Support Big Gay Fiction Podcast on PatreonAuthor Jayce Ellis joins Jeff and Will to discuss her latest book, Learned Behaviors. She also shares what she’s got planned for the Higher Learning series as well as for the High Rise series that includes the books André and Jeremiah. Jayce also talks about how she started in the m/m romance genre and the amazing support she gets from her husband. She also offers up some book recommendations.

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Show Notes

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Interview Transcript – Jayce Ellis

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Jeff: Jayce, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here.

Jayce: Thank you so much. I’m so glad to be here with you guys.

Jeff: So we’ve already been super excited on the show about “André,” and now you’ve got a new book coming out with “Learned Behaviors,” and we’re going to get to meet JaQuan and Matt. Please tell us all about this book.

Jayce: So this is a book that was inspired by a tweet. Sometime in late 2018, early 2019, I saw a tweet about how black men, in particular, don’t cultivate a lot of new relationships as adults. That a lot of the friends that they have in adulthood are friends that they either have had since they were children or people that they met in college, but then, like, brand new relationships as adults were unusual. And I thought about that, and with some exceptions, it was in my experience with the men that I knew mostly true. And so, I wanted to write a series where they formed the beginnings of a new friendship with no romantic overtones as adults. And that’s kind of how the concept of “Learned Behaviors” came to me.

And I was trying to find that, a vehicle to put it through, and everybody loves single dads, like, everybody loves them, right? And so, I thought that that would be a good vehicle to do it through. And I wanted to do something different than the dads taking their kids to extracurriculars when they’re young or practices when they’re teenagers, and so that’s why I kind of placed it in college where they’re dropping their kids off for college, JaQuan in this case for the first time, and that’s where he starts meeting these people who end up becoming what will be lifelong friends on top of the relationship that he ends up in this story. So that’s kind of where the series came from. And with JaQuan, it was a unique situation in that I made him a teenage father, which you don’t often see a lot in romances.

I made him a teenage dad who the mother had just kind of decided she was done and she didn’t want to do it, that hadn’t been their plan, it hadn’t been either of their plans. And so JaQuan’s raised this child with his mother his whole life. And so now he’s got an 18-year-old child and he’s 35. So he’s, like, younger than the majority of people you’re going to meet. And on the other side, we’ve got Matt who’s a divorcée whose wife cheated on him, remarried someone who’s closer to their oldest son’s age than to theirs, and he’s got three children and they’re all adults, two of them in college, one’s law school, one’s undergrad and then the oldest son is getting married.

And that’s kind of the situation that I bring these two together in is JaQuan at this really kind of turning point in his life where now he’s got to figure out what his life is when it’s not his child, because that’s what his life has been. And Matt trying to strengthen the relationship with his children that, frankly, was harmed by the divorce, not necessarily because the wife did anything, but because he had spent so much time trying to provide for his family, that he forgot to be there for his family, and by the time he realized what he’d done, it was too late to save that marriage. And so those are the kind of two main characters that I decided, “Hey, let’s stick together, add a cat, and make them hate each other, and then everyone will fall in love.”

Jeff: Going back to one of the first things you said is that we don’t see this a lot in romance. Everybody loves the single dad, but positioning them with the older kids and everything else that you’ve stacked into those characters, this sounds really exciting to me.

Jayce: It’s fun. It’s a little softer, I think, than “Jeremiah” and “André” where that one was a little bit more, like, first-person. So they, God, they curse a lot. I didn’t realize how much they curse. I’m like, “My God, I might need to work on this.” And I edited a lot of it out, but, sweet Jesus, boys. And so, this one is a little bit softer. It’s meant to be a little bit tropier. The other books are honestly kind of issue books. I wrapped them up in a lot of like hands-on-ness and sex and all that jazz, but this one is more soft. It’s about family. It’s about just real people having real-life and dealing. And we do have precocious eight-year-olds, but they’re not the star. It’s interesting, this book, one of the things that happened that I hadn’t actually really planned is that to almost have two romances because Jaq and Matt have daughters and the daughters end up in a relationship together. And then the daughters break up and that ends up being a sub-plot.

If Carina really, really likes me, they might let me write their reunion next year. We’ll see. They break up and that actually ends up being a bit of a trigger point in JaQuan and Matt’s relationship, that the daughters don’t necessarily approve of them being together. And it’s different when you’ve got people who are grown, even if in name only, as 18-year-olds tend to be who have very strong feelings. And when that person’s opinion has been so important for so long in your life, it really does make you consider whether or not it’s even worth it to start something new or whether or not it’s better to just keep on doing what you’ve been doing and what’s worked for you this far. So I think it’s a lot of fun. I really, really like it. I’m nervous about it because it is a bit different than “Jeremiah” and “André” were. So I just hope people like it. But it’s a sweet story. It’s very sweet.

Jeff: We need sweet right now, so, so much.

Jayce: The entire series, they’re all sweethearts. They’re just mushy and you just want to, like, smoosh their faces together and make them kiss and, like, everybody move on and be happy with each other. So this is a softer series and I really, really like it. So I hope…I keep having my fingers crossed that people will enjoy it because I’m so nervous that it’s such a departure from “Jeremiah” and “André,” that people won’t feel the same way. But I think, especially if you’re looking for something a little bit softer, not super angsty. One of my critique partners loves angst and she says, “Oh, my God, I have to keep reminding myself that this is intentional that it’s not angsty because good God, Woman, there’s so much you could do.” And I’m like, “Yes, I didn’t want to.” So I’m hoping that works for the segment of readers out there who are looking for something a little bit lighter in these kind of turbulent times right now.

Will: So what’s the plan for this particular series?

Jayce: So this book is out in November. Now the next book in the series is a friends to lovers and that’s out in March. And then Lord willing, you’ll get a one-night stand ghosting situation turned into a manny romance sometime next year. Carina, when I got this contract, they purchased the first two books of “High Rise.” They purchased “Jeremiah” and “André” and then the first two books of this one. So hopefully if things go well with this book and with the next one, they’ll pick up the last two. The third one would be the manny and then the fourth one would actually be the daughters from this book, from “Learned Behaviors” reuniting at JaQuan and Matt’s wedding some five years in the future. So that’s what I’m hoping for.

Will: So much to look forward to.

Jayce: Yes, I’m hoping so. I’m hoping so. I very much when I started writing was not sure how much the world was ready or interested in black gay romances and black queer romances. And so I’d always intended to self-publish, and so in the back of my mind, I’m like, “Well, if they don’t pick it up, I’m still gonna self-publish it.” So the books will come out. The question will simply be whether or not they’re under Carina’s name or my own.

Will: So a couple of weeks ago I reviewed “André” here on the podcast and I fell absolutely in love with those men and their story. The book is absolutely wonderful. That’s actually part of a series called “The High Rise.” Where did that idea come from for those two books, “Jeremiah” and “André?”

Jayce: Two months before I got married in 2017, I was sitting on the floor, I’d written a short story that had been published some years back and I was kind of at a crossroads with where I wanted to go with my career. And what that really meant was that until that point, all the characters I had written had been white because we were and still kind of in a society where a lot of people didn’t read black lead characters. I mean, that was just our reality. And I had to decide if I was going to write for money or if I was going to write what I want to write and if I get paid great, but I want to write this story. And I decided that I wanted to write what I loved. And I wanted to write black men, black women finding love, falling in love and being happy. And it’s a couple of months before our wedding and I have zero interest in any of this wedding planning. Nobody believes me. Okay? I said, “We got a wedding planner, so I don’t have to do this. I want my dress and my flowers and tell me where to stand.” No one believed me until they realized that I was serious and they were like, “Oh, she really doesn’t care. No, she doesn’t.”

And so I’m trying to figure out what to get my husband as a wedding present. And I decided I was going to write him a story. And that was “Jeremiah.” “I’m going to write a love letter to my husband.” And so honestly, “High Rise” is a series-long love letter to my husband. That’s what it is at the end of the day. Every character in here is my husband in some way, shape, or form, the good, the bad, the ugly, the heart-rending, the everything. And so that’s really where it came from. And so, he’s actually the one who picked all of the main characters’ names that I have planned in the series and he has, I mean, “André” was such a nightmare to get done. He actually sat there, and I handwrite my edits, and he sat there and had to type them out in because I was so behind on my deadline and we had such a tight turnaround that he actually had to sit there and type in all of my handwritten edits. And he was like, “This is filthy.” And so he has been just an absolute Godsend in this entire process. But that’s where it really came from, was thinking, “What do I want to say to him? What do I want to talk about with him?” And so that’s really what it is. It’s just a big old love letter.

Jeff: Your husband sounds utterly amazing. Like, I can’t imagine giving Will my handwritten corrections to type in to the story.

Will: Yeah. Ain’t gonna happen. No, sorry.

Jayce: Well, my husband, he got so mad at me once because I changed everything except for, like, three lines on a page. And he said, “Next time you rewrite this entire doggone page, don’t you leave me three lines and think I’m going to catch this in the middle of trying to do all that. Don’t you dare.” And I’m like, “Yes, sir.” And then he went and actually let me purchase a tablet that converts text to handwriting so that if I ever have that situation again, he wouldn’t be required to transcribe it for me anymore. So that was how we dealt with that. But he was amazing, but that’s really what it was. I’d say “High Rise” is kind of a more issue booky series. “André” ended up being a lot more about masculinity and femininity and what it means to be a man and what it means to be a black man. It ended up being about that in a way that I kind of wanted to touch on, but it took a shift. It took a turn that I really hadn’t anticipated as I was drafting it, which, of course, I can’t talk about because wow, that ruins the entire book. But, you know, Marcus’s ultimate decision about his career path was not what I’d originally intended when I was writing it, but that’s where the story went. And I think that it made the story so much stronger than it would’ve been.

As I’m planning out the next books in the series, they are touching on things that you deal with in all areas, but then also things that are really kind of specific to the black community. There are issues about respectability, politics, there are issues about being equally yoked with your partner and how people take it and what it really means. There are issues with religion, which I promise I’m going to try not to make that a preachy book that talks about how I feel about religion. We’re going to try not to do that, but they’re all those sorts of issues that come into it because they’re things that we deal with in our community. And so it’s a love letter to my husband, it’s a love letter to my culture, it’s a love letter to my people as well. And so, it becomes a little bit more serious and that’s why for me, “Higher Education” is a little softer. I kind of wanted it to not go into those issues as deeply. I wanted it to be a little bit more tropey, a little bit more just fun pure romance. I don’t know how to apparently write things with no issues in them. Like, that’s apparently just not how my brain works, but I really tried to keep that a little bit softer so that there’s really a bit of a clear divide in terms of what those theories are and what they deal with.

Jeff: I have to ask, how does your husband feel about a gay romance being written as a wedding present to him?

Jayce: I’m not sure if he really means that smile or if he’s just saying that but, you know, my husband, after “Jeremiah” came out, before “André” came out a couple of months, he pulled me aside and he said, “Sweetie, so you say that you’re straight, and I’m not sure that word means what you think it means. Because babe, we need to discuss this because you’re not… honey, I love you. You’re my everything, you’re not… I’m gonna need you to let that go.” And I’m like, “What are you talking…?” “Oh, wow. He’s right.” So my husband is accepting to the point where he was the one who really helped me realize that I’m not straight as I’ve claimed for so long, and helped me to unpack some of the issues surrounding that. So he has been absolutely nothing but an amazing support of me.
He’s amazing when you and your girlfriend sitting out having dinner and drinking cocktails and they’re talking about how our men ain’t whatever, and then they’re like, “And Jayce got a good one because that man is amazing and she’s lucky.” And I’m like, “Wait, I wasn’t even saying anything.” “Well, like, girl, we know you better hold on to that one because if you don’t, we’ll take him.” And I’m like, “Okay.” And everyone who meets him says it. Everyone likes him more than me. He’s a sweetheart and I’m the bully, but it works. And I think he’s proud, more than anything. I think he’s proud of the work and the time and having sat there and watched me force myself to get up at 6:00, and then get up at 5:00, and now get up at 4:30 to do the things and to keep pushing. I think it brings him a sense of pride. And I think when you see the entire thing together, when the entire series is done, you can really tell it’s a love letter for him because it ends up being his name at the end of the day. So I get the entire series out, it’s his name. It’s his name. And Courtney is his middle name. So when I say it’s a love letter, I mean that really and truly it’s all him. Because I wouldn’t have done this without him.

Will: That’s really sweet.

Jeff: I love that.

Will: That was wonderful.

Jeff: Yeah.

Will: And speaking of Courtney, I wanted to ask you about the story that you have in the anthology called “Big City Heat.” The story is called “Courtney” and we are curious, is it connected to the books “André” and “Jeremiah?”

Jayce: It is. So it does presume that you’ve read “André,” okay? You don’t need to have read “Jeremiah” but they come back. They’re there, they have cameos, they talk to you for a little while in that. But if you have read “Jeremiah” or “André” then you have met Mr. Johnson, who was the wise and affable concierge at the apartment complex, and Courtney is his son. And he’s never mentioned his son before, and you get a little bit of the understanding as to why that is in some of their backstory, which has prompted one person to tell me I have to write the entire thing and I don’t want to. But he ends up with André’s baby brother, Tracey. So it does presume some understanding and yes, I do realize that the characters’ names are Courtney and Tracey. And one of my friends was like, “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Yes. Yes, I did. But it is a gay male, it is not sapphic that’s coming Lord-willing, but yes, Courtney and Tracey are both men in this story and so it is tied into them.

And you get to have another 4th of July. In “Jeremiah,” the 4th of July party was kind of the inciting incident of the book until we get to have another 4th of July. You get to see Jeremiah and Collin a little bit further into their relationship and kind of see where they are now in their relationship. And it takes place really at the conclusion of André and Marcus’s story. So they are newly together. They’re very newly together and having that relationship. And Marcus has just recently moved in with André at the time that this story takes place. So it just takes place over the weekend, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s very, very sweet. It’s very cute. It’s only 20,000 words. It’s super short, but it’s a lot of fun. All of the books are a lot of fun. You get some of everything. You’ve got billionaires and interracial and me and Jodi Payne. She says hello. She has a story in the book. So you’ve got, I think, two male males, you’ve got some IR, my book has two black characters, you’ve got bad rap, you’ve got billionaires, you’ve got a little bit of… You’ve got really something for everyone in there. So I’m really excited. And it comes out on my birthday, which is even better.

Jeff: Nice birthday present.

Jayce: Yes, it is. It is. I’m excited for that. It should be a lot of fun. It should be a lot of fun.

Jeff: Well, how many books do you plan for the entire “High Rise” series?

Jayce: It was originally five, and then Storm and Lizzy were so popular that I thought about doing them as a novella and then decided that they deserve more than that. I didn’t want to get into a situation. Some of the women in the books that have been popular and I didn’t want to be in a position where the men were getting full-length novels and the women weren’t. So I was like, “You know what, let’s make them a full-length novel as well.”

So right now I’m planning four more books in the series. I am planning “Solomon,” which is uber-religious, “Omar,” which somehow became about respectability politics. That wasn’t what the book was meant to be and yet here we are. “Miles,” which who knows what that’s going to be about. That one, actually the love interest is a widower, so that one’s interesting. And there’s a bit of an age gap, but the younger of the two was in his late thirties. And then Storm and Lizzy who get together, break up and get back together and I have no idea how to yet. All I know is that it will happen at some point. And Vince and Courtney they’d broken up and so somehow I gotta figure out why, and then I have to get them back together again. So that’s what I’m planning for right now. So six books total in that series.

Jeff: A whole bunch of good stuff happening right there.

Jayce: Yeah.

Will: Now, you spoke early about the inspiration for writing “Jeremiah.” Was that your first M/M? Is that how you got your start in the genre?

Jayce: I actually had written a short story and I had plans to publish it and then life happened. We had to deal with a lot of things in life. And so that just never happened. I took a bit of a break and when I got back to writing seriously again, that’s when I kind of had to make the decision how I wanted to write, whether or not I wanted to write these books for money and for readership. But I couldn’t think of anything, honestly, that felt unique, that felt different, that felt like you hadn’t read it already. I was really struggling with that. And that was when I kind of shifted my attention and I said, “Well, if you make it black, everything’s new, honestly, in this world right now.” And one day that won’t be the case, and that is the day I can’t wait for. But that’s when I started working on “Jeremiah.” So “Jeremiah” is my first full-length novel.

Jeff: Had you been reading M/M for a while before you started writing?

Jayce: Yes. I think, when did I start reading M/M? Probably 2013 or so, I’d say? I’d stopped reading for a while, go to college, go to law school and, “Oh, I don’t have time to do this.” And then I realized that’s stupid. And so I had stopped reading anything for pleasure for a very, very long time. And so when I finally started back to it, I started with historicals because that’s always been my first love, it’s been historicals. And I rediscover why I love Johanna Lindsey, may she rest in peace. And then I went to a little bit of contemporary, but kind of got burned out on contemporary quick.

And then I was like, “M/M? what else is there?” And then found M/M, which especially in e-books I think at that time was much easier to find some sacred like romance was. One of my friends gave me a bunch of books, but it was harder to find them in terms of an online sphere for me at that time. And so then I was like, “This is it. I am home. This is excellent. This is perfection, and never shall I leave this space.” And that’s what it was. And so I think I started reading in 2013. I think I was reading Finn Marlowe and J.L. Langley and some of them, and I’ve just kind of been going ever since then. Yeah.

Jeff: That’s wonderful. J.L. Langley, love those books. Historical being a first love, is there a historical in your future to write somewhere?

Jayce: No. Nope. You know what that requires? Research. That requires way more research than your girl is gonna do. Okay? So that is one that I am strictly a reader only, and I love and applaud those who put the time in, put the research in. I can read Alyssa Cole and Piper Huguley, and Vanessa Riley for my kind of black and IR historicals. Me and K.J. Charles can kick it with the rest. And I’m good. I leave that in their already well-defined hands. Not gonna be me.

Jeff: You mentioned with “Learned Behaviors” that its enemies to lovers. Do you have favorite tropes to work with or do you just play with all of them?

Jayce: I play with all of them. I don’t even realize I’m writing the trope half the doggone time until somebody points it out. Like I totally forgot “André” had a only one-bed scene and I’m like, “Oh, it did, didn’t it?” Totally forgot about it. Wasn’t even thinking about it. So there are tropes that I dislike, but unless I dislike you, I love everything else. I want to play with everything else. And so this environment that we’re in made writing a true enemy to lovers hard because I just didn’t have the requisite animosity. I was just tired, honestly, I just couldn’t do it. So it’s more of a this person aggravates the crap out of me than a true enemy. They both respect one another, they notice the other is good at their job, they just wish they would get that stick out of their behind and like let someone live a little. And so it’s not a true enemy enemies, but it’s a very irritable workplace colleagues to lovers. But that was fun.

The next one is friends to lovers and, my God, that’s hard. I don’t know how people do friends to lovers. I’m like, “Why don’t you guys just get together and already, my God, people, what are we waiting for?” But so I think I’d end up with only one bed a lot. And I was thinking about it and I think part of it is that my stories are set in DC. And to the extent that DC can be such a transient city in terms of its population often leaving to go back to where they’re from originally. There are times when they have to go back home. When André was for father’s 70th party, and so I noticed that was happening. So a couple of the couples are both DC natives so the entire story stays in the district. But I do realize that I’ve done only one bed a couple of times. I’m okay with this. Like, I love it. Please have the only one bed, my God. But I’m trying to do something a little bit different in some of the other ones, though JaQuan and Matt are definitely having an only one bed scene.

Because the son’s wedding is in Norfolk, so they have to travel and voila, there’s but one bed. So I loved enemies to lovers, I loved friends to lovers. I love arranged marriages. Yes, please, have to fake a relationship for me. I beg of you. Do this. The only thing I really don’t like, I don’t think, a secret baby. I think that’s the only one that I have a problem with. This could be because I’m a family law attorney. I think my job interfered with my enjoyment of this. It worked for me in historicals. I have a hard time with not getting child support. Honestly, I’m like, “Wait, you’ve had this baby for how long and you ain’t go after him for child support? I can’t respect you anymore.” So I have a problem with it in contemporary in a way that is, I think, directly related to what I do for a living. But in historical, I love it. Like, I mean you can put it all day in historical because the travel makes it harder to communicate. If you find out and you are on a ship somewhere, likelihood is you’re going to get to where you’re going and you can’t just turn around and go back to the person. So I can deal with it there. That’s the only one. But I mean, you give me step-siblings, I’m all over it. Come on. I love everything else. There’s very little that I can think of that I don’t like in terms of tropes. And when they’re handled well, any the trope is amazing. So why limit yourself?

Jeff: What’s a book you’ve read that you would recommend to our listeners?

Jayce: It’s kind of been a mess of a year, and so I think I really re-read a lot of stuff. Oh, things I love. Kelly Farmer’s “Out on the Ice,” exceptional. Adriana Herrera’s “Here to Stay.” I love let’s see, Kendall Ryan’s anything. I mean, I just read anything she writes. Melissa Blue’s newest ones, Rebekah Weatherspoon’s, all of which are, you know, somewhat comfort reading. So the newest “Under the Kilt” came out, I’m like, “Oh, let me go re-read the first six books. Sure. Why not? I have nothing to do.” So a lot of rereads. Chace Verity is just an absolute favorite of mine. I love them so much, and I think I probably read ” Team Phison” and “Team Phison Forever” once a quarter like clockwork. And I’m envious that I will probably never be that good, but I love them and would like to like pick them up and put them in my pocket and carry them around with me forever. And then to get a little bit away from romance all the time, I’ve been rereading a lot of Rachel Caine, the “Stillhouse Lake” and the “Killman Creek.” And that series been rereading a lot of that, which helps with my motor reef tendencies on occasion. And, oh, yes, Rosie Adams is amazing. And Christina C. Jones, y’all, thank me later. Kat Jackson, thank me later.

Will: Now, earlier when we were speaking about “Higher Education,” we were talking about the plans for the next in the series which is coming out in March. What else is coming our way in 2021?

Jayce: So that is the last definite book but that actually has a date to it. And that’s friends to levers and that’s another one where the child is not college age, but the child in this case is a high school student, beginning high school. And so that’s next. And then the rest of that series would be, you know, as I mentioned, a manny situation and that’s the one where you’ve got kids of different ages in that one. You’ve got high school, you’ve got college. And then that’s when you get the kind of precocious eight-year-old twins running around that, gotta wait for book three for that. And then Lord willing the secondary romance that was in book one hopefully will have their own story as well later on. So that’s what I’m hoping for with them. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to go back to “High Rise” and get the rest of those books out and then give you guys the rest of the “Higher Education” series. I think it’s a lot of fun. And somebody asked me if I was going to write a baseball series because I mentioned the baseball in “Jeremiah” apparently once too many times. It’s like, “You should write a series about baseball.” I’m like, “I love baseball. I truly do.” And so now I have a nine-book series planned.

Will: Wow. That sounds amazing.

Jeff: Nothing wrong with that.

Will: So much to look forward to.

Jayce: So literally why I was saying hopefully Carina will pick it up. I have loved working with Carina, would love to work with them some more. But because I never actually expected to be published by a publisher, my plan has always been to self-publish. So as I said, those books will come out, it’s just a matter of who, under what imprint, whether it be from them or whether it’d be under my own name. But I definitely will get them out to you. I’m excited to get them out to you because they are a lot of fun.

Jeff: Can’t wait.

Will: So as we wrap things up, how can people keep up with you online?

Jayce: So my website is That’s two Es and two Ls back to back. That’s pretty much my handle for everything. Instagram is authorjayceellis. My Facebook page is Author Jayce Ellis. Twitter is also authorjaycellis, but that’s 16 letters and Twitter only lets you have 15 letters. So there’s only one E in authorjaycellis on Twitter. So it’s now author J-A-Y-C-E-L-L-I-S, only one E on Twitter. Everything else is two Es and two Ls. And if you go onto my website and take a look at “Courtney,” there’s an extra of it on the website because it’s in the middle of the book for the actual anthology. So if you want to get a glimpse, see what it’s about, the first chapter is on my website. Because I think it’s 500 in the actual book.

Jeff: I know what we can do right after we’re done here. Go read a chapter.

Jayce: It’s up there. I double-checked it to make sure it’s up there.

Jeff: Well, thank you so much for talking to us. We’re going to link to everything that we have talked about in the show notes so people can go find it really easily and yeah, can’t wait to read what’s coming next from you. Some really good stuff on the way.

Jayce: Thank you so much. It has been my absolute pleasure talking to you guys. Like I said, this is kind of a dream come true and I so hope that you guys enjoy “Learned Behaviors” as much as you did “André.”