Triumph and Taking Risks with Aubrey Gross

Welcome to Part Two of Calico In Conversation with Aubrey Gross. If you missed Part One: Hard to Swallow, feel free to click here to catch up!

Editor’s Note: this interview was originally conducted in March through August of 2016.

book signing

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I feel like over the years, genre fiction has gotten to be far more accepted by the mainstream, though sometimes you’ll still get a literary snob complaining about things like YA fiction or Game of Thrones. But thanks to the film and television industry, I feel like there’s a boom there that I hadn’t previously seen in my lifetime. EXCEPT: why is romance still the red-headed stepchild of the genre market?

I think it’s a combination of things. There’s the misconception that romance is “mommy porn” or “porn for desperate, single women,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Romance isn’t pornographic. Romance is about emotions, and a lot of people don’t “get” why anyone would want to read a book that’s primarily character-driven and chock full of all kinds of emotions (and, yes, often sex). My reason for reading romance is that it reaffirms my belief in love despite the odds, whether those odds be a psychotic killer on the loose, a mother determined to see her daughter married off to the duke rather than the earl, the complexity of a long-distance relationship, or a heroine who’s unable to trust after being left at the altar by her first love. Romance is about triumph and taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone and growing as a person — all in the name of love. A lot of critics say romance novels are unrealistic, to which I say: but are they really? In our relationships, we all have things we have to overcome in order to be happy. Distance. Past experiences. Wariness. Job dynamics. Our own internal fears. The list goes on and on.

And I’ll also be quite frank — I sometimes think part of the derisiveness is simple jealousy. In 2013, $1.08 billion in romance novels were sold according to BookStats. And according to Nielsen and BISAC, romance novels accounted for 13% of adult fiction novels sold (source: RWA). Because those numbers only reflect books with ISBNs, there are a lot of indie books NOT being reported on (the folks over at Author Earnings do an amazing job of explaining this). The July 2014 Author Earnings Report took a look at the genre breakdowns, and at the time 66% of romance novels in the Kindle Store were indie published (my guess is that it’s probably more than that now, just from anecdotal evidence). Basically, what it boils down to is that a lot of people read romance, which means more readers (and yes, more money) for romance authors as a whole. I might be off base with that one, but from personal experience and the experiences of other authors, I don’t think I’m too off the mark on that. 😉

I’ve often wondered, too, about the fact that romance tends to be the ONE genre that’s primarily driven by women, if there isn’t a little bit of institutionalized sexism happening here, intentional or not. And no, I’m not just blaming the men; women can and are just as bad when it comes to criticizing the genre, its tropes, and its readers. I admit to being guilty of it myself, once upon a time ago.

Oh, I would say that I probably have more women look at me askance than I do men when I tell people I write romance. Ten years ago I wasn’t anywhere near as open about it as I am now. People knew I wrote, and when they asked me what I wrote I’d just brush it off or whisper, “romance” like it was something to be ashamed of. These days when people ask me what I write I’m like, “Oh, contemporary romance for the most part, but I dabble in humorous women’s fiction every now and then with a little bit of erotic romance thrown in.” I don’t whisper it anymore. There are always those people who seem uncomfortable by it, or who think romance is somehow beneath them, but for the most part these days the response I get is much more positive than it was even five years ago. My attitude has definitely evolved into one of, “If they don’t like it, that’s their issue.” Because, seriously. I’ve been reading romance since I was like twelve years old, and life’s too short to read nothing but unhappy stuff that makes you cry. I like happy, dammit!

searching-for-beautiful-9781476780108_hrHappy is good! So tell me, when it comes to romance, what is the trope you are MOST TIRED OF, and (this is the kicker), what’s your favorite book that uses it?

Most tired of? Oh, Lord. It would probably have to be the sexy billionaire/millionaire. It’s just so overdone, not to mention unrealistic — there really aren’t that many billionaires out there, y’all. As for my favorite, it’s probably Jennifer Probst’s Searching for Beautiful (although her Marriage to a Billionaire series is FANTASTIC). Words cannot describe how much I love that book, but I’ve tried — desperately — on more than one occasion. It’s just…a beautiful love story between two friends who become lovers (which is incidentally my most favorite trope ever), and how they heal each other in the process. And there’s a lot of healing (I don’t mean that in a dirty way…although there are definitely some sexy times). It’s just…holy crap. It gives me all the freaking feels.

See, this is my “sneaky” way to get book recs! Now, in the romance genre, who is the author you love that you feel is the most-underrated? Who doesn’t get talked about NEAR enough?

Um, do I have to pick just one? 😉 I’m a big fan of Candis Terry’s. She has a pretty good fan base, but she’s not one of the authors I see talked about all the time. Same goes for Jennifer Bernard and Lizbeth Selvig. All three write humorous contemporary romance — with differing heat levels, at that — and all three are fantastic. Candis Terry’s Truly Sweet was one of my favorite books I read last year, and so far her new series is fantastic (it’s set in a vineyard, which pretty much ups the awesome factor, IMO). Jennifer Bernard’s Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel series was really good (the last book in the series was my favorite). I’m really enjoying Lizbeth Selvig’s current Seven Brides for Seven Cowboys series.

Oh! And Maisey Yates is awesome. She has a very contemporary voice and her heroines tend to be a little snarky, which I adore. Tessa Dare is a great historical romance author. And Christie Ridgway. I adore Christie Ridgway’s books, and her indie-published Rock Royalty series has been excellent. I could honestly go on and on and on…oh, yeah, Darcy Burke’s really good, too…and I’m gonna shut up now. 😛

Ha ha ha! I feel your pain. Once I start recommending writers, I just CANNOT shut up. But at least you have a platform: don’t you write a column somewhere?

Yup. I’m a blogger for Heroes & Heartbreakers, although I’m nowhere near as prolific as some of our other writers.

It’s always good to see authors spreading their wings. What else do you do? Do you attend any conventions?

I wish. In the past the issue was finances or a lack of vacation time (day job and all that jazz). This year’s the first year in a long time I could actually afford to take the time to go to a convention like RWA (Romance Writers of America) or RT (Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention, which is HUGE) or even SHU’s In Your Write Mind, but with my husband being on the transplant waiting list there’s no way I’m traveling unless I absolutely have to for work. I do plan on attending Alli Indie Author Fringe, though, which is a completely online convention for indie authors. I learned some really great stuff last year, and am really looking forward to this year’s.

Online conventions are a great way to make contacts! So this is wildly personal, but since you mentioned it: having a husband on a transplant waiting list is understandably a huge priority. How does that impact your writing?

Between the Seams CoverIt definitely makes things interesting. *g* Honestly, I think the biggest way it impacts my writing is that I struggle with what I call Super Woman Complex — I think I should be able to do it all, and I can’t. I’m horrible at asking for help, and I live in my head far too much (thank God for meds, and a supportive husband who draws me out of my head when I get too deep). I get overwhelmed fairly easily (thanks, anxiety disorder), and when that happens I tend to just shut down. Obviously, that’s not very conducive to writing. So I’m learning to take it as it comes. I’ve always been more of a muse writer than anything else, but when you’re publishing your own books that can be both a good and a bad thing. Good, because you set your own deadlines. Bad, because you set your own deadlines. Beyond that, though, his transplant experience has definitely influenced my writing. I wrote a character (Chase from Between the Seams) with kidney issues before we even knew my husband was in renal failure. I was in the middle of writing that book when we found out he would need dialysis in order to survive, and a transplant in order to live and have any sort of quality of life. Let’s just say a lot of the emotions we’ve experienced have been poured out onto the page, which has been cathartic for me. Beyond that, though, I figure, hey, I have a voice and I have a platform, and for some crazy reason people actually buy my books and read them and seem to like them, so why not bring attention to something like kidney disease that impacts so many people (more than are impacted by breast cancer, but it doesn’t get half the attention), not to mention shed a light on organ donation? So I’m trying to turn it into a positive in whatever way I can, while learning to be easy on myself when I’m simply too tired to even think much less write.

heavenlybodiesBNLemons into lemonade, that’s all I can say. So tell me: what made you go into publishing your own works versus the more traditional, agent-shopping route?

I’m a control freak and I like actually getting paid for my work. I was first published with LooseId back in 2008, and had two novellas published through them (both of which I’ve gotten the rights back on, and one of them I indie published earlier this year). I learned a lot from the experience and am grateful for it, because it let me see the more traditional side of publishing. When indie publishing really took off, I was on the fence about it and figured that only authors who couldn’t hack it in the traditional publishing world were the only ones self publishing. But then it kept growing. And growing. And there were all these success stories. I started reading indie books and realized that, hey, there was some really good stuff out there that New York had completely passed over. Then Hugh Howey debuted the Author Earnings Report, and that was a game-changer for me. When I actually had data in front of me showing the number of indie books sold and how much indie authors were bringing in as compared to traditionally published authors, I started doing a lot of research and figured out I could do it. Honestly, my husband kind of pushed me over the edge — without his encouragement and faith in me I don’t know that I would have had the guts to take that leap on my own. Over a year later, though, I am so glad I did.

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Next week, on Tuesday, September 20th, Aubrey Gross gives out writing advice, talks about the common links in her fiction, and for good measure, talks about sports-themed romance and gives us her soundtracks to her novels!

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