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Natalie Caña serves spicy romance with Bi character

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Natalie Caña is ready to spice fall up with her latest romance, A Dish Best Served Hot. The follow-up to her hit debut, A Proposal They Can't Refuse, follows the story of the Vega family, a large Puerto Rican clan living in Chicago. It picks up where the last left off, as single dad Saint clashes with Lola, the one that got away, over the preservation of an LGBTQ+ youth shelter. The novel also crams as much romance into its pages as possible.

"I originally pitched this ... as a 'trope-tastic' series featuring a large Puerto Rican family in Chicago. I love the tropes," Caña said with a laugh.

She tries to fit as many of her favorites into the series as possible, though there is one readers won't find. "I do not like Secret Baby, especially when there's no reason for her to have kept the baby a secret. For me, that's one of those things that gives me an instant cringe," she said.

Following such a successful debut was difficult for Caña. "Before you're published, you have all the time in the world because you don't have an agent or contract yet," she explained. "But with book two, once you have that contract, you have a deadline. Writing is no longer a hobby. It's a job, and you have more expectations."

Caña began writing A Dish Best Served Hot while still doing press and reading feedback on her first novel. "You really feel pressure to make the second book just as good for the reader as the first book, if not better," she said. "With book two, that specific part was really a battle for me. The characters are very different, and it has a different vibe from book one, and so many people like the vibe from book one."

Early drafts were completely different from the final project. "Lola was not the heroine originally," Caña revealed. "Originally, the heroine was supposed to be the kindergarten teacher, but as I got into it and started writing, it just wasn't working. Saint was in my head, arms crossed, shaking his head."

Eventually, Caña let the characters speak to her and embraced the differences between her two books. "I had to realize that not every book will be that silly. The characters will be different people, so I had to think about other ways to add in that humor."

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Bringing queerness to the page
Lola and Saint's story brings queerness to the forefront. "The original heroine... was not Queer, but ...Lola, she just was," Caña admitted. "She kind of just popped into my head completely formed, and she was always Bi. I didn't want to make it a story of her having to come out or battle against all these different things. I just wanted it to be something that was. Like her being plus-sized — it's just something that is. It's okay. It's accepted, especially by the hero."

Caña, who is also Bisexual, felt empowered while writing Lola. "I have not been out for a very long time. I struggled a lot, whereas Lola did not," she said. "Our stories were very different. To write somebody who was just so 100% fully herself and accepting was a bit challenging. I will always be grateful to Lola for making me, personally, think about those things and work through some of my own issues."

While Lola is the first LGBTQ+ character to appear in the series, she does not function as a lesson to the protagonist. "I didn't want her to have to educate him on things. It's not our responsibility — Google is free. Everybody can learn if they want to learn," Caña said.

Caña hopes readers will appreciate the attention to detail she put into the book and find lessons beyond the romance. "I want to leave a little nugget of thoughtfulness, of thinking about things in a new way," she said. "I try not to be on my soapbox and preach to the readers. My goal is always to entertain them but also to make them think. I also hope that by letting the characters be who they are and live their life, readers also take away a certain type of empathy."

Introducing rom-com readers to a Bisexual couple is a stepping stone to creating an environment of inclusivity. "There are differences, but not that much. All humans want is to be safe, happy, and who we are," Caña said. "I hope readers seeing Queer characters or people of color can be like, 'Oh, I actually can relate to these people because they want the same things I want.'"

Fans of Caña won't have to wait much longer to see book three. The final installment of her Vega Family trilogy, Sleeping with the Frenemy, will see Leo and Sophie reunite in an epic conclusion. It should hit shelves by summer 2024.

In the meantime, Caña is working to brainstorm her next Queer romance. "I have so many ideas right now that are ...going on at one time. Right now, I would love to do more of the Vega family, but I also have a paranormal idea that will definitely be Queer," she said.