Welcome to my weekly Author Spotlight. I’ve asked a bunch of my author friends to answer a set of interview questions, and to share their latest work.
Today: Alice Archer is a romance novelist who writes in the LGBTQ+ genre. Her first novel, Everyday History, was named a Top Book of 2016 in the HEA USA Today column Rainbow Trends.
Alice’s stories explore the personal growth required for true intimacy. Scheming to put fictional characters through the muck to get to a better place helps her heal and find answers. She shares her stories with the hope that others might find healing too.
For decades, Alice has helped authors as writing coach Grace Kerina. She lives in Oregon and requires a view of trees.
Thanks so much, Alice, for joining me!
J. Scott Coatsworth: How would you describe your writing style/genre?
Alice Archer: The short answer is that I write literary romance novels. A more specific answer pulls in elements of self-help and psychology, personal boundaries and buried wounds, metaphor and poetry. My writing style is definitely not for everyone. I tend to somewhat bend the romance genre, to the point where readers expecting a basic genre novel may be surprised. That said, I still always write to a happy ending, with joyful togetherness for the main characters. I tend to attract characters with deep injuries that require hard-won resolutions. They want to be healed, even if they don’t know it yet, even if it hurts, even if strong pushes are required to move them through their old fears and ugly truths.
What I love about romance stories is how the enzymatic connection between the main characters triggers healing. Their healing path may include confusion, dislike, avoidance, acting out, and plenty of other behaviors and feelings that come roaring up when people are attracted to someone who also pushes their buttons. Like the characters in romance novels, when we’re yanked toward healing, if we’re brave enough to keep going, we discover acceptance, redemption, and resilience. This is why I encourage people in bad relationships to read romance novels: They show us how to love ourselves as we truly are and, thus, how to love others as they truly are.
JSC: Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
AA: I do read reviews of my books. When my first novel was released, I waited anxiously for those first reviews from bloggers and review sites to come in. I remember how the first big positive review prompted me to spontaneously drop to my knees on the floor of my living room and burst into tears. The relief was overwhelming. Some negative reviews also triggered emotional reactions.
By the time my second novel was released and those reviews started coming in, I’d thought a lot about reviews and my reactions to them. Perhaps because my writing style includes unusual elements for the romance genre, reviews of my books have tended to be somewhat polarized, with reviewers often really liking or really not liking my books. That’s okay with me. My goal with writing is on the stories and characters that want to come through me, and telling those stories with as much truth as I can, regardless of how they will be received by others. I’ve come to a place where I would rather my books spark strong reactions—positive or negative—than be met with indifference.
Over the years, I’ve reframed my perspectives about reviews. I know that I get to decide what I make reviews mean. For me, the number of stars someone gives my books indicates how much of a fan they are. A five-star review means my book found a five-star fan. A one-star review means the reviewer is a one-star fan, meaning they are in the wrong place to find something they like. I don’t write my books for low-star fans. All the low-star reviewers, the low-star fans, are a bit lost if they left a review of one of my books. I wish those reviewers success in their journey to find books they are five-star fans of, and I don’t take it personally that they got sidetracked by my book.
JSC: How long on average does it take you to write a book?
AA: It takes me years and years to write a novel. There is so much going on for me with each novel, each story, and I seem to need a great deal of time to mull and explore and tune in. I consider myself to be in a relationship with story, which is an entity separate from me. Story, and the characters in a story, have agendas. My job is to listen and try to understand what they want, to calibrate my receiving and move the story into materiality, into keystrokes and pages and linear sequences of words and chapters that can be shared.
The constant question I ask as I work with story is, Is this true? At first, a story is mainly impressions and I am a dowsing rod being led this way or that way, noticing how I lean toward bits and scenes, qualities and themes. Finding the truth of a story requires experimentation, getting to know the flavor and the voices. I fail a lot, if failing is trying something and then deciding I didn’t get it quite right, so trying again, and then again. This takes time.
Eventually, more pieces come into focus. The characters incarnate. The plot firms up. Then maybe I discover another layer under the first layer, which requires a revisit of what’s been downloaded so far. And then another layer beneath that.
My goal is to gather the story without getting in the way, without imposing an opinion. I aim to receive and align. I am okay with this requiring years until story is satisfied.
JSC: Are there underrepresented groups or ideas featured if Everyday History? If so, discuss them.
AA: One of the underrepresented groups I write about is a group I belong to: highly sensing, neurodiverse, quiet, introverted people. As a half-joke, I’ve considered adopting the occupational title on business cards of Secret Ingredient, to claim a position that feels natural to me—that of someone moving gently behind the scenes, observing, focused on nuance, attuned to certain particular environmental and social factors (yet clueless about others), finessing and coordinating without a lot of fanfare.
In Everyday History, Henry represents this group in many ways (as do both main characters in the novel I’m currently writing). For much of his life, Henry relegated himself to the background. When Ruben, the other main character, challenges Henry, takes the time and makes the effort to really see Henry, Henry begins to see himself in a different light. He takes his new self-perspective and builds on it to step into the foreground and connect with his own creativity and with other people with greater confidence.
In my work as a writing coach and editor as Grace Kerina, my focus is on highly sensitive, creative, and intuitive people. As part of that work, I wrote a little book for this underrepresented group: Personal Boundaries for Highly Sensitive People: A Simple Practice for Self-Care in Moments of Conflict. I like to think of Henry keeping this book handy in one of his bookcases.
JSC: What is the most heartfelt thing a reader has said to you?
AA: One of the joys of sharing my novels is when they evoke strong feelings in readers. I’ve come to a place of appreciating it when one of my novels evokes strong negative feelings. An example of this is a two-star reviewer who wrote a long, involved review to share all the rotten things about my book they didn’t like and disagreed with—multiple paragraphs of powerful negative emotions about my book. The next day, they logged back on and amended the review to say they’d been thinking about it and decided to change their two-star review to a one-star review. What delighted me was how much strong emotion my novel prompted in them. All those paragraphs of analysis and fervor. It seemed to me that a novel that could evoke that much feeling in the reviewer had touched a chord in them.
On the other end of the scale was the woman who told about how she read the climactic chapters of Everyday Historywhile sitting at a café, sobbing as she read. A woman at a table nearby noticed and asked, “Good book?” The crying woman answered, “You have no idea.”
I aim to engage independent thinkers to root for characters who have tough healing paths. A heartfelt response to one of my novels makes me feel like the world is loving and open, like humanity is full of promise.
JSC: Tell us something we don’t know about your heroes. What makes them tick?
AA: The main characters of this story are Henry, a teacher at a museum, and Ruben, a college student. When I was getting to know Henry and Ruben during the writing process, I explored their astrology signs. I’d already tuned in to them enough to have a good sense of who they each were, so when I started playing around with what astrological signs they might be, it didn’t take long to zero in on the Cancer sign for Henry, and Scorpio for Ruben. The information and articles I found online about the Cancer-Scorpio love match—how those two signs interact—rang true in many ways with their story.
JSC: What was the hardest part of writing this book?
AA: Two hardest parts come to mind. One was making Henry’s technophobia believable enough to carry some of the plot elements. If it wasn’t believable, the reader would be distracted from the story. That was a challenge.
Another hard part was coordinating the timeline shifts as the story unfolds. I ended up creating a couple of elaborate spreadsheets to keep the interwoven timeline threads clearer in my mind and (hopefully) clear enough for the reader.
JSC: What other artistic pursuits (if any) do you indulge in apart from writing?
AA: Ever since I was a little kid growing up with an artistic mom, I’ve played a lot with visual art, including experimenting with different types of media. I tend toward collage. I also love to take photographs of nature and of odd things that catch my attention when I’m traveling. When I lived in Germany I took ridiculous numbers of photographs, charmed by the big and small things different from my experiences in North America. I also enjoy writing articles for my blog (alicearcher.com/articles).
JSC: What qualities do you and your characters share? How much are you like them, or how different are they from you?
AA: Henry’s technophobia in Everyday History mirrors my own in some ways. I didn’t have a cell phone until 2014, and didn’t use it much until years later. I still handwrite letters to people now and then. In general, the world feels like it moves too fast for the way I am made. Like Henry, I am built for depth, not speed.
The other main character in Everyday History, Ruben, is extrovertedly confident at a level and in a way I am not. Ruben’s confidence arises from his secure childhood and healthy relationships with his parents and older sisters. He’s psychologically hardy (as well as being a new adult with some challenging things to figure out). I do have confidence in certain areas (professional book editing, advising authors, writing novels, creativity, cooking), but I have shaky confidence in other areas (meeting new people, socializing in groups). Writing Ruben was a lot of fun, because I got to experience his level of self-assurance and assertiveness vicariously in order to understand him.
JSC: What are you working on now, and what’s coming out next? Tell us about it!
AA: For the past few years I’ve been working on a romance novel about a Black man and a White man in an alternate version of the American South. I’m about eighty percent done with a draft I might be willing to share with an early beta reader before long. I won’t tell you any more about this novel just yet—I tend to hold stories close until they’re almost ready to publish. Writing this story has been an interesting ride. I hope when it’s out you’ll enjoy the story and characters as much as I’ve enjoyed tuning in to download them. 🙂
And now for Alice’s latest book: Everyday History:
If you woo, win, and walk away, a second chance is going to cost you.
Headstrong Ruben Harper has yet to meet an obstacle he can’t convert to a speed bump. He’s used to getting what he wants from girls, but when he develops a fascination for a man, his wooing skills require an upgrade. After months of persuasion, he scores a dinner date with Henry Normand that morphs into an intense weekend. The unexpected depth of their connection scares Ruben into fleeing.
Shy, cautious Henry, Ruben’s former high school history teacher, suspects he needs a wake-up call, and Ruben appears to be his siren. When Ruben bolts, Henry is left struggling to find closure. Inspired by his conversations with Ruben, Henry begins to write articles about the memories stored in everyday objects. The articles seduce Ruben, even as Henry’s snowballing fame takes him out of town and farther out of reach.
Standalone romance. HEA.
Ruben arrives back in Boston ready to party. After a long summer at his grandmother’s farm in western Massachusetts and a sedating three-hour bus ride home, the need to move and talk and flirt makes his legs jump with impatience. He’s spent most of the bus ride texting his friends to arrange a traveling party to reunite him with city lights and his favorite bars and local bands.
It’s only when the bus turns the last corner and Ruben sees a posse of his friends waiting for him that he finds the courage to make the call, which goes immediately to voice mail.
“Mr. Normand… um, Henry?” Ruben clears his throat, regretting the question mark. “I’m back in Boston and wonder if you’d like to… if we could… if there’s a chance you’d… damn it. Call me if you want to go out for coffee sometime.” He leaves his number, hangs up with a frustrated sigh, and grabs his bag, more ready than ever to be swallowed by music and rowdy laughter.
Anything to distract him from months of silence from the man he doesn’t want to want but can’t forget.