The initial title of this post was “Ruthie Knox is Smart,” but that’s kind of a given. If you follow her on Twitter (you should) or read her debut contemporary from Loveswept, Ride with Me (again, you should), you can tell right off the bat that Ms. Knox has more brains in her head than most people have in their little fingers. She could take over the world and make us all her romance-reading minions if she so chose, so I think we should be grateful she’s decided authoring books is the way to go.
I feel especially lucky—and relieved, as I don’t think I’d make a good minion—to have befriended Ruthie in the past few months. We initially bonded over the fact that we both served undergrad time at Grinnell College (a small liberal arts college in Iowa), and that led to a mutual fangirl-fest over erotic romance author Cara McKenna (who also writes under the name Meg Maguire)…and myriad other subjects. Witty, brilliant, sarcastic, and generous, she’s someone you want on your side. So read her book. No, really.
Speaking of generous, y’all could be reading her book for free: One lucky commenter will be randomly chosen to win a digital copy of Ride with Me. Said lucky commenter/winner will pick up their copy through Net Galley. All you need to do is tell us about a time you conquered the great outdoors…or when the great outdoors conquered you. Whichever. I’ll be sharing my “black bear and the bathtub” story, and I bet you can guess who was the victor there. (Hint: It wasn’t me.)
Ride with Me releases on Monday, February 13th—right before Valentine’s Day! yippee!—from Loveswept, the new digital imprint of Random House. I could give you the official blurb, but mine is much better (and shorter).
Lexie’s looking for a biking buddy with whom to tackle the TransAmerica Trail, and, lucky her, she gets sexy, sullen, and Scrooge-y Tom. It’s a down-and-dirty tale of opposites attract, complete with laughter, angst, and smokin’ hot sexytimes.
I know, I know. I should write everyone’s blurbs, right? Right. But you can read the real one by clicking on the linked title above. Anyway, let’s get on to the fun…funner…part of this post; read “below the fold,” so to speak, for the verbal whiplash that was my conversation with Ruthie. Love this woman (hear that, Ruthie? please do not minion-ize me).
I suppose I should start with a question. I’ve been reading your authorial tours at other blogs, and it seems like you’ve covered a majority of all possible topics. So… Tell me your favorite thing about Grinnell College.
Hmm. There wasn’t much about Grinnell that I didn’t like, but I suppose my number-one favorite thing about being a student there was that I never once felt the slightest pressure to be any less smart than I am. It was like, phew. We’re all smart. It no longer has to be the defining aspect of my education, like it was in high school. Which was very liberating for me — it meant I could experiment with being cute, or sporty, or into student government, or what-have-you.
I totally get that. I had a similar experience, I suppose, and it was definitely nice being surrounded by young people for whom intelligence was a non-issue. And oddly, because of that, I felt like I was learning all the time. Are there any things, just random little things, that show up in your fiction writing that you picked up on while at Grinnell?
Oh, sure. My very first romance manuscript — which is still lounging on my hard drive while I decide whether I’m ever going to inject enough external conflict into it to make it publication-worthy — is called REBOUND. It’s a sort of subversive Hawaii vacation romance, but it has this whole basketball theme, including a subplot character who is, plain as day, a guy I used to know at Grinnell. I dated a basketball player all four years I was there (but he’s not the character in the manuscript — I’m not that hopeless), and I guess I still have something of a sweaty-basketball-player fetish, because there it is, in the book. And now some of those guys follow me on Facebook, so it’s like, *waves* Hi guys! I promise only the good stuff is about you!
And I’m sure there are other things, too. I did a semester in Chicago my senior year, so when I put Chicago stuff in my manuscripts, it’s mostly taken from those days. And another manuscript has three or four chapters set in Iowa — both Pella and Iowa City — which comes from my Grinnell days, and from the fact that I have a bunch of Knox relatives who live in Iowa, too.
Oh, Grinnell basketball. Where they just run down the court and score as much as humanly possible. (…There’s a double entendre in there somewhere.) So. We should talk about your book. Or you being an author. Stuff that’s relevant to your appearance on the blog. In the posts you’ve done so far, is there anything you haven’t had a chance to discuss that you’d like to? Concerning either your progression into romance authorhood or Ride with Me?
I’ve been getting a lot of great questions, kind of across the board. But it’s strange, going around talking about myself on the Internet as if I’m Somebody Special. I’ve already told a version of my how-I-got-published story a couple of times, and it happened really fast. I suppose some small part of me keeps expecting somebody to ask why. Why me, why this book, why so fast?
Or, maybe not “expects somebody to ask.” Maybe “fears somebody will ask.” And look what I’ve gone and done. I asked myself. *sighs*
While I was writing the book, I didn’t have an agent or an editor. I had a very small peer group of one, as I’d just started exchanging some work with Faye Robertson (who also writes as Serenity Woods), but I didn’t send her any of the novel to read as I was writing it. So it was just me and my ideas. And I knew that it was pretty weird to be writing a romance novel set on bicycle-back. And I also knew that it was even weirder to put Thoreau stuff in it. And for the hero to make grumpy speeches about fire management policy. So I had my doubts that Typical Romance Reader would go for this strange book I was writing, but it didn’t matter, because nobody cared what I wrote at that point. It was just me and the laptop and the dark in the living room at four in the morning.
But now that I’m getting some people reading the book, it’s starting to look more and more to me like the reason I got an agent with Ride with Me, and the reason it sold, is because it’s different. Simply because there aren’t any other bike-ride romances. But at the same time, it’s not so different as to be confusing or unsatisfying. It flirts with the genre conventions, but it doesn’t violate them.
That would be my thought. With the advent of e-reading technology, the bump in sales, the continued insistence from RWA that romance is a billion-dollar industry, I think the fear was that the genre was turning stale. And maybe it was/is. But that’s why we have all these new digital imprints (like Loveswept), imprints that make it possible to liven up the genre a bit.
What I appreciate about your writing is that I get a sense of who you are as a person without feeling like your authorial self is too present in the book. If that makes sense. For instance, I can see evidence of your intelligence, your sense of humor, and even your preferences as a reader in Ride with Me. You like taciturn heroes. You like snarkiness. You like a bit of the tongue-in-cheek, and the adventure of the outdoors, and it’s not something that you wrote about because you thought it would sell. You wrote about it because it’s important to you. It’s what I liked best (outside of the hott sexxoring and the witty dialogue), but I wonder how much of my appreciation comes from knowing your personality from Twitter.
Which leads me to another question: How has Twitter shaped you as a romance author? Broad question, I know, but have at it.
I’m not sure Twitter itself has had an impact. It hasn’t, like, restrained me from writing sentences longer than 140 characters (though that would certainly be a good thing). What it has done is introduce me to a whole group of other, like-minded authors to talk writing about, and to joke with. It’s given me a broader community than I had, which feels really amazing. I got sucked into Twitter in part because I was interested in certain other writers — Meg Maguire, I’m lookin’ at you — and in part because the whole conversational aspect, the serendipity of the links you can make there, led me to other people.
A lot of people are down on Twitter. I was down on Twitter before I joined. Gina Leigh Maxwell had to basically drag me kicking and screaming. But I think there’s a sense in all that disparagement that Twitter is about broadcasting. That it’s either a bunch of narcissists who can’t eat a banana without looking around for somebody to validate their banana eating prowess or that it’s a tool authors use for masturbatory self-promotion that doesn’t increase sales one whit.
For me, it’s been entirely about friendships. Mutual amusement. Like-mindedness. It’s been about knowing, when I’m up to my neck in revising a manuscript for the fourth time and my husband’s taken to calling it “man-fudge” (because the acronym [for work-in-progress "Man For The Job"] is MFTJ) and nobody in my real life really wishes to hear about my trials and tribulations with it any longer (though I should say, for the record, my husband is very patient and kind and does an excellent job of pretending to care, no matter how much I drone on to him about character development and whatnot), one of my writer pals will be online and willing to talk, and more to the point will actually care and have useful things to say.
I don’t think we can ask our real-life friends to follow us down every little niche-y rabbit hole, you know? And it’s great to have a self-selected community of people who are already in the rabbit hole, and overjoyed to get to talk about rabbit hole weather conditions, dirt quality, nesting materials, and so forth.
You and your husband are outdoors-y types, yes? Tell me about how your own experiences in the wild blue yonder (…or the local park) shape your stories, and how your romances develop.
There’s definitely a healthy pinch of personal camping and biking experience in Ride with Me, as well as in another book I’ve just started working on that’s about a rock climber heroine and a park ranger hero. (My husband and I both climb, though he’s the real climber. He’s been climbing since he was sixteen, or something insane like that. I’m just a dabbler.) It’s fun to recycle stories from my own life, but to change them around so they work as fiction. There are things in Ride with Me that happened to me, to my husband, to my dad . . . but I’m not saying which ones, because where would the fun be in that?
But what I liked most about using my outdoorsy experiences in the novel wasn’t so much that part as the part where I could pull on experience for description — what it feels like to crest the top of a mountain pass in the rain and go flying down the other side, or what it feels like to wake up groggy in a tent at dawn next to a guy who’s already zipping things and rutching around and generally assaulting you with his awake-ness. It’s one of the special things about writing, having the opportunity to find words for something you’ve noticed — something beautiful, something sublime, something intensely annoying — and hope you’ve done it in a way that other people can vicariously have that same experience.
So no romantic stories between yourself and your Husbo in the great outdoors you’d like to share?
Oh, so you noticed my evasion there? No, sorry. I figure he signed up to marry me, but not to marry Ruthie Knox, so it’s not fair to go blathering about that sort of thing on the Internet. Though I will say that there’s a scene in Ride with Me where Lexie wakes up in a pool of water from her own CamelBak, and that really happened to us. It was all his fault, and it wasn’t remotely romantic. He had to share my sleeping bag. His legs were all clammy and wet. I was ready to turn him over to the tender ministrations of the wild beasts, only we were in Indiana, and the wildest beasts around were raccoons.
And letting your husband get rabies isn’t remotely romantic, is it?
Perhaps not. Though he probably wouldn’t mind my saying that he is, in fact, manly enough to defeat a raccoon, should it be necessary.
Go, Husbo. ;) You have a second book coming from Loveswept, yes?
Yes, in June. It’s called About Last Night, and it’s a different beast entirely from Ride with Me. Still funny (I hope), but it’s set in London, and the hero, Nev, is considerably more of a Beta guy than ol’ Tom.
I’m already excited. London, beta heroes. Yes, I’m all in.
I can’t ask you which you’d prefer, because authors say that’s like choosing a favorite child from a whole litter. Not that humans have litters, but you get my point. Anyway, of the two, was there an easier novel to write? What were your creative struggles, if any, with either manuscript?
They both had their moments of difficulty, but in different ways. I wrote About Last Night first, but it didn’t work very well, and I had to rewrite it from scratch. The heroine has major trust issues related to her past, the details of which she withholds from the hero for quite a while. In the first draft, she also withheld them from the reader for way too long, and it all kind of fell apart at the end. When I rewrote it — and it really wasn’t a revision, since I scrapped 90 percent of the first draft and wrote fresh — I knew the whole story, and I had a better sense of how to parcel it out. Then, later, I had to rewrite the beginning a third time, at my editor’s suggestion, because she felt I needed to help readers connect to the heroine, Cath, in those first chapters.
On Ride with Me, I never had to do that sort of wholesale rewrite, but I did stop and start and circle back quite a few times. I got a critique of the original first three chapters from Isabel Sharpe that helped enormously in my characterization of Tom, after which I rewrote the first four chapters, and then later I was learning a lot about conflict and kept circling back to rewrite, making sure I had enough tension through the whole book.
Actually, come to think of it, I had to rewrite the beginning of Ride with Me for my editor, too.
Such a steep learning curve in this business. But that’s okay. I like learning.
I hate rewrites, self-inflicted or otherwise. Because all it does is remind me I should have been smart enough to write it the right way in the first place.
One last question, because this haphazard interview has already turned out longer than anything else on my blog: What’s the craziest/weirdest/wonkiest idea you’ve had for a romance, one you haven’t written but would like to see come to fruition? What we’d call the gleam in the milkman’s eye, so to speak.
Oh, I have a doozy of an idea for a cross-country road-trip romance called GET THE GURU, or possibly ME, YOU, AND THE GURU. The hero is an ordinary Joe from Green Bay whose little brother absconded with hero’s fiancée and all his money three years earlier and vanished off the face of the earth. At the start of the story, it turns out that the little brother is a world-famous reclusive spiritual leader known as the Guru, and the hero’s sick mother tells him to go get the Guru and bring him home so she can see him one last time before she kicks the bucket. The heroine is a reporter (or something) who needs to get an interview with the Guru for mercenary reasons. The idea is that they meet up accidental-like, and then they’re pursuing the reluctant Guru all across the country, sometimes in custody, sometimes not, and there are bad guys chasing them and lying and the heroine poses as an acolyte with a sort of nun-outfit. Crazy hijinks. Think Carl Hiassen meets Janet Evanovich or Jennifer Crusie.
Needless to say, nobody wants me to write this book except me. But I’m quite taken with it.
Make the heroine a blogger desperate for her big break, and I want you to write this book, too. Plus, road-trip romances rock, hardcore. Just look at Ride with Me. …See how I brought that around?
Nicely done, you.
A huge thank-you to Ms. Ruthie Knox, contemporary romance authoress extraordinaire, for stopping by the blog, putting up with my lame sense of humor, and sponsoring a giveaway for Ride with Me. Don’t forget to tell us your you-versus-nature story and enter for a chance to win her debut! Also, follow her on Twitter already. Or just prepare yourself for imminent minion-ization.