We're away at our extended RWA/NYC trip so it's a super short show this week as we review some books for your summertime reading. Jeff reviews two books in Gregory Ashe's Hazard and Somerset Series: Guilt by Association and Reasonable Doubt. Will celebrates Christmas in July and reviews Deck the Halls by Max Walker.
Complete shownotes for episode 199 are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
Guilt by Association & Reasonable Doubt by Gregory Ashe. Reviewed by Jeff.
I’m so happy that I binged books four and five in the Hazard and Somerset series since book six, the most recent, has just come out on audio this month.
Let me start by saying that I loved both of these books, as I have the entire series. Gregory turns the screws more with each book, which you should really read in order to get the most impact. The mysteries get more complicated and shocking while the slow burn romance between Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset gets closer to an inferno.
In Guilt by Association, Hazard and Somers have yet another murder on their hands–this time slimey Sheriff Bingham. Bingham loomed large for many reasons in book three and for him to be the victim this time was a shock…and yet not given how messed up things are in Wahredua. Their investigation is hampered by a special investigator who comes to town and sidelines them, having them work on only minor details. Hazard and Somers continue to pursue–of course they do!–and soon enough they unravel more corruption and entanglements than we’ve seen in the series so far.
If Guilt by Association provided the most twisted plot yet, Reasonable Doubt provided the most disturbing, which caught me off guard given some of the things that happened in Paternity Case. John Oscar Walden, leader of a local cult, is murdered and his followers believe that he’ll be resurrected in three days just like Christ. As such, they’re not much interested in helping the police, but as Hazard and Somers dig into this they discover that they may actually need to protect and save the killer. This book delves deep into what draws people into cults, how members work to protect each other and how that can get twisted so badly. That, along with the religious overtones, made this book more difficult than the others for me and I found myself having to put it aside for a bit to recover. Don’t get me wrong though, the book was well worth the read and the angst it gave me.
To discuss some of the things I loved about these books I’m going to go into some spoiler territory. If you want to avoid those, please do skip ahead.
First of all, how Gregory manages to keep ratcheting up the tension book to book is mindblowing. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating that he structures incredible plots and does an amazing job of making every word count and tying everything together. That’s very much the case here.
Towards the end of Guilt by Association and all the way into Reasonable Doubt, Hazard and Somers’s finally become a couple. Hazard breaks up with Nico–happy dance over that–and our two detectives can finally be together. Their banter and way the treat each other shifts in the most amazing way as the walls between crumble. Along with this, Hazard has moments where he is caring for Somers’s daughter, Evie, and it’s incredible and precious to see the fatherly side of him. Hazard’s a hell of a superhero too…which is all I’ll say on that because I don’t want to get too spoilerly but if you’ve read you know exactly what I’m talking about and if you haven’t you certainly will.
We get more about Hazard’s past in these books too and it’s terrible how he was treated as a teenager (which we already knew but more details come into focus here) and how that made him into the man he is. Details on his relationships before he came to Wahredua finally get told. Somers has revelations too and in some ways his were even more shocking and reveal how much he’s cared for Hazard all these years. To Gregory’s credit he’s withheld the details for the perfect reveals and it shows even more what an incredible storyteller he is.
I loved that Hazard’s father shows up in Reasonable Doubt. You see where Hazard gets his bristly side. There’s a heated discussion between the two and where they end up provided one of the most unexpected twists of any of the books.
As always, Tristan James is an outstanding voice talent for this series. In particular some of the voices of the cult members in Reasonable Doubt gave me the chills and his characterization of Hazard’s dad was perfect.
I plan to dive into book six, Criminal Past, within the next few weeks. Even more exciting that finally catching up is that Gregory revealed that a seventh Hazard and Somerset book is coming this fall.
Deck The Halls by Max Walker. Reviewed by Will.
Merry Christmas in July!
Deck the Halls is part of Max Walker’s Stonewall Investigations series and acts as a bridge to the spin-off Stonewall Investigations Miami. It’s worth noting that I haven’t read either of these series. Deck the Halls is billed as a stand-alone story, and I can assure you that it does indeed stand perfectly well all by itself.
Let’s get to the story.
Sassy, nice guy Andrew is the office manager at Stonewall Investigations in NYC. When his marriage implodes, the only thing he has to look forward to this holiday season are divorce proceedings.
When Declan Covington walks into the office, it’s lust at first sight. After some flirting, Declan proposes Andrew accompany him on holiday.
Declan will be the only member of his family without a significant other in attendance at the yearly Christmas gathering. If Andrew agrees to play his boyfriend for the week, it’ll take some family pressure off him and will give Declan the chance to cheer up the irresistible Andrew.
‘Fake Boyfriends’ for the win!
The story moves to the grandly elegant Covington family estate which is festooned in grandly elegant holiday splendor.
Declan and Andrew have a private guest house all to themselves and it’s not long before they realize that they’ll want this ‘fake’ relationship to be consummated underneath the mistletoe.
Andrew is a hit with most of Declan’s family, with the exception of his step-father and snobby step-siblings.
After a romantic horseback ride, a hook-up in a luxury treehouse, and a blowjob in a barn that has been transformed into a candy cane forest, our heroes get down to business solving the big mystery.
After all, there must have been a reason for Declan to show up at Stonewall Investigations in the first place, right?
Declan’s mother has been ‘misplacing’ expensive pieces of jewelry and no one has been able to explain the mysterious disappearances. Declan has his suspicions about the thefts, but it’s Andrew, using his deductive instincts (and some tricks he’s picked up while working at Stonewall) who finally cracks the case.
Our heroes solve the crime, get their HEA, and start a new life in Miami, where Andrew manages the new branch office of Stonewall Investigations.
I love this story so much and this couple so very much, that I struggle to come up with anything else to say. It’s obvious from the beginning that Andrew and Declan are going to be great together, they have that intangible ‘it’ factor, that undeniable chemistry on the page.
Max Walker should be commended. Creating characters that are engaging and leap off the page is not something that every author can do.
There’s heat and sexual tension from the first moment out heroes meet, but even after they’ve had sex, there’s still that chemistry and humor and that undeniable feeling the reader gets that these two people are supposed to be together… that they’re meant to be together.
I loved Andrew and Deck’s story. It’s a wonderful worthwhile read, no matter the time of year.
Jeff & Will talk about their upcoming trip to New York City for the Romance Writers of America national conference and reveal the news that they will be among the presenters at the RITA Awards ceremony on Friday, July 26.
Will reviews The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee while Jeff reviews a book Bonnie co-wrote with Summer Devon called The Nobleman and the Spy.
Jeff interviews Michael Vance Gurley about his new YA steampunk novel Absolute Heart (Infernal Instruments of the Dragon #1). Michael discusses the inspiration behind the story, what he did to build the world it takes place in and what he hopes for the trilogy. He also talks about what's coming up next for him.
Complete shownotes for episode 198 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Welcome Michael to the podcast, or back to the podcast I should say.
Michael: I'm super excited. Thanks for having me Jeff.
Jeff: Yeah. We were talking before I hit the record button that we last had you on in Episode 42 and now we are at 198, it's kind of crazy. So like you did the first time we had you on, you've come up with a book that I didn't even know I needed to read when I first got to read it. So you've got this YA book called 'Absolute Heart'. It's the first book in the 'Infernal Instruments of the Dragon' series. Tell everybody what this is about, both the book and the series behind it.
Michael: 'Absolute Heart' is above all else a steampunk book. It's an adventure set in a world where clockwork powered England - in 1880s Victorian era England - is at war, a sort of Cold War, when we first pick up the series, against the Magically Powered Ireland who's been kind of besieged by the Brotherhood of the mage. It's a clock. It's a warlock group that is sort of made the queen subservient to them in ways you have to find out when you read it. And it's really the story about two boys. Gavin the high councilman's son from England and his friends, following him when he has these terrible secrets - he thinks they're terrible - and when they're found out he could be executed for them, for at least one of them. So he does what all teenagers do when they have something awful happen and they think they're gonna get trouble, he runs away and his friend, his best friend Landa who's an art officer, which is a mechanic, a computer engineer and she's a powerful female character that I'm really proud of. And she has his back and challenges him and calls him foolish when he's foolish and she goes with him and some other people who have their own agendas on this quest. Then the other side, the Brotherhood, sends Orion of Oberon who is a young warlock of immense power because he's the nephew of the ailing Irish Queen. They send him off to get the most powerful weapon in the world - the dragon stones and there's a lot of mystery and history about the dragon stones and what they are and what they can actually do, but they want them to end this war in their favor.
So of course they have a meet cute, or at least I hope people think it's a meet cute.
They have to decide like, are they going to get together? Will they/won't they? Of course, there's the will they/won't they thing. I'm really excited about the steampunk adventure and it sets off and is set to be a trilogy so I'm really excited about that, and hopefully people will like it - the inclusion of fairies and the air steamships and all the wonder that is steampunk.
Jeff: Steampunk it's so not really anything I read... I dabble in it periodically, but something about Gavin and Orion and the bad ass friend you gave Gavin. Full disclosure to the listeners, I read a very early draft of this. You have a lot going on in book one, what you've parroted back now, into a more condensed story, but how did all this coalesce and come together and what was the inspiration?
Michael: You really should pat yourself on the back because your viewers should know that you read an early ARC and gave me notes, and edited, and really kind of dissected it for me - like, wherever it was messy you, like a good editor said, "That's messy."
The research starts with reading steam punk books and reading a lots of YA, which is of course a terrible addiction of mine. In reading all of that steampunk and finding those characters that you like, and you want to write about - because I use Scrivener, you have the photo option to put your vision of the characters, the places, the ships - you put photos in there and I work with a split screen so I can always reference that, so I never really lose track of it. But yeah, it was great looking into all that steampunk stuff and going into like Cassandra Claire's 'Clockwork Angels' series or Scott Westerfield's 'Leviathan' series. And if I can get even a little bit of that spirit I'll be really happy. But it starts with loving steampunk. You really should write what you know and write what you love. I've never been an airship captain but I love reading about them and I love that whole idea. And you know, thinking about like 'Leviathan', that series has a powerful gender bending quality to it, with the girl because she has to, dresses like a boy and acts like a boy in order to have a career - and I love that. I hope I've engendered Landa with that a little bit as well.
Jeff: What went into creating your world of magic in Ireland and steam power and clockwork in England, because there's so much that you can pull from to create the steampunk universe. What was your decision to make these things your universe?
Michael: Steampunk is - one of the amazing things about it is, an amazing thing about worldbuilding as well, is you can go with historical fiction. You know, like my first book and it's wonderfully creative but you're also stuck with... you can't lie.
It's historical fiction, you can make up characters and you can make up some things, but really if you get too far away from reality, people stop believing in what you're writing about with historical fiction. At least I think so. I stuck with the roaring 20s pretty well and that kind of thing. Steampunk is like a little bit to where you're in the 1880s Victorian era.
But then you have these advances and you can get creative and wild and all of that. A lot of that came from traveling for me too, like I've traveled to Ireland and I kissed the Blarney Stone, which of course means I'm full of B.S. I guess, the gift gab you know. And then I went to England and I went to Stonehenge and I played around amongst all of the hinges there, because that's where they keep them, and how a lot of fun. And the idea of the magic stones and power and Irish magic and castles - and then of course the troubles with the war between Northern Ireland and England - and I just rolled that back 40 years or so, and brought all that magic and the Stones and the power, I brought all that together and that's really where the idea came from.
I also wrote a comic book like 20 years ago that had a lot of the fantasy stuff in it and it never got published but I tweaked it and changed it throughout the years. You can almost say that this part of this book- the backstory, the fantasy magic side - is about 20 years in the making, which I guess makes this a labor of love.
Jeff: That's very cool that it goes back quite that far.
Michael: Makes me feel old saying it out loud.
Jeff: You could have had the idea when you were 5 or 6. What do we have to look forward to as the as the trilogy progresses - without obviously spoiling anything necessarily - but what can you kind of hint at about the story arc?
Michael: Well, you know I'm a big fan of sci-fi, and Steampunk is really an offshoot of sci-fi in a way, or vice versa I guess. But, you know 'Star Wars' originally was 'Star Wars' and then they added 'A New Hope' to the title when they were like, "Well, you know Darth Vader is still out there." I mean, you know they gave Luke and Han Solo some medals. But, you know, then you get Darth Vader out there. So I love that idea of there's always more. If you look for it, if you see the little bits, like there's actually Darth Vader and an emperor... we're still at war guys, so come back for 'Empire', and guess what, it's going to get darker and worse and that's really kind of what's happening here - the book sort of gives you an ending but - and I think so does every book [in the series]. It has an ending, but it really isn't. If you're reading it, you know there's a lot more that's about to come down, and we might lose some people along the way, and maybe find some new people that you love, who's together might not always be together.
Jeff: So with everything, between the magic and the clockwork and the steam and everything, your story, your book bible for this must be huge.
Michael: I used this great British author named Ellen Gregory who did some high seas adventure, and she read an early Edit 2 and gave me some criticisms - which I kept calling British-isms - and gave me some pointers in that, and we were joking about that too, that I have one hundred pages on the parts of a ship... hundreds of pages and you could just bore people to death writing about that.
It's like giving that little bit to make it believable, and make it feel fantastic or whatever, and then let it go. And then I just use that incredible knowledge about mid ships and jibs at parties.
I can talk about all that stuff at a party now, but you don't put too much worldbuilding in, but it is fun. I do have lots of stuff, like when I'm writing, there's fairies in the book and I did so much research about Oberon, the king of the fairies and all that history. And then my amazing editor Dawn Johnson at Dreamspinner/Harmony Ink - I mean the whole team has been amazing, and each person has challenged me. Which is really part of the deal, you have to kill your darlings right? You have to allow some of your characters to change with some of the professional feedback. And so, anyway, I was able to use that research and pull it in and I still miss stuff, and some of those editors were like, "Hey, you know the name of that person? Shouldn't it be this, for this reason historically?" I'm like, "Yep, I don't know what I was thinking." You know, And so it really takes a village, you know.
Jeff: What do you hope people get out of this book?
Michael: What I'm hoping to get out of it is enough people interested to get a whole trilogy out of it and to get an audio book. I really want to hear this story come alive - the swashbuckling adventure come alive. I hope people get entertainment out of it. I hope they feel empowered and maybe challenged on their beliefs a little bit, which is, you know, a lofty goal. And it sounds like hubris to say it, but I hope people read it and see the LGBTQ+ world is just like everything else. It's steeped in mystery, and history, and great characters with amazing depth, capable of heroic acts and terrible evils, and everything in between. You know, some people will write a character and be afraid to make the gay character or the trans character do something horrible, but that's wrong. They have to do everything that everyone else does in order to make it real. And so I'm hoping people will forgive me if I do something horrible to a character, or make them do something terribly wicked... you know, mustache twirling - and not, of course, hate the straight characters that do bad things as well.
Jeff: Right. Now, you kept a lot of this book in your family, in some ways too, because your husband Jason Buren did the cover and interior art - and the cover is gorgeous.
Michael: Thank you. I love the art.
Jeff: How did he come to get involved in it an what was it like collaborating with him on those elements?
Michael: Well, Jason's an amazing artist and graphic designer. We actually worked on the first one together and we worked on comic books together and what I realized through it - honestly working with Dawn and the great editors, kind of makes you realize some things - you have to back up and state your vision. Say what you want. Show covers of things you like, and things you don't like, and then not micromanage it. Because then what you're going to get is my artistry, which I'm a writer you know, not technically a graphic artist. So you really get your best work if you let the artist kind of figure it out and that's what happened. I let go of the reins of both books and I think that the covers are amazing, if I do say so myself. I think this cover is so exactly what I wanted to be, and I was unable to say it out loud. And that's what a good artist should do in the interiors too. I wanted so badly to have chapter art and I know that people don't have to let you do stuff like that, but [my publisher] Dreamspinner was so amazing. I pitched this idea of clockwork meets fantasy with the Dragon Wing and the clockwork gears together So I'm so excited to show some of that together with the dragon wings with the mixture. Anyway I'm so excited and geek about it. I even got a little gears as text breaks in the art, in the books, it's really fun. It's really gorgeous. But you, know let go and see what happens. That's the idea.
Jeff: When you were here in Episode 42, we were talking about a historical m/m hockey romance called 'The Long Season'. This is a total departure. Unless you can talk about the fact that you're dealing with historical times. Had you always seen in your career switching genres so completely?
Michael: You know that's a great question. I want to challenge myself to do something completely different every time. And so, like being a new writer, writing historical fiction was crazy. That's too much to take on.
I said, "Well, whatever. It's a labor of love, you know?" So then for my second novel, a trilogy? Themed like science fiction? Like, "Oh you're crazy, that's too much. You're not going to handle it." And who knows what we'll see. The first one got picked up, thank you Dreamspinner and I'm super excited about it. I want to challenge myself and I love that genre. So I say, let's do something completely different. People ask me about doing a sequel of 'The Long Season'. We're doing another hockey book. You know, I'm really proud of the fact that I wrote a character, Maggie in 'The Long Season' who was Brett's best friend. Turns out Bret's best friend started off with John Paul, which I'm really proud that people want a Maggie story and I think that's amazing. Who knows when that might happen. I might do that. My grandmother certainly, when she read it before she passed away, she said it can't end here and she's right... another story. And I did all that roaring 20s research... who knows, I might go back, but I want to challenge myself to do something different. I could write another hockey book because I love it and I love the whole romance side of it and who knows.
Jeff: I was thinking you need to find a way to introduce hockey into the Infernal Instruments universe.
Michael: I mean, there might be some sports related in there a little bit, but like medieval hockey? That would be fun. I mean the 1880s isn't too far away from Lord Stanley, so they could theoretically run into Lord Stanley somewhere. You know that can happen. Good idea.
Jeff: Do you foresee more in this universe, potentially if the if the trilogy works out and is successful?
Michael: Yeah. I mean, you know, I think it's set up perfectly for a TV show. That's huge right. But I've even thought about - I have a friend who's a game designer and I even thought about... man, that would be amazing. That whole steampunk idea is a huge world and you'll see in book two, the world's even bigger than you see in book one because it's a world at war. It's a world half conquered by clockwork powered England and half conquered by magic powered Ireland. So everywhere you go France, and Germany, and Africa, and potentially the United States. Are they even the United States? It's a huge world, so the stories could go anywhere. You know I think of like, Gideon Smith books. 'Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl' I think the first is called. They, at some point, they end up in an airship going to the United States, and the Wild West, and Egypt, and all kinds of things. Steampunk is open.
Jeff: I hope that just keeps going and expanding. So what's coming up next for you? Are you done with book two or are still writing on the trilogy ,and can you look beyond this first trilogy? What's next?
Michael: Well, interestingly enough, it goes back to your last question. Books two and three, the trilogy, has a beginning, middle, and end in my head. Of course there could be more after that, much like 'The Long Season', but in my mind I've already started about halfway through writing a third completely different genre book, challenging myself with something completely different, which is a contemporary YA book built on my travels to Antarctica. So it's a YA, two young people who meet and fall in love on a cruise to Antarctica. Sort of a travelog and what happens, and the interesting things, and people, and penguins that they see. I won't give away too much, meaning - that's what I'm in the middle of now.
Jeff: That's exciting. A little something new there. Again, totally disparate, but you mentioned what you want to keep mixing it up.
Michael: So yeah. And we'll see how that works out. I'm working with a gender nonconforming character, which is really new for me, it's taken lots of research to get intersectionality in the forefront of the book, you know not as a ploy, but as a reality of the world that we live in, and people that need representation. So I'm really excited about that.
Jeff: Hurry up and write that please.
Michael: All right. Hopefully, if you're willing, you'll probably see it before anybody else as a proofreader.
Jeff: What's the best way for folks to keep up with you online, to keep up is as 'Infernal Instruments' continues and this new contemporary book starts to take shape?
Michael: If they go to my full name - MichaelVanceGurley.com. Go on there and there'll be links to my two book sites and to my Instagram, they can go to Captain Rhetoric on Instagram and find me, that's where I write self-involved book reviews where hopefully people care about what I think about these amazing books that I read, and travel pictures, and just little bits like that, not too much of me, just sort of what I see about the world. I like to do that on Instagram and that's the best way to keep up with me.
Jeff: Well I wish you the best of success with 'Absolute Heart'. It's been great to talk to you a little bit about it. And when that contemporary is done you'll have to come on back.
Here's the text of this week's book reviews:
The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee. Reviewed by Will.
The Masterpiece by Bonnie Dee is a makeover story with Pygmalionthemes in a historical setting. Essentially, an irresistible gay version of My Fair Lady.
The story centers on a guy named Arthur. He is the well-to-do gentleman in this particular scenario and, one day, he's out enjoying the good life with his bestie, a guy named Granville. Occasionally Arthur calls Granville, “Granny” and it totally cracked me up.
Granville believes very heavily in the British class system. Arthur is a little more modern in views. He feels that if a man has the wherewithal and can pull himself up by his bootstraps, he can achieve anything with his life, no matter where he was born on the ladder of social hierarchy.
In order to prove their different theories, they set a wager, and that bet involves Joe the shoeshine boy. Arthur must make Joe a gentleman in six weeks. It is there that he will make his debut at the biggest party of the social season.
Joe moves in with Arthur who is very glad that to realize that Joe is not only very smart and very kind, he is hardworking and interested in bettering himself. Joe is undertaking this particular makeover because he has dreams of owning his own men's shop one day - with a focus on finely crafted shoes.
They get down to work and, after spending several days studying and learning which fork to use, they decide to get some fresh air. So they go for a constitutional in the park where they unfortunately run into Granville, who's like escorting some demure young ladies. Joe does very in his first unexpected like test.
Arthur and Joe now realize that they have definite feelings for one another. Their next test comes during an evening at the theater where they unfortunately run into Granville yet again (this dude's everywhere).
Granville has befriended a professor of linguistics, and Arthur knows that Granville is only befriending this schlub because he plans on bringing the linguist to the party to expose Joe as some sort of lower-class fraud. Joe handles the situation admirably.
He's proving himself time and time again, but Granny is not going to give up. He makes sure that Arthur's family is invited to the big soiree, and his family comes to stay, making it nearly impossible to have any alone time with Joe.
Finally, the big evening arrives and everything goes swimmingly. Joe is tested but everyone is really charmed and quite taken by him.
When it comes to Pygmalionstories there is usually a point in the narrative where the Eliza Doolittle character has to wonder if the professor is in love with her, or the person that she's pretending to be. We kind of skip over that in this particular story because it's really obvious that Arthur and Joe are like completely into one another.
What ends up happening is that Joe feels guilty, his conscious getting the better of him. All these lords and ladies and debutantes are remarkably kind to him, and he feels genuinely bad that he's pulling the wool over their eyes. That guilt eventually leads him to leave Arthur's house sooner, rather than later.
Arthur and Joe try to figure out how can they make their relationship work, but they can’t. Even though they've essentially won the bet and they've proven their point, the fact is that the class system is still very much a thing and the two of them are from two different worlds.
Joe packs his bags and leaves and Arthur ends up going to India. He has been convinced by his brother and his father that he has to finally grow up and take part in the family business. While he's away, Joe uses the money that he earns from the bet and opens his own shop.
When Arthur finally arrives back in England, there's a big declaration of love scene because they realize they are both utterly and completely miserable without one another. And they both vow to find some way that they're going to make it work.
I really, really loved this book an awful lot. I loved these two characters that Bonnie Dee created I was rooting for them the entire time.
The Nobleman and the Spy by Bonnie Dee & Summer Devon. Reviewed by Jeff & Will.
Jeff: Bonnie and Summer are both new to me authors. The Nobleman and the Spy, which I would call a second-chance romantic suspense historical, was a complete delight full of intrigue and some steaming hot sex.
Solider-turned-British spy Jonathan Reese is assigned to keep watch over German Karl von Binder. Jonathan knows Karl all too well because during the war Karl spared Jonathan’s life. It doesn’t take much for Jonathan to lose focus on his mission and pay attention to the man who has come back into his life. He’s also aware that he cares too much for Karl to allow anything to happen to him, despite the fact that his orders as the mission begins are a bit mixed if he should allow the man to be killed or not.
Karl, despite the forbidden attraction to Jonathan, tries to keep the spy at length, sure that he can protect himself. As evidence piles up though that there’s someone on Karl’s trail, the two end up working together trying to figure out who’s behind it. It’s a tangled web that I didn’t quite believe even as it was all falling into place. The resolution was certainly something I’d never anticipated as I tried to solve it as I read along. It was quite a thrill.
I loved the feel of this book. In often reminded me of a childhood favorite TV show, Wild Wild West, which was set in the same time period of the mid 1860s. While this isn’t set in the American west with some strange characters as villains, the time period comes through loud and clear in a rich setting and how the characters carry themselves.
I also liked how Karl and Jonathan recognized that they couldn't give in to their attraction but the more they couldn't give into it the more they really want to. And then when they got together it was so intense. Narrator Todd Scott I have to say does a terrific job with the entire story but the sex scenes…off the charts!
Will: What really struck me and what I enjoyed the most is that it's essentially a bodyguard trope and it has all the different things that go along with that but in a historical setting. So it was sexy and it was fun and there's lots of adventure and action. I really enjoyed this one as well.
Jeff: Calling out the bodyguard trope is really appropriate. But what makes it a little different, at least to me, is that Karl doesn't really want to be guarded. But Jonathan certainly takes that role because he keeps reinserting himself even where he's taken off the case. He wants to keep Karl safe at all costs.
So, yes, we both highly recommend The Nobleman and the Spy by Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon.
Jeff talks about going to the reading and Q&A for Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar's In Case You Forgot. The guys also talk about their recent trip to see the musical The Drowsy Chaperone starring Bruce Vilanch.
It's a Heidi Cullinan double feature this week as Will reviews Nowhere Ranch and Jeff reviews The Doctor's Secret.
Jeff talks with Jacqui Greig, the creator and editor of Blush magazine. Jacqui talks about why she created the magazine and what sparked her love of all things romance. We also find out about the books that she writes and how she encourages anyone who is interested to start an online magazine.
Complete shownotes for episode 197 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Thanks for coming to the podcast Jacqui it is so great to have you here.
Jacqui: My absolute pleasure.
Jeff: So Will and I have loved “Blush” since the first issue came out and.
Jacqui: Thank you.
Jeff: I love what one of the things on the website that talks about you where it says “I may or may not have started this publication and in order to fangirl my favorite authors without getting slapped with a restraining order.”
Jacqui: Pretty much.
Jeff: Which sounds so awesome. It’s like a mission statement.
Jacqui: But it’s so true. I used to finish reading a book and then I just I loved it so much that I wanted to be best friends with the author. I wanted to know everything about them. I just you know wanted to delve into their heads I guess. And that’s kind of what “Blush” lets me do.
Yeah without getting hit with a restraining order.
Jeff: We feel the same way about the podcast it’s so great to just dive in with these folks.
Jacqui: Yeah absolutely.
Jeff: Tell us a little bit for our listeners who may not have discovered blush yet. What is the magazine kind of all about besides obviously of course romance books?
Jacqui: So essentially, it’s an online magazine for romance readers. So I just wanted something that was specific for people who read romance and there’s already so many amazing blogs and podcasts that I just thought a magazine would be a fun way of getting that information across. And yeah. So it’s kind of interviewing authors, looking at the different books that are coming out at the moment, the different trends in the industry. I’m calling it an online digital platform.
There’s even things like I imagine what a particular heroine in a book would wear.
And I based a fashion page on that. So it’s just kind of interpreting the romance genre in different ways.
Jeff: It really is because you go so much further than a Book Review blog or like what we do on the podcast because you do have, as you mentioned, the fashion thing or I believe in June it was the ‘book crush’ with Jamie Frazier which everybody can have that crush, right?
Jeff: There are elements of reviews that work their way in, but then you do some dives on the industry too, or talking about tropes and such.
Jacqui: Yeah. I think that’s probably my background in journalism as well. I used to work on magazine in Sydney. I worked in a travel magazine and on a hair magazine of all things. And then I started my own magazine, a women’s lifestyle magazine, which was print – that was more than 10 years ago now. So the industry has evolved so much since then and it’s so much easier to do a digital magazine than it is a print magazine. Yes. So I just thought I’d give it a go.
Jeff: How do you decide what goes in to each issue. Because there’s so many things to pick from.
Jacqui: I know there’s so many things to pick from and it’s actually been a little – it’s getting easier every month because the magazine is getting more widely known and people are actually messaging me, emailing me, then giving me content ideas, which is fantastic, but it’s just whatever I like. Yeah. I don’t know. Whatever I’ve been reading or what I’ve seen or I am quite big on Instagram I get a lot of inspiration there.
Jeff: Yeah. And I enjoy watching your Instagram just because it’s so creative.
Jacqui: I’m a graphic designer as well so I see lots of cheeky quotes and things like that and I just redesigned them for my own purposes which is fun.
Jeff: Your July issue will have been out a short time by the time this episode airs. What can readers find in July?
Jacqui: So I’m super excited. In July I have three authors that I definitely fangirl over. So I’ve got Eve Dangerfield. I’ve got an interview with her. I have an interview with Sarah MacLean and an interview with Abbi Glines.
Jeff: Wow. Three of them are all in the same issue.
Jacqui: Yeah, well in my very first issue I had Beverly Jenkins and Kylie Scott and I thought, “Right, I’m happy to finish this right now. I’ve reached my peak.” That was epic for me.
I think romance authors are so generous with their time and knowledge and it’s just such a beautiful, interesting industry to be in.
Jeff: Yeah, it really is because there’s so many warm people who are just happy to tell their story and tell everybody about their books. What are the regular sections that readers look for each month?
Jacqui: So I generally start with a ‘Lust-Haves’, which is just kind of products/bookish things that basically I would like to be spending my money on. I think in one issue I had a pair of cashmere socks that were like one hundred and ten dollars and I had a girlfriend calling me, she said, “You didn’t buy those, did you?” I didn’t. I’d like to. So yeah, we did ‘Lust-Haves’, we do an IG profile. I pick an Instagram account that’s really inspiring and has gorgeous images and profile them. We’ve got our author interviews. I generally have a couple of features. So for example, in the current issue we did one on the rise of rural romance. So it’s basically Australian authors writing romance set in rural settings… on farms which is really lovely. I live in a small country town myself, so I can really identify with that. We do a ‘Book Crush’ every issue. So that’s just a hero that we’ve got a bit of a crush on at the time and it’s really fun to contact the author and find out what they had in mind when they were writing that character. I get them to share their Pinterest pages with inspiration that they drew when writing, which I love. And there’s a bookshelf at the back, which features a lot of books, and it’s a really great showcase for indie authors I think. So yeah, that’s kind of it.
Jeff: You say that’s kind of it, but that’s a lot. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that goes into these issues. What kind of overall timing and process goes into creating a single issue?
Jacqui: Well, having done in my previous life the print lifestyle magazine that was a whole circus. So I had staff and we had an office and because that I was spending forty thousand dollars an issue just to print it. So it was big. Right. So because [Blush] is digital – it’s online – my overheads are tiny, it’s literally me sitting at my kitchen table and, I have I don’t have it here, but I literally designed up on an A3 bit of paper for weeks and split it into the days and split the jobs across it and I laminated it so that I can write over the top of it – every issue. And it’s actually not too involved I think because I know what I’m doing. And I love what I’m doing. And I think as a working mother you become… I just have to get shit done. Like I just, I’ve got no windows in between kids being at school or ballet lessons or you know all of that kind of jazz. I just have to really, really be productive with my time and bang it out.
Jeff: And I think the online magazine in a lot of ways gives you a much broader design to work with than if you were locked in to any kind of website format.
Jacqui: Yeah, I think it’s fun because you can flip through the pages. It kind of it feels interactive and you can, you know, I can put gifs onto the pages so there’s movement, there’s different animations that you can use. And it’s just readers really like the tactile experience of a physical magazine. And because I can’t do that, I think a digital magazine – it is still something different from a blog post and not to say that, you know, there’s some fantastic blogs out there, but this is just a different format.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s a different medium, but it’s going to be interesting, I think to see if other people move in that direction. I think we’re all so used to seeing blogs that this is another similar but different way to go.
Jacqui: Yeah, it’s just a bit fun, little bit different.
Jeff: July is also kind of a milestone for you because it’s six months old for the magazine – issue number six.
What’s your favorite thing to write about so far in those six months?
Jacqui: I think the interview with Beverly Jenkins, that was kind of amazing. She’s an icon in the industry and she’s so generous and I couldn’t believe that she’s giving me the time of the day, especially because I hadn’t published a magazine by that stage. I literally had nothing to show her. She just kind of said, “Yeah sure.” So that was really incredible.
I do freelance digital marketing, which I’ve just stopped, and I’m focusing all my energy on ‘Blush’ because I really want to give it a go. I felt like I was building other people’s dreams, helping them build their dreams and I wasn’t really putting any time into my own. So yeah, I’m kind of all in with this. I got skin in the game now.
Jeff: That’s awesome. It’s a good feeling.
Jacqui: Yeah, it really is. And I do need to say my husband is super supportive and I’m very lucky. But yeah, like this is my gig now.
Jeff: What’s surprised you over the six months.
Jacqui: I don’t know if it was surprise. It was probably just reinforced how wide and how deep this romance genre is and how amazing it is. I mean, if Alexa Riley can beat Michelle Obama in the rankings on Amazon, that’s huge.
Jeff: And you’re right about the romance genre being so big. I have found, so far, that you try to cover seemingly all of it. You’ve featured all kinds of romance including LGBTQ romance.
Jacqui: Well, that’s a that’s a big sector and it’s valid and I know that, especially in the states, you’ve been having a lot of diversity talk at the moment – and so you should. ‘Blush’ is a vehicle for the romance industry and I want it to encompass all aspects of that.
Jeff: And we talked a little bit before we started recording that it was ‘Blush’ that first put ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ on our radar as the thing we needed to watch out for in the spring.
Jacqui: Well, I’m sure you hadn’t seen it with me, you would have seen it very soon because it has been so well received and validly So like she’s amazing, Casey’s [McQuiston] she’s going places.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. What got you into romance?
Jacqui: So my parents owned a newsagent when I was younger. And romance novels were distributed by magazine companies, which meant that if they didn’t sell, it was cheaper to rip the cover off and throw it out than it was to send it back to the company. So I used to scavenge through the back bin and I just fell into it. I read to my heart’s content. The only problem was, that because it didn’t have a cover, I knew the title, but without that image on the top on the cover and the title, I can’t remember any of them. And probably I was reading so many of them, I was just kind of consuming them. But yes, so that’s how I got into it – scavenging.
Jeff: That is awesome. What a great way to get books.
Jacqui: I know right. I mean it’s so demoralizing and awful for an author to think about – that’s how some of your books may end up. I don’t know if that’s still the practice – I would hope not. But yeah, that’s back when I was 12 or 13. That’s how we did it.
Jeff: On the other hand, I mean how terrific that it must be – Yes, they didn’t get paid for – but they inspired somebody to go out and create something like this later in life.
Jacqui: Well that’s true. That’s a really nice way of looking at it. Oh, thank you.
Jeff: You can’t remember some of the titles and authors obviously, but do you remember what tropes and what sort of elements of the story fueled your interest in the genre?
Jacqui: I read a lot of the historicals, which I loved. But I kind of stopped reading for a while – going through high school and then university – and got back into it with Kylie Scott, who’s an Australian author who wrote a romance in a zombie apocalypse, which is very far removed from historical romance, but freaking awesome. She wrote two books and a novella and then found mainstream success with her Rockstar romances. But she kind of got me back into reading romance, her and Amy Andrews who is another Australian author. She’s got a ‘Sydney Smoke’ rugby series, which is a series of books set around a rugby team in Sydney and she just has the dialogue down pat, like she is so dynamic with her writing. Yeah, she is really, really incredible. I think those two got the ball rolling to get me back into it and now I don’t really have a favorite trope or a favorite genre. I will literally read anything you put in front of me. I will read it.
Jeff: That’s awesome. I’m kind of the same way. Will has is his thing where he likes contemporary/low angst – may take a few diversions off that path… But if I like the blurb, I’m at least game to see where it goes.
Jacqui: Exactly. Yep. I’m with you.
Jeff: Now, since we are an LGBTQ romance podcast, what are some of your recent reads, kind of in that genre.
Jacqui: So what I’ve really loved is that some of my favorite authors are diversifying. I guess they’re going into that queer space. So Kate Canterbury, she wrote The Walsh series – which I devoured I loved – and then it’s an offshoot. There’s a lobster fisherman who marries Aaron and Nick in book 6. And So the lobster fisherman he gets his own book and he falls in love with a tech tycoon. And honestly it was one of the hottest romances I’ve ever read. Like it was. She nailed it. And that was her first male/male book. And I just went, “Oh wow, you’ve done such a good job.” Also Tessa Bailey she wrote a male/male.
What’s it called… I wrote it down. ‘Heat Stroke’. She wrote ‘Heat Stroke’ which is just really sweet.
And the relationship between the two men, it was so believable and she’s really good at characterization. She’s fantastic, but my absolute favorite of mine is Sierra Simone, who wrote the ‘Camelot’ series. So it starts with ‘American Queen’ goes to ‘American Prince’ and I actually haven’t read the third one because I got a spoiler and I don’t have the emotional fortitude at the moment.
Jeff: I understand how that it goes.
Jacqui: But she just writes… So it’s a male/female/male, but the two guys, they’ve been in love for so long before Greer, the woman, actually comes into it and just the depth of their love for each other. And she’s, I mean, it’s kind of filthy – the writing, but awesome. It’s emotional and it’s just, yes, she’s fantastic.
Jeff: Since you look at romance really from around the world for ‘Blush’, because you’re in Australia and have read so many Australian authors, do you see a difference of what romance is around the world – what gets written into the books from the native authors?
Jacqui: I think that a lot of Australian authors are actually setting their books in the US. I don’t know if that’s a marketing thing or if that’s just what they read and that’s what they want to write, but then there’s a whole crop of Australian authors who are writing rural romance, which is set on an Australian farm as opposed to an American ranch.
So you know there are differences in words I guess. I don’t know.
Apart from that though, I kind of think everyone’s just writing their own happily ever after. And it’s and in different ways, using different tropes, different locations. I do wish that there were more Indigenous Australians writing romance novels. I think that would be amazing. There are some amazing Indigenous authors, just not so many writing romance, so that that would be really incredible to see. I actually am writing as well. I’m sure everyone who reads is trying to write as well. So I’ve just published my second book, but I would like to co-author a book with… I grew up in a small country town with a high indigenous Aboriginal population. So I went to school with all of these Aboriginal girls and I need to make contact with them and see if one of them will sit down with me and co-write a book, a romance from their point of view. I think that would be amazing. I don’t think that I would have the guts, I guess, to write from that point of view, even if I had a sensitivity reader come in and read it afterwards. I really do think that their issues and their worldviews and, you know, they have their differences and you’ve got to do justice to that.
Jeff: So what do you write? Tell us a little bit about your books.
Jacqui: Well my full name is Jacqueline, and my maiden name is Hayley, so they’ve written under Jacqueline Hayley. And second, which literally I published yesterday, it’s ‘Getting Under Her Skin’, and it’s set in Sydney. So they’re contemporary romances that are a little bit sexy, I don’t think I really want my mum reading them.
Jeff: Yeah that’s awesome. Any chance of a male/male book in your future?
Jacqui: Yeah, I think So but I think that, again, I would want to team up with a gay male author to help me do that. Like, I just I don’t want to presume that I would know their life experiences. So I think that would be super fun.
Jeff: I hope you get to do that. We’d have to have you back on the show to talk about that when it comes out.
Jeff: What can you tell us about upcoming issues [of ‘Blush’] for the rest of this year?
Jacqui: Oh, the rest of this year. So I’m actually heading to the Australian Romance Writers Association, their annual conference is in Melbourne, and I have lined up some authors that I’m going to do video interviews with as bonus content for my readers. So we’re just finalizing the details of that, but I do think that video, which can be embedded into the magazine – in the magazine we also find YouTube clips and things as well, the digital magazine format allows for that, which I think is really fun. The video will start to become a little bit more of a thing with the magazine, as much as I don’t really want to see myself on video, I think that it would be really fun for authors, who are normally behind the pen – behind the computer – and you don’t see their faces or hear them. I think that that would be a really fun thing to do.
Jeff: Very much looking forward to that. It’s great seeing how the video gets in there to really make this interactive magazine.
What’s the best way for people to keep up with ‘Blush’ online and how do they get the subscription? Tell us all about that.
Jacqui: So at the moment, to be able to read the magazine, you have to head to the website which is blushmagazine.com and sign up with your email address. So it’s free. And then the magazine gets emailed to you, well a link to the magazine gets sent to you, so that you can view the magazine. Previous issues are available on the website, so you can you can click through there, but probably I’ most prolific on Instagram. That’s kind of where that’s my jam. That’s what I like doing. So you know, for cheeky quotes and books that are coming up, all the behind the scenes of what I’m doing here, that’s Instagram, is where it’s at.
Jeff: Very cool, and can readers of the magazine get in touch and suggest ideas?
Jacqui: Absolutely. I love it. The interaction is one of the best things that I love about what I’m doing, so I get DMs on Facebook, Instagram, and my email is hello.BlushMagazine@gmail.com.
Jeff: And what would you say to anybody who is like, “Gosh, I really like that. Maybe I should start my own.”
Jacqui: Yeah. So I guess have a look at the different platforms that are out there to do a magazine on. I use readymag which I really love. But there’s also issu, which I’m kind of looking at as I get bigger. That might be where I go just because you can get more stats on what particular pages people are staying on longer. That kind of thing. So I guess just have a really clear view of what you want to put in your magazine, you’ve got to structure it like a real magazine. So go and get a physical magazine, you need a contents page and an editor’s letter and kind of build it from there, but just know that readers like continuity, so if you’re going to start a section, you’ve got to kind of continue it. So have a really clear idea of what kind of content you want to do. I haven’t done this and I probably should have build up content so that you’re an issue ahead of yourself so that, you know, just to for timing I guess, that would make life easier. I like making things hard for myself. Give it a go, like why not? Compared to the money that I used to put into print publishing, digital publishing… there’s barely any any cost. So yeah, give it a go.
Jeff: Cool. Hopefully somebody will take up the inspiration because – at least the way we feel concerning podcasts, the more podcasts the better, the more magazines the better, the more blogs the better.
Jacqui: Built this industry!
Jeff: Yes absolutely. Well Jacqui, thank you so much for telling us about ‘Blush’, we’re going to link up to everything we talked about- the authors and the magazine – in the show notes, and we look forward to see what comes out in future issues.
Jacqui: Thank you so much for having me. It was just the highlight of my week. Thank you so much.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan. Reviewed by Will.
Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party when It comes to this book. When I posted online that I’d finished reading Nowhere Ranch, I got a slew of responses, “Isn’t it the best?”, “That’s my favorite Heidi book.”
So, for the few that haven’t yet experienced the sexy wonder of this cowboy romance, Nowhere Ranch is about a young guy named Monroe, Roe for short. He’s the prototypical lone cowboy who’s just landed a job at Nowhere Ranch.
On one of his free nights, Roe travels several hours away to the nearest gay bar. To his surprise he runs into his boss, Travis Loving.
After some flirty banter and surmising that they are both definitely into each other, they spend one wild night together in Travis’s hotel room.
Roe tries to keep things professional with his boss, but Travis is just too damn irresistible. After a trip to the rodeo, he gives into his desire yet again. His hook-ups with Travis are so amazing that he begins to reconsider his ‘no relationships’ policy.
When it comes to the bedroom, Roe likes things a little kinky. Travis is more than willing to give him everything he wants. After a rough and raunchy tumble in a horse stall on his birthday, Roe is so turned on and turned around, that he just doesn’t know what to do.
Guys, this book is incendiary. I’m no expert when it comes to Heidi Cullinan’s books, but the few that I have read, have ridden that delicious line between sweetly romantic and utterly filthy. The kink explored in Nowhere Ranch isn’t your mommas 50 Shades style slap ‘n tickle. This is hardcore stuff in the best possible way.
Back to the story. Hailey, the daughter of the ranch foreman, becomes fast friends with Roe and it becomes her personal mission to tutor Roe so he can get his GED. After learning some English composition basics, Roe writes an essay especially for his boss entitled, “Why Travis Loving Should Fuck Me”.
What’s wonderful is that the entire text of the essay is included as part of the story. It’s sweet, it’s funny, and it leads to some more smoking hot sex for our two heroes.
Unfortunately, the course of true love never did run smooth. A letter from the family that rejected Roe years earlier, forces him to examine what “home” really means. Home is definitely Nowhere Ranch.
Some drama eventually forces Roe to make an unwanted trip to deal with the backwards, judgmental people he once called his family. With Travis and Hailey by his side, he sets things to rights and accepts that he is, in fact, worthy of his very own happily-ever-after.
There’s a brief time jump at the end of the story to show us just how happy the happily-ever-after is for Roe and Travis. It’s wonderfully schmoopy and surprisingly sweet for a story that is so dang filthy. It just goes to show, that in the hands of a skilled author, kink doesn’t have to equal dark or angsty. The story of two hot and horny cowboys can be just as swoon-worthy as the lightest of rom-coms.
The Doctor’s Secret by Heidi Cullinan. Reviewed by Jeff.
This book had me at its cover with its clean design, heartbeat along the top and the handsome doctor. And I snatched the audiobook out from under Will because Iggy Toma was doing the narration. As with my other experiences with Heidi and Iggy, this one was above and beyond.
The Doctor’s Secret brings Dr Hong-Wei Wu, or Jack as he tells the staff to call him, to Copper Point, Wisconsin. Hong-Wei’s left a high powered residency and his family in Texas to re-locate to this tiny town that needs a surgeon. He also hopes to lead a quiet life here. That’s derailed almost as soon as he steps off the plane because he meets Simon Lane, the hospital’s surgical nurse and the person who was dispatched to pick him up. Simon wasn’t quite ready for the attraction either. He’s in Copper Point working alongside his two best friends who all wanted to stay and give back to their home town–a place so small Simon’s sure he’ll never find a man for him.
Hong-Wei is torn from the beginning because he came to Copper Point to get away from complications, but he can’t deny the immediate attraction to Simon. He tends to put himself under a tremendous amount of pressure to always do the right thing, even if that means saying yes to things he doesn’t want. As Simon learns more about Hong-Wei–from his love of classical music as well as his dislike for most pop music, his love of Taiwanese food and even the meticulous way he wants his operating room set up–only made him fall for the man more.
Simon’s incredible from the get go. Instead of using “Jack,” Simon wants to use Hong-Wei’s given name and takes the time to learn how to pronounce it. It’s super adorable too how Simon can’t believe Hong-Wei might be flirting with him–their interactions at the hospital are super cute as they both easily get flustered.
Their potential relationship comes with great risk. Copper Point is a small town with small town drama and shenanigans. St. Ann’s Hospital has a stranglehold on its employees with a hospital board that attempts to rule with an iron fist. This includes a no-dating policy. As they grow closer though, Hong-Wei’s having none of it, insisting he’ll protect Simon. Simon’s friends Owen and Nick, also doctors at the hospital, help the two get together in secret. As you can imagine neither men want to live in secret, and the more they fall for each other it becomes more difficult to keep it.
Beyond Simon catching Hong-Wei’s attention, he starts to fall for the entire town of Copper Point. From the owners of his favorite restaurant to his co-workers to the local orchestra. It’s far more than he ever planned for and he’s not quite sure how to manage all the feelings of peace and happiness he has here.
When a medical emergency forces Hong-Wei to reveal more of himself than he planned, the major power struggle begins around the dating policy and the future of St. Ann’s. Heidi does a tremendous job about making us care not only for Hong-Wei and Simon, but for everything that’s at stake for the town.
There’s so much to love in this book between Simon and Hong-Wei, their friends, the citizens of Copper Point. The book also has one of the best grand gestures ever. It gave me all the feels.
Kudos to Iggy Toma for a brilliant performance, infusing everyone with strong emotions and rich personalities. The tender moments between Simon and Hong-Wei are perfection.
I’m looking forward to Owen and Nick’s books in the series. Owen’s is already out but I’m hanging tight for the audio and Nick’s book releases in August.
The guys talk about the television they’ve been watching so far this summer, including American Ninja Warrior on NBC, FX’s Pose, American Masters: Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life on PBS, Grand Hotel on ABC, Good Trouble on Freeform and What/If on Netflix.
Jeff reviews In Case You Forgot by Frederick Smith & Chaz Lamar.
Jeff interviews Roan Parrish about Raze, the latest book in the Riven series. They talk about the research she did for the series, including going on tour with a band, as well as the eclectic music she enjoys. The origin of Roan’s collaboration with Avon Gale is also discussed along with what got Roan started with writing gay romance.
Complete shownotes for episode 196 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Welcome, Roan, to the podcast. It is so great to finally have you here.
Roan: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.
Jeff: And it's a perfect opportunity because just last week, you released raise "Raze," just the third book in the "Riven" series. And for those who don't know, tell us about the series and, of course, this latest installment.
Roan: Sure. So "Riven" starts out with the book, "Riven," also the series title. And it's kind of an anti-rock star romance. It's about Theo, who's the lead singer of the band, Riven. And they've suddenly hit it big and are super famous. And everyone in the band loves being famous and their success. And Theo hates it. He hates being famous. He hates being the center of attention. He hates, like, people knowing things about him or looking at him when he leaves the house. So he loves the music, but he finds fame, like, the worst thing ever. And so he's about to go off on a new leg of the tour and is sort of, like, wandering the streets of New York, feeling a little bit sorry for himself.
When he hears this song coming from a bar, like, someone just strumming guitar, and it's one of the most beautiful things he's ever heard. So he goes in the bar to see who's playing this or what the song is. And he meets Caleb, who is the one playing the music. And Caleb, we learn later, has been a musician for a long time, a working musician, but has sort of gone away from the scene and hidden himself away in his uncle's house out of town because he's had some addiction issues, and he's trying to stay clean by staying away from everything that reminded him of the scene, including music. So they start to talk to each other and they bond over music. And then little by little, they fall in love. The problem being, of course, that for Theo being in the scene and being public is kind of part of his thing. And for Caleb, everything about that just brings back a lot of bad memories. So they have to sort of work together to figure out how that's gonna impact their relationship and if they can get through it.
And then it kind of takes a hard left, I feel like this is the thing that I should say for people who haven't read the series, is that the series really does hang together. It has the same secondary characters. It deals with a lot of the same themes, like, the themes of ending up someplace that you never thought you would be. But then in book two, we met Reese, or we've met Reese in book one, but we have a book about Reese who was Caleb's best friend and Reese's husband, Matt. And Matt has nothing to do with the music scene. And the book is told from his perspective. So for people who go in expecting that the whole series is about music, it is in some ways, like, music as a through line. And certainly, this idea of fame and this idea of struggling with fame is a through line. But book one is sort of anti-rock star. And then book two is like working musician and person who's not involved with music at all. So I feel like that's the thing I should say.
Jeff: Well, they it does hang together because you've got the working musician.
Roan: Yeah, totally. And Reese, who is the working musician is someone who toured with Caleb when Caleb was still playing music. So the characters all hang together and the series hangs together, but it's not a kind of musician book, if that make sense.
Jeff: Yeah, that makes sense.
Roan: And then "Raze," which is book three, it also hangs together. "Raze," it's similarly about characters ending up someplace that they never thought they would be. And in this book we meet Huey, who was in the first two books, and has been a sort of a little bit of a shadowy figure who we never knew his backstory, we didn't know who he is, he just pops in and dispenses wisdom, and pops out again, he doesn't say much else. And so he was Caleb's sponsor in Narcotics Anonymous. And he's still been working as a sponsor. And he is so used to taking care of everyone else being a sponsor, helping people work through their own addiction issues, dealing with his own, that he doesn't really ever focus on his own life. He's built up this kind of wall of focusing on everyone else, so he never has to think about himself.
And we meet Felix, who is doing the same thing, taking care of everyone else but him himself, but through his family instead of through NA. So he grew up and help take care of his younger brothers and sisters, and always helped his sister get whatever she wanted, and has now found himself as his sister goes off to do her music thing, found himself kind of like, "What the hell am I doing with my life? Who am I? I kind of forgot to ever notice what I wanted." And so the two of them come together. And two people who are so used to looking out for everyone except themselves, as you can imagine, when it comes down to trying to make a relationship, they kind of don't know how to do it. They don't know how to ask for what they want. They don't even know what they want from each other. And so feelings kinda bubble up and nobody knows what to do with them. And then it ends really happily.
Jeff: As all romance must.
Roan: That's a must. And there's even a kitten. So, yeah.
Jeff: What attracted you to writing this series?
Roan: I think that there's themes that go together. I love music. And I've always been a huge music fan. And one of the things that I've always thought was interesting is that music is so personal, to me, anyway. And I know for many other people, like, each of us, listens to music and feels something - has associations that are deeply personal. And something about the weirdness of something so personal, experienced on a large scale of fame has always struck me as really odd. So you can be at a concert with the band and have thousands and thousands of people there. And each person has been hit with his music in a really personal way. And yet, we're all there together in a super public space, having kind of a personal experience, like, smooshed up together with each other. And I've just always found that really strange.
And I know for people who make music, the process of making music is really personal. And it's really different than the process of performing music. And so I think I was interested in what would it feel like to do something really personal in front of a lot of people and then watch as this thing that you've made gets loose on the world, and you no longer have any control over it or what people think of it. And to me being famous seems like absolutely the worst thing I can imagine outside of, like, actual torture. And I know that for some people, that's not the case. But, yeah. So I was interested in writing, like, the genre of rock star romance is a thing. And I was interested in looking at it from the perspective of what would a rock star romance look like, if instead of rock star being a desirable thing, it was a terrible thing or a thing that caused a lot of problems for the rock star.
Jeff: What was the process around some of the research, because, like, you talk about this very personal thing. How do you research that? And then how do you try to read and put it in a book so everybody else gets it?
Roan: You know, I mean, I don't know. I can't really claim that I did it correctly. I've never been a musician. I like singing karaoke to Paula Abdul once with five other people very drunk in college. And that's about my performance level. But my sister-in-law, my sister's wife is a musician. And she's very personal and writes very personal music and then performs it. And, you know, I've been to many of her shows, obviously. And I went on tour with her in Europe once, like, carrying her stuff and hanging on for the ride. And one thing that struck me was, like, people would come up to her after the show and tell her like, "Your music has meant so much to me. I was going through such a hard time and your music spoke to me in these really hard moments."
And so I would see that and I know that people are having these personal responses and have personal relationships with the music. And I know that my sister-in-law does as well. And then, like, the moment that the two of them would be having together would be personal. But there was still this whole performance element that I kinda…yeah, just seems like a very strange crucible of the personal and the public smooshed together, and maybe the performativity of that, in some way, like, hides the personalness…or not hides necessarily, but, like, you need a little bit of distance, like, the lights and the smoke machine, and the darkness, and the space between the stage and the crowd to insulate you a little bit in order to take something that's so personal and project it out in public.
Jeff: I love how you kinda had the personal research going on there that you actually went on this tour and got to see all of it kinda go down about as close to it as you could without being the actual performer.
Roan: Yeah, yeah, which is awesome. And I mean, like, I've had many friends who do music. So I knew that if I had, like, specific questions, you know, I had some questions about, like, the studio stuff and how you laid out tracks that I was able to ask friends about. But I really do think it's, like, the feeling of performing that I was trying to capture and the sense of what it felt like to have something that was yours, like, the music, and then watch other people make it theirs. And although I've never been a performer in any way, I mean, that's a little bit, like, what happens with books is that I sit at home in my pajamas, like, with cat hair all over me, and I write these books. And then when they're published, it's not mine anymore, it belongs to the people who read it. And I don't really have any control over it. So that part was easy to kind of understand.
Jeff: Of course, you mentioned your love of music. And your bio actually mentioned that you listen to torch songs and melodic death metal. Now, I get eccentricity because my playlists are, like, wildly, you know, strangely hooked together in some way. But these two seem very different. What attracts you to these two individual styles?
Roan: I think I was trying to write my bio in a way that was, you know, like on dating sites, you wanna say the two things that seem most opposed. So you can be like, "Listen, this is what you're getting as a human being who is essentially at odds with himself," maybe that's just me. Anyway, yeah, I love both of those genres. I think they're both simultaneously really raw and really beautiful. Like, torch songs, I love because they are heartbroken, and tender, and they tell a story, and they're so vulnerable, and beautiful.
And melodic death metal is like, doing the same thing, only it can't be vulnerable, or, like, it needs a really harsh bass riff, and loud guitar, and loud drums in order to do something that's that tender and that personal. And I find not like screamy death metal, but yeah, melodic death metal. I find it like one of those puppies that growls at you until you get a little bit closer, and then little by little it sorta lets you pet it. And then by the time you're petting it, it's like, "Oh, no, I really do love this. Please don't ever stop petting me," but then, like, someone else walks in the room and they're all growly again.
Jeff: I love that analogy. So awesome.
Jeff: Now, speaking of music, with the "Riven" series seems such an obvious thing to perhaps you write to music if you're a writer who does that. Was there a particular playlist that sort of pushed you along in the writing of the series?
Roan: You know, I actually didn't listen to music at all writing the series, which is sort of strange when you say it like that. I go through phases of whether I like to write with music on or not. And there have been books that I've written where I listened to the same music over and over. Like, when I wrote...what book was it? Oh, "Out of Nowhere," which is the second book "In the Middle of Somewhere" series, I listened like obsessively to "The Civil Wars" just over, and over, and over. And for some reason, the mood of those albums was, like, exactly the mood that I needed to be in to write that book. But with the "Riven" series, I didn't listen to music at all.
Jeff: Interesting. Okay.
Roan: Yeah. And none of the music in the books is real. Like, I made up all the band names and all of the music. And I wonder if maybe part of it was like, I didn't want real music in my head because I was making it up.
Jeff: That would make sense. Yeah. If you're having to write any kind of song lyrics or anything inside the book, I could see where you would wanna, like, accidentally just pick up something.
Roan: Right. Well, it was super adorable actually because one of my best friends who reads all my stuff first is, like, she likes music a lot, but she's like a top 40 radio kind of tastes music person. And so she thought that all of the musical references in my books in the "Riven" series were real, because she knows that I like lots of different kinds of music, and she just didn't know that they were fake at all, which is totally adorable.
Jeff: Oh, that's awesome. So you could have an extra career then as a songwriter if you're writing lyrics.
Roan: Maybe a band-namer. I like the band names more.
Jeff: So I have to ask for the audio book then that you've got song lyrics - does that mean your narrator is actually singing the lyrics? Did you make Iggy sing and Chris sing?
Roan: No. And, you know, I don't think that I have a chunk of lyrics long enough to be sung. They're like a couple snippets. But I didn't even think about the fact that I could have written a song of it for the audio book. That would have been awesome. Too late.
Jeff: Something to think about maybe for a future book or another installment in the series.
Roan: Yeah, yeah. I could do it as like an extra or something, I guess.
Jeff: And speaking of the series, is there more to come in this series?
Roan: There's not. Like, The Good Place that we were talking about earlier, I have decided that book three is the end.
Jeff: Okay. Time to wrap up that universe.
Roan: Yeah. And, you know, I say that and obviously maybe I would go back in the future and write another one. But I think the fact that the last book is about a character whose story we've kinda been wondering about for the whole series, it felt like a good place to stop because it's sort of the wrap up of, like, solving the last interpersonal mystery. So that felt like the right place to stop. And there are definitely tendrils. Like, people who've read a bunch of my books will notice that Riven, the band, is mentioned in another book, and that some characters from the "Middle of Somewhere" series are briefly alluded to in "Riven." So there's, like, little Easter eggs for people who have read all the books because I sort of think of everything as being connected in that way. So it'll pop back up, I'm sure.
Jeff: I love that. I love the broad interconnected universe thing.
Roan: Yeah, yeah. Secretly in my head, all of the books are connected in lots of ways that I don't necessarily put on the page. But, like, I like to get a couple in there.
Jeff: Nice. Now, you also co-write with Avon Gale. What got that collaboration going?
Roan: You know, that collaboration happened completely by accident, or on a whim, I should say. And I'm so glad it did. So I was living in New Orleans a couple years ago. And Avon and I were friends on the internet. And she offered when I was moving back from New Orleans to Philadelphia, she was like, "I love a road trip. What if I fly to New Orleans and drive with you," because it's a many day drive and you have a cat. I had like my truck and then I had my car hitched to the back of the truck, and it was a whole big thing. So I was like, "Oh, great. This will be fun."
So we started driving from Louisiana to Pennsylvania. And it was, like, a torrential downpour. And we couldn't hear the radio. We couldn't do anything. And so Avon was like, "Okay. Well, I'll just tell you about this book that I've been working on. And I am really stuck on it. I can't get the plot right." So I was like, "Okay." And I'm pretty introverted and Avon is very extroverted. And we going in...
Jeff: And it's very true, she is.
Roan: Yes. And, you know, I really just love a clear communicator, so I loved it. She was like, "Basically, I talk constantly. And if you want me to stop, you have to tell me to stop." And I was like, "Oh, that's amazing. I run out of steam socially in approximately two-and-a-half hours, and I'm still listening to you, but I won't respond." And she was like, "Okay, great." And thus, it was. And so she basically narrated to me the entire plot of this book that she was trying to write, and she was having trouble with it. And I kept doing this probably obnoxious thing where I was like, "Oh, what if you did this?" Or, "What if you did that?" Or, "Oh, my gosh, it's so funny, because if that were me, I would totally do this." And she, instead of being annoyed, was like, "Well, you should obviously write this book with me."
And that book was what it turned into "Heart of the Steal," which is the first book we wrote together. And it was so fun because then as we were driving, we just plotted the whole book. And she had her little, like, computer that she was typing on while we drove. And I drove the truck the whole way. And so I would like yammer at her and she would take notes, and then in the hotel rooms at night, we would kinda hash it out. And so it happened on a total whim, and then turned out to be really fun. And so we planned it on that trip. And then I went and visited her months later, I guess. Yeah, some months later, and we actually wrote "Thrall," which was the second book that we co-wrote together, like, in the same place. So we wrote it, like, together, even though we don't live in the same place. So it was two very different writing experiences, but both equally awesome.
Jeff: That's fantastic. And I have to imagine it's a nice way to kill the time in a road trip to just write a book.
Roan: Oh, yeah, totally. And it's really fun because I don't know about you or about other writers in general, but, like, I find that traveling is one of the best, like, brain, what do you call it? Like, catalyzers, brain catalyzers, something about moving through space constantly, whether it's, like, on a train or just walking or whatever. It's, like, the rhythm of moving through space makes my brain also work in a forward rhythm. And I find myself, excuse me, getting so many ideas when I'm just, like, walking a long distance, or on a train, or on a bus, or something. And so something about driving and plotting the thing together was, like, super, some word…
Roan: Yeah, awesome.
Jeff: Probably better than awesome, but awesome was the first thing that popped into my head.
Roan: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff: And then I totally get what you're talking about there, too, because I've done a lot of plotting and some writing on planes. Because it's like, yeah, there's something about just that that just you've got the time, and, like, the brain is working, so use it.
Roan: Yeah. And it's, like, looking out the window of something moving through that kinda space with everything passing so quickly, it almost feels like it changes the rhythm of thoughts or something.
Jeff: Yeah. And kudos to Avon for being able to type in a moving vehicle because I don't know that I could do that.
Roan: Oh, my God, she has, like, motion sickness proof. I swear to God.
Jeff: That's just crazy.
Roan: Oh, I know.
Jeff: But we definitely got to talk a little bit about "Thrall." I reviewed it back in Episode 157. I was just blown away by it. For folks who don't know, tell us about what that book is and what in fact does make it so special?
Roan: So "Thrall" is our modern "Dracula" retelling, basically. And for anyone who's read "Dracula," you'll remember that "Dracula," it's an epistolary novel, so it's told through letters, and diary entries, and, like, newspaper clippings, telegram, stuff like that. And so we did "Thrall" in the same way, we made it an epistolary novel. But since ours was modern, and that one was 19th century, instead of letters and journal entries, and stuff like that, we have emails, and g-chats, and tweets, and podcast descriptions, and stuff like that. So the whole thing is written in that way, this combination of different print media.
So we have the main characters that people will recognize from "Dracula." And Mina, and Lucy, who are the two characters that people will know from "Dracula," in our version, have a podcast, a true crime podcast in New Orleans. And they get caught up in basically trying to solve the mystery of Lucy's brother who seems to have disappeared. And so in getting caught up in that mystery, they stumble upon this a role-playing game kind of thing, where they use an app, and they go to different places, and they try to solve clues, hoping that it will take them to Lucy's brother. And so in addition to it being an epistolary form in general for the whole book, then kind of within that epistolary form, there's this mystery that they're trying to solve on a computer, I mean, on a phone app. So it's like a game inside an epistolary novel that's an adaptation of another epistolary novel.
Jeff: And epistolary just not something you see very much. At least I don't, especially in the romance genre that I tend to read in general. What was it like as a writer, and just plotting to take on such a different narrative format?
Roan: Yeah, it was awesome. It was really, really cool. I love form, like, I'm super interested in what different things you can do with form. And one of the things that, like, when I'm reading other things I'm always interested in is what form did this author choose, whether it's something simple, like, short chapters, or long chapters, or, like, flashbacks versus telling everything in order, all of that stuff, I think, has such an impact on the way the story gets delivered. And so I was really excited to play with the form.
And I think that with the genre of romance, one of the reasons why we don't see epistolary stuff so often is that it's, like, an additional level of remove between the two characters. And romance seems, to me, to be all about intimacy and connection. And sure, it can be really romantic or sexy to write a love letter or love email, I guess, in 2019. But there's still something where you're not in the moment. There's no, like, tracking a touch as it happens, or a kiss, or whatever it is. And so I think that going into "Thrall," we were like, "How the hell do we make a romance happen when the characters essentially are never in the same scene?" Like, in order to be texting each other, they probably aren't together. In order to be chatting each other, they're probably not together.
And so any evidence of an encounter, which is all we could show, also demonstrated their distance. So that was a challenge. And we got around it in a couple of different ways, including characters literally writing out sex scenes that they wished would happen like fantasies, having chats that were more intimate. But yeah, the romance part, I think, was actually the hardest to portray via the epistolary form because it introduces that necessary distance, which is sort of the anti-romance. It was much easier, for example, for the mystery, or the suspense parts because those things can be portrayed that way no problem. But, yeah, the romance part was tricky.
Jeff: Well, as I said the review, I think you guys pulled it off so amazingly. If people have not read "Thrall," they should really pick it up and give it a try.
Roan: Oh, thanks.
Jeff: Because maybe a little much to call it a breath of fresh air, but it's certainly gonna be something very different than what I think most people tend to read.
Roan: Yeah, it definitely is different. And it's one of those books that Avon and I knew going in, but it's not everyone's cup of tea. It's an adaptation. It's an adaptation of "Dracula." It's an adaptation of "Dracula" without vampires. It's a romance where you don't ever see the characters touch necessarily. But like, I feel, like, for people who are interested in form for people who are interested in Dracula or interested in suspense, and all that stuff, we were really excited to just do something totally new for us.
Jeff: Yeah. It was super cool. Please do more of that sometime.
Roan: I would love too.
Jeff: So laying a little bit of your origin story, how did you get involved in writing M/M romance?
Roan: You know, at the risk of making, it sound completely accidental, it was kind of accidental. My good friend from graduate school, got a job in Phoenix, and didn't know very many people. She didn't have many friends. And she and I both started reading both young adult and M/M mysteries in grad school. And so I went to go visit her and she was having a hard time. Like, I said she didn't know very many people, didn't have any friends, and she just wanted like, escape reading. And we were, like, in the kitchen cooking dinner or something, and she was saying that she just wished that there was, like, a romance novel that she could read about someone who was in her situation. So someone who was a new professor in a new place, didn't know very many people and was kind of struggling to fit in. And because she's my friend and I wanted to make it all better, I was like, "Oh, no worries, I'll write you a story. Everything is gonna be okay."
So on the plane home from Arizona, I wrote the first chapter of what would eventually be "In the Middle of Somewhere," my first book, thinking that, like, I would send it to my friend, and she would read it and be like, "You are such a nerd. I can't believe you actually wrote me this story. I was just complaining. You're weird." But instead, she read it and wrote back and was like, "Oh, a story. Oh, my gosh. What happens next?" And, of course, I didn't know what happened next because there was no next. I thought that it was going to be a little one-off thing. But then I wrote the next chapter and I emailed it to her, and she wrote back and was like, "What happens next?" And I actually wrote the whole first half of the book that way just chunking out a chapter, emailing it to my friend, and I was really writing it for her. I never thought I would show it to anyone. I never intended to send it to a publisher. I didn't even have a plot, I just was writing these little sections.
And around halfway through the book, I suddenly realized that, like, it was getting kinda long, and I should probably figure out how it was gonna end. Otherwise, I would just end up writing this, like, email missive to my friend forever, which was really fun. But also, I thought she would get sick of it eventually. And then when I finished the book, I thought that was gonna be the end of it. And it was my friend who was like, "No, you should totally try to publish it." And I owe it all to her, I never occurred to me to send it to anyone. And I would never have done it if she hadn't made me.
Jeff: Well, kudos to her for making that happen. And that's the best accident story ever. I mean, just amazing. Were you writing before that at all? Or was this just really like, "Hey, I could write. I'll write you something. No worries."
Roan: Well, you know, I've always written different things. I was a poetry major in college of all the super useful things to pursue. And so I wrote poetry or some short fiction. And then I did my PhD in literature. So, you know, I wrote a dissertation, I wrote nonfiction for years, and years, and years. But I've always loved to write. And I love reading novels. And so sitting down to write a novel, I think it actually helps that I wasn't thinking of it as writing a novel. I just thought of it as writing the story for my friend. So I didn't have any of the self-consciousness or like that internal editorial voice that I'm sure if I had planned to send it out, would have like, killed me as I was trying to start.
And in terms of, like, as we get back to your original question, which I don't know that I actually answered in terms of, like, why M/M romance specifically. I hate misogyny, and sexism, and can't deal with stories where I read female characters and feel intensely alienated from them. And I find often in romance, not all by any means, there are some amazing, amazing, like, revolutionary really amazing people writing romance with women, but I've often found that reading romance novels that are, like, heterosexual romance stories make me feel alienated, and angry, and the opposite of anything that I associate with romantic. And so, yeah.
Jeff: Who are sort of your author influences?
Roan: Oh, man. Well, you know, growing up, I read everything. I'm a real, like, moody reader. So I go through phases. And when I'm in that phase, that's all I read. So, like, when I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with S. E. Hinton Hinton, "The Outsiders" and "Rumble Fish," those books. And she writes with this very kind of, like, spare style, but lots of sensory detail. And I think that that's definitely something that I've always really admired was the ability to evoke feeling even while being very spare.
And then when I was in middle school, I was obsessed with Anne Rice, obviously, because middle school. And I read her books over, and over, and over. And I think that she is like the master of the kind of Baroque sentence structure that when you're deep in, reading one of her books, you don't notice that she's, like, in a strange Yoda way, like, flipping a subject and predicate to make things sound, more flourishy and purple prosy. You don't notice it because you're so deep in it that, like, of course, that character would talk that way. But if you go and you read another author or another book, you realize suddenly what she was doing.
And so I think from her, I got just, like, I really respected this immersive detail-rich all the senses engaged kind of writing. Also, I really love long books, and the ability to sustain a story over 800 pages, and keep going with this level of detail. I mean, I know it's not everyone's bag, like, some people really like a short one and done, but I mean, I will read a series that goes on forever if I'm still engaged. And I just think that she does that incredibly well. Then, oh, gosh, I'm taking you on a tour. I don't know if this is actually answering your question, but I do think...
Jeff: It is actually. Yeah.
Roan: Oh, okay, good. The real answer is, like, I learned things from every single author I read. And sometimes, it's things that I don't ever wanna do. And sometimes, it's things that my mind is blown because I'm like, "Holy crap, I didn't even know you could do that." Sometimes it's like I feel like I'm weak in one area at a moment. And so I wanna go read someone who I think does something really well and try to learn it. Oh, Francesca Lia Block was a huge influence when I was a teenager. She writes this kind of magical realism that is, like, very urban set - in LA, deals with real world problems, but has this, like, pink fog over the entire thing. And I was really, really taken by that.
That way of combining urbanity with fantasy, and so that's definitely something that I took from her. I went through a really deep, like, epic historical fiction kick, which maybe is that same kind of, like, very immersive detail, huge cast of characters, all that stuff. And, oh, gosh, I'm totally blanking on her. Oh, Sharon Kay Penman is her name. Okay. Sorry, this is maybe a tangent. But this story blows my mind and is, like, one of the more impressive things I've ever heard in my life, if you'll indulge me for a moment.
Jeff: Of course.
Roan: So Sharon Kay Penman writes these, like, hugely epic, 1,000-page long, British Isles historical fiction. And she wrote this book called "The Sunne in Splendour," in, like, I wanna say the early 80s, maybe mid-80s. And the book is epically long, and just detail, and hundreds and hundreds of characters, and like tons of things translated into Welsh. It's about Welsh civil wars, or wars with England. Anyway, she wrote the book and, like, on a typewriter, and had it in one of those, you know, the boxes that reams of paper come in…you would put your manuscript in this box. So she was going to drive her book to her publisher. And she stopped at the bank to, like, deposit a check or something. And when she came back out, her car had been stolen with the copy of the book inside, the only copy of the book, which I don't even know how that happens. So the car stolen, she's just sure she's never gonna get it back. And whereas, like, I don't know, I would probably immediately go home and, like, order seven pizzas, and you wouldn't see me for a month. She drove home and started writing the book again.
Jeff: Wow. I would have done the seven-pizza thing and then walked away for, like, at least a week.
Roan: Yeah. Like, I would have told every single person who would listen that my life's work had been ripped from me. And it was the worst thing that ever happened to me and which, you know, I think that's actually speaking pretty well of my life that that would be the worst thing. But, yeah, I just, like, that level of tenacity and dedication to a project, it just blows my mind. Anyway, she's amazing.
Jeff: Yeah, that's awesome. And just, like, I can't even imagine, it speaks so well to these days where we're like, "Did you back that up on Dropbox?"
Roan: Yeah, at least someone's like, "Oh, man, I just spent, like, 20 minutes writing that email and it got wiped." And I'm like, "Sharon Kay Penman."
Jeff: So what's coming up next for you? What's yet to come this year?
Roan: Well, do wanna be the first person to know because I actually just found out yesterday?
Jeff: Oh, breaking news.
Roan: Breaking News. Yeah, I just sold a new book, which I'm pretty excited about. Okay. The concept is, there is a guy who has a bunch of animals. He's like, kind of antisocial, kind of pissed off at the world for reasons that I will not divulge yet. And he likes animals better than people. So he has all these rescue dogs and a bunch of cats that hang around. And basically, all he wants to do is take his dogs on these long rambling walks and think about how fucked up his life has gotten. It's the only thing keeping him sane, it's just, like, rambling walks with these dogs.
And one night he is walking with the dogs and one of them starts chasing something. And he starts chasing the dog and falls down a hill and breaks his ankle. So all of a sudden, he can't do the one thing that he's liked, which is walk his dogs. So he goes online, and he finds this app that, like, match makes pet owners with people who wanna hang out with animals, but can't have pets of their own, because he's looking for someone who could help him walk his dogs, since he can't do it anymore.
Then you have this other character, who's super shy lives with his grandma is, like, husband saving up to try to, like, get a new apartment so that he could have a dog. And then his grandfather dies, he has to move in with his grandmother, and he can't have an animal because she's desperately allergic. So he goes on the matchmaker app, and gets matched with this dude who needs someone to walk his dogs. And so the Meet Cute is a dog walking app, and a grouchy meets a shy guy, and lots of animals, and love.
Jeff: Well, this sounds awesome. When do we get to see this? I'm guessing 2020 sometime?
Roan: I think so. I don't have a date on it. I'll start working on it soon. But, yeah, I think it's gonna be, like, cute-ish in tone. And I don't know, I keep, like, accidentally writing animals into every single one of my books. And I don't even mean too. And this time. I was like, "Well, I mean, I keep doing it by accident. Maybe this time, I'll just, like, actually do it on purpose."
Jeff: And what's the best way people can keep up with you online and find out when this next thing comes out?
Roan: Well, they can check out my website, roanparrish.com, where I post all things that exist. And then in terms of social media, I've been very active on Instagram stories lately. I just bought a house, my first house, like the first non-one-bedroom apartment that I've been living in. And I've been doing all these, like, garden planting, and baking, and projects, and stuff. So I've been really liking Instagram stories. So people should follow me there and tell me all the things that I'm doing wrong in my garden.
Jeff: They may not think you're doing wrong.
Roan: I mean, it's my first time and I feel, like, I'm doing everything wrong. But we'll see, it might grow.
Jeff: I bet it does. And congratulations on the first house. That's such a huge thing.
Roan: Oh, thank you. I really went, like, in the space of one month from a person who thought that they would always live in one-bedroom apartments to a person who bought a house. And so it was very shocking for me. I keep wandering to the extra room and being, like, "What's gonna go in here? I don't know."
Jeff: It's part of the fun of home-ownership.
Roan: Yeah. Mostly, it's like my cat goes in there. And that's what happened. So I mean, I'm on all the social media things. I'm everywhere as Roan Parrish and people can find me. But Instagram stories is totally the most fun. And for people who, like, wanna know about when books are coming out, but don't dig the social media vibe, BookBub is a great place to find me because they'll just get emails when I have books coming out or on sale.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well, we will link up to everything we talked about in the show notes. We wish you the best of luck with the release of "Raze." And thanks so much for hanging out with us.
Roan: Oh, thanks so much. It was a blast.
Here's the text of this week's book reviews:
In Case You Forgot by Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar. Reviewed by Jeff
Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar are new to me authors and I loved reading their first collaboration, In Case You Forgot. Frederic and Chaz are two black gay men writing about two black gay men living in West Hollywood. This year in the life story left me wanting sequels because I want to read even more about these two interesting characters.
Zaire James and Kenny Kane are in similar positions. Coming up on his 30th birthday, Zaire decided it was time to separate from his husband, even though a lot of his family and his friends thought Mario was perfect for him. Kenny, approaching 40, was dumped by Brandon-Malik via text as he was en route to his mother’s funeral. Both of these guys need a reboot.
For Zaire that means moving into WeHo--it happens that he moves in across the street from Kenny. He’s got a new job at a social media firm and he’s looking for what comes next. He’s got a family that wants him to find it too--the James Gang siblings--brother Harlem and sisters Langston and Savannah--are always on him to get his life together and find his happy.
Kenny, on the other hand, is working on getting his consulting business off the ground since he’s recently finished his doctorate. He’s trying to mostly focus on the business, but he also wants to find Mr. Right. Kenny also carries the weight of having watched his first boyfriend, Jeremy, die after a stabbing. He’s working on his life with some therapy.
So what happens in this book? Life. Kenny and Zaire, at times together and at others separate, look for a good date that may lead to more, celebrate birthdays, experience success and failures. The last line of the book’s description captures this perfectly: “...they hope new opportunities, energy, mindsets, and connection will reinvigorate what is missing in their lives--drama and all.”
That’s exactly what I liked about In Cast Your Forgot, the slice of life feel. It’s happy, sad, angry, messy and full of great triumph and really bad mistakes. It takes a lot to make this kind of loose plot work, especially since the two lead characters aren’t always together as the year progresses. Frederick and Chaz made it work though. One of the reasons it works is the cast of supporting characters from family, friends, roommates and co-workers.
Among my favorite parts of the book was the use of social media to plan their lives and sometimes even to stalk their exes, at times to the chagrin of the friends trying to help them move on. There’s also a Labor Day trip to Palm Springs that was one of my favorite parts of the book because of the realness of how it unfolded and how it tweaked Kenny and Zaire’s relationships.
The characters reminded me of Noah’s Arc, a show I loved that ran on Logo in 2005 and then was a movie in 2008. The show focused on queer men of color in various states of life and relationships. Kenny and Zaire would fit right in there.
I do want to set some expectations around this book. As you may have figured out, it’s not a romance. It’s categorized that way on the Bold Strokes Books site as well as at retailers. I think that’s wrong. It doesn’t have any of the typical romantic story beats and, most importantly while Kenny and Zaire date for a bit in the middle of the book they don’t get an HEA or HFN as a couple….although the book does end with both characters in good places.
If you want a great look at a year-in-the-life of some terrific characters who are trying to get their lives together, I highly recommend In Case You Forgot. And I’d love to see sequels to this book. Frederick, Chaz, please write romances for these guys...
The guys talk about their past week as Jeff worked on revisions and they saw a production of Oklahoma, which they both enjoyed. They also welcomed the new listeners that have found the show during the past month.
Jeff reviews Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith and Will reviews Annabeth Albert's Arctic Wild.
Will and Jeff talk with Annabeth Albert about the Frozen Hearts series, including getting a sneak peek of Arctic Heat, which comes out in September. Annabeth also talks about the research that goes into the Frozen Hearts books, the latest in the Out of Uniform and Rainbow Cove series plus she discusses her next series about smoke jumpers.
Complete shownotes for episode 195 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Jeff: We are excited to welcome back to the show, Annabeth Albert. She was last here, way back in December 2017 in episode 115, talking about "Wheels Up". You have written so much since then. It's so great to have you back to catch up.
Annabeth: Hi, happy to see you.
Jeff: Now, the most recent thing you got out is the "Frozen Hearts" series. Tell us a little bit about this series and what its inspiration was.
Annabeth: So I started reading in the late '80s, early '90s romance. And I love the Alaska set Debbie Macomber's and Nora Roberts. And so my inspiration for this series would be, what if we went back to that sort of setting but made it LGBTQ and fun and that big, sweeping feeling - the big scenery, big emotions, mountain men? I wanted to capture all that feeling of Alaska.
And also all the Alaska shows that I like watching, "Man Versus Nature," all those sort of shows. And so I thought, let's bring that sort of big scenery to life in a series that also has LGBTQ characters. And so it was really fun for me to get to bring that to life. And it's a three book trilogy, and each book stands alone really well because we kind of did it so that there's very little overlap in the storylines for this particular trilogy. With "Out Of Uniform", they were a little more closely linked, you saw more secondary characters popping up, back and forth. And here, they stand alone a little bit more.
Will: Aside from the inspiration itself, did you have any experience with Alaska? Have you ever been there?
Annabeth: That's what's the funny part. No, I haven't actually been there. I feel guilty admitting that right now. But I have done a ton of research. And I also had Alaska beta readers for each of the books. I had people who actually live in the area in Alaska, who are able to give me feedback. "Oh, this is wrong. The coast is over here. This is..." But I did a ton of reading books set in Alaska and documentaries and message boards. And then like I said, using the beta and the sensitivity readers too from Alaska.
Jeff: It's so good to have readers in your readership who can be those beta people when you need them.
Annabeth: Yeah. I think that it's really important. In Book Two, I have a hero who's native Alaskan. And so it was really important to me to get a couple of beta readers and sensitivity readers who themselves identified as native Alaskans so I can have that perspective come in. And so that's really important to me. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right beta reader for that particular project. Like with book one, we had some alcoholism and some eating disorders being dealt with in that book.
And so what I was able to do is get beta readers for that issue. Like I had an eating disorder beta reader, I had an alcoholism beta reader, I had some sensitivity readers kind of about trauma and stuff like that. So I tried to really bring in a lot of perspectives, so that it's both authentic and it feels true to the character, but also is sensitively done.
Will: I agree with you about the sensitivity. I mean, because you're dealing with some pretty, you know, heavy, serious subjects. But they're handled in an intelligent and thoughtful way that doesn't make it like preachy or a downer. So I really enjoyed that in the first book. And I wanted to go back to the second book, "Arctic Wild", which I really, really loved. Can you talk to us a little bit about the ideas and inspiration behind that particular book? Especially the themes kind of like, you know, there's like hurt-comfort going on, there's kind of May-December going on with that particular book. What was the inspiration behind book two?
Annabeth: So each of the books, I wanted a different fish out of water, so different characters kind of coming. And so I wanted to do a character who was a little bit older, more settled in his life, and confident in who he is. And so I knew he was going to be older, I knew he was going to be a lawyer, I knew he was going to be fairly well off. And I wanted to do a silver fox sort of character, but I call him my silver bear, because he's also a little bit of a larger guy.
I wanted something a little outside the norm for him kind of...and then I was like, "Well, so who is he going to get paired with?" Well, obviously, he's got to get paired with someone who's fun and younger, and kind of his opposite in a lot of ways. But I knew that I wanted the hook that kind of bonds them together to be this plane crash, because I knew all along that book two was going to have a plane crash, because every book kind of has its own thing. And I knew that book two's thing was going to be bush pilot, an emergency situation, we've got a crash landing. How are these guys going to deal with it, and who is the most unsuitable guy I could put with the bush pilot in the wilderness having to deal with this emergency?
So I did that. And so that was kind of the thing that kind of spurred the book forward from that point. But as I started plotting, I realized that the bulk of the book was going to come after the plane crash. Because at first I was like, maybe I'll do a really tight timeline, I'll get the whole book into a week. And that just wasn't working for these heroes. They really resisted a tight timeline. So I ended up expanding it and I was like, okay, they're going to have to deal with this aftermath together. And so because they have to deal with it together, they kind of bond in a deeper sort of way, spending the summer together as opposed to just 24 hours in the wilderness.
And so to me, that was a real joy to watch them evolve and change. And it's my longest book to date. You can see how thick it is. It's a monster. But part of why it's so big is kind of the scope of it. I was able to bring in the secondary characters, Reuben's daughter, and then Toby's sister and father. I have a lot of secondary characters happening in this one. And it was just really fun for me to take that initial idea--there was going to be a plane crash with these opposites attract guys, and they're going to have to deal with it--to this more sweeping sort of story where it does become, like you said, a hurt-comfort story. How do we cope with the aftermath? And the changes that it brought within each of us. So I think that's kind of what I think the book ends up doing.
Jeff: You mentioned the Native Alaskan aspect in book two. And before we hit record, you mentioned that book two is also the most research-heavy of these. What kind of research did you do to get it all to work out right? Because I imagine bush pilot, plane crashes, there's research to do there, too.
Annabeth: Yeah, each element, like each sort of...and a lot of times what I do is I work in Scrivener. And in Scrivener I'll have notes for each chapter. And in a short story, like I might have like a line or two of notes per scene. In something like this, I'll have a long list and it'll have the research questions for each chapter that's going to come up. Like, okay, I need to know how a pilot would handle this sort of altitude disturbance in his thing. And what would that actually mean? What do the instruments look like? What sort of plane is he flying and what's the weather like? I have to do a lot of research into that.
For that, I look at message boards, I look at small plane businesses, I look at write-ups of past disasters, news reporting. I look at a lot of stuff to kind of get that one detail. Like, I won't just, you know, get one thing. I'll look at a couple of different things to kind of get a couple of perspectives. And the same thing with the Native Alaskan details. Obviously, it's not my own lived experience and I'm really aware of that. So I had the two beta readers who were themselves identifying as Native Alaskan. I did a lot of research with blogs, blogs written by people who identify as Native Alaskans.
Autobiographies, I did a couple of phone interviews, I really tried to get a variety of experiences so that I could bring Toby to life in a way that was both sensitive and well-rounded and that reflected a variety of sort of different opinions and different ways that sort of their lives end up unfolding. And so I'm very proud of the amount of research that went into both Toby and the book as a whole because like you said, the bush pilot, the plane crash. I had a floor plan at one point of their rental house, I have a floor plan drawn on my office wall of exactly what this rental house would look like, where it's located, what the driveway...all this stuff. Like, I really go into the minutia.
Jeff: I like that attention to detail. Because as you said, it just brings everything more to life as it goes. Now you did mention it was a trilogy, and in September, it wraps up with "Arctic Heat". What's coming in that book and can you give us a little sneak peek?
Annabeth: So I am so excited for this one. I love the whole trilogy, each book was its own sort of joy to write. But "Arctic Heat" is the one that I was probably most excited about. It's close proximity. We have a ranger who's handed this volunteer and who's going to be snowed in for the season. And this does happen actually. In Alaska, there are volunteer positions where you can basically go and stay in the State Park over winter. And so you're able to basically experience an Alaskan winter with a ranger. And it's kind of cool. So I was like, "Yeah." When I heard about this, I was like, "Oh, yeah. This has got to be a romance."
And so the one hero who comes from California, he's kind of a free spirit and he has no idea what he's in for. Even though he's been around snow a little bit, but he has no idea what he's in for. And then we have the older cranky ranger who also is like, he's lost his longtime partner. She's gone on to be back in the city and he's really kind of cranky about this. And he's been handed this guy, and so they're going to spend the winter snowed in together. And along the way, they're going to catch some feelings, and it's going to be really fun.
And so they meet each other at training. And they're really not sure about each other. We have Quill, who's the ranger and Owen, who's the younger guy from California. And Owen has a feeling about Quill kind of from the beginning. And he's got his number. And so they end up going out to dinner. And at this point, Quill doesn't know yet that they're going to be snowed in together all winter. So Quill is kind of in the dark about that. But Owen is sure about kind of, he likes Quill, and he likes Quill a lot.
And so I was going to give you guys...now if you read "Arctic Wild" in the back of "Arctic Wild" there's the first scene for this one, for "Arctic Heat". So I didn't want to read to you from that scene, because if you read "Arctic Wild" you've seen it. So I'm going to give you a little snippet of their first kiss. And it just kind of shows they're dynamic. I think it's just a couple of paragraphs and I'm just going to read it to you. And I'm not as good as my narrators, I have awesome narrators but we're just going to see.
So they're leaving a restaurant here. "They each paid their share and then headed outside. The light had started to fade, the midnight sun of the summer long past. The crisp bite to the air making Owen wished he had grabbed more than his hoodie. 'Cold?' Quill asked as Owen rubbed his arm. 'A little, yeah. Warm me up, please. I know a shortcut through the alleyways back to the hotel. Lead on.' Owen followed him as he ducked down the narrow alley, both of them walking too fast for much conversation. 'Whoa!' Quill's arm shot out holding Owen back as an SUV unexpectedly backed into the alley.
Yanking Owen into a dark doorway with him, Quill frowned at the vehicle which took it sweet time vacating the alley, long enough for Owen to sense Quill's warmth and nearness. More of that classic intoxicating scent, the harshness of their breathing that much sexier in the close quarters. The charged air around them was made worse with every brush of their arms. "You sure there's nothing on your bucket list?" As the SUV finally moved on, Owen turned to block Quill from an easy exit. 'Nothing I could help with?' 'Not sure,' Quill hissed out of breath which was decidedly not a resounding no.
So Owen moved closer. 'I am very open minded and discreet. You could tell me.' 'You're something else,' Quill whispered. But his tone was more awestruck than censuring. 'So I've been told.' Taking a chance, Owen put a hand at his shoulder and was relieved when Quill didn't immediately flinch away or tell him off. 'Come on. Take a chance. Nothing you're curious about?' 'Like what?' Owen's voice with a harsh whisper. 'Mmh.' Owen pretended to think as he leaned in close enough to brush his lips against Quill's neck. Quill was taller but not by so much that Owen had to overly stretch.
His skin tasted good, warm, ever so slightly salty. 'This maybe,' he moved to flip Quill's ear lobe with his tongue, 'Or this, so many delicious possibilities.'" And that's the look at kind of what's happening between them when they get started. And you'll have to see the rest. But I loved writing Owen and Quill. They were so much fun, it takes place over a couple of months. So we get to kind of see their progression. It's a little bit of a slow burn, each of the books in the series has been a little more slow burn.
But once they get going, there's a lot of heat. And so it was a really fun one for me. And I really enjoyed kind of, whereas "Arctic Wild" had the bigger cast of characters, this is mainly the two of them, dealing with the elements of nature, dealing with each other, dealing with roommates issues. It's kind of the 'Odd Couple' in Alaska. And so it was just a lot of fun. I can't wait for you guys to get to see this in September.
Jeff: Have you pre-ordered this yet? Because that forced proximity is so your jam.
Will: I have enjoyed each of the books up to this point. But book three hits pretty much everything that I'm looking for in a romance. I mean, listeners, longtime listeners know, forced proximity is my absolute most favorite thing ever. So yes, that reading you just did it's like, whew, I can't wait.
Jeff: I think you mentioned that this is a real thing people can do to opt to go snowed-in with a ranger.
Annabeth: Yeah, they do. Yeah. So there's volunteer positions all year long with the Alaska state parks. And with the National Parks too, though, those are a little more competitive. But you can go for the summer, you can go for the winter, and they have like little yurts or tiny cabins. Pretty rustic conditions but they're looking for volunteers to basically help the paid rangers out because without the volunteers, they couldn't get nearly as much done as they can. So basically, you become a winter caretaker or a summer caretaker at one of these parks.
And you get to help the Ranger but you also get to spend winter in Alaska, with all the snow and a tiny yurt. So stuff like that. And each of the sites has its own housing situation. And so that was some of the research I had to do was figure out, what would the housing situation be like at this particular site, as opposed to other sites? How are they going to get their heat? How are they going to get electric? Do they have access to the internet? All those little questions come up?
Jeff: It's fascinating. Would you ever consider doing such a thing?
Annabeth: I have small kids. And so sometimes that seems really appealing. Like, "Oh, I could go for three months." And other times, it's like, "No, they'd miss me and I'd miss them and the dog would pine."
Jeff: Research trip.
Annabeth: I'm going to say my next series is back to Oregon. We're going to be back in Oregon but we're going to be in Central Oregon. And so we are actually taking a research trip as a family towards later in the summer. We're doing a research trip to go into Central Oregon to see some of the places that will be in that series. So I'm excited about that.
Jeff: Oh, cool. Not quite the same as snow in a yurt. But, you know, research trip nonetheless.
Annabeth: Yeah. Well, I get to bring the kids on that one. So it'll be fun.
Jeff: They might enjoy snow in a yurt. I don't know.
Annabeth: They would. They would. Yeah.
Jeff: You've had a prolific year, even before the "Frozen Hearts" books started coming out. You had new stuff in the "Rainbow Cove" and "Out Of Uniform" series. Are there challenges working across so many series that are so close together in release times?
Annabeth: So what I tend to do is I tend to write in blocks. So all three Alaska books were written back to back to back. But in between two of them, I took a little tiny "Rainbow Cove" break. I gave myself five days to write a novella. I was like, "Okay, I'm kind of burned on Alaska, just a little." And so I was like, "Okay, I'm just going to give myself five days because I'm supposed to be writing these books back to back and I'm going to write a "Rainbow Cove" novella. And I did. I wrote 20k in five days. And that became "Lumber Jacked".
And obviously editing it and stuff took more than the five days. But I got the basic draft down and then I worked on the edits for that while I went on to Alaska three. And that's how I worked a "Rainbow Cove" in. Because it's not a full length, it's a novella. And then the "Out Of Uniform", that wrapped, actually wrote that last April. So I wrote it April 2018. Then I started Alaska after that. But then it didn't come out until January because that's how publisher schedules work. And so I wrote it as part of Camp NaNoWriMo 2018. It was really fun. Loved writing "Rough Terrain". So it coming out in January was just a joy.
But that kind of wrapped up a period of finishing up "Out Of Uniform" and then moving into the Alaska universe. And so I kind of go from universe to universe. I try not to hop back and forth anymore, because I've done that in the past. And I ended up having to reread a lot of my stuff a lot more when I'm going back and forth between series. And so I think the biggest challenge for me has been working in time for "Rainbow Cove" because that one doesn't have publisher deadlines.
And so I tend to be overly optimistic with my publisher deadlines, and I'm like, "Oh, I'll get this book done early." And then I'll get another "Rainbow Cove" in. And lately that has not been happening. The books have been going long and complicated. And I love that. I love writing long, I love writing complex books. But it has made it a challenge in terms of working more "Rainbow Cove" in.
Jeff: What is going on in "Lumber Jacked", that people who are reading "Rainbow Cove" might want to check out?
Annabeth: So that one, like "Rainbow Cove", is set on the Oregon coast, and all the books are. So it has a honest to goodness lumberjack as the hero. He makes a brief appearance in book two but this stands alone. If you haven't read book two, you're fine. And it's just 99 cents and it's also in KU. It's a fun little...it's under 30K because I ended up adding a little bonus epilogue to it. But so it has a lumberjack who is an amateur photographer on the side. He likes to take bondage pictures, and so like rope, like Shibari pictures. Like, there's some really neat artwork done with Shibari.
And so he meets this makeup blogger, and the makeup blogger is like, "Maybe I would like to pose for one of these pictures." And so their courtship kind of unfurls from there with photos and lumberjack plaid. And it's a lot of fun. But I really liked the chance to write my makeup blogger hero because there's been so many amazing male makeup bloggers recently, becoming even the face of some major brands and stuff.
And so I wanted to show that sort of side of masculinity as well. These guys have embraced more of the makeup loving, glitter loving sides of themselves. And so I wanted to do a hero on that sort of spectrum. And so that was really fun for me to get to do him and contrast him with our big burly, older lumberjack guy. And so it's fun.
Jeff: That's cool. And for "Out Of Uniform", is "Rough Terrain" the end of the line for that series?
Annabeth: Well, I never say never and I do have more military in Alaska. One of my guys is a former Air Force pilot. And in the 'Heart To Heart' charity anthology coming up this fall - I'll have a marine in that one. So I haven't left military romance completely. But I think "Rough Terrain" kind of brought "Out Of Uniform" full circle in a lot of ways. It felt like book seven, a natural sort of stopping point for this part of the series right now. But I'm not ruling out more SEALs in the future. We'll just have to see what the future brings.
There's a lot of things I want to explore and a lot of series I want to do. And so, we'll just have to see. But I think fans that like the "Out Of Uniform" will really like something that's coming from me in 2020, which is going to be smoke jumpers. So I've got the band of brothers again, but they're firefighters. And they're in Central Oregon, like I said. They're in Central Oregon fighting forest fires. And it's going to be really...I'm looking forward to the research and I'm really looking forward to being back with a band of brothers kind of group of friend heroes. And it should be really interesting and fun.
Jeff: Is that some of the research you're doing on the Oregon trip this time?
Annabeth: Yeah. So we'll be actually going to some Oregon fire stations. We'll look at like both the little towns that they live in. We'll also go to some of the state forest areas there, see some actual forest damage and stuff. I've got some different things planned for us to kind of really...I want to really get my five senses into that area, because I live in Oregon, obviously. But I live more in the valley. And so I'm going more into that Central Oregon terrain, it is way different, like you said. It's way different terrain. And so I want to really immerse myself in that to really get that flavor for readers.
Jeff: That's very exciting. You've hinted at some stuff in the future like with "The Smoke Jumpers". Of course, "Arctic Heat" comes out in the fall. Anything else you can tease out in the universe? Fill us with what's coming up.
Annabeth: So I have a book coming...so "The Smoke Jumpers" will be coming summer 2020. And in between, "Arctic Heat" and "The Smoke Jumpers", I have my first book with Sourcebooks coming. And it is a YA-NA crossover, little bit lower heat, but a lot of the same fun and energy that a YA-NA...you'd expect in a YA-NA crossover. I think fans who have liked some of the lower heat ones that have been rising up the charts like "Red, White, and Royal Blue", that sort of book, I think they might like this sort of tone.
And it's a road trip romance, which I love road trips. Like I just said, I love road trips. And so I'm really excited. It's a road trip romance with gamer guys. They're in college, and they're going to a big gaming convention. Like imagine ComicCon, but it's for a card game that they both play. Like, Magic The Gathering, but I kind of invented a fake card game for them.
So they're like these gamer guys who have to make the convention on time to get their chance in the big tournament. And it's going to be a lot of fun. I don't think they've gone public with the title yet. But it is coming in April 2020. And so I can't wait to see the cover they're doing and it's going to be really fun. It's going to be in bookstores, which is...I'm really excited about. So it's going to be in the trade paperback.
Jeff: Yeah, we were excited to see...I believe it was the first of the "Frozen Hearts" series that we found in our local Barnes and Noble.
Annabeth: I know. I'm so stoked. Readers keep tagging me in pictures in the wild of these books. And it makes me so happy. And readers, if you see the books in the wild, take a picture for me. I do love seeing them, I love...and if you like your local bookstore carrying more LGBTQ fiction, let the bookstore know.
Even if you're not buying a book that day, say, "Hey, I'd like to see more fiction like this." Not just mine, but a lot of other authors that are coming into mass market and stuff. The more appetite there is for that, I think the more we'll see that in bookstores and stuff and airport kiosks and stuff. And so I'm excited for that.
Jeff: Yeah, it's an exciting time. And it feels like "Red, White, and Royal Blue" may lead some of that too. I know that's not a mass-market book. But the fact that they're getting picked up in Target is pretty exciting. So definitely ask for those books.
Annabeth: Yeah. I think the more you see that and my...and Sourcebooks has a lot sort of planned around the release of this road trip romance. That should take it to a broader audience. So I'm really excited to see some of what they've got planned and coming. And so it's been really fun to work on that. And that may end up being a series. We just have to see.
Jeff: Cool. I'm thinking on your backlist, is this kind of a first for YA for you?
Annabeth: Well, they're college age. And so I've done college age with a high heat level in "Winning Bracket". And then I did college age with a lower heat level in one of my freebies, "First In Line", which is set in the same universe as "Winning Bracket". And so that's a sweeter one, it just has a kiss. The one that I'm talking about is somewhere in between there.
There are some love scenes, they're just not quite as graphic. And so it was kind of fun to go back to the college universe and kind of...I love that age of hero and I really enjoyed kind of being in that universe with them and that age for a little bit. And so that was fun. But it's not like YA is typically considered senior in high school and older. So that's why they're calling this kind of a crossover because they are in college but upper YA readers will probably enjoy this.
Jeff: Cool. Awesome. I'm excited for that one.
Will: Yeah, that sounds...
Jeff: I love YA new adult so much. So what's the best way for everyone to keep up with you online?
Annabeth: So I'm on Facebook. I have Annabeth's Angels as our Facebook reader group. I welcome everyone into there, whether you've read me or not. If you want to talk about fun books, we welcome people in there. I'm also on Facebook myself. I welcome people to follow me on Facebook.
I'm on Twitter and Instagram, little bit less than Facebook. Facebook's kind of my big addiction. But I am on Instagram and Twitter. And I also do playlists for all of my books on Spotify. So if you're on Spotify, you can follow me on Spotify and see kind of the music that's influencing the different books.
Jeff: Fantastic. We will link up to all that stuff in the show notes. For sure. Thank you so much for hanging out with us. We wish you the best of luck with everything you've got coming out later this year and into 2020.
Annabeth: Thank you.
Here's the text of this week's book reviews:
Something Like Gravity by Amber Smith. Reviewed by Jeff.
This was the summer book I didn’t know I was looking for. Not only is it set during the summer, but--in the best way possible--it moves like a lazy summer, filled with all the best things. It’s hard to explain that aspect of it, but it’s one of the things I loved about this book with the feel that with everything else that happens there was the vibe of the lazy summer.
Something Like Gravity opens as summer break from school begins. Chris has just arrived at his Aunt Isobel’s where he’ll stay as he tries to reset after being assaulted the year before as he came out as transgender. Meanwhile, Maia, who lives across the field, is still reeling from the death of her older sister. Over the course of the summer, Chris and Maia find comfort and love with each other, reveal their secrets and are able to heal--although it’s far from easy.
The meet cute for Chris and Maia is nearly fatal and sets the tone for how their early relationship works--rather adversarial. Chris goes out for a drive with the car that he gets to use for the summer and he practically runs over Maia, who was stopped on her bicycle in the middle of the road. The two hardly speaking in the aftermath but after that gravity starts to pull them together.
In the hands of a lesser writer, building a story of first love set amongst loss and trauma would likely be a disaster. Amber, however, crafts a story that I had a hard time putting down because I wanted to see how things would go--both the cringy difficult moments as well as the super sweet ones.
I enjoyed both Maia and Chris’s journeys. Maia’s loss of her sister looms large over her family--Maia, her parents and even the family dog haven’t figured out the way forward. Maia tries to learn more about here sister by looking through all of the photographs and the places in them. Carrying her sister’s camera nearly constantly has many in the small town thinking that she’s trying to become her sister. It’s even something she lets Chris believe--that she is a photographer and has been taking pictures even though the camera has no film.
Chris’s family is also under stress. His coming out didn’t go well. Not only was he assaulted, but his mom hasn’t adjusted well and his dad seems to be overcompensating for that. He’s come to Aunt Isobel’s to figure out what he wants to do for the next school year, to give his parents time and to find himself--including getting back to running which he enjoyed so much before the attack. He also has to decide what he wants to share with Maia.
Chris and Maia have a lot of internal dialogue and it works so well. There’s a lot for them to work out for themselves and it’s some of the most powerful parts of the book.
Some of the lazy summer vibe plays into the romance between Chris and Maia. Amber writes their falling for each other in such a wonderful way. There’s a perfect build up as they learn more about each other--at the same time it’s complicated by big secrets. The moments of meltdown and tremendous emotional stregnth provide significant growth moments for them.
The way Amber resolves all plots--Chris and Maia’s relationship as well as between them and their parents--were so well done. I loved the meaningful talks the teens had with their parents over the span of a few days. There was much to handle and, like the rest of the story, the pacing was perfect. Chris and Maia end up in a good place too as they prepare for another year of school.
I’d love to see more of these two and how their story continues.
Arctic Wild by Annabeth Albert. Reviewed by Will.
Buttoned up east coast lawyer Ruben is forced to take a vacation by himself in the wilds of Alaska. Needless to say, the prospect doesn’t thrill him, until he meets Toby, his handsome bush pilot tour guide.
Toby has dealt with tough customers like Ruben before, and soon enough they’re enjoying each other’s company while exploring Alaska – until an unexpected storm sends their plane crashing into the remote wilderness.
After they’re rescued, Toby needs time to heal from his injuries. Rueben comes up with the plan that he’ll stay in Alaska for the summer, rent a house for himself and his teenage daughter and have Toby stay with them. Ruben can care for Toby, while Toby can come up with activities than Rueben can use to reconnect with his daughter, Amelia.
Amelia is no cutesy romance novel kid, she’s realistically surly and constantly annoyed by her dad – but she gradually begins to enjoy her vacation, just as her dad is enjoying all the time spent with Toby.
Love is definitely in the air for our two heroes, but both are unwilling to admit that it’s more than just a fling – primarily because they’re both stubborn in their own ways, as well as an unending number of outside obstacles to their happily ever after. Both of them have complicated family and work situations to deal with.
After weeks of nighttime cuddles and furtive blowjobs, Toby’s injuries are finally healed enough that he and Ruben can sleep together, it’s magical – and then, as it must in all romance novels, the black moment arrives.
A serious issue with Toby’s dad forces him to take a look at his obligations – he wants happiness with Ruben and Amelia, but that doesn’t seem possible.
It takes some serious soul searching until Toby finally realizes that he can’t let a misguided sense of pride keep him from accepting help when needed. By the same token, Ruben can’t swoop in and solve everyone’s problems with his money and influence.
As with the previous book in this series, the author takes the time to let the story breathe – giving the characters time to know and like one another, before falling in love with each other. This extra time spent on the story also gives readers a chance to know and understand the unique and complicated situation our heroes find themselves in, primarily concerning their obligations to their respective families.
Annabeth Albert has written yet another winner with Arctic Wild, giving us a terrific romance featuring two dynamic and interesting heroes that readers are sure to root for.