Kate Clayborn, author of seven critically acclaimed novels, spoke to podcast host Jennifer Prokop about her new release, 'Georgie, All Along.'
By Emily Calkins
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Kate Clayborn’s new novel, Georgie, All Along, follows a woman who moves back to her hometown, finds an old journal, and decides to check off some of the items on her teenage self’s bucket list. She’s joined in her quest by Levi Fanning, the older brother of her high school crush who’s never quite shaken his reputation as the town troublemaker.
In a live event on the Likewise app, Kate spoke to Fated Mates podcast host and romance editor Jennifer Prokop about the novel, writing and reading romance, and the books she keeps going back to.
Kate Clayborn: Hi everybody. I'm so thrilled that so many of you are here. I am Kate Clayborn, I am the author of Georgie, All Along, and I'm so thrilled and excited to be here tonight.
Jennifer Prokop: And I'm Jennifer, co-host of the Fated Mates podcast. And I think everybody, if you were looking at the list of speakers, you can, I hope, tell who's speaking. There's like a green circle around their name. Is that the case? So if you're kind of like, yes, these voices sound alike, that's one way to tell us apart. I am a flower. Kate is a drawing.
Kate: Yes. And Jen and I are both Midwesterners. We are both originally from Ohio, so we both have that flat Midwestern accent, which might make us sound the same.
Jennifer: One of my brothers was telling me that there's a whole thing on YouTube where you can learn more about this upper Midwest accent that apparently my other brother really has. But I'm a little afraid to lean into that because I don't want to think that I have that, but I'm sure I do. Okay. So anyway, we're here tonight to talk about Kate's forthcoming book, Georgie, All Along, which comes out next Tuesday. If you have not yet had a chance to pre-order it, it's going to be so exciting to hear all about it that you're going to want to, you can get it wherever books are sold. So if you're an ebook reader, just go to whatever platform you use. Kate, is Georgie going to be on audio?
Kate: Georgie will be on audio. They have been recording I think within the last couple of weeks, so it should be ready for audio any day now.
Jennifer: Fun. Okay, so before we get started talking about Georgie, I want to do an icebreaker question and I like one that you can play along with in the chat so everybody who wants to share can do this in the chat. So Kate, my question to you is: you have to delete everything off of your phone except for three apps. Now I'm going to say you keep the phone and the texting. But, what three apps are you going to keep on your phone? If you had to delete everything else, which three would you keep?
Kate: Okay, this is a really good question. I hope people will answer in the chat. I will say I keep very few apps on my phone, but one of them would be the Kindle app. Got to be able to read on the go. I need to be able to read wherever I am. And I would also say I would keep WhatsApp. My very best and closest friend is abroad, and so that is the way we communicate and probably also Instagram.
Jennifer: Okay. Interesting, interesting. Yeah, I love seeing what people say. For me, I'm always the person who's Libby, Hoopla, Kindle. I'm like, yes, that's also me. I would definitely keep Kindle. I think I would also keep The New York Times games app because I do play. That's very soothing for me. And honestly, I probably would keep Twitter. I know it's dying, but it's not dead yet.
Kate: Smart people are saying music. Why didn't I say music? Everybody out there is smart.
Jennifer: Someone said my bank app. That is a really good point. That's smart. Yeah. How much money do I have? Can I buy more books with my actual money? See, I like the ones that are very local. Here in Chicago, there's an app you use for parking. There is an app you use to park at parking meters, and I probably would have to keep something real pedestrian and boring like that, but fine. Okay. So that's a fun question. So Kate, tell us about Georgie, All Along.
Kate: Oh my gosh, I'm so excited to talk about it. Georgie, All Along is my small town homecoming romance and Georgie, who is the title character here, she's a bit of a free spirit and she has found herself cut loose from a job that she's had as a Hollywood assistant, an assistant to a pretty famous director. She decides to come back to her hometown. Her best friend who lives there is preparing to have her first baby and Georgie figures, “Okay. I'll go back, help out my best friend, and then figure out what to do next.” It’s a very traditional romance setup and it's one that I love and have returned to a lot. I wanted to play with the format a little bit or rethink the lessons of that kind of story. Georgie has never really had a strong sense of ambition. She's never really had a strong sense of what she wants to be when she grows up. She finds this old journal from her teenage years and she decides she's going to try to live out some of the dreams she wrote about in that journal. Enter Levi Fanning, who is the older brother of her high school crush. He's quiet and he's aloof. He loves his dog.
Jennifer: Those three things are basically every Kate Clayborn hero. So maybe if you could give us a little more than quiet, aloof, loves his dog.
Kate: Jen, you know me! Yes, he is from the small town as well. He’s known in town as the bad egg, the troublemaker of the town from his youth. He's never been able to shake that. And so the book is about exploring reputation and how we're known at home and how we rethink that.
Jennifer: I think it's also really interesting the way it's about, I don't know, comparing our adult selves to who we thought we would be when we were teenagers.
Kate: For sure. That's a powerful thing. Even though as I wrote this, I was thinking about small town romances, I also wrote it, I hope, so that it strikes a chord with anyone who's had that experience of feeling like the person who they were as a teenager or as an adolescent has followed them around despite their best efforts. I was interested in exploring that and thinking about it a bit.
Jennifer: I have some questions for you that are about the book, but also about you as a writer because you are, I think Sarah and I talk about it all the time, a romance author who deeply cares about the craft of writing. So what quality do you think defines your books?
Kate: That is such a good question. I mean, I would say that people to answer that question are probably readers. I mean, I'm very close to it, so it's hard to say. What I try for in my books is a sense of fullness, I guess is the word I would use. I try for fullness in terms of character, I want the characters to have a lot of depth and a lot of different sides to them. I want fullness in terms of community. I want the supporting characters to feel like they have depth as well. I want fullness in terms of the types of love that are on the page. Obviously I am centering romantic love, but I want the characters to be surrounded by other types of love as well. I want fullness in terms of feeling, and I want fullness in terms of the language too. Romance is that for me, it is a filling genre. It is a satisfying genre. So I like to lean into that. I like to lean into that feeling of fullness.
Jennifer: That's a great way of putting it. So you were talking about the writing, and this is something I am also deeply interested in, which is the types of writing we might find in romance. Romance often is dinged for being poorly written. I don't think either of us or any of the people in this chat agree with that. When you think about what you're trying to achieve as a writer, what are the most important elements of good writing that you're trying to highlight in the books you write?
Kate: Yeah, that's a really good question too. Something that is very important to me about good writing is sound, which I want you to know. I would've had that answer even if the sound on the app didn't have a problem for a minute there. But for me sound is really important to prose. When I'm reading, I think individual words and clever phrases matter, but especially because in romance writing those things carry the emotion. It's so important. I really love prose that has a rhythm or an arrangement to it. I read a lot of poetry. I think a lot about the interplay between prose and verse. I love writing that lets words carry sound with it. And when I am working, I always am reading back my work to myself. I think people have probably heard me say this before, but I'm a pretty recursive writer. I'm always going back over what I wrote and often I'm doing that by reading it out loud and just testing the sound of it.
Jennifer: That's really fascinating, and I'm sure other people are curious about this too. So do you get stuck on sound? Or is this something that you can say to yourself, "okay, I'm going to come back and work on this sentence. I can tell it's not quite right."
Kate: I'll get stuck on it. To be honest about this, talking about writing, I am not a very good fast-drafter. It is hard for me to move on if I think something isn't working in the draft, and that isn't just at the story level for me, that's at the sentence level. So it is hard for me to keep writing if I think a sentence isn't working. That does make me a slower writer but over time I've just tried to accept it. There are different ways to get the book written and this one is mine. And so if there are any slow writers on the call, I want you to know I support you
Jennifer: This might be a good time to talk about a really beautiful sentence in this book. You know the sentence I'm talking about. So one of the questions—not a disagreement, but a way in which Levi and Georgie are trying to understand each other—is about work. Why don't you talk about this sentence? It's not a spoiler, I don't think, this little exchange that they have.
Kate: They're talking about Georgie having that feeling of being adrift. She doesn't know what's next for her. Also the fact that she's never really had a career dream. Some of us might have grown up and said, "oh, I really want to be an author one day," or, "I really want to be a doctor." She just never really had a vision for herself. And she's saying to him, "well, if I want to go back to the kind of job I had before, I could do that, right? If I want it, I can have it." And he thinks to himself, "what's work got to do with wanting?"
Kate (cont'd): It's a very simple sentence, but I love the sound of it. And I love what it captures about Levi, which is that for a long time he has not led his life from a place of desire, he's just been getting on. Also, I think it's honest. I think a lot of people don't relate to their work from a place of desire. They're just trying to get paid, trying to get their bills paid, trying to live. I loved writing that, and because it was so important to the book, I wanted the sound of the sentence to be right.
Jennifer: Yeah. I think it's interesting because you and I talked about—Kate's going to be on Fated Mates next week, so here’s a little preview of a part of conversation we had—is at one point, Levi, in early draft, used the word career. And I remember asking you, would he use the word career, right?
Kate: Yeah. Probably not.
Jennifer: Probably not. I mean, work and career are such different ideas, and I think it's really interesting to watch them work through that, especially at a time where we’re coming off the pandemic and people really are evaluating, "who am I outside of my work when all of a sudden my work and my home are completely overlapping?" It doesn't surprise me that this was an interesting thing to explore for you at the time you were probably writing it.
Kate: Right. And this book—the pandemic is not on page in this book. It is not explicitly there. But I think something that's interesting about books over the next decade is that the pandemic will always be there. It's like this little specter in the pages of every book that you read, I think, because anybody who was writing was wrestling with it in one way or the other.
Jennifer: Another question I have is, and this is more about romance in general because I know that you obviously love to read romance as well, is do you have iconic romance novels or scenes that you love? It doesn't have to be that they were informing the writing of this book, but how do you as an author kind of live with the great body of work that is romance?
Kate: Oh my goodness. I really—there are so many I could say. When I think about scenes that I go back to, scenes that I comfort read, they're often very big set pieces in books that I'll want to read. There's a book—some people on the call might know this—there's a Susan Elizabeth Phillips book called Kiss an Angel. There's a circus, I don't know, it's bonkers, but there's this very climactic circus performance. This sounds so weird when I say it, but it sticks in my head. One of my favorite books is a Laura Kinsale book called Flowers from the Storm. And at the very end of it, the hero goes to this Quaker meeting and interrupts it. The emotional stakes of those scenes are so high, and I often return to them.
Kate (cont'd): I was thinking that there are other scenes in romance that have stayed with me for a long time that operated a lower register. So I think this book, and maybe some people in the chat will know it too, but there's a Christina Lauren book called Dirty Rowdy Thing, and there's a scene where the two main characters, they go on a fishing boat excursion together; he is a career fisherman, and she isn’t. There's something about that scene that operates on a quiet register, but Christina Lauren's very good at writing relationship-building in their books. And that's something I strive for. Even though that's a scene that doesn't have that big, sweeping, high emotional stakes quality, it's a scene that has stuck with me as a writer in what it does for the romance in the book.
Jennifer: When I'm editing, sometimes I'll say to someone, “I want you to really pay attention to how your favorite authors do this thing. How do they weave in observation with dialogue and go back and forth? Here's someone who does it well. Or, with a single point of view, how does this person communicate what the other person is going through?” And so I do think that this is one of the ways, when you love reading the genre, you can see those thumbprints and think about how it works and what it means to readers.
Kate: Early on when I first started writing, someone told me, and it's the advice that I've carried with me for the longest time, is think about how you want your readers to feel. What kept you reading romance was the feeling of it. As you're crafting your story, that's what you have to think about all the time. What feeling are you trying to evoke?
Jennifer: This is a good transition to another question I have, which is, Georgie is your seventh book. What is it that you have learned as an author about either the process of writing romance as a genre or about yourself?
Kate: The biggest thing I've learned is that it doesn't get easier. That the first book I ever wrote was the easiest book I ever wrote because I didn't know what I didn't know. I take the genre very seriously. I take the craft very seriously. So I'm always trying to push myself in new directions. I try something new with voice or character or plot. What I did in that first book shapes what I do even now, but I would never be able to write Beginner’s Luck again. No way I could ever replicate that experience or that particular flow or whatever. So I don't know. I guess what I've learned is that every book that you start is, in a lot of ways, starting over. So even if someone tells you like, "oh, well, you've done this seven times before," to me every time, it is a very raw experience.
Jennifer: It's got to be daunting to look at that blank page. This is a question that I think is really interesting when you think about how we approach romance. Sometimes I feel like it's a very emotional response, as you said. How do you want people to feel? How do I want to feel? But I also think there are times that it's an intellectual thing where you are analyzing what it's saying about women in the world or relationships. So how do you approach these questions as a reader or writer? When is it emotional for you, and when is it intellectual or is it something else?
Kate: For me, it's pretty hard to separate those two things. I often hear people say, I think we've all heard people say this, or we say it ourselves, that romance, "I read it to escape, or I read it because at the end of my day, I can kind of turn off." And I think that's right, and I relate to that. But also, I guess for me, this is a little hard to explain, but I would say the escape is, in some sense, the thinking. It is easy for me to have one eye on my emotional response to a book and one eye on how the book achieved that response in me. That was interesting to me before I ever started writing. And it's still interesting to me now. I like doing both things when I'm reading. I suppose it's true that sometimes you're stuck into a book and you can't quite understand why you're so stuck into it. I don't even know if I like this, but I can't put it down. And you're not really sure about it, but you just keep going with it. And that kind of experience, sometimes when you're through it, when you finally put the book down, the thing you want to do most is interrogate why you got so wrapped up in this.
Jennifer: I've had that experience with so many books where I'll be reading it and I'm like, "what am I reading?" And yet, here I am. You and I have had a lot of conversations about books like that. Sometimes the emotional impact romance has on me is very clear. I understand how it's working on me, or I understand I'm feeling right the way the author wants me to feel, and then other times it's just like I'm chasing it. I don't know where it's going to end up. And I think that's maybe part of what makes those books unputdownable, right? But yeah, “I was up a full night reading this book, and I don't know why,” is the best and worst romance feeling.
Kate: Yeah. You might wake up the next morning and you're like, "I really need to investigate that."
Jennifer: I mean, as a fellow insomniac, I think it's like, "wait, was that real or was that just 3:00 AM?" And I think that it just operates on such an amazing level. It's what I love about romance so much. Okay, so one question I also have is: how do you interact with readers? There's so many more spaces. This is a really cool opportunity. I think you mostly use Instagram, right? So how is it that you have found the work of care and feeding of readers?
Kate: I think the romance community is in incredibly special in this way. I should say, maybe I don't have a good strong finger on the pulse of a lot of other communities, but one thing that I really love about the romance community is that so many authors are constantly reading romance, and they want to talk about it. For me, something that's been important about connecting with readers is trying to connect through books. So now I spend more time on Instagram than I used to, and I try to find ways to say "here's what I'm reading, or here's what book I'm listening to." Because yeah, romance authors and romance readers just love to talk about great books. And I guess something that's important to me is that readers don't forget that I’m out there with them reading the newest things and talking about books that I love. So I try to do that, obviously without intruding on reader spaces where it's not comfortable for me to be in or it's not comfortable for readers to have me in.
Jennifer: I think that's something really remarkable about the romance community. We're all readers, and in that way there's sort of a radical equality that I think comes from the space, right?
Kate: To answer somebody's question in the chat, I also love hearing readers talk about the books they love. Right? "Here's a line from a book that knocked my socks off," or "I stayed up all night reading this," or whatever. I mean, it's what makes the purest sort of thread in our community is the joy that we take in the books.
Jennifer: It is. That's so fun. So everybody, we have about 10 more minutes. If you have questions, you are welcome to put them in the chat and we'll keep an eye on it and go ahead and have Kate answer some of those. But in the meantime, I also thought it would be really fun to hear from you—what are some of the things you've been reading or watching?
Kate: What have I been reading and watching? I did just get the new Sophie Jordan book in the mail. It's called The Scandalous Ladies of London, and it's coming out soon, I think, in the next couple months. So I haven't started it yet, but I got it. And the cover is so beautiful, and I think that's what I'm going to read next. I just read recently a book that's coming out in the next couple months by Alicia Thompson. It's called From Cold World, With Love, and I really enjoyed that book. It is set at this amusement park called Cold World in Central Florida, where they try to manufacture snow and a cold environment for people who don't get to experience it. It's this romance between a sort of staid, buttoned-up, shy kind of accountant within the amusement park and this guy who has worked at the amusement park for a long time. From the outside he might seem sort of chaotic, but there's a lot of hidden depths there. And I really thought it was very unique. The setting was so unique that I found the book very immersive, so I really enjoyed that.
Jennifer: I know that I'm being a real Stan tonight, but I also recently read the new Christina Lauren, The True Love Experiment, and I loved it because it was about the romance genre, so I loved that. And I will just say that, about what I've been watching, I'm terrible at remembering things I watch, in part because if I have a TV on, I'm often doing something else. I did just rewatch the show Reacher because I like that huge man, doing tough things. So I rewatched that. So there's some questions in the chat, and I want to make sure I try to answer some of 'em. There's some good ones. So yeah, let's go ahead and look at 'em.
Kate: Somebody asked about some of the thinking behind making my last three standalones, and would I ever write a series again? Yes, I would write a series again. I loved writing an interconnected world, and that kind of suited where I was when I was starting out. But for my last three, I did really want to try to create these standalone worlds that, I guess, they sort of operate in the same universe. So readers who read Georgie closely might see that there's a little reference to Love Lettering. A little hint. I've been interested in standalones lately because it allowed me to be flexible with settings and scenarios. But that doesn't mean I would never go back to a series. I definitely would.
Kate (cont'd): Somebody asked how the pandemic affected my writing. It affected my writing a lot. I found I had to do a lot more. I guess, to use Jen's phrase from earlier, care and feeding of my creativity. I found that before the pandemic, I could be more creative without a lot of attention to my creativity. But during the pandemic—I found so many things about the pandemic very challenging. I mean, I think it's still challenging out there. I feel like I have to be more thoughtful about it. If I'm having a lot of trouble writing, it is generally because I haven't gotten out enough or I haven't talked to my friends enough or something like that, that I might have slipped into being a little too isolated, which the pandemic made easy. So that was a real effect of the pandemic. I really relied a lot on my community, my friends, and my family to pull me along as I was writing Georgie and part of Love at First too.
Jennifer: Okay, so what's next?
Kate: I am actually very close to finishing something right now that I've been working on for a while. And I'm really hoping that I can tell folks about it within the next two months or so. I've been working on this for a while, and I'm nearly there, so I'm very excited about that.
Jennifer: Exciting. Wonderful. Kate, a question I really like to ask as we wrap up, it's kind of, like, what do you wish people would ask you about your writing or your books or whatever?
Kate: The questions you've asked me tonight are the kinds of questions that I love to get and that I wish every romance writer got an opportunity to answer. I wish that fewer romance authors got asked questions like "how do you do research for your book, wink wink?"
Kate: That's terrible. I really love answering questions like, "hey, what matters to you when you're crafting a book?" or "how do you come up with ideas for your characters?" I think those are really wonderful questions for writers to get. And I think it would be lovely if romance writers were consistently interviewed like all other writers are.
Kate: I think that would be wonderful, yeah.
Jennifer: They should just ask me every time. I'll ask people real questions about the craft.
Kate: Yeah, yeah. ‘Cause it's a craft. It is.
Jennifer: Well, Kate, tell us where we can find Georgie, All Along. It comes out Tuesday.
Kate: It comes out Tuesday, yes. And just so you guys know, there's still time to pre-order a signed copy if you're interested in that, from either East City Books in Washington, DC or Fountain Bookstore in Richmond, Virginia. So if you're interested in having a signed copy, there's still time to do that if you do so soon. And obviously it is available also at your local bookstore and at all major ebook retailers. So it comes out on Tuesday, and I'm just, oh my gosh, I'm over the moon for it to be in people's hands. And over the next few days, if you follow me on Instagram, you'll be able to catch me at upcoming events. I'll be doing a release event in Washington, DC on Friday the 27th. So lots of exciting stuff coming.
Jennifer: A lot of them are virtual or hybrid. So yes, there's lots of places for you to hear Kate and some of your other favorite romance authors talking about this awesome book.
Kate: And I want to thank you guys so much for being here, and thank you so much for hanging in with us when we sort of accommodated some of the mic issues. You guys were great.
Jennifer: Thanks everybody. We're going to end this event, but we hope to see you next time. And everybody have fun with Georgie.
Kate: Yep. See you soon.
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