Hotel Queens (Jeux de pouvoir) was published by Reines de Coeur in April 2023. That’s a great reason to revisit Lee Winter’s award-winning lesbian romance and hear from the author herself in this interview she did initially for French readers.
Hello Lee, can you introduce Hotel Queens.
Imagine being at a Las Vegas bar and meeting a beautiful, intelligent woman who is your exact personality opposite. Sparks fly like crazy. The chemistry is sizzling! Only later do you both discover you’re rivals for the same dream deal to buy a luxury London hotel. Awkward!
How did the idea for this lesbian romance come about? What inspired you? How hard and long was it to write?
I always wanted to write a lesbian romance about opposites attract, but both women would be exact equals: in power, wealth, status, career, everything. So that way, when the gloves come off, there is no underdog. It’s a perfectly even battle of equals: ice queen vs fire queen.
Yes, it was very long and hard to write. I started it one year, and then when all the plot details overwhelmed me because my brain was very tired, I switched to writing a different, much simpler book, and came back to this one later. In the end it took almost two years to finish.
What made you decide to set this lesbian fiction in the world of luxury hotels?
Most novels with an ice queen (my specialty) tend to have a power imbalance. Usually there’s a boss and an employee. Or someone older, richer, more famous, or more powerful. Since I wanted to write a book that was of two exact equals in every way, albeit with opposite personalities, I thought about various industries, trying to find a good fit for rivals in the corporate world. I settled on rivals in luxury hotels.
Will we learn hotel concepts while reading?
You’ll learn all sorts of things about how room service, housekeeping, front desk, marketing, and upper management in hotels operate! Yes, I know from an elderly friend who for years worked as a concierge at a high-end hotel that some customers do indeed request someone send them up sexual accoutrement, and think that’s a perfectly normal request! (It’s not – well, unless you’re in Las Vegas!)
At first your protagonists Kai and Amelia seem very different, but they are similar in many ways, right?
From the outside, they’re like peas in a pod: driven, articulate, intelligent, successful, wealthy, and powerful. They both run divisions of rival hotel empires. But personally, no: Kai is a fire queen; Amelia is an ice queen. Kai is quick to emotions, plays games, is sociable and popular, and charming with everyone she meets. Amelia is disliked, cold, aloof, intellectual, doesn’t lie or play games, and thinks having people skills is not important in the least.
Kai is a beautiful talker; she is used to seducing to achieve her goals. Sometimes you get the impression that she adores Amelia precisely because Amelia resists her.
Kai appreciates Amelia because she is just so opposite to everything that she herself is and does. She can’t even fathom anyone in business being brutally honest, or not ingratiating oneself using flattery or games to win a deal. She is completely undone by meeting someone who, in her mind, shouldn’t even exist! I think she’s smitten from the first moment they meet. Amelia absolutely fascinates Kai, and she adores her brilliant, incredible mind.
Amelia is a captivating character with impressive intellectual abilities, yet she is capable of being the worst and the best, right?
I never spell it out explicitly but readers who are aware will notice: Amelia is on the autism spectrum. She’s capable of incredible feats of mathematics, memory, and so on, but she comes up short on people skills.
She has no real ability to lie – which is not a positive in business and while doing deals! – and she is almost an innocent at times when it comes to understanding people, especially ones like Kai Fisher, her manipulative rival.
So, yes, she’ll fire a family member without a thought, uncaring of politics at home, simply because it’s the right thing to do. And, honestly, I love that about her. Someone completely uncompromising in big business in this day and age is rare! It’s also pretty rare in a lesbian romance too, where we’re more used to characters like Kai—silver-tongued movers and shakers doing clever schemes.
Amelia and Imogene have the funniest moments in the book. How did the idea of including a niece with such pertinent questions come about?
When I wrote Requiem for Immortals, a book about a ruthless, cold, cello-playing assassin who falls for a woman she’s supposed to kill, as a small joke I decided the targeted woman would have a pre-teen niece. Not only that, but while everyone else in Requiem’s world is terrified or awed by her, this little girl is not. In fact, she calls the assassin a few rude names, much to Requiem’s utter astonishment.
I absolutely loved writing that and decided if I ever had the chance, I’d give some other cold, aloof ice queen a little kid in their life who absolutely amazes and transfixes her. I’d make it much longer too, because Requiem only gets a few tiny scenes with that little girl.
So that’s what happens with Amelia. Who knew she’d be so good with kids?! I think it’s because it never enters her head not to treat them like very short adults and to never, ever lie to them.
The questions the girl asks are just an extension of the idea that Amelia values intelligence and curiosity highly, and so naturally would encourage her niece to ask as many questions as she can think of, no matter how bizarre. Also, Amelia felt she couldn’t ask such questions as a girl, so she’d want to be someone safe for her cheeky little niece to pepper with all these mad queries.
Is there a story behind the owls’ knees? Because we loved Imogene’s question and it required some real research, which some of us rushed to do…
I saw a meme on social media once with someone’s hand lifting up feathers to reveal owls do have knees! I decided that’s exactly a question a little girl with a curious mind would want answered!
In Hotel Queens, the family, in a broad sense, is very toxic. Do you think that sometimes you have to get away from it in order to be free to live true to yourself?
Some people can’t get away from their toxic families but, thanks to the wonders of lesbian fiction, we can all escape the negative people in our lives. It’s an important message that finding your people, the ones who ‘get’ you, is a wonderful thing. Amelia finds her person, and gets away from some pretty toxic negativity in her family, and I’m really happy for her.
You seem to have done a lot of research on the Jewish religion as it’s mentioned a few times?
Absolutely. When I was researching the backgrounds of hotels in New York where the book is set, it became obvious what a rich history there was of Jewish people buying hotels, some of which became generational and were passed down through families.
I wanted one hotel empire in my book to be such a hotel. It soon became clear that, to explain the huge rivalry between the two hotel empires, both should be run by Jewish men of very similar backgrounds and motivations. It made the most sense.
I had several New York Jewish beta readers helping me out by reading my book before it went to editors, to make sure I got it all exactly right. Plus I had a hotel expert as a beta reader too.
Amelia’s father does not accept her homosexuality, but it’s not really because he’s Jewish, is it? Was that a voluntary choice?
First, none of my books focus too much on people getting hate for being LGBT+. That’s a deliberate choice. Personally, I don’t like reading lesbian fiction that goes too hard with homophobic angst. I had enough of that in real life in the 80s and 90s!
Aside from that, it’s a bit of a cliché to make someone who is strongly religious automatically homophobic. So, I chose to make Amelia’s father a sexist old dinosaur as his main reason for disliking Amelia. Obviously, he has issues with her being a lesbian, but that’s not what drives 90% of his attitude. It’s more just him being a stuck-in-the-past misogynist.
In your earlier lesbian romance, Breaking Character, Summer’s family was a real support. Here, it’s the opposite for Amelia. Is it important for you to talk about close family in your novels?
No—it’s just how it worked out. I think sometimes who a character becomes is created by their family. In Amelia’s case, though, even if she had a close, supportive, and loving family, she wouldn’t be terribly different to who she is without that. She’s a really strong personality who became who she is in spite of her family, not because of it.
Honestly, Amelia had no chance to resist Kai, right? She was bound to crack at some point…
I do think it’s the other way around. Kai had never met another person in her life like Amelia – completely incorruptible, incapable of lying! It was like meeting a unicorn. She was one smitten kitten. Amelia, however, was so distrustful of all the games Kai plays, she needed longer to trust that she could be good for her. But Kai got there in the end. Go, Kai!
The first sex scene between your two heroines comes quite late in the book. Can we speak about your slow burn?
It’s so funny that they only know each other a week before they slept together. In real terms, a week is nothing. But so much happens between them in that week, their empires climbing and crumbling, that it feels like a long, long time. For me it’s not a standard slow-burn lesbian romance because it’s still just a week, but by the time they’re finally, properly in each other’s arms, readers may feel like it was the slowest of slow burns!
Love scenes are always complex to write. There is a lot of dialogue in yours. Is it a voluntary choice?
I think half the excitement in a sex scene should come not just from the visuals of seeing someone naked for the first time, but the imagination and teasing/taunting that comes from dialogue. This is especially true in lesbian romances because women in general like to talk through things, so add in two women, in love, and, well…
Also, often it can be many times more erotic offering one well-placed line, than half a page of clothes being torn off. It’s all about climbing into that headspace for the characters, and thinking “What would really set them on fire right here?”
Can you tell us a bit about your current work? Will it be another lesbian romance?
I’ve only just started a new book after finishing the Villains series. That was one story told over two books (The Fixer and Chaos Agent) that redeems a villain from my earlier books. It’s a lesbian romance with a really rich plot that pits a naïve social justice warrior against an evil CEO. That was just so, so, so much fun to write.
And speaking of fun, right now I’m working on my first lesbian romantic comedy. It’s called Vengeance Planning for Amateurs. This is what happens when a young guileless baker, who’s tired of everyone taking advantage of her in relationships, decides to post an ad seeking a henchperson. She wants someone to help her fulfil a vengeance list and enact some small payback on everyone who’s wronged her. A mysterious and icy crime bookstore owner applies for the job – paid in muffins, of course! – and they team up to go vengeance-ing. Unfortunately, nothing goes to plan. And it really surprises them that, for two competent women, they’re actually really bad at it!
More books by Lee Winter:
Link to Reines de Coeur: