Support Big Gay Fiction Podcast on PatreonThe podcast celebrates its fifth anniversary as Jeff & Will unveil a new theme song composed by author Daryl Banner as well as some changes to the podcast format.

The Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection for November is revealed: The Christmas Deal by Keira Andrews. The next episode of Big Gay Fiction Live is also announced for November 18 and it will feature holiday storytime with four favorite narrators.

Jeff reviews Adriana Herrera’s American Christmas before introducing Adriana’s Listener Favorite interview. In this flashback to May 2019, Adriana talks about the inspiration for the Dreamers series and the characters she wanted to represent. She also discusses Finding Joy, which is one of her books that came out earlier this year.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

Jump to Book Reviews

Interview Transcript – Adriana Herrera

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will: That’s funny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adriana: Yes. Yes.

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

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

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

Will: A little bit.

Jeff: A little bit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff: When does that one come out?

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff: Oh, such a tease.

Will: Oh, man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews

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

American Christmas by Adriana Herrera. Reviewed by Jeff.
Adriana Herrera’s Dreamers series has been a favorite since American Dreamer arrived in March of 2019 each book is full of wonderful, real characters finding their happily ever after. For this holiday season, Adriana brings us a wonderful finale to the series with American Christmas, featuring Ari and Yin.

We met Ari and Yin when Nestor hired them to work on his food truck in American Dreamer, and they’ve been a constant presence through the series. We’ve seen their romance start to blossom, and each of them find their place in an amazing circle of friends but also the circumstances that put them both in Ithaca.

Now at Christmas time, Ari and Yin are preparing for their next big chapter as they prepare to leave their support system and move to Syracuse for college. Ari is headed to law school and Yin is starting a nursing program. They’re understandably nervous about what this big change, but also excited. They’re also planning a big Christmas–each unbeknownst to the other.

Adriana takes a classic holiday story device and makes it her own with some beautiful Dreamers accents. You see, Ari and Yin promised to spend only $100 on each other because they’re supposed to minding their finances ahead of the move and going to school. They both went very above and beyond and unfortunately their gifts end up canceling each other out and leaving them devastated that they ruined their holiday.

But, Christmas is about miracles and Ari and Yin’s friends have their backs. You can be sure this turns out to be one magical Christmas for the two before they head off on their new adventure.

As with all of the Dreamers books, Adriana brings us a story of a couple so much in love and a couple looking to create their best lives and going for their dreams. It’s also about having incredible found family who will move heaven and earth to keep them happy and safe.

I’m so glad we got this book because I’ve been fans of Ari and Yin from the beginning, and even more so after seeing a big part of their story in American Love Story, which is Patrice’s book. Something felt so perfect about their story falling at Christmas too. It’s always felt like Ari and Yin and are the little brothers, in the best way, to Nesto, Patrice and the gang in Ithaca and the family really came through to make Christmas the best ever.

This is a wonderful wrap to the Dreamers series. I can’t overstate how happy I am that we got Ari and Yin’s story and that it kicked off my holiday reading season. I can’t wait to listen to the audio too. Sean Crisden’s narration has been perfect through the series and even though I’ve already read this, I’m picking up the audio to enjoy this Christmas story one more time.