by Allana Luta
Tara Frejas is a name that’s familiar to Bookbed readers who have been here for a while. We’ve done a couple of reviews of her works, recommended her to our readers, and had her as a featured author as part of the #romanceclass column. So to say that we’re fans would be kind of redundant but we’ll never get tired of it. Tara has a way of telling romance stories that capture our attention and imagination. And with the sequel to Scandalized on the way (scheduled to be released in December!), we’re ready to dive back into the world of k(pop)razy with Tara as our guide. Here, she talks about Play It By Ear, her musical influences while writing the sequel, and her growth as a romance author over the years.
Tara Frejas is a cloud-walker who needs caffeine to fuel her travels. When she’s not on work mode, she keeps herself busy by weaving her daydreams into stories.
Aside from her obvious love affair with words and persistent muses, Tara is very passionate about being caffeinated, musical theatre, certain genres of music, dancing, dogs, good food, and romancing Norae, her ukelele. She owns a male bunny named Max who sometimes tries to nibble on her writing notes.
Fun fact: She’s a Piscean. Go figure.
Hi, Tara! Thank you for agreeing to do this interview with us. You may or may not have noticed but we at Bookbed are huge fans of your work and we’re excited for Backstage Pass #2, a.k.a. Play It By Ear! We already know this is going to be Yihwan’s book but can you tell us a little more about it?
Thank you for having me! ❤ Yes, I am aware there are a couple of you at Bookbed who read and enjoy my books, and I’m very grateful for the support!
So, Backstage Pass #2 or Play It By Ear happens around six months after Summer Crush (read our reviews here). (Summer Crush happens in April, Play It By Ear starts in October of the same year.) At the beginning of the book, Steven Bae—East Genesis Project’s drummer—injures himself in an accident and that puts him out of commission for a little while. And because he was supposed to join a talent show on TV, their agency, Amethyst Entertainment, sends Jo Yihwan in as a replacement. He meets an idol trainee named Ha Yoojung while doing the show, and that’s where they will—literally and figuratively—make beautiful music together. Until sh*t happens, of course.
Play It By Ear also touches on the power dynamics among people in the entertainment industry, and how those in power can wield their authority and influence to get whatever they want. The subject of sexual harassment in the workplace is tackled as well, and will be a huge turning point for one of the characters.
In Scandalized, majority of the story happened in the Philippines and having Fi as the main character, the plot was still very much Filipino. However, in Play It By Ear, we will be transported to, I’m assuming, South Korea. Was it difficult to write characters from a different culture? Or was it just a case of research and imagination?
The short answer is no, it wasn’t very difficult.
Here’s the long answer: I have been a huge Korean pop culture enthusiast since 2004, and I have learned a great deal of things about Korea through the media I consumed, as well as my language teachers from the Korean Cultural Center. For the Backstage Pass series, I took a lot of inspiration from current and continuing issues in their entertainment industry and also artists I like and follow. I guess you can say all of the hours I spend watching K-dramas and variety shows, listening to K-Pop, and learning the language was part of a very long research process!
Additionally, crafting these characters weren’t difficult for me, because putting aside the fact that they’re Korean, these characters share values and personality traits that I either possess or value. I also like assigning faces to characters because that helps me with my research, too! I definitely have seen more FTISLAND videos than I’d care to admit just so I could observe the body language of their leader/main guitarist and his interactions with his band members.
You’ve mentioned in several interviews before that you listen to music when writing. Were there specific songs that motivated you throughout writing this book? Or do you have a playlist to accompany the story? Or maybe songs you just want to recommend?
I will have a playlist up soon, but I haven’t really compiled all the songs yet. I do have one specific song that I’ve listened to relentlessly while I was writing the second and third acts of the book. It’s a very powerful and emotional song called “Wild Flower” by Park Hyoshin, and in my head, this is how gripping one of Yihwan and Yoojung’s performances will sound.
Throughout the writing process, I have been listening to a lot of FTISLAND. And recently, I revisited some songs from the soundtrack of Secret Garden, Goblin and You Who Came From the Stars as well.
You also mentioned before that outside of #romanceclass novels, you don’t really read books with romance as the focus. Is that still the case? If so, how does reading books in other genres help in writing romance?
No, that is not the case anymore. 😊 When I decided to become a romance author, I have started reading more romance, and most of the books I’ve been reading were #romanceclass books! (Love your own!) I just feel like it’s a way for me to educate and improve myself as an author and an advocate of romance books.
Aside from #romanceclass books, I’ve also started reading romance by authors of color, and my recent reads have been Take the Lead by Alexis Daria, Grumpy Fake Boyfriend by Jackie Lau, Sated by Rebekah Weatherspoon and The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang.
It’s been a good few years since you published your first novel. How do you think your writing has changed, if it has? What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned about yourself or your writing style since?
On the technical side of things, I try my best not to head hop anymore! 😛 There’s a conscious effort to do this now, when in the past, I didn’t really think too much about it. I was standing in the back of the room when Gio Gahol and Gab Pangilinan read an excerpt from Scandalized in 2016 [live reading of #romanceclass books], and I realized then how jarring a POV shift could be. It’s one of the reasons I decided to re-edit and re-release Scandalized.
I am now also more aware of my word choices when I write, because in the past I didn’t know I was using ableist language and I’ve been learning through book Twitter, my editor’s notes and some book reviews. Hopefully, I’ll be able to avoid it completely as I continue writing my books.
As for writing in general, one of the lessons I’ve learned is that, with a solid outline, I can finish writing a book in three months. But! Another, bigger lesson is this: Finishing a book in record time does not mean you should rush everything else. Waiting is a necessary pain. I’ve learned to be more patient with myself and my work, and I keep reminding myself that not meeting deadlines I’ve set for myself doesn’t mean I’ve failed. 😊