Welcome to third and final installment of Calico In Conversation with Aubrey Gross. If you missed Parts One and Two, click below to catch up:
Part One: Hard to Swallow
Part Two: Triumph and Taking Risks
Editor’s Note: this interview was originally conducted in March through August of 2016.
Let’s say you’re at a party, and you meet someone whom you learn is an aspiring writer. Really novice and is tinkering with a novel. Quick: what’s the first piece of advice you give them?
Just finish it. The first draft doesn’t have to be the best thing ever — it just has to get done. Lots of people “want” to write. Only a handful of those people actually manage to do it and have a finished product.
Great advice! That’s something every writer needs to hear, and it’s the toughest to follow. So let’s talk about YOUR work. What do you think is the one thing all of your books have in common?
They’re stories about broken people finding love and happiness. And even though my characters tend to be a bit broken, they also have great senses of humor (sometimes goofy, sometimes snarky) mostly because I’m a firm believer that the best way to get through life is with a laugh.
Great philosophy. Anything else you find that your books have in common? Any particular tropes you come back to, again and again?
Well, they’re all set in Texas, so there’s that. 😉 As for tropes…maybe the idea of second chances. Sometimes it’s a second chance romance. Sometimes it’s a second chance at love, period. Sometimes it’s a second chance to even have a chance, after completely blowing the chance the first time around. I also seem to have a thing for heroes and heroines that are friends. Whether they’ve been friends for years (Between the Seams, Big Girls Need Love Too kind of but not quite), or become friends while also falling in love, I’m a big believer in actually LIKING one another. Sure, there might be some instant-attraction (Hair Trigger Heart, Dallas’ Most Eligible (my work-in-progress), Big Girls Need Love Too), but they also get to know one another and genuinely LIKE each other rather than just tearing each other’s clothes off (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not my thing for contemporary romance…erotic romance is a whole other ballgame *wink*). Considering my all-time favorite trope is friends to lovers, though, this makes total sense to me. 🙂
So a lot of writers are heavily into making soundtracks for their books. Certain songs resonate with the theme, or certain songs just seem to be all about a character. What songs or music do you have on your author playlist, and which book do those songs belong to?
You know me far too well! Every single book I write has its own playlist, and music has heavily influenced those books. Between the Seams, in a way, was my love letter to Texas country, even though other music influenced it, too. Josh Abbott Band’s “Oh, Tonight” and “Touch” are the two songs I most associate with that book, mostly because they were playing in my head during two very pivotal and emotionally-charged scenes.
Baseball and Other Lessons actually has a super fun soundtrack, in that it has two separate ones from two time periods. Most of the book takes place in present day, but there are some flashback scenes that take place in 2004, so I had a playlist for both time periods. The music for it is also very up and down; there’s some darker, sadder stuff like Evanescence’s “My Immortal” and Ed Sheeran’s “Small Bump,” and some lighter stuff like “Sleeping With A Friend” by Neon Trees and “Hush, Hush” by The Pistol Annies.
Hair Trigger Heart’s playlist is also a fun one, and I had two completely different playlists for each of my characters. Caridad’s is a lot of “girl power” stuff, like Jessie J’s “Masterpiece” and Miranda Lambert’s “Gunpowder and Lead.” Owen’s very much a country and southern rock sort of guy, and so much of his character was based on Wade Bowen’s “You Ain’t Got Me,” which is this great Texas country song about a guy who is very much in love with an independent woman who’s convinced love isn’t for her, and the admiration and frustration that goes along with that (because, yeah, Caridad is that woman). My favorite song from this soundtrack, though, is Delta Rae’s “If I Loved You,” because it signals such a pivotal moment for Caridad (close to the beginning, at that).
And Big Girls Need Love Too…oh, man. I originally finished it in 2006, so the music that influenced it was from the early 2000s. Lots of Evanescence. And probably my favorite way that music is used in Big Girls Need Love Too is this:
I have to ask: are there a lot of sports-themed romances out there? And what inspired you to write yours?
Back in the 90s and even early 2000s, the thought in romance publishing circles was that there was no way you could write an athlete hero and have it sell. But then Susan Elizabeth Phillips came along with her Chicago Stars series set around a fictional football team and proved that you can sell sports-themed romances. Since then, there have been some other authors to really embrace sports romance — Rachel Gibson with her Chinooks hockey team series, Jill Shalvis with baseball, Jennifer Bernard with her Love Between the Bases series that involves minor league baseball players, to name a few. New adult romance can be heavy on the athletes, too, and collegiate hockey seems to be super popular right now. And by super popular, I mean that for whatever reason that’s the sport new adult romance authors seem to be focusing on when they write sports romances, because to be fair, sports romance is a small chunk of the market.
As for what inspired me, I think it’s been a combination of things. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is my all-time favorite author. I just love her books. But I’ve also always been that girl who loved sports (albeit watching rather than playing). Being a Texan, I’ve been watching football since before I can even remember, and in high school the posters on my wall weren’t just matchbox twenty, they were Troy Aikman, Moose Johnston, and Emmitt Smith. Years ago, I had an idea for a football romance, and that idea is still sitting in a notebook or on my external hard drive somewhere. At any rate, my husband got me into baseball right after we first started dating (I’d hated it up until that point), and I quickly became super fascinated with baseball players and how cerebral the sport is. Augie Garrido (the Longhorns’ recently-retired head baseball coach, and the winningest baseball coach in NCAA history) has this great quote:
Baseball is nothing more than another classroom in the educational process. Really, baseball is a metaphor for life.
That idea, along with baseball being a game of failure, just fascinates me. What kind of person plays professional baseball? What’s his mental and emotional makeup like? I know lots of authors get inspired by actors and musicians, but for me, it’s baseball players. From the closer who radiates intensity to the good ol’ boy outfielder to the focused catcher, I watch baseball and read stories about players and automatically start asking questions and wondering about their backstory and what they’re really like when off the field or not in front of the camera…and what kind of a woman would be his match.
Interesting. When your Devils Ranch series wraps up, what’s next? Do you think you’ll have another baseball-focused series, or move on to football, or something completely different? I, as your Brain Twin, do actually remember the title of your football-themed story. I won’t share it here, because I don’t want anyone to steal it. 😉
Thanks for that. 😉 My next series is going to be a spin-off from the Devils Ranch series. I haven’t come up with a series name yet, but it’s basically going to be about the baseball team Matt in Baseball and Other Lessons pitched for, the Texas Wranglers. There’s a character that appeared in Baseball and Other Lessons and who also appears in Dallas’ Most Eligible that has been yelling at me to tell his story (and it’s a doozy, as is his heroine’s). That being said, I also have a bunch of other ideas spinning around in my head, too. I’m toying with a followup to Big Girls Need Love Too, but making that one Benjamin’s story and trying to redeem his character. I have the beginning of a post-apocalyptic romance written out. There’s the aforementioned football romance. The list goes on and on, really.
That’s awesome. I want the post-apocalyptic romance, stat! A follow-up could to Big Girls Need Love Too could be interesting, because that story is so different than your others, in that it’s a very personal story, yes? Wouldn’t the follow-up be difficult?
(Note: this answer kinda sorta contains some spoilers, so read at your own risk.)
Big Girls Need Love Too was a very personal story, and I would be lying through my teeth if I said otherwise. In a lot of ways Molly is me. There are differences, to be sure, but so much of my personality and story is in her character. Her relationship with Benjamin was fictionalized, but it’s safe to say that the inspiration for their relationship definitely sprung from real life (including certain scenes that a lot of people probably wouldn’t believe actually happened). The funny thing is that I gave Molly the courage to end a not-so-great relationship before I myself had the courage to end a similar situation. Since then, I’ve met my “Joe” (seriously, it’s uncanny how alike Joe and my husband are, and that book was finished like a year before I ever met my husband) and married him, and time has given me a better perspective. So in some ways a follow-up would be difficult, but in others I think it could be satisfying and in a weird sort of way healing. Molly never wanted Benjamin to be unhappy — she just had to make a clean break in order for HER to be happy. And any follow-up I wrote would probably take place at least a few years after the end of Big Girls Need Love Too, mostly to provide some much-needed distance but to also set up Benjamin’s character growth (I’ve obviously thought about this a lot *wink*).
Interesting…. Do you feel your other books are also, in some ways, autobiographical? As writers, we put so much of ourselves in our work, consciously or not, and I imagine it would be especially easy to do so in Romance.
I think that every book we write, there’s at least a little piece of ourselves in it. Molly was the most like me, but all of my characters have had certain bits and pieces of me woven into them. Jo in Between the Seams struggled with disordered eating. Jenn in Baseball and Other Lessons loves to read romance novels and primarily uses Pinterest to pin funny and snarky memes and eCards. Caridad in Hair Trigger Heart is a freelance writer who learned to use a pistol in order to protect herself after being a victim of physical abuse. Plus, there’s the whole kidney disease and transplant storyline woven throughout the series. The Devils Ranch in and of itself is based upon a ranch I found for sale online one day a couple of years ago. It’s on the Devils River, which is one of the most pristine rivers in the United States. We own land in that part of Texas (not on the river…boo!), so describing the scenery, and my characters’ love for that area is most definitely autobiographical. Honestly, though, I’m pretty sure if I were writing a genre other than romance pieces of myself would filter into my characters — there’s a reason why they’re called “book babies.” And I don’t know that it’s any easier or harder for that to happen in romance, except for the fact that romance often requires you to dig really, really deep into the emotional well, and sometimes the easiest way to do that is to make it personal, either through pulling from your own emotions and experiences or through empathizing with your characters (and often, both, at least for me).
So what comes out next, and when? As a author-publisher, even you mentioned that setting your own deadlines can be difficult, and it’s doubly difficult when you’ve got serious personal matters to deal with.
Next up is Dallas’ Most Eligible, and as of right now I’m eyeing a September release. It’s so weird, because after my husband got his first transplant, I wrote like a madwoman and had no problem meeting self-imposed deadlines. I actually finished Baseball and Other Lessons and Hair Trigger Heart sooner than I’d thought I would. And then he lost the transplant, I lost my day job, and everything just went to hell in a handbasket writing-wise. So yes, it’s difficult, but I feel guilty for even remotely trying to explain why there’s been a delay in getting this book out.
Life can be a bitch sometimes, that’s for sure. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that things will balance out across the board and you’ll start seeing blue skies ahead. If we want to learn more about your books and upcoming releases, or just you as a person, where can we find you online?
You can find me at my website at aubreygross.com, on Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, too. Oh, and Heroes & Heartbreakers every now and then.