Reflections on The Close-up by Sarah Smith

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how the world needs healing, yet somehow manages to keep picking at the scabs. I’m trying to heal from a bunch of things, which often takes time I don’t have in between trying to live a normal-ish life. So, you know, I appreciate it when the normality served to me includes a big dollop of healing alongside it.

That’s what caught my eye about Sarah Smith’s latest contemporary rom-com The Close-Up. Okay, I admit, the sexy 90s webcam throwback concept got my attention first. And this author’s signature wholesome steam times draws me in too. But it was that hint of how a post-#MeToo society might heal captured in light-hearted mainstream fiction that made me appreciate this book on another level.

The Close-Up is a story about a TV producer and a camguy turned relationship expert. But it’s a far cry from that gross manipulative “seduction” stuff that arced up about a decade ago. No no, Simon Rutler — this book’s leading lad — is all about empathy, consideration, and non-toxic masculinity. Think like that bit in 22 Jump Street where Channing Tatum’s character gets woke, but this guy is self-possessed and confident instead of goofy.

Simon is a salve for those of us who’ve had enough of the “clueless male”, “hapless hubby”, and other tired true-to-life tropes that are really just passive-aggressive wilful ignorance wearing a mask.

He’s the male lead you want to be real, not because he’s some hottie dream boat (though it helps very much that he’s that too), but because he’s A DECENT HUMAN BEING. And before someone tries to #NotAllMen me, yes, there are decent men in the world. Unfortunately, they too often get overshadowed by not-decent men whose behaviour doesn’t get called out nearly often enough.

Simon Rutler, however, is decent to the point where he’ll call out bad behaviour and go one step further to suggesting better behaviour for his fellow dudebros. It’s one of many traits that makes him worthy of wishing into existence.

Sexytimes are sexytimes, which Sarah Smith handles so well in her books. But what struck me the most about The Close-Up were the underlying messages that neither men nor women have to settle for toxic masculine behaviour as the norm.

Clueless doesn’t mean blameless. And it absolutely doesn’t mean the situation’s a lost cause, because even shitty boyfriends can learn their way out of bad habits if they’re willing to do the work.

Disclosure: I am almost definitely biased. I have a personal friendship with this author, who I got to know through loving her work and watching her voice develop since her very first book.

Fresh Find: The Boy with the Bookstore by Sarah Smith — cover reveal

Sarah Echavarre Smith just launched a SURPRISE COVER REVEAL for her upcoming book The Boy With The Bookstore!

Max Boyson looks good…from a distance. But up close and personal, the tattooed hottie Joelle Prima has been crushing on for the past year and half has turned into the prime example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by his delectable cover. 

When she first learned about the massive renovation to the building they share, Joelle imagined that temporarily combining her Filipino bakery with Max’s neighboring bookstore would be the perfect opening chapter to their happily ever after. In her fantasies they fed each other bibingka and pandesal while discussing Jane Austen and cooing over her pet hamster, Pumpkin. Reality, however…is quite different. Her gallant prince turned out to be a stubborn toad who snaps at her in front of customers, dries his wet clothes in her oven, and helps himself to the yummy pastries in her display case without asking. 

But beneath Max’s grumpy glares, Joelle senses a rising heat—and a softening heart. And when they discover the real reason for the renovation, they’ll have to put both their business senses and their feelings for each other to the test.

Coming 6 September 2022.

Genres: Romance, Romcom, Contemporary Romance

Stuff to share: Feb 2022

It Starts with a Kiss is on sale for 99c across a bunch of ebook retailers until the end of this month.

Vibes & Feels by Sarah Skye launches on the 22nd of this month.

The first five chapters of Sarah Smith’s The Close-Up is available on NetGalley.

There’s a fantasy, sci-fi romance and paranormal romance book fair going on at StoryOrigin.

Robecca Austin’s latest billionaire romance is currently available in Kindle Unlimited.

This red hot romance ebook sale is running until 1 March. All books going for $2.99 or less.

Book 5 in A.R. Vagnetti’s very hot paranormal romance series recently dropped. Fatal Storm is is available now.

This book sale on StoryOrigin features steamy romances with fantastic heroines.

Finally, here is Burning Love, an all-genre book fair for steamy, consensual romances.

Fresh Find: Sips & Strokes by Sarah Skye

I am over the moon about the cover reveal for this book. Sips & Strokes is the whisky-flavoured, fake-relationship delight by Sarah Skye, the debut book collaboration between two of my favourite romance authors, Sarah Smith and Skye McDonald from Quick & Dirty Romance.

And because it’s by these two troublemakers, you know this book will be full of gushy lovey-dovey moments, stunning sexy exchanges, and a great attitude and writing style. Here’s the scoop:

Sips & Strokes
Sarah Skye
Publication date: April 20th 2021
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance

Lily Maldonado is screwed. The people-pleasing art professor has been roped into attending her ex’s wedding by her overbearing, image-obsessed parents. Even worse? The woman her ex is marrying is Lily’s childhood bully. She can’t back out, but she’s not sure she can face this nightmare solo.

Enter Calder Ross. The sexy Scot’s abs have graced the cover of many romance novel bestsellers, but the reformed playboy needs a more serious image if he wants to land his dream job as the spokesman for Sonce Whisky. Modeling for Lily’s figure drawing class is step one in the right direction.

After their very adorable—and very naked—meet-cute, Lily and Calder realize that they can be each other’s saving grace. Lily can bring Calder to the wedding as her fake boyfriend to ward off pitying stares. Calder can bring Lily to Sonce events as his fake girlfriend to show he’s the responsible, relationship-minded guy that execs want as the face of their brand.

But the longer Lily and Calder play pretend, the harder it becomes to deny the very real chemistry between them. Will they play it safe and stick to their fake roles? Or will they throw out the playbook completely and risk it all for love?

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Should fiction writers talk about politics?

I find I don’t have so many opinions these days, more just feelings and questions. And one thing stoking these feelings lately is the idea that fiction writers shouldn’t talk about politics.

When I was a younger reader, I certainly wondered why on earth they would. Unless an author was writing contemporary political fiction, what would real-life arguments that no one seems able to agree on have to do with their work?

Then I started taking my own writing more seriously and realised, wow… actually, politics has A LOT to do with fiction.

Let’s set aside the idea of “moralising” or “sending a message” here. It’s kind of obvious this happens, and whether an author intends for their fiction to push an agenda is always down to the individual author and the piece of work in question. Also, this isn’t the thing I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about world-building. Specifically, how worldly mechanics and market forces help shape the setting of a story and drive the drama. Even in romance fiction, where the conflict is about how the MC and LI succeed or fail in answering the call of love, it’s stuff like politics, economics and social issues that offers fertile ground for interesting conflict to grow.

Take Sarah Smith’s Simmer Down as a contemporary example. If Nikki lets Callum nick her parking spot, her sales will drop, resulting in less income to support her family. Their conflict over food truck territory is ultimately an economic one. This novel may not feature US economic policy per se, but it does examine the impacts of capitalism on the individual, albeit in a super hot, sexy and entertaining way.

A glowing plasma ball
Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

Speculative fiction, by necessity, may include its fair share of politics, which I think stems from authors having to create an entire universe by extrapolating from real-world circumstances and events. Policy influences how people behave, decides how technology may be created and used, and deems what actions are acceptable when we want something we don’t have.

The effect is subtle in Pia Manning’s Star Brides series, where xenopolitics encourages the interspecies marriages that lead to romantic tension, giving us a taste of how humans and aliens might resolve differing ideologies within an intimate partnership. In my own work, It Starts With A Kiss, the romantic conflict occurs against the backdrop of issues surrounding industry automation and regulation of UBI (universal basic income).

But then there are stories where you also get to see characters actually do a politics. Stories like Frank Herbert’s Dune, A.R. Vagnetti’s Storm series, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight universe (the Volturi), and James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse.

But let’s get back to present-day realism.

We share this world. We are all connected. Sometimes we mean to be, but most of the time it happens by accident. The events of 2020 highlighted quite profoundly how strong our connections are, even when we can’t see them.

Politics (governmental or otherwise) is the means by which we negotiate the influences and resources within our world. It’s in the air we breathe, the water we drink, it even governs the ground we walk on. Just try setting foot in a restricted area and you’ll get a first-hand lesson in how your society regards “property ownership”.

If we’re lucky enough to be aligned with the dominant political and socioeconomic position where we live, we get to take it all for granted. That doesn’t mean we’re apolitical, it just means we don’t have to think about it all the time. We get to pretend we’re happy-go-lucky and stuff doesn’t matter.

If that’s not the case, though, then we remain almost constantly aware and conscious of the fact that everything stems from politics. We may never get the experience of not thinking about it.

A toy dinosaur sits atop a stack of books
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The book on top of your TBR pile got there because certain worldly forces permitted it to be. Maybe you live in a place where books like that are allowed to be printed and sold. The author must have been afforded the ability to sit and write it, then to have it be published and distributed. And you were able to acquire it because someone somewhere paid good money for it to be at the right place at the right time. All of the forces that put that book in your hands were shaped by the negotiations in our shared world.

I daresay fiction writers must be aware of this, at least on some level, in order to write relatable and interesting stories. Even when we make the argument that fiction should be about helping readers escape from vexatious politics, writers must still create those places they can escape to. These places may not feature political conflict, but politics—in some fashion—will always be relevant.

Now, I don’t think fiction writers should necessarily talk about politics. But my feeling is there may be no reason why they shouldn’t, as politics are necessary to create an interesting world.

And appreciating how worldly forces have enabled me to sit here and write this post, I can’t help but wonder—how can anyone talk about anything without ultimately being political? 🤔

Fresh Find: Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is at it again! This Filipina American author is on fire with her latest enemies to lovers contemporary romance, Simmer Down. I had the honour of taking this book for a test read earlier this year, and was positively knocked off my feet! This novel is so fresh and so sassy with some very vivid memorable moments. Definitely my favourite Sarah Smith book to date.

Here’s the rundown:

A woman peers around the corner over a row of condiments, while a food truck waits in the background on the cover of Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

Simmer Down by Sarah Smith

In this finger-licking good rom-com, two is the perfect number of cooks in the kitchen.

Nikki DiMarco knew life wouldn’t be all sunshine and coconuts when she quit her dream job to help her mom serve up mouthwatering Filipino dishes to hungry beach goers, but she didn’t expect the Maui food truck scene to be so eat-or-be-eaten—or the competition to be so smoking hot.

But Tiva’s Filipina Kusina has faced bigger road bumps than the arrival of Callum James. Nikki doesn’t care how delectable the British food truck owner is—he rudely set up shop next to her coveted beach parking spot. He’s stealing her customers and fanning the flames of a public feud that makes her see sparks.

The solution? Let the upcoming Maui Food Festival decide their fate. Winner keeps the spot. Loser pounds sand. But the longer their rivalry simmers, the more Nikki starts to see a different side of Callum…a sweet, protective side. Is she brave enough to call a truce? Or will trusting Callum with her heart mean jumping from the frying pan into the fire?

So proud of you, Sarah! This book is the only hot sauce I need this summer 🔥

Guys reading romance

When I read The Kiss Quotient last year, I was floored by how relatable Stella (the MC) was. I told my partner that if he wanted to understand how I think and feel, he needed to read this book. To my surprise, he did. He finished the whole book in a day.

And he liked it.

Romance is conventionally regarded as a “women’s genre”, often attracting the ridicule of many men (and women too) who see romance novels as formulaic, unnecessarily lusty, and poorly written. And, to be fair, maybe some books have rightfully earned those labels, thus painting the entire genre a frightful shade of blue in the eyes of the uninitiated.

So for me, as a writer of love stories, it’s extra exciting to see non-romance readers—especially men who don’t see themselves as readers who’d touch a romance novel—be open-minded and curious enough (both very attractive traits, in my opinion) to look past the stereotypes and find out for themselves.

Some fellow writers and readers helped me out with this post. They’ll jump in from time to time to share their thoughtful insights.

Gentleman with dark jeans and a grey blazer clutches a worn hardcover novel beside his leather satchel, as he walks along a country road.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Painted with the blue brush

Romance is a huge genre, so based on probability alone, it’s reasonable to expect that low-quality or formulaic stories will work their way into the mix as writers and publishers strive to keep up with market demand. Though, personally, I take issue with the idea of stories being “low quality” or “formulaic”, because there’s more nuance to those labels than what they suggest.

When we call a story “low quality”, we need to consider the audience it’s intended for. You know that joke about buying your cat a fancy new toy only for her to play with the paper and ribbon it was wrapped in? If the audience doesn’t care about someone else’s definition of quality, then what good is it?

And then we get to “formulaic”, which is an interesting concept when you consider what defines a romance story. From About the Romance Genre (Romance Writers of America):

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending… Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.

I know I’ve heard some guys criticise romances for the predictability of two people falling in love, encountering some conflict, and then ending up happily ever after. For a story to be called a romance (in commercial terms), it certainly must follow a particular form, but to consider that a formula is kind of like criticising the dictionary for being, predictably, a book full of words and definitions.

But what about the lusty part? Are the dissenters right about all romances being trashy sex books? Haha, nope!

A.R. VAGNETTI (author of the Storm Series):

They have this misconception that all romance is smut. I absolutely hate that word. Now there are some sub-genres of romance where the whole book revolves around sex, and that’s fine for some, but I think in general, romance is about the growth of a relationship. You take a ride of twists and turns, ups and downs, and navigate the pitfalls and struggles of being a couple.

Contemporary romances have generally moved away from dated stereotypes to more realistic and modern relationships, which can feature challenges such as addiction, single parenting or domestic violence. Throw in suspense or historical events and that makes it even better.

What if blue really is the warmest colour?

Bros can learn a lot about their partners by reading romance. It can be hard to express a thought or feeling or desire in a conversation, because sometimes there’s so much to say and the words don’t do it justice.

There are so many stereotypes and misunderstandings about “what women want” from sex and relationships. And in all fairness, the confusing and ambiguous circumstances we encounter in real life can inadvertently reinforce those misconceptions.

DK MARIE (author of Fairy Tale Lies, Love Songs and Taste of Passion):

The biggest misconception romance has debunked is that only men are sexual beings. That they alone crave the pleasures of sex. This is SO untrue. It is more that many women were taught to let men take the lead and not share what they like and dislike. This is one of the things I love about romances. Many feature confident women. They tell men what they want and expect pleasure and satisfaction.

Romance also disproves the fallacy that most women want a man to protect them. There are those romances, but I have read so many where the woman wanted a partner, not a white knight. They want someone to share adventures and disasters with, not someone to take care of her and fix all her problems.

Even when it’s pure fantasy, romance novels offer readers an insight into real-world wants and needs. By and large, ones written by women will naturally feature a woman’s perspective on shedloads of desires that men don’t always see or understand.

SARAH SMITH (author of Faker and Simmer Down):

I remember when I was a youngster, sneaking romance novels out of my auntie’s stash, reading a lot of too-good-to-be true sex scenes in romance novels. Like, there’s very little foreplay or the woman orgasms easily or it’s the couple’s first time together and they magically know each other’s physical hot buttons so sex is a total breeze. And I think that if you were reading those kinds of books and didn’t know any better, you’d end up with some unrealistic expectations for what sex should be like.

I feel compelled to mention here that it’s not all about the “woman’s perspective” as much as it is about the perspective of carefully crafted characters who have realistic human experiences. Due to the nature of this post, we’re looking at this through a heteronormatively gendered lens, but modern romance—and indeed modern fiction—is tending towards challenging those old boundaries.

CAIDYN (reviewer at @caidynsreads):

People read romance because it represents their wants/needs/interests in life. Perhaps it doesn’t fit their life exactly—some people like different kinks/niches that they don’t have in their day to day life—but it’s something that fits them.

I think that it’d be great if we could normalize people not having to be sexual but can be romantic. Or that it’s all cool if someone isn’t into that sort of thing. That’s what I’d like. I’m just tired of seeing romance as a reason why you should buy something. It doesn’t get me as a consumer. I usually find romantic subplots pointless. I read for good plots and romance just distracts me completely.

That said, one of my favorite books of 2019 was Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin. It’s got a LOT of romance. And I really, really loved it. It was just a great read with amazing characters and plot, so I was able to get into the romance.

A gentleman reads a worn paperback in bed, in his cosy well-decorated bedroom.
Photo by awar kurdish on Unsplash

For me personally, reading and writing romance gave me a safe space to understand and explore my own needs and feelings within a romantic and sexual framework. This may be the case for many readers from all walks of life who, much like me and perhaps you, turn to books and media to help them comprehend themselves and their place in the world, or to simply get away from a reality that doesn’t gel with them.


I believe there should be an equal mix of diversity as it fills our society. As a reader/writer I prefer the fictional fantasy of my characters. I read to escape the harsh reality of life, while for others, having characters that are disabled, characters with mental or chronic illness is cathartic. And I think those dynamics in the romance genre are changing to fit those needs.


I think diversity in romance is fantastic and much needed. I have read many and enjoyed them. There is the fun mix of relatability as a woman and also learning something new, reading a different life view than my own. I believe these stories are important for society. When we understand people’s struggles, we are able to offer kindness and empathy better.


I know what it’s like to grow up being an avid reader, yet never encountering a character who looked like me or had the same background as me or who went through similar experiences as me. It’s a really empty feeling. So whenever I read a book by an #OwnVoices author, it means so much. It means I feel represented in an industry—in a form of entertainment—that I felt excluded from for a very long time. Making even more readers and authors feel more welcome—making them feel like they are part of this world—is a good thing.

Guys, take note: reading romance makes you sexy

Not just because it makes you look open-minded and secure enough in your manliness to read “a girl’s book”. And not just because it shows you don’t pander to stereotypes and what the men who do might think of you.


As for men, I admire those reading romance. This is someone who won’t be told by society what he should like and read. He is confident enough to read what he enjoys. He is his own person, that is admirable.

It’s because what you learn from modern romance novels gives you access to the secrets. Yes, the very same secrets that self-identified “clueless men” claim to be clueless about. They’re hardly mysterious, but hard to discern if you grew up in an age where toxic masculinity was the norm. These are the highly prized tools of interpersonal decency and desirable indecency that would make an encounter with anyone something worth writing home about.


Honestly, if I ever saw a guy reading a romance novel, it would give me so many happy feels. Even though some people think of just sex when they think of romance novels, I think one of the most important things that romance novels do is show the importance of communication. Some of the major plot points in romance novels are when the main characters are working through misunderstandings and having breakthroughs about their needs and wants. All of those are types of communication. So in a very real way, romance novels are showcasing the importance of communication in sex and relationships, and show how literally everything stems from having healthy communication.


I believe, men reading romance novels would greatly benefit their current or future relationships and maybe bring back a spark to a stale one. Romance novels are about so much more than just mind blowing sex. In some cases, it can be a real learning guide on how to avoid the pitfalls we all spiral into during a relationship. Like how we tend to jump to conclusions, making the mistake our partner thinks like us. Or burying our feelings, letting resentment build, until we reach a serious crossroads. The underlining message in all romance literature is learning to take a leap of faith, trust, and communicating with our partners. Everyone can benefit from that.


Men, you’re getting an inside view of women’s hopes, desires, and wishes. If your wife, girlfriend, or lover has a favourite romance author, it would be a good idea to read one or two of their books. Romances range from sweet and sensual to BDSM. Find out which stories she loves to read and why. Not only will you learn more about her and therefore become closer. I’m willing to bet things will become more fun in the bedroom as these books will open up discussions of romantic and sexual expectations.

With all these benefits, I can’t help but wonder if there may be other factors behind some of the male ire for romance. I’m definitely not qualified to comment on men’s business, and perhaps that’s why I’m prone to being curious: could some of the negativity come from shame and fear?

PsychCentral has this to say. From Male Sexual Shame and Objectification of Women:

Passage into manhood often exposes [boys] to humiliation during a period when openness and honesty aren’t allowed. They have to hide their feelings and natural instincts.

Romance novels centering on female experiences and sexuality typically come with a generous serve of emotional real-talk, often at point blank range. In my own experience, when I’ve been through my own phases of emotional fragility (a necessary part of growing up), I certainly found that kind of honesty and rawness extremely challenging and confronting.

Anecdotally, the men I know who have enthusiastically given romance a go (either to support a writer friend or to learn more about female perspectives) seem to demonstrate a lot of openness and comfort with their emotional and sexual selves—or at least a willingness to confront their discomforts and courageously own them.


Romantic literature can lead to improved sexual confidence, greater sexual activity and greater sexual experimentation. Surveys have demonstrated that many readers of the genre use romantic literature to foster a healthy monogamous relationship while vicariously fulfilling sexual desires. Women who read romance novels also reported that they did not negatively compare their real-life partners with fictional male protagonists or heroes. Which might be a fear some men harbour regarding romance novels.

Well, I do know one thing. Whenever my partner reads the romance books I read (or at least the parts that count), we both come away with a shared vocabulary and context for assessing and analysing our own relationship. We’re not immune to the problems that affect other relationships, and working through those problems—no matter what they are—always starts with the two of us on the same page.

This post was made possible by the experiences, knowledge and insights of the following people. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all <3

Sarah Smith, author of Faker, If You Never Come Back, and the hotly anticipated Simmer Down, coming out 13 October 2020. Sarah is a copywriter turned author who wants to make the world a lovelier place, one kissing story at a time.

“Romance is just plain fun to read. It’s incredibly entertaining to read about these characters as they go through relatable issues, read their banter, get excited when they flirt and fall in love, and of course get amped up when the steamy parts happen.”

Caidyn (he/him, aroace, trans), the book omnivore and licensed social worker behind @caidynsreads, who names his all-time favourite book as American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

“I’d love to see more accurate trans, aro, and ace rep in romance. I’d be more likely to read it if that happened.”

DK Marie, author of Fairy Tale Lies, Love Songs and Taste of Passion. They’re a mixture of heart, heat, and humour. Brimming with confident heroines and kind heroes, all living, loving, and lusting in and around her hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

“Romance readers are the people who either believe in the Happily-Ever-After; they see the good in a world often overflowing with sadness and hardship. Or they are the ones needing an escape, something to lighten the weight of the day-to-day thrown at us. I fall into this category. Romance makes me feel lighter, hopeful.”

A.R. Vagnetti, author of the Storm Series, transporting readers into a fantastical world of paranormal romance where bold Alpha males will sacrifice anything for the strong, deeply scared, kickass females they love. Her latest book, Forbidden Storm, is now available across major e-retailers.

“No matter how damaged or rough your past, you can overcome, deal with, or completely conquer your personal demons with the love, trust, and support of your chosen partner. I wholeheartedly believe in the love conquers all scenario.”

Fresh Find: Faker by Sarah Smith — interview & free stories

Sarah Smith is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet online. I reckon I’ve seen her get everyone’s back, unabashedly vocal and supportive whenever some 280-character ridiculousness takes aim at someone she cares about.

We started chatting a couple years ago, first one one social platform, then another, then another. A few chunky emails later, this disembodied source of text shaped like a half-Filipina has become someone I’m proud to call a friend (even though we haven’t met IRL yet and I’m still not sure where society stands on people being “internet friends”).

Anyway, I’m double proud today, because Sarah’s hot new interracial office romance, Faker, is finally out. While I await my paperback copy arriving in the mail, I thought I’d tell you all about it—or better yet, ask Ms. Smith herself, to do the talking.

Interview with Sarah Smith, author of Faker

Headshot: Sarah Smith, author of Faker

JL: Your debut novel, Faker, has just hit the shelves. Tell us a bit about it. 

SARAH SMITH: Thank you so much for having me! Faker is a multi-cultural romcom about a half-Filipino woman fighting to establish herself in the power tool industry all the while trying to fight her attraction to a coworker. It’s a hate-to-love romance with loads of banter, steam, and slowburn. And a happily ever after, of course. 

JL: Before Faker, you released quite a few titles on your blog and on other platforms. Tell us a bit about them too!

SARAH: I started my romance short story and flashfic blog while I was trying to break into publishing. The stories are steamy romances that explore all those fun romance tropes: office romance, forced proximity, age gap, opposites attract, FWB-to-love. Writing these stories was a fun way to build a readership while developing my writing skills. And it’s also important to me to maintain a platform where I can share my writing for free. Buying books can be expensive and I know not everyone can afford it. Writing a short story or series or flashfic and positing it to my blog periodically is a way I can get my writing to as many people as possible without cost being an issue.

The short stories and flashfic I write are always steamy, there is always an endearing and relatable main character, and there is always a sweet and super hot love interest. And of course, there is always a happy ending.

JL: What themes would you say all your stories have in common? What’s the philosophy that drives what you write?

SARAH: One theme I like to put into my writing is the main character finding strength within herself, in addition to finding love. I think a lot of times people put down romance because they think it’s very one dimensional or sexist, but all of the romance that I love to read–and write–is full of depth and compelling character development. It’s important to me that the main character has built the confidence to stand on her own by the end of the book; she chooses to be with love interest because he’s made himself worthy of her, he’s recognized her as an independent person, and he brings something extra to her life–he doesn’t complete her. Consent and prioritizing female pleasure are also themes I try to drive home.

The philosophy that drives me to write is just that it’s my passion. I like writing more than I like doing just about anything else in the world. I’ll write as long as I’m happy doing it.

JL: What qualities do you like in a love interest, and which of your characters do you reckon comes the closest?

SARAH: Oh good question! First of all, loyalty. A guy who is loyal to you, who will stand up for you when everyone else is against you, be supportive of you, and never question his feelings for you is the absolute hottest thing in the world. Yes, muscles and a sexy smile and all that are fun, but if you don’t have that emotional loyalty, it’s not going to work for me. Also, I adore love interests who are kind. It sounds so simple, but it’s SO DAMN HOT. Like, a guy making you tea in the morning or remembering your favorite condiment when ordering takeout, that stuff. It’s the little things, but they matter so much because they show thoughtfulness.

I have to admit that I wrote Tate, the love interest from Faker, with every intention of making him this fiercely loyal, protective, and kind love interest for the main character Emmie. I loaded up the book with instances of him doing sweet and kind gestures. A lot of them are quiet and unassuming (he’s not really a grand gesture kind of guy), but I hope it makes readers swoon. I don’t want to give anything away to people who haven’t read the book, but a lot of his gestures are food-related and that’s just downright swoonworthy to me!

JL: What inspired the story in Faker? How did you go about researching some of Emmie’s experiences?

SARAH: A bunch of random stuff inspired Faker. I’m a hate-to-love romance super fan and was reading a ton of that genre at the time. I felt inspired to write my own take on that trope. Also, I worked at a power tool distributor for most of my twenties so it was easy to use that as a work setting. It was the least sexy place imaginable (gravel, dust, and cement everywhere…every male employee looked like my grandpa), but I thought it would be unique. I thought it would in a way serve as a fun juxtaposition to the steamy content. Like, “how can such a sexy romance spring from such an unsexy place? Well, read my book and I’ll show you how.” That sort of idea.

As far as Emmie’s experiences go, I took a lot of that from my own life. She’s half-Filipino and half-white, just like I am. She had moments where she struggled with finding her identity growing up, which I modeled after my own. There are a few hurtful memories from childhood that she talks about when she opens to up Tate, and a lot of that is based on what I went through as a kid. And there’s an instance of work place harassment too, and that was also something I took from my past work experiences as a woman in a male-dominated field.

JL: What did you do before choosing a career as an author? Have you ever had to “fake it” for work?

SARAH: Lots of random writing jobs! My longest job was that content writing job at the power tool distributor. Before that I worked in marketing and public relations, which I hated. I was a freelance copywriter for a while too. I also worked at a newspaper for a while. That also wasn’t my cup of tea.

I have absolutely had to “fake it” for work. You know when your boss asks you to take on extra work, and you have to just smile and nod okay? Or you have to work on a project with a coworker you don’t like? Or someone asks how your day is going and it’s a complete dumpster fire, but you can’t say that because professionalism, so you just say, “Oh you know, it’s going!” I have faked it through all of those scenarios and then some, as I’m sure everyone has!

JL: What’s the best feedback you’ve had about your work, and what effect did it have on you?

SARAH: A few people have reached out to me after reading Faker to tell me how much it means to see the main character Emmie share their same racial background, and that they can relate to her experience growing up. Seeing minority main characters is a big deal when you’re a minority and you’ve spent your life reading books, but none of the characters look like you or grew up like you did. It means so much–like, so much that it’s hard to put into words right now–that people have told me they can see themselves in a character I’ve written. And it makes me want to keep writing characters that will make these readers feel seen and represented.

JL: Given what the world is like these days, has anything you’ve written given you pause? Why did you decide to write it anyway?

SARAH: A bit. I think when you’re writing minority characters, even from a minority POV, people can be really critical of how you represent that experience. Sometimes people don’t agree with the way you depict it or they think you could have done a better job of it. I’m Filipino and white, so I’m constantly second-guessing myself, always wondering if I’m being enough of both or too much of either. It can cause a lot of stress for me honestly.

But I’ve finally realized that my writing comes from my experience, and my experience–no matter what it is–is valid, just like everyone else’s. If people don’t like it or don’t enjoy reading about it, that’s okay. They don’t have to. But I decided a while ago that I’m going to write what’s true to me, and that’s the best I can do.

JL: Do you have any parting words for readers?

SARAH: Yes! If you feel so inclined, please read FakerIf free stories are more your thing, check out my blog Also, thank you! It means so much that anyone would even want to read my words!

Cover of Faker by Sarah Smith: Next to a yellow construction hat, a Filipina heroine sneaks a peek from under a blue blanket

Faker by Sarah Smith, published by Berkley, is available pretty much everywhere you can get a good book 🐛

You can also find this author at:

What I’m not reading — Sep 2019

Welcome to this year’s edition of “my unendingly patient and ever-growing TBR”.

I adopted the BuJo system earlier this year and am excited to see all my admin, paperwork and other shenanigans slowly coming good. My weeks are on track now. I’m not daunted by the tiniest things. And, best of all, making time to read has been so easy.

In theory, anyway. The reality is I’ve been spending my newfound time on mechanical keyboards and cryptic crosswords. I’ve started a new project involving storytelling in a medium other than books. No, it’s not a graphic novel or a screenplay, though I’d like to do those one day. I’ll tell you more about it another time. For now, here’s what my hobbies are stopping me from reading:

Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

Book cover for "Summerland" by Hannu Rajaniemi

I’ve had my eye on Summerland since it came out last year. Alas, Hannu is one of those authors whose work does such things to me that I need to clear out a heap of space in my life just to start reading. To be honest, I haven’t even read the blurb (or if I have, I’ve forgotten what it says). I just know if it’s by this author, I want to read it.

Luna: Moon Rising by Ian McDonald

This book has sat on my Kindle since preorders were announced. What I like about the Luna series is how down-to-earth it is for a story set on the moon. It’s not a crazy planet-shattering epic or full of weird wonders I have to work to relate to. It’s a story about people being fucking people. We’re sexy, we’re angry, we just want to survive and be comfortable. Most of all, we’re assholes, and here’s how we do with resources and futuristic technology at our fingertips. This will be retrofuture scifi one day. But I really hope some day sooner, someone turns it into a telenovela.

Ps. If I ever start learning Portuguese, it will be because of this series.

Faker by Sarah Smith

Actually, I’ve read this one—sort of. I had the honour of beta reading Sarah Smith’s manuscript when it had just come out of its draft stage. It’s such a great story, so relatable, full of sexy lovey-dovey feels, much like the author’s short stories and serials. The chemistry between her characters, Emmie and Tate, is just fantastic and I love how fresh the author’s voice is. This was another one I locked in as soon as the preorder dropped, in paperback this time, because I’m really digging romance in paperback lately.

Aspergirls by Rudy Simone

Speaking of paperbacks, I recently finished The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. It was a great book, but it sent me down this rabbithole of wondering… things. The author recommended this book for other people who may be wondering things, so here it is on my list.

Star Brides: Dept. of Corrections by Pia Manning

There’s something soothing about reading a Pia Manning story while in transit. I enjoyed Star Brides: The Meat Market, especially because it gave me real-world things to reflect on. And you know, the ménage parts were pretty great too. And now here we are with a poly story 💞 I’m saving this one for an upcoming plane ride, so the aircon better be good in economy, please!

Dune by Frank Herbert

I’m so excited about the upcoming Dune film that I’ve hardly looked up anything about it. Truth be told, I don’t care about the news, the speculations, what the early reviews will be like, what Roger Ebert, David and Margaret, or Rotten Tomatoes thinks about it. I don’t care if I end up hating the film. I just love the universe and this story and am so goddamned excited.

OK, I lie, I care a bit about the news. Hearing about the cast has been great and I’m itching to know who plays Feyd Rautha in the film. Someone tried to tell me they’ve combined his role with Rabban’s, but come on. Would the maker of a movie as incredible as Blade Runner 2049 do something like that? I have my doubts.

And I will continue having my doubts as I devour the audiobook of this novel, right up until the new film comes out.

Beauregard and the Beast by Evie Drae

I’ve heard nothing but good things about this author and this book. Also, I’m so ready to read another sports romance and OMG, this is an MMA story. Yes, please. This is another book I’ve earmarked for holiday reading. My kindle’s gonna get one hell of a workout.