I adored Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss, an NA college-set f/f Christmas romance. that just came out last week. I really enjoyed the way the characters moved from meet cute to best friends to dating, and I’m excited to share this interview with Ceillie about her debut romance!
A Bit About Ceillie
Ceillie Simkiss is a queer writer of all stripes based in southern Virginia. She is also a blogger, public relations professional, and freelance writer. She has bylines at sites like Culturess, Global Comment, and Let’s Fox About It, in addition to her self-published novella Learning Curves.
She started writing fiction as an escape from her day job as a small town journalist, and has been at it ever since, with the support of her partner, her dog and her cats.
An Interview with Ceillie
How would you describe yourself to a new reader just discovering your work?
Well, first of all, I’d say hello, and thank you for bothering to look at my work! I like to think of my work as “honestly joyful.” Learning Curves is one of the lowest angst books I’ve ever read on purpose. I aim to make it joyful for me as the writer, for you as the reader, and for my characters. Sometimes I’ll make them suffer a little bit, but it’s always gonna turn out okay in the end.
What authors or books have you been reading lately that you would highly recommend?
I went on a road trip to Indiana with my best friend and did a lot of reading in the car. It’s about a 10 hour drive, and we listened to Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy. There was a kerfuffle about the blurb early on, but this was a stunningly written questioning narrative. I love the way that a lot of things, from Hattie’s pregnancy to their poverty, were handled throughout it.
I also have to recommend, to the highest degree, A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole. If you want another book with an ADHD heroine, and you’re okay with on-the-page sex, you want to read this.
It’s clear that one of the core things you wanted to do in Learning Curves was to offer a story full of light and queer joy. Can you tell me about why that’s important to you and your process for doing that, particularly in this historical moment?
When I started writing Learning Curves, I was working full-time as a journalist in small-town Virginia. There are a lot of things to love about the area I live in, and there’re a lot of areas that it needs to work on. I was feeling burnt out reporting on murderers and court cases and local politics every day, and I was really missing having a queer community around me. The county that I covered as a journalist went overwhelmingly for the current president, and celebrated his win. I wasn’t out to nearly anybody in my community. They only knew that I wasn’t an allocishet christian girl if they followed me on Twitter, which almost nobody in this area does.
Writing Learning Curves was part of my way of building my own community, even if it was just in my head and on the page. I needed to feel like there was a place for me in my town, and honestly in my own life. I wanted to feel the joy of knowing there was a place for me, and one of the most important ways to do that for me is to see myself in fiction. there are quite a few ace books out there that mean so much to me, but none of them quite tapped my experience and what I wanted. So I started writing, and then I kept writing. I wrote the story full of the light and joy that I needed. I hope that it helps some other readers.
This is a queer Christmas romance that shows the joys and difficulties of navigating family holiday celebrations. Tell me about what motivated you to center a family Christmas in this romance.
Much like Elena, I am part of a huge Catholic family. My mom is one of nine kids, and I grew up spending every waking minute with my aunts, uncles and cousins. Christmas has always been a huge deal in our family. My mom has built her own Christmas village complete with trains and skaters, just like we see in Learning Curves.
Christmas is also a hard time of year for me, because my family responded to me coming out in much the same way we hear Cora talking about her family. I’m engaged to an allocishet white man, and we’ve been together for six years now, so it doesn’t change anything for them to know that I’m queer – except in the way they treat me. My siblings and I are the black sheep of the family for exactly that reason, not to mention we’re some of the only non-Catholics in the family.
I wanted to infuse the joyful memories that I have growing up doing everything with my family for Christmas with the sense of belonging that I don’t have anymore. I still love Christmas, and I still love my family. But I wish they were more like the family that I dreamed up for Elena.
I loved that it really starts with Cora and Elena becoming friends first, and we get to see that connection build. What led you to write a romance between friends?
For me, a romance between friends is the most organic relationship I can imagine. I’m a little bit in love with almost everybody I consider a friend. It’s not a romantic love necessarily, because that just sounds exhausting. But I wanted to do this this way because that’s how all of my best relationships have ever formed. I wanted to share the joy of that experience with as many people as I could.
If I had a theme song, it would probably be Someone New by Hozier. Seriously. That’s how I am.
I really appreciated the ADHD representation in the story, and the anxiety representation; it resonated for me as a neuroatypical reader, and felt very real. Can you talk a bit about writing neuroatypical characters?
Well, I’m really glad that it resonated for you, because the ADHD and anxiety representation in Learning Curves is entirely my own. I’m not entirely sure that I know how to write neurotypical characters, honestly. Their neurodivergent troubles are ones that I struggled with during college and while working, even while living at home with my family. They have a huge impact on how I relate to other people, and I know that it’s similar for lot of others. However, it’s not something that other people necessarily understand unless you spell it out for them.
Elena’s anxiety trigger, specifically loud noises, is one that’s pretty weird for me. I can sit in the stadium full of people, and have a professional marching band blaring in my face from 40 feet away and be completely fine. But if you put me in a room with four or five conversations going on? I start losing it. Stuff like this often doesn’t make sense to neurotypical readers, but yet stuff like that’s life-changing for us neurodivergent ones.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Hopefully a lot of things!
I’m writing a short that will serve as an epilogue for Elena and Cora, which will go out via my newsletter as soon as it’s finished and edited. It takes the Christmas and turns the dial up. We get to see more family time, and what these two ladies are up to two years later. I hope you’ll love it as much as you loved Learning Curves.
I’m also in the middle of drafting a second world fantasy novella that’s a little longer than Learning Curves called A Knight to Remember. It was inspired by Zendaya’s 2018 Met Gala gown that looked like chainmail, and has turned into a sweet Fantasy Romance featuring a lady knight, a trans man sorcerer who’s also second in line for the throne, a cinnamon roll blacksmith, and a joyful non-binary tailor. I’m really proud of it as it is right now, and I can’t wait to have this out in the world.
And in the planning stage, I have a Wizard of Oz in Space retelling that I’m really looking forward to getting to write. And of course you can see snippets and sneak peeks of all of these on my Patreon for $1 a month.
More About Learning Curves
Elena Mendez has always been career-first; with only two semesters of law school to go, her dream of working as a family lawyer for children is finally within reach. She can’t afford distractions. She doesn’t have time for love.
And she has no idea how much her life will change, the day she lends her notes to Cora McLaughlin.
A freelance writer and MBA student, Cora is just as career-driven as Elena. But over weeks in the library together, they discover that as strong as they are apart, they’re stronger together. Through snowstorms and stolen moments, through loneliness and companionship, the two learn they can weather anything as long as they have each other–even a surprise visit from Elena’s family.
From solitude to sweetness, there’s nothing like falling in love. College may be strict…but when it comes to love, Cora and Elena are ahead of the learning curve.
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