I’ve been lucky enough to take several writing classes from Theodora Taylor, both in person and online. She’s changed the way I look at writing, but makes me forget I am learning because she teaches in such a warm and engaging way. I’m thrilled that I landed her for this episode, where we read an old-school romance, and then grappled with the sometimes problematic nature of our old books.
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Books2Read has curated a selection of feel-good springtime reads from across the publishing spectrum. From humorous fiction to romantic comedies, heart-warming literature, to feel-good nonfiction. There’s even a selection of “happy pocket garden covers” because just looking at those beautiful covers will make you feel the spring sunshine on your face.
Books discussed in this episode:
Warrior’s Woman by Johanna Lindsey
Holt by Theodora Taylor
Jahraymecofasola by Jill Scott
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
When You Come Back to Me by Emma Scott
The Spell Book for New Witches: Essential Spells to Change Your Life by Ambrosia Hawthorne
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Theodora Taylor on “Warrior’s Woman” by Johanna Lindsey
Hello, Bookworms, welcome to the Best Book Ever, the podcast where we talk about your favorite books. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and today I am so pleased to talk to Theodora Taylor. After logging time as a music journalist, playwright and radio writer, Theodora fell in love with writing hot books with heart. When not reading, writing, or daydreaming, she can be found spending time with her family going on dates with her husband, learning German, watching all the Shonda Rhimes shows ever and attending parties thrown by others. And I’ll tell you what: I cannot wait until the day I can invite her to a real in-person party because she is so damn much fun. Theodora and I are both fans of old school romances, even though sometimes we have to grapple with the more problematic nature of many of them. I know you’re going to love her take on why the classic sci-fi romance, “Warrior’s Woman,” by Johanna Lindsey is the Best Book Ever.
This episode is sponsored by our good friends over at Books2Read, a book listing service with inclusive links to all of the online retail sites where your favorite digital books can be found. Books to read has curated a selection of springtime reads from humorous fiction to romantic comedies, heartwarming literature, and feel good non-fiction. You’ll find several of my personal all-time favorite books on this list, including “The Nest” by Cynthia Sweeney, “The Storied Life of AJ Fickry” by Gabrielle Zevin and the utterly sublime “Act Your Age, Eve Brown” by Talia Hibbert. Plus, there are so many others I am dying to read, like “The Midnight Library” by Matt Hague and “The Authenticity Project” by Claire Pooley. It’s a fantastic roundup of books that will make you feel like you have the spring sunshine on your face, no matter the weather outside your door. So check out the selection over at bit.ly/bookgarden. Now, back to the show.
Julie Strauss: Hi, Theodora! Welcome to the Best Book Ever Podcast.
Theodora Taylor: Hey-Oh, how’s it going, Julie?
JS: Very well. I’m so happy to be talking to you.
TT: This is great. I am so excited to be talking to somebody who is outside of my head, and at one point has not lived in my womb. This is exciting. Very exciting for me. Thank you for inviting me.
JS: You know, Theodora, until you sent me your bio for this episode, I really didn’t know about your work background. What struck me immediately, was that you worked as a music journalist, playwright and radio writer. And what strikes me immediately about all of those jobs is how they focus on audio. It’s fascinating to me that you landed on a job of being a writer. That’s essentially a very silent job. You know, we write novels and mostly read novels in silence. So I’m wondering: do your previous jobs influence your work? Can you hear books you write? And do you hear books you read?
TT: I absolutely hear books I read. I feel as if there is a voice as they’re writing it. And music comes up a lot in my writing. A lot. You know, there are certain books where it’s just kind of like, I hear a song and that song is the reason for that book. And you know, when I’m writing, I always say, I don’t want to write a Eugene O’Neill play. I want to write an opera. So I love that sturm und drang. I love when this is going to go to heights, or this sexy scene is going to have like, you know, a glass shattering high note. And so I really kind of think of writing as music and that if it’s played right, or if it’s paced right, it will be an opera that you’ll love. Hopefully.
JS: Can you tell me an example of one of your books that was influenced by a specific song?
TT: Holt. I’ve been carrying this couple in the back of my head for quite a while, and then I heard the song and it was on a television show. This song came on, like it was one of those things. Right. Never heard it before. And I got out my phone and I Shazammed it. It’s Jill Scott song called Jahraymecofasola. I love when that happens. When a song comes along, that not only downloads the rest of the story, or the rest of a couple’s story, that I’ve been carrying around in my head, but also she’s kind of like, I’m going to sponsor the story. So when you listen to me, if you need an idea, if you had a wall with this story, just listen to me a couple of times and I will download whatever the solution to that problem that is your head. So that, that doesn’t happen. Um, as much as I would love it to, but every, so once in a while that happens and it’s just amazing.
JS: Where did you, how did you become such a reader? What was your reading life like growing up?
TT: Well, my mom was a reader. We had – and this wasn’t as common, like now, everybody has books in their home. But I remember kind of feeling unusual because in our living room we had this bookshelf just full of books. So I just read a lot, because, you know, if we’re being quite frank, it was the ‘80s and there wasn’t much else to do. It was really boring. So, I read. And you know what’s not boring? Reading. So I just really learned how to read really early. What’s funny about it is I read a romance novel and I really liked it. And then I put it down and I didn’t read another romance novel for a while. Then I found this one and I was so into it. My mom was just kind of like, Oh, I read a romance novel once, I really liked it. It was by Barbara Cartland. And so we went to the bookstore and we found this Barbara Cartland novel. And it was so encouraging. It was really lovely. I would never do this for my daughter. So my mom said, I’ll take a romance novel and we’ll read it together. So she read my romance novel and I read her romance novel and the Barbara Cartland novel, you know, God rest her soul, I thought it was boring. I did not like it. It wasn’t it wasn’t my Johanna Lindsey.
JS: Can you describe the plot of this book for our listeners?
TT: Why would you even ask that? That is a terrible question to ask.
JS: I’m sorry. I ask everybody this question and I was thinking this as I was preparing for this, I thought, Oh, she’s going to hate this. Cause this is a hard one to explain.
TT: Let’s see. In a galaxy far, far away, there’s this woman. And she’s a security officer, and she lives on is futuristic planet. It’s kind of like, but maybe it’s not, earth. We’re not sure. It doesn’t matter. So, these warriors take over her planet. But really, it’s this kind of this new president who was bad, who tried to become president legitimately, but then it turned out he was stealing votes and blackmailing folks. And so he was chased off the planet, but then he comes back with these warriors who have the special skill and they basically say, he basically says, I’m the president of this planet now. And I have this army behind me. And even though you have lasers, they have the special steel and skills, and they’re good at hand-to-hand combat. So that’s all I need to take over this planet. And she barely gets out. She’s like a soldier, the super soldier. And she’s not like other soldiers. Most soldiers only just depend on their phasers, but she has studied hand-to-hand combat. She studied all the martial practices of the ancients. Interestingly enough, on this planet, there’s an age of consent, but the age of consent goes the other way. Like you have to have had sex by the age of 25. They’ve decided she’s getting up on the age of consent, but she’s never found anyone that she wants to have sex with. These warriors though, that he brings, these alien warriors that he brings to take over the planet though are really kind of hot, but you know, unfortunately they want to enslave all of the women on the planet and bring them back to their planet. And it’s just all sorts of badness. So she gets out of there. Her computer has what they call free will, but it’s basically been programmed to do what’s best for her. The computer ends up taking her to the home colony of these warriors who had taken over. She meets this guy who happens to be the showdon, or like this would be like the King of the local town, the town that she’s dropped outside of. It turns out that women on this planet aren’t supposed to wear pants, they’re not supposed to talk back. So this isn’t obviously this isn’t a planet that she necessarily wants to be on, but at the same time, she’s hoping to set up a trade agreement or make herself useful. So he insists that she takes off her clothes; he tries to take them off of her. She stuns him into silence. But then when she asks her computer to beat her up, the computer refuses because the computer is just like, this is what you need. This is the guy that you should have sex with. And then a battle of wills ensues. And basically she’s kind of stuck with this warrior for a month. They make a deal that she has to do whatever he says and in whatever place he sleeps.
JS: Okay. So tell me, what is it about this book that appeals so much to you?
TT: It’s interesting, because you know, I re-read it for this podcast and I’m looking at it and I’m just like, Oh my gosh, maybe, especially if you grew up in the ‘80s, don’t reread the things that you love the most. Maybe Anne of Green Gables house holds up. Maybe Little Women, you know? The Color Purple holds up. But you know, this did not hold up as well as we’d want it to. But you know, it was the ‘80s. But what I remember about it is finding it in the library. It had this cover back then and it was the first Fabio cover I’d ever seen. And it was glorious. Like it had stars in the background. He was in leather pants. This flowy thing, it was just gorgeous. It didn’t look like anything else I’d ever seen before. And I wasn’t that into sci-fi, but this book, it was a sci-fi romance. It was the first sci-fi romance I read. And it would take forever for another sci-fi romance to come along. That wasn’t a thing back then. And that was interesting because Johanna Lindsey was, and probably still primarily is, known as a historical writer. So it was really amazing. And so I picked this up and it was right before we were going to go to a family reunion in Mississippi. And one of the interesting things about living in Missouri: almost everybody from St.Louis has a story where they had to go back to Mississippi for family reunion. So it was time for us to go to Mississippi for this family reuinion again. And what was interesting about my family is, we never flew anywhere. We always drove. And to go back to Mississippi, we still went the Green Book way, which is like, you know, the safe way. You only stopped at certain gas stations and stuff like that.
JS: Even in the ‘80s?
TT: Yeah. Even in the ‘80s. You know, what’s kind of interesting about what’s happening now is it’s just kind of like, now it’s being recorded. In the ‘80s, it was not safe to stop in certain towns. Especially if you’re going from Missouri and you’re getting kind of deep into the South, you know, the Green Book way, you don’t stop in certain places. You don’t stop. And I remember what was really hard about it as a girl growing up is that you literally did not stop. So if you had to use the bathroom, you have to just go on the side of the road. And that’s what I remember about these trips. Like in order to get down to Mississippi, you would have to pee on the side of the road. It was just kind of uncomfortable, and it was a long way, and we would do it all in one go. We would leave and didn’t stay overnight at other places on the way to Mississippi. You just drove. And so I remember kind of preparing, cause I had been burned. Like there’s nothing as boring as driving to Mississippi. I remember it was like, this is the book I will read on the way to this reunion and Mississippi. I got a flashlight. I was ready. I was prepared for this trip. And the thing that I remember most about that reunion is my relatives getting upset with me because I remember nothing from the reunion because I was in thrall with this book. It did not let me go. And you know, what was interesting to me, growing up in the ‘80s is that we look at it now, and it is so problematic. But in the ‘80s, it felt like a really feminist book. It was saying things that I had not heard from other books. Like, You shouldn’t treat women like this. She really stood up for herself. She was a bad-ass. She could kick ass. I had never seen a character like her. I found her fascinating and I thought she was really funny. And this was another thing you didn’t really see a lot, especially in the ‘80s, the dynamic where the woman is funny and the man is not at all. He was okay. But I really liked her. She was just amazing. Cause I never read anyone like her and I liked that she could defend herself and tha when she got into skirmishes with guys, she was going to take them down. And now you see that all the time, but back in the ‘80s, it was uncommon to say the least. So I just was really, really fascinated by her. And I remember kind of picking up a few romances after that and feeling like, Oh, these heroines, they don’t have any fight. They’re all doormats. And you know, it had the ‘80s problems where it took forever to get set up, like literally like page 70, I think, before we meet the hero. But at least it was interesting. She does a good job of kind of introducing all this new technology and things like that.
JS: How do you go about revisiting these books that were your favorites, when you read them now and you think, damn!
TT: Yes, I consider it a little bit like the pyramids. The pyramids were built by slave labor. We can build a much bigger pyramid now with metal and plastic and union workers who get paid a fair wage for what they do and won’t die in the making of it. And if they do, their family will get compensated. And at the same time, when you see the pyramids, they are majestic because they were built at this time and they are a credit to that civilization that built them. Both are true. So, you know, when I’m reading this, I’m looking at it, thinking, you know, you have agency, that’s not right. You’re taking away all her agency and you’re assuming this person is right. And you’re kind of carrying these ‘80s views, but at the same time she is standing up for her rights. She is doing things that other ‘80s romance heroines didn’t do. She is saying, no, she she’s demanding respect. She’s demanding things what wouldn’t even occur to most ‘80s romance heroine’s demand. The fact that she used it in a completely opposite way of how we would use it now says to me that she wasn’t in a time where that was a value. But at the same time, it felt to me like she was exploring things. A situation where women had real equality – paid the same, were able to fight, were considered not these kind of fragile creatures that had to be protected by a guy. And so I think that “Warriors Woman,” especially considering when it was written, is a wonderful pyramid. A lot of romance authors would agree with me that. So many alien romance writers, so many writers from my generation, loved this book. So many of them had the same experience with it that I had. And some things in it are problematic. Both are true. As a society, we’re growing and we do have to talk about these things. I think a lot of the problems that we’re having now is because there weren’t a lot of discussions like this in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, or really up until now. It feels so terrible and uncomfortable for a lot of people. But I really feel a lot of hope right now because I’m like, Hey look, we’re talking about this. We’ve never really had honest, deep conversations about this. Look at us, we’re talking. Whereas a lot of people are just like, Oh no, it’s so terrible. All this stuff is coming up right now. And it’s just like what we’re talking in therapy. We finally got to therapy. So I think this is a very, very good and exciting time to be an American and to converse with my fellow Americans, because we’re not just kind of like, well, I’m holding these beliefs and I’m not ever talking to anyone about them. And I think, and the fact that we’re creating vocabulary faster than I can keep up with it – that’s amazing to me. That blows my mind. I think it’s a really awesome time to be a human being. Right.
JS: I love studying covers. And I have to say from the cover that I had, the one that you described is the one I have. You would have absolutely no concept of the sci-fi nature of this book.
TT: I think that was on purpose. I’m assuming that the publisher was just like, um, what? Johanna Lindsey is a really foundational romance author, especially in historical romance. So she inspired a lot of people. And then she decides to do sci-fi romance. And you know, this was at a time where a lot of people didn’t do this. I try not to meet my heroes, but if I had met Johanna Lindsey, I would have really wanted to hear the traditional publishing story behind how “Warriors Woman” made it to the bookshelves. Cause I can only imagine she got some feedback and they probably did not want to do this. But because she was Johanna Lindsey, she was able to push it through that. She had to kind of really stand up for the book.
JS: Yeah. I would love to be a fly on the wall for that initial submission. So do you mostly read romance?
TT: I’m super all over the place. I read mostly male-male romance.
JS: What are your favorites? Who’s your favorite M/M writer?
TT: Why would you even do that?
JS: After that, tell me which one of your kids is your favorite?
TT: My favorite romance, hands down, of 2020 was by Emma Scott. It’s called “When You Come Back To Me,” and it was just super great and angsty, and I just cared about these two guys getting together so much. Like I couldn’t mother, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t write my own books until I knew that these two guys going to be okay. So I read a lot that I read a lot of, um, I would call it like, I guess, self-improvement. I read a lot of romance, but usually I listen to it on audio. So it has to be someone who’s on audio. So honestly, because I write it, I feel, and I listen and I also read a lot of scifi, but I think because I write romance, unless it’s something that I just absolutely don’t write, like M/M, it feels like, Oh, this is my job. Whereas with M/M, it’s just like, Oh, I can really enjoy this. Oh, interesting.
JS: So in your pleasure reading, your free time reading, you want to go outside of what you’re actually working on?
TT: Exactly. When I watch television, I like a lot of Korean dramas because it’s just kind of like, this is the opposite of what I would ever write. Like I have notes for how to make this sexy. And so I like that.
JS: So what are you in the middle of right now?
TT: I just finished “The Spell Book for New Witches.”
JS: Is that fiction?
TT: No, it’s nonfiction. For new witches. And it was just kind of like, Oh, this looks interesting. So that’s pretty much, but like I’ll be bumming around and I’ll be like, Oh, that looks interesting. And I, and so with physical books, I like something that teaches me about something. It’s like, well, how do you be a witch? I remember Wiccans from college, you know? Cause I went to all women’s college, so it was huge. And I was like, Oh, I remember them like. How did they do you do that? And so then I had the paperback sent to me here. And it was fascinating. It was really interesting. I read all the little recipes. And I was just like, Ooh, I should try this clarity spell for my edits. And, Ooh, I should do the self-esteem talisman. The next time I go to a conference that might work. That’s that’s the one I just finished reading yesterday. And of course, as a romance writer, you’re like, well, now I gotta write about a witch.
JS: I feel very certain that I’m going to keep an eye on this your upcoming books. I feel like there’s going to be some sort of kitchen which.
TT: Yes, yes, yes. Garden witch. I just learned about. Oh, it’s like, it’s funny. Cause I was like, Oh, so that’s what a hedge witch is. She really broke it down.
JS: This been so much fun, as I knew it would be. Can you tell our listeners where they can find you and all the wonderful work you do online?
TT: Um, Amazon is always great. I am going wide now. So most of my books can also be found on all the other platforms, Kobo. Apple Books, and Barnes and Noble, Google Play. So, um, that’s where you can mostly find me. Oh, and on Facebook and Instagram.
JS: Okay. And we will link those in our show notes as well. Theodora, I want to thank you so much for joining me today. This has been so much fun.
TT: Thank you. Thank you. This was – you rarely get to have conversations like this. So I really appreciate you thinking of me and inviting me to do this.
Thanks for listening, Bookworms. For more information on this episode and links to all the books we discussed, please go to our website BestBookEverPodcast.com, or follow the podcast on Instagram @BestBookEverPodcast. I’m your host, Julie Strauss, and you can find me everywhere as @JulieWroteABook. Remember, when you’re doing your book shopping, please help support indie bookstores and this podcast by using my affiliate link at www.Bookshop.org/Bestbookever.