Falon Ballard and Robin Bradford

Steve Thomas: Falon, welcome to the show. 

Falon Ballard: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here. 

Steve Thomas: I know you’ve probably written lots of other books, one other one that’s been published and probably as with most authors you have lots of books that have not been, and maybe you don’t want to be.

Falon Ballard: Yes, for sure. 

Steve Thomas: But were you a kid that always wrote stories? Were you always writing things? 

Falon Ballard: Oh yeah, absolutely. I have a very clear memory of, I think I was in third grade, and I wrote this short play about the Easter Bunny, which was very strange. And I forced my friends to perform it with me in front of my entire class, which is slightly mortifying as I think back on that. But I have always, always been a writer. I’ve always been a reader. It’s just always been my sort of go-to escape. I was definitely that kid. My mom joked that she could never punish me by telling me to go to my room. Cause I was just like, “Okay, great. Yeah, I’ll hole up in there for hours, no problem!”

Steve Thomas: That’s the problem we have with our son now. It’s, like, “Go to your room!” and they go, “Okay, great. That’s where the books are!” And then since this is a library podcast generally, can you tell me about experiences you’ve had with libraries through your years?

Falon Ballard: Yeah, it’s funny because I really should have been a library kid because I was a completely voracious reader and we did not have a ton of money when I was growing up. So, you know, I certainly wasn’t able to just go buy whatever books I wanted, but I was the only reader in my family, so the library wasn’t a huge part of my childhood just because it was just me. No one else really wanted to go there. 

So I really sort of discovered libraries when I had my own child and in our old house, we were pretty close to our local library and so when he was young, we would go there for story time and they had a great little kid area and it was just such a great escape for both of us really. I think any parents out there know that when your kid is in those two to three year old stages, sometimes you’re just like, “I just need somebody else to be in my space and have another set of eyes on my kid , and I’m gonna lose it if I don’t have some human contact here!”

So we would just go to our local library, and it was just such an escape for both of us. He loved it. I loved it, and it was just such a great place to be. We’ve moved in the past few years, and then of course, with the pandemic, we haven’t been able to go to our local library as much, but the one that we have now is within walking distance of our house. So it’s just like such a joy and a luxury to discover that as an adult. I wish I had had that as a kid, but it’s really fun to have that experience now as a mom, and be able to share that with my son. 

Steve Thomas: That’s great. So in addition to writing, and we’ll talk about your books and writing process in a minute, but you’re also a wedding planner. How did you get into that and how does that inform your work as a romance writer? Hopefully you’re not seeing things like, interrupting ceremonies going, ” I love you! Come with me!” I hope that doesn’t actually happen.

Falon Ballard: That has not happened to me yet. I’m gonna knock on wood, cause you know, we got a lot more weddings coming up. I have a background in theater. I was a stage manager all through my high school and college years, and that really just transitioned into wedding coordinating really perfectly. If you don’t know, the stage manager is sort of the one who runs the whole entire show. They call the cues. They keep everybody in line, keep everything on time, which is basically what a wedding coordinator does.

So I had a bunch of my actor friends who would just be like, “Hey, can you just come help me out and sort of like stage manage my wedding?” And I was like, “Yeah, I can definitely do that!” And I learned very quickly that wedding coordinating is a much more lucrative and stable job than working in the theater, and so sadly, I made that transition and, I just love it. It’s just such a creative and fun job and every day is different. 

I think the biggest part I take away from weddings that goes into writing is it’s just the best people watching ever, like, you just meet so many interesting characters, and, you know, weddings are fun. Everybody kind of lets their hair down. They’re letting loose a little bit. And so you really just get to see these kind of wild and wacky sides of people that you wouldn’t normally see on a regular day, and of course you have those characters that are very stereotypical, like, you have the Momzillas are probably the hardest ones to deal with, but you know, weddings bring out the emotional side of people and it can be a stressful day, so you get to see lots of facets of people, which is always very interesting. 

Steve Thomas: Well, where do you get your ideas is the kind of the cliche questions that writers get all the time, but I won’t ask that specifically, but more like your writing process. Like how do you decide when you have that idea that you’re like, “Oh, that’s gonna be the one that I’m write a story about!”?

Falon Ballard: Yeah, that’s a good question. And it sort of changed a little bit as I have become a… I don’t know, it feels weird to say a professional writer, but I guess that’s what I am. It doesn’t always feel like it, but you know, for me it’s like I tend to get a vision almost of a particular scene. So there’s usually like a moment in the book that will really just stand out in my mind and sometimes I can build a full idea around it and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s just a random scene and it doesn’t really go anywhere. But for now, I have to run things by my editor. I have to make sure that the idea is marketable. Like, I love celebrity romance. My editor is like, “You cannot write 8 celebrity romances is in a row!”, like that’s not gonna work, so sometimes she’ll pull me back a little bit and be like, “Why don’t you maybe take it in this direction or this direction,” or “Maybe let’s just hold off on that idea for a while.” Like, I really wanted to write a holiday romance, and she’s like, “You publish in February, that doesn’t work. You can’t do that.” So sometimes you have to adjust things a little bit now that I have the bigger powers that I’m a little beholden to. 

Steve Thomas: It’s funny with kids books, you know, they’ll just read Christmas books all year long. It doesn’t matter. 

Falon Ballard: For sure. I mean, I read Christmas books all year long cause I’m like, you know, sometimes it’s summer and I wanna feel a little joy and I will escape into those holiday romances, no problem. 

Steve Thomas: Well, do you remember if it’s not spoilery, what that scene was for Just My Type that made you go, “Ooo!”?

Falon Ballard: Yeah. I think it was actually, it usually is one of the scenes that’s actually further along in the book. Like it’s usually the moment when the couple gets together or their reconciliation. I had a very specific inspiration for Just My Type, which speaks to my pop culture media obsession, where I was watching the last movie in the To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series, which I adore. And you know, Lara Jean and Peter are… she’s going to NYU, he’s going to Stanford, and they’re like, “We’re gonna make this work!” And, you know, in my adult heart, I was like, “Oh, that’s adorable. No, you’re not.” Like, that’s just not how those relationships go. That’s very sweet. But no. And so immediately afterwards I was like, “Ooh, but what if they had that moment when they met up again and they’ve been through these separate experiences. They’ve had their separate moments of growing up, and maturing as people and then, what would happen if they came back together? And so that was really kind of like the first little spark there that really kind of kicked everything into gear for it. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah, as you were saying that, it makes it weird in the era we’re in now of social media that you can still be following your girlfriend from high school, your boyfriend from college that you hadn’t seen in 20 years and normally would never have even spoken to again, but now they’re seeing you see them still. So it’s not kinda odd. 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, it’s true. I definitely did not have that, thankfully. 

Steve Thomas: Yes. Agreed. I also think the openings of your books are really engaging. Like, you pick good moments of… I mean, it’s not a good moment for the character, it’s a down moment for the character. 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, and I honestly, I used to really struggle with that moment. I did Pitch Wars back in 2019 and I was mentored by Alexa Martin and Suzanne Park, who are fabulous, and they really worked with me on my Pitch Wars book (which went nowhere, it’s sitting on a shelf dusty somewhere), but they really worked with me on that and finding the right moment to start your story and I’ve taken that with me ever since then. It was a really helpful thing to figure that all out.

Steve Thomas: So they were good active mentors of yours, but are there authors that you just read, you don’t communicate with them, that have influenced your style and that affect the way that you write?

Falon Ballard: Yeah, I mean, of course I am obsessed with Emily Henry. I feel like she is someone I aspire to be. I think what I really resonate with her romance is that it’s not just about the love story, it’s also about these characters going through that moment of personal growth, in particular with her heroines. They’re not just focusing on just the relationship. It’s also how is this person growing and changing? I think that that’s really important and that’s something that I definitely connect with. Another author that I just love love love to pieces is Denise Williams. I find that her books do a really good job of tackling tougher topics in a way that feels really accessible and relatable. She’s amazing. 

Steve Thomas: The romance genre gets a bad rap in the general culture. Partially, there’s patriarchy, part of that is women writers, women readers generally, and a lot of genre gets that “it’s all just formula and you just plug in Mad Libs style, just put in different names and places and it’s the same thing.” There are elements in genres that make them the genres. So how do you play around with those to meet those elements that you know, a romance, you need people in love and some kind of happily ever after, how do you mix those together, but make them unique? 

Falon Ballard: Yeah. And that I think is the challenge of being a romance writer, but also the fun part of it. And people always say that, “Oh, you know how it’s gonna end, like, what’s the point?” And it’s like, “Yeah. You know how it’s gonna end and I have to still surprise you and keep you interested along the way.” That to me almost makes it more challenging, not less challenging. So I think for me, the key to a good romance book is the tension. And when you have tension between your characters, whether that is the romantic tension, the sexual tension, tension within their own lives, the things that they’re going through, that is the key to keeping things interesting.

Because when you as a reader, when you feel that tension and you’re like, “Oh my God, how is this gonna resolve?” Like, that’s what you want. The fun part of being an author is building that tension, finding those ways to work it in, and it’s also the challenging part, keeping it going long enough so that people stay interested, and then of course, by providing that satisfying resolution to it. 

Steve Thomas: So for the sexual parts of the books, how do you decide, like, yours are not overly explicit or anything, but how do you decide the level that you wanna get to? Like is it just, this is the kind of reader I wanna appeal to, this is the kind of thing I enjoy reading? How do you decide, I’m gonna have it in the books obviously, and we’re gonna talk about it, but we’re not gonna have 20 page chapters describing things. 

Falon Ballard: Yeah. Yeah. I think for me, a lot of it depends on the story itself and the characters. The book that I am working on right now has a lot more sex on the page than Lease on Love and Just My Type do. With both of those, there’s sort of slow burns where the characters don’t really have a reason to get together until the end. It wouldn’t make sense for them to be together physically before that. So those characters and their journeys kind of lend themselves to that. 

I definitely am not writing erotica cause I just couldn’t handle that personally. I don’t mind reading it. I’m fine with that. It’s just not my favorite. But I do think that for me as a . Writer, it’s important to see those moments because they do change the relationships. And I think that’s what’s essential. Those scenes need to be there for a reason, not just because you wanna throw in a sex scene cuz they are popular and people do like them, but you want that to actually advance their relationship, and for me and my characters, it wouldn’t make sense for them to not have that. They are adults who are into that so it makes sense for them to have those moments, but I think showing that as like a growth of the relationship is important to me. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah. How does it feel to you as the author when you’re having to do something to a character that you like? Like the story is making you… you know, they have to be hurt at this point? Like, does that hurt you to hurt your characters?

Falon Ballard: Yes, absolutely. Anybody who knows me knows that I absolutely detest the breakup moment. I know that it has to happen. I hate it. I avoid it at all possible costs. I definitely had that moment when I was working up my edits for Lease on Love, where my editor was like, “You need to make them a lot meaner in this moment, this isn’t enough.” And I was like, “No, I don’t want them to do it. I just want them to be happy the whole time!” Yeah, I have always struggled with the conflict. That is probably my weakest area as a writer because I don’t want there to be conflict. I know that there needs to be, but I want them to be happy the whole time, which would be a very boring book, but I don’t care. I just want their sweet little baby hearts to be happy and loved the whole time. 

Steve Thomas: They’re like your friends and so you don’t want them to be hurt. 

Falon Ballard: They are like, I don’t wanna see them upset. 

Steve Thomas: But it makes it much more satisfying later when they are happy.

Falon Ballard: It does. The most frustrating part is that everybody is right. You do have to put it in so that it feels like a satisfying ending for sure. 

Steve Thomas: Right, right. Well, so tell listeners about your new book, Just My Type. What is it about? 

Falon Ballard: So it is about Lana and Seth who were high school sweethearts. They definitely had that relationship where like everybody thought they were gonna get married and live happily ever after. They do end up separating for college. So Lana moves to California, and Seth stays in their hometown on the East Coast. And with that distance, the relationship just quickly falls apart. Lana feels very hurt and betrayed by that because she was definitely ready to keep it going. So they don’t really see each other or talk to each other for years and years and years. There’s definitely some social media stalking, of course. They gotta peek in and see how they’re doing , but for the most part, they don’t communicate at all.

And then we meet up with them 12 years after, so they’re both 30 at this point. Lana is working at this web magazine in LA. She likes her job, but she feels like her writing is not what she wants it to be. She’s this relationship columnist and she doesn’t really want to be writing about that. She feels sort of stuck in her job, and then one day, Seth shows up and he’s working for the magazine and the website that she works at, and of course that brings up all sorts of feelings and her boss decides to use their past as leverage for this popular series that they’re gonna do where Lana, who is like a serial monogamist, is gonna have to write about staying single and finding herself, and Seth, who’s this serial dater, is gonna have to take steps to be in a more serious relationship. And then they’re gonna pit them against each other and the winner is gonna score this awesome job that they both really want. So it’s very, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. It’s workplace, they’re in this competition. They’re both sort of competing with one another, which builds the tension, which is the important part. And then of course dealing with their feelings of, “Oh, hey, at one point in my life I thought you were the love of my life, and now here you are again, and how do we reconcile those things?” 

Steve Thomas: Are there parts in particular that you put into Lana or Seth that are really you? 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, Lana is definitely a fan girl, which is very much me. She’s a reader. She’s really into Marvel. She’s really into Star Wars, which is definitely something that I identify with. So that was a lot of fun to kind of put those little elements in there. These are all things that I would do. These are things that I would wear, when she’s wearing all of her fangirl merch, so those were fun little things to play around with. 

 I would say I’m definitely more of a Lana, a relationship person. I never really did the, like, single girl thing, so some of that was a little bit kind of living vicariously through Lana of her taking that time to try new things and do new things. Right before I started dating my husband, I had just gotten out of another long term relationship and my best friend was like, “Don’t start dating anyone. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” And then like three weeks later, I was dating my husband. So I didn’t listen, but it worked out okay.

Steve Thomas: Yeah. Well that’s one of those elements of, especially romcoms of the best friend, or the best friend group. Is that a character type that is fun to put together? It’s got to sort of be similar to them, but enough that they can bounce ideas off of them and get the truth and stuff from them.

Falon Ballard: Yeah, I love writing the friend group. I have so much fun coming up with who are going to be these people, and I think for me, like the most fun character like Gemma, definitely from Lease on Love and Corey from Just My Type, I love writing that sassy best friend that’s just gonna say what everybody is thinking but is gonna just be totally blunt and sarcastic the whole time. I just love that.

I feel like it doesn’t necessarily work well with your main characters when they’re sort of brash like that. But when you have the friend character, a lot of times they’re saying what the reader is thinking too, and so that makes it fun to sort of play with those moments and throw some humor in those ways.

Steve Thomas: It’s a good tool, I think, for the writer to convey information to the reader that unless you wanna do first person where they’re thinking everything, that they can say things and how they’re feeling.

 What are some of the other elements of romcoms in particular that you like pulling out like the best friend? Along with that, what are the kinds of romantic comedies that you like? 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, I mean, I am a romcom lover die hard, so I will read anything you put in front of me and probably love it. I feel like the term romcom over the past couple of years has come to mean something a little bit different than it has in the past, where I think a lot of books are labeled romcoms that are not actually romcoms, but I think what is so fun about romcoms is that you get to have these situations that probably would not actually happen in real life, but it still works in that instance because there is that suspension of disbelief for a little bit. When you pick something up like that, you know going in that you’re not here for the realism, you’re not here for this truthful, hard-hitting, non-fiction story. You know, you’re here to have fun and have a good time and enjoy your reading.

And so that’s what is fun as a writer is coming up with those moments where you’re like, where can I push this a little bit, and make it a little bit outrageous. That’s where the tropes are always fun, where you have the “only one bed” and “fake dating”, it’s like nobody fake dates In real life, that’s not a thing, but when you read about it, it’s amazing and I love every single one of them. So it just gives you a lot of freedom to play around and be joyful in a lot of ways. 

Steve Thomas: Do you enjoy the rom or the com part better? Do you prefer the emphasis to be on one or the other? Or do you like the good balance? 

Falon Ballard: I mean, I think there’s definitely a good balance. It’s so funny because I think before Lease on Love was published, if you would’ve asked me if I was a funny person, I would’ve been, like, “I mean, maybe a little bit,” but it’s so strange to see people that are like, “Oh my God, I laughed out loud! This is so hilarious!” And I’m like, “Oh, I guess I’m funny. That’s great. I love it!” For me, the focus in my mind is always on the romance, and then I think the comedic just comes in as like a little sprinkling of seasoning, but it definitely gives my ego a boost when people think I’m funny. So, I’ll take it. 

Steve Thomas: At the heart of it all, you want honest, real emotion to it that it’s this ridiculous situation happening around it. There’s something at the heart of it that you still love. 

I was gonna ask a question about Lease on Love, but tell us about Lease on Love first before I compare the two books. 

Falon Ballard: Yeah. So Lease on Love is about Sadie who is down on her luck. She gets fired in the first chapter, sort of of her own doing, but a little bit of the patriarchy, and she gets drunk that night out with her friends, and she thinks that she is making a match on a dating app, and she’s actually matching on a roommate finding app. So she goes, expecting this to be like a first date, and the guy Jack is basically interviewing her to be a roommate and she’s like, “What is happening here?” Of course her initial reaction is like, “I’m not moving in with you. You’re a stranger.” And then it turns out that he has this amazing brownstone in Brooklyn, and since she just got fired, she’s like, “It’s probably not a bad idea to find a cheaper place to live.” So she moves in with him, and he is struggling. He has lost both of his parents. They pass tragically and he doesn’t have any other family. So he’s really a very solitary person living on his own, and Sadie is this loud, brash, out there. She just never stops, super high energy, and she comes with this group of friends that basically almost move into the brownstone with her, they’re around so much. So it’s really, it is a slow burn. They definitely become friends before they become lovers. It’s really just about how the two of them bring each other balance. Sadie brings Jack out of his grief and out of his shell, and Jack lets Sadie have the opportunity to be a little calmer. And she uses the time that she has living in the brownstone where she’s saving all this money to open her florist business. She really goes through a lot of personal growth as the two of them find each other. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah. That one’s a little more of a opposites attract kind of thing than Just My Type. Lease on Love was, like you said, in Brooklyn and Just My Type is in LA and you’ve as mentioned before, you grew up in LA and you’ve lived there your whole life. Did you feel more comfortable in the setting for Just My Type than in Lease on Love, where you had to put yourself into Brooklyn? 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, it’s easier of course when everything that Lana and Seth do around LA, all the places that they go to, they’re all real places. I’ve been there before. I have personal lived experience with them. So of course it makes it easier to bring that to life on the page. What I really liked about writing Lease on Love is I was writing it in the beginning of the pandemic. I started it in about June of 2020. It gave me a little bit of an escape to put my mind in this other place. I love New York, like I was a theater person, I think I said that earlier. So I have spent a fair amount of time in New York over the course of my life. So for me it was a nice little mental vacation to spend some time in the city that I love, that I knew I was not going to be able to physically travel to for quite some time.

And the internet is a beautiful place I created an Instagram account, and I just followed all of these places in Brooklyn and followed all these hashtags from Park Slope and everything. I would just scroll through this Instagram account and really just immerse myself in these places. The majority of the places in Lease on Love are actual places as well. So, I would just go to their Instagram pages, search them on the internet and get a feel for what these spaces really look like and felt like, and then it was really fun when I actually gotta go to Brooklyn after I wrote the book and see them in person and be like, “Oh yeah, there’s that little bit that I mentioned!” That’s so cool to actually see it in real life.

But it was a nice little mental vacation. 

Steve Thomas: You’ve been blogging for a long time. Do you feel like that just writing as a regular thing helps you hone your craft? Even if it’s just writing about the books that you just read and your book reviews or what you’re doing in your life that just the act of writing all the time regularly helps? 

Falon Ballard: Oh yeah, for sure. I definitely have found in other points in my life where I maybe didn’t have the full mental capacity to sit down and be a writer, whether that was work things or mom things or whatever. I always found some way of writing and so I never in my life had a period where I wasn’t doing something writing wise, and I do think that that has really helped me. So even though I might have gone a few years without writing any fiction. I was still writing. And I think that that is really important to just kind of keep that little bit of creativity flowing in your mind. 

Steve Thomas: You’re writing romance, mostly romantic comedy at this point. Is there a genre that you love reading or watching or consuming in some way that does not at all fit your skillset as a writer that you would never actually want to write?

Falon Ballard: Yeah, I love fantasy and science fiction. Like I’m a huge nerd, I am currently catching up on all of my Star Wars series because I’ve been working so much lately, I haven’t had time to watch them, but I’m watching Andor right now, and I just am obsessed with it. I could never write anything like that. I mostly read like YA fantasy and sci-fi, but I read those books where the world building is so immaculate and so intense, and I don’t think I could ever come up with anything like that, but I love to consume it and God bless the people that actually do it, because you’re amazing and wonderful and I salute your brain power because I could never.

Steve Thomas: Well, you also mentioned before that you’re a huge Marvel fan as well, so two questions about that. Number one, what has been your favorite MCU romance and if given an opportunity, would you write a MCU book, spinoff series, movie, whatever.

Falon Ballard: Yes to that second question, please call me. I have been begging on Twitter for years to write an MCU romance, and I feel like it is such a missed opportunity because so many people would read it. You could have a whole series of them and it would be amazing. 

I think my favorite MCU romance is Captain America and Peggy. I know a lot of people don’t love the ending of Endgame, and I am here for it. I love it. Give me a slow dance in a living room any day of the week. Every time I hear that song now, it just brings back all those lovey memories, and I’m obsessed, and I want more of that. I would like to see them all have relationships like that, for sure. I was devastated by the ending of Thor: Love and Thunder. I won’t spoil it in case you haven’t seen it yet. But I was just like, “Where is my happy ever after? This is not it!”

Steve Thomas: Yeah, they tried to give you a version of that, but it wasn’t the one you wanted. I would say that one as well for me, the Steve and Peggy one. I can see why people don’t like it because I don’t think that’s what they were leading up to. The stories were leading up to Steve getting over it and joining the real world and then all of a sudden they just decided, “Oh no, he can’t get over her,” but I understand, well, Chris Evans is at the end of his contract, so we have to end Captain America’s story, and that’s a good wrap up to Captain America’s story. I agree with that absolutely. That is his lifelong love and 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, it was just sweet. I don’t care if it didn’t make full sense with his character arc, I don’t care. I’m happy with it. 

Steve Thomas: Yep. Cause that’s why it works. This is what the ending that you wanted for him so he got it. 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, exactly. We want him to have a happy ever after.

Steve Thomas: My wife, whenever we talk about that stuff, is still a little creeped out that he was starting to date her niece and it’s like, uh…

Falon Ballard: We should have done away with that plot line. That could have gone away for sure. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah. The Disney+ stuff, She-Hulk had some romance, Wandavision had love at the center of it, even if it’s sad, and Loki fell in love with himself.

Falon Ballard: That makes sense. That tracks for Loki. Wandavision is amazing and beautiful. That final episode I’ve watched many times and I just all hysterics every time, but it’s so well done. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah. I guess it counts as a tragedy, not a romance, cause it doesn’t work out, and I read your blog post about Dr. Strange, and I agree, those two things did not lead into each other.

Falon Ballard: Right. I am still mad about that. I’m pretending like Dr. Strange didn’t happen, but I’m crossing it outta my mind. 

Steve Thomas: Just say it was an alternate universe. So if Marvel did call you up and say, “Okay, well yeah, you’re right. That’s a great idea!” What character would you wanna have your book about? 

Falon Ballard: Well, I am obsessed with Bucky. Sebastian Stan was definitely my muse for Seth in Just My Type. 

Steve Thomas: I can see that actually now. Yeah.

Falon Ballard: Yeah, I love him and I think he actually would be a fun one because you could really go anywhere with it. There’s nothing that we’ve seen so far in the MCU that would tie you down in any particular direction. It would just be fun to explore and figure out who his partner’s gonna be, and I think that would be cool.

Steve Thomas: Yep. If it’s not gonna be him and Sam getting together, then…

Falon Ballard: I would be here for that. I definitely would be here for that, but I don’t feel like that’s the direction they’re going, unfortunately.

Steve Thomas: No, I don’t think Disney’s on board with that. 

So the last thing I wanted to mention was that you do have a podcast. So this is not the only podcast that you’re on. People can listen to you elsewhere. Tell me about Happy to Meet Cute. 

Falon Ballard: Yeah, so we just started it. I am so excited. One day was just texting with the lovely Courtney Kae, who I adore. She wrote In the Event of Love and I was like, “Do you wanna start a podcast?” and she was like, “Yeah, why not? Let’s do it!” And that was like a two months ago probably. 

So in the course of that two months, she is like a powerhouse. I love her to death. She has recruited all these guests for us. So we have been interviewing some incredible authors. We’ve already talked to Suzanne Park and Allison Cochran. We’re chatting with Nikki Payne coming up soon. We’re talking with Kate Clayborn, which I’m super excited about. 

It just is so fun to sit down with authors. We talk about our writing things of course, but then we also just talk about totally random. You know, with Suzanne, we talked about how she got a crocheting injury, which I didn’t know was a thing. Or we just talk about like our favorite TV shows that we’re watching. We interviewed Lillie Vale and talked about Love Island. So it’s just fun to talk about some non-writing things with our writing friends and we’re having a blast, a lot of fun. 

Steve Thomas: Well go to your podcast app, which you’re in right now cause you’re listening to this and go subscribe to that one.

Just My Type has just been released, and as soon as people read that, they are going to ask, “What’s next?” Because then people are never satisfied with the present. What do you have coming up after Just My Type?

Falon Ballard: Yeah. So I have two books in the works. I think I’m only allowed to talk about one of them.

So my 2024 book is an “enemies to lovers.” It’s about two actors who had a really bad experience working on a movie together when they were teenagers and now they have been cast as the leads in a rom-com as adults. The set is like this little remote, small town inn, and so they are forced proximity, staying together, working together, and having to figure out how to pretend to like one another when they hate each other.

It is probably my favorite thing I have ever written. I don’t wanna build it up too much, but I love it to pieces. It’s been so much fun to work on. Normally I am not a fan of edits and revisions. It’s my least favorite part of the process. But I’m just about to finish up my first round of revisions, and I love them to pieces. They’re just sweet little baby angels and I can’t wait for everyone to meet them. 

Steve Thomas: And I did see on your blog that you’re have some short story or something of checking in with some characters from a previous book for your newsletter subscribers? 

Falon Ballard: I do. So I did an extended epilog for Lease on Love, and it’s from Jack’s point of view. I will probably put it up on my website at some point. I think by the time people are listening to this, it will be live on my website, but definitely subscribe to the newsletter because I do throw random things like that in there sometimes. 

Steve Thomas: And people sometimes, even if you don’t get a whole book about characters again, you just kinda wanna see what they’re doing or something like that.

Falon Ballard: Yeah, it’s a fun little check in. What’s nice about things like that is I don’t have to do my least favorite part, which there’s no conflict. It’s just fun stuff. It’s like writing fan fiction for your own book so I’m here for it.

Steve Thomas: All right. Well, again, the new book is Just My Type and you also have, of course, Lease on Love and other things coming up soon-ish. They’re both available now so you can either run out or click over to your favorite bookstore and buy them or go to your local public library and check them out a bunch of times and get your friends to check ’em out a bunch of times, then maybe the library will buy more copies and it’ll be great. Thank you so much, Falon, for the conversation. 

Falon Ballard: Thank you so much for having me. This is a lot of fun. 

Steve Thomas: Have a great day. Thank you. Bye. 

All right, Robin, welcome back to Circulating Ideas!

Robin Bradford: Well, thank you. 

Steve Thomas: So, this episode we’re talking to a romance novelist, Falon Ballard, and I wanted to talk with you just about the romance genre in general to give people a place to get familiarized. So can you just give a general definition of how you define the romance genre?

Robin Bradford: Sure. Romance just as a very general definition is a plot where the romantic relationship between the main characters is the central plot. And it ends with a hopeful or optimistic ending. That is the definition from RWA, Romance Writers of America. 

If you go on social media every, like, once a month or so, you’ll see people debating the definition. It happens a lot. The need for a Happily Ever After or a Happy For Now gets bandied about a lot, but that’s still one of the main tenets of Romance. It wasn’t always. The HEA wasn’t always thought of as necessary, but in our current environment, with the current definition from RWA, it is necessary. So if you have those two things, a central love story that ends with a Happily Ever After or a Happy For Now, then you have a Romance. 

They don’t have to stay together forever. It doesn’t have to end with a wedding and a baby, but at the end of the book, you should know that those people are happily in love.

Steve Thomas: I know a lot of people think it’s just fill in the blank, formulaic, or whatever. But it’s not that it’s formulaic, it’s just that genres have certain…


Right, and those have to be hit. So can you talk about what some of those conventions are in romance? 

Robin Bradford: So in romance, it’s that people are working through issues. So it doesn’t necessarily mean that… I mean, there’s different tropes that people hit. So there’s Enemies to Lovers: you know in an Enemies to Lovers, which can range from business rivals to some Hatfield and McCoy level, Campbell and McKenzie, which I just learned about from Scotland, level of hatred for each other. You know that throughout the course of the book, you will see how they got to that level of animosity and you’ll see a gradual breaking down of the animosity until they come out at the other end as romantically entangled, happily at the end. So those are the kinds of things that you know are going to happen regarding the trope.

So if it’s some sort of Fake Girlfriend, Boyfriend, whatever, you know that there will be a need for someone to have to fake a relationship and, you know, through the course of the book, the fake relationship will turn into not so fake and at the end, they will be together. So there’s different story beats for different tropes.

But you know the book is going to take you on a journey, whether it’s they just met or they’ve known each other forever, but not seen each other that way or however it starts and however it ends, you know that the journey is going to take place throughout the book. 

Genre fiction is trope-tastic. It’s not just romance. You know at the beginning of a western, a stranger will ride into town, and there will be bad guys that he has to deal with, cuz it’s always a “he.” There will be a femme fatal that either is helping the hero or… curse your sudden and inevitable betrayal… and at the end we’ll ride out of town having set everything to right and justice will prevail. You know that’s going to happen. In a mystery, you know that whatever happens, whoever dies, at the end of the book, you will know how and who and why. If you don’t do that, you break the trust of the reader who is picking up that book. Can you imagine having a mystery book where at the end you don’t know who done it? Like, there would be a revolt. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah. This is why people hate JJ Abrams for Lost because you create a bunch of mysteries and you don’t actually solve them, and then the series is over. 

Robin Bradford: Exactly. There’s trust. And so with romance, you trust that it’s not going to be ambiguous at the end of who’s in a relationship.

Steve Thomas: And then there’s also various subgenres. I mean, there’s religious ones, Amish romances, romantic comedies and such.

Robin Bradford: There’s historical, there’s contemporary, there’s paranormal romance with lots of witches right now are the thing. But it’s been vampires, it’s been shape shifters. It’s been ghosts, it’s been zombies, believe it or not, so, yeah, there’s lots of different subgenres. One that was popular and is becoming popular again, is fantasy romance, which is a little bit different than paranormal. Paranormal is more contemporary. It looks like your real world, except for there are these shape shifters or whatnot. Fantasy is more like Game of Thrones, more fantasy like Fantasy genre with Romance being the central star, so that is a genre that’s coming around again, which is great. 

Steve Thomas: Yeah, and from a collection development standpoint, you just have to know, I guess the publishers help define these things, but how do you know, like in those, this is a fantasy romance that gets shelved in the romance section, not a romantic fantasy that gets shelved in the fantasy section. What’s the focus? Like, this Happily Ever After, is that the important part or you know, how do you decide what is the drive? 

Robin Bradford: I do use that to determine where things should go cuz that’s my job. When I order things, my job is to give it a classification when it’s ordered so that it doesn’t happen on the backend. A lot of times it is based on who’s publishing it. If Avon is publishing it, it’s more likely going to be in the romance section than if Tor is publishing it, but that’s not always the case because if you look at like Kit Rocha for example, their recent series that they just finished with Tor, that’s definitely romance. It’s absolutely romance. 

So a lot of times it is kind of a “six of one, half dozen of the other” where you’re going to put it. I’m not going to put something in the romance section that does not have a central love story. So if it’s like “We’re on a quest”, and the purpose of the book is fulfilling that quest, and there happens to be a character or two characters that fall in love, that’s great, but that’s not the purpose of the book. The romance is not central to the story and also it has to end happily. They have to end up together before I will put it in Romance. People who are looking for Romance books trust that when they go to that section, the books are going to have that happy ending. If they wanna read a fantasy, that’s great. They will go to the fantasy section and they will pick one and they don’t have that expectation. 

Steve Thomas: That’s part of why libraries select things by genre. That’s why you go to that section cuz you want that “feel.”

Robin Bradford: Well you wanna know, if I go and pick up a fantasy book, I don’t have any expectations except for we’re gonna be in a different land, there might be dragons, whatever, but I don’t have any expectation that there’s gonna be a romance. There doesn’t even need to be a romance in it at all. I’ll still love the book cause I wanted a fantasy book, but if I were to put Game of Thrones in the romance section, people would throw it at my head cause there’s no central romance to begin with and it’s definitely not ending with people together unless they’re together in death.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, that’s why Romeo and Juliet doesn’t get to count as a romance. 

Robin Bradford: Precisely, precisely. 

Steve Thomas: And no matter what genre you’re in, there will be a James Patterson book there probably.

Robin Bradford: Also true! 

Steve Thomas: Well, so you have a new book out, the Reader’s Advisory Guide to Romance from ALA Publishing. Before we wrap up, what was your purpose behind that book? What do you hope readers get out of that? 

Robin Bradford: So this book is actually a revised book because this existed, I think the last time someone wrote this, it was 2000 so that was 23 years ago. A lot has changed. That book was great for its time. I don’t wanna denigrate it or anything, but a lot has changed in the genre since then, and also in our genre, our collective genre of life since then, the real life genre has changed since then. 

So when they came to me and they asked me, it was very much a, “We need to update this. We wanna make it relevant for romances that are actually being published today and the romance community that people are interacting with today, but also we wanna make sure that it is inclusive.” There was a big to-do five years ago about “Romance can only be between a man and a woman” and that is wasn’t true then, not true now, wasn’t true a hundred years ago, wasn’t true 500 years ago. So to have a book that says that is outta step with reality and so we were really trying to make sure that we were inclusive.

Steve Thomas: Yeah, I was gonna say almost certainly was no gay romances in that 2000 book, and probably very few people of color in that book, either. Maybe Beverly Jenkins got in.

Robin Bradford: Maybe Beverly Jenkins, and I have the book, I should look. If so it was only a mention and not really giving her the place that she deserves in romance, and that was the other thing. We talked a lot in my proposal about how we were going to deal with diverse romance. I said from the beginning, and that this is what actually happens in the book, I’m not going to make a section that is “LGBTQ Romance” or “Black Romance” or “Latinx Romance” or “Filipino Romance”, I’m just not gonna do it, because that’s gonna be the whole book. We’re going to put books where they belong in terms of subgenre or trope, and we’re going to make those subgenres and tropes diverse, which is how it should be. So there’s not a Black section, there’s not a Gay section. There’s a Friends to Lovers section, there’s a Historical section in which Beverly Jenkins does appear. We just put books as examples where they fit according to what the book was about. 

Steve Thomas: I know when I had Becky Spratford on the show to talk about her revision of her horror book, the same thing of not doing separate sections, so I hope the ALA publishing is making that maybe as part of the packaging as they reissue these readers advisory to various genres, that that becomes part of it all the time. 

Robin Bradford: I hope so. I think we are past now the time of separation and we just wanna make sure that whoever picks up a book on whatever genre that they know they’re getting an example of one of the best in that genre.

Once Library Journal finally stopped doing the best Black Books of the Year, we start to see other libraries that rely on Library Journal to start making the switch as well. I know one of the complaints about that was, “well, if we don’t do that, there won’t be any “Best Black Books.”

And it’s like, there can be. You don’t have to save it for February. You don’t have to save LGBTQ books for Pride Month. You can just add them any time, every time. 

One of my best displays for December was holiday horror. There’s something about Victorian ghosts and Christmas that people love. I just got a patron request yesterday for something called Jingle Horror. Like what? It’s not just October, it’s all the time. People are reading those Christmas stories in March because they couldn’t get them in December. It’s not like we’re gonna disappear them in March because nobody wants them. Oh, people do. They’re just now getting their turn on the hold list. Like, they still want to read it. 

Steve Thomas: Well, Robin, thank you so much for telling us a little bit about the romance genre and I hope people go out there and get your book, which will be published this spring. So not when this episode is out, but coming soon!

Robin Bradford: Yes. Coming soon and go out and read romance! I guarantee you there’s something for everyone.

Steve Thomas: Thanks, Robin. 

Robin Bradford: Thank you. Bye-Bye.