In Conversation with Karen Booth
by Donna Soluri
My first Karen Booth book was also Karen Booth’s first book, Bring Me Back, way back in 2013. She pulled me in with a tall, sexy, 80s rock star hero and a single mom heroine dancing dangerously close to forty, set in one of my favorite towns, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. That story, with its effortless storytelling, flawless pacing and smoking hot sexy times hooked me as a Karen Booth reader for life! I’m so excited to have the chance to talk to her today about her latest book, Gray Hair Don’t Care. I had the pleasure of reading an early copy of Gray Hair, and I must say, the rave reviews I keep seeing are completely spot on. If you haven’t pre-ordered this one or added it to your TBR list, you need to rectify that immediately! Gray Hair Don’t Care does not disappoint.
Donna Soluri (DS): First things first, let’s start with the obvious, that cover is stunning. Tell us about the process, did you always know you wanted an illustrated cover? I feel like this is one of first illustrated covers I’ve seen for a seasoned romance and I must say, you and your illustrator knocked it out of the park!
Karen Booth (KB): Thank you for the kind words, but all of the credit goes to Leni Kauffman, my amazing illustrator. She brought my very loose idea to life. Leni made the process very fun, but we started with a secret Pinterest board I made for inspiration. She was able to synthesize all of that into the final product and I think she did a masterful job. As for why I went with an illustrated cover, it was because I could find very little stock photography featuring women with gray hair that wasn’t stereotypical “grandma” images. I wanted something fun, light, and romantic, but I also wanted Lela, the heroine, to look like a badass princess with her head of silvery hair.
DS: While you are a well-established Harlequin author, you also have an impressive list of indie published books, most of which contain more “seasoned” characters over the age of 35. Let’s take a moment to talk about the importance and relevance of seasoned romance. I personally feel like we see more older characters, especially heroines, in the women’s fiction category, not the romance genre, why do you think that is?
KB: The publishing industry clings to some genre “conventions” with zero good reason to do so. For example, “older” characters in romance. I learned about this the hard way when I queried my first book, Bring Me Back. The heroine turns 40 in the course of the story and the hero is 42. I received an array of horrifying responses, the upshot of which were that a book about a 40 year-old woman is women’s fiction. Women’s fiction doesn’t have sex. Therefore, you can’t write a romance about a 40 year-old woman.
Which is of course, utter BS. 40 year-olds fall in love every day. People in their 50s fall in love every day. And people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, etc.. It didn’t make any sense to me. Have these people not seen Grace and Frankie? It still doesn’t make sense, and that’s why I will literally die on this hill if I have to. If there’s a pervasive narrative that doesn’t match up with reality, somebody has to say something. I was told by a lot of people that Gray Hair Don’t Care would never work—it not only puts the heroine’s age at center stage, it puts aging front and center, too. But I think it works. I’m incredibly proud of the book.
DS: When Gray Hair Don’t Care begins, our heroine, Lela Bennett is going through some things and being 47 years old adds a level of difficulty we women of a certain age are used to. Lela decides to “own her gray” hair. Do you have an inspiration for this very bold choice?
KB: My friend Ashley was the spark. Ashley decided to go gray about five years ago. I watched her live through the awkward growing-out phase, and saw that she was struggling with it, but was also determined. She was tired of schlepping to the salon to get her roots done. And she also disliked the notion that it made her old to be gray. Well, I can tell you that she rocks her gray hair. I actually got the idea for the book when I went out with her one night (in the pre-COVID days). We were at a bar and she was definitely turning heads. That’s when I thought it might be fun to write about a heroine who did what Ashley did and decided to own her gray.
“40 year-olds fall in love every day. People in their 50s fall in love every day.
And people in their 60s, 70s, 80s, etc.“
DS: To say our hero, Donovan James has commitment issues would be an incredible understatement. Donovan is a multi-layered character that seems to grow right before our eyes. What is your favorite personality trait in Donovan? Which part of him was the hardest to write?
KB: I admit to being fascinated by people who have self-assured exteriors and very unsure interiors. That’s Donovan, 100%. That can be a difficult character to write because there are so many contradictions wrapped up in that personality and history. It’s like being pulled in two very different directions. I think Donovan is someone who was ping-ponged around by situations in his life for a long time—his mom, the specter of his absent father, an unplanned pregnancy in college, his own journey through fatherhood, and chasing love with failed marriages. It isn’t until he takes the focus off his romantic life that it actually sorts itself out. I think that’s true for a lot of people.
DS: Let’s talk sex now. I love that Gray Hair Don’t Care explores both somewhat casual sex as well as committed relationship sex between two characters over the age of 35. Thank you for putting that on the page. Having written both seasoned and younger characters in romance, do you have to change how you write sex scenes based on a character’s age?
KB: In general, I don’t change a thing. It’s all about who those two characters are as people and where they are in their relationship. But I did throw in a few minor things in this book, like Lela realizing she doesn’t really have to worry about birth control (but decides to have Donovan use a condom anyway), or Donovan turning off lights as they walk down the hall to go upstairs to the bedroom. Only a man in his fifties is truly concerned with the electric bill.
DS: If we were able to poke around Lela or Donovan’s Spotify and Netflix queues, what would we find and why?
KB: For Netflix, Lela would be all about reality competition shows like Next in Fashion or the Great British Baking Show. Donovan would be over on Prime watching every music documentary known to man. As for music, despite the copious 80s references in the book, I think it would be a mix for them both. I see Donovan going through a big 50s Jazz and Blue Note phase while Lela would be listening to Lizzo and Taylor Swift.
DS: If we were able to poke around Karen Booth’s Spotify and Netflix queues, what would we find there?
KB: Musically, I’m obsessed with Horace Silver, an American jazz pianist and composer. He worked with the likes of Stan Getz and Art Blakey in the 50s in New York. I love his records. But then I’ve also been listening to the British band, Doves. They put out several great records between 2000 and 2009, then broke up, and only recently got back together. Their new record is amazing, but I’ve been revisiting the back catalog, too. If we’re talking 80s music, I’ve been listening to The Church, Echo & the Bunnymen, and Psychedelic Furs. Notice I said records…I almost exclusively listen to vinyl at home. If I’m in the car, I’m usually listening to podcasts. Smartless and The New Abnormal are my two favorites.
As for Netflix, my husband and I are starting Lupin, finishing up Bridgerton, and re-watching Arrested Development. We like to mix it up!
DS: What’s on tap next from you? Are you considering any other books from the Gray Hair world? You have some very interesting and well developed secondary characters…just saying!
KB: I do think there will be another book in the Gray Hair world, but it won’t be centered on characters in the first book. It’ll be a heroine in the same beauty circles of NYC. I haven’t yet settled on a title or release date (maybe late this year), but Lela and Donovan will definitely make an appearance!
About Karen Booth
Karen Booth is a midwestern girl transplanted in the South, raised on ’80s music and repeated readings of Forever by Judy Blume. Karen writes contemporary romance and women’s fiction, almost always about the dreamy guy you never thought you’d get. Her stories are full of breathless kisses, tearjerker moments, complex family dynamics, and more than a few things she’s glad her grandmother never read.
When she’s not creating hunky fictional men and the women who test them, she’s listening to everything from Otis Redding to Duran Duran to Superchunk with her college-age kids, honing her Southern cooking skills (she makes some mean collards), or sweet-talking her astoundingly supportive husband into whipping up a batch of cocktails.
To learn more about Karen, visit her website, https://karenbooth.net
Donna should be an empty nester, but she’s not, thanks COVID-19. She’s a voracious reader of all books; she can’t pick just one sub-genre. A staunch supporter of seasoned romance and a lover of cupcakes, you’ll often find her with a cup of tea and a mountainous TBR pile close at hand. Follow her @DonnaSoluri on B+M Bites.
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