Cara Malone - The Rules of Love

The Lesfic Book Club just had its third monthly book discussion, and a friend who wasn't able to make it gave me the fantastic idea to make the transcript available online.
I wish this had occurred to me before so that I could save the wonderful discussions we had with Cade Brogan and MJ Williamz - alas, the program we use to chat on doesn't allow for archiving. From this point forward, though, I'll be saving the chats on my blog and I hope you enjoy them!

A couple of quick notes:

If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels on the 3rd Sunday of every month at (sign up now or follow me on Twitter to find out what we're reading each month).

I asked about anonymity prior to posting the transcript and some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you'll see the author's name while everyone else has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc.

Cara Malone It's book club time! We're discussing my novel, The Rules of Love.

Reader 1 I truly enjoyed this book. I was wondering if there was anything difficult for you about writing this book?

Reader 2 What was your creation process for the characters??

Cara @Reader 1 Difficult things: number one, getting Max's character right. I actually didn't intend to write a character on the autism spectrum and then when I figured out her personality, I wanted to make sure I did justice to it. It was really important that she didn't become a stereotype. And the other most difficult thing was that while I was writing this book, I already knew I wanted Megan to be a main character in another book. I thought it would be a lot of fun to redeem a villain character, but it was a struggle to make her unlikeable in one book but leave it open enough that she could be redeemed in her own book.

Reader 2 So the autism diagnosis came as a development and not from the outset

Cara It was not a part of the outlining and planning process, but as soon as I started actually writing Max in chapter one, it started to take shape and then I let the story develop around that. I was so nervous, too! It was probably the biggest risk I'd taken as a writer at that point and I was afraid it wouldn't go over well.

Reader 4 How did you research max?

Cara Most of my inspiration for Max, especially in book 1, was people that I know in real life. The college-aged autism-spectrum person was something that I already had first-hand experience with among my friends. I did get into much heavier research for the other 2 books in the series, particularly book 3, but I won't spoil any details if people haven't read the whole series Did you guys relate more to Max or Ruby as you were reading?

Reader 2 Max.

Reader 5 I agree. Also, having taught children with Autism, I say that Max's character is spot on

Reader 4 I’m on the spectrum but very differently in many ways. So I found Max fascinating. My wife is more sexual like Max. So that was interesting to read

Reader 1 Was it difficult to write the sex scenes? Do you get embarrassed when writing the sex scenes?

Cara Nope! I like writing sex scenes - it's totally different from writing the more nuanced parts of a novel. Of course, there's character development happening in those scenes too, but it's kind of like a mental break from the rest of the story, both while writing and reading.

Reader 6 I'm very curious how deep your understanding of autism is because a lot of people don't seem to understand it very well. Even other people who are autistic that I've talked to.

Cara Well, I'd definitely be curious to hear your take on Max, then!

Reader 4 The way it presents for people seems to vary a lot which is fascinating

Reader 6 Yes, not everyone seems to get everything.

Reader 4 I really appreciated Max’s lack of interest or understanding of small talk.

Reader 7 since you were writing something where you had friends and experience with the spectrum, did you reach out to them to beta read for Max scenes? did you feel like you needed to get "signoff" that you'd written Max believably?

Reader 1 I learned a lot about Autism from reading this book.

Reader 6 Like not everyone is a toe walker for instance. Some are better at eye contact. But there are a lot of common threads.

Reader 2 I have 1 cousin, 3 nephews, and I used to be a respite care worker for autistic men. This book was a wonderful introduction to it.

Cara @Reader 7 I did not. I think that if I were writing this series at this point in my career, I would definitely do that, but this was the third book I'd ever written and I was still pretty skittish about the idea of sharing my writing. Plus as has been said so far in the chat, everyone's experience with autism is different, so I think I'd be nervous about getting a beta reader's comments and then ending up with only one person's version of autism

Reader 7 I liked how Ruby was an avatar for the reader, finding Max off-putting but then finding out the things that are lovable about her and also how it wasn't about Max's diagnosis, Max already knew, already had things in place to advocate and work through the world that isn't always patient for that otherness

Reader 4 Without spoilers I like how Max’s quirks become strengths by book 3

Cara What did everyone think about Mira's decision to tell Ruby about Max's diagnosis?

Reader 7 Hard call, but felt in character for Mira and Max's relationship for Mira to do it

Reader 5 I'm kind of on the fence about that one.

Reader 7 like I don't know that I agree, but I know why I might with certain people

Reader 4 I was ok with it, and would be ok with a friend intervening for me in that situation

Reader 2 I think it was necessary, but it didn't sit well with me until much later

Reader 4 I know my wife has explained my personality to people on my behalf.

Reader 1 I wasn’t sure how I felt about that at the time. But having read the book several times, I can understand why she did it.

Reader 4 And it helps I feel like that’s an area where max needs to trust mira Because max doesn’t understand people like mira does. So trust that mira would only say something when it was important

Reader 7 I think it was good intentions all the way, but also took some of the power from Max, since knew wasn't something she wanted shared

Reader 3 I don't think this is an autism issue...this is a trust issue. Well, privacy.

Reader 2 Thank you. Privacy And keeping secrets

Reader 7 and to take that from someone who already has trouble communicating, idk, again, IRL different feelings it felt real though, so executed well

Cara I do enjoy my gray areas

Reader 4 And if she hadn’t told none of their relationship would hVe happened She had nothing to lose Say something and they have a chance. Say nothing and nothing happens. And she had to expect max to forgive her lol

Cara I think good intentions are not *always* a good excuse for doing something against someone's wishes, but in this case we can at least say Mira had Max's best interests at heart

Reader 4 Agreed. In this case. Not all cases.

Reader 2 What's that bad quote, the road to hell is paved with good intentions

Cara Haha yup, or in this case the road to love So I'm curious what everybody thought of Max and Ruby's friends with benefits arrangement. How do you think that decision influenced the development of their relationship?

Reader 4 Friends with benefits seems to always get complicated.

Reader 7 well, definitely gave Ruby an out if things got too intense with Max's specific needs, as Ruby was adjusting to them

Reader 3 I wouldn't like it. Personally. But some seem to like it.

Reader 7 which feels like it gave Ruby the space to accept Max easier, not try to change too much too fast

Cara Plus she was nursing a broken heart of her own at the time Do you think she genuinely wanted Megan back at that point?

Reader 3 No

Reader 1 I don’t think so

Reader 4 I feel like for someone struggling with emotions friends with benefits gives time to try to understand the emotions while enjoying the sex

Reader 7 no, is it bad that I feel like Ruby was nice but shallow and grew so much by book end? so much into appearances, she missed Megan but because she was good for the appearance in a way Max wasn't without some effort

Reader 4 max was exhausting some times lol I get the temptation of easier

Reader 7 I didn't think it made Ruby a bad person, but definitely over book 2-3 saw her adapt and respect things without questions, push where she had learned she could push

Cara These two definitely grow a ton because they have each other

Reader 7 well, and maybe this is where I come back to the Mira question, is that you felt people around Max sometimes lean towards "babying" her not accepting that though different, valid and automonous, able to make decisions with different decision tree than you might have but not childish or immature though we as a society seem to see those choices that way I think like "ugh, you need a special heavy blanket"

Cara Agreed - there's a huge emphasis on "normal" in society, whether we're talking neurotypical or in general

Reader 7 but then you experience that same blanket as someone who doesn't "need" it and you realize how lovely it is though swings back around because Mira kind of says, listen, I see you and you're awesome, so I'm going to tell folks that and not let you get in your own way I'd say, of your books, these characters both took time to grow on me, it wasn't instant love with either, but I was engaged and rooting for them, eager to see what was going to happen

Cara Very true. Ruby isn't particularly likable at certain points in this book, and my original concept for the Rules of Love was an enemies to lovers story.Reader 4 I like this better People who don’t understand each other Is megan’s book published already?
Cara Yes, Megan's book is #1 in the Lakeside Hospital series.
Reader 2 You've written stories that take place in a bunch of different locals - vacations, medical schools, appalacian trails - do you approach the novel with the setting in mind, or does the setting stem from the characters?
Cara Hmmm... I think it depends on the novel. If it's a 'big' setting like the AT or medical school, then I knew I wanted that setting when I started writing it. For The Rules of Love, I knew I wanted to write a college romance, but not the details of what Granville State University would be like. I try my best to keep it interesting though!

Reader 11 Who inspired max and how do you know so much about asd?

Reader 2 did you always want to include the gay/straight club? or did that develop as the characters did?

Cara Max just kind of created herself - I've never actually experienced that before, when writers say that their characters come to life. Normally I'm pretty tight-fisted when it comes to plotting and character development, but I didn't originally intend for Max to be on the spectrum. I figured it out by the end of chapter 1 and kind of went with it.

Reader 11 So you knew nothing about asd before hand?

Cara I have had several close friends on the spectrum, so a lot of figuring out who Max was had to do with taking my relationships with them and kind of turning Max into a composite of their personalities. I also did research about ASD while I was writing to make sure I portrayed it as accurately as I could, especially in the later books in the series when she deals with some subjects that I was less familiar with.

Reader 12 What was the most difficult part that came while writing this amazing book. Was there any walls hit?

Cara To the night club question, that mostly came out of wanting to put my characters into situations that I myself am not comfortable in. Going to the club is a pretty common college activity but not one that I ever got into. I'm not big on crowded, loud places with alcohol and it just seemed like the type of place Max wouldn't be terribly comfortable in, either.

@Reader 12, the most difficult part was that when I introduced Megan, I already knew that I wanted her to be a main character in a future book. She's the antagonist in this story and I was looking forward to the challenge of redeeming her, but I had *no* idea how to do that or what I'd need to do to lay down that groundwork in this story so that I could turn her around.

Reader 11 Social anxiety and anxiety disorders and add and asd and add are all very similar When I read it first time I bloody hated megan Literally punched the kindle

Reader 2 i still kinda do in this novel. even though i've read the rest of her redemption. lol.

Cara And re: continuing the story, I don't have any plans to write more full-length novels for Max and Ruby, but I *do* have plans for at least one 'update' novella because I love these girls too Haha oh yeah, she's definitely not likable in Rules of Love!

Reader 12 Yea no she was a reminder of a certain... villian in harry potter

Reader 9 While reading this book I thought, “Cara must have a background in library science.” While reading another of yours I thought you must have gone to med school. You really capture the essence of whatever you write about! My question is - do you do your research mostly on line?

Reader 2 you say youre a major outliner and not a pantser. How do you plot out some of the more intricate details? like, you said you changed Max's character after writing chapter 1. how did that affect (effect...) the rest of the plot you had created?

Cara Well, I am/was a librarian and I grew up wanting to be a doctor, so there are shades of truth in both, @Reader 9! I do my research all over. I actually go to the library and pick up hardcopy books a lot because I enjoy being able to flip through them. If I need general information, that's my go-to strategy. If I need to learn something specific, I find websites and videos. I'm also ravenous about whatever topic it is I'm learning about. If I go to the library I'm not leaving without at least 10 books

Reader 11 If you don't do a other max and Ruby book will you do another with an MC on the spectrum?Reader 12 So... there is a library scene in the dvd area... you mention prozac nation and mr nobody and the life aquatic... rando choice or faves of yours?

Cara You guys are killing it with the questions... my fingers/keyboard are smoking @Reader 2, plotting/pantsing - for this particular book, it didn't change the outline much. It was more about really getting inside Max's head and figuring out how she would react to certain situations. Ruby's reactions to Max got a bit deeper, too, which was an unexpected benefit. There was more depth to the reasons for their initial animosity because she didn't understand Max's reactions a lot of the time, as opposed to manufacturing drama just because it's an enemies-to-lovers story and they're supposed to dislike each other at the beginning.

Reader 11 The slap at maxs dorm though. I was like nooooooooo

Reader 12 It hurt me reading that scene fr

Reader 2 agreed. broke my heart a little. but I understand why it occurred.

Cara @Reader 11 yes, I would definitely like to include more characters on the spectrum in future books. We definitely don't have enough diverse books to choose from (and I just saw that Magnolia Robbins is working on an ASD main character right now so there will be one more) @Reader 12 all of the movies on their Greatest Hits list are favorites of mine

Reader 12 Yes cuz u got me at prozac nation... my book copy is fallin at the seams i love that book and movie

Reader 2 That was the novel that made me think, "this author is kinda cool. Not cause of her books, but her tastes." Still not sure I was right. LMAO!

Cara I tried to pick ones that I thought would also fit their personalities - Ruby seems like the type of girl who would relate to the MC in Prozac Nation. Some of the others, like Life Aquatic, are just good movies that fit into the alphabet where I needed them

Reader 11 Do you believe its always difficult for ppl with asd to date and for neuro typical to understand asd?

Cara I don't know if I'm qualified to answer that one, @Reader 11 - I've dated one person on the spectrum but that's just one person. What do you think?

Reader 11 Me personally it's a bloody nightmare and I try to avoid explaining my asd as most ppl are asshole and don't have time for it

Reader 4 @Cara did you see Max as butch from the beginning because of her personality or did you want to add diversity in that way too?

Reader 12 Ok ima throw this in here.... the cover art was changed... descriptive wise why?

Cara @Reader 4 I think the answer re: Max being butch is a little from column A, a little from column B. I saw that as fitting her personality, and I also didn't want to write yet another ff story. They're great but we have a lot of them to choose from as it is. @Reader 12 re: cover art: the answer may surprise you, lol. The original cover was me being 100% not confident in my photoshop abilities and neither of the characters looked like the ones in my head. When I heard feedback from readers that it bothered them to see brunette femme white girls on the cover, then meet Max and Ruby inside, I realized I done screwed up so I did the best I could to find better models to fit the characters in the second version of the book cover. The whole thing was basically down to being very new to publishing my work and having a lot of learning and growing to do!

Reader 2 Awesome. Not that you didn't like the cover in the beginning, but that you were willing to change it to match the characters in the book and adapt. So many authors DONT.

Cara I did my best to match the cover models to my descriptions of the characters, but there's a frustratingly small number of good stock photo options for women who are not white and femme (which probably has at least something to do with lack of diversity in lesfic)

Reader 8 How do you Design your covers.

Cara These days I'm fortunate to have a couple of awesome designers I've worked with (for Seeing Red and Trail Magic) but for my earlier covers, I used GIMP, which is the open-source version of Photoshop

Reader 4 What determines if you hire or do it yourself

Cara Experience. When I started out, I was A) cocky enough to think I could do it myself and B) too green to feel comfortable investing money in a cover artist (this is kind of backward thinking, but when you're just starting out you have to be strategic about where you spend your money - it's easy to blow a ton of $$ on a new book) The more books I get under my belt, the more I want to make sure I'm giving people the best books I can, and that includes good cover art.

Reader 2 the big gestures in your novels are meticulously planned out for the characters' personalities. when you include one in your story, do you plan out the gesture as part of the overall plot, or do you focus it based on how the characters themselves develop?

Cara Grand gestures actually are pretty difficult for me to write - it's not something that comes naturally to me in my personal life, so most of my outlines are like "lots of detail, emotions, thoughts.... umm... [insert grand gesture here]" and then I use what I've built over the course of the book to choose what the grand gesture should be basically at the 11th hour

Reader 12 So lets talk GLiSS.... was any of the group scenes based on your own experiences of library student org. Meetings?

Cara Pretty much 100%! Right down to librarians not knowing how to party. Everyone in my program was home by 8pm to see to their families, except one girl who liked to talk about how she had to curb stomp some guy on her way home from da club She was an interesting one.

Reader 12 When beginning writing this one did you envision a trilogy or did it just happen

Cara Nope not at all! This was originally supposed to be a standalone, and I decided to continue Max and Ruby's story based on overwhelming feedback from people who said they wanted more of their relationship.

Reader 11 I still need more

Reader 12 Well it is safe to say that we all enjoy the fact that it wasnt a stand alone.

Cara And lemme tell you, those two books were probably the hardest I've written because of how much pressure I felt to do the characters and their relationship justice. Books 2 and 3 both took about twice as long as it normally takes and went through a lot more revision. I was really invested in Max and Ruby and 'getting it right'.

Reader 9 Thanks @Cara for sharing! Appreciate the peek behind the curtain!