wade, the Olivia Dade ones, um, All the Feels and Spoiler Alert where you have these characters who are used to being in the limelight all the time and who have to retreat from that, for whatever reason, either the show was finished or they’re taking time out or whatever it is, they, they step away from that. And then they have to deal with the shit that they’ve been putting off for ages or that, you know, they, they need a break cause they’ve had a really shitty time of it and they know that they’re a mess and they’re like, right, I, I need to get stuff together. And someone comes along and they’re like, no, no, no, I’m not ready to do it.

Like I am all in favor of characters going therapy. Like I write references to therapy in a lot of, a lot of the Softest Kinksters short stories. I’m like guys are fucked up, they’re clearly having therapy and going therapy’s amazing. I love therapy. I love my therapist. They’re amazing. Um, like normalizing that kinda stuff and normalizing the messy and normalizing working through your shit. Um, it’s exciting. And it’s fun to read as well, I don’t want to read perfect characters. Like, and I dislike it when people get really, you know, oh, you know, she’s, there are often characters and they go, oh, the heroine is really angry or the heroine is a bitch.

And I’m like, there are two situations there. Either the author hasn’t put enough of the internal conflict on the page where there is the, there are perfectly legitimate reasons why the heroine is acting the way she is, but we don’t see them and therefore we don’t understand something. Or they’re just being bitchy about, about the character because women, uh, in, particularly in romance are expected to perform, perform their femininity in a particular way. Um, and that means, you know, not being angry a lot time or lot, and the backlash of that, which I love or the counter public side of it, which is what I’m looking at for my PhD is the fact that actually we do like those women, like in indie and self-publishing the angrier the heroine, more people are gonna fall in love with her. Like, people love an angry heroine, they love someone who is messy and is not put together and isn’t performative and is just being their authentic self. Um, yeah, I just, I want, I want all the mess. I want all the mess in my inbox. Basically.

Kate Marope (01:09:02):

I want all the mess and yeah, like I said, different morals. I don’t care what moral codes they follow, whether or not it’s the one we normally follow. I don’t care. I want different moral codes. Um, I want more scifi like alien romance.

Ali Williams (01:09:17):

Mm.

Kate Marope (01:09:18):

Um, definitely. I want more dark monsters. That like everybody’s like, oh my God are you’re so scary, and it’s just like, I’m just here trying to live my basic ass life, I was just here minding my own business and y’all just made this whole narrative about me. Um, I wanna like that.

Um, yeah, I would love, I wanna see more family shenanigans. Um, I like, um, A Matchmaker for a Marine or something by Jess and I don’t wanna butcher her last name. Um, but, um, it was about this Marine who’s like on leave or something and his mom really wants to see him married. And this lady has basically kidnapped her son and taken him to a matchmaker and he’s like, so resigned himself to it. He’s like, well, I love her and it won’t hurt me to go through this experience and like I don’t have to marry any of these people. So what do I lose, I mean, I’ll have some company, on a few dates while I’m on leave, I guess it won’t be the lamest leave I’ve ever had, you know. And like the way he’s so like giving into it, but he’s not like bad resigned into it. It’s like, okay, I love you, and I see that this will make you happy so I’m just going to go with it.

Ali Williams (01:10:36):

It reminds me a little bit of Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto, which has that same kind of interfering family set up on a date only she accidentally kills th date. And then she’s like, right, you guys have come in here and she’s got the, she’s got these, uh, her Asian aunties and her mom who they all run a, they all running a wedding business together. And they’re trying to dispose of this body whilst like organizing, uh, like the biggest wedding of the year that her ex it turns out is like he owns the hotel where it’s held and it’s just, I mean, laugh out loud, funny, uh, romantic suspense, contemp, like romantic comedy brilliance. Like I, the, the family family shenanigans, and it can be found family. It doesn’t have to be like—

Kate Marope (01:11:25):

It doesn’t have to be birth family, yeah.

Ali Williams (01:11:26):

But, but family like that kind of community where people pull together and they’re just all people are interfering and teasing each other. Like, you know, it

Kate Marope (01:11:37):

Give each other so much shit. Like I want all the shit giving, like literally, like, y’all just be mean to each other, like, and make me cackle. I wanna cackle Ali, I wanna cackle so bad. I wanna like laugh until I can’t and like the people in the next room, are like is she okay? I wanna laugh that hard just cause of family shenanigans because it’s,

Ali Williams (01:11:58):

Oh God,

Kate Marope (01:11:59):

It’s the best.

Ali Williams (01:12:01):

So funny

Kate Marope (01:12:02):

So much.

Ali Williams (01:12:04):

Oh, we, yeah. It’s just, yeah. Families are messy and just delightful in that way. And yeah, it reminds me of some of like the, um, some of the early Jennifer Cruisie ones where she has these, these families who are just an absolute mess altogether at once. Amy Andrews’ wrote one called Holding Out for a Hero a couple of years ago. Um, which I think she’s, uh, self-published since, um, and it is, is one of, of those delicious, like, you know, they used to know each other at school and they kind of hook up, but they don’t really. And then he come, like he ends up spending time with her and realizing that she has this entire mad, like absolute batshit community who round to like her best friend and like aunts and everyone is slightly, slightly wacky and slightly weird and slightly unique. I want all of that. And you get it a lot in queer romance as well. Ah, all of that. Yes. Basically. I want all the romance, like I want them all.

Kate Marope (01:13:11):

You know, when I was thinking of books that have very excellent setups, I was thinking of A Lick of Frost by Laurell K. Hamilton. Um, I say this because one—

Ali Williams (01:13:21):

Wait, wait is that, is that the Merry Gen

Kate Marope (01:13:26):

The Merry Gentry series. First of all, it’s an amazing series. But I, I say A Lick of Frost because that’s actually the first one I read. Because I had, back when I used to browse and buy paperbacks, way back when that’s like a decade ago, um, I actually picked up A Licke of Frost at an airport bookstore thinking it was the first book and because she does like the recapping of the, like the series so far, like really well, and her descriptions like that conference scene at the beginning of that like particular book will forever be embedded in my memoray as one of my favorite like faerie Sidhe—

Ali Williams (01:14:09):

Urban fantasy.

Kate Marope (01:14:09):

Seelie, unseelie , all of the vibes romance sort. Yeah. It’s a romance. I’m gonna call it a romance. I know it’s like strictly like urban fantasy.

Ali Williams (01:14:18):

Yeah. Yeah. It’s sexy. It’s sexy Urban fantasy. It’s sexier than fantasy.

Kate Marope (01:14:23):

Yeah. Urban fantasy technically. But there is a lot of emotions and particularly in A Lick of Frost cause of what happens at the end. And I won’t do spoilers in case people haven’t discovered that series yet.

Ali Williams (01:14:33):

That series is so good.

Kate Marope (01:14:35):

Because of what happens at the end, there are so many emotions. And I was rereading it and I was like this still slaps and speaking of mess it has so much mess, like what is that’s in a lawyer’s office because her uncle who is like the leader of this seelie court and uh, the Lord of Light and Illusions or something, um, has accused three of her guards slash polyam lovers of raping somebody. And she’s like, well that’s true because they were with me, obviously.

Ali Williams (01:15:11):

All of them at the same time.

Kate Marope (01:15:14):

Yeah. At the same time. Cause it was polyamorous. Um, actually I, I wouldn’t actually call that when polyamorous it’s more like,

Ali Williams (01:15:21):

Like it’s, it’s, it’s like poly, it’s a polycule almost. Yeah. So she’s at the center of multiple.

Kate Marope (01:15:28):

I was gonna say it’s like reverse harem ish. Um, but not quite because feelings are very much involved between the men, even though there’s no sword crossing. Um, yeah. So it starts there and of course, so there’s like seelie unseelie drama, but there’s also like the two lawyer teams drama. But then also there’s like now, like it’s sidhe business that like he’s made like aired their dirty laundry in public and I’m like, all the mess is happening here and I’m here for it. Like, and then like the uncle gets on the call and everybody’s like, oh, so he poisoned the ambassador. The ambassador’s like, you’re all monsters. Like it’s so much chaos in like the first 20 pages of like everything going off. And I was like, but it’s so gripping.

Ali Williams (01:16:15):

I, I love, I love open openings of urban fantasy books. Like, um, the Other series by Anne Bishop. I think the first one’s called Written in Red. Yes. Yeah. Check that is excellent. Um, anything Ilona Andrews writes again, like the Hidden Legacy series just delicious. Um, I really enjoyed the opening of Children of Blood and Bone. Enjoyed is maybe not the right word. It was an intense experience that opening chapter. Um, but it’s excellent. Anything that sort of grabs me. Alternatively, I like thing that take the complete opposite attitude and are actually very sarcastic. Like if you have that really, really clear first person POV um, and you’ve got someone just being a snarky bastard who, a male or female and make me laugh. I will be gripped. I’ll be hooked on that. It’s about, it’s about voice for me.

It’s, it’s interesting because I was talking about this the other day and I don’t, a lot of people say that when they read books, they can picture everything in their head. I can’t, I do not picture character, places, yes. I have in my mind, I have very clear images of where everything is happening, but I cannot, even of my own characters, I can’t see them unless I go and find a picture and go, right, this is, this is what they look like. But even when I’m writing, I don’t picture them. I don’t see the film. Don’t see things playing out like film. So for me. I think it’s because I almost, when I read, I almost become that person, whoever whoever’s POV we’re in. Um, so for me, it’s all about voice.

Kate Marope (01:18:03):

Yeah.

Ali Williams (01:18:03):

If you don’t have the voice, if you don’t grab the reader, then it becomes very different. Um, but, and world building like anything that opens on a bit of world building like, um, Slave to Sensation, which is the first, uh, Psy-Changling one, which opens with like the history of like the Psy and the Changling. That’s really interesting. Like if you give a glimpse of what the world we’re going into, I’ve always a bit like, yeah. Pardon, give me more. I will take some more quite happily.

Kate Marope (01:18:39):

I love that. Okay. So I know you read a lot and I know you read really fast, but what is your book? You’ve read this year?

Ali Williams (01:18:45):

Oh, since wait, I will check my story graph cause I have all of the books on there. Oh, hmm, okay. I I’m going to say three. Three, maybe four. Ah, um, God, that’s so hard. OK. Uh, I loved It Happened One Summer by Tessa Bailey, which I’ve only just got into reading. The sex in that is phenomenal. The dynamic is perfect. The it girl, and then the grumpy. Brilliant. Um, I mentioned Boyfriend Material earlier. Electric Idol was gorgeous.

Kate Marope (01:19:29):

Listen that book.

Ali Williams (01:19:31):

The stabby boy and the way she set it up. Oh my God. Katee’s sequel baiting is amazing. I literally message her, I was like please tell me these people get a book, and she’s like yeah, but you’re gonna have to wait. I’m gonna build it up.

Kate Marope (01:19:43):

I know. And she did a TikTok and I was like—

Ali Williams (01:19:44):

I dunno whether to love or hate you. Yeah. So good.

Kate Marope (01:19:50):

That book was so fantastic.

Ali Williams (01:19:53):

I’m really looking forward to Helen’s book. Cause she read as neurodiverse in the one they just wrote and it’s poly as well, which I’m really excited for, um, Against a Wall, which is the Cate C. Wells one, which just came out.

Kate Marope (01:20:06):

Yes.

Ali Williams (01:20:07):

And I read immediately and was really good. Really, really good. Um, and really interesting, like the dynamics of the characters who have hat hated each other for all these years, but actually of them has been in love with her the whole time, um, and the protection thing. I, yeah, I really, and also coming into realizations about yourself and people surrounding you. That was really interesting. Um, and then this Sophie Lark series I’m addicted to, I really, really liked let’s, check which one? It’s I think it’s book four called Bloody Heart. I’m just gonna look, I can’t, uh, Bloody Heart. I think it’s it doesn’t tell me. it. Um, I think it’s Bloody Heart, which has Riona. Um, no, it would be the fifth one, Broken Vow. I’m not sure. One of them has Riona in it Riona and uh, Raylan and it’s, and it’s adorable. And he takes her to Tennessee to be, stay with his family while someone’s trying to kill her. And it’s just really cute. It’s really really cute, but yeah.

Um, if was to pick one out of them, it would probably be Electric Idol.

Kate Marope (01:21:35):

So tell everybody what’s coming up next for you. What can they expect from you either, you know, from an educator side or from editor side or what’s what’s cooking in the writing department?

Ali Williams (01:21:50):

So I have, um, I have my paperback, The Softest Kinksters Collection, coming out on Valentine’s day this year. Uh, it’s available from pretty much everywhere online. Um, you can preorder signed copies from Words and Kiss, very exciting. And Waterstones in the UK, which is like our big book chain a bit like Barnes & Noble. Um, my local Waterstones is a. gonna stock it and b. put it on one of their display tables. I got very excited. Uh, so that’s really cool. And then I’ve got four other releases coming out this year. So 1, 2, 3, 4, 4 other releases. So I’ve got the first in my Freed Hunt series, which is a paranormal romance series with kink, uh, where I have a blacksmith heroine and two thousand year old hero and, uh, ancient Briton gods and goddesses. So, um, yeah, female, female, uh, blacksmith heroine, dragon shifters in book one. The second book comes out in August, which has a Italian British librarian, turned oracle, uh, who falls in love with one of Bud’s daughters from like, uh, the Roman times, which is exciting. Oh, and it’s very, there’s so much praise kink and begging in that romance. Like I thought I, I started writing. I was like, oh, this is clearly enemies to lovers. No, they’re pretty much in love with each other by like chapter three like head over heels. It’s so cute

Um, then in November I’m doing the himbo librarian collection and then I’ll be releasing a new Softest Kinksters short around Christmas time, like a Christmas themed one, which I am very excited. So, yeah. And then, and then Romancing the Discourse is the educating stuff that I’m doing. So I’m doing this lecture, this series lecture series. So once a month I take a different genre and I talk about it. I think next up is fantasy romance which going to be a lot of fun, um, and there are still spaces available if people website, uh, it’s all Zoom. I really enjoy them, I think, I think people like them

Kate Marope (01:24:06):

They are fantastic!

Ali Williams (01:24:06):

Aw, thank you.

Kate Marope (01:24:07):

Like literally if I had more time, I would attend to all of them, but

Ali Williams (01:24:12):

Yeah. And if you can’t attend and you pay for it, you can, uh, watch it on, uh, the streaming site afterwards, which is really fun. It’s really nice. So I really I really thoroughly enjoy those. Um, I, have I sent out the January one? Sorry, ADHD brain goes have I done this, have I done that?

Um, and I’m doing my PhD. So at the moment I’m doing a lot of research into my focus is on looking at how speculative romance short stories. So I’ve got three specifically, one by Fiona Zedde, who’s a black queer romance writer, uh, one by Magen Cubed who writes queer romance, lots of monster romances. And then one by Austin Chant, who is a trans male writer. Um, I’m interested in how they act as counter publics to the idea, to the general intimate public idea that society an intimate public is like a general society, uh, view of something. So for a romance that’s usually Fabio and bodice ripping and women being rescued by men, which is yes, 30 years out of date, but the counter publics work directly against that. I would argue that indie and self-publishing counter publics to traditional publishing cause they have different demands, BIPOC, neurodiverse, fat narratives, all of these are counter publics.

And then as, as I’m doing that, I’m using tarot and oracle cards as a way of planning, as opposed to using the traditional three act structure. So as opposed to going, right, this needs to happen here. I’m like right. Pull these cards, let’s work out what’s going to happen. I have, I have a deck that I use specifically for kinks. Like if I pull the emperor that’s pet play. If I, if I call, pull the empress that’s breeding kink, like it’s all very, very nerdy.

Kate Marope (01:25:56):

I love that. That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.

Ali Williams (01:26:01):

So much fun, like yeah. And having to explain it to my, you know, my supervisors at uni. So I’m like, oh, so, so how did you come up with this? Well, basically sat down and worked at all the kinks that I wanted to write about then married them up to different things like this.

Kate Marope (01:26:22):

To be a fly on that wall.

Ali Williams (01:26:22):

Oh my God. They’re fully on board with it. Um, but I cannot talk about arot and writing without mentioning Lisa Kessler who’s, uh, Tarot for Writing workshop was absolutely, uh, like instrumental in how in, how I think about using TA with writing, uh, as, as a tool for writing. Um, so yeah, but they are fantastic. Cannot recommend them enough. Yeah. So that’s what I’m up to quite a bit. And then there’s the day job I don’t and then editing. Oh yeah. Lots of editing as well. I don’t know when I get to sleep.

Kate Marope (01:27:00):

So what you’re telling me is that we’re gonna have a lot of Zooms where we’re gonna be like, ma’am you need to sleep.

Ali Williams (01:27:07):

Seems likely. Yeah. Very probably.

Kate Marope (01:27:11):

Oh man. But thank you so much for coming on the podcast.

Ali Williams (01:27:16):

Thank you for having me and being so welcoming. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this. Um, and I’m really excited, uh, to listen to the other podcasters and see, and listen to listen to everyone else, uh, you know, rave about books, like a lot of fun.

Kate Marope (01:27:31):

It’s so exciting. I’m so excited. I love it. This is just like a heart project for me. Cause I was just like, we need to have like more open discourse about things, uh, books, not only just about books in general, but also not like having anybody worry that they’re gonna lose their job or their contract or anything about it. You know and just like having those honest discussions where there are no stakes and there’s no expectations. And I love it.

Ali Williams (01:27:57):

I think that’s really important, and you’ve built a safe space to do that, so thank you. We appreciate it.

Kate Marope (01:28:03):

If you enjoyed this guest episode, make sure you subscribe to Path to Print on your podcast streamer of choice. Did you know you can watch all guest episodes on my YouTube channel? As always, you can find a transcript of this episode, complete with links to all books and things mentioned, and throw your two cents in by visiting the link in the show notes.

If you’d like to be part of The Ribbon Marker community over on my website and join in on the conversation on this subject, be sure to stop by my website at theribbonmarker.com. You can also join the convo on social media using the hashtags #EditorTalk and #PathToPrintPod.

And if you’re loving Path to Print and want to do something to support the podcast, it always means a lot when you leave a rating or a review on your site of choice. You can also leave me a voice message on Anchor at anchor.fm/kate-marope/message.

Many thanks to my lovelies who support Path to Print on Ko-Fi. Each donation helps me create more content that helps authors to grow outside the traditional query, acquire, revise structures of the publishing industry. If you’re interested in donating to Path to Print, you can do so at ko-fi.com/theribbonmarker.

Thank you so much for listening to Path to Print, and be sure to check back in next week for a new blogisode.


Books & Things Mentioned in This Episode


About the Guest

Ali Williams’ inner romance reader is never quite satisfied, which is why she oscillates between writing romance, editing romance, and studying it as part of her PhD. She can be found at the foot of the South Downs in the UK, either nerding out over local mythologies or drinking cocktails on the beach. She believes with all of her bifurious heart that writing romance is an act of rebellion and that academia will be so much better when studying diverse HEAs is naturally part of the curriculum. As a freelance romance novel editor, she specialises in contemporary romance,  paranormal and speculative romance, and romantic suspense.

Ali is a member of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR) and the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA).


2 thoughts on “Impactful & Memorable Setups | #EditorTalk with Ali Williams

  1. Mmakojane6

    Great podcast Kate. Serious and very informative content. Handled lightheartedly and making it manageable to process! I learn a lot with each episode

  2. Gale Petrous

    Very brave ladies! I’m very impressed with the range of very heavy issues you tackled in this episode and the sensitivity with which you did. These Issues are common to humanity, but unresolved all the same, with no end in sight! You reminded us that each effort each one of us makes to address these issues inches us towards the much needed resolution. Your joint effort in this episode exemplifies global citizenship in action. You owned the responsibility to tackle humanities common challenges and that’s what global citizenship is all about! It is also about jointly building futures societies we want and deserve. Societies marked by mutual respect, appreciation, and constant shared value creation. Free of sexual violence, gender inequalities, police insensitivity, doxing, misuse of technology for cyberbullying, and more. Kudos to you both!

Leave a Reply