I am very excited to share this month's Hidden Diamond, Olivia Dade. I first met this lovely woman through a weekly romance author chat on Twitter and quickly formed an online friendship through our mutual quirky sense of humour. Then I had the chance to meet her in person last year at the RWA national conference and discovered that she is just as lovely, witty, and caring in real life as she is online. And she writes some of the most wonderful, three-dimensional characters that I've ever read. Her latest book, Teach Me, has become my go-to summer reading recommendation. It features an educational romance between two teachers, a statuesque ice queen and a slightly dorky cinnamon roll of a hero. And I'm looking forward to Desire and the Deep Blue Sea with its fake relationship, a pair of librarians, and a week on a tropical paradise reality show.
Without further ado, here is my interview with Olivia.
What is the wildest thing you've done to research a book?
One of my upcoming books features a forty-year-old heroine and a twenty-something, former-tennis-pro hero. My exhaustive pursuit of literary excellence, then, required staring intensely at my favorite tennis players as they ran, sweated, emitted grunts of efforts, and bent over from the waist at satisfying intervals. Sometimes—through endless, hard, Google-related work—I even located videos of them training shirtless and/or immersed (again, shirtless) in ice baths after their matches!
I know, I know. It’s sheer lunacy. No one expects writers to sacrifice so much for their stories, but I am fiercely committed to realism in my work, down to the tiniest details. I asked myself all the important questions, such as: How do endless lunges and squats affect the curve of a tennis pro’s posterior? Also, would he make those same sounds in bed?
What is your writing process?
I’ve always, always worked best alone and in silence. Other parts of my writing process have changed over time, though. I’ve become much more of a plotter than I used to be, because—as I’ve discovered—without an overarching framework for a story, I tend to overlook key elements as I write. For instance, something story experts call “a plot.”
Before I begin drafting a story, I now write down my story arc, which gives basic information about the main characters (their appearances, their backgrounds, their goals and motivations and fears) and delineates key plot points. It also traces developments in the romantic relationship and the progression of individual characters’ internal arcs.
I put a lot of thought into that document, so I tend to follow it somewhat closely when I draft—and if I deviate too much from it, I often find I’ve written myself into a corner or gone wrong in some other way. But since I don’t determine the details of various scenes ahead of time, I still have plenty of room for creativity and improvisation as I write.
The process works well for me, but one of the great joys of writing, I think, is seeing how radically different processes can all lead to equally amazing books. So if your process is very, very different from mine, please don’t question yourself or despair! :-)
What is your favourite thing to do to relax?
Reading. Always and forever.
Who is your favourite fictional crush?
This answer changes all the time, but I’ll tell you about my latest crush.
So here’s the story: I’ve never had HBO, I don’t enjoy violence, and I need happy endings. Thus, I did not watch Game of Thrones. However. A month or two ago, my Twitter timeline was abuzz in a shipping frenzy over two characters on the show, Jaime and Brienne. Idly, I clicked on a GIF of the fictional couple.
You should know that when I re-watched Wimbledon (the movie) last year, the first time a particular secondary character showed up on-screen, I gasped and immediately paused the movie to find out what other movies he was in and—more importantly—whether any of those movies included full-frontal nudity. That secondary character was, of course, played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. At that point, I must have seen that he acted in Game of Thrones, but again, the whole HBO/violence thing stopped me from pursuing the matter further.
But then. But then. All those Jaime/Brienne GIFs! All those Jaime/Brienne video clips! That FACE! That face GAZING ADORINGLY AT BRIENNE/GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE!
Dear reader, I shipped them. And here’s the glory of the internet: I could repeatedly watch a 48-minute supercut of scenes starring Jaime and Brienne without seeing any of the stuff I didn’t care about or found off-putting. (Such as, say, twincest. Or pushing a kid out a window. Or anything involving any of the other characters.)
Basically, Game of Thrones might as well be called Game of Jaime and Brienne for me, and I’m not even sorry.
P.S. In my head canon, they end up on Tarth, where she’s in charge of everything important and he devotes himself entirely to her sexual satisfaction and making her smile with his sly wit and punching anyone who doesn’t sufficiently admire and respect her. THE END.
And in the spirit of the ongoing Joss Whedon debate, who would win: astronauts or cavemen?
Oddly, even though I could have written like twenty more pages about Jaime and Brienne, I have no answer for this. I want to say cavewomen? Somehow?
Your technique for incorporating organic and non-distracting description is amazing. Do you have suggestions for authors looking to do vivid descriptions with a minimum of interruption to the flow?
This is very, very kind of you. I want to be clear: I am not naturally skilled at writing description. In fact, about two or three years ago, I decided to draft a story specifically designed to push myself in that area, because I realized descriptive passages were a major weakness in my writing. (The story was a futuristic gothic, which featured entire chapters with no dialogue or sex. Dialogue and sex come pretty easily to me as a writer; evocative descriptions do not, but they are crucial in gothic romances.)
My basic rule is this: Any description has to serve an important purpose. It is not an end in itself. Sometimes, it’s there to orient readers and allow them to picture the characters or a particular setting (especially the first time a character appears or a setting is used). Other times, it’s there for symbolic or foreshadowing purposes, or because it reveals something about a character and/or their emotions and/or the plot. I’ll also include descriptions that are funny, and thus serve the tone of my story.
Even if the description is serving one or more of those purposes, I generally try to keep it brief, because I worry about pacing. I don’t want readers to get bored and set down the book, never to return.
Also, the best description is vivid, with punchy language. It comes from the POV character’s perspective, distinctive to what that particular person would notice and how they would describe it. I’m still working on that part of things, and I highly recommend reading Joanna Bourne’s books as exemplars of POV-infused description. She’s a master.
How do your story ideas come to you? Do you start with a scene, a character, a concept or something else?
Different books emerge in very different ways for me. For example: the book I mentioned earlier, with the former-tennis-pro hero and forty-year-old heroine? The original idea for that story came from me randomly watching the French Open and thinking idly to myself, “You know, 40-Love would be a great title for a romance.” It’s my only story that ever sprang to life entirely from a title idea.
In “Cover Me” (a novella originally published in the Rogue Acts anthology, which I’m bundling with another story and republishing later this year), I wanted to write a romance about health insurance and breast cancer. Teach Me came from my desire to explore (sexily!) how toxic masculinity hurts people of all genders. So thematic/plot elements sometimes drive me to write a story.
Sometimes, I’ll decide I want to write a particular type of character. An absentminded-professor type of hero (such as Thomas in Desire and the Deep Blue Sea), or a latter-day-hippie heroine (such as Lucy in Tiny House, Big Love), or…anything that sounds interesting to me.
Other times, a certain plot element might drive me. For the longest time, I wanted to write a contemporary romance where one of my main characters would propose to the other—with the expectation/fervent hope of getting turned down. The other character would say yes, even though they didn’t want to get engaged either. Then each of them would try to get the other to dump them…even as they both fell in love. It took me years to figure out what particular set of circumstances would make that sequence of events plausible and fun! But I finally worked it out, so I hope to write that story soon.
Finally, if I end up obsessed with a particular television show or movie or sport or…whatever? It’s showing up in a book, in one form or another. :-)
To me, that’s one of the other absolute joys of writing: Your stories can come from anywhere. Literally anywhere. Obsessive viewing of tiny house shows? Sure. Ogling Dominic Thiem’s very fine ass? Definitely. Shipping a particular couple on a violent television show and ignoring literally everything else about the show, including the on-screen death of half that couple? Oh, JUST YOU WAIT.
Thank you, Olivia, for being one of my Hidden Diamonds! And if you'd like your own copies of Olivia's books or to follow her on social media, you can find her here.
And thank you for joining us! Come back next month on July 25th for the next Hidden Diamond. Or check out last month's double feature of Rayanne Haines and Barbara Nolan.
Or there's always my previous blogpost about the hidden talents we don't even know we have.