For the last Listener Favorite episode of our fifth anniversary year, we present Suzanne Brockmann. Suzanne, along with her family, has long been a champion of LGBTQ+ inclusion in romance fiction. In this look back at interviews from 2017 (which featured her, her husband Ed Gaffney and her son Jason T. Gaffney), Suzanne discusses her efforts to get gay characters in some of her early work, including the groundbreaking addition of FBI agent Jules Cassidy to her Troubleshooter series, and the historic gay wedding she brought to readers in All Through the Night (which happens to be our Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection for December). We also hear from Suzanne, Ed and Jason about how the family creates projects like the California Comedy books and movies, such as The Perfect Wedding.
Remember, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast anytime on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Stitcher, PlayerFM, YouTube and audio file download.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
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.
- The Prom on Netflix
- The Christmas Setup on Lifetime
- Dashing in December on Paramount Network
- Libro.fm Audiobook Gift Memberships on Libro.fm (available through December 31, 2020)
- Suzanne Brockmann Interview
- Suzanne Brockmann: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Episode 89 – Suzanne Brockmann, Ed Gaffney & Jason T. Gaffney talk “California Comedy” & More on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Episode 90 – Suzanne, Ed & Jason Part 2 on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Episode 102 – Suzanne Brockmann Interview on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Future Perfect by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Tall, Dark and Dangerous Series by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Love with the Proper Stranger by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Troubleshooters series by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- The Defiant Hero by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Over the Edge by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Hot Target by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Force of Nature by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- All Through the Night by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon
- Jason T. Gaffney on Amazon
- Ed Gaffney on Amazon
- California Comedy Series by Jason T. Gaffney and Ed Gaffney on Amazon
- Fixing Frank by Jason T. Gaffney and Ed Gaffney on Amazon
- The Perfect Wedding on Amazon Prime Video
- The Ali Forney Center website
- You Can’t Take it With You on Amazon Prime Video
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Suzanne Brockmann with Ed Gaffney and Jason T. Gaffney
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Now, you mentioned that it was ’93 that you started and of course, you’ve got your book “Future Perfect.” And that was back then you were told that you actually couldn’t have even a minor or secondary character who was gay.
Suzanne: That’s right. I wrote the book and it was set in a small town in Western Mass. And my original title for the book is “Bed and Breakfast.” And it’s about this young woman who runs a bed and breakfast and you know, she’s a member of the community and her best friend is the sister of the town sheriff. And the town sheriff happens to be a gay man. And he’s got a partner and he plays a small but pivotal role in the story you know, he’s an on-page character and he’s funny, he’s witty, he’s charming, you know, he’s all the things that he needs to be for the book.
And in my initial revision phone call after the book was bought, it was the first book it was bought by Meteor Publishing. Yeah, Meteor Publishing, huh what is wrong with that name? Well, my book was the last book they ever published. They’d done hundreds of category romances before I sold to them. But Harlequin Silhouette kind of crushed them and bought them out and they stopped publishing. But yeah, my first book was their last book which was you know, hey, publishing 101, right.
But that initial phone call was just such a…it was so weird because here I was…okay, so what was it? It was probably ’92. So I’m 32 years old, I’m this, you know, young woman, my son is seven. He’s, clearly gay because, you know, I mean, you know, I see him. And I’m thinking why I can’t have a gay character in a romance novel? And her response was that they would get angry letters. And I thought that’s not okay. I mean, it’s not okay to not have characters in my…to not write the book I wanna write with the characters I wanna write.
But at that point, I was really very powerless. I went along with it, you know, I bit my tongue, and I changed the character but it stayed with me. The idea that my son is growing up in a world where his presence isn’t welcome as a secondary character in, you know, a funny little romance novel. Like, that’s…we gotta do something about that. And I kind of approached my career from that point on as pushing the edge of the envelope and seeing can I…Okay, so that publisher doesn’t want gay characters, I’m just gonna just keep having them show up. And I’m gonna wait to be told to take them out.
And there’s gonna come a point where I’m gonna say no. Where I’m gonna say that my line is “You know what, I’ll find another publisher who wants to publish my books and is willing to have them as I’m writing them in my realistic, diverse and lovely world.” So, my first book in The Tall, Dark & Dangerous series, which was “Prince Joe” was my first Navy SEAL series that I wrote for Silhouette Intimate Moments. The heroine has a brother who’s gay and he was not an on-page character. So she talks about him with the hero, and she loves him and she’s, you know, unconditional in her support of him. And that was okay, he got to stay in the book.
And it was like, “Okay, so now what am I gonna do? How am I gonna push this a little bit further? So now at least we can at least mention that we have gay people in our lives that we love. Now, where do we go from here? And so I kind of…every time I was writing a book, I tried to get a little more…I tried to push a little bit harder. And my mission statement applied to characters of color too. One of the first things that I noticed when I was first starting out writing romance in the early 1990 through ’92, when I was just like, kind of learning what was a romance novel for the 90s? It was different from, you know, the books that my mother was reading in the 70s.
And one of the things I noticed besides the fact that the heroes often had names like Chance and Tray and you know, and Rain and you know, like, and like can we have a hero named Joe? Like Joe is a really good name. But I noticed that everybody lived in Whitelandia where they were straight, they were Christian, and they were white. And I thought that’s not the world I live in. I live in…you know, I’m in the urban Boston area and there’s a lot of different people on my street. And I wanna write a book about a guy named Joe, and a guy named Hank, and a guy named Irving, and a guy you know…and a hero named Jane. And have the world look like my world. And so I was always pushing to do that.
And again I got a lot of you know, the sidekick was Asian in a book I wrote for Silhouette. They called it “Love With The Proper Stranger” and the FBI hero had a sidekick and he was Asian. And I got the message from the powers that be that said “You need to change him because you won’t be asked to write a sequel if he’s Asian.” I mean, they weren’t…I mean, I think I’m probably not wording it. I mean, they were a little more careful in their wording. Make him more different, you know, make him a little bit different so that you can write the sequel. And I was like, “Nope.” And they did not want the sequel.
You know, so this was the 90s and romance was pretty different back then. But it needed authors to push that envelope to keep like saying…to say no to say, “You know what, I’m gonna write a book with African American characters and main characters.” I mean, at the time, you know, that was something. You know, I was driven a lot by my desire for Jason to grow up in a world that didn’t prohibit him from existing in a romance novel.
Jeff: Well, you finally got that in 2001 by the time he was a teenager.
Suzanne: Yeah, it was pretty interesting ground to be treading on, you know. And I got really lucky. I connected with my editor at Ballantine Books when I started writing my Troubleshooter series. And she was completely on board for my diverse universe and that support was really important, you know. I didn’t have to go into battle with every single book that I was writing just because of the, you know, whatever angry letters they imagine they were gonna get which is just…
Jeff: What was your genesis for Jules, who you introduced in Troubleshooters number two?
Suzanne: I knew that I wanted to write a character…first of all, I knew that I was writing military romantic suspense. And I knew that my readership was incredibly…they skewed very socially conservative. And taking what I knew about my readers, I knew that they probably lived in parts of the country where being out was probably very dangerous. So they knew gay people but they probably didn’t know that they knew gay people.
And what I decided to do is I decided to write them a gay best friend. And I created Jules Cassidy and gave him to them. And created him…He was originally…you walked onto the page as Alyssa Locke, one of my major secondary characters who had a story arc that went throughout the series. She was a woman of color, an FBI agent, a former Navy sharpshooter. And I planned out her romance with one of my popular Navy SEAL characters guy, Sam Starrett. He’s from Texas, he starts off the series kind of homophobic and ignorant, very ignorant, smart guy, but definitely ignorant.
And so I gave Alyssa a partner in the FBI who was this really adorable, witty, gay man. So I basically followed the rules of witty gay sidekick, right that’s…you know, earlier in literature gay people were the serial killers. So witty gay sidekick is a step up, right? I think we can all agree with that. I mean it’s not perfect. But it included witty gay sidekick is of course, asexual, so you get to be fabulous. And I mean, you guys know this right but don’t have sex. But that’s how I introduced Jules like, very safe. And so in the first book that he’s in “The Defiant Hero,” he shows up he’s fabulous, he makes people laugh.
And he meets the team of SEALs and Sam reacts to him in a homophobic way. And Alyssa…then it creates a conflict between him and Alyssa because Alyssa…So I kind of give readers a choice of kind of characters to relate to. They could either be Sam with his like, who’s that scary gay guy? I don’t know him. I need to be careful around him, I don’t trust him. Or Alyssa who is the, you know, best friends with the scary gay guy.
And throughout the series I basically planned out my journey for Jules and Sam to become really good friends because it’s all about getting to know me, right? It’s about…like putting a face to a stereotype and killing the stereotype by the reality of here I’m talking to a person. And so I let Sam take that journey in real-time through the books.
And so for example, so in “Defiant Hero” he meets Jules and he’s like scary gay guy, don’t turn my back on him. You know all the stupid, stupid things that homophobes say when they meet somebody. But Jules is a incredibly skilled FBI agent. He’s hero material, he’s this incredible heroic guy and he’s a great partner to the SEALs and the SEAL team. So throughout the books, you know, the next book it’s “Over The Edge” it’s a takedown of a hijacked airplane and Jules is on the scene again with Alyssa. And he and Sam have a moment kind of bonding over their affection for Alyssa, and their friendship starts to grow.
And Sam finds out in that book that Jules has a live-in lover, and he gets to react to that. And it’s like, oh, wait a minute, so Jules maybe isn’t the asexual sidekick, but it’s off-page. It’s nice and safe for the readers. And so then in the next book, we find out more about Jules, and we find out that…we and Sam, find out that Adam has left Jules and broken his heart. Just like Sam’s heart has been broken by Alyssa. And Sam has this moment of “Oh, Jules really loved this guy,” and it’s something that he hadn’t thought about before about that being gay is about being a person and falling in love.
So I let my readers take the journey with Sam and learn about Jules. And throughout this journey, Jules is a skilled FBI agent who always saves the day. And if I needed to have a character come in, you know, deus ex-machina, here I come to save the day, it was always Jules. And my message to the readers was okay, here’s this out gay FBI agent, is he heroic enough for you yet? How about now? How about now? There are times for subtlety in our books and there’s times where you just like, let it go with a sledgehammer.
And so if you read the entire Troubleshooter series, Jules keeps showing up with a sledgehammer and being that incredible romance hero who just happens to be gay. And so yeah, so we progressed to the point…and you know…so while I was writing these books, I was going on book tours, I was doing the whole…you know, the publisher was always sending me to Ohio. So I’d be in middle America in, you know, red states and conservative places. And I’d walk into the bookstore, we do a Q&A and I can tell you it was so gratifying.
Like one of the first questions I was always asked was, “Will we see more of Jules Cassidy in the next book?” And readers love this character. It was just so gratifying to recognize that it was working, that I was giving readers this character to relate to in a way that maybe they hadn’t stopped to think about before. And by the time that I wrote Jules’s…I gave him my you know, romantic connection with Robin and takes…you know, there’s a kiss in “Hot Target.” You know, when that came out, what year was that? That was like…I wanna say 2003 maybe.
We honestly didn’t know because of the subplot in “Hot Target,” which is Jules meets Robin and then they kiss and do things that people do when they’re attracted to each other. And we didn’t know if we would get reviewed by the major review sites because of this. And we were which was really great but you know, we went into it knowing you know, we just don’t know, we really don’t know.
And one of the things that I did when “Hot Target” came out I was ready for…You know how all the publishers are always saying you know, “We’ll get angry letters.” Yeah, you know, you get one star, you get angry letters. But I was ready for the letters of appreciation, the letters of affection to Jules. And I knew there’d be just literally thousands of emails that I’d be getting from readers who were so happy to see Jules finally get some action on the page of the book.
And I collected them, I redacted the personal information from the people who sent them to me. And I put them into a collection that I printed out. Because I wanted the heft of these many pages…I mean, we’re talking thousands of emails. And I wanted it to land on my publisher’s desk. So I bound it, you know, I went to staples and did one of those like bind back in the day you were binding things. And I sent it to my publisher, to my editor, to a bunch of people over at Random House. Because I wanted it to land on their desk with a bang to counter anything that they might be hearing from the screechy shrill, people who hate. And it was very effective, it really was and it kind of kept going.
But, yeah, so my goal was to give these readers who maybe didn’t…who were ignorant about what it meant to be gay. I wanted to give them Jules, and I wanted them to think about what was gonna happen when Jules won his happily ever after, in his book, and shouldn’t he have the right to get married just like every other romance hero. And, yeah, the response was overwhelmingly positive from readers. You know, the kind of standard email that I’ve gotten is, “I never really thought about it before. “And I never really gave it…I didn’t think, you know, and now I believe that everyone should have the right to be married.” And it’s just like, yes. So that was extremely cool but the journey was carefully thought out and planned again so that the world could be more welcoming for my son and for people that I loved.
Jeff: So I have to ask about how “Hot Target” since that’s the book where Jules and Robin got together. Did you approach that in any way differently than you would have a hero/heroine scenario and bringing men and women together? Or did you write the scenes in the same way that you would have so you weren’t pulling punches with the audience?
Suzanne: Well, I was…remember that my mission statement was to change hearts and minds. And so I knew I had to tread really carefully and focus on the emotional rather than the explicit. Well, for example, in “Hot Target, there’s not a sex scene between Jules and Robin. Yes, you know, I guess I did approach it differently because so much of their story was Robin’s realization that he is gay. And he’s playing a gay character in a movie, he’s exploring what that means as an actor playing a character, and he comes bumping up against his very real feelings for Jules.
So, yeah, you know what I mean? I was very careful throughout the process of writing these subplots, to make sure that my readers stayed with me. The people who might be…who were maybe hesitant to think about gay people as equals. Because what I was really trying to do was to show that love is, love is, love is love and focus again on the emotional sameness of the relationships. So, yeah, so I tread very carefully, you know. It was the book that Jules and Robin first have sex is “Force of Nature” and I definitely pulled the gauze over the camera lens for those scenes.
And it was…you know, I got a lot of pushback from the readers who were ready for that who were ready to read male/male romance and you know, I had to make a choice. And since my goal again was to bring people…I wasn’t preaching to the choir. I was trying to change hearts and minds. And I wish I could have written it the way I wanted to write it. But I really had to be careful because I didn’t wanna lose those readers and I wanted them to finish the book and to think love is, love is, love. And then move on from there hopefully to other books that had gay characters.
So yeah, it was careful and it was definitely a choice. And it was…you know, it’s sad that I had to do it that way, you know. But the world is really different now and I feel pretty confident that doing what I did, I helped kick in the door.
Going back to 2007, Suzanne released a book in the Troubleshooter series called “All Through the Night” that saw the wedding between FBI agent Jules and actor Robin. Now that was groundbreaking at the time for mainstream romance. And the book became the first M/M to hit “The New York Times” hardcover fiction bestseller list. How did that book come about that you were able to pull that off?
Suzanne: Well, it goes back, way back even before 2007. Ed and I became connected…well, actually, Ed, Jason, and I all three of us became connected to an organization called Mass Equality. And this is a group that had been around for a while. LGBTQ rights with a focus on marriage equality. And the story kind of really starts when Jason was in high school and he was home sick, right, Jace? You take it. Take it away, Jason.
Jason: So I was sick probably like just the man flu or something, something pitiful. And somehow I ended up watching the Massachusetts version of C-SPAN because…I actually think I was watching random TV and I think mom, I think you came in the room and were like, “Turn it to the C-SPAN…
Suzanne: It’s possible.
Jason: …we have to watch.” And then I started watching it and I was completely shocked because I had no idea that I couldn’t get married to…like I was out by this point. I was 16, 17 I was already out. And it didn’t occur to me that I couldn’t get married to the man of my dreams when I met him. And these people were having a fight like there were words exchanged by people on the floor.
Suzanne: On the floor of the Statehouse in Massachusetts. So this was you know, hot C-SPAN action going on with just like, riveting, and awful, and heartening at times, but awful at times. So Ed, take it away.
Ed: The way I remember I’m not exactly sure of exactly what Jason saw exactly when. But I do know this when in Massachusetts in 2004, the state Supreme Court ruled that our constitution allows gay people to get married, it would
be an infringement of their constitutional rights to not have them get married. I don’t exactly know what happened with Jace, but I do know what happened with the Massachusetts legislature. Immediately upon that ruling, people in the legislature started an effort to amend the constitution to basically take away the right of gay people to get married. It was around this time that Jason became aware as did I. I didn’t…like Jace came out a few years before that and it never crossed my mind gay people married or not married. I mean, if you’d asked me, I probably would have said, I guess they can get married I don’t know. I never thought of it. You know, Jason was what? 16 or 17.
Well, the minute he found out that there was a time when he couldn’t. And then when he found out there were people trying to take away the right to get married he got furious, understandably. And the three of us immediately got activated.
Ed: And we became political activists from that minute forward.
Suzanne: Yeah, some of our protest signs are…actually they aren’t really protest signs, they were more like proud to live in Massachusetts signs are behind Ed.
Ed: Oh, yeah those are historical documents back there. Suze and I were marching around the Massachusetts Statehouse with these signs around this time. So this is like 2004, 2005…
Ed: 2006. And then in 2007, we thought we’d won, we had beaten back just about every legislative effort that had been put forward to amend the Constitution. And we found out, no, we gotta do it one more time. And this time, out of the 200 people in the Massachusetts State Legislature, we had to get 150 votes out of those 200 to support gay marriage. And it was an all hands on deck thing because if we didn’t get this, then it was gonna go to a statewide referendum and it was just gonna be bedlam. I mean, Massachusetts was gonna be suddenly, you know…
Ed: …ground zero for every crazy nutjob and his busload of crazy nutjob cousins coming into Massachusetts with their ugly signs, and their hate, and the whole circus. So that’s when Suze got an idea.
Suzanne: Yeah, and we had been doing all kinds of activism from the, you know, candlelight vigils to the sign-carrying protests, to working for local politicians who supported equality. Ed did canvassing knocking on doors, you know, house to house, to say “Hello, meet me and let me tell you why I believe my son should have the same right as your children.” And that’s it, it takes a lot of something to go door to door and it’s not my strength.
And I remember thinking, you know, oh my god, we’d had the party celebrating the fact that we’d won marriage equality in Massachusetts. And now suddenly, we were you know, getting this conference call from Mass Equality and the leaders of that organization saying, you know, “Get out your candles and your signs because we’re not done.” And I had just finished writing the book “Force of Nature” where Jules and Robin, these two kind of characters that have gone throughout the series, they kind of achieve their happy ending. And it was a little bit of a surprise to me, I didn’t expect to have that happen in that book.
So I knew I wanted to write another book with them. And for many years readers and my publisher alike had been pressuring me to do two things. One was to write a holiday book some type of Christmasy story, and the other was to write a wedding. And I tend not…since I write romantic suspense, I tend not to write the actual…you don’t see the characters get married. And I suddenly thought, I have a wedding book. Here’s the story that I wanna tell.
And right now, it’s legal in Massachusetts for Jules and Robin to get married. So they’re gonna come to Massachusetts to do…the story is gonna be set there. And I knew too that Mass Equality needed a lot of money, and they needed it right away. So I pitched the idea to my agent and telling him, we need to make this deal, it’s gotta be a standalone book, I’m gonna give the rights, all of my proceeds, sub-rights, all of everything, every penny I earn from this book is gonna go to Mass Equality until the end of time. It’s still going to Mass Equality.
But this is what I do. I write stories, I write books. And this is something that I can bring to this emergency situation that is a little bit unique, and will hopefully keep me from having to knock on too many more doors. So that’s really where it came about. And the publisher was excited about it. And Mass Equality was really excited about it. In fact, they used…yeah, it was a six-figure advance that I got for that book that I immediately got to them. And they used that money to make a TV ad that was…Ed, you remember it, right?
Ed: It was a hockey player. I can’t remember whether it was college or high school hockey player. And he’s just a kid, just a Massachusetts kid, right. And he’s talking about his family. And he’s a hockey player and it’s you know, totally townie type guy. And then he introduces you to his moms who are up at you know, all hours to drive him to hockey practice. And it was just one of those perfect ads that…I mean, the whole campaign for protecting marriage rights in Massachusetts was centered around educating everybody, mostly the legislature. But anybody that would listen to the reality that LGBT people are people, everybody is the same.
This is just nothing to, you know, make laws about, we are all the same. And there’s a lot of people that just didn’t get that, they knew gay people, but they didn’t know that they knew gay people. They had this image of what gay was and it was completely crazy. And once…
Suzanne: And this commercial allowed us through Mass Equality to knock on millions of doors at the same time. So the work that Ed was doing was kind of amplified by, you know, like, here, Massachusetts, meet this charming young man and his moms and see how we are all the same. So it was really cool that they were able to do that, you know, with that advance money from this book.
But yeah, so you know, that’s kind of where it started with “All Through The Night, actually, with Jules and Robin having their own book. But you know, the fight for marriage equality the story has a really happy ending for our family in particular.
Jason: Then I got married last year.
Jeff: Did you go to Massachusetts to do it?
Jason: No, we stuck around in California. Matt’s family, my husband, Matt his family all lives out here. And it was warm and tropical and so we figured we’d stay.
Suzanne: It was awesome. I always said, “You know what, I am gonna dance at my son’s wedding.” And I danced in my son’s wedding. It was the best, it was the best wedding ever it was awesome.
Ed: Best wedding ever.
Jeff: That’s awesome. As a teenager Jason, how did it feel to have parents as activists? Was it awesome or was it like, oh, please don’t do that?
Jason: There are times when I feel like…I mean, it was awesome I’ll start with that first off. And there are times that I feel like their activism gets kind of eclipsed by my level of activism because I can get super passionate about it. And you know, in particular, any sort of group that is marginalized, I tend to be right there to stand with them. Because every group that’s marginalized if we don’t stand together, then we all lose. And it’s like…so you know, I’m gonna be there for women, I’m gonna be there for Muslim people, I’m gonna be there for Black Lives Matter because they were there for me when I was fighting for marriage equality. And so…
Suzanne: It’s the right thing to do.
Jason: Right, yeah. And so it’s the kind of thing where, like, I learned from them to be as loud as I am because we need to be in this day and age, we need to drown out the hate.
Will: What are Jules and Robin up to today?
Suzanne: Man, you know, I’ve done a number of short stories with them. I hope to bring them back in the Troubleshooter series. You know, I’m kind of at a crossroads in terms of what I’m doing next with my career. I’m looking hard at indie publishing and kind of going out on my own. And I’d love to write a Jules and Robin mystery series. I think that could be really fun, you know, like little episodic adventures for them to go on. But I’m definitely not done with them as characters. So yeah, so you’ll definitely see more of them. I promise.
Jeff: What’s your role, Suzanne, in the California comedy series, because you as noted, you’ve got the romance experience?
Suzanne: I’m kind of involved at the very beginning and then at the very end. So I really like the kind of plotting and brainstorming and knowing…like having Jason say, “Okay, here’s the story I wanna tell, what’s the best way to tell it? How do I convey this?” And with the understanding that what we are creating here with this line of books is basically a line of male-male category romances. So, what we wanna do we’re looking for the familiar romance tropes.
We wanna tell the stories that have been told a bazillion times but in male-female books. But we wanna be able to allow Jason and young men and all people to see their reflection in books that are set in a world where the characters don’t carry a lot of trauma with them about their coming out or
the conflict does not deal with sexuality.
So trying to fit the stories into those kind of traditional romance tropes. So things like, you know, if Jason’s saying, “Well, I want to write a story where…like, for “Fixing Frank,” there’s these two guys and their exes have run off together. And so there’s all this…you know, they’re at odds, and they blame each other and there’s a lot of anger. And you know, they have reason to find it difficult to be around one another. And so, oh, good, let’s throw them together and make them fall in love. And I immediately thought as he was talking about this, oh, let’s use the marriage of convenience trope, where our two characters are forced to be together and forced to pretend that they’re in a relationship. What better torture for those characters.
So with my kind of experience having written a bazillion romance novels and being really familiar with the tropes and… So that’s where I kind of play in at the beginning and we talk a lot about character, we talk a lot about structure, and revealing, and motivation. And then the guys go off and do their noisy writing, their fast and noisy writing it’s amazing. And I come in at the end and I read the book as an editor, and I give them revision notes. And I say, “Okay, but you know, what if you could twist it here and why don’t we make it go a little bit deeper here.” And I give them that feedback and they do a revision, and then they send it back to me.
And when we’re finally all three satisfied I’ll do another copy-edit. And then we’ll send the book out to another copy editor so that we have a non-family set of eyes on the thing. And then it goes to grandma to proofread. And I’m serious about that, it really does. My mother used to proofread. She used to freelance proofread Playbill, back in the day. And she says that Jason and Ed’s romances are way more interesting. She’s 85, 86.
Will: Suzanne, it’s funny that you mentioned the sort of relationship or marriage of convenience trope. I’ve recently been reading a couple of books with that very specific trope in them. And I have come to realize that as like my total jam. I cannot get enough of those kinds of stories.
Suzanne: It’s awesome, isn’t it? It’s just…
Will: Love it to pieces.
Suzanne: Yeah, it’s so awkward and…I’ve always said, okay, so what are you gonna do? You’re gonna create characters, there’s two people. And if you’re writing a romance novel, you’ve got two people and they’re going to collide, and they’re going to clash. And they’re going to discover a lot about each other in themselves as they eventually fall in love and they earn their happily ever after. The thing you wanna do as a writer is you want to torture your characters in the most torturous awful way possible.
So you really wanna find what makes them vulnerable and grind their face in it. Because then that allows the reader to see how they rise above and they overcome the difficulty. And the real true connection between those two characters is just that much more sweet as they work through that torment.
Ed: I love that trope too, Will, I think it’s perfect. It’s perfect for romantic comedy because as long as you create the characters well, and you create a pair of people that at least superficially, are going to have a lot to argue about and to be complaining about. You force them, however, into physical proximity so the sexual tension is automatic. You know, they’re attracted to each other, they cannot escape each other. So that sexual attraction will add to the tension which is driving them bananas.
And it’s just…I mean, some of the greatest Hollywood movies are…now I’m not sure that they’re marriages of convenience, but that conflict, Hepburn and Tracy, Cary Grant, and whoever, you know, those actors could bring that off with such skill and charm. And when the writing is good with such humor, it’s just…I love it. I love it. So “Fixing Frank” was just a…man it was a ball. Once we got these characters rolling it was just let them go, you know.
Jason: And for the comedy standpoint as well it’s basically a bountiful harvest. Because when I did improv, when I was doing improv training at the Upright Citizens Brigade, I had an instructor say, “Okay, in that last sketch that you guys were doing, one of you said, I don’t like buses. What I wanna now see is that person forced onto a bus because I wanna see their overreaction of how much they hate this inanimate object that has no…like, it’s not gonna hurt them, it’s not gonna do anything to them. And I wanna see the irrationality of it because that’s where the humor will come from.”
And so when you’ve got like a teacher who’s trying to not have a potty mouth and then you put him with a guy who every other word is a swear, and you stick a camera in their face. It’s just like it’s a powder keg ready to blow. And anything you do it would be hard to not find something hilarious for them to stumble upon that thing.
Jeff: It’s so amazing to see such a creative family continuing to work on projects. Where do they usually kick-off? Is it just one person has an idea and like, hey, let’s think about doing this.
Ed: That’s it.
Suzanne: That’s really…although we have a joke in our family that it usually starts with an irate phone call from Jason.
Jason: If there’s an issue in the world that’s not being addressed and I call them up and say we have to address it.
Suzanne: But yeah, basically it’s somebody gets an idea and starts talking about it. So whether it’s a movie or a novel, or you know, just…
Suzanne: Yeah, a play, it just kind of goes from there, yeah.
Jeff: So kind of give us an idea of these phone calls from Jason that come. How did “The Perfect Wedding,” you know, kind of kick-off for the family to work on?
Suzanne: Well, it started with a phone call.
Jason: So I was at a event for…I wanna say was for the Ali Forney Center, which is a great organization, helps LGBT youth who have been kicked out of their homes in New York City. Donate to them, they’re awesome. And I remember it was Christmas time and I went there with my friend. And he’s like, “I got tickets, we’re gonna go, you’re gonna have fun, let’s go.” And I was like, “Okay, fine.” So I went, and there were free drinks. And I noticed that there were a ton of naked Santas. And I remember thinking to myself, like, this is an event for youth, for donations, why are there a bunch of naked Santas? And I am all about sex sells, like, it totally makes sense to me.
And then I started thinking about it more and being like, you know, like, I’ve seen so many gay films where if it’s not about…like, the few that weren’t about coming out, or sexuality, were really like, sex romp focused. It was just like scene after scene after scene, which also has a place in the world and they can be very enjoyable to watch. But I noticed that there was no movie that was just a romantic comedy with the guys that didn’t rely on just pretty people being pretty to get sold. And so I had had a few glasses of wine…
Suzanne: Which usually accompanies the irate phone call, I would like to add. That might be traced to the origin of irate phone calls.
Jason: And I call my parents up and I’m like, “Oh, my God, I have the best idea for a movie ever.” And my parents are like, “Okay, Jason, like, okay, go ahead and tell us.” And I’m like, “No, you have to take me seriously like, this movie is real.” And they were like, “Yeah, just get on with it.” And so then I laid out kind of the idea of the perfect wedding with you know, you’ve got a guy, he has to come home, he’d been telling people he…
Suzanne: It’s not a marriage of convenience story, it’s awesome. Except there’s a twist.
Jason: I mean, the story really evolved, like the character of Paul in that movie didn’t come until draft six which is amazing because he’s the main character. And we didn’t know we were missing him. But then the next day, like after the phone call where I was pretty sure my parents were brushing me off and not really paying attention to me, I called him up the next day and with the same amount of urgency and irateness said, “I am sober now…
Suzanne: I’m sober now.
Jason: …and we’re still making this movie, and here’s the beats of the movie and we’re still gonna do this.” And it was…like who knew sexy Santas were gonna inspire me to pursue a sweet little romantic comedy.
Suzanne: Yep. It was awesome. That what it takes, it takes a phone call and conviction, again, taking on a very grand project and you never know where it’s gonna come from.
Will: You guys have a really unique family and it brings…I can’t help thinking of the family in the play “You Can’t Take It with You.”
Jason: Oh, I love that.
Will: Okay, for those of you who are listening and don’t know, “You Can’t Take It with You” kind of revolves around a wacky unconventional family. And they’re like singers, and they’re painters, and they’re dancers, and they’re all wild and bohemian and funny. And that’s where you know, comedy ensues when a straight-laced family kind of comes into the picture. But you guys do…it’s kind of bananas you do a little bit of everything.
Jeff: So with Ed and Jason doing gay romantic comedies together, have you considered…I mean, you mentioned Jules and Robin perhaps having a mystery series as an idea. Do you see more gay romantic fiction in your future?
Suzanne: Absolutely. There’s a story that I wanna write, it’s category romance-ish, but it’s romantic suspense at the same time. I’ve got it pretty much all plotted out. The heroes, one is a police detective and the other is a bounty hunter. And there’s a serial killer on the loose in Waco and he targets guys who look an awful lot like the bounty hunter. Yeah, so I’ve got that story completely outlined and I just don’t…I’ve been waiting for the right time to write it. But oh, yeah, I would love to. I’d love to do that. Absolutely.
Suzanne: I mean, romance novels are subversive. I mean, the message…I mean, if you think about it, in terms of message to women, because women too are told sex is bad and wrong, and shameful. And you shouldn’t have sex until…you know. And it should never be pleasurable and if it’s pleasurable, you’ll die at the end of the book. And so here’s the romance genre where women get to have sex and enjoy it, and live and get their happily ever after and happy endings, you know.
And so now, there’s this wonderful genre of, you know, LGBTQ romance, where that same subversive message is being told to countless people across the world. That, you know, gay men can have sex and fall in love and not have to die at the end of the book either. And so I think it’s an awesome thing to be part of that messaging because it’s just a great message. You know, sex is a great part of being in love with somebody and it’s pretty freaking good.
Jeff: Cool. Well, Suzanne, thank you so much hanging out with us. And giving us a little of your history of bringing gay characters into the romantic world, romance world.
Suzanne: I think it’s really important that mainstream authors push the edge of the envelope in all ways and just making the world more realistic in our books. So I think it’s really important to do that. So thank you for letting me talk about it.