Q&A with Helen Hoang

Posted by Goodreads on June 18, 2018
Here's an unconventional approach to heating up your love life: Hire an escort.

For Stella Lane, the unforgettable heroine of this month's hot debut The Kiss Quotient, the idea isn't just scandalously fun—it's logical. The 30-year-old autistic woman, a math genius who finds French kissing alarming ("like a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish"), sets out to figure out modern romance as efficiently as possible in order to appease her parents and start a family of her own. How hard can flirting and foreplay be to learn anyway? Stella and her escort-turned-teacher, the impossibly handsome Michael Phan, are about to find out—one awkward, adorable, and sexy lesson at a time.

Author Helen Hoang talked to Goodreads about how Stella's journey with self-acceptance and love helped her embrace her own and how a dating curriculum can look a lot like "a performance-improvement plan that you might get at an office job. But with sex!"

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Goodreads: Congratulations on your debut novel! What inspired The Kiss Quotient?

Helen Hoang: Prior to writing this book, I'd been thinking about a gender-swapped Pretty Woman for quite some time, but I couldn't figure out why a beautiful, successful woman would hire a male escort. When my daughter's preschool teacher suggested she was on the spectrum, that sent me on a journey of exploration that resulted in my own diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder and the inspiration for Stella, The Kiss Quotient's autistic heroine.

GR: Kissing lessons (and more) with an escort. How did you go about developing the "curriculum"?

HH: I just tried to give the curriculum as logical and efficient a framework as I could. Stella was short on time and had a lot to learn. I wanted the lesson plans to look a bit like a performance-improvement plan that you might get at an office job. But with sex!

GR: From strict business arrangement to tender friendship, there's no "instalove" here. What did you like about writing a romance where the main characters don't fall for each other at first sight?

HH: While I like reading "fated mates" stories in paranormal romance, I just don't find "instalove" or love at first sight very believable in a contemporary setting. I've always felt that love comes with trust, and trust needs to be earned. That's not something that happens instantly—not for me, anyway. More than that, the earning of trust is an emotional process that I like to see unfolding on the page.

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GR: Readers love the honest and relatable depiction of Stella's experience with Asperger's. What was the process like bringing her story to life?

HH: I was pursuing an autism diagnosis while I worked on this book, and writing Stella helped me explore aspects of myself I'd always hidden and never understood: difficulty with relationships and intimacy, all-consuming interests, social awkwardness, routines, repetitive motions, etc.

At the same time, the more I learned in therapy and research, the clearer and more real Stella became. Beyond that, I gave her my insecurities. As I wrote the book, Stella and I both went on a journey to embrace our differences and become comfortable with our label.

GR: What do you hope readers take away from Stella and Michael's love story?

HH: As someone who was diagnosed later in life, one of my biggest struggles has always been self-acceptance. I used to put a lot of effort into changing myself to please people, and that worked—I was able to develop relationships of a sort. But they exhausted me, and as a result, they frequently ended in failure. In order to have real relationships, I needed to feel safe being who I am. In other words, I had to learn trust and self-acceptance.

I think those two things go hand in hand. As much as I wish I'd learned self-acceptance on my own, I realize that I needed someone to accept me the way I am before I could do it, too. Love makes you stronger, and it can come from unexpected places. Underneath it all, we're more alike than we think.

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GR: On your website, you mention you got addicted to romance in the eighth grade. What were some of the books that first hooked you on the genre?

HH: My first romance novel was Gentle Rogue by Johanna Lindsey. After that, I read her entire backlist. My early favorites include everything by Elizabeth Lowell and Jayne Ann Krentz.

GR: When did you first start writing?

HH: I first started writing in high school, but it was frowned upon by my computer scientist dad, so I majored in Applied Economics in college. It wasn't until about ten years ago that I started writing seriously, and I had a long journey of learning and stumbling before I reached the point where I am now.

GR: We're so excited to find more and more own voices books. Can you recommend some of your favorites?

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HH: The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, Trade Me by Courtney Milan, A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev, anything by Alyssa Cole, and Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall.

GR: What books are you looking forward to reading this summer?

HH: Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals books, Kate Clayborn's Luck of the Draw, Christine Feehan's Judgment Road, Christina Lauren's Love and Other Words, Nalini Singh's Silver Silence, Penelope Douglas' Birthday Girl, Penny Reid's Winston Brothers books, and Lynn Turner's Pas de Deux.

GR: Your next book, The Bride Test, comes out in January 2019—and it's already been marked as Want to Read by more than a thousand Goodreads members! What can readers look forward to in that story?

HH: The Bride Test features Khai, an Asian American hero who's on the spectrum. He avoids relationships out of the misbelief that he has no emotions, and I think his journey will speak to people. He spoke to me, at least! I had a lot of fun writing about his summer of forced proximity with Esme, the mail-order bride his mom got for him.

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message 1: by Tea (new)

Tea She had me at:

"While I like reading "fated mates" stories in paranormal romance, I just don't find "instalove" or love at first sight very believable in a contemporary setting."

I have the same hang up even though romance is my favorite genre. This sounds like a very interesting and unique plot. Seeing as how the author and her daughter are on the spectrum, I'm betting that Stella will be a genuine representation of autism. Can't wait to read!

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