Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
Colette Auclair is a romance novelist who lives in Colorado with her husband, her Portuguese water dog and a thoroughbred horse. Auclair writes sexy, light-hearted love stories based in an equestrian setting. Her debut novel, Thrown, was a 2012 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart finalist before being published by the Pocket Star division of Simon & Schuster. Her next novel, Jumped, is scheduled for a June 23 publication. Westword caught up with Auclair to discuss horse books, the value of literary escapism and how she sold her book over Twitter.
Westword: What's your favorite book about horses?
Colette Auclair: Well, most of them are kids' books. My favorite children's book about horses was King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry, who wrote a ton of horse books. It's about Sham -- the Godolphin Arabian who was one of the three foundation sires of the thoroughbred breed -- and the boy who loved him.
I think my horse book knowledge begins and ends with Black Beauty. It's a great book; really sad. Lots of children's book about animals are.
Oh yeah, Ginger, with her tongue hanging out? And all the blood? I've definitely re-read that book within the past five years.
Did you grow up with horses?
No. Nobody in my family cared about horses, but I'd always loved them. I don't know why.
Did horse books offer any escapism for you when riding horses was still just a childhood wish?
Absolutely. I had always wanted a horse, and then my sister bought me riding lessons for my 10th birthday. I still remember opening these little coupons for riding lessons. It's the first time I remember crying because I was happy. So then I took riding lessons forever. Now I have a horse.
You write romances, which also seem to offer an escape into a world where there's a comforting sense of order. It's also a chance to experience things life hasn't necessarily offered yet, like riding horses, or having a tryst with a swarthy stranger.
It's interesting that you mention that because that's kind of a big theme in the romance writer community that I have just entered. I didn't know anything about any of this until recently. I have a friend who writes romance novels that are set in the military. Like, on aircraft carriers. She posted a picture of this female surgeon who's serving in Afghanistan, reading her book, just sitting on rocks out in the desert, not even in a tent. The woman sent her a message saying essentially that "romance novels get me through this war." Because there's always a happy ending --by definition-- and it's all about love, and what's more important than that in the grand human scheme of things?
That seems like a tricky balancing act. It must be a challenge to present a surprising narrative yet be expected to deliver a satisfying conclusion every time. It's hard to do well.
Yeah. And now that I'm trying to do it well, I can really appreciate the people who manage to do it well. There's all this stuff you have to throw at your characters yet still make it work out somehow. If you care about your characters, it's like "sorry I'm making you go through this."
Are there any writers in the romance genre who've been influential to you?
Well, frankly, I'd read two romances before I wrote one. Like in my whole life. One was The Flame and the Flower, which is like the first historical romance novel ever written because I found it in high school. The second one was Palomino by Danielle Steele, which I'd only read because I thought it was about horses. There's a horse in it, but it just paralyzes somebody It's not strictly a romance because there's not a happy ending. People die a lot in Danielle Steele's books.
That's the only other way for romances to go, really.
Yeah, the Nicholas Sparks way. So, when I wrote one, I really didn't know anything about them, so I had to have a crash course in romance. I asked a friend of mine if there were any funny ones, because my stories aren't about, you know, a serial killer on the loose. I don't have Vampires or murderers or the restrictions of Victorian social mores. So she told me to read Susan Elizabeth Phillips because she's funny. So I really got to like her writing and now we've become like pseudo-friends. She knows me at conferences, and I'm technically her stalker, just following her around. She's very kind about it; as long as I don't show up at her house in a white van, we should be fine. Kristan Higgins is another influence, she's very funny. They've both won numerous RITA awards.
No Jane Austen or Brontë influence?
I know them, but I haven't delved in lately. I always preferred Dickens as far as Victorians go.
I'm a sucker for all repressed Victorians, but Dickens is one of my favorite writers of any era. Dickensian romances usually don't work out.
That is true. He's not necessarily an influence, he's just great.
What have you been reading lately?
The very last thing I read was Bird by Bird. I've only read a couple books about writing, but Ann Lamott is so funny. On Writing by Stephen King is actually really helpful.
Ok, are there any books that were especially important to you that haven't come up yet in my questions?
More of my influences have been from regular literature. My favorite book ever is A Prayer for Owen Meaney. I love John Irving; he's very Dickensian. I read that book --and this sounds so glamourous-- on a train from Prague to Vienna and I was just a mess of tears by the time I finished it. Barabara Kingsolver is another great writer and a huge influence. There's also this book called The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, it's one of those books where I go back and read sentences over and over because they're so beautiful and lyrical. Great writers can be so powerful and evocative with language, it's something I also look for. Also, if they can make me cry like a baby, that's a plus.
Can you tell me how you sold your book through Twitter?
I went to the Romance Writers of America conference because I was a finalist in the Golden Heart contest. I was going to all these writers' workshops they were holding and one of them was for Simon & Schuster's Pocket Star division. There was a question and answer session with a bunch of their authors and their editor --my editor now-- Abby Zidle. I remember her being so funny and likable right away. She described what they were looking for and it didn't sound like my book at all. She wanted paranormal, dystopian stuff. I nervously introduced myself to her after the workshop and when I went home I followed her on Twitter and noticed from her profile that she was a horse person. So I sent her a message saying "hey, we met last week and I thought you were really funny. I have a book about horses, it was a Golden Heart finalist, can I please, please send it to you?" And she said, "sure" so I sent it, and about a month later she called with a book offer.
For more information about Auclair's books, as well as her blog, check out her official website.
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Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.