The guys talk about having more books than shelf space and also their upcoming 24th anniversary.
Will reviews An Easter Promise by A E Ryecart. Jeff reviews Play It Again by Aidan Wayne.
Jeff interviews Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth about their collaboration, Murder Most Lovely, the first in the Lacetown Murder Mysteries series. They talk about how they came up with the book, their process for co-writing and what’s still to come in the series. We also find out what’s coming up for each of them in 2019.
Complete shownotes for episode 186 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
An Easter Promise by AE Ryecart. Reviewed by Will.
This is the continuing story of Rory and Jack, who we first met in the holiday story, A Kiss Before Christmas.
In that story, Jack finds the homeless Rory huddled on his doorstep and offers him a place to stay. As they learn more about one another, Jack asks Rory to pose as his fake boyfriend when he goes home for the holidays. An unexpectedly severe winter storm prevents them from that trip, but in the few days they’ve been together they’ve fallen in love.
I read A Kiss Before Christmas last year, and I still highly recommend it.
In An Easter Promise, it’s now Spring and our two heroes are finally making the trip to visit Jack’s family in his ancestral manor house in the countryside.
This is a particularly nerve-wracking experience for Rory, whose childhood couldn’t have been more different than Jack’s well-heeled upbringing.
Things go relatively well as Jack shows Rory around the expansive estate, but they then get frosty when Jack’s mom makes it clear that she believes that Rory is after her son’s money.
Gold-digging accusations aside, as a favor to her, Rory steps in as a last-minute contestant in the Best Bake competition at the village festival. Though his brownies were obviously the best, he doesn’t win.
Afterward, Jack announces that he and his culinarily gifted boyfriend are going into business together and are opening a bakery.
This once again raises the suspicion that Rory is only after Jack for his money, causing a major rift in family relations.
Jack tells his mom where she can stick her suspicions, and is ready to return to London, but when Rory takes the family dog for a walk, he gets lost on the moors in a sudden storm. If reading fiction set in the U.K. has taught me anything, it’s that going for a walk on the moors is always a bad idea.
The family organizes a search party and journeys into the dark night to find Rory. He is eventually found, and Jack makes amends with his parents.
Flash forward a few months to the opening of the bakery and the beginning of a new chapter for our romantic heroes.
I really like both of the stories featuring Rory and Jack and sincerely hope that this isn’t the last that we’ll see of them. The opening of the bakery certainly presents several new story possibilities.
A.E. Ryecart, if you’re reading this, I’m a fan and a series set in this world would be greatly appreciated.
I was completely delighted by new-to-me author Aidan Wayne’s Play It Again. Part of what drew me in initially is that part of it relates to what we do here on the podcast. Dovid is a YouTuber alongside his sister Rachel. They run a channel called Don’t Look Now. Among the things they do is review eateries in Seattle for how accessible they are because Dovid is blind. They also interact with their fans, go on trips, open mystery boxes–it’s the full YouTube gambit.
Over in Ireland, Sam runs a Let’s Play channel where he plays a popular videogame. Rachel and Dovid become obsessed with Sam’s channel because of his easy-going, fun delivery. Dovid calls out Sam’s channel in an episode and sends Sam’s subscriber count through the roof and when Sam contacts Dovid to thank him they end up talking frequently.
Dovid and Sam are single–but as I mentioned live on opposite sides of the globe. Neither of them, quite cutely, realizes how flirty they’re being as they message each other. Initially Dovid offers Sam advice on how to manage his new subscribers and ways to grow his channel but as they move beyond that and get to know each other the realization comes that perhaps there’s more there.
This isn’t the first book I’ve read that relies heavily on text messages, instant messenger, email and so on. I loved how these wove into the story. There’s a good deal of, what I’ll call, regular storytelling too, coming from both points of view. Dovid and Sam have quite a lot internal dialogue about their growing predicament. Just getting time to talk on the phone is a challenge with the nine hour difference between them. It doesn’t stop them though from being ridiculously cute and challenging themselves to let this relationship go through its formative stages without being in the same physical location.
Of course, the guys have to get together and that happens when Dovid and Rachel had the chance to do a European tour, which includes Ireland. As much as Dovid and Sam questioned themselves as they did the long distance thing, the jitters ratchet up as they meet. Aidan does a great job of showing the hesitancy–from Dovid wanting everything to be perfect to Sam wondering if he’s worthy of Dovid. Sam comes from a family where he was put down a lot and Dovid goes into protector mode when Sam talks about this, which is incredibly touching and sexy.
For all the exploration they did via email, the time they spend together in Ireland really made me appreciate the romance that Aidan spun even more. They’d bonded so much before, they almost fall into old married couple mode with how they try to take care of each other. Dovid is particularly mindful of Sam’s asexuality and makes sure Sam isn’t doing anything he doesn’t want to do. It’s wonderful to see two such diverse characters finding their happy.
Speaking if the HEA, I’d wondered how it would manifest in a book where the two characters spend probably eighty percent of the book on separate continents. I adored how Aidan brought Sam and Dovid together. I would love to see more in this universe to know how Dovid and Sam are getting on.
Besides the wonderful romance, I loved the attention to detail that Aidan put into showing the work Dovid and Rachel do on their channel. From the talk of creating Patreon campaigns to managing social media and how to interact with the audience, I enjoyed it and I don’t think it’s too much for people who don’t do this kind of thing. Another excellent detail, Dovid and Rachel receive a package from a fan in Michigan–it contained Faygo Red Pop and Mackinac Island fudge, two childhood favorites that made me smile and gave me cravings!
So, in case you haven’t figured it out, I totally recommend Play it Again by Aidan Wayne. I’m also looking forward to their upcoming book, Hitting the Mark, which comes out at the end of May.
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish this week’s guests Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth and their new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to dreamspinnerpress.com for everything you want in gay romance.
Jeff: Welcome to the podcast, Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth.
Jeff: Thanks for being here.
Hank: Thanks for hosting us.
Jeff: You guys have written a book together…
Deanna: We did.
Jeff: …which is super cool. April 30, which is the day after this comes out, you’re releasing the first book in the “Lacetown Murder Mysteries” called “Murder Most Lovely.” Tell us about this new series. What is the scoop?
Deanna: Who wants to go first?
Hank: Deanna? You go first.
Deanna: Okay, I’ll go first. So like a year ago I went out to dinner with my husband, had some cocktails and at like 11:00 at night after having like wonderful conversations in my brain with myself because I think I’m clever, I messaged Hank, and I said, “Dude, we need to write a book together.” And he’s like, “We should.” And then we did.
Hank: I might have had some cocktails that night too. I can’t remember.
Deanna: You may have.
Hank: Might have.
Deanna: And it was, “Yeah, we should,” kind of moment. And we didn’t really know where it was going.
Hank: We had no idea.
Deanna: What’s that?
Hank: We had no idea, like nothing. That was just the random start of things. “We should do a book.” We didn’t have an idea or anything.
Deanna: It was a completely inane, “Dude, we should write a book together,” kind of moment. And then seriously, the next day, we had some conversations like, “What should it be? Superhero?” And then we just kind of like spitted ideas back and forth. And Hank was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” Am I allowed to say fuck?
Jeff: Yes, you are. We’ll put a little explicit logo on the episode and you can cuss as much as you want.
Deanna: So he was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” And I’m like, “We would.” And then we’re like, “What should it be?” And we just spitballed ideas back and forth. Like, I mean, literally, like there was probably like 30 or 40, like, things we shot back and forth at each other. And then Hank picked on two of them. And he’s like, “I love the idea of a mortician and a hairdresser.” Then we ran with it.
Hank: Yeah, and we just ran with it. And it just started writing. I mean, we didn’t plan, like, “You take one chapter.” What we did was each of us wrote up a character bio and sent it to each other. And so I wrote up…
Deanna: It was so great.
Hank: You what?
Deanna: It was so great, like blind dates for our character.
Hank: It was. It was really fun. So you had Michael, right, and I had Jazz.
Deanna: Yeah, you made Jazz. So tell us about Jazz.
Hank: So Jazz is very sassy and very snarky. And he’s a talented hairstylist and he’s uprooted his life after separating from his husband, who is a best-selling novelist and mystery novelist. And so he’s moved to this small town on the coast of Lake Michigan in Michigan. And some Michigan love there, Jeff. Yes.
Jeff: I love that.
Hank: Yes, always. And so he’s starting over and he’s just trying to kind of like rebuild and he works at a fun little salon but he’s kind of, he’s 49 but he tells people he’s 41 and…
Deanna: He tell’s people he’s 35, remember?
Hank: And he tries that too.
Deanna: He totally lies about his age. He says he’s 35.
Hank: We had, our editor actually called us up and she was like, “Is this right?” Because he shouldn’t have been around back then. Jazz lies about his age.
Deanna: He’s almost 50 but he says he’s 35.
Hank: Right. So that’s how that started. And then she brought up Michael.
Deanna: Yeah. Hank created Jazz, the hairdresser, which is funny because I actually legitimately am a hairdresser in real life. But when we were talking, Hank had said, “I’ve always wanted to write a hairdresser.” I’m like, “You take the hairdresser. Run with it.” And then I took the mortician, which sounded really great and exciting. And after dozens of Google search, Google decided that I obviously want to be a coroner and mortician and they send me casket ads, but yeah, whatever. So I created a…it was fun because Hank created Jazz, this sassy, almost-50 hairdresser who’s super sarcastic, he’s got long honey blonde hair and super stylish and wears eyeliner and he’s really sassy and he has a big potty mouth.
Hank: Oh, yeah.
Deanna: Oh, he does. And then I didn’t know who Hank was creating when we came upon this conversation. It was very much, “Hey, you pick your guy. I’ll pick my guy. We’ll see what happens. And I made Michael Fleishman who is a 42-year-old, very uptight, very socially awkward Jewish guy who runs the local funeral home and he’s also the county coroner to our fake county…is it Carver County?
Hank: Carver County, yeah.
Deanna: Carver County on Lake Michigan, which is sort of like in somewhere between, I don’t know…
Hank: Like Saugatuck and…
Deanna: Saugatuck and…
Hank: Yeah, Muskegon.
Deanna: Muskegon, somewhere, a fake county in between there and he’s the county coroner. He’s very uptight and super horny and has this like hilarious like sexual imagination but he’s really reserved and he is obsessed with mystery novels. And he goes to a bookstore in Lacetown, which is our fictional town on Lake Michigan, during a literary festival to meet his favorite also author, Russell Withingham, which happens to be Jazz’s husband. They’re separated but they’re not divorced yet.
Hank: And that’s the meet-cute.
Hank: I know, right?
Deanna: Total rom-com, meet and greet during the rain under an umbrella, cute scene. Until Jazz gets his little…I mean, he really worries Michael thinks he’s a bitchy queen and he kind of is. He’s totally the queen.
Hank: He’s really fun to write.
Deanna: It’s so fun.
Jeff: So when you got these characters who are obviously really opposite to each other, you could just hear it in the bios, what was it like to mash them together?
Hank: Oh, man.
Jeff: Sparks had to have flown off the pages.
Hank: Oh, yes, right away. It was really fun. The first chapter is their meet-cute. And we had…I mean, we do a lot of like editing, right? So we’ll write the first pass and we’ll talk about it. We message a lot during the day and stuff like that, talk about where we want to go with things. And then we use Google Docs to write together. Yeah, so that was a lot of fun to just see the whole creation of it and like set up that setting and understand how they were going to meet and how that was going to go and how Michael would be so taken with Jazz at first sight. It was really fun.
Deanna: Totally. Like, “Oh, you’re so handsome. Why is he talking to me?”
Hank: That’s really fun.
Jeff: And of course you’ve got the mystery element in this too. So rom-com mystery, which trying to think, I haven’t necessarily seen that kind of combo a lot because there’s straight up romantic suspense, of course. And then there’s like cozy mystery and maybe this ekes a little towards that with the rom-com–iness. But did you know that this was going to be like something to go for? Or did you just like mash these two elements together and say, “This thing…”
Deanna: We thought about doing like a film noir concept, like a 1940s film. But see, that’s the thing. Like when Hank and I started writing, we didn’t have a direction. We were very much open to anything. And it was sort of like he created Jazz, I created Michael. We knew we wanted a murder. We knew we wanted it to be like…
Hank: We wanted a murder. The murder got pretty gruesome too. I was really shocked.
Deanna: Yeah, we wanted some things but then as we began to write it, it began to have elements of a real murder. So like our sheriff is blustering and funny. And Michael has his kitty cat, the little Mr. Pickles.
Hank: Mr. Pickles.
Deanna: Mr. Pickles, the fat, black-and-white kitty, which my dog is growling at right now.
Jeff: Which we should note, for the people who may not be watching the video, Deanna just held up this stuffed kitty. And you’re going to be giving these away at GRL in a few months.
Deanna: Yes, we have a few couple.
So like when we created the story, I guess maybe other people with their writing collaborations might be different than we were. But Hank and I were not in a competition with each other. We were not like…we just knew we were going to have fun because we like each other and we know each other personally. And we were just like, “Let’s have fun with this.” And there was no like obsessive competition with like, “I don’t like the storyline.” Or, “I like this.” It was just sort of like, “What do you want to do? Okay, that sounds fun.” And we both ran with it. And we ended up developing this city on Lake Michigan and this little town and these little side characters.
Jeff: Let’s talk about the mystery side of it. Who is dead?
Deanna: Oh, yes, the mystery side of it. That’s right. So I’ll talk and then I’ll let Hank talk because I’ve been blabbering too long. So we decided we wanted it to be, like, film noir idea. And then it became like a legitimate murder mystery where there is a dead body and it’s gruesome and it’s creepy and it’s sad. And there’s like some crazy shit happening. And there’s like cops that need to come in. And there’s like a real mystery. And there’s actually a couple side mysteries that are happening over the book arc of the next two novels, novel two of which we will be submitting in the morning. We would have submitted it today but I’m being a typo psycho. I am. I’m a typo psycho.
Hank: She’s finding a lot of good stuff, though. I like the changes. So, yeah. So the murder actually got more gruesome than I was anticipating. We were like, “Let’s go.” “Wait, do we want to go?” “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do it.” So it’s…do we want to say who it is? I mean, it happens early on. So I don’t think it’s a spoiler, right?
Deanna: Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t we just talk about how creepy the murder is.
Hank: Okay, we’ll just leave it just like that.
Deanna: Not who is murdered.
Hank: Someone’s murdered and maybe their hands are missing.
Deanna: Or chopped off.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Hank: So, yeah, that’s kind of…
Jeff: That’s more gruesome than I expect in a rom-com.
Hank: I know.
Jeff: I’ll say that.
Deanna: Oh, wait ’till you hear about the serial killer. Wait, that was a spoiler. I didn’t say it.
Hank: But in the first book…
Jeff: Is that a spoiler that we’re leaving in or a spoiler that we’re taking out?
Deanna: We’re leaving it in but we’re not gonna respond about it.
Jeff: Fair enough.
Hank: That’s right.
Jeff: A little breaking news there for the podcast that we will not do follow-up questions on. You were saying, Hank, on this murder.
Hank: So yeah, so it was gruesome. And then there’s the discovery. But Michael is kind of, you know, he can’t help but be a little excited about it because it’s his first murder because he’s a small town, county coroner. And the only…
Deanna: He’s not only a mortician. He’s the county coroner too.
Hank: Right. So it’s up to him now to, like, investigate it. He’s never had a murder like this. He’s had a murder but they knew the victim and the attacker. So this is completely new for him. And he reads murder like mystery novels, so he’s really excited about it. So he’s, like, starting to play, like, detective. And then the sheriff is kind of, you know, like all blustering and yelling at him like, “Fleishman. Dilworth.” You know, that’s Jazz’s last name, Jazz Dilworth and he like calls everybody their last name and yells at them. And they’re always a suspect, so, “Don’t leave town.”
Deanna: Everyone is a suspect until Musgrave says they’re not a suspect.
Hank: “Don’t leave town.” Yeah. Sheriff Musgrave.
Jeff: So if I understood correctly, you kind of just created this on the fly.
Jeff: For both the romance and the mystery?
Jeff: How did that play out in like the day-to-day writing? Because I can’t even like imagine having co-written something that there wasn’t more of a plan to it.
Hank [softly]: I know!
Deanna: How did it go?
Hank: Actually it went smoother than I expected.
Deanna: It was so much fun.
Hank: Yeah. And it was a lot of fun because we chatted a lot on Facebook Messenger. And we’d text and we call each other now and then. We’d have conversations, phone conversations, and we’d plan out where we wanted things to go. And then one of us would say, “Okay, I’ll do this and then you can write that.” And then we just kind of took it. And then it was really fun because like you’d go through and you’d read…you know, how you like read through what you’ve written and it’s somebody else has written something new and you’re like, “Wow, this is like a whole new story.” Like you don’t know what you’re reading, you don’t know anything of what to expect. So it was really fun.
Deanna: So awesome because, like, first, I gotta say, writing with Hank Edwards has been a pleasure. Because not only is he a great writer and like stupid funny, like so funny, I can’t even tell you how many times he writes something and I’m just like…laughing. But he and I are not…we’re not competitive individuals. We’re not like jumping into this, like, “Well, this is what I want. This is what I want.” It was so easy, where it was just like we just…Hank created Jazz and then Jazz has this profile that we went with. I created Michael and we had this profile we went with. He and I created an exterior mystery that happened to them.
But because he created such a good profile and I just created such a strong profile, both of us knew who Michael and who Jazz were. And then it was like, “Well, Michael wouldn’t do that,” or, “Jazz wouldn’t say that.” And we didn’t like try to, like, undermine the other person. I don’t know. I just feel really blessed. I love you. I just feel blessed to be able to write a story with someone who is so easy and so fun and our sense of humor is both very similar and darkly twisted and inappropriate, like we both knew when our editor was gonna go, “Mm-mm. No.”
Hank: I told her several times, I’m like, “This is gonna get cut out and you put it in and it’s gonna get cut out. I’m telling you right now.” And she’s like, “I want to leave it in.” I’m like, “Okay, but it’s gonna get cut.” And it did.
Deanna: And I’m like, “They’re not gonna let us use the C-word.” And he’s like, “Maybe they will.” No, they didn’t.
But it was so much…I don’t know. It was just one of those things that were really easy because Hank is so fun to work with. It was just easy. I mean, not that writing and editing is easy. But even as we went through the process, there would be scenes…we each knew where the scene was going to go. We knew what scene was going to happen next. And if it was…because our work…he’s very typical 9:00 to 5:00 work schedule, Monday through Friday, and I am Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 8:00, those four days. So like he would do all the stuff Wednesday through Saturday and then I’d open it up on Sunday, and then I’d do all the stuff Sunday to Tuesday.
And then it wasn’t like we were fixing or changing each other’s work. It was like, “Oh, that’s a great scene.” And then I would add to it. And then he would take my scene and add to it. And it was just like layering and layering cool stuff with what was already funny. So it was like I knew what I was writing on Tuesday. I wrote this whole scene. And then Hank would write the next scene. And when I would get a chance to read on Thursday, he was like, “Oh, what am I going to read? I know what’s gonna happen but how is it gonna happen?” And he is so funny. So funny. And, I mean, it was just so great writing together.
Jeff: So, Hank, for you, what’s kind of your side of that story as you’re like going through and doing your part on the book on your days?
Hank: So it was a lot of fun. Like Deanna said, because I’ve been writing during my lunch hours at work, so like Monday through Friday I’d have like an hour and I usually go and I hide somewhere at the building and I’ll, like, be able to focus and write. And it was really fun to go through Google Docs and be able to accept all those changes because we always do the suggestions, right, so like the track changes so we can see what each other has done. And it’s always so much fun to see. It looks like, you know, like Deanna said, it’s like, “Oh,” it’s like a little present.
You know, like, “There’s something new.” And I go through. But then seeing how she did the layering, I was talking to my husband, Fred, and I was like, you know, it’s like I’m picking up such good ideas about how to layer emotion in. Deanna is awesome at doing that and like pulling out the emotions in a scene and like digging in deeper where it needs to be. You know, that’s something that I’ve always kind of like, you know, I’m always like, “Write the action. Write the action. Write the action.”
Deanna: But that’s what I love about his writing because he will write action that conveys emotion, whereas I would have written a long, drawn-out emotional monologue. And somehow the two just worked so great. I think.
Hank: We are a good blend together like that. So, yeah, it’s really funny and she’s funny and really darkly funny. So it’s been a lot of fun because there’s some stuff where I like write something dark and funny and then, you know, you get the comment. It’s always fun to get that comment like, “LOL. Oh, my God.” And so then like all of a sudden like further down the page, she’s added somebody I’m like, “Oh, my God, you did not just write that.” So it’s really funny.
Deanna: We’re so wrong. We’re so wrong, we’re so right, Hank.
Jeff: Well, I really like the organic method it sounds like you guys had. Because like my brain can’t even begin to process trying to co-write without a plan. But I’ve heard other people do that and it works out great. What, as you got the draft done, what was the revision and also, I guess, making the book seem like it had one voice? What was that like? So was it like two different people at work?
Deanna: Can I respond to this?
Hank: Of course.
Deanna: Okay, so, Hank would send me…well, it was in Google Docs. So we would get scenes together. So I feel like the way it went before anyone else read anything or we got any feedback from editors, from beta readers, or whatever, it was like we had our strong characters decided who they were and what they were and what the mystery was. And he would write a scene and then I would get it and I’m like, “Oh, it’s a good scene. I love where it’s going. Maybe…” Okay, so like I’m not going to give a spoiler, but there’s a scene at the end of Book 1 where the murderer is caught and our two heroes are like in this epic battle fighting them, like the murderer, right?
Okay. So Hank writes that scene and I’m like, “Ah,” and then I go in and I add some fighting, some struggling, and maybe a little dialogue. Hank comes back in, he adds a little more dialogue. He remembers that the gun is on the other side of the room. Whatever the detail is, we both keep adding layers. And I think it comes back to the point that we’re both so invested in our characters and we weren’t, like, competing to try to be the better person.
And I think that’s a lot of it. I mean, I think you can’t co-write a book together if you’re competitive or need center of attention. Hank and I just had so much fun. It would be like, “Oh, yeah. Add that, add that.” And he’s just like “Oh, my God. We’re great. That’s great. You shot him. Oh, I didn’t expect to shoot him. Let’s do that.” Whatever it was and we kept adding these layers and it became so much fun. But in the end, when we would get a scene and it was completed, we would…each of us would go back and read through the whole manuscript and be like, “Oh, we missed that detail.”
And Hank would send that to me. And I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. I forgot about that.” And he would add it. Or I would like, even today, we’re actually like one day off submitting Book 2. We were going to submit it today but I am like typo crazy. So I sent the manuscript to my Kindle so I could find any misspellings and typos. And I was like, “Oh, my God. We have a scene where Michael and Jazz are sitting in Michael’s living room with the TV. And in Book 1, he only has a TV in his bedroom. What are we going to do?” And Hank is like, “That’s cool. Good for catching that.” And I feel like that’s kind of how we’ve been like we’ll catch something and go. “Oh, I’m glad you caught that.”
Hank: Yeah. But to your point, Jeff, you said like about planning and writing off the cuff, so the first book, I think, Deanna, you can tell me if I’m wrong. But the first book was really, I mean, it wasn’t easy because writing is hard but it was easier. Book 2, it was more of a struggle I think with writing it.
Deanna: Book 2 was more of a struggle.
Hank: And we had a lot going on. So we have like an overarching mystery, we have another, like, contained mystery.
Hank: So we’ve talked about it and we’re like Book 3, we really need to plan it out more. We’re gonna… Like once we let this book to get out a little bit, we’re going to like start planning Book 3 and then really like…
Deanna: We need a serious luncheon with some planning.
Hank: Yeah, so, absolutely.
Deanna: Book 1 was very organic and natural. And Book 2, I mean, you’ll probably agree, Hank, I think we fell in love with our side characters so much we got distracted with all these sides stories. Even our editor was like, “Why are you talking about that and that?” We’re like…
Hank: “Because we like them.”
Deanna: So we had to cut a lot of scenes and really focus back on the romance, on book 2.
Jeff: DVD extras, deleted scenes.
Hank: DVD extras, exactly.
Jeff: But let’s talk about those side characters a little bit because there’s a whole paragraph of the blurb for Book 1 that details the side characters. Michael’s sassy assistant, Kitty, the grumpy Sheriff Musgrave, Russell’s creepy PR rep, Norbert, Michael’s grandfather who likes his Manhattans strong and his women saucy. And of course, who we’ve already met, Mr. Pickles Furryton the Third.
Hank: Yes. Mm-hmm.
Jeff: So did you guys split those up in the same way that you took Jazz, Hank, and Deanna took Michael? Or did these get created on the fly as you needed them?
Deanna: They were on the fly.
Deanna: We just like…
Hank: We just do, kind of. Yeah.
Deanna: I think I came up with Mr. Pickles Furryton the Third and Hank created Sheriff Musgrave. Because I think when we were talking, Sheriff Musgrave was actually like an old man and Hank made him this whole, like, Ron Perlman kind of character.
Hank: Yes. Very Ron Perlman.
Deanna: He has a lot of attitude. And Kitty, I don’t know where she came from.
Hank: You created Kitty.
Deanna: Did I? Okay, because I imagine her. Do you watch “Blue Blood” with Tom Selleck?
Jeff: I have not.
Deanna: Oh, anyways. His secretary is this voluptuous like blonde chick and I pictured her. And I don’t know who created Grandpa.
Hank: I think we both did.
Deanna: You had Steve.
Hank: Oh, yeah, the handyman.
Deanna: We both made Ezra.
Hank: The apprentice.
Deanna: I don’t know anything about them. That’s not a spoiler at all.
Jeff: That’s very impressive to just kind of create on the fly like that. Two people pantsing would make my head explode, but.
Hank: It was insane. I don’t know how we managed to do it but…
Jeff: I think you had fun with it all the more.
Hank: …we had really good feedback from the editor.
Deanna: We did have so much fun, Jeff.
Deanna: I don’t know how lucky I am. Like a year ago, I sent him a drunk text message that we should write a book together. And we have had the best year.
Jeff: Had it even crossed your minds before the drunk text to do this in some, like, other random moment?
Hank: Never ever really even talked about it? I mean, we see each other GRL. She comes up for Ferndale Pride because she lives about an hour and a half away from me.
Deanna: I’m northwest Ohio, he’s southwest Michigan, so we’ve done some pride festivals together. But in all freaking honesty, the whiskey made me do it, Jeff. I literally texted him, “Hey, full disclosure, I’ve been drinking. We should write a book together.” I do believe, Hank, that was the quote.
Hank: Pretty much. Yeah.
Deanna: And he was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” And I was like, “We would.” And then we ran with it. And then that’s that. It was just, like, all fun.
Jeff: And it’s interesting that you’re evolving in Book 2 and probably in Book 3 too. You had the fun moment. Now you kind of have to make everything keep tying together in the next two books.
Hank: Yes. It’s all got to come together now for the third book. Yeah.
Jeff: Because that’s like, yeah, when you have all that tied together stuff, because I’ve been reading a lot of romantic suspense lately where it’s like something that arcs across a trilogy or whatever, and it’s like…it’s exciting.
Deanna: Yeah. Book 2 is tentatively called “Murder Most Deserving,” and it was a lot harder to write than the first book.
Jeff: As fun though, I hope?
Hank: Oh, yeah.
Deanna: Oh yeah, just as fun, but there were moments I feel like we both checked out. And we’ve had this conversation. We know that we checked out because we had decided on a storyline for Michael and Jazz. And then we were like, “This doesn’t feel right.” Because it’s not your book, it also belongs to someone else, you don’t just say, “Oh, that storyline can’t happen,” because two of you decided together so you keep going with it. And then there’s moments where we had to talk and we’re like…where I was like, “I don’t like this.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I don’t like it either.”
And I thought I said I didn’t like it. I’m like, “Maybe you said you didn’t like it. But I didn’t really expect you didn’t like it and I don’t know why we didn’t like it. And I don’t even know why we’re doing it.” And it was like we had…I mean, there was like, there was a couple of moments like that on the story. And there was also like we said in the beginning, we love our side characters too much. And we gave them a lot of screen time they did not deserve, even though we love them. So we had to distract and take a lot of stuff out. Not that we wanted to take it out but it was like why is this thing here? No one cares…
Deanna: …except us. So it was a little different. Like we created this wonderful world and in Book 2 we kind of just went crazy. We, like, went crazy with the Cheez Whiz. It’s like, “I love Sheriff Musgrave. I love Missy.” And we just wrote all these scenes and we’re like… And part of that I will say is my fault because I sent a lot of scenes to Hank before we even plotted the book. I was like, “I wrote this funny scene I’m going to send you.” And he’s like, “I love it.” And we wrote it.
Hank: And I was like opening emails from Oprah. “And you get a storyline, and you get a storyline.”
Jeff: Maybe these could become short stories for these characters if you can’t get them into the book.
Hank: That’s great.
Jeff: So take a moment to brag on each other. And outside of working on this book, what do you like about each other’s work?
Hank: I’ll go.
Jeff: Hank first.
Hank: All right. I love Deanna’s depth of characters. So her books, I think the first one I read of yours was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” And I was like, “Oh, Ichabod. Oh, you naughty boy.” But then I can’t remember in what order then I read them but like “Easy Ryder,” I love that book. That is an awesome book. And I love the time period and I love the characters and I just love all of it and the discovery. That’s a road trip, another…you love the road trip books.
Hank: Apparently. And then “Wrecked” is awesome. It’s really good. But she has a way of just like, you know, pulling up those emotions and really getting into the romance of it and doing an awesome job with it and having the characters. And then the conflict is organic, it’s not, like, fabricated. And it all blends together. She’s got a really good sense of story.
Deanna: That’s so sweet. I feel like, Hank, your dialogue sells your story. You could write a whole book on just dialogue with nothing else and people would buy it and laugh. You’re hilarious and your dialogue is great. And I feel like our styles mesh well because I do write more… I like to write a lot of the internal monologue and the emotion. But I’ll tell you an example, and this is a semi-spoiler in Book 2. But this is what I love about Hank’s writing.
Okay. I’m not gonna tell too much of the story but there is a scene where something really shocking happens for our character, Jazz, the hairdresser. And the scene is in Jazz’s point of view. You’ll know what I’m talking about in a second. So the scene is in Jazz’s point of view and then Michael, our mortician, bursts through the door. And everyone is like, “How did you get here?” And he’s like, “I ran here.” And that sounds like simplistic but the emotional intensity of why Michael would run five blocks to the salon where Jazz works on a mere phone call just conveys so much intensity with three words, “I ran here.”
And that’s what I love about Hank’s writing. I mean, I write the long emotional, internal monologue. And Hank writes that same intense emotional monologue in three words, “I ran here.” And I think, I mean, I’ve always…that’s what I love about his books. But I feel like those two things complement each other in our writing. Like I like to write the long drawn out emotional and he writes that same scene in three words, “I ran here.” And that’s why I love writing with him.
Jeff: Cool. They’re hearting each other for those people not watching the video right now.
Jeff: So you mentioned three towns…three towns, no, three books in the “Lacetown” series are planned. Do you foresee life in the universe beyond those three since you’re having such a good time?
Hank: We talked about it. We’ve discussed it, yeah. We’ve got the trilogy planned and then we’ll see what happens with it.
Deanna: We have at least two in our head.
Jeff: That’s cool.
Deanna: Beyond the three.
Jeff: Now what about separately? What’s coming up next outside of the “Lacetown” series for you both?
Hank: You have something coming up soon, Deanna.
Deanna: Well, I have one thing coming up for sure and hopefully two. I also write young adult fiction just like Hank does under his…is it RG or RD?
Deanna: R.G. Thomas. Hank has a young adult series under RG Thomas. And I have a young adult series, K.D. Worth, which is very different from my Deanna Wadsworth writing. It’s young adults/new adults because my characters are 19 and there are some, I don’t know, level-three sexy moments. So you can’t really…like you know people get funny about young adult that has sexy stuff in it. There’s a strong spiritual element with the main character who was trying to kill himself because of his family sending him to like one of those creepy pray-the-gay away camps. And the moment he kills himself he’s saved by a young teenage Grim Reaper, who decides that he wants to give him a second chance in life. And there’s a sassy foul-mouthed, because no one understands why Deanna would write a character like that, a sassy foul-mouthed angel who helps these boys on their journey. And that story is called “The Grim Life.”
And Book 3, the final series, the final saga in that trilogy “The Lost Souls” is coming out this fall. And I’m really, really excited about that. I mean, a lot of M/M or gay romance, whatever you want to call it, authors know that young adult isn’t where the sales and money are at, sadly, but this is like a really intense…I don’t want to say pet project because that trivializes it, but it’s really a series that means more to me than almost anything I’ve ever written.
Hank: Yeah. You’ve been working on these for what? Like two years now?
Deanna: Yeah, four. It took me two years to write Book 3 because I just emotionally invested in it. There’s a lot of death and questioning of what goes on on the other side and where God sees your soul and all these like intensely hard questions. And to make things harder on myself, I put a school shooting in Book 3 because why not?
Hank: No, why?
Deanna: It’s so emotionally intense that you can’t write it. So that comes out this fall. But I’m hoping my second book in my Pride of the Caribbean Cruise series comes out which is a merman.
Deanna: A merman…
Hank: On a cruise.
Deanna: …on a Caribbean cruise. It’s like I like to be intense or I like to be funny. I can’t be…
Hank: There’s no in between, right.
Jeff: Either end of the spectrum.
Hank: That’s right.
Deanna: That’s what I do. So that’s what’s coming out for me.
Hank: I will be working on the final book of the “Critter Catcher” series, final book for now. It’s tentatively titled “Dread of Night.” So and I’ve got about six chapters written. I’m working on a big pivotal scene also, so I need to just like…now that Book 2 has been sent off for consideration I can like, you know, kind of focus on that because I’m really bad at like jumping between projects too. Like my mind gets stuck in the other characters because while I’m working on this other I’m like, “But wait, what about…?” So, yeah.
Jeff: Cool. All right. What is the…
Hank: There’s other stuff to work on too but that’s the big thing coming up.
Deanna: I love the “Critter Catcher” books. They’re so good. I manipulated Hank into giving me the last book when I was sick last summer. I was like, “Shouldn’t you send it to me? I know that you’re going to submit it for publishing in a month, but I’m really sick.”
Hank: “I need to beta it. I’m sick.” Yeah.
Deanna: Yes. I did do that.
Jeff: And it worked too, right?
Deanna: It worked.
Hank: I did. I sent it. I was good.
Deanna: And it was worth it.
Jeff: So what’s the best way for readers to keep up with you guys online? Let’s start with Hank.
Hank: I have a website. It’s hankedwardsbooks.com. You can also find my young adult fiction at townofsuperstition.com. And I do have those books listed on my Hank Edwards’ website just to make it easier. And then I’m on Facebook. I have a Facebook page. It’s facebook.com/hankedwardsbooks. And I really don’t use…Twitter confuses me. I get really…it’s just this noise. It’s like people yelling at each other. And so I have a Twitter account but I’m not out there much. But I am on Instagram. I usually post pictures of my cats. You know, and that’s @hankedwardsbooks as well.
Jeff: Cool. And Deanna?
Deanna: I’m on Facebook, deannawadsworthauthor. And Instagram, I go by @deannawads. I don’t know why I didn’t finish my last name but I don’t know. Everybody called my grandpa Wadsy. So I should have done Deanna Wadsy but I screwed that up. But I’m on those two. A little on Twitter and a little on Pinterest, all under Deanna Wadsworth. Mostly my most activity is on Instagram or my website, deannawadsworth.com. And that’s it. And you should totally read Hank’s R.G. Thomas books. It’s like Harry Potter but gay with, like, dragons. And little garden gnomes. I fricking love those books. You better write another one after we write our book. After we write our book. You’ve got to.
Hank: Got it.
Jeff: You’ve got your marching orders now, Hank.
Hank: I do. I get them a lot.
Deanna: He doesn’t have a wife, but…
Hank: It’s all right.
Deanna: …I’ll jump in that role.
Hank: She’s my work wife.
Jeff: All right. Well, this has been a blast. We will definitely link up to everything in the show notes that we’ve talked about here. And we wish you the best of success on the “Lacetown Murder Mysteries.”
Hank: Thanks very much, Jeff. It’s been fun.
Deanna: Thank you, Jeff.
New movie and TV deals are discussed with both Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue coming to Amazon and a Love, Simon series to the Disney+ streaming service. Jeff talks about seeing The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.
New patrons Rhonda and Regi are welcomed.
Will reviews the Netflix original Special. Jeff reviews Jay Bell’s Straight Boy.
Jeff & Will discuss their trip to the LA Times Festival of Books. They also share the interviews they did at the festival with Julian Winters, Kim Fielding & Venona Keyes and S.A. Stovall. Julian talks about his upcoming book How to Be Remy Cameron. Kim discusses her Stars in Peril series and Venona also tells Jeff about her co-writing with Kim. S.A. gives the origin story of her Vice City series and how she uses caricature to encourage people to read the first chapter (she also did a super cute caricature of Jeff & Will).
Complete shownotes for episode 185 are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book review:
I went into Straight Boy without knowing much about it other than it was a young adult story involving Andrew, a gay high school student, who develops a crush on Carter, a straight (or maybe not-so-straight) boy. What made me buy the audiobook was the fact I’m a huge Jay Bell fan because of Something Like Summer and also for Kirt Graves’s narration. I knew these two together would give me a great read.
And they did.
With Something Like Summer and its sequels, Jay proved a master of telling a story with many characters and many plot lines that involve an array of emotions. He’s upped his game with Straight Boy.
Two things happen right away–Andrew, a recent transplant to Chicago, discovers a boy who lives down the street having an argument with his parents and saying things like “I was born this way.” Andrew thinks he’s found a gay friend. The next day–his first day at his new school–Andrew comes out as he introduces himself in class. This makes him a target of the school bully, Bobby. Andrew goes off on Bobby, despite the bully’s threats and ends up getting sent to the guidance office. Here he meets Carter and discovers that’s the boy he heard arguing. Both of them end up in a special program at the school where learning happens outside a traditional classroom
Andrew’s year is now set.
Everyone–gay, straight or otherwise–inevitably has that phase where you want a romantic relationship that you can’t have. Andrew longs for Carter but also doesn’t want to wreck their friendship, which seems to grow stronger by the minute. The thing is, Carter seems to be a little experimental too and that only makes things more confusing for them both. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would end up a disaster on the page, but Jay deftly weaves the emotions and circumstances for both guys as they figure out the place they’ve got in each other’s lives as it evolves through the school year. I cheered for the good and wanted to protect them through the bad since my fifty-year-old self could vividly recall how confusing seventeen was.
Bobby’s integrated deeply into their year too. He’s a friend of Carter’s and that mean’s Andrew is around Bobby far more than he likes–and he ends up putting up with more crap that he should. Andrew accepts dealing with that because he doesn’t want to lose Carter. It’s made even harder when Carter starts dating Bobby’s ex, Olivia. Along the way another of Bobby’s friends, Jackson, becomes tight with Andrew too, creating more bonds in the group. The evolution of Andrew and Jackson’s friendship is as interesting as Andrew and Carter’s.
Things get rough in the last quarter of the book. Bobby doesn’t like the changes happening to his group and he plots revenge. I have to warn here that not only does bullying happen throughout the story at varying levels but as we get into the last act there’s also off-page sexual assault and a pretty epic final battle where Andrew, Carter and the group are in way over their heads. Again, Jay does an excellent job of telling the story, ratcheting tensions and putting characters–and readers–through the wringer.
The epilogue was the icing on top of this cake. Jumping twenty years into the future, we find out where everyone ended up. There were some surprises here that made me go “awwww.” It provided the perfect ending.
What this book excelled at was showing friendships up close–what makes them grow, what rips them apart, and most importantly, what can make a true friend for life. It also shows, perhaps too intensely for some readers, the lengths people can go to in order to protect a relationship even if it’s toxic. I can’t commend Jay enough for how well he did all of this.
Kudos to Kirt Graves too. I know well from TJ Klune’s Green Creek series that Kirt can handle a large cast of characters and high emotional impact. Kirt is perfection here handling the emotional rollercoaster without sending it over the top. His performance adds perfectly to what Jay had on the page.
I highly recommend Straight Boy by Jay Bell, just make sure you’re ready for the ride.
Interview Transcript - Julian Winters, Kim Fielding & Venona Keyes, S.A. Stovall
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Interview with Julian Winters
Jeff: We are at the LA Times Festival of Books with Julian Winters.
Jeff: Who I’ve just had a major fanboy moment over.
Julian: I had fanboy moments.
Jeff: Okay. We kinda both had the fanboy moment.
Julian: Yes, yes. It is equal.
Jeff: Because I had to get him to sign my “Running with Lions.” Podcast listeners know that was one of my favorite books of last year.
Julian: Thank you.
Jeff: And you’ve got a little sneak peek…
Julian: I do.
Jeff: Right now of “How To Be Remy Cameron,” which comes out September 10th.
Julian: Yes, yes. September 10th, yes.
Jeff: Tell us what this is about.
Julian: Remy is a very personal book. It’s about an out and proud teen in high school, who has always felt like he’s known himself until he has this AP lit course. And one of the final grades he has to write an essay about who am I and it’s like the make or break essay. He’s trying to get into Emory University, and he needs this course in order to get there. And so, he has this kind of panic mode of, “Okay, but who am I?” Because he’s always been defined by, “Oh, he’s the gay kid who came out at 14,” or, “Oh, he’s one of five black students that go to our school,” or “Oh, he’s the big brother to this character,” and he’s just all these labels he wears all the time. He’s, “This is who I am.” But then he starts to realize, “Is that all I am and do these labels really define exactly who Remy Cameron is?” So, it’s kinda an exploration of what labels mean to us, but it also has a great family dynamic. A couple of secret mystery parts I can’t tell you about but there’s a lot of guessing games going on in it. And of course, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have like a dorky romance in there. So, that’s in there too.
Jeff: A dorky romance? I like that because that’s…
Julian: Yes, that’s exactly what I promise you. It’s so geeky, it’s so dorky.
Jeff: That’s kind of what “Lions” was as well for sure. That’s a good label for it. How would you say that your writing has evolved from first book to second?
Julian: Oh, it’s a lot. A lot. With the first book, I just kinda wanted to write the feel-good story, and that was my goal, and touching on certain issues throughout the book. And it also was written in third person and “Remy’s” written in first person. I’ve never, not even when I was like a small child, wrote in first person. I love reading books like that, but I thought, I just can’t do that, it’s just too personal. And so, it was a challenge doing that, but it was a lot of fun. And “Remy,” like I said, it’s very personal, so exploring parts of myself and things that I see throughout, you know, our community and things like that. It really helped me grow as a writer to really say, Okay, you can challenge yourself and you can fail at it, but you can also improve. And that was great. So, to fail, I struggled so much in the beginning, but to have that under my belt now, it’s I think I could write a lot of different stories.
Jeff: So, you think you’ll visit first again sometimes?
Julian: Oh, yeah, yes, yes. The next book I’m working on, first might be where I’m stuck now. I think this might be my calling. I don’t know.
Jeff: Okay. I could tell you, first is a nice place to be.
Julian: Yeah, it is.
Jeff: What are some elements of this book that are so personal to you?
Julian: Growing up. So, I grew up in Upstate New York where I was one of five black students at my school. And then when we moved to Georgia, I was one of 400 that went to my school. So, it’s very personal in the sense of, I went through a lot of phases of am I too gay? Am I black enough? Am I too perfect as a friend? Am I good enough friend? A lot of things that I went through, Remy goes through in the book. It also explores my love for a lot of geeky things and how for a while I wouldn’t let that define me because I thought, “Oh, no, this is bad, people are gonna make fun of me.” And Remy goes through that because he had a lot of geeky moments, but it’s almost like he’s scared to show them now that he knows that these are the things that I’m defined by.
Jeff: I love that you point out the geeky thing because I saw on your Instagram earlier today of the comic books that you read into here at the Festival.
Julian: Listen, I almost had to leave, you know, our booth just to go, you know, bow down at the comic book booth and just say, “Listen, thank you. I love it.”
Jeff: Now, let’s talk about “Lions” for a second because you’ve had an amazing year. I mean, you started out of the gate that the book was blurbed by Becky Albertalli.
Jeff: And now, just within the last week or two, you’ve won an award for it. So, tell us a little bit about that.
Julian: It’s been a wild journey because, first of all, like, I never thought I’d meet Becky Albertalli, I never thought I’d talk to her, I never thought, you know, I would become friends with her. And then just meeting all the other people along the way that I’ve met and growing in that area… I always felt like I was the kid sitting at the table in the corner where I peek over at all the cool kids and say, “Yeah, I’m never sitting at that table,” but it’s been kinda really awesome being taken in by so many different people and I never thought I’d be an award-winning author. Like, I wanted to write the book for queer kids to enjoy, to see themselves and know that, you know, you’re not some other subcategory, you’re just a normal person. It’s just that…this is just a part of you, it doesn’t define you. And to win an award, I broke down crying. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this because my journey has always been about the reader but to have something for myself was amazing. It still is amazing. I’m not over it. I guess I won’t be over it until I actually hold the award in my hands and say, “This happened.”
Jeff: This actually happened. And the cover too, which was a stunning cover, also won.
Julian: Yes, the cover won for best cover. And that was so great for me in the sense that I love our cover designer, C.B. Messer. She’s amazing. She reads all the books cover to cover. And so, she knows these characters, she knows their stories, and what she did with that cover just blew me away. What she did with the “Remy” cover, I’m still in complete awe of just how well she knows these characters.
Jeff: When we talked back last year, the book had hardly been out.
Jeff: How’s the reader response been to it?
Julian: It’s been amazing. Today just alone, just so many people will walk by and say, “Oh my gosh, ‘Running with Lions,’ I’ve heard of that book.” And I’m just like, “What? Of all the books that came out in 2018, you heard of that book?” The response has been amazing. Going to the events and having people walk up to me and say, “Thank you for writing this book because I played soccer all my life, but there was never a queer soccer book.” Or, “Thank you for writing this because there weren’t a lot of books with bisexual main characters, or characters that were gay and Muslim, or black characters, or whatever.” It’s been amazing, the response I get. I get teary-eyed every time. I’m like, “I’m not strong enough for this, we can’t talk about this.” But it’s also been so cool to know that I’m helping someone see themselves because I didn’t always get that opportunity growing up. So, to know I’m getting to be a part of their journey, it’s just been amazing.
Jeff: Fantastic. And what have you thought of the fair, of the festival? Because it’s your first time up here.
Julian: Yes, this is my first time here for the festival. And I was talking to another friend about it because I went to YALLWEST last year. YALLWEST is this…it’s nice little corner and then this is like a whole city. Like, I get lost every time I go either to the bathroom or get something to drink. But it’s amazing because it brings so many different publishers, so many different books together, so many different genres, so many different kinds of authors are here. And that’s the amazing part to me, just to know how influential books are because there are people everywhere all the time, stacks of books in their arms. And you don’t really get to see that in, like, media, like how impactful books are, how much people really enjoy the art that we put out there. So, this has just been amazing to watch how excited people get when they see the books.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s been very cool here. So, thank you so much for hanging out with us.
Julian: Thank you. You know, I love you guys.
Jeff: Best of luck on “How To Be Remy Cameron,” coming out September 10th.
Interview with Kim Fielding and Venona Keyes
Jeff: We are at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with Kim Fielding and Venona Keyes. Thanks for being here.
Kim: Thanks so much.
Venona: Thanks for asking.
Jeff: We’re excited to have you both here. And now, Kim, of course, within the past couple of weeks, we’ve raved about the “The Spy’s Love Song” and the new “Dreamspun Desires.” Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Because it was so good.
Kim: I think a big part of the inspiration came from my travels in Eastern Europe. So, you know, thinking about the way things used to be in Eastern Europe and how things are changing, plus politics as they’re happening right now. And so, yeah, I think that was the main thing.
Jeff: What kind of research did you have to do to develop your spy and your rock star who becomes kind of…along on this mission without even knowing he’s on it?
Kim: I didn’t have to do too much research on the spy part or on the travel part, but rock stars and music is not something I know anything or have any talent or anything else about, so that was where I had to do most of my research because I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what it’s like to be a rock star. I can’t even sing.
Jeff: Does that mean you what it’s like to be a spy?
Kim: Hmm, I’m not…I can’t divulge.
Venona: You have kids.
Kim: Yeah, I have kids.
Jeff: And you wrote song lyrics too?
Kim: I did. Yeah, I know. And it was really fun. And then in the audio version, my narrator Drew Bacca sang them, which was so cool. And it’s like, this is the closest I’m ever gonna get to being a songwriter. And it’s so much fun to listen to. And I can pretend, you know, like, I’m the next thing.
Jeff: Which actually raises the question, did you give him an idea of what the melody for it was or did he just kind of make that up?
Kim: I had no melody in mind. I didn’t know he was gonna sing. When I write a book, I’m sorry narrators, I don’t think about what I’m doing to my narrators. And so, sometimes I torture them, and I wasn’t even thinking about a narrator singing it. So, that was his idea and I was so pleased.
Jeff: And this is a little different in “Dreamspuns” as well and I noted it in my review that you are a single point of view here. Did you go into it deliberately that way or just kind of organically discovered it was the way to go?
Kim: It made more sense for this book because there’s some surprises about our spy character and I think it’s a lot more fun if we kinda discover the surprises along with the other character rather than knowing right from the start. So, you know, for some books, the dual point of view works really well, but for this one, I think this works well.
Jeff: Yeah, I totally agree on that. Now, this is part of a bigger series that’s happening within the “Dreamspuns.”
Kim: It is.
Jeff: Tell us a little bit about the series overall.
Kim: Sure. So, this series is called “Stars from Peril” and this is the first book in it. The second book comes out next month, and that’s “Redesigning Landry Bishop.” And the third book, I just finished the first round of edits on. It’ll be out in October and that one is “Drawing the Prince.” We went over several titles on that one. And so, what all three of them have in common is the main characters are from the same small town in Nebraska called Peril, Nebraska. And all three main characters have made it big in some way. So, our first guy is a rock star, our second guy is kind of a Martha Stewart type, and the third guy is an artist. And so, they’ve made it big in the world and they meet someone. And so, you can read each of them as a standalone and in any order you want to, but you’ll kind of see the characters appearing a little bit in one another’s story.
Jeff: It didn’t even click for me that it was the name of the town too because peril plays into their own peril.
Kim: Exactly. And I honestly cheated a little bit on that. There is a real town, a tiny little town, I think there’s like 60 people in it, in Nebraska called Hazard, Nebraska. So, Peril.
Jeff: Peril, Hazard, it works.
Kim: And it’s a great name.
Jeff: Now, people may be wondering, why do we have both of them here together? Well, Venona and Kim also co-write. Tell us about that book.
Venona: “Running Blind.” I will tell you this came about some years ago in Portland at our Dreamspinner meetup and she pulls me aside. Now, you have to understand that I was such a fan of Kim. I love “Brute”, I loved all of her stuff. And then she’s talking to me and I’m like, “You sure you’re talking to me because, you know, I don’t, like, co-write. I’m really bad at, you know, doing it by myself.” And she goes, “Oh, yeah, I heard on NPR…” And that’s how it started. Because Peter Sagal who’s out of Chicago hosts, “Wait, wait, Don’t Tell Me.” He is a running guide for blind people for marathons.” So, she had the idea and we came up with “Running Blind.”
Kim: And the reason why Venona was such a perfect choice is because, unlike me, she does triathlons. So, I didn’t have to do the research on marathon running.
Venona: No, or running guides either. Stuff like, “Yeah. That’s your department,” I’m like, “All right, we can do this.” And it’s a wonderful book and we decided that we wanted to have a second story because in the beginning, and it’s not giving a spoiler away, is Kyle and Matt who have been friends, who went to college together, were friends, became lovers, and now they’re in a comfortable pattern, and they really love each other but as brothers rather than lovers. So, when something happens to Kyle, Kyle breaks it off and he goes, “You gotta go do stuff.” And Matt’s reluctant, but this story is about Kyle and how he deals with the things that have happened in his life. So, the next book that we’re writing, the working title is “Playing,” is Matt’s story about how he finds romance after the breakup.
Jeff: And when do we get to see that one come out? TBD.
Kim: Well, that one is still in progress.
Venona: It’s still in progress. It’s now in my hands. And so, we switch back and forth when we write, and I need to get it back to Kim. So, hopefully soon.
Jeff: And you’ve got some other co-writing coming too? You’re working with Shira Anthony as well.
Venona: Shira Anthony, it is another story. It’s actually about a farmer and a city boy. So, that one is coming up soon and that’s an honor of a friend of ours from GRL. So, we’re writing a story about a farmer which he is and who’s not out and a city boy who is. So, it’s a lot of fun. We already have the outline and we’re just getting started on writing that as well too.
Jeff: Very cool. Anything else coming up we should know about?
Venona: Yes. “How to Become a K-pop Idol,” I am writing that one by myself. We might get a co-writer on that one, you never know. But that one is, if people aren’t familiar with this, I love Korean culture, a lot of Asian culture, Japanese, Korean. I’m learning Korean. I’ve been a K-pop fan since 2009 proudly with the Big Bang.
Jeff: Before it was cool.
Venona: Before it was cool. And my bias is right now, because Big Bang, if you don’t know in Korea, you have to go in for military service mandatory by the time you’re 30. So, a lot of the K-pop idols are going in. So, new ones are coming up. So, the third gens right now is BTS, if you’ve not heard of Bangtan Sonyeondan, BTS, they’re really big. They’re the band that I’m following right now.
Jeff: Very cool. Anything coming up for you, Kim, a part from the Peril series?
Kim: Yes, start of the Peril series at the end of this month, so April 30th. I’ve got a new novella coming out. So, if people who are following my “Bureau” series, there’ll be a new novella in that. And I wanna push that because I give all my royalties for that to Doctors Without Borders. So, this is the fourth story in that series, but you can read them as standalones too.
Venona: And they’re awesome stories too, I love those.
Jeff: And what have you guys thought of the festival?
Venona: You know, this is the first time I’ve been here, and it is awesome. There’s just so many people here, there’s so many different books, and you get to browse them all at the same time instead of in a little bookstore somewhere. So, yeah.
Kim: And it’s been a lot of fun just kinda hanging out with everybody, LA is fun. So, it’s been a lot of fun.
Jeff: Very cool. Well, thanks for hanging out with us for a few minutes.
Kim: Thanks so much.
Venona: Thanks for asking us.
Interview with S.A. Stovall
Jeff: And we’re at the LA Times Festival of Books with S.A. Stovall. Thanks so much for being here with us.
S.A.: Well, thank you for having me. It’s super exciting.
Jeff: Now, you’re the author of “Vice City,” it’s currently two books in the series. Tell us a little bit about what the series is?
S.A.: It’s a crime thriller like a noir style. Ironically, if you’ve ever read “Sin City,” which is a graphic novel, it’s kind of similar to that. I used to work at a courthouse and I got a lot of green, was an attorney and all that. I don’t do that anymore because it’s a little depressing, but I used some of my experience in that to write the series. And I really like redemption stories and like criminals turning it around. That’s what I did in the courts is I helped a lot of drug addicts get to rehab and turn their life around. And so, I’m really into that kind of story. So, the series follows an ex-mobster who like, you know, leaves the mob and then becomes a private detective, and then, you know, shenanigans ensue.
Jeff: Shenanigans ensue?
Jeff: And he’s consistent through the series?
S.A.: He’s the main viewpoint. There’s a romance a subplot in which he falls in love with like a police academy cadet, and obviously, that’s his in to the police and you know, again, more shenanigans ensue that way. In the sequel book that just came out, one of the subplots is that a police officer suspects the main character’s actual identity, that he had connections to the mob and used to be a mob enforcer. And so, he’s out to prove that it’s him. And so, you know, it’s a thriller story so it’s got lots of thrills.
Jeff: Mystery, suspense, thrills, it’s all there.
S.A.: Yes, exactly.
Jeff: What got you into starting to write these books?
S.A.: So, I had a friend who really likes Dreamspinner Press and I used to write just books like short stories for my D&D group, because they really liked, you know, fantasy, all that kind of stuff. So, I wrote short story fantasies and she was like, “My God, you should write me a Dreamspinner-style novel, like, that’s what you should write for me.” And I was like, “Okay, I don’t know if I can do it as good as all these other people, but I’ll try.” And I wrote “Vice City” for her specifically. I even put that in the dedication. I’m like, “It’s just for you.” I didn’t think that it would go anywhere because, you know, I was just like, “Okay.” But I got an agent after I wrote this and then the agent sold it to Dreamspinner and then they published it for the DSP line because that’s where they do genre stuff.
Jeff: It doesn’t necessarily have the romance in it, right?
S.A.: Yeah. Well, mine does but it’s not the focal point. The focal point is the, you know, mystery and the mobster story. So, I was very surprised. I didn’t think it would go anywhere but it totally went somewhere. So, every time somebody is like, “Oh, I don’t know if I should write a novel,” there’s a piece of me that’s like, “Man, I just wrote that novel willy-nilly. So, you should try, you should do it. You should try.” Now admittedly, you know, I was writing before I wrote this because I wrote other stories and short stories, but still, if you’re thinking about it, you should just do it, you know. Don’t even think to yourself, “Oh, nobody will read this,” because I kinda thought, “Nobody’s gonna read a crime noir.” You know what I’m saying? Like, I was like, “That’s old school, nobody reads that kind of stuff anymore.” But no, people do, and people like it. So, I was really happy.
Jeff: And you noted that the second book just came out. Do you have plans for third?
Jeff: What is yet to come?
S.A.: I’m about halfway through the third book and it’s a true series in the sense that it could go for as long as I want it or, you know, that kind of thing. It’s not like a trilogy or a set thing like, “Oh, something needs to happen.” But, you know, as a private investigator, anything can happen, you know, all sorts of shenanigans can ensue.
Jeff: Very true, very true.
S.A.: But there is a connecting theme. The whole reason that it’s the vice enforcer is that the mob that he used to work for was the vice family, and they’re still around by book three so you can kinda see the, like, he’s trying to take them down one by one. And so, I guess I could be limited to and then it got the whole vice family and then the series is over. But, you know, there’s that connecting thread too.
Jeff: Now, that you’ve been writing in this genre, do you wanna expand out to other genres or is noir thriller kind of your sweet spot?
S.A.: Well, it’s just a thing that I like a lot, that I thought, you know, nobody likes this anymore, but I like it. I wrote “Modern Gladiator” which is just a pure romance for Dreamspinner. It was a sports romance with UFC fighter.
Jeff: Oh, cool.
S.A.: I, a few years back, was dating a guy who was in the UFC. And so, I just used all of that experience to write a sports romance. And I know a lot about, you know, wrestling and all that kind of stuff just from him. And I put a lot of that kind of information in the book and it literally just came out about two weeks ago. Yeah, “Modern Gladiator” came out. And then I do a lot of fantasy and science fiction on the side as well. So, I mean, all sorts of things, all crazy things.
Jeff: Very cool. Now you’re also an artist?
S.A.: Yes, that’s true.
Jeff: While she’s been here doing her signings and such, she’s also been doing caricatures of people who get their book signed. And so, we had this one done of us. It is so freaking adorable. How did this get started for you?
S.A.: I’ve just always drawn things. I like doodling. I was really into comic books at a point in my life. I mean, so many comic books and manga. I mean, anything that was drawn and kind of that like storybook style with the panel, super loved. But I didn’t really intend for it to go anywhere. I went and got my history degree, I got a law degree. I wasn’t like, “Man, I need to study art.” But I did at least doodle enough that I was like, “I’m mildly good, you know.” And when I went to my first ever book fair, I thought, “I can’t just be the schmoe who’s standing in a booth trying to peddle their book, because I’m gonna be like 50 other people in the road doing the exact same thing. I should try and do something that’s at least enticing or to get people to read my stuff.”
And I figured, “Hey, I could try a little caricature, and while I’m drawing them, they can read my book. And if it’s enticing enough, you know, they’ll buy the book, or they’ll feel guilty enough to buy the book, you know, I don’t know, whatever gets them to buy the book.” And a lot of people usually give me comments right away. Like, the first line in “Vice City,” everybody always comments, well, not everybody but like 80% of people. The first line is, “Getting hit with a wrench hurts.” And, so many people either laugh or comment like, “Oh my God, what a good line,” and I’m like, “Yeah.” And the first chapter in “Vice City” is an interrogation of that police cadet. So, Pierce, the mobster, is interrogating this guy who he thinks is a police mole. So, it’s really intense, you know, high stakes going on. I really like that first chapter and it usually hooks people. So, they read that first chapter while I’m drawing them and, bam, that’s my sales strategy. Don’t steal it. I’m joking, everybody can use it.
Jeff: It’s all her’s.
S.A.: Anybody can do it.
Jeff: But the key is, like, I could never draw. There’s no way I’d do this, I’d have to find another hook.
S.A.: I’ve been successful with it. People typically like that. And the caricatures are free. I just give them to people. So, even if they don’t buy the book, you know, it’s fine.
Jeff: And it’s awesome watching her do them. We watched as she did ours. It’s like, “Oh my God, there we are just manifesting on the page.” It was very cool. Well, thank you so much for hanging out with us a little bit. One last question, what have you thought of the fair?
S.A.: It’s good. There are a lot of people here though. I mean, just thousands of people all over the place. Going to the food trucks was fun, although not during lunchtime. There’s like a mile-long line from here to the sun and back. Nobody wants to do that. But the food trucks are good, the people seem to be really nice, and I don’t know, it’s just a good time.
Jeff: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for spending a little bit of time with us.
S.A.: Thank you for having me again, like, super awesome.
The guys open the show with a discussion of the Netflix original Unicorn Store.
Jeff reviews Bad to the Bone by Nicki Bennett. Will reviews LaQuette’s Under His Protection.
Jeff & Will interview LaQuette about Under His Protection. They find out about the story’s inspiration and how it ties into LaQuette’s other series. LaQuette also shares details on her upcoming Harlem Heat series, what got her started writing romance and details about what she does as the president for New York City’s Romance Writers of America chapter.
Complete shownotes for episode 184 are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Book Reviews from this week:
Bad to the Bone by Nicki Bennett. Reviewed by Jeff
Bad to the Bone turned out to be one of those perfect Dreamspun Desires for me. I’m a sucker for second chance romance combined with friends to lovers and this one adds in a bit from the redeemed bad boy trope as well. It all combined to give me exactly the read that I needed.
The story kicks off on the eve of a high school reunion taking place in a small Oklahoma town. Alex Morrison has been back in town for several years, taking over his family’s hardware store when his parents needed him to. One afternoon, while working with his sister at the store, they witness a motorcyclist pulled over and it’s soon revealed that the man is Alex’s high school bestie, Ricky Lee Jennings. Alex hasn’t heard from Ricky Lee since he was expelled and sent away to reform school. Alex regretted he didn’t defend Ricky Lee and prevent the expulsion, but he was scared he’d lose his football scholarship if he did. Sparks fly at the reunion when Ricky Lee shows up without a ticket and Alex gets him in as his guest. What unfolds over the coming weeks is the rekindling of far more than a friendship.
Nicki does so much with this rather simple set up. Both characters complexity made me love this book so much. Alex is someone I wanted to wrap up in a comforting hug. He does so much for the community that he lives in between serving on the library board, working for Habitat for Humanity, helping out with the high school reunion committee, and anything else he can do to help his fellow citizens. Yet, all he can see in himself is failure from a lost college football career because of an injury, a failed marriage, and even coming back to manage his family business is something he considers a fail because he gave up his dreams of being an environmental lobbyist. Of course, what he’s done is made the decisions that are right in the moment but he can’t see that. Ricky Lee, on the other hand, subverts every stereotype the town has for him. It’s awesome to watch as people who believe they know exactly who he is after ten years begin to see who he has become. He’s far from the young man who was abused by his alcoholic father and just wanted to survive high school.
As both relive their high school times and share what they are doing now, Ricky Lee and Alex are drawn back together. Alex, however, is sure this can’t be more than a fling. He’s scared of revealing himself as bisexual to the town and there’s no way Ricky Lee will move back to Oklahoma since he’s got a life in Portland.
The wooing that Ricky Lee does with Alex is outstanding. I love a good date and their weekend trip to Oklahoma City is all that. They stay at a boutique hotel, go to art museums and the botanical gardens and eat delicious food. The sizzling sex made the date all the hotter. It showed Alex in vivid detail what life could be like in if he decides to make a go of it with Ricky Lee.
The other depth that Nikki weaves into this book is the town Alex lives in. In particular, I liked the local pastor, who is nothing like what you might expect a southern pastor to be. He turns out to be one of Alex’s biggest supporters in being true to himself. We also see Alex’s work with the library, which is a central subplot for the story since Alex and Ricky Lee’s high school nemesis, Odell, who wants to expand his car dealership by buying the land the library sits on. The goings-on with Odell took some wonderful turns that I couldn’t have predicted and I might’ve cheered just a little when everything was revealed and [spoiler alert] Odell gets his. It’s a great ending for a high school bully.
There’s a tremendous cast of supporting characters too. Alex’s sister Alana and his best friend, local police officer Samantha, a.k.a. Sam, both nudge Alex in the right direction. Ricky Lee comes to town with Crae, who he introduces as his friend and assistant although many initially think they are in a relationship. I actually wish Crae had had more screen time in the book as they were a fascinating character. Crae and Sam develop a friendship that might be more and I’d love to see a book that explores that. There are also some townsfolk who have interesting reveals to Alex along the way that were incredibly sweet.
And if audio is your thing, certainly pick this one up. Colin Darcy is a new-to-me-narrator and boy did he make me swoon with his voice for Ricky Lee–deep, rumbly sexiness.
If you’re looking for a great category romance with some very tropey goodness, I highly recommend Nicki Bennett’s Bad to the Bone.
Under His Protection by LaQuette. Reviewed by Will.
This book literally starts with a bang when one of our main characters, assistant DA Camden, is nearly blown up by a car bomb. In order to keep him safe, he’s put in protective police custody.
Unfortunately, the man watching over him is the memorable one night stand he walked away from five years ago, a guy named Elisha. Sequestered away in Elisha’s Westchester house, our two heroes must come to grips with the attraction that still, after all this time, is still there.
As things start to become more romantic, the situation becomes even more complicated when Elisha’s family shows up for a weekend visit. They assume that the two of them are a couple and Cam and Elijah play along since it’s too dangerous to explain why Cam is hiding out at Elijah’s house.
Over the course of the weekend Cam can’t help but fall for Elisha and his wonderfully crazy family.
You might think things get a little too close for comfort with are two heroes and the family all in one house. Elisha actually has a very small apartment in his attached garage. They escape there every once in a while, for some truly superduper scorching sex. The chemistry between these characters is very real and very palatable.
As the weekend winds down, there’s an unfortunate kidnapping attempt by this crazy religious group and Cam sacrifices himself in order to save Elisha’s mom.
Camden ends up in hospital and, unfortunately, his father arrives on the scene. Camden’s life has essentially been controlled by his father, who’s had his son’s life planned out from my birth to death. It’s essentially how Cam has lived his entire life.
The expectations of his father are actually part of the reason why he walked away from Elisha five years ago. Having a sexy one night fling and living a life with an average guy like Elisha just wasn’t in the plan.
After experiencing the possibility of loving a man like Elisha and realizing the wonderful possibilities of a fun and fulfilling family life, he tries to stand up to his father.
Cam’s father puts a stop to everything, setting up some genuinely insurmountable roadblocks to our hero’s happiness.
But Cam and Elisha are not only charismatic and sexy, but also really super smart. With the help of Elisha’s police chief friend, Cam concocts a way to outwit his father and get out from under his thumb, so he Elisha can live happily ever after.
I don’t know if I can adequately find the correct words, or enough adjectives to tell you how much I loved Cam and Elisha’s story. It’s just really damn good. One of my favorites of 2019 so far!
I hope it’s obvious that I really enjoyed Under His Protection by LaQuette and I highly recommend that everyone give it a read.
Interview Transcript - LaQuette
Will: We are so pleased to welcome LaQuette to the show. Welcome.
LaQuette: Thank you.
Will: So I just spent several minutes praising and telling the entire world how much I loved "Under His Protection." Now, you've been writing for a while now, and I freely admit this is the very first book of yours that I have read, and I went absolutely bonkers for it. I love it to pieces.
LaQuette: Oh, thank you.
Will: Can you give us sort of an idea of where the concept for "Under His Protection" came from?
LaQuette: Well, I was encouraged by Kate McMurray to submit a "Dreamspun Desires" concept. And I kind of read the submission guideline, and I really didn't think that the category section was for me, because I'm long-winded in my writing and there's this, you know, 50,000-word count, and I didn't know that I could meet that and make the story make sense. But I just felt like, you know, there's a lot of angst in my writing and a lot of heavy topics sometimes. And I didn't... You know, category can be light and, you know, it doesn't have so much angst to it, so I wasn't sure if it was actually the right fit for me. But she encouraged me to do it anyway. So I thought, "Well, if I'm gonna do it, it has to be, like, LaQuette style. It can't be, you know, the traditional map of a category. I've gotta throw, you know, everything but the kitchen sink in it."
And I had this sort of, like, this Prince and Pauper sort of situation in my head, but in Brooklyn. And it worked out really well in my head anyway. I really enjoy the idea of Camden coming from this really, really posh existence, and then clashing with Elijah and his very loud and boisterous family. And, I think, putting those two people together and those two, you know, with their backgrounds and differences in their backgrounds and the differences in their, you know, perspectives in life, it really...it just made for a richer experience for me, as a writer.
Will: I utterly fell in love with Camden and Elijah. I think they're two incredibly...they are exceptional heroes, and they're part of what makes this book really sing. But as I mentioned in my review just a few minutes ago, part of what, I think, what makes the story compelling and even more enjoyable is the sort of supporting cast that helps them along in their journey towards saying, "I love you." Elijah's family is amazing, every single one of them. But I was particularly struck by one of Elijah's co-workers, the police chief, who is his best friend, along with, you know, being a colleague. And what I was struck by is that at the beginning of the book, the character seemed, you know, pretty, you know, straightforward, it was a secondary character, and she was there to kind of like, you know, get the story moving along. But as we read further and get to know Camden and Elijah more and more, she becomes a much more integral part of the story. And in fact, she's pretty vital to the solution that Cam comes up towards the end. And I was really surprised to read in an interviewer just, I think, this last week it appeared online. I learned that one of the reasons that this secondary character is so well-drawn is because she's actually already had her own book.
LaQuette: She's had three books, actually.
Will: Can you tell us real quickly, for our listeners, can you tell us about the origin of this particular character and why you thought she would be such a good fit for Camden and Elijah's story?
LaQuette: Captain Heart Searlington is a character from my "Queens of Kings" series, which is all heroine-centered. And she is this...you know, her name is Heart for a reason, because she has a huge heart, even though she really carries it under this gruff exterior. She's a badass, she's all about getting work done. And if you ever get the chance to read her books, you know, she's really out there hands-on in the street. And I felt like Elijah would need someone like that, professionally and personally, to kind of...to get him to the place where he could admit his flaws. Someone that's not... You know, he's a very...he's a large man, he's aggressive, you know, he carries a gun, so he could be a little bit intimidating for the average person. But for her, she's not afraid to tell him like it is to his face.
And, you know, when you have that kind of a personality where people might not tell your truth because they find you imposing, having someone who will speak the truth to you, regardless of whatever the situation is, can be vital to you, you know, making the right choices in life. And I felt like having her there would give him that balance, because he needed some really cold truths told to him, for him to get his head together and do what he needed to do.
Jeff: Was it always your intention to have the character crossover or did that just kind of manifest itself?
LaQuette: Well, the precinct that they work at is sort of anytime I have a police situation, those cops show up in a book somewhere. So one, because, you know, the world is already created, so it's kind of easy for me to draw from that precinct, but it's also because my readers absolutely adore this woman. And so they're always asking for her, and this was an opportunity for her to show up and say, "Hi." And not in a way that overshadows, you know, the main story, which is Camden and Elijah, but just enough to make readers go, "Oh, my God. She's here."
Jeff: It's always good to get those universe crossovers and little Easter eggs like that, for sure.
LaQuette: It's true. It's very true.
Will: Yeah. Now, "Under His Protection" is not your first M/M romance.
LaQuette: No, it is not.
Will: There's also "Love's Changes," which I believe came out in 2016?
Will: And I wanted to ask you, what drew you to writing in this specific subgenre? I mean, along with all of your other books that are more traditional male/female romances?
LaQuette: Well, one, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone deserves a happy ending. And when I wrote the "Queens of King" series, I always knew that Heart's cousin, because the characters, the protagonists in "Love's Changes" are Bryan, who is one of Heart's lieutenants, you met him, actually, in "Under His Protection," and her cousin, Justice. And so they get to have their own story. You get to see them a little bit in the "Queens of King" series, but they're more background. We know that they were having a hard time and they were broken up for some reason, but we don't know why. So they get, you know, readers... Which really surprised me because I didn't really believe that there was a lot of crossover between male-female readers and male-male readers. But people really asked me for a story for those two. Like, "When are we gonna get Justice and Bryan's story? We wanna know what happens to them and how they get back together." And so I that story was actually born out of the fact that readers requested it, and so I gave it to them.
Jeff: That's very cool. You know, it's always nice to see as the M/F readers catch the male-male pairing to then want to know more.
LaQuette: Yes, it was really a trip for me. I did not believe that they would want it at all. But it was very touching to write their story. I was very happy with how the story turned out. I was very happy with the fact that they get their happily ever after. And it's not...it's connected to the "Queens of Kings" series, but it's not really part of it. So the story kind of takes place outside of everything that's going on in that particular story.
Jeff: Do you envision more, I guess, "Dreamspun Desires" books that happened in the universe you've created with everything that's going on so far?
LaQuette: I really didn't, but I've been getting a lot of mail recently about this book. And, you know, people wanting to know what happens after this. They wanna see how Camden's family kind of blends with Elijah's family and how that's going to work. I'm like, "Dude, I'm not there. Like, I have so many other projects. I can't right now. But we'll come back to that maybe."
Jeff: Just based on your review, I don't see how those families mesh.
Will: Two different worlds. Most definitely, yeah.
LaQuette: They really are.
Jeff: Now, one of the things that I'm super excited about, having recently read about, is your new contract with Dreamspinner for "Harlem Heat."
LaQuette: Yes, "Harlem Heat," so when stuff makes me mad, it also makes me really productive. So I was really kind of getting tired of hearing the "not historically accurate moniker" criticism given to African-American romance, especially historical African-American romance. And it just bothered me because it's not that those happily-ever-afters weren't possible. It's just people aren't really aware of the completed history. So a lot of thing...you know, a lot of people who think they know about African-American history, the only thing they know is slavery and Jim Crow, and that's it. And, you know, black people have been downtrodden since we were brought to this country. But that's not exactly the truth because even in all of the horror, there were still moments of triumph. And we didn't just, you know, survive, we thrived. We're still here, the proof that we're still here, you know, the proof that we had happiness at some point is that we're still here.
So I decided I wanted to write about a time that was where to be black and to be gay wasn't something that you had to hide from the world. It wasn't something you had to...you had your own pocket of community. There was a celebration of it. And I wanted to speak to that. I wanted people to know that these two intersections of life existed with happy endings.
Jeff: And this series, in particular, is gonna go to such an interesting time period in the U.S. when all of the Harlem Renaissance was happening.
LaQuette: Yeah, so it's based on three actual people who lived during the Harlem Renaissance. So it's based on Bumpy Johnson, who was the godfather of Harlem for 30 years. It's based on Langston Hughes, who was a great contributor to the Harlem Renaissance as a poet and writer. And it's also based on Cab Calloway, who was sort of one of the most notable faces in jazz and jazz music and jazz performance at the Cotton Club. So we're gonna see... we won't be using their names, but those characters will be based off of those actual people.
Will: Yeah, because it was...I think it was like mere moments after I finished reading "Under His Protection." I read about this Harlem Renaissance series that you were doing, and I like lost my mind. I was like, totally doing a happy dance. This is going to be so amazing. I know this is still far in the future. But when do you think we can expect this series?
LaQuette: I don't know. And that's the God's honest truth. I'm actually currently writing, finishing up the series for Sourcebooks. And so "Harlem Heat" doesn't...I don't think I'm projected to start it until like the end of the year. So I don't know exactly when it's going to be ready. But I mean, you know, ready for the world anyway. But I think I can talk to someone about getting you a beta read...a copy for beta reading if you'd like.
Jeff: Please do. Yes.
Will: That would be amazing.
Jeff: I imagine the research for that got to be a lot of fun to look at that period in history and figure out what parts you wanna take and use.
LaQuette: It is. I mean, I was very fortunate when I was in college. When I did my undergrad in creative writing. I was very fortunate to have a professor who thought outside of the box, and he taught a class on Harlem Renaissance. That was amazing. I mean, it was so rich and filled with culture. And you know, not just the usual things that we see in mainstream history but, you know, getting really down to the nitty-gritty of it. And you know, showing you to...I'm sure that when you when you guys, as gay men, look at the history of the LGBT community, and you get to see it unfold, there's such a moment of connection there. And it's the same thing for black people when we're getting to experience our history because we don't often get to see it through mainstream lens.
And so to see it and to see the information dispensed in a way that's positive and celebratory and uplifting, it changes your whole perception of yourself, of who you are and where you came from. And so I'm delighted to be able to dig back into that. I have Piper Huguley, who is a history professor at Spelman College. I believe it's Spelman. And she's also a romance writer, and she's brilliant. So she helps me with a great deal with telling me what books I need to read for this period, and where I need to look for information. But it's so much fun. It really is so much fun.
Jeff: That's amazing. Let's talk origin story for a minute. How did you get started writing romance? What led you down this path?
LaQuette: I didn't see me on the page. I started reading romance when I was about 16 years old. Way too young to be reading some of the stuff I was reading, but you know, hey. And by the time I was about 18, I probably went through every "Harlequin Presents" that my local library had. And every romance novel I read, it was never about a girl that looked like me, never about places where I lived. So it kind of pulled me out of the romance reading for a while because it was nice to read about those stories, but there was just something missing for me after a while. And I probably, at the time, didn't recognize that I was internalizing that these stories were basically saying, "Romance isn't for you. You don't look like this. You don't fit this mold, so romance isn't for you." And I kind of just pulled away from it. And I think after I finished my undergrad, I just wanted to relax and have some fun and I kind of got back into it. And at the time, I discovered black romance was a thing. And I discovered people like Rochelle Alers, and Brenda Jackson, and Zane. And I'm like, "Wow." Like, it became exciting again. It was refreshing. It was new and yet still very familiar because I could see myself in all of the antics that were going in these stories. I could see myself in those characters. And so I decided I wanted to do that. I wanted to create those spaces, create more stories like that so people could have those connections in reality, you know, reactions when they opened up a book and saw themselves.
Jeff: Now that you are writing, what do you think the trademarks of your books are?
LaQuette: I do sex and snark really well. Like, I do sarcasm really well because that's my language. It really is my language, and sex, yeah, that's so if you're gonna pick up a LaQuette book, you're going to get lots of sex and lots of sarcasm.
Jeff: Did she meet those two in your book?
Will: Oh, yeah. Just before we started this interview, we were talking about the possibilities of an audiobook for "Under His Protection." And whatever narrator lands this job is going to, number one, have the time of their life, because Camden and Elijah are very...the banter is very smart and very witty. But also, as you say, the sex scenes are...I'm not even sure what the correct adjective is. It's smoking hot. Yeah, you're gonna need a nice cool beverage after you listen to those scenes, for sure.
LaQuette: I don't know that I could listen to that. I don't know that I could. It would be so weird for me. I don't know. I mean, I know I wrote the words, but to hear them aloud, I don't know that I could do that.
Will: Exactly. Yeah.
Jeff: Yeah, I know, you know, many authors can't listen to their own audio books.
LaQuette: Especially those parts. Like I said, I do sex. Amy Lane told me, she was like, "You write sex in such a beautiful concrete way. Like, I just wanna have all the facts when I read your books." I'm like, "Amy, that is the sweetest and weirdest thing that anyone has ever said to me, and I love you for it."
Jeff: That almost should be a blurb on the book cover or something.
Will: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: Is there anything you're reading right now that you wanna shout out to people as like a book to grab?
LaQuette: Oh, I'm reading a few books. So I just finished Adriana Herrera's...the third book in this "Dreamer" series, and I can't remember the title because it's not actually out yet. I beta read for her, and it is fantastic. I mean, book one is great and I love it. It was so real to me that literally, I had to drive like two to three miles from my house just to go get Dominican food, because I was so hungry after reading book one.
Will: Exactly. Yes. Yeah.
LaQuette: And book three does the same thing. There's lots of cultural food. And it's part of the tapestry of how these two people connect and share their backgrounds, their experiences, their worldviews. And not to mention, she's so good at writing books that are socially conscious without making you feel like you're being talked down to or preached at, and I love her for that, for being... I don't know that I could do that the way she does it. She's so talented.
And I'm also reading...I'm halfway through...I stumble with her name because I know her as Blue Sapphire, but she's now writing as Royal Blue for Dreamspinner, "Kyle's Reveal."
Will: Yeah, I've heard of this book, yeah.
LaQuette: And I'm halfway through it. And, you know, she's fire, like, she writes hot books. So I'm really excited. I can't wait to get to the end of this book.
Will: What was the name of that book again?
LaQuette: "Kyle's Reveal."
Will: Okay. And that's the...please remind me, is the basketball book, is that correct?
Will: Okay, yes.
LaQuette: I mean, it's kind of dark because the protagonists have like a really dark traumatic history. But it's definitely deep and I'm loving it. So I'm really, really, really interested in getting to the end to see if I could just get a minute to stop writing and finish it, I'd be great.
Jeff: It's such a hard thing balancing.
LaQuette: It is.
Jeff: "I wanna to finish this book." Then it's like, "I don't wanna read it too fast."
Jeff: Finding that balance.
LaQuette: It's true.
Jeff: Are there tropes or genres that you wanna tackle that you just haven't yet in your own writing?
LaQuette: I don't know that there are any tropes, because I kind of...I throw a lot of different tropes in my books. Like, "Under His Protection" has second chance romance, it also has proximity, it also has sort of kind of enemies to lovers the way Elijah and Camden started out in the book. And it could sort of kind of be considered like a workplace romance being that they're both involved in different sides of law enforcement. But I don't know. I mean, I've done secret baby before and I love that. That was really fun. And I've done...the only thing I haven't done is like May-December romances. So I think maybe that might be something I'd might want to try.
Jeff: Cool. I would read that. I love a good May-December. Absolutely.
So beyond the writing, which obviously takes up a lot of time, you also are the president of RWANYC. So the New York City chapter of Romance Writers of America. Tell folks what that entails and what actually led you to running for office.
LaQuette: I didn't wanna run. I had no intention of running because I have a lot of stuff to do. And it takes time away from the things that I'm contracted to do. But one of the things that's very important in romance that's happening right now is the fact that romance can be a very whitewashed world, meaning the protagonists that we see, the authors that get the most opportunities are white authors and white characters. And so if you're not white... and straight characters. If you're not writing that, it's difficult to get into the door, it's difficult to find the same resources, the same backing. It's almost impossible to get contracts.
And so I ran for president of RWANYC because I wanted, in some way, to help change that landscape, to do some of the work necessary with publishers to try to change that. And it's a heavy task, it's a heavy burden, especially when we get, you know, over the last couple of weeks, we are still reeling from the RITA Awards, which is basically like the Grammys for romance. And every year, it's the same thing. It's a very, very white landscape, and very few authors of color are made finalist. No black woman has ever won a RITA in the 30 years that this award has been established. And people do a lot of mental acrobatics to justify why that is. So "Oh, maybe the writing is just not that good. Maybe that's why we've never had a black RITA award winner. Maybe black authors are not entering."
You know, these are also questions that are ridiculous, because statistically, it's just impossible that no black woman would ever have won in 30 years. It's just impossible. And the reason it is, is because the judging pool, there's a bias there in terms of black women and black characters, not just black authors, but black characters. Because you cannot know who the author is, but you cannot...well, I don't write characters who are racially ambiguous. I'm proud of my blackness and my characters are as well. And so I don't try to hide that or trick people into reading my books, or make it so difficult for people to recognize who a person is or what their background is because I feel like that is an important thing.
In real life, we don't really get to not know who people are by looking at them. So I don't do it in my books. And because of that, it's very difficult when you know, going into this, "I'm gonna submit this book, and it's not going to final," not because it's a poorly written book, not because I didn't do everything I could to make this book as good as it could be, but simply because my characters, especially my heroines are black. And that is just something that the judging pool cannot handle as of yet.
So my work as president is a lot of, you know, being the champion for this cause and taking on this battle because it's not just about me succeeding, it's about any black author who was writing black characters having the ability to write and be supported by the industry. And if I can make any sort of headway in that and if I can help anyone along the way, I'll feel like I've done something positive with my life.
Will: With books like yours, and with Adriana Herrera, who you mentioned not too long ago, do you think it's really just a matter of representation that can help build awareness for diversity in romance or is there something else that readers, specifically, should be doing or asking for?
LaQuette: Well, specifically, yeah. I mean, readers have a lot of power. So if you're asking publishers, you know, "Why don't we have more diverse romance? Why don't we have romance where...you know, that shows basically the colors of the rainbow and all those brilliant facets of intersectionality in life, like, why don't we have that?" Because your buying dollars is what demands, what makes the demand. Because publishers will say, "We don't sell that. We don't contract black books because they don't sell."
One of the things we discussed at Dreamspinner was the cover. That was an intentional choice. I was very clear with them when we sat down and talked about this project that Elijah needed to be on the cover. I would not subscribe to the ideology that a black man on the cover can't sell. And there are...I mean, we've seen in our writing community that some publishing houses have actually made this statement. I don't subscribe to that. So we talked about it. And then we talked about the fact that readership sometimes can have a bias. And sometimes they won't engage with the book if they feel like the person is the wrong color or wrong background. And I said, "I understand that, but we're still gonna work...you know, to work with me, this is how we're gonna work."
And they were in agreement. I didn't have to convince them. I went in prepared to battle. And it was like, "Listen, I really need this guy to be black and I really need him to look like this." And they were like, "We agree. We agree." So we need more of that in the industry. And it starts with readers. It also starts with the gatekeepers. People reaching out and specifically looking for these things. It also, people who are gatekeepers also need to check themselves. So when you're reading a book and you're saying, "I can't connect to it. I didn't relate to it." Why aren't you relating to it? Is it that it's a poorly written book?
I've gotten rejection letters that literally said, "This is a really well-written book, but I didn't relate to the character, so I'm not gonna buy it." That doesn't really make a lot of sense, right? So what was it that you didn't relate to? If you could see that it was a really well-written book, I mean, if it's that good, why not work with me in terms of editing to kind of get things right, you know, to where it would be something that you feel is that you could sell. But a lot of publishing houses out there don't have that mentality. And it's this sort of...it's insidious. It's not something, you know, you can actually like, look and see. Some people don't even notice it. They just think, "Oh, I don't read those kinds of books because I don't like them." And it's not that they don't like them, it's that they've not actually giving them the opportunity to be great.
Jeff: So that is, obviously, great words for the readers. Kind of spinning it back to your RWA role, you're in such a diverse chapter there because you're in NYC.
Jeff: How are the authors in that particular region banding together to like help RWA move past the issues?
LaQuette: Oh, well, a lot of my recent successes, because, you know, allies, colleagues like Kate McMurray and Tere Michaels, are like, "Listen, you're fabulous, and we want you to meet people who will also think you're fabulous. So come here." And that's part of the beauty of RWA, and that's why I fight so hard for diversity and inclusion within RWA, because my success, as I said, my recent success has all been attached to people pushing me in different directions to say, "This is where you need to be. This is the person you need to meet." And if you're not a part of the organization, you can't make those connections. And networking connections will get you further than anything you know, right? So when we cut off authors of color from that source, from the resources, from the networking connections, and the opportunities that are presented to people who are part of the organization, what we're doing is we're disconnecting them from publishing. And we're forcing them to be indie. And this is not an indie versus trad conversation. This is... some people cannot be anything other than indie, because trad will not give them the opportunity. They've been completely marginalized. And so that should not be.
People should be able to publish however they choose to, whether they up to be an indie author or whether they decide that the trad route is for them, because, you know, different strokes for different folks. It is different, you know, depending on what your lifestyle is like. I have crazy children and I have to juggle being a mom, a writer, and everything else and try to keep sane. Being an indie author is a lot of work. It's a lot of effort on your end to make a book successful. I don't have that kind of time in my life, or that kind of energy, honestly. So being a trad author is a much better avenue for me and my situation. And if that is the only way that I can publish, but publishing will not give me the opportunities, then it's, you know, I'm losing out. And that's the purpose of RWA to sort of bridge those gaps. But I don't think we're exactly where we need to be yet. So we're still working on it.
Will: Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: We very much appreciate your efforts towards that, for sure.
Will: Now, the Romance Writers of America National Conference is going to be in NYC this summer.
Will: And I expect you're going to be there.
LaQuette: Oh, yeah. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
Will: Yeah, we're actually making a trip for the first time this year as well.
Will: So hopefully we will... I know it's gonna be crazy busy. But hopefully, we're gonna get a chance to say hi in person.
LaQuette: It is. Absolutely.
Jeff: For sure. Now, we talked about "Harlem Heat." You mentioned a couple other things. What is on your docket for the rest of this year for releases?
LaQuette: I don't think I have any other releases this year because I'm writing. So I've been very blessed in that I have landed these two major contracts with Sourcebooks and with Dreamspinner, both for series. So I'm halfway through Source's books. And I need to start on Dreamspinner's toward the end of the year. So there won't be any more releases from me. I mean, if I get a moment where I'm, you know, feeling really creative, I might try to get a novella together. But I'm not making any promises.
Jeff: All right, so we'll look for a lot more in 2020, for sure.
LaQuette: Yeah, 2020 is definitely...the first book for Source comes out in 2020. I don't have a release date yet. I have delivery dates for Dreamspinner, but I don't have release dates yet. So I'm thinking probably sometime toward the end of 2020, possibly, or maybe the beginning of 2021.
Jeff: All right. Well, when "Harlem Heat" comes out, you definitely have an invitation to come back and talk, for sure.
LaQuette: Oh, yay. Thank you.
Jeff: Now what's the best way for everybody to keep up with you online?
LaQuette: Oh, so you can find me on Facebook at, you know, my Facebook page, LaQuettetheAuthor. You can find me on Twitter @LaQuetteWrites, or you can find me on Instagram at la_quette, or you can email me at email@example.com, or you can go to my website laquette.com.
Jeff: She's well branded, and everything is the same.
Will: Most definitely. Well, LaQuette, it was a genuine honor to have you on the show today.
LaQuette: Oh, thank you.
Will: We're so glad that you could take some time out of your extremely busy schedule that you can come talk to us.
LaQuette: Thank you for having me. I mean, I was so excited and a little bit nervous also, to come on and talk to you guys because I've seen the show before. And I'm like, "Yay, I get to go hang out with them. I feel special."
Will: Well, it is a genuine pleasure. We're so glad that you came.
LaQuette: Thank you so very much for having me.
Jeff opens the show talking about the work he’s doing on a holiday short story.
They also remind everyone about the LA Times Festival of Books happening April 13 and 14 on the USC Campus and the authors expected to attend from Dreamspinner Press and Interlude Press.
Jeff & Will talk about the series finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Books reviewed this week include Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert and Paternity Case by Gregory Ashe.
Lisa joins Jeff to recommend four speculative fiction books: The Mortal Sleep by Gregory Ashe, Prince of Air and Darkness by M.A. Grant, All Souls Near & Nigh by Hailey Turner and Not Dead Yet by Jen Burke.
Complete shownotes for episode 183 are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert. Reviewed by Will
While his uncle is recuperating from minor surgery, Alaskan bush pilot Griffin is tasked with taking a tour group into the wilds of Alaska. One of the group is River, former male model-turned inspirational travel writer, who’s gathering material for his next book.
There’s an immediate attraction and chemistry between them and over the course of the week, as they spend more time together, they fall for one another.
One of the many things that drew me into Arctic Sun, is that Griff and River are two interesting, compelling, genuinely dimensional characters, with actual lives. And by that, I mean that they’re not just cardboard cut-outs going through the motions, playing out a standard romantic plotline.
They’ve both faced challenges in the past, overcome them, and – through emotionally intelligent conversations — work to figure out how they can move forward together.
After the tour is over, they make plans to meet in Vancouver.
River is going to be hanging out with some old friends from his modeling days, and Griff’s visit is a kind of “real world” road test to see if their relationship can work. It’s, of course, a total disaster.
The old friends bring out triggering scenarios for both Griff and River. Their true “Real World” was the connection they shared in the wilds of Alaska, not fancy date night restaurants or going to exclusive clubs. The problem is that they’re using relationship criteria from their screwed-up pasts to judge their current situation.
They realize this far too late and break things off.
They each take some time apart and do some soul searching, River about his family history and public persona and how it relates to his work, and Griff about how he interacts with the outside world and family’s tour business.
Griff makes his way to L.A. for the premiere of the film based on River’s book. The things they each want and need out of life are actually more aligned than they first realized.
They can live, love and work surrounded by the nature that gives each of them so much joy.
I’ve continued to work my way through Gregory Ashe’s Hazard & Somerset Mystery series. Gregory’s way with mystery thrillers along with possibly the slowest burn romance ever keep drawing me back. After dealing with a Clue-like mystery taking place over Thanksgiving in Transposition, the action now moves to Christmastime.
An interesting turn of events, one that I believe only Gregory could concoct, finds Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset on a double date as the book opens. Readers of the series know this just cannot end well as Hazard, his boyfriend Nico, Sommers and his estranged wife Cora attempt to have a meal together. Saying the scene is uncomfortable is an understatement and it’s the perfect scene to begin the story.
The mystery in Paternity Case revolves around an incident that occurs at the Somerset family home. Sommers’s father calls him away from dinner to help with the problem. When Hazard and Sommers arrive, they discover a quite high, naked Santa causing issues and before they can sort out why, a teenage girl is dead, Sommers’s father is shot multiple times and the Santa is killed after being taken into custody.
Nothing is ever what it seems in a Hazard and Somerset book and the reason and motive for the shootings is disturbing and extraordinary. Gregory has concocted his most twisted mystery of the series and shines an even brighter spotlight on the shady goings on in the Wahredua good old boy network. I’m always stunned at how Gregory reveals the whodunit and this one continually blew my mind.
We know from previous books that Sommers and Hazard have complicated pasts, together and separately. Significant details are finally laid out in this book. We find out why Hazard had to leave St. Louis, which honestly wasn’t as shocking as I expected…but it doesn’t mean that those in power in Wahredua don’t try to capitalize on it. Learning more of what happened to the boys in high school upset me. More about Sommers’s senior year came to light and the feelings Sommers has about Hazard continue to have a major impact on his future choices.
Many authors would dump this information out much earlier, but the parsing that Gregory’s done over the three books made it more impactful. It’s like a traffic accident–uncomfortable to witness and yet you can’t look away. It’s expert writing that keeps you glued to the page to see what gets revealed next and guessing what the far reaching implications will be.
There are some sublime side characters in this book and I have to give a particular shout out to Sommer’s mother, Grace Elaine. She’s every bit a southern matriarch who you do not want to cross–sugary sweet in one moment and ready to claw your eyes out in the next. The cat and mouse game she plays with Hazard is equal parts highly entertaining and disturbing. She goes to great lengths to protect her son, her family and what she believes is right all while being a terrible person at heart. She made me shudder as I knew people just like her from growing up in the south.
Back to the mystery, it’s impossible to easily talk about it without revealing too much. Suffice to say of the three books so far, this mystery has been the most disturbing because of the ramifications for the teenage characters involved–not only the girl who is killed but two of her friends who are swept up in the drama. Anyone who is potentially triggered by abusive parents, child abuse, and similar issues would be advised to proceed cautiously with this book.
Of course, I’m ready to read more from Gregory. I have no doubt that things that were planted in this book will matter even more in what follows. I can’t wait to see where it all leads to ultimately.
Jeff & Will talk about their upcoming trip to the 2019 LA Times Festival of Books. They also discuss two series they’ve been watching: Comedy Central’s The Other Two and Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists.
Books reviewed this week include Kim Fielding’s The Spy’s Love Song, Ari McKay’s Take Two and Erin McLellan’s Clean Break.
Jeff interviews Erin McLellan about Clean Break, the second book in her Farm College series, and about why it’s important for her to tell stories based in her home state of Oklahoma. They also talk about her Love Life series, what got her started writing, her author influences and the TV she likes to binge watch.
Complete shownotes for episode 182 are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of Jeff’s book reviews:
The Spy’s Love Song by Kim Fielding
Rock star and secret agent on a mission to a foreign country to topple a dictator all wrapped up in a Dreamspun Desires package. That combination pushed all of my romantic suspense buttons and I had no choice but to pick up this book. And I loved it every bit as much as I thought I would.
I was in tropey goodness heaven with the rock star thing, a bodyguard vibe plus lovers on the run and some occasional forced proximity.
Jaxon Powers is a jaded rock star who’s at the end of a long tour. After waking up in a hotel room barely remembering what happened the night before, he might also be ready for a change in lifestyle. He gets a lot more than he bargained for when his manager brings him to a meeting with the State Department. It seems the dictator that runs the small country of Vasnytsia is a fan and wants Jaxon to perform a private concert as well as a large outdoor one for a worker’s festival. The U.S. wants Jaxon to do this because it’s a chance to improve US relations with the Russia-supported dictator.
The only person going with Jaxon on the trip is secret agent Reid Stanfill. Besides keeping Jaxon safe, Reid’s got an agenda that has global ramifications.
I fell in love with this book right from the beginning. Kim plays with expectations from the beginning. While Jaxon appears to be the spoiled rock star we quickly find that’s not what he wants to be. He’s a small town boy, doing what he loves to do but he wants more substance to the way he’s living. The trip to Vasnytsia does exactly that as his world view gets a complete makeover.
Not only does Jaxon end up traveling without the entourage he’s used to, as Reid’s mission goes sideways the two end up on the run. Reid’s mission is to try to destabilize the country and force elections and that makes him an enemy of the state. Despite his fear, Jaxon won’t leave Reid to fend for himself. Jaxon knows his celebrity can protect both of them and he sticks by Reid even as Reid tries to force the star to safety.
Through all of the crazy events that could result in either of them dying, Jaxon and Reid manage to start a romance. Reid tries to keep it from beginning since they’re in a country where homosexuality is illegal but they give in to their passions. That’s just the beginning as they share stories about their pasts, which only endears them more to each other. The mix between the romance and suspense is perfect, giving our guys time to fall in love even while things around them go crazy.
I liked that Kim avoided the usual Dreamspun scenario of having alternating points of view. Everything in the story is Jaxon, which works perfectly so we don’t know Reid’s mission or anything else too early. It makes for a very snappy read going on the roller coaster that Jaxon experiences.
Kim brings Vasnytsia to life through its people. It starts with the guides taking Jaxon around the country, giving him peek behind the propaganda. As he meets fans who must covertly speak to him as it wouldn’t be proper for anyone to talk with the American he begins to understand why Reid’s mission is so important. Ultimately it’s these people who shelter Reid and Jaxon and help complete his mission–with a particularly awesome assist from Jaxon.
Drew Bacca does a great job on the audiobook, including having to sing a couple of Jaxon’s songs. This is the first book in the “Stars From Peril” series that Kim has in the Dreamspun line. The second book, Redesigning Landry Bishop, comes out in May and I’m already looking forward to it.
Clean Break by Erin McLellan
I almost didn’t pick this book up because I couldn’t imagine reading a book that included the characters taking care of Madagascar hissing cockroaches. I’m not a fan of bugs and the trigger warning page discusses more about the bugs than anything else. However, I’m glad I listened to the re-assurances I wouldn’t be creeped out because this is a terrific book–and the bugs really are a non-thing.
This book, the second in Erin’s “Farm College” series, throws together Connor Blume and Travis Bedford–two guys who very much don’t like each other in the aftermath of an awkward, failed hookup. As their final college term begins, Connor and Travis are taking Entomology 101 and because the professor likes students to sit alphabetically, they’re next to each other and end up becoming class partners.
Their dislike for each other radiates from them during that first class. Connor’s OCD and anxiety flare up just being near the guy, who he’s still wildly attracted to and wants to have a real discussion with. Travis has the attraction too but carries the anger from their previous hookup. It only gets worse as they get the assignment that they’ll be caring for Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the semester or that they’ll have to answer discussion questions together.
It doesn’t take long for the sparks of dislike to turn into sparks of desire and they end up spending time after class in a storage closet making out. Neither of them is particularly happy that they’re giving in to their desires, which makes the scenes cuter and hotter. Travis wants the fussy farmer and Connor very much wants the stand-offish English major.
Even as their make out sessions start to cool their hatred, they realize they’re constrained by time. At graduation, Connor is set to take over management of his parent’s farm, even though he doesn’t necessarily want that. Meanwhile, Travis can’t wait to get out of the small town for his legal aid internship and then on to law school. The guys have their futures mapped out and there’s no space for the other. That doesn’t stop them from getting emotionally entangled.
Erin does a terrific job of bringing these two together. As they move their hookups to the bedroom, Travis discovers he likes Connor’s controlling side and gives himself over to it. Connor though never takes advantage, making sure that he’s always got Travis’s consent and that Travis enjoys himself. That continues as Travis reveals he’d like to be spanked. Both guys discover this is exactly what they need.
Beyond the sex though, their efforts to not get too attached aren’t helped by their post-sex talks. Travis usually wants Connor to tell him a story and it’s here that he opens up bit by bit about his anxiety, his OCD and his pre-determined future. There’s so much going on for him, as a reader I wanted to wrap him in a hug and do whatever I could to ease the load he carried. Travis talks a lot too and over time we learn what makes him so driven–it turns out he lost one of his dreams due to an accident and he doesn’t want to let anything or anyone cost him this one.
Just a she was great at bringing them together, Erin tears the guys apart just as expertly. It’s a tough go as Connor and Travis force themselves apart as graduation nears. Erin does a number on the characters as they emotionally hurt themselves and each other as they keep to their plans. Both guys want to talk to the other so badly and yet they’ve promised not too. For Connor, this is particularly bad for his OCD.
Of course, this is a romance, so all must end happy. Thankfully how Erin gets the guys back together his as satisfying as everything she did earlier in the book. There is a way for them to be together–it just takes time for them to get there.
Interview Transcript - Erin McLellan
Jeff: Welcome, Erin, to the podcast.
Erin: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Jeff: Very excited to have you here. You’re a new-to-me author and I just finished reading “Clean Break,” which I have to tell you, I adored so much. I’m reviewing it right before we get into the interview segment I’ll have reviewed it to kinda tell everybody about it.
Erin: Yay, thank you.
Jeff: It is the second book in your “Farm College” Series. So before we dive into “Clean Break,” tell us more about what the “Farm College” Series is about.
Erin: Okay. So it’s just two books so far like you said and they are set in a fictional college in Western Oklahoma. And I would say kind of the overarching themes are… Since they’re college stories, they’re new adult that’s kind of coming of age and self-discovery, finding your authentic self, finding a home is kind of a big one. I think that’s kind of important at that age. You’ve moved out of your parent’s house or wherever you grew up for a lot of people and kinda figuring out what is home, what is family, that kind of thing. So those types of themes are kind of follow both books. They’re both kind of angsty to be honest though “Controlled Burn,” more so than “Clean Break” actually.
Jeff: Oh, my goodness.
Erin: So be prepared. But, yeah, and I think in terms of… The setting is really important to me at least as the author and those books is important to me. I’m from Oklahoma. I live in Alaska now, but I’m from Oklahoma. And it’s important to me to write stories that are set in Oklahoma that have, you know, LGBTQIA+ characters in Oklahoma. And I know as somebody that reads a lot of romance, I don’t see that very often. I don’t see romance set there or it might be… I have seen it where it’s, you know, characters that are like, escaping Oklahoma which certainly is the case for a lot of people, but it’s also the case that people live and love, and make their lives there. And I kinda wanna show that.
Jeff: Does a farm college like this exist in Oklahoma? Is it based on a real place?
Erin: No. Kind of I guess. A lot of the kind of small details mirror Oklahoma State which was my alma mater for undergrad, but Oklahoma State is so much bigger than the college that I created. So Farm College is kind of a smaller college in Western Oklahoma that I’ve created, but in terms of being, you know, having a strong agriculture program, but also kind of having this liberal arts situation that’s going on and a pretty vibrant LGBTQIA community, I’ve kind of made most of that up. So…
Jeff: And I agree that we don’t see, I mean, besides books set in Oklahoma, really the more rural settings kinda, it’s always escaping from those places. And I like that you kind of built a place as if this is what you’d like to see even if it doesn’t quite exist there now.
Erin: Right. And I think it’s kind of funny when I started writing “Controlled Burn.” It was pre-2016, right? And I kind of had this, you know, I kind of had this idea that it’s getting better, right? It’s looking up for lots of communities and I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case anymore. I hope it will be and I hope it is eventually. But, you know, there’s good and bad, I think, about places like Oklahoma and Kansas, and Texas. And, you know, Oklahoma is really special to me. It’s really important to me. Kansas is the same, but there’s also problems and, you know, I wanna kinda write those stories. And I also, thinking about Oklahoma or Texas probably more so, a lot of the romances that I’ve read that are set there are like, ranch, you know, the cowboys, the farmers which there is kind of a farmer in “Clean Break.” But there’s a lot of people that live in Oklahoma and in Texas, in Kansas that aren’t cowboys. So I wanted to tell that story too.
Jeff: Right. And you really hinted that a little bit with some of the dialogue between Travis and Connor in “Clean Break” too as they kind of talk about the difference between cowboy and more the farmer type that Connor and his family are.
Jeff: And so, as we kinda move this direction, tell us what “Clean break” is about and kind of who Travis and Connor are.
Erin: Right. So “Clean Break” is about Travis and Connor. Travis is…he’s the best friend in “Controlled Burn.” So if you read “Controlled Burn,” you see quite a bit of him. He’s an English major. He’s from Houston, Texas, very ambitious. He’s got these kind of life plans and nothing’s gonna slow him down, right? He wants to go to law school. He’s got an internship after for the summer. He’s planning to move to Saint Louis eventually to work at this legal aid charity. He has this very, you know, set goals and he’s also kind of a unique, quirky, funny character to me.
And then you have Connor who comes in and I don’t know if I would say at the beginning of the book, it’s more like pre-book before the book happens, they have a little bit of a failed hookup in a lot of ways. Some misunderstandings and so, they don’t like each other very much. And then in the first chapter, they get paired together as class partners in a class. And Connor is a farm boy. He’s kind of a townie, right? He’s from Elkville which is the city that’s it’s set in. He’s expected to take over the family farm and so, he’s got this, you know, he kind of his future plans are set, right? He doesn’t have a say over them and he’s… I have a big soft spot in my heart for him. He’s got anxiety, he has OCD.
I really wanted to kind of write against the archetype of the like, lackadaisical cowboy or even like, the kind of the hard cowboy or, you know, that kind of archetype that I had in my head. I wanted to write a sensitive farm boy who’s in therapy and, you know, it doesn’t really match some of the people or the characters that I have seen written that way. And kind of the main issue between them, first is that they don’t like each other, but they’re attracted to each other, right? But the kind of the main two things that I wanted to do with the book is I wanted to write a complex authentic characters that are really well-rounded and hopefully, I accomplish that. And then the other thing that I really wanted to do was kind of write to people that are heading towards their future which is graduation and then, you know, the future beyond. And then their futures don’t mesh. There’s not really a way to come together at the end of graduation. They’re moving in different directions and I think that’s a really universal thing for people in college that are dating and dating seriously… do you compromise your future for somebody else? Do you change it? How do you make it work?
So those are kind of the two things that I really wanted to hit on and of course, there’s, you know, there’s some kink that happens in the book and kind of self-discovery with that especially on Connors’ part. So there’s a lot going on, but those two things. The characterization and the conflict there with their futures not meshing are the two things I really wanted to hit.
Jeff: And I think you did them both, I mean, really well. This book has so much going on in it and yet it never…the story also never gets way down either with the weight of everything that’s kind of moving around here.
Erin: Thank you.
Jeff: And really, you started them off as enemies who sort of move to friends to sort of get to lovers.
Jeff: Just that progression was so fun to watch unfold as they both pick at each other and then also help each other grow at the same time. It’s like, they lift each other up and kinda tear each other down at the same time.
Erin: Right. And I hope that that is realistic. I think people… Because in a lot of ways they are kind of mean to each other at certain points and people can be mean to each other in real life. Especially, they’re not very old, you know, they’re 21, 22. So they kinda make stupid mistakes sometimes and say things that can be hurtful and then have to figure out how to make it better.
Jeff: And I think with Connor too, you talked about writing against the archetypes and just having kinda the anxiety plus the OCD. And being, you know, a young gay man in that setting really just sets up so much for him in that situation.
Erin: Right. Yeah. He has a lot going on. He’s bi actually and…
Jeff: Right. I’m sorry. You’re right. Yes.
Erin: And so, kind of a lot. I mean, it’s just a lot and I think it’s a lot for him to kind of deal with all at the same time.
Jeff: What was your research on the mental health side of it to kind of figure out what traits to weave into his personality?
Erin: So I did a lot of research and I had some readers too that read it for me. One of the main things that I really looked at was kind of the myths especially with OCD, kind of the myths surrounding OCD. I think a lot of people think it’s just, you know, a cleanliness thing or even an organizational thing where they, you know, people with OCD have an impulse to organize or clean. And that’s not really how it presents for a lot of people. A lot people have intrusive thoughts which he has or, you know, they have checking where he checks the expiration dates on food and he can’t kind of stop doing that even though he knows he shouldn’t be doing it, and it’s not healthy for him to do. And so, I did a lot of research about the myths and the different ways that it presents for people and kind of the hardships that it causes them. And I also really wanted to make sure that I kind of made it clear. It’s something that he’ll always deal with, right? It’s not going away and so, it’s really… I did a lot of research on how to manage it, how, you know, how to kind of continue life dealing with a mental health problem like that.
Jeff: Yeah. I just… So often I wanted to just give him a hug when he was starting to lapse into it. It’s like, “Oh, I’m so sorry this is happening.” What you did through the black moments and I don’t wanna give spoilers for folks who, you know, need to read the book. But what you did to the black moments for both Connor and Travis as they dealt with their emotions and for Connor how those emotions kinda manifest themselves in his OCD was really just, I really liked seeing two young adults kinda come to grapple with all of that.
Erin: Yeah. And I think it’s pretty normal when you’re more stressed, right? Or when there’s more and more stress for, you know, the OCD to kind of build on itself. The same with anxiety like, whenever I am really stressed about my anxiety, it’s gonna be worse about small things, you know, you can kind of blow them out of proportion. I know I do that and so, I was kind of trying to show that how it’s like as things got more stressful for him with graduation moving and with kind of this relationship with Travis, that’s not going away he wants it to go. It does kind of snowball for him and it kinda snowballs for Travis too just in different ways because he doesn’t, you know, he doesn’t have anxiety or OCD of course, but, you know, he struggles just kind of the same way.
Jeff: Yeah. When you were talking about with this books about you left out one of its major points.
Erin: The bugs?
Jeff: That is the inclusion of the the hissing cockroaches. Where did that idea even come from?
Erin: So I knew I wanted to put them in a class together and I wanted them to be class partners. But Travis is an English major and Connor is agriculture sciences, agribusiness major. And so, I knew it had to be like a gen ed class for at least one of them. And so, I really started thinking about the gen ed class that I had taken as an English major whenever I was an undergrad trying to figure out what class would make sense. And then I realized that I actually had taken an ag class that was Entomology 101. And I loved it, I, you know, I held like, tarantulas and I held millipedes. And I could see myself being that like, weird bug girl a little bit. I just loved it. And so, that’s kinda how I decided to put them in an entomology class. And it’s funny because, I mean, I do think that college is one of those times to take the weird class and do the weird thing. And so, I think it kind of made sense there and I also felt like, I gave a degree of what kind of humor and lightness I thought it would to the story. But I realize now that a lot of readers maybe don’t like bugs. So it’s something that’s like a little distracting to some people.
When I had took the entomology class, we had an assignment where we had that exact assignment with the Madagascar hissing cockroaches where we had to take them home and observe them. And so, you know, for an entire semester, I had a Madagascar hissing cockroach in my dorm room with me. I never took it out of its box. I like, you know, I fed it, like, carrots through the little hole that it couldn’t get out and so, that would be fun to put that in the story. And I can tell you for the readers, the cockroaches do not escape ever. They never… There’s no, like, unexpected cockroach scenes. I promise.
Jeff: Yeah. And I can vouch for that. There are no unexpected scenes and in fact, I had to check… I had to ask about that before I took the book to read and I’m like, “Bugs, I don’t know about that.”
Erin: I know. I have put it in the trigger warnings for the book and on my website, it really does lay out kinda scene by scene where they’re at and kind of the degree that they’re on the page. And they’re not on the page that much.
Jeff: No, they’re not and I never got squirmy reading it either because I really don’t like bugs. But I was totally fine with how this turned out. So…
Erin: Yeah. I know. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that it would gross people out. At that point it was too late when it, like, finally hit me. I was like, “Well, I can’t do anything about it.” But I kind of thought that they were funny.
Jeff: Well, I think it really fits with the whole ag culture of the college that of course, they’re gonna end up with bugs or whatever and have to learn about them. So it all meshed in together and like you said, there’s no point where they’re escaping or, you know, being gross. They’re just kind of there.
Erin: Right. And students…
Jeff: I like to, you know, those classes sometimes you take in high school where you’re having to take care of the doll for a week or whatever. And in this case you’re hanging out with a cockroach. So…
Erin: Right. It’s kinda like a little pet for them for this semester.
Jeff: So is there more plan for the Farm College Series?
Erin: I have not kind of set plans. I do want to write a story for Alex. He’s in both books. He’s not in “Controlled Burn” for very much though his part is kind of important in “Controlled Burn.” He’s a friend of Connor’s really in “Clean Break” and I do wanna give him a story and I will. I’ll probably start writing that soon. Kind of be on that. I don’t know how much more I’ll write in the Farm College Series though I do wanna do a spin off that’s kind of several years in the future. So they’re not really in college anymore and I want to do an F/F romance for Desie and Lena. So I would start there for them.
Jeff: Yay. Yeah. I would totally read that book because one of the things you did in “Clean Break” and I’m sure you established it back in “Controlled Burn” too, was just the tight community of friends that Travis and Connor both have, and even, like, the strong family presence of Connor’s family and how they support him. So it would be great to see more of all of that.
Erin: Yeah. So… Yeah. And I definitely… I think I did a little bit more successfully in “Clean Break” for sure where they have very supportive families and they do have kind of a big wide friend group. And so, yeah, I’m glad that you like that, but I do want to do the F/F romance for Lena and Desie kind of. But Lena is quite young in this book. She’s 20 and so, I wanna give her a little bit of time to grow up, I guess.
Jeff: Yeah. That’s cool. Now, you’ve got another series out there called “Love Life.” And tell us a little bit about what goes on in that series?
Erin: Sure. So that’s also, they’re both male/male romances. Set in Oklahoma, Eastern Oklahoma for the first book, “Life on Pause.” They’re kind of small town romances there. The first one is about a guy that works at a homestead kind of prairie museum. They’re kind of common in Oklahoma where the people that work there have to dress in like, historical costumes of the time. So he works at that type of museum and then he is paired with a high school choir teacher. And it’s kind of them trying to fall in love and figure out how their relationship will work. It’s definitely kind of lighter in tone than the farm college series, but it’s still a little angsty. The second book in the series, “Life of Bliss,” is more novella link that’s a little short and it’s very tropey. It’s kind of two people that don’t like each other very much, but are fooling around kind of behind their friends’ backs. They agree to be fake boyfriends for a family wedding in Arkansas and Arkansas kind of, well, it has this… Historically in the area, it was the only state that didn’t have a waiting period for marriage licenses. Now, most of the states don’t, but back in the day, you know, they made you like, test for syphilis and all kind of stuffs. But extended the marriage license period. So Arkansas is kind of the place where people go for their shotgun weddings historically. So this is going back quite away, but in this book they go to a wedding in Arkansas, they get drunk at the wedding and basically, end up getting married themselves. It’s set in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for the wedding part and I don’t know if anybody would be familiar with that. But you can get married practically anywhere in Eureka Springs. It’s kind of an economy there. So it’s quite easy to get married and that’s what happens. So it’s kind of fake dating to accidental marriage.
Jeff: Fake dating to accidental marriage. I like… Those are favorite tropes right there.
Erin: Yeah. It’s a fun one, I think.
Jeff: So what is your writing origin story? You’ve got these four books out. How did all this start?
Erin: Well, I was a creative writing English major in undergrad, but then I ended up going to grad school for library and information studies. And I was a public librarian. And I had… I kind of had a lot of big changes in my life. I just graduated grad school. I just got married, I just moved away from home like, all of these big changes. I had a full time job for the first time and I had… I was living in Houston, Texas and I had this horrible commute. It was like, an hour and a half each way and…
Jeff: Yeah. that’s pretty horrible.
Erin: I think most people that have been in Houston know what I’m talking about. And I had all this time to kind of think and I basically on my commute started plotting a book. And some of it came from, I missed kind of the creative outlet writing research papers and stuff like that from school. And so, yeah, that’s kind of how I started writing as I plotted this book on my commute and then finally, I decided that I was gonna sit down and write it. And that book was “Controlled Burn.”
Jeff: That’s an awesome story.
Erin: Thank you.
Jeff: What led you into putting this creativity towards M/M romance amongst all of the genres that were possible?
Erin: Yeah. Some of it I think is that I was reading a lot of it at that time, I kind of got into M/M romance I guess if we’re going further back by reading Suzanne Brockmann, right? So she has the “Troubleshooters” series and that has Jules Cassidy who’s the gay FBI agent, right? He’s got that kind of the secondary romance through several books and then the primary thorugh a novella. And then whenever I was in grad school, I kind of didn’t have time to read for pleasure very much. So I wasn’t reading very much and then I took a class about reader’s advisory that we had to read like, the books from the best books of the year for “Publishers Weekly” and “Kirkus,” and stuff. And I just kind of… I can’t remember what year it was, but I grabbed kind of a random book off the romance list and it ended up being “Brothers of the Wild North Sea” by Harper Fox and I didn’t really realize that it was a male/male romance. So I just kinda grabbed it and started reading, and then it became quite clear, you know, very early on what it was. And it’s a beautiful book. Harper Fox is, you know, is a beautiful writer. Everything that she writes is really awesome and so, I kind of gobbled up everything that she had written and then it kind of hit me at that time. There has to be other writers that are doing this and, you know, they weren’t the books that were in the libraries. They weren’t in my libraries.
So I kind of started searching them out and, you know, read a lot of K.A. Mitchell and Z.A. Maxfield, and some of those authors at that time that were the most prolific. And I was just very excited because I felt like there are all these authors that I had never heard of that I didn’t know about and they were all really, really good. And they were writing, you know, stories that kind of the themes were very important to me. And so, then when I write finally, eventually, decided to sit down and write a book. I think probably the main thing for me is that I wanted to write characters who are LGBTQIA in Oklahoma and it just happened to be that the first book that kind of came to mind, and that I plotted fully was an M/M romance in “Controlled Burn.” So that’s definitely how I got started.
Jeff: That’s very cool and some great authors there to get you introduced to the genre as well. Who do you count as your author influences?
Erin: Well, definitely, you know, my gateways were Suzanne Brockmann into romance in general and then Harper Fox. Kind of on a wider scale, I really like Alisha Rai. She kind of, she writes the heroines that are the type of parents that I just love. They are raunchy and rowdy, and wonderful. I would say also Annabeth Albert in terms of contemporary romance. Alexis Hall, I think kind of teaches or his books are like a master class on first person point of view if you look at “For Real” or “Glitterland.” And so, I really, really like his books too.
Jeff: Now, your bio mentions that you like binge worthy TV shows. So of course, we have to know what are you binging these days or have binged recently that you would recommend?
Erin: So my husband and I have been rewatching “Game of Thrones” of course, because the last season was about to come out. So when you binge that show, you just kind of realize how many awful things happened back to back to back because the first time we watched it, we didn’t binge it. We are watching it week to week, but when you’re binge watching that it’s like, “Oh, my God. That’s so awful, these things that keep happening.” Other than that, I really like… I like true crime, but I’m not watching any kind of true crime right now. And I like comedies. So I’ve watched “Schitt’s Creek” recently which I love, “The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “One Day at a Time,” all these sitcoms that I think are really good, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” because I love musicals is really good. And then I also watch a lot of like, reality TV. So I like, like, “Tiny House Hunters,” and “Instant Hotel,” and “Project Runway,” shows kind of like that.
Jeff: Very cool. Yeah. Some good stuff on there.
Erin: You can tell me I watch a lot of TV.
Jeff: “The Good Place” is a particular favorite.
Erin: Yeah. It’s so smart. It’s so different than like, yeah, it’s very, very unique. So this is a great list for everybody who’s looking for something to binge the spring right here. So what’s coming up next for you in your release plans?
Jeff: So I don’t have anything kind of set in stone. I’m not very good at planning. [I”m working on one about] tornado chasers or storm chasers. That’s a male/male romance that I have on submission right now to a publisher that I’m hoping will pick it up. If they don’t, then, you know, it’ll keep going out and hopefully somebody else will want it. I’m currently writing a book about a rec league softball team and I want this to be really, really tropey and kind of fun and light. The first one is using kind of the one bed trope. So I hope that that would be a lot of fun. I’ll write Alex’s story pretty soon and then I have a book that I wrote. But I’m hoping to put out at Christmas, it’s called “Stocking Stuffers.” And it’s a M/F romance with a bi heroine who sell sex toys. You know, like the Tupperware parties, but it’s like the, you know, the sex toy Tupperware parties kind of. And so, she works for a company kinda is the marketing person for a company like that and she’s hosting one of those parties, get snowed in, you know, with a big red bag of toys basically.
Jeff: Yeah. That’s like an interesting forced proximity story.
Erin: yeah. So it was a lot of fun to write.
Jeff: And I’m very interested in the storm chasers one too because I’m kind of a weather geek at heart. So you kind of got me on that one.
Erin: It was a lot of fun to write. Growing up in Oklahoma, you know, tornadoes are such a kind of a constant really. I mean, my parents have lost a house in tornado. I know lots of people that have lost houses in tornado. It’s so common. It’s just kind of a part of your life especially if you’re from Central Oklahoma like me and so, it’s… Yeah. It was a really fun one to write because you are just kind of entrenched in bad weather in Oklahoma in the spring all the time. So…
Jeff: Very cool. And how can readers keep up with you online to keep track of all these projects?
Erin: So I have a Facebook group called Erin McLellan’s Meet Cute. That’s a good one if you kind of… I do giveaways and book recs, and stuff. On Twitter my handle is @emclellanwrites and I’m on Twitter pretty often. On Instagram it’s @erinmclellanwrites and on Instagram, I would say it’s about 70% Alaska stuff like, every moves that I’ve ever seen and then 30% books. Unless there’s a book released and then it flips. But it’s a lot of Alaska if you follow me on Instagram. And then my newsletter which you can get too on my website or through any of the social media too. You would be able to kind of find the link to my newsletter and that’s probably the best way if you just want like, to know about new releases or sales, or things like that without having to kind of trudge through Twitter.
Jeff: Well, fantastic. Well, I thank you so much for coming to talk to us about “Clean Break” and wish you all the success on that one and the upcoming releases as well.
Erin: Thank you so much. It was so fun.