Jeff opens the show discussing the progress he’s made on a Codename: Winger Christmas story.

They guys talk about the Heart2Heart Anthology, which releases on Tuesday, November 13, as well as the Love Your Book Store Challenge, which runs through November 16. Will also previews The Queer Lit Read-a-Thon that takes place December 2-8.

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Hallmark Channel Christmas movies, including upcoming ones with gay or gay adjacent actors, are discussed. They also focus on Road To Christmas, which features the first gay couple in a supporting role.

Will reviews Cinnamon Spiced Omega by Susi Hawke and Seeking Solace by Ari McKay.

Jeff & Will interview Ari McKay about the two books they’re releasing in November: Seeking Solace and Quenched in Blood. They also discuss Designer Holiday, their new Christmas story that they’re revealing the cover for on the podcast. We also find out what’s next for Herc’s Mercs and more looking into 2019.

Remember, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast anytime on Apple PodcastsGoogle Play Music, SpotifyStitcherPlayerFMYouTube and audio file download.

Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode:

Designer Holiday by Ari McKay Cover Reveal

Ari McKay Interview Transcript

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Jeff: Welcome Ari McKay to the podcast. How about we take a moment you two can introduce yourselves?

Ari: Okay. Hi, I’m the Ari half of Ari McKay.

McKay: And, hi, I am the McKay half of Ari McKay.

Jeff: Fantastic. We are thrilled to have you guys back on the podcast. You’ve got two books coming out this month, with both, “Seeking Solace” in the Dreamspun Desires line and “Quenched In Blood” in The Dreamspun Beyond line. So congratulations for that. Tell us first about “Seeking Solace,” which is the new Walker Boys book.

Ari: Okay, this one has been…it was a little different because instead of being a chef, he’s a wannabe chef who is working as a bartender on a cruise ship. And part of the reason for that setting was that I’ve taken a lot of cruises and I enjoy cruising. And so, it was, really kind, of a fun way to use my experiences onboard a cruise ship to, you know, bring a little bit of a realistic touch to the setting.

So, Devin is the Walker in question. And he has been working on the cruise ship for Triton Lines. And he’s a bartender, he gets to meet a lot of people. And because he’s very outgoing, he gets asked to shepherd one of the executives from the cruise line who was coming on board to learn the ins and outs of how the ships actually work rather than the office back half of the business. But what he doesn’t know is that Paul is actually the heir to the entire cruise line. And so it’s kind of the, you know, secret millionaire, you know, sort of thing going on there. And they get very close. And Paul has some issues that he’s working through with a physical disability. And Devin helps him to work through part of his issues, and in the process, they kind of fall in love. So I don’t wanna give away too much of the background.

Will: No, giving away the good stuff that’ll be in my review. Because I’ve read this book, I loved it to pieces. I especially loved the cruise ship setting. It was a lot of fun. Just sort of wonderful and escapist and romantic. I loved it to pieces. Now, most of The Walker Boys books have taken place in Texas, specifically, Buffalo Lick, the small quaint town where barbecue’s king. And actually, Ari, you and I are actually both wearing a very special t-shirt, a t-shirt, as it so happens that actually makes an appearance in “Seeking Solace.” Do you wanna explain that just a little bit?

Ari: Yeah, so when Paul comes on board the ship, he doesn’t really bring any casual clothes with him because he’s, you know, the executive type and he thinks he’s going to be very formal while onboard the ship, and Devin convinces him that that’s not such a good idea. You’re gonna make the patrons kind of nervous if you’re wandering around in a suit. And since Paul doesn’t have anything to wear, Devin loans him some clothing, and one of the items happens to be Devon’s Buffalo Lick Bisons t-shirt that he has from when he was in high school. And he’s carried it with him everywhere. And he allows Paul to wear it and Paul kind of takes it over and ends up with it. As, you know, sometimes happens with couples and trading shirts and things like that.

So, we McKay and I, it was kind of a funny joke about, you know, okay, so the shirt is important. So we actually hired a graphic artist, Diane from Lyrical Lines, to design us an actual logo. We actually own this logo. It’s ours. Buffalo Lick is ours. And so Diane made us a custom logo and we had it put on the shirt. And we had three shirts made and we had one for McKay, one for myself, and one for Will because Will has always loved The Walker Boys so he had to have a shirt.

Will: I love it. It was so amazing to get to see both of you and talk to you when we were at GRL not too long ago.

Ari: Yeah, that was great.

McKay: Yes, I enjoyed it.

Jeff: It was your first GRL, McKay. How was that for you?

McKay: It was an amazing experience. And I would recommend anyone who is a writer or a reader of gay romance to attend at least once because it’s so warm and welcoming. And even though it was my first time, I felt like I instantly belonged because everybody was just so open and welcoming to me. And I just really enjoyed the whole weekend. And I really loved getting to meet some of our readers and meet fellow authors. It was just fantastic.

Jeff: Very cool. What’s coming next or is there a next for The Walker Boys in their journey?

Ari: Actually, yes, there is. This is kind of interesting because I suppose it’s…I don’t know if people know that the Dreamspun Desires line is changing focus a little bit. They’re going for, kind of, lighter stories than, you know, even what we’ve been writing. So, we actually have book four of The Walker Boys almost completed. It’s called “Healing Hearts.” And we have permission from Dreamspinner to move it out into the mainline. So when we finish it and finally get it submitted, The Walker Boys will transition just from the in the Dreamspun Desires line out to the main Dreamspinner, or main Dreamspun Line, which is actually kind of good for us because that means we’re not limited to the 60,000 words, so we can make kind of, you know, longer, little more in-depth stories.

And for, “Healing Hearts,” especially, that’s going to be kind of important because the Walker boy in that one has got a few issues that he needs to work through. So, having the extra…the ability to go much longer if we need to means that we can, you know, give it a little bit more in-depth of a treatment for him about his problems. So, because most of the walkers are kind of happy-go-lucky, not this one.

McKay: And just as a preview, for this book, we are actually going back to the same setting as book two, what was it, “Breaking Bonds?”

Ari: Yes, yes.

McKay: And the chef in training who, kind of, studied under Liam Rocky, he’s going to be one of the leads this time.

Will: Oh, God. Oh, I can’t wait. Hurry, hurry, finish it fast. That’ll be amazing. I can’t wait for that.

McKay: Yeah, I was the one who mostly wrote Rocky and he got vocal, you know. I just loved…he was fun. I loved writing him. And after we finished, “Breaking Bonds,” I was kind of thinking in the back of my mind, he needs his own book. He’s out there. So I’m glad that we are getting to tell his story and let him have a Walker of his own.

Ari: Yes, and he gets the ne’er-do-well. So he’s going to have to whip his Walker boy into shape.

Will: Yeah, can’t wait. Oh, that sounds so good. So amazing. Now, in addition to The Walker Boys that’s releasing this month, you’ll also have another book in your Asheville Archana series. Can you explain, first of all, before we get into the new book itself, can you explain a little bit about the paranormal nature of this particular series?

Ari: Sure. This one is set in Asheville, North Carolina. And it focuses around members of the paranormal community in and around western North Carolina. In this world, we have vampires, we have shapeshifters, we have fairies, demons, and demon hunters. And in the first two books, it followed a series of friends, actually, the three main characters, Julian, Wimzie, and Arden were all friends with benefits.

And in the first two books, Lindsay and Arden found their true love romance. And so now only Julian is left and he’s been left alone. But in the backdrop, they’re also fighting a war against a demon invasion. There have been incursions in each book that they have had to rally members of the paranormal community to fight off these demons. And this book, kind of, culminates that battle. So we’re going to see the end result of all of their efforts in the first two books.

Jeff: Cool. And there’s a third book.

McKay: Julian gets funny.

Jeff: This third one’s called “Quenched in Blood.”

McKay: Yes.

Jeff: So besides dealing with the war, who’s the couple here? And what’s their story?

McKay: Okay, we actually set the seeds for this back in book one. So one of the leads is Julian, and he’s finally going to meet someone. And that someone was actually introduced in the first book, but he never actually appeared on camera. He was a voice in the background. When Wimzie, and Arden, and Eli, and the other cast of book one went out to visit a demon hunter named Micah, they found out that he had a grandson because the grandson called him from inside the house, and Micah was very secretive about this.

Well, they’re going to go back and meet that grandson, who is a demon hunter himself, but he’s untrained, his name’s Thomas. And he is descended from demon hunters on both sides. So he’s very powerful, but he has no idea. His grandfather was so grieved by the loss of his son and daughter-in-law, Thomas’s parents, that he raised Thomas in ignorance of who and what he was. And so, Thomas has no idea that demons and vampires and werewolves exist, and he’s blown away. He has to have a crash course in, you know, what’s going on. And then they’re like, “Oh, hey, by the way, we need you to fight these demons. Yay.” So, Thomas gets thrown in the deep end pretty quick.

Jeff: What was your inspiration behind this one to like…? And did the inspiration come more as the whole series since you were, kind of, arching this entire story over about the war?

McKay: We had a short story, we wrote it for Halloween several years ago, and it was much shorter. And it was published by a company that no longer exists. And we were trying to figure out what to do with the story/novella. And the more we looked at it, the more we realized that we liked the world-building. So we had written the story together. And then I had written a Halloween story individually that we could pull elements of and, kind of, mush together. And that’s what we did. We took the things that we liked from the world-building from both of these stories and started creating this world.

And from there, we figured out okay, what do we want in each book? What do we want the overall arc to be? And we kind of did some planning in world-building and then we dove in. I mean, things changed as we wrote, of course, but basically, that’s where they came from, these 2 one-off Halloween stories that we wrote one together and one I wrote by myself.

Jeff: That’s very exciting to have the world mash-up like that.

McKay: Yeah. The story that I wrote, I kind of had in the back of my mind the Halloween story that we had written together. And I asked Ari, it’s like, “Okay, if I take elements, do you mind, you know, if I kind of loosely set it in the same universe?” And of course, she said it was fine. And it was not closely tied that you could see it, but it was enough that when the time came, we could mesh them seamlessly. In fact, the character of Wimzie was in my story. So, his romance ended up being a little bit different, but my short story was basically about a wizard named Wimzie who falls in love with a werewolf named Harlan. So, we took that directly.

Ari: So much of our inspiration is just kind of co…I mean, it’s a true collaboration, the way that we write and the way that we develop stories. One of us will get, you know, a bee in our bonnet about something, a TV show or, you know, a movie or something and it’s like, “Ooh, you know, something like that would be really cool.” And then, you know, we end up, like, building on it all together.

So, it’s like, you know, I think most of the paranormal stuff, the original inspiration was yours, McKay. Because I even think the predecessor to the Asheville Archana series, I think the original short story was actually something you had originally proposed. And then like when it comes to, like, “Herc’s Mercs,” that was something that clobbered me over the head one day. And so yeah, like I said, it’s like, we kind of take turns on who…Like, “Oh, who’s got a good idea?” “Okay, let’s do that.”

McKay: Yeah, and I do tend to lean more towards fantasy, paranormal, supernatural. I mean, that is my jam. So, yeah, I didn’t remember that the original story was mine. But now that you said it, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, it was, wasn’t it?” And I’m not surprised because that’s…I really have a strong interest in that genre. And she kind of had to convince me to go with the “Herc’s Mercs,” but hey.

Ari: It took some convincing. It took a lot of convincing. She did not wanna originally write it because that’s not…action-adventure is my wheelhouse. I am a Tom Clancy girl. I love, you know, all the adventure stories. So that’s where I find, you know, I have the strength in coming up with stuff.

Will: Now, for any normal author collaboration, two books in one month would be, like, more than enough. But as we’ve just discovered, you’ve got a Christmas story coming out very soon. What can you tell us about that?

Ari: Yeah, that one is actually it’s almost completed. It’s called “Designer Holiday.” And it’s one that we actually had started, I believe, in January of this year. And we had thought we were gonna write 12 Christmas stories just as kind of a series and that, sort of, didn’t happen.

McKay: No.

Ari: But we got through…the one that we had started, we’ve gone back to, and you know, it’s…I’ll let McKay explain the setting. The characters are Emilio, who is a dance instructor, and his love interest is Rain, who is an interior designer.

McKay: And surprise, surprise, it is set in western North Carolina. Yes, we like that part of the country. So we know it well and we tend to go back there quite a bit for our settings. For inspiration for the town, “Holiday Pines,” I was thinking about the many little tiny towns that exist in the mountains of North Carolina. They’re places like Maggie Valleys, Spruce Pines, Waynesville, Clyde, and things like that. And that’s, kind of, what I had in mind for the town in the story.

And so, it’s a very small town, but their claim to fame is that they are home to the biggest Christmas tree farm in the state. And they are trying to revive tourism in the town by renovating an early 20th-century Art Deco style theater. That’s their local playhouse where all of the local shows and entertainment happens. And so, Rain and Emilio had been high school sweethearts. They grew up in Holiday Pines together, but Rain wanted more, and so he left.

He went to college in Atlanta, and he ended up staying there and starting his own interior design company. And when he was still in college, he broke up with Emilio and broke his heart. Well, now, Rain has been invited back to Holiday Pines to help with the renovation and restoration of the Playhouse. And so he and Emilio are seeing each other again for the first time in 12 years.

Ari: Emilio is happy.

Jeff: I love second chance stories. And we’re very excited because we have the cover reveal for this. We don’t often get to do cover reveals, in fact, you’re the first. And folks can go to our show notes page for this episode and see the cover for this story that’ll be out in early December. Now, you’ve mentioned “Herc’s Mercs” a little bit before and that is one of Will’s very favorite-est things ever.

Will: Oh, yeah.

Jeff: What might be coming up in that universe?

McKay: Well, anyone who was at GRL might have seen our banner. We got a lot of comments on it. I think you got a picture. Yes, that banner was very popular. And for anyone who did not see it, it features three very handsome, buff men in an obvious threesome. So, we had initially thought that that would be the cover for the ninth and final “Herc’s Marcs” book, but the banner got so much positive attention and commentary that we thought…and people were saying when we said, “Oh yeah, that’s gonna be a ‘Herc’s Mercs’ cover,” “Oh, when? When’s it coming out?”

So we decided okay, we need to move that up. So the threesome story with the “Herc’s Mercs” will be the eighth one. That’ll be next and it’s going to feature two characters who have appeared pretty consistently in the series. They’ve been, kind of, background characters, Finn and Morrissey. And the third character is one that got mentioned in “No Pain, No Gain,” the early chapters, Joker. So those are the three main characters who will be featured in “Herc’s Mercs” eight.

Ari: Tentatively, I think we’re calling that “Three to Get Ready.” So that’s just the tentative title, though.

McKay: Oh, yeah.

Jeff: It’s a good title, though.

Ari: Yes.

Jeff: And yeah, that banner did get a lot of traffic. We’ll add a link in the show notes to the picture that Will go with it. Some people could check that out on the Facebook feed.

Will: Now, can we expect that in 2019 hopefully?

Ari: Oh, yeah. Yeah, definitely. Probably mid to…what do you think, mid, McKay?

McKay: I would say so. Like I said, after the response that we got at GRL, we decided to fast-track that. And we do have a couple of things to finish up before we get to that one, but it’s on our shortlist for sure. So probably mid-ish 2019.

Will: Cool. That sounds fantastic. Now, I mean, in addition to the two books that you’re releasing this month, we spent an awful lot of time talking about some of your future projects, is there anything else you want to tease to our audience that might be coming out in 2019?

Ari: Yeah, if, everything goes well, and we’ve gotten pretty positive reaction from the publisher we’ve pitched it to, we should have a romantic thriller series coming out. This will be even…if you’ve read “Herc’s Mercs,” this will be the Mercs books more so. Very much a Tom Clancy, kind of, edge to it with gay romance involved. And I don’t know how much we’re even supposed to say about it. But it would involve an international, sort of, setting. I mean, it’s not…The main place that the people gather on is actually in the Mediterranean, but the action will take place all over the world. Have a very, very diverse cast of characters. So, basically, people from all over. So far, we have, what, one American, I think, and everybody else is from somewhere else. So we’re pretty excited about that.

McKay: Yeah, “Herc’s Mercs” was…there was some traveling outside the country, especially in the third one. But it tended to be pretty U.S.-centric. But this new series is expanding. So it will go well beyond the borders of the U.S. and have, like Ari said, a very global span and a global cast of characters.

Ari: And a lot more intrigue. “Herc’s Mercs” is really mostly bodyguards and stuff like this. This is going to have more of an overarching kind of plot in the background. And “Herc’s Mercs” were mostly novellas. These will be novels, these will be quite a bit longer and get a lot more involved. And ooh, I get to bring out all of my military stuff. That’s fun.

Jeff: Okay, I’m super excited for these because my recent bend towards romantic suspense just…yeah, bring these on.

Will: Those sounds amazing. So, before we leave, I wanna quickly remind everyone that “Seeking Solace” is available now. And, “Quenched in Blood” is coming out in the next couple of days. Where can people keep up with you and all of the books that you are continually writing? Is there someplace online that they can visit you and find out more?

McKay: We have a website, We have a newsletter. And the link to that is on our website in the sidebar. Actually, in the sidebar of our website, you can find our newsletter, our Facebook, our Amazon link, our Dreamspinner link. So, really, our website is the central landing point, and then you can get everywhere else from there. It has all of our books based on, is it a part of a series, is it standalone, it has a page for our audiobooks. And yeah, so that’s our one-stop-shop,

Jeff: Fantastic. Well, thank you both so much for coming to tell us all about this good stuff.

Ari: Oh, thank you for having us.

McKay: Yes. Thank you.