Angela Quarles writes romance with a fantasy twist. I first met her through Six Sentence Sunday and fell in love with the snippets from her steampunk novel Must Love Breeches, set in the early decades of the nineteenth century. One of the delights of that novel is the appearance of geek girls both contemporary and nineteenth-century. Her first release, Beer and Groping in Las Vegas, introduces magic into a contemporary romantic comedy complete with nerdtastic repartee.
You write a lot of culturally and regionally specific characters, and your work’s full of popular culture references. Could you talk about role of regional culture and pop subcultures in Beer and Groping?
Great question! I’d say pop subculture plays a larger role in this one than the regional culture. I think this story was my chance to really play in a way I haven’t been able to before, because up to then I’d written historicals, so I went a bit wild. The title came to me first, and so the setting had to be Vegas, and since I knew it was going to be a short story, I wanted to focus on just one 24-hour period. For some reason I thought it would be fun to explore someone who outwardly is not your typical geek, and I came up with the tagline ‘a geek trapped in a good ole boy’s body’ before I started writing. Then it seemed natural to have a sci-fi convention at the hotel where the story takes place. Having this as a backdrop fit in nicely with their characters and gave me a chance to hint at a down-the-rabbit-hole type of story in the opening.
I don’t know that it’s a conscious thing on my part, though, to write regionally specific characters, but you’re right, I do. I guess it feels most natural to me. In this story I wanted to pay a little homage to Finland since I was an exchange student there, and so I picked a heavily Finnish-American region for the heroine and a Finnish name. For the hero, it was a nod to Virginia, a state I’ve never lived in, but have deep family roots there.
I love the supernatural as a plot driver. How you integrate the supernatural and the ordinary in your work? What’s the charm of supernatural/paranormal stories for you, against straight historical or contemporary romance?
I think for most of my stories, it’s a chance to explore something just a little out of the ordinary—a ‘What If’ that can’t actually happen in real life. Usually, though, it’s a little dabble that is inserted into the normal world, but has big consequences. In my time travel romance, Must Love Breeches, it’s a wish made on a calling card case that brings her back in time, but then that’s it as far as paranormal events. With Beer, it’s an accidental wish made with a djinn, and except for little things they notice during the story, it takes place in our normal world.
One of the things that drew me when I beta-read Must Love Breeches was the way that you played very specific characterization against romance roles and tropes. How do your characters show up? How do you develop them?
I don’t even know if I was aware that I did that, LOL! Honestly, it’s been different with every story. With Breeches, I had the basic premise in mind and an idea of who the hero and heroine were, but I pantsed the first draft, learning those characters as I wrote them. Of course, that meant extensive rewriting to make sure that their characterizations were consistent, once I had a handle on them. The hero and heroine in Beer I had a better understanding of their goals and motivations before that first draft, though I did need to revise hers a bit in revision to make it stronger.
For my steampunk romance, Steam Me Up, Rawley, I experimented with pre-plotting as much as I could and found that I really like doing that. I brainstormed and let them kick around in my head for at least a month or more, fine-tuning their goals, motivations and conflicts and how it would affect the plot. This time, during revision, it was the hero who ended up with a weaker motivation, so he needs some more ‘beefing up’. I ended up doing some character interviews with him to find out what made him tick.
In my latest, which isn’t quite finished, it’s a meta fiction romance called Not Another Darcy, and again I worked on the characters before I got too far along in the writing. I think of all my projects, I had a better grip on the characters and what made them tick before I wrote the first draft. I did some free-writing in my journal and just did series of what-ifs, writing down whatever popped into my head. I wrote out ideas and explorations about each character in that same journal, trying to discover what made them tick, what their backstory was, etc. I find that I need to actually be writing to do this kind of exploration, so instead of doing it in the first draft (and then have more revisions just for that) I wrote in my journal. Then once I’d done that for awhile, I got out a character sheet for each and collated what I’d discovered into one spot, discarding what didn’t work, so that in the end, in my project notebook for the WIP, I had the ‘final’ picture of who they were, instead of having it scattered throughout my journal along with explorations that ended up nowhere.
Please talk as much as you want about the glories of geek romance!
LOL, well, there’s lots to choose from, surprisingly. Vicki Lewis Thompson has a whole Nerd series, starting with Nerd In Shining Armor. And surprisingly, there’s even an erotic romance wherein the hero is literally a rocket scientist— Del Dryden’s The Theory of Attraction. Someone even made a Goodreads listopia list called Nerdgasms. I think what makes them so appealing is the vulnerability of the geek. They’re very focused and into whatever subject/career they’re a geek about and can tend to get used to people zoning out on them. They love and want to find love too, and it’s scary for anyone to jump into that state of being, but I think it’s appealing seeing someone like this let their geek flag fly and still have it happen. It’s fun to experience it with them.