Emma Barry is a teacher, novelist, recovering academic, and former political staffer. She lives with her high school sweetheart and a menagerie of pets and children in Virginia, and she occasionally finds time to read and write.
This was an odd year for media consumption. I read less than normal and was more meh about books and shows that, in regular times, I’m certain I would have loved. I avoided some big titles because I suspected they would annoy me, but despite that, I found plenty to enjoy and recommend in 2020.
As always, this isn’t a best of list. I don’t think I watched, read, or listened to nearly enough stuff to put one of those together. This is, instead, a list of stuff I happened to really love this year, and it’s offered in no particular order.
One of my most fervent hopes for 2021 is that I’ll be back to normal as a reader and viewer. You can read my best of lists from 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016 for a peek at what more enthusiastic Emma looks like. ; )
Oh 2020, you were stressful, frightening, and tragic, and no one will miss you. Before we journey on, however, a look back.
In 2020, I revised “Appassionata,” and, with my anthology-mates, released He’s Come Undone. The collection is now out of print, but if you simply must have my novella, you can obtain it here. I won’t leave this up forever, but in 2020, we all need free books.
I wrote a little more than 60K on a new contemporary romance. I intended to finish it months ago, and I wish I could triumphantly declare my writer’s block over. But…2020. So I’ll have to settle for diffidently telling you that I wrote 80-85% of a manuscript. I hope to complete it in the next week and to be querying by the end of January.
Between that book, revisions, and other scraps, I wrote approximately 75K, my best word count in three years. Despite…2020.
She’s an idealist who wants to stay behind the scenes but has been thrust into a a high stakes negotiation. He’s a pragmatist playboy who wants to get the federal budget done. They’re absolutely mesmerized by each other even as they know it’s a terrible idea. A terribly sexy idea.
This was my contemporary debut, and the people who liked it seemed to really liked it. It has a kind of dreamy chemistry that holds up.
Content warnings for on-page night terrors/therapy and an extremely detailed look at how the federal budget gets done, plus on-page sex, alcohol, and swearing.
So I meant to post about this yesterday, but I’m tired and sniffly and didn’t get around to it, and then it EXPLODED. It being the Romancing the Runoff Auction.
I donated an annotated copy of Earth Bound, plus Apollo Over the Moon and some space swag, and now it’s going for so much money, I’m almost embarrassed to link to the listing. (It’s here.)
There are still many wonderful items with few or no bids, and the auction has, as of now, raised more than $100K. It’s a wonderful cause, and the generosity and awesomeness of the romance community never ceases to amaze me. If you’re interested, get bidding fast. The fun ends on November 24, and the prices are getting steep.
This sale is the last hurrah for He’s Come Undone as the anthology will go out of print on November 23, 2020. I don’t have any immediate plans to republish “Appassionata,” so if you want my tale of a tempestuous pianist and the buttoned up piano tech who helps her get mojo back–on stage and off, ahem–click fast.
I do highly recommend the anthology as a set. I’m biased, but I really enjoyed watching how Olivia, Adriana, Ruby, and Cat dealt differently with the trope. And these five stories will never be together in the same place again.
Oh, and if you do read it, I recommend doing so while listening to the Spotify playlist of all the music Kristy performs.
An old price alert told me that Private Politics and Party Lines are both on sale for 99 cents. Private Politics has never been this cheap, and Party Lines has never been on sale before. I have no idea how long this sale price will last. So if you’ve been waiting to grab them, do it now.
Private Politics is a friends to lovers romance featuring a socialite/non profit fundraiser who discovers shenanigans at her job and fears she’s being set up as the patsy. She enlists help investigating from a blogger who’s wildly infatuated with her, and of course they fall for each other. Liam is my most cuddly, vulnerable, REAL hero, and I love how he finds his confidence (and Alyse her ambition). You can get Private Politics at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play. Barnes and Noble isn’t currently matching the price, but I hope it will.
Party Lines is enemies to lovers featuring rival campaign staffers. She’s a Republican who wants to change her party; he’s a Democrat who’s lost all his idealism. I think this is the best romance I’ve ever written, and you can get it at Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Google Play. Again, B&N isn’t matching the price, but maybe soon.
While these are the second and third books in the series, you don’t need to read book one (Special Interests) to start here. But please note that I wrote these books in the Obama era, and they feel like it. While I wanted them to have verisimilitude, they’ve become pure fantasy. I wouldn’t write Party Lines today, at least not the way I did. While this isn’t a book about the protagonists moving to the middle or deciding partisanship doesn’t matter, plots do cultural work. And the work this book does might not be the work you need or want right now.
I still love both these books, and it would delight me if more readers found them. But I get that these are tough sells in 2020.
This week, I got my hands on one of my most anticipated reads of the year: Return of the Thief, the sixth and final book in Megan Whalen Turner’s young adult fantasy series The Queen’s Thief. And it was totally wonderful.
But in wanting to write about why I thought it was great, I realized that I wanted to talk about the series more broadly, because it’s not nearly well known enough and specifically might scratch itches for Game of Thrones and romance fans.
This will likely be a bit rambling (I’m under the weather), but here’s why you should give The Queen’s Thief a try. I’ll start with a long non-spoilery pitch, then talk about the titles in a more specific, brief, and spoilery way.
Tomorrow evening, I’ll be moderating a panel on Love’s Sweet Arrow’s YouTube channel to celebrate the release of Olivia Dade’s Spoiler Alert, an absolutely delightful rom-com that riffs on You’ve Got Mail/The Shop Around the Corner and modern fandom. Olivia will be there, and so will the wonderful Mia Sosa, and it’s going to be AWESOME. For more information, check out the LSA page here, and you can register here.
Also, I forgot to mention this in advance, but the country’s other romance bookstore, The Ripped Bodice, teamed up with Besame Cosmetics to do a vintage 60s makeup tutorial for Star Dust. You can watch it here, and it’s super fun and interesting. I’ve actually been wearing eye shadow more as a result, though I’m not nearly this glamorous.
Finally, I’ve been writing. Like a lot. Like I might actually finish a full-length book again. It’s not done, so I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it feels so good to be writing sort of consistently, to not hate every word I put on the page, and to generally feel like I might want to tell stories again. Just so, so good.
One of my cat nips is when characters in a book or film debate the meaning of another work of art. Think 500 Days of Summer (2009), in which the narrator tells us that Tom misunderstands the ending of The Graduate (1967), while his love interest, Summer, does not. Or Tiffany Reisz’s The Siren in which Nora and Zach tussle over whether O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” is romantic or terrifying. Or KJ Charles’s A Seditious Affair in which Dominic wrestles with the meaning of several William Blake poems, demonstrating that he’s compatible with Silas and that he’s finally gotten over his first love, Richard.
And any conversation about this kind of intertextuality would likely include When Harry Met Sally (1989). In director Rob Reiner and writer Nora Ephron’s friends to lovers romantic comedy, the titular Harry and Sally constantly jaw about pop culture. From board games to journalists, museums to music, the film’s script bursts with the characters’ opinions about other texts. But the reference that comes up multiple times, and reveals the most about the characters, is Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942).
Seven years ago–how is that possible?–I wrote a brief post about Casablanca, one of the primo romantic dramas of the Hollywood studio era. The love triangle between Rick, the cynical saloon owner; Victor, the idealistic resistance organizer; and Ilsa, the woman torn between them, has been endlessly parsed in our living rooms and our pop culture. But–spoiler alert!–while Ilsa might end up with Victor, when Casablanca pops up in other works, it seems like most people are on Rick’s side.
What does the cultural preference for Rick say about us? While there are some structural reasons why people might find Rick more sympathetic, I think the real issue is that American culture has tended to celebrate the kind of hard, cynical, and even cruel masculinity Rick embodies rather than Victor’s restrained, gentle, and more idealistic mode. So I’d like to suggest, as I did on Twitter yesterday, that Ilsa made the right choice and that Victor would be a better and more supportive partner than Rick.
The authors from He’s Come Undone will be day drinking with Molly O’Keefe on her Facebook page on Monday at 4 pm EST. We’re going to donate to the Black Mental Health Alliance for each comment, so come join us and sip on Unravelers, and we’ll give a lot of money to a good cause!
After my big podcasts post back in March (OMG, remember March?), I appeared on another episode of Shelf Love talking about myths about romance. Specifically, I make the argument that romances are well written. It’s an all-around great episode, and you should listen.
Lastly, I’m now unagented. This reflects nothing about my former agent and everything about how I’m a dumpster fire disguised as a writer. I just need to power-cycle everything about how I work and my career and get myself back on track, and I needed a fresh start to do it.