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October 25, 2021

ATTN ROMANCE BOOK LOVERS: Interview with Esme Brett, Romance Author & Creator of #RomancestagramBall


I am really excited to present this interview to you featuring Esme Brett. I discovered her Instagram account (@Feminist_Romance) last year. Right away I was entertained by her IG stories and enjoyed her book recommendation posts, which you get a taste of in this post with several book recs by Esme. As a fellow romance reader and author, I also appreciate her thoughts on intimacy in romance books.

I wanted to host Esme on my blog so she could tell you about ALL that and a fun event that brings romance readers from all backgrounds and from all over the world together.

What event?

#RomancestagramBall!


1. Hi, Esme! I am really excited that you’re here today to talk about #RomancestagramBall and romance books. First, can you tell us about your journey as a bookstagrammer?

Kia ora! Hello! Thanks for wanting to talk to me, I’m honoured.

I’ve been plugging away on my bookstagram account for a few years now. I started it because I was listening to Smart Bitches podcast and wanted someone to discuss the show with, but no one in my real life knew where to start. Through Bookstagram I’ve found people who know their Rakes from their Cinnamon Rolls, and their Kleypas from their Cole. It’s heaven.

My page has changed a lot. I used to be review based, but now I just recommend books I love and talk about romance in general. I’m a passionate defender of thoughtful critical reviews (and doing so is hard work! Reviewers are a valuable part of the romance ecosystem!) but when I started writing myself, I needed to swap hats.


2. What types of books do you read/review?

I read mostly historical and contemporary. Less fantasty, but I’m dipping my toes into the Immortals After Dark series right now. In terms of my faves, I like books that take a trope and distil it down to its most gorgeous form, and then squeeze my head with it. Scarlett Peckham, Sierra Simone, Kennedy Ryan, and Talia Hibbert excel at this.

For tropes my favourite will always be grumpy and sunshine, especially when it’s a grumpy female protagonist, like The Rakess, and Take a Hint Dani Brown.


3. I loved Take a Hint Dani BrownYou created #RomancestagramBall, a virtual ball on Instagram for romance book lovers. How’d you come up with this event?

WELL. It’s a big story! Buckle in.

TW: size, weight

I’m a size 18, so most clothing stores don’t carry my size. After the first lockdown in Aotearoa New Zealander last year, international shipping stopped and I couldn’t buy clothes online like usual. I had some in-person work things I had to do and no clothes fit.

I was sobbing in a changing room of a department store trying to squish my curvy self into things that were just not made for me and getting increasingly upset about it. I love fashion and I love colour, but I wasn’t even being picky in this store. I was trying to squish myself into hideous polyester business pants and navy tunics.

I should point out — I know as a size 18 I have a lot of privilege still. I’m what some refer to as a “small fat”. But that is still size-not-sold-in-stores fat, and get-stared-at-for-eating-in-public fat.

Anyway, after that unsuccessful shopping trip I was miserable. I got home and ransacked my closet, but all I had that fit me were fancy dresses, which were pointless for work, but great for feeling fab.

So I put on a ballgown for no reason other than wanting to feel beautiful, even just for five minutes alone in my bedroom.

I was trying to hit the back button on all the bad vibes that shopping trip had left me with.

Then I did my hair and my makeup, and I took photos with cute books.

It worked, I felt better.

I realised that there were so many beautiful things languishing in closets because we always think we ‘need a reason’ or an occasion to wear them. When really, there’s no better reason than just feeling (to use a very Kiwi parlance) “flash”.

I knew l so many of my friends had been inside for a long time because of the Panorama, and would probably be onboard with making a “flash” occasion of our own.

So the romance ball was born.

I never do anything quickly, but I did this at warp speed. I announced the idea in my stories in the morning. Drank six cups of coffee and made invites and stickers in Canva. Then I rolled it out the next day. I didn’t have any of the specifics nailed down, really, but I knew that I wanted people to feel fabulous; and to make sure that it was something that DID good as well as make us feel good, so I made the ticket price an act of kindness.

I was tempted to make the ticket price a donation to one of the charities that’s one of my personal faves (Women’s Refuge Aotearoa) but people have all different things in their heart, and there’s no shortage of causes to support or orgs to donate to. I figured the more we spread out kindness around the better. And also, the act of kindness does not have to be monetary! Sometimes things are just too tight and a deed goes just as far.

PS: Reader, I did wear my ballgown to work the next Monday, when nothing else fit. I put a sweater over it, and stockings under it, and a personal triumph was had.

 Esme at the second Romancestagram Ball (holding blue books with her hair pinned)

4. #RomancestagramBall has occurred twice. This past March I was thrilled to catch it in time to attend. (I had missed the first one.) For those who may not know about it, tell us more about #RomanestagramBall. How were Bookstagrammers able to join in on the festivities?

It’s easy to come to the ball!

The ticket price is one act of kindness— perhaps a good deed for a friend or a donation to a worthy cause, or a random act for a stranger.

Once I announce when the ball is, it runs for a week. During that week, all you have to do is make your act of kindness, dress in your fancy clothes and take a pic with your romance novel; then post it with the tag #RomancestagramBall and tag me in the image.

I run content all week welcoming everyone to the ball and hyping up every guest. I also do themed giveaways and create interactive templates and playlists; and write roleplays.

It’s a good time! All welcome!


5. Will you be hosting a third #RomancestagramBall anytime soon?

Yes! I’m just trying to land on a date!! It will probably be the first week of December like the inaugural ball, but I’m yet to confirm that.

Currently, I’m running another dress up challenge with my friend Jacque at @onthesamepa9e, the Halloween Cover Cosplay Challenge, which is about dressing up to match a cover. What can I say, fancy dress is my jam! And I love Halloween — so do you Chrys! In Aotearoa New Zealand we don’t really do Halloween, so it’s nice to be able to live out my Halloween dreams online!

But I digress.

The bottom line is details for the next #RomancestagramBall are to come, I’ll reveal them through @feminist_romance on Instagram and EsmeBrettBooks on TikTok.

(I’ve previously only run the ball on Instagram but this time it will be on TikTok too).

 

6. I can't wait! I’m sure you love everything about the #RomancestagramBall (seriously, what’s not to love?), but what do you love most of all about this event?

It’s just like real life hosting, the minute it starts I’m filled with fear that no one will come. The minute it starts, I refresh and refresh the hashtag hundreds of times, looking for friends. It’s exactly like before my school ball (prom for you reading this), when I was twitching the gauze curtains every five minutes waiting for my friends to come down the driveway.

Sure enough, people eventually trickle in. And then suddenly it’s heaps of people! Way more people than I expect! But the first person to arrive is always the one I’m most relieved to see.

The best part is seeing people dressed up. Whatever dressed up means — for some it’s a suit, others it’s a dress or sari, or a fancy hat. Seeing that people have put in effort and are EXCITED about it really squeezes my heart every time. It’s nice to have a reason to feel bright.

Chrys Fey at the second RomancestagramBall 2021.
Her one act of kindness was adopting a Queen Bee named Darkness through Project Honey Bees.

7. What are a few romance books that you just can’t get enough of that you’d recommend to romance lovers and book lovers in general?

Oooooh winch me in the thumbscrew machine why don’t you! Just a few!?

Okay. My favourite historical of all time is Courtney Milan’s Unclaimed. It’s a virgin hero and a sex worker heroine, and CM writes a sweeping treatise about virginity and value and chemistry and —- it’s just exquisite. Utterly exquisite.

My favourite rom com is Annika Martin’s Return Billionaire to Sender. Its a mail carrier in disguise as a corporate sensitivity coach, and a hot shot CE with a hard shell and goey centre. It’s very funny and spicy. I don’t know why Annika Martin’s rom coms aren’t on everyone’s lips, she’s a masterful storyteller (CWs apply!)

My fave romantic drama is Kennedy Ryan’s Reel! It’s about a famous film director and a newly discovered star trying to keep their hands off each other. I just finished the audiobook and it’s a whole breathtaking production. If I could make everyone read this I would.

Right now I’m reading Devil’s Own Duke, which is Lenora Bell’s newest release about a winemaker and a fortune hunter in Victorian England. It’s the perfect feel good historical romance—funny and heart-melty and warm and fizzy. I can’t get enough of her Wallflowers Vs Rogues series.


8. What do you look for/expect/hope for in sex scenes in romance books?

I’ve read a lot of sex scenes. A lot. And the thing that always makes me so happy to see is things that are practical — I like very clear consent, I like limit chat, I like upfront discussion about protection and STD testing. This is something really important to me in my writing, and it’s my personal goal to prove that you can do this in a way that actually builds the sexiness of it all. When I released my novella Eyes On, the main thing people commented on was how sexily I wrote the act of getting and confirming consent. My hero, Francis, is a lounge bar owner who plays pretty, but deep down is a mass of rough edges, and my heroine Greta is a posh princess. It was really fun to write consent checks with Francis trying to scandalise Greta, and her surprising herself by how into it she is. Ultimately, Greta was down for everything Francis put on the table — and anyone who has read it will know I mean that literally!

The other thing I really like, and this one is going to be a bit niche, is having little awkward or funny moments amid really passionate scenes. I think it makes it very realistic and also (maybe conversely) hypes up the steaminess!


Esme holding the Cover of Eyes On 

9. Let’s talk romance book heroes. What do you like in romance book heroes? And what do you not like?

10. Now heroines. What do you like to see in heroines in romance books? And what do you not like?

My answer for 9 & 10 is the same! I like books that make the unlikeable likeable. For example, I never thought I would think a priest was sexy but then Sierra Simone made me into the biggest simp for Father Bell, in Priest.

And something I loved in Devil’s Daughter by Lisa Kleypas and The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham is that their protagonists struggle with true ugly vices, not Romancelandia vices (like the things people say are weakness in job interviews, like oop im too nice! Or I’m a perfectionist— and I say this as a recovering perfectionist!), the characters are fighting really tough stuff. I really can’t get enough of that.

In addition, when it comes to male protagonists, I know a lot of crappy ones in real life, so I love to be surrounded by great ones on page. Men who are kind and men who listen, and men who take an active role in dismantling patriarchy. That’s the good stuff right there.

Also one of my favourite books of all time (I know I know, I say this about lots of books!) is Cat Sebastian’s Unmasked by the Marquess, with a non-binary protagonist. I would suggest people check reviews of it before reading (some own voices reviewers loved this rep, some did not — the late and great Corey Alexander wrote a brilliant blog diving into it) but it’s a book I think about a lot. The sexual tension in the couch scene is divine.

Ooh and speaking of sexual tension! The forest scene in Alyssa Cole’s A Hope Divided is phenomenal in that regard too. (Well, it’s phenomenal in all regards actually).

 

In conclusion:

I hope you wanted rec soup, because that’s what I just plated up!

Content Warnings apply for most of the books I’ve rec’d. I encourage people to do their research before going in, especially if you have particular sensitivity in an area. If I’ve read and rec’d the book, I try to put CWs on the comment of my post about it on Instagram, although I’m not infallible. Lots of people put thorough CWs on Goodreads!

 

Thanks so much for having me on your blog Chrys.


Esme Brett Bio:

Esme Brett recommends romance and swoons over nipply covers on Instagram as @Feminist_Romance and TikTok as @EsmeBrettBooks. She’s the host and creator of the RomancestagramBall, and proud cat mother to Franklin. Her novella Eyes On is about a club owner who fakes a Magic Mike moment to rescue a sexy damsel in distress, only to discover he’s the one that needs saving. She’s currently working on her first full length romance novel.

Esme Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/feminist_romance/?hl=en

Esme Tiktok: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSeYgm6BP/

Eyes On, a steamy novella: https://www.amazon.com/Eyes-steamy-novella-Esme-Brett-ebook/dp/B081921N9B

 

Esme, thank you so much for your amazing answers to these questions and for giving romance lovers a space on Instagram (and TikTok) with #RomancestagramBall.

Everyone, please leave Esme a comment!


8 comments:

  1. I'll have to check some of those authors out. Some I have already heard of.

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    1. I’m glad you found some book recs to check out. :)

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  2. What a delightful post. I may have to check out a few of these titles as I continue my exploreation of romance. It's a genre that's still growing on me, but the #RomancestagramBall sounds amazing.

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    1. There’s so much to discover in the romance genre. So many sub-genres, styles, tropes, and many different kinds of characters. :)

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  3. Such an interesting interview. Loved it! so open and fresh and informative too! Congratulations to Esme! Love the name. Perfect character name...:)

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    1. Thank you for visiting and commenting, Yolanda.

      I agree. Esme would be a lovely name for a character.

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  4. What a wonderful interview, Chrys! Esme is incredibly inspiring! This instagram ball idea sounds delightful. Fabulous all round. I'm following her now! Nice to meet you here, Esme. Plus, I need to read some of her recommendations.

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    1. That’s great! I’m so happy that you’re following her now. That’s one of my goals with these interviews; to get these fabulous people more followers. ♥️

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