"I Learned It from a Romance Novel" - Marina Adair and Catherine Bybee on Strong Heroines, Healthy Love, and How What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger

Adrian Liang on January 30, 2017

Adair and Bybee books - Amazon Book ReviewMarina Adair and Catherine Bybee visited the Amazon offices in Seattle recently, giving us a chance to talk with them about their new romance novels. But the conversation ranged widely and into some pretty interesting territory, from monogamy to drinking wine at seven a.m., and from the pressures of being a full-time writer to the PTSD that can affect search-and-rescue professionals.


Amazon Book Review: You both write quite a bit. Can you each tell me about how you make that happen in your daily lives?

Marina Adair: We've both been talking a lot about finding balance, and I think the farther I've gotten into my career, the harder it is to find balance. You're not just writing one book; you're juggling multiple books at multiple parts of the process. So lately I've been putting my laptop on airplane mode so that I can't be bothered by anything, and focusing for six to eight hours at a time. Sometimes it's twelve to fourteen hours. But [the key is] focusing, getting rid of all the other distractions, so I can get my books done.

Catherine Bybee: You were drinking wine the other day at seven o'clock in the morning because you hadn't gone to bed.

Marina Adair: Yeah, the other morning I was up until three-thirty in the morning, writing. And I couldn't fall asleep after that.

Catherine Bybee: I usually know when my deadline is, and then I procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate…think about it…procrastinate a little bit more, sheer panic—and then start writing. And that's been the same way I've almost always done it since I've been on contract. But that hasn't been working as well when life starts getting in the way, so the goal is to always write a little bit every single day. But that doesn't happen. The reality is that life gets too busy and then by the time the kids come home from school, you're exhausted because you've had this crazy day. It is incredibly hard to put everything on hold to write when you write at home.

ABR: Does the pressure ever take the joy out of writing? 

Catherine Bybee: Sure, absolutely. When your brain cells tighten up to the point where you can't squeeze five words out of your day and you're sitting in your chair for six hours? It does. But usually I find that if I go back and I reread, and I don't have a distraction, I start to feel the story again, and I can start making those words flow.

Marina AdairMarina Adair: I think outside hobbies are good, too. For a lot of writers, we were readers, and we fell in love with reading, and that's why we started writing. So when your hobby becomes your career, finding things that give you that same passion outside of work helps. For me it's not reading, it's not watching television, it's not all of the things I used to enjoy doing. Now I've found hiking. I've really gotten into hiking. But I think it's hard when your hobby does become your business. And it does take some of the joy out of it. But it's still the best job on the planet.

Catherine Bybee: Oh, yeah, it goes without saying.

Marina Adair: What's your favorite part of the process?

Catherine Bybee: Mine?

Marina Adair: Yeah, of writing.

Catherine Bybee: At the end when I stop hating my book and love it.

Marina Adair: Mine is plotting. I love plotting out a new series. And I love editing. Those are my two favorite parts.

Catherine Bybee: [Groans.] Editing!

Marina Adair: I know. The writing of the book is, ah, whatever. But once it's done and then I go back, I find that editing is where the magic happens. And it's in plotting it out.

Catherine Bybee: No! By the time I get to editing, I hate my story so much. I've read it fifty thousand times. The joy is when I reread it and think, "Eh, baby, that's not too bad." That's my joy.

ABR: You both have books now that revolve around small towns. Catherine, the most recent book of yours, Staying for Good, features a celebrity chef who's coming home after she's made it in the big city

Catherine Bybee: Yes. Zoe's me.

ABR: Yes, how much of her is based on you? You did start off in a small town, right?

Catherine BybeeCatherine Bybee: I actually grew up right here in Auburn/Kent area, which is not a small town, but I had an interesting childhood. I had a shitty childhood full of lots of drama. And when I left four days after of high school, I ran from Washington State. I needed to get out of here in order to survive my life. Not that I was running from someone trying to kill me, but I knew in order for me to grow as a person, I needed to get away from where I grew up and the restrictions I had here. So I left [my home town] like Zoe leaves her home town. She leaves because she knows [that if she stays] she's going to become something she doesn't want to be—and that was very much me. So her success in doing what she did and coming back is like me getting off the plane after flying here first-class thirty years after I left Washington State and walking into the Amazon offices with a badge and meeting people who know my name and are excited to see me.

A lot of people assume that because I'm successful, I've had it easy. That's the number-one thing I blow out of the water every time I have a public speaking event. I usually start it by telling them that I'm one of four children, and while we all came from the same uterus, we all had different sperm donors. I know what the taste of government cheese is. I have been in the foster care system here in Seattle. I remember running away at six years old. The first [writing] conference I went to, I circled everything they gave away food at because I didn't have enough money in my pocket to pay for meals. I've gone through a divorce, I've got kids, I've had a fire, I've got all kinds of drama, but I'm still a person, I'm still doing what I need to do and being successful at it. So Zoe's story…part of me is in that story. A big part of me is in that story.

ABR: You had a fire?

Catherine Bybee: My home was almost destroyed this last summer. Fifty thousand acres [burned], and it's all surrounding my house.

ABR: That sounds terrible.

Catherine Bybee: It's awful. It's been horrifying. It's been a very, very tough year. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, I guess.

ABR: You're still here.

Catherine Bybee: I'm still here! And I keep talking about [writing] that fireman series. And eventually when I can write about it and not cry, I'll be good.

Marina Adair: You're a warrior—you're not a survivor.

ABR: Your new book, Marina, is the start of a new series, right?

Marina Adair: Yes, first book in a new series. It Started with a Kiss takes place in the Tahoe area of the Sierra Nevadas, and it centers around a team of search-and-rescue guys. The women are connected through a local bereavement group, so all of the women are dealing with some kind of loss. And then they meet these high-octane, super good-looking, charming, wonderful men.

My husband's a search-and-rescue guy. A lot of people don't know what search-and-rescue guys go through and how they can get PTSD. There are things they deal with that the normal public doesn't know. So I thought, what better way to pair up women who are dealing with loss and using each other as a support system than to hook them up with guys who see loss every day? The first heroine in the series, Avery, has just had a kidney transplant. She'd been on the donor list and had kidney issues her whole life. She's almost thirty, and for the first time ever she gets to live and not have to worry about when her life's going to be up. She applies at the local adventure lodge to be an adventure guide, because she figures that if she can help other people find their adventures, then maybe she'll be able to have an adventure of her own.

ABR: Did you yourself have any sort of big life-affirming moment or know anyone that had a similar life-changing experience?

Marina Adair: I have rheumatoid arthritis. I've had it since I was three. When all my friends were saying, "Oh, I want to grow up and get married, and this is the kind of dress I want..." well, I didn't want to get married because I was told that by age thirty I'd be in a wheelchair, and if I really loved someone, how could I walk down the aisle and look them in the eye and say "For better or for worse" knowing that at some point they would have to take care of me for the rest of their life? I don't think I really started living until after I hit thirty and I realized I wasn't going to be in a wheelchair, and that I had beat the odds. And so for me, I connect a lot with her.

ABR: Whoa. You ladies have tough lives!

Marina Adair: [Laughs] I think that's why we connected…. People ask, "Why do you write?" And I answer, "Because the quirky awkward girl ends up with the love of her life." That's what every girl dreams of growing up. And I think men dream of that, too. Finding someone who doesn't love you in spite of your issues, but they love you because of them. And because of those you become a stronger person, a more powerful and empowered person. And so I think both of us, we write strong female protagonists.

ABR: Did you see that romance documentary that came out last year, Love Between the Covers?

Marina Adair: I absolutely saw it.

ABR: It was pretty great. There was one person in the film who talked about how she grew up and did not know what love looked like until she read it in a romance novel.

Catherine Bybee: Yeah, me neither. My dad has been married five times, my mom was married three. My grandmother was married seven or eight times, before she passed. Monogamy was not part of our vocabulary. The family tree is like... [makes exploding noise]. So I didn't know any of those things. I learned it from a romance novel.

Marina Adair: Yeah, I explore that a lot in my writing, too. I think that my major theme, outside of families, is exploring the different types of healthy love. I was always looking for what healthy love was, and until I met my husband, I had never experienced or seen what healthy love was. And so I love exploring that in my books.

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