An Interview with Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

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I remember picking up my first romance novel back in 2017 and feeling like the new girl, wary of if I’d be accepted or not into the romance readers club. I felt like such a fraud! Everyone I knew that was reading romance had been reading it since they were barely in middle school and here I was, turning 30, picking one up for the first time. Then one day, I discovered the podcast, Smart Podcast Trashy Books and heard Sarah Wendell come through my car speakers. Friends, I. Was. Hooked! Lucky for me, the fun didn’t stop there! She and The Bitches had a blog too! What did I do to deserve this? Since then, Sarah Wendell has become an idol of mine. Her hard work and dedication to the romance genre is so inspiring and as a fan of hers, I am so grateful for all she does! I could go on and on here, but she so graciously took some time out of her day to chat with me, so without further ado, here are our question and answers.

Bree: Sarah, thank you so much for chatting with me! I discovered Smart Podcast Trashy Books shortly after I picked up my first romance novel in 2017! I was immediately hooked on both the Podcast and the Blog and a complete fangirl of yours. I would love to know your romance origin story. How did you come into reading romance and do you remember the first romance novel you read?

Sarah: Thank you! That is so immensely lovely of you to say. I do, in fact, remember the first romance novel I read. It was Midsummer Magic by Catherine Coulter — a book which I cannot recommend easily because it has some very dubious consent, but which I still look back on fondly, with all of the familiar nostalgia of that being the First Romance I had ever read. Seriously, it’s dubious. The hero (his name is Hawk because of course his name is Hawk) uses cream in a way that makes me cringe now and did then, but, hey, that was my first.

Bree: Smart Bitches Trashy Books was founded in 2005, which is amazing! I am fairly new to the blogging world; I had never considered blogging and hadn’t been a reader of blogs until I began reading romance. What did the romance blogging world look like in 2005 and what were the initial motivations behind starting SBTB?

Sarah: Thank you! The blogging world looks a lot different now that it’s 2020. There were more blogs and more blogging platforms back then, for one thing. There were a lot of ways to quickly and easily start a blog, kind of like starting a podcast or a social media account now. Smart Bitches was co-founded by Candy Tan and I, somewhat on a whim. We wanted a place to write about romances in a way that engaged our curiosity and affection, and also our sarcasm and horror at what some of the covers look like and some of the books did (see above, Midsummer Magic, consent, and use of cream.) We never expected it to take off the way that it did, and I’m honored and gobsmacked with glee that the site community continues to grow every month.

Bree: I remember when I discovered your podcast, Smart Podcast Trashy Books, it was all I consumed for weeks until I’d binged all your backlist episodes and was caught up. At what point did the idea for Podcasting come to mind?

Sarah: Smart Podcast Trashy Books, to my ever-loving shock, is 10 years old – which is old for a podcast. I have always wanted to have my own radio show and when podcasts started appearing on iTunes, I thought, Well, why not? So I borrowed Podcasting for Dummies from my library, read it, and tried to figure it all out. Ten years later, the show is part of the Frolic Podcast Network, there are tons of podcasts to listen to, and I still love producing mine each week.

Bree: With both Blogging and Podcasting, I see so many creators come and go; as a fan of their work it is hard to see because selfishly you want more of their content, but I 100% understand both of these platforms are a lot of work to maintain! With the SBTB website having been around now since 2005 and faithfully every Friday listeners can tune into a new episode of the Podcast, what have you found useful in continuing to produce content?

Sarah: At Smart Bitches, I have a team of incredibly talented writers who review books, collaborate on site features like Cover Snark, and help make the site a vibrant and welcoming community. With the podcast and with the site, what helps me most is to be as organized as possible and to work as far in advance as I can. I know that my creative brain works most happily when it has lots of space and time in which to ponder things. I call it the Crock-Pot in the back of my mind. Ideas go in there and then sometime later they come out.

If I have time to let ideas ruminate for a while in the Crock-Pot, I find that I have more fun developing them. So, to give myself that time and creative space, I stay very organized. The website has its own calendar of content and I try to work in advance so that I can refine and edit what goes on the site and keeps people coming back to read more. With the podcast I record and edit in batches and try to think about what might be a good mix of authors and topics and content.

Overall, I want people to find some laughter in what we’re doing each day, and I love to crack myself and other people up.

Bree: You are the inspiration behind me taking the leap into blogging and the few author questions and answers I’ve done, I totally mustered up the courage to ask them to chat with me, because of you! (So, thank you!) You have been interviewing authors for a while now and the conversations always feel so effortless, like a chat amongst friends! Do you ever find yourself nervous? Do you do any kind of prep work before hand, or start with a few questions and let the conversation flow from there?

Sarah: You’re so very welcome! Congratulations and well done! I appreciate the compliment more than I can say. I have worked very carefully on interviewing skills and constantly want to improve. I have read and listened to what people whose interview styles I admire have said about their own technique. I do sometimes get nervous and I do a lot of prep work beforehand. I send questions in advance and I do a large amount of research to come up with different things to ask about –especially topics that I know the person I’m interviewing is passionate about. It doesn’t matter how arcane or unusual someone’s passion is – it’s always interesting for me to listen to them talk about it. And I always learn something when the person I’m interviewing is telling me about the things that they are most excited about.

Bree: How has your romance reading evolved since writing books of your own, blogging and doing the podcast?

Sarah: Oh, goodness. The genre has evolved since I started blogging. There are whole new sub-genres that didn’t exist or were very small fifteen years ago. There are new blends of genres – it’s wonderful.

What I love most is when I get to read a book that takes a trope that is incredibly familiar, and then subverts it or flips it upside down, or does something entirely new with it. And I read more because there simply are more books available. Because I am so well connected to so many people, I learn about more books almost every day. It’s both a wonderful and expensive problem to have.

Bree: What would you like to see more of in the romance genre?

The bulk of the romance genre remains focused on a narrow set of characters, who are often White, straight, cisgendered, and Christian. I want the genre to continue to grow so that the people in our romances reflect the people who are reading our romances.

Bree: What was the last unputdownable book you read?

Sarah: Problem Child, Victoria Helen Stone

Bree: Second chance or friends to lovers?

Sarah: Friends to lovers, with a side order of slow burn, please.

Bree: Ten years from now you’re writing your memoir, what’s the title?

Sarah: “It’s past my bedtime.”

Bree: Small town paranormal or big city historical?

Sarah: Either or both!

Bree: If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Sarah: How to Train Your Dragon.

Bree: What is the last song to get stuck in your head?

Sarah: This is gonna sound so pretentious but it’s true: Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Second Movement. It’s one of my favorite pieces of music that instantly relaxes me. It was also prominent in the 80’s tv Beauty and the Beast with Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman, which may be why it’s imprinted on my brain so permanently.

Bree: Describe your current read in 5 words or less.

Sarah: Twisty, Confusing, and Magical.

Bree: I have conversations quite a bit with readers who have the opinion that blogging isn’t as important as it used to be, which I always differ on. I think in the world of romance reading, there is this deep-rooted respect for bloggers! I see a lot of bloggers become discouraged because you do obviously want to grow an audience which takes time and can sometimes be easier said than done. What advice would you give a romance reader who is contemplating on blogging or not? In the grand scheme of things, how does blogging help the genre?

Sarah: Blogging helps the genre because today is Valentine’s Day and the internet is awash in bad takes on romance, and “romantic book” lists that don’t feature a single romance. Romance, despite an increase in the number of brilliant and engaged writers covering it for some media outlets, is still misunderstood and misjudged, especially this time of year. Any reader’s opinion about the book they read is vital to other readers, and any reader who takes the time to write about a book they had feelings about is doing a wealth of good for the genre and for other readers. It’s invaluable, learning what other people thought of a book they read.

As far as advice for potential bloggers, we haven’t run out of room on the internet yet, and there is absolutely room for your voice. I gave a keynote at a book blogger conference years ago, and talked about a piece of Talmudic wisdom that states every person walks around with a piece of paper in each pocket. One reads, “The world was created for you,” and the other says, “You are but a grain of sand.” Each blogger is one reader and one voice about a book, and no one person is ever the final and absolute word on a book. But every voice and every person who shares their opinion of a book helps another reader decide what story to fall in love with next. That’s a whole universe of good right there.

Bree: Lastly, when you find time to relax, what is the next book you plan to read?

Sarah: I keep a list. I’m sure you’re shocked. Next on my list is The Age of Witches by Louise Morgan. It comes out in April, so I’m reading way in advance.

Seriously, if you aren’t subscribed for notifications from Smart Bitches Trashy Books, you should be! The site has everything; book reviews, romance news, a book finder section where you can literally select the genre you’re looking for followed by a theme and voila! Before you know it, there will be a list of recommendations before your eyes to choose from with Info and Where you can buy the books. The site also has podcast episodes for you to listen to. Do yourself a favor and go check it out, and thank you so much to Sarah for taking the time to chat with me– it means more than she’ll ever know!

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