Denise Williams is a modern romance author with several books coming out this year including a series of audio-first novellas set in an airport, beginning with The Love Connection. She is also releasing her third novel, Do You Take This Man.
Denise is also a wedding officiant! So we are going to talk approximately the process of uniting people in matrimony, what she loves most, and making the event meaningful for the people who are present. So many happy wedding stories, this episode will make you smile.
Thank you to Daché J. Rogers and Erin Galloway for setting up this interview!
Have you officiated a wedding? Been at a memorable wedding event? Tell me everything?
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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:
You can find Denise Williams on her website, DeniseWilliamsWrites.com.
And here are the quotes Denise references in the episode!
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. ” – Justice Anthony Kennedy
“Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, constancy, and family. It is an organization that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects.” Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision provided and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.”
Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, Mass. Supreme Court
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This podcast episode is brought to you by A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries.
Bum the scenes of every gorgeous 19th century ball or house party are the heroines of this dazzling new series: Regency-era event planners. This series revolves around a group of young women, each with her own specialty – music, fashion, food, and so forth – as they enable the Lords and Ladies of London to throw the biggest and best bashes the ton has ever seen. And when these women band together nothing is impossible – even finding a match of their own!
Self-made civil engineer Geoffrey Brookhouse has unexpectedly inherited the dukedom of Greenwood. But he has a secret that could ruin his family. Hoping to save his timid sister from that destiny, he seeks to marry her off to a respectable, protective gentleman. With the London Season imminent, Geoffrey hires Elegant Occasions to orchestrate her debut. Yet Lady Diana Harper, spirited fashion expert, proves more than he bargained for. Suddenly, Geoffrey’s sister is emerging from her shell, and he is beleaguered with social invitations and gossip! Worse, Diana is attempting to transform him into a presentable duke.
Not only do we have strong historical makeover vibes, each book in the series contains two romances. The primary romance will be between the event planner and her hero as well as a secondary romance between a young debutante the event planner is assisting for society functions.
You can find A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries wherever books are sold. Find out more at KensingtonBooks.com
❤ Click to view the transcript ❤
Sarah Wendell: Hello there. Thank you for inviting me into your eardrums. I’m Sarah Wendell. This is episode number 514 – woohoo! – of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books! My guest this week is Denise Williams. Denise is a modern romance author with several books coming out this year, including a whole series of audio-first novellas, and she’s also releasing her third novel, Do You Take This Man. Denise is also a wedding officiant, so we are going to talk about the process of uniting people in matrimony, what she loves most, and how she makes the event meaningful for the people who were there. If you need some happy wedding stories, we have so many; this episode will definitely make you smile.
Speaking of making me smile, hello to the Patreon community. Thank you so very much for supporting the show each and every week. You make certain there’s a transcript, you make sure we keep going every week, and you’re just normally fabulous. Whether you would like to have a look at our Patreon, have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches.
This episode is brought to you by A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries. Behind the scenes of every gorgeous 19th-century ball or house party are the heroines of this dazzling new series, Regency-era event planners. This series revolves around a group of young women, each with her own specialty – music, fashion, food, and so forth. In A Duke for Diana, self-made engineer Geoffrey Brookhouse has unexpectedly inherited the dukedom of Greenwood. But he has a secret that could ruin his family. Hoping to save his timid sister from that destiny, he seeks to marry her off to a respectable, protective gentleman. With the London Season imminent, Geoffrey hires Elegant Occasions to orchestrate her debut. And Lady Diana Harper, spirited fashion expert, proves more than he bargained for. Not only do we have strong historical makeover vibes, but each book in the series contains two romances, the primary romance between the event planner and her hero, as well as a secondary romance between a young debutante the event planner is assisting for society functions. You can find A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries wherever books are sold. Find out more at kensingtonbooks.com.
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It’s time to do the podcast! It’s time to walk down the aisle – not really, but whatever you’re doing, I hope you enjoy this episode. This is a very, very happy one. I hope you’ll let me know whether it makes you smile. On with the podcast!
Denise Williams: Well, hi! I’m Denise Williams, I use she/her pronouns, and I am a romance author, and then I guess I have a day job too: I work at a university, and I officiate weddings!
Sarah: Okay, all of these things are very cool. And I want to begin with your 2022 release schedule, because I went to your website and I’m looking through, and you have an amazing 2022.
Sarah: Like, it is incredible. I’m a little worried; you might be a little tired. Congrats on all of the books. Can you tell me approximately some of them?
Denise: Yes, thank you so much! You know, it oscillates between amazing and oh my gosh, what am I doing?
Sarah: Yeah! It’s a lot! [Laughs]
Denise: But I do have four books out this year: three novellas that all take place in an airport, which has been fun, and those were audio-first. I’m a total audiobook fan, and so that just felt like fangirling at every step of the way. But all three of those take place in and at an airport. The first one is The Love Connection, which is out now, and that one is fake dating between a romance author who is, also works in risk management, and an airport dog groomer, and I don’t even know if that’s a real job, but I thought it should be, and for romance reasons now it is.
Sarah: It is now.
Denise: And so they – yeah! – they’re fake dating in the airport, she is his muse, and then of course love happens from there. There’s a couple wily dogs.
The second one, The Missed Connection, is two professors who are rivals, but they don’t know what each other looks like? And of course end up making out in an airport on New Year’s Eve when they’re both stranded, because what else would you do on New Year’s Even when you’re stranded in an airport?
Sarah: Of course.
Denise: And then they learn who each other are, and they have to travel together on a five-city tour. So it’s a grumpy/sunshine, it is my first Black love where both the characters are Black, and then the heroine is bisexual, and so that was fun just bringing different elements of all these different characters together as they have this sort of fun, romantic, grumpy/sunshine relationship!
And then the last one, The Sweetest Connection, is two best friends who both work in the airport, and they are in love with each other but of course haven’t shared that with one another, and they find a lacking love letter of somebody who works in the airport, and they have five days to figure out who it belongs to before one of them leaves the country.
Sarah: Ooh, pining! I love –
Denise: Yeah, so much pining! [Laughs]
Sarah: I love pining. Pining is so good. And I love that you –
Denise: I was just –
Sarah: I love that you’ve invented air-, romance novel world airports where there’s dog groomers, you can make out, there’s secret letters. I hadn’t thought about the uniqueness of, of airports in romance land, but this is clearly an invention that needs to happen.
Denise: I think so! And, and just for anybody listening, you can make out in airports. I haven’t done it, but I feel like possibly I will –
Denise: – with my husband, not with a random stranger. But –
Denise: You know, we talked initially approximately doing these in like a, kind of a small town setting, and I’ve never, I’ve lived in smallish towns, but I’ve never felt connected to the identity of a small town, and so I was trying to think of small communities –
Sarah: Oh yeah!
Denise: – and I love airports! Like, I love the idea that there’s all these different people and all of these different stories coalescing in one place for this occasion in time. And then I started thinking about, oh, what approximately the people who work there, like, who are in this community and –
Denise: – living their best life, hopefully – maybe not in the final two years, but in general – you know, in this community where all of these other people are transient, and – that’s kind of where the idea came from, but also perhaps it was an excuse for me to receive back in an airport – [laughs] – and fly somewhere to do a little vacation for some research –
Sarah: Obviously! And you’re right, it is sort of a secret community, because you think about, like, they have their own lane in the security; they go in and out every day. They’re going to, you’re, you’re going to see those people perhaps once; they’re going to see those people every day. It is a very small community inside a much larger transient space. That makes a lot of sense!
Denise: Yeah! And you know, even with travelers, like, you know, whether you’re a frequent flyer, if you’re traveling to the same airport a lot, that is a very familiar place to you, and I –
Sarah: Oh yes.
Denise: – always love the, the dichotomy of being in the security line with people who clearly fly seven times a week and somebody who hasn’t flown in thirty years.
Denise: And just, again, like, these different stories that are there together.
Sarah: Oh, for certain! Now, what was the experience like, writing for audio? I admit as a reader, I love, I love audiobooks, love them a lot – obviously, I podcast – but I also love dialogue, and so you get to write a lot of dialogue, I’m imagining. Was, was writing for audiobooks just super fun?
Denise: Yeah, you know, and it was interesting: with the first two, there’s some elements that are, are more in line with audio, but they’re, they’re ebooks, and they’ll be printed as well, so those really are more traditional –
Denise: – I think traditional books read in audio. With the third one, I played a little, around a little bit with format with having some, some interlude scenes where they were just conversations or it was just straight dialogue. But, I mean, that was kind of lovely. I love writing dialogue, and just being able to write the dialogue and some basic cues without all of the other pieces and that exposition and the dialogue tags and the action; I was like, oh my gosh, this is, this is wonderful! I guess this is screenwriting. [Laughs]
Denise: So that for me was really fun, and then because I love audiobooks I was able to have a lot of input on my narrators? And maybe I would anyway, but when I was writing them, I can hear some of those voices in my head. So Shane East is the hero, the voice of the hero in the first book, and I love his voice and his work and would just listen to him read the phone book, candidly.
Denise: So as I was writing, you know, I, I heard his voice in my head, and that made it kind of more fun to sketch out the character and figure out kind of how they would interact.
Sarah: I agree with you: there are some narrators, I could listen to them tell me their grocery list.
Denise: I’ve found books solely because who the narrator was on the audio. Like –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Denise: – never heard of this author, don’t know anything about this book, but so-and-so narrated it: okay, I’m downloading it, listening.
Sarah: Yep! There is a series of books, and I love the series: the Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch, which is about a magical detective in London –
Sarah: – but they’re read by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who I, I seriously would follow him anywhere. He could be reading the absolute antithesis of what I like –
Sarah: – like, it’d be entrails and doom and terror, and I’d be like, that’s all right! That’s fine. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, no, nah, I’m in; let’s do it! [Laughs]
Denise: Well, you know, and, and they make it, it’s a softer general, it’s like an entrails lullaby –
Denise: – when it’s somebody whose voice you love. [Laughs]
Sarah: All correct, Entrails Lullaby is now the name of my new cover band; thank you. That is awesome.
Denise: Yes. Yes.
Sarah: [Laughs] You should, you should be a writer!
Denise: I mean, the merch alone would be phenomenal.
Sarah: Oh. I’m already going to start designing it!
Sarah: So I wanted to talk to you about the fact that you officiate weddings! This is so cool! How did you start, you know, uniting people in matrimony?
Denise: Yeah! So in, like, 2005, 2006, two of my friends were engaged, they were going to be engaged soon, and we were just joking about weddings. I was like, I should get ordained online so I can perform your wedding! And then I tried it, and it took approximately four minutes, so I did.
Denise: And then it was a joke, and actually, their, I officiated in a lot of friends’ weddings; I didn’t officiate theirs, but that’s how I, I got started. My uncle has since retired from it, I think, but has been officiating weddings with that same kind of ordination since the ‘70s. And so I’ve seen him –
Sarah: Is this the Universal Life Church?
Denise: Yeah, Universal Life Church.
Denise: Yes, online, and there might be other spots to do it online, but that is who I got ordained through, and really it was just signing up; there’s not too much to it. But I’ve seen my Uncle Tim do that for years and years and years, and so I got it, and I just had it in my back pocket. And then the first wedding I ever did was actually my mom’s best friend. It was a second marriage for her and her husband; they didn’t or couldn’t or for whatever reason, they didn’t want to get married in their church –
Denise: – and so they asked me, and I was so nervous! I was like, I can’t possibly do this, so I got my uncle to do it with me, and we tag-teamed, and so that was my first one.
Sarah: [Gasps] So you officiated your mom’s best friend’s wedding with your uncle.
Denise: Yeah. That sounds –
Denise: – like the beginning of a, a narrative or something, but yeah, so, and it was a lovely wedding, and it was family. It was a small kind of affair, but that was the first one I did, and I was like, oh! Like, this isn’t that scary, and I can figure out the paperwork, which is really just signing my name.
Denise: And so yeah, that was my first one, but – and, and that was wonderful, but really the first one I did on my own is the one that, for me, kind of always sticks out. I was thinking approximately doing this for my friends and family, but my best friend from high school called me on like a Tuesday afternoon and said, hey, what are you doing Thursday?
Denise: Like, uh, working. It was, like, a weekday.
Sarah: Going to Costco, you know, as you do.
Denise: Yeah! He’s like, well, can you come up to Omaha and perform our wedding? Because he wanted to marry his now wife, then fiancée, before he deployed to Iraq.
Sarah: Ohhh, wow!
Denise: And so I was like, sure, and then I think his mom said, no, get a minister! And I was like, okay, I’ll just see you there. Then he called me that morning; he was like, no, can you still do it? The minister’s a fool! So that one is always special to me because it was, it was my, my best friend from high school, but it was the first one I did myself, and I think for that one I wrote the ceremony very quickly; I was the chauffeur; I think I was maybe the Best Man; I was helping the bride zip up her dress and then helping wrangle family; but – and the photos of that, at least of me, are horrible, so I always love showcasing those photos of the couple.
Denise: But that was the first one I did, and it was so special, and they are still together; they have three kids. I think they’re stationed in Korea right now. But yeah, my track record is pretty good: all my couples are still together, everybody who wanted children or fur children all have them, and so my track record is pretty good with that.
Sarah: Well played!
Denise: I think so! I, I don’t know how to put that on my resume, but I feel like I should.
Sarah: There has to be a way to put that on your resume.
So what are the elements to, to creating a service? What are the matters that you do and that you prepare from the point of view of being the officiant?
Denise: The first thing I always tell any couple I work with – and at this point I’ve probably done ten or fifteen different weddings and wrote my own ceremony “with my husband” – I’m putting up air quotes since podcast folks can’t see that. But, but there’s something that I always just say is there are no rules?
Denise: The only rule is that we sign the marriage license at the end; like, that’s it. And so when we’re building a ceremony, you can make that look any way you want it to look.
Sarah: That’s so liberating and so intimidating!
Denise: I know, I know. But I go a step further, because I am type A, and I’m like, make the world anything you want, but also here is a spreadsheet.
Denise: So – [laughs] –
Sarah: I like you! [Laughs]
Denise: Years ago I went and found different, like, verses, readings, sayings, different ways that people had done their vows, all of that, different ceremonies that folks included, and I made kind of this spreadsheet where you could go to the different pieces of a ceremony, pick what you wanted, drag and drop, and then it kind of builds it out?
Denise: And so that is helpful. I usually send that to people whether they want help kind of writing a ceremony, because it’s just got different poems – I don’t normally do much that’s devout just because I’m not, and that’s normally why people are bringing me in is they don’t want necessarily a devout ceremony, but –
Denise: – everything from posts, posts that are more political to literary to funny, different vows, and then every time I do a ceremony I kind of put the examples in there for folks to see. But I really like being able at the beginning to just set a tone for the ceremony, whatever that’s going to be. Provided it’s going to be funny, let’s talk approximately that. Provided it’s going to be kind of heavier or romantic or the crowd’s going to be involved, I really like to begin matters off that way?
Denise: But yeah, I always reiterate to my couple, like, as long as we signal the marriage license at the end, this can look however you want.
Sarah: Wow! And you wrote your own wedding, too!
Denise: Yeah! So I’m very proud that our vows included some of the standard, traditional things, but also zombie apocalypse, federal indictment, slow internet connection, and home improvement project gone very wrong.
Sarah: These all sound like very foundational elements to a marriage. I mean, you’re not wrong approximately any of those matters.
Denise: I mean, not zombies, not yet, and hopefully federal indictment never, but the rest of it was definitely weathered! And my brother actually got ordained to perform our wedding, so –
Denise: I performed his for him and his wife, and then he did mine, mine and my husband’s, and so that was kind of fun, like, keeping that in the family.
Sarah: Oh, I love that!
Denise: Yeah, it was –
Sarah: That’s adorable!
Denise: And my mom had, like, matching, you know, wedding photos with all of us in them –
Denise: – correct next to each other, so.
Sarah: My heart just melted a little bit. That’s so adorable: your brother married you, and you married your brother. That’s adorable! I love this so much!
Denise: It is! It’s also a really tough question that you can always play in Two Truths and a Lie. So I always say, I married my cousin, I married my brother, and I married my best friend. [Laughs]
Sarah: Oh! I will never play this game with you; I would lose. [Laughs]
Denise: Well, that’s the only one I’ve got, so now you kind of know the answer, but –
Sarah: So what are some of the matters that you do to make an, an event like that significant for that couple? And for the people who are witnessing, because, like you said, you have to start by setting the tone, and that includes both the people who are getting married and the people who are there witnessing the wedding. It’s a lot of gathering people and bringing everyone together and also sort of MC-ing it, but not in a very transparent way. What are some of the ways you make it meaningful for everyone?
Denise: In my training and in my work in education I’ve done a lot of public speaking, I do a lot of training, and so –
Denise: – part of that, I think, is reading your audience. It’s, you know, making eye contact and the way you, you make your voice, you know, you change kind of the timbre of your voice for humor or for serious or somber, I think along those lines, but the piece that I really like to do is I, if at all possible, I like to be part of the rehearsal? So –
Sarah: Oh yes.
Denise: – honestly, the, all of the wedding guests, I care about them, they’re lovely people, but I don’t also really care about them that much?
Denise: But making sure that the, the couple and the people that they love most, like their families, their attendants feel comfortable with the ceremony. Not even like what’s being said but, you know, where to, who to, where to go, where they have to stand, what’s going to be said when, who comes up to speak, those sorts of things.
Denise: And I have found that, you know, we’re able to practice that, but also when people feel comfortable with that, they relax, and so everybody else watching relaxes, because – and I, I reassure this to the couple too: I was like, the people are here because they love you, or you’re serving really good cake, but either way –
Denise: – they are motivated to be here, and they’re going to pay attention. You don’t have to entertain them; like, they want to witness this.
Denise: And so I do think, like, once the, the couple is comfortable with that, they’re more relaxed and the ceremony can kind of just go from there.
And then I also think there’s, if you aren’t figuring out when things go wrong, my next, I didn’t talk approximately my new novel, which is approximately a wedding officiant! So that’s a slip-up on my part, but I actually put this occasion in the book, which is from a real-life wedding that I officiated of my best friend from when I was a kid, and something went wrong with the sound system and the wedding planner and then her dad tripped on her train –
Sarah: Oh no!
Denise: – after kind of dropping her off at the front, and I was standing at the front and a microphone. Everybody else was just kind of out in this, this garden –
Denise: – and she just said, well, that was a bleepy, bleeping, bleeping catastrophe! And so the very first photo of the wedding is her husband looking at her wide-eyed, her looking at me wide-eyed, and me pointing at the microphone, all of just kind of laughing like – [laughs] – this is how the ceremony started!
Sarah: Okay, that’s hilarious.
Denise: And nobody heard us, nobody picked it up, but –
Sarah: Nobody heard.
Denise: – that was a really kind of fun way to begin things off. And then I was doing another one where the, there’s these mosquitoes or these little bugs came out of nowhere.
Sarah: Oh no!
Denise: And so between, like, every time the couple spoke to each other or somebody else was doing a reading, I was trying to very subtly scratch everywhere, as were the couple. Like, everybody was getting bitten, and just kind of reassuring them to roll with it, like, it’s fine. [Laughs]
Sarah: It’s just bugs! Disagreeable.
Denise: And it really, truly, it isn’t a performance, even though it feels like a performance. It’s something that you are doing, and a bunch of people want to support you, and, and other than that, like, everything can kind of come together.
Sarah: And I think it must help to be an educator; that you’re used to being in front of a classroom; that you’re, you’re used to gathering everyone’s attention and bringing everyone into that occasion. That’s part of educating too.
Denise: I think so, and it’s part of, I think it’s part of writing! Like, sometimes I’ve written ceremonies, sometimes the couple have written a ceremony, but –
Denise: – I do think that’s part of the, I don’t know, the writer gene of kind of being able to make a story and make it flow together and –
Denise: – kind of help people feel like they’re kind of on a narrative journey of what’s going on with this couple and what’s coming next.
Denise: And I also really love when couples want to add something special to it that’s unforeseen. I also think that pulls people in. So I was doing, on one wedding where, I don’t even know where they found this tradition, but they had a chest, and they were putting things in the chest and talking to each other approximately why it was meaningful?
Sarah: Oh wow!
Denise: To each other, and then they closed it up, and they were going to open it on the X, Y, and Z anniversary, and that was so, like, lovely, and it was for them, but everybody loved to watch it, and it was, it was really neat to kind of draw people in.
And I did another ceremony – I think it was my brother and sister-in-law’s – where they did, like, a hand ceremony which I hadn’t necessarily, necessarily seen before, but they talked approximately, you know, these are the hands that will hold mine when I’m old, and these are the hands –
Denise: – that may, like, hold our child; and it was all approximately hands and look, looking at each others’ hands, and it was really something for them, but for everybody else in the audience, of course, they got all the swoons and all the Aws!
Denise: Even though it was a small wedding.
And so, yeah, whether anybody’s planning your wedding, like, do something that’s significant for you, and I promise people will pay attention. And if they don’t, don’t give them any cake.
Sarah: Yeah! Withhold cake if you don’t, you know, show up to, to witness. Witnessing is important!
Denise: And cake is really important, so I –
Sarah: Cake is very important.
Denise: People are motivated!
Sarah: So now I have several follow-up questions.
Sarah: I am fascinated by the idea of building a time capsule while you’re getting married.
Denise: It was so cool! I just, I’d never seen that before!
Sarah: That’s so clever! I would not have thought of it, but I’m like, wow, that’s really smart!
Denise: And I’m trying to remember, I think they each wrote notes to each other and they put it in there, and I think –
Denise: – there was like a bottle of wine or a bottle of champagne. I actually –
Denise: – that bride, the woman who got married, I actually ran into her a couple weeks ago. I should have asked her approximately it!
Sarah: Oh wow!
Denise: Because I – and I should really tell all my friends that I wrote a book about a wedding planner and a wedding officiant so all of their weddings were kind of free, you know, free-for-all for ideas.
Sarah: Absolutely! All of this is writing inspiration, obviously. That’s really incredible; I’m just totally taken with this idea.
So tell me about your book! The, the new one about this wedding planner: how much fun was that?
Denise: Oh my gosh, this was so much fun. This was my pandemic book, so I wrote this while at my – Paw Patrol was on in the background –
Denise: – and probably a Zoom screen was running. So Do You Take This Man comes out in September, and it is about RJ Brooks, who was a character in The Fastest Way to Fall as well. She is a divorce attorney, she does not really believe in romantic love, and she gets ordained solely to perform her best friend’s wedding. But she’s in a park, there’s a couple that gets engaged, she gets kind of swept up in the second, and they say, gosh, I wish we could get married correct now. She’s like, hey, I’m ordained; you don’t need, there’s no waiting period here; and so she writes the ceremony for them on the fly and performs it in the park. And it’s lovely; and she gets kind of swept up; and she’s like, well, I did my good deed for the day; and then it goes viral.
Sarah: Oh no!
Denise: So she finds herself in this weird position of being a divorce attorney who does not believe in love who is also a hotly sought-after wedding officiant. And because of romance reasons, she ends up doing this kind of for a few months and falls in love with it, but the only downside is she has to work with a wedding planner who is doing his very best impression of a dude-bro after leaving event planning for the NFL. And so this is an Enemies with Benefits story.
Denise: It’s, yeah, there’s a lot of steam in it. [Laughs] But ultimately, it’s also a narrative approximately kind of thinking you’re hard to love and then finding somebody who really challenges you on that.
Denise: And who really validates all those things approximately you that you think are tough to love and tough to appreciate. And so the, the heroine is prickly, and she stays prickly, which I absolutely love.
Sarah: Oh, thank you!
Denise: And the hero drops the dude-bro thing pretty quickly, but –
Sarah: Thank you for writing a prickly hero, heroine who stays prickly.
Denise: I mean, we are real. [Laughs] I, I really loved writing that, I love all of my characters, but I really loved writing that heroine because she just – she’s always kind of hard, and that’s just her personality, but you get to see more and more of her being in love and being vulnerable, but it doesn’t change that she’s still a really fantastic divorce attorney, that she is really, a, a hard person, someone who’s going to challenge other people, and what she ultimately finds is a partner who doesn’t just kind of tolerate those matters but actually actively really loves those things approximately her, which –
Denise: – I think I’m just, you know, we’re all looking for that maybe –
Denise: – but that was really lovely to write. I had such a fun time with RJ and, and Lear is the hero’s name.
Sarah: Absolutely! And you got to, you know, write wedding officiating into your story, which you know a little bit about.
Denise: Yeah! And actually my, my agent came up with that idea! I was in New York in 2019 – it’s the one time I’ve met anybody on my publishing team –
Denise: – and we were going out to lunch – I think it was my birthday, actually – and as we were walking in I mentioned that I officiate weddings – I might maybe have one later in the summer; I don’t remember – and she’s like, ah! That would be a good idea for a romance novel! And then when I got back to my hotel I immediately, like, sketched out the first chapter, and I got so excited about not only writing this character, but also it was so fun to just snapshot these weddings. So there’s like a wedding that takes place at a gas station.
Denise: There’s all these different combinations of couples and everybody from, like, very rich, affluent weddings to, like, really just small beach weddings. There was a rollercoaster wedding that got cut for time, but that may be in a bonus scene, ‘cause I was pretty excited approximately that one.
Denise: And so, like, creating all these little love stories that are just sprinkled, you know, throughout.
Sarah: That’s really incredible! Congratulations on a new book!
Denise: Thank you! I’m, I’m excited for this one to come out, and, and yeah, I love writing steamy scenes, and there are, I think, ten in this book, so –
Sarah: Oh damn!
Denise: – yeah.
Sarah: Heck yeah!
Denise: Pandemic book for sure. [Laughs]
Sarah: And, and it’s interesting because you, you sort of play with the, you know, you, you mentioned that when you get married, it’s not a performance. You’re not there to entertain anybody, but it is a, a show. It is, it is something that has had a lot of planning going into it and hopefully some thought, and you have the sort of public part of the wedding, the matters that you say in front of everyone, and then you have the, the sort of private part, what happens immediately after? What happens when it’s just the, you and the couple and no one can hear you? You have these sort of private moments as well to write approximately.
Denise: Yeah, and, and I like to do that with my couples and check in with them before the wedding gets started, and I write, wrote that into my heroine too. And so you see her kind of in different spaces: reassuring or just –
Denise: – talking through logistics or joking around, but yeah, that’s all part of that comfort, and I’ve had the benefit of most of the weddings I’ve done have been for people who have been family or friends –
Denise: – or friends of friends, so there was some built-in consolation already. But I always joke, this is absolutely the best role to have in anybody’s wedding, because provided anybody is going to Groomzilla, Bridezilla, Lovebirdzilla on you –
Denise: – you’re the one person they can’t, ‘cause I’m like, you need me!
Denise: I’ve got to signal that form when we’re done! [Laughs]
Sarah: You cannot act up with me, yeah!
Denise: And they’re not going to begin without you, so you’re –
Sarah: No! They can’t start without you!
Denise: And you get to wear what you want, largely, so yeah, it’s just ultimately the best role kind of all around. There is, I mean, weddings are, can be at least, a enormous production and so anxiety- –
Sarah: Oh yeah.
Denise: – -inducing and stressful, and I largely, honestly, stayed absent from it. Like, most of the couples in this story wasn’t necessarily fun to read, but I think that’s why, if you’re able, like, when you have people around who kind of handle that, and that’s where the, I think the wedding planner in this –
Denise: – comes in really well is, he handles a lot of details. We get to see him kind of taking care of things.
Denise: So mostly we get to see the couples happy. But I also showed a variety of couples kind of dealing with the matters that go wrong on a wedding day, so. There’s a high maintenance couple that changes their mind about everything and are kind of annoying. There is a couple who rolls with everything a hundred percent. There’s a couple who plays a practical joke on their guests where the rings get lost. There’s a, a, a couple where one of the people abandons the other at the altar –
Denise: – and so you can have the emotional piece there. But it really is a variety of all these side characters, but I do, I just had a blast writing this book. I had so much fun being at weddings and having the juxtaposition of two people who are very anti-love falling in love in the middle of all these weddings.
Sarah: Yeah. And you get, you get the, the culmination of those people’s happy journey, the culmination of their relationship to get married, but then you get to do it over and throughout and throughout again.
Denise: Yeah, and I was, I was sharing this with somebody the other day: my favorite thing in the movie approximately When Harry Met Sally is all of the little interviews with all the different couples?
Sarah: Yes, that’s the best part!
Denise: And in some ways it’s kind of like that, yeah.
Denise: You get these little snapshots of somebody else’s love story.
Sarah: You don’t want to withhold cake, but do you have a preferred cake? Is there a wedding cake that really stands out? Is there cake that is particularly memorable?
Denise: Oh, that’s a good question!
Sarah: ‘Cause I’ve been to weddings where the cake has been amazing, and I’ve been to weddings where the cake, I was like, what is this? This is bad!
Denise: You know, in the moment, I always think, I always assess the cake.
Denise: But now I’m trying to realize, I feel like I’m at the age where all of my friends got married, a bunch of them got divorced and then remarried, so I’m not going to weddings near as often anymore?
Denise: Which I guess I need to just make some, some unmarried friends and then introduce them to one another and then offer to do their weddings, but –
Sarah: All of this being fodder for future novels, of course.
Denise: Obviously, obviously.
Denise: Sequels on sequels on sequels! I cannot think of a particular cake that just rocked my world. I’m not super picky about cake. I’m a big cake fan, but generally provided it has frosting –
Denise: – I’m good to go.
Denise: So even whether I’m like, eh, this is like medium-level awesome cake, I’ll, I’ll still have a second piece.
Sarah: There’s frosting.
Denise: [Laughs] I was just at my local bookstore, which is Dog-Eared Books in Ames, Iowa, the other day for an event they were doing, and I think I’m going to do a launch party there, and I was like, what whether we ordered a wedding cake –
Sarah: [Gasps] Yes!
Denise: – for it, because I didn’t have one for my own wedding. I had just finished my Ph.D. and we had to reschedule a bunch of things at the ultimate minute, and so we had cupcakes, which were nice, but as a true, like, cake fan, I feel like I need a wedding cake at some point.
Sarah: One hundred percent, you definitely need to order a tiered wedding cake for your book event. That would be amazing, because when, when else do you have tiered cakes, correct?
Denise: I mean, we have a very small family and a five-year-old who only eats frosting. So yeah, I think this is kind of my occasion, and we also said like, what provided we, like, we can put in a drawing: does somebody want to get married during the event? We could renew some vows!
Sarah: Oh, I love that!
Denise: Write something on the fly, and so I think that’ll be fun. The planning of it has not happened yet. At one point I thought I wanted to be a wedding planner – I love weddings – but then I was like, oh, that’s a lot of organization! I don’t actually want to do that!
Denise: So – [laughs] –
Sarah: Much better to just show up and do the actual service and enjoy the culmination of the planning that has happened elsewhere.
Denise: Hundred percent, and I, I will reiterate it to the end of time: being an officiant is absolutely the best job to have.
Sarah: And then you get –
Denise: I was technically a baker once. Some friend of ours, friends of ours got married in Italy, and before they left they wanted to just do the legal part of getting married in the States, and so they came throughout one Saturday morning, everybody was in flip-flops, and we did their wedding; we had two witnesses in my kitchen.
Denise: But I thought we needed some pomp and circumstance, so I went and bought some white frosted doughnuts –
Denise: – and we put some Lego people at the top, so they had a wedding cake! [Laughs]
Denise: I’m pretty proud of that.
Sarah: I, I think that’s perfect! What are some of your favorite readings or texts that you like, that you like including in services? Because there’s so numerous ways of talking – I mean, obviously, as a romance novelist – there’s so many ways of talking approximately love and about affection and commitment, and whether you’re not angling it through the religious perspective, what are some of your favorite readings to include?
Denise: Oh, this would have been fantastic to have my little spreadsheet in front of me so I could read from it verbatim! [Laughs] There are a ton of poems I like to offer up as suggestions. There’s one by Kahlil that now I cannot remember for the life of me! But it essentially is looking at kind of equity. I have a lot of different kind of equity-based love poems –
Sarah: Oh, I like that!
Denise: – that talk approximately how we’re going to honor each other or how we’re going to hold each other up.
Denise: How we’re going to be a home for each other. There’s a lot of different ones, but I, provided it fits a couple, I really like to include those, especially whether folks want to receive away – I never, ever volunteer honor and obey unless somebody really wants that.
Denise: But provided they want to receive away from those more traditional –
Denise: – sometimes really kind of steeped-in-patriarchy types of vows –
Sarah: Just a bit.
Denise: – I have a lot of quotes that I found that really lend to that. And then I know in, in our wedding, and I’ve used it in a few others, there’s an excerpt actually from the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage –
Denise: – that is, is beautiful in a wedding ceremony in terms of what love is and what marriage is, and so I know that is in the opening to my own ceremony, and I’ve used that in some other spaces. And that has the double edge of being, you know, around equity and political, but also it’s just a beautiful quote approximately marriage, and so it has kind of that double meaning, and when it’s significant to the couple, I really like to fold those pieces in.
Sarah: Would you, would you email me that quote, so I can include it in the show notes?
Denise: Yeah! I have, I’ll find the excerpt, but I’ll make a note right now.
Sarah: Thank you! ‘Cause I can include that in the show paper money for people who are looking.
One of my favorite parts of my vows from my wedding, and I don’t remember exactly what book it was, but we found a book of vows that were somewhat Jewish, somewhat secular, and one line was to promise to love your body as it ages.
Denise: Oh, I love that!
Sarah: And I love that part so much. We still talk about it, because, you know, when you grow old, bodies are weird, correct?
Denise: A hundred percent.
Sarah: A hundred percent bizarre, and as you age, weird matters go on, and we acknowledged that we want to age together. That was one of my favorite parts, that I will love your body as it ages.
Denise: I, I have not used that before, but I love that, and, like, that we’re going to change, that we’re going to be different people.
Denise: There is, there is some, I don’t remember provided it’s part of vows or it’s just part of a reading, but it gets to that same idea. It’s not specifically about bodies, but it’s that, I will love you as you continue to be, and we will, we will affect each other as we grow and change, and –
Denise: – I will be part of who you become and you’ll be part of who I become, and it, it really speaks to that idea of change and evolution and growth.
Sarah: Yes! That you are not going to be the same person forever, but that you are loved as you are and as you evolve.
Denise: Yes, and, and bless that, because who wants to be the same person that they were when they were twenty-three?
Sarah: No! No, I do not.
Denise: [Laughs] No!
Sarah: So what is your favorite part of officiating weddings?
Denise: My, actually my very favorite part is always the part I get a little bit nervous for, is at the end, you know, if they’ve, if they’re doing rings they’ve done that, and whether they’re going to kiss they’ve done that –
Denise: – and I get to say, you know, please help me congratulating the new couple, whatever they want to be addressed as.
Denise: And that is where I can kind of put my, I always have a special binder I use so I can read the notes, so I can put that down, I get to look at the audience, and as long as I get everybody’s names correct –
Denise: – [laughs] – which is where the stress comes in, that is kind of my favorite part, ‘cause it’s like, okay, we’re going to go eat cake. But, you know, the stress is off, generally the couple is low stress at that point. Everybody’s really happy –
Sarah: We’re done!
Denise: – and clapping, and if the photographer is there, like, they’re going to receive a fantastic picture of everybody, and I, I just, I love that part, because kind of just the stress is off for everybody and, like, it’s done! Like, you’re, you’re married! I mean, there’s nothing signed yet, so I guess not legally, but, you know, for all intents and purposes you’ve committed to one another and here we are.
Denise: And yeah, that’s always my, my absolute favorite part.
Sarah: And the, the object that has happened has happened in that space and that second, and that occasion, you acknowledge that the occasion is happening as it is happening. It, it’s one of those matters where being there and being in that space and creating that occasion is part of what happens for those people.
Denise: Yeah, yeah! And, and as the officiant, like, it’s so – I mean, every step along the way, I, I feel honored that somebody has trusted me –
Denise: – to kind of be with them in that occasion, to kind of, you know, move matters along and, and shepherd the ceremony or, or whatever. But it, it is that, I know, that’s like a reiteration occasion, and that’s something I wrote into the character, who, who is tough, who does not show vulnerability, but kind of in her own heart she’s like, in this second I get to be soft; in this second I get to –
Denise: – firmly believe in love, even though later I’m going to joke that I only do this to, you know, get clients for seven years from now. She’s got some dark humor to her.
Denise: But you know, like, that, that moment just feels really special and, and very much like an honor of getting to be part of somebody’s – you know, a small part, but part of somebody’s love story.
Denise: And, and I think both people in the book, like, come to that at different points, even as they’re falling in love with each other.
Sarah: Yeah. So what books are you reading correct now that you would like to tell people about?
Denise: Ooh, yeah! On the wedding theme, I’m not reading it right now ‘cause I just finished it, but The Wedding Crasher by Mia Sosa –
Denise: – was so good! And I loved the first book, The Worst Best Man. But I’ve just been in kind of a reading slump like, I think, everybody else?
Denise: The final six, seven months I kind of burned out, and I read that when I went out to the LA Times Festival of Books a few weeks ago, and it just totally charmed me. It’s funny, it’s hot, it’s family-oriented, and I just had so much fun with that book I’ve been recommending it everywhere. And so much fun as a rom-com.
On the very contrary of that –
Denise: – is a series that a friend recommended to me, and she’s like, okay, I need you to read these books, but they’re weird. Like, this is a bizarre thing for me to recommend to you in this year of 2022. I was like, okay, I am intrigued –
Sarah: I’m listening!
Denise: – and it’s a Four Horsemen, I think it’s called the Four Horsemen series by Laura Thalassa?
Sarah: Ahhh, yes, that is the opposite of that!
Denise: Yeah, hundred percent! Like, it’s Plague, it’s War, it’s super violent. Like, content warnings left and right, but the storytelling, the writing was so – I don’t know; it just captivated me. It pulled me in in a way that, like, books haven’t recently, in a different way than The Wedding Crasher did. And so I read, I listened, I think I consumed all of those four in about five days.
Denise: Truly, truly, truly check the trigger warnings before you read those, because there is a lot. I don’t normally read fantasy or dark romance.
Denise: That’s just normally not my thing, but for whatever reason I, I really love those books, particularly the first three.
Falling for the Enemy just came out on Tuesday. It’s by Katie Golding, and it is erotic romance. It’s a take on You’ve Got Mail in California in the music industry, and that is super fun. And then I just finished Stirring Up Love by Chandra Blumberg, which is out I think later in July, and that one was charming and, and lovely, which is the sequel to Digging Up Love, which came out final year I think.
Sarah: Which had a fantastic cover.
Denise: Yes, I love that cover so much. This one’s really cute too: it’s pink and bright. I had a, a PDF; I had an Advanced Reader Copy of it, but –
Denise: – yeah, that one’s coming, and that one is a lot of fun and really candy and kind of back to, back to rom-com versus the –
Denise: – end of the world. [Laughs]
Sarah: So where can people find you? Particularly whether they want to get married by a romance author?
Denise: Well, I’m in Ames, Iowa, currently, but more likely you can find me on Instagram and TikTok and Twitter, all @nicwillwrites, and I’m probably there when I should be writing a book. Otherwise, my, my website is denisewilliamswrites.com; it’s where I have, like, all my books and also give information on, like, content warnings and on heat levels and some of those other matters for all of my books, so that’s all there.
But yeah, I’m, I’m in the middle of Iowa, so whether you want to get married in Iowa, like, hit me up. I love doing weddings, and I know too numerous married people now, so I don’t get to do them as much anymore.
Sarah: Thank you so much for doing this interview. This has been absolutely delightful.
Denise: Thank you so much for having me, and I’m going to email you those quotes and write down the, write down the love your body; I love that!
Sarah: And that brings us to the end of this week’s episode. Thank you to Denise Williams for hanging out with me. I will have links to all of the books that we talked about, and I also have, in the show paper money, two of the quotes that she uses from the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court of Massachusetts about marriage that she has used in her wedding services. You can find those in the show paper money at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast.
But I would love to know, have you officiated a wedding? Was it really cool? Have you been in a memorable wedding? Please just tell me everything. I’m super nosy, and I would love to know. You can email me at [email protected], or you can leave a message at 201-371-3272. I absolutely love hearing from you. Seriously, makes my entire week.
And as always, I end with a really poor joke, and this week is no exception. Are you ready for this week’s terrible joke? I know you are on the edge of your seat – unless you’re driving; don’t do that. Let’s do this. Mm, serious podcaster voice:
Why can’t humans hear a dog whistle?
Give up? Why can’t humans hear a dog whistle?
Because dogs can’t whistle.
[Laughs] You know, I, both of my dogs are very tough of hearing now, so they don’t even hear me whistle, so no one’s hearing the dogs whistle. That was from theChezCakeLover on Reddit; thank you, wonderful person, for that lousy joke.
And on behalf of everyone here, we wish you a wonderful weekend. Have a very, very lovely set of books to read wherever you are, and we will see you back here next week.
Smart Podcast, Trashy Books is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more outstanding podcasts to subscribe to at frolic.media/podcasts.
This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.