Kindle Vella went live this week, and I currently have two stories posted there: Kymani, an alien romance set in the same universe as the alien romances I’ve been working on this past year, and under my new pen name, C.B. Alice, Girlfriend by the Hour.
I have a weird relationship with Girlfriend by the Hour, which I’m putting under a pen name because it’s my first truly erotic, truly contemporary romance, and it doesn’t really fit my Chloe Alice Balkin brand. It’s much more inline with the shorts I’ve been publishing on Medium, which I’ve published there as Chloe Alice Balkin but I’ll be putting into anthologies as C.B. Alice in ebook format, and we all just have to accept that I don’t do things right.
Anyway, publishing Girlfriend now makes me realize that I’m pretty sure my career path looks more like a serial killer investigation than the way most people get into writing their genre. Here me out on this:
The first book I published back in 2019 (which feels like eons ago but was actually only two years ago, so maybe I’m doing better than I thought) was my reader magnet, Talia, an erotic retelling of the fairy tale that Sleeping Beauty is based off of, followed by my first full length novel, Magical Cave of Glowing Wonder. I’ve been pretty open about how this book was not written to market, and I deliberately published it early on when I didn’t have a brand to wreck. I published it to be backlist, a little something extra for readers who like my voice but want to see something different.
From there, I did my THIRD Shift and Candy For Demons series. I’m now doing an alien romance series. And I think all of this paints a fairly clear picture of who I am as a reader and a writer. I’m someone who favors genre to literary, romance to other genres, steamy to clean, paranormal to contemporary or historical. I grew up on maybe the romance pre-cursors like Sweet Valley High, maybe the paranormal middle-grade stuff like Goosebumps, but romance has been my jam for a long time.
I did read horror growing up, so it’s not entirely incorrect. Not Goosebumps, but Christopher Pike, which is close enough. Definitely closer to paranormal romance, but my path to becoming a romance writer was a completely unexpected one.
Do you recall how they caught Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs? How they realized that one of the later bodies found was actually his first victim, but because she was found later, they didn’t realize she was significant at first, and it turns out that Buffalo Bill was an acquaintance of hers?
Girlfriend By The Hour is the first romance I ever wrote. I did write some YA with romantic elements, but definitely nothing that could be defined as romance. I honestly didn’t think I was capable of writing it.
I’ve never hated on romance. I’m sure I’ve blogged before about the predictable comfort of turn-of-the-millennium Nora Roberts. It got me through some rough times. I’ve also occasionally devoured Lisa Kleypas. Tami Hoag and Janet Evanovich, but romance-adjacent, also fill my bookshelves. It just wasn’t the genre for me. What in the hell does a aromantic demisexual lesbian know about straight, steamy romance?
Well. A bit more information needs to be said about Girlfriend By The Hour at this point, specifically that it is a billionaire romance involving a powerful man introducing a girl fresh out of college to BDSM, and one of the characters was abused as a child. If you’re now thinking, “That sounds an awful lot like—,” yep. That’s deliberate.
See, I never had any intention of writing a romance, let alone an erotic romance. And then I read 50 Shades of Grey and…still didn’t want to write romance. Arguably, I wanted to write romance even less. But I happened to read it during NaNoWriMo, and by dumb luck, I finished the YA novel I was working on that year early. I had several days still to go, I hadn’t hit my 50k, I needed something.
And I was mad.
Really flipping mad about how BDSM was depicted in 50SOG. I’m not even in the BDSM community (I think I made that clear earlier), but I know plenty of people in it, and even from my purely academic knowledge of it, I knew how wrong it was. So I decided to write a story based on the exact same premise, but accurate.
And weirdly, I was good at writing erotic stuff. If you’ve read my stuff, I can’t stress enough that I didn’t start writing this until my mid-30s, and I continually shock myself at how well I do at it. I’m not trying to brag or anything, but I did just write my 100th erotic short for Medium, and people do pay actual money to read this stuff.
So that’s actually how I got into steamy romance. And initially, I wasn’t even thinking about paranormal. It never crossed my mind until I found out about shifter romance and how popular it was and thought it would be a good way to make money (wrong).
This probably doesn’t sound like a good sales pitch for Girlfriend By The Hour unless billionaire romance is 100% your jam all the time. But if you’re thinking hard pass on it based on the source material of 50 Shades of Gray, I will remind you that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Robin Hood: Men In Tights, and Disney’s Robin Hood are all the exact same story. And that’s not the case here. Girlfriend By The Hour is a fake-romance trope with an actual demisexual, pansexual character (squee!), an interracial relationship, and honest depictions of both PTSD as well as BDSM, showing both positive and negative interactions and explaining why the negative ones are problematic. It’s not in any way a manual or pushy about these topics—I don’t think I even explicitly say the character is pansexual—but these elements are all there, and I’m proud of how I worked them in.
Plus, the billionaire’s industry is video games. They argue character specs. There’s a DDR dance-off. It’s a good time.
New episodes of Girlfriend By The Hour go live every Monday and Friday. Read it. Love it. Encourage me to get cracking on its half-written sequel.