Today I’m thrilled to welcome paranormal and contemporary romance author Holley Trent to Paranormal Unbound!
I started following Ms. Trent on twitter because we’re both Southern girls gone west. I picked up the first novella in her Shrew series (The Problem with Paddy) because I was looking for something short and fun, and I was thrilled when it delivered on those promises and then some. Ms. Trent describes her own work as “sassy, sexy, and (sometimes silly) Southern romance,” and I think the description fits. Her Shrew & Co. series is fun to read and sizzling hot, but while the books may be light-hearted in their humor and fanciful plots, they’re heavyweights when it comes to character.
It can be a challenge to write tough female characters, but Holley’s Shrews combine strength, intelligence, vulnerability and humor for a layered, engaging unforgettable mix. I invited her to Paranormal Unbound today to talk about her approach to crafting stories around likeable, “difficult” characters.
AJ: Thanks for joining us today, Holley! I’m a big fan of your Shrew & Co. books, but for readers who haven’t discovered them yet, tell us a little more about the series.
Holley: Gladly! Back in 2012, I had superheroes on the brain because a lot of romance publishers were putting out submission calls for them. I did some brainstorming, and decided to create a relatable world filled with characters that look like people I know.
Shrew & Company is a private investigation company owned by an ex-cop named Dana Slade. The firm gets its moniker from the nickname of a research study my five heroines were roped into. “SHREW” was a drug trial for a personality modifier—an attitude adjuster, actually. The women were referred to the study by men in their lives who thought they would have been the perfect women…if only they weren’t so bitchy. Naturally, they didn’t know what the study was really about or they wouldn’t have agreed.
Well, the medication caused some unexpected, irreversible genetic mutations that nearly killed them. Though they survived, they all have some peculiar cellular souvenirs. Dana, for instance, has enhanced vision, superhuman reflexes, and can project thoughts psychically. In spite of that, she’s a typical Carolina girl…though maybe a bit acerbic.
AJ: I love how you’ve reclaimed the “shrew” label with these stories. The women of Shrew & Co. are all unapologetically tough. What do you think is the key to writing tough, likeable female characters?
Holley: I think humor helps a lot. Also, it’s easy for me to humanize the Shrews because they’re like the chicks I hang out with. They’re small, but mighty. Okay, none of my friends can fire two guns simultaneously with any degree of accuracy, but they’re staunchly independent and aggressive when they have to be. If you ever see someone try to cut line in front of my sister in an airport, you’ll think, “Ah. That’s Dana.”
AJ: Remind me to never cross your sister. 🙂
My favorite Shrew so far is Sarah from Framing Felipe. She’s fierce, but she has such believable vulnerability, too. Do you have a favorite Shrew, or would it be favoritism to pick?
Holley: It is hard to pick. I like them all for different reasons, but right now, Astrid—who is the lead of Shrew #4—is my favorite. She’s a bit of a kook, and I’ve been able to get away with some seriously silly stuff in her book. Balancing the dark, paranormal elements with humor is hard sometimes, but I think it’s important that these ladies not take themselves too seriously.
AJ: Oh, I love a kooky heroine! I’m looking forward to reading this one.
Another thing I really like about this series is that the Shrews come from all kinds of different backgrounds—one of them is the daughter of a diplomat, and another grew up on a commune—and yet they’re a very tight-knit group. They’re committed to each other, and the men who end up in relationships with Shrews have to accept that. We don’t always see such strong female friendships in romance. Did you find it challenging to balance the tensions of these relationships in the books’ happy endings?
Holley: It gets easier with each subsequent book—in fact, the easy integration of the men into the group becomes a bit of a running gag. I think behind the scenes, these guys probably have their own support group. Shrews are tough nuts to crack, but the men know what they’re getting themselves into. The ladies do haze each other’s guys a bit, but that’s mostly alluded to and doesn’t play out on-page.
AJ: The Shrews really do feel like a big band of affectionate siblings who love each other, but also love to give each other a hard time. Your heroes and heroines cover a wide range of cultures and nationalities, and language and language barriers feature in several of the books. For example, in Framing Felipe, the American heroine struggles at times to communicate with the Spanish hero because she’s lost the fluency in Spanish she had as a child. Two of the other Shrews have special abilities when it comes to language. Am I sensing a theme, here? Are you a language buff yourself?
Holley: Well, linguistics was one of my college interests, but it’s not so much language that I’m interested in, but peoples’ attempts to understand each other. Obviously, Shrews are coming from a place of being frequently misunderstood and unfairly judged because they’re not happy, shiny people. Sure, they’re capable of being sweet, but that station isn’t their default. The men they end up with make a concerted effort to understand them—not just in terms of language—but their motivations and triggers, too. They know women have breaking points, and the Shrews are just more upfront about warning people they’re approaching them.
AJ: I love that use of language as a kind of metaphor for understanding a whole person. And now that you’ve mentioned it, I recall the way the Shrews’ partners all pay attention to their non-verbal cues. Hooray for attentive men! 🙂
I know you also write contemporary romance in a range of styles. Since you have the experience of writing both, what do you like best (or least) about writing paranormal stories as compared to contemporaries? Or are they pretty much the same from a craft perspective?
Holley: In paranormals, I can get away with fated mates and love-at-first-sight far easier than I can in a contemporary romance plot. I try not to overuse those devices, but sometimes, they just fit. What I find most difficult about writing paranormal romances, though, is finding the balance between plot and the budding romance. Sometimes, I’ll have a first draft in which the two leads don’t interact much, and have to go through in the next draft to weave in scenes of conflict and sexual tension. It’s just hard finding time for them to get their clothes off in these more plot-heavy paranormals.
AJ: True. Who has time for sex when you’re running from a pack of were-cats? That said, I think your paranormals manage to be plenty hot despite the inherent challenges. 😉 So, what’s next for you—any new paranormal projects in your pipeline you can tell us about?
Holley: My next paranormal is a short story tied to my Sons of Gulielmus incubus series. It’s called A Demoness Matched and will appear in Crimson Romance’s Valentine’s Day anthology Melt My Heart. It’s a light paranormal—it has plenty of bad jokes and maybe even a Bloodsport quote! After that, sometime in the next few months, I’ll release Shrew 4 – Following Fabian. I’d hoped to have that ready for February, but I’ve been on an editorial merry go round for the past few months. April is looking more probable for that one. My goal is to slip Shrew 5 out this summer and spin off the series off into a new arc in the winter.
AJ: Ooo, I’m looking forward to reading Astrid and Fabian’s story, and A Demoness Matched sounds delightful. Thanks so much for hanging out with us today!
Holley: Thanks for hosting me! The Shrews are one of my favorite things to talk about.
Do the Shrews sound like your kind of heroines? You can find out more about them here, and you can find out more about Holley here.
Thanks for hosting me, AJ! This interview was lots of fun.
Thanks for hanging out with us, Holley! I love nerding out about characters.
This sounds like a fabulous series! Totally agree with your observation about the difficulty of balancing plot and romance in these series that sort of walk a delicate line between UF and PNR, but I do love reading them. Great interview, you two 🙂
I’m all for more stories that walk that line–they’re often my favorites. Thanks for stopping by, Suzanne!
Holley, thanks so much for visiting Paranormal Unbound. This series does sound really fun and interesting. I like what you’ve said here about humor, and totally agree with A.J. about the genius of reclaiming the word “shrew.” The idea of a medicine to cure bitchiness is just the sort of satirical silliness I love. Brilliant!
Thanks for coming by, Amber! One of the things I like about this series is how it doesn’t take itself to seriously, and yet it tackles some serious issues, like how we view female strength and how people handle cultural differences. I think you’d like it. 🙂