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On Episode 7.5 of The Turn On, we interview Talia Hibbert, author of "Bad for the Boss," and talk about the importance of representation and banning shame from our sex lives.
Fit Series by Rebekah Weatherspoon:
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Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Today our guest is Talia Hibbert. A Black British author who lives in a bedroom full of books. I love that. Talia writes steamy, diverse romance because of a deeply held belief that people of marginalized identities need honest and positive representation. Talia's interests include makeup, junk food and unnecessary sarcasm. Talia, thank you so much for joining us.
Talia: Well thank you for having me. I'm really excited.
Kenrya: Yes, me too. And I love the unnecessary sarcasm.
Talia: Got to get it in there, wherever you can.
Kenrya: It makes me happy. Yes. I love it. And it comes through in your characters, but we'll talk about that later. But before we really dive in, what are your pronouns? Erica and I are both she and her.
Talia: I'm she/her too.
Kenrya: Awesome. Okay.
Erica: Great. Kenrya just read your bio but we really like for our listeners to hear from you what you would describe as what you do. So tell us what you do.
Talia: Oh gosh, this is testing how well I know my own, I suppose they call it a brand. So basically, I try to write honest, funny, heartfelt romance that represents people from all kinds of different walks of life, positions in society, cultures, as I can. Purely because I really enjoy, appreciate and have been affected by diverse romance. So that's kind of why I prioritize when I write as well. And I really focus on kind of fiery chemistry, deep emotions, and lots of lighthearted humor to balance things out.
Kenrya: That's dope. So did you always want to be a writer?
Talia: Yeah, it's strange actually. That was kind of my main, when I grow up, my dream job. But at the same time as I got older, I started to doubt that it would actually be possible. People always say that you can't support yourself being a writer or a creator and you have to be super, super special to make any money writing and things like that. So for a while I did kind of lose hope, but it was always my dream to do this.
Kenrya: Wow. So did you do other jobs before you got here? Was it just kind of always a path that led you here? And then I think, specifically, how did you come to write romance erotica books?
Talia: I'm quite lucky I think because I managed quite a straightforward path despite my doubts. So when I was younger, kind of when I was studying, I had a few different jobs. Some of them would be things like freelance writing, writing for newspapers that reflected my interest in writing. But then mainly, I worked at McDonald's and I worked at lots of coffee shops and I was a hotel room cleaner. I did quite a few things. I worked in makeup artistry for quite awhile. And then while I was at university I started out studying law because that seemed like a more reliable path. But then I realized that it wasn't working for me and I needed to do what I really wanted to do. So I went on to an English degree and that gave me more confidence. And it was in the third and final year of my degree that I actually started writing and self publishing my romance novels.
Kenrya: Wow. While you were still in school?
Talia: Yeah. Because I kind of wanted to see if I could make enough money doing that to support myself before my student loan ran out.
Kenrya: That's real. And real smart.
Erica: What was the first romance book you read?
Talia: Oh gosh, it was, I think it's called Splendid by Julia Quinn. I remember it quite well. I come from, well for most of my teenage years I lived in a very white, small town. So I go to the library and all the books were white. And there was this one book that was like a cartoon cover, I don't think, well maybe they do, but I don't know if they have those cartoon covers for Julia Quinn's books in the U.S., so you might not know what I mean. But it was like a girl sitting at a mirror and the background was just plain green and she was a cartoon. And for some reason, I felt like I could relate more to the cartoon than I could to photographed covers of people who didn't look like me. I don't know why. But I was like, "Yeah, I want that one."
Talia: And I didn't realize it was a romance, but I started reading it and I was like, "Oh my God, they're kissing." And I was like, "Oh, they're doing other things." It all went uphill from there.
Kenrya: Yes, up hill. So it's funny because the next question I was going to ask was what was the moment when you realized you weren't well represented within the genre?
Talia: The very first moment.
Kenrya: Yeah. It sounds like it. Like what did that feel like to you?
Talia: Well, like I said, I was at that point a teenager in a very white town. So it was kind of more of the same. I'd stopped expecting to be represented most of the time. Like it was more like when I was represented, I was like, "Oh, this is a nice..." I've lost my word. "This is a nice anomaly." You know?
Talia: So it was more that it took me a while to realize that I could represented in the genre. You know, I had to go online to see that there were all these other romance writers who were writing characters like me. So that was a nice moment.
Erica: When was the first time you saw yourself in erotica? And tell me a little bit about how you felt when you realized, "Hey, this is me."
Talia: I think the first time was Rebekah Weatherspoon's series, I think it's called the Fit series. And one of the books, I believe, this is completely from memory, so I could be wrong, but I believe that one of those books has an East African heroine. She might be Egyptian or something like that. And that was the first time that I read someone who kind of came close to me. There were sex scenes and she had brown skin and I was like, "Oh, I have brown skin." That was nice.
Kenrya: Dope. So I mean kind of in the same way that seeing your... We wanted to know about the first time you saw yourself and how that impacted you. I'm really interested in how writing these books impacts the rest of your life. Like how does writing romance erotica impact your own intimate relationships?
Talia: Oh gosh. Well, I don't know if it does. Which is a super boring answer. But no, I really don't know that it does. I'm just very... I compartmentalize a lot just as a person. And so when I'm at my desk writing these stories, it's all like a fantasy world that doesn't touch me. I definitely put parts of my own experiences, life and obviously it's coming from my mind, into the books. But then when I'm going about my own life, I don't think it impacts me. But then you never know with these things.
Kenrya: Right. You never find yourself re-enacting some scene that you wrote or like, "Oh wait, this is familiar."
Talia: Maybe because this seems weird to say but obviously everything I write is to my personal taste so I'm sure there's some overlap.
Erica: Well, in the book that we read for this episode, Bad for the Boss, Jennifer and Theo are an interracial couple, like in most of your books. And one of the reasons that... We were looking for a story that featured an interracial couple. However, we didn't want the interracialness of the couple to be a thing. And I think you did a really great job of making it an interracial couple, but not making this like fetishized couple. His alabaster skin and her kinky hair. Because we read a lot of that before we got to you. But in most of your books you have interracial couples. So can you explain why you like to explore these type of relationships and what role race plays in your writing?
Talia: Yeah. I think when I started out, it came from a very simple place, which is that I'm in an interracial relationship and I have been since I was 18. So when I was kind of discovering more and more books that I liked, I was going for a lot of interracial romances because that's what I was living at the time. And then when I got to writing, I feel like definitely for myself, I don't know how other writers feel about this, but when I started writing and I was learning how to craft a story, I definitely wanted to echo things that I'd been reading and studying beforehand.
Talia: So I feel like that, maybe subconsciously, influenced my decision to start writing interracial romances. And then obviously after, when I published some and there was a reaction, I realized that there's a group of readers who read interracial romances for the same reasons. That they are in interracial romances as themselves, but they dislike fetishization and common problems. So it felt like I was doing something nice for a lot of people by writing these stories. Not filling a gap, but adding to a maybe underrepresented section of romance. Although I don't know that I'd say it's underrepresented anymore. I felt like it was at the time, but definitely not now.
Kenrya: Yeah, it was surprising. I think how many books in the genre or the sub genre, I guess I should say, that we came across. But as we were saying, they're not...
Erica: They're not well written.
Kenrya: Most of them are not well... They are not as well written as yours. We love this book. And I think it takes... Maybe in part because you have been there, where you have a touch that makes these stories feel really authentic and not like it's just interracial for the sake of being interracial.
Talia: I mean, I definitely don't do that.
Talia: And I do think that when you are writing interracial romances, you have to be, or I have to be more careful than if I write a Black hero and a Black heroine or if I wrote a Black hero and heroine. Because I'm not suggesting that people of the same race can't have different perspectives and opinions when it comes to things like race and white supremacy and interracial issues like colorism. Definitely can. But at the same time, the way you move through the world is a lot more similar than the way my Black heroines and white, or in the case of this book, Asian heroes move through the world. So they don't have to have conversations about that and navigate that.
Kenrya: Okay. As a start of the book, you included a trigger warning essentially, which I really appreciated. And essentially, for folks who have not yet picked up the book, which they will, a warning that, like most of us, Jennifer has some past un-dealt with trauma that, to actually use the language you just used, it informs how she moves through the world. And that brings me to two questions. I think the first is why did you choose to lead with the warning? And then the second is why was this past trauma important to her character development?
Talia: As far as the warnings, I always try to put content notes in my books for any potentially difficult topics that I handle. And I do that because I've been really lucky to read a lot of books by authors who've done similar things, which kind of introduced me to the concept. And I always thought that it was really important and valuable because a content warning might not stop you from reading a particular book, but if you know that something has the capacity to affect you and you know that you're not in the right mindset right now, or you're not in the right place to deal with that, it kind of gives you the power to say, "Well, I'll just put that down and come back to it when I can." So it enables more people to enjoy the book, which is what I really care about.
Talia: And then as far as Jennifer's trauma informing her life, I think that the things that have happened, the things that happened to all of us in the past are obviously super important when it comes to our future choices. And when I'm planning a romance, I always kind of look at any major events in each character's past and I spend a lot of time thinking about even the smallest ways that that can impact their personality. And more importantly, or the most important aspect of that for a romance, whether it stops them entering a healthy relationship. Whether they have issues that they need to deal with before they can let themselves kind of love and trust. So for Jennifer, she had kind of, she was prickly and she had a hard time trusting people and trusting good situations because something so terrible had happened to her in the past.
Erica: It's really interesting that you brought up the prickliness of Jennifer because one of the things that stood out to us is that you wrote that Jennifer's prickly and often prickly things aren't kissed. And that made us think about the things that we tell ourselves that we do and don't deserve. Is there anything that you've preemptively counted yourself out of when it came to relationships?
Talia: Oh gosh. I think for a while I did. Yes. You kind of have these preconceptions, especially because I haven't always been treated the best. You do come to this mindset where you're like, "Well, you know, maybe I'll just have to be happy with this bare minimum thing or this because clearly I can't get this impossible ideal that I'm fantasizing about." But actually I would say that romance novels themselves helped me with that because the more you read these really wonderful relationships and the more you read about people putting their loved ones first, the more you think, well surely everyone's not making this up. Like surely this can actually happen.
Kenrya: Right. It came from somewhere.
Talia: Yeah, we didn't just like... This didn't poof. It's a thing that people have experienced. Otherwise how would we write about it? So for awhile I was kind of living in two minds where I was like, "This thing exists, but what's the likelihood of someone like me ever getting it?" So I would say that yes, I have counted myself out of things, but then at the same time. I am kind of lucky that I had, for example, a mother who is always like, "Don't you dare. You are a special rainbow. And you deserve this, this and this." So, things worked out well for me with minimal strength on my part. It all came from elsewhere I think.
Kenrya: That's the beauty of having solid relationships. It's great that she was able to give you that. Another thing that we really loved early in the book is when Jennifer is talking to her bestie Aria and Aria reminds her that there's nothing that she can do during sex that's bad as long as all parties are down to participate. That really rang true. Why was it key for you to remind this character, and by extension, your readers, of this super true thing?
Talia: I think that a lot of people, especially when you're from communities that don't always talk about sex, which I am, for multiple reasons, it's easy to kind of know what you like, but carry this secret certainty that you're a weirdo and no one else could possibly be into that. You can't say anything or ask for it because if you ever speak it a loud, everyone's going to be like "You like what?"
Talia: But the truth is that it's fine. You know, everyone might not be on board with what you like, but that doesn't mean that what you like is bad. And I don't want people to feel any kind of shame for anything that they enjoy reading or doing.
Kenrya: Word. I think that leads us to a larger question about the book in general, what do you want readers to take away? When they've read the final page of Bad for the Boss, what do you want them to walk away with?
Talia: I want them to know that good things can happen to anyone and that they should happen to everyone.
Erica: That's really dope. So, here at The Turn On, we like to ask the hard hitting questions. You know this is a setup for a bullshit question?
Kenrya: I can't even hold in my giggle. My bad. My bad.
Erica: So we'd like to ask a would you rather question to all of our interviewees. So would you rather... And one of this question is because the two characters, the two main characters in the story, have an age gap. So would you rather be in a relationship with someone 14 years younger than you or someone 14 years older than you?
Talia: Well, this is a tricky question because I'm 23 so someone
Erica: Oh hell no! Nope, not at all. Hell no. We ain't even allowing...
Kenrya: Okay. So we'll revise it. Would you rather be with someone who is younger or someone who is older? Yikes!
Talia: I think that I would rather be with someone... I mean honestly, I would rather be with someone my age. And I only say that because I'm with someone my age and it simplifies things. But if I had to choose, I would say older purely because I've been told that I'm very boring.
Erica: Oh no.
Talia: So maybe someone older would also be boring and we could be boring together.
Kenrya: Oh my gosh, no. I don't like that framing. But I do think that, well... So Erica really likes older men. So that fits.
Erica: Yeah, I like them older. So 14 years older to me is great. 14 years younger, I'm like, "Oh, you got too much energy boy. Go sit down."
Kenrya: See both sound horrid to me. I don't think I could do either one. I'm the same as you, Talia. I like somebody who is solidly within a couple of years in my age. It just, we have the same cultural references. He knows what I'm talking about all the time. It just works. I dig it.
Erica: I guess.
Kenrya: Whatever. You're a hater. Anyway, thank you so much for joining us today. It was really great talking to you and I'm really impressed. I had no idea that you're 23. Not to sound like your auntie but...
Erica: Yeah, I did not want to sound ageist. Be like, "Wow!" But I really enjoyed your book. I look forward to reading more from you.
Kenrya: And you've written so many. How many books do you have?
Talia: Oh gosh. Oh, maybe 12?
Kenrya: Like dude.
Kenrya: That's crazy. So like I write books and I go around and folks always tell me like, how can I get started? And even just like how can they be writers in general? And I have not met anyone who is at your age who is doing such a wonderful job and like cranking this stuff out. And it's so good.
Erica: You know, this leads me to ask a... Sorry, we're supposed to be wrapping up the interview, but this leads me to ask another question. Because one of the things that stood out to me in your book are you drop bits of sage advice. One of the things we note in our previous episode where we actually read the story is how Jennifer's bestie, Aria, says you're not supposed to work for the first five orgasms. Or your comment about prickly things aren't often kissed. You have such great perspective and you're able to kind of sum it up. I mean I guess this is what makes you a great writer. I'm not a writer so I'm like, "Huh, maybe this is why she's making it." But you do a really great job of summing up just great advice, great ways of thinking of things. Is this all from you or do you channel advice you've received from other people? Can you go into that a little bit?
Talia: Well first, I just want to say thank you because I am overwhelmed with all the lovely things you both just said. A lot of lovely things.
Kenrya: We mean them.
Talia: Thank you very much. I don't know. I think that a lot of my perspective is informed by the women in my family, especially by my great grandmother who was kind of the head of the family and she was a big inspiration to me when it came to starting my career. And she was, I'm not at all like her, but she just has the kind of spirit that, or had the kind of spirit, that I think I will always aspire to. And so I think a lot of that probably comes from her because she was always giving me advice.
Kenrya: Oh, I love that. You're bringing your people with you everywhere. Right?
Erica: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Kenrya: So I'm going to close again because we got off...
Erica: I'm like, okay, I'm finished. I promise.
Kenrya: You sure? You got it?
Erica: I think so.
Kenrya: Okay, cool. Well, thank you so much for joining us. I really want to take a minute to tell folks where they can find you. Your website is taliahibbert.com. T-A-L-I-A-H-I-B-B-E-R-T.com. And your IG and Twitter are both @TaliaHibbert, correct?
Talia: Yep, that's right.
Kenrya: Awesome. Well, that wraps up this week's episode of The Turn On. Thanks to everyone for listening and have a wonderful day.
Talia: Thank you.
Erica: This episode was produced by us, Erica and Kenrya and edited by B'Lystic. The theme song is from Brazy. First, please leave a review in your favorite podcast listening app. For real, we want to hear from y'all. Send your book recommendations and all the burning sex and related questions you want us to answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. And please subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app. Follow us on Twitter @theturnonpod and Instagram @theturnonpodcast. And find links to books, transcripts, guest info, and other fun stuff theturnonpodcast.com. Bye.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.