Love, Issues, and Angst: Talking “New Adult” Romance with Monica Murphy and Robin York

Love, Issues, and Angst: Talking “New Adult” Romance with Monica Murphy and Robin York
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New Adult authors Robin York and Monica Murphy got together to talk all things NA recently. They were kind enough to share their enlightening conversation with us! Enjoy!

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Robin: Hey, Monica!

Monica: Hi Robin.

R: So. New Adult. What is this crazy madness that is changing both our lives? I mean, actually, how do you define it for yourself?

M: It is utter madness and I must say, I’m excited to be writing in such an interesting subgenre. To me New Adult is that time in our lives when we’re just starting out on our own. We’re adults–but not quite–and we’re trying to figure out how to function without that safety net provided by our parents, school, etc. We go from having a routine that is placed upon us to pretty much doing whatever we want. Everything is infused with high, intense emotion as we deal with first love, first job, our first adult decisions…there are lots of highs and lows.

How would you define New Adult, Robin?

R: My definition is more or less the same as yours. I look back on that period of my life, and all of my memories are so vivid, because there’s so much to figure out at that age that’s difficult. I think media about New Adult work can sometimes be condescending about the drama level, the angst, which is unfair, because a lot of what we’re looking for at that period of our lives is the most important stuff–lasting love, a sense of purpose/mission/passion in our work, a way of seeing the world and changing the world that makes sense to us. All of that at once–of course there’s a lot of angst! But there’s a lot of beauty, too. I love writing about a period when so many things crystalize for my characters.

I think, too, that New Adult is nearly always driven by very strong, interesting characters. Has that been your experience?

M: Absolutely, I agree with both your definition and that the New Adult books I’ve read and loved are dealing with strong, interesting characters who are usually at a crossroads in their lives or are going to be. The decisions they ultimately make will affect their future and it can go either way. Good or bad. And what I especially love? That they make really bad decisions and then they have to suffer the consequences. It makes the story feel that more real.

Robin, I think we’ve both tackled pretty heavy subject matter in our New Adult books. Where did you get the idea for DEEPER and why did you decide to write about that particular subject?

R: This is one of those questions that I could answer for thousands of words. ;-) But the short answer is that I saw a link to an article about revenge porn one day, and I was already thinking about writing a New Adult romance. The article was a straight-up news kind of thing, but the comments . . . oh, the comments. The comments made me furious. Here was unabashed victim-blaming, here was the sexual double standard, here were young women who had been betrayed by men they were intimate with being verbally attacked by strangers on the Internet. And I just thought, you know, I have to write about this. I have to.

So I did.

You’ve taken on some really difficult characters, too, Monica, starting with Drew and Fable and moving deeper in your latest releases. Why do you think we see so much of this kind of trauma in New Adult, and do you agree with the critique we sometimes see that New Adult characters are in a sense being exploited by authors, with every trauma under the sun thrown at them?

M: There are so many people who are ultra critical of New Adult books and all the angst in them. I think they believe the authors have a menu of angst/horrible/traumatic things that we can choose from to make our characters suffer through and that we pile them on, one after the other.

When I first read New Adult books, I remember thinking how brave the authors were, for tackling such (what felt like) taboo subject matter. I found it so interesting and appealing as an author and I knew I wanted to do something like that. Write something like that. It sparked my creativity.

If handled well, I think New Adult books can tackle subject matter that happens all the time but is never discussed. At least not in supposed happy romance book land. If we can take damaged characters, put them through some really hard, emotional situations and they come out happy on the other end? I find that pretty fulfilling.

R: I’m with you! And also, it’s a good reminder that these are things that happen to people. Revenge porn happens to people, sexual abuse happens to people, rape happens to people, people are affected by environments of extreme poverty–all of it. I wouldn’t say these subjects have been or are taboo, exactly, in romance, but I do think that we tend to see them shunted into “issue” books.

In New Adult, the “issue” is growing into full adulthood and finding a strong sense of self. How we get there just depends on what kind of hurdles are in front of us. And I enjoy, so much, the acknowledgment that we’re all going to have hurdles. Even the white, middle-class, straight A, attractive choir student. Because this is humanity. Issues come standard.

But let’s look a little more closely at the books. What aspect of your New Adult work thus far are you most proud of?

M: In ONE WEEK GIRLFRIEND, (total spoiler alert if you haven’t read it!) I write about the sexual abuse that Drew suffers at the hands of his stepmother. He blames himself. He believes that because he derived some sexual pleasure from it, he doesn’t think he was molested by her. He believes they were involved in an affair and Fable is the one who reminds him that no, he was abused.

I have received many emails, messages, etc. from readers who were abused, are involved with someone who was abused, or work with kids/teens who are sexually abused, and they say the way I handled it was very realistic. That Drew’s emotions and guilt were real. Not very easy to read, but real. And I’m so proud of that because it was so difficult as I wrote it. I wanted to handle the subject without offending anyone. More than once as I wrote, I was scared to go there. But I’m really glad I went there.

How about you, Robin? You know, I loved DEEPER and how Caroline deals with her issues and with her father, her friends, etc. It felt very real. What are you most proud of in regards to your NA books?

R: I’m definitely proud of Caroline and the way she adjusts to and moves forward from her experiences as a target of revenge porn. That’s an arc that will continue in the sequel, HARDER, and it’s such a satisfying thing to me to watch Caroline grow into her fierce womanhood and take on what happened to her. But the thing I think I’m most proud of (weirdly?) is probably some of the, er, “adult” subject matter. I wanted to capture as best I could what it felt like as an undergraduate to be encountering intimacy for the first time with someone who you were really intimate with. As opposed to just hooking up, or going along, or trying stuff out. And I love how those sexually exploratory scenes between West and Caroline came out.

What can I say? I’m a romance writer first. I love the sexy parts.

M: You know, I feel the same way. We’re both romance writers at heart and I love writing that first connection between a couple, and like you said, when they truly become intimate. In FOUR YEARS LATER, which comes out in March, I had a lot of fun creating those first moments between my couple Owen and Chelsea, especially because she was a virgin. She’d never been intimate with anyone (she was also very sheltered growing up) and Owen felt like he’d been intimate with everyone. So to have such a strong connection with another human being and to actually care about one another beyond sexual gratification…it was fun to create that between my characters.

So…can I ask about HARDER? And when does it come out? And what happens? Because I’m dying to know!

R: Sure! DEEPER was, for the most part, Caroline’s story. HARDER is West’s. And the title is, um, apt. Because for West to get to a place where he’s capable of being happy, he has to move through a whole world of pain.

Poor West. I mean, I love him a lot, and I understand all the West-swoon over DEEPER because he’s a really stand-up guy, loyal, hard-working, understanding, hot. But he’s also pretty seriously effed up, and I didn’t want to handwave that away, you know?

Which makes me think of Drew, actually, and how you took him in ONE WEEK GIRLFRIEND to the point of being capable of understanding just how screwed up he is … and then made him do the hard work in the sequel. Sometimes, the hard work won’t all fit in one book, huh?

M: I agree. I’m going to be honest here–I get a lot of shit from readers for dividing it up into two books, and I’m sorry I made them upset. But I really think it was the right thing to do for Drew + Fable. He was a mess. He freaking left her and not only did he leave her, he stayed away for months and probably would’ve stayed away longer if they hadn’t run into each other! He needed that time to take care of himself because if you can’t even do that, how can you take care of someone else?

Fable is the stronger one in this couple until near the end of SECOND CHANCE BOYFRIEND, and then I think they become equal. And I enjoyed playing with that too. The role-reversal. In OWG she was the hero and she rescued Drew. But by the end of SCB, he rescues her instead. They needed everything to happen over a stretch of two books because each character needed their own arc you know? It’s hard to explain.

R: Oh, I know. I thought everything in DEEPER/HARDER was going to fit in one book. Even as I was two-thirds of the way done with DEEPER, and my agent was saying, “Huh. It sounds like what’s left is a lot,” I was all, “No, no, it’s going to be fine. Really, just wait.” And then I wrote a scene that broke a lot of things open in that way that feels really awesome, and my critique partner said, “Okay, this is where I tell you that you’re writing two books.”

And I was. Yeah.

I understand that readers get frustrated with cliffhangers, but one of the things I really like about New Adult romance is that we’re telling coming-into-personhood stories about characters who have more going on than just their love lives. And that means, sometimes, that aspects of their stories will get resolved, while others will remain open to changing and evolving in a future book.

Just like in real life!

M: I agree with you 100%. You nailed it. New Adult isn’t just about love and romance, there are lots of factors coming into play with the stories. This is why I love writing/reading it so much!

I can’t wait for readers to meet Caroline and West, Robin. I’m so glad we had this chat!

R: Me, too! Now everybody who reads it should rush off and buy one of Monica’s books. Go, go, go!

M: Yes! Buy all of our books! Ha but seriously. Read DEEPER. Such an amazing story.

auth-1 Monica Murphy is the New York Times bestselling author of One Week Girlfriend, Second Chance Boyfriend, Three Broken Promises, and Four Years Later. A native Californian, she lives in the foothills of Yosemite with her husband and three children.

auth Robin York grew up at a college, went to college, signed on for some more college, and then married a university professor. She still isn’t sure why it didn’t occur to her to write New Adult sooner. Writing as Ruthie Knox, she is a USA Today bestselling author of contemporary romance, including RITA-nominated About Last Night and Room at the Inn. She moonlights as a mother, makes killer salted caramels, and sorts out thorny plot problems while running, hiking, or riding her bike.
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