Award-Winning Author of Slow-Burn Romances between Strong Women

Interview & giveaway with lesbian fiction author Caren Werlinger

A Bittersweet Garden by Caren Werlinger

It’s time for another interview with a fellow lesbian fiction author. Today, I’m interviewing Caren Werlinger, who won the Sarton Women’s Book Award for her novel When the Stars Sang. Caren also had a new book out this year, A Bittersweet Garden, which is set in Ireland. I guarantee it’ll make you want to book the next flight to Ireland!

Caren is giving away three copies of A Bittersweet Garden—winners’ choice of ebook or paperback! Don’t miss the giveaway at the end of this post.


Welcome, Caren. Please tell us a little about your newest release, A Bittersweet Garden.

First, thank you so much for including me in this series of interviews. It has been fun to read the responses of the other authors you’ve interviewed.

A Bittersweet Garden is the story of a mid-30s American woman who longs to break free of the roles she has found herself trapped in: librarian, not-quite-ex-girlfriend, boring sister. She plots and plans and saves to get away to Ireland for an entire summer, thinking to re-invent herself. She has no idea that this summer will change her entire world.


In A Bittersweet Garden, Nora visits a town named Cong in Ireland, the home of her ancestors. Did you base Cong on a real place, and if you did, how did you research your setting and make sure your Irish places and characters are portrayed realistically?

Cong is a real village in western Ireland, north of Galway. It is where The Quiet Man was filmed (my favorite movie), and my wife and I did have a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine in 2015 when we got to spend a few days there. So some of the research was easy. Nothing like being there to be able to paint a scene! But the real historic flashbacks to the time of the Famine, that took more research: old journals and newspaper accounts, immigration records, those kind of things. I’ve found that little (accurate) details can make a scene come alive, not only for me but for readers as well. I’m sure you know what I mean from your own historical fiction.


Returning home, either to the place of your childhood or, even further back, the place your ancestors come from, seems to be a common theme in some of your books. For example, in When the Stars Sang, Kathleen returns to Little Sister Island, the place where she spent summers with her grandmother as a child, and in Turning for Home—which I got to edit—Jules returns to her small Ohio hometown. Why is that a theme that fascinates you as a writer?

It’s funny to realize that it has become a bit of a theme for me. When I ponder why, I think it’s because so much of who we are is influenced by the things that happened to us as children—good and bad. We lived in the middle of the country while my father and mother’s families lived far away to the west and east, respectively. So, we never had lots of time with extended family. We also moved a few times while I was growing up, so I don’t really have one place I’d call my hometown. Maybe I’m projecting my own longing for that, but I think a lot of people are either running away from or running toward that idea of “home”—and either way, it can be a powerful influence on how they act. That makes home and family fertile ground to explore in a book.


I tend to think your book covers stand out among many other lesbian fiction publications. I especially love the covers for Year of the Monsoon, Cast Me Gently, The Standing Stones, and When the Stars Sang. Can you tell us a bit about how you approach having your covers created?

Thank you so much for that, Jae. Rightly or wrongly, I do tend to judge books by their covers as an extension of the quality to be expected inside. I almost always have an idea of what I’d like to see for my book covers. Sometimes, I look for stock images that kind of match what I have in my head, but I don’t want to take a chance that an image will appear on ten other books. I use that image as a starting point, and ask my cover artist to work from there. Several covers feature photos taken by people I know. When I have seen images I like, I’ve reached out to the photographers to request permission to use their images for my covers. They’ve been amazingly generous with their permission.


Congratulations! Your novel When the Stars Sang was named a finalist for the Sarton Women’s Book Award, a mainstream award that honors outstanding female authors. The reader reviews I read for When the Stars Sang are equally full of praise. What does it take to write an award-worthy book like this? What do you think makes a book—and this book in particular—resonate with both judges and readers?

Thank you. I know you’ve had recognition of your books by some mainstream awards as well, so you know how much it means. I love the lesbian-themed awards that I’ve been lucky enough to win: Golden Crown Literary Society and Rainbow Awards. But lesbian fiction is such a small niche within the larger literary pool. To be recognized by the Sarton Award judges meant a tremendous amount to me. For those who may not know, May Sarton was an American lesbian writer and memoirist. The Sarton Award is named for her, but it rarely has had lesbian books named as finalists or winners. They said that this past year’s field of entrants was the strongest yet, so that added to the feeling of accomplishment to have been named a finalist.

I’m not sure why exactly When the Stars Sang has resonated so much with readers. I think the island setting is one that draws many people in, that sense of belonging somewhere. And the islanders are a group that look out for one another as well as caring deeply about the island itself. There’s obviously something about those themes that have touched readers deeply.


You have recently made some of your books available as an audiobook. Did you have a say in your narrators, and if you did, how did you pick? Are you happy with the narration of your books?

That was a surreal experience. In late March, I was contacted by an Audible rep, asking about the possibility of producing some of my novels as audiobooks. At first, I was certain it was a hoax, but it turned out to be real. Audible has actually been great to work with. My rep got me permission to approve narrators, so they presented me with 3-4 choices of narrator for each of the seven books they produced. (When the Stars Sang was already being produced by Ann Etter) The narrators I chose were wonderful to work with, contacting me to verify pronunciations. Overall, I’m very happy with the entire experience. I haven’t yet had a chance to listen to each book in its entirety, but I’m pleased with the snippets I have listened to. And listeners are giving high marks to the narration as well.


For purely emotional reasons, which of your books means most to you and why?

Gosh, this is such a hard question to answer! I had a strong emotional connection to all of my books as I wrote them. When I think about each of them, those emotions come right back. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be In This Small Spot. For any of your readers who have read that book they’ll understand why I chose it. If they haven’t, what are they waiting for? It was also a Goldie winner for Dramatic Fiction in 2014, and it means a lot to have had that recognition for one of the first books I published under my own imprint.


I know that you work as a physical therapist and you keep fit. What’s your favorite workout?

I know I should do more cardio and yoga and stuff like that, but what I really enjoy is weight training. I’m not as lean as I used to be, but on the upside, I’m a whole lot meaner! The benefits of getting older! :-)


What are your all-time favorite books with lesbian main characters?

Another tough question, Jae! Curious Wine is a favorite for sentimental reasons. But I also clearly remember reading The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (although when I read it, it was published under her pseudonym of Claire Morgan). When I read that book, I thought, “Yes! This is literature. This is what I want to write some day.”

It’s not an entirely happy book, but it’s so well written.

Another book not many readers know about is Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-Fashioned Girl. Little Women is, of course, her most famous novel. But if you read AOFG, there is an amazing amount of lesbian subtext in that story. I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on it as a child, but I definitely noticed it when I re-read the book as an adult.


When’s your next book coming out, and what are you working on right now?

I’m nearly done with a first draft of a new novel tentatively titled Invisible, as Music. It’s about a woman who is an artist, now in her mid-50s, who was afflicted by polio as a teen. She falls in love with a woman 30 years her junior. It’s also set in 1983/84, so a bit of an historical context to this one. I’m hoping to have it released before the end of this year.

Here’s a snippet:

Meryn bent to pick up her backpack and gave Henrietta’s shoulder a squeeze. “Have fun at your flower show, Hank. See you this evening.”

The door banged shut behind her, but Henrietta sat like a statue, her shoulder throbbing as if it had been burned. No one touched her. Ever. The last person who had, had been her doctor, listening to her lungs last spring when she’d caught a cold.

This is dangerous. Why are you allowing this to happen?

Things had been so much better in the couple of weeks since this girl moved in. Meryn kept her door partially open in case Henrietta called out for her in the night, so that Henrietta was actually sleeping through the nights. She’d left little thank-you notes in her wing of the house on Wednesdays, notes that delighted Bonnie and shamed Henrietta, who had never thought to do something so whimsical and kind. She called Henrietta from her office to see what she was in the mood for for supper, in case she needed to pick something up at the market on her way home.


She called this house home. None of her other companions had ever done that. To them, this position had clearly been a job. Though Henrietta had never realized it, that arrangement had left her with an underlying feeling that she had to treat them as employees in order to not feel indebted. But when she tried to think of Meryn that way, the image just swirled away, like a dab of watercolor dropped into a bowl of water. The same way the girl was wriggling her way into Henrietta’s life, tinting what had been nothing but black and white and shades of gray, bringing bursts of color… and joy. It was already difficult to remember what things had been like before she was here.

What happens when she leaves? You know she will. They all do.

Henrietta looked at her watch. Her ride would be here soon. She got to her feet to gather her things. She needed to regain control of this situation. Now. Before it was too late.


Where can your readers find out more about you and your books?

Readers can check out my blog here:

Or take a look at my website here:

And my Facebook Author page here:

Here’s my Amazon page:

Jae, thank you so much for hosting me. This has been a lot of fun!


Book giveaway

Caren is graciously giving away three copies of her novel A Bittersweet Garden. The winner gets to choose whether they want an ebook or a paperback copy!

Anyone can enter. To be entered into the drawing, leave a comment on this blog post.

Entries close on Thursday, September 19, 2019, 10 a.m. CET, when I’ll draw the winners using a random numbers generator. I’ll notify winners via email. Your email address won’t be used for any other purpose.

The Romance Bet by Jae

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78 thoughts on “Interview & giveaway with lesbian fiction author Caren Werlinger”

  1. The wip sounds really good 😀 and great interview (I agree about “in this small spot” – that one stays with you). No need to enter me into the competition as already have the book.

  2. Another great one!! Funny thing I have this book in my TBR pile! I loved Neither Present Time! Looking forward to the brand new, since it sounds as another great one!!

    • I haven’t read any of Caren books yet but this book sounds interesting for me especially what I read on this interview.
      ( I never thought reading was so much fun then watching movie but then I love reading more than anything in my life 😅😉)

  3. Thanks for the interview! I discovered Caren’s books last year and have been steadily working my way through them. All winners thus far!

  4. I haven’t read any of Caren books yet but this book sounds interesting for me especially what I read on this interview.
    ( I never thought reading was so much fun then watching movie but then I love reading more than anything in my life )

  5. This is my first newsletter and I have to say, I like that you interview other authors. It’s fun to get to know more writers. 😊

  6. I’ve already read “A Bittersweet Garden”, so I’m not here for the giveaway, however knowing Caren has another book coming is very exciting!

  7. Great interview I really enjoyed it and you and Caren are my favourite authors got most of your books. Cant wait to read this one.

  8. Thanks for sharing! The Quiet Man is one of my all time favorite movies! John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara had such amazing chemistry on screen! How wonderful that trip to Ireland must have been!

  9. I have read A Bittersweet Garden and absolutely loved it!!! I’m entering to win because I would live to have a copy in paperback! Caren’s books are magnificent!

  10. Used to work with Caren and had the pleasure and honor of reading her first book in it’s tough draft form. Wow!! I LOVE Caren’s work and certainly look forward to this book as well as any others she writes. Thank you Jae for doing this interview and thank you Caren for sharing your talents.

  11. I love this author’s work and delighted to read some of her favorites are mine as well. I look forward to reading her newest book.

  12. Caren,
    Thanks for sharing the backstory of The Quiet Man. This immediately put the image of your story into sharp focus for me. I love that macho-,man John Wayne worked with such boldly strong-willed women. (See The Rare Breed!) In reality, all of his co-stars were no wilting flowers!
    Thanks for sharing another interesting interview with us Jae!

  13. Caren,
    Thanks for sharing the backstory of The Quiet Man. This immediately put the image of your story into sharp focus for me. I love that macho-,man John Wayne worked with such boldly strong-willed women. (See The Rare Breed!) In reality, all of his co-stars were no wilting flowers!
    Thanks for sharing another interesting interview with us Jae!

  14. Hey Ladies !!

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting interview with us.

    I’m not a lesfic newbie anymore but even after more 300 novels read in a bit less of 4 years (including more than 40 beta / omegareadings), I feel like this sometimes anyway because there are so many good authors and books to discover .. And after having read this, my never ending TBR list will be even longer. LOL

    If I’m lucky to win, I’d love a paperback …
    I love my paperbacks so much !! (and even more when they are signed copies .. )

    About the draw / giveaway : Thank you for thinking about people worldwide …
    Good luck everyone.

    Have a lovely weekend all … Greetings from Reunion Island …

  15. A ghost, you say? I’m intrigued. I could do with a paperback copy of ‘A Bittersweet Garden’.
    Once again, Jae, thanx for an interesting interview.

  16. I have read, and thoroughly enjoyed, at least a couple of Caren Werlinger’s books, and have a number of them, not yet read.

    I would love to have, and read, A Bittersweet Garden.

  17. I have read 3 of Caren’s and enjoyed them all , especially When tbe Stars Sang. I just reread it because I loved it so much. I would love to win a copy of this new book so please enter me i the draw

  18. Sorry for the typos above. Should have read my comment over! It’s hard not to make mistakes with these teeny little touchscreens.

  19. The story behind “The Price of salt” was sad, but I liked how much the book itself brought to the genre. I wanna say I prefer colourful covers, but “A bittersweet garden” has that eerie, nostalgic mood that I also like. Great interview!

  20. Ah, 2 of my favorite authors. I think I have ebook versions of all Caren’s books as well as Jae’s. It’s really hard to pick a favorite as I’ve enjoyed all of them so much.

    I would love a chance to win a paperback copy of any of Caren’s books. Thank you Jae and Caren.

  21. Had already added bittersweet garden to my wish list so I hope I can win it.
    On my wish list as well is twist of the Magi. Ireland was somewhere I had always wanted to visit as well as the home of the lippizzan stallions that I have probably misspelled yet again. And new Zealand that like Ireland seems to hold unique mystical bonds with native citizens. But was never blessed with the money to make it happen and is now too late.

  22. Wow, this book seems so interesting. Some of my own ancestors are from Ireland and I’ve always dreamed of visiting everywhere my ancestors are from. Can’t wait to read it!!

  23. This is an author That is unknown to me. Her sip looks very interesting and is encouraging me to look at her other work.

  24. I very much enjoyed When the Stars Sang and a BitterSweet Garden. Your writing is a wonderful trip to another time and place. Thank you.


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