Yesterday, Stephen Sondheim died at the age of 91. He was almost certainly the most important musical theatre composer in American history. In fact, I’d argue that he was the central figure in American theatre in the last fifty years.
I’ve talked before about how I grew up loving musical theatre (this piece on romance tropes in musicals is the most popular blog post I’ve ever written), and Sondheim’s lyrics and scores were a massive part of my devotion. In middle school, I went through a period where I listened to the soundtrack for West Side Story every day. My then best friend and I wanted to mount a revival on Broadway: we designed sets for every scene and envisioned a Spanish translation of the lyrics (which of course did happen in 2009). I then went through periods where I obsessively listened to the revival cast of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the OBC of A Little Night Music, and especially the OBC of Into the Woods.
My tastes changed, of course, and there were Sondheim shows for me as I grew. I never got into Sweeney Todd (it’s a little dark for me) or Sunday in the Park with George (Dot is underwritten). But I came to adore Company and Assassins and more obscure gems.
Sondheim’s ability to quickly sketch a character–lyrically and musically–is just unparalleled. I’m going to drop a list of favorites below, but listen to “Now/Later/Soon“: ten minutes, three characters, three distinction voices and goals/motivations/conflicts. It’s just PERFECT.
The knocks on Sondheim, that there was no feeling in his shows and that his tunes weren’t hummable, strike me as bizarre. He didn’t write rousing chorus numbers a la “June Is Busting Out All Over,” but have you heard “Giants in the Sky,” “Losing My Mind,” or “The Ballad of Booth“? Heck, even “Someone in a Tree“–which is cerebral AF–slaps, as the kids say.
Everyone is publishing their ten favorite Sondheim songs list, and here’s mine. I wouldn’t argue that these are his best, but that they are the ones that have meant the most to me–and if that sounds like an invitation for you to share your favorites, that’s because it is. I offer these in no particular order.
That’s right: you’re going to get more books from me! I can officially tell you that Chick Magnet, my sunshine-y chicken keeping influencer + grumpy small town veterinarian romance, is coming soon. I don’t have a release date yet, but I cannot wait to put this book into your hands.
I’m massively grateful to my agent for believing in me and in my book and to Lauren Plude and everyone at Montlake for having an amazing vision for Chick Magnet.
As you probably know, my self-confidence and I took a long midnight walk. I didn’t write anything except novellas for literally years, I split with another agent, and I seriously contemplated quitting. But what stopped me was the hankering to write something I liked again. If I was going to quit, I wanted to go out with a book that was just for me, so I wasn’t leaving writing from a place of fear. That book turned out to be Chick Magnet.
I’m so grateful to my friends who believed in me, even during those years (and years and years) when I could not write and was basically a sentient existential crisis. So many people have been generous with their time and expertise, and I’m just awash in feelings.
Anyhow, I can’t wait for you to meet Will and Nic and the chickens—so many chickens. If you need to plug Chick Magnet into your veins (and ear drums), here’s the playlist.
Now, publishing moves with the same approximate speed of a cold turtle, so it may be months before I have news–if I ever even have good news. But when I was gathering manuscripts together for Sarah to take a look at it, it was a lot. I just have so many fragments of stories and made-up couples and ideas, and for the first time in a long time, I feel…hopeful about my writing. My fingers and toes are crossed that other people will feel the same way and I can share them with you at some point.
In more tangible news, all three of the Easy Part books are on sale for 99 cents! As a reminder, these are my Obama-era political romances and they feel very optimistic–maybe too optimistic–about government. But I love these fictional people and their fictional struggles toward love, and I’m delighted that you can get them at a deeply discounted price if you are so inclined.
I have no idea how long the sale will last, so if you want these books for cheap, act fast! They do not need to be read in order as the series is pretty loosely connected.
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.