Things fluttered appropriately – an interview with Sandra Antonelli
Two years ago, I met Sandra Antonelli through her writing on Twitter. Here was an author who I thought was funny, smart, relished earworms, rat terriers and spider scares, and could tell great stories all in 140 characters. Following her twitter feed was a given for me and she followed me back resulting in many interesting exchanges. Last week I ventured into reading her first published book with Escape Publishing.
Property renovator Lesley thinks she can combine a little business with her annual visit to her parents in Los Alamos, but that’s before she runs into Dominic. Single father Dominic, quantum physicist turned hardware store owner believes Lesley is A) poison; B) a lesbian who ruined his little brother’s life; and C) the detonator to a 50 megaton secret. What starts as cold fury turns into nuclear attraction, and naturally, they fall for each other, but can their love survive the fallout when Dominic’s little atomic bomb goes off?
This is a contemporary romance set in New Mexico, USA. I already liked Sandra’s writing style (why else would I have followed her on Twitter for so long) but would that style extend to reading a 314 page novel? I was nervous! Well, by page twenty, to quote her character Lesley, “things fluttered appropriately”. I fell in love with this story. And just a teeny weeny bit more in love with Sandra, who was kind enough to agree to being my first ever Shallowreader interview.
Shallowreader: Hello Sandra! Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed by me today. You are popping my interviewer cherry so please be gentle.
Sandra: I’ll use coffee as a lubricant.
Shallowreader: Oooh! Now you are even more appealing
Sandra: Coffee fixes everything.
Shallowreader: Let’s get straight into your book – there were no cherries popped in this book. Tell me why you chose to write a romance with older characters than you find in traditional romances?
Sandra: A variety of reasons really. First, why not? I’ve always appreciated characters who had interesting life experiences. When I was thirteen I was reading about Jane Eyre and the second Mrs DeWinter (from Rebecca) and they were older than me. When I was seventeen I was reading about women who were older than me. Then in my twenties I was reading about women who were roughly the same age—and they bored the crap out of me because they were so inexperienced. By the time I was thirty I found it harder and harder to relate to the heroines in romance because they were younger with very little life experience under their feet. The harder I looked for a more mature-aged heroine, the more I was led to Women’s Fiction—which to me, is not romance. That annoyed me. Chronological age becomes irrelevant if the story engages you or the reader—if you connect to something. I wanted to read romance not Women’s Fiction ‘relationship’ novels about best friends and cheatin’ husbands. Writers are often told to ‘write what you know’ or to ‘write the book you want to read.’ So that’s what I started doing. I took that life experience and life baggage and jumped on the romance train.
Shallowreader: I’m so glad you jumped on that train! As a reader, women’s fiction and finding-one’s-true-self-due-to-broken-relationships books have never appealed to me either yet so few romances depict older women. Do you think cultural expectations (and by default publishers predicting readers expectations) still relate back to the juvenile attitude of “Ewwww! It’s like knowing that your mum and dad still do it“?
Sandra: To some extent yes, there is that ick factor inherent for some. For others it’s a matter of ‘romance is fantasy and I don’t want an ageing body in MY fantasy’ or ‘I want to picture pretty, not as I am, I don’t want a reminder I’m getting older’. Then there are readers (like me) who are fine with more realism in the fantasy, fine with getting older and would like to see that translated into romance fiction. The heroine’s beauty/allure is in the eye of the hero; he finds her crow’s feet sexy or her big ass sexy. People over forty fall in love and have sex like demented bunnies. Why not have that fantasy in romance?
Shallowreader: I agree. I have owned demented bunnies. I loved the part in the book where Dominic points to a hair that Lesley thought she had removed and their ensuing aging body banter. I swooned!
Sandra: I think some people think, as one editor did, that forty plus sex scenes are gong to include long descriptions of sagging boobs and flaccid penises—which of course would spoil any romantic fantasy. As a side note here: One of my favourite romance novels has two romances running simultaneously. Jenny Crusie’s Trust Me On This—to me the more engaging romance was between Harry and Victoria and they were sixty somethings. Harry was so turned on by the sight of Victoria’s skin. It was fantastic! They deserved the entire BOOK!
Shallowreader: I was still in my twenties when I read Jenny Crusie’s Anyone But You. Her female character was in her forties and this was a non-issue for me as a reader as the story was wonderful. I feel the same way about Lesley and Dominic in A Basic Renovation. They are in their forties and this just makes the romance stronger.
Sandra: As I said earlier, chronological age becomes irrelevant if the story engages the reader. I have read a few twenty-something heroines who, because of their circumstances have more experience than most women their age, and those stories have enthralled me. In fact, unless it’s specified or it constantly hammers me in the face—which happens more than I like—I forget about the heroine’s age as I read. It’s, as you said, a non-issue because I’ve engaged with the story and the heroine’s age becomes irrelevant. Her age is not driving the plot; the romance is driving the plot. That being said, if I were to read a romance with a mature-aged heroine who was all wrapped up in her age and worried about ageing (and I’ve read two) I would feel hammered in the face. I don’t want to read about someone ageing, I want to read about someone falling in love and getting a happily ever after despite their age because that is what happens in life.
Shallowreader: Is Crusie a big influence on your writing? Who else has influenced you?
Sandra: I really love Elmore Leonard. He writes crime and Westerns. Some readers may know him. Movie lovers will know his work like Get Shorty, Out of Sight (and the oh-so-sexy boot/trunk scene with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez) and Jackie Brown. He has the most fantastic characters and THE most sublime dialogue. Right now his work is on TV with the show Justified. I adore his character Jackie Brown from Rum Punch—she’s an over forty flight attendant/smuggler who beats the mob. Jackie’s awesome and I can only pretend my romance emulates Leonard. I admire Suzanne Brockmann, Rachel Gibson and Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jo Goodman because they write such multilayered and engaging stories, so I supposed they influenced me though osmosis. Or I like to think they have.
Shallowreader: I certainly see the Elmore Leonard influence – particularly your dialogue. I love that she nicknames Dominic “Walks-with-hard-on” and the verbal slamming was great. Your use of “fuck” and flipping the bird just made me want to read more books by you. I saw, not only Leonard, but a touch of Tarantino too but without the blood and gore, just with all the juicy language and wit. And I found your book really funny. I struggle to find books that are funny. I think writing humour is the most difficult of all writing crafts as timing and intonation is key. The act of reading internally differs so greatly from dramatisations or audio books where the actors or readers help convey the humour. I was snorting and laughing out loud as I read through this book. Did you find the humour writing difficult?
Sandra: You’re being very nice to me. I’d like to see a Leonard-esqueness in my writing. My sense of humour is that of a 12 or 13 year old boy, but I have a rule when I write: Sort of. I try not to do fart jokes or poop humour because, while I appreciate them, I know they’re not, uh, everyone’s cup of tea. I laugh like hell when I write the comedy scenes, but I never know if someone else if going to find the scene funny. I can only hope the readers do. Your snorting and laughing out loud is a good sign!
Shallowreader: Farts can even be romantic in the right context
Sandra: Yes, farts can be romantic if the situation is right–say like in a car…
Hang on….Tarantino? Me? Oh, if you could only hear MY soundtrack for A Basic Renovation…
Shallowreader: That IS my next question! Music and food are a big part of your book. What would be your soundtrack to your book and what do you recommend your readers to eat while they read it. For the record, I ate lots of cashews and salt and vinegar chips while drinking rosé – I’m a classy shallowreader.
Sandra: Salt and vinegar with rosé? Coffee. Coffee and cookies. Or Cherry Limes from Sonic. Or apple pies from McDonald’s (if only Oz MCDonald’s had the cherry pies!). Music…well, I had to edit out the references to the songs Lesley listens to because not everyone would care or know the music but I have a playlist. It’s a little long…
Shallowreader: Do share it!
Sandra: Here are a few of the songs. Any more and we’d be here for a week.
- In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida Iron Butterfly–very important
- From My Head to My Heart Evan & Jaron Evan and Jaron
- Glory Days Bruce Springsteen
- Goodbye Girl Squeeze
- New Shoes Paolo Nutini
- Phantom Limb The Shins
- Buy a Dog LUCE
- Red Dragon Tattoo Fountains of Wayne
- Seven Nation Army The White Stripes
- Supernova Liz Phair
- Worn Me Down Rachael Yamagata
- Wounded Nik Kershaw
- You Can Bring Me Flowers Ray LaMontagne
- That’s Just What You Are Aimee Mann
- Trust Me To Open My Mouth Squeeze
- Fought the Law Bobby Fuller Four
- No I In Threesome Interpol
Shallowreader: Can I say that I started reading your book with a bit of trepidation. We have known each other for a while as we met on Twitter as romance reading and studying followers so reviewing a tweep’s book could have gone belly up for both of us, and you used my least favourite romance trope in that Lesley was married to Dominic’s brother over 16 years earlier. This always creeps me out yet in your book you address this relationship and it is an issue and it isn’t all resolved despite getting past Regis‘s point of ritual death and the betrothal. I was interested to see that you added one of her optional elements “The Scapegoat exiled”. You took this disliked trope and turned it around for me. You also left a couple of unresolved issues which I liked because life is not nice and tidy yet so many books end with a “life will be perfect from here on” view.
Sandra: They were married but not really married and not divorced….I liked playing with that. I like when an author can turn a trope on its ear. I hate Secret babies in Contemporary romance. I mean I really, really hate them, but Susan Donovan took the secret baby (Girl Most Likely To) and make it work for me, and like you, I was shocked that she reeled me in! I’m glad I did that to you!
Hitchcock said you don’t need to give every little detail, you simply have to reel the movie-goer in. It’s a MacGuffin of a sort, to have a few devices or hooks that keep the reader reading… And did you notice that Lesley thought Dominic was having an issue about her past with his brother/her ex Terry before she realised what the REAL issue was?
A very lovely, well-established author was kind enough to look at this book when I stated writing it. She told me she thought readers would have an issue with the two brothers thing—which made me all the more determined to keep it in! Even a character in the book, Fabian, Dominic’s buddy mentions this too.
Shallowreader: Do you kill fairies?
Sandra: Nope. I like to be surprised. And it bugs me if there’s a ‘baby epilogue.’ Come on leave something to my imagination.
Shallowreader: Baby epilogues don’t bother me – and I love a secret baby plot too .
I’ll finish with saying: Your book oozes romance on many levels, from Dominic’s son Kyle on his first dates, Lesley’s still in-love parents and her sharp-tongued grandfather with ‘tude courting a woman for the first time in thirty years, as well as the wonderful primary romance between Lesley and Dominic. Thank you so much for writing this book and for being gentle with my first time interview. I’d like to say that I lay back and did it for my blog.
Sandra: Thank you for reading it and thank you more for enjoying it, for laughing out loud, and thank you for letting me get there before anyone else! I used protection.
You can find Sandra on twitter @SandrAntonelli