Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Interview with Sarah Wendell, A Smart Bitch

While I have interviewed an Olympic athlete and a person I thought to be a professional NFL quarterback, I have never interviewed an author. Until now that is! Sarah Wendell is the co-founder of the website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and co-author of Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels, available everywhere* on April 14th. Never did I think I would every write the phrase "Beyond Heaving Bosoms" on my blog. Anyway, I have known Sarah, a fellow Pittsburgher, since high school and her husband Adam even longer. They are great people who I know would be there for me if I ever needed anything (and I'm not just writing this because they will read this!). Plus, if I had to rate the best weddings I attended, their wedding would rank #2 behind my own. It was so cool taking a cruise and singing New York, New York by the Statue of Liberty! In addition, Adam has won our fantasy baseball league five times, while I still have no championships (though this is my year!).

How did you first start the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website?

The nutshell version: I used to have a personal blog, and this chick shows up out of nowhere leaving these LONG ASS COMMENTS about petfood. When I emailed her back (nicely, not like, "WTF?") we found we had a lot in common, specifically a predilection for critical literary analysis, a strange compulsion to make our own petfood, and a shameless, hopping love of romance novels. We bemoaned the lack of reviews that treated romances to actual critique, as opposed to unilaterally dismissing them or squeeing all over the place to the point that you'd suspect My Little Sparkly Ponies would fly out the ass of the reviewer when she read.

So we decided to start a romance novel review blog, because (a) there were not enough blogs already on the internet (b) we wanted to cuss a lot and talk about romance novels seriously and irreverently at the same time and (c) why the hell not?

What kind of feedback do you get from the romance novel authors? I would think they wouldn't be happy if you give the book a poor review.

Depends on the review. Many will email me privately and say thank you, even if it's a harsh review, because my general rule is: if I don't like something, I will over-explain every last reason why I didn't, and back my own ass up several times over. I hate when I read a review that reads, in total, "This sucks." WHY did it suck? Because you don't like that particular character trope? What if that trope totally does it for me? So when we don't like something, holy shit do we tell you why. And much of the time, authors have responded that while difficult to read, our reviews are very honest, very useful criticism - and romance doesn't get nearly enough of that.

Conversely, this can make our positive reviews incredibly squeeful.

Sometimes I give a poor review and hear nothing. But anyone who sends us something to read and review knows that we'll be honest and detailed. Don't walk in the kitchen if you can't take the heat.

In rare cases, the author who is reviewed will throw an epic flouncing shitfit and then it's just entertaining. Sooooo entertaining.

Fabio: Yay or Nay?

Until recently he was a solid "Yay." He knows exactly why he's famous, and he doesn't seem to take himself seriously - from the Nationwide commercial to the America's Next Top Model appearance to the insistence that he can't believe it's not butter, he acted like he was in on his own joke.

Then I discovered that maybe, perhaps, the Fab-ster does indeed take himself too seriously. When I tried to interview him for the book, and I contacted his fan club, his agent, his manager, and anyone who had long blond hair and mammoth pectorals, but he didn't return the calls. Totally his loss.

When or how did you realize that your fantastic website could become a book?

We didn't decide it could be. We had no idea it would work! When Rose Hilliard, an editor at St. Martin's, contacted us and said, "Hey, have you guys ever thought about writing a book about romance novels?" we laughed our asses off. Literally - the conference call was full of Candy and me snorting and giggling because... come on now, seriously? But Rose showed us how to write a proposal, our agent, Secret Agent Dan helped us refine it, and then we landed a book deal with Touchstone/Fireside, which is a division of Simon & Schuster.

So it wasn't so much a decision as it was a suggestion and an invitation. Either way, it was shitloads of fun. We got to think about what all we'd want to say about romances and what games we'd want to include that weren't really feasible in a blog format.

So tell us about the book.

"Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels" is a tongue-in-cheek guide to the romance novel genre. It's for people who have always wondered WHY romances are so popular, or why their wives/girlfriends/friends/significant other read them. It's also for fellow fans of the genre, because, as Candy says, only a romance fan can appreciate that the best of romance is on-par with the best literature published, and the worst is more vile than you could possibly imagine.

Romances are also a billion dollar industry, written by women (mostly) for an audience of women (mostly) and not nearly enough attention is paid to the genre, both as a form of literary expression and as a venue for cultural analysis. So our book aims to do a little of that, with fun, games, and cussing.

Do you have a favorite Pittsburgh sports moment? (Sean’s note: I bet I am the only person interviewing Sarah that will ask her this question.)

Several, but surprisingly neither are the recent Steelers Super Bowl wins. The first win, Freebird, our older son, was sick, and while Adam was doing the dance of joy, I was taking the wee man's temperature and he posted the highest fever I'd ever seen. So that was decidedly NOT fun. The next time, Baba O'Riley was sick. Steelers Super Bowls are not friendly to the relative stability of my sons' immune system.

My favorite Pittsburgh sports moments are:

1. Adam teaching me how to throw a frisbee forehand, which I discovered I can do with some, or more appropriately, "a little" accuracy. Backhand, I suck.

(Sean's note - Just because this occurred in Pittsburgh, does that really count as a Pittsburgh sports moment?)

2. My one and only trip to PNC Park, probably after the [fantasy league] draft in either 2002 or 2003. I have a picture I took on my phone of Adam and me in our seats, eating neon yellow nachos. Looking at it makes me so happy.

Does it ever get annoying having a husband who seems to win our fantasy baseball every year?

Nope. But it sounds like you may have some issues, Sean, Hmm?

Yes I probably do. Anyway, Beyond Heaving Bosoms comes out next on Tuesday, April 14 but you can purchase the book now from the Smart Bitches website or Amazon.

* well, maybe not everywhere, but definitely somewhere.


Messiah said...

What's up with Fabio's face there? Did he just look at the ark of the covenant or eat a live baby or something?

And congrats to Sarah on this amazing achievement! And nice Nora Roberts blurb. Maybe you, too, will get a Lifetime movie starring Jerry O'Connell.

Sean, you're clearly next to turn your blog into a book, I guess about the Pittsburgh diaspora and Rotisserie baseball futility.

Sean said...

Messiah - You don't remember when Fabio got hit by a bird on a roller coaster?

I'm really impressed by the Nora Roberts blurb. That's awesome!

Yes, I'm sure that thousands if not millions of people want to hear about how I lose in Rotisserie/fantasy baseball EVERY year!

SB Sarah said...

I seem to remember a certain Sean beating Adam in the football league this past year. Am I woozy from the lack of sleep? You totally won, dude.

And thanks for the congrats, and the interview. You're right - no one has asked me about Pittsburgh sports moments. It's a shame that isn't part of the media bucket o'queries.

Pamala Knight said...

Thanks for the great interview. I'm squeeing all over the place here waiting for my copy to arrive. Nice to know the genesis behind the book and that there is some serious Fantasy genius going on there, lol.