Monday, March 12, 2018

Interview with Mia Hopkins + Giveaway!

When I was in college, I took a class called prison literacy. It was a long time ago, so my memory of the coursework was pretty vague. I remember learning about adult literacy and the many challenges for adults who are learning to read. But I have very vivid memories of our weekly tutoring trips to a nearby maximum security prison. It was a formative experience for me, and in many ways set me on a path to being a teacher.

I was so happy to read Thirsty, a book that respected and amplified these stories of prisoners who are re-entering into society. I was so impressed with the book that I reached out to Mia Hopkins for my first-ever author interview. She was so gracious about answering my questions, and I hope you’ll enjoy learning a little about how she wrote Thirsty. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Trashed, which comes out in July.


And because Jen loved this book so much, she's also giving away FIVE ecopies of it. Info at the end of this post. Good luck!

Jen: First person point of view books are so popular right now, and one of my lingering interests is to write a whole blog post talking about point of view and why it matters. I’ve read tons of books with alternating 1st person POV, and many others from the heroine's POV. But Thirsty exclusively sticks to Sal’s point of view. As an author, did you go into the book with the intention of sticking to Sal's POV or did it happen as you were writing? 

Mia: Thirsty is my first book in first-person POV, hero or heroine. I began the book with the intention of experimenting with an all-hero POV. After I wrote the first chapter, I could hear Sal's voice clearly enough in my head to continue.

J: Was it more challenging or just different to develop Vanessa, as the non-POV character?

M: I found it extremely challenging to develop Vanessa. Everything we as readers see of her is filtered through Sal, so our understanding of her is limited to what he as a character has the ability or emotional intelligence to perceive. Making Vanessa an extrovert who readily speaks her mind helped me present her more clearly. Writing Vanessa was difficult for me until I touched base with an author friend about it. She pointed out that when we meet people and fall in love with them in real life, we have only our individual POV to rely on. Keeping this in mind, I tried my best to see and understand Vanessa as Sal would (and to fall in love with her as he would).

J: Why do you think there are less M/F romances told from a male-only POV?

M: Single POV gives an author much less flexibility when showing the reader what's going on behind the scenes, particularly when it comes to misunderstandings and moments when the characters must spend time apart. I shied away from male-only POV for a long time because I didn't trust myself to sustain a hero's voice over the length of a novel, until I met Sal. These are the reasons I avoided male-only POV in the past, but I can't speak for other M/F romance authors except to say that male-only POV bucks tradition, and it always feels like a gamble to challenge reader expectations.

J: As a person in the world and as a reviewer, I'm interested in representation. I enjoy reading about all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.  Looking at your backlist, you're confident and capable at writing people from all walks of life, all races, ethnicities, name it! I can tell it's important to you as a writer, so how do you get representation right?

M: I absolutely want to get representation right, but I'm sure there are plenty of instances when I don't. After I do lots of homework, I rely on beta readers of the same background as my characters. Of course, it's impossible to ask a handful of people to represent the experience of an entire minority group, but my beta readers have helped me a great deal with language and cultural literacy. On a side note, I grew up a minority among other minorities. Like many other writers, I feel neither here nor there when it comes to my own identity. My background makes me curious about other cultures, and I like to dive in.

J: I follow a lot of authors on twitter, and they talk about "plot bunnies" all the time. Do you start with plot, with character, with setting? Or is each book different?

M: Are "character bunnies" a thing?

J: If not they should be!

M: Plot and character are so entwined, but I usually start with character. My favorite quote about character development is from the actor Heath Ledger: "Once I have the voice, that's the line, and at the end of the line is a hook, and attached to that is the soul." I start with a character's voice. My MCs start talking to me, and everything else grows from that.

J: I definitely loved Sal’s character. As I mentioned in my review, Thirsty is a powerful romance, but at times, it’s more like a character study of a man falling in love than it is a plot-driven romance. To me, this is the kind of redemption story that is beautiful, hopeful, and real. 

I’ve really struggled with the rise of “dark romance” that focuses on sometimes truly irredeemable characters. These men are almost always white, and they aren't interested in redemption or transformation….they just find a woman who puts up with it, I guess? (Here’s some great twitter threads from Cat Sebastian and KJ Charles on this problem.)  I couldn’t help but put Thirsty in conversation with those dark romances, and it helped me as a reader help me understand why I find an unrepentant hero so troubling.

M: I wasn't thinking about the dark romance subgenre when I wrote Thirsty. Sal is just a romance hero I always wanted to read, self deprecating and sweet and weirdly indestructible, who happens to have this criminal past.

J: Why are redemption stories so well-suited to the romance genre?

M: I think all romance readers enjoy reading dramatic character arcs, and with redemption stories, characters begin not at zero, but below that. Below sea level, if that makes sense. It makes their rise to the mountaintop so much more dramatic because they've come further than the average person who didn't experience the same challenges. As a reader, I love characters who learn to love themselves in tandem with learning to love someone else. Redemption romance delivers a happy-ever-after on multiple levels.

J: In an Author's Note at the end of the book, you mentioned working at a gang intervention program and that inspiring some of your work on this book. Why was sharing these stories of re-entry into society important to you? 

M: Volunteering with this program changed my life. I interviewed trainees and wrote biographical profiles for the website. The individuals I spoke with were in recovery from severe trauma, gang violence, neglect, substance abuse, incarceration, and poverty. All of them shared their stories with me. It's not my intent to romanticize gang life or oversimplify anyone's experience. But formerly incarcerated gangsters rebuilding their lives? Definitely underrepresented voices. I wanted to write a hero and a book that honored them.

Jen: Thanks for reading our interview, everyone! If you’re so inclined, you may want to find out more about the American prison system. The website of Prison Policy Initiative is just terrific, with lots of detailed information that every American should know.  

John Oliver has done many pieces about the terrible unfairness of the American prison system, but this segment about prisoner re-entry is most relevant to the world of the book.

Maybe you want to look into prison literacy programs. Here in Chicago, there is an organization called Chicago Books to Women in Prison and another called Liberation Library that focuses on sending books to incarcerated teenagers. You can probably find similar organizations in your area.

Finally, the blog Between the Bars is dedicated to sharing stories, poems, and writing of people who are incarcerated.

Mia: I'd like to recommend the books Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir by Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries here in Los Angeles. The books are available on the website.

Jen: Thank you, Mia! I loved your book and I’m grateful you shared your thoughts with me. Below, you can enter to win one of five copies of Thirsty, because my new motto is Buy the books you want to see in the world!

Thirty by Mia Hopkins
Publisher: Loveswept (March 13, 2018)
Series: Eastside Brewery, 1
Genre: Contemporary Romance
1st POV

A gangster hiding from his past. A single mom fighting for her future. Can she show this bad boy the man he’s meant to be?

“Mia Hopkins is an imaginative author who doesn’t take the easy road to a formulaic book.”—USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog

My name is Salvador Rosas. Back in the barrio, my past is written on the walls: ESHB. Short for East Side Hollenbeck, my father’s gang—my gang. Hell, it’s a family tradition, one that sent both my brothers away. They used to call me “Ghost” because I haunted people’s dreams. Now I’ve got nothing going for me except a hipster gringo mentoring me in a new career. An ex-con making craft beer? No mames.

Still, people in this neighborhood look out for one another. That’s how I became Vanessa Velasco’s unwelcome tenant. Chiquita pero picosa. She’s little, but with curves so sweet they’re dangerous. I remember Vanessa from the old days, the straight-A student with big plans. Plans that were derailed by another kid stupid enough to think he was bulletproof. Now Vanessa knows better than to believe in empty promises. There’s fire in her . . . and if I touch her, I might get burned.

I’m trying everything I can to go straight. But when East Side Hollenbeck comes calling, I might have to risk it all to find out if there’s a future for Vanessa and me. Because she’s the only one who can quench my thirst for something real.

The Rosas brothers will return in Trashed!

Where to Buy*:
Kindle | NOOK | Kobo
More Info:

Mia Hopkins writes lush romances starring fun, sexy characters who love to get down and dirty. She’s a sucker for working class heroes, brainy heroines and wisecracking best friends. She lives in the heart of Los Angeles with her roguish husband and waggish dog.

Where to Find Author:

Jen's giving away 5 ecopies of THIRSTY. Open INT. Ends March 18th!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Until Next Time,

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