The Storytellers is an interview series that seeks to understand what it takes to tell better stories from the perspectives of professional storytellers from all walks of life. In this series, we’ll talk about story crafting, narrative devices, and dissect the unique challenges of visual, written and oral storytelling.
About Rebekah Weatherspoon
Author, Dog Mom
After years of meddling in her friends’ love lives, multi award winning author Rebekah Weatherspoon turned to writing romance to get her fix. Raised in Southern New Hampshire, Rebekah Weatherspoon now lives in Southern California with her dog Lizzie, where she will remain forever because she hates moving. With over twenty titles under her belt, Rebekah has covered sub-genres from suspenseful paranormal romance to steamy BDSM romantic comedies, and now young adult romance. You can find Rebekah and her books on twitter at @rdotspoon and her website www.rebekahweatherspoon.com.
What are the unique opportunities that come with writing romance?
I think we’re in a unique position to write about love in a way that we either have seen it in real life, or the way we would like to see it. No other genre obviously focuses on love with a happy ending. And there’s certain things you want to see with a happy ending – consent across relationships, mutual happiness, and a sense of growth through that relationship. And other genres don’t really focus on that. A lot of books have a love story, but one person dies or something crazy happens at the end and they don’t end up together. I think we have a unique perspective to put loving relationships in a positive light.
How do you ensure you’re not just telling a good story, but that you’re telling a great one?
My thing is making sure the story makes sense. The actual hardest part of writing is writing a coherent story. Anyone can just sit down and crank out scenes, but I think what makes a bad book is it’s hard to follow. When you’re reading it, and you’re like, “What the hell is happening? Why is this happening? That shouldn’t have happened.” When you start rewriting the book in your head as a reader, that’s when you know it’s wrong. The most difficult part is writing a coherent story from A to B. And if I know my story makes sense, then I am satisfied with it. Is the story coherent? Is it complete? Is it sensical? Am I making my readers wonder why I didn’t write it differently? Because I’m sure you’ve read books where you’ve been like, “I would’ve changed this part.” You don’t want that to happen.
You started Women of Color in Romance, a website where readers and authors can find the work of Women of Color in romance fiction. What impact has that made?
I started [the website] for two reasons. There’s a lot of overtly racist shit happening on the business side of publishing. We were going to conferences and physically being shut out of rooms. Editors saying, “We don’t want books from Black and Brown people,” in an auditorium sized room full of people. And I was like, this isn’t okay. And then there was a period where people were just like, “Oh, yeah, no Black woman is writing romance.” I wanted a space where people could find books easily. I hope it empowered readers and writers to say, “No, we’re here. And you can’t ignore us, and you shouldn’t ignore us.”
Why is storytelling important to community and community building?
As a Black woman, as a Black person, storytelling is survival, right? I was lucky enough to meet Nikki Giovanni at an event, and afterwards I told her how important it was for me to see her and talk to her and listen to her stories. I told her that listening to her stories and meeting her gave me hope and perspective for growing older. I was like, “You are tangible proof that as a Black woman, I can grow old.” I think about stories that my mom has told me about her childhood that was able to fill in so many gaps between me and her as mother and daughter…and it made me a more complete person.
When I think about how that relates to romance, and the importance of a variety of people being able to see themselves in a romance, I remember being in Barnes and Nobles, and I saw one of Beverly Jenkins’ historicals…it has two Black people on the cover, and I read the book and there was this seed planted in my head of like, “This is what love between two Black people should look like.” A lot of people like to say that romance is fake and unrealistic. But if you talk to people who are in healthy relationships, it’s not unrealistic. For me, what’s really important is that a variety of people, whether they want to be in romantic relationships or not, can say, “Oh, here’s an example of someone who looks like me, or someone who has a brain like me, or a body like me, finding love or finding a healthy place in their life.” In my books, I try to build out healthy families and strong friend groups as well. It’s not just about all these two people fell in love. But these two people fell in love and their friend group expanded, they got a supportive mother-in-law out of it, or they got step kids out of it…it’s building of a community around the love story.
Why does storytelling matter, in general?
As human beings we only have our own perspective. We only have our own thoughts, and that’s surely been emphasized by the pandemic. And so, storytelling is knowledge. If you can get other people’s perspectives, you’re able to learn things that you might not have learned before, or you just might have a seed of a thought planted, that opens your eyes to something or helps you consider something else. Storytelling stops us from being stuck in our own limited perspective, while also being entertained.