Big Gay Fiction Podcast

The Big Gay Fiction Podcast is for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. Each week we bring you exclusive author interviews, book recommendations and explore the latest in queer pop culture.
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Now displaying: 2019
Jul 15, 2019

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

Interview Transcript – Jacqui Greig

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

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?

Jacqui: 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.

Jacqui: Absolutely.

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 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

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.

Book Reviews

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.

Jul 8, 2019

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

Interview Transcript - Roan Parrish

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

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…

Jeff: Awesome.

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,, 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.

Book Reviews

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...

Jul 1, 2019

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

Interview Transcript - Annabeth Albert

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

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 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'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 "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'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.

Book Reviews

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.

Jun 24, 2019

It's the final week of Pride Month 2019. The guys wish everyone celebrating World Pride in NYC a wonderful time. Jeff talks about being homesick for New York and missing playing hockey. Pose's early season 3 renewal is praised.

Will talks about the special Masterwork Experiment happening on The Story Grid Podcast where they are breaking down and analyzing the story structure of Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain.

Jeff and author/blogger Lee Wind have an extended interview in which Lee discusses his debut YA novel, Queer as a Five Dollar Bill and how he's become engaged in discovering queer history. They also talk about the YA book blog I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read? that Lee began over a decade ago. Lee also recommends a couple of his favorite YA books and the queer history project he's trying to jump start on Instagram.

Complete shownotes for episode 194 along with a transcript of the interview are at

Interview Transcript - Lee Wind

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

Jeff: Lee, welcome to the podcast. It is so great to have you here.

Lee: Thank you so much. I'm really excited to be here, Jeff.

Jeff: Now, I recently read your debut novel, "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill". In fact, I reviewed it back in Episode 189. And absolutely love it. Now, tell people in your own words what this YA novel is about.

Lee: So it's all about the fact that I don't have a time machine. When I 2011, I went to a game in summer camp kind of weekend. And there was a guy talking about the letters that Abraham Lincoln wrote Joshua Fry Speed that convinced him that Abraham was in love with Joshua. And I just thought he was full of it. Like how could that have been possibly been true? It's the first time I heard about it.

And I went to the library, and I got the letters and I read them and because the emotions Lincoln speaks about are the same emotions I experienced when I was closeted in dating girls and sort of judging it the right thing to do, but not feeling it, I had this moment of sort of goosebumps, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I think maybe Lincoln was in love with speed."

And I thought, "Oh, if I had a time machine and go back and tell my 15-year-old self that the guy on Mount Rushmore, the guy on the $5 bill, the guy on the penny, was maybe in love with another guy, I think it would have changed my whole life. I don't think it would have taken me until I was 25 years old to fully come out. I think it would have been a game changer. But I don't have a time machine.

So "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" is my paying it forward. I'm a writer, I wanted to write the story about a 15-year-old who's closeted and bullied and dating a girl because he kind of judges it's the right thing to do, but he doesn't feel it. And then he's assigned a book report on Lincoln and he gets the same book that I got from the library, he reads the actual letter, where Lincoln is asking his best friend, after the best friend has gotten married to a woman, "Are you now, in feeling as well as judgment, glad you're married as you are? From anybody but me, this would be an impudent question not to be tolerated, but I know you'll tolerate it for me."

And he ends the letter saying, "Please tell me quickly, I feel very impatient to know." And we don't have Joshua's answer, because Mary Todd burned all the letters on that side of the correspondence. But we do know it was only four weeks later that Abraham had married Mary. So to me, it felt like wow, that, like what would happen if a kid today found that out and decided that he wants the world to know? Because everyone loves Abraham Lincoln in our country. And he thought, "Well, okay, so if he tells - the main character, Wyatt - if he tells the whole world that Abraham Lincoln was in love with another guy, he thinks it's going to change how everyone feels about gay people, cue the songbirds and the rainbow and happy ending."

I do think if in our culture today if someone was to go really viral with the information that Abraham Lincoln was, wrote these letters and was in love with Joshua Fry Speed, I think there would be a huge conservative backlash and media firestorm. And that's really that what I wanted to show in the novel, how this Wyatt, how Wyatt, this main character makes his way through this incredible maelstrom of fury that he's ignited by just sharing what actually is part of American history.

And then to kind of ratchet the stakes up even further, I wanted to make it, like, how was it important for a teenager today? Why is Abraham Lincoln important? So I kind of situated him in Lincolnville, Oregon, a town I kind of made up. His parents own the Lincoln Slept Here Bed & Breakfast. And when the economy of the town kind of starts to tank and they're threatened with losing their business, they bring in a civil rights attorney to help and she has an openly gay son and sparks fly between the two teens. But the main character Wyatt can't do anything about it.

Because gay kids saying Lincoln is gay is really different than a straight kid saying Lincoln is gay. And he's faced with his choice, does he follow his heart and see if something might be happening with this guy, Martin? But the cost of that is letting this secret fade back into history, and nothing will ever change in our world. Or does he sort of sacrifice himself and his own happiness, and persist with the story that Lincoln was indeed in love with another guy and see if he can change the world a little bit, even though it won't change for him? So that's the story of "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill".

Jeff: And I feel like even before I read this book that I had heard, you know, some of the rumblings that Lincoln may have had a relationship, may have been gay. So I think it kind of dances around the edge of what some people know, because I can't even begin to tell you where I heard it or anything else, just that it had been kind of back there somewhere in the memory of I don't know, something. Does that even make sense?

Lee: Well, it's been a big thing on "Will & Grace", the revived series. They've been doing a whole run on jokes about Jack doing a one-man play called Gaybraham Lincoln, which is sort of all about Lincoln being gay, which I think has been good on the one hand, because it's letting more people know that this is something that people are talking about, but it's also doing so as if it's a farce, as if it's not true at all, and completely made up in a complete flight of fancy on the part of this bigger than life character. When in fact, if you read the letters, it is remarkable how to me it feels so clear that Lincoln was in love with Joshua.

Jeff: What was your process for researching the history? Because there's more in here than just the letters themselves. There's a lot of Lincoln history, there's comparisons drawn between Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. In my review, you know, I kind of likened it a little bit, you know, you go see "Hamilton" and you get this big infusion of history, while you're wildly entertained. What was kind of your process around gathering all the pieces you needed?

Lee: Well, first of all, thank you for comparing it to "Hamilton." That is like the best compliment ever. I need to embroider that on a pillow or something. I did a lot of research. I started out with the letters and then I realized that I just didn't know enough. I looked around and I live in Southern California. And it turns out in Redlands, California, there is an Abraham Lincoln Memorial shrine and museum. And it's like a three-room edifice that has display cases and a gift shop.

And so many of the things that ended up being part of the bed and breakfast that Wyatt's parents own were kind of taken from that real-world experience of going to this place and seeing that they actually had, you know, civil war chess sets. And they had, you know, little teddy bears that were gray or blue. And they had, you know, Confederate Flag and a Union Flag. And that was hugely helpful. And then just starting to dig in deeper to some of the things I discovered there, there's a whole sort of subplot about how Wyatt feels that there's no one he can actually talk to.

And so he's developed this strange internal dialogue with this image of a soldier in the background of one of their display cases. And I actually have a photo of it from when I went to this Lincoln shrine. And it was there, it was behind all these ammunitions. And I don't know that my gaydar works 150 some years later, but definitely, there's somebody in that, they're one of the soldiers in that photo does look like he could be gay. And I thought, "Wow, what if this was the only way that Wyatt felt that he could have somebody that recognized who he was, and how sad that was that he didn't really have a friend?" And that was why I was excited to create the character of Martin so he had somebody.

Jeff: Were you a history buff all along?

Lee: No, I hated history. And I'm sure that they're all these teachers that are like hitting their foreheads in shame right now. But like, honestly, I never had a history teacher that kind of got me excited about the stories of history, because I really feel like the way we teach history today, and my daughter's in 10th grade right now and her history textbook could have been my history textbook from the 1980s, where basically, it's the stories of rich, white, straight, cis-gendered, able-bodied men from Europe.

And, you know, history is more than that. There are the stories of disabled people and people of color and women and men who loved men and women who loved women and people who looked outside gender boundaries in history. And I kind of feel like, we have to crack that facade of that false facade of history and let people know that that there's all this amazing light and you can see yourself in history. And, you know, Lincoln and Joshua are just sort of like the tip of the iceberg.

There's, you know, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok, there's Mahatma Gandhi and his love for this German Jewish architect, Hermann Kallenbach. There's the pharaoh Hatshepsut in Egypt, there is Safa, there's so many stories that impact us today. But we don't really know them because they don't get taught, or when they are taught, they're not taught in a sort of, queer inclusive or respectful manner. So I kind of feel like now I love history.

And in fact, I wrote this novel, but as I was writing the novel, there was so much history, there was so many things that came up, so many more pieces of evidence, so many more pieces of the pie, things that made me surprised, like, I didn't really know that Lincoln was sort of a racist, even though he's credited with freeing all the slaves, he had this whole plan that he signed off on with Congress at that time to sort of, you know, explore shipping all black people back to Africa.

And I didn't know that. And the deeper I dug, when I found a piece of information that kind of contradicted what I knew, I really wanted to find a way to include it in the story. Because I feel like that's what we should be doing when we find things that show that history is complex, and that people are not black and white, that it just makes it all so much more real and so much more relatable. And if we can see reflections of ourselves in the past, like if we know that there were men who love men in the past, then we can believe that we have a place at the table today.

And if we know that we have a place at the table today, we can envision a future that is sort of limitless. And I want that for everyone that doesn't feel like their history is included. I want it for all the women and all the people of color and the disabled people and the women who love women and the people who lived outside gender boundaries, too. Because that's, you know, we call it LGBTQAI+ or QUILTBAG or whatever. But really, the job is about being an ally to other people. And me as a gay man, I have to think, "Well, how can I be an ally to everybody else?" And hopefully, they're thinking the same thing. And that's how we start to create societal change.

Jeff:: That is wildly profound. And especially, given that this episode of the podcast is dropping in the last week of June, as you know, the queer community celebrates Stonewall 50.

Lee: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, I love that we're celebrating Stonewall, I love that the gender non-conforming people that were there, the transgender people, the drag queens are getting some respect now that they were part of that and they were in fact, the leaders of standing up to the police finally. But for many, many years, Stonewall had a banner, the Stonewall Inn had a banner outside that read "Where Pride Began".

And I think that's really misleading. And we talk in the queer community in America as if that's where pride began, right. Like, pride, "Hey, we're celebrating 50 years of Stonewall, Hooray." But wait a minute, Karl-Maria Kertbeny came up with the word homosexual 100 years before Stonewall. Right? Like Lincoln and Speed were writing these letters to each other 20 years before that.

You know, you can go back thousands and thousands of years and there's this beautiful story from China before China was unified, where the State of Wey that the guy that ruled it, his name was Duke Ling and he had a guy he loved his name is Mizi Xia. And they were walking through the orchard one day and Mizi Xia picks a peach off a tree and starts to eat it. And halfway through, he stops because it's so delicious.

He wants to share it and he gives the half eaten peach to the Duke and the Duke makes a really big deal out of it. Like, "I can't believe your love for me is so profound that you would sacrifice your own happiness to give me the peach." And something about that moment captured the imagination of people in that pre-unified China.

And for over 1,000 years, the way in Chinese that they said gay love was love of the half-eaten peach. Like we have this amazing, amazing history. And we just need to kind of breakthrough that facade and let all this amazing rainbow light shine through. So that's kind of what I feel my mission is to kind of let people know that we have all this amazing history, and we can start to dive into it.

Jeff: Is this all history? Because you mentioned earlier that you're not, you weren't a history buff and you hated history. Have you gathered up all of this new knowledge since you were researching to write "Queer as Five-Dollar Bill"?

Lee: Yeah. So while I was writing "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill," like I mentioned, there was just so much stuff that came up, so much evidence that I was like, "I can't really cram all this into a novel, because at the end of the day, the novel is really about a kid today." And I didn't want it to feel like a historical novel. I wanted it to be this page-turner. So I realized that maybe it was two books, maybe there was the novel. But what if there's a nonfiction book as well that presents the primary source materials, like a popup video thing on MTV or VH1, whatever it was, helps interpret, or at least how I interpret the thing?

So like, there's all this talk about Shakespeare's Sonnets, and how, while they're very rarely taught, over 100 of the sonnets, Shakespeare wrote to another guy. And these are love sonnets that include really, really famous lines that we all recognize, like, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day. Thou art more worthy, yet more temperate." That's a line that Shakespeare wrote to another guy.

For hundreds of years, they had changed the pronouns of that in one of the folios. So it ended up being that for hundreds of years, people thought that Shakespeare wrote all those poems to a woman, to the Dark Lady. But when "The Riverside Shakespeare" came out, the editor of that section, he talked about how, "Well, we've restored the sonnets to their original, you know, pronouns, but you shouldn't mistake that, you know, the affection men felt for each other in the 1500s was nothing like the homosexual attraction today."

He wrote this in 1970s. And I'm like, "Really? Really?" Because, you know, "A man in hue all hues in his controlling, Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth," it sounds pretty romantic to me. So what I realized what I wanted to do is to create a book that wouldn't be just a book about Lincoln and Speed, but it would be a book about the broader thing, about men who love men and women who love women and people who lived outside gender boundaries.

So there's 15 chapters. One is about Lincoln and Speed, one is about Shakespeare. And then there's, like, you know, a bunch of other amazing people in history, and it really presents the primary source material. And I'm really excited because today - that we're recording this - is the day that I'm signing the contract for that book with a publisher.

Jeff: Oh, that is exciting. Congratulations.

Lee: Thank you. It's been a long journey, long and crazy journey. Because the book originally was set up at one of the big five publishers, and I worked on it for a year and a half with them. It was approved, we were talking cover design. And then two weeks after our current president was elected, they canceled the book. I think they were concerned that it was going to be too controversial. They just didn't have the courage to proceed.

And that was really devastating. And it took a long time to find a new home for it. There were a lot of shenanigans, a lot of plot twists. The agent I had had at the time turned out to be a criminal who, well, she was telling all her clients she was submitting things and that they were having all these pending book deals. She was lying.

And the book was never submitted anywhere. Even after it was returned, the rights were returned to me. And the novel, "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" ended up getting crowdfunded because I thought that I was being, well, stonewalled by the children's book industry and they didn't want word to get out about Lincoln and Speed so much so that no one would even respond to the submissions. So I crowdfunded it.

I have a blog, I think we're talking about that a little bit later. But I have a bunch of people that know who I am and what I was trying to do, and they all supported me to not just publish the book professionally, but also, what I wanted to do is raise enough money to donate at least 400 copies of the novel to LGBTQ and allied teens, and the Kickstarter funded in six days, it was amazing. And then it went on for another 24 days. So we ultimately raised enough money to give away 910 copies. So that's been really, really gratifying.

Jeff: That's incredible. I mean, it's really one of the great things about publishing today is that there's really no more gatekeepers out there. Anybody can publish, get it on Amazon, get an audiobook done, etc, and get their messages out there.

Lee: There still is the thing, though, that being with a traditional publisher, you generally can reach more, especially when we're talking about like middle grade, you know, or books, where you go into libraries, which I think that this nonfiction book really is a, you know, hopefully, it'll sell like hotcakes. But also, I do think that to get it adopted more broadly into schools and into libraries, I think that coming from an established publisher is really useful and really helpful. So I'm excited about that. I do think that yeah, that there are many, many fewer boundaries than there used to be - or barriers than there used to be.

But at the same time, we have the additional challenge that while access to the marketplace has never been easier, the marketplace has never been bigger. So getting noticed in a marketplace, where there's over a million books that are published every year now in the U.S., is a challenge. And that's why it's so important to have safe places to find out about these things, like your podcast, and my blog.

Jeff: Yes, absolutely. To spin back on "Five-Dollar Bill" a little bit and talk a little bit more about it. What were your inspirations for both Wyatt and Martin and the type of teenagers they would be?

Lee: When I was growing up, or when I was coming out, I think it felt like you couldn't be gay if you lived anywhere except for one of the big cities like San Francisco or New York. And I really wanted to have a character that felt connected to nature. And that one of the thematic subplots would be, 'Could he be himself where he was? Could he be himself in small town America, in a rural community, was there a way through for him to be successfully himself and authentic?'

I feel like I spent so much of my life being inauthentic, that I want to do everything I can to help teens be authentic now. So on the one hand, Wyatt was the study of a kid that was on a journey to be authentic and Martin was the flip side of that. Martin was the character that already was authentic, and was already reaping the benefits of that level of confidence. And you know, as soon as you, for me, when I came out, it was like this huge burden off of me.

And suddenly, I realized the weight of it was on everyone else, right? Like, if they had a problem with it, that was their problem. But it wasn't me hiding or holding back, or pretending or acting, which I did for so long. My husband and I have a joke, where when you go to a Starbucks or something, they're always like, "What's your name?" And every time my husband changes his name. Like he just makes up different names every single time.

And they ask me and I'm always Lee because it took me 25 years to even start to like myself and to accept myself. And I finally got here. And I'm like, "Yeah, I'm not anybody else. I am me. I am Lee." It's funny. I take a spin class and as a motivational thing the spin instructor does, "Who do you want to be today?" I'm always like, "Me, I want to be me."

I spent so long being other people. And then also, it was really cool when I was creating Martin's character, to think about him being African American. And that being an opportunity for me to talk about the complexity of Abraham Lincoln and him not being so perfect and explore those themes a little more. And it's funny because I hear from a lot of people how much they love Martin. And yeah, he's pretty lovable.

Jeff: Yeah, I really liked them both in their individual ways. For sure Wyatt...I grew up, I spent like middle school, high school, college in Alabama. So I could totally relate to where Wyatt was in his journey like he knows, but there's no way he's telling anybody. And I didn't have a Martin for a best friend. So I also loved Martin, because he was the ideal friend to have for Wyatt in the moment to show him what could be.

Lee: Yeah, exactly.

Jeff: What do you hope the audience takes away from this kind of history/fiction mashup?

Lee: So I think a lot about words, you know, being a writer, and I think that the word homosexual isn't helping us. I think that if we, because we're so reactive and weird in our culture, in America about sex, and we are obsessed with it, and we don't want to acknowledge it. And especially we don't want to talk about it to teens. So when we talk about homosexual rights and homosexual history, all straight people are hearing, you know, to paint with a broad brush, is they're thinking about sex and that we have sex differently than they do and how do we have sex.

And I just don't think that's particularly helpful. And I think that if we talked about love as sort of the binding element that makes me and my husband and our teenage daughter a family, or the love between you and your husband, if we talked about HomoLOVEual rights and HomoLOVEual history, I think we'd have a very different cultural conversation. So what the tagline of my book is, "What if you knew a secret from history that could change the world?" And I love this because it gets a little meta.

But it's the challenge that Wyatt faces, right? He finds out the secret about Abraham Lincoln writing these letters and maybe being in love with Joshua Fry Speed. And he decides that he's going to tell the world because it could change the world. And then it's the same challenge that I faced because I knew the secret from history and I thought this drumming sense of responsibility, like I had to share it, I had to get it out in the world.

And because I wasn't getting anywhere with traditional publishing, I thought, "Okay, well, I'm going to crowdfund it, I'm going to get it out in the world, myself." And then what I am really excited about is that it's also the challenge that the reader faces. Because when you've read the book, or you even heard me talk about the book, you know that there is something more to the story of Abraham Lincoln that has been taught to you.

And it's that first crack in that facade of history. And it makes you think, "Well, wait a minute, when you see the picture of Mount Rushmore, or when you pick your kid up at the Lincoln middle school, or you're driving on Lincoln Boulevard, you know, does it occur to you that, you know, our culture has not shared that part of who Lincoln is? And does it make you feel a little more pride about the fact that you know what, we do have history, queer people, and we need to lean into it?

And we have the opportunity to because there are hundreds of years of historians that are going to argue with us and that are going to say, "Yeah, yeah, it's not true. It was very typical for men to share beds on the frontier." Not that Springfield, Illinois was the frontier. But for four years, you know, Abraham and Joshua shared a bed long after Abraham could afford his own bed. "Well, it was cold." Okay, yeah. But they shared a bed for four years. It's not proof. But it's interesting.

And I think that as all those things add up, we can all make our own determination of what we think, you know. Is it important for me that I convince the world that Abraham Lincoln was in love with Joshua Fry Speed? No. I think a lot about Anne Lamott, she's a writer, and she writes about writing. She has a beautiful book called "Bird by Bird".

And in that book, she talks about lighthouses, and how they don't run all over an island looking for boats to save, they just sort of stand there and they shine. And I think a lot about that. Like, I need to be a lighthouse. Like I found out this amazing, cool stuff about history, and how it relates to today, and how empowering it is. And I just want to shine. And if people are interested, they can come closer to the light. And if they're not interested, no worries, you know, watch out, there's some rocks over there.

Jeff: Any chance of a sequel? Because I know I would love to see more of Wyatt and Martin at some point

Lee: I haven't really come up with a good angle on a sequel, I had this funny idea of the other pieces of history that really struck me was Mahatma Gandhi and the story of his love for Hermann Kallenbach. And we talk a lot about Gandhi having this sort of breakthrough where he talked about it doesn't matter whether you pray facing left and I pray facing right - I may have that reversed. We're all praying to the same God. Like he had this huge breakthrough, not just in terms of, you know, a peaceful protest, Satyagraha.

He changed our world in such profound ways. And at the same time, he was in love with this German Jewish architect named Hermann Kallenbach. And if he was in love with a Jewish guy, like that's actually really interesting and really germane. Like maybe that's why he had that inspiration, that insight about it doesn't matter who you're praying to, because it's, we're all sort of bonded by this sense of spiritual connection. Like, that's really exciting. And I feel like there's so many stories like that, like Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok.

Eleanor Roosevelt was the woman that after, you know, her husband died, she went to the UN and became this advocate for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And would she had done that if she didn't have this experience of being in love with another woman, and feeling that sort of outsider status, while at the same time being this empowered woman in our world? History starts to open up like a flower. So I don't have an exact idea for a sequel for Wyatt and Martin, but I will put it in the hopper as ideas.

Reason I brought up Hermann Kallenbach and Mahatma Gandhi was that I thought, that would be an interesting thing to talk about a kid finding out about that, and how that would have changed their life. And then about, "Wait, that's the exact same story over again, I don't need to do that. I already wrote that." So for now, I'm going to focus on the nonfiction piece and some other fiction writing that I want to get to that, actually, I'm very inspired by your book too, by the "Codename: Winger" series, because I love the idea of mashing up a gay teen with a sort of spy thriller.

Jeff: And I can't wait to read what you might do with that. So please, bring that to the marketplace.

Lee: Thank you. I keep thinking, "Is there a way I can get gay history in here somehow?" I haven't figured that either yet. But, you know, I'll work on it.

Jeff: You'd mentioned earlier that you've got your blog, which I was so excited to find right around the same time as finding the book. You've been a YA blogger for more than a decade now. I believe you said it'll be 12 years in September. And the blog is called "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I Read?" What led you to starting that?

Lee: Thanks. Yeah, there was no safe space to find out what were the books with queer characters for kids and teens. And I remember, there was a review on Amazon for a really sweet picture book called "The Family Book" by Todd Parr. And it's sort of a cartoon-y book. And there's like one page, it says, "Some families look alike." And it's a bunch of dogs that they all have similar features. "Some families look different." And it's a tree with all these different kind of animals in it.

"Some families adopt children." And it's a bunch of ducks. And on the back of one duck is a penguin. And then you turn the page and it's, "Some families have two moms or two dads." And it's a picture of two women and two men. And then it continues, and there was a review, pretty high up that said, "If you tear out the page with the two moms and dads, then this is a lovely book on diversity."

And I thought, "Wow, way to miss the entire point of what diversity is." And I got so upset and so hurt, you know, because I'm a gay dad. And I thought this was an amazing book for my daughter, but also for all of my daughter's classmates to see and recognize, "Yeah, yeah, you know, some families do have two moms and two dads." And to Amazon, that wasn't hate speech, it didn't violate their terms of service, it was just somebody's opinion.

Albeit kind of, you know, nasty, or at least I interpreted as nasty. And it got me thinking about how there really needed to be a safe place online, where a kid could go and find out what are the books that were out there. And when I started, there were maybe 30 books total that were inclusive of LGBTQ characters and themes for kids and teens. And what's happened over the years is that by keeping this curated safe space, where I'm not vetting all the books, but I'm making sure that no nastiness is happening on the site.

We have over 500 books now in many, many categories. And it's been really exciting to see that sort of explosion of content. And yet, it's that sort of similar problem again. Like now, suddenly, there's so much content, how do you make your way through it? How do you find the things that you want? So the idea behind it was to post about the books, what's queer about the books, and then let readers add their own reviews. There hasn't been a lot of review, there's just too many places for people to leave reviews these days.

So I don't see a lot of that. But I also didn't want to make it, you know, "Lee's favorite book site" because I think that that has a limited value, I thought that there was more value in it being a site that felt really comprehensive. And that's what I aim for. And then it just became a place where I could talk about the stuff that I really care about, that I want queer and allied teens to know about. And over the years, what I've discovered is that the readership is split into thirds. There's about a third, queer teens and queer and allied teens on it.

There about a third of librarians and teachers and people that work with LGBTQ teens. And then there's a whole bunch of adults that are sort of reading the books for themselves and sort of healing their inner teen. And I think that there is a healing that happens. Every time I read a queer book that has a happy or even a hopeful ending, there's a healing that happens. And I think maybe that's part of why romance as a genre is so popular.

I know Will was saying in a previous episode that people get on his case for like ruining the ending, but it's all romance, you know it's going to be a good ending. And I think maybe that's why people turn to it. So I know how empowering it is for me when I read something where I see a reflection of myself, and it's a positive thing. Because when I was growing up, there was nothing to read, nothing positive. The only queer characters were like evil pedophile villains, it wasn't particularly helpful.

Jeff: Yeah, that's, unfortunately, the case in the history that you and I have from that era when we were growing up. In the decade-plus that you've been running the site, other than just more YA, how have you seen it all evolve?

Lee: There's more, and there's better and there's deeper, and there's less preachy and there's room for it all. It's funny, there was a kind of push a few years back for...well, maybe we're beyond the coming out story. And I kind of got my dander up a little bit on that. And I felt like, "Well, we're never going to be beyond the first love story when it's, you know, a straight romance. So, Andrew Solomon has this great book that he wrote called "Far From the Tree" and it's a nonfiction piece.

And he talks about how, you know, when your identity is...where you're the apple that does fall far from the tree, or falls from the tree and rolls across the, you know, down the hill and across the orchard, when you're queer, most likely your parents were not. And so you have this moment where you have to find your sense of community outside of the family that you grew up in. A lot of other identities, you share that. Like, usually, like me, I was raised Jewish and so I would, you know, my parents were Jewish. So I sort of shared that identity.

For all of our identities, we sort of are either sort of close to the tree or far from the tree. And when you're far from the tree, there's more work involved. So coming out, I think is going to continue to be this universal thing. Because just like, you know, my daughter has two dads, but she's straight. So in a funny way, she's going to have to, you know, she had a bit of a coming out where she had to tell us, sort of, you know, abashed, hoping that we'd be okay with it, that she was straight. And we had a good laugh about it. Because it's not that big a deal for us. We just want her to be her authentic self and to be happy.

So we do want to have coming out books, and we also want to have books where being gay, like your character Winger, Theo, where it's the least interesting thing about him. I loved when you said that in your interview. Because yeah, we want those stories, too. It's like in acting, right? In improv, the rule is yes/and. So we want these books, and we want those books. We want the fantasy, we want the romance, we want the science fiction, we want all of it because truly, if you look at the numbers of books that are published - traditionally there about 5,000 books published a year for kids and teens.

And then, if you look at the world of self-publishing, let's say that 5,000 are doing it really beautifully. And the books are indistinguishable with the quality of that from traditional publishing. That's 10,000 books a year, a year. And you have all those years going back too. So what we want is the opportunity to sort of have all of those books and right now we still only have like 500. So we have a long way to go. We need lots more books, we need lots more voices, we need people writing their own voices, stories, we need more diversity included in everybody's stories because truly, you're not going to have a classroom today that doesn't include someone that's LGBTQ, we need it all.

Jeff: That's very true. Given that you had the blog, did you always see yourself eventually writing the YA novel that you did? Or did that just kind of manifest itself because you have the story to tell?

Lee: I've always been a writer. I've written...I remember one summer when I was like between 9th and 10th Grade in high school, I was like, "I'm going to write a novel." I sometimes think of those poor characters still trapped in the broken space station that was orbiting the Earth. And I'm like, "Oh man, I have to do something with that someday." I don't think I will. I've always written.

I think that for the last 14 years, I've really focused on writing for kids and teens. I also write picture books and middle grade. And when I found out this thing about Lincoln and Speed, it really inspired me to focus on writing that as a novel. I think that the blog has been a way to have my voice heard in a more direct way, and not wait for somebody to tap me on the shoulder and say, "Okay Lee, we're ready for what you have to share." So that's been really empowering.

I remember, when I started the blog, there were very few people reading it, and I would get all excited, I'd be like, and I'd tell my husband, "Hey, 15, people went to my blog today." And I was so, so excited. And now, all these years later, we passed 2.6 million page loads. I get between, you know, 15,000 to 25,000 page views a month. It's remarkable, and humbling, and also a really cool responsibility to continue to maintain this safe place. And at the same time, I'm trying to keep writing and work on the new stuff, which has been really a good thing, because balancing the day job and the blogging, there's a lot but I have stories I want to tell. And I'm going to keep trying to tell them.

Jeff: Good. Yeah, keep putting it out there. Because we always need more, to be sure. For people who haven't seen the site yet, and we're certainly going to link to it in the show notes. It has an amazing hero image across the top of the superhero. Where did that come from? And where did the name come from? For folks who might question the name too, because I have a pretty good idea where the name came from. But let's hear it from you.

Lee: Sure. So "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?" is a play on words of something we chanted in Act Up in the '80s and '90s. The chant was "We're here. We're queer. Get used to it." And I thought, well, my issue is a little more "What the hell do I read?" Because I felt so starved for any books that included somebody like me. I mean, you know, I grew up and I really and truly thought I was the only person in the world that felt the way I felt about other guys.

And which was super ironic, because I have an older brother, who's five and a half years older, and he's gay too, but we never spoke about it. We are the children of immigrants and when my parents came from Israel, they sort of brought all their homophobia with them. And the American culture at the time was super homophobic, especially where we lived outside Philadelphia. It was not a safe place.

And it's so amazing to think that you can grow up and feel like you're the only person and everything I read, I was obsessed with the series by Anne McCaffrey called the Dragonrider series. And there was this super between the lines, sort of thematic thing that you could maybe interpret that there was gay stuff happening in that world, but you had to really stretch for it. And looking back, I think, well, maybe that's why I was so obsessed with that book, with that series, because there was some faint, not even mirror reflection, but like the gleam of a tarnished piece of silverware. I was like, "Wait, wait, maybe that's me."

So that's where "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?" came from. The image happened a few years later. I had been running the site for about two years, it had been doing really well. And I realized I wanted to have a customized image. And yet, it's a pretty wordy title. So I realized I needed an image that didn't have any additional words to it.

So I contacted someone I knew, an artist I knew, Jim DeBartolo. And, I said, "Look, I need an image that says empowerment." And he came up with this sort of superhero moment of like ripping the denim shirt off. And there's this sort of T-shirt underneath with the sort of superhero logo, which is the website, which is And it was funny. We tried to play with the sort of partial face that you see, we tried to, you know, could we make it a person of color?

Could we do some things with you, know, the physique? But ultimately, it was sort of an avatar of me, and it took me years to admit it that's sort of what of course it is, it's an avatar of me, but I don't have that good a jawline. But at least in my mind, I think that it's been this sort of symbol of empowerment. And that's really what I hope that people get from visiting the site, from reading anything I write. I want them to feel empowered.

Jeff: I like that. That's a great story behind that.

Lee: Thanks.

Jeff: So relying on your...I'm going to call it a YA expertise because of the site that you run. What are three or four titles of current YA that you would recommend our audience to take a stab at?

Lee: Sure. So I have to start with "Carry On" by Rainbow Rowell. I know it's not super recent. But this is the gay Harry Potter book that I wanted so badly. And I was so frustrated that JK Rowling didn't include Dumbledore as being gay in the canon. It sort of was outside the books that that revelation happened and you can go back and sort of, you know, read subtexts and stuff. But I really was hoping that there would be some sort of, you know, on the page, queer love or something, and it didn't happen, there was really nothing.

And, you know, Rainbow Rowell, she wrote two books, one about the girl that writes the fan fiction, which is called "Fangirl", which is really good. And then there was this book, which was the fan fiction, that ended up being a huge success on its own, called "Carry On". And I don't want to say too much, but it is absolutely brilliant. And if you are queer, or love queer stories, and you had any connection to Harry Potter, and that sort of world of magic, you've got to go read this. It's just wonderful.

Jeff: Excellent. Her books have been on my TBR forever. And I actually need to take the leap and read them.

Lee: Read this one first. It's just you will be so happy you did.

Jeff: So you mentioned the nonfiction that you've just signed the contract on and other stuff noodling around in your head... anything else you want to shout out that's coming up soon for you?

Lee: So there are a bunch of things percolating. But nothing has come to full boil yet. So I will let you all know when it does.

Jeff: That is fair. I can't wait to hear what they are. Because I think that, yeah, having read the one book from you, I'm looking forward to reading so much more. So where can people keep up with you? There's as we talked about, which is the "I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell do I read?" site. Anyplace else people should be looking for updates?

Lee: Yeah. I mean, I'm playing around with Instagram. I'm trying to do this thing. I had the idea that we could do a #queerhistoryiseverywhere. And I wanted people to upload photos of Abraham Lincoln or the word Lincoln wherever they saw it and just start posting it on Instagram. It hasn't exactly caught on yet. But I still like that idea.

Jeff: Maybe our podcast listeners will play along with that.

Lee: Oh, yeah, that would be really fun. And also, I mean, as, you know, more queer history happens. I was speaking at the Bay Area Book Festival recently and someone came up after my panel and they said, "Did you know that Bābur from the Bāburnāma when he was a teen he was in love with another boy?" I was like, "Really?" Totally, I have sitting on my desk right next to me right now the "Bāburnāma" and indeed, when he was 18, he was in love with this other boy. And it's so exciting to find out this stuff. So I feel like because it's been hidden, the more we can crowdsource this information and share it and then all amplify each other. I think it's very, very exciting.

Jeff: Very cool. So we will link to all that stuff, the books we talked about - everything else - in our show notes. And Lee, I'm so glad we got the opportunity to talk, spread the word a little bit more about this book and the website and thank you for all you're doing to get more out there about YA literature too.

Lee: Thank you, Jeff. I really want to say thank you to you and to Will. I'm really a fan of the podcast and getting to be on it as a real thrill. So thanks.

Jun 17, 2019

Jeff opens the show talking about the work he's doing on the manuscript for the Hat Trick re-release.

New patron Lucy is welcomed.

The guys talk about Tales of the City on Netflix and the new season of Pose on FX. Will reviews Anticipating Disaster by Silvia Violet while Jeff reviews Prince of Killers (Fog City #1) by Layla Reyne.

Jeff interviews Layla Reyne about the new Fog City series as well as how it felt wrapping up the Trouble Brewing series earlier this year. They also talk about Layla's RITA nominated book, Relay, and the upcoming fall release, Dine with Me.

Complete shownotes for episode 193 along with a transcript of the interview are at

Interview Transcript – Layla Reyne

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

Jeff: Welcome Layla back to the podcast. It’s great to have you here.

Layla: Thank you for having me back.

Jeff: I had to have you back to talk about this new series, “Prince Of Killers,” as listeners will have heard right before this interview, blew my mind to pieces and back.

Layla: That’s what I wanna hear.

Jeff: Tell everybody what this new series is and in particular what they have to look forward to in “Prince Of Killers.”

Layla: Sure. So the series is “Fog City.” It’s set here in San Francisco. It’s a new romance suspense series. You don’t need to have read any of my series before that. I won’t say that there aren’t some Easter eggs for those that have, because we are all existing in the same place and time. But, this is a little different because this is following a family of assassins. So in books one to three of the “Fog City” trilogy, starting with “Prince of killers,” you’ve got Hawes Madigan, who runs a cold storage business by day, a very successful family kind of business in the city. And then by night, the families, they’re assassins. And he and his two siblings, Helena and Holt, are kind of the triumvirate that is currently the heir apparent. He’s the heir apparent and they kind of all run it together. His grandfather is ailing and so that’s kind of the setup and fairly successfully he is making some changes in the organization.

And so in comes…in the first scene, which is actually set at one of my favorite restaurants in the city, Gary Danko, walks Dante Perry who kind of has this strut about him, you know, long hair, looks like a rock God. But he’s carrying a gun, which he immediately notices, Hawes does, and Perry tells him, “There is someone trying to kill you.” And Hawes kind of laughs it off to start with because, dude, he runs an organization of assassins. That’s what they’re paid for. But then as Hawes and the family come to learn, it does look like someone is trying to stage a palace coup, so to speak. And so “Prince Of Killers” involves sort of the first stages of that and them trying to figure out who it is. And Dante has his own motivations as well. You know, he is trying to find the killer of someone who was close to him and Hawes doesn’t want him to find out who that is either. So I will leave it at that without spoiling too much.

Jeff: Let’s talk about the elephant in the room a little bit, and that is the fact that while you have left, for example, the books of the Whiskeyverse on some subtle cliff hangers, this one’s bigger than normal for you.

Layla: Yeah, I’m not hiding anything, guys. This one’s got a cliffhanger. I wouldn’t say anyone’s life is in jeopardy, but it’s definitely a cliffhanger. I have made no bones about that “The Usual Suspect” is one of my favorite movies. So hello. And, you know, I grew up in TV land and so I love cliffhangers and I kind of embrace it with this. And, you know, the good thing is the plan is for all the books to be out this year. All the covers are done. By the time this airs, book two will be in the hands of editors and I should be working on book three by then. So, they will all come this year and it’s in the blurb. So you know, everybody, fair warning. I’m not trying to hide it here. So…

Jeff: Yeah. And I love how you make the analogy to TV because I would put the cliffhanger that you did on the level of like the mid-season break. Not quite the end of season break, but that mid-season, it’s Christmastime, we’re gonna go away for a while and we’ll have a big thing when we come back.

Layla: That’s right. It’s the end of November sweeps.

Jeff: Exactly.

Layla: That’s where we’re at, not gonna lie. And then book two picks up right where it ended and goes on in there.

Jeff: Yeah. Which I’m super looking forward to.

Layla: I’m writing. It’s been a…It’s fun and, you know, I can’t…yeah, I can’t spoil anything.

Jeff: Yeah. Don’t say anything else. I don’t wanna know. I don’t want the listeners to know.

Layla: Okay. Okay.

Jeff: What was the inspiration for “Fog City” overall? Because since you’ve gone with this family of assassins, it’s certainly different from what we’re used to in the Whiskeyverse where you’ve got all the, you know, FBI agents and other kinds of, you know, law enforcement as your main characters.

Layla: So ironically, I was wandering through Wander Aguiar’s photography website looking for covers for a different project and I saw this picture of what will be the book three cover. And I had to know what the hell is their story. I mean it just jumped at me and I was like, I have to know the story. And then one of my good writer friends, Allison Temple said, “You can’t buy the pictures until you have a story.” She’s like, “Do not spend the money.” So by the end of the weekend, I had the story. I had all three of them and then I was like, “Okay, so let me piece together the three covers.” And so that’s kind of how it, in its original, came about, you know, thinking about doing it. So art really did inspire art in this case because the photos were just amazing.

I wanted to branch out and do a little bit of something different. There have been hints of the people in the gray area, you know, Jamie, good guy, but some of that hacking is not exactly on the up and up. Mel, I think we saw go more and more, you know, in her bounty hunter business and be a little bit more flexible once she left the FBI. And so kind of going from there and wanting to play more in that gray area and having read books too, L.J. Hayward’s “Death And The Devil” series, in particular, you know, it’s fun and it’s to some extent pretty liberating. I don’t think it was…it wasn’t harder. There are less rules. Right? I don’t have to check the FBI’s hierarchy chart every day to make sure I’m naming someone the right position. So in that regard, it’s actually been a bit easier.

Jeff: Your shades of gray is 100% right because it’s not a spoiler to say that Hawes, not only did he have the legit business on the side, but he’s even trying to modify the ways that the family does the assassin business to make it, I guess, less bad maybe.

Layla: Yeah. So, there’s an event that happened three years ago that kind of drives a lot of the series and when you read you’ll find out what that is and to the extent it drives Hawes’ three rules, which are in the blurb, which is no indiscriminate killing, no collateral damage, and no unvetted targets. So, if they’re not…He is turning the organization away from kind of the killing machine that his grandfather, Papa Cal, was. And his parents were very methodical, very efficient, not a whole lot of emotion in it. And so, he’s trying to find the balance between those two of it being, you know, I don’t wanna say the killer with a heart of gold, but he is a killer with a conscience. And so he doesn’t even like the moniker Prince of Killers and what that stands and how it came about, which you’ll read about in the book as well. So, he’s definitely a great character.

And then when you look at the broader picture of everyone in the series, Holt is, you know, this…he has a kid and he is, first and foremost, a father, right? And he is a hacker and he, because of where he’s at in his life, has pulled back to being kind of the digital assassin of the bunch. And then Helena, who is the sister, who is my typical female complete badass, love her, she works for…she does a criminal defense work in her day job where she is actually working for people who are wrongfully accused. And so there’s some shades of gray in her as well. And then even one of the other side characters is the chief of police who has an interesting relationship with the Madigans and he knows that there is some benefit to what they do and you’re gonna find out there’s some backstory with him as well as to where he is. So, there’s a reference to him in…If you’ve read “Trouble Brewing,” there’s a reference to him in “Noble Hops.” It’s the same chief, for those who are watching, that read that. So…

Jeff: That was one of the Easter eggs that I missed. Because you and I have talked about the Easter eggs and there was some that I caught it and some was like, “Dang it.”

Layla: So that’s one of…he’s the new chief, you know, that’s a little bit more flexible in the way things are done. And so everybody…and then Dante is also, you know, playing in his shades of gray as a PI and how far he’s willing to go and what he’s doing personally and professionally. Like where’s that line for him?

Jeff: Helena is the one that I found the most interesting in her shades of gray because here’s an officer of the court who occasionally does some, you know, very illegal things, which isn’t to say that, you know, all lawyers are, you know, on the right side of the law. But for her, it seemed like really…

Layla: Right. And she makes a line about balancing out her karma, right? That’s kind of how she approaches it to some extent of, you know, part of what they’re doing and why he…particularly Helena and Hawes are so well aligned like that, you know, Hawes wants the contracts of the people the law can’t reach or that escape the law, you know, who get around it, let’s just say, because of who they know or who they pay. And that’s kind of who their targets…that’s the targets he wants. People that have, you know, skirted justice for nefarious reasons. And her day job is the people who justice has wrongfully done. And so they kind of work hand in hand and her feeling on it plays to both of her careers.

Jeff: You mentioned in this book you had less rules, so like, you’re not looking upon the FBI flow chart and things. Were there challenges to coming at these characters who had these shades of gray or was it…”free for all” is a little bit much, but certainly more freeing I guess.

Layla: Yeah, certainly challenges. Though, I mean, you still have to balance the fact that, “Hey, they’re killing people.” Right? And how you balance that with their conscience, with the people around them, particularly Kane, who was the police chief, has a lot to deal with and going on kind of. So yeah, I mean it is definitely there. There were different challenges for me, I kind of liked it because I got to go a little bit more, even though it’s a shorter book than usual, I think going into their heads more than I typically would because there’s a lot more internal conflict – while still having tons of external conflict. I felt like there was more internal conflict about what they’re actually doing than, you know, being an FBI agent and knowing you’re on the right side of the law. So this was more…they had to kind of walk that line, particularly Hawes.

Jeff: One of the things I like most about the book that is…in a lot of ways, it’s separate from the romance and it’s separate from the suspense element a lot is the family unit. And it’s a recurring theme, at least in the books that I’ve read of yours from, you know, Irish And Whiskey and their families. And then what we see of the families in “Trouble Brewing” of the main characters. And here I really feel like maybe it’s because we’re so much closer to the family that we really, even in the shorter book, get a lot about Hawes and Holt and Helena and their interaction with each other. What was your plan as you like populated this family and the characters that you wanted to put on the page?

Layla: So, it kind of, I would say, came about organically to an extent. The first scene I wrote like that weekend when I saw the pictures, I wrote it and then I posted it in my little reader group’s like, “I hate you.” And in that first scene, actually there’s a reference to the siblings, but you actually don’t see them, but then they pop up. And part of it too was I had already found their pictures as well. I kind of knew who they all were, but, I also knew who we needed to do X, Y, and Z from a plot standpoint. I also didn’t want Hawes to be an island to himself. Right? And to some extent, giving the life that he lives. And, you know, the two aspects of his life, that family is gonna be the only…like they can’t really let anyone else get close. Right?

And so, they’re so tight with the family. That’s the only people they trust. And so, that’s, I think, particularly why, you know, that’s who he debriefs with. That’s who they’re planning with and everything because that’s kind of it. And then, sort of, you have in that expanded family, you also have Holt’s wife, Amilia, and you have the grandmother, Papa Cal’s wife, and like that’s the tight-knit crew. And it has been that way for that family for three generations. And that’s kind of what you find out is that, this is what they do. And because of that, they have to keep it close to the vest and the families who they trust.

Jeff: But even through that, you’ve got Helena pushing on Hawes to make the connection to find somebody. Which I love because even as all hell’s breaking loose, it’s like think about doing that because you could have what Holt has.

Layla: Yeah. They both…you know, Holt’s happily married with a kid. And I think for both, for Hawes and Helena, you know, that’s the ideal. Their parents were happily married, right? Papa Cal and Rose were. So you can have happiness, right, in this. You just have to find the person who accepts it and where’s that line? And Dante is someone who could be that person, right? He comes in and he seems to know what they do. He seems to be okay with it. And it’s got a hint of insta-lust for sure. Like they’re immediately attracted to each other, but it’s not until later where Hawes kind of starts to think, “Huh, here’s this person who maybe gets it and is okay with it,” the way that Holt and Amelia ended up working out. And Amelia is part of the group, she actually has her own specialty with pressure points and being kind of a perfect Trojan horse for the group because she’s not as out there as the rest of the Madigans are with the business. So yeah. So, he starts to see that. And Helena is kind of also walking a thin line of, “I wanna be happy, but do we know who this dude is?” Right. “Hey, Buddy. Okay, go have fun. But be careful.” So, he’s trying to be the rational one in that scenario.

Jeff: So, we know that this is a trilogy. How far does “Fog City” go overall? Do you have a grand plan?

Layla: I do, I do. Hawes and Dante will have a trilogy. So they’re the main characters through books one to three. And then Helena will have a book and then there’s another fifth book, but I’m not gonna say who that is because that’ll spoil things. But everybody will get their HEAs by the end of it. I’m looking at five and then I’ve got some ideas for spin-offs and I may already have some cover photos bought for them. I would say I like building big verses, right? I mean, I grew up…I mean my intro to really reading a lot of romances, Kristen Ashley, and I love that big verse concept. And so I like building them too.

Jeff: And if you, you know, put it back on TV, I mean, you look at things like the Arrowverse and all of its characters or all of the Chicago shows on NBC, you can have all of your one big, huge comboverse.

Layla: Yeah. No, and that’s kind of like that. I grew up in all that too. I was a TV person first. I come from that world where it is all intertwined like that. I like doing that. I like cameos and seeing characters and it’s fun. And you know, Mel runs everything, just remember that. That’s all you need to know.

Jeff: Even if the characters don’t know that, she’s really in charge.

Layla: Everything. Yeah.

Jeff: Now, we gotta give you a congrats too because in the midst of you getting this ready, it was announced you’re a finalist for the Romance Writers of America RITA Award, for the book, “Relay.”

Layla: Yes. Yes.

Jeff: Which is awesome. For those who don’t know, tell us what “Relay” is about.

Layla: “Relay” is book one and the “Changing Lanes” duology, which is “Relay” and “Medley.” So, two books. The duology follows the four men who are on the U.S. men’s medley relay team, swim team. And so, the first book, “Relay,” which was nominated, is about Alex Cantu and Dane Ellis, who had a little summer love affair at a training camp 10 years ago and didn’t go well because Dane is the son of an evangelical minister and very closeted. And so he ends up on the same Olympic team with Alex, who is the team captain, who’s worked his tail off basically to get where he’s at and he is…you know, it’s enemies to lovers to start.

Obviously, there’s a lot of friction there from what happened in the past. And then they end up on the relay team together, have to work together. And so then you’ve got a bit of a second chance love story. That’s what it rolls into. And so you see up through the first two legs of training camp and Olympic training in the first book. So you see the two domestic sites. And then in the second book, “Medley,” which follows the other two characters, Boss and Jacob, that’s a mentor-mentee. A little bit of an age gap, like 26 to 19, I think. And Jacob’s this lovely like pirate-quoting cinnamon roll. I love him. He’s so much fun. And two bi characters.

Jeff: Pirate-quoting cinnamon roll?

Layla: Yeah, he’s a cinnamon roll character, like, he’s a total dork.

Jeff: I love that description of him.

Layla: And so, then you see international training in the Olympics in that book. So they go hand in hand. And I’m really…you know, there are definite problems with the RITA awards has been brought up with getting better representation. I am happy this book got through. Alex is a character of color. And, you know, when I wrote this, I wanted to say, you know, “This is the U.S. Olympic team, a representation that I would like to see,” right, that’s diverse in sexuality and race and, you know, I’m glad that it did get to the finalists because that’s at least out there.

Jeff: And again, congrats for that. That’s cool. I’ll have to go pick that up now because I have not picked up your sports books and I’m certainly like a sports romance lover anyway, so…

Layla: One of my good friends was a competitive swimmer up through college and so I talked to him a lot and then one of my other friends swam up through high school and then a little bit in college too. So, it was something different, you know, and I think it was right about the Olympics time where we started talking about that idea and then it just rolled.

Jeff: As I mentioned, there was some research involved there too, just to know what the training program was like and where it happened.

Layla: And then some of it was my own, like, but too, they go to Vienna for training and I studied abroad there. And I’ve kinda always wanted to put it in a book. And so that was a lot of fun – everywhere there is somewhere that I went and even the fight that happens up in the wine country kind of happened to a friend. And so it was interesting like to see kind of, it was a different source of the fight, but you know, I was traipsing through this little village in the middle of the night going, “Where’d you go?”

Jeff: That’s awesome. Drawing from real life events. You’ve got a bit of a con schedule going on this year. You’re headed to BLC so you’ll be at the first incarnation of Book Lovers Con in New Orleans, but you’re also making your very first trip to GayRomLit this year.

Layla: I know, I can’t wait. It’s finally back out here, relatively close to us on the West Coast. I’m so looking forward to that. You know, I loved…I’ve been to an RW International and then I went to RT last year and I love the reader interaction like that. I like that part of it so much. And so that’s why I’m going back to Book Lovers Con to get more of that, but then I really want to go to GRL because those are particularly our readers, right, and my favorite authors, so I can’t, you know, wait to meet some folks. See folks that I met last year, meet others, and then like… two of my closest writing friends I’ve never met in person, they’re both going to be there. So I can’t wait for that.

Jeff: So name drop a little bit. Who are these people you’re meeting in person for the first time?

Layla: Well, what’s cool at Book Lovers Con is that I’ll get to meet Annabeth Albert, who’s been a sprint partner, publishes with the same…with Carina Press too. So that’ll be awesome. But then, yeah, at GRL, it’ll be Erin McLellan, who you actually reviewed “Clean Break,” and Allison Temple. So we’re looking forward to that.

Jeff: Very cool. Now, of course, “Fog City” continues through this year. I know you’ve got at least one other book sneaking it’s way out there. What else is coming up this year?

Layla: So there’ll be the three “Fog City” books and then “Dine With Me” comes out in September and it’s very different from everything else. So, well, I guess not, you know, if you read my books, and even in “Fog City,” there’s food, there’re restaurants because I am a complete and total foodie. And so “Dine With Me” is kind of my love letter to restaurants that I’ve loved, to food experiences that I’ve loved. And it follows Miller Sykes who is an award-winning chef who gets a diagnosis, a medical diagnosis, and basically if he gets treatment, he will lose his sense of taste. It’s a high likelihood that the treatment and surgery will compromise the sense of taste. And as a chef, dude, how? Like even as a foodie, you know, God, I can’t imagine and I can’t even…as a chef, wow. And so rather than get treatment, he decides to go on the last tour of his favorite meals. And it’s not just high end, you know, it’s dive bars and, you know, there are high-end restaurants also all across the spectrum for everything a different place offers. And that’s partially my experiences too, everywhere there is based on somewhere I’ve been.

And then Clancy Rhodes who is the financial backer for this effort is kind of along for the ride. He’s a total foodie, experiencing it, and how he starts to piece together what’s going on and also starts to realize they have a lot in common. Despite, you know, a bit of an age gap and coming from different places in different worlds, they are both kinda facing these great expectations and how to handle that. And he has to convince him that, you know, life is more than just your taste buds, right, and that love’s worth it. And so it’s the book of my heart. It’s been in my head for years. I’ve sat on the first chapter since 2015, 2016 it was on the initial list of blurbs I gave my agent, and we finally found a place to make it happen. So I’m super excited about it.

Jeff: That’s awesome because it’s always good to get the book of your heart out there.

Layla: Yes. Yeah. Like I said, it’s different. You know, there is a ticking clock aspect to it given the diagnosis and what’s going on but, there’s not a car chase, which is unusual. But it’s a much more internal book and a lot of food gushing. So, you know, I generally say have snacks and tissues, just FYI.

Jeff: That’s not really a bad thing for any book to have the snacks and the tissues nearby.

Layla: You’ll really need it. So, I’m excited. That comes out September 16 and that’ll be from Carina, that one will.

Jeff: Cool. And I have to ask before we wrap up, how was it to wrap up the Whiskeyverse for now – as “Trouble Brewing” wrapped up earlier this year?

Layla: Yeah. I mean, good. Right. I like where everybody got to. I loved writing that last scene in “Trouble Brewing” and “Noble Hops.” You know, it was just kind of a nice – everybody’s where they should be. Right. I was glad to give everybody their happily ever after there. I did see some things, which are in the pipeline. And so, things may happen in the future depending on time and whatnot. But I’m excited for it and I’m glad Nick and Cam and Mel and Danny and Aiden and Jamie all got their happy. They definitely deserved it.

Jeff: Yeah. Yes, they did. They worked for it.

Layla: They worked for it.

Jeff: Yeah. It was such a satisfying read. If anybody hasn’t picked those books up, they need to for sure.

Layla: Thank you.

Jeff: So what is the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they can keep track of all the “Fog City” releases and the upcoming “Dine With Me” and everything else?

Layla: Yeah, so probably my Facebook group, Layla’s Lushes is where I’m at the most. And you can find a link to that on my Facebook page too, which is just Layla Reyne. So, that’s me on pretty much all the platforms on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’m on Instagram a fair bit. There’s a lot of food and my pugs there, so just FYI. I would say the reader group and the newsletter too, which is on my website, there’s a banner, so it’s and you can follow and find it there.

Jeff: Yup. We will link to all that in the show notes along with all the books. The reader group is the place to be because it’s where you find out about like, oh, the first chapter of “Fog City” well before anybody else does.

Layla: Yeah. I kind of like…I have a hard time sitting on stuff. I ran one of the big “X-Files” spoiler sites back in the day, so if that tells you anything, I’m a bit of a spoiler junkie and have a tendency to spoil things though, just FYI.

Jeff: Yeah. Everybody should go join up with that if you’re into Layla’s books in any shape, form, or fashion.

Layla: Yes.

Jeff: All right. Well, Layla, it’s been so good talking to you. Thank you so much for the great read that is “Prince of Killers” and I look forward to keeping track of “Fog City” as the year progresses.

Layla: Excellent. Thank you so much for having me again. It’s been fun.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Anticipating Disaster by Silvia Violet. Reviewed by Will
Nice-guy Oliver enjoys his quiet bookish life – so he’s less than thrilled to be attending a family reunion at a ski resort. He braves the frigid temperatures and disapproving attitudes of his extended family to please his grandmother, who he adores.

Irresistibly sexy bisexual outdoorsman David is in town to help his friend mend a broken heart. While his bestie distracts himself with a pair of slope bunnies, David sets his sights on klutzy Oliver, offering to give him private ski lessons.

Flirtation leads to friendship and to David accompanying Oliver to some of the planned reunion activities. When certain family members mock Oliver’s nerdish tendencies, David fiercely defends him. Can’t they see how smart and sweet and kind he is?

To give Oliver a vacation from his relatives, David takes Oliver to Anticipation, the picture-perfect mountain town that he calls home.

The more time that our heroes spend together, the more they think this might just be the real deal. The problem is that neither one of them does casual relationships. David has his life in Anticipation and Oliver has his life back in Florida with his grandmother.

A long-distance arrangement doesn’t seem particularly practical and they sadly part ways.

Oliver returns to his real life and, after some time apart from David, he realizes (with some help from grandma) that his quiet existence might be more about hiding from life than truly living it.

He decides that David is well-worth the risk and heads back to Anticipation to start a new adventurous chapter in his life story.

I really enjoyed Anticipating Disaster. The author takes some familiar character types and story tropes and crafts a really compelling story, while at the same time giving the romance her own twist. The set-up might be pure category romance, but let’s be real, this is a Silvia Violet book, so you know that the heat level is going to be cranked up to 11.

Oliver has a penchant for lacy undergarments and, over the course of the story, David discovers he likes cute guys with a penchant for lacy undergarments – like, A LOT.

Also, in the bedroom, David has a talent for turning some particularly filthy turns-of phrase. So the time our that heroes spend together do not disappoint – these aren’t the kinds of sex scenes you’ll skim over.

This book is the first in a series with the quaint town of Anticipation serving as the backdrop for future installments. A few side characters are introduced in Anticipating Disaster and I look forward to the new romances that will unfold in upcoming books.

Prince of Killers (Fog City #1) by Layla Reyne. Reviewed by Jeff.
Anyone who’s been listening to the show over the past year knows that I’ve fallen hard for romantic suspense, and in particular the stories that Layla Reyne writes. As soon as I offered the chance to read an advanced copy of Prince of Killers I jumped on it and devoured it in just a few days. Not only is the suspense tight but the budding romance had great sizzle.

I’ve never read romantic suspense where someone in law enforcement wasn’t at least one, if not both, of the central characters in the love story. In this book, our main character is on the flipside of the law as the leader of a family of assassins. This provided an interesting twist and I loved the ride.

The titular prince of killers is Hawes Madigan who has recently come into leading his family’s business because his grandfather is on his deathbed. One evening, just before a job, Hawes gets information that someone inside the organization is looking to take him out and possibly targeting others inside his family. The bombshell is dropped by the mysterious Dante Perry.

The news of betrayal from the inside throws Hawes for a loop. He figured some associates might take issue with the new rules he’s put into place, which include no indiscriminate killing, no collateral damage and no unvetted targets. He introduces these rules because of past incidents that haunt him.

The introduction of the Madigan family and how they approach their line of work fascinated me as much as the suspense of the internal sabotage and the romance that blooms between Hawes and Dante. Hawes has a twin sister, Helena, and younger brother, Holt who has a wife and baby daughter. Holt’s the tech wizard for the organization and Helena has another career as an attorney helping those who are wrongfully accused. Hawes’s life revolves solely around the family businesses–both the legit refrigeration business and the not-so-legit assassin game.

The interplay of the family members as they try to sort out the traitor in their midst while dealing with their dying grandfather is so sharply written. There’s barely time for them to process any one thing that happens and yet the do make time to support and care for one another. Helena even pushes Hawes toward Dante as a potential partner because she wants her brother to have someone. Hawes taking the leap to trust and fall for Dante is one of things I love most about the book as he finds the strength to overcome the fear of putting his family at risk. Even though Holt has made a family for himself and his parents and grandparents had a successful family life, Hawes feels that he needs to be cautious since he’s the family leader now.

Dante also goes out of his way to get Hawes and the family to trust him with not only their brother’s heart but aspects of the business as well. Hawes using Dante as his rock as the plot against the family unfolds, exposed his vulnerabilities perfectly. Meanwhile, the bombs that dropped in the final quarter of this book were ones I hadn’t seen coming and got my heart thumping.

This is book one of a trilogy and as was the case with Layla’s other books I can’t wait to see where she takes this story. Similar to the Irish and Whiskey and Trouble Brewing trilogies, the Hawes and Dante’s story doesn’t fully wrap up at the end of the book. Of particular note, Prince of Killers ends with a significant cliffhanger. I don’t mind cliffhangers but if you are averse to that kind of ending you might want to wait until book two’s out so you won’t be waiting long to see what happens next. For me Layla’s redefined what a family of assassins looks like with this book. Fog City kicks off with some mind-blowing twists and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Jun 10, 2019

The guys open the show congratulating the winners of the 31st Annual Lambda Literary Awards. They also discuss the podcast’s inclusion in Apple Podcasts’ Pride Month recommendations. Jeff also talks about some of the past week’s happenings with his Codename: Winger series and Will asks him what it was like wrapping up the series.

Jeff and Will discuss the new Tales of the City series on Netflix. Will reviews the first two books in Piper Scott & Susi Hawke’s Redneck Unicorn Series.

Aidan Wayne is interviewed about their three new books out this year: Hitting The MarkPlay It Again and the forthcoming Stage Presents. They also talk about how they decide what goes into the books, how they got started writing, author influences and what’s coming next.

Complete shownotes for episode 192 along with a transcript of the interview are at

Interview Transcript – Aidan Wayne

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

Jeff: Welcome, Aidan, to the podcast. It’s great to have you here.

Aidan: Thank you. I’m excited to be here. It’s an interesting experience for me. Never done this before.

Jeff: Oh, cool. First podcast. Always fun to have people doing their first podcast with us. Now, you’ve had a busy few months of releases and we wanna talk about the most recent one first, which is “Hitting the Mark.” Tell us a little bit about that book and what inspired it.

Aidan: Okay. So “Hitting the Mark,” in a nutshell, it’s about a famous movie star named Marcus Economidis, who used to train in martial arts when he was really young and really shy. And that helped him come out of a shell and then he moves. And being in martial arts actually helps him become more confident and he ends up getting a movie role, and that spirals, and then becomes a famous…10 years later, he’s a famous movie star who is also famous for doing his own stunts. Meanwhile, in Marcus’s hometown essentially, his original school – Choi’s Taekwondo Academy – is now run by Taemin Choi. Taemin was Marcus’s kind of assistant instructor growing up. They’re about 10 years apart. So Marcus was 10, Taemin was, like, in his early 20s and Taemin runs the school now. And Marcus happens to be coming back into town for a shoot and he decides to pay a visit to his old school… kind of nostalgia. He lost contact with Taemin when he moved.

And so, he kind of wants to bridge the gap again, just like say hi, see what happens. And then they do meet with Marcus being an adult and, you know, there’s kind of an instant connection. The entire book is essentially about them navigating, first, relearning each other because they knew each other for several years, but it’s been several more years since they actually talked again. So they’re relearning who they are as people, especially Marcus as he’s grown into his own self, and that turns into a romantic relationship. And they’re just figuring out how to be in one considering that, you know, Marcus is this famous person and Taemin is a very busy man who runs his own school and takes care of a lot of things. And just, that’s the story basically. I do a lot of character-based stories where the plot is kind of, like, playing the course as opposed to, like, a person antagonist sort of. So it’s kind of like another one of those things for me.

Jeff: Okay. And it ticks so many boxes because there’s friends to lovers, and second chances, and an age gap.

Aidan: I tend to, when I write, sometimes I have several different things that I wanna include in various ideas. And so, sometimes when I have, like, the base, I’m just like, “Let’s just squish them all together. Let’s just push them all in one thing and see what happens, and if I can pull it off.”

Jeff: And you mentioned when we were emailing to set this interview up that this is one of the books you didn’t have to do a ton of research on because…

Aidan: Thank God.

Jeff: …movies and martial arts, you had the knowledge there. What aspects of your background, you know, play into that?

Aidan: Well, I’ve been involved in martial arts for about 20 years now, primarily Taekwondo and that’s the style that I had Taemin doing because I know the most about Taekwondo in Korean style. I technically have my black belt in two disciplines. One is Taekwondo and the other is a mixed type of martial art that I actually ended up teaching. I used to run a school. So a lot of my experience did transfer over into Taemin’s experiences in running a school and dealing with students and various endeavors that are required. And with movies, I actually majored in media production in college. I was on movie sets a lot both behind the camera and also growing up, I kind of dabbled in acting and I’ve been in front of the camera a lot too including on some big sets. Michigan used to be a pretty big movie hub before the tax thing happened and a lot of places moved away from it. And I was actually on a few different, like, SAG films.

So I got to kind of be both in front of the camera and behind the camera. So learning about that aspect was…It was fun to basically shove as much knowledge as I could, especially the martial arts into one book because I have such a love for martial arts that it was like, “Let’s include inside jokes and inside knowledge. And I’ve never had to spell this Korean word in English before. So I have to probably look that up.” And fun fact actually, I’m not gonna spoil anything, but one of the plot points is Taemin working towards the Olympics. He’s qualified for the qualification and that entire piece is actually based on a co-worker of mine I used to work with who did qualify for the Olympic matches.

Jeff: Incredible. You did stuff a lot in here in terms of all of your knowledge kinda went into this book.

Aidan: Yeah. It was kinda, it was a nice break. I still had to do research obviously because I had to, like, fresh some things and again, like, Korean, making sure that I got that right. But for a lot of it, like, I have another book that I released late last year, “His Two Leading Men,” which takes place in New York with a Broadway star, and I’m like, “I like Broadway, I can just write about plays, that’s fine.” No, I ended up having to map out the entire city to figure out distances to whichever…I’m crazy…whichever restaurant he’d like to go to, which is closer, where is laundromat was. Like, I’m absolutely ridiculous when it comes to stuff like that. Nobody is gonna notice but me. But, like, I care.

Jeff: But the native New Yorkers might. And so, it matters.

Aidan: Yeah, yeah.

Jeff: I have stopped myself of books going, “That’s not right. I know where that is and that doesn’t work that way.” So you do work Michigan into a lot of your books. “Hitting the Mark” is in Michigan. “Play It Again,” which we’ll dive more into in just a second, has a Michigan element simply because you have somebody sending Dovid, the main character, some Faygo Red Pop and some other Michigan treats, some Mackinac fudge included. Obviously, you live in Michigan. Is it something you try to work into the books, a little Michigan angle?

Aidan: Kind of. Half of it is ‘write what you know’ because I’m thoroughly uncreative when it comes to that and it’s way easier to just, like, I don’t have to make something up, I don’t have to do more research. I just can set it in Farmington Hills or wherever it is. But sometimes it’s because I have, like, certain places in mind or I want to include certain things like, with Dovid receiving a care package, I wanted to make sure that I had a care package that at least was state-based and was really cool and could include especially a lot of food because a lot of…Dovid being blind, a lot of his things are food-based, it’s part of his schtick. So he reacts to taste and stuff. So knowing that I have my own experience with various Michigan cuisines and snacks and stuff, I could include that pretty easily and know that it would ring true but also be kind of funny. And even if the person didn’t necessarily know what things were, it would still, like, be something that they could get.

Jeff: Speaking of “Play it Again,” that I reviewed back in episode 186 and really, really loved it. It was like the book I didn’t know I needed at the time.

Aidan: Thank you.

Jeff: And it’s quite different from “Hitting the Mark.” What was the inspiration behind this tale of two YouTubers who managed to find love even though they live half a world apart?

Aidan: Well, going back to my ‘I have various ideas, but squish them all together into one sometimes.’ I really, really wanted to showcase a blind character. A lot of the characters that I do showcase are disabled in some way or have, you know, different aspects of their life that aren’t typical, you know, part of normative parts of society, etc., etc. And I apologize if my verbiage isn’t the best. And I really want to showcase a blind character, but obviously, I didn’t wanna fetishize that I wanted him to be successful and happy, and not be just blind as his character if that makes sense. And I thought YouTube would be a fun angle for that. And on the other side, I really wanted to focus on, like, a Let’s Player because I thought that it would be fun to try to, like, figure out how to write that because it’s so much narration and video-audio-based. And I like playing and like, “Can I do this? I will see if I can.”

So making it a long-distance relationship was also kind of something that sort of happened because long-distance relationships, specifically internet-based ones, are very important to me because I have several relationships that started being internet-only and I consider a lot of these people some of my closest friends and I’ve met many of them in person now. One of my friends, I’ve only ever met them once, and it was in our first meeting ever…we then spent two weeks together, but our first meeting ever was in Narita Airport in Tokyo where we both flew separately and then spent two weeks in Japan together. So, like, yeah, there’s a lot that can come from internet relationships and I really wanted to showcase something like that too.

Jeff: And I’d imagine here that the research was more than “Hitting the Mark” because you needed to make sure that Dovid was portrayed in the way that you wanted to where, you know, he wasn’t necessarily defined by the blindness.

Aidan: Oh, yeah. I do extensive research whenever I write, especially disabled characters, because, you know, there’s so much misinformation out there and it’s so easy to fall into the trap of what the media has portrayed a person to be like or to do as opposed to actually reading experiences and watching experiences about, you know, real people. I kind of posed this question to myself on Twitter a while back, but it was basically, how does one write about a successful blind YouTuber? Watch a lot of successful blind YouTubers basically. So I watched a lot of, like, “The Tommy Edison Experience” is a man who is blind and he has a lot of Q&As; on YouTube. A lot of his videos are older and he’s an older gentleman. But it was still, you know, very informative. He has, like, an episode about cooking, which Dovid is the chef of his little family where he lives with his sister, Rachel. So it was interesting to, like, make sure that I was, you know, portraying his ability to do that correctly and, like, different tools that he’d use. Molly Burke is also a YouTuber that does makeup and fashion. But how she interacts, you know, with her audience and interacts with herself, and the things that are important to her – her experiences – because she does talk about that as well. It was very important.

There’s a Tumblr called “Actually Blind” that did Q&As; and did a lot of commentary on different things and responded to different situations where, you know, there’s one impairment affected daily life that was not considered. And “Actually Blind” was a huge help in doing a lot of research because even when I didn’t actually ask the question myself, sometimes they just talked about things that I hadn’t thought about before. So that was a really good thing to notice. Like for instance, they had a post about the fact that the face touch thing in so many books and so many movies is absolutely ludicrous and no blind person really does that. And because it was made up by a sighted person who thought that it was kind of like romantic and intimate to have the blind person, like, touch the other person’s face to see what they look like and “Actually Blind” was like, “No, no. Uh-uh.” So it was something that I didn’t include then and I might have if I hadn’t read something like that.

Jeff: The research is oh, so important.

Aidan: Absolutely, absolutely. And I do a lot of sensitivity readers too. I have a short story that is going to be coming out probably in October, because I’m spacing it out a little bit, where one of the main characters is in a wheelchair. So luckily, I’m like, “Hey, sibling, I’m gonna ask you some wheelchair questions.” And know about how my experiences in, you know, living with somebody who uses a mobility aid and all that. So proper portrayal is really important to me.

Jeff: And you have still yet another type of story coming out with your upcoming YA novel, “Stage Presents.” And I’m fascinated by this way because you’re taking us to Disney College Program. Do you have experience in that or was that a ton more research? And of course, what is this book about because it sounds just delightful?

Aidan: Oh, well, thank you. I hope it is delightful. I hope people enjoy it. And to your question, yes and yes. I did experience, I did do the Disney college program many years ago, but I also did do a lot of research for the story in part because, you know, Disney updates and changes things. So some of the things I had to look up were the current menus and stuff because, again, it’s like a tiny little detail that only I will notice but I cared about. But I also had to make sure that I was getting details right in terms of characters because one of the main characters, Ashlee, with two Es, is a Disney princess literally. I did a lot of research into behind the scenes of that a little bit. I watched a lot of ex-princess interviews and posts about the experience of being a character performer.

I didn’t have a lot of experience in that capacity. I knew some people who are friends with characters while I was in the program and I did ask, you know, I did learn about it that way. But princesses, I had to learn a little bit more. And, oh, yeah, what the book is about. Two girls who both get onto the Disney College Program and end up his roommates. One, Dana is a kind of, you know, calm, cool, collected, very down to earth, logical girl who is going into international business, she’s excited about working in a Fortune 500 company. She’s looking forward to living away from home. She’s trans. So, you know, that’s just another aspect of who she is as a person and she’s kind of like not sure about how she’s gonna get along with people. But she kind of has the mindset of ‘judge people before they judge you’ sort of thing because of past experiences.

Meanwhile, on the other side, Ashlee, with two Es, loves Disney…I know, it’s a very important detail. She loves Disney, she’s a Disneyphile, she loves all the movies, she loves all the songs. She gets cast as an actual Disney princess. This is her dream come true. She’s been dancing since she was little. So one of her goals is to be a parade performer Disney princess, essentially, and she’s super excited. She’s from good old Southern Georgia and has never really, you know, met somebody who’s not exactly like her and her little clique, you know, popular, excited, happy group. So she doesn’t really know what trans means and she was born around…she knows what the internet is, but still, it’s different from knowing and meeting and, like, actually talking to somebody and interacting. And then so, Ashlee is kind of ignorant and Dana is kind of standoffish, and they hate each other.

A good portion of the book is just them hating each other, and eventually, of course, a couple of different things happen and it turns into a begrudging friendship, which turns into actual friendship, which turns into more. And it was, you know, writing the evolution of enemies to lovers, which is something that I hadn’t done before really, and integrating different aspects of their situation and being roommates and living in such close quarters and, like, what constitutes that kind of relationship too, especially while you do not like each other and then as friends, and then, you know, once you’re more intimate as well. So that was, like, a whole encompassing aspect of the story itself.

Jeff: And now, it sounds even more delightful than when I read the blurb.

Aidan: Okay. Good. I had a lot of fun. I like my stories, which is, you know, a fun thing to be able to say because a lot of them I think, just kind of get defined as ‘fun’. There are obviously elements of angst and stuff and, you know, negativity that happens, but I have fun, you know, writing them. I hope that people have fun reading them.

Jeff: What got you into writing and M/M romance in particular?

Aidan: Well, I’ve always been a storyteller. My dad also, when we were kids, he would make up bedtime stories. We got read to a lot too, but he would make them up. So I grew up with the elements of imagination as something that you could play with and figuring out different elements of what characters could do. Really, you know, being totally honest, fan fiction. I was really, really interested in “Elfquest” as a kid. It is a fantasy novel by Wendy and Richard Penny. And man, I was an “Elfquest” fan. I read and actually own, I’ve collected almost all of the books and volumes and made up as a tiny little 9-year-old, self-inserts in my head as being an elf with such and such power, and being part of that self-insert stuff.

And as I got into more media growing up, I really enjoyed reading and writing fan fiction because it was a way to interact with something that I enjoyed so much past where the media itself went. And sometimes things happen that you didn’t like. So you could make them better by writing it yourself or reading it by other people who did a good job or further exploring the world that had already been created with characters you already liked. And from there, it was kind of like, “Oh, I could do this with my own characters and make whatever I want to happen, happen. What? Oh.” And the kickoff was when I was, I don’t know, like, 15, I participated in my first NaNoWriMo and that was the first, like, write a lot of words and also write them really quickly. So you can’t think too much about what you were doing, you know, “wrong.”

I wrote 50,000 words in the 30 days. And man, I still have it and it really portrays what I was into, what I was learning, and what I was experimenting with as a 15-year-old because it is a lot of stuff. And I really enjoyed doing that and I kind of just kept at it. And eventually, I had a friend who I really admired, Mina MacLeod, who was also a writer that I was friends with at the time. And she talked about an anthology and encouraged me to also, you know, submit a story, a piece, and I did. And we both got in and I still have the copy of the book, but we’re both in the anthology, both me and this writer that I really admire. And, like, that was really cool. And from there, I went, “Oh, wait, publishing is possible, that this is a thing that actually can happen to, like, real human people as opposed to just authors who are these untouchable people on pedestals.”

So my next book that I wrote was written with publishing in mind. That was “Loud and Clear.” And it was technically my first original, original piece. Speaking of smooshing everything together at once, that book is about a man who is so dyslexic, he is essentially illiterate and a businessman who has a stutter so bad that he is a selective mute, falling in love and entering into a relationship. So you got someone who can’t read and someone who communicates through writing and I was like, “Let’s just make this as complicated for myself as possible. That’s a good idea.” But, you know.

Jeff: Yeah. For a first book, you took on a lot there.

Aidan: You know, it suffers from an overuse of italics, but it’s still something that I really appreciate that I did as a writer. I really like it. I had a lot of people really like the fact that I, you know, portrayed people that way, and of course, it does focus on non-normative people with disabilities and challenges in, you know, typical normal society. The illiteracy was actually based on a friend of mine who is illiterate. His dyslexia is so bad, he is effectively illiterate. He’s also an engineer. So, you know, it doesn’t stop you. It doesn’t have to stop you as long as you have the right elements and encouragement and resources. And that’s what a lot of people do struggle with. Like, he had to be homeschooled because his school that his parents had put him in originally were like, “We don’t know what to do with this child.” So being homeschooled allowed him to learn and actually grow and actually learn.

Jeff: I have a suspicion a little bit where this next question at least will go a little bit given the “Elfquest” things, but what authors and genres do you tend to read?

Aidan: Basically everything, but gore horror to be honest. I really enjoy contemporary pieces. I like fantasy. I really like nonfiction. I love learning stuff. This is probably not a surprise considering my need for research, my favorite author in the entire world is Terry Pratchett. That probably will never change. The man was absolutely brilliant and his ability to tell stories, and well-rounded characters, and development in plot, and his care in structure, and how he’s able to tie things up neatly with, you know, no questions except for like, what could happen next? He’s absolutely amazing. I really admire him. If I like a tenth of his ability to just, like, story weave, I’d be content in my ability to create.

One of the other authors I really enjoy, he’s a very lesser known author, but Barry Hughart. He wrote “Bridge of Birds.” That is a Chinese fantasy mythology story, which basically happens in a historical China, but is written as if mythology was real. And he’s also, like, a very unknown and should be more known author for what he’s able to do with creativity. Other books that I appreciate, I enjoy a lot of Tamora Pierce’s work, especially the “Keladry” series because I really enjoyed her portrayal of a woman, a girl growing up and wanting to be a knight and fighting and dealing with a lot of the prejudices that come from, you know, girls trying to do anything that boys like to do. So, those pieces and she also is essentially…she’s written as not really interested in amorous connections, so to speak, and Tamora Pierce did end up saying that she did write her as asexual even though she didn’t, like, really know the term at the time. So that was really appreciated.

Oh, that dovetailed a lot. M/M romance, yes, okay. There is a lot of het romance out there and that’s fine, you know, it’s got a market for a reason. It can be very well done. Me personally, it’s done by other people well and I gravitated more towards queer characters. M/M romance was easier for me to write because it was easier for me not necessarily to identify with the characters, but write about them in ways I wanted to, you know, with gentler portrayals and different effects. I wouldn’t say that I particularly write, like, alpha man male sort of things because it’s not really something that appeals to me personally as an author or as a person. I like people who are settled into themselves and know who they are and may be confident, maybe inconfident. For instance, in “Play it Again,” Dovid is a very confident individual who knows who he is and is really happy with himself. And Sam is much shyer and he’s wracked with anxiety all the time. But they’re both human. I like portraying clear people as human and I think that’s why I gravitated towards it first.

I’m not super sure why I write M/M mostly. It’s just because it is a little bit easier for me to…I guess, it does come back to identification. I’ve written one…I have one published female-centric romance, which I do really like. It’s called “Making Love,” which I think is one of my favorite titles ever. It’s about a succubus and cupid falling in love. I was very proud of that, and it’s adorable. It’s very cute, it’s very loving, it’s really soft. And Carla, the cupid is just, like, made of cotton candy and love, sweet, and is really happy and bubbly. And Leeta, the succubus, is kind of cool and had reason to put up a lot of walls. Carla melts her heart and it’s so cute. It’s very silly, a lot of my reviews were like, “It’s cute, but cheesy.” And I’m like, “Yes, that was exactly what I was doing.” It’s called “Making Love,” what were you expecting?

And then, same thing with “Stage Presents,” both the main characters are female. Dana is trans. I really enjoy portraying again, like, different aspects and different facets of queer people being human. They make coffee and they’re grumpy, and they might have disabilities or other challenges in life. And they also like stuff and are bad at things, and aren’t just, like, one cutout of a representation that, you know, people have one idea about. I like character-driven stories. Queer people deserve happy endings too. That’s the other thing.

Jeff: Yeah. Absolutely on that one for sure. So we know “Stage Presents” is coming up here soon. What else is coming for you this year?

Aidan: Well, I’ve mentioned it briefly, I have a short story that I had been kind of working on off and on. I was calling it “Baker Story” on Twitter and I did name it “Not So Cookie-Cutter” or something terrible like that because every single one of my titles…you may or may not know this, every single one of my titles are puns or play on words because I’m ridiculous and I love it. Yeah. So the book, “Bakery Story,” is called “Not So Cookie-Cutter.” I’m probably going to release it around October. It’s about two POC characters, which I did get sensitivity readers for because that was important to me. Jerel who is a baker at like, a cafe/coffee shop and Rafi who is a client who falls in love with Jerel’s pumpkin cheesecake essentially, and romance. They’re cute, it’s cute. One of my favorite things about the story is Rafi uses a wheelchair and Jerel is so smitten by Rafi that he doesn’t notice for, like, two chapters because Rafi is sitting down when he’s, you know, at the cafe and Jerel is just like, “Oh, my gosh, this handsome, amazing human being who is talking to me, like, he thinks I’m cute, okay.” And then, like, when Rafi actually, like, moves in front of him and he rolls away, Jerel’s like, “Oh, my God. I’m an idiot. This is fine. I’m an idiot.” So…

Jeff: Nice. That will be one to look forward to this fall.

Aidan: Yeah. I think, you know, it’s cute, cute and dumb. That’s kind of my mode.

Jeff: What’s the best way for everyone to keep up with you online?

Aidan: Twitter is mostly what I use, @aidanwayne is my Twitter handle, user name thing, and that’s primarily where I am. I have a website too and if you go to my website, there’s an option to sign up for my mailing list and mailing list is kind of how I send out information about releases to people. But I don’t like inundate people with mail. It’s just like, “I have a release, yay. Here it is, yay.”

Jeff: Cool. We will link to those as well as all of the great stuff that we’ve talked about in this interview.

Aidan: Cool.

Jeff: Aidan, thank you so much for hanging out with us. It has just been a delight talking to you.

Aidan: Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you for having me. Again, I’m ridiculous. So I appreciate being able to be ridiculous on a podcast. That’s cool. And, yeah, this was a lot of fun. Thank you so much.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
Seriously Horny (Redneck Unicorns #1) by Piper Scott & Susi Hawke and Dangerously Horny (Redneck Unicorns #2) by Piper Scott & Susi Hawke. Reviewed by Will.
Seriously Horny
Unicorn shifter Isaiah is pure white trash. How do we know? We’re introduced to him as he’s settling in for the evening, in his trailer with a bottle of his pappy’s moonshine – but he’s also an expert tracker. He’s tasked with finding a missing teenage dragon shifter.

He runs into the kid’s college age brother, Eric, an irresistible dragon omega. They go to search together for Eric’s brother. One night, in a motel room they give in to their desire, and trust me, the scene lives up to the book’s title.

Eric has the power of second sight, kind of like Faye Dunaway in Eyes of Laura Mars, and he ‘sees’ where his brother lays injured. Isaiah and Eric find him and bring him back to the dragon compound where he can heal from his injuries.

Eric is with child after his night with Isaiah, and months later we find our heroes happily in love with the beginnings of a new family.

In Dangerously Horny, Unicorn shifter Bo Luke finally gets up the nerve to tell Mitch just how he feels. But broken-down dragon is a less than ideal match for someone so young.

The rejection hits Bo Luke hard and he runs off, straight into the clutches of a crazed woman who has uncovered the secret of the unicorn clan, and desperately wants to touch Bo Luke’s horn – and yes, that euphemism means exactly what you think it means.

Mitch and some of his dragon buddies are sent to find Bo Luke. They rescue him and subdue his kidnapper.

Because this is a paranormal shifter Mpreg romance, omega Bo Luke finds himself in an uncomfortable situation, and alpha Mitch is the only one who can scratch his particular itch.

They fuck and it’s hot and amazing and (of course) totally magical. Mitch’s misgivings were unfounded, they are now fated mates.

While waiting for their child to be born, Bo Luke’s stalker escapes custody and attempts to kidnap her unicorn obsession once more. In an action sequence that I thought was particularly bad-ass, Mitch and the entire dragon clan literally reign down fire upon her, rescuing Bo Luke once again.

The story wraps up with a hilarious scene in which our heroes experience a very memorable wedding/birthday.

The covers of these books tell you everything you need to know. The hot cover models clue you into the sexy times ahead, while the titles, which are decidedly camp, tell you that these romances also about the humor – humor with heart.

I loved both of these stories and think they’re a fantastic way to kick off the new series.

While ‘Redneck Unicorns’ is a continuation of the author’s previous dragon series, they stand alone just fine.

Jun 3, 2019

Happy Pride Month!

Jeff discusses the awesome Pride Month video from the NHL. He also talks about all the things that happened during release week for Netminder.

Members of the Queer Sacramento Authors Collective had a reading this past week at the Lavender Library and will be reading again this coming week at Time Tested Books. The live streams are available on the podcast’s Facebook page.

We talk about the Coastal Magic Convention 2020 lineup of m/m romance featured authors.

We review the Elton John biopic Rocketman. Jeff reviews Max Walker’s A Lover’s Game. Will recommends books for Pride month: Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders, Stonewall: A Building. An Uprising. A Revolution by Rob Sanders, The Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E. Pitman, Stonewall: The Definitive Story of the LGBTQ Rights Uprising That Changed America by Martin Duberman and The Stonewall Reader curated by The New York Public Library.

Jeff interviews C.B. Lee about the latest book in her Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Backup. We also discuss the origin of the Sidekick Squad, what C.B. hears from readers and what’s coming up next.

Complete shownotes for episode 191 along with a transcript of the interview are at

Interview Transcript – C.B. Lee

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

Jeff: Welcome C.B. to the podcast. It’s great to have you here.

C.B.: Hello, thanks for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s very exciting. We got to see you last year at the LA Times Festival of Books for a little, teeny, tiny interview. But we’re thrilled to have you back as we start to talk about “Not Your Backup” which will come out on June 4th, just the day after this airs actually.

C.B.: Oh my gosh, that will be really exciting. I actually got to touch the advanced copies for the first time last week at YALLWEST, which due to this fun time jumps of podcasting…

Jeff: Well, actually a bit about a month ago.

C.B.: Right, right. But, yeah, it was really interesting just to, like, hold it for the first time and see it in print. Granted, the advance copies have typos since, you know, I went through and did all the pass through the typos. But it’s fun, it’s fun. It’s great that, you know, it exists, it’s in physical form, hasn’t quite felt real till now, but now it’s a real book or will be very soon, or tomorrow for your listeners and readers.

Jeff: There is something about holding that physical copy, even if you see it, you know, even if it’s on your tablet as an ebook. It’s like there’s nothing like that paperback when it gets there.

C.B.: Yeah.

Jeff: Now, “Not Your Backup” is book 3 in the “Sidekick Squad Series.” And, for those who haven’t experienced this series or heard of it, tell us what this series is all about.

C.B.: Sure, it is about a group of queer teens that take on a corrupt government superhero agency. And they live in this sort of post-dystopian world where superheroes are kind of treated like celebrities. And there’s, you know, shadowy government organizations and mysterious heroes, league of heroes, that kind of dictates who gets to be a hero and who gets to be a villain. And our protagonists all kind of uncover this huge conspiracy, and then they work together to build a resistance and take it down.

Jeff: It’s quite the world that you’ve built here. I mean, you hit so many things that are dystopian, U.S. future, superheroes, villains. What was your inspiration for all of this?

C.B.: So I’ve always been fascinated by kind of the, like, post-apocalyptic or dystopian worlds. But a lot of the media that I’ve read mostly focuses on kind of the…when you’re in the middle of the disaster, when you’re in the middle of the catastrophe, when everything is going wrong, how are people struggling to survive. So I really wanted to see a world that was…you know, so this is more of like a solarpunk take where the world has started to move forward, where it’s 100 years after all of these disasters have happened – kind of the impetus for the superpowers. And my book is a really extremely intense solar flare that catalyzes latent gene in people.

And then after the flare, which knocks out a bunch of nuclear power plants, also, it starts kind of a chain reaction of a bunch of environmental disasters. So 100 years later the governments of the world have kind of shifted and changed, there’s been wars, there’s been fights over resources, so the United States is now part of the North American collective, which is the entire continent of North America, which is now the habitable places. There’s, you know, 24 regions, which is, you know, kind of what’s left of the states. So there’s different areas all across North America, which are now the regions in which people live and, you know, continue to move forward with, like, their amazing technology, and hover tech, and all this amazing, clean technology. But, at the same time, you have all of these like high-tech cities, but outside of those regions, everything else is like the unmaintained lands. So, you know, the government is claiming there’s radiation danger and don’t venture out, but, of course, our heroes are like, you know, what the government tells us isn’t necessarily true. So a lot of…actually, the fun of writing “Not Your Backup” is one of my working titles was “Not Your Road Trip,” because there’s a lot of road tripping in this book.

Jeff: Yeah, I noticed. There’s a bit of a road trip in the sneak peek that I got to read too, that they’re out on this road trip, essentially on a mission.

C.B.: Right, right. Yeah, there’s the heist in the beginning of the very first chapter. But, yeah, there’s a lot of fun. We get to see a little bit more of the country outside of the cities in this book, so that’s exciting.

Jeff: Now, each of the books deals with one of the main heroes, if you will, or the sidekicks, if you will, given the titles of the book, but they’re really the heroes. In “Not Your Backup”, we focus on Emma, who is really the only one of them without the powers. What’s happening to our heroes this time out?

C.B.: So at the end of “Not Your Villain,” we have destroyed the registry, which…the big name of everyone who’s ever registered with powers that Captain Orion was planning to use to kidnap people and use for experiments. At that point, our heroes have been looking for the resistance the whole time. And they find a mysterious group that’s been leaving messages on encrypted channels. But then, at the end of the book, they realize that this is actually like a group of nerds that have been joining together to watch movies like “Star Wars,” and “Harry Potter,” and stuff.

So they realize that they need to start the resistance. So that’s where we are at the beginning of “Not Your Backup,” where Emma and Bells are back in Nevada, and they are kind of in the midst of this fledgling resistance group – meanwhile, Jess and Abby are at the villain’s guild hideout in the Rockies and they’re trying to corral all the other meta-humans into taking action. So, the beginning of the book, you know, where kind of everyone has different goals, but then they all come together. It’s more about like building the resistance and finding… For Emma, it’s her journey in finding who she is. And, really, she’s a very natural leader, she loves coming up with plans, and she’s definitely a Gryffindor. She’s the first to jump in and try to take action. Her default is, like, fight me. But she also is, as you mentioned, she doesn’t have powers, and so when she’s trying to take a more active role in the resistance, she kind of butts heads with a few of the other members as they have different ideas about who is and who isn’t part of the resistance.

Jeff: She just needs to remind them that Batman didn’t have powers either. He just had a really good utility belt and brains. So she could definitely fill that role. What’s been the driving force behind deciding the type of character that you have at the forefront of each book? Because the three books have very different, distinct character types and personalities, and just everything about them is just…they’re just very different from each other.

C.B.: So, from the beginning, I wanted to tell this story about, you know, this fun adventure story with queer protagonists. So each book would center on another one of them in the main four. So there’s…and then after “Not Your Backup”, there’s one more book which will be Abby’s story, and so she will round out the quartet. But each of their…you know, they have very different personalities, but it’s been interesting writing their stories because each of them are on their own journey in what makes them a hero and finding how do they define success, and how do other people see them, and how do they see themselves. So, for each story, because we’re moving forward in time, as we get to see who is really, you know… It’s been interesting, because all four books will fit together as a series, but in each book, everyone gets to have their own journey.

Jeff: Which I really like because we’ve been introduced to all of them all the way back, you know, back in the first book, but then they get to their own story, which could essentially be read as a stand-alone, if you wanted to, I guess, although reading all of them together is much better. What was the bigger challenge to come up with the trajectory of these four diverse characters or to build this alternate universe of the U.S., or were they kind of equal challenges?

C.B.: I feel like the challenge for me is I’m not like a great outliner or I haven’t ever really been a planner. So I’ve always been more of the pantser in the writing style. So when writing a series, when I wrote “Not Your Sidekick,” I didn’t know, up until I think I was about 50,000 words in when I realized that I could not basically solve the problem in that one book, you know, because when I pitched it, it was one book. And then I was like, “Well, I really love all of these characters.” There’s a huge…there’s a bigger story here that I’ve introduced, and I will need more than one book to solve it.

And so, from the get-go, I knew the next story after Jess would be Bells because you get into, like, the backstory of the meta-human training and the heroes, league of heroes. And so, I think, overall, just planning a series is really challenging. Some people are great at it, where, you know, they have very detailed outlines, they know, from the very beginning to the very end, what the key points are going to be. And so, as I was writing book 1, I kind of had a panic attack and I was like, “Oh, no, I have to figure out what’s going to happen in each of the books.” And then as I restructured things and then writing book 2 and then 3, it’s kind of come to a point where I’m working on book 4 and now, like, everything that I… One of the reasons why it took me a longer time between book… So “Not Your Villain” came in 2017 and “Not Your Backup” is coming out in 2019. So I didn’t have a book come out last year because I was still working on crafting the storyline because whatever I did or didn’t do in book 3 would determine what would happen in book 4.

So everything had to fall into place, and I had to like figure out a lot of stuff. So it was challenging, but I think, you know, it’s still challenging, but that’s part of the joy of writing is to figure out how to tell the story you want to tell.

Jeff: If you do a series again, do you think you’ll try to do outlines more in the upfront or now that you’ve had this experience, do you kind of know how to do it and keep your pantser ways going on?

C.B.: I don’t know if I’ll ever… Like, I feel like with each book, I’m like, “Oh, do I know how to write a novel now?” But like every book is its own challenge. I do have a better sense of like, okay, you know, how do I plot as a pantser? And then plotting for pantsers, and like learning how to like… For me, I just tend to think of an outline like a road map where I have these destinations I wanna hit, but I’m not committed to – I don’t have to see everything and if I go off track or take a different route, that’s okay as well. So as long as I kind of get the same…like, it’s all in the journey of how I get there, and then the destinations that I pick along the way, if I get to them or not, that’s cool. I kind of have these benchmarks that I want to reach. But I really like thinking of the framework in which I think about my books as a roadmap. So I’ll try to plan out, you know, all the cities I want to visit, but I’m open to discovering places along the way and kind of building up on that.

Jeff: How does the pantser sort of method work while you’re world building? Or do you try to, at least, before you start writing, “No. This is my world. This is what’s happened. This is what the U.S. looks like now, and how all that works?” Or does that come organically as you go as well?

C.B.: I actually thought like, really early on established the world and what it looked like. I drew a map of which countries were left and which, how, who, what alliances were made in probably much more detail than you’ll ever see in the books because basically I plotted out what happened in that World War III, and what areas were no longer habitable, and all of these things, and all the different lines of, like… I probably spent way too much time figuring out the socio-economic holes, ramifications of which country is now aligned with what country and which countries refuse to join a union or…and they’re all new countries.

So there is this whole political backstory of, like, which country fought….you know, which alliance was at war, which alliance and what’s still happening overseas. Some of which you’ll see, but it is the world itself. I’ve always enjoyed world building, and I think it’s really fun to come up with the…I think once I wrote book one where I established, like, how do the powers work. Every power level is different. For example, like the A class, B class, or C class, depending on how…basically, I wanted all the meta-humans in my world to…their powers basically are dependent on…like, they have a limited number of time per day that they can use their powers. So once they’ve used it, then they can’t use it for the next 24-hour period. So it’s a different sort of look at superpowers and abilities because you have to be more mindful about how you use your powers. And so that was an element that I established early on, but overall, I think for me, world building, there are some details I discovered along the way, but I pretty much plotted the world building which is a funny like…and it’s interesting to think about, even though I do consider myself a pantser, how much of this series I did very much envision out from an early stage.

So like some of the confrontations and the fight scenes, and the stuff that… I’ve been planning one particular scene in book 3 since book 1, and I didn’t get to do it until… And, so that was like a fun way to be like, “Oh, yes, I’m finally going to like write the scene that I’ve been waiting for.” But I’d had a lot of these moments in my head, and just planning it out and getting the opportunity to like, “Okay, yes. Now, I’m getting to that chapter. I’m getting to the point in the whole series where we’re getting…you know, it’s coming full circle.” So that’s very satisfying.

Jeff: It sounds like you’d have a lot of bonus material too if you ever wanted to release it, if all the stuff that you’ve got of the world itself, and the disaster, and how it’s split up.

C.B.: Yeah, I mean, potentially, I have a whole timeline that I could release. And then I did these fun… For “Not Your Villain,” I did all the deleted scenes, well, deleted as far as they were cut for length. But I still consider it part of the story, the cannon. So those are an extra that are available on my website. I’ll probably do something similar for Backup, but I’m not at that stage yet.

Jeff: Right. It’s good to know about the Villain extras. I’ll be going to check those out.

C.B.: Yeah, yeah, they’re fun. They’re all in one PDF. And my book designer, C.B. Macera, was amazing. And she formatted them the same way as the book because we have a lot of extra art as well because she does these amazing, like, chapter headers for each chapter. She’s so talented and amazing designing the covers and the interior of the book, really, you know, capture that feel. And so, “Not Your Villain” actually, in the edits, went from…yeah, it was cut a lot. So, you know, it’s really sad as a writer to kind of see these scenes go, but, you know, as far as, yes, and my editors are great about, like, “This scene is great. But, you know, it kind of slows down the pacing,” or like, “This scene takes us in a different tone or direction, and, like, while they’re great, they don’t fit in the story at that moment and kind of take us away from the main action.” So I understand why they had to go. And, yes, the story is stronger overall, but I like them as an extra.

Jeff: Yeah, we’ve all gotten used to those on DVDs over time, so there’s really no reason books can’t have them too.

C.B.: Yeah, yeah, it’s a fun extra to have the deleted scenes.

Jeff: So you mentioned one more book in the series, the fourth one, is that gonna be it for these heroes?

C.B.: Yeah, I can’t say for sure that the door is completely closed. But for this arc, this storyline, that will be the series. It will be completed with Abby’s book.

Jeff: We could treat it like the Marvel Universe. Now, if phase 1 is over, and there could be a phase 2 eventually, once you figure out what that is. What got you started in writing?

C.B.: I love telling stories. And think I was very young when I tried, like, writing a story for myself. I had an old notebook that I would scribble this adventure story in when I was in sixth grade. And then I’d kind of start and then every recess, I’d pick it up or I’d work on it when I was supposed to be doing homework or stuff in class. And so I’ve always wanted to tell stories. I didn’t really think of it seriously as a career. And then, after college, I went to school for science. And so I was going to get a PhD and do all this stuff, and I, you know, ended up going a different route.

And really writing has been a journey where it kind of comes…it ties back to, and I guess like the “Sidekick Squad Series” and the titles were all, you know, the titles are all about, like, hey, I’m not who you think I am, I’m not the person that you’re claiming that I should be or expect me to be. It comes back to where, as a queer woman of color, I didn’t really see a lot of myself in books growing up. And so what I really hoped to write was, like especially when I was writing Sidekick for the first time, I wanted to write a book for my 16-year-old self. So this is the book that I wanted to read. And I wanted it to exist. And so writing…and then I also just like telling stories. So I wanted the story to be fun, I wanted them to be happy and have, you know, there’s drama in them. But overall, I wanted to see kids like myself, and kids who looked like me, and other kids, that reflect the world that we live in because trans kids exist, asexual kids exist, mentally ill kids exist. And there aren’t enough stories where they get to be part of something that’s a superhero adventure, or something fun and fantastic like this.

And so I wish that I hope…and I think there are definitely now, in the past, you know, 5, 10 years, there’ve been a lot more stories, and I think that’s great. So I’m just really excited that now people are writing more and more and reading more and more, and there’s a lot of great books to come.

Jeff: And one of the things to not…I don’t want to knock the coming out story because those are very important and very needed. But in these books, that’s not really part of it. I mean, this is a much bigger adventure these teenagers are on that just doesn’t revolve around their sexuality so much, that just, there’s so much more going on, which I think is awesome and gives everybody something different to read.

C.B.: Yeah, I love that…like, I want us to have the breadth of different types of genres and stories that there are for, like, able-bodied heterosexual people. Like, I want there to be so many stories to choose from. And so, you know…and I really love…I think there’s a lot of power in having joyful stories as well and stories where, yes, sexuality is a part of it, but, you know, who I am is not just my sexuality. Like, every person is multitudes where who you are is made up of so many things like your passions, your dreams, your hopes, your hobbies, your friends. Who you are as a person isn’t just one thing, and we’re all…I love being able to explore that and getting to see… I want people to see that people in the LGBTQ community are like fully nuanced people that get to be complicated and have flaws and go on adventures, or fall in love, or discover more about themselves in the way that all straight people can.

Jeff: Well said. I like that for sure. Who were some of your author influences as you got started on your writing journey?

C.B.: So I really love the “Harry Potter” series growing up. That’s a huge influence for me. That was one of the first ways I started writing was “Harry Potter” fan fiction because I loved that world so much. And just a lot of…I read so much fantasy like Ursula Le Guin, Diane Duane, Eoin Colfer, like tons of fantasy, Jane Yolen. I started to read a lot more widely. I think when I was a kid, there was a point when I would like go to the YA section and just read like everything in the library. So I would pretty much read everything, but I tended to love fantasy and sci-fi the most.

Jeff: Nice, and now you get to write your own.

C.B.: Yes. I’m really lucky.

Jeff: Is there a genre you want to branch into as you close up the “Sidekick Series?”

C.B.: I’m excited to write more fantasy. So the “Sidekick Squad” is more sci-fi, speculative. So I’m working on some fantasy stuff. I’m excited to share it. I have some contemporary stuff. I have a short story coming out next year in the next “All Out” anthology. So that’ll be fun. It’s like a very fluffy high school romance that’s just set in like… The only magic is the friendship and the romance so…

Jeff: Aww, sometimes that’s all you need though.

C.B.: Yeah, yeah, it’s fun because when I was writing it, I hadn’t written just contemporary in a long time. So that was really fun to try and explore that. Plus, I got to put a lot of puns in there, so it’s all good.

Jeff: You seem to travel a lot. I feel like every time I see you on social media, it’s like, “I’m going to this event” or, “Here I am at this event, come see me over here.” What drives you to be out on the road so much?

C.B.: So I like the opportunity to see, meet readers. I live in Los Angeles, and I’m really lucky to have the opportunity to go to a lot of events that are fairly local. I also think it’s really important to travel when I have the opportunity to, and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to, and sometimes I will just commit to doing it out of my own pocket because I want to meet readers in those areas. So I love…yeah, I already said it, I love meeting readers. But, especially in places where you don’t get a lot of, you know, LGBTQ resources, or teens don’t necessarily get to see a lot of authors or books with this content come their way and getting to meet teens in, you know, small towns or getting to meet people even though I do a lot of web chats. And so that’s fun chatting with libraries or classrooms through the power of the internet, which is amazing.

But, part of being on panels and having these conversations is important to me just because, you know, I get to share with people that might not have heard of my books before or are just learning about it for the first time. And so that’s always a very special moment to me when someone’s like, “Oh my gosh,” like, “This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I didn’t know it exists, but now I do.” And so that’s very meaningful. And sometimes I get to meet people who have already read the books, and that’s very important to me. And that’s a part of the most rewarding things to me as a writer is knowing that your work has made an impact on someone, whether it’s just making them smile, or, you know, to the depth of having someone like… I’ve cried over several really long emails just because sometimes people are really sweet and talk about like, “Oh, this is my coming out experience”. I want people to see that they’re valid. And so knowing that someone else has read my work and recognize themselves, that’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

I was in Seattle recently, earlier this year, and one of the events I did was with the Seattle Public Library where we went to the LGBTQ Youth Center. And that was really powerful just to, like, hang out with kids and chat with them and what are they looking forward to as far as like, “Hey, what’s powerful to me, what’s fun to me?” A lot of this is stuff that I totally resonate with when they connect with a character on TV or are upset that, you know, that character got killed off in one season or whatever, because of TV. But, you know, it’s always great to chat with people. Everyone’s always going through something.

Jeff: Yeah, for sure. So we’ve hinted a little bit about some stuff that’s coming up for you. You’re working on Sidekick 4, you’ve got a short story coming out next year, anything else we should know about?

C.B.: I’m also writing the new “BEN 10” original graphic novels with BOOM! Studios and Cartoon Network. So one is already out. It’s called “The Truth Is Out There.” It’s where “Ben 10” is part of the Cartoon Network show where Ben can turn into 10 different aliens. So it’s fun. It’s a fun, middle-grade romp. So I’m doing a number of those graphic novels with BOOM! So those will be available throughout…I can’t recall the dates off the top of my head, but another one is coming out in July, and then one more in October of this year and then the next year, there will be some more coming as well.

Jeff: What’s it like writing for graphic novel because, I mean, that’s a different sort of animal, a novel that, you know, is 60,000 or 70,000 words long?

C.B.: It was definitely a new experience. It was a lot of fun trying a different medium. Like, definitely writing a script goes differently as far as…and I catch myself like “Oh, I’m being too descriptive. This is literally…the only person who will see this is the artist.” And it’s also a great collaborative process. So it’s really fun to work with the artists and editors and bring together this story that exists in its own medium. It’s not just me, the writer, but what the artist is bringing, and collaborating with them, and getting to like…you know, I’ll write the dialogue and the action. And then they’ll imagine it in a certain way of like, “Oh, I didn’t think of that,” and that’s really fun. I really like the graphic novel format. I’m hoping to do more. I’m really excited to be working on these projects. And, yeah, hopefully, I’ll be able to share more upcoming projects.

Jeff: Pretty cool. And speaking of, what is the best way for people to keep up with you online?

C.B.: You can always find me on Twitter and Instagram at, C-B-L-E-E_C-B-L-E-E, because it’s double the trouble. My website is, and then you can find more links to other ways you can connect with me. Usually Twitter and Instagram, where you can find me the most – that’s where you can connect with me. So in my website, it has like fun stuff. I try to update it with writing resources and my upcoming events. And I also have a newsletter, which will have some special tidbits probably like the deleted scenes, which is the very first place I offered the “Not Your Villain” extra scenes.

Jeff: Pretty cool. Well, C.B., thank you so much for hanging out with us. We wish you all the success with “Not Your Backup” when it comes out on June 4th.

C.B.: Thank you so much for having me. And I really appreciate it. I’m so excited. And I hope everyone enjoys the book.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

A Lover’s Game by Max Walker, narrated by Greg Boudreaux. Reviewed by Jeff
I was so happy that this fourth book in Max’s Stonewall Investigations series released in audio just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the final installment of the series and I was not disappointed.

The series has been working up to the final showdown between private investigator Zane Holden and the Unicorn Killer. The Unicorn has loomed large over the series–a serial killer that terrorizes the gay community in NYC. The killer’s gone after partnered gay men and Zane’s husband was aomng the victims. In the first book we find out the Unicorn’s returned and now in the fourth one Zane’s obsessed with bringing the reign of terror to an end.

At the same time, Zane is preparing for his wedding to Enzo, the defense attorney who captured his heart in that first book. Unfortunately, Zane is so occupied with the case, he’s missing things, like cake testing and venue selection, and he hasn’t told Enzo that he’s even back on it. Zane thinks he’s protecting Enzo by keeping his activities a secret, but Enzo feels it puts him more in danger not knowing.

And boy does everything hurtle towards a massive, satisfying conclusion.

Max had me super stressed in this installment. He always does a great job of creating suspense. Here though I suspected everything. Is the Uber driver a killer? Is that bottle of wine spiked with something? What does it mean that someone looked at them on the street? Is the person providing information or misinformation? I suspected everything and also never figured out who the Unicorn was ahead of the reveal. I love that!

While Zane and Enzo have been featured in the middle two books of the series, it was great to see them returning to the spotlight. Their dynamic as the move towards their wedding date was wonderful to watch. The quiet, sexy moments they share along with their wedding planning and time they spend with Enzo’s family shows their strong relationship and amazing friends. And, man, are there some super sexy times in this book. There’s always steamy scenes in this series, but these were the best yet.

Max contrasts these happy times with how they handle the increasing threats–they want to be strong for each other and also do what’s necessary to keep the other safe. They find it’s hard to maintain the balance and that only increases the tension. I both hated and loved what Max put them through because it was so realistic.

Is it weird to say that I liked the terrible choices were made? Despite being great at their jobs, Zane and Enzo sometimes do things that are terrible choices and what makes those so good in the story is that I could see myself doing the same thing. These two are flawed and make bad decisions like anyone can. It makes them human. It makes you scream at them to not do something. It makes you cheer when it all works out too.

Kudos to Greg Boudreaux. He’s done a great job with this series overall but I have to shoutout his work voicing the Unicorn. It’s a creep, calm yet evil voice that made me shudder.

The spin off for Stonewall Investigations Miami is set up here too. That first book, Bad Idea, just released last week and I can’t wait to pick it up as soon as there’s an audio version.

May 27, 2019

Jeff discusses this week’s release of Netminder (Codename: Winger #4). The guys also announce that they’ll be returning to Coastal Magic Convention for 2020 and that the con’s featured author list and registration will open on June 1.

Jeff reviews Gregory Ashe’s Orientation (Borealis Investigation #1). Will reviews Louisa Master’s The Athlete and the Aristocrat and Human Omega: Discovered on the Slave Planet (Pykh Book 1) by Eileen Glass.

Jay from Joyfully Jay stops by and recommends books by Nora Phoenix, Harper Fox, Lily Morton and Jordan L. Hawk. Jay also talks about the recent Book Lovers Con, which took place earlier this month in New Orleans.

Complete shownotes for episode 190 are at

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Orientation (Borealis Investigation #1) by Gregory Ashe. Reviewed by Jeff
Listeners of the podcast know I’ve become a huge fan of Gregory Ashe’s Hazard and Somerset series. Because of those books, I was eager to get Orientation, which is the first in Gregory’s Borealis Investigation series (just released this past Friday on May 24), and the new book simply extends my love of Gregory’s storytelling.

Borealis Investigations is run by Shaw Aldrich and North McKinney two friends and private detectives who are on the verge of losing their business. Because of events that happen before the book begins, North’s license is suspended meaning he can’t actively work on any case. But, one arrives on their doorstep is Matty Fennmore comes looking for Shaw. The young, blonde pretty guy is being blackmailed and he wants Shaw’s help.

It’s not just Matty being blackmailed though. As Shaw and North begin to dig into what’s happening they find an undercurrent of blackmail and deception running through the local LGBTQ community–including politicians and police…and it goes back for years.

It’s also incredibly elaborate, as Shaw and North keep chasing leads they find that even the blackmailed are also blackmailing. They persist with their investigations though even as their lives become in danger, Matty is attacked and demands are made. It’s particularly rough on Shaw because he’s developing feelings for the young man even as he already carries a torch for the married North.

In the vein of Hazard and Somerset, things are never what they seem and that’s one of the many things I like about Gregory’s books. This is a twisted tale and yet there’s never a red herring (at least as I read them) because everything matters and it’s all connected. Once you get to the end you see it as clearly as the detectives do.

I love how Shaw and North are opposite of Hazard and Somers too. Shaw and North have years of true friendship in their history and that makes their working relationship far different than the other two. They rely on and trust each other and that gets them through things that would break most other relationships. There are some particularly difficult situations Shaw and North face and the way Gregory manages to keep the characters grounded–including some really incredible banter–shows their strong history and drives the story forward.

People often keep secrets and boy are there some secrets in here. Shaw has a lot of baggage because he and his boyfriend were assaulted while they were in college and he carries physical and mental scars as a result–those are deeper than North knows. North has some pretty massive secrets as well–and what was going on with him was one of the big shocks of the book for me. Gregory is masterful in how he weaves everything together. It’s stunning and compelling reading.

The second book, Triangulation, is due out August 9 and I can’t wait.

The Athlete and the Aristocrat by Louisa Masters. Reviewed by Will
The athlete of the title is Simon Wood, a world-renowned, but now retired, footballer. And by footballer I mean soccer player.

He’s putting all his time and effort into a new sports charity for underprivileged kids. He gets the backing he needs from the Morel Corporation, with the proviso that Lucien Morel (the aristocrat of the title) serve as business consultant.

Lucien suggests Simon fly with him to Monaco for the weekend. They can work on the plane and discuss business plans for the charity for a few days. The chemistry and connection between them is almost immediate, and it’s not long before they tumble into bed together.

They enjoy a wonderful few months of being “co-workers-with-benefits”, keeping everything on the down-low, fearing that any appearance of impropriety would reflect poorly on the charity. That still doesn’t stop them from falling hard for one another and dreaming of a future together.

The charity launch is a resounding success and, just as they’re about to go public with their relationship, a grotesque tabloid story comes out, threatening everything they’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Things, of course, are eventually resolved. What Louisa Masters did with this particular ending left me deeply satisfied as a reader. The kind of ending that makes you simile and sigh because it’s so utterly, completely perfect.

The thing I loved the most about The Athlete and the Aristocrat is the small, cute, intimate moments that Simon and Lucien shared throughout the book on their way to their HEA. It made them more real. Both of our heroes are insanely handsome, wildly successful, and inordinately wealthy – but it’s how they treat each other during their everyday “regular” lives that humanizes them, and makes you root for their love story.

While this book isn’t officially part of a series, it does share a story world with the author’s previous book, The Bunny and the Billionaire. In that book, Leo (Lucien’s best friend) falls for Australian tourist Ben. Leo and Ben both make an appearance in The Athlete and the Aristocrat and are an important part of the story.

The standard series caveat applies, both books can be read as a stand-alone, but you might get more out of it if you’ve read both. Which is what I recommend, simply because both stories are terrific.

Kudos to the audiobook narrator Seb Yarrick. The book is chock full of international accents (Lucien is French, Simon is British, Ben is Australian). He does a wonderful job. If audio is your thing, I recommend you check it out.

May 20, 2019

Jeff discusses a deleted scene he’s offering this week from his upcoming book Netminder (Codename: Winger #4). He also recommends The Queer Creative Podcast.

Will and Jeff discuss the second season of Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power as well as Pose, which has just arrived on Netflix ahead of the new season coming to FX in June.

Jeff reviews Queer as a Five Dollar Bill by Lee Wind.

Gail Carriger talks to Jeff about her new novel, The Fifth Gender and some of the interesting stories about its creation. They also talk about how Gail went from archeology to writing romance, her process for world building and her travel podcast called The 20 Minute Delay.

Complete shownotes for episode 189 along with a transcript of the interview are at

This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to for everything you want in gay romance.

Jeff: Welcome, Gail, to the podcast.

Gail: Hello. Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here.

Jeff: I’m so glad we finally got you on the show because I’ve been, you know, reading since back with “The Sumage Solution” and it’s like, “We gotta get Gail on. We need to get Gail on.”

Gail: I am delighted. I am a devoted listener and so I’m quite honored to finally get to be here. It’s great.

Jeff: And you’ve got a book coming out or you’ve just had a book come out actually, “The 5th Gender” just released.

Gail: I did. Yes, “The 5th Gender,” it’s my like crazy, ridiculous, silly, happy yet cozy murder mystery on a space station with an alien with five genders and tentacles and purple.

Jeff: You don’t often get cozy mystery space station together in one package.

Gail: It is…it’s great. It was totally one of those spontaneous, I had like a strange thought/dream/idea to do this. And a bunch of us were joking on Twitter about the craziest mashups of genres we could come up with and somebody was like, “Barbarian noir,” and so on and so forth. And I was like, “Well, I wanna do space station, cozy mystery.” And then I started thinking about it and then it happened. Then I was like, “Oh, okay, I’ll write it, I’ll write it.” I was supposed to be writing something else, of course. But sometimes I succumb to the lure of the ooh, shiny.

Jeff: And it was a purple shiny too. So how could you resist that?

Gail: I could not. And he’s adorable, the alien character. And I, you know, I have a background as an anthropologist. I have an archaeology…couple of archaeology degrees. And so I just love the way if you’re doing an alien character, you can comment on human social structures and culture and interactions. And so I might’ve had a little too much fun with that.

Jeff: Well I was actually gonna get into that. I’ll hold that. Because we should at least tell folks, because I want to talk a little bit more about the origin story on this because you wrote about it. So just like, “I had this idea in the middle of the night, and then I tweeted it, and then it was a story,” which I love, but then there’s the fact that you went away to a retreat and worked on it and had to talk to other people about it while you were writing it.

Gail: Yes. So for those…I should preface this by saying that for those who don’t know, I have two names I write under. So I write under Gail Carriger and I write under G. L. Carriger and the G. L. stuff has a much higher heat level. So it’s super sexy. And this book, “The 5th Gender” is a G. L. book. So warning for anybody who doesn’t like nooky because one of the things I realized through the course of that particular writing retreat was that if you’re writing about a species with five genders, human curiosity wants to follow them into the bedroom to see what it’s like down there. And so I thought about trying to kind of clean it up a little bit and it just…it didn’t work. So I was like, “Okay, we are going into that realm.”

So I was supposed to go on this retreat and write something else entirely, and instead I just spent the entire week writing this book. And one of the funniest stories from that was me being like, “Oh shoot, what does alien jizz taste like?” Because we all know, at least we do if we’ve been reading my San Andreas Shifter series that wizard or mage jizz is fizzy and werewolf is spicy. And I was like, “Well, what do aliens taste like?” And this meant that I literally had to go and you’re never…on a retreat, you’re never supposed to disturb the cooks in the kitchen. But I was like, “If there was ever a question for cooks, this is it.” There is a crazy author running into the kitchen in the middle of them making shepherd’s pie and being like, “Oh, you guys, what does alien jizz taste like? Debate.” So we had a long debate about it and we finally decided, and you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Jeff: Yeah, I wasn’t gonna ask you to spoil that, but I do have to know what exactly did the cooks make of this question?

Gail: The cooks were quite game actually. I think they were pretty charmed because normally like they’re doing their art form and we’re doing our art form and never the twain shall meet until meal times. So it’s really rare for one of the authors to actually want the cooks’ help on something. So I think they were kind of pleased to be asked.

Jeff: That’s very cool because some of them might have been like, “I’m sorry, what?”

Gail: Oh, they know what I write. We’ve been going for a long time with the same cooks for a while, so.

Jeff: So this group knew you so they weren’t necessarily surprised by…

Gail: No. Well, it was a little out of the blue. I haven’t been writing the super sexy stuff for very long. Like normally my questions are like, “What’s the most ridiculously named, you know, Victorian dessert you can think of,” kind of thing. But yes, it was a little different from my usual questions.

Jeff: And tell us what this book is about, this cozy mystery on a space station.

Gail: Well, the tagline is an alien race with no word for murder has a murderer aboard their spaceship. And essentially the galoi are the aliens in question. And they are these purple…they’re these adorable sort of purple tentacled kind of, you know, High Elf, slightly looking alien creatures. And they are super isolationist. And the only thing that humans know about them is occasionally they will kick one of their genders. It’s always as one of the examples of the fourth or fifth genders and they’re kicked off and they’re in exile, and those galoi, which is the name of this alien race, go and live amongst humans. And humans actually adore them because they think they’re like sweet and cute and adorable. And they have no…they’re pure exiles. So they have no national allegiance, they have no planetary allegiance. And so they make really great attaches.

They’re kind of really kind of comforting and lots of different alien races like to be around them. So they often become attaches to like ambassadors and stuff. So a lot of space stations….space stations consider it really lucky if they get one of these. And the main character, Tristol, he’s one of these aliens and he has a mad crush on the human security chief/detective that’s onboard the space station named Dre. But he doesn’t really get kind of like human flirtation and courting rituals. So he’s sort of…the book sort of starts with Tristol trying to figure out what cats are and why you would wanna keep them as a pet because he’s been asked by some human friends to cat sit. And then, of course, the cat escapes and hijinks ensue on the space station because what happens when the cat gets into zero gravity. Nobody wants to find that out.

Anyway, and then the galoi are like super xenophobic, so they never reach out to humans. And then suddenly a galoi ship approaches his space station, which is crazy in many, many ways because they shouldn’t be approaching a space station that has an exile aboard it and they never talk to humans anyway. And they have this incredibly complicated non-pronoun language that kind of indicates status and has to do with all of these different genders. And so the humans are kind of panicking and freaking out. They don’t want a war. They don’t know what’s going on. And the spaceship basically says, you know, “We have a murdered galoi and we don’t know what to do. We don’t have security, we don’t have murder investigations. We don’t. So we came to you, violent humans, to figure this out for us.” And of course Dre, the human love interest is the detective. So he and Tristol have to team up because he needs Tristol’s help to explain how the galoi work. And so the two of them gonna figure out who done it and that’s basically it in a very large nutshell.

Jeff: How did you go about creating the galoi? I mean, five genders, no term for murder. There’s like so many things that kind of click into this. Is there like…?

Gail: I just, so like I said, I have an anthropology background. I mean, archaeology is blank, so obviously the biology and skeletal structures and things is what I mostly studied via anthropology, but you get a lot of like gender studies and cultural representations of gender and all that sort of thing as part of an education in the United States if you do an archaeology degree. And so it’s always been super, super fascinating to me. I have a minor in classical mythology with a focus on gender. It’s just something that has interested me. It’s really hard to tease out in the archaeological record. It’s prone to misinterpretation by archaeologists and historians and anthropologists. So there’s a sort of storied history with our own relationship from a scientific perspective with understanding gender.

And so I just took a lot of that both kind of my education and, you know, how the world now is changing. I spent far too much time on Tumblr, so I have a lot of like non-binary and gender fluid and gender queer fans. And so I’ve just been kind of reaching out to friends and acquaintances. One of my best friends in the world is a bioethicist and a medical ethicist. And so she deals with training doctors in how to talk to people appropriately about gender. And so I’ve had all this sort of stuff messing about, and I was like, “Well, a way for me to explore this and have this kind of conversation with myself and the world is through an alien lens.”

And so I just…I love thought experiments, and I was like, “So what if we have a race with five different genders and how would their language evolve? How would their culture evolve? How would they treat each other?” Like all of these, you know, archaeological things to think or anthropological things to think about. And then how would humans, even future humans, react when encountering that? And so that’s kind of where the conception started. And then I just made them purple because I like purple.

Jeff: Why not? I’m a big purple fan too. Was there a lot of research kind of building this?

Gail: Yeah. I actually have multiple blog posts that either I’m releasing them right now or I’ve just released them recently, speaking from the past into the future. But I have a bunch of blog posts about like a bunch of the research that I did and like some book recommendations and stuff like that, both from a fictional perspective and a nonfictional perspective and different blogs and stuff like that. But I like that. I like researching a lot. I try not to rabbit hole too much because the point is to write the actual book. So mostly what I did is I did that intensive week where I sort of just vomited forth this whole book. And then I went back and like teased it apart and looked into different…almost as…I almost treated it a little bit as if it were a nonfiction piece to go back and see what sources do I need to look up, what like different pronoun terms might be being used in hundreds of years, you know, by humans. That sort of thing. And it’s…since both the humans involved… I try to be complex in my races, whether they’re werewolves or aliens in that like…and to not either dystopian or utopianise either race, either humans or aliens.

So both races still have issues. Both are still dealing with how the cultures have evolved and all of that sort of thing. So I’m not setting the galoi up as like the perfect model of a possible future. They have a different evolution, a different model. And they’re merely a vehicle for which we can examine perhaps some of our own biases and prejudices now. And that’s getting very, very serious because mostly what I want my books to do is make you happy and cheerful and be excited, delighted. And if it makes you think a little, that’s great. But really I just want to make everybody happy and hopefully Tristol will do that because he’s delightful. I love him.

Jeff: What kind of, I guess, beta reading did you do to see how your various fans handle the gender discussion?

Gail: Well, I have trans and gender queer and gender bending characters already, both in my main universe and in my traditionally-published books and in all of my…like my independent and my self-published works and in my novellas and stuff. Some of the main characters, some of them side characters. And so I know that they’re open to it, and I also know that the one that, you know, for lack of a better term, I have like a queer-centered, progressive kind of comfort food brand or business model or whatever, however you wanna explain it. And so I feel like most of my super fans are gonna be excited because what they want from me is that comfort, is that sort of upbeat, fun, slightly fluffy, slightly thoughtful, but ultimately, you know, everything’s gonna be all right. I’m never gonna depress you. There’s never gonna be like scenes of torture. It’s never gonna be angsty, you know, all of those things. It’s always gonna be delicious, I guess.

Jeff: I like that as a term for a book. That’s just really fun.

Gail: Yeah. It’s just gonna be tasty. Yeah. So they know that and that’s the part that they trust and generally I feel like they’re pretty open minded about how I’m gonna go there and explore that. I don’t think I would’ve done this book, you know, five or six years ago because I wasn’t sure. I had to kind of test the waters with the San Andreas books and some of the other stuff. But I think they’re pretty open to it. I don’t know. You never know. We’ll see how everybody reacts. Yeah, so I mean, and I have beta readers and some of them have read it. I was more careful with this book in making sure that like I had sensitivity, what I call delicacy readers. So people within kind of the gender nonconforming community, again, for lack of a better term. That was more important to me really. I don’t wanna offend, although, you know, everybody’s opinion is their own and everyone is entitled to it. So I’m sure if you come to any book with the idea of being offended, you’re probably going to be unfortunately. So, but I did put essentially a naked purple dude on the cover as a kind of like, “Be aware, there’s gonna be sex in this book. We’re gonna go there. We’re gonna go far out there.”

Jeff: It’s cozy with sex and it’s funny and it’s sci-fi. It’s got a little bit of everything in it.

Gail: Exactly.

Jeff: Do you think you’ll revisit this later as like as a continuing series?

Gail: I’d love to. Actually, I have another murder mystery and like I don’t consider myself like a mystery writer at all, but I have this thing as a writer where I don’t write a book until I’ve had what I call the epiphany, which is I need to actually see a scene with characters in dialogue. And it might not necessarily be the first scene or whatever, but until I see that I have that crystal moment, I don’t feel like I can write the book. So I have a lot of books that I’d like to write, but I’ve never had the epiphany with. So they’re just sort of sitting there. And I’ve had an epiphany for a second book in this series with Dre investigating another murder and Tristol still there and everything. But I don’t know how people will receive this one, so I don’t know if I will write that one, but it’s definitely there percolating already. So it’s a possibility.

Jeff: It’s a possibility.

Gail: Yeah. And the universe on the whole, because it is a science fiction universe, actually does have another, of all things, young adult series that’s set at it that’s kind of been on the back burner for a really long time which kind of has nothing really to do with this series except that the same conceits in terms of faster than light travel. And human…like colonization and planetary evolution are the same. And there’s like a couple of crossover alien races, but that’s about it. But it is the same sort of basic far future.

Jeff: If you’ve got the universe, you might as well keep using it. So you don’t have to just keep reinventing the wheel.

Gail: Precisely. Yes. That’s my feeling.

Jeff: What do you hope readers take away from this romp?

Gail: Well, like usual, I just want them to be like… My favorite thing is somebody writes to me and says, “You either humiliated me because I was laughing loudly on public transport,” and I’m like, “Yes.” “You kept me up all night.” “Yes.” Or, “You just left me with a big smile.” So that’s really what I genuinely want is a big smile on people’s faces. But it would be nice if people who read it thought a little bit about…a bit more about gender and how we intimately link biological sex with gender and that perhaps that’s not necessarily the…I don’t know, ethical thing to do – that perhaps gender is in fact a social construct. Or cultural construct. It’s something that anthropologists just accept.

Like if you’re an anthropologist, you just accept that as a fact. Like we know, we have seen all of these different ancient and modern races or cultures with varying different interpretations of genders and it just…I don’t think it would ever occur to an anthropologist to like not be like, “Yes, gender is cultural,” but it seems that in the world today that isn’t an accepted principle. And so I guess, if anything, I want people to kind of get it, to maybe think a little bit about pronoun use and all that sort of stuff, I guess.

Jeff: Now, as both Gail and G. L., you run across a lot of genres. You’ve got your urban fantasy, you’ve got some paranormal. Now you’ve got cozy mysteries in space. Comedy definitely cuts across all of them. Is there a genre you like most?

Gail: I would say I have wheelhouses more than anything else. So there’s a podcast called “Reading Glasses” that talks about as readers we tend to have wheelhouses and if you read heavily in romance, you define those often as tropes. You know, like, “I like the enemies to lover,” or whatever. But a wheelhouse kind of has other things. So, and I would say that there are definitely wheelhouses I gravitate to. So I always write the heroine’s journey. I never write the hero’s journey regardless… Again, this is the gender thing, right? Regardless of the biological sex or stated gender of my main character, they’re always heroines’ journeys because a heroine’s journey, it doesn’t matter who’s undertaking it. So I would say that is one of my things. I always do ‘found family’, and I realized recently I had this big revelation that one of the reasons I strongly gravitate to reading gay romance in particular is because found family is a really popular trope within gay romance for obvious reasons because if you come to the queer community, it’s usually partly found family that brings you there because real family rejected you, at least often did when I was younger. So yeah, and I just love that as a trope, for lack of a better word.

And so I have found family in my books all the time. I tend to have extremely strong female main characters except when I’m writing gay romance, of course. Yeah, and lots of queer. I was thinking recently that a slogan I really embrace would be queer comfort because I feel like that’s kind of in all of my books even the books that have heterosexual main couples. It’s really hard. At this juncture, I guess you could say that I trust my readers enough to relax and just write what moves me. I wouldn’t have written this book if I didn’t think at least some of them would enjoy it. I mean, what a privilege and kind of a blessing and a joy to get to do that. But it has been 10 years. So it did take a while.

Jeff: And you mentioned that you’re not known for mystery, certainly. So you’ve taken this turn now to at least explore it once. Are there other things out there like, going after and trying to write a mystery, that are still things you want to do, things you’re looking at towards the future?

Gail: Absolutely. There’s always… Like I adore high fantasy. Obviously, I’m really into world building. And so like I have a young adult high fantasy. It’s actually techno fantasy, kind of like the Pern books or “Darkover.” And so, you know, I’d like to do that. There’s a bunch of stuff that I kind of am excited and interested, and I’m a pretty voracious and pretty wide reader. So I think that makes you, generally speaking, a relatively wide writer. I think it’s unlikely I would ever break the trust contract that I have with my reader base and write anything dark. I certainly would never write anything gritty or gruesome. I don’t like to read that, so I’d never write it. And I think I’m out of my dark phase now that I have left high school. I don’t do the really kind of dark or angsty stuff.

I was thinking about contemporary recently actually. And I don’t think I could write contemporary. The moment I start to think about writing something that’s just a contemporary romance or like women’s lit or even something, you know, Heaven forfend, like proper lit fic, it immediately just goes fantastical. I can’t, I have to inject. And if I were to describe myself as anything, it is, you know, science fiction and fantasy rooted, I like the world building a lot. And so I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever write something that doesn’t have at least that as part of the component.

Jeff: So how did you go from studying archaeology and getting these degrees to now becoming full-time author, writing all these books? What was that path?

Gail: Oh my goodness. So I’ve two master’s degrees and I was working on my PhD and I always thought I would be an academic. I genuinely love archaeology. I’m one of those incredibly lucky people who left one career that she adored for another career that she adored. So, you know, tragedy of choice. And I was about to do my defense and I was about two years out which would have been my thesis years finishing my PhD. And I always wrote. I just grew up on what essentially amounted to kind of like a hippie commune kind of thing, and surrounded by artists. And the only thing I had learned really from that is that artists never make any money. And so being an author was really a bad idea.

So I was like, “Okay, I’ll be an academic because, ooh, profitable.” At least it’s quasi reliable, right? But I always wrote, I just had that need. It’s kind of like breathing or something. And I figure if I write, I might as well submit. And so I was submitting, writing and submitting. And then I wrote “Soulless” as kind of a challenge to myself. I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I have a propensity for rewriting things over and over and over a million times and never actually finishing anything. And so “Soulless” was like, “You will take six months, you will write this weird book.” This was during the paranormal romance and urban fantasy bubble of the late ’90s, early 2000s. And I was like, what I really want from…I want a bunch of things, right? I want women to write funny stuff in genre, commercial genre. And that’s pretty rare. Most of the writers I knew who wrote funny stuff were like Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Jasper Fforde, like a bunch of dudes. And I was like, “Where are my ladies writing funny? Where’s my urban fantasy set in a historical time period?” You know, I wanted all of these things and nobody was writing it. And finally I was like, “Well, that means I have to.”

Jeff: Take the challenge.

Gail: Take the challenge. And I really did write it as a challenge. And “Soulless” is a mashup. It tends to be what I write, obviously. I mean, I’m here talking about, you know, space, cozy mystery romance. So I obviously like mashing up things. And so “Soulless” is steampunk, urban fantasy, comedy of manners, romance. It’s a bunch of these different things. And I was like, no one will buy this because I had been in and out of the publishing industry and submitting short stories and I was like, “This…it doesn’t have a place in the market. There’s no shelf it sits on, like, no one’s gonna buy this. But I wrote it so I might as well send it out.” And I had one of those slush pile telephone calls from New York where they like…within a month somebody wanted to buy my silly little bit of fluff. And I was like, “No, you’re joking.”

And so “Soulless” was a slow burn. It hit the market and it was really word of mouth. The librarians and the independent bookstores were like behind me 110%. They just loved this crazy little book. And I think it was mostly the funny, but you know, super strong heroine and, you know, like gruff, overly emotional werewolves and queer characters from the get go. And it just appealed to, you know, a kind of segment of society. So I was right about to do my defense when “Changeless,” my second book, hit the hit The New York Times and that kind of seed changed everything. It changed marketing, it changed how much money New York was willing to offer me and my partner at the time was like, “I make enough money to support us. Why don’t you see if this…why don’t you take a break from academia and see if this writing thing works?” And I did and I haven’t been back.

Jeff: Well done. Ten years on.

Gail: Yeah, a lot of it’s serendipity. And a lot of it is good friends. And then a lot of it was also like, I am super…I’m an archaeologist. Archaeologists are like the organizers of anthropology departments. You know, we’re logistics, we get large groups of people into foreign lands and then make them shovel dirt around, you know. We feed them and house them and blah, blah, blah. You know, we’re big on spreadsheets and organizing. So I already had that kind of part of my personality that I think not a lot of authors have. And so when I was successful, I was ready to be like, “Okay, let’s figure out how many books I can write in a year. Let’s figure out, you know, like… I like trad, but maybe this independent publishing thing is interesting. Let me go research that and experiment with that. You know, let’s try this thing.”

I’ve always been like that. Even with my traditional publishers, like they would be like, “You sell really good in eBooks.” And I was like, “That’s because I have romance readers.” And they were like, “How do you feel about maybe doing this strange BookBub thing?” And I was like, “I think that’s a great idea. Why don’t we do that?” You know, it’s like I am game. So I think that has also helped is I’ve always been willing to take a risk, partly because I have a safety net. It’s like I can always go back to being an archaeologist. That’s fun too.

Jeff: What’s your overall process? I mean, it sounded like, if I understood from our “The 5th Gender” discussion, it almost sounded like you did the first draft of that book at the retreat.

Gail: Yeah. I work really well, it turns out, in a competitive environment. I didn’t realize, but if…I really am one of those writers who I’m social in terms of I like to sit across from somebody at a cafe and just type and just the act of having another writer or a bunch of writers around me also typing is really helpful to me. And part of it is kind of looking over and being like, “How many words have you done? Oh shoot.” And then just typing some more, you know. But yeah, so I do this one retreat every year and I know I can do 40,000 words at that retreat, which is either one novella or most of one of the G. L. books. So I usually sort of get prepared ahead of time with that preparation is writing the first 10,000 or just get…I’m an outliner, so I’ll get all the outline ready. I’ll get all the world building ready. And once I hit the ground there, I can just turn out a bunch of words and that’s great.

I try to do a couple of other kind of long weekend baby retreats. I’d love to find other week-long retreats. But the style that I like is pretty rare. And the style that I like is just a bunch of writers writing and no workshops or critiques or anything. So I do that and then most of the rest of the time I am not somebody who can handle multiple projects. I learned that about myself the hard way. So I have to be working on one book and then close that book out and then move to another one. And so if it’s an independent project, what I’ll often do, so if it’s something that I’m gonna be self-publishing, I’ll often write the whole thing on a retreat or over the course of a couple of months. And then just put it to bed and then focus on incoming copy edits or a proof pass or writing a completely different project, and let it sleep if I can. I find that that marination really helps. And then I’ll go back and do a reread.

And I’m a multiple editor. I think a lot of comic writers have to be because I do passes for like different kinds of comedy. So I’ll do like a word play pass and then I’ll do a sort of a slap stick pass. And then I’ll do like rule of three descriptive passes to try and get as much different kinds of humor back into a book as possible. And so, and then I have an alpha reader or two and they read before it goes either into my New York editor or off to my beta readers.

And then I actually hire and use a developmental editor for my independent stuff as well probably because that tends to lean more romantic. And when I first started writing it, I didn’t really think of myself as a romance author. So I wanted to make sure that I was getting kind of the beats right for romance. So I have an editor who specializes actually in gay romance, who reads all of my romances and gives me feedback. And then it goes to beta readers for the Parasol-verse in particular because they’re like, they’re 25 books in that universe and there’s lots of crossover characters. So most of my beta readers are actually just super fans who are obsessed with the universe and have written me like either critical letters about mistakes that I made in terms of like getting character names wrong or eye colors or something. And usually I’ll be like, “You, would you be interested in being a beta reader?”

Jeff: Right. Put those people to work.

Gail: Exactly. I was like, “If you’re going to do this anyway, how would you like to get everything ahead of time?” And I give them lots of extra perks as well, special editions and stuff. Yeah, so it’s quite a process at this point. But my beta readers are killer. I’ve got just a team of four now and they’re really fast and great. I love them. And then I have a couple of awesome copy editors that I use and then a proof. The Parasol-verse gets a woman named Shelley Adina, who’s a fantastic steampunk author in her own right and a regency and who’s really, really good on the Victorian era. So it gets a world – like historical proofing basically. And then I have a formatter. I’m a big fan of finding people who are really good at what they do and hiring them to do it for me. Like I could change my own oil, I’m sure, but I’d really rather find a good mechanic, you know. And that’s how I feel about the book world as well. So I have a fantastic cover art designer I love working with and I just got to put my team in place and then hope that no one gets sick.

Jeff: Right. That’s the key. Nobody can get sick. Not right now.

Gail: Nobody get sick. Nobody can leave me. Very floored when that happens.

Jeff: So you mentioned that you read a pretty broad swath of stuff. What are you reading right now that you’re loving?

Gail: So I just did a reread on Amy Lane’s “A Fool and His Manny,” which because it got nominated for the RITA award and it was one of the few that did that was queer. So I had read it before, I just did a reread on that and I still love it. It’s very cute, and I love Amy. Amy’s one of the nicest human beings in the world. So that was really fun to redo. And I’m a huge fan of Mary Calmes. I don’t know how to say her last name.

Jeff: You actually got it right.

Gail: Did I?

Jeff: You did.

Gail: Oh, good. Yes. I will read… Pretty much she’s an auto buy for me. I just find…I know that there are tropes in place that…but I just find her stuff really…she’s a comfort read for me and as somebody who writes what I hope is comforting for others, like I’m always hunting for authors that give me that same sensation. One of my like constant of all things, comfort, reread rotation is Alexis Hall’s “For Real,” which is a fantastic BDSM, but it’s just like, I don’t know what, the writing is so good. And I will reread R. Cooper until the cows come home, the “Being(s) in Love Series,” which I really, really adore. So, which is an urban fantasy basically.

Jeff: So you’re a podcaster also on top of all this other stuff.

Gail: I am. I know. That is like completely not connected to anything, side project.

Jeff: Well, I’m looking at you, I’m reading the website, getting to know kind of what I wanna ask about. I’m like, “A podcast? Wow. Okay.” And it’s about travel hacks called “The 20 Minute Delay.” How did this come about?

Gail: So one of the things that happened to me in the course of this career is I went from being an archaeologist, I traveled a lot as an archaeologist, to being an author where it turns out I travel like five times as much. When I was booked, where I’m regularly, I was doing two book tours a year at least. And that was not counting all of the conventions and stuff I was doing. And a book tour is like 10 cities in 10 days. I mean, it’s crazy traveling. So I turned into a frequent traveler and I’m an organizer and I like to hack things and figure out the most efficient way to do everything possible. And I realized I was doing that with travel. And there are two things that I can talk…well, there are three things that I could talk about, books that I love, like literally until the cows come home, food that I love to eat, and travel hacks.

And then I met my friend Piper. And Piper has a day job that has her traveling 80% of the time. And she has, if possible, more travel hacks than I do. I was basically like, “Piper, let’s do a podcast. It’ll just be like 20 to 30 minutes and we will just get on and we will chat about a place that we’ve been recently, and some like delicate matter of etiquette when traveling, like whether you recline your seat or not and how you deal with that,” or recently we did a really good one actually on rental cars. I don’t rent a car that often, but Piper does all the time. And she had some awesome tips for like how to get the best rental car and, you know, what apps to use and all that sort of stuff.

And then we do a little gadget where we’re just like, we test a gadget, like a new neck pillow or something and then we talk about, you know, what is that little gadget thing. And sometimes it’s just like, I like the snacky bags. Like you should always have at least two plastic snacky bags with you because they just always come in useful. So sometimes it’s a gadget like that, but we have a really, really good time. And I’m a voracious podcast listener. Like when we started, I’m a fan of this show. So I figured, generally speaking, you eventually become a podcaster if you are a big fan of listening to them.

Jeff: That’s probably true. And I think for any of our listeners who are, you know, thinking about, you know, their trips to GRL come October, start listening to “The 20 Minute Delay” now to get all your travel situation put together.

Gail: Because Piper and I are both authors, like we don’t…we try to couch our tips as much as possible in terms of anybody can use it. But we are both women. We are women who travel alone and we are both authors. So we will tackle things like how to travel with a bunch of books, like how to fly with 50 bucks or what have you. And we also talk about like safety when you’re staying in a hotel by yourself and that sort of thing.

Jeff: So what’s coming up for you next this year with the writing? We’ve got “The 5th Gender” out, what’s coming next?

Gail: Next, I have the final book in my Custard Protocol series coming out, which is “Reticence.” And that’s book four of the Custard Protocol that comes out at the beginning of August. And that’s actually rounding out the series in the Parasol-verse for a little while, my steampunk universe. I’m not ruling out doing another series in that universe, but I think I’m gonna take a little break. And I’m on proposal for a new Young Adult series. So who knows? It’s traditional, so it could take forever, could suddenly happen. You never know. And then in October I have a special collector’s edition coming out from Subterranean Press called “Fan Service,” which is for my super fans, which has my 2 supernatural society novellas bundled together with an exclusive short story that’s a hardcover fit, super fancy addition that there’s only gonna be 526 of those printed. And so that’s my October release. It’s so pretty. They can be very pretty covers, Subterranean.

Jeff: That’s cool. And what’s the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they can keep track of all this?

Gail: Well, in addition to everything else, so in case anybody’s in any doubt, I kind of have no life. I just did…this is like what I…like, I listen to podcasts, I read, and I play online, and occasionally I write, you know, because that’s my job. So I am on all the things online. I genuinely like social media. I know. I know, it’s crazy, but you can pretty much find me on any platform that you like. If you google Gail Carriger and then the name of the platform, I will probably pop up. And I try to use the platform in the way that it’s best suited. So, you know, there are pretty pictures on Instagram and there are lots of pinned gorgeous dresses on Pinterest and historical dresses and crazy aliens. And then I also have a newsletter. The newsletter is definitely for super fans. So it’s very chatty and it’s full of like sneak peeks as to what I’m actually writing and not talking about online yet. And I do freebies and giveaways and stuff there.

Jeff: We’re going to link to all that good stuff in the show notes, of course, so people can find it easily. Gail, thanks so much for hanging out. It has been so much fun.

Gail: Oh, it’s been a real pleasure. I can’t say how delighted I am to be on and I can’t wait to listen to this from the other side.

May 13, 2019

Jeff talks about the upcoming release of Netminder (Codename: Winger #4) and a blog post he’s written that talks about the impact the series has had on one reader. The guys also talk about the FX series Fosse/Verdon.

Jeff reviews With A Kick Collection #2 by Clare London with narration by Joel Leslie and The Whispers by Greg Howard with narration by Kivlighan de Montebello. Will reviews American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera.

Jeff & Will interview Adriana about the Dreamers series, including the soon to be released American Fairytale. Adriana also discusses the food that goes into her books, writing diverse characters, how her job as a social worker plays into American Fairytale and what’s coming up next in the Dreamer series.

Complete shownotes for episode 188 along with a transcript of the interview are at

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

With A Kick Collection #2 by Clare London, narrated by Joel Leslie. Reviewed by Jeff.
Back in episode 144 I reviewed the audiobook of the first With A Kick collection. Now with collection two, once again the writing of Clare London combines with the narration of Joel Leslie to make a super awesome experience. We’ve got two stories in this collection–Pluck and Play and Double Scoop.

In Pluck and Play delivery person Curtis is saved from a homophobic attack by cowboy/singer Riley. It’s an interesting meet cute since moments after Riley dispatches the attacker, he and Curtis fall into some delightful banter.

Once they meet, they continually run into each other. Riley occasionally performs on the sidewalk across the street from the With A Kick ice cream shop, which is where Curtis often makes deliveries and hangs out with his friends who run the shop.

The difficulty for Curtis and Riley–and I love how Clare handles this–is that they have to decide if the thing between them is just a one-off bit of fun or something more. Riley’s supposed to go back to the States eventually, plus he’s got issues going on with his family. Meanwhile, Curtis is hesitant to let anyone get close to him again after his last relationship was so disastrous. Clare does a wonderful job of finding the moments of tenderness for Curtis and Riley while also dealing with their troubles.

I think I’ve developed a thing recently for the bodyguard trope. Riley has a protector streak that I loved so so much. As soon as he finds out what Curtis’s ex is up to, he wants to put a stop to it. The same can be said to for Curtis because he wants to help Riley deal with his family. It’s so clear these two are meant to be together and once they figure how to get out of their own way–and take care of their pasts–to get their happily ever after to they are golden.

With Double Scoop, Clare has written my favorite of the With A Kick stories. This one centers on shop owners Patrick and Lee. As the story opens an explosion rocks the shop, injuring Lee and leaving Patrick in a fit of concern for his friend and their business.

These two have had an ongoing business and flirty relationship through the series and now they get their moment in the spotlight. Patrick, as the slightly older one, can’t imagine why the younger Lee would be interested in him. He doesn’t feel particularly accomplished, despite the business, or particularly attractive. Lee, however, knows exactly what he wants and keeps going for it even though Patrick doesn’t make easy for Lee to get and stay close.

Clare toys with them and the reader in the most delicious way–bringing them together and then causing a rift. It made for a fun yet tense read going back and forth. Luckily the amazing cast of characters that Claire has developed over the series come together to help get the shop reopen and bring the two men together. Their friends know what’s best for them even if they can’t figure out how to make it work.

Both With A Kick collections are great for sexy short romances that have the best happily ever afters. You can’t go wrong picking it up on audio either. Joel Leslie does a tremendous job with a large cast of characters, particularly in Double Scoop since almost everyone who’s appeared in the series shows up here. Joel deserves a special shout out for Riley, who is the only American accent and it’s a southern one too. I enjoyed listening to him go back and forth between Curtis’s British and Riley’s southern.

So if you’re looking for some fun reads, that will surely make you want some ice cream this summer, pickup With A Kick Collection #2 by Clare London … and grab the first one too if you haven’t already.

The Whispers by Greg Howard. Narrated by Kivlighan de Montebello. Reviewed by Jeff.
This was a quite an unexpected middle-grade gem that often surprised me with the depths it explored. I’ll caution as I get into this that the end packs a lot of emotional punch and some readers may want to tread lightly on this young man’s journey because it’s heartbreaking while it does conclude in a very satisfying and fulfilling place.

Eleven-year-old Riley is missing his mama. She’s been gone for a few months and Riley doesn’t know why. He’s one of the last to see her and he meets regularly with a police detective to try to fill in pieces of what he knows. However, he gets frustrated with the speed the case is moving. He remembers the story his mama used to tell him about the whispers, little blue fairies who live out in the woods. He can’t help but wonder if the whispers might be the key to getting her back.

What I loved so much about this book is how strong Greg made Riley’s narrative, keeping true to how an eleven-year-old might perceive the world. Riley already knows that he’s gay. He refers to that is one of his “conditions” that he has to keep secret, and this is not his only one. He also crushes on Dylan who he refers to as the redneck superhero. Dylan’s in eighth grade and he keeps up his superhero status by actually acknowledging Riley, and occasionally defending him against the school bully.

Riley convinces his best friend Gary to go on an adventure in the woods to find The Whispers. Again, this trip reveals so much about Riley as he has to deal with a hobgoblin (or was it), the fact that Dylan may not be a superhero (or maybe he is) and the consequences of saying the wrong thing to your friend all the while trying to do the right thing so The Whispers will help him.

One of the extraordinary characters in this book is Tucker the dog. Tucker is Riley’s faithful companion, always at the boy’s side to nudge him in the right direction and keep him safe. The dog has an amazing personality that shines through Riley’s narrative. I don’t think I’ve ever read a dog on a page quite like Tucker and I absolutely loved it.

It’s a credit to Greg that he had me so invested in Riley that I didn’t try too hard to piece together what was happening. As the plot hurtled toward its conclusion I was constantly surprised and pivoted between sadness and happiness as the revelations came fast and furious.

Kudos to Kivlighan as well for capturing Riley so perfectly. It was a very satisfying audiobook experience.

This was my first Greg Howard book and I’ll definitely check out his other titles. I do very much recommend The Whispers if you’re looking for a superb read featuring an eleven-year-old who is going through a lot but comes out stronger and wiser on the other side.

American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera. Reviewed by Will.
When Camilo, a NYC social worker, goes to an absurdly swanky charity event that his boss can’t attend, he’s intent on enjoying the special evening, which includes chatting up the hottie he meets at the bar. After a few drinks and some suggestively flirty banter, he and Mr. hot stuff find a dark corner and make the night truly memorable.

The next morning, Camilo’s boss introduces him to Tom, the millionaire who’ll be financing their agency’s major renovation project. Tom also happens to be Camilo’s hot charity gala hook-up from the night before.

Aware how awkward the situation is, Tom agrees to keep things strictly professional from now on, but also asks that Milo be the point man on the project, keeping him up-to-date on the renovations.

Their weekly meetings begin to look more and more like dates – a meal at a fancy restaurant, a walk through the botanical gardens. Camilo is no fool, but as he gets to know Tom better – he’s certainly not your average philanthropic millionaire, there is more than meets the eye – the pretense of “keeping things professional” begins to hold less and less appeal.

When they can no longer deny the attraction, Tom takes Milo back to his place. The sex is amazing (of course), but the afterglow is short-lived when Tom’s ex drops buy with their daughter.

Tom shares custody of Libertad, his daughter, with his former husband. Learning of all of this (which Tom failed to mention up until that point) briefly throws Milo for a loop, but it’s hard to resist the precocious the little girl, and Milo falls even harder for the millionaire and his ready-made family.

A situation with Milo’s mom has him taking on more work and financial responsibility and, in addition to that, he’s working overtime as the massive renovation project is wrapping up.

He’s stretched almost to the breaking point. When Tom offers to help, the fiercely independent Milo insists he has it all under control.
Tom quietly takes care of things. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission, right? In this case, no.

Camilo is furious.

As a reader, it’s hard not to feel frustrated by Milo’s stubborn streak. Your boyfriend is a millionaire for god’s sake! Get over yourself!

But it eventually becomes clear that Milo is, of course, right. Tom’s intervention robbed Milo of his own autonomy. It’s Milo’s choice whether or not to ask for help – no one else’s.

This is a deal-breaker for Milo and it causes a major rift in their relationship. Tom has to find a way to fix things, by doing the hard work and not using his money to solve their problems.

This is a romance, so Tom figures things out, and pulls off a grand gesture that is less grand, and more heartfelt and considerately thoughtful – which is exactly what Milo needed.

It all wraps up with swoon-worthy family vacation to the Dominican Republic.

This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to for everything you want in gay romance.

Jeff: Welcome, Adriana to the show. Thanks for being with us.

Adriana: Thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.

Jeff: So have we, to be honest, since we’ve read “American Dreamer” that we loved so much. So, a good first question is, what was the inspiration behind the “Dreamer” series?

Adriana: So, basically, I think I wanted to write Afro-Latinx characters. I’ve said this in a couple of other conversations I’ve had about the book. It was really a specific time, a couple of years ago, right after the election when there was just a lot of negative conversation around the place of immigrants in the U.S. And I just really felt compelled to write a story that I felt can honor my identity which is Afro-Latinx, and the Afro-Latinx immigrant experience. And I think representation has also been an issue for me, with romance specifically. There are stories of people of color in gay romance, but I felt like they were either really surface characters or there was like a real, like, toil story. You know, the person had to go through every kind of horrific thing.

So, I wanted to write something that could be nuanced and also show the joyfulness and the beauty of being a person that’s Afro-Latinx and all the amazing things that we come with. So, that was kind of where I was coming from. And I also really, really wanted a book literally full of…just like the gayest, most black and brown book I could write.

Jeff: That should almost be a quote on the cover.

Will: That’s funny.

Adriana: Yeah. I wanted it to be super gay, super black, super brown.

Jeff: So, right before we did this interview, Will raved about “Fairytale.” Tell us, in your own words, what that story is about, and kind of how it falls in the series.

Adriana: So, it’s the second book in the “Dreamer” series and it’s set in New York City, which is different from “Dreamer” which is set in Ithaca. And it’s about Camilo Briggs who’s one of the best friends of Nesto from the first book. And he’s a Cuban-Jamaican social worker. And he works in the domestic violence field, which is the same field that I work in. And he meets this, like, very hot stranger at a gala and he turns out to be a big donor for the agency that he works for, that Camilo works for. And Tom is an interesting character because he’s a billionaire, which we love in our romances, but he’s also Dominican and white-passing, which is something that I really wanted to explore in a book. What it means to be Latinx but also kind of have the privilege of presenting as a white person, and what that means, and how hard that is to navigate. So, I guess, it’s about… It’s a fairytale, it’s a modern-day fairytale but it’s also, again, like a different side to the Latinx experience. And it’s sweet and fun, and cute and sexy.

Will: Yeah, it definitely is. First, before we get to the next question, I want to commend you on the sort of…what I found really enjoyable about not only “American Dreamer” but “American Fairytale” as well is the group of friends, the sense of found family that comes across really strong in this series. I think it’s exceptionally well done. And especially in that first book because, like, right at the beginning, from the get-go, you introduce this, frankly, a really large cast of characters. And I think, with a lesser author, that could frankly get confusing.

I know when I read a book, I get confused easily if there are five, six, seven people, you know, names and personalities all thrown at you at once. But each of your characters, each of the friends in that group are so clearly delineated and…especially in that first book, in the opening scene, you give us the briefest glimpses of who they are, and we understand right away where they kind of fit in the group of friends. And of course, they’re all wonderful, and interesting, and funny. They give each other shit like good friends do. I love this group of guys so much.

Adriana: Thank you. I have to admit, they’re not my friends, but those four guys are very inspired on my, like, really core group of friends in my early 20s in the DR…when I was still in Dominican Republic. My core group of friends were mostly gay men because my cousin, who’s like my brother, who’s 14 months older than I, is gay. We kind of just like started hanging out with this group of, like, queer kids in the DR. Which in the ’90s was kind of an interesting crowd to be in just because it wasn’t really okay to be openly gay.

And we had so much fun. And we did so much, like, crazy stuff together. And I just kind of really wanted to kind of like write a love letter to those friendships and those years. And a lot of them ended up coming to the States at the same time I did, in my early 20s. So, I think they feel so real because they are, like, real.

Jeff: These books are getting so much praise. What do you think is resonating with the readers?

Adriana: I think people are more open now, or I think there were always those that were open to reading about those different experiences. But I think there’s a particular appetite now for reading more characters that are bringing with them a different lived experience. And I think that might be part of it, like why people are interested in the story. And I think everybody can connect to a striving story, you know. I think Nesto, and Jude, and Camilo, Patrice, Juan Pablo, all of them, they’re just striving to be who they know they deserve to be – for the lives that they’re working for. And I think everyone can relate to that and that struggle of fighting for what you want.

Jeff: Did you also intend to make everybody hungry with “American Dreamer?”

Adriana: Yes. Yes.

Jeff: Was that part of, like, your side plot?

Adriana: Yes. Yes, I did. I wanted because…also that’s the other piece, like Caribbean food is very similar but very different in many ways. And I talk about that a lot in “Dreamer.” And it’s the…I wanted to just show people, like, all the different flavors and how we’re all connected. So, I think it’s something that doesn’t really get talked about as much, the wide variety of our flavors. So, I did intentionally want people to be very interested in Caribbean food. I wanted people to Google Dominican restaurants and it sounds like I succeeded.

Jeff: I think you did, yeah. I haven’t gotten into “Fairytale” yet. Is there food there also or do we break away from the food a little bit?

Will: A little bit.

Jeff: A little bit.

Adriana: Yeah, a little bit. It’s not as much food. It’s more of…I feel like “Fairytale” is more about, like, Harlem and The Bronx. I have a lot of places in Harlem and The Bronx because again, there are a lot of romances set in New York City. Not many of them are set in Harlem and The Bronx. So, I wanted to go to the places where…like, the diaspora that I belong to, came to. So, I think that’s more… I’m hoping people Google places to go in The Bronx and Harlem with this one.

Will: That is a good goal to have, most definitely. Now, with this group of characters, they come from a lot of different backgrounds, what is your process for basically ensuring accurate representation? Is it all from your own personal experience or something else?

Adriana: Yeah. So far in this series…and I’m sure that as I write more, then I’m gonna have to go outside of that, but so far in this series, I’ve really gone with origin stories that I know of or from people that are, like, my friends or things like that, like Camilo’s mom, for example, is a Marielita, which was a specific group of Cuban refugees that came at a specific time to the U.S.. And I kind of touched upon that because that’s a very important influx of immigrants that came at a specific time. And they’re all particular experiences that I have been connected to through my friends or family. But I do think writing diaspora is something that people need to be more thoughtful about.

So, I try to think a lot about like when did this person come, how did they come, what was the political situation in the U.S. at that time, how they would’ve been received. Like, with Patrice, you know, he’s Haitian and he’s black. His experience and the way he was received would be different than, for example, Camilo’s mom who came as a Cuban refugee and had protected status as she came in to the U.S. So, it’s very…like, there’s nuances there in the context that really needs to be thought about because it really impacts how the person can integrate into American life.

Will: And speaking of writing from experience, you have a job in social work and advocacy, did you use your own personal experience when writing about Camilo’s work?

Adriana: Yes. So, Camilo’s work and my work…I mean, I really drew from what I do every day to kind of build Camilo’s agency. I mean, kind of like my wish list almost. I wish we could have a guy that just wants to drop $2 million on my agency and tell us, “Do whatever you want with it.” So, I think it was like my fantasy of what it would be like to be in an agency that is just being well-funded, and, like, resources are just there to do the work.

So, I think it’s like my own fairytale of what it would be like to work, and just have a millionaire just drop money on us. But, yes, it’s very, very connected to my own work and kind of like my philosophy around the domestic violence field and how the work should go.

Jeff: I like how you set the books in our extremely modern times too. And I think in “American Dreamer” as Nesto faces the discrimination of the, who I like to call the evil woman, how he deals with it because I think that it tells a story that not everybody necessarily thinks about all the time.

Adriana: Yeah. And I really wanted to contrast, even in the book like Jude’s own reactions to the racism and the obvious discrimination and sabotaging and Nesto’s reactions to it, and the reality that there are different consequences for some people than to others. And that that’s a reality you kind of just have to work with.

Jeff: And I loved how he dealt with it too, taking that high road. I just like, “Go, Nesto.”

Adriana: Right. I mean, it’s a reality, like, it could have a consequence that was like very, very difficult for him. So, he couldn’t just like get into a thing with this lady.

Jeff: Right. “American Dreamer” was your first book. How did you come into writing romance and specifically MM romance?

Adriana: So, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing an MM romance for a long time. I’ve been a MM romance reader for, like, a long time. I was at the first GRL (Gay Rom Lit Retreat). I’m like an OG of MM romance. But I was a lot more involved in the community, and then kind of stepped back. I got busy and I just kind of kept reading, but I had it in the back of my mind. I find that what MM romance brought to my life, in terms of dynamics and relationships, and seeing…like I said, having friends all my life that were gay men, and me being so close to so many men who were like looking to fall in love and not being able to see love stories. I remember when I started reading LGBT books, they were very, like, sad, very sad stories like in the ’90s, right? I mean, I grew up in the ’90s.

And so just finding your romance was something that was so incredibly wonderful for me. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if I could actually find my particular experience and the particular experience of the people who I love in those books?” So, it was kind of like a combination of going to a place…like the type of story that had been really meaningful to me, and then kind of putting my own experience into the space.

Jeff: What was it like to write the first book after having read so many? Was it kind of an easy process or was it crazy and hard and took years or…?

Adriana: So, it didn’t take me that long, if I’m honest, but I had been thinking about it for a long time. So, before I actually started writing, I kind of did a whole year of reading a lot of craft books, and going to workshops, and trying things. And I actually started a book set in Ethiopia, which is also a gay romance. And I got through a third of that and I was like, “I cannot write this book. I am not equipped to write a gay romance in Ethiopia right now.” And I decided I wanna do this story, this “Dreamer” story. And then that’s when I started it. But it was like a year and a half before I actually felt brave enough to actually write it. Yes.

Jeff: I’m so glad that you found that bravery. Who would you say your author influences are? You say you’ve read, you know, MM forever even before it was truly MM, back in the sadder days?

Adriana: Yeah. I have a lot of authors that…I mean, I’ve loved a lot of authors from the beginning that I think, I don’t know if I emulate, but I think about a lot in their…kind of how they render a story. Like K.J. Charles, I think, is a wonderful author. I think she just does things that are like phenomenal in writing. E. Lynn Harris was probably the first queer romance that I ever read. I think it’s really sad that he’s not, like, in the canon of what we talk about when we talk about queer romance.

So, yeah, but I mean there’s a lot of writers I like. Amy Lane’s early work was super significant for me. I thought her…some of her early books are really some of my all-time favorites. So, yeah, there’s a lot of authors that I kind of go back to and read just to kind of be inspired by the way that they render a story. Does that make sense?

Jeff: But what is it about those books that resonated for you so much?

Adriana: I think…well, first of all, it was they felt familiar in a way that was like a discovery almost, because I didn’t really ever know any people…a black man who was really exploring the falling in love and the feelings, and the struggle, and the conflicts of trying to make yourself happy, and to find the love that you have…to keep the love that you’ve discovered, right? So, I think his (E. Lynn Harris’) books thought were just so beautifully written, and so tender, and so heartbreaking. It was just wonderful. I think being raised in Dominican Republic where there’s, toxic masculinity on steroids, like, the tenderness of his books really was something that I hadn’t read before. I think it just was kind of like eye-opening to me.

Will: Now, so far in your “Dreamer” series, we’ve had Nesto and Jude’s story, and Camilo and Tom’s story. There is, of course…thank God, there’s going to be a third book. Whose story are we gonna get in that one and what can you tell us about that one?

Adriana: So, it’s Patrice’s book. Patrice is Nesto’s friend who is a Haitian-American man, who’s a professor. It’s set in Ithaca. He conveniently gets a job at Cornell in the economics department and moves to Ithaca. And he reconnects with Easton Archer who is a character that we meet in “Dreamer” who’s a prosecutor, an assistant district attorney in Ithaca. And Easton is white, so it’s an interracial romance. Yeah.

Jeff: When does that one come out?

Adriana: That one comes out in October. I just saw a proof for the cover last week…or no, earlier this week, and it is so nice. I love it. I think it’s my favorite one, and I really love the covers for both books so far. I’m calling it my Black Lives Matter romance, although it’s not super intense, but it’s definitely…like the conflict between Patrice and Easton is definitely revolving around kind of having to navigate both of, like, their positions in life.

Will: We got a brief glimpse of Patrice and Easton, like you mentioned in that first book. And then in “American Fairytale,” there was a scene with all of the friends together and Patrice sort of like phones in on Skype while they’re, like, dishing about Camilo’s love life, which was very, very funny. So, I’m genuinely looking forward to Patrice’s story. I think it’s gonna be amazing. I can’t wait.

Adriana: I know. I’ve been revising it, like I said, and I think it’s a sweet story. And then, there’s a little bit more of two characters that people have been curious about. Ari and Jin, who are employees of Nesto, and they are in their little tiny young person romance. So, they’re like a little cute element for a love story. It’s called “American Love Story.” It’s the title of Patrice’s story.

Jeff: Cool. And then you mentioned before we started actually recording the interview that you’re writing the fourth book right now. Any teasers on that?

Adriana: So, that one is not an MM. It’s an MF, actually. It’s Juan Pablo’s story. And Juan Pablo is…it’s like a, I’d say, a second chances story. And the heroine is Priscilla who is Nesto’s cousin, who’s a police officer. And it’s called “American Sweethearts.” So, the book starts with a wedding in the Dominican Republic, but I’m not gonna say whose.

Jeff: Oh, such a tease.

Will: Oh, man.

Adriana: Yeah. I’ll tease a little more when I have…I feel like I can’t tease too much on this book because it’s not even halfway done yet. But right now, I’m writing the first few chapters and they’re all in this wedding in the DR. So, everybody is there.

Jeff: But I do like how you…we’ve seen with some traditionally MF series where an MM book ends up in the series. And I like how you’re kind of spinning that around too, you’ve got an MM series so far and you’re putting an MF book in it just to, like, broaden that universe out.

Adriana: Yeah. So, my kind of little tagline is like, I write romance full of people who look and sound like my people. And there’s a lot of my people who are gay men, like so many of them. But not all of them are. So, I wanted to, in this series at least, have one story where, you know…like both Priscilla and Juan Pablo are queer. Like, she’s pan, he’s bi. But it’s also like a different type of, you know, experience because they’re both engaging in a straight relationship, which brings in…has its own privileges in terms of how it appears. So, I also wanted to explore that a little bit.

Jeff: And I think exploring the pansexuality too will be interesting because that doesn’t turn up in a lot of books, at least the ones that cross my radar. And I think it’s nice to see that representation alongside the ethic background representation that you’re bringing as well.

Adriana: Yeah, yeah. And it’s something that I think it’s…because of their age, I’m trying to kind of like engage a little bit in even Priscilla arriving to a place where she’s like, “Oh, actually, I’m pan,” as opposed to like, “I thought I was bisexual,” and how she arrived at that. Because I think that’s something that, for people my age, like I’m 40, it’s something that we arrived because we didn’t even have the language for that. Like, 15, 10 years ago, we were like, “Oh, I think I’m gay.” But then it’s like, “Oh, but there’s a whole spectrum of sexuality, gender identity.” And I think there’s so much that we didn’t know – that we know now – that should be coming up in books.

Jeff: It’s great that you’re leading the way to kind of get some of that out there, too.

Adriana: Yeah. It’s a great time to be writing romance, I think.

Jeff: So, besides the “Dreamer” books, is there anything else coming up that you’re looking to write in the coming…I’ll say years since “Dreamer” has you going for the rest of this year probably, if nothing else.

Adriana: Yeah, yeah. So, I do have a couple of things that I’m working on. I’m in the process right now of getting out this…I did write the gay romance set in Ethiopia, and I’m in the process of…like, I should have some good news about it soon. And it’s a romance set in Ethiopia, and it’s a Dominican-American relief worker. I did international relief work for a long time. And I lived in Ethiopia for about five years. And so, I really wanted to write a book set in Ethiopia because I have a lot of love for Ethiopia, and my years there were very significant in my life. So, it’s a gay romance. It’s not legal to be in a same-sex relationship in Ethiopia so there are complications. And it’s a Dominican-American relief worker and a colleague who’s Ethiopian, and they fall in love.

Jeff: I am so glad you finished that book. You kind of left that off back there when we were talking about it before, because that will be great to see… I have, you know, no experience in any of those spaces. So, to read a romance set there will be an adventure.

Adriana: Yeah. It was wonderful to write. Like I said, I have a lot of love for that country. And I think people’s perception of it is like, you know, people starving. And there’s just so much richness and so much beauty and magic in Ethiopia, that I really wanted to just show a different face to it. And I think it’s like a really sweet romance, too. And the setting is interesting. It’s more like a new adult. They’re in their 20s.

Jeff: Do you think it will be out this year, maybe?

Adriana: I don’t know of this year, but definitely early next year. Like, for sure early next year, yeah.

Will: Very cool. Fantastic. Definitely looking forward to that. Now, you’ve given us a lot of amazing information about all of your amazing books, but if our listeners want to learn even more, where can they find out more about you and your books online?

Adriana: So, they can go to my website, it’s I’m pretty active on Twitter, and my handle is @ladrianaherrera. And Facebook, I’m also there, Adriana Herrera. So, those are the places…and I’m on Instagram but not as much.

Jeff: Very cool. We will link to all of that, plus all the books in our show notes so that folks can easily click on that stuff to find you. Adriana, thank you so, so much for being with us. It’s been awesome talking to you.

Adriana: Thank you. It was so much fun and just as amazing as I thought it was gonna be to chat with you guys.

May 6, 2019

April was our most downloaded month ever. Thank you to our listeners!

Jeff and Will discuss their upcoming travel schedule. They will be at the Romance Writers of America national conference, Podcast Movement, Dreamspinner’s Author Conference and GayRomLit.

Jeff reviews Top Secret by Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy and Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.

Jeff interviews Casey about her debut novel. They talk about the inspiration for Red, White & Royal Blue and the impact the 2016 election had on the story.  In addition, they discuss the recently announced movie adaptation, what got Casey into writing romance and what she’s working on next.

Complete shownotes for episode 187 along with a transcript of the interview are at

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. Reviewed by Jeff.
I’ve been a huge fan of Sarina Bowen’s for some years now. Her Understatement of the Year is among my favorite books of all time and I also love Him and Us which were co-written with Elle Kennedy. Sarina and Elle are back with their first m/m romance in three years with Top Secret.

They’ve written an extremely satisfying enemies to lovers romance that sizzles but also has some extremely sweet parts as well.

Keaton’s a college junior from a privileged family whose been with his girlfriend since high school. For her birthday, she announces that she wants a threesome. After brief thought Keaton agrees. He lives in a frat house where one of his frat brothers is Luke. Luke basically keeps to himself barely gets along with anyone in the house. Luke’s a townie, going to school on an academic scholarship and as a despicable mom and older brother who only want to take advantage of him. He lives in the frat because it’s cheaper than a dorm and he’s running for president because that means free room.

Keaton looks to an app to help find the right guy for this birthday present. He signs in as LobsterShorts and soon ends up talking to SinnerThree. Once SinnerThree finds out it’s Keaton’s first three way, he wants to make sure Keaton would be cool with him in the mix and to start considering what the rules would be. SinnerThree even gives sexy homework. This gets Keaton thinking because he’s buried his feelings about guys for a long time. Of course, SinnerThree is Luke, who lives right across the hall.

What makes this book work so extraordinarily well is the two sides of Luke and Keaton we see between their public personas and their chats on the app. Luke wants to escape the town and the life he’s known growing up. He strives to excel in school so he can get the high-paying job and never be reliant on anybody again. Meanwhile, Keaton knows he’s got all the privilege but he also chafes at the expectations that his family and friends put on him and he keeps all that to himself because it’s what he’s supposed to do.

When they’re chatting as SinnerThree and LobsterShorts the conversation occasionally drifts from figuring out what Keaton’s boundaries actually are to discussing their realities and what they want out of life. Their emotional shields fall away. The way Sarina and Elle transition from sexy to sweet and back again is perfect.

Of course, the night finally comes and Keaton and Luke find out they’ve been talking for weeks. The night doesn’t go as planned, but they don’t stop exploring their sexual feelings or sharing closely guarded secrets. Both guys have great growth as Keaton comes into his own, embracing his true sexuality and the career he wants after college. I’m particularly happy this wasn’t a gay-for-you story but rather about a young man figuring out who he is.

The battle for Luke is about his sexuality at all–he’s proudly bisexual. He can’t fathom that anyone could love him because of his terrible family. He’s been so battered by them, that he’s hesitant to accept help from anyone because it would surely come with strings. Thankfully, even though Keaton bungles quite a few things with Luke, he also works to make it right.

It’s a credit to Sarina and Elle that they have created such fully fleshed out characters who evolve so much through the story. I was invested in so much more than the romance because I wanted these guys to find their way too.

The motley crew of frat brothers also brought some great depth to the story as they were a mix of those who were genuinely kind and others were douchey. The parents were also an interesting contrast between Luke’s trailer trash and Keaton’s very well-to-do. Keaton’s father and mother are far more than meets the eye too. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, but I have to call out them out too. It’s an example of Sarina and Elle creating multi-dimensional characters.

Another extraordinary part of the story for me was how the black moment played out. A lot of stuff goes down and there were plenty of opportunities to cheapen the story. The way the last twenty percent of the book played was perfect even while it provided me with quite a few moments of stress.

We’re headed into summer and this book is perfect for vacation reading. I highly recommend Top Secret by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Reviewed by Jeff
I knew this book would be exactly right for me. I have a thing for the royal trope and the idea of an American first son and a British prince getting together made this a must read. What I didn’t expect was how Casey McQuiston elevated the material putting this enemies to lovers romance on the list of my all time favorites.

Alex Claremont-Diaz is the first son. Henry is the prince. They have secretly crushed on each other for years. They developed an enemies vibe at the Rio Olympics when they had a less than good encounter, especially from Alex’s point of view. Move forward to today and a near international incident set off by the two at a royal wedding. As part of PR disaster control, a story is created that Henry and Alex are actually the best of friends. After some forced outings to appease the press they start talking to each other more and get past their public personas.

One of the things that makes this story works so well is Casey has created an alternate history that many of us would like to see. Claremont took office from Obama so the Trump nightmare never happened. And it’s wonderful that her son is Mexican-American given the current hate filled climate around immigrants. There’s even a couple of lines in the book about how it’s not lost on Alex that there are some people who hate that a Mexican-American took the job of first son.

Alex and Henry talk a lot about the lives they want. They’re both expected to meet family obligations and be leaders for their countries–it’s not really what they want though.

The texts, emails and phone calls as Alex and Henry reveal more and more of themselves are absolutely priceless. At times funny and others heartbreakingly honest, they talk about how they feel trapped. As the first sparks of romance blossom between them their enemy side is quite fiery as they have rage filled kisses before succumbing to the fact that this is something that they both desperately want. The back-and-forth between sweet romance and the slightly angry romance enhanced the story as they fight against their feelings.

The reality stays firmly rooted throughout the story and I loved that. Sometimes the royal trope, as much as I enjoy it, is far more fantasy than reality. It’s part of what makes the trope so good–that chancea prince might be your neighbor. This world could exist–a prince and a member of the first family. Casey gives them all the trappings, including secret rendezvous’s that are partially orchestrated by their security teams.

Of course, as must happen the romance is horribly revealed and damages them both. The guys had to really work for the happy in this book, which makes the ending so sweetly satisfying. There were a lot of ways the end could’ve played out, but I can’t imagine one that would’ve been more perfect than what Casey gives us.

I haven’t felt as overall thrilled by a book as I have by Red White & Royal Blue in quite some time. It reminded me of reading Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and the wonder of such rich, vivid characters in a charming story that deserves to be real. Casey captured not only an America that I desperately want to live in but a romance that was everything that I ever wanted.

I could gush on and on about this book, and will more in the upcoming interview. For now I’ll leave this by saying that I beyond highly recommend Casey McQuiston’s Red White & Royal Blue.

This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to for everything you want in gay romance.

Jeff: Casey, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining us.

Casey: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited.

Jeff: So, before we got to this segment, I spent a ton of time just going over “Red, White & Royal Blue” as being one of the best things I’ve read this year and one of my top books maybe in the “ever” category because it’s everything I needed in a romance with the prince trope and essentially royalty in the U.S. with the first son. And, I mean, Alex and Henry are so awesome. Tell us what your inspiration was behind this book?

Casey: Yeah. So I first started…actually, it’s weird. A couple of days ago, I was going through my Timehop which shows you, you know, what you tweeted two, three, four years ago, and I realized that, a few days ago, which is April 13th, was the day that I tweeted, “Hey, I just had this idea for a book.” And it took me back to that moment of the exact lightning strike moment when I knew what I wanted to write. And this is a question we’ll get into later, but it was one of many attempts at a book I had started and none of them had really taken hold of me like this one did. So it was early 2016, I was obsessively following the presidential election, which, you know, we all were at the time with a lot of optimism. And, at the same time, I was reading two books. I was reading “The Royal We,” which is by Heather Morgan and Jessica Cocks, and it’s basically almost a novelization of Will and Kate with a bunch of different things changed about it. So I was reading that. And I was also reading a super dry Carl Bernstein Hillary Clinton biography, which was a fun little juxtaposition.

And I had this idea in my head of I want to do… I’ve seen so many sub-versions of prince charming trope, but I feel, as a queer person, I’ve never seen one that seems the most obvious to me, which is, you know, what if, he wasn’t the perfect, going to produce a million heirs, prince, you know. And then on the other side, I was I loved “Chasing Liberty” when I was growing up and “My Date with the President’s Daughter” and I was really into the idea of a rom-com starring this rebellious first kid, and I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to do first, and I was like, “Wait a minute. If I put them both in the same story, I don’t have to pick.” So, honestly, it was me being indecisive that led to that decision. And on a wider scale, a bigger scope, I just really was looking for the perfect, fun escapist tropey rom-com that was so undeniably fun that the fact that it was also queer wouldn’t keep it out of the mainstream, you know, because a big thing that I want to do as an author and as a queer person is push those stories into the mainstream and be like, hey, you know, it’s kind of what they say in “Love, Simon,” everybody deserves to have a great love story, you know. And so everybody deserves to have a big shiny tropey, fun rom-com, you know. So, yeah, that was kind of where it came from for me.

Jeff: And there is so much rom-com-y goodness floating in this book. I think you pulled a little bit from everything. Without giving spoilers, because there could be some depending on what you pick for this, what are the rom-com moments that just sticks out for you as one of your favorites among all of them?

Casey: Wow, that’s a good question. I have pulled so many tropes from so many of my different favorite rom-coms. But there is this one thing that I love in every rom-com which is the gratuitous karaoke moment, which is actually if you ever watch “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” it’s a song on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” like “Shake Me Up.” Okay, yeah, that. So it’s like “27 Dresses” does it, and “10 Things I Hate About You” does it where it’s like somebody gets up and sings a song in front of a bunch people for no reason. And it’s like, “No, this doesn’t happen in real life, but it’s super fun.” And so writing the whole karaoke scene, which I don’t think is a spoiler, that was so much fun for me because I was, you know, as musical theater kid in high school, we all were, and so I got to be so indulgent with that, and it was such a blast. I loved it.

Jeff: I think you picked a great one right there because you’re right, there is that moment. There’s even that movie, which of course I’m blanking out on right now, that was like…it was a Rebel Wilson movie earlier, I think this year, that she’s, like, there’s always the karaoke moment that she ends up trapped in the karaoke moment in her own little thing.

Casey: I love the karaoke moment.

Jeff: That says a lot about people, the songs they pick.

Casey: It does. It’s character shorthand for sure. Yeah. Like when Bea gets up and sings “Call Me” by Blondie in the book I’m like, “This is what she’s about, you know.”

Jeff: Yeah. There have been so many accolades on this book before it even got published. I mean, we were reading about it, I think in “Blush” almost two months ago now. What’s resonating so much with all these pre-readers?

Casey: God, you know, I mean, just to start off, I’ve been, completely blown away by the response to it. When I wrote this book I was like, “This is so niche.” It’s a queer political rom-com with royal elements. And also we talk about gerrymandering in it, and I was like, “This is so niche,” no one’s gonna care, no one’s going to publish it. I was like, “I’m going to try and query this for a month, and then I’m just going to self-pub,” you know. And the fact that people have engaged with it so much and that it has gotten, I think three-star reviews now which is just blowing my mind completely, so beyond grateful for those.

It’s just been so staggering and incredible. But, I don’t know, I think that right now the world is really depressing. We live in a world right now that is at times literally on fire, you know. And it is so important to have these little oases or moments of respite and little escapist things because when I first started writing this book, I’m so neck deep in the news cycle and I really couldn’t finish it until I pulled out of it because I realized that wasn’t what it needed to be. It didn’t need to be mired in all of the negativity and all of the darkness that was going on in the world. It needed to be this spark of hope, you know, that would kind of feel… I think about when Obama won re-election in 2012, and I was with my friends. I was in college at the time and we went out on the balcony, and popped a bottle of $60 French champagne, and I think about how I felt in that moment and I was like, “I want this book to feel like that moment,” you know. And I think that a lot of people have been missing that feeling. I think that we have so few things, especially when we look at the political sphere right now, to be excited about and to be hopeful about.

And I think that we’re all just nostalgic almost for when we had hope. And I think that what this book does is it lives in the space of being here and now and still having hope, you know, and I think that’s really resonating with people. And then I also think that people are just excited to see…we’re seeing it with Helen Hoang and Jasmine Guillory who are writing romances that are integrating, you know, neurodiverse characters and just racially diverse characters. I think a lot of people are tired of seeing, you know, the same two straight white cisgender, neurotypical people falling in love, you know. And so I think that people are hungry for something that’s different in rom-com that can show that different types of people can have that same big, huge, escapist magical love story. So that’s kind of where I think it comes from.

Jeff: You noted that you started writing this in 2016, essentially before the election happened. Do you think you would have written the same book had Hillary won?

Casey: That’s a great question. And the book I had planned to write before the election went the way that it did was a different book. There were so many threads that I ended up dropping. I, at one point, had…and this was before anything about Russia had come up. I, at one, point had… a Russian double agent involved in the campaign and I was like, “This is too unrealistic. No one’s going to buy this. I’m cutting this,” you know. And now I’m like, “God…” But, yeah. I mean, it definitely…I think it would have been more lampooning the Democratic Party…not that I have anything against the Democratic Party as someone who is registered as Democrat, but it would have been more of “Veep” style, you know, that we’re all on the same side here, so we’re going to send each other up kind of thing. And instead it’s still very tongue in cheek, and it still has that “Veep” side to it, but it needed to have more of…. it needed to be less cynical, basically, you know, because I don’t think that we can really afford a lot of cynicism right now beyond what, you know, roasting the President on Twitter is cynical, I guess.

But, yeah, I think that there are certain things that happen in the plot that never probably would have been explored if the results of the election had gone differently because I don’t think I would have felt as much of an urgency to put those into the story. So, yeah, it definitely would have been different. It definitely would have been a lot different. But the President was always the same. President Claremont was the same character from the moment I came up with the idea for the book. She’s like Tami Taylor, from “Friday Night Lights” meets Wendy Davis, the politician from Texas, meets a tiny bit of Selina Meyer from “Veep” and probably every strong female in my life, you know. So, yeah, long story short, yes, it would have been different. 

Jeff: One of the things I like about it so much, and you touched on this a little bit, is that it’s not two white guys getting together because Alex is Mexican-American. And certainly given how things have played out under the current administration, having that element in the White House as first son, it says a lot. And Alex comments on this, you know, periodically as he’s kind of going through things and how that aspect of his heritage plays into things. Did you have that set early on or did that kind of manifest as we saw how immigrants were being treated post-election and even during the election cycle for that matter?

Casey: Sure. Well, the minute…it kind of was, like, the plot itself that informed what Alex would be because, like I said, the first character I came up with was the president and everything kind of formed around her. And I’m from Louisiana, and I have this huge chip on my shoulder about democrats, and liberal people, and progressive people in red states because I was one for so long. I live in a purple-y state now. But, you know, I feel they’re so often written off and discredited, and I can probably count on one hand the number of actual presidential candidates who came and campaigned in my hometown, which is the capital of Louisiana. And people just don’t see anything worth investing in. So I wanted to do a southern Democrat. I didn’t think that a Louisiana Democrat was that realistic, so I did a Texas Democrat. And from the minute I knew she was from Texas, I was like, “Well, it would make sense for her to have married a Mexican man, or a, you know, a first or second generation Mexican man.” And it just kind of went from there where I was, like, “You know, I really do like that idea of that.” I spent so much time in Texas, I know so many people from Texas, I know so many Tejanos and people… it just made sense to me. And then, you know, the more that the rhetoric kind of got really vitriolic about Mexican immigrants around the election, I was like, “Yeah, fuck you. Actually, I am gonna put some Mexican people in the White House.” Yeah, that’s what’s gonna happen.

I did as much as I could with it. Obviously, I’m white, and I did a ton of research, I talked to a ton of Mexican friends of mine, and especially Tejano first or second generation people. And then what I’m really excited about with the movie is that we have the opportunity to bring in more people on the creative side who are Latino who can offer more of that voice, that can go farther than I could go with it and that can explore more things with it. So, yeah. It just felt really natural to me, he’s from Texas, of course, he could be half Mexican. That’s just so typical there. So, yeah, it was a very natural progression of the character for me.

Jeff: And in a weird twist, I’m actually interviewing you from Dallas.

Casey: Yes, I know. I was just thinking about it. That’s so funny. Yeah. I feel like that’s appropriate. I feel the stars aligned to have you interview me from Texas.

Jeff: And finish the book while I’m in Texas. It was kind of crazy.

Casey: Yeah. That’d be so appropriate. I’m really excited because my second tour stop is in Austin, and I’m so excited. I haven’t been to Austin, like, a year or two, and it’s just feels so right to go back with this book. So I’m so excited.

Jeff: There is a ton of history in this book. Henry goes into a lot of history of the monarchy. And one of the things I loved is in the emails that Alex and Henry are trading, they end up and quote a lot of literature or other letters of historical people. How much of that was in your head, and how much was “I need to go off and do a ton of research?”

Casey: So, for me, a lot of…when I was talking about… there’s parts where after Alex starts figuring stuff out, he starts, like, develops independent research of, like, let me remediate myself on queer American history, and reconnect with it, which I think is something that a lot of queer people in their 20s do. Especially for me when I was 20, 25, and then I started to figure myself out, I was like, “Wow, I need to know the first thing about my own community.” And so I went back and really read a lot and educated myself. And so a lot of the American history, American queer history was stuff I was already familiar with because that’s something that I felt was my responsibility to learn in the past. But, yeah, I definitely didn’t know a lot about queer British history at all.

And so that was a lot of reading for me, a lot of, you know, finding history threads on Twitter, and then okay, I’m gonna go look up all these stories individually, and find out what’s the real truth, because things get twisted online. But, yeah. The letters kind of started with…and this is gonna date when I started writing this, but I was really coming off the “Hamilton” high, you know, which I think we all were in early 2016. It was like, “Oh, man, I’ve been mainlining Alexander Hamilton history for six months, you know.” And, you know, I was really interested… I love all of Hamilton’s love letters with Eliza, but there was also his letters with Florence that were really fascinating to me, and I had started looking into that and that was how I found this book called “My Dear Boy” by Rictor Norton. And I found that because I was researching the Hamilton Lawrence letters, and that was where I found a lot of the letters that are featured in the emails. And then I also was looking into Virginia Woolf, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and all those figures from history who also have a lot of archive letters that are very interesting. And, yeah, honestly, it was almost…I had a blast with it because it was just a queer history, like Easter egg hunt.

And, you know, I intentionally did that in the book because I pictured this book…I pictured it being something that a lot of people at different points in their journey with queerness would read, and I would want…let’s say some 19-year old who’s just figuring things out, and they don’t really know anything about queer history, I’m like, “Well, here’s the name of something that you should go look up.” “Here is ‘Paris Is Burning,’ go watch it,” you know, kind of thing. And so it was, it’s really, a bunch of sneaky history lessons. I’m a nerd, and I was like, “You should know this, too.” But, yeah, I had a blast doing that. And then just research, in general, was just so much fun. I spent so much time poring through the royal collection archives online, just for throwaway jokes and stuff. I was a journalist for six years before I quit to do this full time. And so, yeah, I’m a huge nerd and I love historical context for everything because that’s just what I’ve been wired to do for so long. So, yeah, that’s kind of where it all comes from for me.

Jeff: And my musical theater geek self loves that “Hamilton” had a play in that because I kind of felt that I was reading some of it’s like, “This seems very ‘Hamilton’ in some ways that they’re using this.”

Casey: I battled with myself over whether “Hamilton” was a thing that existed in this universe, and if I should mention it in the book, and I was like, “I’m not gonna,” because it’s still so fresh and I feel it’s gonna date the book a lot. But it’s definitely, like, there’s this undercurrent of we’re doing colonial rap battles under the text, you know.

Jeff: That’s one of the things I like about this so much is that it is current revisionist history, you know, because, I mean, most of it, and this doesn’t get to a spoiler, most of it is leading into the 2020 election, with Claremont being President in the here and now and having succeeded from Obama. Yeah, its current revisionist history. It’s very interesting how that plays itself out. Now, I think we mentioned that this is your first book that’s out there in the world. What got you into writing romance and specifically m/m romance?

Casey: I mean, I have always consumed all types of media and this is my one sacrilegious answer that I give in interviews which is I’m really more into movies and TV than I am into books, and that is the most media that I consume. It’s not what I write, I’m not a screenwriter, I’m not good at that type of writing, but it is where I pull most of my influences from, and what I consumed the most as a kid, I mean, unless you count “Harry Potter,” which everybody read…

Jeff: Which does very much exist in the “Red, White & Royal Blue” universe, which I also love.

Casey: Oh, yeah, very much so. But what I engaged with about all of those things was the relationships in them. I’ve watched “Lost” and I was like, “I don’t care about Dharma, or the clues or what this island actually means to the polar bear,” I was like, “I care about that everybody’s gonna end up together that I want to end up together in the end, you know,” and it was always like that with everything I watched. I’ve watched “Buffy,” and it was always about that for me. It was like, “This is cool, mythology is cool, whatever, but, like, Spike,” you know. And it really that was just what grabbed me, and so I knew that was what I was always gonna wanna write. And I tried to write other genres. Every other book I tried to start writing was young adult, magical realism, or young adult fantasy, which is clearly not my genre. And I tried a bunch of different false starts in those genres, and it didn’t pan out for me.

And this was, like I said, the first time, I had an idea that completely grabbed me. And I think, like I said earlier, I gravitate to writing queer fiction for the same reason that straight people gravitate to writing straight fiction which is that I’m a queer person, and it’s my experience, it’s what I know. I didn’t really come into this book with an idea of what the gender should be more than what the story would be and it formed around that because I didn’t think that the story would take on all of the same qualities. If it was two women, you know, I thought that it would be a little different tone. I felt if it was two women there’d be a porn parody within 15 minutes of it coming out, you know.

And so it’s just, there’s just different ways that lesbian couples and gay men couples are perceived by the world I felt, and for this story it made more sense with two men, and I also wanted to do that prince charming trope sub-version. And so it just kind of told me what it wanted to be. But my next book is…it’s about two women, and it’s a completely different story. And so, yeah, I really…honestly, it’s just me trying to make queer rom-coms a mainstream thing more than anything else.

Jeff: More power to you. And, so far, it looks like you’re doing a great job with that.

Casey: Thank you. Thank you so much.

Jeff: This question may not have a good answer based on what you just told us about your kind of TV and movie thing, but are there authors who influence you?

Casey: Well, yeah, I mean there are definitely authors that influence me. I loved Oscar Wilde growing up which is, you know, I was 15, my sisters, I remember being at my sister’s college graduation with highlighter and sticky tabs going through “The Importance of Being Earnest.” So, yeah, I did my term paper in high school on “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” and I was like, “This is straight behavior.” But, yeah, Oscar Wilde was a huge influence on me. The “Harry Potter” books, yes, of course, they influenced me.

I read a lot of non-fiction and a lot of memoirs actually because I love the voice of them, and I think that’s what helps me to have a good narrative voice. So I love Carrie Fisher’s writings, I love…Nora Ephron’s memoirs are all incredible, Mary Karr. Let’s see, what else. I’m looking at my bookshelf right now. What else do I read? Jane Austen, obviously, the classics of romance, you know. And then more recently, my favorite author right now is Taylor Jenkins Reid. “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is my favorite book I’ve read in the past couple years and definitely has earned a spot on my all-time faves shelf. And so that’s definitely… And I loved how she does a lot of…she does a lot of what we call in journalism alternate story formats, so epistolary style things that are threaded into the book, which is something that obviously I really love too.

And then yeah, that’s…I mean, I read a lot…at least I read a lot of non-fictions like Rebecca Traister and Roxane Gay, those are those are all my faves. But then I pull from a lot of a lot of TV and movies. The biggest influences on this were “Veep,” “Parks and Rec.” There is this web series called “The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo” that I love, and it’s so millennial absurdity that it really kind of like… there’s a shout out to it in the book because they play the song, “Loco In Acapulco” by The Four Tops in that show, and I put that in the book. Yeah. So I’m kind of all over the place. I have a lot of influences and a lot of things that kind of all feed into what comes out of my brain.

Jeff: So let’s talk movie. You hinted that a little bit ago. Amazon and Greg Berlanti picked this up before, you know, again before it’s even published out to the world. What was your reaction when you first heard that that was a done deal?

Casey: Well, I mean, it was so many stages of reaction because what people don’t see behind the scenes is that the process is crazy. It starts with I have a Hollywood agent, and she sends it out to people and then one producer expresses interest and then more producers can if they want to, and then it turns into you’re on the phone with, you know, such and such from whatever huge production company, and it’s like, “I’m not qualified to do this.” And you talk to those and you pick your producer, and that’s how I picked Berlanti. And I was just really excited to even have a chance to work with them because I’ve loved so much of their work, not even just looking at “Love, Simon,” and going back to “Political Animals” which was a six episode series that’s on Netflix. It’s got…honestly, I have to say one of my touchstones too because it’s got Sigourney Weaver is the president in that which is just amazing, and they’ve got Sebastian Stan as one of the president’s kids, and he’s very tortured, and recovering from addiction, and he’s gay, and he’s Sebastian Stan so he’s crying, you know, and very beautiful.

But, yeah. So I just knew that he had the range for it and I also knew that based on “Love, Simon” that production company had the chops to get an unapologetically queer rom-com into the mainstream. But also it was on a personal level, I just remember going to see “Love, Simon” in the theater and that was probably a week after I signed my book deal. And I showed up with an entire eight-inch Jimmy John’s sub in my purse because I knew I was going to cry and I like to eat my feelings. So it was literally me alone. I had to drive 15 minutes out of my city because I was living in Louisiana at the time to find a theater that was playing it, and it just me alone in the theater with my sandwich and was just weeping to Jennifer Garner, you know.

And I just remember getting in my car and thinking if my book could make people feel half as seen as I just felt by watching that movie, then I will be so, so happy. And so I’d have the chance to do, to kind of pay forward what that feeling was for me to the next round of people, especially queer people, meant so much to me. And then yeah, Amazon, they just care so much about the project. They’re so passionate about it. They want it to, you know, really…they’re actually really invested in diversifying what is in the market, and taking some risks, and doing projects like this. And it’s just so incredibly mind-blowing, and it really doesn’t feel real yet to have people want to invest those kinds of resources in a story that I wrote.

More than anything, I’m just so excited about what it could represent and what it could mean to people. I think about like…and not to at all compare the histories of these communities, but I think about “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” and what those movies meant to have as big cinematic events geared around a demographic that wasn’t usually catered to by the mainstream, you know, and what it meant for those people and what it represented for the future of storytelling for different groups. And I like the idea of being able to make any kind of similar impact with movie is incredible. And I really hope that we can do that, and I really hope that it can be the beginning of a lot more queer rom-coms, you know. So, yeah, it’s amazing. I’m so, so humbled, and amazed, and really excited to see what comes next with it.

Jeff: As you were writing, I think all authors tend to cast their books to some degree. Do you have in mind, and knowing this is totally separate from anything that Amazon and Berlanti might do…

Casey: Sure. Sure.

Jeff: …do you have in mind who Alex and Henry are, at least in your head, as you were writing if you had to assign them an actor?

Casey: Well, it’s so hard because…and this is kind of an indictment of the state of Hollywood and that is slowly beginning to change, but there really aren’t a lot of young Latino actors out there choose from, you know. And so it was… there really wasn’t a definitive Alex in my head because I have looked and looked and it was so hard to find someone that fit. And that’s what’s exciting to me about the movie is I think that we will get a chance to kind of give a star making role to some young unknown Latino actor, which would be amazing, and I would love to do that. And Henry is just very elusive. There’s five million charming white British men, but in my head, he’s just so specific-looking, and I have not yet found anyone that matched him. But the parts that were, I think, easiest for me to assign an actor to were like… I always pictured Daniel Day-Lewis as Richards with like the silver foxy and then, Ellen Claremont in my head from day one has been Connie Briton. And then, I mean, Rafael Luna in my head is Oscar Isaac for sure, you know.

Jeff: Oh, yeah. I like that.

Casey: There’s some characters that I came up with the character first and then tried to figure out what they looked like, and there are other characters where… with Rafael Luna I was like, “I want a character who looks like Oscar Isaac. What’s he going to be?” you know, and that was kind of how that came to be. But, yeah, I’m really excited casting is going to be so much fun, and I’m very excited about it. And I’m really, really excited about just getting to see, you know, what we can do for some…I think there’s gonna be a lot of unknowns in the lead roles, and that’s going to be amazing because they’re going to be able to really step into and embody those characters without it being distracting, like, “Oh, that’s like so and so. I look at them and all I see is the character they played in ‘Game of Thrones’ or whatever.” Yeah. so I think that’ll be, you know, a fun thing. But, yeah, that’s kind of it for that.

Jeff: Do we get to see more of Alex and Henry in the future do you think?

Casey: I think that I would not rule that out, and that’s all I can really say about that.

Jeff: Sure.

Casey: Yeah. I think that that would be amazing. I would love to do that.

Jeff: And you mentioned your next book is going to be a female pairing.

Casey: Yeah. Yeah. So it’s completely different from this. It’s a much smaller scope of a world. It’s just a girl who moves to New York, and she’s from the south. I don’t think I will…I don’t know if I will ever write a protagonist that’s not from the south because that’s just so deeply ingrained in me and in my voice. But she’s from south, she moves to New York, and she kind of stumbles into this roommate situation where it’s just sort of ragtag band of misfits kind of thing. And she develops this huge crush on this hot chick who’s on her subway commute every day. And it’s kind of based on the idea of that way that you fall in love with something on public transit for like 20 minutes, and then you step off, and it’s like they never existed anywhere other than the train. They’re just there for 20 minutes, and you never see them again. But the thing is that she sees this girl every single time she’s on the train. And there’s kind of a twist as to… I will say there’s some light rom-com-y style time travel shenanigans that happened, and the girl on the train is not exactly everything that she seems. And so the whole book is about their relationship and at the same time trying to figure out what’s going on with this girl. But it is rom-com, and it’s super fun, and, of course, it has a gratuitous karaoke moment.

Jeff: Excellent.

Casey: Well, it’s more of like there’s a gratuitous karaoke moment, and there’s a gratuitous drag show moment. Yeah, so, range. But I’m really excited it. I’m hoping…I mean, obviously, we haven’t set a date for it yet, but it is super, super personal, book of my heart for me, and I’m really excited for people to read it.

Jeff: Fantastic, definitely looking forward to that.

Casey: Yeah. Yeah. It’ll be awesome. I’m excited.

Jeff: What’s the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they could track your progress with what’s up with Alex and Henry and also the new book and everything else?

Casey: Yeah, Twitter for sure. I’m kind of been taking a step back lately because since we announced the movie my notifications have been busted, you know. But, yeah, I’ll definitely be back on more especially during tour. I tweet out playlists and a lot of little trivial information like their birth charts and things like that on there, and then also Instagram. That one is more for like I’m here for this tour date kind of thing. So yeah, those are my big two ones. It’s casey_mcquiston on Twitter, and then casey.mcquiston on Instagram.

Jeff: Very cool. Well, we will put the links to all of that in the show notes.

Casey: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Jeff: “Red, White & Royal Blue” comes out on May 14th, and we wish you just continued success because it’s been so much already and look forward to seeing the movie and everything else that comes from it.

Casey: Yeah, thank you so much. I’m so, so grateful, and it’s been so much fun. So thank you so much for having me on.

Apr 29, 2019

The guys talk about having more books than shelf space and also their upcoming 24th anniversary.

Will reviews An Easter Promise by A E RyecartJeff reviews Play It Again by Aidan Wayne.

Jeff interviews Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth about their collaboration, Murder Most Lovely, the first in the Lacetown Murder Mysteries series. They talk about how they came up with the book, their process for co-writing and what’s still to come in the series. We also find out what’s coming up for each of them in 2019.

Complete shownotes for episode 186 along with a transcript of the interview are at

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

An Easter Promise by AE Ryecart. Reviewed by Will.

This is the continuing story of Rory and Jack, who we first met in the holiday story, A Kiss Before Christmas.

In that story, Jack finds the homeless Rory huddled on his doorstep and offers him a place to stay. As they learn more about one another, Jack asks Rory to pose as his fake boyfriend when he goes home for the holidays. An unexpectedly severe winter storm prevents them from that trip, but in the few days they’ve been together they’ve fallen in love.

I read A Kiss Before Christmas last year, and I still highly recommend it.

In An Easter Promise, it’s now Spring and our two heroes are finally making the trip to visit Jack’s family in his ancestral manor house in the countryside.

This is a particularly nerve-wracking experience for Rory, whose childhood couldn’t have been more different than Jack’s well-heeled upbringing.

Things go relatively well as Jack shows Rory around the expansive estate, but they then get frosty when Jack’s mom makes it clear that she believes that Rory is after her son’s money.

Gold-digging accusations aside, as a favor to her, Rory steps in as a last-minute contestant in the Best Bake competition at the village festival. Though his brownies were obviously the best, he doesn’t win.

Afterward, Jack announces that he and his culinarily gifted boyfriend are going into business together and are opening a bakery.

This once again raises the suspicion that Rory is only after Jack for his money, causing a major rift in family relations.

Jack tells his mom where she can stick her suspicions, and is ready to return to London, but when Rory takes the family dog for a walk, he gets lost on the moors in a sudden storm. If reading fiction set in the U.K. has taught me anything, it’s that going for a walk on the moors is always a bad idea.

The family organizes a search party and journeys into the dark night to find Rory. He is eventually found, and Jack makes amends with his parents.

Flash forward a few months to the opening of the bakery and the beginning of a new chapter for our romantic heroes.

I really like both of the stories featuring Rory and Jack and sincerely hope that this isn’t the last that we’ll see of them. The opening of the bakery certainly presents several new story possibilities.

A.E. Ryecart, if you’re reading this, I’m a fan and a series set in this world would be greatly appreciated.

Play It Again by Aidan Wayne. Reviewed by Jeff.

I was completely delighted by new-to-me author Aidan Wayne’s Play It Again. Part of what drew me in initially is that part of it relates to what we do here on the podcast. Dovid is a YouTuber alongside his sister Rachel. They run a channel called Don’t Look Now. Among the things they do is review eateries in Seattle for how accessible they are because Dovid is blind. They also interact with their fans, go on trips, open mystery boxes–it’s the full YouTube gambit.

Over in Ireland, Sam runs a Let’s Play channel where he plays a popular videogame. Rachel and Dovid become obsessed with Sam’s channel because of his easy-going, fun delivery. Dovid calls out Sam’s channel in an episode and sends Sam’s subscriber count through the roof and when Sam contacts Dovid to thank him they end up talking frequently.

Dovid and Sam are single–but as I mentioned live on opposite sides of the globe. Neither of them, quite cutely, realizes how flirty they’re being as they message each other. Initially Dovid offers Sam advice on how to manage his new subscribers and ways to grow his channel but as they move beyond that and get to know each other the realization comes that perhaps there’s more there.

This isn’t the first book I’ve read that relies heavily on text messages, instant messenger, email and so on. I loved how these wove into the story. There’s a good deal of, what I’ll call, regular storytelling too, coming from both points of view. Dovid and Sam have quite a lot internal dialogue about their growing predicament. Just getting time to talk on the phone is a challenge with the nine hour difference between them. It doesn’t stop them though from being ridiculously cute and challenging themselves to let this relationship go through its formative stages without being in the same physical location.

Of course, the guys have to get together and that happens when Dovid and Rachel had the chance to do a European tour, which includes Ireland. As much as Dovid and Sam questioned themselves as they did the long distance thing, the jitters ratchet up as they meet. Aidan does a great job of showing the hesitancy–from Dovid wanting everything to be perfect to Sam wondering if he’s worthy of Dovid. Sam comes from a family where he was put down a lot and Dovid goes into protector mode when Sam talks about this, which is incredibly touching and sexy.

For all the exploration they did via email, the time they spend together in Ireland really made me appreciate the romance that Aidan spun even more. They’d bonded so much before, they almost fall into old married couple mode with how they try to take care of each other. Dovid is particularly mindful of Sam’s asexuality and makes sure Sam isn’t doing anything he doesn’t want to do. It’s wonderful to see two such diverse characters finding their happy.

Speaking if the HEA, I’d wondered how it would manifest in a book where the two characters spend probably eighty percent of the book on separate continents. I adored how Aidan brought Sam and Dovid together. I would love to see more in this universe to know how Dovid and Sam are getting on.

Besides the wonderful romance, I loved the attention to detail that Aidan put into showing the work Dovid and Rachel do on their channel. From the talk of creating Patreon campaigns to managing social media and how to interact with the audience, I enjoyed it and I don’t think it’s too much for people who don’t do this kind of thing. Another excellent detail, Dovid and Rachel receive a package from a fan in Michigan–it contained Faygo Red Pop and Mackinac Island fudge, two childhood favorites that made me smile and gave me cravings!

So, in case you haven’t figured it out, I totally recommend Play it Again by Aidan Wayne. I’m also looking forward to their upcoming book, Hitting the Mark, which comes out at the end of May.

This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press
Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish this week’s guests Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth and their new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to for everything you want in gay romance.

Jeff: Welcome to the podcast, Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth.

Deanna: Hello.

Jeff: Thanks for being here.

Hank: Thanks for hosting us.

Jeff: You guys have written a book together…

Deanna: We did.

Jeff: …which is super cool. April 30, which is the day after this comes out, you’re releasing the first book in the “Lacetown Murder Mysteries” called “Murder Most Lovely.” Tell us about this new series. What is the scoop?

Deanna: Who wants to go first?

Hank: Deanna? You go first.

Deanna: Okay, I’ll go first. So like a year ago I went out to dinner with my husband, had some cocktails and at like 11:00 at night after having like wonderful conversations in my brain with myself because I think I’m clever, I messaged Hank, and I said, “Dude, we need to write a book together.” And he’s like, “We should.” And then we did.

Hank: I might have had some cocktails that night too. I can’t remember.

Deanna: You may have.

Hank: Might have.

Deanna: And it was, “Yeah, we should,” kind of moment. And we didn’t really know where it was going.

Hank: We had no idea.

Deanna: What’s that?

Hank: We had no idea, like nothing. That was just the random start of things. “We should do a book.” We didn’t have an idea or anything.

Deanna: It was a completely inane, “Dude, we should write a book together,” kind of moment. And then seriously, the next day, we had some conversations like, “What should it be? Superhero?” And then we just kind of like spitted ideas back and forth. And Hank was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” Am I allowed to say fuck?

Jeff: Yes, you are. We’ll put a little explicit logo on the episode and you can cuss as much as you want.

Deanna: So he was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” And I’m like, “We would.” And then we’re like, “What should it be?” And we just spitballed ideas back and forth. Like, I mean, literally, like there was probably like 30 or 40, like, things we shot back and forth at each other. And then Hank picked on two of them. And he’s like, “I love the idea of a mortician and a hairdresser.” Then we ran with it.

Hank: Yeah, and we just ran with it. And it just started writing. I mean, we didn’t plan, like, “You take one chapter.” What we did was each of us wrote up a character bio and sent it to each other. And so I wrote up…

Deanna: It was so great.

Hank: You what?

Deanna: It was so great, like blind dates for our character.

Hank: It was. It was really fun. So you had Michael, right, and I had Jazz.

Deanna: Yeah, you made Jazz. So tell us about Jazz.

Hank: So Jazz is very sassy and very snarky. And he’s a talented hairstylist and he’s uprooted his life after separating from his husband, who is a best-selling novelist and mystery novelist. And so he’s moved to this small town on the coast of Lake Michigan in Michigan. And some Michigan love there, Jeff. Yes.

Jeff: I love that.

Hank: Yes, always. And so he’s starting over and he’s just trying to kind of like rebuild and he works at a fun little salon but he’s kind of, he’s 49 but he tells people he’s 41 and…

Deanna: He tell’s people he’s 35, remember?

Hank: And he tries that too.

Deanna: He totally lies about his age. He says he’s 35.

Hank: We had, our editor actually called us up and she was like, “Is this right?” Because he shouldn’t have been around back then. Jazz lies about his age.

Deanna: He’s almost 50 but he says he’s 35.

Hank: Right. So that’s how that started. And then she brought up Michael.

Deanna: Yeah. Hank created Jazz, the hairdresser, which is funny because I actually legitimately am a hairdresser in real life. But when we were talking, Hank had said, “I’ve always wanted to write a hairdresser.” I’m like, “You take the hairdresser. Run with it.” And then I took the mortician, which sounded really great and exciting. And after dozens of Google search, Google decided that I obviously want to be a coroner and mortician and they send me casket ads, but yeah, whatever. So I created a…it was fun because Hank created Jazz, this sassy, almost-50 hairdresser who’s super sarcastic, he’s got long honey blonde hair and super stylish and wears eyeliner and he’s really sassy and he has a big potty mouth.

Hank: Oh, yeah.

Deanna: Oh, he does. And then I didn’t know who Hank was creating when we came upon this conversation. It was very much, “Hey, you pick your guy. I’ll pick my guy. We’ll see what happens. And I made Michael Fleishman who is a 42-year-old, very uptight, very socially awkward Jewish guy who runs the local funeral home and he’s also the county coroner to our fake county…is it Carver County?

Hank: Carver County, yeah.

Deanna: Carver County on Lake Michigan, which is sort of like in somewhere between, I don’t know…

Hank: Like Saugatuck and…

Deanna: Saugatuck and…

Hank: Yeah, Muskegon.

Deanna: Muskegon, somewhere, a fake county in between there and he’s the county coroner. He’s very uptight and super horny and has this like hilarious like sexual imagination but he’s really reserved and he is obsessed with mystery novels. And he goes to a bookstore in Lacetown, which is our fictional town on Lake Michigan, during a literary festival to meet his favorite also author, Russell Withingham, which happens to be Jazz’s husband. They’re separated but they’re not divorced yet.

Hank: And that’s the meet-cute.

Jeff: Wow.

Hank: I know, right?

Deanna: Total rom-com, meet and greet during the rain under an umbrella, cute scene. Until Jazz gets his little…I mean, he really worries Michael thinks he’s a bitchy queen and he kind of is. He’s totally the queen.

Hank: He’s really fun to write.

Deanna: It’s so fun.

Jeff: So when you got these characters who are obviously really opposite to each other, you could just hear it in the bios, what was it like to mash them together?

Hank: Oh, man.

Jeff: Sparks had to have flown off the pages.

Hank: Oh, yes, right away. It was really fun. The first chapter is their meet-cute. And we had…I mean, we do a lot of like editing, right? So we’ll write the first pass and we’ll talk about it. We message a lot during the day and stuff like that, talk about where we want to go with things. And then we use Google Docs to write together. Yeah, so that was a lot of fun to just see the whole creation of it and like set up that setting and understand how they were going to meet and how that was going to go and how Michael would be so taken with Jazz at first sight. It was really fun.

Deanna: Totally. Like, “Oh, you’re so handsome. Why is he talking to me?”

Hank: That’s really fun.

Jeff: And of course you’ve got the mystery element in this too. So rom-com mystery, which trying to think, I haven’t necessarily seen that kind of combo a lot because there’s straight up romantic suspense, of course. And then there’s like cozy mystery and maybe this ekes a little towards that with the rom-com–iness. But did you know that this was going to be like something to go for? Or did you just like mash these two elements together and say, “This thing…”

Deanna: We thought about doing like a film noir concept, like a 1940s film. But see, that’s the thing. Like when Hank and I started writing, we didn’t have a direction. We were very much open to anything. And it was sort of like he created Jazz, I created Michael. We knew we wanted a murder. We knew we wanted it to be like…

Hank: We wanted a murder. The murder got pretty gruesome too. I was really shocked.

Deanna: Yeah, we wanted some things but then as we began to write it, it began to have elements of a real murder. So like our sheriff is blustering and funny. And Michael has his kitty cat, the little Mr. Pickles.

Hank: Mr. Pickles.

Deanna: Mr. Pickles, the fat, black-and-white kitty, which my dog is growling at right now.

Jeff: Which we should note, for the people who may not be watching the video, Deanna just held up this stuffed kitty. And you’re going to be giving these away at GRL in a few months.

Deanna: Yes, we have a few couple.

So like when we created the story, I guess maybe other people with their writing collaborations might be different than we were. But Hank and I were not in a competition with each other. We were not like…we just knew we were going to have fun because we like each other and we know each other personally. And we were just like, “Let’s have fun with this.” And there was no like obsessive competition with like, “I don’t like the storyline.” Or, “I like this.” It was just sort of like, “What do you want to do? Okay, that sounds fun.” And we both ran with it. And we ended up developing this city on Lake Michigan and this little town and these little side characters.

Jeff: Let’s talk about the mystery side of it. Who is dead?

Deanna: Oh, yes, the mystery side of it. That’s right. So I’ll talk and then I’ll let Hank talk because I’ve been blabbering too long. So we decided we wanted it to be, like, film noir idea. And then it became like a legitimate murder mystery where there is a dead body and it’s gruesome and it’s creepy and it’s sad. And there’s like some crazy shit happening. And there’s like cops that need to come in. And there’s like a real mystery. And there’s actually a couple side mysteries that are happening over the book arc of the next two novels, novel two of which we will be submitting in the morning. We would have submitted it today but I’m being a typo psycho. I am. I’m a typo psycho.

Hank: She’s finding a lot of good stuff, though. I like the changes. So, yeah. So the murder actually got more gruesome than I was anticipating. We were like, “Let’s go.” “Wait, do we want to go?” “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do it.” So it’s…do we want to say who it is? I mean, it happens early on. So I don’t think it’s a spoiler, right?

Deanna: Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t we just talk about how creepy the murder is.

Hank: Okay, we’ll just leave it just like that.

Deanna: Not who is murdered.

Hank: Someone’s murdered and maybe their hands are missing.

Deanna: Or chopped off.

Jeff: Oh, wow.

Hank: So, yeah, that’s kind of…

Jeff: That’s more gruesome than I expect in a rom-com.

Hank: I know.

Jeff: I’ll say that.

Deanna: Oh, wait ’till you hear about the serial killer. Wait, that was a spoiler. I didn’t say it.

Hank: But in the first book…

Jeff: Is that a spoiler that we’re leaving in or a spoiler that we’re taking out?

Deanna: We’re leaving it in but we’re not gonna respond about it.

Jeff: Fair enough.

Hank: That’s right.

Jeff: A little breaking news there for the podcast that we will not do follow-up questions on. You were saying, Hank, on this murder.

Hank: So yeah, so it was gruesome. And then there’s the discovery. But Michael is kind of, you know, he can’t help but be a little excited about it because it’s his first murder because he’s a small town, county coroner. And the only…

Deanna: He’s not only a mortician. He’s the county coroner too.

Hank: Right. So it’s up to him now to, like, investigate it. He’s never had a murder like this. He’s had a murder but they knew the victim and the attacker. So this is completely new for him. And he reads murder like mystery novels, so he’s really excited about it. So he’s, like, starting to play, like, detective. And then the sheriff is kind of, you know, like all blustering and yelling at him like, “Fleishman. Dilworth.” You know, that’s Jazz’s last name, Jazz Dilworth and he like calls everybody their last name and yells at them. And they’re always a suspect, so, “Don’t leave town.”

Deanna: Everyone is a suspect until Musgrave says they’re not a suspect.

Hank: “Don’t leave town.” Yeah. Sheriff Musgrave.

Jeff: So if I understood correctly, you kind of just created this on the fly.

Hank: Yep.

Deanna: Totally.

Jeff: For both the romance and the mystery?

Deanna: Totally.

Jeff: How did that play out in like the day-to-day writing? Because I can’t even like imagine having co-written something that there wasn’t more of a plan to it.

Hank [softly]: I know!

Deanna: How did it go?

Hank: Actually it went smoother than I expected.

Deanna: It was so much fun.

Hank: Yeah. And it was a lot of fun because we chatted a lot on Facebook Messenger. And we’d text and we call each other now and then. We’d have conversations, phone conversations, and we’d plan out where we wanted things to go. And then one of us would say, “Okay, I’ll do this and then you can write that.” And then we just kind of took it. And then it was really fun because like you’d go through and you’d read…you know, how you like read through what you’ve written and it’s somebody else has written something new and you’re like, “Wow, this is like a whole new story.” Like you don’t know what you’re reading, you don’t know anything of what to expect. So it was really fun.

Deanna: So awesome because, like, first, I gotta say, writing with Hank Edwards has been a pleasure. Because not only is he a great writer and like stupid funny, like so funny, I can’t even tell you how many times he writes something and I’m just like…laughing. But he and I are not…we’re not competitive individuals. We’re not like jumping into this, like, “Well, this is what I want. This is what I want.” It was so easy, where it was just like we just…Hank created Jazz and then Jazz has this profile that we went with. I created Michael and we had this profile we went with. He and I created an exterior mystery that happened to them.

But because he created such a good profile and I just created such a strong profile, both of us knew who Michael and who Jazz were. And then it was like, “Well, Michael wouldn’t do that,” or, “Jazz wouldn’t say that.” And we didn’t like try to, like, undermine the other person. I don’t know. I just feel really blessed. I love you. I just feel blessed to be able to write a story with someone who is so easy and so fun and our sense of humor is both very similar and darkly twisted and inappropriate, like we both knew when our editor was gonna go, “Mm-mm. No.”

Hank: I told her several times, I’m like, “This is gonna get cut out and you put it in and it’s gonna get cut out. I’m telling you right now.” And she’s like, “I want to leave it in.” I’m like, “Okay, but it’s gonna get cut.” And it did.

Deanna: And I’m like, “They’re not gonna let us use the C-word.” And he’s like, “Maybe they will.” No, they didn’t.

But it was so much…I don’t know. It was just one of those things that were really easy because Hank is so fun to work with. It was just easy. I mean, not that writing and editing is easy. But even as we went through the process, there would be scenes…we each knew where the scene was going to go. We knew what scene was going to happen next. And if it was…because our work…he’s very typical 9:00 to 5:00 work schedule, Monday through Friday, and I am Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 8:00, those four days. So like he would do all the stuff Wednesday through Saturday and then I’d open it up on Sunday, and then I’d do all the stuff Sunday to Tuesday.

And then it wasn’t like we were fixing or changing each other’s work. It was like, “Oh, that’s a great scene.” And then I would add to it. And then he would take my scene and add to it. And it was just like layering and layering cool stuff with what was already funny. So it was like I knew what I was writing on Tuesday. I wrote this whole scene. And then Hank would write the next scene. And when I would get a chance to read on Thursday, he was like, “Oh, what am I going to read? I know what’s gonna happen but how is it gonna happen?” And he is so funny. So funny. And, I mean, it was just so great writing together.

Jeff: So, Hank, for you, what’s kind of your side of that story as you’re like going through and doing your part on the book on your days?

Hank: So it was a lot of fun. Like Deanna said, because I’ve been writing during my lunch hours at work, so like Monday through Friday I’d have like an hour and I usually go and I hide somewhere at the building and I’ll, like, be able to focus and write. And it was really fun to go through Google Docs and be able to accept all those changes because we always do the suggestions, right, so like the track changes so we can see what each other has done. And it’s always so much fun to see. It looks like, you know, like Deanna said, it’s like, “Oh,” it’s like a little present.

You know, like, “There’s something new.” And I go through. But then seeing how she did the layering, I was talking to my husband, Fred, and I was like, you know, it’s like I’m picking up such good ideas about how to layer emotion in. Deanna is awesome at doing that and like pulling out the emotions in a scene and like digging in deeper where it needs to be. You know, that’s something that I’ve always kind of like, you know, I’m always like, “Write the action. Write the action. Write the action.”

Deanna: But that’s what I love about his writing because he will write action that conveys emotion, whereas I would have written a long, drawn-out emotional monologue. And somehow the two just worked so great. I think.

Hank: We are a good blend together like that. So, yeah, it’s really funny and she’s funny and really darkly funny. So it’s been a lot of fun because there’s some stuff where I like write something dark and funny and then, you know, you get the comment. It’s always fun to get that comment like, “LOL. Oh, my God.” And so then like all of a sudden like further down the page, she’s added somebody I’m like, “Oh, my God, you did not just write that.” So it’s really funny.

Deanna: We’re so wrong. We’re so wrong, we’re so right, Hank.

Hank: Yes.

Jeff: Well, I really like the organic method it sounds like you guys had. Because like my brain can’t even begin to process trying to co-write without a plan. But I’ve heard other people do that and it works out great. What, as you got the draft done, what was the revision and also, I guess, making the book seem like it had one voice? What was that like? So was it like two different people at work?

Deanna: Can I respond to this?

Hank: Of course.

Deanna: Okay, so, Hank would send me…well, it was in Google Docs. So we would get scenes together. So I feel like the way it went before anyone else read anything or we got any feedback from editors, from beta readers, or whatever, it was like we had our strong characters decided who they were and what they were and what the mystery was. And he would write a scene and then I would get it and I’m like, “Oh, it’s a good scene. I love where it’s going. Maybe…” Okay, so like I’m not going to give a spoiler, but there’s a scene at the end of Book 1 where the murderer is caught and our two heroes are like in this epic battle fighting them, like the murderer, right?

Okay. So Hank writes that scene and I’m like, “Ah,” and then I go in and I add some fighting, some struggling, and maybe a little dialogue. Hank comes back in, he adds a little more dialogue. He remembers that the gun is on the other side of the room. Whatever the detail is, we both keep adding layers. And I think it comes back to the point that we’re both so invested in our characters and we weren’t, like, competing to try to be the better person.

And I think that’s a lot of it. I mean, I think you can’t co-write a book together if you’re competitive or need center of attention. Hank and I just had so much fun. It would be like, “Oh, yeah. Add that, add that.” And he’s just like “Oh, my God. We’re great. That’s great. You shot him. Oh, I didn’t expect to shoot him. Let’s do that.” Whatever it was and we kept adding these layers and it became so much fun. But in the end, when we would get a scene and it was completed, we would…each of us would go back and read through the whole manuscript and be like, “Oh, we missed that detail.”

And Hank would send that to me. And I’d be like, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. I forgot about that.” And he would add it. Or I would like, even today, we’re actually like one day off submitting Book 2. We were going to submit it today but I am like typo crazy. So I sent the manuscript to my Kindle so I could find any misspellings and typos. And I was like, “Oh, my God. We have a scene where Michael and Jazz are sitting in Michael’s living room with the TV. And in Book 1, he only has a TV in his bedroom. What are we going to do?” And Hank is like, “That’s cool. Good for catching that.” And I feel like that’s kind of how we’ve been like we’ll catch something and go. “Oh, I’m glad you caught that.”

Hank: Yeah. But to your point, Jeff, you said like about planning and writing off the cuff, so the first book, I think, Deanna, you can tell me if I’m wrong. But the first book was really, I mean, it wasn’t easy because writing is hard but it was easier. Book 2, it was more of a struggle I think with writing it.

Deanna: Book 2 was more of a struggle.

Hank: And we had a lot going on. So we have like an overarching mystery, we have another, like, contained mystery.

Deanna: Yes.

Hank: So we’ve talked about it and we’re like Book 3, we really need to plan it out more. We’re gonna… Like once we let this book to get out a little bit, we’re going to like start planning Book 3 and then really like…

Deanna: We need a serious luncheon with some planning.

Hank: Yeah, so, absolutely.

Deanna: Book 1 was very organic and natural. And Book 2, I mean, you’ll probably agree, Hank, I think we fell in love with our side characters so much we got distracted with all these sides stories. Even our editor was like, “Why are you talking about that and that?” We’re like…

Hank: “Because we like them.”

Deanna: So we had to cut a lot of scenes and really focus back on the romance, on book 2.

Jeff: DVD extras, deleted scenes.

Hank: DVD extras, exactly.

Jeff: But let’s talk about those side characters a little bit because there’s a whole paragraph of the blurb for Book 1 that details the side characters. Michael’s sassy assistant, Kitty, the grumpy Sheriff Musgrave, Russell’s creepy PR rep, Norbert, Michael’s grandfather who likes his Manhattans strong and his women saucy. And of course, who we’ve already met, Mr. Pickles Furryton the Third.

Hank: Yes. Mm-hmm.

Jeff: So did you guys split those up in the same way that you took Jazz, Hank, and Deanna took Michael? Or did these get created on the fly as you needed them?

Deanna: They were on the fly.

Hank: Yeah.

Deanna: We just like…

Hank: We just do, kind of. Yeah.

Deanna: I think I came up with Mr. Pickles Furryton the Third and Hank created Sheriff Musgrave. Because I think when we were talking, Sheriff Musgrave was actually like an old man and Hank made him this whole, like, Ron Perlman kind of character.

Hank: Yes. Very Ron Perlman.

Deanna: He has a lot of attitude. And Kitty, I don’t know where she came from.

Hank: You created Kitty.

Deanna: Did I? Okay, because I imagine her. Do you watch “Blue Blood” with Tom Selleck?

Jeff: I have not.

Deanna: Oh, anyways. His secretary is this voluptuous like blonde chick and I pictured her. And I don’t know who created Grandpa.

Hank: I think we both did.

Deanna: You had Steve.

Hank: Oh, yeah, the handyman.

Deanna: We both made Ezra.

Hank: The apprentice.

Deanna: I don’t know anything about them. That’s not a spoiler at all.

Jeff: That’s very impressive to just kind of create on the fly like that. Two people pantsing would make my head explode, but.

Hank: It was insane. I don’t know how we managed to do it but…

Jeff: I think you had fun with it all the more.

Hank: …we had really good feedback from the editor.

Deanna: We did have so much fun, Jeff.

Hank: Yeah.

Deanna: I don’t know how lucky I am. Like a year ago, I sent him a drunk text message that we should write a book together. And we have had the best year.

Jeff: Had it even crossed your minds before the drunk text to do this in some, like, other random moment?

Deanna: No.

Hank: Never ever really even talked about it? I mean, we see each other GRL. She comes up for Ferndale Pride because she lives about an hour and a half away from me.

Deanna: I’m northwest Ohio, he’s southwest Michigan, so we’ve done some pride festivals together. But in all freaking honesty, the whiskey made me do it, Jeff. I literally texted him, “Hey, full disclosure, I’ve been drinking. We should write a book together.” I do believe, Hank, that was the quote.

Hank: Pretty much. Yeah.

Deanna: And he was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” And I was like, “We would.” And then we ran with it. And then that’s that. It was just, like, all fun.

Jeff: And it’s interesting that you’re evolving in Book 2 and probably in Book 3 too. You had the fun moment. Now you kind of have to make everything keep tying together in the next two books.

Hank: Yes. It’s all got to come together now for the third book. Yeah.

Jeff: Because that’s like, yeah, when you have all that tied together stuff, because I’ve been reading a lot of romantic suspense lately where it’s like something that arcs across a trilogy or whatever, and it’s like…it’s exciting.

Hank: Right.

Deanna: Yeah. Book 2 is tentatively called “Murder Most Deserving,” and it was a lot harder to write than the first book.

Hank: Yeah.

Jeff: As fun though, I hope?

Hank: Oh, yeah.

Deanna: Oh yeah, just as fun, but there were moments I feel like we both checked out. And we’ve had this conversation. We know that we checked out because we had decided on a storyline for Michael and Jazz. And then we were like, “This doesn’t feel right.” Because it’s not your book, it also belongs to someone else, you don’t just say, “Oh, that storyline can’t happen,” because two of you decided together so you keep going with it. And then there’s moments where we had to talk and we’re like…where I was like, “I don’t like this.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I don’t like it either.”

And I thought I said I didn’t like it. I’m like, “Maybe you said you didn’t like it. But I didn’t really expect you didn’t like it and I don’t know why we didn’t like it. And I don’t even know why we’re doing it.” And it was like we had…I mean, there was like, there was a couple of moments like that on the story. And there was also like we said in the beginning, we love our side characters too much. And we gave them a lot of screen time they did not deserve, even though we love them. So we had to distract and take a lot of stuff out. Not that we wanted to take it out but it was like why is this thing here? No one cares…

Hank: Right.

Deanna: …except us. So it was a little different. Like we created this wonderful world and in Book 2 we kind of just went crazy. We, like, went crazy with the Cheez Whiz. It’s like, “I love Sheriff Musgrave. I love Missy.” And we just wrote all these scenes and we’re like… And part of that I will say is my fault because I sent a lot of scenes to Hank before we even plotted the book. I was like, “I wrote this funny scene I’m going to send you.” And he’s like, “I love it.” And we wrote it.

Hank: And I was like opening emails from Oprah. “And you get a storyline, and you get a storyline.”

Deanna: Totally.

Jeff: Maybe these could become short stories for these characters if you can’t get them into the book.

Hank: That’s great.

Jeff: So take a moment to brag on each other. And outside of working on this book, what do you like about each other’s work?

Hank: I’ll go.

Jeff: Hank first.

Hank: All right. I love Deanna’s depth of characters. So her books, I think the first one I read of yours was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” And I was like, “Oh, Ichabod. Oh, you naughty boy.” But then I can’t remember in what order then I read them but like “Easy Ryder,” I love that book. That is an awesome book. And I love the time period and I love the characters and I just love all of it and the discovery. That’s a road trip, another…you love the road trip books.

Deanna: Apparently.

Hank: Apparently. And then “Wrecked” is awesome. It’s really good. But she has a way of just like, you know, pulling up those emotions and really getting into the romance of it and doing an awesome job with it and having the characters. And then the conflict is organic, it’s not, like, fabricated. And it all blends together. She’s got a really good sense of story.

Jeff: Nice.

Deanna: That’s so sweet. I feel like, Hank, your dialogue sells your story. You could write a whole book on just dialogue with nothing else and people would buy it and laugh. You’re hilarious and your dialogue is great. And I feel like our styles mesh well because I do write more… I like to write a lot of the internal monologue and the emotion. But I’ll tell you an example, and this is a semi-spoiler in Book 2. But this is what I love about Hank’s writing.

Okay. I’m not gonna tell too much of the story but there is a scene where something really shocking happens for our character, Jazz, the hairdresser. And the scene is in Jazz’s point of view. You’ll know what I’m talking about in a second. So the scene is in Jazz’s point of view and then Michael, our mortician, bursts through the door. And everyone is like, “How did you get here?” And he’s like, “I ran here.” And that sounds like simplistic but the emotional intensity of why Michael would run five blocks to the salon where Jazz works on a mere phone call just conveys so much intensity with three words, “I ran here.”

And that’s what I love about Hank’s writing. I mean, I write the long emotional, internal monologue. And Hank writes that same intense emotional monologue in three words, “I ran here.” And I think, I mean, I’ve always…that’s what I love about his books. But I feel like those two things complement each other in our writing. Like I like to write the long drawn out emotional and he writes that same scene in three words, “I ran here.” And that’s why I love writing with him.

Jeff: Cool. They’re hearting each other for those people not watching the video right now.

Jeff: So you mentioned three towns…three towns, no, three books in the “Lacetown” series are planned. Do you foresee life in the universe beyond those three since you’re having such a good time?

Deanna: Yeah.

Hank: We talked about it. We’ve discussed it, yeah. We’ve got the trilogy planned and then we’ll see what happens with it.

Deanna: We have at least two in our head.

Jeff: That’s cool.

Deanna: Beyond the three.

Jeff: Now what about separately? What’s coming up next outside of the “Lacetown” series for you both?

Hank: You have something coming up soon, Deanna.

Deanna: Well, I have one thing coming up for sure and hopefully two. I also write young adult fiction just like Hank does under his…is it RG or RD?

Hank: R.G.

Deanna: R.G. Thomas. Hank has a young adult series under RG Thomas. And I have a young adult series, K.D. Worth, which is very different from my Deanna Wadsworth writing. It’s young adults/new adults because my characters are 19 and there are some, I don’t know, level-three sexy moments. So you can’t really…like you know people get funny about young adult that has sexy stuff in it. There’s a strong spiritual element with the main character who was trying to kill himself because of his family sending him to like one of those creepy pray-the-gay away camps. And the moment he kills himself he’s saved by a young teenage Grim Reaper, who decides that he wants to give him a second chance in life. And there’s a sassy foul-mouthed, because no one understands why Deanna would write a character like that, a sassy foul-mouthed angel who helps these boys on their journey. And that story is called “The Grim Life.”

And Book 3, the final series, the final saga in that trilogy “The Lost Souls” is coming out this fall. And I’m really, really excited about that. I mean, a lot of M/M or gay romance, whatever you want to call it, authors know that young adult isn’t where the sales and money are at, sadly, but this is like a really intense…I don’t want to say pet project because that trivializes it, but it’s really a series that means more to me than almost anything I’ve ever written.

Hank: Yeah. You’ve been working on these for what? Like two years now?

Deanna: Yeah, four. It took me two years to write Book 3 because I just emotionally invested in it. There’s a lot of death and questioning of what goes on on the other side and where God sees your soul and all these like intensely hard questions. And to make things harder on myself, I put a school shooting in Book 3 because why not?

Hank: No, why?

Deanna: It’s so emotionally intense that you can’t write it. So that comes out this fall. But I’m hoping my second book in my Pride of the Caribbean Cruise series comes out which is a merman.

Hank: Nice.

Deanna: A merman…

Hank: On a cruise.

Deanna: …on a Caribbean cruise. It’s like I like to be intense or I like to be funny. I can’t be…

Hank: There’s no in between, right.

Jeff: Either end of the spectrum.

Hank: That’s right.

Deanna: That’s what I do. So that’s what’s coming out for me.

Jeff: Cool.

Hank: I will be working on the final book of the “Critter Catcher” series, final book for now. It’s tentatively titled “Dread of Night.” So and I’ve got about six chapters written. I’m working on a big pivotal scene also, so I need to just like…now that Book 2 has been sent off for consideration I can like, you know, kind of focus on that because I’m really bad at like jumping between projects too. Like my mind gets stuck in the other characters because while I’m working on this other I’m like, “But wait, what about…?” So, yeah.

Jeff: Cool. All right. What is the…

Hank: There’s other stuff to work on too but that’s the big thing coming up.

Deanna: I love the “Critter Catcher” books. They’re so good. I manipulated Hank into giving me the last book when I was sick last summer. I was like, “Shouldn’t you send it to me? I know that you’re going to submit it for publishing in a month, but I’m really sick.”

Hank: “I need to beta it. I’m sick.” Yeah.

Deanna: Yes. I did do that.

Jeff: And it worked too, right?

Deanna: It worked.

Hank: I did. I sent it. I was good.

Deanna: And it was worth it.

Jeff: So what’s the best way for readers to keep up with you guys online? Let’s start with Hank.

Hank: I have a website. It’s You can also find my young adult fiction at And I do have those books listed on my Hank Edwards’ website just to make it easier. And then I’m on Facebook. I have a Facebook page. It’s And I really don’t use…Twitter confuses me. I get really…it’s just this noise. It’s like people yelling at each other. And so I have a Twitter account but I’m not out there much. But I am on Instagram. I usually post pictures of my cats. You know, and that’s @hankedwardsbooks as well.

Jeff: Cool. And Deanna?

Deanna: I’m on Facebook, deannawadsworthauthor. And Instagram, I go by @deannawads. I don’t know why I didn’t finish my last name but I don’t know. Everybody called my grandpa Wadsy. So I should have done Deanna Wadsy but I screwed that up. But I’m on those two. A little on Twitter and a little on Pinterest, all under Deanna Wadsworth. Mostly my most activity is on Instagram or my website, And that’s it. And you should totally read Hank’s R.G. Thomas books. It’s like Harry Potter but gay with, like, dragons. And little garden gnomes. I fricking love those books. You better write another one after we write our book. After we write our book. You’ve got to.

Hank: Got it.

Jeff: You’ve got your marching orders now, Hank.

Hank: I do. I get them a lot.

Deanna: He doesn’t have a wife, but…

Hank: It’s all right.

Deanna: …I’ll jump in that role.

Hank: She’s my work wife.

Jeff: All right. Well, this has been a blast. We will definitely link up to everything in the show notes that we’ve talked about here. And we wish you the best of success on the “Lacetown Murder Mysteries.”

Hank: Thanks very much, Jeff. It’s been fun.

Deanna: Thank you, Jeff.

Apr 22, 2019

New movie and TV deals are discussed with both Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue coming to Amazon and a Love, Simon series to the Disney+ streaming service. Jeff talks about seeing The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.

New patrons Rhonda and Regi are welcomed.

Will reviews the Netflix original Special. Jeff reviews Jay Bell’s Straight Boy.

Jeff & Will discuss their trip to the LA Times Festival of Books. They also share the interviews they did at the festival with Julian Winters, Kim Fielding & Venona Keyes and S.A. Stovall. Julian talks about his upcoming book How to Be Remy Cameron. Kim discusses her Stars in Peril series and Venona also tells Jeff about her co-writing with Kim. S.A. gives the origin story of her Vice City series and how she uses caricature to encourage people to read the first chapter (she also did a super cute caricature of Jeff & Will).

Complete shownotes for episode 185 are at

Here’s the text of this week’s book review:

Straight Boy by Jay Bell, narrated by Kirt Graves. Reviewed by Jeff.

I went into Straight Boy without knowing much about it other than it was a young adult story involving Andrew, a gay high school student, who develops a crush on Carter, a straight (or maybe not-so-straight) boy. What made me buy the audiobook was the fact I’m a huge Jay Bell fan because of Something Like Summer and also for Kirt Graves’s narration. I knew these two together would give me a great read.

And they did.

With Something Like Summer and its sequels, Jay proved a master of telling a story with many characters and many plot lines that involve an array of emotions. He’s upped his game with Straight Boy.

Two things happen right away–Andrew, a recent transplant to Chicago, discovers a boy who lives down the street having an argument with his parents and saying things like “I was born this way.” Andrew thinks he’s found a gay friend. The next day–his first day at his new school–Andrew comes out as he introduces himself in class. This makes him a target of the school bully, Bobby. Andrew goes off on Bobby, despite the bully’s threats and ends up getting sent to the guidance office. Here he meets Carter and discovers that’s the boy he heard arguing. Both of them end up in a special program at the school where learning happens outside a traditional classroom

Andrew’s year is now set.

Everyone–gay, straight or otherwise–inevitably has that phase where you want a romantic relationship that you can’t have. Andrew longs for Carter but also doesn’t want to wreck their friendship, which seems to grow stronger by the minute. The thing is, Carter seems to be a little experimental too and that only makes things more confusing for them both. In the hands of a lesser writer, this would end up a disaster on the page, but Jay deftly weaves the emotions and circumstances for both guys as they figure out the place they’ve got in each other’s lives as it evolves through the school year. I cheered for the good and wanted to protect them through the bad since my fifty-year-old self could vividly recall how confusing seventeen was.

Bobby’s integrated deeply into their year too. He’s a friend of Carter’s and that mean’s Andrew is around Bobby far more than he likes–and he ends up putting up with more crap that he should. Andrew accepts dealing with that because he doesn’t want to lose Carter. It’s made even harder when Carter starts dating Bobby’s ex, Olivia. Along the way another of Bobby’s friends, Jackson, becomes tight with Andrew too, creating more bonds in the group. The evolution of Andrew and Jackson’s friendship is as interesting as Andrew and Carter’s.

Things get rough in the last quarter of the book. Bobby doesn’t like the changes happening to his group and he plots revenge. I have to warn here that not only does bullying happen throughout the story at varying levels but as we get into the last act there’s also off-page sexual assault and a pretty epic final battle where Andrew, Carter and the group are in way over their heads. Again, Jay does an excellent job of telling the story, ratcheting tensions and putting characters–and readers–through the wringer.

The epilogue was the icing on top of this cake. Jumping twenty years into the future, we find out where everyone ended up. There were some surprises here that made me go “awwww.” It provided the perfect ending.

What this book excelled at was showing friendships up close–what makes them grow, what rips them apart, and most importantly, what can make a true friend for life. It also shows, perhaps too intensely for some readers, the lengths people can go to in order to protect a relationship even if it’s toxic. I can’t commend Jay enough for how well he did all of this.

Kudos to Kirt Graves too. I know well from TJ Klune’s Green Creek series that Kirt can handle a large cast of characters and high emotional impact. Kirt is perfection here handling the emotional rollercoaster without sending it over the top. His performance adds perfectly to what Jay had on the page.

I highly recommend Straight Boy by Jay Bell, just make sure you’re ready for the ride.

Interview Transcript - Julian Winters, Kim Fielding & Venona Keyes, S.A. Stovall

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at

Interview with Julian Winters

Jeff: We are at the LA Times Festival of Books with Julian Winters.

Julian: Hi.

Jeff: Who I’ve just had a major fanboy moment over.

Julian: I had fanboy moments.

Jeff: Okay. We kinda both had the fanboy moment.

Julian: Yes, yes. It is equal.

Jeff: Because I had to get him to sign my “Running with Lions.” Podcast listeners know that was one of my favorite books of last year.

Julian: Thank you.

Jeff: And you’ve got a little sneak peek…

Julian: I do.

Jeff: Right now of “How To Be Remy Cameron,” which comes out September 10th.

Julian: Yes, yes. September 10th, yes.

Jeff: Tell us what this is about.

Julian: Remy is a very personal book. It’s about an out and proud teen in high school, who has always felt like he’s known himself until he has this AP lit course. And one of the final grades he has to write an essay about who am I and it’s like the make or break essay. He’s trying to get into Emory University, and he needs this course in order to get there. And so, he has this kind of panic mode of, “Okay, but who am I?” Because he’s always been defined by, “Oh, he’s the gay kid who came out at 14,” or, “Oh, he’s one of five black students that go to our school,” or “Oh, he’s the big brother to this character,” and he’s just all these labels he wears all the time. He’s, “This is who I am.” But then he starts to realize, “Is that all I am and do these labels really define exactly who Remy Cameron is?” So, it’s kinda an exploration of what labels mean to us, but it also has a great family dynamic. A couple of secret mystery parts I can’t tell you about but there’s a lot of guessing games going on in it. And of course, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have like a dorky romance in there. So, that’s in there too.

Jeff: A dorky romance? I like that because that’s…

Julian: Yes, that’s exactly what I promise you. It’s so geeky, it’s so dorky.

Jeff: That’s kind of what “Lions” was as well for sure. That’s a good label for it. How would you say that your writing has evolved from first book to second?

Julian: Oh, it’s a lot. A lot. With the first book, I just kinda wanted to write the feel-good story, and that was my goal, and touching on certain issues throughout the book. And it also was written in third person and “Remy’s” written in first person. I’ve never, not even when I was like a small child, wrote in first person. I love reading books like that, but I thought, I just can’t do that, it’s just too personal. And so, it was a challenge doing that, but it was a lot of fun. And “Remy,” like I said, it’s very personal, so exploring parts of myself and things that I see throughout, you know, our community and things like that. It really helped me grow as a writer to really say, Okay, you can challenge yourself and you can fail at it, but you can also improve. And that was great. So, to fail, I struggled so much in the beginning, but to have that under my belt now, it’s I think I could write a lot of different stories.

Jeff: So, you think you’ll visit first again sometimes?

Julian: Oh, yeah, yes, yes. The next book I’m working on, first might be where I’m stuck now. I think this might be my calling. I don’t know.

Jeff: Okay. I could tell you, first is a nice place to be.

Julian: Yeah, it is.

Jeff: What are some elements of this book that are so personal to you?

Julian: Growing up. So, I grew up in Upstate New York where I was one of five black students at my school. And then when we moved to Georgia, I was one of 400 that went to my school. So, it’s very personal in the sense of, I went through a lot of phases of am I too gay? Am I black enough? Am I too perfect as a friend? Am I good enough friend? A lot of things that I went through, Remy goes through in the book. It also explores my love for a lot of geeky things and how for a while I wouldn’t let that define me because I thought, “Oh, no, this is bad, people are gonna make fun of me.” And Remy goes through that because he had a lot of geeky moments, but it’s almost like he’s scared to show them now that he knows that these are the things that I’m defined by.

Jeff: I love that you point out the geeky thing because I saw on your Instagram earlier today of the comic books that you read into here at the Festival.

Julian: Listen, I almost had to leave, you know, our booth just to go, you know, bow down at the comic book booth and just say, “Listen, thank you. I love it.”

Jeff: Now, let’s talk about “Lions” for a second because you’ve had an amazing year. I mean, you started out of the gate that the book was blurbed by Becky Albertalli.

Julian: Yeah.

Jeff: And now, just within the last week or two, you’ve won an award for it. So, tell us a little bit about that.

Julian: It’s been a wild journey because, first of all, like, I never thought I’d meet Becky Albertalli, I never thought I’d talk to her, I never thought, you know, I would become friends with her. And then just meeting all the other people along the way that I’ve met and growing in that area… I always felt like I was the kid sitting at the table in the corner where I peek over at all the cool kids and say, “Yeah, I’m never sitting at that table,” but it’s been kinda really awesome being taken in by so many different people and I never thought I’d be an award-winning author. Like, I wanted to write the book for queer kids to enjoy, to see themselves and know that, you know, you’re not some other subcategory, you’re just a normal person. It’s just that…this is just a part of you, it doesn’t define you. And to win an award, I broke down crying. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this because my journey has always been about the reader but to have something for myself was amazing. It still is amazing. I’m not over it. I guess I won’t be over it until I actually hold the award in my hands and say, “This happened.”

Jeff: This actually happened. And the cover too, which was a stunning cover, also won.

Julian: Yes, the cover won for best cover. And that was so great for me in the sense that I love our cover designer, C.B. Messer. She’s amazing. She reads all the books cover to cover. And so, she knows these characters, she knows their stories, and what she did with that cover just blew me away. What she did with the “Remy” cover, I’m still in complete awe of just how well she knows these characters.

Jeff: When we talked back last year, the book had hardly been out.

Julian: Yeah.

Jeff: How’s the reader response been to it?

Julian: It’s been amazing. Today just alone, just so many people will walk by and say, “Oh my gosh, ‘Running with Lions,’ I’ve heard of that book.” And I’m just like, “What? Of all the books that came out in 2018, you heard of that book?” The response has been amazing. Going to the events and having people walk up to me and say, “Thank you for writing this book because I played soccer all my life, but there was never a queer soccer book.” Or, “Thank you for writing this because there weren’t a lot of books with bisexual main characters, or characters that were gay and Muslim, or black characters, or whatever.” It’s been amazing, the response I get. I get teary-eyed every time. I’m like, “I’m not strong enough for this, we can’t talk about this.” But it’s also been so cool to know that I’m helping someone see themselves because I didn’t always get that opportunity growing up. So, to know I’m getting to be a part of their journey, it’s just been amazing.

Jeff: Fantastic. And what have you thought of the fair, of the festival? Because it’s your first time up here.

Julian: Yes, this is my first time here for the festival. And I was talking to another friend about it because I went to YALLWEST last year. YALLWEST is this…it’s nice little corner and then this is like a whole city. Like, I get lost every time I go either to the bathroom or get something to drink. But it’s amazing because it brings so many different publishers, so many different books together, so many different genres, so many different kinds of authors are here. And that’s the amazing part to me, just to know how influential books are because there are people everywhere all the time, stacks of books in their arms. And you don’t really get to see that in, like, media, like how impactful books are, how much people really enjoy the art that we put out there. So, this has just been amazing to watch how excited people get when they see the books.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s been very cool here. So, thank you so much for hanging out with us.

Julian: Thank you. You know, I love you guys.

Jeff: Best of luck on “How To Be Remy Cameron,” coming out September 10th.

Interview with Kim Fielding and Venona Keyes

Jeff: We are at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with Kim Fielding and Venona Keyes. Thanks for being here.

Kim: Thanks so much.

Venona: Thanks for asking.

Jeff: We’re excited to have you both here. And now, Kim, of course, within the past couple of weeks, we’ve raved about the “The Spy’s Love Song” and the new “Dreamspun Desires.” Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Because it was so good.

Kim: I think a big part of the inspiration came from my travels in Eastern Europe. So, you know, thinking about the way things used to be in Eastern Europe and how things are changing, plus politics as they’re happening right now. And so, yeah, I think that was the main thing.

Jeff: What kind of research did you have to do to develop your spy and your rock star who becomes kind of…along on this mission without even knowing he’s on it?

Kim: I didn’t have to do too much research on the spy part or on the travel part, but rock stars and music is not something I know anything or have any talent or anything else about, so that was where I had to do most of my research because I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what it’s like to be a rock star. I can’t even sing.

Jeff: Does that mean you what it’s like to be a spy?

Kim: Hmm, I’m not…I can’t divulge.

Venona: You have kids.

Kim: Yeah, I have kids.

Jeff: And you wrote song lyrics too?

Kim: I did. Yeah, I know. And it was really fun. And then in the audio version, my narrator Drew Bacca sang them, which was so cool. And it’s like, this is the closest I’m ever gonna get to being a songwriter. And it’s so much fun to listen to. And I can pretend, you know, like, I’m the next thing.

Jeff: Which actually raises the question, did you give him an idea of what the melody for it was or did he just kind of make that up?

Kim: I had no melody in mind. I didn’t know he was gonna sing. When I write a book, I’m sorry narrators, I don’t think about what I’m doing to my narrators. And so, sometimes I torture them, and I wasn’t even thinking about a narrator singing it. So, that was his idea and I was so pleased.

Jeff: And this is a little different in “Dreamspuns” as well and I noted it in my review that you are a single point of view here. Did you go into it deliberately that way or just kind of organically discovered it was the way to go?

Kim: It made more sense for this book because there’s some surprises about our spy character and I think it’s a lot more fun if we kinda discover the surprises along with the other character rather than knowing right from the start. So, you know, for some books, the dual point of view works really well, but for this one, I think this works well.

Jeff: Yeah, I totally agree on that. Now, this is part of a bigger series that’s happening within the “Dreamspuns.”

Kim: It is.

Jeff: Tell us a little bit about the series overall.

Kim: Sure. So, this series is called “Stars from Peril” and this is the first book in it. The second book comes out next month, and that’s “Redesigning Landry Bishop.” And the third book, I just finished the first round of edits on. It’ll be out in October and that one is “Drawing the Prince.” We went over several titles on that one. And so, what all three of them have in common is the main characters are from the same small town in Nebraska called Peril, Nebraska. And all three main characters have made it big in some way. So, our first guy is a rock star, our second guy is kind of a Martha Stewart type, and the third guy is an artist. And so, they’ve made it big in the world and they meet someone. And so, you can read each of them as a standalone and in any order you want to, but you’ll kind of see the characters appearing a little bit in one another’s story.

Jeff: It didn’t even click for me that it was the name of the town too because peril plays into their own peril.

Kim: Exactly. And I honestly cheated a little bit on that. There is a real town, a tiny little town, I think there’s like 60 people in it, in Nebraska called Hazard, Nebraska. So, Peril.

Jeff: Peril, Hazard, it works.

Kim: And it’s a great name.

Jeff: Now, people may be wondering, why do we have both of them here together? Well, Venona and Kim also co-write. Tell us about that book.

Venona: “Running Blind.” I will tell you this came about some years ago in Portland at our Dreamspinner meetup and she pulls me aside. Now, you have to understand that I was such a fan of Kim. I love “Brute”, I loved all of her stuff. And then she’s talking to me and I’m like, “You sure you’re talking to me because, you know, I don’t, like, co-write. I’m really bad at, you know, doing it by myself.” And she goes, “Oh, yeah, I heard on NPR…” And that’s how it started. Because Peter Sagal who’s out of Chicago hosts, “Wait, wait, Don’t Tell Me.” He is a running guide for blind people for marathons.” So, she had the idea and we came up with “Running Blind.”

Kim: And the reason why Venona was such a perfect choice is because, unlike me, she does triathlons. So, I didn’t have to do the research on marathon running.

Venona: No, or running guides either. Stuff like, “Yeah. That’s your department,” I’m like, “All right, we can do this.” And it’s a wonderful book and we decided that we wanted to have a second story because in the beginning, and it’s not giving a spoiler away, is Kyle and Matt who have been friends, who went to college together, were friends, became lovers, and now they’re in a comfortable pattern, and they really love each other but as brothers rather than lovers. So, when something happens to Kyle, Kyle breaks it off and he goes, “You gotta go do stuff.” And Matt’s reluctant, but this story is about Kyle and how he deals with the things that have happened in his life. So, the next book that we’re writing, the working title is “Playing,” is Matt’s story about how he finds romance after the breakup.

Jeff: And when do we get to see that one come out? TBD.

Venona: TBD.

Kim: Well, that one is still in progress.

Venona: It’s still in progress. It’s now in my hands. And so, we switch back and forth when we write, and I need to get it back to Kim. So, hopefully soon.

Jeff: And you’ve got some other co-writing coming too? You’re working with Shira Anthony as well.

Venona: Shira Anthony, it is another story. It’s actually about a farmer and a city boy. So, that one is coming up soon and that’s an honor of a friend of ours from GRL. So, we’re writing a story about a farmer which he is and who’s not out and a city boy who is. So, it’s a lot of fun. We already have the outline and we’re just getting started on writing that as well too.

Jeff: Very cool. Anything else coming up we should know about?

Venona: Yes. “How to Become a K-pop Idol,” I am writing that one by myself. We might get a co-writer on that one, you never know. But that one is, if people aren’t familiar with this, I love Korean culture, a lot of Asian culture, Japanese, Korean. I’m learning Korean. I’ve been a K-pop fan since 2009 proudly with the Big Bang.

Jeff: Before it was cool.

Venona: Before it was cool. And my bias is right now, because Big Bang, if you don’t know in Korea, you have to go in for military service mandatory by the time you’re 30. So, a lot of the K-pop idols are going in. So, new ones are coming up. So, the third gens right now is BTS, if you’ve not heard of Bangtan Sonyeondan, BTS, they’re really big. They’re the band that I’m following right now.

Jeff: Very cool. Anything coming up for you, Kim, a part from the Peril series?

Kim: Yes, start of the Peril series at the end of this month, so April 30th. I’ve got a new novella coming out. So, if people who are following my “Bureau” series, there’ll be a new novella in that. And I wanna push that because I give all my royalties for that to Doctors Without Borders. So, this is the fourth story in that series, but you can read them as standalones too.

Venona: And they’re awesome stories too, I love those.

Kim: Thanks.

Jeff: And what have you guys thought of the festival?

Venona: You know, this is the first time I’ve been here, and it is awesome. There’s just so many people here, there’s so many different books, and you get to browse them all at the same time instead of in a little bookstore somewhere. So, yeah.

Kim: And it’s been a lot of fun just kinda hanging out with everybody, LA is fun. So, it’s been a lot of fun.

Jeff: Very cool. Well, thanks for hanging out with us for a few minutes.

Kim: Thanks so much.

Venona: Thanks for asking us.

Interview with S.A. Stovall

Jeff: And we’re at the LA Times Festival of Books with S.A. Stovall. Thanks so much for being here with us.

S.A.: Well, thank you for having me. It’s super exciting.

Jeff: Now, you’re the author of “Vice City,” it’s currently two books in the series. Tell us a little bit about what the series is?

S.A.: It’s a crime thriller like a noir style. Ironically, if you’ve ever read “Sin City,” which is a graphic novel, it’s kind of similar to that. I used to work at a courthouse and I got a lot of green, was an attorney and all that. I don’t do that anymore because it’s a little depressing, but I used some of my experience in that to write the series. And I really like redemption stories and like criminals turning it around. That’s what I did in the courts is I helped a lot of drug addicts get to rehab and turn their life around. And so, I’m really into that kind of story. So, the series follows an ex-mobster who like, you know, leaves the mob and then becomes a private detective, and then, you know, shenanigans ensue.

Jeff: Shenanigans ensue?

S.A.: Yeah.

Jeff: And he’s consistent through the series?

S.A.: He’s the main viewpoint. There’s a romance a subplot in which he falls in love with like a police academy cadet, and obviously, that’s his in to the police and you know, again, more shenanigans ensue that way. In the sequel book that just came out, one of the subplots is that a police officer suspects the main character’s actual identity, that he had connections to the mob and used to be a mob enforcer. And so, he’s out to prove that it’s him. And so, you know, it’s a thriller story so it’s got lots of thrills.

Jeff: Mystery, suspense, thrills, it’s all there.

S.A.: Yes, exactly.

Jeff: What got you into starting to write these books?

S.A.: So, I had a friend who really likes Dreamspinner Press and I used to write just books like short stories for my D&D group, because they really liked, you know, fantasy, all that kind of stuff. So, I wrote short story fantasies and she was like, “My God, you should write me a Dreamspinner-style novel, like, that’s what you should write for me.” And I was like, “Okay, I don’t know if I can do it as good as all these other people, but I’ll try.” And I wrote “Vice City” for her specifically. I even put that in the dedication. I’m like, “It’s just for you.” I didn’t think that it would go anywhere because, you know, I was just like, “Okay.” But I got an agent after I wrote this and then the agent sold it to Dreamspinner and then they published it for the DSP line because that’s where they do genre stuff.

Jeff: It doesn’t necessarily have the romance in it, right?

S.A.: Yeah. Well, mine does but it’s not the focal point. The focal point is the, you know, mystery and the mobster story. So, I was very surprised. I didn’t think it would go anywhere but it totally went somewhere. So, every time somebody is like, “Oh, I don’t know if I should write a novel,” there’s a piece of me that’s like, “Man, I just wrote that novel willy-nilly. So, you should try, you should do it. You should try.” Now admittedly, you know, I was writing before I wrote this because I wrote other stories and short stories, but still, if you’re thinking about it, you should just do it, you know. Don’t even think to yourself, “Oh, nobody will read this,” because I kinda thought, “Nobody’s gonna read a crime noir.” You know what I’m saying? Like, I was like, “That’s old school, nobody reads that kind of stuff anymore.” But no, people do, and people like it. So, I was really happy.

Jeff: And you noted that the second book just came out. Do you have plans for third?

S.A.: Yeah.

Jeff: What is yet to come?

S.A.: I’m about halfway through the third book and it’s a true series in the sense that it could go for as long as I want it or, you know, that kind of thing. It’s not like a trilogy or a set thing like, “Oh, something needs to happen.” But, you know, as a private investigator, anything can happen, you know, all sorts of shenanigans can ensue.

Jeff: Very true, very true.

S.A.: But there is a connecting theme. The whole reason that it’s the vice enforcer is that the mob that he used to work for was the vice family, and they’re still around by book three so you can kinda see the, like, he’s trying to take them down one by one. And so, I guess I could be limited to and then it got the whole vice family and then the series is over. But, you know, there’s that connecting thread too.

Jeff: Now, that you’ve been writing in this genre, do you wanna expand out to other genres or is noir thriller kind of your sweet spot?

S.A.: Well, it’s just a thing that I like a lot, that I thought, you know, nobody likes this anymore, but I like it. I wrote “Modern Gladiator” which is just a pure romance for Dreamspinner. It was a sports romance with UFC fighter.

Jeff: Oh, cool.

S.A.: I, a few years back, was dating a guy who was in the UFC. And so, I just used all of that experience to write a sports romance. And I know a lot about, you know, wrestling and all that kind of stuff just from him. And I put a lot of that kind of information in the book and it literally just came out about two weeks ago. Yeah, “Modern Gladiator” came out. And then I do a lot of fantasy and science fiction on the side as well. So, I mean, all sorts of things, all crazy things.

Jeff: Very cool. Now you’re also an artist?

S.A.: Yes, that’s true.

Jeff: While she’s been here doing her signings and such, she’s also been doing caricatures of people who get their book signed. And so, we had this one done of us. It is so freaking adorable. How did this get started for you?

S.A.: I’ve just always drawn things. I like doodling. I was really into comic books at a point in my life. I mean, so many comic books and manga. I mean, anything that was drawn and kind of that like storybook style with the panel, super loved. But I didn’t really intend for it to go anywhere. I went and got my history degree, I got a law degree. I wasn’t like, “Man, I need to study art.” But I did at least doodle enough that I was like, “I’m mildly good, you know.” And when I went to my first ever book fair, I thought, “I can’t just be the schmoe who’s standing in a booth trying to peddle their book, because I’m gonna be like 50 other people in the road doing the exact same thing. I should try and do something that’s at least enticing or to get people to read my stuff.”

And I figured, “Hey, I could try a little caricature, and while I’m drawing them, they can read my book. And if it’s enticing enough, you know, they’ll buy the book, or they’ll feel guilty enough to buy the book, you know, I don’t know, whatever gets them to buy the book.” And a lot of people usually give me comments right away. Like, the first line in “Vice City,” everybody always comments, well, not everybody but like 80% of people. The first line is, “Getting hit with a wrench hurts.” And, so many people either laugh or comment like, “Oh my God, what a good line,” and I’m like, “Yeah.” And the first chapter in “Vice City” is an interrogation of that police cadet. So, Pierce, the mobster, is interrogating this guy who he thinks is a police mole. So, it’s really intense, you know, high stakes going on. I really like that first chapter and it usually hooks people. So, they read that first chapter while I’m drawing them and, bam, that’s my sales strategy. Don’t steal it. I’m joking, everybody can use it.

Jeff: It’s all her’s.

S.A.: Anybody can do it.

Jeff: But the key is, like, I could never draw. There’s no way I’d do this, I’d have to find another hook.

S.A.: I’ve been successful with it. People typically like that. And the caricatures are free. I just give them to people. So, even if they don’t buy the book, you know, it’s fine.

Jeff: And it’s awesome watching her do them. We watched as she did ours. It’s like, “Oh my God, there we are just manifesting on the page.” It was very cool. Well, thank you so much for hanging out with us a little bit. One last question, what have you thought of the fair?

S.A.: It’s good. There are a lot of people here though. I mean, just thousands of people all over the place. Going to the food trucks was fun, although not during lunchtime. There’s like a mile-long line from here to the sun and back. Nobody wants to do that. But the food trucks are good, the people seem to be really nice, and I don’t know, it’s just a good time.

Jeff: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for spending a little bit of time with us.

S.A.: Thank you for having me again, like, super awesome.

Apr 15, 2019

The guys open the show with a discussion of the Netflix original Unicorn Store.

Jeff reviews Bad to the Bone by Nicki Bennett. Will reviews LaQuette’s Under His Protection.

Jeff & Will interview LaQuette about Under His Protection. They find out about the story’s inspiration and how it ties into LaQuette’s other series. LaQuette also shares details on her upcoming Harlem Heat series, what got her started writing romance and details about what she does as the president for New York City’s Romance Writers of America chapter.

Complete shownotes for episode 184 are at

Book Reviews from this week:

Bad to the Bone by Nicki Bennett. Reviewed by Jeff
Bad to the Bone turned out to be one of those perfect Dreamspun Desires for me. I’m a sucker for second chance romance combined with friends to lovers and this one adds in a bit from the redeemed bad boy trope as well. It all combined to give me exactly the read that I needed.

The story kicks off on the eve of a high school reunion taking place in a small Oklahoma town. Alex Morrison has been back in town for several years, taking over his family’s hardware store when his parents needed him to. One afternoon, while working with his sister at the store, they witness a motorcyclist pulled over and it’s soon revealed that the man is Alex’s high school bestie, Ricky Lee Jennings. Alex hasn’t heard from Ricky Lee since he was expelled and sent away to reform school. Alex regretted he didn’t defend Ricky Lee and prevent the expulsion, but he was scared he’d lose his football scholarship if he did. Sparks fly at the reunion when Ricky Lee shows up without a ticket and Alex gets him in as his guest. What unfolds over the coming weeks is the rekindling of far more than a friendship.

Nicki does so much with this rather simple set up. Both characters complexity made me love this book so much. Alex is someone I wanted to wrap up in a comforting hug. He does so much for the community that he lives in between serving on the library board, working for Habitat for Humanity, helping out with the high school reunion committee, and anything else he can do to help his fellow citizens. Yet, all he can see in himself is failure from a lost college football career because of an injury, a failed marriage, and even coming back to manage his family business is something he considers a fail because he gave up his dreams of being an environmental lobbyist. Of course, what he’s done is made the decisions that are right in the moment but he can’t see that. Ricky Lee, on the other hand, subverts every stereotype the town has for him. It’s awesome to watch as people who believe they know exactly who he is after ten years begin to see who he has become. He’s far from the young man who was abused by his alcoholic father and just wanted to survive high school.

As both relive their high school times and share what they are doing now, Ricky Lee and Alex are drawn back together. Alex, however, is sure this can’t be more than a fling. He’s scared of revealing himself as bisexual to the town and there’s no way Ricky Lee will move back to Oklahoma since he’s got a life in Portland.

The wooing that Ricky Lee does with Alex is outstanding. I love a good date and their weekend trip to Oklahoma City is all that. They stay at a boutique hotel, go to art museums and the botanical gardens and eat delicious food. The sizzling sex made the date all the hotter. It showed Alex in vivid detail what life could be like in if he decides to make a go of it with Ricky Lee.

The other depth that Nikki weaves into this book is the town Alex lives in. In particular, I liked the local pastor, who is nothing like what you might expect a southern pastor to be. He turns out to be one of Alex’s biggest supporters in being true to himself. We also see Alex’s work with the library, which is a central subplot for the story since Alex and Ricky Lee’s high school nemesis, Odell, who wants to expand his car dealership by buying the land the library sits on. The goings-on with Odell took some wonderful turns that I couldn’t have predicted and I might’ve cheered just a little when everything was revealed and [spoiler alert] Odell gets his. It’s a great ending for a high school bully.

There’s a tremendous cast of supporting characters too. Alex’s sister Alana and his best friend, local police officer Samantha, a.k.a. Sam, both nudge Alex in the right direction. Ricky Lee comes to town with Crae, who he introduces as his friend and assistant although many initially think they are in a relationship. I actually wish Crae had had more screen time in the book as they were a fascinating character. Crae and Sam develop a friendship that might be more and I’d love to see a book that explores that. There are also some townsfolk who have interesting reveals to Alex along the way that were incredibly sweet.

And if audio is your thing, certainly pick this one up. Colin Darcy is a new-to-me-narrator and boy did he make me swoon with his voice for Ricky Lee–deep, rumbly sexiness.

If you’re looking for a great category romance with some very tropey goodness, I highly recommend Nicki Bennett’s Bad to the Bone.

Under His Protection by LaQuette. Reviewed by Will.

This book literally starts with a bang when one of our main characters, assistant DA Camden, is nearly blown up by a car bomb. In order to keep him safe, he’s put in protective police custody.

Unfortunately, the man watching over him is the memorable one night stand he walked away from five years ago, a guy named Elisha. Sequestered away in Elisha’s Westchester house, our two heroes must come to grips with the attraction that still, after all this time, is still there.

As things start to become more romantic, the situation becomes even more complicated when Elisha’s family shows up for a weekend visit. They assume that the two of them are a couple and Cam and Elijah play along since it’s too dangerous to explain why Cam is hiding out at Elijah’s house.

Over the course of the weekend Cam can’t help but fall for Elisha and his wonderfully crazy family.

You might think things get a little too close for comfort with are two heroes and the family all in one house. Elisha actually has a very small apartment in his attached garage. They escape there every once in a while, for some truly superduper scorching sex. The chemistry between these characters is very real and very palatable.

As the weekend winds down, there’s an unfortunate kidnapping attempt by this crazy religious group and Cam sacrifices himself in order to save Elisha’s mom.

Camden ends up in hospital and, unfortunately, his father arrives on the scene. Camden’s life has essentially been controlled by his father, who’s had his son’s life planned out from my birth to death. It’s essentially how Cam has lived his entire life.

The expectations of his father are actually part of the reason why he walked away from Elisha five years ago. Having a sexy one night fling and living a life with an average guy like Elisha just wasn’t in the plan.

After experiencing the possibility of loving a man like Elisha and realizing the wonderful possibilities of a fun and fulfilling family life, he tries to stand up to his father.

Cam’s father puts a stop to everything, setting up some genuinely insurmountable roadblocks to our hero’s happiness.

But Cam and Elisha are not only charismatic and sexy, but also really super smart. With the help of Elisha’s police chief friend, Cam concocts a way to outwit his father and get out from under his thumb, so he Elisha can live happily ever after.

I don’t know if I can adequately find the correct words, or enough adjectives to tell you how much I loved Cam and Elisha’s story. It’s just really damn good. One of my favorites of 2019 so far!  

I hope it’s obvious that I really enjoyed Under His Protection by LaQuette and I highly recommend that everyone give it a read.

Interview Transcript - LaQuette
Will: We are so pleased to welcome LaQuette to the show. Welcome.

LaQuette: Thank you.

Will: So I just spent several minutes praising and telling the entire world how much I loved "Under His Protection." Now, you've been writing for a while now, and I freely admit this is the very first book of yours that I have read, and I went absolutely bonkers for it. I love it to pieces.

LaQuette: Oh, thank you.

Will: Can you give us sort of an idea of where the concept for "Under His Protection" came from?

LaQuette: Well, I was encouraged by Kate McMurray to submit a "Dreamspun Desires" concept. And I kind of read the submission guideline, and I really didn't think that the category section was for me, because I'm long-winded in my writing and there's this, you know, 50,000-word count, and I didn't know that I could meet that and make the story make sense. But I just felt like, you know, there's a lot of angst in my writing and a lot of heavy topics sometimes. And I didn't... You know, category can be light and, you know, it doesn't have so much angst to it, so I wasn't sure if it was actually the right fit for me. But she encouraged me to do it anyway. So I thought, "Well, if I'm gonna do it, it has to be, like, LaQuette style. It can't be, you know, the traditional map of a category. I've gotta throw, you know, everything but the kitchen sink in it."

And I had this sort of, like, this Prince and Pauper sort of situation in my head, but in Brooklyn. And it worked out really well in my head anyway. I really enjoy the idea of Camden coming from this really, really posh existence, and then clashing with Elijah and his very loud and boisterous family. And, I think, putting those two people together and those two, you know, with their backgrounds and differences in their backgrounds and the differences in their, you know, perspectives in life, it just made for a richer experience for me, as a writer.

Will: I utterly fell in love with Camden and Elijah. I think they're two incredibly...they are exceptional heroes, and they're part of what makes this book really sing. But as I mentioned in my review just a few minutes ago, part of what, I think, what makes the story compelling and even more enjoyable is the sort of supporting cast that helps them along in their journey towards saying, "I love you." Elijah's family is amazing, every single one of them. But I was particularly struck by one of Elijah's co-workers, the police chief, who is his best friend, along with, you know, being a colleague. And what I was struck by is that at the beginning of the book, the character seemed, you know, pretty, you know, straightforward, it was a secondary character, and she was there to kind of like, you know, get the story moving along. But as we read further and get to know Camden and Elijah more and more, she becomes a much more integral part of the story. And in fact, she's pretty vital to the solution that Cam comes up towards the end. And I was really surprised to read in an interviewer just, I think, this last week it appeared online. I learned that one of the reasons that this secondary character is so well-drawn is because she's actually already had her own book.

LaQuette: She's had three books, actually.

Will: Can you tell us real quickly, for our listeners, can you tell us about the origin of this particular character and why you thought she would be such a good fit for Camden and Elijah's story?

LaQuette: Captain Heart Searlington is a character from my "Queens of Kings" series, which is all heroine-centered. And she is know, her name is Heart for a reason, because she has a huge heart, even though she really carries it under this gruff exterior. She's a badass, she's all about getting work done. And if you ever get the chance to read her books, you know, she's really out there hands-on in the street. And I felt like Elijah would need someone like that, professionally and personally, to kind get him to the place where he could admit his flaws. Someone that's not... You know, he's a very...he's a large man, he's aggressive, you know, he carries a gun, so he could be a little bit intimidating for the average person. But for her, she's not afraid to tell him like it is to his face.

And, you know, when you have that kind of a personality where people might not tell your truth because they find you imposing, having someone who will speak the truth to you, regardless of whatever the situation is, can be vital to you, you know, making the right choices in life. And I felt like having her there would give him that balance, because he needed some really cold truths told to him, for him to get his head together and do what he needed to do.

Jeff: Was it always your intention to have the character crossover or did that just kind of manifest itself?

LaQuette: Well, the precinct that they work at is sort of anytime I have a police situation, those cops show up in a book somewhere. So one, because, you know, the world is already created, so it's kind of easy for me to draw from that precinct, but it's also because my readers absolutely adore this woman. And so they're always asking for her, and this was an opportunity for her to show up and say, "Hi." And not in a way that overshadows, you know, the main story, which is Camden and Elijah, but just enough to make readers go, "Oh, my God. She's here."

Jeff: It's always good to get those universe crossovers and little Easter eggs like that, for sure.

LaQuette: It's true. It's very true.

Will: Yeah. Now, "Under His Protection" is not your first M/M romance.

LaQuette: No, it is not.

Will: There's also "Love's Changes," which I believe came out in 2016?

LaQuette: Yes.

Will: And I wanted to ask you, what drew you to writing in this specific subgenre? I mean, along with all of your other books that are more traditional male/female romances?

LaQuette: Well, one, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone deserves a happy ending. And when I wrote the "Queens of King" series, I always knew that Heart's cousin, because the characters, the protagonists in "Love's Changes" are Bryan, who is one of Heart's lieutenants, you met him, actually, in "Under His Protection," and her cousin, Justice. And so they get to have their own story. You get to see them a little bit in the "Queens of King" series, but they're more background. We know that they were having a hard time and they were broken up for some reason, but we don't know why. So they get, you know, readers... Which really surprised me because I didn't really believe that there was a lot of crossover between male-female readers and male-male readers. But people really asked me for a story for those two. Like, "When are we gonna get Justice and Bryan's story? We wanna know what happens to them and how they get back together." And so I that story was actually born out of the fact that readers requested it, and so I gave it to them.

Jeff: That's very cool. You know, it's always nice to see as the M/F readers catch the male-male pairing to then want to know more.

LaQuette: Yes, it was really a trip for me. I did not believe that they would want it at all. But it was very touching to write their story. I was very happy with how the story turned out. I was very happy with the fact that they get their happily ever after. And it's's connected to the "Queens of Kings" series, but it's not really part of it. So the story kind of takes place outside of everything that's going on in that particular story.

Jeff: Do you envision more, I guess, "Dreamspun Desires" books that happened in the universe you've created with everything that's going on so far?

LaQuette: I really didn't, but I've been getting a lot of mail recently about this book. And, you know, people wanting to know what happens after this. They wanna see how Camden's family kind of blends with Elijah's family and how that's going to work. I'm like, "Dude, I'm not there. Like, I have so many other projects. I can't right now. But we'll come back to that maybe."

Jeff: Just based on your review, I don't see how those families mesh.

Will: Two different worlds. Most definitely, yeah.

LaQuette: They really are.

Jeff: Now, one of the things that I'm super excited about, having recently read about, is your new contract with Dreamspinner for "Harlem Heat."

LaQuette: Yes, "Harlem Heat," so when stuff makes me mad, it also makes me really productive. So I was really kind of getting tired of hearing the "not historically accurate moniker" criticism given to African-American romance, especially historical African-American romance. And it just bothered me because it's not that those happily-ever-afters weren't possible. It's just people aren't really aware of the completed history. So a lot of know, a lot of people who think they know about African-American history, the only thing they know is slavery and Jim Crow, and that's it. And, you know, black people have been downtrodden since we were brought to this country. But that's not exactly the truth because even in all of the horror, there were still moments of triumph. And we didn't just, you know, survive, we thrived. We're still here, the proof that we're still here, you know, the proof that we had happiness at some point is that we're still here.

So I decided I wanted to write about a time that was where to be black and to be gay wasn't something that you had to hide from the world. It wasn't something you had had your own pocket of community. There was a celebration of it. And I wanted to speak to that. I wanted people to know that these two intersections of life existed with happy endings.

Jeff: And this series, in particular, is gonna go to such an interesting time period in the U.S. when all of the Harlem Renaissance was happening.

LaQuette: Yeah, so it's based on three actual people who lived during the Harlem Renaissance. So it's based on Bumpy Johnson, who was the godfather of Harlem for 30 years. It's based on Langston Hughes, who was a great contributor to the Harlem Renaissance as a poet and writer. And it's also based on Cab Calloway, who was sort of one of the most notable faces in jazz and jazz music and jazz performance at the Cotton Club. So we're gonna see... we won't be using their names, but those characters will be based off of those actual people.

Will: Yeah, because it was...I think it was like mere moments after I finished reading "Under His Protection." I read about this Harlem Renaissance series that you were doing, and I like lost my mind. I was like, totally doing a happy dance. This is going to be so amazing. I know this is still far in the future. But when do you think we can expect this series?

LaQuette: I don't know. And that's the God's honest truth. I'm actually currently writing, finishing up the series for Sourcebooks. And so "Harlem Heat" doesn't...I don't think I'm projected to start it until like the end of the year. So I don't know exactly when it's going to be ready. But I mean, you know, ready for the world anyway. But I think I can talk to someone about getting you a beta read...a copy for beta reading if you'd like.

Jeff: Please do. Yes.

Will: That would be amazing.

Jeff: I imagine the research for that got to be a lot of fun to look at that period in history and figure out what parts you wanna take and use.

LaQuette: It is. I mean, I was very fortunate when I was in college. When I did my undergrad in creative writing. I was very fortunate to have a professor who thought outside of the box, and he taught a class on Harlem Renaissance. That was amazing. I mean, it was so rich and filled with culture. And you know, not just the usual things that we see in mainstream history but, you know, getting really down to the nitty-gritty of it. And you know, showing you to...I'm sure that when you when you guys, as gay men, look at the history of the LGBT community, and you get to see it unfold, there's such a moment of connection there. And it's the same thing for black people when we're getting to experience our history because we don't often get to see it through mainstream lens.

And so to see it and to see the information dispensed in a way that's positive and celebratory and uplifting, it changes your whole perception of yourself, of who you are and where you came from. And so I'm delighted to be able to dig back into that. I have Piper Huguley, who is a history professor at Spelman College. I believe it's Spelman. And she's also a romance writer, and she's brilliant. So she helps me with a great deal with telling me what books I need to read for this period, and where I need to look for information. But it's so much fun. It really is so much fun.

Jeff: That's amazing. Let's talk origin story for a minute. How did you get started writing romance? What led you down this path?

LaQuette: I didn't see me on the page. I started reading romance when I was about 16 years old. Way too young to be reading some of the stuff I was reading, but you know, hey. And by the time I was about 18, I probably went through every "Harlequin Presents" that my local library had. And every romance novel I read, it was never about a girl that looked like me, never about places where I lived. So it kind of pulled me out of the romance reading for a while because it was nice to read about those stories, but there was just something missing for me after a while. And I probably, at the time, didn't recognize that I was internalizing that these stories were basically saying, "Romance isn't for you. You don't look like this. You don't fit this mold, so romance isn't for you." And I kind of just pulled away from it. And I think after I finished my undergrad, I just wanted to relax and have some fun and I kind of got back into it. And at the time, I discovered black romance was a thing. And I discovered people like Rochelle Alers, and Brenda Jackson, and Zane. And I'm like, "Wow." Like, it became exciting again. It was refreshing. It was new and yet still very familiar because I could see myself in all of the antics that were going in these stories. I could see myself in those characters. And so I decided I wanted to do that. I wanted to create those spaces, create more stories like that so people could have those connections in reality, you know, reactions when they opened up a book and saw themselves.

Jeff: Now that you are writing, what do you think the trademarks of your books are?

LaQuette: I do sex and snark really well. Like, I do sarcasm really well because that's my language. It really is my language, and sex, yeah, that's so if you're gonna pick up a LaQuette book, you're going to get lots of sex and lots of sarcasm.

Jeff: Did she meet those two in your book?

Will: Oh, yeah. Just before we started this interview, we were talking about the possibilities of an audiobook for "Under His Protection." And whatever narrator lands this job is going to, number one, have the time of their life, because Camden and Elijah are very...the banter is very smart and very witty. But also, as you say, the sex scenes are...I'm not even sure what the correct adjective is. It's smoking hot. Yeah, you're gonna need a nice cool beverage after you listen to those scenes, for sure.

LaQuette: I don't know that I could listen to that. I don't know that I could. It would be so weird for me. I don't know. I mean, I know I wrote the words, but to hear them aloud, I don't know that I could do that.

Will: Exactly. Yeah.

Jeff: Yeah, I know, you know, many authors can't listen to their own audio books.

LaQuette: Especially those parts. Like I said, I do sex. Amy Lane told me, she was like, "You write sex in such a beautiful concrete way. Like, I just wanna have all the facts when I read your books." I'm like, "Amy, that is the sweetest and weirdest thing that anyone has ever said to me, and I love you for it."

Jeff: That almost should be a blurb on the book cover or something.

Will: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.

Jeff: Is there anything you're reading right now that you wanna shout out to people as like a book to grab?

LaQuette: Oh, I'm reading a few books. So I just finished Adriana Herrera's...the third book in this "Dreamer" series, and I can't remember the title because it's not actually out yet. I beta read for her, and it is fantastic. I mean, book one is great and I love it. It was so real to me that literally, I had to drive like two to three miles from my house just to go get Dominican food, because I was so hungry after reading book one.

Will: Exactly. Yes. Yeah.

LaQuette: And book three does the same thing. There's lots of cultural food. And it's part of the tapestry of how these two people connect and share their backgrounds, their experiences, their worldviews. And not to mention, she's so good at writing books that are socially conscious without making you feel like you're being talked down to or preached at, and I love her for that, for being... I don't know that I could do that the way she does it. She's so talented.

And I'm also reading...I'm halfway through...I stumble with her name because I know her as Blue Sapphire, but she's now writing as Royal Blue for Dreamspinner, "Kyle's Reveal."

Will: Yeah, I've heard of this book, yeah.

LaQuette: And I'm halfway through it. And, you know, she's fire, like, she writes hot books. So I'm really excited. I can't wait to get to the end of this book.

Will: What was the name of that book again?

LaQuette: "Kyle's Reveal."

Will: Okay. And that's the...please remind me, is the basketball book, is that correct?

LaQuette: Yes.

Will: Okay, yes.

LaQuette: I mean, it's kind of dark because the protagonists have like a really dark traumatic history. But it's definitely deep and I'm loving it. So I'm really, really, really interested in getting to the end to see if I could just get a minute to stop writing and finish it, I'd be great.

Will: Awesome.

Jeff: It's such a hard thing balancing.

LaQuette: It is.

Jeff: "I wanna to finish this book." Then it's like, "I don't wanna read it too fast."

LaQuette: Exactly.

Jeff: Finding that balance.

LaQuette: It's true.

Jeff: Are there tropes or genres that you wanna tackle that you just haven't yet in your own writing?

LaQuette: I don't know that there are any tropes, because I kind of...I throw a lot of different tropes in my books. Like, "Under His Protection" has second chance romance, it also has proximity, it also has sort of kind of enemies to lovers the way Elijah and Camden started out in the book. And it could sort of kind of be considered like a workplace romance being that they're both involved in different sides of law enforcement. But I don't know. I mean, I've done secret baby before and I love that. That was really fun. And I've done...the only thing I haven't done is like May-December romances. So I think maybe that might be something I'd might want to try.

Jeff: Cool. I would read that. I love a good May-December. Absolutely.

So beyond the writing, which obviously takes up a lot of time, you also are the president of RWANYC. So the New York City chapter of Romance Writers of America. Tell folks what that entails and what actually led you to running for office.

LaQuette: I didn't wanna run. I had no intention of running because I have a lot of stuff to do. And it takes time away from the things that I'm contracted to do. But one of the things that's very important in romance that's happening right now is the fact that romance can be a very whitewashed world, meaning the protagonists that we see, the authors that get the most opportunities are white authors and white characters. And so if you're not white... and straight characters. If you're not writing that, it's difficult to get into the door, it's difficult to find the same resources, the same backing. It's almost impossible to get contracts.

And so I ran for president of RWANYC because I wanted, in some way, to help change that landscape, to do some of the work necessary with publishers to try to change that. And it's a heavy task, it's a heavy burden, especially when we get, you know, over the last couple of weeks, we are still reeling from the RITA Awards, which is basically like the Grammys for romance. And every year, it's the same thing. It's a very, very white landscape, and very few authors of color are made finalist. No black woman has ever won a RITA in the 30 years that this award has been established. And people do a lot of mental acrobatics to justify why that is. So "Oh, maybe the writing is just not that good. Maybe that's why we've never had a black RITA award winner. Maybe black authors are not entering."

You know, these are also questions that are ridiculous, because statistically, it's just impossible that no black woman would ever have won in 30 years. It's just impossible. And the reason it is, is because the judging pool, there's a bias there in terms of black women and black characters, not just black authors, but black characters. Because you cannot know who the author is, but you cannot...well, I don't write characters who are racially ambiguous. I'm proud of my blackness and my characters are as well. And so I don't try to hide that or trick people into reading my books, or make it so difficult for people to recognize who a person is or what their background is because I feel like that is an important thing.

In real life, we don't really get to not know who people are by looking at them. So I don't do it in my books. And because of that, it's very difficult when you know, going into this, "I'm gonna submit this book, and it's not going to final," not because it's a poorly written book, not because I didn't do everything I could to make this book as good as it could be, but simply because my characters, especially my heroines are black. And that is just something that the judging pool cannot handle as of yet.

So my work as president is a lot of, you know, being the champion for this cause and taking on this battle because it's not just about me succeeding, it's about any black author who was writing black characters having the ability to write and be supported by the industry. And if I can make any sort of headway in that and if I can help anyone along the way, I'll feel like I've done something positive with my life.

Will: With books like yours, and with Adriana Herrera, who you mentioned not too long ago, do you think it's really just a matter of representation that can help build awareness for diversity in romance or is there something else that readers, specifically, should be doing or asking for?

LaQuette: Well, specifically, yeah. I mean, readers have a lot of power. So if you're asking publishers, you know, "Why don't we have more diverse romance? Why don't we have romance know, that shows basically the colors of the rainbow and all those brilliant facets of intersectionality in life, like, why don't we have that?" Because your buying dollars is what demands, what makes the demand. Because publishers will say, "We don't sell that. We don't contract black books because they don't sell."

One of the things we discussed at Dreamspinner was the cover. That was an intentional choice. I was very clear with them when we sat down and talked about this project that Elijah needed to be on the cover. I would not subscribe to the ideology that a black man on the cover can't sell. And there are...I mean, we've seen in our writing community that some publishing houses have actually made this statement. I don't subscribe to that. So we talked about it. And then we talked about the fact that readership sometimes can have a bias. And sometimes they won't engage with the book if they feel like the person is the wrong color or wrong background. And I said, "I understand that, but we're still gonna know, to work with me, this is how we're gonna work."

And they were in agreement. I didn't have to convince them. I went in prepared to battle. And it was like, "Listen, I really need this guy to be black and I really need him to look like this." And they were like, "We agree. We agree." So we need more of that in the industry. And it starts with readers. It also starts with the gatekeepers. People reaching out and specifically looking for these things. It also, people who are gatekeepers also need to check themselves. So when you're reading a book and you're saying, "I can't connect to it. I didn't relate to it." Why aren't you relating to it? Is it that it's a poorly written book?

I've gotten rejection letters that literally said, "This is a really well-written book, but I didn't relate to the character, so I'm not gonna buy it." That doesn't really make a lot of sense, right? So what was it that you didn't relate to? If you could see that it was a really well-written book, I mean, if it's that good, why not work with me in terms of editing to kind of get things right, you know, to where it would be something that you feel is that you could sell. But a lot of publishing houses out there don't have that mentality. And it's this sort's insidious. It's not something, you know, you can actually like, look and see. Some people don't even notice it. They just think, "Oh, I don't read those kinds of books because I don't like them." And it's not that they don't like them, it's that they've not actually giving them the opportunity to be great.

Jeff: So that is, obviously, great words for the readers. Kind of spinning it back to your RWA role, you're in such a diverse chapter there because you're in NYC.

LaQuette: Yeah.

Jeff: How are the authors in that particular region banding together to like help RWA move past the issues?

LaQuette: Oh, well, a lot of my recent successes, because, you know, allies, colleagues like Kate McMurray and Tere Michaels, are like, "Listen, you're fabulous, and we want you to meet people who will also think you're fabulous. So come here." And that's part of the beauty of RWA, and that's why I fight so hard for diversity and inclusion within RWA, because my success, as I said, my recent success has all been attached to people pushing me in different directions to say, "This is where you need to be. This is the person you need to meet." And if you're not a part of the organization, you can't make those connections. And networking connections will get you further than anything you know, right? So when we cut off authors of color from that source, from the resources, from the networking connections, and the opportunities that are presented to people who are part of the organization, what we're doing is we're disconnecting them from publishing. And we're forcing them to be indie. And this is not an indie versus trad conversation. This is... some people cannot be anything other than indie, because trad will not give them the opportunity. They've been completely marginalized. And so that should not be.

People should be able to publish however they choose to, whether they up to be an indie author or whether they decide that the trad route is for them, because, you know, different strokes for different folks. It is different, you know, depending on what your lifestyle is like. I have crazy children and I have to juggle being a mom, a writer, and everything else and try to keep sane. Being an indie author is a lot of work. It's a lot of effort on your end to make a book successful. I don't have that kind of time in my life, or that kind of energy, honestly. So being a trad author is a much better avenue for me and my situation. And if that is the only way that I can publish, but publishing will not give me the opportunities, then it's, you know, I'm losing out. And that's the purpose of RWA to sort of bridge those gaps. But I don't think we're exactly where we need to be yet. So we're still working on it.

Will: Yeah, definitely.

Jeff: We very much appreciate your efforts towards that, for sure.

Will: Now, the Romance Writers of America National Conference is going to be in NYC this summer.

LaQuette: Absolutely.

Will: And I expect you're going to be there.

LaQuette: Oh, yeah. I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Will: Yeah, we're actually making a trip for the first time this year as well.

LaQuette: Yay.

Will: So hopefully we will... I know it's gonna be crazy busy. But hopefully, we're gonna get a chance to say hi in person.

LaQuette: It is. Absolutely.

Jeff: For sure. Now, we talked about "Harlem Heat." You mentioned a couple other things. What is on your docket for the rest of this year for releases?

LaQuette: I don't think I have any other releases this year because I'm writing. So I've been very blessed in that I have landed these two major contracts with Sourcebooks and with Dreamspinner, both for series. So I'm halfway through Source's books. And I need to start on Dreamspinner's toward the end of the year. So there won't be any more releases from me. I mean, if I get a moment where I'm, you know, feeling really creative, I might try to get a novella together. But I'm not making any promises.

Jeff: All right, so we'll look for a lot more in 2020, for sure.

LaQuette: Yeah, 2020 is definitely...the first book for Source comes out in 2020. I don't have a release date yet. I have delivery dates for Dreamspinner, but I don't have release dates yet. So I'm thinking probably sometime toward the end of 2020, possibly, or maybe the beginning of 2021.

Jeff: All right. Well, when "Harlem Heat" comes out, you definitely have an invitation to come back and talk, for sure.

LaQuette: Oh, yay. Thank you.

Jeff: Now what's the best way for everybody to keep up with you online?

LaQuette: Oh, so you can find me on Facebook at, you know, my Facebook page, LaQuettetheAuthor. You can find me on Twitter @LaQuetteWrites, or you can find me on Instagram at la_quette, or you can email me at, or you can go to my website

Will: Fantastic.

Jeff: She's well branded, and everything is the same.

Will: Most definitely. Well, LaQuette, it was a genuine honor to have you on the show today.

LaQuette: Oh, thank you.

Will: We're so glad that you could take some time out of your extremely busy schedule that you can come talk to us.

LaQuette: Thank you for having me. I mean, I was so excited and a little bit nervous also, to come on and talk to you guys because I've seen the show before. And I'm like, "Yay, I get to go hang out with them. I feel special."

Will: Well, it is a genuine pleasure. We're so glad that you came.

LaQuette: Thank you so very much for having me.

Apr 8, 2019

Jeff opens the show talking about the work he’s doing on a holiday short story.

They also remind everyone about the LA Times Festival of Books happening April 13 and 14 on the USC Campus and the authors expected to attend from Dreamspinner Press and Interlude Press.

Jeff & Will talk about the series finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Books reviewed this week include Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert and Paternity Case by Gregory Ashe.

Lisa joins Jeff to recommend four speculative fiction books: The Mortal Sleep by Gregory AshePrince of Air and Darkness by M.A. Grant, All Souls Near & Nigh by Hailey Turner and Not Dead Yet by Jen Burke.

Complete shownotes for episode 183 are at

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert. Reviewed by Will

While his uncle is recuperating from minor surgery, Alaskan bush pilot Griffin is tasked with taking a tour group into the wilds of Alaska. One of the group is River, former male model-turned inspirational travel writer, who’s gathering material for his next book.

There’s an immediate attraction and chemistry between them and over the course of the week, as they spend more time together, they fall for one another.

One of the many things that drew me into Arctic Sun, is that Griff and River are two interesting, compelling, genuinely dimensional characters, with actual lives. And by that, I mean that they’re not just cardboard cut-outs going through the motions, playing out a standard romantic plotline.

They’ve both faced challenges in the past, overcome them, and – through emotionally intelligent conversations — work to figure out how they can move forward together.

After the tour is over, they make plans to meet in Vancouver.

River is going to be hanging out with some old friends from his modeling days, and Griff’s visit is a kind of “real world” road test to see if their relationship can work. It’s, of course, a total disaster.

The old friends bring out triggering scenarios for both Griff and River. Their true “Real World” was the connection they shared in the wilds of Alaska, not fancy date night restaurants or going to exclusive clubs. The problem is that they’re using relationship criteria from their screwed-up pasts to judge their current situation.

They realize this far too late and break things off.

They each take some time apart and do some soul searching, River about his family history and public persona and how it relates to his work, and Griff about how he interacts with the outside world and family’s tour business.

Griff makes his way to L.A. for the premiere of the film based on River’s book. The things they each want and need out of life are actually more aligned than they first realized.

They can live, love and work surrounded by the nature that gives each of them so much joy.

Paternity Case by Gregory Ashe. Reviewed by Jeff.

I’ve continued to work my way through Gregory Ashe’s Hazard & Somerset Mystery series. Gregory’s way with mystery thrillers along with possibly the slowest burn romance ever keep drawing me back. After dealing with a Clue-like mystery taking place over Thanksgiving in Transposition, the action now moves to Christmastime.

An interesting turn of events, one that I believe only Gregory could concoct, finds Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset on a double date as the book opens. Readers of the series know this just cannot end well as Hazard, his boyfriend Nico, Sommers and his estranged wife Cora attempt to have a meal together. Saying the scene is uncomfortable is an understatement and it’s the perfect scene to begin the story.

The mystery in Paternity Case revolves around an incident that occurs at the Somerset family home. Sommers’s father calls him away from dinner to help with the problem. When Hazard and Sommers arrive, they discover a quite high, naked Santa causing issues and before they can sort out why, a teenage girl is dead, Sommers’s father is shot multiple times and the Santa is killed after being taken into custody.

Nothing is ever what it seems in a Hazard and Somerset book and the reason and motive for the shootings is disturbing and extraordinary. Gregory has concocted his most twisted mystery of the series and shines an even brighter spotlight on the shady goings on in the Wahredua good old boy network. I’m always stunned at how Gregory reveals the whodunit and this one continually blew my mind.

We know from previous books that Sommers and Hazard have complicated pasts, together and separately. Significant details are finally laid out in this book. We find out why Hazard had to leave St. Louis, which honestly wasn’t as shocking as I expected…but it doesn’t mean that those in power in Wahredua don’t try to capitalize on it. Learning more of what happened to the boys in high school upset me. More about Sommers’s senior year came to light and the feelings Sommers has about Hazard continue to have a major impact on his future choices.

Many authors would dump this information out much earlier, but the parsing that Gregory’s done over the three books made it more impactful. It’s like a traffic accident–uncomfortable to witness and yet you can’t look away. It’s expert writing that keeps you glued to the page to see what gets revealed next and guessing what the far reaching implications will be.

There are some sublime side characters in this book and I have to give a particular shout out to Sommer’s mother, Grace Elaine. She’s every bit a southern matriarch who you do not want to cross–sugary sweet in one moment and ready to claw your eyes out in the next. The cat and mouse game she plays with Hazard is equal parts highly entertaining and disturbing. She goes to great lengths to protect her son, her family and what she believes is right all while being a terrible person at heart. She made me shudder as I knew people just like her from growing up in the south.

Back to the mystery, it’s impossible to easily talk about it without revealing too much. Suffice to say of the three books so far, this mystery has been the most disturbing because of the ramifications for the teenage characters involved–not only the girl who is killed but two of her friends who are swept up in the drama. Anyone who is potentially triggered by abusive parents, child abuse, and similar issues would be advised to proceed cautiously with this book.

Of course, I’m ready to read more from Gregory. I have no doubt that things that were planted in this book will matter even more in what follows. I can’t wait to see where it all leads to ultimately.

Apr 1, 2019

Jeff & Will talk about their upcoming trip to the 2019 LA Times Festival of Books. They also discuss two series they’ve been watching: Comedy Central’s The Other Two and Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists.

Books reviewed this week include Kim Fielding’s The Spy’s Love Song, Ari McKay’s Take Two and Erin McLellan’s Clean Break.

Jeff interviews Erin McLellan about Clean Break, the second book in her Farm College series, and about why it’s important for her to tell stories based in her home state of Oklahoma. They also talk about her Love Life serieswhat got her started writing, her author influences and the TV she likes to binge watch.

Complete shownotes for episode 182 are at


Here’s the text of Jeff’s book reviews:

The Spy’s Love Song by Kim Fielding
Rock star and secret agent on a mission to a foreign country to topple a dictator all wrapped up in a Dreamspun Desires package. That combination pushed all of my romantic suspense buttons and I had no choice but to pick up this book. And I loved it every bit as much as I thought I would.

I was in tropey goodness heaven with the rock star thing, a bodyguard vibe plus lovers on the run and some occasional forced proximity.

Jaxon Powers is a jaded rock star who’s at the end of a long tour. After waking up in a hotel room barely remembering what happened the night before, he might also be ready for a change in lifestyle. He gets a lot more than he bargained for when his manager brings him to a meeting with the State Department. It seems the dictator that runs the small country of Vasnytsia is a fan and wants Jaxon to perform a private concert as well as a large outdoor one for a worker’s festival. The U.S. wants Jaxon to do this because it’s a chance to improve US relations with the Russia-supported dictator.

The only person going with Jaxon on the trip is secret agent Reid Stanfill. Besides keeping Jaxon safe, Reid’s got an agenda that has global ramifications.

I fell in love with this book right from the beginning. Kim plays with expectations from the beginning. While Jaxon appears to be the spoiled rock star we quickly find that’s not what he wants to be. He’s a small town boy, doing what he loves to do but he wants more substance to the way he’s living. The trip to Vasnytsia does exactly that as his world view gets a complete makeover.

Not only does Jaxon end up traveling without the entourage he’s used to, as Reid’s mission goes sideways the two end up on the run. Reid’s mission is to try to destabilize the country and force elections and that makes him an enemy of the state. Despite his fear, Jaxon won’t leave Reid to fend for himself. Jaxon knows his celebrity can protect both of them and he sticks by Reid even as Reid tries to force the star to safety.

Through all of the crazy events that could result in either of them dying, Jaxon and Reid manage to start a romance. Reid tries to keep it from beginning since they’re in a country where homosexuality is illegal but they give in to their passions. That’s just the beginning as they share stories about their pasts, which only endears them more to each other. The mix between the romance and suspense is perfect, giving our guys time to fall in love even while things around them go crazy.

I liked that Kim avoided the usual Dreamspun scenario of having alternating points of view. Everything in the story is Jaxon, which works perfectly so we don’t know Reid’s mission or anything else too early. It makes for a very snappy read going on the roller coaster that Jaxon experiences.

Kim brings Vasnytsia to life through its people. It starts with the guides taking Jaxon around the country, giving him peek behind the propaganda. As he meets fans who must covertly speak to him as it wouldn’t be proper for anyone to talk with the American he begins to understand why Reid’s mission is so important. Ultimately it’s these people who shelter Reid and Jaxon and help complete his mission–with a particularly awesome assist from Jaxon.

Drew Bacca does a great job on the audiobook, including having to sing a couple of Jaxon’s songs. This is the first book in the “Stars From Peril” series that Kim has in the Dreamspun line. The second book, Redesigning Landry Bishop, comes out in May and I’m already looking forward to it. 


Clean Break by Erin McLellan
I almost didn’t pick this book up because I couldn’t imagine reading a book that included the characters taking care of Madagascar hissing cockroaches. I’m not a fan of bugs and the trigger warning page discusses more about the bugs than anything else. However, I’m glad I listened to the re-assurances I wouldn’t be creeped out because this is a terrific book–and the bugs really are a non-thing.

This book, the second in Erin’s “Farm College” series, throws together Connor Blume and Travis Bedford–two guys who very much don’t like each other in the aftermath of an awkward, failed hookup. As their final college term begins, Connor and Travis are taking Entomology 101 and because the professor likes students to sit alphabetically, they’re next to each other and end up becoming class partners.

Their dislike for each other radiates from them during that first class. Connor’s OCD and anxiety flare up just being near the guy, who he’s still wildly attracted to and wants to have a real discussion with. Travis has the attraction too but carries the anger from their previous hookup. It only gets worse as they get the assignment that they’ll be caring for Madagascar hissing cockroaches for the semester or that they’ll have to answer discussion questions together.

It doesn’t take long for the sparks of dislike to turn into sparks of desire and they end up spending time after class in a storage closet making out. Neither of them is particularly happy that they’re giving in to their desires, which makes the scenes cuter and hotter. Travis wants the fussy farmer and Connor very much wants the stand-offish English major.

Even as their make out sessions start to cool their hatred, they realize they’re constrained by time. At graduation, Connor is set to take over management of his parent’s farm, even though he doesn’t necessarily want that. Meanwhile, Travis can’t wait to get out of the small town for his legal aid internship and then on to law school. The guys have their futures mapped out and there’s no space for the other. That doesn’t stop them from getting emotionally entangled.

Erin does a terrific job of bringing these two together. As they move their hookups to the bedroom, Travis discovers he likes Connor’s controlling side and gives himself over to it. Connor though never takes advantage, making sure that he’s always got Travis’s consent and that Travis enjoys himself. That continues as Travis reveals he’d like to be spanked. Both guys discover this is exactly what they need.

Beyond the sex though, their efforts to not get too attached aren’t helped by their post-sex talks. Travis usually wants Connor to tell him a story and it’s here that he opens up bit by bit about his anxiety, his OCD and his pre-determined future. There’s so much going on for him, as a reader I wanted to wrap him in a hug and do whatever I could to ease the load he carried. Travis talks a lot too and over time we learn what makes him so driven–it turns out he lost one of his dreams due to an accident and he doesn’t want to let anything or anyone cost him this one.

Just a she was great at bringing them together, Erin tears the guys apart just as expertly. It’s a tough go as Connor and Travis force themselves apart as graduation nears. Erin does a number on the characters as they emotionally hurt themselves and each other as they keep to their plans. Both guys want to talk to the other so badly and yet they’ve promised not too. For Connor, this is particularly bad for his OCD.

Of course, this is a romance, so all must end happy. Thankfully how Erin gets the guys back together his as satisfying as everything she did earlier in the book. There is a way for them to be together–it just takes time for them to get there.


Interview Transcript - Erin McLellan

Jeff: Welcome, Erin, to the podcast.

Erin: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Jeff: Very excited to have you here. You’re a new-to-me author and I just finished reading “Clean Break,” which I have to tell you, I adored so much. I’m reviewing it right before we get into the interview segment I’ll have reviewed it to kinda tell everybody about it.

Erin: Yay, thank you.

Jeff: It is the second book in your “Farm College” Series. So before we dive into “Clean Break,” tell us more about what the “Farm College” Series is about.

Erin: Okay. So it’s just two books so far like you said and they are set in a fictional college in Western Oklahoma. And I would say kind of the overarching themes are… Since they’re college stories, they’re new adult that’s kind of coming of age and self-discovery, finding your authentic self, finding a home is kind of a big one. I think that’s kind of important at that age. You’ve moved out of your parent’s house or wherever you grew up for a lot of people and kinda figuring out what is home, what is family, that kind of thing. So those types of themes are kind of follow both books. They’re both kind of angsty to be honest though “Controlled Burn,” more so than “Clean Break” actually.

Jeff: Oh, my goodness.

Erin: So be prepared. But, yeah, and I think in terms of… The setting is really important to me at least as the author and those books is important to me. I’m from Oklahoma. I live in Alaska now, but I’m from Oklahoma. And it’s important to me to write stories that are set in Oklahoma that have, you know, LGBTQIA+ characters in Oklahoma. And I know as somebody that reads a lot of romance, I don’t see that very often. I don’t see romance set there or it might be… I have seen it where it’s, you know, characters that are like, escaping Oklahoma which certainly is the case for a lot of people, but it’s also the case that people live and love, and make their lives there. And I kinda wanna show that.

Jeff: Does a farm college like this exist in Oklahoma? Is it based on a real place?

Erin: No. Kind of I guess. A lot of the kind of small details mirror Oklahoma State which was my alma mater for undergrad, but Oklahoma State is so much bigger than the college that I created. So Farm College is kind of a smaller college in Western Oklahoma that I’ve created, but in terms of being, you know, having a strong agriculture program, but also kind of having this liberal arts situation that’s going on and a pretty vibrant LGBTQIA community, I’ve kind of made most of that up. So…

Jeff: And I agree that we don’t see, I mean, besides books set in Oklahoma, really the more rural settings kinda, it’s always escaping from those places. And I like that you kind of built a place as if this is what you’d like to see even if it doesn’t quite exist there now.

Erin: Right. And I think it’s kind of funny when I started writing “Controlled Burn.” It was pre-2016, right? And I kind of had this, you know, I kind of had this idea that it’s getting better, right? It’s looking up for lots of communities and I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case anymore. I hope it will be and I hope it is eventually. But, you know, there’s good and bad, I think, about places like Oklahoma and Kansas, and Texas. And, you know, Oklahoma is really special to me. It’s really important to me. Kansas is the same, but there’s also problems and, you know, I wanna kinda write those stories. And I also, thinking about Oklahoma or Texas probably more so, a lot of the romances that I’ve read that are set there are like, ranch, you know, the cowboys, the farmers which there is kind of a farmer in “Clean Break.” But there’s a lot of people that live in Oklahoma and in Texas, in Kansas that aren’t cowboys. So I wanted to tell that story too.

Jeff: Right. And you really hinted that a little bit with some of the dialogue between Travis and Connor in “Clean Break” too as they kind of talk about the difference between cowboy and more the farmer type that Connor and his family are.

Erin: Right.

Jeff: And so, as we kinda move this direction, tell us what “Clean break” is about and kind of who Travis and Connor are.

Erin: Right. So “Clean Break” is about Travis and Connor. Travis is…he’s the best friend in “Controlled Burn.” So if you read “Controlled Burn,” you see quite a bit of him. He’s an English major. He’s from Houston, Texas, very ambitious. He’s got these kind of life plans and nothing’s gonna slow him down, right? He wants to go to law school. He’s got an internship after for the summer. He’s planning to move to Saint Louis eventually to work at this legal aid charity. He has this very, you know, set goals and he’s also kind of a unique, quirky, funny character to me.

And then you have Connor who comes in and I don’t know if I would say at the beginning of the book, it’s more like pre-book before the book happens, they have a little bit of a failed hookup in a lot of ways. Some misunderstandings and so, they don’t like each other very much. And then in the first chapter, they get paired together as class partners in a class. And Connor is a farm boy. He’s kind of a townie, right? He’s from Elkville which is the city that’s it’s set in. He’s expected to take over the family farm and so, he’s got this, you know, he kind of his future plans are set, right? He doesn’t have a say over them and he’s… I have a big soft spot in my heart for him. He’s got anxiety, he has OCD.

I really wanted to kind of write against the archetype of the like, lackadaisical cowboy or even like, the kind of the hard cowboy or, you know, that kind of archetype that I had in my head. I wanted to write a sensitive farm boy who’s in therapy and, you know, it doesn’t really match some of the people or the characters that I have seen written that way. And kind of the main issue between them, first is that they don’t like each other, but they’re attracted to each other, right? But the kind of the main two things that I wanted to do with the book is I wanted to write a complex authentic characters that are really well-rounded and hopefully, I accomplish that. And then the other thing that I really wanted to do was kind of write to people that are heading towards their future which is graduation and then, you know, the future beyond. And then their futures don’t mesh. There’s not really a way to come together at the end of graduation. They’re moving in different directions and I think that’s a really universal thing for people in college that are dating and dating seriously… do you compromise your future for somebody else? Do you change it? How do you make it work?

So those are kind of the two things that I really wanted to hit on and of course, there’s, you know, there’s some kink that happens in the book and kind of self-discovery with that especially on Connors’ part. So there’s a lot going on, but those two things. The characterization and the conflict there with their futures not meshing are the two things I really wanted to hit.

Jeff: And I think you did them both, I mean, really well. This book has so much going on in it and yet it never…the story also never gets way down either with the weight of everything that’s kind of moving around here.

Erin: Thank you.

Jeff: And really, you started them off as enemies who sort of move to friends to sort of get to lovers.

Erin: Right.

Jeff: Just that progression was so fun to watch unfold as they both pick at each other and then also help each other grow at the same time. It’s like, they lift each other up and kinda tear each other down at the same time.

Erin: Right. And I hope that that is realistic. I think people… Because in a lot of ways they are kind of mean to each other at certain points and people can be mean to each other in real life. Especially, they’re not very old, you know, they’re 21, 22. So they kinda make stupid mistakes sometimes and say things that can be hurtful and then have to figure out how to make it better.

Jeff: And I think with Connor too, you talked about writing against the archetypes and just having kinda the anxiety plus the OCD. And being, you know, a young gay man in that setting really just sets up so much for him in that situation.

Erin: Right. Yeah. He has a lot going on. He’s bi actually and…

Jeff: Right. I’m sorry. You’re right. Yes.

Erin: And so, kind of a lot. I mean, it’s just a lot and I think it’s a lot for him to kind of deal with all at the same time.

Jeff: What was your research on the mental health side of it to kind of figure out what traits to weave into his personality?

Erin: So I did a lot of research and I had some readers too that read it for me. One of the main things that I really looked at was kind of the myths especially with OCD, kind of the myths surrounding OCD. I think a lot of people think it’s just, you know, a cleanliness thing or even an organizational thing where they, you know, people with OCD have an impulse to organize or clean. And that’s not really how it presents for a lot of people. A lot people have intrusive thoughts which he has or, you know, they have checking where he checks the expiration dates on food and he can’t kind of stop doing that even though he knows he shouldn’t be doing it, and it’s not healthy for him to do. And so, I did a lot of research about the myths and the different ways that it presents for people and kind of the hardships that it causes them. And I also really wanted to make sure that I kind of made it clear. It’s something that he’ll always deal with, right? It’s not going away and so, it’s really… I did a lot of research on how to manage it, how, you know, how to kind of continue life dealing with a mental health problem like that.

Jeff: Yeah. I just… So often I wanted to just give him a hug when he was starting to lapse into it. It’s like, “Oh, I’m so sorry this is happening.” What you did through the black moments and I don’t wanna give spoilers for folks who, you know, need to read the book. But what you did to the black moments for both Connor and Travis as they dealt with their emotions and for Connor how those emotions kinda manifest themselves in his OCD was really just, I really liked seeing two young adults kinda come to grapple with all of that.

Erin: Yeah. And I think it’s pretty normal when you’re more stressed, right? Or when there’s more and more stress for, you know, the OCD to kind of build on itself. The same with anxiety like, whenever I am really stressed about my anxiety, it’s gonna be worse about small things, you know, you can kind of blow them out of proportion. I know I do that and so, I was kind of trying to show that how it’s like as things got more stressful for him with graduation moving and with kind of this relationship with Travis, that’s not going away he wants it to go. It does kind of snowball for him and it kinda snowballs for Travis too just in different ways because he doesn’t, you know, he doesn’t have anxiety or OCD of course, but, you know, he struggles just kind of the same way.

Jeff: Yeah. When you were talking about with this books about you left out one of its major points.

Erin: The bugs?

Jeff: That is the inclusion of the the hissing cockroaches. Where did that idea even come from?

Erin: So I knew I wanted to put them in a class together and I wanted them to be class partners. But Travis is an English major and Connor is agriculture sciences, agribusiness major. And so, I knew it had to be like a gen ed class for at least one of them. And so, I really started thinking about the gen ed class that I had taken as an English major whenever I was an undergrad trying to figure out what class would make sense. And then I realized that I actually had taken an ag class that was Entomology 101. And I loved it, I, you know, I held like, tarantulas and I held millipedes. And I could see myself being that like, weird bug girl a little bit. I just loved it. And so, that’s kinda how I decided to put them in an entomology class. And it’s funny because, I mean, I do think that college is one of those times to take the weird class and do the weird thing. And so, I think it kind of made sense there and I also felt like, I gave a degree of what kind of humor and lightness I thought it would to the story. But I realize now that a lot of readers maybe don’t like bugs. So it’s something that’s like a little distracting to some people.

When I had took the entomology class, we had an assignment where we had that exact assignment with the Madagascar hissing cockroaches where we had to take them home and observe them. And so, you know, for an entire semester, I had a Madagascar hissing cockroach in my dorm room with me. I never took it out of its box. I like, you know, I fed it, like, carrots through the little hole that it couldn’t get out and so, that would be fun to put that in the story. And I can tell you for the readers, the cockroaches do not escape ever. They never… There’s no, like, unexpected cockroach scenes. I promise.

Jeff: Yeah. And I can vouch for that. There are no unexpected scenes and in fact, I had to check… I had to ask about that before I took the book to read and I’m like, “Bugs, I don’t know about that.”

Erin: I know. I have put it in the trigger warnings for the book and on my website, it really does lay out kinda scene by scene where they’re at and kind of the degree that they’re on the page. And they’re not on the page that much.

Jeff: No, they’re not and I never got squirmy reading it either because I really don’t like bugs. But I was totally fine with how this turned out. So…

Erin: Yeah. I know. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me that it would gross people out. At that point it was too late when it, like, finally hit me. I was like, “Well, I can’t do anything about it.” But I kind of thought that they were funny.

Jeff: Well, I think it really fits with the whole ag culture of the college that of course, they’re gonna end up with bugs or whatever and have to learn about them. So it all meshed in together and like you said, there’s no point where they’re escaping or, you know, being gross. They’re just kind of there.

Erin: Right. And students…

Jeff: I like to, you know, those classes sometimes you take in high school where you’re having to take care of the doll for a week or whatever. And in this case you’re hanging out with a cockroach. So…

Erin: Right. It’s kinda like a little pet for them for this semester.

Jeff: So is there more plan for the Farm College Series?

Erin: I have not kind of set plans. I do want to write a story for Alex. He’s in both books. He’s not in “Controlled Burn” for very much though his part is kind of important in “Controlled Burn.” He’s a friend of Connor’s really in “Clean Break” and I do wanna give him a story and I will. I’ll probably start writing that soon. Kind of be on that. I don’t know how much more I’ll write in the Farm College Series though I do wanna do a spin off that’s kind of several years in the future. So they’re not really in college anymore and I want to do an F/F romance for Desie and Lena. So I would start there for them.

Jeff: Yay. Yeah. I would totally read that book because one of the things you did in “Clean Break” and I’m sure you established it back in “Controlled Burn” too, was just the tight community of friends that Travis and Connor both have, and even, like, the strong family presence of Connor’s family and how they support him. So it would be great to see more of all of that.

Erin: Yeah. So… Yeah. And I definitely… I think I did a little bit more successfully in “Clean Break” for sure where they have very supportive families and they do have kind of a big wide friend group. And so, yeah, I’m glad that you like that, but I do want to do the F/F romance for Lena and Desie kind of. But Lena is quite young in this book. She’s 20 and so, I wanna give her a little bit of time to grow up, I guess.

Jeff: Yeah. That’s cool. Now, you’ve got another series out there called “Love Life.” And tell us a little bit about what goes on in that series?

Erin: Sure. So that’s also, they’re both male/male romances. Set in Oklahoma, Eastern Oklahoma for the first book, “Life on Pause.” They’re kind of small town romances there. The first one is about a guy that works at a homestead kind of prairie museum. They’re kind of common in Oklahoma where the people that work there have to dress in like, historical costumes of the time. So he works at that type of museum and then he is paired with a high school choir teacher. And it’s kind of them trying to fall in love and figure out how their relationship will work. It’s definitely kind of lighter in tone than the farm college series, but it’s still a little angsty. The second book in the series, “Life of Bliss,” is more novella link that’s a little short and it’s very tropey. It’s kind of two people that don’t like each other very much, but are fooling around kind of behind their friends’ backs. They agree to be fake boyfriends for a family wedding in Arkansas and Arkansas kind of, well, it has this… Historically in the area, it was the only state that didn’t have a waiting period for marriage licenses. Now, most of the states don’t, but back in the day, you know, they made you like, test for syphilis and all kind of stuffs. But extended the marriage license period. So Arkansas is kind of the place where people go for their shotgun weddings historically. So this is going back quite away, but in this book they go to a wedding in Arkansas, they get drunk at the wedding and basically, end up getting married themselves. It’s set in Eureka Springs, Arkansas for the wedding part and I don’t know if anybody would be familiar with that. But you can get married practically anywhere in Eureka Springs. It’s kind of an economy there. So it’s quite easy to get married and that’s what happens. So it’s kind of fake dating to accidental marriage.

Jeff: Fake dating to accidental marriage. I like… Those are favorite tropes right there.

Erin: Yeah. It’s a fun one, I think.

Jeff: So what is your writing origin story? You’ve got these four books out. How did all this start?

Erin: Well, I was a creative writing English major in undergrad, but then I ended up going to grad school for library and information studies. And I was a public librarian. And I had… I kind of had a lot of big changes in my life. I just graduated grad school. I just got married, I just moved away from home like, all of these big changes. I had a full time job for the first time and I had… I was living in Houston, Texas and I had this horrible commute. It was like, an hour and a half each way and…

Jeff: Yeah. that’s pretty horrible.

Erin: I think most people that have been in Houston know what I’m talking about. And I had all this time to kind of think and I basically on my commute started plotting a book. And some of it came from, I missed kind of the creative outlet writing research papers and stuff like that from school. And so, yeah, that’s kind of how I started writing as I plotted this book on my commute and then finally, I decided that I was gonna sit down and write it. And that book was “Controlled Burn.”

Jeff: That’s an awesome story.

Erin: Thank you.

Jeff: What led you into putting this creativity towards M/M romance amongst all of the genres that were possible?

Erin: Yeah. Some of it I think is that I was reading a lot of it at that time, I kind of got into M/M romance I guess if we’re going further back by reading Suzanne Brockmann, right? So she has the “Troubleshooters” series and that has Jules Cassidy who’s the gay FBI agent, right? He’s got that kind of the secondary romance through several books and then the primary thorugh a novella. And then whenever I was in grad school, I kind of didn’t have time to read for pleasure very much. So I wasn’t reading very much and then I took a class about reader’s advisory that we had to read like, the books from the best books of the year for “Publishers Weekly” and “Kirkus,” and stuff. And I just kind of… I can’t remember what year it was, but I grabbed kind of a random book off the romance list and it ended up being “Brothers of the Wild North Sea” by Harper Fox and I didn’t really realize that it was a male/male romance. So I just kinda grabbed it and started reading, and then it became quite clear, you know, very early on what it was. And it’s a beautiful book. Harper Fox is, you know, is a beautiful writer. Everything that she writes is really awesome and so, I kind of gobbled up everything that she had written and then it kind of hit me at that time. There has to be other writers that are doing this and, you know, they weren’t the books that were in the libraries. They weren’t in my libraries.

So I kind of started searching them out and, you know, read a lot of K.A. Mitchell and Z.A. Maxfield, and some of those authors at that time that were the most prolific. And I was just very excited because I felt like there are all these authors that I had never heard of that I didn’t know about and they were all really, really good. And they were writing, you know, stories that kind of the themes were very important to me. And so, then when I write finally, eventually, decided to sit down and write a book. I think probably the main thing for me is that I wanted to write characters who are LGBTQIA in Oklahoma and it just happened to be that the first book that kind of came to mind, and that I plotted fully was an M/M romance in “Controlled Burn.” So that’s definitely how I got started.

Jeff: That’s very cool and some great authors there to get you introduced to the genre as well. Who do you count as your author influences?

Erin: Well, definitely, you know, my gateways were Suzanne Brockmann into romance in general and then Harper Fox. Kind of on a wider scale, I really like Alisha Rai. She kind of, she writes the heroines that are the type of parents that I just love. They are raunchy and rowdy, and wonderful. I would say also Annabeth Albert in terms of contemporary romance. Alexis Hall, I think kind of teaches or his books are like a master class on first person point of view if you look at “For Real” or “Glitterland.” And so, I really, really like his books too.

Jeff: Now, your bio mentions that you like binge worthy TV shows. So of course, we have to know what are you binging these days or have binged recently that you would recommend?

Erin: So my husband and I have been rewatching “Game of Thrones” of course, because the last season was about to come out. So when you binge that show, you just kind of realize how many awful things happened back to back to back because the first time we watched it, we didn’t binge it. We are watching it week to week, but when you’re binge watching that it’s like, “Oh, my God. That’s so awful, these things that keep happening.” Other than that, I really like… I like true crime, but I’m not watching any kind of true crime right now. And I like comedies. So I’ve watched “Schitt’s Creek” recently which I love, “The Good Place,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “One Day at a Time,” all these sitcoms that I think are really good, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” because I love musicals is really good. And then I also watch a lot of like, reality TV. So I like, like, “Tiny House Hunters,” and “Instant Hotel,” and “Project Runway,” shows kind of like that.

Jeff: Very cool. Yeah. Some good stuff on there.

Erin: You can tell me I watch a lot of TV.

Jeff: “The Good Place” is a particular favorite.

Erin: Yeah. It’s so smart. It’s so different than like, yeah, it’s very, very unique. So this is a great list for everybody who’s looking for something to binge the spring right here. So what’s coming up next for you in your release plans?

Jeff: So I don’t have anything kind of set in stone. I’m not very good at planning. [I”m working on one about] tornado chasers or storm chasers. That’s a male/male romance that I have on submission right now to a publisher that I’m hoping will pick it up. If they don’t, then, you know, it’ll keep going out and hopefully somebody else will want it. I’m currently writing a book about a rec league softball team and I want this to be really, really tropey and kind of fun and light. The first one is using kind of the one bed trope. So I hope that that would be a lot of fun. I’ll write Alex’s story pretty soon and then I have a book that I wrote. But I’m hoping to put out at Christmas, it’s called “Stocking Stuffers.” And it’s a M/F romance with a bi heroine who sell sex toys. You know, like the Tupperware parties, but it’s like the, you know, the sex toy Tupperware parties kind of. And so, she works for a company kinda is the marketing person for a company like that and she’s hosting one of those parties, get snowed in, you know, with a big red bag of toys basically.

Jeff: Yeah. That’s like an interesting forced proximity story.

Erin: yeah. So it was a lot of fun to write.

Jeff: And I’m very interested in the storm chasers one too because I’m kind of a weather geek at heart. So you kind of got me on that one.

Erin: It was a lot of fun to write. Growing up in Oklahoma, you know, tornadoes are such a kind of a constant really. I mean, my parents have lost a house in tornado. I know lots of people that have lost houses in tornado. It’s so common. It’s just kind of a part of your life especially if you’re from Central Oklahoma like me and so, it’s… Yeah. It was a really fun one to write because you are just kind of entrenched in bad weather in Oklahoma in the spring all the time. So…

Jeff: Very cool. And how can readers keep up with you online to keep track of all these projects?

Erin: So I have a Facebook group called Erin McLellan’s Meet Cute. That’s a good one if you kind of… I do giveaways and book recs, and stuff. On Twitter my handle is @emclellanwrites and I’m on Twitter pretty often. On Instagram it’s @erinmclellanwrites and on Instagram, I would say it’s about 70% Alaska stuff like, every moves that I’ve ever seen and then 30% books. Unless there’s a book released and then it flips. But it’s a lot of Alaska if you follow me on Instagram. And then my newsletter which you can get too on my website or through any of the social media too. You would be able to kind of find the link to my newsletter and that’s probably the best way if you just want like, to know about new releases or sales, or things like that without having to kind of trudge through Twitter.

Jeff: Well, fantastic. Well, I thank you so much for coming to talk to us about “Clean Break” and wish you all the success on that one and the upcoming releases as well.

Erin: Thank you so much. It was so fun.

Mar 25, 2019

First off, LGBT romance authors nominated for 2019 RITA Awards are congratulated, including Layla Reyne, Amy Lane, Suzanne Brockmann, Melanie Hansen and Aurora Rey.

New patron Angela is welcomed.

Jeff discusses his second visit to Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen as well as seeing an immersive production of Bare: A Pop Opera.

Rather than review books this week, the guys talk about titles they are looking forward to this spring: Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert, LOL by Lucy Lennox and Molly Maddox, Under His Protection by LaQuette, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera and Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee, Jeff also calls out the start of a new series from Layla Reyne that he’s looking forward to but can’t discuss.

Brandilyn stops by to recommend the audiobook of Badlands by Morgan Brice and talks about some old favorites from Rhys Ford, Jordan L. Hawk and Ethan Stone.

Complete shownotes for episode 181 are at

Jeff's Musical Reviews

Here’s the text of Jeff’s reviews of the shows he saw in New York:

While I was in New York this past week, I caught two musicals that have the common theme of teenagers looking for a connection to each other, finding their voice and being able to live as their authentic selves.

I started off with a return trip to Dear Evan Hansen. We originally reviewed our trip to see the original Broadway cast back in episode 91 in July 2017. I went back this week because I wanted to see the current Evan, sixteen-year-old Andrew Barth Feldman.

Andrew won the 2018 National High School Musical Theater Award and was invited to audition for the role. Within a few weeks, he was cast. Before this, Evan’s were in their mid-20s because the role is difficult to sing and requires skills to manage the emotional arc.

Andrew blew me away. I watched some clips of other roles he’s posted on his YouTube channel and a pretty good idea he could sing the right range for the show. His vocal performance though was through the roof. In the early songs, he had amazing vocal breaks that conveyed Evan’s anxiety and timidness and as he felt more emboldened by the story he waved the vocals got more confident. By the time he hit “You Will Be Found” at the end of the first act he was a different person, only to come crashing down again for “Words Fail,” which is the show’s 11 o’clock show stopper.

The acting too was spot on, at times looking like he wanted to shatter into a million pieces to escape. In the moment where his mom talks to him about what he’d done, he’s pressed so much into the corner of the couch, you know he wants to be eaten by the furniture.

It’ll be interesting to see how he continues to grow into the role. He was in week seven when I saw him. The producers are giving him time and training to handle the rigors of a Broadway schedule–currently, he’s playing five out of eight shows a week. Beyond Evan, I look forward to what Andrew’s future roles will be because I suspect he’ll be rocking Broadway for many years to come.

The next night I went to see Bare: A Pop Opera for its first performance. I’ve been a fan of this show since the mid-2000s when I saw some clips of it’s off-Broadway run and eventually got its studio cast recording. Through March 31, the show is being presented as a site-aware production in the St. John’s Lutheran Chruch on Christopher Street as part of the church’s theater season that pays tribute to the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.

I’m going to give you the synopsis the production wrote as it sums the show up perfectly: Bare, a pop/rock opera, follows a group of students at a Catholic boarding school as they grapple with their sexuality, identity, and the future. As the group attempts to put up a production of Romeo and Juliet, tensions flare, self-doubt creeps in and God’s path blurs. The students’ journeys ring with the sounds of youthful repression and revolt. With an exhilarating sung-through pop score, bare is a provocative and honest look at the dangers of baring your soul, and the consequences of continuing to hide.

Peter and Jason are the core of the show. They’re best friends, roommates and lovers. Jason, however, can’t embrace that he’s gay–pressure from his parents to be perfect, pressure to follow Catholic doctrine, pressure to conform consume him and yet he can’t deny that he loves Peter. On the other side, Peter is tired of hiding and wants to be open about their relationship.

Jacob Entenman and Jared Hopper were stunning as Peter and Jason. From their first song that introduces their relationship to the more difficult, emotionally charged songs were their relationship fractures I was all in with them. Jacob in particular with “Ever After” and “The Role of A Lifetime” were stunning and the two coming together for the title song ripped my heart out.

Other standouts here included Noni Celine as Sister Chantelle. She knows what’s up with Peter and tells him that “God Don’t Make No Trash.” She also comes to Peter when he’s in a drunken stupor … he sees her as the Virgin Mary. Noni brought the house down with “911 Emergency” where she told Peter in no uncertain terms that he needed to come out to his mother.

Jessie Rae Jordan as Ivy nailed the role of bad girl who didn’t want to be a bad girl. Her “All Grown Up” as she reveals exactly what happened the night Jason and her spent together was amazing. Beth Ann Stripling as Jason’s sister Nadia was tremendous in her portrayal of a young woman grappling with many issues at home and school.

We backed this Kickstarter even though we weren’t going to get to see it. It turned out I was able to be in the city and I was ecstatic to get to see the show for the first time. It exceeded every expectation and if I could’ve been in the city longer, I’d have gone back to see it again. It runs through March 30 and you can get information at

Spring Book Recommendations

Here are the blurbs we read on the show for the books we’re excited about:

Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert (Releases April 1)

Everything’s bigger in Alaska, especially the HEAs. Annabeth Albert kicks off the brand-new Frozen Hearts series with Arctic Sun, an opposites-attract romance between a rugged outdoorsman and a smoking hot former male model.

He’s built a quiet life for himself in Alaska. But it doesn’t stand a chance against the unrelenting pull of a man who’s everything he shouldn’t want.

Ex-military mountain man Griffin Barrett likes his solitude. It keeps him from falling back into old habits. Bad habits. He’s fought too hard for his sobriety to lose control now. However, his gig as a wildlife guide presents a new kind of temptation in superhot supermodel River Vale. Nothing the Alaskan wilderness has to offer has ever called to Griffin so badly. And that can only lead to trouble…

River has his own methods for coping. Chasing adventure means always moving forward. Nobody’s ever made him want to stand still—until Griffin. The rugged bush pilot is the very best kind of distraction, but the emotions he stirs up in River feel anything but casual, and he’s in no position to stay put.

With temptation lurking in close quarters, keeping even a shred of distance is a challenge neither’s willing to meet. And the closer Griffin gets to River, the easier it is to ignore every last reason he should run.

 LOL by Lucy Lennox and Molly Maddox (Releases April 2)

Scotty: When a gorgeous cop comes racing out of a building on 5th Avenue, hops in your horse-drawn carriage, and screams, “Go!” You go.

You don’t stop and ask for paperwork. Or a badge. Or an explanation of who you’re chasing. You simply follow his shouted orders and try not to kill anyone in the process.

At least, that’s what I did when it happened to me.

But then it turns out that the “cop” is none other than Roman Burke, Hollywood’s hottest star, and our little joy ride gets me fired. Now I’m broke, my horse has been evicted from her barn, and I’ve got nowhere to turn.

Roman: When you accidentally hijack a Central Park carriage trying to escape the paparazzi, get pulled over by the police, and your crisis manager insists you lay low for a while, you nod your head and go.

And when the cute carriage driver shows up on your front step, horse in tow, blaming you for losing his job, you agree to fix it. Even if that means hauling both him and his horse along with you on your Vermont getaway.

At least that’s what I did when it happened to me.

Unfortunately, trouble seems to stick to the sexy carriage driver like hot syrup on a hotter waffle, making my Vermont retreat anything but quiet.

Now the carriage driver is in my bed, unexpected guests are crawling out of the woodwork, and the paparazzi is on my tail. With chaos and scandal swarming around me, suddenly, it isn’t just my career on the line.

It’s my heart.

Under His Protection by LaQuette (Releases April 16)

They can escape their enemies, but not the desire between them.

Prosecutor Camden Warren is on the fast track to professional nirvana. With his charm, his sharp legal mind, and his father as chief judge in the highest court in NY, he can’t fail. Nothing can derail his rise to the top… until an attempt on his life forces him to accept the help of a man he walked out on five years ago.

Wounded in the line of duty, Lieutenant Elijah Stephenson wants to ride his new desk job until retirement—not take a glorified babysitting gig with more risk than it’s worth… especially not protecting the entitled lawyer who disappeared after the best sex of their lives.

The threat against Camden’s life is real, but their passion for each other might prove the greatest danger they’ve yet to face.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (Releases May 14)

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius—his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

 American Fairytale by Adriana Herrera (Releases May 20)

Fairy-tale endings don’t just happen; they have to be fought for.

New York City social worker Camilo Santiago Briggs grew up surrounded by survivors who taught him to never rely on anything you didn’t earn yourself. He’s always dreamed of his own happily-ever-after, but he lives in the real world. Men who seem too good to be true…usually are. And Milo never ever mixes business with pleasure…until the mysterious man he had an unforgettable hookup with turns out to be the wealthy donor behind his agency’s new, next-level funding.

Thomas Hughes built a billion-dollar business from nothing: he knows what he wants and isn’t shy about going after it. When the enthralling stranger who blew his mind at a black-tie gala reappears, Tom’s more than ready to be his Prince Charming. Showering Milo with the very best of everything is how Tom shows his affection.

Trouble is, Milo’s not interested in any of it. The only thing Milo wants is Tom.

Fairy-tale endings take work as well as love. For Milo, that means learning to let someone take care of him, for a change. And for Tom, it’s figuring out that real love is the one thing you can’t buy.

Not Your Backup by C.B. Lee  (Releases June 4)

Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities that the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, she isnt always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when thats done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.

Mar 18, 2019

The show opens with Jeff talking about turning in the manuscript for new/revised edition of Hat Trick. The guys also talk about Captain Marvel.

Will reviews Wanted-Bad Boyfriend by TA Moore and IRL: In Real Life by Lucy Lennox and Molly Maddox. Jeff reviews Diversion by Eden Winters.

Jason T. Gaffney and Kevin Held join Jeff & Will to discuss their new movie project, the romantic comedy/paranormal themed Out of Body. They recorded the audiobook of the novelization, which was written by Suzanne Brockmann. We also find out about their history-based podcast, The Bright Side with Kevin and Jason.

Complete shownotes for episode 180 are at

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Diversion by Eden Winters, narrated by Darcy Stark. Reviewed by Jeff

Eden Winters Diversion series has been recommended to me for some time now and I finally took the leap. This first book was first published in 2012 but just came out in audio in October 2018 with narration from new to me voice artist Darcy Stark, who does a great job with both the suspense and romance.

This enemies-to-lovers, workplace romantic suspense story centers on agents for the Southeastern Narcotics Bureau, Richmond “Lucky” Lucklighter and Bo Schollenberger. Lucky’s nearing the end of his forced stint on the job–forced as it was his way out of jail. Bo is new and eager, but is also at the job because of incidents in his past. They end up working together to bring down a ring of drug diversion and insurance fraud that involves a doctor, a drug manufacturer and a drug destruction company.

I fell in love with gruff, no nonsense Lucky right away. He’s extremely good at his job, mostly because he used to be on the other side of the law. He exudes frustration and irritation at what he has to do and why and yet there’s a teddy bear in there too because he cares about getting the job done right.

The friction that’s stirred up when Lucky’s saddled with mentoring Bo is sublime. Lucky’s looking to ride a desk during his last few weeks at the bureau, but his boss has other ideas. Bo’s very green in terms of what he has to do here–but he is ex-military so he’s no pushover either. He can take what Lucky dishes out and it pisses the senior agent off… and eventually Bo gives back as good as he gets. The friction gets explosive as Lucky battles with himself about the feelings he develops for Bo.

The other thing the friction brings is a ton of humor. Lucky and Bo know how to push each other’s buttons–whether it’s blasting Billy Ray Cyrus, forcing healthy eating habits or being messy. It’s a wonderful odd couple pairing that morphs in a beautiful way as it becomes less about antagonizing and more about a sweet nudging of one another to just maybe move things to another level in their relationships.

Both men have complicated backstories that make you feel for even more for them. Lucky ended up at the bureau after going to prison for the part he played in a large scale drug operation. He’d been in love with the guy behind that operation and when it all came crashing down Lucky was sure he wanted no part of loving anyone again. The pain Eden created for Lucky is devastating, which makes him all the more loveable when he’s able to come out of his shell.

Bo did illegal things to help an ex and ended up taking illegal substances to the point that it’s very difficult for him to be around the drugs in a Pharmacy, which his job requires. There’s also abuse in his past and Lucky’s careful to keep Bo away from triggers as much as he can. The lengths he goes to keep Bo feeling safe are extremely sweet.

Eden takes great care in how backstory is presented. Once the men get past their posturing and disdain for each other, they peel back they reveal themselves in a very natural way–as friends, coworkers and eventually lovers do. The good and bad are offered in equal measure and it’s perfect relationship development.

The only thing I wanted in this story that I didn’t get was Bo’s point of view. I would’ve loved to know what was rattling around in his head. Not to take away from Lucky though as he was quite the good narrator and this one point doesn’t take away from my love of the book.

The Diversion series is up to book seven as of January 2019–with the third book released in audio in February 2019–so I’ve got some catching up to do. I’m looking very forward to that.

IRL: In Real Life by Lucy Lennox & Molly Maddox. Reviewed by Will

In Real Life combines the classic alpha billionaire character trope with the time-honored scenario of two characters who are combative in real life, but are secretly corresponding with one another and falling in love.

Which is the long-winded way of saying it’s a similar set up as the classic movies Shop Around the Corner, You’ve Got Mail, In the Good Old Summertime, and the musical She Loves Me. The way that the characters write to each other has changed and evolved, but the premise remains the same.

There’s also hints of enemies to lovers and opposites attract. This book is ripe with tropey goodness.

So what’s it all about you might ask?

Nice guy geek Conor is in New York to sell his mother’s bio-med technology to a ruthless CEO. The evening before his big presentation he decides to live a little and begins sexting with who he thinks is the sexy hotel bartender. It’s not.

The text exchange he ends up having with a stranger, who he calls Trace, is amazing, and through several flirtatious and super-hot online conversations, they begin a fling.

At the meeting the next morning, Wells Grange recognizes Conor thanks to the Dalek tie he is wearing. Conor is the hot and horny guy he sexted with the night before.

His first inclination is to use this information as leverage in their business negotiations. But Wells quickly begins to fall for Conor, both the sexy online version and the awkward real-life version.

As they work through the contracts for the sale, Wells continues his deception. They spend several days together and get to know one another, Conor unaware that Wells and Trace are the same person.

We follow our heroes, almost in real time, as they fall in love while working together, going out to dinner, and taking carriage rides in Central Park.

Once the business deal is finalized, Wells and Conor finally give in to their attraction and sleep with each other. Needless to say, it’s amazing and life altering for both of them.

But, as is the case in stories like these, Conor finally puts two and two together before Wells can come clean about his sexting alter ego.

Conor is humiliated and justifiably furious. He packs his bags and returns to North Carolina, with zero intention of ever speaking to Wells again.

And rightly so.

I’m going to be super upfront with you guys, there are certain aspects of the billionaire trope that I personally find problematic. I was on board with Wells and Conor for most of the story, but there were moments when I had a hard time dealing with certain aspects of Wells’ alphahole personality.

In my view, if the ending of this book was going to be believable, Wells was going to have to move mountains and pull off one of the biggest mea culpas in romance history.

It may not have been the biggest, but Lucy Lennox and Molly Maddox crafted a finale that was truly heartfelt and genuinely appropriate for our two heroes.

To make amends, Wells makes sure Conor’s sick mom is well taken care of and part of an experimental treatment program (her illness was the reason they needed the money from the business deal).

Later, when Conor is unable to attend a Comic convention to unveil an important new development in his gaming business, Wells steps in, and personally gives a rousing presentation on Conor’s behalf.

Wells proves he isn’t the billionaire alphahole he seems. Yea for true love and happily-ever-afters!

Interview Transcript

Jeff: Welcome back to the show, Jason and Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you.

Jason: Hello. Thank you.

Kevin: Nice to be back. How you been?

Jeff: Awesome.

Jeff: Well, we had you on before, we were talking all about “Analysis Paralysis.” But you guys have a lot more going on besides that movie. You’re actually in pre-production right now on a film called “Out of Body.”

Jason: Yeah.

Jeff: Tell us what that one’s about.

Jason: So “Out of Body” is basically a story where it’s a friends-to-lover rom-com. And basically, Malcolm, who’s Kevin’s character, has his body stolen from him and he kind of ends up as a spirit for a while. And he has to prove that he exists to me, Henry, and then when that finally happens, we do some magic, we fight some demons, we might get the body back, there’s definitely a happily ever after because it’s a rom-com.

Kevin: You and your end happily-ever-afters.

Jason: Yeah.

Jeff: It’s important.

Kevin: I know, I know. But I just want to the rom…just one time I want a rom-com to be…it’s mostly romantic and funny but everyone does die.

Jason: Or they die hilariously.

Kevin: It’s a rom-com drama.

Jason: Death by rubber chicken.

Jeff: And what was kind of the inspiration behind this movie this time?

Jason: I don’t even know how this idea came in my head. But I was sleeping one day and I woke up and I was like, “Oh, that’d be really cool. A movie where someone’s dead but they wanted to be together but then they didn’t get to be together. And then they have to fight to get their body back and come back to life.” And so I wrote a kind of a similar but different kind of script. And we did a table read, and my mom was a part of the table read. And she was like, “I love the story you have here. Can I take it and can I change a lot of it and make it like super romance with the comedy?”

And so this particular movie and book and audiobook is definitely heavier on the romance than the comedy, as opposed to “Analysis Paralysis.” But it’s, in my opinion, really, really good because the romance really makes…it’s gripping, it really gets you right in the heartstrings. And she basically saw what I was going for and was able to finesse it and really kind of mold it into what my kind of original vision was and then some. So I’m really psyched about it. It’s got a little bit of everything.

Will: Yeah, not too long ago, I talked about the novelization of “Out of Body” here on the show. Jason, your mom, Suzanne Brockmann, of course, wrote that novelization, it was rather amusing. Like, I think in the forward she kind of does like a behind the scenes thing where she kind of tells that story where she says, “Jason, this is great. But do you mind if I take it and make it better?”

Kevin: Yeah.

Jason: Yeah. And here’s the thing, I am all about that. Like the filmmaking, it’s such a collaborative process and storytelling can be a really collaborative process. And I want to make good movies. And so I was really happy with the script that I had written, but when someone who’s as great of a writer as my mom is comes and says, “I want to have fun with this and let me just see what I can do with it,” I’m like, “Hell yeah. Take it. Have at it.” Yeah.

Kevin: And the end result is really a script, a novel, and a script that really looks like if brilliant improviser and plot maker and gay comedy guy let his script be taken over by a bestselling romance novelist, what would happen, it would be this. You know. And so it’s really got great, great aspects of all of those elements.

Will: Yeah, I really enjoyed the book and the audiobook as well. And I think it’s a really unique opportunity for people who are interested in “Out of Body,” the movie, to check out the audiobook and sort of, it’s essentially like a preview of what they’re going to be getting when the film comes out to the public. Can you give us a little bit of an idea about what it was like to kind of get into the material early before you even like were thinking about shooting by recording the audiobook?

Kevin: I can tell you for my part, like, since I’m not one of the writers on this, which is, you know, traditional for me because I’m not usually the writer on a project that I’m acting in. But it’s completely unprecedented to have a novel that you get to perform about the thing before you even film the script. You know, so we get…like as an actor, it’s a freaking dream because I have…so you know how actors have to create subtext and everything, I just have to go to the book, you know, it’s like, “Don’t worry. I don’t have to make it.” It’s already been written down for me. So if I’m wondering, like, what’s happening for Malcolm now, what’s going on there? What’s the deep, deep part of it? It’s already written out for me now. So I would say, so the book is available. It’s on, it’s called “Out of Body.” It’s on And I would say, don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to say the book was better.

Jason: Yeah. And, you know, it was really cool to do the audiobook in general because it was our first audiobook for both of us as narrators. And when we were talking about doing it, we were talking with my mom about it and I was interested in the idea of recording it in a way where it was more like a radio show where we are our characters’ dialogue voices all the time, even if it’s in the other person’s point of view. Whoever’s point of view reads the descriptive stuff in the chapters. But if Malcolm’s speaking, even though I’m the narrator of that chapter, he still says his line, and he still says the lines of the other characters that he had been assigned and vice versa for me.

And that was really kind of fun to do because, you know, how often do you get to do kind of a radio show acting gig? And it was also really fun for me as a director to get to do this with Kevin in advance, because, like, he now really knows the story and I know he knows the story. So I know that when he comes to set, that’s going to be really easy. And I got into the head of the other characters as well reading them, and that’ll help me be able to hold my other actors hands and kind of with them through their parts, and still allow them to bring what they want to bring to the role and have it blossom into how great it can be.

Kevin: Yeah, and that’s like all separate and apart from the experience of actually recording the audiobook, which you might think was done him some and then me some on consecutive days or anything, but it was actually live together. So we actually recorded in a space that had two recording booths in it. We could both hear each other so that when I am narrating a section and it’s his line, I can hear him do it. And then I jump back in. So it was live editing, like, to take out any breaths or anything, or mess-ups or anything, so, but we got to…you know, it was amazing because I had him in my head the whole time doing it, too. So that was wonderful. It’s a great experience.

Jeff: That’s amazing, especially how it connected to your even now pre-production process that you’re involved in because you’re getting ready to shoot in about a month from when we’re recording. In pre-production, give everybody kind of an idea of what that means. What’s going on as you get ready for your 12 days of shooting?

Jason: So basically, what I just did was go through each of the scenes and break them up on a piece of paper so that now I have the page count number, like how many pages each scene is.

Kevin: These are them.

Jason: Oh, yeah. Little strip paper…

Kevin: Each one of these is a scene.

Jason: And basically, the page count, when it starts, who is in the scene, all that stuff. Because I need to…you know I don’t have every actor every day. I’m going to have Kevin every day because he’s one of the leads. But there’s other parts in it where they’re only going to film for one day…anywhere from one to three days. And so you have to plan their scenes on the same day. And this time, we’re going to actually be filming in two different locations because our neighbors next door sold their house to flippers and they’re doing construction and it’s been kind of never-ending. So we can’t film when there’s kind of heavy construction going on in this house. So we’re going to do a lot of stuff at my father in law’s house and then will come get the rest of it after they’re done here.

And so I’ve been doing that with my dad and breaking it into those days while simultaneously working with my cinematographer Nacia to map out which shots are needed for each scene and what angles are we doing. So I put little maps on the other side of the table here. Basically, me drawing out the room layout and doing little circles with an M for Malcolm and an H or Henry, and the arrows pointing they go here and then they go here…

Kevin: Oh my god. And this isn’t even talking about how to deal with SAG paperwork or any of the art direction that he’s doing, or any of the clearances that he’s getting for this or that kind of thing.

Jason: We’ve got a, we’re going to have a…

Kevin: He’s a bit of a doer.

Jason: We got Andrew Christian giving us underwear…

Kevin: Oh, yeah, we have Andrew Christian underwear over here.

Jason: And I’m working with some other companies too. So Outfit is a gay like sports good wear, they’ve given me a patent to us for the movie.

Kevin: He’s been stenciling t-shirts and…

Jason: Hand design t-shirts specific to the characters. I’m going to be making him a specific shirt three times because he wears the same outfit the whole movie and so if anything spills on it, it’s got to be good and not spilled upon because he magically can’t get stains. And so it’s intense, there’s a lot going on. Like Pinterest is my best friend. I’ve been learning all about how to make DIY Halloween decorations. Because again, when you’re low budget, you can’t spend, you know, $3,000 on set design. You can spend like $200, and so you have to get a little crafty. You have to start thinking like, “Okay, I’ve got five pages of construction paper and a pair of scissors and some tape, how going to make this look like I spent a lot of money on it?”

Kevin: He’s like MacGyver. So that’s his experience with pre-production, mine’s a little bit different because I’m not all the hyphenates. So I’m busy making no changes at all to my daily routine.

Jeff: You do have a script to learn.

Kevin: Sure, when I get it.

Jason: It’s in the mail.

Kevin: We’re at your house.

Jeff: Oh my goodness.

Jason: The creating part, like creating the artwork, it actually makes me feel calm. The paperwork stresses me out. And so Matt, thankfully, jumps on that grenade and deals with SAG-AFTRA and making sure that all the paperwork’s there and all the money is in the right place and all that stuff. So thank you, Matt.

Jeff: Now, we should say Matt is your husband, so he’s in the production family.

Jason: Yes.

Kevin: Yeah.

Will: So now that our listeners know how completely awesome and funny this project is going to be, can you give us a little bit of info about the Indiegogo campaign?

Jason: We have an Indiegogo campaign, basically we crowd-funded “Out of Body” on Kickstarter first, a successful crowdfunding campaign last year. and Indiegogo came to us and said, “We’d like to do an in-demand campaign for you.” So we have an open-ended campaign on Indiegogo right now, where you can help sponsor the film help and get some fabulous rewards, such as DVDs of “Out of Body” when it finally is all finished, you can get DVDs of “Analysis Paralysis,” our last feature film.

Kevin: I’m going to get these down from the thingy here.

Jason: So you can show people.

Kevin: You can actually, because now we’re in the second feature film that stars the two of us. Like we got other projects that I have to do with like if you’re your fans of “Analysis Paralysis,” or perhaps the audiobook of “Out of Body,” you can get these copies, you can get copies of all that stuff. And so as we are on the way to becoming things of all media.

Jason: Yeah, exactly. And yeah, so if you go to and you go,, it’s a very long title.

Kevin: Really, why don’t you go to and search “Out of Body.” Yes.

Jeff: Or just come to our show notes, it’ll be much easier.

Will: Yes, do that.

Kevin: Exactly. Go to “Big Gay Podcast” website and it’s going to be in the show notes.

Jason: Another place you can find out information about “Out of Body” in the future and any sort of campaigns we’re having, etc., is if you go to and join our newsletter, you’ll be able to find out things about “Analysis Paralysis” or “Out of Body,” or our podcast, “The Bright Side with Kevin and Jason,” all sorts of fun stuff. And yeah, so and basically indie film, it’s low budget. So every dollar really does make a difference. Like if we get enough money to buy a better meal for the cast and crew, everybody’s spirits raised, it gets raised up a little higher, you know, or we can afford an extra day of filming, or we can afford…it really does matter. So thank you to everyone who has supported us so far. And thank you to everyone who comes and supports us after this.

Kevin: Yes, indeed.

Jeff: Now, Kevin had this wonderful term about you guys, you know, essentially taking over media. You mentioned the podcast, “The Bright Side with Kevin and Jason.” It’s a comedy podcast about history. How did this idea spark? Because this just adds to you, I imagine, having to research these historical things.

Kevin: Now, Jason does all the research for this, you know, and that’s huge. Like, because basically, he doesn’t have enough to do. But the impetus for the podcast, which is “The Bright Side with Kevin and Jason” is, you know, there’s so much bad news all the time. And my mom taught me how to look on the bright side of stuff, you know. If I got one thing from my mom, it was to…I would always complain about this or that and she would constantly remind me of there’s something good here, you know, and you have to find that. And so that’s really the gem of this, it’s really the heart of that show is that, especially when you look around at the news right now, there’s so much bad stuff that is going on. But you have to also recognize that bad stuff creates the opposite reaction.

And so who is making the good out of that? You know, who is looking at that and reacting to it in a way of love, or in a way of furthering acceptance, or you know, who’s looking at the transgender ban, for example, that was finally instituted by the Supreme Court? And who is saying, you know, I want to reach out and tell my trans brothers and sisters that you are people and you are valuable and your service is useful and we love you? You know, so who’s doing that? You know, and so that’s what the podcast really kind of focuses on. We do wallow in some tragedy on the podcast because every week we take a historical episode of some varying degree of tragic-ness and talk about it. But then we also, every episode, find out what good that led to.

Jason: And it kind of came about a long time ago after “Analysis Paralysis,” like Kevin mentioned in the last episode, we talked a little bit about how we met on a student film and basically got along really well, really quickly, and then we started hanging out together with our husbands and going on double dates, and so it kind of formed this bond. And after “Analysis Paralysis,” which was so much fun, it was 10 days of basically seeing Kevin and laughing and having a good time, I was like, “I don’t want to wait a year-and-a-half for the next project. I want to do something now with you.”

Kevin: The experience of just chatting about a topic on a set or something was so much fun and we thought, “We should bottle this.” And then we thought, “You can.” There’s a method for this that’s called a podcast, and that’s what started. Yeah, you know, so now I get to come over here every damn week.

Jason: Yeah, come to the Valley. You’re welcome.

Kevin: Yeah, when I moved to Westwood I was hoping that my second bedroom would be a good place to record. But it’s not, it’s not good. Too much noise there. The valley’s a lot of things, but it is quiet.

Jason: It is quiet. Unless they’re doing construction next door.

Kevin: Right.

Jeff: You could just turn that second bedroom into a soundproof area.

Kevin: No, actually, currently, we didn’t have any…we moved from a house that had a lot of storage into a house that had another bedroom, but no storage. So that second bedroom has just become basically the id of our house. You know, everything’s like ahhhhh, you know?

Jason: It’s like in “Harry Potter,” what’s that closet?

Kevin: The room of requirements?

Jason: Yes.

Kevin: It’s the room of please don’t go in there actually.

Will: Now, guys, I’m curious. How do you choose which historical events to feature and how much research goes into each episode?

Kevin: That’s 100% question for Jason because though I feel that the podcast is a 50/50 pursuit, because Jason does all of the research for the topics that we do, and I don’t ever know what we’re going to talk about until I get here, but then I do all the web mastering and editing and I put up the shownotes and I do all of that stuff. So I feel like we end up spending around the same amount of time on things.

Jason: Yeah. So basically, generally about a day of work I kind of surf the web, I find a topic that…like I kind of search, you know, the rabbit hole as to like what kind of weird historical thing is this? And I’ll like Google really weird stuff so my search history…

Kevin: Yeah, they’re coming for you.

Jason: …completely messed at this point. But like, you know, I’ll look up like “wild strikes historical funny” to see what I get from it. But honestly, there’s been a ton of them I’ve gotten through recommendations of friends and family and listeners of the podcast, and we really encourage listeners to throw ideas at us because there’s some really obscure events in history that I don’t know about that I would love to know about and I could easily find it if I knew to search for it. And so if anyone out there listening has weird events, definitely tweet me or email me.

Kevin: You can find him @jasontgaffney on Twitter, and tell him and I don’t want to know about it.

Jeff: That’s right. Kevin has to stay in the dark.

Kevin: Right.

Jason: So what I look for also, I try to look for topics where there’s a lot of tragedy, but you can still make fun of it. Like, if it’s a natural disaster, I try to find one where people made bad decisions with the natural disaster, not that it’s just, like, everyone got screwed and they tried to do the right thing, but they still got screwed because you can’t really make fun of those people. That’s just sad.

Kevin: And mean. And it’s really not. I mean, I know we’re talking about a lot of tragedy, and that’s kind of what we focus on. But it’s not a cruel show. It’s not a Schadenfreude, really, because the ultimate goal is to find out what the hopeful aspect of it, who turned that situation into something good, you know.

Jason: And you’d be surprised, like, we generally can find it. I don’t think we found one yet where there’s really nothing, no bright side to it.

Kevin: No. Because the arc of history is long and you never know what the end result of a pebble, you know, when a pebble goes into a puddle, you don’t know how farther in they’re going to go, you know, and so, like, we talked about that event but that could lead to something incredible later, you know.

Jeff: For you, Kevin, since you come in cold to these, what’s been of the episode so far that you’re like, “What? What did I just hear?”

Kevin: Oh, my God. Well, the “Empire” panic, for example, has been insane. Like, I have a feeling when I post the episodes, I have a feeling like I hope…My mom and I listened to the Christmas episode over Christmas. And at the end of it, she said, “That was funny and I learned some stuff.” So that’s what…it was like I was, “Oh, good. There we go.” That’s what I would like people to have from it. Is like, “Oh, I enjoyed that, you know, conversation. That was fun and stuff.” But also, “God, who knew?” Yeah, that’s amazing. Because he’s pretty good at this, every episode there’s gonna be some point where I’m like, “Are you kidding? Human beings did this,” you know? It’s always, “Yes, they did,” good Lord.

Jason: It’s also it’s gotten way more fun to do the research than it initially was because I was really nervous the first couple episodes to like, “Oh, my God, is this going to be funny? How can I make this funny?” And I was trying a little like…we actually have a couple of episodes that just never aired because I was trying too hard as opposed to just seeing that, yeah, that was absurd. I don’t need to say anything except what they said. And now that I’ve kind of mastered that to a degree. I mean, I’ll keep getting better as time goes on. But now I can really see like as I’m reading stuff, I’ll be like, “Oh, I know that Kevin’s gonna hear that and go, ‘Stop it.'” And then he’s gonna call it out, call the absurdity of it. I don’t need to do anything except, say, like, you know, “And then she picked up the knife and stabbed her own foot.” And it’s like, “Why?”

Kevin: Spoiler alert.

Jeff: Did you have a knack for history before this, Jason? Or did this just kind of happen?

Jason: So I’ve always loved history. I always love the idea of history. When I was actually a little kid, I used to play with blocks a lot. And it’s probably why I like being a producer and a storyteller. I used to have like this giant castle and a giant village and an army of bad guys and I acted out this soap opera for years with the royal family and all that. And I was fascinated with the Romanovs and stuff so I kind of like did a little spoof on them. And so I kind of created like my own worlds, and history and stuff. And so when I can find sites that tell historical stories like a story, which is what history should be told as because it essentially is our story, it’s really fun.

It’s really exciting to read it and be like, “No, oh, my goodness, that person’s totally the villain.” And then you read a couple more paragraphs, and you’re like, “Oh, no, they’re misguided. They have a heart of gold. They didn’t know.” And then five pages later, you’re like, “No, they’re just a dick.” And it’s exciting, it’s riveting, it gets you on the of the edge of your seat constantly with how people just constantly mess up. And then occasionally, you have a hero who’s just like, actually a good person, you’re like, “What’s the catch?” So, yeah, you know, history is really fun, especially when it’s told with a fun storytelling lens because…

Kevin: And I think that’s like the thrust of the podcast is also it’s about the topic, sure, but it’s also just about how Jason and I interact with each other. And we just have such a fun friendship. And I don’t mean that it’s fun from the inside. I hope it is, but it’s fun from the inside of it. So I have such a good time with him that whatever we’re talking about is going to be fun for me.

Jeff: That’s awesome. So besides “Out of Body” and more podcast episodes, what else is coming up for you both?

Kevin: I may never work again. Who knows?

Jason: We’ve actually started writing the sequel to “Analysis Paralysis” with the hope of filming it at the end of the year, with the additional hope of trying to film it in Palm Springs.

Kevin: First time hearing of that. Really?

Jeff: Breaking news.

Kevin: I love Palm Springs.

Jason: We’re gonna do what we can to make it work. And it would require assistance from the Palm Springs community, sure, help house us and give us locations and stuff.

Kevin: It’s gonna be all on the gondola. Only there.

Jason: What gondola?

Kevin: The gondola up to the mountain thing.

Jason: Oh, yeah, that gondola.

Kevin: The whole thing is set on the gondola.

Jason: I was thinking like the gondola with a little stick…

Kevin: Yeah, the canals in Palm Springs.

Jason: But another thing that I’m actually working on is my dad and I wrote a couple of novellas that you can get on Amazon.

Kevin: What are they called?

Jeff: “California Comedy Series.”

Jason: The “California Comedy Series.” Yes. And I wrote a version of “Fixing Frank” with the hopes to get that kind of ball rolling. And it’s definitely a film that requires a bigger budget than what we have right now. But I’m starting to get those wheels in motion for you know, movie four, five, six sometime in the near future. And so yeah, that’s kind of what I’m working on.

Kevin: We keep cranking them out. If people will keep putting them on screens and things, we’ll keep making them.

Jason: The goal is to make people laugh. I feel like that’s why I was put on Earth and I feel like that’s why you were put on Earth.

Kevin: Well, yeah. I know am laughing whenever I see you so that’s probably true.

Jeff: Do we get new “California Comedy” anytime soon?

Jason: I have been talking about that with my dad, we actually have a couple that are in the works, it’s just trying to figure out when we have a good time to sit down and edit it. I think after “Out of Body,” I’ll be able to take a look back at one of them that we wrote a while ago and kind of tweak it because there were a couple of things that just never felt right. And so it’s just figuring out how to fix those kinds of plot holes. And then hopefully that’ll be on the market before the end of 2019.

Jeff: Excellent. And Kevin, what about you, anything you want to throw out for people to keep an eye out for?

Kevin: Super excited about the podcast, actually. You know, going into production on “Out of Body” is really, really exciting. I don’t have a lot of acting projects coming up after that, that I can think of right now. But that’s kind of the nature of acting projects.

Jeff: Sure.

Kevin: You know, and so the podcast is where you can find us weekly up until the end…and actually, we make announcements there about projects that do come up for us, you know, in the interim. So, you know, to be a loyal listener to the show would be the best way to find out about what’s new with us. You know.

Jason: Oh, and I almost forgot. We’re going to try in some way whether it’s self-published or with some other company helping us, the goal is to turn the “California Comedy Series” into audiobooks as well, similar to “Out of Body.”

Jeff: Oh, fantastic. So both of you voicing?

Jason: Yeah, for two of them. One of them, the plan is to have my good friend David Singletary come in as the role of Mike since that role is African American. And my friend David Singletary is African American and I’m all about…

Kevin: Kevin Held is very much not.

Jason: I’m all about own voices reading parts and stuff like that. And he’s great. You’re going to love him.

Kevin: He is great. I’m a little jealous, but I’m okay.

Jeff: Well, guys, thank you so much for telling us about “Out of Body” and the podcast. We wish you much success with those.

Jason: Well, thank you.

Kevin: Well, much success with your own podcast, gentlemen.

Jason: Thank you, yes.


Mar 11, 2019

Congratulations go out to authors who have been featured on the podcast and were nominated this past week in the 31st Annual Lambda Literary Awards, including Kris Jacen, Christina Lee & Riley Hart and Marshall Thornton.

Jeff shares the new Kickstarter for Raven Wild, the third LGBTQ+ children's book from the team behind Promised Land.

Jeff & Will review Adriana Herrera's American Dreamers. Jeff then reviews The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg and A Tangled Truthby Max Walker.

Jeff interviews Alice Winters about her In Darkness series, including the just released third book titled Deception in Darkness. They also discuss Within The Mind, which kicked off a new series earlier this year. Alice also talks about what got her into m/m romantic suspense and what else she's got planned for this year.

Complete shownotes for episode 179 are at

Here's the text of this week's book reviews:

American Dreamer by Adriana Herrera, narrated by Sean Crisden reviewed by Will & Jeff
This book could’ve easily been titled ‘The Food Truck Chef and the Librarian’, if that doesn’t automatically make you want to one-click this book, then you might as well keep on moving – because nothing I’m about to say is going to convince you to try this phenomenal romance.

Nesto is the food truck owner -- who has relocated his business from NYC to upstate NY. He pours every ounce of his passion into the Afro-Caribbean food he serves, until that is, certain other passions are stirred by Jude, the librarian of the story.

Their attraction is instant, and their chemistry is obvious to everyone around them.  But our heroes take things relatively slow, despite well-meaning nudging from friends and family.

You see, not only are they passionate about one another, Nesto is determined to make his business a success, and Jude is focused on getting funding for a county-wide bookmobile project.

They have lives beyond the romantic story arc of the book.

Hoity-toity literary snobs would call Nesto and Jude “dimensional characters” because they have depth. All I know is that I care about them because they are real to me, in my heart and in my mind. It’s something that goes beyond words on a page.

Several times throughout the story, life throws various obstacles in their path, but every time they rise to the occasion.

It would take a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire story for me to explain how much I loved Nesto and Jude – and how they, through their actions, overcome their obstacles (both romantic and business related).

It’s one thing for an author to tell us a character is romantic or heroic -- it’s another thing entirely when we’re shown that romance, that heroism, in the action that occurs in the story.

Nesto and Jude are good men. We know this because we experience it time and again in the book and we root for them because of it.

A member of Jude’s estranged family is gravely ill and reaches out to him. Jude gives this person a second chance (though they soooo don’t deserve it) and he is inevitably let down by them.

Jude is emotionally devastated by this and Nesto is not there for him, even though he promised he would be.

Up until this point I felt Nesto was the living embodiment of the perfect boyfriend, but when he badly screws things up – not maliciously or on purpose – he screws up because he’s human, which made me love him even more (as if that were even possible).

But Nesto isn’t going to give up without a fight, and comes up with a swoon-worthy grand gesture to win back Jude.

It’s a really fucking good one, by the way, and our heroes achieve their final (and very well deserved) happily ever after.

I want to recommend episode 341 of Smart Podcast Trashy Books. Sarah Wendell has a terrific interview with author Adriana Herrera and they talk about all sorts of things including the food featured in the book, writing diverse characters, and how her job as a social worker influences the way she looks at romance in the books she reads and writes. It’s really fascinating stuff and I suggest everyone check it out.

I also want to quickly recommend the audiobook of American Dreameras read by Sean Crisden. He’s one of my absolute favorite narrators and he does an exceptional job with this book, especially the various dialects of the ethnically diverse cast of characters.

If you want to read a kick-ass debut novel, get this book.
If you crave genuine diversity in romance, get this book.
If you want likeable, relatable heroes to fall in love with, get this book.

A couple of additional points from Jeff:

Adriana’s cast of supporting characters was incredible. Nesto’s crew of tight friends that helped him realize his food truck dream also kicked him in the butt when he didn’t move forward with Jude. And Jude’s bff also nudged him in the right direction. Speaking of friends, American Fairytale, coming in May, focuses on his Nesto’s friend Milo and I’m looking forward to that.

Adriana taps into current events as Nesto faces prejudice from one of Ithaca’s prominent citizens. These are uncomfortable scenes that highlight some of the terrible ways persons of color are harassed. Nesto’s high road approach was in line with his character for sure, but I was with Jude and really wanted to go off on the evil woman.

The Music of What Happens by Bill Konigsberg with narration by Joel Froomkin and Anthony Rey Perez reviewed by Jeff

I’ve been a fan of Bill Konigsberg since he debuted with Out of the Pocket back in 2008. He’s a major inspiration for me for the types of young adult characters he creates as well as his talent as a storyteller. These two elements blend together perfectly in The Music of What Happens.

Max and Jordan are seventeen and opposites in every way--and boy do these opposites attract. Max is chill, pretty much a jock dude. He plays baseball, video games and cracks crude jokes with his buddies. He’s out to his mom and his friends, but not beyond that. Jordan is far from chill. He’s stressed that his mom hasn’t been the same since his dad died, he loves to write poetry and he’s got two great girl friends, who he refers to as his “wives.”

Jordan and his mom resurrect the food truck his dad owned because they have to do something to pay the mortgage on the house or they will be homeless. Max comes into Jordan’s life as he goes from food truck customer to chef. Max loves to cook and since he needs a job, he’s willing to help out. Jordan’s mom is all too happy to hand the entire operation over to the boys. You can imagine that this is probably not the best choice.

As the two pull together to get the truck working--including some loose interpretation on what organic and locally sourced ingredients means--they learn more about each other. For example, Max discovers Jordan’s poetry while Max reveals himself to be an artist.

As their relationship grows and the food truck begins to succeed, Max and Jordan help each other find their best selves. Jordan teaches Max about hooligan do goodery, where you do a random act of disruptive kindness. Max shows Jordan the advantages of working out and how it can help you de-stress. Through all of this they fall in love, even though neither can quite believe they’re falling for their opposite.

Both boys have tough issues to deal with though. Max’s father taught him that he must always warrior up, never cry, never show weakness, just smile and agree to get through the hard times. Super Max, as he refers to himself, can’t get him through everything though. A random hookup he had with a college guy haunts him to a breaking point.

Jordan’s home life has major cracks too as his mom continues to spiral and he doesn’t know what to do. Jordan doesn’t realize how much is at stake until it’s too late.

Bill pulls no punches in this book as he touches on so many things--loss of a parent, a parent's inability to care for a child while their own world is falling apart, rape, the tolls of toxic masculinity and racism to name a few. It’s not all heavy though as Bill also vividly tells the story about the joy of falling in love with the right person and the strength that can be found in family and in good friends. Most of all it’s about finding your true self, embracing it and not hiding it.

Kudos to the narrators here. Joel Froomkin (aka Joel Leslie) and Anthony Rey Perez do a terrific job. I’ve long loved Joel’s work and here he’s in excellent form. He taps into Jordan joys, sorrow and fears while also giving great characterizations to his b.f.fs. Anthony’s voicing of Max revealed so much of the character’s self-doubt even while he portrayed Super Max to the world. Like Joel, Anthony brought Max’s friends to full life as well. Each narrator gets major props for handling each boy’s emotional scenes--Jordan with the collapse of his family and Max coming to terms with the fact he’d been raped--with a powerful perfection.

A Tangled Truth (Stonewall Investigations #3) by Max Walker, narrated by Greg Broudeaux reviewed by Jeff

I’ve loved each of the Stonewall Investigations books but this one with a second chance, friends to lovers romance is my favorite so far. It’s ripped from the headlines story also hooked me. Liam Wolfe is a successful Hollywood director who finds himself accused of embezzlement, harassment and other things he would never do. He has a pretty good idea who’s behind the character assassination but he needs help to prove it.

Stonewall detective Mark Masters has his world rocked when Liam walks into this office looking for help. Liam and Mark haven’t seen each other since they were teens growing up in New York City. They’d been inseparable but when Liam moved they’d lost touch. Their friendship picks up as if they’d never been apart and Mark eagerly takes on the Liam’s case to find out who’s behind trying to destroy his career.

The case leads Mark all over NYC and out to LA to sort it out. Signs point to a prominent, homophobic producer who has been public that he doesn’t like working with Liam. But as always in a Max Walker book, the truth is shocking. Once again I hadn’t anticipated the twisted way the case would work out. Max crafted a tight, unrelenting mystery.

The romance between Liam and Mark was beyond sweet. Their reacquaintance was wonderful as they recounted their past exploits and caught up on the intervening years. Max captured what it’s like for best friends who might be separated for years falling right back in with each other as if no time had passed. The feelings they had as teenagers came back too, and this time they acted on them, even while working through some of the baggage they carried from their teens.

Mark and Liam are so freaking cute! The reminiscences they shared were sweet and how those carried forward to their present made me swoon. The visit they make to a childhood diner in particular made me so happy. Liam’s also got some family issues that come up and how he shared those with Mark were bittersweet but served to deepen their relationship.

Max doesn’t take it easy on the emotions here. There are some crushing events in this book that weave flawlessly into the overall story. I gasped and cried over some of these and they reflect how good of a storyteller Max is.

The Unicorn killer took a high toll in this installment as well, more than we’ve seen in the previous books. That storyline is front and center in the recently released book four, A Lover’s Game. As soon as that audio is released I’ll be all over it to see what happens.

Mar 4, 2019

Jeff & Will recap their weekend at the 2019 Coastal Magic Convention.

Gail Z. Martin, who writes m/m romance under the name Morgan Brice, talks with Jeff about the interlocking universes she's created between her pen names that span multiple genres including fantasy, steampunk and urban fantasy. They also talk about her recent releases, including The Rising as well as Badlands in audiobook.

The episode concludes with a story from the Coastal Magic Convention Improv Flash Fiction panel. Authors Eric R. Asher, Kathy Lyons, Damon Suede, Lucienne Driver, Amy Lane and Kiernan Kelly create a story using these prompts: a male main character, the genre is a shifter romance set in a futuristic time, and there’s a clothes iron as a random object.

Complete shownotes for episode 178 are at


Feb 25, 2019

Will opens this week with a remembrance of iconic author Victor J. Banis who passed away on February 22.

Jeff talks about the February 27 cover reveal for Netminder (Codename: Winger #4). The February 23 ShiMMer event is discussed. Jeff shows off the new Rhys Ford Casting Skill on Alexa. The guys take a moment to rave about Netflix's The Umbrella Academy.

Jeff reviews A Lethal Love (Stonewall: Investigations #2)by Max Walker. Will reviews Fresh Catch by Kate Canterbary.

Jay from Joyfully Jay recommends books by Lily Morton, Piper Scott & Virginia Kelly, TA Moore and JD Chambers. Then Jeff, Will and Jay preview the upcoming Coastal Magic Convention. Jay offers tips for newbies to the con plus we talk about what each of us is looking forward to and what panels we'll be moderating. Big Gay Fiction Podcast also plans to stream the Gay Fiction Roundup panel on Friday, March 1 at 11:30am ET on Facebook Live.

Complete shownotes for episode 177 are at

Here's the text of this week's book reviews:

A Lethal Love (Stonewall Investigations #2) by Max Walker, narrated by Greg Broudeaux reviewed by Jeff

In this installment of the romantic suspense series, Alejandro Santos is a bored detective with Stonewall least until Griffin Banks stumbles in the front door needing help. Griffin woke up from a drunken stupor to find his roommate murdered. The cops suspect him and even Griffin can’t be totally sure he didn’t do it. Alejandro takes the case and begins to put together the puzzle of who would want this woman dead. As usual, Max Walker weaves an intriguing web as it’s revealed this woman is not at all who she seems to be. Griffin believed his friend was a down on her luck actress but the truth is jaw-dropping.

Along the way, of course, Alejandro and Griffin become attracted to each other and Alejandro starts to peel back the layers of hurt that Griffin carries with him. The son of a media mogul, Griffin lost his mom at a young age and became estranged from his father. Dealing with that, bipolar disorder and his drinking problem, Griffin was happy to spend his days doing nothing except muting his feelings. With Alejandro, he finds a reason to get his life back together--all the while hoping Alejandro gets the proof he needs to clear Griffin’s name.

As all of this plays out, the Unicorn killer continues to make their presence known in New York’s LGBTQ community causing unease for the detectives at the agency as it becomes clearer the killer is going after men who are partnered.

Max continues to craft tight mysteries that leave me wanting to listen far past the time I should stop. He made me late for work twice last week. His characters are compelling, likable and it’s impossible to not root for Griffin to get his HEA--not just with Alejandro but to also patch things up with his dad too. His broad range of characters is also fantastic. Reflective of the New York City setting, he populates these stories with characters that have a range of ethnic and social backgrounds.

The mystery here got me super tense. More than once I questioned if it was Griffin who’d done it. As a romance that doesn’t make sense since the characters need to get their HEA, but Max did his job of sewing the seeds just enough to where it made me wonder how it would turn out. I also couldn’t piece it together ahead of the big reveal, which made me happy.

Max’s writing on Griffin was extraordinary. There were a couple of scenes where you really get to see how Griffin gets wrapped up in his own head and considers taking a drink or doing something that would pull him back down. It was great to see these intense sides of Griffin to get more perspective on him--and to make you root for him even more.

A quick shout out to Greg, once again, doing a great job giving voice to Max’s world.

I’ve already gotten into book three, A Tangled Truth, which just released on audio on February 19. I’m sure I’ll be talking about that one in a couple weeks. For now, I highly recommend A Lethal Loveby Max Walker.

Fresh Catch by Kate Canterbury, reviewed by Will

Fresh Catch is essentially a secret prince story, though instead of a hunky royal or bad-boy celebrity on the down-low - in this story we have a tech gazillionaire. Cole is a Silicon Valley wunderkind who’s been forced to take a leave of absence/vacation by his new board of directors.

He’s sailing up the eastern seaboard on his fancy sailboat when the navigation system goes on the fritz. He floats into the cove of gruff Maine lobsterman Owen. Things don’t exactly get off on the right foot for these two but, despite the fact that they’re from two different worlds, they begin to warm up to one another (it doesn’t hurt that they each find the other wildly attractive).

While Cole is waiting for his boat to be repaired, he’ll stay in the spare room of Owen’s seaside cottage and, since Owen is short a deckhand, they’ll work together each day pulling in lobster traps.

As they spend more time getting to know one another, the sexual tension builds until they each take matters into their own hands (so to speak) leading to a scorching sex scene where, in separate rooms with the cottage wall between them, they verbally express their need for each other.

As the days and weeks pass, they continue their sexy summer fling, Owen becoming adorably possessive of his new lover, and Cole reveling in the simple life of a quaint coastal town.

This may have been my favorite part of the book, where the main characters - two genuinely nice guys - go on dates and get to know one another. It sounds deadly dull as I’m explaining it here, but I think it’s a crucial step that a lot of authors miss. As the characters take the time to fall in love, we fall for them and become much more emotionally invested in their happy ending.

They’re both in love, and Owen is about to ask Cole to stay with him permanently when he sees a magazine expose in the checkout lane of the supermarket. Cole’s not just a tech guy from California. He’s a mogul who practically invented the internet.

The confrontation between our lovebirds doesn’t go well. The ensuing black moment is pretty textbook –
“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”
“I tried, but you weren’t interested in the truth.”
That kind of thing.

Stuff we’ve seen a million times before, but because the author Kate Canterbary has done her job and laid the emotional groundwork, we implicitly understand how devastating and painful this moment is for our heroes… and, frankly, a punch in the gut for readers (like myself).

Thankfully, Cole quickly figures out how he can still manage his business empire and live with the man he’s come to love. Crisis successfully averted. There’s an adorably sweet epilog (that I particularly enjoyed) showing how Owen and Cole have made things work out, it may have involved baking and a precocious puppy.

Feb 11, 2019

In this Valentine's Week bonus episode, Jeff & Will review books from the Bad Valentine series: Hidden Hearts by Clare London, Love Magic by Jesi Lea Ryan and Quill Me Now by Jordan Castillo Price. (Note: Dev Bentham's Temporary Dad is reviewed in episode 175.)

Shownotes for this bonus episode are part of episode 175 at

Feb 11, 2019

Will opens the show with a remembrance of author and LGBTQ advocate Patricia Nell Warren, who passed away on February 9.

Jeff recommends two industry books: Storyteller: How to Be an Audio Book Narrator by Lorelei King and Ali Muirden and Novel Idea to Podcast: How to Sell More Books Through Podcasting by Paul Sating. Will discusses Paperback Crush: The Totally Radical History of '80s and '90s Teen Fiction by Gabrielle Moss. They also talk about Hallmark's latest gay couple inclusion in a film, the Entertainment Weekly rom-com issue and Most Stuff Oreos.

Books reviews this week include Dev Bentham's Temporary Dad(part of the Bad Valentine series), Layla Reyne's Noble Hops and Jay Northcote's Starting from Scratch. In addition, there's a bonus episode this week where they review the three other Bad Valentine books.

Jeff interviews Jay Northcote about his upcoming book Better Place, which is book three in the Rainbow Place series. Jay also talks about his first book featuring a trans character, Starting from Scratch, as well as how he got started writing, what his process is and about what's coming next.

Complete shownotes for episode 175 are at

Feb 4, 2019

Will opens the show discussing Christa Tomlinson's latest series. Jeff talks about joining the collective of hockey romance authors at The guys give a shoutout to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. GayRomLit 2019 registration opens on February 16 and the guys hope to see lots of listeners in Albuquerque in October.

New patrons Pranathi, Rebecca and Mireille are welcomed.

The guys review the recent Rent Live production that aired on Fox. Jeff reviews Transposition by Gregory Ashe with narration by Tristan James and Ever After by Riley Hart & Christina Lee with narration by Joel Leslie. Will reviews Help Wanted (DadCademy Book 1)by Alison Hendricks.

Coastal Magic Convention featured author Kiernan Kelly talks with Jeff about what first-time attendees should look forward to at the con. They also discuss her origin story, her YA alter-ego Dakota Chase, how she often writes things on a dare and what's coming soon from her.

Complete shownotes for episode 174 are at

Jan 28, 2019

Jeff opens the show talking about last week's release of Head in the Game and the hardback edition of Tracker Hacker.

The guys mention the bonus episode that dropped this past week featuring Analysis Paralysis stars Jason T. Gaffney and Kevin Held. The February issue of Parents magazine, featuring dads Shaun T and Scott Blokker is also discussed.

New patron Shiela is welcomed.

Jeff & Will review His Saint by Lucy Lennox and See the Light by Kate McMurray.

Kate joins the guys to talk about See The Light as well as her writing origins and the authors who inspired her. She also discusses her work with Romance Writers of America and the teaching she does.

Complete shownotes for episode 173 are at

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