Lee Winter

Due to its translation into French, today we dive into the world of Lee Winter’s captivating lesbian romance novel, The Brutal Truth, exploring the intriguing dynamics between Maddie Grey, a homesick Aussie reporter, and her enigmatic media mogul boss, Elena Bartell.

Join us as we uncover the secrets behind this popular slow-burn romance, featuring its unforgettable ice queen heroine, and explore the French translation of *The Brutal Truth*, recently published by Reines de Coeur as L’Impitoyable Vérité.

 Lee, can you introduce your lesbian romance, The Brutal Truth, for those who haven’t read it yet?

The Brutal Truth deals with a homesick Aussie reporter in New York who goes from disliking her icy media mogul boss who has just bought her newspaper to being smitten by her. But the course of true love never runs smoothly, and ice queens are going to be icy! That poor reporter goes through a wringer of emotions!

 The Brutal Truth came out in 2017 but remains very popular in its English version, correct?

This is definitely my most popular book, just a little ahead of Breaking Character. It has a huge following. The Brutal Truth came second in a reader poll run by Jae for “must-read” lesbian romance. That just amazes me even to this day.

 What is it about ice queens that you find appealing in lesbian romance, and why do they make the perfect heroines for you?

I adore writing about fictional ice queens for one simple reason: I love them in real life too. I am living with an ice queen! There’s just something so delicious about an impressive, imperious, cool woman who melts for only one person and allows that special one to see what lies beyond her high walls.

Once I tried to write a non-ice queen book, and I failed due to my own complete boredom. I lost interest. Now I embrace what I love, and I’m sticking to it.

Can you introduce us to Maddie Grey, who is a ray of sunshine—and not just because she’s Australian?

Maddie Grey is a good journalist, but she’s found herself in New York, miserable because she’s on the night shift, has no friends beyond the childhood pal she shares an apartment with, and is SO homesick. She thought she’d be living the dream—everyone talks about going to New York, right?

Well, she discovered she’d just rather be back in Australia, thank you very much! Her only speck of light in her gray, sad world is being enchanted by Elena, the media mogul who has taken over the office near Maddie’s desk. Elena works late hours too, so Maddie strikes up an unlikely friendship with this reserved woman, seeing beyond her surface cool exterior.

At the beginning of the book, Elena Bartell appears to be an ice queen even more difficult to reach than Elizabeth Thornton in Breaking Character and Amelia Duxton in Hotel Queens, doesn’t she?

Funny you should mention Elizabeth Thornton. There’s a long-running debate among my readers as to whether she’s truly an ice queen at all because she does have a lot of friends she socializes with, even though she keeps her guard up.

I argue she’s often seen as an ice queen by Americans who can perceive her frosty British reserve as rude. And she’s less of an ice queen to Europeans and those from Commonwealth countries, who don’t automatically see her aloof reserve as impolite—just British.

Amelia is just born that way. She’s not walled off for emotional reasons. She truly doesn’t get the point of being friendly to everyone or lying to smooth the way in social settings. She is blunt and direct and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

So that leaves Elena, who is far and away the iciest of the three and a textbook case of an ice queen.

This lesbian romance talks a lot about the lies we tell ourselves. Can you tell us a little more about Maddie and Elena’s lies?

Elena frequently lies to herself (and therefore everyone else), arguing she just wants the truth.

No one ever really wants the whole truth, though. Do they truly want to hear all the times an employee is angry at them or the times someone is thinking inappropriate thoughts about them? In relationship matters, knowing the whole truth can be a ruinous thing if you’re unprepared to hear it.

Maddie’s lies are also to herself. She likes to pretend she just admires her boss and that’s why she spends so much time thinking about her.

Maddie knows it’s a lie, though. She knows she should probably leave and find a better job more suited to her skills, but that would also mean not being around the boss she definitely doesn’t have the hots for… (Okay, fine: she totally has the hots for her.)

But it’s all very safe and okay to have a crush as long as no one comes around demanding the truth from you, right?

Months go by and Elena and Maddie cross paths, but at a certain point, they stop seeing each other on a daily basis. Was stretching out time like that necessary to build the story and the characters? It’s the ultimate slow burn.

It’s really common in lesbian romances to have a breakup at the seventy-percent mark, where characters are torn apart before they come together. Sometimes it can be a contrived split, forced on the plot to tick a box, and readers hate those sorts of breakups.

I thought it’d be interesting if my main characters were parted for external reasons. There’s no breakup, but they’re spending time apart while still getting to know each other via email and falling deeper in love. It gives the readers a breather from the intensity, and it has a lot of humor in Elena’s exasperation and impatience for Maddie’s return.

Did your experience as a journalist influence the portrayal of Maddie’s career and aspiration in this lesbian romance?

This is my most autobiographical lesbian romance. When I was nineteen, the newspaper I worked for sent me interstate from Brisbane to Melbourne to work in a news bureau. I was put on the midnight shift. (I blogged about it here.)

It was boring and tiring, and I had no friends—I was the only person in that part of the office working that late.

As it was my first time away from home, I was also missing my friends and family terribly. I was extremely homesick.

There’s a blog entry in the book, written by Maddie, where she talks about her friends back home who’d promised to visit her in New York and never did. Her emotional state was all from my own experience.

And, unlike Maddie, I didn’t have a hot boss to fall in love with to take my mind off my lousy job!

A lot of francophone readers who read the book in English fell in love with Elena’s ice queen lawyer, Felicity Simmons. Is this also the case in other countries? Is that why you had to give her her own book?

How wonderful to hear! Thank you, French readers!

Felicity is a very polarizing character. Readers tend to either love her or hate her.

I’ve noticed more American readers found Felicity unforgivably rude with the way she just blurts out whatever awful or blunt things that happen to be on her mind.

I find Brits, Australians, Germans, and now the French seem to find her lack of filter or censoring herself to be funny and freeing.

Having said that, it really is quite individual how people react to her.

It helps that I later wrote a short story about her (“Five Times Felicity Met Elena”) in my anthology Sliced Ice, which humanized her a lot and properly explained her career-driven mindset. That won over a lot of the readers who thought she was just terrible before that. And so that new wave of appreciation helped her get her own book, The Awkward Truth.

Personally, I find Felicity to be one of the funniest characters I’ve ever written. Some people are just so unintentionally awful in spite of themselves that you can’t help but laugh.

Do you have a message for your French readers who have fallen in love with your lesbian romance novels?

I adore my French readers! Thanks for loving my ice queens.


* Lee Winter is an award-winning veteran newspaper journalist. Now a full-time author and part-time editor, Lee is also a 2015 and 2016 Lambda Literary Award finalist and has won several Golden Crown Literary Awards. She lives in Western Australia with her longtime girlfriend, surrounded by much fluffy wildlife.
Her latest book is Vengeance Planning for Amateurs.

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