Cue all the hearts and heart-eyed emojis you can stand as we welcome romance author Alison Cochrun to Musing! Alison is the author of The Charm Offensive and, most recently, Kiss Her Once for Me, the sapphic rom-com we absolutely cannot get enough of here at Parnassus. In fact, we love it so much we chose it for Between the Covers, our brand new romance book club. (Want to stay up to date on Between the Covers selections and meetings? Sign up for our newsletter!) If you want to join us (and Alison via Zoom) in making the yuletide gay, then grab a copy of Kiss Her Once for Me at Parnassus and we’ll see you on December 11th at 10:30am! Until then, enjoy this festive interview with Alison.
— Katie Garaby, Parnassus bookseller and co-host of Between the Covers romance book club
Katie Garaby: Congratulations on your second novel! We at Parnassus were big fans of The Charm Offensive when it came out, but we might have reached full-on stan level with Kiss Her Once for Me. It is the perfect queer holiday meet-cute gone sideways and I cannot wait to hand-sell the heck out of it. How different was the writing process for you with your second book? And as a self-professed cardigan-wearing lesbian did it feel more challenging writing queer women’s stories?
Alison Cochrun: Honestly, the writing process could not have been more different. The Charm Offensive was a book I needed to write to process my own sexuality, so once I had the concept for that story, the book poured out of me. Quite literally. I wrote the first draft in six days, and I wasn’t even thinking about being published. I was writing wholly for myself. With Kiss Her Once for Me, though, the entire writing process happened after I’d sold Charm, so I had to do an outline for my agent, write a proposal, and write sample pages, all while knowing there were people waiting for my work. That inherently changes the creative process, and people call it the “sophomore slump” for a reason. The second book is universally harder, I think.
As for writing about queer women, it was definitely more challenging for me. With The Charm Offensive, I could write about my sexuality by disguising myself as a handsome tech genius with abs. But in Kiss Her Once for Me, there was a new level of vulnerability. When I began drafting, I’d only been out for a few months, and I had never been in a relationship with a woman, so it felt like I was sharing the truth of my heart and admitting what I want for myself. It was scary as hell.
KG: As a lifelong romance reader and a fellow queer woman, I am always on the search for my next favorite LGBT romance. I feel like I’ve spent the bulk of my time as a reader in this genre changing the gender of the lead in my head. As a romance writer writing specifically queer romance books, what is one thing you like to make sure to include in your books or something that is really important for you to get “right”?
AC: This question brings up a lot for me because when I first started writing queer books, I was terrified that readers would think they weren’t “queer enough” or queer in the right kind of way. I hadn’t been out long, and in many ways, I was this baby queer in a thirty-three-year-old body. I felt like people would read my book and revoke my gay card. With Kiss Her Once for Me, I was able to mostly move past my queer imposter syndrome—queer people aren’t a monolith, and all I can do is write from my own experiences. That said, it’s important to me to write stories that deal with queerness (or at least what queerness means to me), not simply stories that feature a queer romantic pairing. I like writing about characters who are questioning their sexuality, characters who are fluid and defining things for themselves, characters who are in search of queer community, because these are all things that were critical to my own journey.
KG: Romance as a genre is famous for its tropes. Kiss Her Once for Me pull out all the stops with fake engagements, adorable meet-cutes, and a complete cinnamon roll of a love interest (Still swooning for Jack!). What is your favorite trope to write? And which one makes you cringe?
AC: Based on the books I’ve written so far, my favorite trope is clearly forced proximity. I love shoving two characters together in some kind of enclosed space (a reality television set, a cabin in the woods, a car for my third book) and then seeing how they interact with each other. I also love a chaos/order pairing, so putting two opposites-attract characters together is just fun to write.
As for tropes that make me cringe (unpopular opinion) but writing only one bed is kind of awkward for me! All of my books so far feature an only-one-bed scene, and I love reading them in other romance novels, but I think my demisexual brain gets kind of skeeved out by forcing two people to share a bed. Which is why I usually include that trope after the characters have already hooked up.
KG: Okay, so set the stage for us since many of us are aspiring writers ourselves. What does your writing space look like? And what snacks are always within reach for you?
AC: I actually just did a huge overhaul of my writing space. I write in my home office, which is just a spare bedroom in my house, and before, it was cluttered and dark and downright messy. But I was diagnosed with ADHD recently, and my therapist convinced me I needed to create a work environment that is more conducive to how my brain works. So, my partner and I tore out the moldy carpet and put in hardwood floors. We painted the walls sunshine yellow and put in new lights and beautiful white bookshelves and a bunch of plants, so everything is bright and clean. I also decluttered, so now everything has its place, and I’m working on better organizational strategies to help me stay focused. For me, a clear workspace is pivotal.
As for snacks, I don’t usually keep any at my desk! I use snacks as an excuse to get up and take a break. But I do always have my water bottle, a LaCroix, and a coffee or tea close at hand. Got to stay hydrated!
KG: I’ve read that WHAM’s “Last Christmas” played an influential role in the writing of Kiss Her Once for Me. I get it. It’s a perfect Christmas song! (And my 4 year old’s favorite.) What are your top three Christmas songs that get the heaviest rotation for your house during the holidays? And when is it acceptable to start listening to holiday music?
AC: I used to staunchly believe that Christmas music had no business being played until after Thanksgiving, but the pandemic changed me. With so little to look forward to (and the start of seasonal depression here in the Pacific Northwest), I started letting myself listen to Christmas music after Halloween, and I have no regrets. As for most-played, I love every iteration of “All I Want for Christmas is You” and I will never tire of it. I’m also a sucker for classic Christmas, so anything by Burl Ives and Bing Crosby. “Holly Jolly Christmas” is one of my all-time favorites. And, of course, we honor Taylor in this house, so “Christmas Tree Farm” gets a decent amount of attention. (I also think evermore is a Christmas album, so I listen to that on repeat).
KG: We know that the romance market is heavily saturated with white/het/cis authors and because of that, I think it’s important to lift up queer BIPOC authors. Who is a queer BIPOC author that you are excited about and want to make sure we are reading?
AC: I love this question, and there are two writers I definitely want to recommend! The first is Kosoko Jackson. His first adult romance, I’m so (Not) Over You, came out last year and was fantastic, and I had the chance to read his second one, A Dash of Salt and Pepper, early, and I love it even more. Another one of my favorite romances this year was Chencia C Higgins’s D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding. It’s a queer reality-dating show romance, so it obviously hits all my buttons. If you liked The Charm Offensive, I highly recommend it!
KG: And finally, we always like to finish up with this question: What is your favorite thing about independent bookstores?
AC: Before I became a writer, my favorite thing about independent bookstores was always feeling like all the recommendations come straight from fellow book lovers. The shelf-talkers always feel deeply personal, and I love being hand-sold a book I otherwise wouldn’t have discovered.
As a writer, though, my favorite thing about independent bookstores is the sense of community they offer for authors and readers alike. My own independent bookstore, Vintage Books, has been such a supportive and uplifting part of my career, and they help me connect with readers in a way I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. And I’ve loved meeting booksellers and events coordinators from indies all over the country who’ve made me feel so welcomed in the romance community at large. Grateful doesn’t begin to cover it.