In this episode, we are joined by USA Today bestselling author and trauma therapist Adriana Herrera, author of romance novels with “unapologetic happy endings.” Her most recent release and first in a new series, A Caribbean Heiress in Paris, is out on May 31st 2022 – preorder now!
Join us for an invigorating discussion about Adriana’s journey to writing romance, representation in romance, how her work as a trauma therapist informs her writing, the writing workshops she teaches, fanfiction, and more.
We also want to note that May is also Mental Health Awareness month in North America, a time dedicated to learning more about mental health issues and experiences, and a time to advocate for better access to care for all. For more reading recommendations, check out these lists from the KWL blog and the Kobo blog.
- Adriana discusses her journey to writing romance, and her desire to see more people like her; throughout the episode, we touch on the representation of women, queer people, and people of colour, particularly people in Black, Latinx and Afro-Latinx communities, in romance novels and beyond.
- She also gets into how genre fiction is a great empathy builder, and how representation in genre fiction – with happy endings abound – is important.
- Adriana tells us about her past work in humanitarian aid and her current occupation as a trauma therapist and how all of these experiences have informed her writing.
- She also offers advice on how to accurately and respectfully represent characters who have suffered from childhood traumas and other forms of trauma in writing.
- We also hear Adriana delve into her favourite fanfiction and tropes therein.
- And lots more!
Adriana on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram
Mentioned in this episode:
- Amor Actually
- Finding Joy
- Mangos and Mistletoe
- A Caribbean Heiress in Paris
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
- What Happened to You? by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry
- Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman
- Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
- Run Posy Run by Cate C. Wells
- Girly Drinks by Mallory O’Meara
- The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism by Kyla Schuller
- Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
- The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
- Alexis Daria
- Priscilla Oliveras
- Isabel Allende
- Laura Esquivel
- Elizabeth Acevedo
- Gabriel García Márquez
Adriana was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last fifteen years has let her job (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings.
When she’s not dreaming up love stories, planning logistically complex vacations with her family or hunting for discount Broadway tickets, she’s a trauma therapist in New York City, working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
Her Dreamers series has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist and has been featured in The TODAY Show on NBC, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Library Journal and The Washington Post. Her debut, American Dreamer, was selected as one of Booklist’s Best Romance Debuts of 2019, and one of the Top 10 Romances of 2019 by Entertainment Weekly. Her third novel, American Love Story, was one of the winners in the first annual Ripped Bodice Award for Excellence in Romantic Fiction. Adriana is an outspoken advocate for diversity in romance and has written for Remezcla and Bustle about Own Voices in the genre. She’s one of the co-creators of the Queer Romance PoC Collective.
Adriana is represented by Taylor Haggerty at Root Literary. For publicity inquiries, please contact Kristin Dwyer at Leo PR.
Transcription by www.speechpad.com
Joni: 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 Joni, author engagement specialist at Kobo Writing Life.
Rachel: And I’m Rachel, author engagement coordinator at Kobo Writing Life.
Joni: On today’s episode, we talk to Adriana Herrera, who is a USA Today bestselling romance author. She writes what she describes as unapologetically happy endings. And she also currently works as a trauma therapist in New York City.
Rachel: Our conversation with Adriana, we covered a lot.
Joni: We did.
Rachel: Like you said, we talked about her writing. We talked about why she was drawn to romance and writing romance in the first place. We talked about how her work as a trauma therapist informs her writing and also how… She teaches a workshop on how authors can incorporate domestic violence and sexual assault into their romance novels in a respectful and accurate way.
Joni: And then Rachel took us on a beautiful detour towards the end, all about fanfiction, so please stay tuned to the very last minute. She also gave us… As per always, we got a lot of really great book recommendations. So, we hope you enjoy this interview as much as we did.
Joni: We are here today with USA Today bestselling author, Adriana Herrera. Thank you so much for joining us.
Adriana: Thank you for inviting me.
Joni: Can you start by introducing yourself and your books to our listeners?
Adriana: Sure. So, I am Adriana Herrera. I write romance and I always say I write romance full of people who look and sound like my people, getting unapologetic, happy endings. And that mostly means that I write books centering Afro-Latinx characters.
Joni: Awesome. When we were coming up with questions for this, we were talking about how it’s gonna be challenging to do you justice because you’ve had such a multifaceted career and there’s so many things that we wanna ask you. But let’s start with the writing stuff. Can you tell us a little bit about how your writing journey started and why you wanted to write?
Adriana: Yeah. I’m a big reader. I’ve always been a big reader. When I told my mom that I was gonna write a book, or that I had written a book, she was like, “Finally, all that reading has finally paid off.” Like, my identity for my family is like, “She reads.” So, I’ve always been a big book person, and romance has always been, like, a particularly… Part of my reading life has always been comforting, like, self-care, the place where I go for, like, softness. And so it had always been kind of like a niggling thing for me that I didn’t really see all sides of myself in the romance novels that I was reading.
I’ve been reading romance since middle school. I’m in my early 40s now. So, that’s a long time. And I had never really seen a character in a romance that was bisexual, Black, Latina, immigrant person, and, like, fully all those things, right? And so, you know… But I guess I didn’t have, like, an urgency in terms of, like, wanting to see it and needing to see it other than, like, I would write some fanfic and I would write some erotica. Like, that’s the first thing I ever wrote really in, like, college. It was, like, super gay erotica.
But the 2016 election really kinda, like, was the moment for me when I had, like, a call to action. I felt like… I live in the U.S. I live in New York, and the conversation around immigrants and the place of immigrants in this country was becoming so painful that I just really needed to write these stories that I felt like… And I really do believe, like, in pop culture and specifically commercial fiction there’s a real important tool and vehicle for empathy-building with people. Like, it’s a really, I think, impactful way to have a person really be able to, like, go into another’s experience safely because genre fiction has…like, the conventions are set up, so you know what to expect. It’s not like literary fiction that you don’t know what you’re going into, but with the romance, you know, there’s gonna be a happily ever after with, like, a mystery, you know. Like, the killer’s gonna be found by the end. And so I really do believe in the power of genre fiction. As a reader experience, that can really be something that can build empathy.
And so I wasn’t as strategic when I began writing, but I think I deeply believe that if we had more stories that fully explored the intersections of people of color, queer people, immigrants, that is something that can, I think, help us all be better to each other, which is, like, way too deep. But it was kinda like my moment was when I was thinking about all that stuff. That’s a really long answer. Sorry.
Joni: That’s really interesting. I think what you said about…because I’ve thought about this before in terms of stories, but what you say about genre specifically is interesting because you’re right. Like, those stories are very universal. And so kind of going into the story knowing what to expect, it does almost make it…like it’s familiar to you going in, right?
Joni: So, yeah, I’d never thought about it in terms of genre fiction before. So, thank you for that.
Rachel: When you felt that, like, call to start writing, was it always going to be romance that you wanted to write? Was that the genre where you found you were gonna tell your best stories?
Adriana: Yes. And the reason mainly is because I feel like, again, going into the places where people, like, with my background are allowed to exist in fiction, I wasn’t willing to compromise the centering the joy, right? Like, to me, if I was gonna write anything, I wasn’t gonna write anything that was gonna be, like, couch on our trauma. So, I was gonna write about our joy. And so the other thing that I read more than romance is, like, non-fiction. I read a lot of feminist non-fiction. So, it was either that, which was gonna take me three years to write one book, or I could write romance, which is what I felt I needed in that moment. Like, in 2016, I needed joy and I think we still need it now. We’ve gone from, like, one situation that makes us need joy to another. So, I feel like we all need joy right now and I think for me, like, romance is always that place where I can lose myself into something happy.
Joni: One of the ways that your books are a celebration of the Caribbean life and culture is that you talk about food a lot. Is that something that’s just natural to you and embedded in every part of life or is that something that you really wanted to focus on weaving into your stories?
Adriana: Yeah, I mean, I think, yes, definitely. Like, being Dominican and, you know, having lived in other places in the world that have cultures that are, like, resonant, food is so important because food is how we gather, food is how we connect, food is how we express love. You know, like, when my mother comes to visit, like that month I don’t even go into my kitchen because my mother is just cooking for me and my family the whole time. And I’m going home. Like, I’m going home next week. And, like, my mom just called me yesterday. It was like, “These are all the things that we’re making and all the different, like, meals that we’re having with family,” because it’s how we gather.
But as an immigrant, I came to the U.S. when I was 23. I grew up most of my life in Dominican Republic. I went to college there, and I moved to New York in 2002 for graduate school. And so one thing that has always been, like, pretty clear to me in terms of the immigrant experience is that even if our bodies and our persons are not palatable to everyone, our food is always a very good vehicle as, like, entry into American life. So, like, you can see a lot of people may not know what Thailand is, but they know Thai food a lot, you know? And so to me, I don’t know, any immigrant story without food is incomplete because for some of us, A) it’s the touchstone, the one touchstone that we have to home, like, literally the one thing that smells, tastes, feels like home, the easiest, and also it’s so much of how… It’s the language that people can more easily understand from us is our food. I’m giving, like, super deep answers, but I think about this stuff all the time. So…
Joni: No, we love that.
Rachel: We really do.
Joni: And I love… Yeah, I love the use of food in books. Like, I don’t know, there’s a few, especially romance because it is so sensual and multisensory, I guess, and I think it works really well in romance.
Rachel: And I kind of wanted to talk about the food in Finding Joy because I was reading it and I was left hungry a few times. But this book takes place in Ethiopia and there’s a lot of Ethiopian food in there. Did you have to do research? Does this come from personal experience in the Ethiopian food world?
Adriana: So, I lived in Ethiopia for five years. I lived in Addis for five years with my partner. We moved there a month after we got married and we lived there for a year. And then we moved away for two years. We moved to Honduras. We were doing humanitarian relief work. We worked for humanitarian relief organizations, just like Desta Joy in “Finding Joy” works for. The work Desta, one of the heroes in the book, does was very similar to the work I did when I was living in Ethiopia.
So, yeah, and we moved away, and then when our daughter was three months old, we moved back to Addis and we were there until she was, like, three-and-a-half. So, we were there for almost five years, and we love that place. We have a really personal connection to it. And part of what I wanted to do with Finding Joy was really give a different face to what people think about when they think about Ethiopia. I think there’s a very particular outdated sense that people have of what Ethiopia is and I thought, “Well, the food is fantastic and the place itself is beautiful.” So, yeah, I didn’t have to do a ton of research because I know the food well, and I know the place well.
Joni: That kind of leads us into… I wanted to also ask about your non-writing career because you worked for an aid organization. I believe you’re now a trauma therapist in New York. Is that right?
Joni: So, how has that informed your writing and your kind of experiences outside of your writing career? How have they fed into what you like to write about?
Adriana: Frankly, one of the things that I… I’m sure taking a sabbatical now. I took six months from my clinical practice just because it’s been hard out here for therapists, y’all. So, I’m a trauma therapist and I only work with people who have PTSD because of interpersonal violence. So, all of my clients are people who have survived either sexual violence or domestic violence, and I work with children all the way through, like, old age. So, it was hard this year, so I took six months off. And I only work with Latin communities. My practice is 90% Spanish speakers. So, I don’t really delve too much into, like, graphic trauma in my books because I’m exposed to it so much in my practice that bringing it into my writing where my writing is kind of like also therapeutic for me where I can explore, like, happy endings and happy outcomes. So, I try to keep those two rivers, like, not to cross because it would be too much for me to have to explore trauma in both of my jobs.
But I think what does inform, like, my experience as a trauma therapist and someone specifically that does work around interpersonal violence is that it really gives me a lot more to work with in terms of how people are impacted by their trauma, like how people react to trauma reminders, like, all the things that…like, especially because I write Black characters, I write people of color and I write immigrants and I write queer people and there’s so many things about our lived experience that we are, like, touched by trauma, right? So, I think I have a stronger sense of, like, how those things can really impact the person and how they, like, navigate the world. So, in that sense, I have that knowledge, but again, I don’t… I was telling my friend, like, “Maybe now I’ll write a dark romance because I’m not, you know, listening to my clients’ traumatic experiences for, like, 15 hours a week.”
Joni: Yeah, I can see why you need to write books that celebrate joy right now.
Rachel: I just wanna quickly say thank you to all of the therapists who have been talking to us through the past however long this pandemic has been going on because y’all are putting in the work and I’m very grateful. Anyways. But I wanted to ask you just kind of going off of that, do you have any advice for authors who do want to explore the more, I don’t wanna say, like, darker topics, but who wanna explore domestic violence and sexual assault in their books?
Adriana: Yeah. So, I actually do a workshop called “Domestic Violence in Romance: Writing the Story Survivors Deserve.” And what I do is, like, I mean, I give some tips, but I think people should read about trauma. I think there’s a lot of not great rendering, stuff like PTSD survivors and, like, how PTSD works. Some people like… PTSD cannot be cured by falling in love. Like, I wish it could be because if it could, it would make my life a lot easier and my clients’ therapy a lot more pleasant than what is actually required for a person to process their trauma. So, I think one thing is just, like, honoring that journey because there’s no hack for processing trauma that, like, gives you a PTSD diagnosis.
So, I think definitely reading. Like, there’s a few books that I always recommend. One’s called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, which is… So, he’s, like, one of the most important people in the field. He was one of the doctors that actually advocated to get the PTSD diagnosis. He’s been working with Vietnam veterans since the ’70s. And the other is called Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. And that one is basically mostly for sexual violence and domestic violence. And there’s a recent one that came out with a neuroscientist psychiatrist, and Oprah, which is called What Happened to You? And Bruce Perry is a really well-known also neuroscientist. He’s one of the people who lobbied and was able to get passed, like, a lot of legislation here in the U.S. around child welfare.
And so he has a lot of other books, but that one, What Happened to You? is, like, they really break it down to very simple language like brain science and how trauma and reactions work in the body and, like, how trauma impacts a person’s brain and resilience and all these things. It’s really good. Like, I listened to it recently and it’s really good, like, summary of how trauma works, and especially like children. One of the things that really I feel like we need to do better at is not burdening our protagonists with horrific childhood trauma because horrific childhood trauma is very hard to get over without processing it and without therapy.
And we’re just like, you know, “They were abandoned at birth, and then they were put in a foster home for like 7-8 years and they got beaten every single day of their childhood.” Like, all that, you don’t walk that off. So, I think we should just do better at that and then I think reading some of those books will give you a really good sense of, like, what you burden your protagonist with and what’s, like, viable in terms of having them be okay to go into a relationship or explore intimacy if they have survived all that trauma. Sorry. Again, I feel like I keep giving you super long answers.
Rachel: No, it’s great. People don’t wanna listen to us, they wanna listen to you. But just building off that, do you think maybe more protagonists should be seen going to therapy when they are burdened with all of this?
Adriana: I believe so. Yes. I think we should normalize therapy and we should normalize antidepressants, antianxiety medication, all the things, all the things. And I mean, for me, in particular, because there’s so much stigma in communities of color around therapy and mental illness, like, I make a point of, like, I put people in therapy all the time in my books. My protagonists talk about going to therapy, especially the male protagonists because I really do believe, like… Again, I feel like genre fiction is a powerful space for the reader to become informed about things because, you know, we deliver in a way that’s entertaining and fun and you know what you’re getting by the end, but it’s also reflecting the real world we live in, right?
And so I think normalizing… Honestly, I said this the other day to someone, like, “I’m just gonna talk a lot about antidepressants in my books now because we need to be more thoughtful about the way that we discuss mental illness, mental health, and, like, the tools that are out there for people to feel better.” Like, people should be able to feel better and feel good. And you can be on antidepressants and, like, fall in love. Like, you deserve it. So, I think we should just do those things more in romance.
Joni: Yeah. I think this is such a valuable way to go about it because, like you said, it just normalizes it, reading it in stories that are commercial and fun and lighthearted that a lot of people are reading. And the more that you see something or read about it or hear about it, the more it just becomes part of the conversation. And so I think doing that is more effective than almost anything else that we can do to make kind of access to better mental healthcare, but also, like, people’s attitudes towards it.
Joni: So, you were talking at the beginning about how when you were growing up you didn’t see yourself in a lot of romance stories. And I know that something that you do with your books is you have a lot of anthologies and you collaborate with other authors. Do you feel like the romance space is changing or has changed a lot since you were growing up? I know we still have a way to go.
Adriana: I would say this year has been real weird. TikTok has been like… I don’t know if it’s a force for good or evil yet because I feel like… Well, that’s another conversation, maybe I shouldn’t be going there. But up until this year, I thought we had made really good progress, but I feel like, yes, definitely, since I started even writing, I feel like there’s been a shift, right? I mean, thinking about… Like this week, Tuesday, I had an anthology come out, which is called Amor Actually.
Joni: Best thing ever.
Adriana: I know.
Joni: It’s such a good name.
Adriana: I know, I thought so.
Joni: A holiday romance.
Adriana: So, it’s Amor Actually and it’s basically kind of, like, we’re reimagining all the storylines from “Love Actually,” which is, like, a beloved holiday movie with all the problématique themes. And it’s all Latina authors. So, it’s me and Sabrina Sol, Diana Muñoz Stewart, Alexis Daria, Zoey Castile, Zoraida Córdova and Priscilla Oliveras. So, even to think about, like, when I started writing that we could have just an anthology which all Latinas that are all published that we have, you know, some of us, like, have been able to list award-winning… Like, the fact that we’ve come far enough that we have a good group of seven Latina authors that are published and have book contracts and are out there and have a backlist, like, feels different than where I started.
And there’s many more. Like, next year, there’s a few more. Like, there’s a couple of Dominican authors that are coming out with new stuff. And when I started writing, I was the only one that was, like, a traditionally published author writing Dominican characters. So, I feel like definitely, yes. Like, I think in terms of a shift, I think there’s definitely a shift. I feel like there’s still a lot more work to do because I think the readership also has… Like, I think we need to bring more readers into the genre than what we have now. I think, like, this ability is still a big problem for people of color. I think the people that we’re writing these books for need to know we’re here. And I think it’s like publishing, in general, like becoming more efficient at selling books to people that are not white women. I don’t know how else to say it.
Joni: And you’re a hybrid author, so you work in both the indie publishing and trad spaces.
Joni: How do you find the difference between them? Is it sort of, kind of, same problems in both, or do you find that indie is more open to…? I mean, obviously, you’re doing your own marketing there, but I’m curious.
Adriana: I mean, yes. In terms of barriers to entry, right, it is easier. It’s better, it’s easier in terms of you wanna write it, you write it and people find you. And I’ve been really happily surprised. Like, Mangos and Mistletoe, for example, is, you know, a lesbian, two Dominican women, it’s done really well. People love that story. And that was surprising to me. I was like, “You know, 10 Latina lesbians are gonna read this and I’m fine with it,” but it’s been good. And I think, again, it’s one of those things like that story would have been hard for me to sell in a traditional publishing setting. And so I was able to just come up with this idea, write it, put it out there, and let, like, the readers find it.
And I think that, in that sense, it is a really great vehicle, but there are still things. Like I was just talking earlier today with a friend about, like, mafia romance. And to me, like, mafia romance is an interesting thing because… We were talking about, like, there is, like, organized crime romance with Black people in it, but that’s not as popular. What’s popular is the romance that has white heroes. And so we as writers and readers need to think more about, like, the reasons why those things are. And I think those are the things like… And so, for me, I mean, I’m not trying to write a mafia romance, but for me to insert myself in a mafia romance with the premise and with the commitment that I have to only write Latinx characters, like, what would that mean for me in that space? And so I think that’s part of the stuff in indie, you know. Like, I went to a conference earlier this year which was all indie authors, and I was, like, one out of five women of color. Five? Four? And, like, multiple times they would confuse us with the other and we don’t look anything alike. And so that’s a problem.
Joni: Yeah. The one thing I will say about that, like, we talk about this a lot in the indie world is that, whereas I think in other industries there can be a little bit of there’s one space at the top and there’s one spot and if you fill it, like, there’s no one else getting in, whereas I feel like with indie, what you see more and more of is people bringing up their peers and saying, ‘Well, let’s do an anthology together.” Like, “Hey, if you like my books, you’re gonna love this author’s books,” like, that kind of thing. So, I hope that that means that there is the potential once the ball is rolling to keep the snowball getting bigger and bigger and, like, seeing more of it. But I agree with you that we are ….
Adriana: Yeah. And I mean, it’s hard because with, like, algorithms and all these things are really out of the control of the people writing the books and putting the books out there, but I do believe, yes, in that sense, there is definitely more of an openness in indie of people to, like, “Let’s work together.” Like, people are a lot more open about what works. One of the things I love about indie is just how professional people are in this. Like, not that traditional published authors are not professional, but a lot of, like, the business side of things is taken care of by your publisher. But, like, the business savvy that romance authors have and how they manage their property, their business is honestly, like, amazing.
And they are not stingy about sharing knowledge, sharing strategic things that they’ve learned. Like, they’re not stingy while sharing their learning, which is, honestly, really awesome part of indie. And I wish it was more of a thing in traditional publishing, but indie definitely, in that sense, is like there’s just not that territorialness, as you were saying. She’s like, “This is the way I made all this money. You try it.” And so that’s I think a really, really cool thing about indie publishing. People are just a lot more open about, like, how they manage their business and what’s worked for them. And they’re not territorial about it, which is great because there’s a lot of money to be made in there.
Rachel: Just kind of bouncing off of that, is there anything specific marketing business-wise that you’ve done for your indie publishing business, like, specific, like, the best thing you think you’ve done?
Adriana: Well, one of the things, I think I try to, like, not being an asshole because when you’re not an asshole people wanna work with you. That’s one strategic thing that I’ve done. And I think the other thing is that I really try to stay within my core story, right? So, like, I write a lot of different things. Like, I write historical. I write F/F. I write M/M. I write M/F. But one thing that I do is, like, you know the themes that you can expect in one of my books, like characters who are Latin, there’s gonna be some kind of conversation about, like, the immigrant experience. Like, my themes are always the same in every book that I write and I think that has helped me because I can move from one space to the other. And, like, a person that reads one of my stories can read any of my other stories and they’ll still be getting pretty much the same experience, even if it’s a completely different book.
Joni: Yeah. I was wondering about that when it comes to writing because you are taking a lot from your own experience in your own life. Do you find it challenging writing male/male romance, or is it just another love story?
Adriana: Yeah, I mean, that’s interesting. I’ve been thinking about that a lot because I wrote an M/M this year and for some reason, it was harder this year to write M/M than it had been when I started. And my first three books were M/M. And I think it’s just because, like, the patriarchy’s really got me down this year. But to be perfectly honest, like, one of the things is when I discovered queer romance, a lot of the queer romance that was out there was M/M. And it really resonated with me. I really liked it. I read a lot of it. And I think it allows people to explore, like, a vulnerable side of men, which we don’t usually get in fiction. And so that to me is, like, kind of what I focus on.
And I mean, I think there’s a lot of conversations that can be had about sexuality, desire, what we find sensual, why M/M resonates so much with women, and why that is because I think there’s just, like, a lot more of a spectrum and, like, these things are a lot more fluid than we believe they are. And I think women are just more fluid in that way. Like, for example, maybe gay men may not read as much F/F as lesbians read M/M. Like, I don’t know. Maybe someone should do that study. But I think a lot of us that write M/M I think it’s because, like, we’re trying to explore something that we just couldn’t do with F/F, if that makes sense.
Rachel: My friend and I were talking about this. We were talking about why women like M/M romance so much. And we had this theory that it could be…and this is just a wild theory, but it allows women to explore men and explore, like, their sexuality and their attraction to men without there being a power dynamic of the patriarchy playing into it because there’s no, like, gender dynamics there. I don’t know. This is just a weird theory. I’d love your thoughts.
Adriana: It could be. I mean, one thing that I’ve always thought about it is something that I was very consciously aware of when I began reading M/M is that I could enjoy a romance, read a romance from beginning to end, get all the sexy parts, and not have a person with a body that I had to compare myself to in the story. Because when I read a lot of the M/F that was out there was, like, really beautiful, really thin blonde women. Sorry, Rachel. And that was something I could never be. I just can’t be, right? I’m like a plus-size Black Latina. Like, I can never be that paradigm of beauty, right? But I can’t. And no matter how you insert yourself in the story, like, that’s gonna come up, right? And that feeling of inadequacy, those insecurities just don’t come up if I’m reading about two men falling in love. And I honestly don’t think that’s something that should be dismissed when thinking about why M/M works so much for women. And this is something I’ve thought about for a long time.
Joni: So, it sounds like you’re writing these books for women and that your readers are mostly women. Is that the impression that you get from when you hear from readers? Do you think men are reading your male/male romance?
Adriana: Yeah. A lot of men read my M/M. I mean, most of the emails I get, honestly, from readers about my M/M, specifically are men. Yeah. And I mean, I honestly… I think, I mean, numbers-wise, yes. I think most people reading romance and writing romance identify as women, but I don’t…other than them being Latinx, like, the thing that I wanna write is for Afro-Latinx people, but gender really doesn’t play into what I’m trying to do. But I try to be as thoughtful as possible, no matter what type of relationship I’m writing about.
Joni: So, you describe, you always say about your books that you write unapologetic happy endings. What does this mean to you being unapologetic about your happy endings?
Adriana: I think mostly what I don’t want to do is write a story where, like, the character needs to be, like, broken or traumatized in order to earn their happy ending. That’s where I began. And I think that’s partly because…well, more in the literary fiction space, but, like, so much of the stories of people of color, the stories of queer people, so much of it has been, you know, just, like, a lot of turmoil, a lot of bad things happen, and then they get the happy ending. And I just wanted to be able to write a story where, like, I just focused on all the amazing things that we are, and then you get the happy or the ever after anyway, even if you don’t go through a bunch of stuff. But I mean, I also write about themes like immigration and all kinds of things. So, it comes up, but all that to say is that, like, you get the happy ending and you don’t have to, like, go through a bunch of stuff before you get it.
Joni: I like that. And we’d love to wrap up by asking you a little bit about kind of books that you like to read if that’s okay. We have some quick-fire book questions. Do you have a favorite book that you’ve read this year?
Adriana: I recently… Well, I have a few. I read a lot. I recently reread Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin. It’s set in Toronto. She writes romance, and the book is a retelling of “You’ve Got Mail” and it’s set in Toronto. And both protagonists are Indian-Muslim. And, you know, her family has…it’s a Golden Crescent neighborhood and her family has a restaurant. And then, of course, a new family opens a restaurant across the street. And it’s a very wealthy family and, like, shenanigans ensue. But it’s the only… I’ve read it like three times this year. And I absolutely love it.
And I love very high-heat books. This book, I don’t think even has a kiss in it. And that’s, like, exhibit A of how great this book is that I’ve read it three times this year. And I think they don’t even kiss. It is so good and so nuanced and says all the things that need to be said about the immigrant experience and how we’re perceived, the stories we’re allowed to tell. She’s a broadcast journalist. The heroine is a broadcast journalist. It’s just really great. So, I really love that book. And I read a book called Girly Drinks, which is a history on women and alcohol by…
Joni: I just picked this up. It’s Mallory O’Meara.
Adriana: Mallory O’Meara.
Adriana: It is really great. And one of the things that I honestly really appreciate that she did is… I read a lot of feminist books, and this is one of the few books, a history of feminist books of something that feminists did that is intentionally intersectional. She has stories there about South Africa, women in South Africa, in Japan, in Central America. Like, she really did the work of giving a global portrayal of, like, the place of women in the history of distilling in the industry. It’s fantastic. I really recommend it. And those, I think, probably are the two of my top books.
I have one more and it’s Run Posy Run. It’s by Cate C. Wells. It’s a mafia romance, which I don’t read. But I don’t know what it was about that book, but it just really worked for me. And I’ve read it also a couple of times this year. I think what I really liked about it was, like, how self-aware everyone was about the world they were in and their place in it. And it has the best oral sex scene that I’ve read in a romance, full stop. And it’s just really good. Of course, it’s got all the content warnings, so please go on there and check them out before you go in it. But I thought… I mean, like I said, I don’t really read mafia romance because I can’t read things with a lot of graphic violence because of my job, but that one just, like, really worked for me. So “Run Posy Run,” “Hana Khan Carries On,” and “Girly Drinks” are three that I’ve really loved this year.
Joni: Those are great recommendations. Also, I love that you’ve done exactly what Rachel and I have been talking about all the year, which is keep rereading things that are comforting because I’ve been doing that all year as well and I know Rachel has.
Adriana: Oh, this has been the year.
Joni: Right? Yeah.
Adriana: Yeah. I have one…
Joni: I have a to-read list a mile long and yet I keep just going back to like, “Oh, I know this one.”
Adriana: I’ve read the same Reylo fanfic like 72 times this year. Like, I’m not exaggerating. Like, I read it, like, every week.
Rachel: Are you gonna drop the title?
Adriana: It’s called “Kinkster” and it’s on Archive of Our Own. And it’s fantastic.
Rachel: I will include a link to that in the show notes.
Rachel: I’m gonna go off-book here, Joni, with our rapid-fire book questions. But you said that you wrote fanfic when you first started writing. So, I was wondering if you have a favorite fanfic ship to either write or read.
Adriana: I have gone through many seasons with fanfic. I started reading “Buffy” fanfic. “Buffy,” I think was like…
Joni: “Buffy” is Rachel’s obsession.
Adriana: I talk about things that have, like, mutated my DNA and I think the first thing that, like, mutated my DNA as a reader, as a consumer of pop culture was “Buffy.”
Rachel: You and me both.
Adriana: Yes. And I think I have… Actually, one of my closest friends did… She’s a Black scholar. She did her thesis on “Girlhood and “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” And I keep telling her that she should publish it because I think there’s a lot of us out there that would connect with that material. It’s really fantastic.
Rachel: I would read that.
Joni: Let me tell you, you’re not the first author to come on and say this, though. So, I think you’re right. I think those people are out there because we hear this a lot. “Buffy” was very informative to a lot of people’s careers.
Rachel: “Buffy” was huge, Joni, you should watch it.
Adriana: “Buffy” was, I mean, truly… So, that was probably, like, the first fandom that I was, like, deeply in. And then through the years, like, I’ve moved in and out of others. Like, I really love Stucky, Steve Rogers, and James Buchanan Barnes as a ship. I read a lot of it. Recently, I’ve read a lot of “Witcher” fanfic, a lot of…Reylo is a big one after “The Last Jedi.” Like, I just really love those two archetypes. I’ve been thinking a lot about fanfic this year as a space for people of color. And I think it’s something that, like, for me… What draws me to the fandoms is the archetypes, right? Because it can’t be the actors, because if it’s the actors, then they don’t look like me, but the archetypes and how they could work for someone who is not, like, the actor that’s playing them. So, I think a lot about fanfic and fandoms, but my favorite this year, I would say, the one that I read the most this year is “Peaky Blinders,” Reylo, Stucky, and “Witcher.”
Rachel: And just a follow-up question to that, team Angel or team Spike?
Adriana: Oh, Spike all the way.
Rachel: That is the correct answer. Thank you.
Rachel: And just another rapid-fire question building off the archetypes, do you have a favorite romance trope to write in?
Adriana: People like enemies to lovers a lot. I don’t. Enemies to lovers is not my jam, but rivals to lovers is something I love to write because then you can have, like, a lot of competence porn and that’s something that I really enjoy in a book. And there’s just a lot of opportunity for great banter. So, I love rivals to lovers and I like let’s have sex for science or like teach me, teach me tropes are really fun ones for me.
Joni: Love it. So, you gave us a recommendation already, but you said that you read a lot of feminist non-fiction. Do you have an all-time favorite, most recommended?
Adriana: So, there’s one that I’m just rereading now. It came out recently and I think probably is the book that I’m gonna start recommending the most. It’s called The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism by Kyla Schuller. And it is a really incendiary title and I appreciate it, but wish they would have gone with something else because it’s gonna be a hard sell. But what I loved about that book, in particular, the author’s white, and what I loved about that book is that she really presents, like, all the feminists who have been either women of color or LGBT who have been doing the work parallel to the people that we usually learn about.
Like, she has a chapter that’s just on, like, the suffragettes, for example, like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton, who were, like, highly problematic. But she has, like, another person who was a Black woman named Frances Harper who was working, but at the same time parallel to them. So, she really kind of, like, just, like, frames the history of feminism with a counterhistory. And so, like I said, I read a lot of feminist books and I think this is probably the one that I’ve learned the most from in a long time. And, of course, then there’s, like, Audre Lorde, if you wanna read about, like, Sister Outsider is a great place to start for feminist things.
Joni: That’s a great recommendation. We will add that to our notes. Do you have another question, Rach?
Rachel: I don’t know. I lost track because I went so far off-book with my fanfic question.
Rachel: No, that was my fault. I really wanted to know. Do I have another question?
Joni: Favorite Latinx writer, do you have one?
Adriana: Like romance or in general?
Joni: Anything you like.
Adriana: Okay, so in romance, I can give you a few of, like, my favorite, Mia Sosa, Alexis Daria, Priscilla Oliveras, so phenomenal. If you wanna read a rom-com, just, like, read The Worst Best Man because it’s actually perfect. And for Latinx authors, growing up, Gabriel García Márquez was my favorite author. I just have read everything he ever wrote. It was the first time that I ever saw myself in a story or the world I lived in in a story. So, probably I would say he is, but there’s others like Isabel Allende, Laura Esquivel, are really good Latinx authors that I enjoy, Elizabeth Acevedo, who’s Dominican and writes beautiful books. So, there’s many.
Joni: Amazing. Thank you. And before we close this up, where can readers find you online?
Adriana: They can find me at adrianaherreraromance.com. And I’m taking kind of, like, a little bit of hiatus from social media, but where I’m mostly at when I am on social media is on Instagram, and it’s @ladriana_herrera.
Joni: Perfect. And you mentioned earlier your writing course about writing trauma into romance. If anyone is listening and interested in that, where can they find it?
Adriana: They can go to my website. There’s, like, the workshops, and I usually do a few of them a year and I typically announce them or, like, post them on my social media.
Joni: Perfect. And Amor Actually has just come out. Is there anything else we should be looking for in the pipeline?
Adriana: Yes. In May I have the first story. It’s called “Las Leonas.” It’s a historical series set in 1889 Paris world’s fair. And it’s a series about three, like, Latina heiresses that go to Paris for the world’s fair. That world’s fair was the first time that Latin countries were invited to exhibit at a world’s fair as independent nations. So, there were about 14 Latin countries that came to Paris and there was about, like, 6,000 people from Latin America that came as exhibitors. So, I thought it would be a good liminal space to set a series with Latinx characters. And the first one is called A Caribbean Heiress in Paris, and it’s about a Dominican rum distiller, a rum heiress, who goes to the fair to sell her rum and she meets a Scottish earl who makes whiskey and they end up in a marriage of convenience. And there’s a revenge plot. There’s a secret brother. There’s the showdown at a bar. There’s making out at the top of the Eiffel Tower, all the things.
Joni: Oh, this looks so good. Okay. We’ll include the link to the pre-order coming out in May. That’s great. Thank you so, so much for doing this. We really enjoyed it. I’m speaking on your behalf too, Rachel. This was a great conversation.
Rachel: I did also have a great time. I will speak for myself. Thank you.
Joni: Thank you so much.
Adriana: Thank you for having me. This was super fun.
Rachel: Thank you for listening to the “Kobo Writing Life Podcast.” If you’re interested in picking up Adriana’s books or learning more about the workshops she teaches, we will include links to both 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 are following us on socials. We are @KoboWritingLife on Facebook and Twitter, and @kobo.writing.life on Instagram.
Joni: This episode was produced by Rachel Wharton and Joni Di Placido. Our editing is by Kelly Robotham. Our theme music is provided by Tear Jerker, and big thanks to Adriana Herrera for being our guest today. If you’re ready to start your self-publishing journey, sign up for free at kobo.com/writinglife. Until next time, happy writing.