#275 – The Mistletoe Motive with Chloe Liese

Author Chloe Liese joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her new Kobo Original, The Mistletoe Motive. Chloe chats with us about her writing process, using social media for marketing, representation in romance and why her belief that everyone deserves a love story has been the driving force for her career.   Learn more about this episode!

Author Chloe Liese joins us on the podcast this week to discuss her new Kobo Original, The Mistletoe Motive. Chloe chats with us about her writing process, using social media for marketing, representation in romance and why her belief that everyone deserves a love story has been the driving force for her career.  

  • Chloe talks to us about her writing career, how searching for representation led her to become a writer, and she tells us about her publishing journey 
  • She explains why the tagline on her website is “Everyone deserves a love story”, and she talks to us about writing about under-represented groups in her romances and how she deals with the inherent pressure that comes with doing so 
  • Chloe tells us about her new Kobo Original, The Mistletoe Motive, how she stayed in the Christmas spirit while writing it, and she tells us about the novel’s accompanying playlist 
  • She discusses her writing process and why her writing is so visual, and she tells us which tropes and romance sub-genres she loves writing the most 
  • Chloe explains why social media marketing is so important for indie authors, the difference between her Instagram persona and her TikTok persona, and she shares her best advice for authors who are looking to get started on TikTok 
  • She talks about sex positivity in romance and why she believes the genre is a vital exploration of human experience and is so important in the dismantling of patriarchal norms 
  • Chloe shares advice for authors who want to write outside of their lived experience and she explains why it’s so important to use authenticity and sensitivity readers, even when writing within your own experiences 

Chloe’s website 
Follow Chloe on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok 
The Mistletoe Motive 
The Mistletoe Motive playlist 
Bergman Brothers 
The Hating Game 
The Roommate 
The Kiss Quotient 
Wrapped Up in You 
In a Holidaze 

Chloe writes romances reflecting her belief that everyone deserves a love story. Her stories pack a punch of heat, heart, and humor, and often feature characters who are neurodivergent like herself. When not dreaming up her next book, Chloe spends her time wandering in nature, playing soccer, and most happily at home with her family and mischievous cats.

Chloe is represented by Samantha Fabien at Root Literary.

Episode Transcript

Transcription provided by Speechpad

Rachel: Hey, writers. You’re listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast where we bring you insights and inspiration for growing your self-publishing business. We’re your hosts. I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at “Kobo Writing Life.”

Laura: And I’m Laura, author engagement specialist at “Kobo Writing Life.”

Rachel: On this week’s episode, we spoke to Chloe Liese. Chloe writes romances reflecting her belief that everyone deserves a love story. Her stories pack a punch of heat, heart, and humor, and often feature characters who are neurodivergent just like herself.

Laura: We talked to Chloe about her upcoming Kobo original, “The Mistletoe Motive,” incorporating music into her writing, including authentic representation of neurodivergent characters in her books and how she started writing romance. We also talked to her a bit about why the tagline on her website is, “Everyone deserves a love story.”

Rachel: It is a great interview. We had a lot of fun talking to Chloe and we hope you enjoy. All right. We are joined today by author Chloe Liese. Chloe, thank you so much for joining us.

Chloe: Thanks for having me.

Rachel: Would you mind starting us off by telling our listeners a little bit about yourself and the kind of books you write?

Chloe: Sure. So as you said, my name’s Chloe Liese. I write contemporary romances that are inclusive and aim to represent people who aren’t often portrayed as the central figures of love stories. So far I am self-independently published and my best-known works are the “Bergman Brothers” series. It’s actually a sibling series. I just love alliteration. And so the “Bergman Brothers” are actually the Bergman siblings and so far there are four books out and they are about a Swedish-American family of siblings who live on the west coast and each sort of have wild, but also very normal, real people life adventures, and finding love and acceptance and happily ever after. My forthcoming books are going to be traditionally published and they are a new series with Berkeley and they will be coming out. The first book is “Two Wrongs Make a Right,” and that will be in the fall of 2022. I think that’s about it.

Laura: And can you tell us a little bit about publishing journey and how you started in indie publishing?

Chloe: Yeah. Basically, I just wanted to write stories that included people that I didn’t feel like were seen very often. So people who are neurodiverse, people who have disabilities, and people who are just living, like, real lives and finding love. I thought, you know, romance is this place of escape and happiness and feel-good feelings, but do we need to divorce ourselves so deeply from human realities for us to find, like, joy and encouragement and feel-good feelings in romance? So I just started writing those stories and the Bergman siblings were born and that has led to incredible opportunities, the newest of which is, of course, “The Mistletoe Motive” coming from Kobo, which I’m very excited to say has some real authentic representation that’s both personal to me and related to my friends. So the protagonist, the female protagonist is neurodivergent like I am, and also on the asexual spectrum, she identifies as demisexual. And the hero has type 1 diabetes, and I worked with a good friend who has that condition to bring that authentic experience to the story.

So I just started writing these stories. The Bergmans took off, and from there, I received foreign rights interest for, like, translations and I found a great agent and she believed in this story that was just a passion project that is a Shakespeare retelling and that’s the one that’s coming from Berkeley. And we sold that, and then since then these really fun opportunities like working with Kobo have come up and that brings me to current day where I am.

Rachel: That’s really cool because there’s always the, like, if you don’t see yourself in a story, write it. And a lot of people will say that but, I don’t know, it takes a lot of courage and time and patience to actually do it yourself. So that’s pretty incredible.

Chloe: Thank you. And I think who’s best known for saying it is Toni Morrison and I’m gonna paraphrase it, but it’s something like if there’s a book you want to read and it’s not out there, you must be you the one to write it. And interestingly enough, Toni Morrison’s real first name is Chloe, which we love to see because no one…

Rachel: I didn’t know that.

Chloe: I know. No one my age or older is named Chloe. For the first mumble, mumble years of my life, no one was named Chloe and if I heard the name Chloe, I’d be like, “Yes?” And then I was nannying summer and someone was like, “Chloe.” And I was like, “What?” And they were like, “Rather egoic of you to think I was talking to you.” And it was like, suddenly there were three kids at the pool named Chloe. It’s like, “I’m sorry, it’s just always been me.” So anyway, yeah, that’s a Toni Morrison quote and that is absolutely a big part of what inspired me, and it is vulnerable.

And I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way. Like, on my first book in the Bergman series, you know, I’ve learned so much about how to, like, really work in people who’ve lived these experiences if they’re not yours into your process. So I actually ended up like reworking that book this summer with an author friend who…well, I don’t wanna give a spoiler away, but anyway, she has the condition of one of my characters who I’d gotten some feedback, had some inaccuracies and I was like, “Well, let’s go back and make this better.” So, you know, I don’t wanna cast myself as some sort of paragon of this. It’s definitely been a learning journey. And you do take risks when you write beyond your experience. And even when you work really hard with an authenticity reader and a primary resource who has lived the experience, it’s not gonna be everyone’s, right? Like, no one’s lived experience of disability, or grief, or chronic illness, or neurodiversions, or mental health is gonna be the same.

So I guess what I just believe in is I try to write from my experience because it’s healing for me and affirming for me and I do think it encourages others who identify with even a little part of that. And I want to work to elevate voices who maybe don’t want to write or who aren’t writing yet and then to make sure I just do that to the best of my ability authentic to their experience. So it’s not without its challenges or anxieties and imperfections, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And like my tagline is, you know, “Everyone deserves a love story.” And I mean that for anyone who wants one that, you know, we all deserve to get to see ourselves represented in these love stories, being desired for who we are, not like in spite of those things, you know? So that’s my passion and it is vulnerable and it is scary, but it is also so deeply fulfilling. That risk is worth it to me.

Rachel: I’m just wondering if you ever feel any pressure to try to represent everybody . I know I’ve read interviews with, like, actors who are playing a queer character, for example, and they feel the pressure to represent that whole community. Do you feel that as well?

Chloe: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s even, you know, as I, you know, like, mentioned, like, figuring out for myself where I fall and my own identity of queerness is like, “Am I queer enough? Am I representative enough to claim that?” And like, this was the first book where I’ve actually like openly owned that term. Like, my previous book in the Bergmans, the Bergman brother Axel is absolutely on the aromantic spectrum and it was something that I was still, like, finding my footing and that I really worked with a friend who’s so knowledgeable and sensitive about that stuff to really, I think, honor it. And I’ve gotten some great feedback, but I didn’t see Axel as having the vocabulary for himself. And so I didn’t, like, force it on him, but then I found this next character who was like, “No, I’m demi,” and da, da, da, da, da. You know?

So it’s like even just from character to character, and I don’t see it as like a linear thing. Like, I can totally see myself writing future characters who aren’t, like, labeling or identifying a certain way, but who are absolutely going to typify that. And if a reader comes into my DMs and is like, “Are they this?” I’ll be like, “Yeah, they’re that and you get to see yourself in that.” So I guess it is a lot of pressure because you’re gonna want…from different corners of each community that you possibly represent, you’re going to get this hunger, which I totally empathize with, to see, to be seen, and to be validated in a way that’s truest to them.

But again, you know, I think what I just always hope I can do at the end of the day is even if it doesn’t manifest in a character in the exact way a person might be looking for, but that they feel there is space for them to identify, or still connect, or still feel like there’s room for them even if it’s not exactly if it’s more adjacent to their experience but to feel like it is positive authentic, even if it isn’t central authentic to them, representation. I just kind of have to let that pressure go. I want to do it for everyone and get it all, but that’s not human. And I try to write deeply human characters. So I’ll just have to keep writing and trying all kinds of iterations, I guess. We’ll just have to do this.

Rachel: I was just gonna say, you’re gonna need more books.

Chloe: I guess so, just keep going.

Rachel: I do kind of wanna get into your writing process because not only do your books have a lot of representation in them, I find that your writing is really visual and really descriptive. Do you use visual, like, mood boards like Pinterest or anything to help you build these visuals in your books?

Chloe: My conceptualization process is visual. I picture my books. And I think that’s so much why I need to write in first person. It’s literally like, you know, when you’re watching a movie, the camera shoots from that character’s perspective, you’re seeing the world through their eyes. And so, for me, I can’t even begin to write until I’m picturing that world. For instance, you know, in “The Mistletoe Motive,” this starts with Gabby walking down the street, and the snow swirling around her, and the music’s flooding her ears, and she’s got a hot cocoa in her hands. And I just knew that. I felt that moment. I saw the world through her eyes. I felt the chilly air. I felt the hot cocoa in my hands. The comfort of your noise-canceling headphones and the music just flooding your senses, you know? So, for me, my writing, both in how I conceptualize it and how I wanna draw my reader in, is highly visual.

I tend to do Pinterest towards a little bit, like after the fact as sort of like a fun boost and gift to my readers, especially more to tie them over until I’ve released. Like you said, my writing’s pretty visual. So I think people get a pretty clear sense of, like, who my people are and where they are, but it’s a fun way to kind of give people tidbits and, sort of, morsels to hold onto while they wait. It’s interesting as I’ve, you know, talked with agents about film representation, they were like, “Your writing is so film-oriented. Like, we see it very much.” And that makes me happy because that’s what I want. I want a reader to just feel immersed and like they can picture it, and feel it, and smell it, and taste it, and sense it because, I don’t know, I think that’s a really rich, pleasurable reading experience. It’s the kind of reading experience I like. So I aspire to at least.

Laura: Yeah. And you can definitely see that kind of like visualization, especially when you’re reading “The Mistletoe Motive,” like you said, you can kind of see Gabby’s whole world come to life in that intro scene. Do you wanna talk to us a little bit about “The Mistletoe Motive” that you did with Kobo originals?

Chloe: Yeah. So this is a holiday short novel, long novella. It started off, I was like, “No, Michelle, I can’t write a full-length novel.” She’s like, “Okay, Chloe, you don’t have to write a full-length novel.” And then I wrote it and we chit-chatted about a couple plot points and then 50,000 words later, it’s like a short novel. So it’s actually nice though because I feel often when I read novellas, like, it’s kind of missing that bit to really sink my teeth into. And so Michelle was like, “Just write as much as you want. It’s fine.” I was like, “Oh, okay, great.” So I really feel like I got to dig into a couple of moments that I give readers just some time to soak in really this dynamic between these two.

So in a nutshell, I bill this as, like for people who love very, sort of, festive atmospheric workplace romances, this is like “The Hating Game” meets “You’ve Got Mail.” So we’ve got two people, Jonathan Frost and Gabrielle Di Natale, who are co-managers of the, sort of, last-standing iconic city bookstore, Bailey’s Bookshop, which I had a fun little…a little homage to “It’s a Wonderful Life.” So it’s Bailey’s Bookshop and their rival is the big chain bookstore, Potter’s Pages. I just had to do it because that movie is important to me. I love it.

But anyway, so these two work together and like any good enemy situation, there’s significant misunderstandings underpinning their rampant dislike of each other on top of deeply different personalities. So she’s all things festive, she’s all about the nostalgia and heart of the place, and he’s just one of those guys who comes in and, like, tightens up everything, every spare, anything he tightens, it makes it better, makes it efficient. So we meet them when they are just really at their breaking point because they get the news that the bookshop, which Jonathan isn’t surprised about because he knows the finances inside and out is, like, about to fold and something’s got to happen. So this comes to a head where they basically realize they’re not gonna make it through to the New Year. One of them’s gonna not be able to be on the payroll anymore.

So they’re like…Gabby throws down the gauntlet and says, “Whoever sells more books this month gets to stay and the other person walks away. We’ve both brought things to the place. We’ll both benefit from it. We got to do something.” And you start to get us sense that Jonathan’s, like, fine, but maybe something else is brewing. And so that’s where the story kicks off. And I’m not gonna tell you anymore because you got to read it and it’s fun. But there is an epistolary aspect. Gabby has an online pen pal who she has her friends and roommates have dubbed Mr. Reddit because she met him on a bookish Reddit thread and they chat anonymously and they’re sort of each other’s safe place and he becomes more important throughout the story. It’s a bit of a mystery until he’s not. Yeah. It’s a happily ever after, of course.

Rachel: It’s a very fun read.

Chloe: Thank you. Yes.

Rachel: Very fun read. And it’s very festive, which kind of leads to my next question because I’m like Gabby. Like, I am a very festive person like Bing Crosby, “White Christmas,” November 1st, that’s me.

Chloe: Hit me.

Rachel: So I’m wondering, how did you stay in the Christmas spirit while writing this? Because as we all know, publishing doesn’t work instantaneously. Were you, like, writing a Christmas story in the summer?

Chloe: I was writing it at the beginning of fall. So this was a pretty quick turnaround project, but I am not one of these people who’s like November. I wait until December and then it’s like a full-tilt boogie every day of December, light the candles, crank up the music, throw the glitter everywhere, and the tinsel. But until December 1st, I am ba humbug. So really how I got into this was…and this is something I do for all my books, is I make a playlist and it usually starts with like a bunch of songs that just vibe with what I’m writing, and then I’ll start to be listening and I’ll think, oh, that is the perfect mood for this chapter. That encapsulates the tone, the emotions. It has a line, like Gabby teases Jonathan because his name’s Jonathan Frost, she’s like, “Too bad you don’t go by Jack Frost. Little Jack Frost get lost, get lost.” And I was like, as soon as I heard that song was like, “Oh, my God, this guy’s called Jonathan Frost,” and she just gives him hell and sings that song just to get under his skin. And she does.

So it’s like fun ways like that, listening to music and just really letting myself fall into Gabby’s mind and picturing this seasonal world allowed me to go for it. And I just thought, maybe this is almost like too much, but it’s a holiday story. Like, people, I think, hopefully, want to be totally immersed in that. And I do think you get enough of the resentment through Jonathan that you can feel a little catharsis if it’s really not your thing. You’re like, “Yes, Jonathan, you’re right, this is a glitter bomb hellscape and it’s terrible.” So he’s there representing for you folks who find it a little much.

Rachel: It’s not a little much. She’s right and she should say it.

Laura: He is kind of like that, like, Scrooge character, like he really is like the grumpy to her sunshine in that way. It was a really good balance.

Chloe: Thank you. I think grumpy sunshine is just one of those tropes that is the gift that keeps on giving to quote another iconic Christmas movie, all year long, Clark. It is because there’s such a delicious way that you can see the little moments like when the grump perks up for the sunshine or when the sunshine hits, like, a roadblock and just crumbles. And I think it shows you how each of us can have these more extreme tendencies to perform and behave around others. And we sort of have our armor, whether it is chilliness in the case of Jonathan Frost, or whether it is okay, this is my happy place, this always has to be great in the way that Gabby just really throws herself into the bookstore. But then you see, you know, we all have our tender spots and our sensitivities. And so when the grump and sunshine shift a little bit for each other, I think it’s always, like, sweet and poignant, so. And I mean, it’s a Christmas story. To write a Scrooge, it’s just too tempting, you know? The metaphors abound.

Rachel: I’m just gonna cut in ahead of Laura’s next question and ask, do you have a favorite portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge?

Chloe: Michael Caine in The Muppets.

Rachel: Thank you. That’s correct. Okay. Continue.

Chloe: Which is why I loved working in that line. When Gabby’s so tired of the conversation and they have The Muppets in the background, she’s like, “Are we ever gonna see a ghost scare the shit out of Michael Caine?” Because it’s just like he’s so over the top in it. But like, you think about the commitment of acting to working with a bunch of puppets, and he’s amazing.

Rachel: That is a straight performance. Like, that man does not crack. It’s so good.

Chloe: There’s no camp, there’s no break. No, it is commitment. That is like method acting right there. I love it.

Laura: That was a very Rachel moment to bring up Ebenezer Scrooge. It’s great. One of my favorite scenes in “The Mistletoe Motive” is the hockey scene. And you’ve written sports romance in the past. So is there something about sports in particular that you like writing about, and are you a hockey fan?

Chloe: I do like hockey. I grew up in a suburb of the city where hockey is like kind of the bigger sport, like hockey and soccer were, sort of, the two. And there’s just thing that taps into like the very primal part of my lizard brain that just loves seeing men run around and smash into each other. Like, I think…or women, just people. It’s just like one of those things, it’s just like, okay, we’re animals. And I think what I wanted to show in that hockey scene is, you know, Jonathan is so far a bit of a mystery. We don’t know much about his personal life. We just know that he comes in and antagonizes Gabby and, you know, just fights with her all day long and then goes home and presumably just is grumpy.

But when we see him, you know, playing hockey and we see his intensity and then you see just, I think the first time we’re seeing them outside of their work environment and the little ways that he starts to slip and crack and you can see his, like, pleasure that she was there and that when she compliments him that, you know, he blushes a little bit, it’s just like, “Oh.” So I think sports can be a really cool place to see another dimension of a person. I think, you know, when people are under pressure of, you know, when they’re competing, when they have goals, just seeing kind of their class and character is very telling, you know?

So I play soccer. I don’t play hockey, but I play soccer. And I definitely…I always felt like when I was on the field, I knew I was a little bit different from how I was, and I’m not, but I wanted the core of my morals and my ethic to be clear. I wanted to walk away from the person being nasty. If I knocked someone over, I wanted help them up. So I think showing characters playing sports sort of gives us another insight into who they are. And, of course, it’s another organic way that they can have a connection, Jonathan and Gabby, because her dad’s an NHL Hall of Famer, it’s like her life and world. So it’s just a fun little way that they connect and we see how much they actually don’t really share with each other and how they’re starting to as the book’s progressing. And it’s just, like, so iconic. It’s like a rom-com thing, like, she goes to the hockey game, and he scores and he looks up in the stands. It’s like, I couldn’t pass it up when it came into my brain.

Rachel: I’m also…I’m a hockey fan as well. So is Laura. So I also really enjoyed that scene. I did kind of wanna go back to what you were talking about with playlists. Because in “Mistletoe Motive,” every chapter has a recommended Christmas carol, and I’m kind of curious how that came about. Did you choose the song before you wrote the chapter or was it going back and deciding, “Oh, you know what would work here is Ella Fitzgerald?”

Chloe: It’s back and forth. Sometimes one, sometimes the other. Like, the one song that’s Andrew Bird’s cover of that classic Italian carol, ‘Mille Cherubini in Coro,” it’s like Luciano Pavarotti’s famous for singing it and it’s so, like, romantic, and aching, and sweet, but it was just this, like, whistled plucking acoustic version of this song. And as soon as I heard it, as I was just sort of flitting through covers and Spotify playlists, you know, for holiday covers, I was like, “That’s when they kiss. They absolutely kiss to this song.” I see snow falling. I see, like, that quiet richness of silence when it snows and how it’s like this sort of full weighted but weightless moment too when you finally like fall into someone and let go of those inhibitions and kiss. So that was an example where I, like, heard the song then knew, absolutely this is this moment.

And I’d known like the beats. I had it plotted out roughly when they were gonna kiss, but I didn’t have it all pictured until I heard that song. So that song was very evocative for me. But then, for instance, you know, like the first chapter, I didn’t know it was gonna be “Let it snow, let it snow” until I’d, like, written that. Like, I was,” Okay, Gabby’s walking. She’s listening to…oh, and it’s Ella.” So it’s just like, that was one of those times where as I wrote, it sort of led me to that song and then I put it there. So it’s definitely integral. And like I said, I kind of just get the songs running around and I’ll listen to them while I’m getting other tasks done and I’ll see if something sort of pops up and then I start to arrange them and then I start to cut out the ones I end up not using. And I have a giant playlist of songs I love but didn’t have chapters for them yet. So that’s sort of how that goes.

Rachel: Do you always write to music or using music as, kind of, inspiration?

Chloe: Yeah. I’m a musical person. I always have been, I love to sing. I studied voice and piano for quite a while and I thought about, like, doing something with it, but I just don’t like performing and like being around a bunch of people. So it’s like, well, there goes that. So I just do it for pleasure. But music is always one of those things where sometimes, you know, part of me with neurodivergence is I’m a thinker, I just think through everything. And emotional processing is sometimes a bit delayed for me or a bit, like, hard to pin down. Like, what am I feeling? I don’t know. Let’s sit down at the piano. And then it’s like I’m smiling my face off playing in happy song, or I’m sitting there like tears sliding down my cheeks and it’s like, “Oh, that’s what I needed to play. That’s what I’m feeling.”

So, for me, music is a powerful vehicle for human emotion. And I think just in general, for me, neurodivergence is so much about how aware I am of sounds, and textures, and light, and my environment. And so music, to me, that’s like one of the gifts of being on the autism spectrum is like, I think maybe more deeply than some of my peers, I hear a sound or I notice the leaves and the light cutting through them in a way that my friends are just like plowing onto the next thing. I’m like, “No, but look, isn’t it grabbing you by the collar? It’s grabbing me.” So yeah, music is just always running around in my head and just deeply, deeply engaged with what I write. 

I will say though, there are times where I’m like, “Stop.” And I hit the space bar on like the Spotify playlist. I’m like, “I need silence while I work through this.” And that’s more when I’m in like the wordsmithing, like, okay, let’s get this tight, let’s get this progression right. Or, I have too many dialogue tags. You know, that’s when I’m sort of in analytical mode, I tend to need the music off. But when I’m first conceptualizing and then definitely when I’m like tweaking and reading all the way through it, sort of those last few times, it’s like I put it on like the loop option that you have on Spotify so the whole chapter just goes…and just plays the whole time through, so. Because I like to make sure it works for the whole chapter.

Rachel: So what you’re saying is your Spotify Wrapped this year is gonna be a lot of Christmas music?

Chloe: Yes, yes, yes. And Spotify, if you’re listening, I am open for sponsorships. Just kidding. Just kidding.

Rachel: I do have to ask, do you have a favorite Christmas carol?

Chloe: I would say I probably have a most nostalgic Christmas carol, and that is Nat King Cole singing “The Christmas Song.” That’s always…

Rachel: Classic.

Chloe: Yeah. It’s just there’s something so pure and, like, raw at the same time about the way he sings that song. Like, there’s just an aching goodness to it. And it’s always the song that my family and I would first play when we start decorating the tree and that’s something I started doing with my kids. And it’s just one of those things that just hits that nostalgic tuning fork and just resonates every time I hear it. So I thought I would work it into this book because I love it so much and it just didn’t end up landing. So as I said earlier, for another project.

Rachel: The next book.

Laura: Can you talk to us a little bit about how you use social media and TikTok for marketing? Because we noticed you’re on TikTok pretty frequently.

Chloe: Okay. So this is wild because…here’s the thing. When you’re in indie, you really just…people don’t look at your stuff and go, “Oh, you have a publisher back and you. I will take a chance on you.” They look at you and they’re like, “Oh, here’s just some wannabe writing a book.” Like, you have to do so much more when you’re independently published to get people to take a chance on you than when you have the clout with a big publisher. And like in a way, I get that, like, you’ve been vetted by an agent, by an editor, and they deemed you market worthy if you’re published traditionally. That said, you know, romance, in particular, there are wildly successful indie authors who sometimes are writing very, like, high fiction craft, and sometimes aren’t, but obviously writing what romance readers want. They’re hitting the tropes, they’re hitting the beats. They’re giving them steam, they’re giving them a closed door. They’re giving readers what they want.

So it’s just social media has always been that place where I was like, “Well, this is where I sell myself. This is where I convince you.” So, for me, Instagram was like a place where I could really curate visually and show you my books, convey my message and my ethics, show them what other books that I felt were comps, and just honestly a great place to meet people who love books. I’m not a huge in-person socializer. I just tend to find it a bit difficult and overwhelming. I have a small social circle and that works great for me. So lovely enough, it was just Bookstagram in the bookish corner of Instagram became this place where I could just chat with people. I could like have the closest to like casual relationships and conversation that I’m capable of. So that’s been a great place where I’ve had a lot of growth and just finding people and sharing about my books. And like I said, that’s more where I convey like my passion and beliefs and like what I care about writing in terms of my messaging.

And then TikTok is where you go to let people know, at least for me, that I write steam because I think people see that I’m wordy, that I’m talking about things and caring about things and I’ve got these illustrated covers and they’re like, “Well, that’s not gonna be hot in the same way that book with the shirtless dude is.” Narrator, it is just as hot if not hotter. Right? And so like TikTok’s been a good place to go on there and like boil down my tropes, my brand in terms of the side of how spicy, as they say on TikTok, my books are and find people. So I was very wary of it. I was only on there and just sort of like seeing if anyone would tag me and sort of following along for a while until I was like, “We’ll give it a try.” And now it’s actually very fun. It taps into my theater background. I minored in theater in college. So it’s like, “Okay. I can get these beats and timing things and ham it up.” So here we are. I’m TikToking, tokking the tick.

Rachel: Do you have any advice for authors who wanna start out on TikTok? Because like I spend hours of my life on that platform, but I am too intimidated to post anything.

Chloe: So this is the thing for me. And again, this is like a neurodivergent thing. I’m very pattern-oriented. So I just spent a while like, what are BookTokers saying? What songs are they using? What gets really good engagement? What do people wanna know? And I just took some notes. I was like, “Okay, here’s some, like, very popular songs people use. Here are some things that, like, people really like to know about that grabs their attention.” And so just kind of observe what’s working well, see what your readers want and like, and if you have that in your books, find a way to convey that to your readers in a very simplified way.

So like, the one TikTok that I had that went semi-viral, I think it has, like, over 50,000 views now. Let’s see. I’m trying to…Yeah, was showing like how my second in the Bergman series, he’s like a sweetheart until he’s not. A gentleman in the streets, freak in the sheets type. And so I, like, boiled that down to when you think he’s this, and then I started doing like beats of the things he says when it happens, the spicy times. And it’s like, okay, that gives you, in a nutshell, this guy’s character arc and it shows you, we’ve got a sweetheart but we’ve also got some spice and steam. And that was something I just sort of decided to try and now I know it works, so I do it. I’m moving my cat. I’m sorry. She’s attacking the cords. I often write animals in my books because I have pets and they make life very interesting.

Rachel: I did love Gingerbread in “The Mistletoe Motive.”

Chloe: I know. Gingerbread. And that’s actually like a pretty minor role named after “The Rakess,” a historical romance, which I really recommend by Scarlett Peckham. It’s an inversion of “The Rake” and is modeled after Mary Wollstonecraft. Super, super good. But so yeah, with TikTok, it’s been a new thing and it’s fun to see…I feel like it’s sort of like my “Jekyll and Hyde,” but neither is a sinister thing, but it is just sort of very different things between what I share on Instagram versus TikTok. Like, I did a little like PSA in my Instagram stories. It was like, “Okay. It’s gonna go up here and that’s gonna stay on TikTok because I have to see some of you people at school pick up and never the twain shall meet. All right? So go over there, you’ve been warned.”

I’m very open. Like, my friends read my books, my family reads my…like, people know because I really stand by the type of on-page, consensual intimacy that I write and I think it’s something I’m very passionate about. Honestly, I grew up in purity culture, and a lot of my peers and I were damaged by that. And I think the lack of…It was like either purity culture or you had these completely unrealistic depictions of intimacy in media, and it’s like, can’t we get something in between? So I don’t know. It’s been very important to me to write intimacy that shows…that’s nuanced, that’s specific to the characters, that’s inclusive of their bodies, and their minds, and their sexuality. And I think it’s really healing for people just to get to see romance and see real bodies being imperfect and vulnerable, and communicating, and consenting, and see that it’s still really hot, you know? Like, it doesn’t need to be all, like, airbrushed and choreographed and penetration-oriented, and it needs to just be about people seeing and loving each other’s bodies.

And that’s why I think the slow burn works for me, especially being demisexual, it’s like, I need all that built connection and that working toward each other. And so that when we finally see them on-page and intimate, it’s really just another expression of how they’ve learned and want to continue learning and understanding and loving each other. So yeah, the TikTok just kind of becomes the place where I can be, like, more focused on that whereas it’s sort of like kind of an afterthought on Instagram because I’m more just telling people about who I am in general there. So it’s explosive, it’s huge for books. So it’s an interesting platform to be on and I’m glad I’m there. It’s fun. It’s playful.

Laura: Yeah. I really feel like TikTok and kind of Twitter a little bit too have kind of like revolutionized the romance game. Like, it’s kind of allowed readers to kind of find, like, writers that they love and, like, be more open about like tropes that they’re into. And it really, like you said, is kind of turning romance into more of like a sex-positive space and allowing people to be more open about what they like. So yeah, it’s really great for that.

Chloe: Yeah. And it is nice. Like, you know, I think even it takes sometimes like a while for traditional to do what indies are doing, but I really do feel like traditional is doing that. Like, especially my publisher, you know, Berkeley, I was really like…I thought it was really cool when Rosie Danan wrote about an adult entertainment star in “The Roommate” because it was just like…it was just another one of those ways. It was a very meta-aware book. It was like an entire sex-positive book talking about sex positivity, and shame, and female pleasure. And yeah, I think romance is becoming very meta-aware in general as a genre. We are, as you say, like, we are loving our tropes. We are owning that. We are loving our types of hero or heroine, you know, or love interest, we don’t need to gender it.

But just becoming so open as readers and as publishers about why we love romance. And it is because it has this satisfying safety of knowing happily ever after is coming. We love the familiarity of tropes in the same way that we love how nuanced and different they’re going to be for each story. So it feels like a community in that way. It feels like people really bond over their joy about these aspects. And yeah, it just feels like a very positive space for the genre and for the subject matter that’s portrayed, you know, love, and relationships, and intimacy.

Laura: Definitely. Rosie Danan’s story is another one where you can’t really tell how steamy it is until you read it because of the illustrated cover, but that’s also a very steamy read, yeah.

Chloe: Yeah. But like in a way that I…it was more subtle than I thought it was gonna be. I was like, “Okay…” You know, it’s a bit of a…you don’t know he’s gonna be an adult entertainer. It’s like not in the blurb, right? So if it kind of catches you off guard, but once you know, you’re like, okay, buckle up buttercup. But then in the end, it was like…for me, it was these quietly erotic moments of just like when they’re on the couch together, when they’re in the kitchen together. And you’re just like, “Oh, my God, this page is gonna catch on fire and they’re not even doing anything.” So to me, that was really powerful. And I do think there’s a real phenomenon.

The earliest super hot book I read with an illustrated cover, and was incidentally the book that led me to know I was autistic, was “The Kiss Quotient” by Helen Hoang who has been such a kind and wonderful friend to me in my publishing process. And I told her, you know, I was like, “This book just sucked me in with the cute cover, and then before I knew it, I was reading my first hot romance in a long time, and I loved it. And I got to see a neurodivergent woman being loved for who she was. And yeah, it was an incredibly positive exposure to so many things, and thanks to that illustrated cover. It tricked me. And it does, I think, make people more comfortable like being in public with those books because it’s just like, not that there’s any shame, but just, you don’t have to like talk with all the meanies or ignorant folks who are just like, “Oh, well, you’re reading something with a shirtless guy.” You know, you can just read what you want and not have to answer to that.

Rachel: And you kind of touched on that in a section of your website as well, where you write posts where…and I’m gonna kind of directly quote you to you right now.

Chloe: Go ahead.

Rachel: But where you “tackle misogynistic and patriarchal origins of people’s attitudes towards the romance genre.” Can you kind of speak a little bit more on that and, kind of, what people can expect if they go deeper into these posts? Because they’re quite good.

Chloe: Yeah. So I don’t post as much about them as often. I did it more when I was first just getting my voice out there and really trying to convey who I was and what I cared about. But in those posts, and it is a section on my website which is basically I think titled like, “Why I Write Romance,” talking a lot about how patriarchy has, in general, just always tried to minimize, and marginalize, and diminish what women accomplish and especially if it’s by women and for women. And while I will absolutely argue that, you know, the romance genre is written by people of all gender identities for all people of all gender identities, of course, predominantly historically it has been written by women and for women. And, of course, it’s a wildly lucrative genre too, but, you know, patriarchy says that’s not literature, you know, things of the heart and the home, which is, you know, very much a mindset that was born out of…And this is my nerd time to come out. I studied Victorian literature in the 19th century in college, this is like my era.

And you learn so much about how as industrialization boomed and, sort of, modern society was born really under the reign of Queen Victoria and all of the vast British Empire and in all of that huge influence around the world often to the damage of, of course, native culture and such, we learned these very, like, repressed, shameful ideas about sexuality and gender identity, women belonged at home, men belonged out there, and there were these spheres, the domestic and the public. And so much of what about romance genre that still gets shamed is because we say it just belongs in that kind of secret, sordid womanly place and it doesn’t belong out in the light.

A funny, totally random but true thing, you know piano covers, right? Like, those like clothes you drape over pianos, the Victorians literally came up with those because they felt that a piano’s legs were too sensual. Like, a woman’s ankle could not be shown. This is how…No. This is how hypersexual yet sexually repressed these people were. And these are our grandparents’ parents basically. We are not that far from this nonsense. You know? So. You know, Oscar Wilde is…I love him because he was living in that time, you know, as a queer man and just seeing like all of the absurdity of how repressed these people were and because by shaming and trying to hide all of this, all they were doing was fixating on it.

So what I really believe romance is doing now is not doing that anymore. Not shaming, and repressing, and hiding, and feeling guilt and anything stigmatizing about the genre, but that to say stories about relationships and people’s lives and how they grow and heal inform connection, whether that’s romantic or platonic or familial, are worthy, worthy literature. And in all sorts of genres, like there’s gonna be all types and styles of craft. And it’s just always…romance is always having to defend itself and fight for itself harder to be heard.

But in one of my posts, for instance, I talk about how normalized it is to be like, “Oh, yeah, I read this book about a guy who, like, kills 50 people and then gets arrested at the end.” And people are like, “Oh, my God, that sounds like so good. And it’s gonna be made into a movie. And I should read that too.” But then if you’re like, “Oh, yeah, I read a book about like two people who like meet at work and go through a lot of personal adversity and end up finding like love and safety with each other.” And people are like, “What? And they sleep together?” You know, they’re scandalized by this. It’s like, guys, are you hearing yourself? This is who we are because we’ve masculinized certain things and feminized other things. Well, it all falls along the fault lines of patriarchy. Dude stuff’s cool, and valid, and worthy of money and time and womanly stuff is not.

So I’m very passionate about that. And I do go meta often in my romances and defend the romance genre. Talk about its merit, its value for us personally. And in particular, in “The Mistletoe Motive,” I actually do a little boost for historical romance, which was my safe and happy place during pandemic. And there is a specific allusion to a certain book that Jonathan and Gabby chat about that I’m very intrigued to see if readers will catch and slip into my DMs about because it’s happened in other books. So we’ll see.

Rachel: It’s funny. I never really thought about it before that we have this, like as a society, negative stigma towards books that show healthy functional relationships where like, oh, no, these are bad. Like, this isn’t literature. But then anything that shows, like you said, like murder and violence is like, oh, no, that’s art. That’s just…smash the patriarchy is really the thesis here.

Chloe: Right. Exactly. And, you know, even romances where, you know, we’ve got taboo romance, we’ve got dark romance, we have dubcon and dubious consent or like con-dubcon, which falls into, like, the kink community. Even then, these are valid explorations of human experience. You know, even if they’re not like super, super modern and feminine and evolved, like I definitely prefer to write and read that, I’ll be honest. It’s just, that’s what works for me, my identity, my sexuality, my worldview. It’s just what I prefer. That said, I can see how people want to feel like it’s okay to read those stories too because it’s part of them exploring and being entertained, and like, let it be an art, let it be a valid expression that clearly financially in terms of the capitalist model has more than earned its merit, you know? I mean, romance grows so much every year, it’s wild. So yeah, it’s just patriarchal nonsense.

Rachel: I kind of wanna go back to touch on the tagline of your website, which is, “Everyone deserves a love story.” You already kind of talked about it. I don’t know if you wanna go a little bit further into that, but I also wanted to know if you have any advice for authors who have, like, similar beliefs that everybody should be seen in their books and they wanna write outside of their lived experience. So, for example, a neurotypical author writing about a neurodivergent character.

Chloe: Yeah. Okay. So the first part, that everyone deserves to love story, yeah, I mean, there are so many wonderful romances out there about people living within, sort of, I would say, the big part of the bell curve where they don’t have a lot of physical or emotional issues. Life is just…the conflicts are external, they are work, and mean people, and bad parenting, etc., etc. And that’s great, and that’s out there, and I enjoy a lot of it. I just think it’s time for us to let the genre flex its muscles and show that it can, and benefits from, contain a multitude of stories, and realities, and experiences. And something that I think is true for us, and I might be wrong because, you know, I’m not awesome at reading people and sometimes I think, “Well, if something really resonates with me, then this must be how everyone feels.” And that sounds sort of egoic, but I think I mean when I really believe something, I hope a lot of other people do too because it’s dear to my heart, which is that romance is a genre of escape.

But I think it’s become that way because we thought we couldn’t experience that happiness, and that love, and that desire as we really are. So we have to go travel to these stories and see almost perfect people be perfectly loved. And I wanna write stories where you get to escape. Your kids are asleep. You don’t have to deal with the dishes. You’re not thinking about work or tomorrow, but you don’t have to escape yourself. You get to read something that says, “Oh, she’s got stretch marks like me and he’s kissing his way up those spidery, silver lines, or he doesn’t have an eight-pack, he’s got a real body, or he has an insulin pump and it takes a moment of talking and communicating and trust like my partner does.” And I think there’s just a profoundly validating and a human need in all of us to just feel like we belong.

And so when you could read a story that still lets you escape a lot of life but doesn’t make you feel like you need to escape the fundamental parts of who you are to be engrossed in a romantic, swoony, sexy story, I think that’s really healing for people and powerful, and that’s what I care about writing. So that’s what that tagline is about because I think when we don’t show people, in romance, having real life, we subliminally say that they can’t be a part of that. And I obviously don’t think that. So that’s sort of that part of the question.

And the second part you said for people who are thinking about writing outside the lived experience, involve people who have lived the experience integrally into your book. So, for instance, I wrote this…it was originally gonna be a novella. I spent an hour on a Zoom call with my friend who has type 1 diabetes and asked her a bunch of questions, asked her what she would wanna see in having someone with her condition represented in a romance. I took a stab, wrote it, sent it to her, compensated her for her time, received her feedback, incorporated it, and then followed up with her. So like, numerous rounds. So not having a preconceived idea about how you’re gonna represent a condition, talk to the person first.

And honestly, for me, there are certain conditions where I don’t really feel like it’s my lane to step into and try to represent. And that’s personal, you know, like I’ve had some people be like, “You know, would you write someone who has cerebral palsy?” And I’m like, “I think that is just not something that I wanna step into.” And part is because I know a couple of authors with CP who are writing and I’m like, “I would just like to elevate their voice,” you know? And, for me, neuro divergence and people writing neurodivergent people, when they’re neurotypical is a little bit personally where I feel like maybe don’t, or really, really know that person, like be their best friend, or their sister, or their partner. And I think that’s just because…and I’m not saying this isn’t the case for other disabilities, you know, it’s always a reality for you.

I guess for me, it’s just like this is my brain. It’s literally every single moment of my life is shaped by my brain being different from neurotypical people. And there’s so much, even for me in my journey from writing my first neurodivergent character to now my third, yeah, so much has changed in terms of what I’ve unpacked. I involve other neurodivergent people as authenticity readers for my own condition because I know I have internalized baggage and ableism. So I guess I would just say that is just for me personally one of those things where I’m like, “Please be careful and gentle with it.” And that’s what I’m always just trying to do with the conditions that I write is be gentle. And often I just try to write as much from my own experience or like my super, super close circle as much as possible.

Laura: I heard in another interview that you use sensitivity readers for your books. So can you explain a little bit about authors using sensitivity readers and how you use them?

Chloe: Yeah. So I tend to call them authenticity readers now more because sensitivity is…I think I, like, ask my authenticity readers to also be sensitivity readers, but I am…sort of back to earlier in our conversation talking about how you can’t ever write to represent everyone’s experience. I want to focus mostly on people who are going to be very, very honest if they see anything they think is problematic in my writing, just in general, but that will more focus on the quality of representation of anything I’m writing about that is whether mine or not. And so I think it’s all about accountability and opening yourself up to critique.

And, you know, my background is in literary criticism and in like just studying literature itself. So my entire introduction to like the novel experience, whether writing or reading it, is to have a critical mind and to see that as a good thing, as a way that you get to the heart of the truth of a story, or a message of a story, or your intent as its creator. So I’m very pro-critique and I think I would just hope anybody who’s attempting to write these nuanced experiences is…you have to put your ego aside. Like, you just…because this is about showing care for other people’s realities that you just might not understand parts of. So just being very, very open to that is super important. And I love my authenticity readers. I feel like a bond to them after I finish a project because they’ve given me these very vulnerable, real, raw parts of themselves in their feedback, and I interview them before I start.

So I think they’re absolutely imperative any time you can as an author involving them. And not everybody has a lot of money, but do a skill swap. Like, if they wanna be a writer, offer them a full manuscript critique or offer to blurb them when they publish their first book and give them, like, a little encouragement, you know, there’s so many ways you can do it. I understand not everybody has hundreds and hundreds of dollars, but try to find a way, or if you don’t have money yet, don’t do it yet. I don’t know, like, their time is worth payment and it’s just invaluable. It’s good storytelling, I think.

Rachel: How do you find your authenticity readers?

Chloe: Bookstagram a lot. And that’s the really cool thing, I’ve found such an amazing community. And this is the thing that I talked a little bit about. Like, as I mentioned with my first Bergman book, which I did these revisions on, you know, and the, sort of, poignancy of that arc and that cycle of that book was that that book got me to a place that my other books hadn’t. And even though it had its faults because of things I didn’t know and I didn’t understand yet, it introduced me to so many people in the disabled community, and the chronically ill community, and the neurodivergent community who are also romance readers and lovers. And I do feel like that’s so important to try to find people who are lovers of your genre and see how the intersection of representation and love storytelling goes together. So that book, even though I made some mistakes, it gave me people who could give me the information to make it better, and it has continued to feed that cycle. So yeah, Bookstagram has been an incredible place.

And my personal life too, like my most recent Bergman book, which came out in September, “With you Forever,” the heroine has ulcerative colitis, which my best friend who also does…one of my best friends also does my covers has. I have a bunch of GI problems too. I had celiac disease undiagnosed for very long time which really messed me up. So we’ve, like, bonded over all of that fun stuff. And I was like, “Jenny, what if Rooney has ulcerative colitis?” She was like, “Yes. We need a lady with bathroom problems in a romance.” I was like, “Yeah, we do.” And then that was born. So it’s like involving the people in your life in your reality and in your passions has led to, sort of, these organic moments of like, “Okay, it is time to do this.”

Rachel: I love that stomach problem representation. I’m here for it. Time has just flown by this past hour. So if it’s okay with you, we’d like to wrap up with just a couple of rapid-fire book/holiday-related questions. All right. First up, what is your favorite romance trope either to write or read?

Laura: I know that’s a hard one. Or maybe like your top three.

Chloe: Okay. Okay.

Rachel: Laura’s much nicer than I am.

Chloe: She is. That was mean. That was not very festive or generous of spirit. Okay. “Grumpy Sunshine,” “Enemies to Lovers” “Fake Relationship.”

Laura: And you put two of those into “The Mistletoe Motive.” So that’s a preview for your readers. It’s out December 1st. Preorder on Kobo now. Can you also tell us your favorite holiday tradition?

Chloe: Around the piano singing songs.

Laura: Oh. That’s a good one.

Chloe: Yeah. I love doing that. Yeah, it’s a good time. And it helps, everyone’s like had a couple of eggnogs, so everyone just like doesn’t care how they sound and they’re like right in your ear because they’re trying to see the music. I usually need to sleep after it, but it’s so fun.

Rachel: And my last question, other than “The Mistletoe Motive,” do you have a holiday romance that you would recommend?

Chloe: Yes. “Wrapped Up In You,” which was last year’s Kobo original by Talia Hebert was an absolute delight. If you love her stuff, it is just quintessential Talia and it’s an absolute hug. And I’m trying to think…Oh, I really loved Christina Warren’s “In a Holidaze.” It’s like a groundhog meets “The Family Stone.” Oh, no, I fell in love with the wrong brother trope, which I adore. It is lower steam, more like their newer stuff. So for readers who prefer that, that’ll be a good fit for you. And I just thought it had that, sort of, aching sweetness and the awareness of how, you know, in the holidays you carry the past years with you. This always kicks it up. So there was a very self-aware aspect to that story and I thought it was really, really sweet.

Rachel: And before we let you go, where can listeners find you online?

Chloe: Okay. Well, a good, sort of, hub is my website, which is chloeliese.com. There you will find links to my Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, all of which are @Chloe_Liese. And also on Facebook, I have a reader group. So if you’re a fan, you can find that link through my Instagram bio, Bookbub, you know, Goodreads, the typical places, but my website, it’ll be a good place to find, sort of, everything you need.

Rachel: Awesome. We will include links to all of that in our show notes. Thank you so much for doing this, Chloe. This was a blast.

Laura: Yeah. Thank you. This was really awesome.

Chloe: Thank you so much for having me.

Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life” podcast. If you’re interested in picking up Chloe’s books, including “The Mistletoe Motive,” we will include links in our show notes. If you are enjoying this podcast, please be sure to rate, review, and subscribe. And if you’re looking for more tips on growing your self-publishing business, you can find us at kobowritinglife.com and be sure you were following us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.

Laura: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton and Laura Granger. Editing is provided by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is composed by Tear Jerker. And thanks to Chloe Liese for being a guest. If you’re ready to start your publishing journey, sign up today at kobo.com/writing life. Until next time, happy writing.


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