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Transcripts done by CJ Clougherty, @PadfootPGH
Dianna: Hello, and welcome to The Spoonie Authors Podcast: a podcast where we explore a different disabled author’s stories each week. I am your host, Dianna Gunn, and joining us today is Elizabeth Barone. Elizabeth Barone writes books about badass belles who choose the other path, because her life is offbeat. Before publishing her debut novel she was a chef, web designer, apprentice teacher, and retail soldier, but writing is her first love. It took a debilitating autoimmune disease to make her realize it was time to chase her dream. She has published over a dozen contemporary romance novels and suspense novels. Hello, Elizabeth!
Dianna: It’s great to have you on the show. I’m very excited for you to be here and to talk about our work. Specifically, can you tell us a bit about your River Reaper series?
Elizabeth: I’m excited to be here. Thank you for having me. So, the series started off as my answer to, kind of, the “kidnapped by the biker trope” that I really dislike. *laughs* Um. I love Sons of Anarchy. So when I found out that there was biker romances I was really excited but there’s a lot of, uh, kidnapped by the biker books so I find that trope a little bit problematic sometimes. And I’m also not a fan of the damsel in distress. I like writing heroines who are a little difficult and don’t do what they’re supposed to do. So, also survival, I’m a survivor of sexual assault, so I know a lot of other survivors. And I wanted revenge. So this book, this series, quickly became my way of rewriting some wrongs. And also saying, look, we can have biker romance that aren’t creepy. And here’s a heroine starting with PTSD and helping other survivors. So I decided to set it in a real town near my home city, which is – my home city is Waterbury, and the town is Naugatuck, and I took a lot of liberties. For one, Naugatuck would never allow a strip club I don’t think. So that exists only in my imagination.
Dianna: Wow. Okay Can – can you tell us a bit more about this kidnapped by a biker trope? This sounds completely insane to me as someone who is not in the romance world whatsoever. What?? *laughs*
Elizabeth: So yeah, a lot of biker romances tend to start off where like, the hero is like a president of another like a rival club and he kidnaps the other president’s daughter, so he’s like holding her hostage. Yeah, it’s not always…
Dianna: That’s so strange to me. *laughs* That just seems really bizarre. I guess that’s that’s honestly why a large part of why I don’t really get into a lot of the conventional romance genres, is that there’s a lot of weird stuff like that that’s you know normalizing abuse or, like in this case, it’s romanticizing Stockholm Syndrome. That…that’s really strange to me. I’m glad you’re out there challenging that. So how many books do you currently have in the River Reaper series?
Elizabeth: So right now there’s two full length novels and a novella. And I have the third full length novel is coming out soon. Sometime. Eventually.
Dianna: Sometime eventually. I feel you. *laughs*
Elizabeth: Also gonna have a companion novella so there’ll be new additions this year at some point.
Dianna: That’s awesome and you’re just gonna keep going until you run out of good ideas I guess? You don’t have an end in mind?
Elizabeth: I do. I kind of knew from the beginning where I was going with it. So there’s going to be four books in total, and possibly maybe some more novellas. Possibly.
Dianna: Possibly, very exciting. Good luck, that is a lot to have on your plate, but it sounds really exciting. And so at this point you’ve gone through quite a few books in this series, you are like eyeballs deep in it, what it has been the most exciting part of working on this so far?
Elizabeth: Um, probably…it’s a lot darker than my other stuff, first of all, so. So that part of it has been really fun. I get to kill people. *laughs* It’s a romance with a body count. That has been a lot of fun. But I really didn’t know, you know, how my readers were going to react to it. Because my other stuff was contemporary. It was very light hearted with like, you know, covering social issues but nowhere near that dark. So I had no idea how people were going to receive it, but they actually like right away they were like “Oh my God, I love these two, I love Cliff and Olivia.” They love that the books are essentially about trauma. And as someone with PTSD who wasn’t diagnosed until years after the traumatic event, I’m still very much discovering, like, how debilitating it can be. So, I like exploring…it’s basically its own chronic illness. And then on top of that I have the autoimmune disease that was undiagnosed for so long, and being dismissed by doctors, so that was also traumatic in a way. So, with these books I really wanted to zero in on PTSD and all the ways that can affect you. And also killing people is fun. *laughs*
Dianna: And let me just say: romance with a body count is a great tagline. I hope you go on to use this as the tagline for this series because I’m in. You have got me.
Elizabeth: I don’t actually, but I should.
Dianna: Really should. I think but specifically the trauma that happens around medical stuff. Even for people that don’t have disabilities who just get injured is something that we don’t talk about enough as a culture. And I think that is something that’s really important to start breaking down and like actually discussing. Because that’s a very real thing and that just… it makes everything that you’re already going through as an injured or ill or, you know, whatever person, so much worse, dealing with all the complications of the medical system. And especially not being believed.
Dianna: Which happens far, far more to women, and especially to young women. That was definitely my experience as well was a lot of denial. “You’re too young to be in chronic pain.”
Elizabeth: Yeah, stuff like that.
Dianna: I heard that so often. So, have you found that it’s been cathartic or helpful in your own processing to write this series?
Elizabeth: Yes and also…in like a really difficult way. So like when I was writing the second book I really dove deep into trauma, and like writing it was, was so cathartic, but at the same time it was also like…I had to like really kind of get into the flashbacks, you know what I mean? To, like, instead of, you know, when you’re writing it’s like, it’s a very in your head experience and trauma is already very emotional in your head. So, this second book in the series was probably the hardest book I’ve ever written, just for that alone. Just those scenes where she’s -um – where Olivia is struggling with her trauma and trying to work through it, and trying to just even live, you know, a normal life. And then all the flashbacks and just really like getting into that was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Dianna: Yeah. Unfortunately I – at least I – don’t know of any easy way to actually heal from your trauma so…*laughs* So, um, let’s expand on that a bit: what have been your biggest struggles not just working on this series, but in building a career as a disabled author and producing over a dozen novels? That’s an awesome achievement for anyone, right? *laughs*
Elizabeth: Yeah, I don’t know, honestly, it’s, it’s like, I’ve been doing this since 2011, so it’s like…every year that I’m still active and still like in, you know, still publishing, I feel like it’s a huge accomplishment on its own, because just watching, you know, from way back with all these indie authors and not even necessarily medical issues like stopping them from publishing, but just like the faces that were common when I was first starting out, people just got burnt out or like life happened and they all went away. So just like being here now is huge, just like still, still publishing is huge for me. But, um, I think like one of the biggest struggles I have is my body not cooperating.
I have joint pain so when I’m trying to write or to even just – sitting at the computer is difficult. I have been through so many chairs, I was just tweeting like a couple days ago about how I am on like, my third chair trying to find the one that is something I could actually sit in and be comfortable in. I’ve changed my whole setup a million times like trying to make it more ergonomic, there’s just some days where I just physically can’t move. My hands won’t move the way I want them to, they’re too stiff, too sore, so I have to just kind of phone it in for the day. And I can’t go – my brain, even though I have a lot of brain fog now, and I’m very slow now, my brain still wants to go fast. Like, I was always a fast person before, so getting sick has slowed me down so much and that alone isn’t so frustrating.
Dianna: I feel you on that. And yeah and it’s so difficult when you can’t be spending a lot of time at the computer, because there’s so much more to being an author than just writing. There’s so much to keep up within the industry. There’s so much happening all the time. Are there any strategies that you’ve developed to make it easier for you to keep up with your non writing stuff that you have to do as an author?
Elizabeth: Um, so I’ve kind of had to adopt like a slow and steady mindset where I know I kind of have to do a lot more planning, and for, like, for one thing I keep a notebook of all my ideas for every launch I have a launch plan that is pretty detailed, it might not go the way I want it to. But it’s gonna get me from point A to point B. And then I’ve really gotten into using like a promo company to help me expand my reach because I’m still small, I can’t publish that frequently so I’m not able to – I see a lot of authors like they’re publishing multiple books a year and I’m like, I’m lucky if I get one out. So, to try to keep up. I often feel like “oh my god I have to publish a book every two seconds to keep up” but that’s not possible. So, I’ve really gotten into hiring, like a promo company they’ll help me do like book blitzes, cover reveals.
And then like the actual like release blast, and then I really got into advertising because, at least for me, it helps to have that, that steady sales coming in, so that even if it takes me months and months and months and months and months to write a book and then get it edited and then go through all the production, at least I know I’m still selling books, and I’m not having to be hustling all the time. Because, like, I think, probably like the best thing I’ve ever done is starting to do live events like big multi author signings, but that’s hard that takes such a toll on me. The next few days I’m wiped. So, I don’t do them as often. So having that like continuous advertising having that kind of like, boost of like, “Okay, I’ve got a promo company kind of like helping me so that I don’t have to be at the computer all the time and I don’t have to be trying to get out there all the time.” It’s really just like trying to find ways to be consistent, but keep the momentum going without killing myself.
Dianna: *laughs* Yeah, and I know plenty of completely able bodied authors who struggle with that. It’s a really difficult balance because there is so much pressure to be publishing books every two seconds. It’s insane. And, you know, I will have two books coming out this year but one of them is a nonfiction workbook that’s only going to be like 75 pages long. You know, that’s a completely different time investment when it comes to fiction.
Elizabeth: Yeah I’m lucky to publish one book a year, it’s a real challenge especially because my work, like the River Reaper series, really deals with trauma and a lot of the time in order to write those scenes I need to sit in a really uncomfortable place for me. And then take a three hour nap after writing, you know, page and a half long scene because it’s such a difficult thing. So I really appreciate you being honest about that, because I think that we don’t talk about enough in the industry, and that not enough people outside the industry, understand, you know? A lot of people think publishing is glamorous, and, you know, think you’re gonna make a bunch of money off your first book. And it’s unfortunately.,..that’s not the reality of the vast majority, You know, every once in a blue moon, there is that one person who will make all their money on their first book and because people just don’t talk about everybody else, we have this image that really just gets soul suckingly destroyed with every year. This glamourous image just falls apart a little bit more every year.
Elizabeth: Yeah, and also you know like, as someone who – I haven’t been – I’ve been out of the workforce for….since 2014. So, I have no, you know ,for the longest time I didn’t even have any income. Now I’m on disability so I have, you know, somewhat of an income but it’s, we know it’s not that much. So it’s like really for me it’s been about figuring out how to maximize what I do have, and you know if I can only publish one book a year, all right, fine. But at least I’m still in the game.
Dianna: Yeah, absolutely. Onto a more cheerful note. So, we all started writing because we love stories, and I wanted to know if there are any stories that have been really powerful for you as a reader that have meant a lot to you. And especially if there are any great stories with disability rep that you can recommend.
Elizabeth: So I’m Brendan Greene Wood recently released The Reckless Oath We Made, and the heroine in that book- it’s a, it’s a romance but it’s…it’s such an unconventional romance – the heroine has a bad hip.. And she’s also a difficult woman. And the hero is autistic. And he’s also got this kind of like fantasy going, and he’s so he kind of thinks he’s Don Quixote. And so we’ve got this heroine trying to find her sister and she’s got this hip that’s always slowing her down. And then we got this hero who thinks he’s a knight. He is really a knight, he’s like the most sweetest person ever. And just like alone, like just seeing this character that has a bad hip – I have a terrible hip. Just having – like just seeing like “oh here’s someone that’s more of, you know, like me (different circumstances)” but that alone was huge for me. And it’s like a gem because I don’t really come across, um, disability rep very often. It’s out there but it’s still not quite mainstream. I think we’re getting better at it.
Dianna: And that actually leads into my next question perfectly, which is: how would you like to see disability representation change in the next five years, not just in Romance-landia, but as a whole?
Elizabeth: I want more of it. Of course, there’s not enough and there’s, especially not enough healthy rep or. We can’t even…like the first time I ever came across like any disability rep was in like YA. And that was a long time ago. And it was like a rare, like it was, I can’t remember the name of the book but it was like, “Oh my god, there’s a disabled heroine!” So I started writing to help fill the hole but I can’t write as fast as I would like to. I have so many ideas but so little time. But I really want to see more. More disability rep where it’s kind of…the characters living just living a life instead of, um, like I mean I like when it’s the main plot, but I also want to see people just just doing things. So you know if it’s sci fi I want to see the heroine. and, as you know, I don’t know, a pilot or something and she just happens to have a disability. And in romance I want to see more rep that isn’t just, like I don’t know tragic, I guess, is the word I’m looking for. But I just want to see more of it, because I don’t really see enough of it. I don’t know if I’m looking in the wrong places or-
Dianna: Can you talk a bit about the, the tragic disability in romance? What does that manifest as? What does that look like?
Elizabeth: Um, I mean because I think it’s important to have stories that cover both ends of it. Like the whole medical side and dealing with it, and how that impacts your life, but I also think it’s important to have stories that it’s not the whole story, if that makes sense. Like, I guess like the best example I can think of is like -with like LGBT fiction. Like we have our coming out stories, so we have like our medical stories, but then like we also just have LGBT fiction where people are just living their lives, like they’re already out, it’s not like an element. So, with like the disability rep, even if it’s not necessarily a medical thing. I want to see more on both ends of that so more on figuring out the diagnosis or like the, you know, like maybe there’s a thriller that’s about like getting the diagnosis, or…I’m just kind of like spitballing, like, but like, you know, instead of instead of like just one type of story where like, I don’t know if like tragic is like the right word? But like I mean, we have like Me Before You like the guy, I don’t want to spoil,I think we all know the story right now, but like he dies at the end.
Dianna: The Fault in Our Stars? *laughs*
Elizabeth: Yeah. Yeah. It’s not a book, but there’s a series called Chasing Life, and it was like, I loved it so much. She was living with cancer. And then at the end, like it was canceled so suddenly and the ending was just so jarring and like it was just so tragic at the end. I don’t want to see that anymore. You know, like I feel like, kind of, I don’t know, it’s, it’s almost like…a fetish almost like “oh it’s so sad,” you know?
Dianna: Yeah, That makes a lot of sense comparing it to a fetish. It reminds me of a TED talk I watched once, I forget the name of the woman, but it was The Danger of a Single Story, and it was talking about how, when we talk about Africa, we’re always talking about poverty and, you know, misery in war torn countries and child soldiers and stuff like that. And the danger of having that single story andI think the point you’re trying to make is very similar here: that it is dangerous to have a single story for disability, you know. It makes it harder for people to see themselves in stories and it also gives people a lot of misconceptions about disabled people.
Elizabeth: Yes. You’re so much more articulate, my brain is just mush at this point. *laughs*
Dianna: I woke up like three hours ago. It’s the middle of the afternoon. You know I’m in that fresh bushy eyed…I’ve been awake long enough that I no longer have that like just waking up fog and my brain is in perfect condition right now. Yeah, it’s a really…of course now I lose all of my words.
Elizabeth: It’s a fine balance.
Dianna: It’s a fine balance, trying to get around brains. The brain is a very complicated thing.
Elizabeth: It very much is
Dianna: Is there anything else that you wanted to touch on before we wrap up? We do have a little bit of extra time.
Elizabeth: Um…I can’t think of anything. I think…I mean I was excited to find this podcast.
Dianna: Alright then, I will ask the final question which is: where can people find out more about you and your work?
Elizabeth: My website is elizabethbaronebooks.com and I am actually, my bigger romance novella Her Mercy is free so you can get that there. And I’m trying to cut back on social media, so I’m hanging around mostly Instagram these days @elizabethbarone
Dianna: How is your challenge of being on social media less going? *laughs*
Elizabeth: Ugh. It’s not. It’s not. Emphasis on the word trying.
Dianna: It’s really hard, and it can be such a distraction from the work that you’re really supposed to be doing. Um. But. I have also been trying with mixed success to be on social media less, so. I think that’s really a big theme in our culture right now as people are realizing how far down the rabbit hole they’ve gone and how much time that they’re allowing these apps to suck out of their lives.
Elizabeth: So much time. Recently I stopped using like – because I found that I realized that I was on Facebook for every possible thing like “oh I’m eating let me just scroll through Facebook, oh I’m, you know, I’ve got two minutes so let me scroll through Facebook” so I stopped doing that and I replaced it with reading, and I read so much more and I was so much less like, “Oh, I wonder what’s going on”. It’s really it’s, it’s almost like an addiction.
Dianna: Absolutely. I mean, they’re designed to stimulate your endorphins and keep you on sites. It really is built with an addiction, framework. There’s been a lot of really interesting stuff coming out the last couple of years about what is happening. Before now I felt like a lot of this stuff that was out there was really just alarmist, but now we actually have a lot of the data to really understand what social media is doing to our brains and to our culture. And so I think now there’s more of a real authentic push to cut back and to limit how much influence that has on our lives. Whereas before it was just a bunch of old people screaming “the internet is dangerous” and everybody else going “…and so is everything! So is walking down the street!” you know?
Elizabeth: It’s almost like when your parents are telling you something your whole life and you’re like yeah whatever okay whatever, and then you’re like oh my god you were so right! That’s I feel now with all the data. Oh my god, they were right! *laughs*
Dianna: It’s crazy. Anyway. I will thank you so much for joining us. I will let you go now. It’s been a real pleasure to chat, and good luck with everything in your writing life, and everything else.
Elizabeth: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Dianna: Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Spoonie Author’s Podcast. The Spoonie Author’s Podcast is part of the Spoonie Authors Network, a community initiative devoted to sharing the stories of disabled authors, and educating abled people about what life is like for disabled creatives. Transcripts of this podcast are also available on the Spoonie Authors Network. To learn more or become a contributor visit spoonieauthorsnetwork.blog And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, make sure to leave a five star review on your favorite podcast streaming platform.