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from blog to book
an interview with sarah wendell
by sarah ficke (@DameMystery)

We here at Intrepid are fans of the internet (shocking, I know). Not only has it brought us Beer Mapping and Cat Yodeling, but it has also - more than anything else - changed the relationship between readers and writers, challenging both groups to redefine themselves in terms of a new medium. With this new medium have come new opportunities for reading, writing, promoting, and interacting with other readers and writers.

No-one knows the power of this new medium better than Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, the brilliant and hilarious minds behind the romance novel blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Wendell and Tan, who have been blogging together since 2005, not only review novels and snark the covers, but also tackle E-Books and E-Readers, DRM, instances of plagiarism, the future of the publishing industry, and Black Footed ferrets. From blogging, they have expanded to twitter, presentations at conferences and conventions, and a book deal. I had a chance to pose some questions to Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell, who was kind enough to reveal the secrets of her success.

Notice: No bodices were ripped in the pursuit of this interview.

Your book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels, grew out of your blog. What motivated your decision to write a book in addition to a blog?

We had no idea we'd write a book! We laughed like fools when the idea was presented to us, but there are wily, wicked ways in the publishing world, and once we figured out that we had a lot of ideas for games and content that were too tricky or just plain big for a blog, we went with it. And we had a great time.

What would you say are the main differences between writing a blog and writing a book? What was the transition from blogging to book-writing like?

Number one difference: LIMITS. True story: our contract was for a 90k word book. I turned in over 110k because... it's a blog! No one limits our word count! And imagine the shock when we got it back with advice to edit it down. EDIT?! WHAT?! Yeah - big lesson learned. That was the biggest of the big differences.

The other difference is that with a blog, you get instant feedback. With writing and then going through publishing, the feedback took longer, but it was still hugely appreciated when it did come.

Your blog is known for its smart and snarky tone. Did you feel any pressure to change your writing voice for print publication?

Nope. We were encouraged. Pity the copyeditor who faced the word "cuntmonkey."

You and Candy co-authored the Bosoms. Can you tell us a little bit about your collaborative process? How did you share the workload?

We had outlines and lists of ideas we wanted to try for the book, and ended up drafting content and emailing it back and forth to one another. Looking at the whole of the project was too intimidating for me, for example, so I kept breaking it down into smaller projects and went after them one by one until it was done.

You kept working on the Smart Bitches blog the entire time you were writing the book. What was it like writing them both at the same time? Were you worried about repeating content from one to the other?

YES. OMG. I was so sure I was going to talk about something that I'd said, only it would have been something I'd put in the manuscript and not written on the site. Ultimately I was able to tell the difference and was able to talk about what we were writing for the Bosoms, sort of as a tease on the site.

With titles like "Chapter Cleavage" and "Chapter Secret Cowboy Baby," I can only imagine how much fun you had writing this book. If you had to pick a favorite chapter, which one would it be and why?

My fave is probably the chapter on Good Sex. That was among my favorites to write. Sex is a massive (hur) part of the genre, and one of the few narrative forms that consistently portrays women's sexuality in positive terms - the wages of sex in a romance novel are NOT death, disease, pestilence, prostitution or complete ostracization. To quote the sage and theologian George Michael, "Sex is natural, sex is good." I was very happy to celebrate that and highlight some of the ways in which sexuality is an important point (heh) within the genre.

Over on your blog you've hosted many conversations about ebook readers and online book distribution. In your opinion, how has the internet impacted the traditional writing and publishing process? What advantages/disadvantages have the internet and electronic book distribution brought to writing and publishing?

Question... too... big.... brain... overloaded... *!!*

There's no way for me to answer that and cover everything,but it's such a good question, and one I think we're still asking and exploring online and off. I think that electronic books are one more option for readers, and I hope that their development is fostered alongside print, because it's just another method for the text to reach readers - a method I love to experience.

What advice would you give to writers who are thinking about blogging or using Twitter to promote their work?

1. You don't have to blog. If someone said to you that in order to be successful, you have to have a blog, they're wrong. You don't. You do have to have a website and some online promotion of some sort but it doesn't have to be a blog.

2. Twitter is my overlord, and I can only say wonderful glowing things about the power of Twitter. It's a new method of communication and conversation, but it's effective so long as you set rules for yourself when you use it.

At your reading in Durham, NC, you said that you'd like to write a book that broke down all of the subgenres of romance and discussed the best books from each one. Obviously, such a book would be huge, but could you give a quick preview in list form for our readers by suggesting a novel to go with each of the topics below?

Note: Not all my recommendations are 100% romance. Be ye warned.

  • Pirates -- The Windflower by Laura London (Sharon and Tom Curtis).

  • Vampires/Werewolves/Creatures of the Night -- Dark Lover by JR Ward - discover THE CRACK.

  • Scotsmen -- The Bride by Julie Garwood.

  • Mediterranean Billionaire Tycoons -- The Tycoon's Rebel Bride by Maya Banks.

  • Historical fiction -- Lamb: The Gospel of Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.

  • Historical Romance? -- Julia Quinn, Meredith Duran, Teresa Medeiros.

  • The Wild West -- Anything by Jo Goodman. Just close your eyes and point.

  • Contemporary fiction -- Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. The Chesapeake Quartet by Nora Roberts.

  • Mystery/Suspense -- The Miller's Kill series by Julia Spencer-Fleming.

  • Sci-Fi / Fantasy -- Lois McMaster Bujold: close eyes, point, close eyes, point again, buy both.

  • And finally, which romance novel is your favorite: the one you'd take to a desert island to read over and over again?


    The Windflower, for one, because rereads reveal more. Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale, same reason.


    To experience Heaving Bosoms and the power of Luuurve visit your nearest retailer or e-tailer.


    Sarah Ficke will make sport for you, and laugh at you in her turn. She has channeled her obsession for books into a career as an English professor.

    more about sarah ficke


    student rampages through airport!
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    topic: writing
    published: 10.31.02

    a masterpiece in pink
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    by sarah ficke
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    published: 8.15.05


    tracey kelley
    7.22.09 @ 6:52a

    Tons of fun, this. :D

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