This is a transcript of Recommended Season 3 Episode 3.
This is Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books. This week, romance author Rebekah Weatherspoon talks to us about If The Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman and musician and essayist Dessa reminisces about A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.
After years of meddling in her friends’ love lives, Rebekah Weatherspoon turned to writing romance to get her fix. Her BDSM romance At Her Feet won the Golden Crown Literary Award for erotic lesbian fiction. Her novella Fit won the Romantic Times Book Reviews Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Erotica Novella, and Soul to Keep won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Best LGBTQ Erotica.
Hi, my name is Rebekah Weatherspoon and If The Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman is my recommended.
I am one of those readers who kind of remembers feelings and is terrible at details. The general overview of If The Dress Fits without giving away all the juicy details is about a young woman who is plus size and is navigating the world of someone who is visibly overweight and has a family who gives her quite a bit of a hard time about it. She has a best friend named Max and everything kind of comes to a head in the early pages when she finds out her cousin is engaged to her lifelong crush.
We actually voted for this book in the Woman of Color in Romance book club.
Woman of Color in Romance is kind of a social medial cluster, if you will. We have a website, we have a Twitter, we have a Tumblr, Instagram, all that fun stuff and it’s run by me, and every week we share new releases and if you join our Patreon, we have all sorts of goodies and one of those goodies is our book club. Every month we vote on a book we want to read and one month we picked Carla’s book.
Everyone loved it. Everyone loved it. I think, you know, we’ve read a few books this year that were really popular and this was, I think, in the top three. This actually probably was like the top two discussion-wise. Everyone really loved it.
I am a plus size woman myself in terms of what the world is telling me plus size is, and I was interested just to check out the book on that premise. Carla, the author, she is also a plus size woman and has an amazing Instagram. She always has like fantastic dresses, and so I really wanted to read a book that I felt would kind of speak to me in that sense. What I thought was brilliant about it in even the first chapter is Martha’s character is well aware of her size and her appearance and she’s not ashamed of her size, but she does note that she doesn’t love how people make her feel about her size. I knew kind of in the beginning, I was like, okay. I was like this character gets me and I get this character.
The book, what’s tricky about talking about this book is that it has so many awesome kind of gasp-worthy twists and turns. So, kind of the core of the plot, you know, after her cousin gets engaged to a guy named Enzo, who Martha has had a crush on for a million years, she kind of gets thrown into the chaos of helping plan this wedding. I’ve read, you know, if you’re familiar with the #romanceclass , you know they’re a group of amazing writers out of the Philippines writing romance. I’m learning a lot through their books about party culture in the Philippines and wedding culture in the Philippines and it’s really interesting to see how she gets pulled into planning this wedding, and along the way kind of screws up and tells her family that her best friend Max is actually her boyfriend, so she doesn’t have to go through all this on her own and Max agrees to pretend to be her boyfriend.
I don’t want to give away any more than that, but there’s a lot of kind of … There’s a lot of moments in the book where I was like oh my gosh, oh my gosh. One moment I actually put down my Kindle because I was like, that did not just happen, and I had to like take a minute and breathe. It’s a really good, gasp-worthy romantic comedy I would say.
My favorite scene, it’s not spoilery, but Martha kind of has this revelation in kind of reflecting on this guy that she’s had a crush on and this other guy who she’s actually falling for and she kind of realizes that before this whole situation unfolded she didn’t realize what good, healthy love was and that kind of took me out. That was the moment where I was like, whoa, she has this really great revelation where she finally is able to see this is the difference between infatuation and lust and longing, and then juxtaposed to actually being with someone who really cares about me and that just like, that floored me.
I read it and I was like, oh, I was optimistic going in and then I finished and I was like … I think I cried a few times while I was reading it, and it’s really funny. She just really hit some really real emotional notes as she was telling this story. Carla’s good, she knows what’s she’s doing.
I would pitch it as a by the beat romantic comedy. I think pure romantic comedies are actually really hard to find. When I say by the beat, I think this is a book that would also translate to film very well and I think sometimes even when you find stories that are like funny and sexy, sometimes they’re a little bit slow. This had excellent pacing too. When I think of like, this is a classic beat by beat romantic comedy, I think anyone who’s in the mood for a good romantic comedy, this is a book you want to pick up.
If I’m enjoying the book, it’s not hard to turn off my writing brain at all. If I like it and I’m just going along, I’m 100% reader mode and I’m loving it. I only feel like my writer brain comes on when something just feels off. You know, if like the pacing is off, or the characterization feels kind of weird, or if there feels like there’s a glaring plot hole. I usually, my writer brain only turns on for like structure stuff.
I think any time I read a good book that I enjoy, one, it makes me want to keep writing. When I read good books, it always makes me want to get back and write something new and I think that … Yeah, I mean, I think that with Carla’s story, I think the difference is that she had such a unique voice, so it wasn’t something that I was like, oh, I want to emulate this, but it was like, oh, this kind of gave me some juice to like get back to the drawing board.
I have absolutely read stuff where I’ve been like, oh man, this is so good, I would never be able to do this. But, then sometimes when I feel that way, when I sit down with my own writing, I’m reminded like, oh, right, I have my own voice, and it’s not … I didn’t become a writer to like pretend to be someone else. I became a writer because I wanted to … You know what I mean? I wanted to write my stories the way I wanted to write my stories, but I definitely have had moments where I’ve read stuff and I’ve been like … Anyone who will listen to me I’ll tell you how much I love Beverly Jenkins, and like I’ve been wanting to write historical forever, but I am so intimidated by the research.
So, that’s definitely one thing where I’ve been like ugh, but I definitely, when I read her stuff it makes me want to go back and keep telling stories about people. Carla, again, inspires me to keep going.
In my like make believe brain, I’m reading everything. That part of my make believe brain is a complete liar and in reality I’m just reading romance all the time. I think right now, like I have a bunch of horrors that I want to read, I have a bunch of non-fiction that I’ve been planning to read. I have some literary fiction that I’ve been planning to read, but every time I sit down to read I always end up reading a romance.
It’s just now in today’s political climate, the way things are I just feel like if I’m spending my free time doing something I want to read something that makes me really happy. I remember a few years ago I was like sitting in the DMV and I was reading a YA novel that was not a romance and the writing was beautiful. The book was really, really good. The writing was fantastic, but the story was so dark and when I finished I was like crying for like three days, and after that I was like, you know what? I don’t want to be crying this much after reading a book, so I was like let’s just stick to romance. I know there’s going to be a happy ending. If I’m crying, it’s going to be happy tears. It’s not going to be like, what is the world coming to tears, so yeah, I think the happy ending guarantee is kind of what I need right now for a pick me up.
I think I could read like a cozy mystery or something, which I probably should because I do love a good mystery, but other than that I think I’ve picked up some literary fiction and I’ve been like, oh, that’s so depressing. Like, go back, and I’m like it’s great writing but it’s just bumming me out, man, so I just go back to romance.
Thanks again to Rebekah Weatherspoon for joining us and recommending If the Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman. Sanctuary, the second novel in her Beards and Bondage series, is available wherever ebooks are sold. You can follow her on Twitter at rdotspoon.
Dessa is a rapper, a singer, an essayist, and a member of the Doomtree hip-hop crew. She’s performed around the world at opera houses and rock clubs and while standing on barroom tables. She’s landed on the Billboard Top 200 list as a solo artist, as a Doomtree member, and as a contributor to The Hamilton Mixtape. As a writer, she’s contributed to the New York Times Magazine, Minnesota Public Radio, the Star Tribune (Minneapolis), Minnesota Monthly, literary journals across the country, and has published two short collections of poetry and essays. Her debut memoir My Own Devices stitches together poignant insights on love, science, and language in a demonstration of just how far the mind can travel while the body is on a six-hour ride to the next gig.
My name is Dessa and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is my recommended.
I think that the first time I ran across Dave Eggers’ work was in the context of a creative writing class in college. I went to the University of Minnesota and either it was assigned or one of my classmates foist it on me.
In A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers writes of his life, I think in his early 20s, dealing with a really serious illness in his family, his mom’s really sick. And as the book progresses he becomes the primary caretaker for his little brother, Toph, and he is about as ready for that task as any young, unmarried man in his very early 20s would be. And part of what makes the book run though is not only the tragic narrative arc that Dave Eggers renders in this really comic, likable way, but it’s also just voice. It was the first book-length piece I think I read that ran on primarily the gasoline of a writer’s style.
I was still in the process of discovering and trying to demarcate the edges of what creative non-fiction was. That’s such a weird genre name and I think in a lot of ways it’s really unfortunate because fiction has all these really sexy signifiers, it’s short shorts or flash fiction, and on the other side I think we found people were wearing monocles and drinking scotch. It’s always literary essay, or personal essay, or meditation, or creative non-fiction, which sounds like we are not having a third as much fun as people on the other side of the line.
When I’m talking to friends, or people in music who might have some interest in the songs I write and wonder what the book I’m working on is about, I’m reluctant to lead with that phrase, creative non-fiction. Because it feels like it’s … I don’t know, it’s like an identity made by defining what you’re not. It’s like, well, it’s non-fiction, it’s not fiction so we got non-fiction. Okay, but it’s not boring, it’s creative, it’s not journalistic. I don’t know, it’s like a really bad game of 20 Questions. Like, it’s not bigger than a breadbox, it’s not made of metal. It’s creative non-fiction, or whatever.
But the way that I describe it to friends sometimes is like you know when you’ve lived through a particular episode with your group of friends, later that night at the bar, if you’re joined by a fifth friend let’s say, there might be one person in your group, you’re like, “Hold on, hold on, hold on. Let Mindy tell it,” because she’s got great comic timing and because she can do all the voices. It’s that kind of telling, where there’s no compromise needed to be made on truth telling in an effort to earn a lot of style points .
But sometimes I’ll compare it to a photograph versus a painting. We don’t consider photographers any less artistic, because they know how to render an image and they know what not to include, they know how to frame their subject in a way that it’s aesthetically compelling, even though the world essentially provides them their subject matter as opposed to a painter, who is at liberty to dream up canvases that are or are not populated.
And so reading Dave Eggers, I realized how much creative license you can take without forfeiting even a shred of your affiliation to the total truth. When you indicate when you’re launching into imagined scenes, you can maintain, yeah, total veracity while still demonstrating and exercising all the skills of craft and creativity that any other writer would. He really blew open the doors of the genre for me.
When I was in college I was studying to earn a philosophy degree from the University of Minnesota, I initially thought I was attracted to philosophy to better understand the world, that’s part of it, but I was also like, “What are these kids doing with their pens? This is smart and creative.” And as I continued my collegiate career, took a couple of writing classes, I think it was reading David Sedaris and I thought, “Wait, I’m sorry. What is this? These are just anecdotes, this counts? You can do this and be a writer?”
For me, I’d always imagined writers produce novels and only novels, or you were a journalist. And so to find out that there was this short form that somebody was doing it for a living and that people were responding to it as if it was literature, and it was funny. That smart and funny could coexist with truth, that those three circles in the Venn diagram overlapped, and there was a name for it, it was called creative non-fiction, just blew my mind. I went on a tear of reading the Davids, I loved David Sedaris, I loved David Foster Wallace, I loved David Eggers, I loved David Rakoff. All these cats, who were funny and maybe a little bit sad and pretty damn bright, opened the world, which would be the one I’d step into like 15 years late.
But I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to do after I finished college. I had a little bit of water treading until I eventually started performing as a slam poet. And I did that because I couldn’t get published anywhere and my roommate was like, “Dude, you should go and read your stuff.” And I won a couple of slams at a bar, essentially it’s like a competitive poetry reading where people hold up score cards and the winner gets a little cash or some free drinks. And it’s through the slam scene that I connected with the hip hop community and there is where I landed, for a long time. I’m part of a group called Doomtree, which is a collective based in Minneapolis. Even while I was learning how to write songs and learning how to record them, and getting my sea legs on national tours and then international tours, I was still writing poetry and some short stories and a lot of essays.
I would say that I have a very disordered reading life. I tour a lot for my job, I’m a performing musician, and it sounds like there would be endless hours that could be spent in a book in that job, as you travel from town to town. But really, there are surprisingly few. A lot of my time, when I’m on the road, is spent behind the screen of a laptop, managing numbers for an upcoming tour. And reading too long in the car, you end up just fighting motion sickness and feeling a little gross until you hit Omaha or whatever. I would say that my reading comes in fits and starts.
Right now I’m between tours and so in my gray backpack, that I carry with me everywhere, I’ve got a copy of Harpers and a copy of The New Yorker and a copy of Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I think my favorites are probably essays that run on some bittersweet insight and a lot of style, a lot of really writery, well-crafted turns of phrase. And yeah, I’m a miniaturist in most things. I live in little apartments, I like tiny bells. For me, I almost always prefer an essay to a book-length work but I’m impressed and delighted when somebody can earn a book-length work.
I’m reluctant to recommend A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius to any of my peers because it’s sort of like, “Oh, dude. Have you heard of Michael Jackson? I think you’re really going to dig this record.” Like, “Yes, dude. I’ve heard of Michael Jackson, I do not need your recommendation. Let’s go get lunch.” But for young readers, I do, yeah. And I do because I think it’s a total master craft and it’s funny. And there’s so few people or topics to which we are not inclined to pay attention, if they are funny and charming, those are just powerful, powerful tools for attracting and maintaining attention. And Eggers does both, in spades in style.
Thanks again to Dessa for joining us and recommending A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. My Own Devices, published by Dutton Books, will be available wherever books are sold on September 18 of 2018. You can follow her online at dessadarling.
Next week on Recommended, an author recommends a book that contains the representation she was looking for:
Her native characters, they’re not flawless. They’re three dimensional people. They have strengths and weaknesses just like anyone else. I just feel like native teens will really relate to that, and that all teens will be able to make a leap and really benefit from the insights of that lived experience.
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