Jeff discusses this week’s release of Netminder (Codename: Winger #4). The guys also announce that they’ll be returning to Coastal Magic Convention for 2020 and that the con’s featured author list and registration will open on June 1.
Jeff reviews Gregory Ashe’s Orientation (Borealis Investigation #1). Will reviews Louisa Master’s The Athlete and the Aristocrat and Human Omega: Discovered on the Slave Planet (Pykh Book 1) by Eileen Glass.
Jay from Joyfully Jay stops by and recommends books by Nora Phoenix, Harper Fox, Lily Morton and Jordan L. Hawk. Jay also talks about the recent Book Lovers Con, which took place earlier this month in New Orleans.
Complete shownotes for episode 190 are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
Orientation (Borealis Investigation #1) by Gregory Ashe. Reviewed by Jeff
Listeners of the podcast know I’ve become a huge fan of Gregory Ashe’s Hazard and Somerset series. Because of those books, I was eager to get Orientation, which is the first in Gregory’s Borealis Investigation series (just released this past Friday on May 24), and the new book simply extends my love of Gregory’s storytelling.
Borealis Investigations is run by Shaw Aldrich and North McKinney two friends and private detectives who are on the verge of losing their business. Because of events that happen before the book begins, North’s license is suspended meaning he can’t actively work on any case. But, one arrives on their doorstep is Matty Fennmore comes looking for Shaw. The young, blonde pretty guy is being blackmailed and he wants Shaw’s help.
It’s not just Matty being blackmailed though. As Shaw and North begin to dig into what’s happening they find an undercurrent of blackmail and deception running through the local LGBTQ community–including politicians and police…and it goes back for years.
It’s also incredibly elaborate, as Shaw and North keep chasing leads they find that even the blackmailed are also blackmailing. They persist with their investigations though even as their lives become in danger, Matty is attacked and demands are made. It’s particularly rough on Shaw because he’s developing feelings for the young man even as he already carries a torch for the married North.
In the vein of Hazard and Somerset, things are never what they seem and that’s one of the many things I like about Gregory’s books. This is a twisted tale and yet there’s never a red herring (at least as I read them) because everything matters and it’s all connected. Once you get to the end you see it as clearly as the detectives do.
I love how Shaw and North are opposite of Hazard and Somers too. Shaw and North have years of true friendship in their history and that makes their working relationship far different than the other two. They rely on and trust each other and that gets them through things that would break most other relationships. There are some particularly difficult situations Shaw and North face and the way Gregory manages to keep the characters grounded–including some really incredible banter–shows their strong history and drives the story forward.
People often keep secrets and boy are there some secrets in here. Shaw has a lot of baggage because he and his boyfriend were assaulted while they were in college and he carries physical and mental scars as a result–those are deeper than North knows. North has some pretty massive secrets as well–and what was going on with him was one of the big shocks of the book for me. Gregory is masterful in how he weaves everything together. It’s stunning and compelling reading.
The second book, Triangulation, is due out August 9 and I can’t wait.
The Athlete and the Aristocrat by Louisa Masters. Reviewed by Will
The athlete of the title is Simon Wood, a world-renowned, but now retired, footballer. And by footballer I mean soccer player.
He’s putting all his time and effort into a new sports charity for underprivileged kids. He gets the backing he needs from the Morel Corporation, with the proviso that Lucien Morel (the aristocrat of the title) serve as business consultant.
Lucien suggests Simon fly with him to Monaco for the weekend. They can work on the plane and discuss business plans for the charity for a few days. The chemistry and connection between them is almost immediate, and it’s not long before they tumble into bed together.
They enjoy a wonderful few months of being “co-workers-with-benefits”, keeping everything on the down-low, fearing that any appearance of impropriety would reflect poorly on the charity. That still doesn’t stop them from falling hard for one another and dreaming of a future together.
The charity launch is a resounding success and, just as they’re about to go public with their relationship, a grotesque tabloid story comes out, threatening everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Things, of course, are eventually resolved. What Louisa Masters did with this particular ending left me deeply satisfied as a reader. The kind of ending that makes you simile and sigh because it’s so utterly, completely perfect.
The thing I loved the most about The Athlete and the Aristocrat is the small, cute, intimate moments that Simon and Lucien shared throughout the book on their way to their HEA. It made them more real. Both of our heroes are insanely handsome, wildly successful, and inordinately wealthy – but it’s how they treat each other during their everyday “regular” lives that humanizes them, and makes you root for their love story.
While this book isn’t officially part of a series, it does share a story world with the author’s previous book, The Bunny and the Billionaire. In that book, Leo (Lucien’s best friend) falls for Australian tourist Ben. Leo and Ben both make an appearance in The Athlete and the Aristocrat and are an important part of the story.
The standard series caveat applies, both books can be read as a stand-alone, but you might get more out of it if you’ve read both. Which is what I recommend, simply because both stories are terrific.
Kudos to the audiobook narrator Seb Yarrick. The book is chock full of international accents (Lucien is French, Simon is British, Ben is Australian). He does a wonderful job. If audio is your thing, I recommend you check it out.
Jeff discusses a deleted scene he’s offering this week from his upcoming book Netminder (Codename: Winger #4). He also recommends The Queer Creative Podcast.
Will and Jeff discuss the second season of Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power as well as Pose, which has just arrived on Netflix ahead of the new season coming to FX in June.
Jeff reviews Queer as a Five Dollar Bill by Lee Wind.
Gail Carriger talks to Jeff about her new novel, The Fifth Gender and some of the interesting stories about its creation. They also talk about how Gail went from archeology to writing romance, her process for world building and her travel podcast called The 20 Minute Delay.
Complete shownotes for episode 189 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s 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, Gail, to the podcast.
Gail: Hello. Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Jeff: I’m so glad we finally got you on the show because I’ve been, you know, reading since back with “The Sumage Solution” and it’s like, “We gotta get Gail on. We need to get Gail on.”
Gail: I am delighted. I am a devoted listener and so I’m quite honored to finally get to be here. It’s great.
Jeff: And you’ve got a book coming out or you’ve just had a book come out actually, “The 5th Gender” just released.
Gail: I did. Yes, “The 5th Gender,” it’s my like crazy, ridiculous, silly, happy yet cozy murder mystery on a space station with an alien with five genders and tentacles and purple.
Jeff: You don’t often get cozy mystery space station together in one package.
Gail: It is…it’s great. It was totally one of those spontaneous, I had like a strange thought/dream/idea to do this. And a bunch of us were joking on Twitter about the craziest mashups of genres we could come up with and somebody was like, “Barbarian noir,” and so on and so forth. And I was like, “Well, I wanna do space station, cozy mystery.” And then I started thinking about it and then it happened. Then I was like, “Oh, okay, I’ll write it, I’ll write it.” I was supposed to be writing something else, of course. But sometimes I succumb to the lure of the ooh, shiny.
Jeff: And it was a purple shiny too. So how could you resist that?
Gail: I could not. And he’s adorable, the alien character. And I, you know, I have a background as an anthropologist. I have an archaeology…couple of archaeology degrees. And so I just love the way if you’re doing an alien character, you can comment on human social structures and culture and interactions. And so I might’ve had a little too much fun with that.
Jeff: Well I was actually gonna get into that. I’ll hold that. Because we should at least tell folks, because I want to talk a little bit more about the origin story on this because you wrote about it. So just like, “I had this idea in the middle of the night, and then I tweeted it, and then it was a story,” which I love, but then there’s the fact that you went away to a retreat and worked on it and had to talk to other people about it while you were writing it.
Gail: Yes. So for those…I should preface this by saying that for those who don’t know, I have two names I write under. So I write under Gail Carriger and I write under G. L. Carriger and the G. L. stuff has a much higher heat level. So it’s super sexy. And this book, “The 5th Gender” is a G. L. book. So warning for anybody who doesn’t like nooky because one of the things I realized through the course of that particular writing retreat was that if you’re writing about a species with five genders, human curiosity wants to follow them into the bedroom to see what it’s like down there. And so I thought about trying to kind of clean it up a little bit and it just…it didn’t work. So I was like, “Okay, we are going into that realm.”
So I was supposed to go on this retreat and write something else entirely, and instead I just spent the entire week writing this book. And one of the funniest stories from that was me being like, “Oh shoot, what does alien jizz taste like?” Because we all know, at least we do if we’ve been reading my San Andreas Shifter series that wizard or mage jizz is fizzy and werewolf is spicy. And I was like, “Well, what do aliens taste like?” And this meant that I literally had to go and you’re never…on a retreat, you’re never supposed to disturb the cooks in the kitchen. But I was like, “If there was ever a question for cooks, this is it.” There is a crazy author running into the kitchen in the middle of them making shepherd’s pie and being like, “Oh, you guys, what does alien jizz taste like? Debate.” So we had a long debate about it and we finally decided, and you’ll have to read the book to find out.
Jeff: Yeah, I wasn’t gonna ask you to spoil that, but I do have to know what exactly did the cooks make of this question?
Gail: The cooks were quite game actually. I think they were pretty charmed because normally like they’re doing their art form and we’re doing our art form and never the twain shall meet until meal times. So it’s really rare for one of the authors to actually want the cooks’ help on something. So I think they were kind of pleased to be asked.
Jeff: That’s very cool because some of them might have been like, “I’m sorry, what?”
Gail: Oh, they know what I write. We’ve been going for a long time with the same cooks for a while, so.
Jeff: So this group knew you so they weren’t necessarily surprised by…
Gail: No. Well, it was a little out of the blue. I haven’t been writing the super sexy stuff for very long. Like normally my questions are like, “What’s the most ridiculously named, you know, Victorian dessert you can think of,” kind of thing. But yes, it was a little different from my usual questions.
Jeff: And tell us what this book is about, this cozy mystery on a space station.
Gail: Well, the tagline is an alien race with no word for murder has a murderer aboard their spaceship. And essentially the galoi are the aliens in question. And they are these purple…they’re these adorable sort of purple tentacled kind of, you know, High Elf, slightly looking alien creatures. And they are super isolationist. And the only thing that humans know about them is occasionally they will kick one of their genders. It’s always as one of the examples of the fourth or fifth genders and they’re kicked off and they’re in exile, and those galoi, which is the name of this alien race, go and live amongst humans. And humans actually adore them because they think they’re like sweet and cute and adorable. And they have no…they’re pure exiles. So they have no national allegiance, they have no planetary allegiance. And so they make really great attaches.
They’re kind of really kind of comforting and lots of different alien races like to be around them. So they often become attaches to like ambassadors and stuff. So a lot of space stations….space stations consider it really lucky if they get one of these. And the main character, Tristol, he’s one of these aliens and he has a mad crush on the human security chief/detective that’s onboard the space station named Dre. But he doesn’t really get kind of like human flirtation and courting rituals. So he’s sort of…the book sort of starts with Tristol trying to figure out what cats are and why you would wanna keep them as a pet because he’s been asked by some human friends to cat sit. And then, of course, the cat escapes and hijinks ensue on the space station because what happens when the cat gets into zero gravity. Nobody wants to find that out.
Anyway, and then the galoi are like super xenophobic, so they never reach out to humans. And then suddenly a galoi ship approaches his space station, which is crazy in many, many ways because they shouldn’t be approaching a space station that has an exile aboard it and they never talk to humans anyway. And they have this incredibly complicated non-pronoun language that kind of indicates status and has to do with all of these different genders. And so the humans are kind of panicking and freaking out. They don’t want a war. They don’t know what’s going on. And the spaceship basically says, you know, “We have a murdered galoi and we don’t know what to do. We don’t have security, we don’t have murder investigations. We don’t. So we came to you, violent humans, to figure this out for us.” And of course Dre, the human love interest is the detective. So he and Tristol have to team up because he needs Tristol’s help to explain how the galoi work. And so the two of them gonna figure out who done it and that’s basically it in a very large nutshell.
Jeff: How did you go about creating the galoi? I mean, five genders, no term for murder. There’s like so many things that kind of click into this. Is there like…?
Gail: I just, so like I said, I have an anthropology background. I mean, archaeology is blank, so obviously the biology and skeletal structures and things is what I mostly studied via anthropology, but you get a lot of like gender studies and cultural representations of gender and all that sort of thing as part of an education in the United States if you do an archaeology degree. And so it’s always been super, super fascinating to me. I have a minor in classical mythology with a focus on gender. It’s just something that has interested me. It’s really hard to tease out in the archaeological record. It’s prone to misinterpretation by archaeologists and historians and anthropologists. So there’s a sort of storied history with our own relationship from a scientific perspective with understanding gender.
And so I just took a lot of that both kind of my education and, you know, how the world now is changing. I spent far too much time on Tumblr, so I have a lot of like non-binary and gender fluid and gender queer fans. And so I’ve just been kind of reaching out to friends and acquaintances. One of my best friends in the world is a bioethicist and a medical ethicist. And so she deals with training doctors in how to talk to people appropriately about gender. And so I’ve had all this sort of stuff messing about, and I was like, “Well, a way for me to explore this and have this kind of conversation with myself and the world is through an alien lens.”
And so I just…I love thought experiments, and I was like, “So what if we have a race with five different genders and how would their language evolve? How would their culture evolve? How would they treat each other?” Like all of these, you know, archaeological things to think or anthropological things to think about. And then how would humans, even future humans, react when encountering that? And so that’s kind of where the conception started. And then I just made them purple because I like purple.
Jeff: Why not? I’m a big purple fan too. Was there a lot of research kind of building this?
Gail: Yeah. I actually have multiple blog posts that either I’m releasing them right now or I’ve just released them recently, speaking from the past into the future. But I have a bunch of blog posts about like a bunch of the research that I did and like some book recommendations and stuff like that, both from a fictional perspective and a nonfictional perspective and different blogs and stuff like that. But I like that. I like researching a lot. I try not to rabbit hole too much because the point is to write the actual book. So mostly what I did is I did that intensive week where I sort of just vomited forth this whole book. And then I went back and like teased it apart and looked into different…almost as…I almost treated it a little bit as if it were a nonfiction piece to go back and see what sources do I need to look up, what like different pronoun terms might be being used in hundreds of years, you know, by humans. That sort of thing. And it’s…since both the humans involved… I try to be complex in my races, whether they’re werewolves or aliens in that like…and to not either dystopian or utopianise either race, either humans or aliens.
So both races still have issues. Both are still dealing with how the cultures have evolved and all of that sort of thing. So I’m not setting the galoi up as like the perfect model of a possible future. They have a different evolution, a different model. And they’re merely a vehicle for which we can examine perhaps some of our own biases and prejudices now. And that’s getting very, very serious because mostly what I want my books to do is make you happy and cheerful and be excited, delighted. And if it makes you think a little, that’s great. But really I just want to make everybody happy and hopefully Tristol will do that because he’s delightful. I love him.
Jeff: What kind of, I guess, beta reading did you do to see how your various fans handle the gender discussion?
Gail: Well, I have trans and gender queer and gender bending characters already, both in my main universe and in my traditionally-published books and in all of my…like my independent and my self-published works and in my novellas and stuff. Some of the main characters, some of them side characters. And so I know that they’re open to it, and I also know that the one that, you know, for lack of a better term, I have like a queer-centered, progressive kind of comfort food brand or business model or whatever, however you wanna explain it. And so I feel like most of my super fans are gonna be excited because what they want from me is that comfort, is that sort of upbeat, fun, slightly fluffy, slightly thoughtful, but ultimately, you know, everything’s gonna be all right. I’m never gonna depress you. There’s never gonna be like scenes of torture. It’s never gonna be angsty, you know, all of those things. It’s always gonna be delicious, I guess.
Jeff: I like that as a term for a book. That’s just really fun.
Gail: Yeah. It’s just gonna be tasty. Yeah. So they know that and that’s the part that they trust and generally I feel like they’re pretty open minded about how I’m gonna go there and explore that. I don’t think I would’ve done this book, you know, five or six years ago because I wasn’t sure. I had to kind of test the waters with the San Andreas books and some of the other stuff. But I think they’re pretty open to it. I don’t know. You never know. We’ll see how everybody reacts. Yeah, so I mean, and I have beta readers and some of them have read it. I was more careful with this book in making sure that like I had sensitivity, what I call delicacy readers. So people within kind of the gender nonconforming community, again, for lack of a better term. That was more important to me really. I don’t wanna offend, although, you know, everybody’s opinion is their own and everyone is entitled to it. So I’m sure if you come to any book with the idea of being offended, you’re probably going to be unfortunately. So, but I did put essentially a naked purple dude on the cover as a kind of like, “Be aware, there’s gonna be sex in this book. We’re gonna go there. We’re gonna go far out there.”
Jeff: It’s cozy with sex and it’s funny and it’s sci-fi. It’s got a little bit of everything in it.
Jeff: Do you think you’ll revisit this later as like as a continuing series?
Gail: I’d love to. Actually, I have another murder mystery and like I don’t consider myself like a mystery writer at all, but I have this thing as a writer where I don’t write a book until I’ve had what I call the epiphany, which is I need to actually see a scene with characters in dialogue. And it might not necessarily be the first scene or whatever, but until I see that I have that crystal moment, I don’t feel like I can write the book. So I have a lot of books that I’d like to write, but I’ve never had the epiphany with. So they’re just sort of sitting there. And I’ve had an epiphany for a second book in this series with Dre investigating another murder and Tristol still there and everything. But I don’t know how people will receive this one, so I don’t know if I will write that one, but it’s definitely there percolating already. So it’s a possibility.
Jeff: It’s a possibility.
Gail: Yeah. And the universe on the whole, because it is a science fiction universe, actually does have another, of all things, young adult series that’s set at it that’s kind of been on the back burner for a really long time which kind of has nothing really to do with this series except that the same conceits in terms of faster than light travel. And human…like colonization and planetary evolution are the same. And there’s like a couple of crossover alien races, but that’s about it. But it is the same sort of basic far future.
Jeff: If you’ve got the universe, you might as well keep using it. So you don’t have to just keep reinventing the wheel.
Gail: Precisely. Yes. That’s my feeling.
Jeff: What do you hope readers take away from this romp?
Gail: Well, like usual, I just want them to be like… My favorite thing is somebody writes to me and says, “You either humiliated me because I was laughing loudly on public transport,” and I’m like, “Yes.” “You kept me up all night.” “Yes.” Or, “You just left me with a big smile.” So that’s really what I genuinely want is a big smile on people’s faces. But it would be nice if people who read it thought a little bit about…a bit more about gender and how we intimately link biological sex with gender and that perhaps that’s not necessarily the…I don’t know, ethical thing to do – that perhaps gender is in fact a social construct. Or cultural construct. It’s something that anthropologists just accept.
Like if you’re an anthropologist, you just accept that as a fact. Like we know, we have seen all of these different ancient and modern races or cultures with varying different interpretations of genders and it just…I don’t think it would ever occur to an anthropologist to like not be like, “Yes, gender is cultural,” but it seems that in the world today that isn’t an accepted principle. And so I guess, if anything, I want people to kind of get it, to maybe think a little bit about pronoun use and all that sort of stuff, I guess.
Jeff: Now, as both Gail and G. L., you run across a lot of genres. You’ve got your urban fantasy, you’ve got some paranormal. Now you’ve got cozy mysteries in space. Comedy definitely cuts across all of them. Is there a genre you like most?
Gail: I would say I have wheelhouses more than anything else. So there’s a podcast called “Reading Glasses” that talks about as readers we tend to have wheelhouses and if you read heavily in romance, you define those often as tropes. You know, like, “I like the enemies to lover,” or whatever. But a wheelhouse kind of has other things. So, and I would say that there are definitely wheelhouses I gravitate to. So I always write the heroine’s journey. I never write the hero’s journey regardless… Again, this is the gender thing, right? Regardless of the biological sex or stated gender of my main character, they’re always heroines’ journeys because a heroine’s journey, it doesn’t matter who’s undertaking it. So I would say that is one of my things. I always do ‘found family’, and I realized recently I had this big revelation that one of the reasons I strongly gravitate to reading gay romance in particular is because found family is a really popular trope within gay romance for obvious reasons because if you come to the queer community, it’s usually partly found family that brings you there because real family rejected you, at least often did when I was younger. So yeah, and I just love that as a trope, for lack of a better word.
And so I have found family in my books all the time. I tend to have extremely strong female main characters except when I’m writing gay romance, of course. Yeah, and lots of queer. I was thinking recently that a slogan I really embrace would be queer comfort because I feel like that’s kind of in all of my books even the books that have heterosexual main couples. It’s really hard. At this juncture, I guess you could say that I trust my readers enough to relax and just write what moves me. I wouldn’t have written this book if I didn’t think at least some of them would enjoy it. I mean, what a privilege and kind of a blessing and a joy to get to do that. But it has been 10 years. So it did take a while.
Jeff: And you mentioned that you’re not known for mystery, certainly. So you’ve taken this turn now to at least explore it once. Are there other things out there like, going after and trying to write a mystery, that are still things you want to do, things you’re looking at towards the future?
Gail: Absolutely. There’s always… Like I adore high fantasy. Obviously, I’m really into world building. And so like I have a young adult high fantasy. It’s actually techno fantasy, kind of like the Pern books or “Darkover.” And so, you know, I’d like to do that. There’s a bunch of stuff that I kind of am excited and interested, and I’m a pretty voracious and pretty wide reader. So I think that makes you, generally speaking, a relatively wide writer. I think it’s unlikely I would ever break the trust contract that I have with my reader base and write anything dark. I certainly would never write anything gritty or gruesome. I don’t like to read that, so I’d never write it. And I think I’m out of my dark phase now that I have left high school. I don’t do the really kind of dark or angsty stuff.
I was thinking about contemporary recently actually. And I don’t think I could write contemporary. The moment I start to think about writing something that’s just a contemporary romance or like women’s lit or even something, you know, Heaven forfend, like proper lit fic, it immediately just goes fantastical. I can’t, I have to inject. And if I were to describe myself as anything, it is, you know, science fiction and fantasy rooted, I like the world building a lot. And so I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever write something that doesn’t have at least that as part of the component.
Jeff: So how did you go from studying archaeology and getting these degrees to now becoming full-time author, writing all these books? What was that path?
Gail: Oh my goodness. So I’ve two master’s degrees and I was working on my PhD and I always thought I would be an academic. I genuinely love archaeology. I’m one of those incredibly lucky people who left one career that she adored for another career that she adored. So, you know, tragedy of choice. And I was about to do my defense and I was about two years out which would have been my thesis years finishing my PhD. And I always wrote. I just grew up on what essentially amounted to kind of like a hippie commune kind of thing, and surrounded by artists. And the only thing I had learned really from that is that artists never make any money. And so being an author was really a bad idea.
So I was like, “Okay, I’ll be an academic because, ooh, profitable.” At least it’s quasi reliable, right? But I always wrote, I just had that need. It’s kind of like breathing or something. And I figure if I write, I might as well submit. And so I was submitting, writing and submitting. And then I wrote “Soulless” as kind of a challenge to myself. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I have a propensity for rewriting things over and over and over a million times and never actually finishing anything. And so “Soulless” was like, “You will take six months, you will write this weird book.” This was during the paranormal romance and urban fantasy bubble of the late ’90s, early 2000s. And I was like, what I really want from…I want a bunch of things, right? I want women to write funny stuff in genre, commercial genre. And that’s pretty rare. Most of the writers I knew who wrote funny stuff were like Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Jasper Fforde, like a bunch of dudes. And I was like, “Where are my ladies writing funny? Where’s my urban fantasy set in a historical time period?” You know, I wanted all of these things and nobody was writing it. And finally I was like, “Well, that means I have to.”
Jeff: Take the challenge.
Gail: Take the challenge. And I really did write it as a challenge. And “Soulless” is a mashup. It tends to be what I write, obviously. I mean, I’m here talking about, you know, space, cozy mystery romance. So I obviously like mashing up things. And so “Soulless” is steampunk, urban fantasy, comedy of manners, romance. It’s a bunch of these different things. And I was like, no one will buy this because I had been in and out of the publishing industry and submitting short stories and I was like, “This…it doesn’t have a place in the market. There’s no shelf it sits on, like, no one’s gonna buy this. But I wrote it so I might as well send it out.” And I had one of those slush pile telephone calls from New York where they like…within a month somebody wanted to buy my silly little bit of fluff. And I was like, “No, you’re joking.”
And so “Soulless” was a slow burn. It hit the market and it was really word of mouth. The librarians and the independent bookstores were like behind me 110%. They just loved this crazy little book. And I think it was mostly the funny, but you know, super strong heroine and, you know, like gruff, overly emotional werewolves and queer characters from the get go. And it just appealed to, you know, a kind of segment of society. So I was right about to do my defense when “Changeless,” my second book, hit the hit The New York Times and that kind of seed changed everything. It changed marketing, it changed how much money New York was willing to offer me and my partner at the time was like, “I make enough money to support us. Why don’t you see if this…why don’t you take a break from academia and see if this writing thing works?” And I did and I haven’t been back.
Jeff: Well done. Ten years on.
Gail: Yeah, a lot of it’s serendipity. And a lot of it is good friends. And then a lot of it was also like, I am super…I’m an archaeologist. Archaeologists are like the organizers of anthropology departments. You know, we’re logistics, we get large groups of people into foreign lands and then make them shovel dirt around, you know. We feed them and house them and blah, blah, blah. You know, we’re big on spreadsheets and organizing. So I already had that kind of part of my personality that I think not a lot of authors have. And so when I was successful, I was ready to be like, “Okay, let’s figure out how many books I can write in a year. Let’s figure out, you know, like… I like trad, but maybe this independent publishing thing is interesting. Let me go research that and experiment with that. You know, let’s try this thing.”
I’ve always been like that. Even with my traditional publishers, like they would be like, “You sell really good in eBooks.” And I was like, “That’s because I have romance readers.” And they were like, “How do you feel about maybe doing this strange BookBub thing?” And I was like, “I think that’s a great idea. Why don’t we do that?” You know, it’s like I am game. So I think that has also helped is I’ve always been willing to take a risk, partly because I have a safety net. It’s like I can always go back to being an archaeologist. That’s fun too.
Jeff: What’s your overall process? I mean, it sounded like, if I understood from our “The 5th Gender” discussion, it almost sounded like you did the first draft of that book at the retreat.
Gail: Yeah. I work really well, it turns out, in a competitive environment. I didn’t realize, but if…I really am one of those writers who I’m social in terms of I like to sit across from somebody at a cafe and just type and just the act of having another writer or a bunch of writers around me also typing is really helpful to me. And part of it is kind of looking over and being like, “How many words have you done? Oh shoot.” And then just typing some more, you know. But yeah, so I do this one retreat every year and I know I can do 40,000 words at that retreat, which is either one novella or most of one of the G. L. books. So I usually sort of get prepared ahead of time with that preparation is writing the first 10,000 or just get…I’m an outliner, so I’ll get all the outline ready. I’ll get all the world building ready. And once I hit the ground there, I can just turn out a bunch of words and that’s great.
I try to do a couple of other kind of long weekend baby retreats. I’d love to find other week-long retreats. But the style that I like is pretty rare. And the style that I like is just a bunch of writers writing and no workshops or critiques or anything. So I do that and then most of the rest of the time I am not somebody who can handle multiple projects. I learned that about myself the hard way. So I have to be working on one book and then close that book out and then move to another one. And so if it’s an independent project, what I’ll often do, so if it’s something that I’m gonna be self-publishing, I’ll often write the whole thing on a retreat or over the course of a couple of months. And then just put it to bed and then focus on incoming copy edits or a proof pass or writing a completely different project, and let it sleep if I can. I find that that marination really helps. And then I’ll go back and do a reread.
And I’m a multiple editor. I think a lot of comic writers have to be because I do passes for like different kinds of comedy. So I’ll do like a word play pass and then I’ll do a sort of a slap stick pass. And then I’ll do like rule of three descriptive passes to try and get as much different kinds of humor back into a book as possible. And so, and then I have an alpha reader or two and they read before it goes either into my New York editor or off to my beta readers.
And then I actually hire and use a developmental editor for my independent stuff as well probably because that tends to lean more romantic. And when I first started writing it, I didn’t really think of myself as a romance author. So I wanted to make sure that I was getting kind of the beats right for romance. So I have an editor who specializes actually in gay romance, who reads all of my romances and gives me feedback. And then it goes to beta readers for the Parasol-verse in particular because they’re like, they’re 25 books in that universe and there’s lots of crossover characters. So most of my beta readers are actually just super fans who are obsessed with the universe and have written me like either critical letters about mistakes that I made in terms of like getting character names wrong or eye colors or something. And usually I’ll be like, “You, would you be interested in being a beta reader?”
Jeff: Right. Put those people to work.
Gail: Exactly. I was like, “If you’re going to do this anyway, how would you like to get everything ahead of time?” And I give them lots of extra perks as well, special editions and stuff. Yeah, so it’s quite a process at this point. But my beta readers are killer. I’ve got just a team of four now and they’re really fast and great. I love them. And then I have a couple of awesome copy editors that I use and then a proof. The Parasol-verse gets a woman named Shelley Adina, who’s a fantastic steampunk author in her own right and a regency and who’s really, really good on the Victorian era. So it gets a world – like historical proofing basically. And then I have a formatter. I’m a big fan of finding people who are really good at what they do and hiring them to do it for me. Like I could change my own oil, I’m sure, but I’d really rather find a good mechanic, you know. And that’s how I feel about the book world as well. So I have a fantastic cover art designer I love working with and I just got to put my team in place and then hope that no one gets sick.
Jeff: Right. That’s the key. Nobody can get sick. Not right now.
Gail: Nobody get sick. Nobody can leave me. Very floored when that happens.
Jeff: So you mentioned that you read a pretty broad swath of stuff. What are you reading right now that you’re loving?
Gail: So I just did a reread on Amy Lane’s “A Fool and His Manny,” which because it got nominated for the RITA award and it was one of the few that did that was queer. So I had read it before, I just did a reread on that and I still love it. It’s very cute, and I love Amy. Amy’s one of the nicest human beings in the world. So that was really fun to redo. And I’m a huge fan of Mary Calmes. I don’t know how to say her last name.
Jeff: You actually got it right.
Gail: Did I?
Jeff: You did.
Gail: Oh, good. Yes. I will read… Pretty much she’s an auto buy for me. I just find…I know that there are tropes in place that…but I just find her stuff really…she’s a comfort read for me and as somebody who writes what I hope is comforting for others, like I’m always hunting for authors that give me that same sensation. One of my like constant of all things, comfort, reread rotation is Alexis Hall’s “For Real,” which is a fantastic BDSM, but it’s just like, I don’t know what, the writing is so good. And I will reread R. Cooper until the cows come home, the “Being(s) in Love Series,” which I really, really adore. So, which is an urban fantasy basically.
Jeff: So you’re a podcaster also on top of all this other stuff.
Gail: I am. I know. That is like completely not connected to anything, side project.
Jeff: Well, I’m looking at you, I’m reading the website, getting to know kind of what I wanna ask about. I’m like, “A podcast? Wow. Okay.” And it’s about travel hacks called “The 20 Minute Delay.” How did this come about?
Gail: So one of the things that happened to me in the course of this career is I went from being an archaeologist, I traveled a lot as an archaeologist, to being an author where it turns out I travel like five times as much. When I was booked, where I’m regularly, I was doing two book tours a year at least. And that was not counting all of the conventions and stuff I was doing. And a book tour is like 10 cities in 10 days. I mean, it’s crazy traveling. So I turned into a frequent traveler and I’m an organizer and I like to hack things and figure out the most efficient way to do everything possible. And I realized I was doing that with travel. And there are two things that I can talk…well, there are three things that I could talk about, books that I love, like literally until the cows come home, food that I love to eat, and travel hacks.
And then I met my friend Piper. And Piper has a day job that has her traveling 80% of the time. And she has, if possible, more travel hacks than I do. I was basically like, “Piper, let’s do a podcast. It’ll just be like 20 to 30 minutes and we will just get on and we will chat about a place that we’ve been recently, and some like delicate matter of etiquette when traveling, like whether you recline your seat or not and how you deal with that,” or recently we did a really good one actually on rental cars. I don’t rent a car that often, but Piper does all the time. And she had some awesome tips for like how to get the best rental car and, you know, what apps to use and all that sort of stuff.
And then we do a little gadget where we’re just like, we test a gadget, like a new neck pillow or something and then we talk about, you know, what is that little gadget thing. And sometimes it’s just like, I like the snacky bags. Like you should always have at least two plastic snacky bags with you because they just always come in useful. So sometimes it’s a gadget like that, but we have a really, really good time. And I’m a voracious podcast listener. Like when we started, I’m a fan of this show. So I figured, generally speaking, you eventually become a podcaster if you are a big fan of listening to them.
Jeff: That’s probably true. And I think for any of our listeners who are, you know, thinking about, you know, their trips to GRL come October, start listening to “The 20 Minute Delay” now to get all your travel situation put together.
Gail: Because Piper and I are both authors, like we don’t…we try to couch our tips as much as possible in terms of anybody can use it. But we are both women. We are women who travel alone and we are both authors. So we will tackle things like how to travel with a bunch of books, like how to fly with 50 bucks or what have you. And we also talk about like safety when you’re staying in a hotel by yourself and that sort of thing.
Jeff: So what’s coming up for you next this year with the writing? We’ve got “The 5th Gender” out, what’s coming next?
Gail: Next, I have the final book in my Custard Protocol series coming out, which is “Reticence.” And that’s book four of the Custard Protocol that comes out at the beginning of August. And that’s actually rounding out the series in the Parasol-verse for a little while, my steampunk universe. I’m not ruling out doing another series in that universe, but I think I’m gonna take a little break. And I’m on proposal for a new Young Adult series. So who knows? It’s traditional, so it could take forever, could suddenly happen. You never know. And then in October I have a special collector’s edition coming out from Subterranean Press called “Fan Service,” which is for my super fans, which has my 2 supernatural society novellas bundled together with an exclusive short story that’s a hardcover fit, super fancy addition that there’s only gonna be 526 of those printed. And so that’s my October release. It’s so pretty. They can be very pretty covers, Subterranean.
Jeff: That’s cool. And what’s the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they can keep track of all this?
Gail: Well, in addition to everything else, so in case anybody’s in any doubt, I kind of have no life. I just did…this is like what I…like, I listen to podcasts, I read, and I play online, and occasionally I write, you know, because that’s my job. So I am on all the things online. I genuinely like social media. I know. I know, it’s crazy, but you can pretty much find me on any platform that you like. If you google Gail Carriger and then the name of the platform, I will probably pop up. And I try to use the platform in the way that it’s best suited. So, you know, there are pretty pictures on Instagram and there are lots of pinned gorgeous dresses on Pinterest and historical dresses and crazy aliens. And then I also have a newsletter. The newsletter is definitely for super fans. So it’s very chatty and it’s full of like sneak peeks as to what I’m actually writing and not talking about online yet. And I do freebies and giveaways and stuff there.
Jeff: We’re going to link to all that good stuff in the show notes, of course, so people can find it easily. Gail, thanks so much for hanging out. It has been so much fun.
Gail: Oh, it’s been a real pleasure. I can’t say how delighted I am to be on and I can’t wait to listen to this from the other side.
Jeff talks about the upcoming release of Netminder (Codename: Winger #4) and a blog post he’s written that talks about the impact the series has had on one reader. The guys also talk about the FX series Fosse/Verdon.
Jeff reviews With A Kick Collection #2 by Clare London with narration by Joel Leslie and The Whispers by Greg Howard with narration by Kivlighan de Montebello. Will reviews American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera.
Jeff & Will interview Adriana about the Dreamers series, including the soon to be released American Fairytale. Adriana also discusses the food that goes into her books, writing diverse characters, how her job as a social worker plays into American Fairytale and what’s coming up next in the Dreamer series.
Complete shownotes for episode 188 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
With A Kick Collection #2 by Clare London, narrated by Joel Leslie. Reviewed by Jeff.
Back in episode 144 I reviewed the audiobook of the first With A Kick collection. Now with collection two, once again the writing of Clare London combines with the narration of Joel Leslie to make a super awesome experience. We’ve got two stories in this collection–Pluck and Play and Double Scoop.
In Pluck and Play delivery person Curtis is saved from a homophobic attack by cowboy/singer Riley. It’s an interesting meet cute since moments after Riley dispatches the attacker, he and Curtis fall into some delightful banter.
Once they meet, they continually run into each other. Riley occasionally performs on the sidewalk across the street from the With A Kick ice cream shop, which is where Curtis often makes deliveries and hangs out with his friends who run the shop.
The difficulty for Curtis and Riley–and I love how Clare handles this–is that they have to decide if the thing between them is just a one-off bit of fun or something more. Riley’s supposed to go back to the States eventually, plus he’s got issues going on with his family. Meanwhile, Curtis is hesitant to let anyone get close to him again after his last relationship was so disastrous. Clare does a wonderful job of finding the moments of tenderness for Curtis and Riley while also dealing with their troubles.
I think I’ve developed a thing recently for the bodyguard trope. Riley has a protector streak that I loved so so much. As soon as he finds out what Curtis’s ex is up to, he wants to put a stop to it. The same can be said to for Curtis because he wants to help Riley deal with his family. It’s so clear these two are meant to be together and once they figure how to get out of their own way–and take care of their pasts–to get their happily ever after to they are golden.
With Double Scoop, Clare has written my favorite of the With A Kick stories. This one centers on shop owners Patrick and Lee. As the story opens an explosion rocks the shop, injuring Lee and leaving Patrick in a fit of concern for his friend and their business.
These two have had an ongoing business and flirty relationship through the series and now they get their moment in the spotlight. Patrick, as the slightly older one, can’t imagine why the younger Lee would be interested in him. He doesn’t feel particularly accomplished, despite the business, or particularly attractive. Lee, however, knows exactly what he wants and keeps going for it even though Patrick doesn’t make easy for Lee to get and stay close.
Clare toys with them and the reader in the most delicious way–bringing them together and then causing a rift. It made for a fun yet tense read going back and forth. Luckily the amazing cast of characters that Claire has developed over the series come together to help get the shop reopen and bring the two men together. Their friends know what’s best for them even if they can’t figure out how to make it work.
Both With A Kick collections are great for sexy short romances that have the best happily ever afters. You can’t go wrong picking it up on audio either. Joel Leslie does a tremendous job with a large cast of characters, particularly in Double Scoop since almost everyone who’s appeared in the series shows up here. Joel deserves a special shout out for Riley, who is the only American accent and it’s a southern one too. I enjoyed listening to him go back and forth between Curtis’s British and Riley’s southern.
So if you’re looking for some fun reads, that will surely make you want some ice cream this summer, pickup With A Kick Collection #2 by Clare London … and grab the first one too if you haven’t already.
The Whispers by Greg Howard. Narrated by Kivlighan de Montebello. Reviewed by Jeff.
This was a quite an unexpected middle-grade gem that often surprised me with the depths it explored. I’ll caution as I get into this that the end packs a lot of emotional punch and some readers may want to tread lightly on this young man’s journey because it’s heartbreaking while it does conclude in a very satisfying and fulfilling place.
Eleven-year-old Riley is missing his mama. She’s been gone for a few months and Riley doesn’t know why. He’s one of the last to see her and he meets regularly with a police detective to try to fill in pieces of what he knows. However, he gets frustrated with the speed the case is moving. He remembers the story his mama used to tell him about the whispers, little blue fairies who live out in the woods. He can’t help but wonder if the whispers might be the key to getting her back.
What I loved so much about this book is how strong Greg made Riley’s narrative, keeping true to how an eleven-year-old might perceive the world. Riley already knows that he’s gay. He refers to that is one of his “conditions” that he has to keep secret, and this is not his only one. He also crushes on Dylan who he refers to as the redneck superhero. Dylan’s in eighth grade and he keeps up his superhero status by actually acknowledging Riley, and occasionally defending him against the school bully.
Riley convinces his best friend Gary to go on an adventure in the woods to find The Whispers. Again, this trip reveals so much about Riley as he has to deal with a hobgoblin (or was it), the fact that Dylan may not be a superhero (or maybe he is) and the consequences of saying the wrong thing to your friend all the while trying to do the right thing so The Whispers will help him.
One of the extraordinary characters in this book is Tucker the dog. Tucker is Riley’s faithful companion, always at the boy’s side to nudge him in the right direction and keep him safe. The dog has an amazing personality that shines through Riley’s narrative. I don’t think I’ve ever read a dog on a page quite like Tucker and I absolutely loved it.
It’s a credit to Greg that he had me so invested in Riley that I didn’t try too hard to piece together what was happening. As the plot hurtled toward its conclusion I was constantly surprised and pivoted between sadness and happiness as the revelations came fast and furious.
Kudos to Kivlighan as well for capturing Riley so perfectly. It was a very satisfying audiobook experience.
This was my first Greg Howard book and I’ll definitely check out his other titles. I do very much recommend The Whispers if you’re looking for a superb read featuring an eleven-year-old who is going through a lot but comes out stronger and wiser on the other side.
American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera. Reviewed by Will.
When Camilo, a NYC social worker, goes to an absurdly swanky charity event that his boss can’t attend, he’s intent on enjoying the special evening, which includes chatting up the hottie he meets at the bar. After a few drinks and some suggestively flirty banter, he and Mr. hot stuff find a dark corner and make the night truly memorable.
The next morning, Camilo’s boss introduces him to Tom, the millionaire who’ll be financing their agency’s major renovation project. Tom also happens to be Camilo’s hot charity gala hook-up from the night before.
Aware how awkward the situation is, Tom agrees to keep things strictly professional from now on, but also asks that Milo be the point man on the project, keeping him up-to-date on the renovations.
Their weekly meetings begin to look more and more like dates – a meal at a fancy restaurant, a walk through the botanical gardens. Camilo is no fool, but as he gets to know Tom better – he’s certainly not your average philanthropic millionaire, there is more than meets the eye – the pretense of “keeping things professional” begins to hold less and less appeal.
When they can no longer deny the attraction, Tom takes Milo back to his place. The sex is amazing (of course), but the afterglow is short-lived when Tom’s ex drops buy with their daughter.
Tom shares custody of Libertad, his daughter, with his former husband. Learning of all of this (which Tom failed to mention up until that point) briefly throws Milo for a loop, but it’s hard to resist the precocious the little girl, and Milo falls even harder for the millionaire and his ready-made family.
A situation with Milo’s mom has him taking on more work and financial responsibility and, in addition to that, he’s working overtime as the massive renovation project is wrapping up.
He’s stretched almost to the breaking point. When Tom offers to help, the fiercely independent Milo insists he has it all under control.
Tom quietly takes care of things. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? In this case, no.
Camilo is furious.
As a reader, it’s hard not to feel frustrated by Milo’s stubborn streak. Your boyfriend is a millionaire for god’s sake! Get over yourself!
But it eventually becomes clear that Milo is, of course, right. Tom’s intervention robbed Milo of his own autonomy. It’s Milo’s choice whether or not to ask for help – no one else’s.
This is a deal-breaker for Milo and it causes a major rift in their relationship. Tom has to find a way to fix things, by doing the hard work and not using his money to solve their problems.
This is a romance, so Tom figures things out, and pulls off a grand gesture that is less grand, and more heartfelt and considerately thoughtful – which is exactly what Milo needed.
It all wraps up with swoon-worthy family vacation to the Dominican Republic.
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s 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, Adriana to the show. Thanks for being with us.
Adriana: Thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.
Jeff: So have we, to be honest, since we’ve read “American Dreamer” that we loved so much. So, a good first question is, what was the inspiration behind the “Dreamer” series?
Adriana: So, basically, I think I wanted to write Afro-Latinx characters. I’ve said this in a couple of other conversations I’ve had about the book. It was really a specific time, a couple of years ago, right after the election when there was just a lot of negative conversation around the place of immigrants in the U.S. And I just really felt compelled to write a story that I felt can honor my identity which is Afro-Latinx, and the Afro-Latinx immigrant experience. And I think representation has also been an issue for me, with romance specifically. There are stories of people of color in gay romance, but I felt like they were either really surface characters or there was like a real, like, toil story. You know, the person had to go through every kind of horrific thing.
So, I wanted to write something that could be nuanced and also show the joyfulness and the beauty of being a person that’s Afro-Latinx and all the amazing things that we come with. So, that was kind of where I was coming from. And I also really, really wanted a book literally full of…just like the gayest, most black and brown book I could write.
Jeff: That should almost be a quote on the cover.
Will: That’s funny.
Adriana: Yeah. I wanted it to be super gay, super black, super brown.
Jeff: So, right before we did this interview, Will raved about “Fairytale.” Tell us, in your own words, what that story is about, and kind of how it falls in the series.
Adriana: So, it’s the second book in the “Dreamer” series and it’s set in New York City, which is different from “Dreamer” which is set in Ithaca. And it’s about Camilo Briggs who’s one of the best friends of Nesto from the first book. And he’s a Cuban-Jamaican social worker. And he works in the domestic violence field, which is the same field that I work in. And he meets this, like, very hot stranger at a gala and he turns out to be a big donor for the agency that he works for, that Camilo works for. And Tom is an interesting character because he’s a billionaire, which we love in our romances, but he’s also Dominican and white-passing, which is something that I really wanted to explore in a book. What it means to be Latinx but also kind of have the privilege of presenting as a white person, and what that means, and how hard that is to navigate. So, I guess, it’s about… It’s a fairytale, it’s a modern-day fairytale but it’s also, again, like a different side to the Latinx experience. And it’s sweet and fun, and cute and sexy.
Will: Yeah, it definitely is. First, before we get to the next question, I want to commend you on the sort of…what I found really enjoyable about not only “American Dreamer” but “American Fairytale” as well is the group of friends, the sense of found family that comes across really strong in this series. I think it’s exceptionally well done. And especially in that first book because, like, right at the beginning, from the get-go, you introduce this, frankly, a really large cast of characters. And I think, with a lesser author, that could frankly get confusing.
I know when I read a book, I get confused easily if there are five, six, seven people, you know, names and personalities all thrown at you at once. But each of your characters, each of the friends in that group are so clearly delineated and…especially in that first book, in the opening scene, you give us the briefest glimpses of who they are, and we understand right away where they kind of fit in the group of friends. And of course, they’re all wonderful, and interesting, and funny. They give each other shit like good friends do. I love this group of guys so much.
Adriana: Thank you. I have to admit, they’re not my friends, but those four guys are very inspired on my, like, really core group of friends in my early 20s in the DR…when I was still in Dominican Republic. My core group of friends were mostly gay men because my cousin, who’s like my brother, who’s 14 months older than I, is gay. We kind of just like started hanging out with this group of, like, queer kids in the DR. Which in the ’90s was kind of an interesting crowd to be in just because it wasn’t really okay to be openly gay.
And we had so much fun. And we did so much, like, crazy stuff together. And I just kind of really wanted to kind of like write a love letter to those friendships and those years. And a lot of them ended up coming to the States at the same time I did, in my early 20s. So, I think they feel so real because they are, like, real.
Jeff: These books are getting so much praise. What do you think is resonating with the readers?
Adriana: I think people are more open now, or I think there were always those that were open to reading about those different experiences. But I think there’s a particular appetite now for reading more characters that are bringing with them a different lived experience. And I think that might be part of it, like why people are interested in the story. And I think everybody can connect to a striving story, you know. I think Nesto, and Jude, and Camilo, Patrice, Juan Pablo, all of them, they’re just striving to be who they know they deserve to be – for the lives that they’re working for. And I think everyone can relate to that and that struggle of fighting for what you want.
Jeff: Did you also intend to make everybody hungry with “American Dreamer?”
Adriana: Yes. Yes.
Jeff: Was that part of, like, your side plot?
Adriana: Yes. Yes, I did. I wanted because…also that’s the other piece, like Caribbean food is very similar but very different in many ways. And I talk about that a lot in “Dreamer.” And it’s the…I wanted to just show people, like, all the different flavors and how we’re all connected. So, I think it’s something that doesn’t really get talked about as much, the wide variety of our flavors. So, I did intentionally want people to be very interested in Caribbean food. I wanted people to Google Dominican restaurants and it sounds like I succeeded.
Jeff: I think you did, yeah. I haven’t gotten into “Fairytale” yet. Is there food there also or do we break away from the food a little bit?
Will: A little bit.
Jeff: A little bit.
Adriana: Yeah, a little bit. It’s not as much food. It’s more of…I feel like “Fairytale” is more about, like, Harlem and The Bronx. I have a lot of places in Harlem and The Bronx because again, there are a lot of romances set in New York City. Not many of them are set in Harlem and The Bronx. So, I wanted to go to the places where…like, the diaspora that I belong to, came to. So, I think that’s more… I’m hoping people Google places to go in The Bronx and Harlem with this one.
Will: That is a good goal to have, most definitely. Now, with this group of characters, they come from a lot of different backgrounds, what is your process for basically ensuring accurate representation? Is it all from your own personal experience or something else?
Adriana: Yeah. So far in this series…and I’m sure that as I write more, then I’m gonna have to go outside of that, but so far in this series, I’ve really gone with origin stories that I know of or from people that are, like, my friends or things like that, like Camilo’s mom, for example, is a Marielita, which was a specific group of Cuban refugees that came at a specific time to the U.S.. And I kind of touched upon that because that’s a very important influx of immigrants that came at a specific time. And they’re all particular experiences that I have been connected to through my friends or family. But I do think writing diaspora is something that people need to be more thoughtful about.
So, I try to think a lot about like when did this person come, how did they come, what was the political situation in the U.S. at that time, how they would’ve been received. Like, with Patrice, you know, he’s Haitian and he’s black. His experience and the way he was received would be different than, for example, Camilo’s mom who came as a Cuban refugee and had protected status as she came in to the U.S. So, it’s very…like, there’s nuances there in the context that really needs to be thought about because it really impacts how the person can integrate into American life.
Will: And speaking of writing from experience, you have a job in social work and advocacy, did you use your own personal experience when writing about Camilo’s work?
Adriana: Yes. So, Camilo’s work and my work…I mean, I really drew from what I do every day to kind of build Camilo’s agency. I mean, kind of like my wish list almost. I wish we could have a guy that just wants to drop $2 million on my agency and tell us, “Do whatever you want with it.” So, I think it was like my fantasy of what it would be like to be in an agency that is just being well-funded, and, like, resources are just there to do the work.
So, I think it’s like my own fairytale of what it would be like to work, and just have a millionaire just drop money on us. But, yes, it’s very, very connected to my own work and kind of like my philosophy around the domestic violence field and how the work should go.
Jeff: I like how you set the books in our extremely modern times too. And I think in “American Dreamer” as Nesto faces the discrimination of the, who I like to call the evil woman, how he deals with it because I think that it tells a story that not everybody necessarily thinks about all the time.
Adriana: Yeah. And I really wanted to contrast, even in the book like Jude’s own reactions to the racism and the obvious discrimination and sabotaging and Nesto’s reactions to it, and the reality that there are different consequences for some people than to others. And that that’s a reality you kind of just have to work with.
Jeff: And I loved how he dealt with it too, taking that high road. I just like, “Go, Nesto.”
Adriana: Right. I mean, it’s a reality, like, it could have a consequence that was like very, very difficult for him. So, he couldn’t just like get into a thing with this lady.
Jeff: Right. “American Dreamer” was your first book. How did you come into writing romance and specifically MM romance?
Adriana: So, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing an MM romance for a long time. I’ve been a MM romance reader for, like, a long time. I was at the first GRL (Gay Rom Lit Retreat). I’m like an OG of MM romance. But I was a lot more involved in the community, and then kind of stepped back. I got busy and I just kind of kept reading, but I had it in the back of my mind. I find that what MM romance brought to my life, in terms of dynamics and relationships, and seeing…like I said, having friends all my life that were gay men, and me being so close to so many men who were like looking to fall in love and not being able to see love stories. I remember when I started reading LGBT books, they were very, like, sad, very sad stories like in the ’90s, right? I mean, I grew up in the ’90s.
And so just finding your romance was something that was so incredibly wonderful for me. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if I could actually find my particular experience and the particular experience of the people who I love in those books?” So, it was kind of like a combination of going to a place…like the type of story that had been really meaningful to me, and then kind of putting my own experience into the space.
Jeff: What was it like to write the first book after having read so many? Was it kind of an easy process or was it crazy and hard and took years or…?
Adriana: So, it didn’t take me that long, if I’m honest, but I had been thinking about it for a long time. So, before I actually started writing, I kind of did a whole year of reading a lot of craft books, and going to workshops, and trying things. And I actually started a book set in Ethiopia, which is also a gay romance. And I got through a third of that and I was like, “I cannot write this book. I am not equipped to write a gay romance in Ethiopia right now.” And I decided I wanna do this story, this “Dreamer” story. And then that’s when I started it. But it was like a year and a half before I actually felt brave enough to actually write it. Yes.
Jeff: I’m so glad that you found that bravery. Who would you say your author influences are? You say you’ve read, you know, MM forever even before it was truly MM, back in the sadder days?
Adriana: Yeah. I have a lot of authors that…I mean, I’ve loved a lot of authors from the beginning that I think, I don’t know if I emulate, but I think about a lot in their…kind of how they render a story. Like K.J. Charles, I think, is a wonderful author. I think she just does things that are like phenomenal in writing. E. Lynn Harris was probably the first queer romance that I ever read. I think it’s really sad that he’s not, like, in the canon of what we talk about when we talk about queer romance.
So, yeah, but I mean there’s a lot of writers I like. Amy Lane’s early work was super significant for me. I thought her…some of her early books are really some of my all-time favorites. So, yeah, there’s a lot of authors that I kind of go back to and read just to kind of be inspired by the way that they render a story. Does that make sense?
Jeff: But what is it about those books that resonated for you so much?
Adriana: I think…well, first of all, it was they felt familiar in a way that was like a discovery almost, because I didn’t really ever know any people…a black man who was really exploring the falling in love and the feelings, and the struggle, and the conflicts of trying to make yourself happy, and to find the love that you have…to keep the love that you’ve discovered, right? So, I think his (E. Lynn Harris’) books thought were just so beautifully written, and so tender, and so heartbreaking. It was just wonderful. I think being raised in Dominican Republic where there’s, toxic masculinity on steroids, like, the tenderness of his books really was something that I hadn’t read before. I think it just was kind of like eye-opening to me.
Will: Now, so far in your “Dreamer” series, we’ve had Nesto and Jude’s story, and Camilo and Tom’s story. There is, of course…thank God, there’s going to be a third book. Whose story are we gonna get in that one and what can you tell us about that one?
Adriana: So, it’s Patrice’s book. Patrice is Nesto’s friend who is a Haitian-American man, who’s a professor. It’s set in Ithaca. He conveniently gets a job at Cornell in the economics department and moves to Ithaca. And he reconnects with Easton Archer who is a character that we meet in “Dreamer” who’s a prosecutor, an assistant district attorney in Ithaca. And Easton is white, so it’s an interracial romance. Yeah.
Jeff: When does that one come out?
Adriana: That one comes out in October. I just saw a proof for the cover last week…or no, earlier this week, and it is so nice. I love it. I think it’s my favorite one, and I really love the covers for both books so far. I’m calling it my Black Lives Matter romance, although it’s not super intense, but it’s definitely…like the conflict between Patrice and Easton is definitely revolving around kind of having to navigate both of, like, their positions in life.
Will: We got a brief glimpse of Patrice and Easton, like you mentioned in that first book. And then in “American Fairytale,” there was a scene with all of the friends together and Patrice sort of like phones in on Skype while they’re, like, dishing about Camilo’s love life, which was very, very funny. So, I’m genuinely looking forward to Patrice’s story. I think it’s gonna be amazing. I can’t wait.
Adriana: I know. I’ve been revising it, like I said, and I think it’s a sweet story. And then, there’s a little bit more of two characters that people have been curious about. Ari and Jin, who are employees of Nesto, and they are in their little tiny young person romance. So, they’re like a little cute element for a love story. It’s called “American Love Story.” It’s the title of Patrice’s story.
Jeff: Cool. And then you mentioned before we started actually recording the interview that you’re writing the fourth book right now. Any teasers on that?
Adriana: So, that one is not an MM. It’s an MF, actually. It’s Juan Pablo’s story. And Juan Pablo is…it’s like a, I’d say, a second chances story. And the heroine is Priscilla who is Nesto’s cousin, who’s a police officer. And it’s called “American Sweethearts.” So, the book starts with a wedding in the Dominican Republic, but I’m not gonna say whose.
Jeff: Oh, such a tease.
Will: Oh, man.
Adriana: Yeah. I’ll tease a little more when I have…I feel like I can’t tease too much on this book because it’s not even halfway done yet. But right now, I’m writing the first few chapters and they’re all in this wedding in the DR. So, everybody is there.
Jeff: But I do like how you…we’ve seen with some traditionally MF series where an MM book ends up in the series. And I like how you’re kind of spinning that around too, you’ve got an MM series so far and you’re putting an MF book in it just to, like, broaden that universe out.
Adriana: Yeah. So, my kind of little tagline is like, I write romance full of people who look and sound like my people. And there’s a lot of my people who are gay men, like so many of them. But not all of them are. So, I wanted to, in this series at least, have one story where, you know…like both Priscilla and Juan Pablo are queer. Like, she’s pan, he’s bi. But it’s also like a different type of, you know, experience because they’re both engaging in a straight relationship, which brings in…has its own privileges in terms of how it appears. So, I also wanted to explore that a little bit.
Jeff: And I think exploring the pansexuality too will be interesting because that doesn’t turn up in a lot of books, at least the ones that cross my radar. And I think it’s nice to see that representation alongside the ethic background representation that you’re bringing as well.
Adriana: Yeah, yeah. And it’s something that I think it’s…because of their age, I’m trying to kind of like engage a little bit in even Priscilla arriving to a place where she’s like, “Oh, actually, I’m pan,” as opposed to like, “I thought I was bisexual,” and how she arrived at that. Because I think that’s something that, for people my age, like I’m 40, it’s something that we arrived because we didn’t even have the language for that. Like, 15, 10 years ago, we were like, “Oh, I think I’m gay.” But then it’s like, “Oh, but there’s a whole spectrum of sexuality, gender identity.” And I think there’s so much that we didn’t know – that we know now – that should be coming up in books.
Jeff: It’s great that you’re leading the way to kind of get some of that out there, too.
Adriana: Yeah. It’s a great time to be writing romance, I think.
Jeff: So, besides the “Dreamer” books, is there anything else coming up that you’re looking to write in the coming…I’ll say years since “Dreamer” has you going for the rest of this year probably, if nothing else.
Adriana: Yeah, yeah. So, I do have a couple of things that I’m working on. I’m in the process right now of getting out this…I did write the gay romance set in Ethiopia, and I’m in the process of…like, I should have some good news about it soon. And it’s a romance set in Ethiopia, and it’s a Dominican-American relief worker. I did international relief work for a long time. And I lived in Ethiopia for about five years. And so, I really wanted to write a book set in Ethiopia because I have a lot of love for Ethiopia, and my years there were very significant in my life. So, it’s a gay romance. It’s not legal to be in a same-sex relationship in Ethiopia so there are complications. And it’s a Dominican-American relief worker and a colleague who’s Ethiopian, and they fall in love.
Jeff: I am so glad you finished that book. You kind of left that off back there when we were talking about it before, because that will be great to see… I have, you know, no experience in any of those spaces. So, to read a romance set there will be an adventure.
Adriana: Yeah. It was wonderful to write. Like I said, I have a lot of love for that country. And I think people’s perception of it is like, you know, people starving. And there’s just so much richness and so much beauty and magic in Ethiopia, that I really wanted to just show a different face to it. And I think it’s like a really sweet romance, too. And the setting is interesting. It’s more like a new adult. They’re in their 20s.
Jeff: Do you think it will be out this year, maybe?
Adriana: I don’t know of this year, but definitely early next year. Like, for sure early next year, yeah.
Will: Very cool. Fantastic. Definitely looking forward to that. Now, you’ve given us a lot of amazing information about all of your amazing books, but if our listeners want to learn even more, where can they find out more about you and your books online?
Adriana: So, they can go to my website, it’s adrianaherreraromance.com. I’m pretty active on Twitter, and my handle is @ladrianaherrera. And Facebook, I’m also there, Adriana Herrera. So, those are the places…and I’m on Instagram but not as much.
Jeff: Very cool. We will link to all of that, plus all the books in our show notes so that folks can easily click on that stuff to find you. Adriana, thank you so, so much for being with us. It’s been awesome talking to you.
Adriana: Thank you. It was so much fun and just as amazing as I thought it was gonna be to chat with you guys.
April was our most downloaded month ever. Thank you to our listeners!
Jeff and Will discuss their upcoming travel schedule. They will be at the Romance Writers of America national conference, Podcast Movement, Dreamspinner’s Author Conference and GayRomLit.
Jeff reviews Top Secret by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.
Jeff interviews Casey about her debut novel. They talk about the inspiration for Red, White & Royal Blue and the impact the 2016 election had on the story. In addition, they discuss the recently announced movie adaptation, what got Casey into writing romance and what she’s working on next.
Complete shownotes for episode 187 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. Reviewed by Jeff.
I’ve been a huge fan of Sarina Bowen’s for some years now. Her Understatement of the Year is among my favorite books of all time and I also love Him and Us which were co-written with Elle Kennedy. Sarina and Elle are back with their first m/m romance in three years with Top Secret.
They’ve written an extremely satisfying enemies to lovers romance that sizzles but also has some extremely sweet parts as well.
Keaton’s a college junior from a privileged family whose been with his girlfriend since high school. For her birthday, she announces that she wants a threesome. After brief thought Keaton agrees. He lives in a frat house where one of his frat brothers is Luke. Luke basically keeps to himself barely gets along with anyone in the house. Luke’s a townie, going to school on an academic scholarship and as a despicable mom and older brother who only want to take advantage of him. He lives in the frat because it’s cheaper than a dorm and he’s running for president because that means free room.
Keaton looks to an app to help find the right guy for this birthday present. He signs in as LobsterShorts and soon ends up talking to SinnerThree. Once SinnerThree finds out it’s Keaton’s first three way, he wants to make sure Keaton would be cool with him in the mix and to start considering what the rules would be. SinnerThree even gives sexy homework. This gets Keaton thinking because he’s buried his feelings about guys for a long time. Of course, SinnerThree is Luke, who lives right across the hall.
What makes this book work so extraordinarily well is the two sides of Luke and Keaton we see between their public personas and their chats on the app. Luke wants to escape the town and the life he’s known growing up. He strives to excel in school so he can get the high-paying job and never be reliant on anybody again. Meanwhile, Keaton knows he’s got all the privilege but he also chafes at the expectations that his family and friends put on him and he keeps all that to himself because it’s what he’s supposed to do.
When they’re chatting as SinnerThree and LobsterShorts the conversation occasionally drifts from figuring out what Keaton’s boundaries actually are to discussing their realities and what they want out of life. Their emotional shields fall away. The way Sarina and Elle transition from sexy to sweet and back again is perfect.
Of course, the night finally comes and Keaton and Luke find out they’ve been talking for weeks. The night doesn’t go as planned, but they don’t stop exploring their sexual feelings or sharing closely guarded secrets. Both guys have great growth as Keaton comes into his own, embracing his true sexuality and the career he wants after college. I’m particularly happy this wasn’t a gay-for-you story but rather about a young man figuring out who he is.
The battle for Luke is about his sexuality at all–he’s proudly bisexual. He can’t fathom that anyone could love him because of his terrible family. He’s been so battered by them, that he’s hesitant to accept help from anyone because it would surely come with strings. Thankfully, even though Keaton bungles quite a few things with Luke, he also works to make it right.
It’s a credit to Sarina and Elle that they have created such fully fleshed out characters who evolve so much through the story. I was invested in so much more than the romance because I wanted these guys to find their way too.
The motley crew of frat brothers also brought some great depth to the story as they were a mix of those who were genuinely kind and others were douchey. The parents were also an interesting contrast between Luke’s trailer trash and Keaton’s very well-to-do. Keaton’s father and mother are far more than meets the eye too. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but I have to call out them out too. It’s an example of Sarina and Elle creating multi-dimensional characters.
Another extraordinary part of the story for me was how the black moment played out. A lot of stuff goes down and there were plenty of opportunities to cheapen the story. The way the last twenty percent of the book played was perfect even while it provided me with quite a few moments of stress.
We’re headed into summer and this book is perfect for vacation reading. I highly recommend Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy.
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Reviewed by Jeff
I knew this book would be exactly right for me. I have a thing for the royal trope and the idea of an American first son and a British prince getting together made this a must read. What I didn’t expect was how Casey McQuiston elevated the material putting this enemies to lovers romance on the list of my all time favorites.
Alex Claremont-Diaz is the first son. Henry is the prince. They have secretly crushed on each other for years. They developed an enemies vibe at the Rio Olympics when they had a less than good encounter, especially from Alex’s point of view. Move forward to today and a near international incident set off by the two at a royal wedding. As part of PR disaster control, a story is created that Henry and Alex are actually the best of friends. After some forced outings to appease the press they start talking to each other more and get past their public personas.
One of the things that makes this story works so well is Casey has created an alternate history that many of us would like to see. Claremont took office from Obama so the Trump nightmare never happened. And it’s wonderful that her son is Mexican-American given the current hate filled climate around immigrants. There’s even a couple of lines in the book about how it’s not lost on Alex that there are some people who hate that a Mexican-American took the job of first son.
Alex and Henry talk a lot about the lives they want. They’re both expected to meet family obligations and be leaders for their countries–it’s not really what they want though.
The texts, emails and phone calls as Alex and Henry reveal more and more of themselves are absolutely priceless. At times funny and others heartbreakingly honest, they talk about how they feel trapped. As the first sparks of romance blossom between them their enemy side is quite fiery as they have rage filled kisses before succumbing to the fact that this is something that they both desperately want. The back-and-forth between sweet romance and the slightly angry romance enhanced the story as they fight against their feelings.
The reality stays firmly rooted throughout the story and I loved that. Sometimes the royal trope, as much as I enjoy it, is far more fantasy than reality. It’s part of what makes the trope so good–that chancea prince might be your neighbor. This world could exist–a prince and a member of the first family. Casey gives them all the trappings, including secret rendezvous’s that are partially orchestrated by their security teams.
Of course, as must happen the romance is horribly revealed and damages them both. The guys had to really work for the happy in this book, which makes the ending so sweetly satisfying. There were a lot of ways the end could’ve played out, but I can’t imagine one that would’ve been more perfect than what Casey gives us.
I haven’t felt as overall thrilled by a book as I have by Red White & Royal Blue in quite some time. It reminded me of reading Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and the wonder of such rich, vivid characters in a charming story that deserves to be real. Casey captured not only an America that I desperately want to live in but a romance that was everything that I ever wanted.
I could gush on and on about this book, and will more in the upcoming interview. For now I’ll leave this by saying that I beyond highly recommend Casey McQuiston’s Red White & Royal Blue.
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s 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: Casey, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining us.
Casey: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited.
Jeff: So, before we got to this segment, I spent a ton of time just going over “Red, White & Royal Blue” as being one of the best things I’ve read this year and one of my top books maybe in the “ever” category because it’s everything I needed in a romance with the prince trope and essentially royalty in the U.S. with the first son. And, I mean, Alex and Henry are so awesome. Tell us what your inspiration was behind this book?
Casey: Yeah. So I first started…actually, it’s weird. A couple of days ago, I was going through my Timehop which shows you, you know, what you tweeted two, three, four years ago, and I realized that, a few days ago, which is April 13th, was the day that I tweeted, “Hey, I just had this idea for a book.” And it took me back to that moment of the exact lightning strike moment when I knew what I wanted to write. And this is a question we’ll get into later, but it was one of many attempts at a book I had started and none of them had really taken hold of me like this one did. So it was early 2016, I was obsessively following the presidential election, which, you know, we all were at the time with a lot of optimism. And, at the same time, I was reading two books. I was reading “The Royal We,” which is by Heather Morgan and Jessica Cocks, and it’s basically almost a novelization of Will and Kate with a bunch of different things changed about it. So I was reading that. And I was also reading a super dry Carl Bernstein Hillary Clinton biography, which was a fun little juxtaposition.
And I had this idea in my head of I want to do… I’ve seen so many sub-versions of prince charming trope, but I feel, as a queer person, I’ve never seen one that seems the most obvious to me, which is, you know, what if, he wasn’t the perfect, going to produce a million heirs, prince, you know. And then on the other side, I was I loved “Chasing Liberty” when I was growing up and “My Date with the President’s Daughter” and I was really into the idea of a rom-com starring this rebellious first kid, and I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to do first, and I was like, “Wait a minute. If I put them both in the same story, I don’t have to pick.” So, honestly, it was me being indecisive that led to that decision. And on a wider scale, a bigger scope, I just really was looking for the perfect, fun escapist tropey rom-com that was so undeniably fun that the fact that it was also queer wouldn’t keep it out of the mainstream, you know, because a big thing that I want to do as an author and as a queer person is push those stories into the mainstream and be like, hey, you know, it’s kind of what they say in “Love, Simon,” everybody deserves to have a great love story, you know. And so everybody deserves to have a big shiny tropey, fun rom-com, you know. So, yeah, that was kind of where it came from for me.
Jeff: And there is so much rom-com-y goodness floating in this book. I think you pulled a little bit from everything. Without giving spoilers, because there could be some depending on what you pick for this, what are the rom-com moments that just sticks out for you as one of your favorites among all of them?
Casey: Wow, that’s a good question. I have pulled so many tropes from so many of my different favorite rom-coms. But there is this one thing that I love in every rom-com which is the gratuitous karaoke moment, which is actually if you ever watch “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” it’s a song on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” like “Shake Me Up.” Okay, yeah, that. So it’s like “27 Dresses” does it, and “10 Things I Hate About You” does it where it’s like somebody gets up and sings a song in front of a bunch people for no reason. And it’s like, “No, this doesn’t happen in real life, but it’s super fun.” And so writing the whole karaoke scene, which I don’t think is a spoiler, that was so much fun for me because I was, you know, as musical theater kid in high school, we all were, and so I got to be so indulgent with that, and it was such a blast. I loved it.
Jeff: I think you picked a great one right there because you’re right, there is that moment. There’s even that movie, which of course I’m blanking out on right now, that was like…it was a Rebel Wilson movie earlier, I think this year, that she’s, like, there’s always the karaoke moment that she ends up trapped in the karaoke moment in her own little thing.
Casey: I love the karaoke moment.
Jeff: That says a lot about people, the songs they pick.
Casey: It does. It’s character shorthand for sure. Yeah. Like when Bea gets up and sings “Call Me” by Blondie in the book I’m like, “This is what she’s about, you know.”
Jeff: Yeah. There have been so many accolades on this book before it even got published. I mean, we were reading about it, I think in “Blush” almost two months ago now. What’s resonating so much with all these pre-readers?
Casey: God, you know, I mean, just to start off, I’ve been, completely blown away by the response to it. When I wrote this book I was like, “This is so niche.” It’s a queer political rom-com with royal elements. And also we talk about gerrymandering in it, and I was like, “This is so niche,” no one’s gonna care, no one’s going to publish it. I was like, “I’m going to try and query this for a month, and then I’m just going to self-pub,” you know. And the fact that people have engaged with it so much and that it has gotten, I think three-star reviews now which is just blowing my mind completely, so beyond grateful for those.
It’s just been so staggering and incredible. But, I don’t know, I think that right now the world is really depressing. We live in a world right now that is at times literally on fire, you know. And it is so important to have these little oases or moments of respite and little escapist things because when I first started writing this book, I’m so neck deep in the news cycle and I really couldn’t finish it until I pulled out of it because I realized that wasn’t what it needed to be. It didn’t need to be mired in all of the negativity and all of the darkness that was going on in the world. It needed to be this spark of hope, you know, that would kind of feel… I think about when Obama won re-election in 2012, and I was with my friends. I was in college at the time and we went out on the balcony, and popped a bottle of $60 French champagne, and I think about how I felt in that moment and I was like, “I want this book to feel like that moment,” you know. And I think that a lot of people have been missing that feeling. I think that we have so few things, especially when we look at the political sphere right now, to be excited about and to be hopeful about.
And I think that we’re all just nostalgic almost for when we had hope. And I think that what this book does is it lives in the space of being here and now and still having hope, you know, and I think that’s really resonating with people. And then I also think that people are just excited to see…we’re seeing it with Helen Hoang and Jasmine Guillory who are writing romances that are integrating, you know, neurodiverse characters and just racially diverse characters. I think a lot of people are tired of seeing, you know, the same two straight white cisgender, neurotypical people falling in love, you know. And so I think that people are hungry for something that’s different in rom-com that can show that different types of people can have that same big, huge, escapist magical love story. So that’s kind of where I think it comes from.
Jeff: You noted that you started writing this in 2016, essentially before the election happened. Do you think you would have written the same book had Hillary won?
Casey: That’s a great question. And the book I had planned to write before the election went the way that it did was a different book. There were so many threads that I ended up dropping. I, at one point, had…and this was before anything about Russia had come up. I, at one, point had… a Russian double agent involved in the campaign and I was like, “This is too unrealistic. No one’s going to buy this. I’m cutting this,” you know. And now I’m like, “God…” But, yeah. I mean, it definitely…I think it would have been more lampooning the Democratic Party…not that I have anything against the Democratic Party as someone who is registered as Democrat, but it would have been more of “Veep” style, you know, that we’re all on the same side here, so we’re going to send each other up kind of thing. And instead it’s still very tongue in cheek, and it still has that “Veep” side to it, but it needed to have more of…. it needed to be less cynical, basically, you know, because I don’t think that we can really afford a lot of cynicism right now beyond what, you know, roasting the President on Twitter is cynical, I guess.
But, yeah, I think that there are certain things that happen in the plot that never probably would have been explored if the results of the election had gone differently because I don’t think I would have felt as much of an urgency to put those into the story. So, yeah, it definitely would have been different. It definitely would have been a lot different. But the President was always the same. President Claremont was the same character from the moment I came up with the idea for the book. She’s like Tami Taylor, from “Friday Night Lights” meets Wendy Davis, the politician from Texas, meets a tiny bit of Selina Meyer from “Veep” and probably every strong female in my life, you know. So, yeah, long story short, yes, it would have been different.
Jeff: One of the things I like about it so much, and you touched on this a little bit, is that it’s not two white guys getting together because Alex is Mexican-American. And certainly given how things have played out under the current administration, having that element in the White House as first son, it says a lot. And Alex comments on this, you know, periodically as he’s kind of going through things and how that aspect of his heritage plays into things. Did you have that set early on or did that kind of manifest as we saw how immigrants were being treated post-election and even during the election cycle for that matter?
Casey: Sure. Well, the minute…it kind of was, like, the plot itself that informed what Alex would be because, like I said, the first character I came up with was the president and everything kind of formed around her. And I’m from Louisiana, and I have this huge chip on my shoulder about democrats, and liberal people, and progressive people in red states because I was one for so long. I live in a purple-y state now. But, you know, I feel they’re so often written off and discredited, and I can probably count on one hand the number of actual presidential candidates who came and campaigned in my hometown, which is the capital of Louisiana. And people just don’t see anything worth investing in. So I wanted to do a southern Democrat. I didn’t think that a Louisiana Democrat was that realistic, so I did a Texas Democrat. And from the minute I knew she was from Texas, I was like, “Well, it would make sense for her to have married a Mexican man, or a, you know, a first or second generation Mexican man.” And it just kind of went from there where I was, like, “You know, I really do like that idea of that.” I spent so much time in Texas, I know so many people from Texas, I know so many Tejanos and people… it just made sense to me. And then, you know, the more that the rhetoric kind of got really vitriolic about Mexican immigrants around the election, I was like, “Yeah, fuck you. Actually, I am gonna put some Mexican people in the White House.” Yeah, that’s what’s gonna happen.
I did as much as I could with it. Obviously, I’m white, and I did a ton of research, I talked to a ton of Mexican friends of mine, and especially Tejano first or second generation people. And then what I’m really excited about with the movie is that we have the opportunity to bring in more people on the creative side who are Latino who can offer more of that voice, that can go farther than I could go with it and that can explore more things with it. So, yeah. It just felt really natural to me, he’s from Texas, of course, he could be half Mexican. That’s just so typical there. So, yeah, it was a very natural progression of the character for me.
Jeff: And in a weird twist, I’m actually interviewing you from Dallas.
Casey: Yes, I know. I was just thinking about it. That’s so funny. Yeah. I feel like that’s appropriate. I feel the stars aligned to have you interview me from Texas.
Jeff: And finish the book while I’m in Texas. It was kind of crazy.
Casey: Yeah. That’d be so appropriate. I’m really excited because my second tour stop is in Austin, and I’m so excited. I haven’t been to Austin, like, a year or two, and it’s just feels so right to go back with this book. So I’m so excited.
Jeff: There is a ton of history in this book. Henry goes into a lot of history of the monarchy. And one of the things I loved is in the emails that Alex and Henry are trading, they end up and quote a lot of literature or other letters of historical people. How much of that was in your head, and how much was “I need to go off and do a ton of research?”
Casey: So, for me, a lot of…when I was talking about… there’s parts where after Alex starts figuring stuff out, he starts, like, develops independent research of, like, let me remediate myself on queer American history, and reconnect with it, which I think is something that a lot of queer people in their 20s do. Especially for me when I was 20, 25, and then I started to figure myself out, I was like, “Wow, I need to know the first thing about my own community.” And so I went back and really read a lot and educated myself. And so a lot of the American history, American queer history was stuff I was already familiar with because that’s something that I felt was my responsibility to learn in the past. But, yeah, I definitely didn’t know a lot about queer British history at all.
And so that was a lot of reading for me, a lot of, you know, finding history threads on Twitter, and then okay, I’m gonna go look up all these stories individually, and find out what’s the real truth, because things get twisted online. But, yeah. The letters kind of started with…and this is gonna date when I started writing this, but I was really coming off the “Hamilton” high, you know, which I think we all were in early 2016. It was like, “Oh, man, I’ve been mainlining Alexander Hamilton history for six months, you know.” And, you know, I was really interested… I love all of Hamilton’s love letters with Eliza, but there was also his letters with Florence that were really fascinating to me, and I had started looking into that and that was how I found this book called “My Dear Boy” by Rictor Norton. And I found that because I was researching the Hamilton Lawrence letters, and that was where I found a lot of the letters that are featured in the emails. And then I also was looking into Virginia Woolf, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and all those figures from history who also have a lot of archive letters that are very interesting. And, yeah, honestly, it was almost…I had a blast with it because it was just a queer history, like Easter egg hunt.
And, you know, I intentionally did that in the book because I pictured this book…I pictured it being something that a lot of people at different points in their journey with queerness would read, and I would want…let’s say some 19-year old who’s just figuring things out, and they don’t really know anything about queer history, I’m like, “Well, here’s the name of something that you should go look up.” “Here is ‘Paris Is Burning,’ go watch it,” you know, kind of thing. And so it was, it’s really, a bunch of sneaky history lessons. I’m a nerd, and I was like, “You should know this, too.” But, yeah, I had a blast doing that. And then just research, in general, was just so much fun. I spent so much time poring through the royal collection archives online, just for throwaway jokes and stuff. I was a journalist for six years before I quit to do this full time. And so, yeah, I’m a huge nerd and I love historical context for everything because that’s just what I’ve been wired to do for so long. So, yeah, that’s kind of where it all comes from for me.
Jeff: And my musical theater geek self loves that “Hamilton” had a play in that because I kind of felt that I was reading some of it’s like, “This seems very ‘Hamilton’ in some ways that they’re using this.”
Casey: I battled with myself over whether “Hamilton” was a thing that existed in this universe, and if I should mention it in the book, and I was like, “I’m not gonna,” because it’s still so fresh and I feel it’s gonna date the book a lot. But it’s definitely, like, there’s this undercurrent of we’re doing colonial rap battles under the text, you know.
Jeff: That’s one of the things I like about this so much is that it is current revisionist history, you know, because, I mean, most of it, and this doesn’t get to a spoiler, most of it is leading into the 2020 election, with Claremont being President in the here and now and having succeeded from Obama. Yeah, its current revisionist history. It’s very interesting how that plays itself out. Now, I think we mentioned that this is your first book that’s out there in the world. What got you into writing romance and specifically m/m romance?
Casey: I mean, I have always consumed all types of media and this is my one sacrilegious answer that I give in interviews which is I’m really more into movies and TV than I am into books, and that is the most media that I consume. It’s not what I write, I’m not a screenwriter, I’m not good at that type of writing, but it is where I pull most of my influences from, and what I consumed the most as a kid, I mean, unless you count “Harry Potter,” which everybody read…
Jeff: Which does very much exist in the “Red, White & Royal Blue” universe, which I also love.
Casey: Oh, yeah, very much so. But what I engaged with about all of those things was the relationships in them. I’ve watched “Lost” and I was like, “I don’t care about Dharma, or the clues or what this island actually means to the polar bear,” I was like, “I care about that everybody’s gonna end up together that I want to end up together in the end, you know,” and it was always like that with everything I watched. I’ve watched “Buffy,” and it was always about that for me. It was like, “This is cool, mythology is cool, whatever, but, like, Spike,” you know. And it really that was just what grabbed me, and so I knew that was what I was always gonna wanna write. And I tried to write other genres. Every other book I tried to start writing was young adult, magical realism, or young adult fantasy, which is clearly not my genre. And I tried a bunch of different false starts in those genres, and it didn’t pan out for me.
And this was, like I said, the first time, I had an idea that completely grabbed me. And I think, like I said earlier, I gravitate to writing queer fiction for the same reason that straight people gravitate to writing straight fiction which is that I’m a queer person, and it’s my experience, it’s what I know. I didn’t really come into this book with an idea of what the gender should be more than what the story would be and it formed around that because I didn’t think that the story would take on all of the same qualities. If it was two women, you know, I thought that it would be a little different tone. I felt if it was two women there’d be a porn parody within 15 minutes of it coming out, you know.
And so it’s just, there’s just different ways that lesbian couples and gay men couples are perceived by the world I felt, and for this story it made more sense with two men, and I also wanted to do that prince charming trope sub-version. And so it just kind of told me what it wanted to be. But my next book is…it’s about two women, and it’s a completely different story. And so, yeah, I really…honestly, it’s just me trying to make queer rom-coms a mainstream thing more than anything else.
Jeff: More power to you. And, so far, it looks like you’re doing a great job with that.
Casey: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Jeff: This question may not have a good answer based on what you just told us about your kind of TV and movie thing, but are there authors who influence you?
Casey: Well, yeah, I mean there are definitely authors that influence me. I loved Oscar Wilde growing up which is, you know, I was 15, my sisters, I remember being at my sister’s college graduation with highlighter and sticky tabs going through “The Importance of Being Earnest.” So, yeah, I did my term paper in high school on “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and I was like, “This is straight behavior.” But, yeah, Oscar Wilde was a huge influence on me. The “Harry Potter” books, yes, of course, they influenced me.
I read a lot of non-fiction and a lot of memoirs actually because I love the voice of them, and I think that’s what helps me to have a good narrative voice. So I love Carrie Fisher’s writings, I love…Nora Ephron’s memoirs are all incredible, Mary Karr. Let’s see, what else. I’m looking at my bookshelf right now. What else do I read? Jane Austen, obviously, the classics of romance, you know. And then more recently, my favorite author right now is Taylor Jenkins Reid. “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is my favorite book I’ve read in the past couple years and definitely has earned a spot on my all-time faves shelf. And so that’s definitely… And I loved how she does a lot of…she does a lot of what we call in journalism alternate story formats, so epistolary style things that are threaded into the book, which is something that obviously I really love too.
And then yeah, that’s…I mean, I read a lot…at least I read a lot of non-fictions like Rebecca Traister and Roxane Gay, those are those are all my faves. But then I pull from a lot of a lot of TV and movies. The biggest influences on this were “Veep,” “Parks and Rec.” There is this web series called “The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo” that I love, and it’s so millennial absurdity that it really kind of like… there’s a shout out to it in the book because they play the song, “Loco In Acapulco” by The Four Tops in that show, and I put that in the book. Yeah. So I’m kind of all over the place. I have a lot of influences and a lot of things that kind of all feed into what comes out of my brain.
Jeff: So let’s talk movie. You hinted that a little bit ago. Amazon and Greg Berlanti picked this up before, you know, again before it’s even published out to the world. What was your reaction when you first heard that that was a done deal?
Casey: Well, I mean, it was so many stages of reaction because what people don’t see behind the scenes is that the process is crazy. It starts with I have a Hollywood agent, and she sends it out to people and then one producer expresses interest and then more producers can if they want to, and then it turns into you’re on the phone with, you know, such and such from whatever huge production company, and it’s like, “I’m not qualified to do this.” And you talk to those and you pick your producer, and that’s how I picked Berlanti. And I was just really excited to even have a chance to work with them because I’ve loved so much of their work, not even just looking at “Love, Simon,” and going back to “Political Animals” which was a six episode series that’s on Netflix. It’s got…honestly, I have to say one of my touchstones too because it’s got Sigourney Weaver is the president in that which is just amazing, and they’ve got Sebastian Stan as one of the president’s kids, and he’s very tortured, and recovering from addiction, and he’s gay, and he’s Sebastian Stan so he’s crying, you know, and very beautiful.
But, yeah. So I just knew that he had the range for it and I also knew that based on “Love, Simon” that production company had the chops to get an unapologetically queer rom-com into the mainstream. But also it was on a personal level, I just remember going to see “Love, Simon” in the theater and that was probably a week after I signed my book deal. And I showed up with an entire eight-inch Jimmy John’s sub in my purse because I knew I was going to cry and I like to eat my feelings. So it was literally me alone. I had to drive 15 minutes out of my city because I was living in Louisiana at the time to find a theater that was playing it, and it just me alone in the theater with my sandwich and was just weeping to Jennifer Garner, you know.
And I just remember getting in my car and thinking if my book could make people feel half as seen as I just felt by watching that movie, then I will be so, so happy. And so I’d have the chance to do, to kind of pay forward what that feeling was for me to the next round of people, especially queer people, meant so much to me. And then yeah, Amazon, they just care so much about the project. They’re so passionate about it. They want it to, you know, really…they’re actually really invested in diversifying what is in the market, and taking some risks, and doing projects like this. And it’s just so incredibly mind-blowing, and it really doesn’t feel real yet to have people want to invest those kinds of resources in a story that I wrote.
More than anything, I’m just so excited about what it could represent and what it could mean to people. I think about like…and not to at all compare the histories of these communities, but I think about “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” and what those movies meant to have as big cinematic events geared around a demographic that wasn’t usually catered to by the mainstream, you know, and what it meant for those people and what it represented for the future of storytelling for different groups. And I like the idea of being able to make any kind of similar impact with movie is incredible. And I really hope that we can do that, and I really hope that it can be the beginning of a lot more queer rom-coms, you know. So, yeah, it’s amazing. I’m so, so humbled, and amazed, and really excited to see what comes next with it.
Jeff: As you were writing, I think all authors tend to cast their books to some degree. Do you have in mind, and knowing this is totally separate from anything that Amazon and Berlanti might do…
Casey: Sure. Sure.
Jeff: …do you have in mind who Alex and Henry are, at least in your head, as you were writing if you had to assign them an actor?
Casey: Well, it’s so hard because…and this is kind of an indictment of the state of Hollywood and that is slowly beginning to change, but there really aren’t a lot of young Latino actors out there choose from, you know. And so it was… there really wasn’t a definitive Alex in my head because I have looked and looked and it was so hard to find someone that fit. And that’s what’s exciting to me about the movie is I think that we will get a chance to kind of give a star making role to some young unknown Latino actor, which would be amazing, and I would love to do that. And Henry is just very elusive. There’s five million charming white British men, but in my head, he’s just so specific-looking, and I have not yet found anyone that matched him. But the parts that were, I think, easiest for me to assign an actor to were like… I always pictured Daniel Day-Lewis as Richards with like the silver foxy and then, Ellen Claremont in my head from day one has been Connie Briton. And then, I mean, Rafael Luna in my head is Oscar Isaac for sure, you know.
Jeff: Oh, yeah. I like that.
Casey: There’s some characters that I came up with the character first and then tried to figure out what they looked like, and there are other characters where… with Rafael Luna I was like, “I want a character who looks like Oscar Isaac. What’s he going to be?” you know, and that was kind of how that came to be. But, yeah, I’m really excited casting is going to be so much fun, and I’m very excited about it. And I’m really, really excited about just getting to see, you know, what we can do for some…I think there’s gonna be a lot of unknowns in the lead roles, and that’s going to be amazing because they’re going to be able to really step into and embody those characters without it being distracting, like, “Oh, that’s like so and so. I look at them and all I see is the character they played in ‘Game of Thrones’ or whatever.” Yeah. so I think that’ll be, you know, a fun thing. But, yeah, that’s kind of it for that.
Jeff: Do we get to see more of Alex and Henry in the future do you think?
Casey: I think that I would not rule that out, and that’s all I can really say about that.
Casey: Yeah. I think that that would be amazing. I would love to do that.
Jeff: And you mentioned your next book is going to be a female pairing.
Casey: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s completely different from this. It’s a much smaller scope of a world. It’s just a girl who moves to New York, and she’s from the south. I don’t think I will…I don’t know if I will ever write a protagonist that’s not from the south because that’s just so deeply ingrained in me and in my voice. But she’s from south, she moves to New York, and she kind of stumbles into this roommate situation where it’s just sort of ragtag band of misfits kind of thing. And she develops this huge crush on this hot chick who’s on her subway commute every day. And it’s kind of based on the idea of that way that you fall in love with something on public transit for like 20 minutes, and then you step off, and it’s like they never existed anywhere other than the train. They’re just there for 20 minutes, and you never see them again. But the thing is that she sees this girl every single time she’s on the train. And there’s kind of a twist as to… I will say there’s some light rom-com-y style time travel shenanigans that happened, and the girl on the train is not exactly everything that she seems. And so the whole book is about their relationship and at the same time trying to figure out what’s going on with this girl. But it is rom-com, and it’s super fun, and, of course, it has a gratuitous karaoke moment.
Casey: Well, it’s more of like there’s a gratuitous karaoke moment, and there’s a gratuitous drag show moment. Yeah, so, range. But I’m really excited it. I’m hoping…I mean, obviously, we haven’t set a date for it yet, but it is super, super personal, book of my heart for me, and I’m really excited for people to read it.
Jeff: Fantastic, definitely looking forward to that.
Casey: Yeah. Yeah. It’ll be awesome. I’m excited.
Jeff: What’s the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they could track your progress with what’s up with Alex and Henry and also the new book and everything else?
Casey: Yeah, Twitter for sure. I’m kind of been taking a step back lately because since we announced the movie my notifications have been busted, you know. But, yeah, I’ll definitely be back on more especially during tour. I tweet out playlists and a lot of little trivial information like their birth charts and things like that on there, and then also Instagram. That one is more for like I’m here for this tour date kind of thing. So yeah, those are my big two ones. It’s casey_mcquiston on Twitter, and then casey.mcquiston on Instagram.
Jeff: Very cool. Well, we will put the links to all of that in the show notes.
Casey: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Jeff: “Red, White & Royal Blue” comes out on May 14th, and we wish you just continued success because it’s been so much already and look forward to seeing the movie and everything else that comes from it.
Casey: Yeah, thank you so much. I’m so, so grateful, and it’s been so much fun. So thank you so much for having me on.