In our new column Bookworm Beat, read about some of our favorite books written by women and non-binary authors...
"Lighthearted fiction can be literary. Love is important."
Romantic comedies are having a comeback moment, tackling new ideas of what makes a love story. Helen Hoang is one of the writers leading this charge. In her debut novel, The Kiss Quotient, a young woman named Stella is a whiz at figuring out math equations but lacks the same comfort when it comes to the dating scene (something made more complicated because she has Asperger's). To learn about this confusing world, Stella hires an escort, Michael, who helps her explore all aspects of a relationships. It is charming and sweet, but above all the kind of honest love story to which most readers have never before been exposed.
Helen spoke about how her personal history with Autism and passion for writing influenced her latest novel. You can also find out more about her next book that will be coming out next year.
What sparked your initial interest in writing?
As far back as I can remember, I was a daydreamer. I like crafting stories in my head. It’s just what I do. For me, writing is simply a translation of daydreams into words.
You were diagnosed in 2016 with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Can you tell us a little bit about what this condition is?
Autism spectrum disorder is a neurological condition characterized by problems with socializing, repetitive behavior, and oftentimes extra sensitivity to sensory stimuli.
This diagnosis inspired your most recent novel, The Kiss Quotient. Why did you feel compelled to explore ASD and romance in a book?
As a writer and huge romance novel fan, it made perfect sense to me to combine ASD with romance. At the time that I wrote the book, I was unaware of people’s perception that autistic people are asexual/unromantically inclined. Autistic people are still people, and while there are certainly those who fit that criteria, that isn’t a defining characteristic of the diagnosis. After all, I’m on the spectrum, and I’m happily married and very much in love.
Cultural and background differences are explored in the book. How did these elements play a role for you when writing?
I’m mixed race (half Vietnamese and half Swedish, just like Michael), and the merging (sometimes clashing) of cultures and backgrounds is a big part of my life. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s healthy or realistic to keep cultures and people of different backgrounds separate in fiction (or in real life). I wanted to show people coming together despite their differences.
Photo Credit: Eric Kieu
The book showcases a not-so-ordinary romance, but is sweet and sexy all the same. Do you think it is important to have representation of all kinds of love stories in modern literature?
Absolutely. In particular, I think it’s important to write unconventional heroes and heroines who overcome obstacles and achieve their own Happily Ever Afters. Every segment of the population deserves positive representation, and it’s a sad reality that some have not experienced that.
How do you feel about the future for women writers?
I’m hopeful about the future for women writers. In addition, as we become more progressive as a society, I hope that romance writers, and the romance genre in general, can be regarded with more respect. Books with sex don’t have to be “dirty” or looked down upon. Lighthearted fiction can be literary. Love is important.
What can you tell us about your upcoming novel, The Bride Test?
In The Bride Test, Michael’s autistic cousin Khai believes he has no emotions, and he avoids romantic relationships. His mom takes matters into her own hands and gets him a bride from Vietnam, Esme. In this novel, I wanted to explore and illustrate the complex nature of emotions for someone on the spectrum and inspire thoughtful reflection about modern immigrants to this country.
Rachel A.G. Gilman is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Creature.