Alyssa Cole on the romance novel everyone should read and how Beverly Cleary changed her life
From romance to thriller, author Alyssa Cole has been inspired by a wide range of great books.
Where do people go when no one is watching? That's the question author Alyssa Cole poses in her new thriller. When No One Is Watching is set in Brooklyn, and centers around Sydney Green as she seeks to find out what happens to the residents in her neighborhood after they're pushed out as a result of gentrification. It was inspired by Cole's own experience living in New York City, moving further and further out into its boroughs. "I could afford the rent now, but where did the people go that could afford to live here before?" she says. "I leaned into the thrill and horror of the possible answer to that question."
While the thriller debut may seem like a departure for the romance novelist, Cole doesn't see it as a huge leap. "Even within romance, I write sci-fi, historical, contemporary," she says. "I have all different types of stories that I want to tell, and some genres are just a better fit for a particular story."
Cole spoke to EW about the books that have inspired her — read on for all her picks.
My favorite book as a kid
I had a lot of favorite books. One that I really enjoyed was The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willow David Roberts. It was a sci-fi middle-grade book about a girl with telekinetic powers, which I was obsessed with as a kid, and it's about her finding another friend like her.
Also, Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden, which was a queer YA book, I guess. It was one of those things where I was like, "This is great! I read it all the time," then, as an adult, I was like "oh! That's why I enjoyed that book so much. I get it now."
The last book that made me laugh
The last book that made me laugh is the one I'm currently reading, which is coming out next month. It's The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan. It's a historical romance set in England, and it has a hero who is a charming and annoying person, and the heroine is very rigid and trying to get things done. Courtney Milan just has great witty banter and dialog. I've been laughing a lot.
The book that cemented me as a writer
It's wild to me that I get to do this for a job, but maybe An Extraordinary Union. That was my first book that traditionally public, but it's also a book I wrote thinking that no one would want to publish it. It was my first big success. That was when I felt that this is maybe something I can do for a career.
An author that changed my life
Beverly Cleary and the book was Fifteen, it was also one of my favorites when I was growing up. It was a young adult romance that was set in San Francisco in the 1950s or something, and I'm sure some things in it wouldn't be great now in a book. It's a straightforward teenage romance, one of the very first I read. At that time, it was already an old book, but it sparked something in me, that this is the kind of thing that I enjoy reading.
What I've been reading in quarantine
One book that I have really enjoyed in quarantine is Legendborn, a contemporary fantasy novel coming out in September. The author's by Tracy Deonn. It's a mix of Arthurian legend and Southern history, and it has magic – and it's really cool! I loved it.
Another book I have really enjoyed is The Hitman by Katrina Jackson. I've been describing it as kind of like 365 DNI — if you like that kind of movie or story minus all the kidnapping and weird stuff. It's a funny book about a woman on her honeymoon alone in Italy because her fiancé cheats on her the night before their wedding. A hitman is staying next door at her hotel, who is tired of hearing her crying, and things happen from there.
A book I turn to time after time:
Slave To Sensation by Nalini Singh, which is the first book in her Psy-Changelings series. The series is set in a paranormal world where there are three races, one of them being the Psy who have abilities, but they have stopped feeling emotions to try to save their race from madness, which, of course, has unintended consequences. That's the first in a series of like 14 books.
A romance novel everyone should read
I would say Tempest by Beverly Jenkins, but really anything by Beverly Jenkins. For those who don't know, Beverly Jenkins writes amazing American-set historical romances with African American main characters. You learn so much from her books, but they are also they're fun and sexy. Tempest is a mail order bride book, the heroine is looking for adventure and change. She's very independent, and she marries a stuffy doctor. It's a lot of fun, and I love it.
A thriller that inspired me
I would say Jan Gil by Victoria Helen Stone. The book is about a sociopath, and she is avenging her friend after someone harms her. It's a cathartic and fun read. There's also romantic elements; it's one of those books that has it all — the thrill, the humor, and some romance too.
Black writers I wish more people read
There are very many.
Since we're talking about my thriller, people should be reading Rachel Howzell Hall. She has a book coming out in September called And Now She's Gone, and she also has a completed series about a detective set in LA called the Detective Elouise Norton series. Kelly Garrett has her Detective By Day series, which starts with Hollywood Homicide, about a Black actress who falls into detective work. There's also S.A. Cosby. If you like thrillers, you should check out his book, Blacktop Wasteland, about a reformed getaway driver who gets pulled back into his former life.
Those are darker, so for something a little bit lighter, Esme Addison writes cozy paranormal mysteries.
A literary character I love
Maybe The Demon Cat from Master in Margarita. I mean he's a demon cat causing trouble. What's not to love about him?
The last book to make me cry
One that I've reread recently is The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller. It's historical fiction with ghosts set in New York about a widow (obviously, from the title) who is glad to be a widow because her husband was extremely abusive. She tries to rebuild her life, buys this house, and plans to have the life she should have, but the house and the widow are haunted. I just think it's a really great look at some of the things women go through. It's a very sweet romance and a great ghost story, many things wrapped up in one.