Star Wars Characters Who Deserve Their Own Books or Movies

It’s no secret that I love Star Wars. Despite growing up in the ’80s and having a white Princess Leia toothbrush, I don’t remember ever being a fan of that galaxy far, far away as a child. I remember liking the Ewoks, but I’m pretty sure I only had that toothbrush because my grandfather’s pharmacy sold them. I think my brother had an Ewok one, if I remember correctly. Anyway, toothbrush aside, Star Wars held no interest for me until late 2016, when my boss told me I should really see the movies, starting with Episode IV (which made NO sense to me at the time).

So after my then-5-month-old went to bed, I watched A New Hope, and the rest, as they say, is history. For those few hours, I got to be part of a different world. My exhaustion and weariness fell away, and I felt…hopeful, for the first time in a long time. At a time when I was struggling as a new parent, deeply exhausted, nervous about the upcoming election, and feeling very alone, Luke, Leia, and Han brought me into the fold. I could see why Leia was such a different female protagonist at that time, and how important that must have been. Only a few months later, her image would be everywhere during the Women’s March, and it struck me that I wasn’t the only one who looked to Leia for hope and inspiration.

Shortly after that, I watched the rest of the original trilogy, tried (and failed) to watch the prequels, and then a few months later, watched Rogue One. I would rewatch Episodes IV and V whenever I needed to feel better (which was a lot). About 6–8 months later, I started dipping my toe into the Star Wars comics, and shortly after that, tried some books, the first one being Bloodline by Claudia Grey. Yes, Leia remained—and remains—a favorite. I’ve since surrendered to the Star Wars love, and read many of the comics. Book-wise, I am working my way through both Canon and Legends. One of the things I love about Star Wars is how vast the world is. So many planets and worlds and backstories and characters: there is always more to learn and more to read about.

The teaser for Episode IX dropped recently, and I admit, I am still bitter that it’s not going to be Leia’s movie, as originally envisioned. How I would have LOVED a Leia movie. I’m holding out hope that one will be made in the future (hint, hint, LucasFilm/Disney…I mean, if you need some ideas, I’ve got plenty). But although I adore Leia, there are so many great characters whom I’d love to read more about in their own books or see in their own movies. Here are just a few.

Mara Jade

I recently read the original Thrawn trilogy, since everyone told me that was the place to start with Legends (and they’re not wrong). Filled with wonderful characters, I was especially intrigued by Mara Jade. Since finishing the trilogy, I’ve read more about her and there is just so much to learn and so many stories and potential books that could be written from her life. Such a complex, fiery character and I really hope she somehow makes it into the new canon somewhere. There have been rumors about her possible appearance in Episode IX, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Winter Celchu

I first read about Winter in the Thrawn trilogy. Raised as a sister to Leia after her parents died, Winter later became Leia’s aide, and helped raise Jaina, Jacen, and Anakin Solo. She’s in a lot of the Legends books, but oh, how I would love a Winter-centric book (it would also provide backstory to Leia, which I’m always here for).

Enfys Nest

Who could forget that reveal in Solo? (And I didn’t even love that movie.) I mean, COME ON. A wise-beyond-her-years teenager leading the Cloud-Riders and born into a family where the women helped to protect the galaxy—there is so much story here, waiting to be told and developed and expanded upon. I know her character is fairly new, but I hope it’s developed somewhere.

Shmi Skywalker

I feel like Shmi gets short shrift. I recently read the novelization of The Phantom Menace and as a mother, it ripped my heart out to read her separation from Anakin. I’d love more of Shmi, more backstory, and her take on the galaxy and raising a young Anakin. We often think of her as a means to the bigger story, but without her, there’d be no bigger story.

Lumiya (Shira Brie)

Yes, I am Rebel Alliance through and through, but sometimes the Dark side has some pretty interesting characters—hello Asajj Ventress, Boba Fett, and Thrawn. And the more I learn about Lumiya, the more I want to read about her life. She grew up in the heart of the Empire and was groomed by its leaders, had impeccable Empire training, infiltrated the Rebel Alliance and received several commendations from them, and was eventually killed by Luke Skywalker. Her story is complex, her creation is layered, and damn if I don’t want a book about this person.

Seriously, though, there are a ton of characters whose stories would make for awesome books, movies, or comics. Fellow Rioter S.W. Sondheimer wrote an article about this a few years ago, which you can read here. She brings up Breha, Hera, Sinjir, and Mon Mothma, among others. There’s also Tenel Ka, the Nightsisters, Quinlan Vos (yes, he has Dark Disciple but that’s only a small part of his life), Shaak Ti, and so many more.

Which Star Wars character do you want more of in a comic, book, or movie?

Crime Fiction’s New Favorite Private Eyes

Few crime writers will argue against the importance of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Their novels and stories are staples in the crime community, their innovative use of language, plot, and deception still resonating with writers and readers alike today. However, the modern private investigator, and any other sort of investigator including police, spies, and so on are evolving. Those who aren’t the physical representation of Hammett and Chandler need not stray far in the genre to find a new breed of top notch writers creating private investigators that build on these classic crime writers and, sometimes, surpass them.

For years now, Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan, Alison Gaylin’s Brenna Spector, and most recently Sara Gran’s Claire Dewitt have paved the path for new and astonishing  detectives of all races, sexes, and sexualities—investigators who do not always simply fight crime, but also attempt to understand how justice works, when it fails, and how these issues affect all modern Americans. Claire Dewitt, a book series rumored to have two more installments until the series completion, has developed an intense following, and Gran herself has taken giant steps to show that while Philip Marlowe may fight with gunfire, Dewitt is the woman who takes a bullet, pries it from her body, and continues on with her journey to solving every mystery possible. The self-proclaimed greatest private investigator alive has opened a world for other private investigators.

Steph Cha, Author of the Song series and YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY; photo used with author's permissionJuniper Song, Juniper Song Series by Steph Cha

The brilliant Song—and the nearly unrivaled Cha—is the best place to stop. The groundbreaking series by Cha is at once an ode to Chandler as much as it focuses on the needs of women, racial minorities, intense personal and world issues, and what it means to survive again and again. While Song may not be the hardcore and physically resilient Claire Dewitt, she casts a shadow over the rest of crime fiction as the talent to beat. Although Song may be privileged, living with some of the wealthiest people, she is not without her ghosts, the limitations placed on her due to Song’s race and sex, and so many other hurdles placed in her path. Cha’s private investigator is a woman who makes tough decisions, learns to lead a hard, lonely, and oftentimes frightening life, and values the loved ones she holds dear, all while remaining noir to the bone.

Alex Segura, Author of the Pete Fernandez series; photo used with author's permissionPete Fernandez, Pete Fernandez Mystery Series by Alex Segura

There are authors who find inspiration and light in all of their private investigators, so much they cannot let them go. Segura is brave, having mapped out the series over the course of five books (like Gran’s Dewitt), with the fifth and final book slated for publication later this year. It isn’t just Pete who is noir, but his whole life that is filled with turmoil, desperation, and darkness. Like Song, he reserves the most significant parts of him for protecting the people he loves. Always being dragged back into the pit of noirdom, much like Veronica Mars (the titular character played by Kristen Bell) and Rachel (Shiri Appleby) in UnReal, Pete struggles to keep his head about the water. In the most recently published Blackout, Segura doesn’t settle for Pete wandering down a dark alley. Segura saves the most intense battles for hurricanes of all sorts. With the conclusion of Pete’s saga, fans will have a fully realized series at their disposal, and what a wonder that is.

Erica Wright, author of the Kat Stone series; photo used with author's permissionKat Stone, Kat Stone Series by Erica Wright

It is not uncommon for extremely talented poets to venture into the crime genre. Crime is dark, but also a genre that permeates all books, creeping into a Toni Morrison novel or Alice Munro story just as it would with the latest Megan Abbott novel. Erica Wright, one of the most gifted poets today, brings as much lyricism into her writing as Chandler might have. Wright has an advantage: she’s younger and has a work ethic and undeniable talent for bringing the truth out in each of the Kat Stone novels. Kat can be wacky or poignant, depending on what page, paragraph, or even sentence you’re reading. Wright has a way to navigate through the books, maintaining her private investigator’s personality, needs, and duty just as she might a well written poem.  The structure in her novels is tight, with Kat a strong and determined woman who lives up to Wight’s potential. Wright, like Cha, is releasing her first standalone, and while readers are ecstatic about a new book from Wright, one can’t keep hoping for more from Kat Stone.

Kristen Lepionka, Author of the Brilliant Roxane Weary Novels; photo used with author's permissionRoxane Weary, Roxane Weary Series by Kristen Lepionka

Kristen Lepionka isn’t afraid to take her extremely hard, incredibly smart, and undeniably resilient private investigator Roxane Weary to the limit. Roxane is one of the few openly queer private investigators in the mainstream literary world today, and Lepionka—as well as Roxane—are looking to change that. Lepionka is known as one of the most kind and loving writers around, but don’t let Lepionka’s own personality fool you. Roxane is a force to be reckoned with. With endorsements from Laura Lippman and Sophie Hannah, as well as multiple books already slated for publication, Roxane’s voice, attitude, and determination are qualities readers cannot get enough of. Lepionka is breaking the world just as Roxane deals with broken bones and broken bodies. Stylistically and artistically speaking, her voice and no nonsense attitude may be closest to Chandler’s Marlowe, but Lepionka gives Roxane empathy which shines through any predecessor’s characters. Just as Roxane is destined to solve more mysteries and weather any storm imaginable, Lepionka will likely rise to stardom just as Lippman, Abbott, and multiple other female writers have before her. Readers need not fear—the third Roxane book is coming out this year, and it’s certainly something to preorder and eagerly anticipate, just like the other Roxane Weary novels.

Julia Dahl, author of the Rebekah Roberts series; photo used with author's permissionRebekah Roberts (Sort Of), Rebekah Roberts Novels by Julia Dahl

Rebekah Roberts has a voice that leaps off the page, which goes well with every outspoken, intelligent, and determined private investigator. Investigators like Rebekah have to be as resilient and fierce as they are determined and ready to deal with the darkness in the world surrounding them. Rebekah is a one-of-a-kind investigator, gritty and witty all at once. She comes hard and ready, and just like so many other great detectives before her, Rebekah’s first case comes with strings, including a strong connection to Rebekah herself. Dahl writes books which are as alive with energy as they are brilliantly crafted with story and Rebekah’s own voice. Few sleuths catch the reader as immediately as Rebekah, and determined fans hope for more books from Dahl, and new readers will find a safe space in Rebekah’s life, no matter how dark it gets.

Kellye Garrett, author of the Detective by Day series; photo used with author's permissionDayna Anderson, A Detective by Day Mystery Series by Kellye Garrett

Recently, when speaking with Kellye Garrett, discussion turned to Barbara Neely, one of the greatest mystery authors of all time. Like Neely, Garrett is a black woman paving the way for future crime writers of color. Just as Lepionka champions queer crime writers, Garrett writes one of the fiercest and funniest crime series to date. While her humor is incredibly different from other comical private investigators like the characters in Lisa Lutz’s Spellman Files, Garrett gets all the laughs with her inventive, sparkling heroine Dayne Anderson. In Dayna’s adventures, Garrett manages to avoid vulgar language and over-the-top gore and violence while still maintaining suspense surpassing so many other novels and writers. Garrett, a former television writer, gives back to other writers hoping to make a name for themselves just as Garrett has with her own novels. Dayna is kind, giving, and protective of her loved ones, but she won’t hesitate to obliterate anyone who messes with her or her core group of friends. The cherry on top is not Dayna’s love interest, although Dayna’s romances are worth all the butterflies in your stomach, but instead seeing Dayna in action, as we do at the end of the first novel in one of the most epic crime climaxes yet. Garrett is receiving critical acclaim and every bit is deserved. Readers may have to wait a bit longer than they would like for the next novel chronicling Dayna’s adventures, but the wait is worth it. Garrett is formidable, classy, and full of love.

Needless to say, the world of crime fiction is changing. Everyone including critically acclaimed best-selling novelist—and now television show executive producer—Megan Abbott, has pointed out that crime fiction is now a woman’s world and it is time for the Raymond Chandlers and Dashiell Hammetts to find their own footing. Steph Cha and Alex Segura praise Sara Gran for the Claire Dewitt series, novel after novel building upon this world Gran has created which is as interesting as it is puzzling, and now it is time for Cha, Segura, and other crime writers to step up and let their voices be heard. The crime world’s community is becoming more diverse, and as crime novels evolve, so do their protagonists. As time passes and these private investigators are finally put to rest, there will always be a place for more private investigators, sleuths as determined to solve the mysteries of our world as are their creators and authors. Fortunately for every reader out there, if one has not yet found a private investigator to identify with, this very private investigator is on their way, and the world needs to get ready as each investigator gets closer to solving the mysteries light must be shone upon, some answers needed and others necessary but not always welcome. No solution is an ending, just as few mysteries can be traced back to their beginnings. Not to worry, there’s a PI for that.

Quiz: Which Bookish Charity Should You Donate To?

Now that U.S. tax season is at an end, you might be fortunate to have a few extra dollars. If you’re looking for a way to put that money to good use, why not try a bookish charity? It can be overwhelming to pick one that aligns with your goals, though. There are a lot out there! (And you can find many of them at Charity Navigator, which rates over 9,000 charities based primarily on their “Financial Health and and their Accountability and Transparency.”) We’ve narrowed it down to five bookish charities. All of the charities on the other side of this quiz have received at least three out of four possible stars from Charity Navigator.

 

Are you ready to get started? Let’s go!

Want to give to more than one? Try the other results.

Books for Africa

Literacy Action

Children’s Literacy Initiative

Literary Arts

Braille Institute of America

 

What’s your favorite bookish charity? Find more about bookish charities here and in our archives.

I Quit My Goodreads Challenge And Never Looked Back

Don’t check, don’t check. You’ll just make yourself crazy.

My thumb hovers over “Reading Challenge” in my Goodreads menu.

I have to know.

This battle between my mind (don’t do it) and heart (c’mon, do it) happens every time I open my Goodreads app. My heart wins every time.

Goodreads dropdown menu

My reaction is always instant and visceral. If I’m on track or ahead, it’s a mental yessss. If I’m behind, I start to panic: What’s the shortest book on my “Want to read” list? Can I knock it out this week?

All of this started with a notification that my friend Nici had started a Goodreads challenge. I perked up: A challenge for reading books? I didn’t need to think twice—I wanted in. Because if there’s one thing I can do, it’s put down some books.

At first, I hardly remembered I was in a challenge. I was just doing what I always do—reading with the urgency of “so many books, so little time.”

But then, one day last fall, I suddenly felt a craving to reread Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep. I tried to ignore it—I couldn’t spare the time if I was going to hit my Goodreads Challenge by year end. I tried to read one page to satisfy my urge, but like with a bag of chips, I couldn’t stop at just one. Nor, as it turns out, could I stop at just one reread. I found myself craving and rereading even more books.

By the time December rolled around, I was behind in my challenge with less than a month to go. That’s when I pulled out all my tricks. I got an audiobook so I could multitask. I read the shortest books I could find—turns out single short stories count as whole books. I even finished reading a book I wasn’t enjoying because it would be faster to do that than start a whole new book—and that was when a little part of me died. When did I start prioritizing hitting a number over blissfully wandering inside a story—new or old—that I love?

I ended up meeting my goal, but the victory felt cheap. So when it came time to set my goal for 2018, I cut way back: Two books per month seemed doable. But it turns out I had opened a can of worms with the rereading. I missed the days when I used to read what I wanted, when I wanted. Even with a more attainable goal, I found myself making reading decisions based on a number rather than based on my heart, which was a surprisingly sad realization.

So I did it: I quit my Goodreads challenge and got back to the business of loving books. For me, it’s not “so many books, so little time”—rather, it’s “so many books I could fall in love with, so little time to meet and re-meet them.”

These days when I open my Goodreads app, I skip right over the menu and get right to good stuff: hunting for and discovering potential gems and keeping track of my journey through pages—new and old alike.

Goodreads Year in Review

Have you quit a reading challenge? If you’re feeling anxious about it, take a deep breath and check out this Book Riot post immediately: Why It’s Okay to Fail Your Reading Challenge.

10 Upcoming Adult Fantasy Novels

The world has answered our prayers. Or really, Book Riot has. Because if you are a fantasy fan, we have something for you. Bookwise, 2019 has been pretty amazing. It has delivered all our wants and wishes and given us so many amazing new books to read. (It also has delivered awful book news, but let’s not talk about that!) We haven’t forgotten our fantasy fans. And you aren’t ready for the upcoming months, because they look that they will change our souls with these fantastic lands and new magic. Check out these ten upcoming adult fantasy novels.

Pleasing Persephone coverPleasing Persephone by Mimi Milan (July 2)

Mimi Milan has a treat for us this summer. Pleasing Persephone takes the Hades and Persephone myth and gives it to us in an original way.

Desi Sagona has accidentally discover a lost scroll and because of that discovery, she is now traveling to Persephone Island. When the excavation site collapses, Desi finds herself buried inside. But the scroll does magical things and she will find many things inside that place.

The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter (July 16)

Game of Thrones meets Gladiator in The Rage of Dragons. In this world, you either die in the endless war or live to become a killing machine. Tau knows this, so he knows he has to escape. But things turn on him when those closest to him are brutally murdered and his grief turns into anger. Revenge is all he wants, so he decides he will become the greatest swordsman to ever live and go for the three who betrayed him.

Gods of Jade and Shadow book coverGods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (August 6)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia returns with an epic fantasy tale inspired by Mexican folklore. Gods of Jade and Shadow is the story of Casiopea Tun. She accidentally opens up a wooden box, releasing the Mayan god of death, who requests her help on returning his throne. This journey will transport us onto the heart of Mexico, be it the jungles of Yucatán or the city lights of Mexico City.

Pale Kings by Micah Yongo (August 13)

The Five Lands have been at peace for centuries, but when the gods return to claim their world, chaos will fall. A young assassin named Neythan is summoned, but instead of helping them uncover the enemy, he is confronted with secrets of his childhood life, all related to the scroll he always carries around.

Gideon the Ninth coverGideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (September 10)

“Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers.” Are you ready for lesbian necromancers?! Because yes, yes, I am.

Gideon the Ninth literally sounds like an epic book, with an out-of-this-world adventure and amazing characters that will show you the wonders of the undead.

Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger (September 24)

A soldier with a curse. A prince with a debt. A detective with a grudge. A thief with a broken heart. They should all be enemies, rogues and royals, but one single purpose will unite them, and that is to kill a greater evil which defies the laws of magic. These four destinies will collide in this epic new fantasy title.

The Starless Sea coverThe Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (November 5)

Erin Morgenstern finally makes her big return with The Starless Sea, a timeless love story that will remind you of the magical world of The Night Circus.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins discovers a mysterious book that hold his childhood memories. Unknown why this book has his life recorded on its pages, Zachary uncovers some clues: a bee, a sword and a key. These clues will lead him to an underground library, hidden from everyone and everything.

The Deep by Rivers Solomon (November 5)

The Deep tells the story of the water-breathing descendants of African slave women who were thrown overboard, their underwater society, and the future that awaits them.

Yetu holds the memories of all the people who live in this underwater society. They don’t remember their past, only their historian does, and Yetu is that historian. This story is inspired by a song produced by the rap group Clipping for the This American Life episode “We Are In The Future.”

Queen of the Conquered coverQueen of the Conquered by Kheryn Callender (November 11)

This Caribbean-inspired fantasy is ready to steal your hearts. Sigourney Rose’s family was murdered by the islands’ colonizers and she became the only surviving daughter of a noble lineage. Years after, she is ready to exact her revenge.

But it’s not that easy as we might realize. The king of the islands declares to everyone that he will choose his successor from amongst the noble families. Sigourney has a plan: infiltrate the royal island by manipulating and controlling the minds of its people. But she finds out that there is something far more dangerous targeting her.

Flamebringer by Elle Katharine White (November 11)

Flamebringer is the final volume of the Heartstone trilogy, the epic Pride and Prejudice retelling with dragons, and if you are excitedly waiting for it, this year is coming your way!

I won’t tell you much about it if you want to start the trilogy and catch up. You have until November to do it before the third and final book comes out. Just know it’s a Pride and Prejudice retelling and it has dragons, unknown evil, new enemies, new allies (maybe?) and our favorite duo of a healer and her dragon-riding husband.

Help Send 1000 Books By Authors of Color To Milwaukee Public Schools

Nyesha Stone is a Milwaukee journalist with her independent media company Carvd N Stone. But it wasn’t until a college journalism class that she finally came face-to-face with fellow authors of color, including books like The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

This exposure was at once exciting for her as well as a reminder of how disconnected she was from her own history and from seeing her own experiences reflected in the books she read.

Nyesha Stone, with three books by authors of color. Photo used with permission of Stone.

Nyesha Stone, with three books by authors of color. Photo used with permission of Stone.

While covering the Girls Day Summit at Milwaukee’s Alverno College, Stone had the opportunity to meet Marley Dias. Now 14, Marley was the founder of #1000BlackGirlBooks, which put over 9,000 books featuring black girl main characters into the hands of young readers.

Stone was inspired to do something similar, right in her own town of Milwaukee.

The Authors of Color Book Drive aims to get 1,000 books by authors of color into Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Stone is a former MPS student and wants to not only give back, but to raise awareness that these books are out there and that young readers of color deserve to see themselves in books.

Carvd N Stone makes it a mission to give back to low income communities in addition to covering news that can too often be overlooked, and this project gives Stone the opportunity to marry both.

Milwaukee’s 88Nine writes up a bit more about Nyesha and her project, providing addresses for both local drop off locations for those wishing to make in-person donations. But for those who aren’t local or don’t have copies of books by authors of color handy, we’ve made it possible to send donations directly to the project and help Nyesha donate 1,000 books by authors of color to MPS.

To Donate

Click here to access the Amazon Wish List of books for the Authors of Color Book Drive. When you add a book to your cart and go to check out, make sure that you select “Nyesha Stone, Carvd N Stone Inc.’s Gift Registry Address” for the shipping address. This ensures the items will be sent to her address, rather than your own.

Link: Amazon Wish List of books for the Authors of Color Book Drive

Don’t want to use Amazon?

You can be in touch with Nyesha directly for the address to which to send donations either curated personally or from other vendors. Likewise, she will accept cash donations to purchase additional titles for the project.

She can be reached at carvdnstone.cns@gmail.com.

The book drive runs through June 1.

Let’s Talk About Sex Scenes In Fiction, Baby

Every so often, someone from The Millions tweets out an article that ran in 2016, “Let’s Not Get It On: The Indefensible Sex Scene.” The latest iteration of this Twitter baiting took it a step further and drew the attention of the Romance community. The author asserts that with regard to sex writing in literature “[…] it’s really hard getting it right, if it can be done at all.” If?

I would like to pause to commend romance writers. Every time a lady climaxes from hot, feminist, consensual sex in a romance novel, a mythological creature (let’s call it a sexy unicorn) is created. It is elusive and lives shelved in a land far away from literary fiction, and is therefore not likely to be discovered by Very Important White Male Writers.

Bad sex scenes are an easy target, a not-so-hot hot take from the literary world. And real talk: yes, there are terrrrrrrrrible sex scenes out there, in romance, and in other genres. From the annals of literary fiction, Romance Powerhouse/Queen of Everything Beverly Jenkins retweeted screenshots of Jonathan Franzen’s, um, sexy (?) writing.

Y’all, I’m going to be honest:  it only gets worse after warm autonomous rabbit underpants. I’ll let you seek that out on Twitter. Jezebel did a wonderful round-up of sexy (?) quotes from Franzen’s Freedom, those that leave us scratching our heads or howling with laughter.

And this week, romance author Lauren Hunsaker called out The Millions article by creating a list of fantastic, successful sex scenes in romance novels.

Why *Do* People Hate Sex Scenes?

Sex scenes get a bad rap, and there’s good reason for some of the complaints. There are entire awards devoted to the worst-of-the-worst sex scenes in fiction. When it’s possible to do something poorly, there exists a stratification of badness. But when the badness becomes the rule rather than an exception, then we have a problem. And a big part of the problem comes in the erasure of women’s writing.

Which is not to say that women don’t write bad sex scenes. Rather, some of the most successful sex scenes come from the romance genre, a genre generally accepted to be written by, for, and about women.

Those Who Cannot Do, Come Up With a Different Plot

After I started writing romance, I had dinner with some old friends from MFA school, where we trained to be literary fiction writers. We knew all the jokes about writing sex scenes (groan, awful, yuck) and also the advice on how to do it (Steve Almond’s essay is still one of my favorites). One of them asked something along the lines of, “Eesh, have you tried to write a sex scene yet?”

Because I’m writing romance now, and sex will likely follow, and how, HOW am I to do it well? The author of the article on The Millions sums up the general theory re: writing sex scenes quite succinctly in the first sentence of his piece: “Literature about sex, no matter who has written it, is almost always terrible, and everybody knows it.”

But here’s the thing: despite that old education that sex scenes are a drag to write, there is an entire corner of the literary world where the truth universally acknowledged is that sex scenes are important and valuable and good. It’s just that it’s literature usually written by and about women, where sex is pleasurable for women and consent is hot.

And so when my friend asked me whether I had tried to write a sex scene yet, I found myself—for the first time—citing examples of fantastic sex scenes that I had learned from, in Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient, in Tessa Dare’s The Duchess Deal, in Sarah MacLean’s One Good Earl Deserves a LoverI didn’t dismiss sex scenes as too hard. It’s not a sexy unicorn; it’s possible, and it’s awesome.

When A Cigar Is More Than a Cigar

Whether this disconnect between good sex scenes and the romance genre is merely an extension of genre snobbery or an issue of gender equality in publishing, there’s a clear gap between what I know as a romance reader and what is asserted in this article about sex scenes in fiction.

I live in a golden age of fantastic romance novels that are smart, feminist, sexually woke, culturally relevant, and hot. I adore Jasmine Guillory and Sarah MacLean and Alisha Rai and Alyssa Cole and Tessa Dare, and it’s because the sex scenes they write are graceful and weighty and accomplish something beyond orgasm: they earn their keep in the story.

Jasmine Guillory did a great interview in The Atlantic about how she came to writing romance and where her books fall—particularly with regard to consent and how partners end up together—within the context of the #metoo movement. A.J. Christopher talked to Cosmo about how the #metoo movement made her examine the ways that she writes dating and sexual encounters, and whether that’s responsible when the stories about dating, and about sex, that arise out of that movement paint such a disparate picture than the ones she tells in her novels.

These articles are worth checking out, but they point me to a larger point here: perhaps when considering the quality of a sex scene, we should focus less on how to describe nipples or appendages, how to tackle the choreography of sex positions, or what to do about the gross physicalities (fluid, hair, etc.), and focus instead on what a sex scene can do.

Because I’ll tell you: when I hear an author talk about their deep self-examination in writing sex scenes that focus on women receiving pleasure, that make consent priority one, that’s a lot more interesting to me than hearing a writer lament that, in writing his own book about sex, “There wasn’t a single book I looked to and thought, ‘What I’m trying to do is write sex like she did or like he did.’”

If only he had asked us. Because the thing is, there are ample places to find good sex, but you’ll have to shop in the romance section. You’ll have to deal with a story of a smart, ambitious woman finding an HEA with a compatible, interesting partner. Many have tried, and yes, some have failed, but there are heroes to be found in the romance section, if only one would look.

For more on sexy writing in romance, check out 3 Tips For Great (Fictional) Sex; 7 of the Sexiest Books We’ve Ever Read; Why Not Romance Novels? Showing Respect for the Romance Genre

Reading Pathways: Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins—or, as we call her in Romancelandia, Queen Bev—is a master at writing strong heroines and emotionally fluent heroes. When I am asked where to start with Beverly Jenkins’s romances, it’s always a tough answer. They’re all so good and you really can’t go wrong with picking a book at random.

However, if you want more guidance, I’ve got you!

From romances that standalone to historical romance trilogies, there is a Beverly Jenkins book for every reader. As the 2017 winner of Romance Writers of America Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award, Jenkins’s work spans over two decades and her releases are some of the most anticipated romances to reach each year.

For readers who need some direction or who get overwhelmed when it comes to too many choices, here are three great starting points into Beverly Jenkins’s backlist!

Recommendation No. 1

Indigo

It’s always a gamble picking up a romance that’s over 20 years old. Will it hold up? Well, when it comes to Indigo, the answer is yes.

Many readers started their Jenkins obsession with Indigo (though if I’m being biased, Night Hawk was my first and favorite). If you want to know what Jenkins is all about—her rich sense of history and amazing understanding of character depth—this is a wonderful place to start.

Galen Vachon is a notorious figure known as Black Daniel, the enigmatic man who shepherds escaped slaves to freedom. After being wounded, he thinks he’s been betrayed and finds himself on Hester Wyatt’s doorstep, where she shelters him and tends to his wounds. Galen gives off major Scarlet Pimpernel vibes, entrenched in New Orleans elite society by day and serving a greater cause by night.

The romance’s name is in reference to Hester’s limbs being permanently stained after working endless hours on an indigo plantation. Her strength is of the subtle variety, in the way she carries herself, in the events that let to her escape. She’s a great complement to Galen’s charm and, at times, arrogance.

Recommendation No. 2

Deadly Sexy

Did you know Deadly Sexy was made into a movie? And since we’re book people here, we just have to read the book before watching any adaptations.

Deadly Sexy is a departure from the historical romances for which Beverly Jenkins is known. If you prefer your romances on the contemporary side, this romantic suspense might be for you.

Jessi Teresa Blake, known as JT, is one of the best sports agents around. She’s a smart, business savvy heroine, who knows that she has to work twice as hard to make it in a man’s industry. It’ll take more than a broke down car to intimidate her. Trucker, millionaire-in-disguise, and a man who wears many hats, Reese Anthony offers to get her a lift back to the city. Their short ride leaves a lasting impression, but they both know their time together was just a fluke.

But Reese soon finds himself sticking around for a particular job, right when JT needs some extra protecting.

It’s tense. It’s hot. It’s full of surprises.

Recommendation No. 3

Destiny’s Embrace

With so many historical romance series by Beverly Jenkins to choose from, how can you pick just one?

I mean, you don’t really have to; you can read them all! However, I will suggest the Destiny series, beginning with Destiny’s Embrace.

The trilogy stars the three sons (each son gets a happily ever after) of tenacious ranch owner, Alanza Yates, and is set in California during the late 19th century. There’s a workplace romance, ocean adventure, and one of my very favorite romance heroines (shout to Billie Wells in Destiny’s Surrender).

But we have to walk before we can run and the trilogy begins with Destiny’s Embrace, in which rancher Logan Yates realizes he’s absolutely in love with his infuriating housekeeper, Mariah Cooper. For those who love it when romance characters get so angry they want to smooch each other, read this immediately.

What was your first Beverly Jenkins romance? Are any of my picks your favorite? Tell me in the comments!

My WILD Trip to Toronto: From Codependent to Emotionally Detoxed

My solo trip to Toronto in October 2018 mirrored Cheryl Strayed’s Wild trip: long walks, lack of drinking water, and a suspicious man. Sure, my walks were 0.5 km strolls to the grocery store to buy Smart Water bottles for my sensitive stomach, and the suspicious man was an awkward neighbor who scampered away as soon as I glared at him. Mostly, what my Toronto trip had in common with Strayed’s is that it led me back to my independence.

wild cheryl strayedI’ve lived with my family for a few years, and sought a place to myself. Thankfully, an acquaintance had invited me to visit her in Toronto. In August, my intuition told me to ask her if I could visit in October. Happily as always, she replied that she was out of town but I was welcome to stay at her place anyway. An empty apartment to myself? Jackpot! I could also satisfy my curiosity about life in Canada.

We always want what we can’t have. Of course, as soon as I got there, I started missing my family in Southern California, and mostly missing their help. I had to buy my own groceries, clean up the place, and take out the trash. Who else would do it? I’d lived on my own before, but had been helping out at home for so long that I’d become part of the cozy yet codependent unit. This time, breaking away was harder. I hesitated to accept help from my new friend in Toronto, and called and texted my family constantly, who were of course busy with work and kids. One day I actually cried, as I felt the familiar emotional attachment sever, and I allowed new and mature relationships to enter my life. Eventually, I called home less as I grew comfortable with my own company.

In Toronto, I got the quiet I desired. At first, Toronto was a bit too quiet for me, coming from bubbly Southern California. Except for the occasional sorry if they bump into you, people in Toronto pretty much politely keep to themselves. After complaining for a week about the solitude I had asked for, I embraced it. The warm, empty apartment wrapped me in a cocoon and allowed me to process the thoughts I had hidden amongst the comfortable chatter back home. Besides the quiet, Toronto’s inclusivity made it the perfect place for a solo, hijab-clad female traveler like myself.

Like Strayed, I began the trip with too much weight on my shoulders, but I lifted it off me as I traveled. I overpacked my carry-on for the departure flight, and it was hard for me to carry through customs. For the trip home, I packed more in my checked luggage, so I could handle the weight of my carry-on. As I breathlessly lugged water bottles back to my apartment—because I was too lazy to get a bus pass and too cheap to use Uber—I remembered Strayed’s words: perhaps the physical suffering would fade away some of my emotional suffering. Alas, by walking daily for one hour, I shed some of the midsection weight I’d gained the past few years, mostly from shared guilt.

A loner by choice, I’ve taken many solo trips in the past: New York, Grenada, Northern California, etc. But this one filled me with anxiety, perhaps because I felt it was a catalyst for major change. A new country to coincide with the new me. Although it was a new me I’d been wanting for years, it was still difficult to fathom. For a while now, I knew in the back of my mind it was time to move out, get a full-time job, and get married. The day before I left, I met a potential mate, and soon as I arrived in Toronto I got a job offer back in California. Traveling away from home provided the space I needed for new things to enter my life.

My Toronto trip was more than a vacation: it was a tool for emotional detachment. The new scenery, attractions and people distracted me while I pushed myself to accept change. Also, it showed me I could take care of myself, no matter how hard it is. Now that I have been able to rely on myself when I was completely alone, I could do it when I was home surrounded by friends and family. I’m glad I had Wild to guide me through the tumultuous journey of walking towards independence.

The Future is Now and It’s Inclusive: Young People of Color in YA Books

This is a guest post from Camille A. Collins. Camille has an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been the recipient of the Short Fiction Prize from the South Carolina Arts Commission, and her writing has appeared in The Twisted Vine, a literary journal of Western New Mexico University. Her novel THE EXENE CHRONICLES is out with Brain Mill Press. She likes writing about music, and has contributed features and reviews to Afropunk and BUST. She lives in New York City. You can find her on Twitter at @ponei_rosa9.


Few authors do a better job of passionately articulating the need for diverse characters in YA literature than Jason Reynolds, who once told The Washington Post, “I learned just how…necessary it is sometimes to humanize those who have been vilified.” It’s not that I don’t appreciate the need myself—my debut novel The Exene Chronicles centers on Lia, one of a very small handful of minority students at a high school in a suburb of San Diego, just as I was. But unlike Reynolds, as a kid I think I was pretty resigned to the fact that there weren’t going to be any YA books with characters that looked like me or felt and experienced the same things I did. Not only did I not expect it—I didn’t dare dream it possible. I simply did my best to find common ground in the humanity of characters in books I enjoyed like The Outsiders and Lord of the Flies, unable to imagine a book that might put a black girl at the center of the narrative.

What if there had been some fantastic lore of a band of renegade black girl detectives in motorcycle jackets or pink windbreakers a la The Pink Ladies, solving tricky neighborhood mysteries and taking down bullies on the block? What might it have meant for me as a kid to have such a book? Minority narratives are often expected to reflect pain and deprivation, material, social or otherwise—and they often do, because stuff still goes down. Maybe one day Sasha Obama or Blue Ivy will write a YA book about a kid so privileged they feel disconnected from their community—and just about everybody. At least it would be a fresh take.

I attended a screening of James Spooner’s 2003 film Afro Punk in the fall, for a first-time viewing. It’s from this film that the Afro Punk festival and social platform gets its name. In interview after interview, the black kids in the film say, “well, I was the only black kid in my school…” Time and again, this was the refrain. Who knew that punk, of all things, would offer such a sheltering umbrella for minority youth? With isolation and otherness eventually leading these kids to seek solace and common ground in the formidable battle cry of unadorned lyrics and chaotic beats. It was interesting to learn that as one of the few black kids in Coronado, California, by discovering punk in middle school, I was part of a trend of black misfits in suburban towns across America. Who knew the punk scene would become a de facto after school “chess club” for so many of us? Punk, typically associated with adolescent angst, the frustration of a sanitized suburban idle, a disciplining DIY credo, and temporal oases of rundown ballrooms to thrash out pent up rage, and fear—is usually associated with privilege, and typically that don’t mean black. I hope The Exene Chronicles is a first step towards that different kind of narrative—a new take on the “black experience,” just like the AfroPunk website says.

Thankfully, the future is now and it’s incredible. YA lovers can now choose from a variety of protagonists, from a diverse array of viewpoints and cultures, to both mirror and guide them through cultural and social landscapes familiar and new. The following are a few such books, literary companions—young people of color at the center of their very own narrative. These stories stayed with me, and may offer satisfying accompaniment to you as well.

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican DaughterI Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez

Julia Reyes is a Mexican American teen growing up in Chicago in this unique and addictive novel by Erika L. Sanchez. When her “perfect” older sister Olga suddenly dies, Julia adjusts to her new status of being her parent’s only—and possibly second best—preoccupation. Julia has always been in conflict with her parent’s cultural and social strictures, and in the wake of her sister’s death every argument and bad word she utters seems magnified. Along the way, Julia discovers that maybe Olga, a young adult who stayed on at home and clean houses with her mom, wasn’t so saintly after all. Rich with realistic dialogue and conflict, Sanchez crafts scenarios where the chafing of Mexican cultural tradition against the struggles of a first generation American daughter is nearly tactile. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter brings a bird’s-eye view into the values and expectations of a working class Mexican American family. Julia is an unabashedly flawed, rebellious character with a heart more tender than she cares to let on—and despite some reviewers complaining that she is “unlikable,” I like her. I get her.

Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth

I can’t believe I’m only just discovering Erika T. Wurth. The journey of 16-year-old Margaritte as told in Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend is haunting and unforgettable. Wurth’s pull-no-punches writing style is a fitting accompaniment to the harsh realities that shape the environment and experiences of this mixed Apache, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and white teen. The numerous indignities Margaritte faces are enough to end anyone. Her home life is fraught with abuse, and the community lousy with drug dealers, users, and pregnant teens with little vision for their future. Intelligent and responsible, with a self-deprecating humor that is damn near heroic given the circumstances, Margaritte hopes to engage with the vices of her Colorado town just enough to beat the system. When she falls in too deep with the wrong guy and finds herself pregnant, her dreams hang in the balance. Wurth is a skilled author who fearlessly depicts an environment so grim it feels almost post-apocalyptic.

Native Americans are no more a monolith than any other group. History was just made when Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids became the first Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress. Still, Margaritte embodies other similar experiences. Her harsh realities mirror that of the four non-Native, West Virginia youth who made national headlines when they became trapped in a mine the other day. They had taken the life-threatening risk while in search for copper wire to sell. Through Margaritte, Wurth draws a fierce, real, and memorable character who allows us to see the kind of town that altogether too many Americans are forced to survive. And although fictional, the novel stands as backstory to help highlight the hellish grid of abuse and codependency that poverty and racism have dealt far too many native youth, and their subsequent vulnerability to crimes such as human trafficking. I cannot shake this story—and I don’t want to.

the poet xThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The delicately crafted, emotive National Book Award–winning novel written in verse tells the story of 15-year-old Dominican Harlemite Xiomara. Xiomara’s blossoming is made indelible by Acevedo’s exquisite crafting of content and verse. Marked with the taint of sin for merely existing by her strictly religious Catholic mom, Xiomara is a smoldering volcano of angst and confusion, struggling to adapt to her body and burgeoning womanhood as she crosses the chasm of her mother’s exacting standards and the New York streets, where she’s objectified by catcalls, and falls for a boy named Aman. Xiomara has a twin brother, Xavier, whose obedience stands in contrast to her seemingly constant rebellion. She’s a girl who’s willing to challenge the local priest on sexist biblical narratives, after all. Having been raised in a very religious household myself, I can relate to Xiomara as she begins to take the essential steps needed to claim her identity and liberate herself from someone else’s voice and idea of who she should be. For her part Acevedo, a tricky spider—works stealthily to weave a narrative that closes the divide between poetry and prayer.

A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena

Who doesn’t love the opportunity reading provides to “travel” and become immersed in unfamiliar worlds? A Girl Like That is a story about two deceased teenagers, told from beyond the grave from multiple perspectives, including that of Zarin and her young Romeo, Porus. In this book, author Tanaz Bhathena brings a deftly woven story that chronicles the life of a rebellious teen girl in modern day Saudi Arabia. The once orphaned Zarin is the subject of ridicule and gossip around her neighborhood and school for her devil-may-care dalliances with boys, and for her beliefs as a Zoroastrian—a religious minority group. Zarin and Porus are killed in a catastrophic car accident in Jeddah. Flashbacks highlight the challenges they endure, from disapproving elders to the scrutiny of the religious police. This is a book to stoke jocular book club discussions. A Girl Like That has received flak in some quarters for the dark characterizations of many of the male Muslim characters, and for the constant in-fighting among the women and girls. A group discussion of how the book may lapse into unfortunate stereotypes is a worthy conversation to have. Still, A Girl Like That offers an intriguing look into the social hierarchies determined by religion, culture (Zarin is of Indian, not Saudi, descent) and familial status in a major, modern Middle Eastern city, comprised of people from an array of regions and religions. Misunderstood Zarin, a social misfit who experiences more than her fair share of hardship in the years leading up to her untimely death, is a character worthy of exploration.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

Often it is the harshest or most dramatic of minority experiences that satisfies the assumption that life for some communities is all tragedy most of the time. Jenny Han’s novel is a departure from this definition that lands like a breath of fresh air. Lara Jean Covey is one of three “Song girls.” Song is their late Korean mother’s maiden name. The half Asian trio are now on their own with their dad, and with the eldest heading for college, Lara Jean will soon have to assume more responsibilities at home. Perhaps her position as the somewhat sheltered middle daughter is the reason Lara Jean is given to such deeply emotional flights of fancy—her musings are innocently overdramatic when juxtaposed against her naivety. Much of Lara Jean’s love life is lived out through the farewell letters she writes boys when her affections for them have waned. When five such letters are mailed accidentally, the safe next door neighbor Josh and magnetic Peter among the recipients, Lara Jean is cast in an uncomfortable spotlight. Yet, the trouble also fortuitously leads to an alliance, something akin to a milk and cookies version of the pact in Dangerous Liaisons, that affords Lara Jean and Peter a chance to become better acquainted. To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, since adapted into a Netflix movie, is light, romantic teen fare. And sometimes light is just right.