Jeff & Will discuss their upcoming appearance on the Tea & Strumpets Podcast to chat about Cat Sebastian’s The Soldier’s Scoundrel. They also announce that their co-written book, The Hockey Player’s Heart, will re-release Wednesday, January 15 as it celebrates its second anniversary.

Will reviews Rival Princes by Jaxon Knight. Jeff reviews Rescue Me by K.M. Neuhold, Cloud Cover by Jeffrey Sotto and Fearlsong by TJ Klune.

K.D. Edwards discusses The Hanged Man, the second book in his Tarot Sequence series. He talks about his re-telling of the Atlantis myth and how the tarot works into the books. He also gives some insight into where the series is going next, a YA book he wants to write and how amazing his readers are.

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Show Notes

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Interview Transcript – K.D. Edwards

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Jeff: K.D. Edwards, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for being here.

K.D.: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Jeff: It is our pleasure. Lisa from The Novel Approach, raved about “The Hanged Man” and it ended up in her Top of 2019 list just a couple of weeks ago.

K.D.: I was just listening to the podcast. The year is new, but it’s the best thing that’s happened to me this year so far. How about that?

Jeff: That’s excellent. Just to kick off the year that way.

K.D.: Yeah.

Jeff: For those who don’t know “The Tarot Sequence,” tell us about that series and then about the latest book, “The Hanged Man.”

K.D.: Sure. “The Hanged Man” just came out in December. It’s the second book in “The Tarot Sequence.” It essentially is a bit of a re-imagining of the Atlantis tale. Instead of having been a mythical Island that sank beneath the sea. I imagine that is something that was uncovered by humanity in the 1960s when technology started to reach out towards the stars and they were able to actually see Atlantis from outer space, which is something they had been unable to see, say from a ship or an airplane. And once I had this idea in my head of, of something like that, this lost civilization novel, I started coloring in the details.

And I’ve always wanted to do a novel based around the tarot mythology, and the tarot cards and the major Arcana. And then combine that with elements of, I love urban fantasy. I love mystery. I love touches of romance. I’m a huge believer of found family, in different sorts of love and family type relationships and all that came together to the story that I published.

I’ve got a lot planned for it, but the second one, I’ve been pretty pleased with the reaction so far.

Jeff: Where do readers find themselves as “The Hanged Man” opens?

K.D.: When all is said and done this is going to be nine novels. I have nine novels planned and they’re three trilogies.

So Hangmen is a bit of a bridge between, the beginning and the climax of the first trilogy. And I was really nervous about that. Not only is it a bit of a middle child, it’s also my sophomore effort, being published and you always worry that it’s going to get lost in the shuffle or not live up to expectations, or people will simply see it as a bridge to the third novel, but for the most part, that hasn’t happened at all.

it picks up right after the events in the first novel. I am definitely leading to something big in the third novel, but so far from what I’ve been sussing out from readers, it really stands on its own as a story, and I’m really happy about that because there are certain elements of it that I’ve been playing around with for years, waiting to see on page.

I’m pretty happy with the reaction so far.

Jeff: Where did you get the inspiration to decide that Atlantis, this was this thing that you can see from space in the 1960s, where did all that come from?

K.D.: I’ve talked about this before, so I’m not going to go into too much detail.

I’ll tell you something. I haven’t told many people, but, I’ve always wanted to do a lost civilization novel. I mean there, there are many different mythologies based around lost civilizations. Atlantis is only one of them, but not just that, but think about the period of time in human history when the entire world was essentially a lost civilization.

No one knew, you know, what existed on the other side of the globe, or, you know, all the different pathways they charted with the seas. And I’ve always been interested in that time period. It’s just, you know, ripe for fiction and especially the supernatural. And when I had this idea about, well, how could Atlantis possibly exist?

Then thinking about how it could be hidden from the worlds and when would that be revealed? Would they make the decision or with technology reached the point where it would be impossible to hide it from, from essentially the human world. And I started doing this research about, I actually contacted NASA and asked them when the first rocket was that flew over the Northern Atlantic that took pictures of the curvature of the world.

So I knew literally what was the first rocket in orbit that passed over where I would imagine my Island of new Atlantis was going to be built. So I put a lot of thought into the backstory before I finally started writing it, but I found, you know, people know a little bit about Atlantis and the sense of, it’s a myth, but they don’t know enough that I can create whatever I want out of it.

So it was a bit of a slate that someone gave me, but more or less a blank slate.

Jeff: I love that you called NASA. Even myself as an author, I wouldn’t think to call NASA. I’d be looking that up on Google somewhere, but I liked that you called them.

K.D.: I couldn’t find that on Google.

That’s how esoteric that information is. I mean, even now knowing the answer, you can’t find that on a search on Google that it’s buried in one of my email accounts. It’s actually going to be an element for one of my future novels. I would imagine they’d love the question because it took a couple of weeks to get a response, but they’re like, yeah, we had fun tracking this down.

Jeff: How did you even know who to call?

K.D.: I’m pretty good at the research thing. I do human resources and my day job, but I also worked for a university system and I’m involved in higher ed and any job I’ve ever had has always had a huge research component to it. So I’m pretty good about, you know, ferreting stuff out what I need to.

Jeff: That’s just awesome.

So some of the questions I have for you. I actually got from Lisa cause she had questions.

K.D.: I definitely am going to appreciate those questions because she has given me so many great recommendations, for my own book lists and my own reading lists throughout the year.

Jeff: So why the tarot, why did you go with the tarot and how did you decide to use that as the ideas, inspiration for characters?

K.D.: I guess it goes back to like golden age fantasy from say like the 80s with Piers Anthony when he did his incarnation of immortality and he took, some really huge elements of the universe and, and turn them into people.

He had people standing in for fate and time and death. And those are the three that I remember. I’m sure there are more, God and the devil. I just love the idea of that. I, there’s something about archetypes that have always appealed to me, not just on a grand scale of like the backstory, like the major Arcana of tarot cards or, you know, forces of human nature.

But even my characters are archetypes. Since I’ve been wanting to write as a kid, I have my Rune, what I call my Rune archetype, my Brand archetype. I have others that I’ll put in other stories, but it seems like it’s such an easy way or, almost like a shorthand with communicating with people, you know, like, you have your comic relief character, you have your wise ass, you have your, you know, your smart scholarly library type character for stories.

But for the tarot cards, the major Arcana in particular, they’re all based on imagery. Different tarot cards have different images, but imagery is huge. So turning those into real people or real thrones in real courts, it seemed like kind of a natural step to me. And plus each of the major Arcana tarot cards are really based around human appetites, and elements of the human experience, like, you know, fortune and nature and death and religion.

So it made exploring that a little bit more interesting.

Jeff: Did you go so far as to use the tarot to set the character’s personalities and even to see what they might do in certain situations or to help inspire the book further?

K.D.: I do a little bit. Not as much as my readers think and my readers come up with some interpretations that blow me out of the water, if anything, they’ve done more research than I have.

And, I mean, the whole thing about tarot cards is it’s based upon unconscious symbolism. So sometimes it’s even hard to tell what you intend and what you don’t intend. But, tarot cards also kind of give you a buffer in that depending on how you read them, they can be normal upward facing or they can be reversed if they’re upside down in their reading.

So that really covers basically what the tarot card means, and it’s exact opposite. So that gives me a little bit of wiggle room if I’m a little bit off. But I did research in the sense of, for instance, I like the sun court I picked because it seems a little bit like a card associated with the Phoenix. And this is definitely a story about redemption of a court in a way.

And the prince of a fallen court and also the sun card and, and like a tarot reading can also have to do with artists and creativity, and works of art. And that applies to me as a writer. So I definitely, who I picked for my bad guys and good guys is definitely inspired by some of what I know personally of tarot cards.

Jeff: Were you interested in tarot or using them outside of the writing, or did you get into it because of the writing?

K.D.: No, I do and I think I’d know I got into, well, I heard about them. They interested me, I thought from a creative perspective, and then I started using them myself, and they’re really good tools of meditation.

I mean, I’m not going to read too much into the metaphysics of it. But when you sit down with a deck of tarot cards, then you have a question and all of these images up here in front of you, your mind starts making connections. And I’m a firm believer that we all kind of know what we need to do in any given situation, but this is a really good way of connecting you with.

Damn, that’s right. I’m going to pay more attention to this or if this is an important part of my life. So I do tarot readings every now and then. I’m certainly not an expert in them, but like I said, the entire concept of the symbolisms they have in them and the different interpretations and using it almost like as a tool of meditation has always fascinated me.

Jeff: And I’ve, I’ve become fascinated by it more recently too, because I’ve heard more and more authors using tarot for various things in their writing, whether it’s determining characters or trying to unblock if they’re stuck in a scene or whatever, and I’m intrigued by that.

K.D.: I have not heard that. That’s interesting.

Jeff: It’s coming up on two or three podcasts lately. it’s really been interesting. There’s this moment of tarot that’s happening in like the last six months.

K.D.: Yeah, I do. I want to kind of discourage that. So if you could tell anyone to Hey, that I already taken go somewhere else. You know, I kind of want to plant my flag here, but I, for even when I first started out telling this story, I had backups for everything.

Like what if another series came out that heavily use the tarot for an urban fantasy? Or what if another, Atlantis novel came out? I had backups for pretty much everything I wanted to accomplish, but this is what I settled on.

It’s hard to describe if you have no experience with it, but especially for people who think it’s like something, you know, new age or whatever. What I would have to say is every card and all the interpretations are just littered with hundreds of different types of symbolism. And as you’re reading through them, something snags in your brain and you start drawing connections, and I don’t think there’s any necessarily divine force driving it. I think that your brain in some cases is the divine force. And just looking at the cards really can make things clearer if you just kind of empty your mind of everything else.

Jeff: Let’s talk about Rune and Brand a little bit. How do you describe their relationship?

K.D.: Oh, they are my favorite two characters I’ve ever written.

I just absolutely love every moment I spend with them. Essentially in the series, Rune is the prince of sorts. He’s the prince of a fallen throne. So he comes from a very, very strong bloodline and he is Atlantean. Brand is human, but he’s been with Rune since they were together in the crib.

Literally a couple of days old they were put together in the crib and they were bonded via a metaphysical type spell that’s called companionship and Brand is Rune’s companion, a lifelong advisor and bodyguard, and meant to be something as close as brothers and the two of them, I don’t know what I intended when I started.

I mean, certainly wanted them to be close friends, but it just became way more than that. To have someone who shares a light telepathic bond with you, someone who will always have your back, something closer than family, intimate without being lovers, especially since they’re two men.

This is obviously a very queer positive story and Runes in a relationship with a man as the story unfolds, but Rune and Brand, while they’re very intimate, they’ll share a space on the sofa together. You know, Brand will give Rune a shoulder rub, but I don’t have them being sexually intimate. So kind of exploring a way for two men to have a relationship, but avoiding all the landmines of toxic masculinity has been a lot of fun.

It’s a joy to write them. I mean, I suppose I would say that I remember there’s a series, it’s on reruns, “Murphy Brown.” Do you remember that?

Jeff: Oh yeah, for sure.

K.D.: So “Murphy Brown” like is a delightful character to watch, like on the television, like she is, she comes up with the greatest sayings and she can put people down in a moment’s notice, but it would actually be kind of unnerving to know a person like that because I mean, they’re incredibly sharp tongued and at some point they would make you feel six inches tall and Brand is like that. He’s a Murphy Brown type character, but he shares a bond with Rune. So Rune knows, literally everything that comes out of Brand’s mouth is driven by actual concern in affection and love. And because of that, Rune can respond in a way to brand that is natural to them.

Meaning he’s never hurt because underneath it, he knows that Brand really cares about him. And so having that as a basis allows me to work in just a different type of love that I’ve never been able to do between characters before. And people seem to be responding to it.

Jeff: That’s incredible. It touches on so many things that we just see in society today. It also plays into your aspect of family a little bit too, because these two are not biological brothers. They didn’t really find each other because they were bound at birth. But there’s that extra stuff there.

K.D.: Yeah. I love found family. Any story with found family is so meaningful to me.

I mean, as someone, you know, my age, how you grew up, I mean it is not the same world as when I was a kid. And when I was growing up, coming out of the closet was something that you did almost in your 20s and it very rarely happened in your teens, and by the time you came out, your entire life was different and found family was, the community you made was so important.

And it’s nice that they see things are a little bit different now though. Found family, I think is always going to be a big thing in the gay community. But working on that in any writing story that I tell, loving that in any book I read is sort of a cornerstone of me creatively.

Jeff: How surreal is it for you to have fan art created?

K.D.: I don’t have words for it. This has been going on since “Last Son” and it really took off with the lead up to the publication of “Hanged Man.” I mean, hundreds and hundreds of people designing cards and artwork. Some people doing interpretive dance as part of their review.

Interpretive dance inspired by my novel. Making quilts, doing crossword puzzles, coming up with drink recipes based on the characters, or cookie recipes based on the characters. My readers are amazing. They are…

I don’t even have words to say how much I appreciate them and what an experience they’ve made for this. I did not expect this. I’m still not sure if this is normal, but all’s I know is every day something new happens where someone comes up with something that takes my breath away. It’s a weird relationship too because in some cases, the representation that they’ve created and my characters in a way has kind of driven the narrative.

Like, there’s this one amazing artist, their name is Vic Gray and they’ve done a lot of artwork around some of the secondary characters, including Lady Death, who makes an appearance as one of the major Arcana in novel two, and will become very important. And Vic’s representation of Lady Death essentially defines now what I think of Lady Death in my head.

It’s such like a gorgeous piece of art work. I literally don’t have words to describe what, what it’s been like. I’m having reader interaction of this level. You know, having setting up a discord channel because they want to interact with me. The emails I get from people who talking about living in countries where it’s not really easy to get gay literature and what this has meant to them.

Or talking about how having a story with, you know, without the toxic masculinity and having different types of male love and how much they appreciate something like that. And it’s really going to drive me to try to do better with each novel.

Jeff: That’s incredible. I love how you’re getting this work out into countries where access to the gay literature isn’t what it is in the US.

K.D.: Yeah. Because too often we think of things from like, you know, a US perspective and I, this experience has really broken me from that. Trying to remember, I mean, things are wildly different elsewhere in the world and what access is like, how different it is overseas than it might be or where we are now. That’s been an eye opening experience.

Jeff: What’s the furthest away, out of the way, place that you’ve heard from that really surprised you?

K.D.: Mongolia. A t least one person there, and this person’s awesome. They’d like translated quotes and elements of “The Last Son” and “The Hanged Man” into traditional Mongolian script.

It’s, I mean, again, things like that just. Yeah. It just, it’s humbling to a degree that it’s even hard to put into words how grateful I am. But, Mongolia, I have a lot of readers and, the lead up to the reveal, “The Hanged Man,” there were three of us who worked on it, including, Kathy, who’s in Canada and Saya who’s in Finland.

I have readers in South America who reach out all the time, in Asian countries. It’s pretty rewarding.

Jeff: That is really wonderful to see the story go worldwide like that.

K.D.: My book has traveled far better than I have. My book has been overseas before I have.

Jeff: You said you’ve got nine books planned in the series. Are they all planned out? Do you know where you’re going in terms of like the big plot points or is it more guy, you know, other than that, at this point?

K.D.: Nope. I know exactly what’s going to happen right to the last scene. There’s room for some things to evolve on their own, definitely flexibility along the way, but I know the plot of each book. I know that three individual arcs, one of the big things of the first three books are that the narrator a while I think he’s very accessible to readers. He’s also keeping something from them. So finding out what Rune is keeping from readers is the first three books and the next three books involved things that have been kept from Rune his entire life. And then the last three books are more or less going to be my no holds barred end game.

But it’s his story for all nine novels. And each novel I think is going to be different enough in flavor that it makes it easy to plan. You know, you have your one book where it might be about contagion or one book that might be about a natural disaster as the background, and that makes it kind of easy for me to distinguish it between them as I plan them.

Jeff: That’s cool. That’s gotta be helpful. Be able to think of it along those lines and of course that you leave yourself open to make some discoveries along the way too.

K.D.: Yeah. I think the only thing that I’ve deliberately not planned out is who Rune is going to wind up with romantically. So I’ve been very clear with readers. I am not going to close any doors on that.

Jeff: That’ll just make for more fun as you go.

K.D.: I think so too.

Jeff: So Lisa is extremely interested to know if there’s a planned release date for book three yet?

K.D.: There is not, I’m actually writing it right now and the publisher I have is waiting for “The Hanged Man” to come out. It was a two book contract to see how things go.

But whether this publisher picks it up or whether I put it out myself, there will definitely be a “Tarot” three. The response has been really, really nice. I have great readers and they purchase my book and then they buy the audiobook and then they buy the digital book. And, the kind of response I’ve seen so far has basically guaranteed that there’s more life left of this series.

Jeff: Now, this is your debut, the series. What got you into writing?

K.D.: I don’t even remember to this day. I don’t remember the first thing. I remember when I was really, really young, someone gave me a box of “Hardy Boys” books, like old fashioned, like, you know, mass printed, blue covered, “Hardy Boys” books. I’ve always wanted to write. I always, since I was a kid and I have this, this is the first thing I’ve ever published. It’s certainly not the first novel I ever wrote. But this is the first time I ever sent anything out to see if it would get published. So I do feel pretty lucky. It did.

Jeff: And then of course the, readers that you’ve gotten so far just makes it all the more sweet.

K.D.: Yeah, and I think it says a lot about the world. I mean, when I first sent it out, I was convinced when I talked with my agent that, you know, like I really want to break into mainstream someday and Sara Megibow, my agent, and she would constantly stop me and she goes, Keith, this is mainstream. You know, just because you have gay characters, this is mainstream.

It turns out she was absolutely right. I thought that I would wind up in some weird niche somewhere and it wouldn’t appeal to a wider audience other than say, gay men. And lo and behold, that’s not the case at all. I mean, so it’s been rewarding for me to see how different the world is now and how much more acceptance of different types of types of storyline, and especially a lot of young people who, I mean, I don’t even think they view this necessarily as a gay series.

It’s just something with, you know, found family element in relationships that they’re attracted to that makes sense to them.

Jeff: Well, and you deal with Atlantis so I think you hit several elements there altogether.

K.D.: Yeah, I try to make it interesting. I put a lot of work into the backstory. You know, maybe 5% of it will find its way onto a page, but you can always tell, I think when a writer knows more than the reader does that they could answer any question down to what is the average shopping mall like?

You know, what is grocery shopping like in your world that you’ve created? Once you can start answering those really picky questions, even if they never wind up on the page, I think it does translate to readers have a sense of confidence that you built a world that you know more about as an author.

Jeff: Right. And it gives you plenty of room to even have little extras along the way that you can drop blog posts or emails or whatever to wet the appetite.

K.D.: I do. I do. Free novella is between every novel too. I’m a little bit behind on the one that was supposed to happen between number one and two, but it’s almost done. It’s going to be about an 80 page novella.

Jeff: How did you decide that this series was going to be the thing you made your debut?

K.D.: I kind of knew I wanted to write this series and I kind of knew that I wasn’t ready to write this series. So there was a point where I finally kind of settled down in my day job.

I had a really good day job. I had a steady paycheck, I didn’t have to worry about bills. I could finally say, I want to really take writing seriously. I want to send something out to an agent. But first I backed off for a couple of years and I wrote a gay mystery. Then I wrote a young adult novel. I also wrote a contemporary fiction novel. Three novels that will never, ever, ever be released from my drawer. They’re literally locked in a drawer and no one seen any of them. It got me to the point where I could do a novel from beginning to end and understand what worked for me and what didn’t, and especially with the craft of writing, you know, planning versus pants or versus planner.

And I got to the point where I’m like, okay, now or never. And I started writing the prologue to Last Son, the first novel. And it’s just like, he just knows sometimes this is what I was meant to write. And that’s the feeling I had when I started it.

Jeff: Are you going to tackle these nine novels straight on or are there other things you’re kind of looking at to do is like in-betweens or anything like that?

K.D.: I will definitely do some things in between. I definitely want to try to produce at least a “Tarot” novel at least every year. And if it takes off, and there’s a lot of interest, I’ll do them even more frequently. But I’ve got other series I want to write as well. So, and I’ve always wanted to do a young adults series, so that’s not even on the back burner. It’s sort of on a middle burner right now.

Jeff: And I was going to ask, because you mentioned you wrote the young adult, you had a mystery, like what other genres you wanted to tackle? So YA definitely in the future somewhere.

K.D.: Yeah, I’ve been playing, I’m a big video game player too. I bought a Switch to play this game called “Fire Emblem: Three Houses,” and it’s a bit of a, like a Harry Potter type storyline, but, heavily like Asian role playing game type theme as well. And it’s made me realize how much I want to write a boarding house novel. A magical boarding house novel.

I want to write my “Harry Potter” novel with my own stamp on it, my own complete take, my own, you know, my own type of world building. But I’ve always loved stuff like that. Things like, you know, college age stories, going to boarding schools, things like that. I’ve always wanted to write something like that, so I think I’m going to be focusing on that next.

Jeff: So hopefully we get another “Tarot Sequence” book in 2020. Is there anything else on your 2020 radar that you can tease for us?

K.D.: I do the free novellas between each story. So I owe readers one. I’ve been publishing it chapter by chapter, and I’ve got two left, for a novella called “The Sunken Mall.”

And I do have another novel, which started out as YA. It’s a standalone, but rapidly it turned into more of a new adult than young adult. That is done. It just needs a little bit of tweaking and then my agent’s going to be sending it out. But it’s, it’s a little, it’s different from, it’s sort of “Tarot Sequence” light in that I don’t have as much deep world building, but I still focused on the elements of found family and romance and relationships between characters. That’s still a big part of it.

Jeff: So how can people keep up with you online to know when all of this stuff is happening?

K.D.: Twitter’s probably the best place right now. If I had to pick one thing that I focus on, it’s going to be Twitter right now. And that’s at KDEdwards_NC.

I definitely do a lot of my announcements through that. And, any free material I have, snippets, there are a lot of sites that do like the quote of the week or the, book scene of the week. And I take advantage of that a lot between my novels and kinda tease stuff that’s about to come out.

So that’s probably one of the best ways. And then, is my website.

Jeff: We will put links to all of this stuff and the books in the show notes page for this episode so people can easily find everything.

K.D.: Thank you.

Jeff: Keith. Thank you so much for coming and telling us about the Tarot Sequence, wish you the best of success with “The Hanged Man” and very, very much looking forward to what you have coming out next.

K.D.: Thank you very much for having me on. I appreciate it.

Book Reviews

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

Rival Princes by Jaxon Knight. Reviewed by Will.
This week I got to try a new to me author, Jaxson Knight. I got sampled the first book in their Fairyland Romance series, and it’s called Rival Princes.

So imagine if you will, a workplace romance. The trope in that kind of story is usually two characters who are up for some sort of job promotion and they fight tooth and nail while at the same time falling in love. Imagine if that work place was a theme park and our two main characters were fairytale princes or the actors portraying those princes at the meet and greets and the parade that happens throughout the day at a theme park. That is what you get in Rival Princes, a story I was completely head over heels in love with. Reading this brought me so much joy.

So let me tell you a little bit more about this story. Nice guy Nate, through his friend gets, a job at the Fairyland Theme Park. He figures he’s probably just going to work in concessions or maybe be a greeter at the front gates, but from the moment they see him, they go, no, you got the look. You’re going to be one of our princes.

They fast track him to become Prince Valor. The previous actor who was playing this prince didn’t really work out, and they haven’t had one for a while, so they want to fill this slot very quickly. And one of his coworkers, a guy named Dash, essentially one of the senior members of the costume characters team has has been there a very long time. He takes his job as a Fairyland prince very seriously. He is tasked with training this newbie and getting him up to speed as quickly as possible.

There is, of course, attraction and heat between our two main characters that’s almost instantaneous. But at the same time there is friction because Dash doesn’t want to be out princed by this new guy. One day in their training while Dash is teaching Nate how to walk in a regal, princely manner the friction becomes too much, and he kisses Nate, which is completely against Fairyland rules. There’s a no fraternization policy so this creates additional problems between our two heroes.

Part of Nate’s training is going out into the park in what they call a fur suit. That’s a completely costumed character. In this case, he’s a unicorn and he goes out on an incredibly hot day. He’s doing really, really well until he becomes dehydrated and has a mild case of heat stroke. Dash does everything that he can to take care of Nate. It’s a very sweet, hurt/comfort moment and it really speaks to the conflict that’s going on in Dash.

He eventually learns that, as a senior member of the crew, he’s actually going to end up giving a job performance review for Nate because the Imagineers are working on a brand new float for the parade. They’re either going to give Nate’s Prince Valor a super cool animatronic dragon or they’re going to give Dash’s character a brand new rainbow float. And so, the opportunity for this cool new job opportunity rests on what Dash is eventually going to do.

At one point, while they’re trying to out prince one another during a character meet and greet, some rowdy teenagers accidentally push a little girl into a pond. Nate springs to the rescue and jumps in after her, which creates a social media fervor. His picture starts appearing all over the internet with #PrinceValor #RealPrince, that kind of a thing, which frustrates poor Dash to no end. It doesn’t matter what he does. Nate just seems naturally inclined to do this prince thing so very well.

At the same time, Nate is incredibly attracted to his coworker but also very frustrated because Dash runs so hot and then so cold a minute later. It’s really very confusing.

Since this is a workplace story, there’s a wonderful array of secondary characters that surround our two main heroes. I want to quickly call out the two young women who portray the princesses to our heroes princes. They’re both really wonderful. They’re very funny and very sassy, and at one point, Dash’s best friend, the woman who plays his princess, she essentially tells him to get his head out of his ass and ask Nate out because, you know, you wanna. It’s a very, very funny moment.

Eventually Dash does do the right thing and creates a really wonderful grand gesture as well as a really interesting, specific small gesture that proves that he understands that he was the main obstacle in the developing relationship between him and Nate. It just melted my heart. It was all so sweet and so wonderful. I thought the theme park setting was really fantastic.

I think I’ve spoken to this before. I’m fascinated by the sort of beautiful artificiality of theme parks. I think it’s part of one of the reasons why I like theater so much. It’s actors and it’s costumes and it’s sets. It’s all fake. But you end up getting a genuine emotional experience out of that. I think theme parks are the same thing. It’s all phony. But you get thrills and there’s romance and there’s fun. So I think having a romance set in that arena… it really pushes all of my buttons.

I really liked Rival Princes and I’m going to be picking up the other books in this series. So thank you Jaxon Knight. You got my 2020 started off right.

Rescue Me by K.M. Neuhold Reviewed by Jeff.
I read Rescue Me, the first book in K.M. Neuhold’s Heathen’s Ink series because I loved what she did with rock stars in her Replay series. She knocked this story of a tattoo artist and firefighter/former marine out of the park just as she’d done with the musicians.

The book takes off at a breakneck pace as we meet Madden, a tattoo artist with Heathen’s Ink, and Thane, a firefighter new to town. They’re in a club, surrounded by pulsing music and on the verge of going home together. Suddenly there are screams and the sounds of gunfire. Thane’s training kicks in and he heads them both for the exit, but in the crowd they end up separated and Madden goes down.. Thane immediately doubles back to rescue Madden. Thane’s colleagues respond to the shooting and that’s the moment he’s outed at his new work place.

And that’s just the first chapter. Yes, this book starts with a difficult scene and there are more difficult times ahead. Madden’s injuries include his leg, which is expected to heal with no problems. For his hand, however, it’s not clear if he’ll be able to continue as a tattoo artist. Add to that he’s a recovering drug addict who is now in severe pain who knows he should avoid the pain medication. And, of course, there’s the trauma of being in the club that night.

K.M. does a great job creating a terrifically likeable character with Madden who you just want to make everything better for. None of it’s easy. At no point did she cut him any slack in dealing with his hand, the pull of the drugs to deaden all of it or the recurring flashes of being in the club. The realities of trying to start a relationship were equally compelling as Thane and Madden navigate going from potential hookup partners to rescuer to friends/caregiver and eventually lovers.

Thane and Madden are thrown together because Thane wants to help. You see, Madden lives in a walk up and in the condition he’s in when he’s released from the hospital that’s not a good option. Thane offers his a first floor room in his house. Thane, of course, has no idea what baggage Madden carries, or how deep it runs.

The relationship unfolds in a very sweet, tentative way with neither guy wanting to rock the boat too much. As Madden gets stronger, he shows Thane some of his world, like helping out with a teen art program at a LGBTQ youth center. Thane also must come to terms with coming out. As photos of him carrying Madden out of the club go viral, it’s everywhere that he was in the club. That means coming out to parents and some close friends. As a reader, I wanted so bad to hug both these guys and set everything right for them.

Things get worse for these two before they get better, but the undercurrent of deep caring Thane and Madden have for each other made me turn the pages no matter how rough the situation got. I like that K.M. didn’t hold back. These two getting their happy, coming out on the other side while still carrying some of their wounds, was wildly satisfying.

There’s great supporting characters too. As you can imagine with the series title of Heathen’s Ink, the staffers who are all friends with Madden play a big role here. Thane’s also got a friend in Zade who we meet when he comes to town. They all got just enough screen time to make me very interested in their stories.

I can see why this series is one that people like a lot and I’m very happy I picked up Rescue Me. If you’re game for characters with who go through hell and back and you’re comfortable with a book opening the way this does, I think you’ll really enjoy reading about these guys.

Cloud Cover by Jeffrey Sotto Reviewed by Jeff.
I’m so glad this book got recommended to me. Fellow author and podcaster Mark Leslie Lefebvre connected me with debut novelist Jeffrey Sotto and as a result I got to read Cloud Cover. Upfront I’ll say this isn’t a romance. Although there are romantic elements, we don’t have a couple with an HEA at the end.

What we do have here is a poignant story of Tony, a thirty-five year old Filipino man dealing with the loss of his mother, a breakup with a horrible boyfriend and trying to manage an eating disorder connected to issues with his body image. He’s been labeled so much over the years by his mom, his ex and the labels that gay culture can stick people with.

Tony has a rather mundane life. He took over the house his mom left him and hasn’t done much with it since he got it. He works a cubicle job he hates. He offsets that teaching writing at a local community center, the one part of his life he really enjoys. He goes out, but doesn’t really want to because if he goes out he might eat–and then he’ll have to purge the food before it adds weight. He wants to be happy and lead a “normal” life, but for every step toward that he takes, there are one or more steps back. Even meeting Antonio, who is completely smitten with him and wants a relationship, only pushes him further into a spiral.

In the book’s front matter, Jeffrey writes that his intentions for this book were to show the perspective of someone suffering from a disordered state of mental and physical health. Jeffrey has crafted a story that lands the reader right alongside Tony as he tries to find the right balance in his life. I found Tony’s journey compelling, emotional and well worth the read. Jeffrey did a great job making Tony a character I wanted to root for. This book won’t be for everyone, but I’m glad I discovered Cloud Cover and I look forward to what Jeffrey Sotto writes next.

Fearlsong by TJ Klune, Narrated by Kirt Graves Reviewed by Jeff.
This past Friday TJ Klune released the free short story Fearlsong on his website. It’s entry 3.5 in the Green Creek series and is meant to be read between Heartsong and this fall’s release of Brothersong. This short is everything a Green Creek fan could want. Within the short, we get vignettes from Bennett brothers Carter, Kelly and Joe as well as Gavin, who we learned much more about in Heartsong.

The vignettes are powerful, especially the brothers as they come to grips with what’s happened so far.

There are a couple of specific passages that really impacted me that I can share without spoilers. As Kelly comforts Carter, there’s this: “He wants to tear the world apart for being so unfair, for putting the weight of everything upon their shoulders once more. Don’t they deserve peace? Don’t they deserve to have one fucking day where they can just…be?”

Indeed. The good times are fleeting for the Bennetts and I really hope TJ gives them something stupendously good by the time we get to the end of Brothersong.

There’s also a poignant flashback with Joe and it looks at how family will often make promises they can’t be sure they’ll keep. The final line in this moment, “It’s a promise he’ll keep until he doesn’t,” stabbed so hard at my heart.

Not only has TJ crafted one amazing short, but Kirt Graves delivered so much in his performance. He always voices these stories perfectly but this time he’s added a music score. In the same way that a score can enhance a film, the score he’s added to the audio version amplifies in the best way his outstanding performance. I’m convinced too that Kirt can make me weep anytime he says “like candy canes and pinecones, like epic and awesome.” It’s so simple, but it’s where all this started and those words, done by him, evoke such emotion for me.

Yes, I loved this story. I can’t wait for Brothersong in August. If you haven’t read the Green Creek series yet you should and if audio’s your thing listen to these because Kirt makes it all the more epic and awesome.

One last note, if you listen to the Feralsong audio, heed Kirt’s advice to listen all the way to the end because he reveals a cool new podcast that’s on the way. I won’t steal his thunder here so make sure you go check it out.