Transcript: Tessa Dare and Malka Older

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JENN:

This is Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books. This week we’re joined by Tessa Dare, discussing Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels:

TESSA DARE:

The hero is the one who is … in fact the heroine even calls him high-strung. He has a lot of high and low emotions, and the heroine is the even keel that he needs. She’s strong. And I think that that gave me a new look on what historical romance could be. It inspired me to write my own romances with heroines and heroes who might not have the same sort of classic mold of the weaker, more innocent heroine and the overbearing hero. It showed me that there’s a whole world of romance that is different from what a lot of people associate with the genre.

JENN:

And Malka Older, discussing An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine:

MALKA OLDER:

The amazing thing is that he writes this person, he writes this voice in such a way that you know her, and even if you’re not Lebanese, even if you’re not a woman, even if you’re not kind of elderly, even if you’re not a translator, even if you’re not so into books. This feels like a person that you know, and that you are intimately connected with. And that I think, is just an amazing power to the book.

JENN:

Tessa Dare is the award-winning, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of fourteen historical romance novels and five novellas. Tessa writes Regency-set romance novels that feel relatable to modern readers. Her latest, The Duchess Deal, is the first in her new Girl Meets Duke series and follows the brooding Duke of Ashbury and Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress.

DARE:

My name is Tessa Dare. “Lord of Scoundrels” by Loretta Chase is my recommended.

I am pretty sure that I found this book because a friend recommended it to me. I had read some historical romances. Actually I read a lot when I was a teenager, and then college sort of shamed me out of it, which was a travesty. I in retrospect feel very bad that I cowed to that pressure. As an adult I came back to it, and I was reading books that I just sort of happened to stumble across and enjoying them, but then I finally asked a friend for some of her favorite best examples. And “Lord of Scoundrels” was at the top of the list. So I am indebted to her.

Loretta Chase wrote this wonderful, wonderful story of a heroine, Jessica Trent, who is no-nonsense, smart, bold, and is going to take no … how to say it … from the hero of the book, who is Lord Dain. And boy, does he have a lot of issues.

Dain has been living in France with this group of dissolute friends and has decided he wants nothing to do with women, or at least nothing to do with women of good repute. And he happens to meet Jessica, and she challenges him, and so he becomes sort of enamored or just fascinated with her. They have a lot of back and forth. She’s trying to save her brother from the dissolute circle that Dain is at the center of, but as they get to know one another better their attraction is growing.

There’s intrigue, there’s some adventure and mystery in it, but I’m just one of those people who just … When I go back and re-read this book, it’s the scenes with Dain and Jessica that I re- read. And that does not play down the plot of the book at all. It’s just me.

I’m one of those people who reads for the feels, as the kids say.

here’s a scene where they are both in a café in Paris, and he says to her, “I could ruin you right here in this café and you would have nothing to say about it.” And she says … this is a refrain that gets repeated throughout the book … “I should like to see you try.” They keep repeating that back and forth to one another. So he proceeds to unbutton her long elbow-length glove one tiny button at a time, kissing her wrist as he does so a little bit longer. And it is just kissing on the wrist, kissing on the hand, but he’s murmuring to her in Italian, his mother was Italian. It’s just the most amazingly sensual scene that involves nothing but removing a glove, and the tension is just off the charts. It’s amazing. Even of course as he thinks he’s going to ruin her, but he’s the one that gets ruined because he’s falling so deeply in love with her even though he hates to admit it.

That is what romance writing is about. It’s about taking those little moments that mean the world and somehow getting that across in prose. And it’s not an easily done task. It takes craft, and Loretta Chase is just a master of it, those little moments between two people that are pivotal or meaningful. You have to tease them out and make the reader feel the intensity of emotion in that small gesture.

And what I loved the most about this story aside from the amazing passion and longing and romance of it all is that it subverts so many of the genre’s stereotypes and flips them from one gender to the other. At some point Jessica rips off Dain’s clothes, and he’s the one who’s concerned that “it won’t fit.”

The hero is the one who is … in fact the heroine even calls him high-strung. He has a lot of high and low emotions, and the heroine is the even keel that he needs. She’s strong. And I think that that gave me a new look on what historical romance could be. It inspired me to write my own romances with heroines and heroes who might not have the same sort of classic mold of the weaker, more innocent heroine and the overbearing hero. It showed me that there’s a whole world of romance that is different from what a lot of people associate with the genre.

Another thing that Loretta Chase does is she ticks off all my geeky boxes, because she always has little nuggets of historical interest, and a lot of them revolve around art or science or places in the era or poetry. You can tell that she is just such an intelligent person, and it comes across in so many little details. The way that Dain and Jessica connect, really, is in this antique shop where she is staring at this little tiny dirty grubby piece of something in this box of other things, and she haggles the shopkeeper down to a very small amount in order to take it. And what it is, is this valuable medieval icon that shows the Virgin Mother and the Baby Jesus.

It’s just that’s a beautiful metaphor for her seeing the diamond in the rough that is Dain, and recognizing its value, but it’s also very interesting to me because as … who did a minor in art history, who loves the medieval and early renaissance period, I love that part of it. There’s a scene where she reads him Byron and his head is in her lap, and he’s just entranced by it. All of those things about Loretta Chase’s books just thrill me.

They make it feel real, and they also … I don’t know, I just love it when heroes and heroines connect over, like I said, little geeky things.

Sometimes I’ve re-read the whole thing from front to back and sometimes I just re-read my favorite parts for inspiration. I mean it helps me remember why I love historical romance, why I write historical romance. Inspirational text for me, like some day I hope to write something as good, one of those type exercises. But yeah, I don’t know if I could say exactly how often or how many times I’ve re-read it, but it’s definitely a book that I turn to in many situations whether frustration or needing a step or just for the joy of it.

That is one of the other great things about romances that for many people it is a comfort read, and it’s like that warm fuzzy blanket, cuddling up with your cat and some tea. It just makes you feel optimistic, because it is an optimistic genre that reminds us of the good things and joyful things in life.

Usually I don’t have to work very hard to recommend it, because as you said it comes up often so a lot of people looking for romance have either heard of it or already read it. Like I said, I’m a reader for the feel, so I just kind of hope to come across … I hope what will come across my enthusiasm for the book

Smart Bitches Trashy Books, she talks about the romance reader’s sound. When you talk about a book that really means a lot to you, there’s this sound that we make. It’s just like “Ahhhh.” This sort of deep visceral sigh that comes, it makes you realize what an emotional experience it is. It’s sort of beyond words. So I know I always get that sigh when I talk about this book, and hopefully that gets across what it means to me and what it has meant to a lot of people.

So yeah, Loretta Chase is amazing. Read all the Loretta Chase.

JENN:

Thanks again to Tessa Dare for joining us and recommending Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Her newest novel, The Duchess Deal, is published by Avon and is available wherever books are sold. You can follow her on Twitter at @tessadare.

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JENN:

Malka Older is a writer, aid worker, and researcher. Her science fiction political thriller Infomocracy was the first full-length novel from Tor.com, and the sequel Null States is now available. Infomocracy and Null States follow characters through a near-future complete with frazzled data technicians, assassins, and conspiracies, and contemplate what the future of democracy might look like.

OLDER:

My name is Malka Older, and “An Unnecessary Woman” by Rabih Alameddine is my recommended.

I had read a previous book by Rabih Alameddine “The Hakawati”, which I also love very much. And so when I saw he had a new one out I read it.

I do love Hakawati, it’s an amazing book. That’s kind of epic, and it expands a lot of different places, and it does some very playful things in terms of structure, and beautiful writing. “An Unnecessary Woman”, it’s a little bit more insulate, it’s one voice throughout the book, and it’s really such an amazing voice, that it blew me away. And despite being in many ways kinda contained, and isolated it’s also extremely wide ranging in terms of particularly it’s dialogue with literature, and philosophy, and history. And it’s just a book that absolutely pushes my buttons in the best way.

I tend to be … Not always, but in general, a pretty plot driven reader. I love to read to find out what’s happening next, and I love getting the satisfaction from a plot that has a great circle enclosure. But at the same time … And this is a contradiction that’s always a problem for me, as I’m looking for new books, I also really don’t like things that I can predict. So I love having a plot that’s gonna go someplace, that at the end means something to me, but I don’t really like knowing where it’s gonna go beforehand. Which makes it hard to find books that I really love, and so this book … First of all, in “An Unnecessary Woman” not a whole lot happens.

This book is about a certain age woman who lives in Beirut, and she’s single, she’s childless, she doesn’t interact with that many people.

So it’s really not very plot driven. It’s really about her character.
But the way that these things that do happen unfold first of all, give the character itself the voice, and the way that the character grabs you … They really put stake into things that normally we wouldn’t think of as particularly important, or interesting. But the way that they’re described, the way they affect the character, make them fascinating, and important. And make you really want to know how it’s gonna unfold.

Her voice is just so compelling that it makes you want to read, and spend more time with her. She loves literature, and books. She worked for a bookstore for a while, and what she does is she translates books, and she has kind of an odd very structured habit of translation. It really feels like kind of an addiction that she has.

And she chooses books that have already been translated into english, from languages she doesn’t speak, and then translates them into Arabic. And it’s just a beautiful kind of very random process that she goes through, and because of that she talks a lot about the books, about the process of translation. About her relationship to the rest of the world, as this kind of isolated person without a lot of physical connections to the world.

The amazing thing is that he writes this person, he writes this voice in such a way that you know her, and even if you’re not Lebanese, even if you’re not a woman, even if you’re not kind of elderly, even if you’re not a translator, even if you’re not so into books. This feels like a person that you know, and that you are intimately connected with. And that I think, is just an amazing power to the book.

‘Cause I think it is a very difficult thing to do, is to pull off a book that is really so thoughtful. So interior, has so little in terms of … We’ve been really taught that the thing that drives a book is that kind of mystery, that has a simple solution. And usually some kind of psychological solution. So if it’s not a literal mystery, in the sense of a detective story. It’s a mystery as to why the person is acting this way, and what was the secret from their childhood that makes the family be.

And this book, it plays with some of those tropes, in really interesting ways. I mean, her family, and her background are really important in understanding her, which is why again I think there’s a little bit of irony in that theme, and of psychology. But none of it comes out in a way that we have been taught to expect. And none of it resolves, which I think it particularly important, in the way that we have been taught to expect.
And I think some of that comes from movies with a certain kind of fixed window of running time. And television shows that have to have this certain arc per episode, and per season. But it’s so welcome, and powerful to read a book that doesn’t automatically play into those kind of tropes. That I really appreciate it.

The way the character evolves never undermine that basic point of her doing things for herself, and doing what she wants. And having these weird processes that she goes through that work for her. And not having sort of a simple resolution with her family, that somebody makes everything alright, and everything is better, because she’s friendly with her family again, and that’s the way things should be. It never goes to that, and it’s really fantastic.

And I can tell you also after I read it, I knew that my mother would love it. So I got a copy for my mom, and I was still so into the book, that as she was reading it, I would sometimes … If i was reading with her, I would sometimes pick it up, and read aloud to her from whatever section she was in the middle of. And we would just kind of go into raptures about certain phrases, and both the language itself which is often very beautiful, but also the way that Alameddine gets this character. And the details he uses to bring out that voice, and just the observations about what it’s like to be her, are so amazing.

We often recommend each other books, and share books. And in the past when I was a kid we would read aloud sometimes, but yeah this is the only time recently I’ve kind of … At any point that she was in the book I’d be like, “Yeah, I want to reread that part.” So, I just read it aloud to her. So yeah, it was really fun, and then we were actually able to go, and see him do a reading, and get our copies signed together. So that was also very nice.

One of the other great things about this book, is that it gives you a whole list of writers to go to afterwards.

And so one of the things that my mom and I did, after we finished it, was just kinda go on a buying spree of some of these authors. And because it’s particularly powerful, because of her rules about translating from another language into english. A lot of them are authors that we don’t come across so much, in sort of the anglophone literature world. But that have been translated, that are accessible. And so that’s just another exciting part of the book for me.

But yes I think now I will go back and reread it.

JENN:

Thanks again to Malka Older for joining us and recommending An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine. Her newest novel Null States, the sequel to Infomocracy, is published by Tor.com and is now available wherever books are sold. You can hear more from Older on Twitter at @m_older.

JENN:

Thanks to Fierce Reads for sponsoring the show on behalf of Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu. Be sure to check out the Recommended Season 1 giveaway at FierceReadsRecommended.com.

Next week on Recommended, one of our guests pays homage to an American classic:

UNNAMED AUTHOR:

I related to a lot of the characters instantly in part because I was at a point in my life where I was going through some identity issues, and understanding the business of race and what living in the south meant. I’d been to the south because I have a lot of relatives in the south. I grew up in New York, but all my family was from the south. It just was a magnetic type of story. It was a coming of age piece of business that I really related to.