The Big Gay Fiction Podcast is for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. Each week brings you exclusive author interviews, book recommendations and explore the latest in gay pop culture
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.
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to dreamspinnerpress.com for everything you want in gay romance.
Jeff: Welcome, Gail, to the podcast.
Gail: Hello. Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Jeff: I’m so glad we finally got you on the show because I’ve been, you know, reading since back with “The Sumage Solution” and it’s like, “We gotta get Gail on. We need to get Gail on.”
Gail: I am delighted. I am a devoted listener and so I’m quite honored to finally get to be here. It’s great.
Jeff: And you’ve got a book coming out or you’ve just had a book come out actually, “The 5th Gender” just released.
Gail: I did. Yes, “The 5th Gender,” it’s my like crazy, ridiculous, silly, happy yet cozy murder mystery on a space station with an alien with five genders and tentacles and purple.
Jeff: You don’t often get cozy mystery space station together in one package.
Gail: It is…it’s great. It was totally one of those spontaneous, I had like a strange thought/dream/idea to do this. And a bunch of us were joking on Twitter about the craziest mashups of genres we could come up with and somebody was like, “Barbarian noir,” and so on and so forth. And I was like, “Well, I wanna do space station, cozy mystery.” And then I started thinking about it and then it happened. Then I was like, “Oh, okay, I’ll write it, I’ll write it.” I was supposed to be writing something else, of course. But sometimes I succumb to the lure of the ooh, shiny.
Jeff: And it was a purple shiny too. So how could you resist that?
Gail: I could not. And he’s adorable, the alien character. And I, you know, I have a background as an anthropologist. I have an archaeology…couple of archaeology degrees. And so I just love the way if you’re doing an alien character, you can comment on human social structures and culture and interactions. And so I might’ve had a little too much fun with that.
Jeff: Well I was actually gonna get into that. I’ll hold that. Because we should at least tell folks, because I want to talk a little bit more about the origin story on this because you wrote about it. So just like, “I had this idea in the middle of the night, and then I tweeted it, and then it was a story,” which I love, but then there’s the fact that you went away to a retreat and worked on it and had to talk to other people about it while you were writing it.
Gail: Yes. So for those…I should preface this by saying that for those who don’t know, I have two names I write under. So I write under Gail Carriger and I write under G. L. Carriger and the G. L. stuff has a much higher heat level. So it’s super sexy. And this book, “The 5th Gender” is a G. L. book. So warning for anybody who doesn’t like nooky because one of the things I realized through the course of that particular writing retreat was that if you’re writing about a species with five genders, human curiosity wants to follow them into the bedroom to see what it’s like down there. And so I thought about trying to kind of clean it up a little bit and it just…it didn’t work. So I was like, “Okay, we are going into that realm.”
So I was supposed to go on this retreat and write something else entirely, and instead I just spent the entire week writing this book. And one of the funniest stories from that was me being like, “Oh shoot, what does alien jizz taste like?” Because we all know, at least we do if we’ve been reading my San Andreas Shifter series that wizard or mage jizz is fizzy and werewolf is spicy. And I was like, “Well, what do aliens taste like?” And this meant that I literally had to go and you’re never…on a retreat, you’re never supposed to disturb the cooks in the kitchen. But I was like, “If there was ever a question for cooks, this is it.” There is a crazy author running into the kitchen in the middle of them making shepherd’s pie and being like, “Oh, you guys, what does alien jizz taste like? Debate.” So we had a long debate about it and we finally decided, and you’ll have to read the book to find out.
Jeff: Yeah, I wasn’t gonna ask you to spoil that, but I do have to know what exactly did the cooks make of this question?
Gail: The cooks were quite game actually. I think they were pretty charmed because normally like they’re doing their art form and we’re doing our art form and never the twain shall meet until meal times. So it’s really rare for one of the authors to actually want the cooks’ help on something. So I think they were kind of pleased to be asked.
Jeff: That’s very cool because some of them might have been like, “I’m sorry, what?”
Gail: Oh, they know what I write. We’ve been going for a long time with the same cooks for a while, so.
Jeff: So this group knew you so they weren’t necessarily surprised by…
Gail: No. Well, it was a little out of the blue. I haven’t been writing the super sexy stuff for very long. Like normally my questions are like, “What’s the most ridiculously named, you know, Victorian dessert you can think of,” kind of thing. But yes, it was a little different from my usual questions.
Jeff: And tell us what this book is about, this cozy mystery on a space station.
Gail: Well, the tagline is an alien race with no word for murder has a murderer aboard their spaceship. And essentially the galoi are the aliens in question. And they are these purple…they’re these adorable sort of purple tentacled kind of, you know, High Elf, slightly looking alien creatures. And they are super isolationist. And the only thing that humans know about them is occasionally they will kick one of their genders. It’s always as one of the examples of the fourth or fifth genders and they’re kicked off and they’re in exile, and those galoi, which is the name of this alien race, go and live amongst humans. And humans actually adore them because they think they’re like sweet and cute and adorable. And they have no…they’re pure exiles. So they have no national allegiance, they have no planetary allegiance. And so they make really great attaches.
They’re kind of really kind of comforting and lots of different alien races like to be around them. So they often become attaches to like ambassadors and stuff. So a lot of space stations….space stations consider it really lucky if they get one of these. And the main character, Tristol, he’s one of these aliens and he has a mad crush on the human security chief/detective that’s onboard the space station named Dre. But he doesn’t really get kind of like human flirtation and courting rituals. So he’s sort of…the book sort of starts with Tristol trying to figure out what cats are and why you would wanna keep them as a pet because he’s been asked by some human friends to cat sit. And then, of course, the cat escapes and hijinks ensue on the space station because what happens when the cat gets into zero gravity. Nobody wants to find that out.
Anyway, and then the galoi are like super xenophobic, so they never reach out to humans. And then suddenly a galoi ship approaches his space station, which is crazy in many, many ways because they shouldn’t be approaching a space station that has an exile aboard it and they never talk to humans anyway. And they have this incredibly complicated non-pronoun language that kind of indicates status and has to do with all of these different genders. And so the humans are kind of panicking and freaking out. They don’t want a war. They don’t know what’s going on. And the spaceship basically says, you know, “We have a murdered galoi and we don’t know what to do. We don’t have security, we don’t have murder investigations. We don’t. So we came to you, violent humans, to figure this out for us.” And of course Dre, the human love interest is the detective. So he and Tristol have to team up because he needs Tristol’s help to explain how the galoi work. And so the two of them gonna figure out who done it and that’s basically it in a very large nutshell.
Jeff: How did you go about creating the galoi? I mean, five genders, no term for murder. There’s like so many things that kind of click into this. Is there like…?
Gail: I just, so like I said, I have an anthropology background. I mean, archaeology is blank, so obviously the biology and skeletal structures and things is what I mostly studied via anthropology, but you get a lot of like gender studies and cultural representations of gender and all that sort of thing as part of an education in the United States if you do an archaeology degree. And so it’s always been super, super fascinating to me. I have a minor in classical mythology with a focus on gender. It’s just something that has interested me. It’s really hard to tease out in the archaeological record. It’s prone to misinterpretation by archaeologists and historians and anthropologists. So there’s a sort of storied history with our own relationship from a scientific perspective with understanding gender.
And so I just took a lot of that both kind of my education and, you know, how the world now is changing. I spent far too much time on Tumblr, so I have a lot of like non-binary and gender fluid and gender queer fans. And so I’ve just been kind of reaching out to friends and acquaintances. One of my best friends in the world is a bioethicist and a medical ethicist. And so she deals with training doctors in how to talk to people appropriately about gender. And so I’ve had all this sort of stuff messing about, and I was like, “Well, a way for me to explore this and have this kind of conversation with myself and the world is through an alien lens.”
And so I just…I love thought experiments, and I was like, “So what if we have a race with five different genders and how would their language evolve? How would their culture evolve? How would they treat each other?” Like all of these, you know, archaeological things to think or anthropological things to think about. And then how would humans, even future humans, react when encountering that? And so that’s kind of where the conception started. And then I just made them purple because I like purple.
Jeff: Why not? I’m a big purple fan too. Was there a lot of research kind of building this?
Gail: Yeah. I actually have multiple blog posts that either I’m releasing them right now or I’ve just released them recently, speaking from the past into the future. But I have a bunch of blog posts about like a bunch of the research that I did and like some book recommendations and stuff like that, both from a fictional perspective and a nonfictional perspective and different blogs and stuff like that. But I like that. I like researching a lot. I try not to rabbit hole too much because the point is to write the actual book. So mostly what I did is I did that intensive week where I sort of just vomited forth this whole book. And then I went back and like teased it apart and looked into different…almost as…I almost treated it a little bit as if it were a nonfiction piece to go back and see what sources do I need to look up, what like different pronoun terms might be being used in hundreds of years, you know, by humans. That sort of thing. And it’s…since both the humans involved… I try to be complex in my races, whether they’re werewolves or aliens in that like…and to not either dystopian or utopianise either race, either humans or aliens.
So both races still have issues. Both are still dealing with how the cultures have evolved and all of that sort of thing. So I’m not setting the galoi up as like the perfect model of a possible future. They have a different evolution, a different model. And they’re merely a vehicle for which we can examine perhaps some of our own biases and prejudices now. And that’s getting very, very serious because mostly what I want my books to do is make you happy and cheerful and be excited, delighted. And if it makes you think a little, that’s great. But really I just want to make everybody happy and hopefully Tristol will do that because he’s delightful. I love him.
Jeff: What kind of, I guess, beta reading did you do to see how your various fans handle the gender discussion?
Gail: Well, I have trans and gender queer and gender bending characters already, both in my main universe and in my traditionally-published books and in all of my…like my independent and my self-published works and in my novellas and stuff. Some of the main characters, some of them side characters. And so I know that they’re open to it, and I also know that the one that, you know, for lack of a better term, I have like a queer-centered, progressive kind of comfort food brand or business model or whatever, however you wanna explain it. And so I feel like most of my super fans are gonna be excited because what they want from me is that comfort, is that sort of upbeat, fun, slightly fluffy, slightly thoughtful, but ultimately, you know, everything’s gonna be all right. I’m never gonna depress you. There’s never gonna be like scenes of torture. It’s never gonna be angsty, you know, all of those things. It’s always gonna be delicious, I guess.
Jeff: I like that as a term for a book. That’s just really fun.
Gail: Yeah. It’s just gonna be tasty. Yeah. So they know that and that’s the part that they trust and generally I feel like they’re pretty open minded about how I’m gonna go there and explore that. I don’t think I would’ve done this book, you know, five or six years ago because I wasn’t sure. I had to kind of test the waters with the San Andreas books and some of the other stuff. But I think they’re pretty open to it. I don’t know. You never know. We’ll see how everybody reacts. Yeah, so I mean, and I have beta readers and some of them have read it. I was more careful with this book in making sure that like I had sensitivity, what I call delicacy readers. So people within kind of the gender nonconforming community, again, for lack of a better term. That was more important to me really. I don’t wanna offend, although, you know, everybody’s opinion is their own and everyone is entitled to it. So I’m sure if you come to any book with the idea of being offended, you’re probably going to be unfortunately. So, but I did put essentially a naked purple dude on the cover as a kind of like, “Be aware, there’s gonna be sex in this book. We’re gonna go there. We’re gonna go far out there.”
Jeff: It’s cozy with sex and it’s funny and it’s sci-fi. It’s got a little bit of everything in it.
Jeff: Do you think you’ll revisit this later as like as a continuing series?
Gail: I’d love to. Actually, I have another murder mystery and like I don’t consider myself like a mystery writer at all, but I have this thing as a writer where I don’t write a book until I’ve had what I call the epiphany, which is I need to actually see a scene with characters in dialogue. And it might not necessarily be the first scene or whatever, but until I see that I have that crystal moment, I don’t feel like I can write the book. So I have a lot of books that I’d like to write, but I’ve never had the epiphany with. So they’re just sort of sitting there. And I’ve had an epiphany for a second book in this series with Dre investigating another murder and Tristol still there and everything. But I don’t know how people will receive this one, so I don’t know if I will write that one, but it’s definitely there percolating already. So it’s a possibility.
Jeff: It’s a possibility.
Gail: Yeah. And the universe on the whole, because it is a science fiction universe, actually does have another, of all things, young adult series that’s set at it that’s kind of been on the back burner for a really long time which kind of has nothing really to do with this series except that the same conceits in terms of faster than light travel. And human…like colonization and planetary evolution are the same. And there’s like a couple of crossover alien races, but that’s about it. But it is the same sort of basic far future.
Jeff: If you’ve got the universe, you might as well keep using it. So you don’t have to just keep reinventing the wheel.
Gail: Precisely. Yes. That’s my feeling.
Jeff: What do you hope readers take away from this romp?
Gail: Well, like usual, I just want them to be like… My favorite thing is somebody writes to me and says, “You either humiliated me because I was laughing loudly on public transport,” and I’m like, “Yes.” “You kept me up all night.” “Yes.” Or, “You just left me with a big smile.” So that’s really what I genuinely want is a big smile on people’s faces. But it would be nice if people who read it thought a little bit about…a bit more about gender and how we intimately link biological sex with gender and that perhaps that’s not necessarily the…I don’t know, ethical thing to do – that perhaps gender is in fact a social construct. Or cultural construct. It’s something that anthropologists just accept.
Like if you’re an anthropologist, you just accept that as a fact. Like we know, we have seen all of these different ancient and modern races or cultures with varying different interpretations of genders and it just…I don’t think it would ever occur to an..
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 Dreamers series.
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.
Interview Transcript - Adriana Herrera
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to dreamspinnerpress.com for everything you want in gay romance.
Jeff: Welcome, Adriana to the show. Thanks for being with us.
Adriana: Thank you for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.
Jeff: So have we, to be honest, since we’ve read “American Dreamer” that we loved so much. So, a good first question is, what was the inspiration behind the “Dreamer” series?
Adriana: So, basically, I think I wanted to write Afro-Latinx characters. I’ve said this in a couple of other conversations I’ve had about the book. It was really a specific time, a couple of years ago, right after the election when there was just a lot of negative conversation around the place of immigrants in the U.S. And I just really felt compelled to write a story that I felt can honor my identity which is Afro-Latinx, and the Afro-Latinx immigrant experience. And I think representation has also been an issue for me, with romance specifically. There are stories of people of color in gay romance, but I felt like they were either really surface characters or there was like a real, like, toil story. You know, the person had to go through every kind of horrific thing.
So, I wanted to write something that could be nuanced and also show the joyfulness and the beauty of being a person that’s Afro-Latinx and all the amazing things that we come with. So, that was kind of where I was coming from. And I also really, really wanted a book literally full of…just like the gayest, most black and brown book I could write.
Jeff: That should almost be a quote on the cover.
Will: That’s funny.
Adriana: Yeah. I wanted it to be super gay, super black, super brown.
Jeff: So, right before we did this interview, Will raved about “Fairytale.” Tell us, in your own words, what that story is about, and kind of how it falls in the series.
Adriana: So, it’s the second book in the “Dreamer” series and it’s set in New York City, which is different from “Dreamer” which is set in Ithaca. And it’s about Camilo Briggs who’s one of the best friends of Nesto from the first book. And he’s a Cuban-Jamaican social worker. And he works in the domestic violence field, which is the same field that I work in. And he meets this, like, very hot stranger at a gala and he turns out to be a big donor for the agency that he works for, that Camilo works for. And Tom is an interesting character because he’s a billionaire, which we love in our romances, but he’s also Dominican and white-passing, which is something that I really wanted to explore in a book. What it means to be Latinx but also kind of have the privilege of presenting as a white person, and what that means, and how hard that is to navigate. So, I guess, it’s about… It’s a fairytale, it’s a modern-day fairytale but it’s also, again, like a different side to the Latinx experience. And it’s sweet and fun, and cute and sexy.
Will: Yeah, it definitely is. First, before we get to the next question, I want to commend you on the sort of…what I found really enjoyable about not only “American Dreamer” but “American Fairytale” as well is the group of friends, the sense of found family that comes across really strong in this series. I think it’s exceptionally well done. And especially in that first book because, like, right at the beginning, from the get-go, you introduce this, frankly, a really large cast of characters. And I think, with a lesser author, that could frankly get confusing.
I know when I read a book, I get confused easily if there are five, six, seven people, you know, names and personalities all thrown at you at once. But each of your characters, each of the friends in that group are so clearly delineated and…especially in that first book, in the opening scene, you give us the briefest glimpses of who they are, and we understand right away where they kind of fit in the group of friends. And of course, they’re all wonderful, and interesting, and funny. They give each other shit like good friends do. I love this group of guys so much.
Adriana: Thank you. I have to admit, they’re not my friends, but those four guys are very inspired on my, like, really core group of friends in my early 20s in the DR…when I was still in Dominican Republic. My core group of friends were mostly gay men because my cousin, who’s like my brother, who’s 14 months older than I, is gay. We kind of just like started hanging out with this group of, like, queer kids in the DR. Which in the ’90s was kind of an interesting crowd to be in just because it wasn’t really okay to be openly gay.
And we had so much fun. And we did so much, like, crazy stuff together. And I just kind of really wanted to kind of like write a love letter to those friendships and those years. And a lot of them ended up coming to the States at the same time I did, in my early 20s. So, I think they feel so real because they are, like, real.
Jeff: These books are getting so much praise. What do you think is resonating with the readers?
Adriana: I think people are more open now, or I think there were always those that were open to reading about those different experiences. But I think there’s a particular appetite now for reading more characters that are bringing with them a different lived experience. And I think that might be part of it, like why people are interested in the story. And I think everybody can connect to a striving story, you know. I think Nesto, and Jude, and Camilo, Patrice, Juan Pablo, all of them, they’re just striving to be who they know they deserve to be – for the lives that they’re working for. And I think everyone can relate to that and that struggle of fighting for what you want.
Jeff: Did you also intend to make everybody hungry with “American Dreamer?”
Adriana: Yes. Yes.
Jeff: Was that part of, like, your side plot?
Adriana: Yes. Yes, I did. I wanted because…also that’s the other piece, like Caribbean food is very similar but very different in many ways. And I talk about that a lot in “Dreamer.” And it’s the…I wanted to just show people, like, all the different flavors and how we’re all connected. So, I think it’s something that doesn’t really get talked about as much, the wide variety of our flavors. So, I did intentionally want people to be very interested in Caribbean food. I wanted people to Google Dominican restaurants and it sounds like I succeeded.
Jeff: I think you did, yeah. I haven’t gotten into “Fairytale” yet. Is there food there also or do we break away from the food a little bit?
Will: A little bit.
Jeff: A little bit.
Adriana: Yeah, a little bit. It’s not as much food. It’s more of…I feel like “Fairytale” is more about, like, Harlem and The Bronx. I have a lot of places in Harlem and The Bronx because again, there are a lot of romances set in New York City. Not many of them are set in Harlem and The Bronx. So, I wanted to go to the places where…like, the diaspora that I belong to, came to. So, I think that’s more… I’m hoping people Google places to go in The Bronx and Harlem with this one.
Will: That is a good goal to have, most definitely. Now, with this group of characters, they come from a lot of different backgrounds, what is your process for basically ensuring accurate representation? Is it all from your own personal experience or something else?
Adriana: Yeah. So far in this series…and I’m sure that as I write more, then I’m gonna have to go outside of that, but so far in this series, I’ve really gone with origin stories that I know of or from people that are, like, my friends or things like that, like Camilo’s mom, for example, is a Marielita, which was a specific group of Cuban refugees that came at a specific time to the U.S.. And I kind of touched upon that because that’s a very important influx of immigrants that came at a specific time. And they’re all particular experiences that I have been connected to through my friends or family. But I do think writing diaspora is something that people need to be more thoughtful about.
So, I try to think a lot about like when did this person come, how did they come, what was the political situation in the U.S. at that time, how they would’ve been received. Like, with Patrice, you know, he’s Haitian and he’s black. His experience and the way he was received would be different than, for example, Camilo’s mom who came as a Cuban refugee and had protected status as she came in to the U.S. So, it’s very…like, there’s nuances there in the context that really needs to..
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.
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 chance a 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.
Interview Transcript - Casey McQuiston
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth’s new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to dreamspinnerpress.com for everything you want in gay romance.
Jeff: Casey, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for joining us.
Casey: Thank you so much for having me. I’m very excited.
Jeff: So, before we got to this segment, I spent a ton of time just going over “Red, White & Royal Blue” as being one of the best things I’ve read this year and one of my top books maybe in the “ever” category because it’s everything I needed in a romance with the prince trope and essentially royalty in the U.S. with the first son. And, I mean, Alex and Henry are so awesome. Tell us what your inspiration was behind this book?
Casey: Yeah. So I first started…actually, it’s weird. A couple of days ago, I was going through my Timehop which shows you, you know, what you tweeted two, three, four years ago, and I realized that, a few days ago, which is April 13th, was the day that I tweeted, “Hey, I just had this idea for a book.” And it took me back to that moment of the exact lightning strike moment when I knew what I wanted to write. And this is a question we’ll get into later, but it was one of many attempts at a book I had started and none of them had really taken hold of me like this one did. So it was early 2016, I was obsessively following the presidential election, which, you know, we all were at the time with a lot of optimism. And, at the same time, I was reading two books. I was reading “The Royal We,” which is by Heather Morgan and Jessica Cocks, and it’s basically almost a novelization of Will and Kate with a bunch of different things changed about it. So I was reading that. And I was also reading a super dry Carl Bernstein Hillary Clinton biography, which was a fun little juxtaposition.
And I had this idea in my head of I want to do… I’ve seen so many sub-versions of prince charming trope, but I feel, as a queer person, I’ve never seen one that seems the most obvious to me, which is, you know, what if, he wasn’t the perfect, going to produce a million heirs, prince, you know. And then on the other side, I was I loved “Chasing Liberty” when I was growing up and “My Date with the President’s Daughter” and I was really into the idea of a rom-com starring this rebellious first kid, and I couldn’t decide which one I wanted to do first, and I was like, “Wait a minute. If I put them both in the same story, I don’t have to pick.” So, honestly, it was me being indecisive that led to that decision. And on a wider scale, a bigger scope, I just really was looking for the perfect, fun escapist tropey rom-com that was so undeniably fun that the fact that it was also queer wouldn’t keep it out of the mainstream, you know, because a big thing that I want to do as an author and as a queer person is push those stories into the mainstream and be like, hey, you know, it’s kind of what they say in “Love, Simon,” everybody deserves to have a great love story, you know. And so everybody deserves to have a big shiny tropey, fun rom-com, you know. So, yeah, that was kind of where it came from for me.
Jeff: And there is so much rom-com-y goodness floating in this book. I think you pulled a little bit from everything. Without giving spoilers, because there could be some depending on what you pick for this, what are the rom-com moments that just sticks out for you as one of your favorites among all of them?
Casey: Wow, that’s a good question. I have pulled so many tropes from so many of my different favorite rom-coms. But there is this one thing that I love in every rom-com which is the gratuitous karaoke moment, which is actually if you ever watch “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” it’s a song on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” like “Shake Me Up.” Okay, yeah, that. So it’s like “27 Dresses” does it, and “10 Things I Hate About You” does it where it’s like somebody gets up and sings a song in front of a bunch people for no reason. And it’s like, “No, this doesn’t happen in real life, but it’s super fun.” And so writing the whole karaoke scene, which I don’t think is a spoiler, that was so much fun for me because I was, you know, as musical theater kid in high school, we all were, and so I got to be so indulgent with that, and it was such a blast. I loved it.
Jeff: I think you picked a great one right there because you’re right, there is that moment. There’s even that movie, which of course I’m blanking out on right now, that was like…it was a Rebel Wilson movie earlier, I think this year, that she’s, like, there’s always the karaoke moment that she ends up trapped in the karaoke moment in her own little thing.
Casey: I love the karaoke moment.
Jeff: That says a lot about people, the songs they pick.
Casey: It does. It’s character shorthand for sure. Yeah. Like when Bea gets up and sings “Call Me” by Blondie in the book I’m like, “This is what she’s about, you know.”
Jeff: Yeah. There have been so many accolades on this book before it even got published. I mean, we were reading about it, I think in “Blush” almost two months ago now. What’s resonating so much with all these pre-readers?
Casey: God, you know, I mean, just to start off, I’ve been, completely blown away by the response to it. When I wrote this book I was like, “This is so niche.” It’s a queer political rom-com with royal elements. And also we talk about gerrymandering in it, and I was like, “This is so niche,” no one’s gonna care, no one’s going to publish it. I was like, “I’m going to try and query this for a month, and then I’m just going to self-pub,” you know. And the fact that people have engaged with it so much and that it has gotten, I think three-star reviews now which is just blowing my mind completely, so beyond grateful for those.
It’s just been so staggering and incredible. But, I don’t know, I think that right now the world is really depressing. We live in a world right now that is at times literally on fire, you know. And it is so important to have these little oases or moments of respite and little escapist things because when I first started writing this book, I’m so neck deep in the news cycle and I really couldn’t finish it until I pulled out of it because I realized that wasn’t what it needed to be. It didn’t need to be mired in all of the negativity and all of the darkness that was going on in the world. It needed to be this spark of hope, you know, that would kind of feel… I think about when Obama won re-election in 2012, and I was with my friends. I was in college at the time and we went out on the balcony, and popped a bottle of $60 French champagne, and I think about how I felt in that moment and I was like, “I want this book to feel like that moment,” you know. And I think that a lot of people have been missing that feeling. I think that we have so few things, especially when we look at the political sphere right now, to be excited about and to be hopeful about.
And I think that we’re all just nostalgic almost for when we had hope. And I think that what this book does is it lives in the space of being here and now and still having hope, you know, and I think that’s really resonating with people. And then I also think that people are just excited to see…we’re seeing it with Helen Hoang and Jasmine Guillory who are writing romances that are integrating, you know, neurodiverse characters and just racially diverse characters. I think a lot of people are tired of seeing, you know, the same two straight white cisgender, neurotypical people falling in love, you know. And so I think that people are hungry for something that’s different in rom-com that can show that different types of people can have that same big, huge, escapist magical love story. So that’s kind of where I think it comes from.
Jeff: You noted that you started writing this in 2016, essentially before the election happened. Do you think you would have written the same book had Hillary won?
Casey: That’s a great question. And the book I had planned to write before the election went..
The guys talk about having more books than shelf space and also their upcoming 24th anniversary.
Will reviews An Easter Promise by A E Ryecart. Jeff reviews Play It Again by Aidan Wayne.
Jeff interviews Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth about their collaboration, Murder Most Lovely, the first in the Lacetown Murder Mysteries series. They talk about how they came up with the book, their process for co-writing and what’s still to come in the series. We also find out what’s coming up for each of them in 2019.
This is the continuing story of Rory and Jack, who we first met in the holiday story, A Kiss Before Christmas.
In that story, Jack finds the homeless Rory huddled on his doorstep and offers him a place to stay. As they learn more about one another, Jack asks Rory to pose as his fake boyfriend when he goes home for the holidays. An unexpectedly severe winter storm prevents them from that trip, but in the few days they’ve been together they’ve fallen in love.
I read A Kiss Before Christmas last year, and I still highly recommend it.
In An Easter Promise, it’s now Spring and our two heroes are finally making the trip to visit Jack’s family in his ancestral manor house in the countryside.
This is a particularly nerve-wracking experience for Rory, whose childhood couldn’t have been more different than Jack’s well-heeled upbringing.
Things go relatively well as Jack shows Rory around the expansive estate, but they then get frosty when Jack’s mom makes it clear that she believes that Rory is after her son’s money.
Gold-digging accusations aside, as a favor to her, Rory steps in as a last-minute contestant in the Best Bake competition at the village festival. Though his brownies were obviously the best, he doesn’t win.
Afterward, Jack announces that he and his culinarily gifted boyfriend are going into business together and are opening a bakery.
This once again raises the suspicion that Rory is only after Jack for his money, causing a major rift in family relations.
Jack tells his mom where she can stick her suspicions, and is ready to return to London, but when Rory takes the family dog for a walk, he gets lost on the moors in a sudden storm. If reading fiction set in the U.K. has taught me anything, it’s that going for a walk on the moors is always a bad idea.
The family organizes a search party and journeys into the dark night to find Rory. He is eventually found, and Jack makes amends with his parents.
Flash forward a few months to the opening of the bakery and the beginning of a new chapter for our romantic heroes.
I really like both of the stories featuring Rory and Jack and sincerely hope that this isn’t the last that we’ll see of them. The opening of the bakery certainly presents several new story possibilities.
A.E. Ryecart, if you’re reading this, I’m a fan and a series set in this world would be greatly appreciated.
I was completely delighted by new-to-me author Aidan Wayne’s Play It Again. Part of what drew me in initially is that part of it relates to what we do here on the podcast. Dovid is a YouTuber alongside his sister Rachel. They run a channel called Don’t Look Now. Among the things they do is review eateries in Seattle for how accessible they are because Dovid is blind. They also interact with their fans, go on trips, open mystery boxes–it’s the full YouTube gambit.
Over in Ireland, Sam runs a Let’s Play channel where he plays a popular videogame. Rachel and Dovid become obsessed with Sam’s channel because of his easy-going, fun delivery. Dovid calls out Sam’s channel in an episode and sends Sam’s subscriber count through the roof and when Sam contacts Dovid to thank him they end up talking frequently.
Dovid and Sam are single–but as I mentioned live on opposite sides of the globe. Neither of them, quite cutely, realizes how flirty they’re being as they message each other. Initially Dovid offers Sam advice on how to manage his new subscribers and ways to grow his channel but as they move beyond that and get to know each other the realization comes that perhaps there’s more there.
This isn’t the first book I’ve read that relies heavily on text messages, instant messenger, email and so on. I loved how these wove into the story. There’s a good deal of, what I’ll call, regular storytelling too, coming from both points of view. Dovid and Sam have quite a lot internal dialogue about their growing predicament. Just getting time to talk on the phone is a challenge with the nine hour difference between them. It doesn’t stop them though from being ridiculously cute and challenging themselves to let this relationship go through its formative stages without being in the same physical location.
Of course, the guys have to get together and that happens when Dovid and Rachel had the chance to do a European tour, which includes Ireland. As much as Dovid and Sam questioned themselves as they did the long distance thing, the jitters ratchet up as they meet. Aidan does a great job of showing the hesitancy–from Dovid wanting everything to be perfect to Sam wondering if he’s worthy of Dovid. Sam comes from a family where he was put down a lot and Dovid goes into protector mode when Sam talks about this, which is incredibly touching and sexy.
For all the exploration they did via email, the time they spend together in Ireland really made me appreciate the romance that Aidan spun even more. They’d bonded so much before, they almost fall into old married couple mode with how they try to take care of each other. Dovid is particularly mindful of Sam’s asexuality and makes sure Sam isn’t doing anything he doesn’t want to do. It’s wonderful to see two such diverse characters finding their happy.
Speaking if the HEA, I’d wondered how it would manifest in a book where the two characters spend probably eighty percent of the book on separate continents. I adored how Aidan brought Sam and Dovid together. I would love to see more in this universe to know how Dovid and Sam are getting on.
Besides the wonderful romance, I loved the attention to detail that Aidan put into showing the work Dovid and Rachel do on their channel. From the talk of creating Patreon campaigns to managing social media and how to interact with the audience, I enjoyed it and I don’t think it’s too much for people who don’t do this kind of thing. Another excellent detail, Dovid and Rachel receive a package from a fan in Michigan–it contained Faygo Red Pop and Mackinac Island fudge, two childhood favorites that made me smile and gave me cravings!
So, in case you haven’t figured it out, I totally recommend Play it Again by Aidan Wayne. I’m also looking forward to their upcoming book, Hitting the Mark, which comes out at the end of May.
This interview transcript is sponsored by Dreamspinner Press Dreamspinner Press is proud to publish this week’s guests Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth and their new book Murder Most Lovely. Check it out, and all the new mystery and suspense titles from your favorite authors like Amy Lane, KC Wells, Tara Lain, and Rhys Ford, just to name a few, and find a new favorite author while you’re at it. Go to dreamspinnerpress.com for everything you want in gay romance.
Jeff: Welcome to the podcast, Hank Edwards and Deanna Wadsworth.
Jeff: Thanks for being here.
Hank: Thanks for hosting us.
Jeff: You guys have written a book together…
Deanna: We did.
Jeff: …which is super cool. April 30, which is the day after this comes out, you’re releasing the first book in the “Lacetown Murder Mysteries” called “Murder Most Lovely.” Tell us about this new series. What is the scoop?
Deanna: Who wants to go first?
Hank: Deanna? You go first.
Deanna: Okay, I’ll go first. So like a year ago I went out to dinner with my husband, had some cocktails and at like 11:00 at night after having like wonderful conversations in my brain with myself because I think I’m clever, I messaged Hank, and I said, “Dude, we need to write a book together.” And he’s like, “We should.” And then we did.
Hank: I might have had some cocktails that night too. I can’t remember.
Deanna: You may have.
Hank: Might have.
Deanna: And it was, “Yeah, we should,” kind of moment. And we didn’t really know where it was going.
Hank: We had no idea.
Deanna: What’s that?
Hank: We had no idea, like nothing. That was just the random start of things. “We should do a book.” We didn’t have an idea or anything.
Deanna: It was a completely inane, “Dude, we should write a book together,” kind of moment. And then seriously, the next day, we had some conversations like, “What should it be? Superhero?” And then we just kind of like spitted ideas back and forth. And Hank was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” Am I allowed to say fuck?
Jeff: Yes, you are. We’ll put a little explicit logo on the episode and you can cuss as much as you want.
Deanna: So he was like, “We would write the fuck out of a rom-com.” And I’m like, “We would.” And then we’re like, “What should it be?” And we just spitballed ideas back and forth. Like, I mean, literally, like there was probably like 30 or 40, like, things we shot back and forth at each other. And then Hank picked on two of them. And he’s like, “I love the idea of a mortician and a hairdresser.” Then we ran with it.
Hank: Yeah, and we just ran with it. And it just started writing. I mean, we didn’t plan, like, “You take one chapter.” What we did was each of us wrote up a character bio and sent it to each other. And so I wrote up…
Deanna: It was so great.
Hank: You what?
Deanna: It was so great, like blind dates for our character.
Hank: It was. It was really fun. So you had Michael, right, and I had Jazz.
Deanna: Yeah, you made Jazz. So tell us about Jazz.
Hank: So Jazz is very sassy and very snarky. And he’s a talented hairstylist and he’s uprooted his life after separating from his husband, who is a best-selling novelist and mystery novelist. And so he’s moved to this small town on the coast of Lake Michigan in Michigan. And some Michigan love there, Jeff. Yes.
Jeff: I love that.
Hank: Yes, always. And so he’s starting over and he’s just trying to kind of like rebuild and he works at a fun little salon but he’s kind of, he’s 49 but he tells people he’s 41 and…
Deanna: He tell’s people he’s 35, remember?
Hank: And he tries that too.
Deanna: He totally lies about his age. He says he’s 35.
Hank: We had, our editor actually called us up and she was like, “Is this right?” Because he shouldn’t have been around back then. Jazz lies about his age.
Deanna: He’s almost 50 but he says he’s 35.
Hank: Right. So that’s how that started. And then she brought up Michael.
Deanna: Yeah. Hank created Jazz, the hairdresser, which is funny because I actually legitimately am a hairdresser in real life. But when we were talking, Hank had said, “I’ve always wanted to write a hairdresser.” I’m like, “You take the hairdresser. Run with it.” And then I took the mortician, which sounded really great and exciting. And after dozens of Google search, Google decided that I obviously want to be a coroner and mortician and they send me casket ads, but yeah, whatever. So I created a…it was fun because Hank created Jazz, this sassy, almost-50 hairdresser who’s super sarcastic, he’s got long honey blonde hair and super stylish and wears eyeliner and he’s really sassy and he has a big potty mouth.
Hank: Oh, yeah.
Deanna: Oh, he does. And then I didn’t know who Hank was creating when we came upon this conversation. It was very much, “Hey, you pick your guy. I’ll pick my guy. We’ll see what happens. And I made Michael Fleishman who is a 42-year-old, very uptight, very socially awkward Jewish guy who runs the local funeral home and he’s also the county coroner to our fake county…is it Carver County?
Hank: Carver County, yeah.
Deanna: Carver County on Lake Michigan, which is sort of like in somewhere between, I don’t know…
Hank: Like Saugatuck and…
Deanna: Saugatuck and…
Hank: Yeah, Muskegon.
Deanna: Muskegon, somewhere, a fake county in between there and he’s the county coroner. He’s very uptight and super horny and has this like hilarious like sexual imagination but he’s really reserved and he is obsessed with mystery novels. And he goes to a bookstore in Lacetown, which is our fictional town on Lake Michigan, during a literary festival to meet his favorite also author, Russell Withingham, which happens to be Jazz’s husband. They’re separated but they’re not divorced yet.
Hank: And that’s the meet-cute.
Hank: I know, right?
Deanna: Total rom-com, meet and greet during the rain under an umbrella, cute scene. Until Jazz gets his little…I mean, he really worries Michael thinks he’s a bitchy queen and he kind of is. He’s totally the queen.
Hank: He’s really fun to write.
Deanna: It’s so fun.
Jeff: So when you got these characters who are obviously really opposite to each other, you could just hear it in the bios, what was it like to mash them together?
Hank: Oh, man.
Jeff: Sparks had to have flown off the pages.
Hank: Oh, yes, right away. It was really fun. The first chapter is their meet-cute. And we had…I mean, we do a lot of like editing, right? So we’ll write the first pass and we’ll talk about it. We message a lot during the day and stuff like that, talk about where we want to go with things. And then we use Google Docs to write together. Yeah, so that was a lot of fun to just see the whole creation of it and like set up that setting and understand how they were going to meet and how that was going to go and how Michael would be so taken with Jazz at first sight. It was really fun.
Deanna: Totally. Like, “Oh, you’re so handsome. Why is he talking to me?”
Hank: That’s really fun.
Jeff: And of course you’ve got the mystery element in this too. So rom-com mystery, which trying to think, I haven’t necessarily seen that kind of combo a lot because there’s straight up romantic suspense, of course. And then there’s like cozy mystery and maybe this ekes a little towards that with the rom-com–iness. But did you know that this was going to be like something to go for? Or did you just like mash these two elements together and say, “This thing…”
Deanna: We thought about doing like a film noir concept, like a 1940s film. But see, that’s the thing. Like when Hank and I started writing, we didn’t have a direction. We were very much open to anything. And it was sort of like he created Jazz, I created Michael. We knew we wanted a murder. We knew we wanted it to be like…
Hank: We wanted a murder. The murder got pretty gruesome too. I was really shocked.
Deanna: Yeah, we wanted some things but then as we began to write it, it began to have elements of a real murder. So like our sheriff is blustering and funny. And Michael has his kitty cat, the little Mr. Pickles.
Hank: Mr. Pickles.
Deanna: Mr. Pickles, the fat, black-and-white kitty, which my dog is growling at right now.
Jeff: Which we should note, for the people who may not be watching the video, Deanna just held up this stuffed kitty. And you’re going to be giving these away at GRL in a few months.
Deanna: Yes, we have a few couple.
So like when we created the story, I guess maybe other people with their writing collaborations might be different than we were. But Hank and I were not in a competition with each other. We were not like…we just knew we were going to have fun because we like each other and we know each other personally. And we were just like, “Let’s have fun with this.” And there was no like obsessive competition with like, “I don’t like the storyline.” Or, “I like this.” It was just sort of like, “What do you want to do? Okay, that sounds fun.” And we both ran with it. And we ended up developing this city on Lake Michigan and this little town and these little side characters.
Jeff: Let’s talk about the mystery side of it. Who is dead?
Deanna: Oh, yes, the mystery side of it. That’s right. So I’ll talk and then I’ll let Hank talk because I’ve been blabbering too long. So we decided we wanted it to be, like, film noir idea. And then it became like a legitimate murder mystery where there is a dead body and it’s gruesome and it’s creepy and it’s sad. And there’s like some crazy shit happening. And there’s like cops that need to come in. And there’s like a real mystery. And there’s actually a couple side mysteries that are happening over the book arc of the next two novels, novel two of which we will be submitting in the morning. We would have submitted it today but I’m being a typo psycho. I am. I’m a typo psycho.
Hank: She’s finding a lot of good stuff, though. I like the changes. So, yeah. So the murder actually got more gruesome than I was anticipating. We were like, “Let’s go.” “Wait, do we want to go?” “Yeah, let’s do it. Let’s do it.” So it’s…do we want to say who it is? I mean, it happens early on. So I don’t think it’s a spoiler, right?
Deanna: Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t we just talk about how creepy the murder is.
Hank: Okay, we’ll just leave it just like that.
Deanna: Not who is murdered.
Hank: Someone’s murdered and maybe their hands are missing.
Deanna: Or chopped off.
Jeff: Oh, wow.
Hank: So, yeah, that’s kind of…
Jeff: That’s more gruesome than I expect in a rom-com.
Hank: I know.
Jeff: I’ll say that.
Deanna: Oh, wait ’till you hear about the serial killer. Wait, that was a spoiler. I didn’t say it.
Hank: But in the first book…
Jeff: Is that a spoiler that we’re leaving in or a spoiler that we’re taking out?
Deanna: We’re leaving it in but we’re not gonna respond about it.
Jeff: Fair enough.
Hank: That’s right.
Jeff: A little breaking news there for the podcast that we will not do follow-up questions on. You were saying, Hank, on this murder.
Hank: So yeah, so it was gruesome. And then there’s the discovery. But Michael is kind of, you know, he can’t help but be a little..
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).
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.
Jeff: We are at the LA Times Festival of Books with Julian Winters.
Jeff: Who I’ve just had a major fanboy moment over.
Julian: I had fanboy moments.
Jeff: Okay. We kinda both had the fanboy moment.
Julian: Yes, yes. It is equal.
Jeff: Because I had to get him to sign my “Running with Lions.” Podcast listeners know that was one of my favorite books of last year.
Julian: Thank you.
Jeff: And you’ve got a little sneak peek…
Julian: I do.
Jeff: Right now of “How To Be Remy Cameron,” which comes out September 10th.
Julian: Yes, yes. September 10th, yes.
Jeff: Tell us what this is about.
Julian: Remy is a very personal book. It’s about an out and proud teen in high school, who has always felt like he’s known himself until he has this AP lit course. And one of the final grades he has to write an essay about who am I and it’s like the make or break essay. He’s trying to get into Emory University, and he needs this course in order to get there. And so, he has this kind of panic mode of, “Okay, but who am I?” Because he’s always been defined by, “Oh, he’s the gay kid who came out at 14,” or, “Oh, he’s one of five black students that go to our school,” or “Oh, he’s the big brother to this character,” and he’s just all these labels he wears all the time. He’s, “This is who I am.” But then he starts to realize, “Is that all I am and do these labels really define exactly who Remy Cameron is?” So, it’s kinda an exploration of what labels mean to us, but it also has a great family dynamic. A couple of secret mystery parts I can’t tell you about but there’s a lot of guessing games going on in it. And of course, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have like a dorky romance in there. So, that’s in there too.
Jeff: A dorky romance? I like that because that’s…
Julian: Yes, that’s exactly what I promise you. It’s so geeky, it’s so dorky.
Jeff: That’s kind of what “Lions” was as well for sure. That’s a good label for it. How would you say that your writing has evolved from first book to second?
Julian: Oh, it’s a lot. A lot. With the first book, I just kinda wanted to write the feel-good story, and that was my goal, and touching on certain issues throughout the book. And it also was written in third person and “Remy’s” written in first person. I’ve never, not even when I was like a small child, wrote in first person. I love reading books like that, but I thought, I just can’t do that, it’s just too personal. And so, it was a challenge doing that, but it was a lot of fun. And “Remy,” like I said, it’s very personal, so exploring parts of myself and things that I see throughout, you know, our community and things like that. It really helped me grow as a writer to really say, Okay, you can challenge yourself and you can fail at it, but you can also improve. And that was great. So, to fail, I struggled so much in the beginning, but to have that under my belt now, it’s I think I could write a lot of different stories.
Jeff: So, you think you’ll visit first again sometimes?
Julian: Oh, yeah, yes, yes. The next book I’m working on, first might be where I’m stuck now. I think this might be my calling. I don’t know.
Jeff: Okay. I could tell you, first is a nice place to be.
Julian: Yeah, it is.
Jeff: What are some elements of this book that are so personal to you?
Julian: Growing up. So, I grew up in Upstate New York where I was one of five black students at my school. And then when we moved to Georgia, I was one of 400 that went to my school. So, it’s very personal in the sense of, I went through a lot of phases of am I too gay? Am I black enough? Am I too perfect as a friend? Am I good enough friend? A lot of things that I went through, Remy goes through in the book. It also explores my love for a lot of geeky things and how for a while I wouldn’t let that define me because I thought, “Oh, no, this is bad, people are gonna make fun of me.” And Remy goes through that because he had a lot of geeky moments, but it’s almost like he’s scared to show them now that he knows that these are the things that I’m defined by.
Jeff: I love that you point out the geeky thing because I saw on your Instagram earlier today of the comic books that you read into here at the Festival.
Julian: Listen, I almost had to leave, you know, our booth just to go, you know, bow down at the comic book booth and just say, “Listen, thank you. I love it.”
Jeff: Now, let’s talk about “Lions” for a second because you’ve had an amazing year. I mean, you started out of the gate that the book was blurbed by Becky Albertalli.
Jeff: And now, just within the last week or two, you’ve won an award for it. So, tell us a little bit about that.
Julian: It’s been a wild journey because, first of all, like, I never thought I’d meet Becky Albertalli, I never thought I’d talk to her, I never thought, you know, I would become friends with her. And then just meeting all the other people along the way that I’ve met and growing in that area… I always felt like I was the kid sitting at the table in the corner where I peek over at all the cool kids and say, “Yeah, I’m never sitting at that table,” but it’s been kinda really awesome being taken in by so many different people and I never thought I’d be an award-winning author. Like, I wanted to write the book for queer kids to enjoy, to see themselves and know that, you know, you’re not some other subcategory, you’re just a normal person. It’s just that…this is just a part of you, it doesn’t define you. And to win an award, I broke down crying. It wasn’t something I was expecting going into this because my journey has always been about the reader but to have something for myself was amazing. It still is amazing. I’m not over it. I guess I won’t be over it until I actually hold the award in my hands and say, “This happened.”
Jeff: This actually happened. And the cover too, which was a stunning cover, also won.
Julian: Yes, the cover won for best cover. And that was so great for me in the sense that I love our cover designer, C.B. Messer. She’s amazing. She reads all the books cover to cover. And so, she knows these characters, she knows their stories, and what she did with that cover just blew me away. What she did with the “Remy” cover, I’m still in complete awe of just how well she knows these characters.
Jeff: When we talked back last year, the book had hardly been out.
Jeff: How’s the reader response been to it?
Julian: It’s been amazing. Today just alone, just so many people will walk by and say, “Oh my gosh, ‘Running with Lions,’ I’ve heard of that book.” And I’m just like, “What? Of all the books that came out in 2018, you heard of that book?” The response has been amazing. Going to the events and having people walk up to me and say, “Thank you for writing this book because I played soccer all my life, but there was never a queer soccer book.” Or, “Thank you for writing this because there weren’t a lot of books with bisexual main characters, or characters that were gay and Muslim, or black characters, or whatever.” It’s been amazing, the response I get. I get teary-eyed every time. I’m like, “I’m not strong enough for this, we can’t talk about this.” But it’s also been so cool to know that I’m helping someone see themselves because I didn’t always get that opportunity growing up. So, to know I’m getting to be a part of their journey, it’s just been amazing.
Jeff: Fantastic. And what have you thought of the fair, of the festival? Because it’s your first time up here.
Julian: Yes, this is my first time here for the festival. And I was talking to another friend about it because I went to YALLWEST last year. YALLWEST is this…it’s nice little corner and then this is like a whole city. Like, I get lost every time I go either to the bathroom or get something to drink. But it’s amazing because it brings so many different publishers, so many different books together, so many different genres, so many different kinds of authors are here. And that’s the amazing part to me, just to know how influential books are because there are people everywhere all the time, stacks of books in their arms. And you don’t really get to see that in, like, media, like how impactful books are, how much people really enjoy the art that we put out there. So, this has just been amazing to watch how excited people get when they see the books.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s been very cool here. So, thank you so much for hanging out with us.
Julian: Thank you. You know, I love you guys.
Jeff: Best of luck on “How To Be Remy Cameron,” coming out September 10th.
Interview with Kim Fielding and Venona Keyes
Jeff: We are at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with Kim Fielding and Venona Keyes. Thanks for being here.
Kim: Thanks so much.
Venona: Thanks for asking.
Jeff: We’re excited to have you both here. And now, Kim, of course, within the past couple of weeks, we’ve raved about the “The Spy’s Love Song” and the new “Dreamspun Desires.” Where did the inspiration for this book come from? Because it was so good.
Kim: I think a big part of the inspiration came from my travels in Eastern Europe. So, you know, thinking about the way things used to be in Eastern Europe and how things are changing, plus politics as they’re happening right now. And so, yeah, I think that was the main thing.
Jeff: What kind of research did you have to do to develop your spy and your rock star who becomes kind of…along on this mission without even knowing he’s on it?
Kim: I didn’t have to do too much research on the spy part or on the travel part, but rock stars and music is not something I know anything or have any talent or anything else about, so that was where I had to do most of my research because I don’t know what it’s like. I don’t know what it’s like to be a rock star. I can’t even sing.
Jeff: Does that mean you what it’s like to be a spy?
Kim: Hmm, I’m not…I can’t divulge.
Venona: You have kids.
Kim: Yeah, I have kids.
Jeff: And you wrote song lyrics too?
Kim: I did. Yeah, I know. And it was really fun. And then in the audio version, my narrator Drew Bacca sang them, which was so cool. And it’s like, this is the closest I’m ever gonna get to being a songwriter. And it’s so much fun to listen to. And I can pretend, you know, like, I’m the next thing.
Jeff: Which actually raises the question, did you give him an idea of what the melody for it was or did he just kind of make that up?
Kim: I had no melody in mind. I didn’t know he was gonna sing. When I write a book, I’m sorry narrators, I don’t think about what I’m doing to my narrators. And so, sometimes I torture them, and I wasn’t even thinking about a narrator singing it. So, that was his idea and I was so pleased.
Jeff: And this is a little different in “Dreamspuns” as well and I noted it in my review that you are a single point of view here. Did you go into it deliberately that way or just kind of organically discovered it was the way to go?
Kim: It made more sense for this book because there’s some surprises about our spy character and I think it’s a lot more fun if we kinda discover the surprises along with the other character rather than knowing right from the start. So, you know, for some books, the dual point of view works really well, but for this one, I think this works well.
Jeff: Yeah, I totally agree on that. Now, this is part of a bigger series that’s happening within the “Dreamspuns.”
Kim: It is.
Jeff: Tell us a little bit about the series overall.
Kim: Sure. So, this series is called “Stars from Peril” and this is the first book in it. The second book comes out next month, and that’s “Redesigning Landry Bishop.” And the third book, I just finished the first round of edits on. It’ll be out in October and that one is “Drawing the Prince.” We went over several titles on that one. And so, what all three of them have in common is the main characters are from the same small town in Nebraska called Peril, Nebraska. And all three main characters have made it big in some way. So, our first guy is a rock star, our second guy is kind of a Martha Stewart type, and the third guy is an artist. And so, they’ve made it..
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.
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.
This book literally starts with a bang when one of our main characters, assistant DA Camden, is nearly blown up by a car bomb. In order to keep him safe, he’s put in protective police custody.
Unfortunately, the man watching over him is the memorable one night stand he walked away from five years ago, a guy named Elisha. Sequestered away in Elisha’s Westchester house, our two heroes must come to grips with the attraction that still, after all this time, is still there.
As things start to become more romantic, the situation becomes even more complicated when Elisha’s family shows up for a weekend visit. They assume that the two of them are a couple and Cam and Elijah play along since it’s too dangerous to explain why Cam is hiding out at Elijah’s house.
Over the course of the weekend Cam can’t help but fall for Elisha and his wonderfully crazy family.
You might think things get a little too close for comfort with are two heroes and the family all in one house. Elisha actually has a very small apartment in his attached garage. They escape there every once in a while, for some truly superduper scorching sex. The chemistry between these characters is very real and very palatable.
As the weekend winds down, there’s an unfortunate kidnapping attempt by this crazy religious group and Cam sacrifices himself in order to save Elisha’s mom.
Camden ends up in hospital and, unfortunately, his father arrives on the scene. Camden’s life has essentially been controlled by his father, who’s had his son’s life planned out from my birth to death. It’s essentially how Cam has lived his entire life.
The expectations of his father are actually part of the reason why he walked away from Elisha five years ago. Having a sexy one night fling and living a life with an average guy like Elisha just wasn’t in the plan.
After experiencing the possibility of loving a man like Elisha and realizing the wonderful possibilities of a fun and fulfilling family life, he tries to stand up to his father.
Cam’s father puts a stop to everything, setting up some genuinely insurmountable roadblocks to our hero’s happiness.
But Cam and Elisha are not only charismatic and sexy, but also really super smart. With the help of Elisha’s police chief friend, Cam concocts a way to outwit his father and get out from under his thumb, so he Elisha can live happily ever after.
I don’t know if I can adequately find the correct words, or enough adjectives to tell you how much I loved Cam and Elisha’s story. It’s just really damn good. One of my favorites of 2019 so far!
I hope it’s obvious that I really enjoyed Under His Protection by LaQuette and I highly recommend that everyone give it a read.
Interview Transcript - LaQuette
Will: We are so pleased to welcome LaQuette to the show. Welcome.
LaQuette: Thank you.
Will: So I just spent several minutes praising and telling the entire world how much I loved “Under His Protection.” Now, you’ve been writing for a while now, and I freely admit this is the very first book of yours that I have read, and I went absolutely bonkers for it. I love it to pieces.
LaQuette: Oh, thank you.
Will: Can you give us sort of an idea of where the concept for “Under His Protection” came from?
LaQuette: Well, I was encouraged by Kate McMurray to submit a “Dreamspun Desires” concept. And I kind of read the submission guideline, and I really didn’t think that the category section was for me, because I’m long-winded in my writing and there’s this, you know, 50,000-word count, and I didn’t know that I could meet that and make the story make sense. But I just felt like, you know, there’s a lot of angst in my writing and a lot of heavy topics sometimes. And I didn’t… You know, category can be light and, you know, it doesn’t have so much angst to it, so I wasn’t sure if it was actually the right fit for me. But she encouraged me to do it anyway. So I thought, “Well, if I’m gonna do it, it has to be, like, LaQuette style. It can’t be, you know, the traditional map of a category. I’ve gotta throw, you know, everything but the kitchen sink in it.”
And I had this sort of, like, this Prince and Pauper sort of situation in my head, but in Brooklyn. And it worked out really well in my head anyway. I really enjoy the idea of Camden coming from this really, really posh existence, and then clashing with Elijah and his very loud and boisterous family. And, I think, putting those two people together and those two, you know, with their backgrounds and differences in their backgrounds and the differences in their, you know, perspectives in life, it really…it just made for a richer experience for me, as a writer.
Will: I utterly fell in love with Camden and Elijah. I think they’re two incredibly…they are exceptional heroes, and they’re part of what makes this book really sing. But as I mentioned in my review just a few minutes ago, part of what, I think, what makes the story compelling and even more enjoyable is the sort of supporting cast that helps them along in their journey towards saying, “I love you.” Elijah’s family is amazing, every single one of them. But I was particularly struck by one of Elijah’s co-workers, the police chief, who is his best friend, along with, you know, being a colleague. And what I was struck by is that at the beginning of the book, the character seemed, you know, pretty, you know, straightforward, it was a secondary character, and she was there to kind of like, you know, get the story moving along. But as we read further and get to know Camden and Elijah more and more, she becomes a much more integral part of the story. And in fact, she’s pretty vital to the solution that Cam comes up towards the end. And I was really surprised to read in an interviewer just, I think, this last week it appeared online. I learned that one of the reasons that this secondary character is so well-drawn is because she’s actually already had her own book.
LaQuette: She’s had three books, actually.
Will: Can you tell us real quickly, for our listeners, can you tell us about the origin of this particular character and why you thought she would be such a good fit for Camden and Elijah’s story?
LaQuette: Captain Heart Searlington is a character from my “Queens of Kings” series, which is all heroine-centered. And she is this…you know, her name is Heart for a reason, because she has a huge heart, even though she really carries it under this gruff exterior. She’s a badass, she’s all about getting work done. And if you ever get the chance to read her books, you know, she’s really out there hands-on in the street. And I felt like Elijah would need someone like that, professionally and personally, to kind of…to get him to the place where he could admit his flaws. Someone that’s not… You know, he’s a very…he’s a large man, he’s aggressive, you know, he carries a gun, so he could be a little bit intimidating for the average person. But for her, she’s not afraid to tell him like it is to his face.
And, you know, when you have that kind of a personality where people might not tell your truth because they find you imposing, having someone who will speak the truth to you, regardless of whatever the situation is, can be vital to you, you know, making the right choices in life. And I felt like having her there would give him that balance, because he needed some really cold truths told to him, for him to get his head together and do what he needed to do.
Jeff: Was it always your intention to have the character crossover or did that just kind of manifest itself?
LaQuette: Well, the precinct that they work at is sort of anytime I have a police situation, those cops show up in a book somewhere. So one, because, you know, the world is already created, so it’s kind of easy for me to draw from that precinct, but it’s also because my readers absolutely adore this woman. And so they’re always asking for her, and this was an opportunity for her to show up and say, “Hi.” And not in a way that overshadows, you know, the main story, which is Camden and Elijah, but just enough to make readers go, “Oh, my God. She’s here.”
Jeff: It’s always good to get those universe crossovers and little Easter eggs like that, for sure.
LaQuette: It’s true. It’s very true.
Will: Yeah. Now, “Under His Protection” is not your first M/M romance.
LaQuette: No, it is not.
Will: There’s also “Love’s Changes,” which I believe came out in 2016?
Will: And I wanted to ask you, what drew you to writing in this specific subgenre? I mean, along with all of your other books that are more traditional male/female romances?
LaQuette: Well, one, I wholeheartedly believe that everyone deserves a happy ending. And when I wrote the “Queens of King” series, I always knew that Heart’s cousin, because the characters, the protagonists in “Love’s Changes” are Bryan, who is one of Heart’s lieutenants, you met him, actually, in “Under His Protection,” and her cousin, Justice. And so they get to have their own story. You get to see them a little bit in the “Queens of King” series, but they’re more background. We know that they were having a hard time and they were broken up for some reason, but we don’t know why. So they get, you know, readers… Which really surprised me because I didn’t really believe that there was a lot of crossover between male-female readers and male-male readers. But people really asked me for a story for those two. Like, “When are we gonna get Justice and Bryan’s story? We wanna know what happens to them and how they get back together.” And so I that story was actually born out of the fact that readers requested it, and so I gave it to them.
Jeff: That’s very cool. You know, it’s always nice to see as the M/F readers catch the male-male pairing to then want to know more.
LaQuette: Yes, it was really a trip for me. I did not believe that they would want it at all. But it was very touching to write their story. I was very happy with how the story turned out. I was very happy with the fact that they get their happily ever after. And it’s not…it’s connected to the “Queens of Kings” series, but it’s not really part of it. So the story kind of takes place outside of everything that’s going on in that particular story.
Jeff: Do you envision more, I guess, “Dreamspun Desires” books that happened in the universe you’ve created with everything that’s going on so far?
LaQuette: I really didn’t, but I’ve been getting a lot of mail recently about this book. And, you know, people wanting to know what happens after this. They wanna see how Camden’s family kind of blends with Elijah’s family and how that’s going to work. I’m like, “Dude, I’m not there. Like, I have so many other projects. I can’t right now. But we’ll come back to that maybe.”
Jeff: Just based on your review, I don’t see how those families mesh.
Will: Two different worlds. Most definitely, yeah.
LaQuette: They really are.
Jeff: Now, one of the things that I’m super excited about, having recently read about, is your new contract with Dreamspinner for “Harlem Heat.”
LaQuette: Yes, “Harlem Heat,” so when stuff makes me mad, it also makes me really productive. So I was really kind of getting tired of hearing the “not historically accurate moniker” criticism given to African-American romance, especially historical African-American romance. And it just bothered me because it’s not that those happily-ever-afters weren’t possible. It’s just people aren’t really aware of the completed history. So a lot of thing…you know, a lot of people who think they know about African-American history, the only thing they know is slavery and Jim Crow, and that’s it. And, you know, black people have been downtrodden since we were brought to this country. But that’s not exactly the truth because even in all of the horror, there were still moments of triumph. And we didn’t just, you know, survive, we thrived. We’re still here, the proof that we’re still here, you know, the proof that we had happiness at some point is that we’re still here.
So I decided I wanted to write about a time that was where to be black and to be gay wasn’t something that you had to hide from the world. It wasn’t something you had to…you had your own pocket of community. There was a celebration of it. And I wanted to speak to that. I wanted people to know that these two intersections of life existed with happy endings.
Jeff: And this series, in particular, is gonna go to such an interesting time period in the U.S. when all of the Harlem Renaissance was happening.
LaQuette: Yeah, so it’s based on three actual people who lived during the Harlem Renaissance. So it’s based on Bumpy Johnson, who was the godfather of Harlem for 30 years. It’s based on Langston Hughes, who was a great contributor to the Harlem Renaissance as a poet and writer. And it’s also based on Cab Calloway, who was sort of one of the most notable faces in jazz and jazz music and jazz performance at the Cotton Club. So we’re gonna see… we won’t be using their names, but those characters will be based off of those actual people.
Will: Yeah, because it was…I think it was like mere moments after I finished reading “Under His Protection.” I read about this Harlem Renaissance series that you were doing, and I like lost my mind. I was like, totally doing a happy dance. This is going to be so amazing. I know this is still far in the future. But when do you think we can expect this series?
LaQuette: I don’t know. And that’s the God’s honest truth. I’m actually currently writing, finishing up the series for Sourcebooks. And so “Harlem Heat” doesn’t…I don’t think I’m projected to start it until like the end of the year. So I don’t know exactly when it’s going to be ready. But I mean, you know, ready for the world anyway. But I think I can talk to someone about getting you a beta read…a copy for beta reading if you’d like.
Jeff: Please do. Yes.
Will: That would be amazing.
Jeff: I imagine the research for that got to be a lot of fun to look at that period in history and figure out what parts you wanna take and use.
LaQuette: It is. I mean, I was very fortunate when I was in college. When I did my undergrad in creative writing. I was very fortunate to have a professor who thought..
Jeff opens the show talking about the work he’s doing on a holiday short story.
They also remind everyone about the LA Times Festival of Books happening April 13 and 14 on the USC Campus and the authors expected to attend from Dreamspinner Press and Interlude Press.
Jeff & Will talk about the series finale of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Books reviewed this week include Arctic Sun by Annabeth Albert and Paternity Case by Gregory Ashe.
Lisa joins Jeff to recommend four speculative fiction books: The Mortal Sleep by Gregory Ashe, Prince of Air and Darkness by M.A. Grant, All Souls Near & Nigh by Hailey Turner and Not Dead Yet by Jen Burke.
While his uncle is recuperating from minor surgery, Alaskan bush pilot Griffin is tasked with taking a tour group into the wilds of Alaska. One of the group is River, former male model-turned inspirational travel writer, who’s gathering material for his next book.
There’s an immediate attraction and chemistry between them and over the course of the week, as they spend more time together, they fall for one another.
One of the many things that drew me into Arctic Sun, is that Griff and River are two interesting, compelling, genuinely dimensional characters, with actual lives. And by that, I mean that they’re not just cardboard cut-outs going through the motions, playing out a standard romantic plotline.
They’ve both faced challenges in the past, overcome them, and – through emotionally intelligent conversations — work to figure out how they can move forward together.
After the tour is over, they make plans to meet in Vancouver.
River is going to be hanging out with some old friends from his modeling days, and Griff’s visit is a kind of “real world” road test to see if their relationship can work. It’s, of course, a total disaster.
The old friends bring out triggering scenarios for both Griff and River. Their true “Real World” was the connection they shared in the wilds of Alaska, not fancy date night restaurants or going to exclusive clubs. The problem is that they’re using relationship criteria from their screwed-up pasts to judge their current situation.
They realize this far too late and break things off.
They each take some time apart and do some soul searching, River about his family history and public persona and how it relates to his work, and Griff about how he interacts with the outside world and family’s tour business.
Griff makes his way to L.A. for the premiere of the film based on River’s book. The things they each want and need out of life are actually more aligned than they first realized.
They can live, love and work surrounded by the nature that gives each of them so much joy.
I’ve continued to work my way through Gregory Ashe’s Hazard & Somerset Mystery series. Gregory’s way with mystery thrillers along with possibly the slowest burn romance ever keep drawing me back. After dealing with a Clue-like mystery taking place over Thanksgiving in Transposition, the action now moves to Christmastime.
An interesting turn of events, one that I believe only Gregory could concoct, finds Emery Hazard and John-Henry Somerset on a double date as the book opens. Readers of the series know this just cannot end well as Hazard, his boyfriend Nico, Sommers and his estranged wife Cora attempt to have a meal together. Saying the scene is uncomfortable is an understatement and it’s the perfect scene to begin the story.
The mystery in Paternity Case revolves around an incident that occurs at the Somerset family home. Sommers’s father calls him away from dinner to help with the problem. When Hazard and Sommers arrive, they discover a quite high, naked Santa causing issues and before they can sort out why, a teenage girl is dead, Sommers’s father is shot multiple times and the Santa is killed after being taken into custody.
Nothing is ever what it seems in a Hazard and Somerset book and the reason and motive for the shootings is disturbing and extraordinary. Gregory has concocted his most twisted mystery of the series and shines an even brighter spotlight on the shady goings on in the Wahredua good old boy network. I’m always stunned at how Gregory reveals the whodunit and this one continually blew my mind.
We know from previous books that Sommers and Hazard have complicated pasts, together and separately. Significant details are finally laid out in this book. We find out why Hazard had to leave St. Louis, which honestly wasn’t as shocking as I expected…but it doesn’t mean that those in power in Wahredua don’t try to capitalize on it. Learning more of what happened to the boys in high school upset me. More about Sommers’s senior year came to light and the feelings Sommers has about Hazard continue to have a major impact on his future choices.
Many authors would dump this information out much earlier, but the parsing that Gregory’s done over the three books made it more impactful. It’s like a traffic accident–uncomfortable to witness and yet you can’t look away. It’s expert writing that keeps you glued to the page to see what gets revealed next and guessing what the far reaching implications will be.
There are some sublime side characters in this book and I have to give a particular shout out to Sommer’s mother, Grace Elaine. She’s every bit a southern matriarch who you do not want to cross–sugary sweet in one moment and ready to claw your eyes out in the next. The cat and mouse game she plays with Hazard is equal parts highly entertaining and disturbing. She goes to great lengths to protect her son, her family and what she believes is right all while being a terrible person at heart. She made me shudder as I knew people just like her from growing up in the south.
Back to the mystery, it’s impossible to easily talk about it without revealing too much. Suffice to say of the three books so far, this mystery has been the most disturbing because of the ramifications for the teenage characters involved–not only the girl who is killed but two of her friends who are swept up in the drama. Anyone who is potentially triggered by abusive parents, child abuse, and similar issues would be advised to proceed cautiously with this book.
Of course, I’m ready to read more from Gregory. I have no doubt that things that were planted in this book will matter even more in what follows. I can’t wait to see where it all leads to ultimately.
Jeff & Will talk about their upcoming trip to the 2019 LA Times Festival of Books. They also discuss two series they’ve been watching: Comedy Central’s The Other Two and Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists.
Books reviewed this week include Kim Fielding’s The Spy’s Love Song, Ari McKay’s Take Two and Erin McLellan’s Clean Break.
Jeff interviews Erin McLellan about Clean Break, the second book in her Farm College series, and about why it’s important for her to tell stories based in her home state of Oklahoma. They also talk about her Love Life series, what got her started writing, her author influences and the TV she likes to binge watch.
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 propoganda. 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 imporant. 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 hatered, they realize they’re constrained by time. At graduation, Connor is set to take over management of his parent’s farm, even though he doesn’t necessarily want that. Meanwhile, Travis can’t wait to get out of the small town for his legal aid internship and then on to law school. The guys have their futures mapped out and there’s no space for the other. That doesn’t stop them from getting emotionally entangled.
Erin does a terrific job of bringing these two together. As they move their hookups to the bedroom, Travis discovers he likes Connor’s controlling side and gives himself over to it. Connor though never takes advantage, making sure that he’s always got Travis’s consent and that Travis enjoys himself. That continues as Travis reveals he’d like to be spanked. Both guys discover this is exactly what they need.
Beyond the sex though, their efforts to not get too attached aren’t helped by their post-sex talks. Travis usually wants Connor to tell him a story and it’s here that he opens up bit by bit about his anxiety, his OCD and his pre-determined future. There’s so much going on for him, as a reader I wanted to wrap him in a hug and do whatever I could to ease the load he carried. Travis talks a lot too and over time we learn what makes him so driven–it turns out he lost one of his dreams due to an accident and he doesn’t want to let anything or anyone cost him this one.
Just a she was great at bringing them together, Erin tears the guys apart just as expertly. It’s a tough go as Connor and Travis force themselves apart as graduation nears. Erin does a number on the characters as they emotionally hurt themselves and each other as they keep to their plans. Both guys want to talk to the other so badly and yet they’ve promised not too. For Connor, this is particularly bad for his OCD.
Of course, this is a romance, so all must end happy. Thankfully how Erin gets the guys back together his as satisfying as everything she did earlier in the book. There is a way for them to be together–it just takes time for them to get there.
Interview Transcript - Erin McLellan
Jeff: Welcome, Erin, to the podcast.
Erin: Hi. Thanks for having me.
Jeff: Very excited to have you here. You’re a new-to-me author and I just finished reading “Clean Break,” which I have to tell you, I adored so much. I’m reviewing it right before we get into the interview segment I’ll have reviewed it to kinda tell everybody about it.
Erin: Yay, thank you.
Jeff: It is the second book in your “Farm College” Series. So before we dive into “Clean Break,” tell us more about what the “Farm College” Series is about.
Erin: Okay. So it’s just two books so far like you said and they are set in a fictional college in Western Oklahoma. And I would say kind of the overarching themes are… Since they’re college stories, they’re new adult that’s kind of coming of age and self-discovery, finding your authentic self, finding a home is kind of a big one. I think that’s kind of important at that age. You’ve moved out of your parent’s house or wherever you grew up for a lot of people and kinda figuring out what is home, what is family, that kind of thing. So those types of themes are kind of follow both books. They’re both kind of angsty to be honest though “Controlled Burn,” more so than “Clean Break” actually.
Jeff: Oh, my goodness.
Erin: So be prepared. But, yeah, and I think in terms of… The setting is really important to me at least as the author and those books is important to me. I’m from Oklahoma. I live in Alaska now, but I’m from Oklahoma. And it’s important to me to write stories that are set in Oklahoma that have, you know, LGBTQIA+ characters in Oklahoma. And I know as somebody that reads a lot of romance, I don’t see that very often. I don’t see romance set there or it might be… I have seen it where it’s, you know, characters that are like, escaping Oklahoma which certainly is the case for a lot of people, but it’s also the case that people live and love, and make their lives there. And I kinda wanna show that.
Jeff: Does a farm college like this exist in Oklahoma? Is it based on a real place?
Erin: No. Kind of I guess. A lot of the kind of small details mirror Oklahoma State which was my alma mater for undergrad, but Oklahoma State is so much bigger than the college that I created. So Farm College is kind of a smaller college in Western Oklahoma that I’ve created, but in terms of being, you know, having a strong agriculture program, but also kind of having this liberal arts situation that’s going on and a pretty vibrant LGBTQIA community, I’ve kind of made most of that up. So…
Jeff: And I agree that we don’t see, I mean, besides books set in Oklahoma, really the more rural settings kinda, it’s always escaping from those places. And I like that you kind of built a place as if this is what you’d like to see even if it doesn’t quite exist there now.
Erin: Right. And I think it’s kind of funny when I started writing “Controlled Burn.” It was pre-2016, right? And I kind of had this, you know, I kind of had this idea that it’s getting better, right? It’s looking up for lots of communities and I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the case anymore. I hope it will be and I hope it is eventually. But, you know, there’s good and bad, I think, about places like Oklahoma and Kansas, and Texas. And, you know, Oklahoma is really special to me. It’s really important to me. Kansas is the same, but there’s also problems and, you know, I wanna kinda write those stories. And I also, thinking about Oklahoma or Texas probably more so, a lot of the romances that I’ve read that are set there are like, ranch, you know, the cowboys, the farmers which there is kind of a farmer in “Clean Break.” But there’s a lot of people that live in Oklahoma and in Texas, in Kansas that aren’t cowboys. So I wanted to tell that story too.
Jeff: Right. And you really hinted that a little bit with some of the dialogue between Travis and Connor in “Clean Break” too as they kind of talk about the difference between cowboy and more the farmer type that Connor and his family are.
Jeff: And so, as we kinda move this direction, tell us what “Clean break” is about and kind of who Travis and Connor are.
Erin: Right. So “Clean Break” is about Travis and Connor. Travis is…he’s the best friend in “Controlled Burn.” So if you read “Controlled Burn,” you see quite a bit of him. He’s an English major. He’s from Houston, Texas, very ambitious. He’s got these kind of life plans and nothing’s gonna slow him down, right? He wants to go to law school. He’s got an internship after for the summer. He’s planning to move to Saint Louis eventually to work at this legal aid charity. He has this very, you know, set goals and he’s also kind of a unique, quirky, funny character to me.
And then you have Connor who comes in and I don’t know if I would say at the beginning of the book, it’s more like pre-book before the book happens, they have a little bit of a failed hookup in a lot of ways. Some misunderstandings and so, they don’t like each other very much. And then in the first chapter, they get paired together as class partners in a class. And Connor is a farm boy. He’s kind of a townie, right? He’s from Elkville which is the city that’s it’s set in. He’s expected to take over the family farm and so, he’s got this, you know, he kind of his future plans are set, right? He doesn’t have a say over them and he’s… I have a big soft spot in my heart for him. He’s got anxiety, he has OCD.
I really wanted to kind of write against the archetype of the like, lackadaisical cowboy or even like, the kind of the hard cowboy or, you know, that kind of archetype that I had in my head. I wanted to write a sensitive farm boy who’s in therapy and, you know, it doesn’t really match some of the people or the characters that I have seen written that way. And kind of the main issue between them, first is that they don’t like each other, but they’re attracted to each other, right? But the kind of the main two things that I wanted to do with the book is I wanted to write a complex authentic characters that are really well-rounded and hopefully, I accomplish that. And then the other thing that I really wanted to do was kind of write to people that are heading towards their future which is graduation and then, you know, the future beyond. And then their futures don’t mesh. There’s not really a way to come together at the end of graduation. They’re moving in different directions and I think that’s a really universal thing for people in college that are dating and dating seriously… do you compromise your future for somebody else? Do you change it? How do you make it work?
So those are kind of the two things that I really wanted to hit on and of course, there’s, you know, there’s some kink that happens in the book and kind of self-discovery with that especially on Connors’ part. So there’s a lot going on, but those two things. The characterization and the conflict there with their futures not meshing are the two things I really wanted to hit.
Jeff: And I think you did them both, I mean, really well. This book has so much going on in it and yet it never…the story also never gets way down either with the weight of everything that’s kind of moving around here.
Erin: Thank you.
Jeff: And really, you started them off as enemies who sort of move to friends to sort of get to lovers.
Jeff: Just that progression was so fun to watch unfold as they both pick at each other and then also help each other grow at the same time. It’s like, they lift each other up and kinda tear each other down at the same time.
Erin: Right. And I hope that that is realistic. I think people… Because in a lot of ways they are kind of mean to each other at certain points and people can be mean to each other in real life. Especially, they’re not very old, you know, they’re 21, 22. So they kinda make stupid mistakes sometimes and say things that can be hurtful and then have to figure out how to make it better.
Jeff: And I think with Connor too, you talked about writing against the archetypes and just having kinda the anxiety plus the OCD. And being, you know, a young gay man in that setting really just sets up so much for him in that situation.
Erin: Right. Yeah. He has a lot going on. He’s bi actually and…
Jeff: Right. I’m sorry. You’re right. Yes.
Erin: And so, kind of a lot. I mean, it’s just a lot and I think it’s a lot for him to kind of deal with all at the same time.
Jeff: What was your research on the mental health side of it to kind of figure out what traits to weave into his personality?
Erin: So I did a lot of research and I had some readers too that read it for me. One of the main things that I really looked at was kind of the myths especially with OCD, kind of the myths surrounding OCD. I think a lot of people think it’s just, you know, a cleanliness thing or even an organizational thing where they, you know, people with OCD have an impulse to organize or clean. And that’s not really how it presents for a lot of people. A lot people have intrusive thoughts which he has or, you know, they have checking where he checks the expiration dates on food and he can’t kind of stop doing that even though he knows he shouldn’t be doing it, and it’s not healthy for him to do. And so, I did a lot of research about the myths and the different ways that it presents for people and kind of the hardships that it causes them. And I also really wanted to make sure that I kind of made it clear. It’s something that he’ll always deal with, right? It’s not going away and so, it’s really… I did a lot of research on how to manage it, how, you know, how to kind of continue life dealing with a mental health problem like that.
Jeff: Yeah. I just… So often I wanted to just give him a hug when he was starting to lapse into it. It’s like, “Oh, I’m so sorry this is happening.” What you did through the black moments and I don’t wanna give spoilers for folks who, you know, need to read the book. But what you did to the black moments for both Connor and Travis as they dealt with their emotions and for Connor how those emotions kinda manifest themselves in his OCD was really just, I really liked seeing two young adults kinda come to grapple with all of that.
Erin: Yeah. And I think it’s pretty normal when you’re more stressed, right? Or when there’s more and more stress for, you know, the OCD to kind of build on itself. The same with anxiety like, whenever I am really stressed about my anxiety, it’s gonna be worse about small things, you know, you..
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.
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 furinture.
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 BareInTheChurch.com
Spring Book Recommendations
Here are the blurbs we read on the show for the books we’re excited about:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The show opens with Jeff talking about turning in the manuscript for the 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.
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.
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!
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: 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.”
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.
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?”
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 Audible.com. 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.
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..