In Their Own Words: Part 1

Karin Kallmaker: Romance

Karin Kallmaker’s latest novel, The Kiss That Counted, will be published in June. The out author has dozens of other novels in print, many translated into foreign editions, and Kallmaker recently joined her publisher, Bella Books, as editorial director, giving her the opportunity to mentor a new generation of writers. Do you recall the first lesbian romance novel that had a lasting impact on you?
Karin Kallmaker: Curious Wine. There was nothing like it before and nothing like it since. I read it twice in one weekend, and cried through the entire second reading. It was validating, inspiring … and remains so.

AE: How have romance novels developed or changed in recent years, especially in terms of portrayals of lesbians and bisexuals?
KK: The coming out story per se is almost cliché now, but “coming-into-self” themes with the issues around choosing to live openly as a queer person, balancing home, family, work and callings remains a central romance character arc, supported by an entertaining, compelling story.

AE: What are the elements you look for in a good romance novel? How do you decide if a particular book is worth finishing?
KK: I’m so caught in the dilemmas and issues of the characters that I can’t wait to see how they solve them. If I respect the characters and believe they have earned happiness and passion, I will savor every last word on their journey.

Engaging stories of how two women create happiness, against all odds, never grow old to me. We work, love, laugh and deal with life 24/7, and romance novels take our “ordinary” existence and make it extraordinary. Which, if you think about it, love is extraordinary, whenever it occurs.

AE: Why do you write romance novels?
KK: Romance novels are the only genre where the everyday survival issues and matters of the heart are given the attention and focus they really take in our lives. A romance heroine can be larger-than-life, but the issues of life and heart she faces connect with readers like nothing else does. A reader can lose herself in a romance novel for the entertainment and finish it thinking, “She found love and respect in her life — so can I.”

AE: You’ve written more than two dozen novels. How do you keep your topics and characters fresh?
KK: The only way I can describe it is casting a big net, keeping my eyes wide open, looking for something that inspires. It can be a phrase, or a song, or a situation. While I might look at how movies and television are presenting women and lesbians, I search for themes in the lives of real women — like body image, family, financial risks, self-esteem, respect, safety, etc. Some themes, like respect, are so central to our lives that a writer can approach it dozens of different ways and write a different story every time.

AE: Recommend three or more romance novels that relate to a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
KK: Five Music as the Food of Love romances:

Different Dress, Lori Lake
When Love Finds a Home, Megan Carter
Gossamer Axe, Gael Baudino
Love’s Melody Lost, Radclyffe
Maybe Next Time, Karin Kallmaker (if I may be so bold)

Tomorrow, in part two, we’ll present interviews with Sarah Waters on historical fiction, Shamim Sarif on international fiction, Val McDermid on mysteries, Kelley Eskridge on science fiction, Lillian Faderman on nonfiction, and Rebecca Walker on memoirs.