580. Stop and Look at the Stars, with Jennifer L. Armentrout


Sarah Wendell: Hello and welcome to episode number 580 of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. Today my guest is Jennifer Armentrout, and we are going to talk about her new book, Fall of Ruin and Wrath. We’re also going to talk about ApollyCon, which is almost ten years old! And, heads up! We talked for so long that our conversation is going to become two episodes, but do not worry; there is no cliffhanger. We’re going to talk in this episode about the behind-the-scenes of ApollyCon, her launch title for Bramble, and she takes questions from some of you about disability advocacy, living with a visual impairment, and what changes she’s seen in publishing.

I will have links to all of the books that we talk about and, of course, information about ApollyCon if you’re curious in the show notes at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast under episode number 580. That is a big number.

And speaking of big numbers, hello to our podcast Patreon! Thank you so much for all of the numbers that support the show. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it! Each episode has a transcript that is hand-compiled by garlicknitter, and Patreon members get bonus episodes and a truly lovely Discord. It would be wonderful to have you join us. Have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. And I want to say a special hello to Larisa, who is the newest member of our group. Hi, Larisa! Welcome aboard!

All right, I have one more thing I want to ask you about – and I’ve asked this a couple other times, but, you know, I want to repeat it just in case maybe you didn’t hear it. I used to have reviews on Apple Podcasts, and now I have none. None reviews. Negative reviews. No, none. Like, I have some stars, but I have no reviews. Like, no one has any – and I had some! The show is like twelve possible years old; I’ve lost track. I know I had some, but now they’re gone, so if you are enjoying the show and you are so inclined and your thumbs aren’t busy and you have a moment, if you would leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever it is that you’re listening that does review – not every podcatcher and pod platform has reviews, but if they do and you would leave one for this show, I would be deeply, deeply grateful. I don’t understand where my, where my reviews went. I have two ratings. I have none reviews. So if you are so inclined, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for your time. I’m very grateful. Extremely grateful.

And that is all of the talking I have to do before the podcast. [Gasps] How exciting, right? Let’s get started; on with my conversation with Jennifer Armentrout!


Jennifer L. Armentrout: Hi, my name is Jennifer L. Armentrout. I am an author. I write fantasy, contemporary, paranormal. I’ve written Young Adult, adult, and New Adult. I also am the owner of ApollyCon, which is an annual event that takes place in Washington, DC, and we are coming up on our ninth and tenth year of doing ApollyCon. Yeah.

Sarah: Wow! Do you look back and be like, How has it been ten years? Like, how did this happen?

Jennifer: Yeah, oh, you know, I didn’t even realize that we were coming up on our tenth year until one of the, the staff members was like, Hey, next year, 2025, is the tenth year. Because, you know, if you do events it’s like you’re planning two years at the same time…

Sarah: Of course.

Jennifer: It can get very confusing in meetings, ‘cause you’re like, Are you talking about this year or next year? What year are we talking about? But yeah, we look back and we’re like, Wow, ‘cause when we first started doing it we never anticipated for it to be going this long, or for it to become as big –

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: – as –

Sarah: I wanted to ask you about ApollyCon, so let’s, you know, let’s start there. Did you, did you ever think when you started it, it would grow and grow and grow and sell out within minutes?

Jennifer: No. I mean, when we first started doing ApollyCon, it was mostly because, I mean, you have been around in the, the publishing world for a very long time and also around so many authors, you know that we hate doing signings…

Sarah: [Laughs] I’ve done signings!

Jennifer: Like, it is –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: – you hate it. And you, you know that, like, no matter what point you are in your career, there is no guarantee that anybody is ever going to show up – [laughs] – when you do.

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Jennifer: Yeah, so, it was like, If I’m going to be miserable, I’d rather be miserable with a bunch of other people…

Sarah: For sure! Absolutely!

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: Especially that moment where you’re sitting at the table and you’re just sort of like –

Jennifer: Oh! Yeah. Then, and you’re just sitting there like, Oh gosh, oh gosh, and if you’re like me, you know, I’m not, when people come up and like, Oh, well, tell me about your book, I’m like, Uh, it’s about stuff. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: Like, I’m not, I’m never good with that put on the spot. So we decided, like, you know, what if we just did a signing with, you know, a coup-, like authors that I knew or, you know, or, or authors that I was, like, fans of, and I think our first year we did fifty authors, and it was just a one-day event, and I think the signing was supposed to be five hours, but I ended up signing that day for eight hours, ‘cause it –

Sarah: Oh, great day in the morning!

Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah. For a straight through up until the evening, and it just started off as this one-time thing, but then we realized, ‘cause at that time there were a lot more events, right? You…

Sarah: There were a lot more ten years ago.

Jennifer: So many. After we did it for like another two years, that’s when I realized, I was like, You know, I would like to make this a larger event, you know, eventually. My goal was always to get it to like a convention status, but I knew that this, this is something we would have to do in stages. We would have to grow it very slowly in stages, ‘cause at the end of the day, the event is a part-time job for all of us, you know?

Sarah: Oh God! Yes! Event planning is – whoo!

Jennifer: …Yeah. And for us to get to that convention status, like, I knew that at that point, you know, I would have to bring in, like, full-time employees really to handle that, and also the event would have to become self-sufficient –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – financial-wise, which I don’t think we’re ever going to get to that point? [Laughs] ‘Cause, like, you know, it’s like, a lot of people think that you’re, when you do events, that people make money off them, and that is – no. You are almost always in the negative at the end, at the end of it, especially if you have staff that you pay. So it’s, but it’s, you know, I, I do love doing it because it’s a great chance to meet readers and to, you know, meet other authors and to hang out with other people, you know, in the publishing world. So it, all the stress involved in it, you know, it pays off in the end.

Sarah: It does. I just did a, a podcast episode with Amanda, who is my copilot at Smart Bitches, and we were talking about the old RT experience and the energy of being around people –

Jennifer: Oh.

Sarah: – and I said then that, you know, there is something really, really special about the idea of a person who’s going to take days off work; step away from all their responsibilities where they’re caring for parents or, or relatives or children; and they’re going to go on vacation about books. That’s a –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – really special energy, and when you create an event where that happens you get that same energy, so I completely understand the magic of it, and also I’ve been an events planner; it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of work!

Jennifer: [Laughs] And it’s sad that, like, though, when you look back and you think about all the different options as a reader and as an author that you had in the past to go to?

Sarah: Oh my gosh, yes!

Jennifer: You had…multiple events. Now there is, like, maybe three to four, like, large events, like, that have –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – hundreds of authors at, that take place more than one day –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – but nothing the size of RT –

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – nothing the size of BEA, BookCon? That was, I remember my first year doing BookCon; I was like, ohhh my God! [Laughs]

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: It was a, that, that was overwhelming! That’s an overwhelming signing – [laughs] –  that’s an overwhelming event. But you don’t, we, we don’t have that anymore –

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – and I think a lot of it – I mean, even before COVID you started seeing them drop off. It’s because it is very expensive to do, and it’s very stressful, and, you know, it, it’s like you have one bad year, I feel like, you know, you were kind of, you have to weigh, like, is this worth it –

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: – continuing to do this? And, but it is kind of sad a little bit when you look back at all the different – like, there’s a whole generation of readers who will never know RT. [Laughs]

Sarah: I know! Like, I –

Jennifer: Who will never know, like, hundreds of panels that you could go to. You know, like, it’s just sad.

Sarah: Games – and you would go home with a suitcase full of books. Like, people think I’m exaggerating. No! I would pack a suitcase inside another suitcase –

Jennifer: Yep.

Sarah: – because I knew that first suitcase was going to come home full of books!

Jennifer: Both.

Sarah: Books were like water!

Jennifer: And a lot of it was new – yeah, and a lot of it was authors you had not read yet, so it was such great exposure, yeah.

Sarah: And there was a completely different economy behind marketing? Like, publishers spent a lot of money promoting authors –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – and blanketing tables with books and swag and –

Jennifer: Yeah. I mean, you’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars in marketing –

Sarah: Easily.

Jennifer: – yeah. Yeah.

Sarah: And it’s one thing if you’re, you know, Penguin Random House or you’re HarperCollins –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – or you’re Kensington. It’s one thing if you are a big corporation that can create that kind of budget; for authors, for independent businesses like you and I operate, that’s a completely different op-, that is a completely different

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – situation.

Jennifer: Yeah, you’re kind of like, Am I, am I really going to pay for that? [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah! Like, that’s a, that’s a lot of zeroes! That’s a lot of…

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I remember those sponsorship packages.

Sarah: Oh!

Jennifer: You – [laughs] – you feel like, what? But, I mean, but the thing was, is I will say with RT, because it had so many years behind it –

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: – and so many attendees, I can see why a lot of the publishers and stuff said, You know what? We’re going to pay for this, because –

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: – we’re going to get our, a return on our investment here, and – I mean, I, I don’t know if I could ever grow ApollyCon to that size where you have –

Sarah: Oof!

Jennifer: – four to five, six thousand attendees, but if I…

Sarah: I need a nap just thinking about it. Whoo!

Jennifer: Yeah, right? I would have to step, like, way back from that at that point, because I would have to bring in a significantly larger team to handle that –

Sarah: Oh, absolutely.

Jennifer: – because – yeah, there, ‘cause it’s also a different environment. You know, you’re going to have to have more full-time, dedicated staff to anticipating possible problems that you now may face at events.

Sarah: Yep.

What are your biggest lessons from hosting a reader conference?

Jennifer: I think the biggest thing that I have learned recently kind of plays off of that, is that events have changed –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: – and readers who have attended events have changed.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: Beforehand, you, you could just throw some authors in a room and have ‘em sign books and have, do some panels and do some cute, fun parties that kind of were, weren’t very, like, you know, involved, and that was fine. It’s not so much like that now. People really want an immersive experience. Like, they, they want, it’s almost like they, an amusement park type level. Like you walk into a haunted house, for example, and it’s like you are transported into a haunted house. So one thing we have learned is that readers now are, are expecting more. They, they expect, you know, really immersive events, and, and that can be, you know, difficult to pull off. Like, so when you’re, one thing I’ve learned, like when you’re doing budgets and things like that, like, you really have to be careful about where you’re spending the money.

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: Like, less money on swag that goes into the goody bag and more money on making a more lasting, like, impression for people?

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: Like, beforehand, people loved all the little kitschy stuff, right, in their goody bags. Not anymore; they’re going to throw half of that away before they even leave the event. So it’s like, it’s making sure that we’re putting the money where it’s going to have the most impact for the attendee.

Sarah: That’s really interesting, ‘cause that makes me think of the original, like, the RT Fairy Ball? Where the whole ballroom –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – was, was decorated and there, it really was an immersive experience and that, and it makes sense that that is the thing that has come up again, especially if you think about going to an amusement park.

Jennifer: Hm.

Sarah: You think about the design elements of an amusement park, you go into like in Universal Florida, you go into Diagon Alley. You think you’re there!

Jennifer: You’re there, yep.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: This year at ApollyCon we did the Blood Forest event. So we took a hotel room and converted it into the Blood Forest; so we had fan artists create, like, backdrops and so that we could, you know, cover as much of the hotel room –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – as possible, the hotel conference space. When the attendees walked in, they walked in underneath this fairy-lit – like, we went really hard on that, and this year, for 2024, we’re doing the Night of the Rite, which we’re basically converting this, like, thirty-thousand-square-foot space into like three levels to get them through, and it’s, it requires so much. I had to, we got a detached garage –

Sarah: Wow!

Jennifer: – to store, because what was happening every year of ApollyCon, we really had no place to store this stuff?

Sarah: Of course.

Jennifer: And some of it we could reuse, so we were trashing stuff that we paid, like we bought and designed because we were like, Where are we going to put this?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: Yeah, and so I was like, you know what? We need to get like a space that we can store some of this stuff, because, like, with the immersive stuff, like we have life-size trees that we’ll bring in. They’re not real trees, but they, we get them usually from, like, Alibaba or something, and they’re like seven to eight feet –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – and you can break ‘em down, but you can only break ‘em down to a certain point –

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: – and it was like, If we can get some place to store this, it’s going to save us money in the long term. Yeah.

Sarah: Now you have the ApollyShed! [Laughs]

Jennifer: Yeah, we do! I put a little sign on it; it was like, ApollyCon, so.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: That’s the point we’re at. I have a, I have a two-car garage. [Laughs]

Sarah: That’s fabulous!

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: And what, and, and it fits, right? Because the, the trend of how readers and people are documenting their fandom is incredibly visual now; it’s all Instagram and TikTok, where there is a visual component that’s part of being in a thing, so that makes total sense, but on the, you know, on the off season –

Jennifer: Mm-hmm, ‘cause…

Sarah: – you need your ApollyShed! [Laughs]

Jennifer: Yeah. And, you know, it’s funny that you mention that, because one thing that we did last year, or this pa-, this year is that – and we’re going to be doing more of these next year – is take into consideration that when attendees come they want to take pictures, but it has to be visual, right?

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: Like, has to be something that they want to take a picture in front of them, in front of, and one of the things that we found is the companies that do the really amazing balloon displays? And the floral displays.

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: So they bring in ginormous backdrops, so we, we did two of ‘em this past year, and we just did a walk-through of the new hotel on Monday; I was in DC. So we’re doing it at the Gaylord at the National Harbor?

Sarah: Ohhh –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – that’s a beautiful property!

Jennifer: It, it is! It is a really big hotel. I feel like I walked in – like, you know, the, the convention space is actually very easy, right? It’s actually, everything is together for the most part. But the hotel’s huge, and you don’t realize that until you’re walking for your room.

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: [Laughs] You’re just like, I was like, I was still joking around, I was like, My soul is still walking –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: – from the elevator to my hotel room; it is still trapped in that hotel. But we were, I was picking out spaces for us to do more of those big, you know, backdrops, because that’s something that readers like to have, where they can take pictures.

Sarah: Oh! Yeah!

Jennifer: And stood on posting on TikTok, Instagram –

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: – and that’s something that we actually have to take into consideration now too.

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Jennifer: And, you know, it’s like you do kind of want to create a bit of FOMO, right, like where –

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: – people who are not there are like, Oh, I’ve got to come! And I know, like, a lot of people are always like, Why, like, you know, why don’t you sell more tickets and things like that? And my, and again, it’s like, because things can go bad so quickly.

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: Yeah, and it’s like, we do eventually, like, want to have – you know, I think right now we do about fifteen hundred attendees –

Sarah: That’s a lot of human beings!

Jennifer: That is, and it’s a lot of people in one space. It’s –

Sarah: That’s a lot of human beings in one location, absolutely.

Jennifer: Yeah. And we, we do have plans of growing that to a larger amount, but again, it’s like we’ve got to make sure we can handle it, and then we also have to figure out how we’re going to handle signing, because you cannot – you have two hundred and some authors, and you think, okay, you sell two thousand, twenty-four hundred tickets, right? How are you going to get that many people through?

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Jennifer: And we do two days of signing. Some people may make it work and may be able to do it, but it’s like, how do we do that? Like, that’s, you know, that’s the thing that we have always keep getting tripped up on is, when, when we think about growing it in the future, it’s like, how are we going to do these signings? Because –

Sarah: Well, yeah!

Jennifer: – there is going to be the most difficult thing to plan is when you have that size of group of people –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – you know they’re not there for every author, but there are going to be many attendees there who are going to want to see as many authors as they can –

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: – and they have to figure out, how do we manage to get that large group of people through an event, but also at the same time respecting authors’ limitations. Like –

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: – they can’t be there for ten hours –

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – for several days doing this. You know, they, they have their limits of what they physically and mentally can do –

Sarah: Oh yeah.

Jennifer: – so it’s like trying to figure out that balance between them.

Sarah: And especially because in your career you have been present for several big trends in romance and in publishing: you were there for New Adult; you were there for YA; you’re now there for romantic fantasy or romantasy as people are calling it.

Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: And so you’ve been there through these different peaks, and I, you know, you and I both remember the, the big, big signing. If you have wristbands five hundred to six hundred –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – you may now get in line for X author, and it was a way of crowd control. It was still impossible to move around.

Jennifer: Yeah, and that’s what we do; we do the ticketed –

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: – system, and still, that’s only going to help so much. That’s, you know, and –

Sarah: It’s, no, that’s not a –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – blanket solution.

Jennifer: And that, yeah, and that doesn’t guarantee you’re going to get to that author! You know, all that we’re trying to do is to keep five hundred people from lining up at one time and –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – in one person’s line, and yeah, it’s, it’s a, it’s a balance, and you have to be able to adapt, so, like, when something doesn’t work, you have to be able to be willing to change the next year.

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: And you know, ‘cause if you don’t, it’s going to just continuous, continuously go bad. Like, so it’s –

Sarah: Yeah! Oh yeah!

Jennifer: So, you know, it, you’re always going to have rough spots, too. You’re always going to have things that go wrong, but, like, the biggest thing is, you know, honestly, being able to adapt.

But it is exciting, and it is fun. I mean, it’s, it’s a lot, but, like, it’s fun knowing that people are going to be happy and they’re going to have fun while they’re there.

Sarah: Well, I have two things that I want to talk to you about. Congrats on Fall of Ruin and Wrath!

Jennifer: Thank you.

Sarah: Yay! It, was it, is it really exciting to be the launch title, be one of the launch titles for, for an imprint?

Jennifer: Yeah! It’s also extremely nerve-racking.

Sarah: Yes – [laughs] – I can imagine!

Jennifer: When they reached out to my agent and said that they wanted to do this I literally said to Kevin, I was like, But what if it sucks?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: I said, What if my book completely fails, and then I just literally destroyed an imprint? I was like, I was like – [laughs] – ‘cause I was not, honestly, I was not going to say yes. I was not going to agree to it at first, because I was like, I don’t want that type of pressure, even though I know that the pressure’s not entirely on me. For people who know me, I don’t like being like, like the center of, like, any type of attention? I don’t like having that type of pressure or stress on me? But then after talking to everybody and, and realizing, like, what they were trying to build and what they wanted to do, I felt, like, more comfortable with being – you know, because Fall of Ruin and Wrath isn’t your, it, it isn’t your – I don’t want to, I, I don’t want to use the word “average,” right; I don’t want to say that, but it’s not, it’s not your typical romance. Like, it doesn’t follow, like, you’re going to, you’re not going to find certain beats that you normally do, right, and I was like, Are you sure that you want to do this? I, that was exciting, but it’s, it’s a little nerve-racking.

Sarah: I can imagine! That leads me to my next question: what will readers find inside Fall of Ruin and Wrath? Tell me all the things!

Jennifer: [Laughs] You know, it, it’s so hard to talk about these books before they’re at, out, because I am so terrible at spoiling things for people?

Sarah: [Laughs] So tell me, how does the book end, Jennifer? What’s the end?

Jennifer: Right? I know, and, and then, you know, I’d probably say it! ‘Cause I’m the type of person who, like, spoilers don’t bother me, ‘cause sometimes I just want to be – and I think also it’s like I, I have ADHD, and I think some of it is because I like to be able to prepare myself. Like, you know what I mean? Like, for what I’m getting myself into. Like, if I’m going to be, like, throwing shit afterwards, I need to, like, mentally prepare for the emotional outburst that may come. Yeah.

Sarah: Oh! When I watch movies with my family, my younger child has ADHD, and he’ll text me, All right, Mom, you looked up the spoiler, right? Absolutely I did! So we’re texting each other across the room: this is how it ends; this is what happens. Okay, thanks! [Laughs]

Jennifer: Yeah, like, it’s – and I, you know, and I think some of it comes from, like, again, it’s like attempting to little bit control certain things around you. [Laughs] Like, so it, spoilers never bother me. It, it is definitely, if it takes place in a fantasy world and, but there’re going to be a lot of things about this world that readers are going to start to recognize as they’re reading it, and one of my favorite parts of this series is the actual world itself and what it once was and what it is now, and –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – if that was, ‘cause that was originally what started this idea –

Sarah: Oh!

Jennifer: – was the actual world itself. I’m just going to use this as an example; it doesn’t, this doesn’t have anything to do with this book, but it’s like when you read or watch dystopian, right, you always kind of wonder, How did we get here?

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: Like, what happened that this is where we’re at now? And sometimes, yeah, right, and then you realize you’re living it, and then you’re like, Shit. You’re going to recognize some familiar things in it, and, you know, of how the world is. There is a lot of, there’s a lot of advent-, like, action in it?

Sarah: Mm-hmm?

Jennifer: The, the world itself is broken down into basically districts or courts –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – and then learning that one of the highborns from the West are basically turning against the rest of their kind, and so they’re, it, it’s like this mystery building, what is happening, and what, how does this involve the main characters?

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: You also have a lot of steam. There is a lot of romance in it via Liss, the main, one of the main characters. She probably is one of my favorite characters to write –

Sarah: Ooh!

Jennifer: – because she is a survivor, right? And, you know, and I write a lot of badass characters –

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: – in the sense of the physical. They can fight, right? But my favorite characters of all time are the ones who have no physical ability to fight, ‘cause you know why? That is what we’re normally really like, right?

Sarah: Yeah!

Jennifer: No one’s out there like with swords and daggers – [laughs] – like, taking people down – and if you are, I, I’m now obsessed with you if that’s the case, you know, because I –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: Is she ment-, she is mentally strong, and, you know, and even, and that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have moments of weaknesses and moments of having to deal with other struggles, but she will do anything to survive and anything to make sure the people she cares about survive.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: And I think that is one of the, the more interesting things to explore than someone who necessarily out the gate knows how to fight. She’s had, you know, to overcome a lot to survive, and it, and it’s a hard world where there are very limited options for people who are not highborn and they are not from wealth, and so it’s extremely limited options, and picking one that isn’t going to involve you basically working yourself into an early grave –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – which is also, I feel, very similar to the world we live in now, where it’s –

Sarah: Just a little bit!

Now, I have some questions for you from members of my Patreon community. Sometimes when I’m doing an interview I’ll put, like, say, Heads up, I’m doing an interview, and the response to I’m interviewing Jennifer L. Armentrout was – [gasps] – Oh my gosh! So people are very excited to hear this interview, but I have some questions from members of the Patreon, and one of them is from Clay, who says, “I love your books.”

Jennifer: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: “I’m reading Soul right now, I have Fire on preorder, but I’m also interested in how you navigate writing and advocacy and the day-to-day reality of living with a progressive visual impairment. Does it influence how you approach ability and disability in your characters? And second part, if you feel like tackling, do you have any suggestions for libraries or publishing in general when it comes to welcoming and encouraging readers with visual impairments?”

Jennifer: One of the things I feel like when you’re living with something, whether it be like a physical disability or like a mental, you know, issue, like, because with me, I do have obviously what’s called retinosis pigmentosa –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – which is a degenerate eye disease. I also have, because you have that type of eye disease, it makes you more prone to other issues –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – with your eyes. So I have cataracts in both eyes, and then I have edemas that come and go. And they won’t really remove the cataracts because, inadvertently, the cataracts protect the retina –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – from sunlight.

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: So they don’t want to remove them until the cataracts become too thick –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – and they’ll go in. Also, they don’t want to mess around in there, because –

Sarah: No!

Jennifer: – you know, it’s, they don’t want to possibly damage what vision you do have left.

And then, you know, on the other side, with having like AD-, ADHD and also bouts of, like, anxiety and depression, like, I feel like at this point most people in the word have those, like, I think that is now like normal behavior at this point. Like, we, it’s not atypical behavior anymore. But with the vision, I used to be able to sit, for example, and be on the computer for twelve to thirteen hours and it not bother, like, my eyes –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – and, and not take its toll, but as the diseases progresses – and I’m very, very lucky; people who have RP typically at my age are almost completely blind. I have a very slow-progressing form of it, and so much so that when I go to the Wilmer Institute at Johns Hopkins – that’s where I have my treatment at – you know, they always bring in, like, their students to look – [laughs] – because they usually don’t see someone at my age that still has – like, I don’t have much side vision, but I still have way more, yeah, than what –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – most do. It, I can’t sit at the computer as long as I do, so that had, that basically had to make me face reality that I can’t write as much as I used to be able to.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: Because what happens is that, and it’s just normal eyestrain, but, like, when you do have eye problems, the strain will have more effect on it, so one thing that happens to me is twitching. Like, my eyes will twitch nonstop if I’m on the, if I’m doing something I should not be doing, and that inside of itself becomes so distracting.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: It’s like, Oh my God; you, like, stop. But, you know, another thing that it’s made me kind of realize too is to take a step back and remind myself that this career isn’t everything.

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: Not, and that…

Sarah: It’s very easy for it to take up your whole day, right? I have the same problem!

Jennifer: And you know this: when you work from home, people – I mean, and look, I’m not complaining about working from home; I am lucky, privileged, and blessed to do so. The one downside is that you don’t stop working.

Sarah: Yes! Thank you. Very true!

Jennifer: …that you have, you can’t leave this at the office, because your office is your house. It is your room, your couch, your kitchen –

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: – outdoors; like, there is no escape from it. And it can be very hard to set that boundary, to, to be like, I’m going to stop at five o’clock, I’m going to stop at six o’clock, and then you look and it’s eight o’clock, and you did not stop.

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: You know, it’s, so it’s, it’s hard to do that. One thing with this that has kind of helped is reminding myself that this is not the end-all, right? You know, it, it’s not, it shouldn’t be the one thing that takes up all the time. In the Harbinger series, where Trinity has the same eye disease that I do, the doctor asks her something, and I put that in there because the eye doctor, my doctor at Wilmer had asked me this. He asked me, can, can, he asked me if I could still see the stars at night.

Sarah: Ohhh!

Jennifer: And I – yeah – and I looked at him, and I was like – and then I stopped and I was like, Shit, I don’t know! I haven’t looked. And, and it was like that realization, it’s like, take, you know how that saying, Stop and smell the roses.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: I could not remember the last time I looked up at the sky to see, and so I was like, I don’t know. He was like, and, and they use that because basically that’s one of the, it, it helps them determine, like, visual, like, you able to tell the difference between the, how much light can you see? And, and that kind of stuck with me because I was like, How do I not know that?

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: How do I not know that? And it kind of became that moment of –

Sarah: Ohhh!

Jennifer: – well, it’s, ‘cause all I’m thinking about is working! All I’m thinking about is writing that book, you know, getting a book finished, fixing this book, and I’m so focused on that I’m not living! And eventually I’m not going to be able to see this stuff around me –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – and that kind of was a bit of a wake-up call. So I mean it, it’s, it’s, it’s a battle to, to remember that?

Sarah: Yes! Especially in publishing! Especially when you’re, when you’re both publishing traditionally and self-publishing!

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: The message is, More books, more books, more books, more books. When’s the next one? When’s the next one? Can you do four books a year? Can you do five books a year?

Jennifer: Yep!

Sarah: Yep!

Jennifer: Yep, and I used to, at one time I was writing eight books a year.

Sarah: Have mercy!

Jennifer: Eight books. I was writing seven days a week –

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: – after week after week, twelve to thirteen hours. It was, it, it, you, never do I recommend that, and – because you also just run the risk of burning yourself out…

Sarah: Absolutely.

Jennifer: If anything, I would tell publishing and libraries – I mean, I think, I think, I think they are getting a lot better now. I think there is a lot more awareness…

Sarah: That everyone involved is a person, yeah.

Jennifer: Yeah, and not just with visual impairments, but also with different things that people may need assistance with? I do think one thing I am starting to see a lot better on is when you do something like book signings and events and sending you on tours, they are starting to realize that not all authors can do this –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – easily, and they can’t do it by themselves. I can no longer do, like, airports by myself, ‘cause I can’t see, you know, and it’s like, and if you, if you, if you’re not paying attention, right, like, and you hear something, because also a lot of apps are not visually –

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: – friendly.

Sarah: No.

Jennifer: Even though they claim to have dynamic text, that is a lie. Like Facebook, you say you have it; you do not have it.

Sarah: Nope.

Jennifer: So you can’t – and, and that magnifying option is terrible. That, that, I can’t. That just, I cannot just focus on this little circle on this little screen.

Sarah: I know.

Jennifer: Like, that’s not helping me; that’s just going to make me rage-y.

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: So yeah, so I, I have to have someone who goes with me when I do that kind of stuff. You know, them being aware that I can’t have camera flashes, because any type of flash of bright light will blind me. You know, I’m like a little gremlin –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – like, bright light – right. [Laughs] Like, so it’s – and so I do see where they’re, they are becoming more aware of that.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: Also just becoming aware that authors can’t sign as many tip sheets. Like, like auth-, you know, like, that’s one thing that you’re seeing more recently now is the acceptance that when, when our publisher asks us to sign a bunch of tip sheets, we want to say yes because not, you’re not going to always get asked that, right? Like, that’s –

Sarah: No!

Jennifer: – actually a good thing, but physically, it is, it is actually, it’s very painful! [Laughs] To do that!

Sarah: Yeah. Oh yeah.

Jennifer: When you’re also typing all day.

Sarah: Oh yes.

Jennifer: So it’s like you’re now using your wrists in a totally different gig, so – but you are starting to see a lot more awareness towards that, and also I’m happy to see that you’re seeing more awareness to, towards mental health.

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: Like realizing that sometimes authors – and also authors understanding sometimes their editors, their publicists –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – have to take a step back, because –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – for their mental health purposes. They have to, they have to take a moment, and you’re starting to see a lot more acceptance of that? So I’m, I’m really glad to see that.

Sarah: That is a good thing. And especially the tip sheets. Like, can you sign eight thousand – no! I cannot sign –

Jennifer: That it is –

Sarah: – eight thousand pieces of paper. I can barely write –

Jennifer: Yeah!

Sarah: – a check! I have no hand stamina?

Jennifer: Right! And then they’re also –

Sarah: I can barely write a whole check! [Laughs]

Jennifer: Well, and I think it’s because we don’t write anymore, right?

Sarah: No! Absolutely not!

Jennifer: Like, we don’t handwrite anything anymore.

Sarah: I digitally sign things all the time.

Jennifer: Yep, and so it’s like when you’re doing them, like, I am doing about four thousand of them right now, and yeah, and it’s like I do them in, in stages, and so what I also have seen is the publishers realizing that they need to give you months to do these.

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: Right, you know, instead of dropping them on you and being like, You have a week to get these done. So that way that you can actually break this off, and a lot of people probably like, Oh why? It can’t be that hard!

Sarah: Yes, it can!


Jennifer: Yes! Then I challenge you to sit and do that.

Sarah: And write your name eight thousand times.

Jennifer: ‘Cause it’s not, ‘cause you’re going to mess up your back in the process if you’re like me and cannot sit right.

Sarah: Yep.

Jennifer: It, it’s, you know, but also it’s like you have a life too! Like, yeah, you’re starting to see a lot more publisher awareness towards that, and also community awareness.

Sarah: That’s good.

Jennifer: Like, people are starting to be more accepting of that.

Sarah: Varian asked, says, “I’m a legally blind author who’s still learning to navigate writing and the internet with my changed sight. Is there any writing software you’ve found to be easily accessible and effective?”

Jennifer: I think this is an area where we could use some improvement in. There aren’t that many options that I find are actually very user friendly or easier to transition into. So when you are in the process of losing your vision, depending on where you’re being treated at, there will be programs at that facility that can help you transition. So that, they start to teach you different skill sets. Also I think there is a bit of kind of like in a way of coping skill sets where, you know, this is going to be something you’re going to struggle with, so this is what you’re going to, try to start you to get you doing this this way when you have still have vision?

Sarah: Right.

Jennifer: So that it’s not such a shock.

Sarah: Like a pilot warning you –

Jennifer: Yeah, yeah.

Sarah: – We’re going to have turbulence in about an hour.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: And so prepare. And, but there still isn’t very much available mainstream.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: Now, when you’re at places like Wilmer, which is like one of the leading eye institutes, they have access to things that are, that should be available to everybody. Like, like voice dictation services that are actually really good – [laughs] – that, that are easy to use. And I hope to see in the future more of that stuff becoming available, ‘cause especially, you, you have different varying degrees of blindness, and some people who have eye diseases or disorders, they don’t need to use, like, a dictation service all the time. You know, it’s something they’ve got to be able to easily move in and out of. One of the services that I do know is available, that I do think is probably one of the best is Dragon Dictation?

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Jennifer: Think, yeah. And so I have, I struggle with dictation services just because that is not what I know –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Jennifer: – and so I force myself to do, to, to like at least a couple times a week to do it.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: Because I’m like, I have to, I have to learn, and it is, it’s really learning a new skill set.

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: It’s really, it’s like learning – I would say for me, it’s like learning a new language…

Sarah: Oh, absolutely!

Jennifer: Yeah. ‘Cause I don’t, I don’t think that way! I don’t create that way. I don’t create speaking. It’s writing!

Sarah: Yes!

Jennifer: And so it’s like I have to switch that somehow. Now, I do use Scrivener as a writing tool, and I, I do like that because I can change the colors; that’ something that has helped me is inverting anything that was originally white to black, and anything, and then the words I make gray – like, I don’t do the stark white – that helps a lot.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: And also, I mean, my zoom on my computer is like insanity? It’s like 270 on font 18, I think? And then on the web it’s like font 24 is the minimum font.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: And believe it or not – this is going to sound silly – it took me a long time to make myself do that, because I wanted, like – I don’t even, I can’t even, and, you know, what I went to college for and what I worked in before I was a writer is the field of psychology, and I can’t even figure out, like, why I was so resistant to changing these things. And I, well, actually I can. I think, I think it’s because it was acknowledging that I was losing my vision.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: Like, I could, as long as I wasn’t seeing, because your mind and your brain are amazing –

Sarah: Oh yes.

Jennifer: – in how it adapts without you realizing it. I, you are born with RP, so it steadily progresses throughout your life. I’ve always worn glasses, and I would –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – I had, and I would have these weird symptoms, right, these weird things, and, but I wasn’t noticing them because as my, my side vision was shrinking, I was adapting by turning and looking, right?

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Jennifer: And so you, it’s like your, your brain starts to get, you learn to do other things, so you don’t realize that this is happening –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – and I think, as, as silly as that is, like, I was making my life more difficult – [laughs] – by not increasing, like, changing how I was working, because I, I think mentally it was acknowledging. ‘Cause it is a scary thought, like, you know…

Sarah: It’s very scary!

Jennifer: Yeah, ‘cause you’re like, eventually this is going to go away. How am I going to do this?

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: You know, what is that going to feel like? And so it was like acknowledging that, so.

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: But I think for me it was that, but also learning dictation services, and I think you said she was fully blind?

Sarah: I believe legally blind.

Jennifer: Legally blind –

Sarah: So some –

Jennifer: – so she probably has, yeah, vision left. I mean, she may not, but she, if she hasn’t started to do dictation – or he – hasn’t started to do dictation services yet, definitely start that now –

Sarah: Yeah.

Jennifer: – because it is a little harder.

Sarah: Build those muscles.

Jennifer: It is very hard to do.

Sarah: Oh yeah; I know when I’m writing it, this is going to – I mean, you’re a writer; you’re going to understand this – it sounds like, sometimes it’s like I’m listening to a very, very quiet voice in my head when I’m coming up with what I want to write, whether it’s nonfiction or fiction, and I can’t have music with lyrics. I can’t have any other words competing with what I’m trying to listen to, including my own voice! So I’ve always been like –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: – okay, well, I know from recording, for example, I’m very used to the sound of my own voice; I edit my own voice, and I know that the software sounds different than me because the sound is actually echoing in my head, which creates a different sound, which is why a lot of people hate the sound of their own voice? I don’t know –

Jennifer: Yeah. [Laughs]

Sarah: – the sound of my own voice would disrupt me writing, ‘cause I’ve never tried it, and I’m like, yeah, that’s probably a muscle that you have to develop.

Jennifer: And one of the things that you have to work on, which is even more difficult for me, is you cannot really ramble. And I get pretty –

Sarah: [Laughs] Well, darn!

Jennifer: – rambly, right? I ramble, and you can’t do that with the shit is, you know, dictating everything coming out of your mouth. So it’s like you have to wear – and, you know, I can’t, I don’t ramble when I’m typing, but I am when I’m talking. It –

Sarah: Oh, for sure!

Jennifer: So it’s, that’s the part that is the biggest struggle, ‘cause you have to learn when to stop it and –

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: – and to, like…yeah, it’s – I was like, I’m a mess! [Laughs]

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: …is not doing that, but that’s the best advice I can give.

Sarah: That’s wonderful advice! I mean, self-editing when you’re writing is a very different thing than self-editing while you are talking.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: Like, none of us have that one-second delay on our mouths yet. [Laughs]

Jennifer: Right. It’s like you have these bloopers that are just captured. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yep, forever.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: And then you, like, read, like I read the transcript of my own, like, conversations verbatim before editing, and I’m like, wow! I just go! Just talk!

Jennifer: Yeah, it’s like some, it’s like somebody, I need an adult to be like, Jen, stop.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Jennifer: Okay.

Sarah: Do you have any books that you are reading that you want to tell readers about?

Jennifer: I’m actually, I’m actually going back and reading – and I always say her name wrong, too – Kerrigan Bryant, Byrne, Byrne?

Sarah: Oh, Kerrigan Byrne! Oooh!

Jennifer: Kerrigan Byrne. I’m rereading her Victorian Rebels series?

Sarah: Oooh!

Jennifer: And, yes. I do love those books, ‘cause those books actually remind me of, as an updated version, of the Old Skool bodice rippers. They are, I feel like, the closest to that, but updated. Like, where –

Sarah: They are absolutely Old Skool style.

Jennifer: You know, not as eek – [laughs] – no, I’m reading them. So I’ve been reading that, but also I am in the process of reading Kit Rocha’s new fantasy that comes out in November, Consort of Fire, I think?

Sarah: Yes.

Jennifer: Let me double –

Sarah: It’s the –

Jennifer: Yeah.

Sarah: It’s the – [laughs] – I think they call it the dragon-fucking book?

Jennifer: Yes, yes! [Laughs] That sounds just like what they – and it is! It is, it is very – I mean, it’s not like dragons fucking, but it’s, it’s really good. It, it is actually very – I mean, they’re great. Like, I, I have been reading them since, I think it’s, what was it, Beyond Shame?

Sarah: Yeah! Oh yeah!

Jennifer: …probably. And it’s really good. It’s very exciting. If you like badass heroines and mysterious, you know, supernatural men and you also like female/female, this is going to be the book for you! So it has a lot, and it’s very good. I think it comes out in November?

Sarah: November 28th, it looks like.

Jennifer: Yeah. Yeah, so it, it’s very, very good, and, and we were, I was talking to Bree and was joking about, like, it was going to be like – I forget what she said! Something like, you know how they do Hot Girl Summer, but she was like, It’s going to be Spicy Fantasy Fall or something; I don’t know.

Sarah: [Laugh]

Jennifer: It was funny. She said it perfectly, and it made me laugh, because they are, they are amazing at writing spice. Like, they – and, and if people haven’t read them yet, Kit Rocha, they, they go there…

Sarah: Oh yeah!

Jennifer: But they go there with care. You know, I do think there are some issues with, like, fetishizing certain things in the romance community that –

Sarah: You don’t say.

Jennifer: – women tend to do –

Sarah: Mmm?

Jennifer: – in some books, and so you don’t see that. Like, there is care there; there is, you know, I know that we have the male gaze; there also is, like, the female gaze.

Sarah: Mm-hmm!

Jennifer: You know, like, you know, and sometimes the female gaze also has its problems. Yes. Yeah, so I mean it’s, it, it’s, so they do with care, but in, in their – but it’s still extremely hot reads, but also, like, you know, there’s, there’s a plot there…

Sarah: Yes, there is. There’s absolutely a plot there.

Jennifer: So it’s like you’re not just, you’re, you, it’s a, you’re reading it for both reasons, and you’re getting what you want, so I would tell people to definitely preorder that. It’s coming out in November.

Sarah: Where can people find you if you wish to be found?

Jennifer: I am usually on Instagram. I do have a reader group on Facebook called JLanders.

Sarah: What a great name!

Jennifer: Yeah. JLA, Justice League of America! It fits! But it’s, I, I, I do have a Threads account, but I forget that I have a Threads account?

Sarah: I forget that I have other accounts. I’m like, Oh yeah, I should go look at that.

Jennifer: Yeah. But that’s pretty much all I’m really on. I, I haven’t done Twitter in a very long time. I don’t do TikTok, mainly because it’s not, it’s not friendly to the visually impaired; you can’t see anything. Like, you can’t, I can’t see what I’m typing; I can’t see what I’m posting. So I, I kind of, I don’t do that. So those are the places they can find me.


Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you so much to Jennifer Armentrout for hanging out with me. As I mentioned, this is going to become two episodes. I have a whole other part, and we talk about a lot of our favorite, favorite fantasy and historical romances, so we’re going to take a little side trip into history in a future episode; I’m really looking forward to it!

As always, I end with a truly terrible joke, and this joke was inspired by Toku-nation on the Dad Jokes subreddit, which I love. Are you ready? This is really, really bad. I didn’t even put this in the Discord, I don’t think. I don’t think I’ve shared this with the Discord; I think this is, this is just, this is brand-new, and everyone is going to hate it. All right, are you ready?

What city has the unfortunate record for the most dropped waffles on the beach?

Give up? What city has the unfortunate record of most dropped waffles on the beach?

Sandy Eggo.

[Laughs] I can hear the groans! I can hear them in the future! You’re all like, Aw! Yep, I love that one! Thank you, Toku-nation. [Sighs] Good. Good-good-good, bad-bad-bad.

On behalf of everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have a wonderful weekend, and we’ll see you back here next week!

Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.

[Laughs] Sandy Eggo!

[end of cool music]

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