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April 15, 2017 BOOKLIST
Find more Notes from the Field
Although I don’t play favorites, Susan Maguire is right up there as one of my best reviewers—not only because she’s a fantastic writer but she covers the women’s-fiction titles I personally like! She’s also my dream self: both a librarian and a romance author, writing under the pen name Sarah Title (yep, you have to search the author field for Title!). Her new series for Kensington, Librarians in Love, is gathering rave reviews and lots of attention—the first book in the series, The Undateable, was published in February 2017, and the next, Falling for Trouble, is due out in June. You can find out more about her books at www.sarahtitle.com.
Rebecca: Tell us a little about yourself and your position.
Susan: I’ve been a librarian for about 11 years now (ugh, that makes me feel old). I’ve worked in reference, collection management, and as a circ supervisor—all different kinds of fun stuff. My current position is as the Readers’ Services Coordinator at the Chapel Hill Public Library, in North Carolina. It’s pretty rad—I get to flex my RA muscles and train my coworkers to do the same.
Rebecca: What is happening in your library’s collection at the moment?
Susan: I don’t have much to do directly with selection anymore (and I miss it!), but our Acquisitions Manager, Tracy Babiasz [another awesome reviewer of mine!—Ed.], is awesome, and she asks for my input a lot—and I give it to her sometimes even when she doesn’t ask for it. She also lets me weed the fiction, which makes me happy because I friggin’ love weeding.
The biggest collection-related change for me is a little meta. I’ve been in my current position for a little over 2 years, and before that, I was at the Kanawha County Public Library, in Charleston, West Virginia, for almost 10. Chapel Hill and Charleston are real different. I mean, of course they are, but the ways they are different took some getting used to. In Charleston, we couldn’t keep the inspirational fiction on the shelves; here, our small collection gets very low circs. (Which makes weeding a little easier, since I don’t have to go back to those crazy-long series lists every time a Gilbert Morris book shows up on my low-circ list!) In both places, our romance readers mostly kept to themselves, but here in Chapel Hill, there seems to be much less demand. I’m working on them, though. My evil plan is to make our patrons realize that they actually do like genre fiction, they just don’t know it yet—mwa-ha-ha-ha, etc.
Rebecca: Shifting gears, let’s talk a little more about your writing career.
Susan: Library school is what brought me back to reading romance. Even though I loved it, I was kind of “too cool for school” to check it out from the library. (And this was before OverDrive existed. Get off my lawn!) But when I took Phil Eskew’s readers’-advisory class at IU-Bloomington, we had to read something from all of the major genres. I randomly picked Mary Balogh’s Slightly Married as my romance title, and if you’re going to get reintroduced to romance, you can do worse than Mary Balogh. It’s still one of my faves.
I’ve always been a writer, but never with much direction beyond that vague “I want to write a book” thing. When I started reading more romance, I started to see the pieces of the genre puzzle—the tropes, the black moment, the super-cheesy epilogue that is my catnip—and the idea of putting together my own puzzle was really appealing. It turned out to be more complicated than that, but, essentially, learning about the genre made me feel comfortable exploring it creatively.
My two identities did an extra-special collide when my editor suggested I write about librarians. I was hesitant at first, because I am an idiot, but it was a lot of fun. Librarians in Love is a loosely connected series (so you don’t have to read them in order, because I am very lazy about reading series in order) about library school friends from around the country, facing different librarian problems— and also, hunks. The first, The Undateable, has the heroine combating librarian stereotypes; the second, Falling for Trouble, finds the hero combating a penny-pinching mayor; and in the third, Laws of Attraction a law librarian heroine is combating her feelings for a guy and his dog. (The three of them—plus one more—were introduced in a novella called “Moonshine and Mistletoe” in the anthology The Most Wonderful Time. This is not necessary information for enjoyment of the series! But a lot of you probably already have that anthology since it featured the marvelous Fern Michaels.)
I’m not going to say that any of the interactions in these books are in any way based on real-life interactions with the real-life public, but I’m not saying they’re not. I’m not going to say anything about that at all.
Rebecca: An overasked question, I’m sure, but what advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Susan: Do you know how annoying it is to read other authors’ answers to this question? That is because their advice is always “write.” Well, prepare to be annoyed at me.
The thing is, you’ll never finish your book if you don’t write it. I know, so smart. I went to Vassar. But sitting down and writing is, for me, the hardest part of writing. Once I get going and let the characters in my head start talking to each other and doing their respective thangs, it’s great. But then, the next day, I’m, like, WAAH, WHY DO I HAVE TO DO THIS AGAIN? (Basically, I am super fun to be around.)
So. Yes. It is hard. Acknowledge that it is hard. Acknowledge that maybe it will suck. But then also acknowledge that it will probably suck less than you think it will suck, and then sit down and write it. It’s that easy!
Rebecca: How do you keep up with what is current and popular with your patrons?
Susan: One thing I really love about Chapel Hill patrons is that they are totally open to talking about what they’re reading, and they’re open to suggestions. I often stalk the new-books shelf, and I have a lot of RA conversations with browsers there. Usually they’re looking for something specific, and I can say, “Well, yes, we have that but it is definitely checked out ” and then start a conversation about something they might like while they wait in the holds queue. So that gives me information on what people are looking for, and helps me keep up with what’s new and flying under peoples’ radar. Since we’ve got a media-savvy patron base, I also follow a few blogs (I don’t know if you know this one called The Booklist Reader—it’s pretty good). I get lots of info from EarlyWord—it has good coverage of what my patrons will probably be asking for because they heard it on NPR or read about it in the New York Times. It’s been helpful to have an RSS aggregator (I use Feedly), so it’s the work of a few seconds to check in with the resources I need to check in with.
Rebecca: What kinds of things do you find your collection is in need of most right now?
Susan: Aside from more copies of whatever literary fiction is on the best-seller list, I’d like to see us diversify our genre collections. We do OK, but we can do better. For romance, sf, and fantasy, though, the demand isn’t there (for the genre in general, not for the diversity part). But I do think that our community members are interested in hearing new voices—if they can just get over their distaste for the heart sticker and the spaceship sticker. But we’re working on it! (That said—our collection is great, and I do find that hand-selling patrons genre books works well. I’m just saying I want people totally brainwashed, and that kind of thing takes time.)(Just kidding about the brainwashing.)(Maybe.)
Rebecca: What do you like to read, and who are your favorite authors and genres?
Susan: That is a very mean question to ask a librarian, but here we go. I took to my RA training like a . . . What’s a metaphor that can go here? Anyway, I did that, and the result is that I really will read anything. Or maybe I should say I will give anything a chance. But if I must make broad, declarative strokes, I’d say my faves are romance (duh) and funny domestic fiction. (Side note: I find the term women’s fiction problematic because it makes it easy to dismiss—and there are larger societal implications to that—but I’m just going to drop that bomb and run away.)
I’m definitely more of a character-driven reader than anything else, although I am a sucker for books set in Italy and what I like to call Catholics with Problems. Two of my favorite books are The Sparrow, by Maria Doria Russell (aka Priests in Space), and Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. So far, I have liked everything I have read by Jo Goodman and Lisa Kleypas (especially Kleypas’ Travis series). Everyone should read the new Lisa Jewell book, I Found You, and I bet librarians can think of lots of patrons to suggest it to.
I don’t really have guilty pleasures because I don’t feel guilty about much of what I read, but if I had to pick one, it would be J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. It has everything I don’t like: super-alpha heroes, ridiculous mythology, outdated gender roles (even when they’re not), violence and guns . . . But I. Can. Not. Stop.
Oh my gosh, so many more. I’m reading Insert Groom Here, by K. M. Jackson, which had some superficial similarities to The Undateable (heroine gets the media to set her up with dudes) but is so very different and so very enjoyable. And the other day I was talking to a patron about The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which to me is the epitome of a character-driven book, and thus I enjoyed it even though it was kind of depressing. And kids don’t like eating at school, but if they have a The Remains of the Day lunchbox, they’re a lot happier. (Name that movie!)
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