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Bestselling Author Chloe Liese Discusses Neurodiversity in Romance & Shares Her Swoon-Worthy Must-Reads!

We caught up with the author to discuss neurodiversity represenation in fiction, what led her to writing and more!

With their glittering stories of hope, love, earnest human connection and guaranteed happily ever afters, millions of readers seek comfort and refuge within the pages of one beloved book genre: romance. Year after year, romance remains the top-selling literary genre — it even generated more than $1.4 billion in revenue in 2023! In recent years, the genre has been revered for its inclusivity and compassionate message that everyone deserves a love story. And bestselling author Chloe Liese, who has penned more than 10 novels, is at the forefront of this movement. As a self-described romance-reading neurodivergent woman living with several chronic conditions, Liese wanted to see herself in the stories she was reading — so she started writing them. “I really want to create story worlds where we see all kinds of love affirmed. Everyone deserves a romance if they want it,” says Liese. Keep reading to discover some of Liese’s most beloved neurodivergent books and more!

This week, First for Women sat down with Liese ahead of the seventh annual national Neurodiversity Pride Day, which is on June 17th this year, to discuss the importance of neurodiversity and disability representation in romance, how her experience as a neurodivergent woman led to her becoming an author — and how stumbling on a Toni Morrison quote finally pushed her to write her first novel.

First for Women: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? How did you find your ‘purpose’ as an author?

Chloe Liese: My background is in English literature. I was always more of a reader than a writer. I liked writing but I never really thought of myself as a storyteller — more of an appreciator of stories. Then, I got a job at a financial firm after college and needed an escape in the evenings. So I turned to historical fiction with a dash of romance. When I got pregnant, I shifted to working part time, doing the same kind of work from home. I have a number of health conditions so I was trying to take it easy and keep my stress low and I was like ‘let’s read real romance.’ You know, full-bodied romance with a guaranteed happily ever after.

I started seeing some disability representation in fiction at this time — not really neurodivergent representation yet — but as someone who has a lot of chronic conditions this was important to me. I didn’t know I was neurodiverse yet, but I was figuring out a lot about myself. Soon, I became a mom and through all the anxiety of that I just kept reading romance. Then, I picked up The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang at the library. Maybe a third of the way through it I had an aha moment.

At this point, a confluence of new motherhood, stress, sleep deprivation and reading The Kiss Quotient pointed out all these parts of my life that I had either just learned to muscle through or felt ashamed for or felt like I needed to apologize for. All in all, it was a transformative experience to see myself in the character Stella, who was being loved by Michael. It was such a positive authentic representation and it made a world of difference to recognize myself in such a compassionate and empowering setting. And I thought, ‘wow.’ So I saw a psychologist and finally got my formal diagnosis.

After this diagnosis, and knowing I was neurodivergent, I started thinking ‘maybe I want to write something like this, too.’ Like, ‘maybe I just need to spend some time making a world that’s what I want to be.’ Then I came across this Toni Morrison quote that made it happen: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” And I said to myself ‘Okay, Toni. Well, let’s try.’

FFW: I love that story and that Toni Morrison quote. Did this ultimately push you to you write your first book?

CL: I published the first Bergman book, Only When It’s Us, in April of 2020 and I wrote the book I wanted to read. I’m an only child so I wrote a big family. I’m neurodivergent and have chronic conditions and I wanted to tell stories about people like me. I wanted to build this sense of community in an isolated time and my hope was it would give other people a sense of connection and community, too. Because I had that experience with The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang. Also when I first read Talia Hibbert’s Get A Life, Chloe Brown, it was the first time I saw chronic pain beautifully portrayed.

I was starting to see these stories rarely, but they meant so much to me. And I knew how healing and joyful it was to encounter these parts of myself that everything in popular culture teaches us we should keep to ourselves or apologize for. Overall, my hope is to create emotionally safe, diverse, inclusive worlds where anyone — no matter how little or how much they identify with the representation or the backgrounds of these characters — feels safe.

Chloe Liese Book Only When It's Us
Liese’s debut novel Only When It’s UsBerkley

FFW: That’s beautiful. It sounds like you found your purpose as an author.

CL: Well, I always want there to be a why when it comes to what I’m doing and that is definitely my why — I want all parts of our world, but especially what I create, to promote emotional safety, compassion, healing and a sense of belonging. I think there’s so much about how we live life now that makes us feel isolated and separate. And to be able to give people a place to visit in a book, even if it’s just for a little while, where they can feel joy and feel safe — that’s what I wanted to put out there. I wanted to pay this forward for other people because I know how much it had meant to me.

FFW: I love the line in your author bio that says you set out to “write romances reflecting your belief that everyone deserves a love story.” Can you share more about this?

CL: Yes! I really want to create story worlds where we see all kinds of love affirmed. Everyone deserves a romance if they want it. But also — as someone who for most of my romance writing career had been in the process of going through my divorce or being newly single — I went through years of being reminded and healed by how important friend love and family love and self love is. So, in addition to romance, I really want to show there’s so many different paths to experiencing love. I want to affirm how valid all those expressions of love are.

FFW: As a writer of more inclusive love stories, what has the response from readers been like?

CL: There is so much more representation out there now…even just in the last two years and I’m so happy about that. I am proud of the fact that I put myself out there with this purpose to write that representation as a part of my storytelling when I did because there wasn’t a lot out there, aside from a couple of breakouts that were doing well but had traditional publishers behind them.

I write quieter, more character-driven stories, so it’s been this steady build. I’m so touched. It’s more like waves of people coming through my DMs or emailing, saying, ‘this is the first time I saw myself this way’ or ‘this is something I needed.’ So I am grateful just to see that and witness my stories reaching more readers.

Liese holds a copy of The Ripped Bodice bookstore
Liese holds a copy of her book in front of The Ripped Bodice bookstoreVia Instagram/Chloe_Liese

FFW: Do you think neurodivergent and disability representation will continue to rise in fiction?

CL: Yes! In the last two years, it’s been celebrated more and more. But I confess to not being a very heavy general fiction reader right now! Only because I’m supporting romance writers and reading for my own pleasure. But one series that comes to mind is Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series. Will has dyslexia and you really see him struggling. He’s such a great character and his detective partner Faith is also great. There is just so much nuance to his character that feels very neurodivergent, very compassionate, but it’s also realistic about our internalized ableism. Will is very hard on himself sometimes. (Look for an exclusive excerpt of the next Will Trent book in the August 12, 2024 print edition of First for Women.)

The other thing I will speak to in terms of noticing more neurodivergent rep in all kinds of genres is that I think there’s more people getting diagnosed now. More people are talking about it and raising awareness. More people are making sense of these parts of themselves that they used to just brush aside or ignore.

FFW: In your most recent novel, Only and Forever, there is ADHD and type 1 diabetes representation. Can you tell us what writing these characters was like or where the inspiration came from?

CL: It’s interesting because the last two books I published had characters with ADHD. One of my children has ADHD, a number of people close to me in my life have ADHD and since writing those two books, I’ve been diagnosed with it as well. So I wonder if my feeling drawn to telling those stories was me trying to make sense of it in myself.

From type 1 diabetes to ADHD, it is a gift for me to write this kind of representation because it’s just another way that people can experience intimacy. I think as hard as it is to have these conditions or these struggles, it is also another bridge to intimacy with each other — and it can really deepen your experience of connection and trust and love with your partner. In my books, these two characters are like: ‘hey, there’s a part of me that feels broken sometimes and fragile, but sometimes I love it and it’s messy. Do you want to love me for that?’ And the other person is like like, “all right. Yeah, I want to learn about it too.’ That is not only satisfying to read on page, but it’s also comforting, hopeful and healing to witness.


Want to read a heartfelt romance with neurodivergent and/or disability representation? Pick up Liese’s latest novel Only And Forever

Only And Forever by Chloe Liese book cover
Berkley

The final book in her beloved Bergman Brothers series is a tender, steamy story about unexpected love. In Only And Forever, hopeless romantic Viggo Bergman is trying to find calm amid his chaotic daily life as a business owner. Enter Tallulah Clark, a cynic with a case of writer’s block. Viggo needs help with his store and Tallulah needs a little romantic inspiration for her new book. Somehow they end up deciding to cohabitate to help each other out — and they couldn’t be more different. As they share a home and life, they uncover a magnetic connection to one another and possibly something even more.

And check out some of her personal favorite, swoon-worthy neurodivergent books and/or books with disability representation, below!


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