Jeff & Will congratulate Adriana Herrera and the other winners of The Ripped Bodice Awards for Excellence in Romantic Fiction for 2019. They also discuss audio fiction podcast The Two Princes becoming an animated show and thank Kendra for sending some beautiful artwork.

Jeff reviews Brent Hartinger’s The Otto Digmore Decision and Will reviews The Good, the Bad and the Dad by Jaxon Knight.

Jamie Sands joins us to talk about the Fairyland Romance series they write as Jaxon Knight and His Piratical Harem as Drake LaMarque. Jamie gives us the scoop on both series and what’s coming up in them. We also hear how they got their start writing and what brought them to m/m romance.

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Show Notes

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Interview Transcript – Jamie Sands

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Jeff & Will: Jamie, welcome to the podcast. It is so good to have you here.

Jamie: Thank you. I’m very excited to be here.

Jeff & Will: So people who’ve listened recently, know that Will fell in love with the “Fairyland Romance” series that you write under your Jaxon Knight pen name. Tell us all about this series.

Jamie: Okay. I wrote a series based in a theme park that I made up and it’s sort of based on Disney and it’s sort of based on Universal Studios and it’s sort of based on something else. Again, that just sort of came from my brain, because I really love theme parks.

So when I was looking into romance series, there’s a lot which are based around like a family, just a family and the various siblings falling in love and stuff. And I go, I didn’t want to do that. I wanted something that links people together, like a workplace, but I wanted it to be something really, really fun.

So a theme park is where I landed because I’m, as I said, absolutely obsessed with them. So I wanted to make something that was my own. So that’s how Fairyland came about. And I wanted it to be like a sweet, contemporary romance series, with just lots and lots of queer characters and guys falling in love and it not being about the sex or it being about homophobia as much as possible. I wanted to keep that out of it. I just wanted it to be like this really nice, happy place. So that’s what I did.

Jeff & Will: And I think you found that to be the way it was. Oh yes. Most definitely.

Jamie: Good, good.

Jeff & Will: Tell us about some of the couples that go through these four books.

Jamie: Oh yeah. So my first one is, “Rival Princes.” So that’s Nate and Dash. I think a lot of people have been in a workplace where you’re, there’s one person who’s worked for ages and ages and ages to be really, really good at something. And then someone else just kind of swans in and is naturally perfect at everything and gets all the breaks that the other person like, feels like they’ve earned, just because you know, they’re just naturally charming and charismatic.

So I used that to do a kind of rivals to lover’s story. So Nate is half Jamaican. He’s an ex SIF lifesaver, and he just thought he would be getting a normal job at the theme park and he ended up being Prince Valor. Just kind of by accident cause they had just looked at him and went, yeah, you look right.

Dash is the other character. And he’s the one who’s been working so hard for so long. He went in through this internship program from when he was a teenager and he just really working hard and pulling himself up because he lost everything when he was a teenager. And he made this his life, his career.

So I wanted to do something where it was this kind of a standard office, workplace drama, but in this weird place with you’re pretending to be a prince all the time, and you have to be really, really nice to each other, and no one can see that there’s any tension when you’re out in front of people. So that was a ton of fun.

Then the second one is “Mischief and Mayhem.” That has Cody, who’s a security guard from the fist book falling in love with Dean, who’s kind of a ridiculous manic pixie dream boy who runs a rollercoaster. And this is a character that’s really dear to my heart because I’m a natural optimist myself.

So I got to just kind of channel all this ridiculous energy into Dean and I haven’t been like really enthusiastic about a lot of things and just really loving people. And I ended up writing him a bit ADHD. Although I did not diagnose him in the book. it was something I was reading up a lot about at the time and when I was writing it, I was like, Oh, I see what’s happening here.

It’s interesting because that character is one that divides people in reviews. They either really love him or they really hate him. And the people who hate him, I think don’t get that there’s a possible undiagnosed situation happening there with him that makes him really over the top.

So that was a lot of fun and of course, Cody’s got all these issues himself, so he’s battling a lot of demons. And then the third book is possibly my favorite in the series. It’s “Recipe for Chaos.” And it follows, Charlie, who’s Nate’s best friend from the first book. He’s a chef at one of the restaurants at the theme park.

And he really wants to impress the woman who invented the park. Like all the mythology and stuff is hers, she has the son who’s this complete trash fire. He doesn’t want anything to do with the parks. He’s this billionaire heir to this Fairyland fortune that he doesn’t want anything to do with.

He doesn’t know what to do with his life. He’s just going out and drinking, sleeping with everyone he can and his mother forces him to be like, you’re going to take some responsibility. He comes into the park. Charlie cooks for him because he wants to get a promotion basically, and Max just instantly falls in love with Charlie and is like, I love you.

Let’s go out. And Charlie’s like, Hmm, no, we just met. It’s not normal. It’s kind of this push and pull with this Max character who’s really over the top in a different way to Dean, just really wanting something that he can’t have and Charlie kind of trying to be as sensible as possible in this situation that’s kind of out of his control because in some ways, Max is his boss in some, some ways he’s not.

That was a lot of fun to write, kind of my take on the billionaire romance. . And then the fourth book, which I just put out a couple of months ago, “The Good, The Bad, and The Dad,” which is a thoruple. So it’s a M/M/M and it has Haru, who’s the father of the little girl who fell in the water.

in the very first book. They come back a few times in the different books because they’ve got a season pass to fairyland. It’s this little girl Minako who just absolutely loves everything to do with the princes and the princesses and wanting to be a better person. So how does a single dad, he lost his wife a few years earlier and he is courted by, Kilian who plays a pirate in one of the parts of the park.

And Grayson, who’s one of the other princes. So he’s Prince Magnificence and he’s a trans man. So it was kind of, it was a challenge to write that one because it’s a different kind of negotiation between the three of them to write this romance. And I really didn’t want there to be the sense that there was an odd one out. Like there was a third wheel. I wanted it to be all three of them needed each other and it wouldn’t work with just two. They needed all three be in love and make it work. So that one is set at Christmas, so I got it at just at this start of December. Yeah. And then I did a little short story of New Year’s Eve, which is, Max and Charlie, again from the third book, just being ridiculous.

Jeff & Will: I’m so glad that we have the chance to like sit down and talk about this particular series, number one, because I loved it to pieces, but also I was curious about something. One aspect that I haven’t talked about in any of my reviews so far is that these are sweet romances, which may be a foreign concept to some of our listeners.

In het romance, it’s rather common. And what they mean by the term ‘sweet’ is that there is no on-page sex. It’s essentially low heat romance. To be perfectly clear, these books are jam packed with lots of romance, they’re just very low heat. And I wanted to ask you if that was a conscious decision that you made going in, or was it just something that came naturally as you were telling these stories.

Jamie: It’s a conscious decision I made going in because I didn’t see a lot of it on the market. I wanted it to be, you know, this idea of the theme park being really sweet, carrying through into the romances themselves. It got harder as I went, to keep it that way though, because my characters started to get real into each other.

And, sometimes I kind of have to pull them back from, from doing more on the page then I wanted to them to do.

Jeff & Will: Yeah. In books three and four, you’re kind of playing with billionaire tropes and like a manage trope, which are usually traditionally very high heat.

Jamie: It was funny that you ask because my idea with the short story that I did, the idea was to bring some sakes onto the page, and I had every intention of doing it. But, just something held me back when I actually started to, and I think it’s just cause I want that whole series to just be about the romance and about the sweetness rather than about the sex. So it was sort of surprising to me that I actually couldn’t manage it in the end, even though the characters really, really do want to, so I might just have to go and write some fanfiction of my own characters maybe, and just go…

Jeff & Will: does that happen often?

Jamie: I think Rainbow Rowell did it with “Carry On,” but I can’t think of anyone else.

Jeff & Will: So you created the theme park. What research did you do? What went into building the world?

Jamie: So I’ve been to a few theme parks that definitely helped. I’ve been to the Anaheim Disneyland one time and I’ve traveled to Japan three times and gone to the Disney resort there every time.

And, The Universal Studios and Osaka as well. We also have a little theme park here locally in Auckland, New Zealand, but it doesn’t, it’s got one roller coaster and it’s, it’s not very exciting. So there was some experience, but also I just went online and search, cause a lot of ex theme park employees will go onto Reddit and do AMAs.

Which is really, really useful stuff, like all the rules that they’ve got to abide by. And, you know, interesting things about the things they have to do. So I did lots of reading around that. And then more recently on Disney Plus, there’s this fantastic series called “The Imagineering Story.” I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s basically a documentary series from right when Walt Disney first started.

Conceiving of Disneyland right until Galaxy’s Edge opened, I think last year. So it’s just this incredible behind the scenes look at how they do the effects and the illusions and yeah, it was absolutely fascinating. So stuff like that, for sure. Yeah.

Jeff & Will: New reason to subscribe to Disney Plus.

As you write, are you more of a plotter or pantser? And I’m curious specifically, did you lay your theme park out all at once or did you build more of it as you went?

Jamie: Yeah, I still have this plan that I should write down, like draw a map of the theme park and I’ve not yet done it and I really should because I’m going to catch myself out at some point.

With a turn one way and it’s gone another way in the past. In terms of writing a story, I used to be a pantser. Now I’m a plantser, so I sound awful. I go through story beats basically, and I plot everything scene by scene, but I don’t go into too much detail. I just have like, you know, this is the scene way Max meets Charlie and tries to kiss him, I don’t know. I just have a couple of things. This is the general idea of what it should be. And then I write from that, just off those two, you know, sentence prompts. So it’s kind of a combination where I know where the story’s going and I know the beats that I have to hit, but what happens in each chapter or scene is pretty organic.

Jeff & Will: That’s pretty cool. You can just keep inventing parts of the park as you go.

Jamie: Yeah, I’ve got to remember where they are. I remember where they are. I started off in the first book and I just kind of hinted at a couple of other parts and then I got to explore them later and the other books, which is great fun.

But yeah, I’ve got a Google doc, which I just keep all the records of what I’ve said for sure. This is the name of this restaurant. This is the name of that ride. So I can refer back because. Sooner or later, I’m going to catch myself out, I know.

Jeff & Will: At the moment, the Fairyland series has four books. Do you have any plans to continue the series?

Jamie: Yeah, I actually have books five and six planned. I haven’t started either of them. And then I’ve got an idea for book seven, is that right? Five. six. Yes. I do have a lot of ideas and it’s a lot of characters that I’ve introduced already who I want to go back to. I’ve also had a couple of people request that I switch to f/f and follow some of the female characters, some of the princesses falling in love, and some of the other female characters that I’ve put in, which I’m, I do like the idea of, because I think there’s a lot of interesting characters just nudged it, you know, in the previous book.

Just hinted at. So, yeah, I will keep writing them. It’s just, I’m not sure if the timeline exactly.

Jeff & Will: You don’t only write under Jaxon Knight, you also have a pen name of Drake LaMarque where you’re writing paranormal pirate harems and I don’t know that you can get further away from Fairyland theme park than paranormal pirate harems.

Jamie: Well, it’s true. It wasn’t the context switch. Yeah, the paranormal pirate gay harem series I came up with because a friend of mine was doing really, really well in reverse harem, and I was like, okay, give me your secrets, how you doing so well? And she was like, Oh, you know, I just happened to find the edge of a new trend just as it was starting.

And I’m like, okay, well I can’t find that out of nowhere. And she was like, well, you know, there’s not many gay harems out there, so maybe you could try that. And I came up with pirates because I was like, well, to have a bunch of guys all fall in love, they have to be squished together somehow. They have to be co-located.

And I didn’t want to do like a jail thing or army and military, anything like that. I wanted it to be really fun and I’ve always loved pirates and well, there’s a forced proximity thing with the pirate ship. And then once I started thinking about that, all these characters just came to mind and I put in magic and merfolk and witches. And it’s just so much fun.

Jeff & Will: And yet there’s a small part of me that could see this as a ride in Fairyland of some kind.

Jamie: I mean, I’ve got pirates in Fairyland as well, in the fourth book, The Good, the Bad and the Dad, I introduced Kilian who plays a pirate, and at some point he got real saucy with me and with the other characters as well, and I’m like, Oh, you’re trying to be in the other pirate book.

Calm down, calm down, boy, you’re in the nice one. He’s like, Oh.

Jeff & Will: Tell us about these books and the series as a whole.

Jamie: Yeah. So I’m just finishing the fourth one at the moment, which will wrap up the main arc. The story, the series is called His Piratical Harem because I just want it to be real obvious what I was doing.

So no one can pick it up, who was under any false impressions, follows Gideon, who is the son of the governor of Jamaica. He is not straight. He knows he’s not, and he’s failed out of the military. He was supposed to be a Naval captain. He failed out of the Navy within a year. He’s always wandering around reading books and thinking about romance is basically a massive disappointment to his father.

And in the start of the first book, because father says, you know, you’ve gotta settle down. You’ve got to marry a girl. You’ve got to give me an heir, you’re going to take over as the governor of Jamaica. I’ve sorted it all out. So, you know, tomorrow, basically you’ve got to meet a girl. He knows he can’t do that.

So he runs away in the middle of the night. He, he goes to a ship, he picks the ship because it has a nice cat on it. So that should give you an idea of the kind of character he is. It’s completely ridiculous, and he is instantly attracted to the captain of the ship and the first mate for very different reasons.

And it’s the kind of magical pirate ship where everyone is accepted for who they are. We’ve got a trans woman quartermaster, this gay captain and this bi, first mate. And it just kind of escalates and the captain has this nemesis who’s a sea witch who’s really got it out for revenge.

And he gets involved later on. You know, as the villain and kidnaps Gideon off the ship, to get back at the captain. And that’s when Gideon meets, Aura, who’s a gender neutral gender queer merfolk. They fall in love, and they’ve kind of got a soulmate thing going on. And then right at the end of the first book, the ship’s cat who first lured Gideon onto the ship, the grey Kelpie, gets hit by a spell and becomes a man.

So from book two onwards, there’s four in the harem, there’s, the captain, the first mate, the merfolk and the ship’s cat who is not very good at being human at all. He just wants to keep being a cat and lies around on the deck and demands fish. So he’s a lot of fun to write.

So when I got to writing a sex scene with him, it was a bit tricky because I used to say, he just lay back and said, yes, you may worship me. And I’m like, yeah, that’s spot. It’s about how it is with my cat.

Jeff & Will: He’s so very catlike.

Jamie: Yeah. You can pet me. It’s all right. So, the basic story is they, you know, the running away from the sea witch they’ve got that problem.

There’s also the Navy going after them, cause Gideon’s father isn’t ready to give him up. So there’s lots of drama, lots of sailing around in the Caribbean. I’m visiting fancy places and lots and lots of sex.

Jeff & Will: In that case you’ve set this story halfway around the world from where you are. That must be fun to play kind of in that part of the world a little bit.

Jamie: It is. Yeah. I mean, I’m not gonna lie, there’s a lot of, Pirates of the Caribbean influenced them. I, you know, it’s the golden age of pirates, and they were kind of all in that area.

So, that’s where I wanted to see that. Because I made it magical, I’m not stuck too closely to historical accuracy, which saved me some time on research. I got to do the best I can. But, you know, there’s Wikipedia on this various other websites, but it’s hard to get, you know, real truth about what happened.

Jeff & Will: And then you said, once you introduce a magic system, all bets are off anyway.

Jamie: Well, I hope so. No one’s complained to yet, but if they do, I can just be like, also sea witches.

Jeff & Will: When do you think that book might find its way out? Book four?

Jamie: So I’m definitely in the final act at the moment. I had a lot of trouble because the sea witch was being a real bitch. I had talk about my characters, like they mess with me and they really do. I was trying to wrap up the story with the sea which, and he just kept pushing back at me and it took ages.

So, in the final act, I’m hoping to get it out, hopefully by the end of the month. But we’ll see. I just started a full time office job. So this cutting into my writing time.

Jeff & Will: So, in addition to your sweet Fairyland romances and your pirate harem, you also right under your own name, Jamie Sands. Can you tell us a little bit more about the books you have under your own name?

Jamie: Yeah, there’s not too much out there. I put out a young adult ghost stories in New Zealand, called the Suburban Book of the Dead, which is kind of like supernatural. But for teenagers kind of thing with a girl called Rain who really has a lot of rage in her. She loses her best friend in the fifth chapter, in mysterious circumstances.

And then it turns out the boy she had a crush on is a monster Hunter. So they team up together to find out what happened to her best friend. And I’ve got the sequel to that 90% finished, but then I got distracted by sexy pirates, so it’s not done yet. I’ve also published a travel journal from when I went through Japan for three and a half weeks called “Honeymoon in Japan.” Which is a large print one, because I mostly published it so that I could print it out and give it to my grandmother in law for Christmas cause she really loves armchair travel. So those two, and then this year, later this year, I’m going to publish a book called “The Other Side of the Mirror.”

I think that’s going to be the title, which is a paranormal. Like urban fantasy mystery, sit in Auckland, New Zealand, and that’s going through a new press that a friend of mine is operating. So not sure on the timeline on that one, but it will be a cool thing to have happen.

Jeff & Will: That’s very cool. What got you started writing?

Jamie: It’s a tricky one. I feel like I’ve been writing forever. I remember writing stories when I was five at school. And hilariously, I thought of this in the middle of the night when I was planning what I was going to say in this interview. I remember one of my favorite stories that I wrote when I was six was about going to a theme park.

It was about like this magical thing happening, and I got to go to Disneyland and I was so happy, and that was it. That was the story. I wrote through, I read a lot of poetry as a teenager. And then, in my twenties, I decided to try and start making it a bit more serious and read a lot about how to write and all that stuff.

My very first novel, which is absolutely terrible and will never to see the light of day. Since then, I’ve just sort of been writing a lot of stuff, so I’ve got a few things on in the trunk, so to speak, that have not been published, the sort of ones from when I was more of a pantser.

And when I’ve given them to friends who know what they’re talking about, they’ve said, Oh, you need to bring, you know, more conflict in here, or bring this the B plot forward, or something like that. And I’m like, okay, that sounds like work. I’ll put it off for now. So at some point there’ll be more out there.

But for now I’m just chugging along. Basically.

Jeff & Will: And what moved you into writing m/m? With the pirates and the theme park?

Jamie: Yeah. So we’ve got a really good romance writers of New Zealand conference every year. I didn’t write romance when I first started going because I, I just wasn’t. And, it’s a really great conference with lots of people talk about, you know, how to write and how to market yourself and all that stuff. So it’s really good and practical advice. And it was after that, when I heard some people talk about the kind of money they were bringing in from writing romance that I go, okay, well maybe I should give it a go. And I never wanted to write straight romance because I am myself, I’m not straight.

And, there are so many straight romances out there anywhere, that I didn’t think that there was anything new I could sort of say. So I went for m/m kind of purely because I come from a fanfiction background and also because f/f doesn’t sell as well. So those two things kind of pushed me in that direction.

And then as soon as I started writing it, I just loved, it was just, you know, you start writing romance and well for me, I started writing romance and I realized how many romance movies I’ve seen in the past, how many stories I’ve read, and I know the tropes and I know how it should feel. And that’s really fun to write, honestly.

It just is. It’s so lovely to be able to give these boys with all kinds of problems, this happy ending that they wouldn’t get in a lot of mainstream media.

Jeff & Will: Are there any particular authors or books that kind of influenced your own writing journey?

Jamie: That’s a tricky one. I want to say Stephen King’s “On Writing.” In terms of m/m I’ve really loved Anna Zabo’s work. I don’t know if you’re familiar. She does a series “Takeover” and another one with the band, which I’ve temporarily forgotten (“Twisted Wishes”), but I really love her writing because she just gets so deep into the emotions and the tension gets so high. And, Jay Hogan and, Anne Barwell that both New Zealanders and, I feel like I have to shout them out because we got to keep it in the family, but I’m not, there’s a lot out there, but that’s really, really good. And I’ve also really loved, what was, it came out last year? “Red, White and Royal Blue.” Casey McQuiston. Yeah. That one was really huge for me. Yeah. Oh, I mean, I read a lot and I don’t read just, m/m. I sort of read all over the place. So it’s tricky. Trying to think up exactly what influenced me. I’m not sure.

Jeff & Will: So it sounds like the very next thing that we’re going to have from you is the paranormal pirates book four, is anything else like you can put on the timeline through the end of this year?

Jamie: Yeah. So once I’ve put out, so “Captain’s Treasure” is book four, once that’s out, I’m going to start a second paranormal and pirate gay harem in the same universe, but with new characters. And that series is going to be called, The Gentleman’s Bounty. And, so that will have the same universe, but different characters.

And, then I think I’m gonna write some more of my original characters because I really like them. So I’ve called it in my head, the further adventures of the Gre Kelpie, just kind of sailing around and having more adventures. So yes, that’s planned. Gentleman’s Bounty book one will come out first, but, I don’t, can’t really put it on a timeline at the stage.

And then hopefully, I’ll get back to some Fairyland and put out book five of that.

Jeff & Will: Awesome. Yeah, definitely looking forward to that. So much good stuff to read. We want to say thank you so much, Jamie, for coming to hang out with us and talk about all of these amazing books. How can people keep up with you and your various pen names online?

Jamie: Oh, gosh, so, probably Facebook is the easiest way. We’ve got author pages for Jaxon Knight and Drake LaMarque and there’s also reading groups for both of those. So the Jaxon Knight one is called Kights of Fairyland. Drake’s one is called Drake’s Crew, which is really active. There’s lots of cool stuff happening in there.

And, if you just want to hang out with me, it’s just Jamie Sands Author. Obviously that’s probably like the least active one right now. And I’m also on Twitter and Instagram as well. But yeah, if you come to those Facebook pages, you find links to everything.

Jeff & Will: Fantastic. Well, Jamie, thank you so much for coming on and telling us about all of these worlds that you created.
It was great to have you.

Jamie: Thank you so much. It was really fun.