By Verity Lowell.
Verity Lowell, PhD, is a professor and occasional curator. She likes imagining and describing a world where art, ambition, and history provide the background for diverse and steamy love stories, mostly about women falling hard for women. Her debut novel Meet Me in Madrid is available now, more at veritylowell.com.
KK: I was contacted by Verity’s publisher about the book; I read it and I really like it! And I picked the excerpt below 🙂
First things first and full disclosure: I owe portions of my career “success” to The Professor Is In. Many a proposal was crafted and quandary unpacked with recourse to its early incarnation, which I recommend now and consulted All The Time while transitioning from grad student to tenure-track faculty member. Thus, if you’d told me twelve years ago, when I went on the market in Art History, that today I would be guest blogging for TPII about my debut romance novel, I probably would have asked what went wrong? How did I fail at becoming an academic and why in the world would future-me want to write books about falling in love? What happened to my real book: the Old Master monograph mined from my dissertation? Did I ever write that?
I did. And it was a labor of, if not exactly hate, then protracted displeasure. It took almost a decade. But four states, three jobs, and two relationships later it came out. During COVID, mind you. When there were no release parties or conferences or colleagues around to congratulate or not congratulate me. Still, getting it published was a huge relief.
So much so that I immediately started writing fiction. I’d never written fiction. For the past twenty years, I’d barely felt like I had time to read fiction. But I was stuck in my house with my cats and my (then) partner and, for the first time since I started grad school, nothing was due. No articles. No revisions. No reviews. Zero deadlines.
I started writing fiction and I couldn’t, and didn’t, stop. Four months later, I was as surprised as my mother that the manuscript on my MacBook was a steamy, age-gap, second-chance love story about two academics—both “out” women of color—with a very happy ending.
It’s funny. Sort of. The critics have been quite positive about the book, but some of them do seem to think showing the characters experiencing racism and sexism brings down the romantic mood a smidge. As in life so in art, was my feeling. For women of color to fall queerly in love in a time and place of toxicity seems like the ultimate vision of love conquering all to me. Then again, I think the marginalized among us in—or getting out of—the academy must have a particularly high threshold for psychic pain. What feels taken down several notches to me in fiction may still be too angsty for some who don’t know, or want to read about, how things really are for us. To my academic readers, I hope the book feels authentic. As I’ve said elsewhere, I think romance as a genre should accommodate real life—and real life, however romantic, isn’t all supportive colleagues.
“You look like a bonbon,” said Adrianna, staring at Charlotte from across the room after the first round. She was bringing them bottles of water from the mini fridge.
“And you know what to do with a bonbon, no?” she said in French, climbing back onto Adrianna.
“I’m not sure I do,” Adrianna said. “They always look too pretty to eat.”
She pulled Charlotte down to her and they kissed.
“I’m sorry,” Adrianna said after. “I should have told you. And I shouldn’t have gotten so mad. I just. This is so crazy-making. I guess I wanted to get it over with and start thinking about this new life back there,” she paused. “With you.”
Charlotte didn’t respond right away, she was too busy kissing Adrianna’s neck. “And I just wanted to figure out a way to start over. And do something I want to be doing. Near you.”
“And you think you could do that in LA?”
“Of course, I do,” Charlotte said. “But not if you’re in New Haven.”
“You know what would suck the most?” Adrianna said.
“If you didn’t get the Yale offer.”
“And you didn’t get the job at Piedmont.”
“So basically we’d be where we are right now,” Charlotte said.
“True,” said Adrianna. “But I don’t think I want that.”
Adrianna slid her hands beneath the negligee, leaving its intricate lace to cup Charlotte’s breasts. “You don’t?”
“I’m the one that applied for the job in California,” Charlotte said, continuing to kiss Adrianna’s neck and jaw between her words. “So clearly I don’t. But what do we do about it?”
“We see if you get the Piedmont job and go from there,” said Adrianna.
“And if Yale makes you the offer first?”
“I guess we’ll just have to cross that icy bridge when we come to it,” Adrianna said. It was her turn to kiss Charlotte now.