Jeff & Will shout out the new FX documentary series Pride.
After Jeff reviews Coaching the Nerd, the second book in Eli Easton and Tara Lain’s Nerds vs. Jocks series, he chats with Eli and Tara. This is the first time either author has collaborated, and they talk about how they came together, figured out what the Nerds vs. Jocks series would be, and the stories each of the three couples would have. They also discuss what’s coming up next, including more co-written books, and some of the difficulties working solo again. Plus, they share a book recommendations.
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. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- 2021 Pride Cards Info on Big Gay Fiction Podcast Patreon
- Pride on FX | Hulu
- Eli Easton & Tara Lain Interview
- Eli Easton: website | Facebook | Facebook Group | Twitter
- Tara Lain: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Nerds vs. Jocks series by Eli Easton & Tara Lain on Amazon
- Schooling the Jock by Eli Easton & Tara Lain on Amazon
- Coaching the Nerd by Eli Easton & Tara Lain on Amazon
- Head to Head by by Eli Easton & Tara Lain on Amazon (pre-order until May 25, 2021)
- The Long Pass Chronicles by Tara Lain on Amazon
- Blame it on the Mistletoe by Eli Eason on Amazon
- Fuzzy Love series by Tara Lain on Amazon
- Better Than People by Roan Parrish on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- How to Walk Like a Man by Eli Easton on Amazon
- 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
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, author Tara Lain and Eli Easton are here to talk about their collaboration on the “Nerds vs. Jocks” series.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 310 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff Adams and with me as always is my co-host and husband Will Knauss.
Will: Welcome back rainbow romance readers. We are so glad that you could join us for another episode.
Jeff: As always the podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. Thank you to Richard for recently joining the community. If you’d like more information about the bonus content we offer our patrons go to patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
We also want to remind our patrons that pride month, of course, is right around the corner and we would love to send you a special card to celebrate the month. You can check out our post on Patreon that has all the information you need to claim a card for yourself. Please let us know by May 31 if you’d like one.
Jeff: And speaking of pride, the FX network is helping to get everyone into the pride spirit with a new six part documentary that they actually premiered last week, which is simply called “Pride.”
Now, each of the episodes looks at a specific decade from the 1950s, up into the 2000s to highlight some of the most celebrated LGBTQ milestones and trailblazers, along with shining the light on some lesser known pivotal moments.
Among some of the series highlights are looking at the pre-Stonewall 1960s and the activism that was already taking place during the decade. The episode on the 70s looks at the first gay pride march, as well as poet Audre Lorde. Jumping into the 90s, the focus shifts to the culture wars and the galvanizing of LGBTQ people to create organizations to fight back against oppression. And the series wraps up with the first decade of the 21st century when there was even more visibility and acceptance while the struggle for basic rights continued.
The episodes covering the 80s, 90s, and 2000s air this Friday, May 21st on FX at 8 p.m. Eastern. And if you miss any of this series, you can find it on demand through your TV provider or on Hulu.
Will: Now, before we jump into this week’s author interview, you got a book to tell us all about.
Review: Coaching the Nerd by Eli Easton & Tara Lain
Jeff: I absolutely do. Since Eli and Tara are here this week, I thought I would go ahead and review the second book in the “Nerds Vs. Jocks” series.
Back in episode 302 I told you how much I enjoyed “Schooling the Jock” by Eli Easton and Tara Lain and now I can tell you that I also loved “Coaching the Nerd,” which is the second book in the “Nerds vs. Jocks” series. Just like the first, “Coaching the Nerd” features two wonderfully complex characters who subvert some of the norms we usually see in a book that focuses on nerds and jocks.
The setup is the same as the first book, and actually runs along the same timeline as the first book. A prank that goes to far, has pushed the dean of students too far and now the rival frat houses have to work together or their houses will be disbanded. This book focuses on the nerd from the SMU house who has to be part of the ALA’s flag football team.
Interestingly Sean eagerly volunteers to leave the quizbowl team and go over to play football. His frat brothers are shocked, but glad one of the volunteered for the duty. Football fits with Sean’s plan though, he wants a makeover. He wants to improve his body with the ultimate goal of securing a date and finally losing his virginity. It’s his new year’s resolution and he sees this as the change to make it happen.
That first football practice is not a good one. While Sean understands some basic rules, he’s read up on them of course, the teams aren’t clearly delineated, he doesn’t know which one he’s on and he’s also not in shape. Enter Bubba, one of the jocks who is a phys ed major who wants to be a personal trainer. He offers to train Sean to get in shape and how to play football. Bubba sees it as helping the team and also getting some practical experience being a trainer. Sean’s very excited for the help.
The two make an unlikely and interesting pair. The super thin, flaming red head, super smart, always speaking his mind Sean, and the hulking jock who is more likely to keep his opinion to himself because he’s always been told he’s not bright Bubba. Sean’s also attracted to Bubba from the start. Bubba, however, can’t quite figure out why he likes Sean so much because he’s always thought he was at least mostly straight. It turns out, Bubba discovers he’s more bi.
Sean’s also not the only one getting a makeover. Sean helps Bubba get out from under years of hearing that he wasn’t smart enough to amount to much. Bubba’s dad expects him to ditch school, or at least only squeak by, and come back and work in the family’s garage as a mechanic. What Bubba wants is to be a physical therapist, and its Sean who helps him see that he’s more than the expectations his family and hometown have put on him.
Sean and Bubba are so good for each other. They have quite different perspectives that help the other see beyond the box they have put themselves. Bubba helps Sean realize that he can be athletic and desirable. Sean shows Bubba that he’s smart and can pursue the dreams that he wants. Along the way, they discover that they’ve got definite feelings for each other too. It’s so adorable how Bubba realizes he’s got serious feels as he sends Sean off with another guy while their at a party. Bubba’s not at all happy about that. The build up for these two made me say “awww” often.
As with “Schooling the Jock,” parents play into this story a lot. I’ll say now that Sean’s are dicks and I loved how he put them in their place by the end of the story. Bubba’s dad is very interesting, far more than he seems the first time we meet him and makes for a great side plot in this book. You’ll hear more on that in the interview coming up.
This series continues to delight me. Bubba and Sean are very different from Dobbs and Jesse in book one, but their story is just as wonderful as these two fight for their HEA while also breaking away from some of the preconceived notions that have about themselves and that others have heaped on them. Eli and Tara have built really wonderful relatively low angst romances with this series. I can wait to dig into “Head to Head” next to see what’s happening with the heads of the frat houses as they somehow go from enemies to lovers.
So as with the first book I wholeheartedly recommend “Coaching the Nerd” from Eli and Tara.
And with that we can get right into the interview. It was so wonderful to talk to Tara and Eli about this series, which is the first time that either one of them has collaborated with another author. We talk about what brought them together, this series, how they came up with these wonderful characters, and what’s going to be coming up in that third book.
Interview: Eli Easton & Tara Lain
Jeff: Eli and Tara, thank you so much for coming to the podcast. It’s great to have you here.
Eli: Thanks for inviting us. I’m excited.
Jeff: I had to have you here because “Schooling the Jock,” absolutely one of my favorite books of the year so far. And Dobbs and Jesse so much are in the lexicon now of my favorite couples. Before we get into the series and books, let’s talk about what brought you two together to collaborate Because this is the first co-write for either of you. What was the origin to bring all this together?
Eli: I was talking to another well-known author about collaborating and somebody who collaborates a lot, and I have never have. And we’re friends, and so we were talking about doing a series together and, kind of, came up with the idea of nerds versus jocks. And then she actually had to pull out because she was just too overbooked. So, I thought about doing it on my own, but I really had been wanting to try a collaboration. And so the person I thought of was Tara because I love her books. And I think she and I have a lot of commonalities in our work.
She’s more plot-driven, character-driven, a lot of, kind of, quirkiness and humor. And so, I pinged her and I just said, “Would you be interested in collaborating on something?” And explained the general idea. And yeah, so she…fortunately, she agreed. I mean, at first, we were, kind of, like, “Well, let’s just try a few chapters and see how it goes and we can always just pull out if it’s not working.” And I think by the end of chapter 2, we both felt it was really going to work.
Tara: Yeah. Yeah. Eli and I have been friends for a long time. And I’ve been a huge admirer of her books. And I’ve always, kind of, noticed that commonality that she’s talking about that we both have a lot of character, a certain, kind of, lightness and sweetness while still diving deep into the characters and, of course, a lot of humor. So the idea of doing something that was really rom-com trope-driven, but then still getting to do deeper characters was really a fun idea.
But I had no idea how the idea of co-authoring was going to work because I mean, I think I’m on book 57 or something, and all of them have been written alone. And it was like…So I think I took a couple of days, I was like, “Oh, gosh, I don’t think I should do this.” We started talking about it right before Christmas, right? It was like Thanksgiving, I think, when we started talking about it. And I was like, “Oh, I’ve got so much to do, so many books to write. So many books, so little time.
And then I guess it was probably a day later and I was talking to my husband about it and, “It would be fun, and what a good idea.” And I just thought…I woke up in the morning and thought, “Don’t be stupid, you’ve got to try this.” And I called her and said, “Yeah, I’m in. Count me in.”
Jeff: It really came together fast then if you were talking about this at Thanksgiving because this first book was out fairly early this year.
Tara: February. That was a challenge. Yeah.
Eli: I think that’s one of the things, but we wrote both the first two books in about a month. And…
Tara: Yes, a month apiece.
Eli: Yeah. And so that was one of the things that I was really hoping to get out of a collaboration is… I think when you’re writing by yourself, especially as Tara said, I’m almost at my 50th book now, and if you stop feeling it a certain day, it’s like, “Well, maybe I’ll write 500 words, and then dig around, and then maybe I’ll give up.”
But when you have another partner on the other end who’s waiting on that chapter to do their part, you feel a lot more responsible. It’s like when you’re going to meet somebody in the morning to go walking you’ve got to be there. So, I think it really, kind of, powered us through on those first two books, which was one of the things I was hoping to get out of a collaboration.
Tara: And I’ve talked to people who collaborate all the time and sometimes really successful collaborations are in different time zones. So that one is sleeping while the other is writing, but we’re in the same time zone. So we were like, “So how’s that going to work? Can we really go fast when we’re actually writing every other day?
We were responsible for writing a chapter every other day and it went so fast. And I learned…Eli described it perfectly, and I will tell you what she said. She said, “It eliminates the fear of the blank page.” And it was because you’ve always got something in front of you. You’ve always got what the other person wrote to inspire you and to push you along and to get you going on the next chapter. And that really did propel us forward.
Eli: Yeah, it’s kind of like that game where you go around and you tell a story and, like, somebody says something and then the next person… It is inspiring to just riff off what somebody else has done and it just puts ideas in your head. And so, it’s much easier to sit down and start writing I think.
Tara: One of the questions that you mentioned to us, Jeff was, how did we do it? How did we separate the book? How did we assign it? And we literally each took…We took a house and we took a character. It turned out that we took the house. We started out taking a character and then it ended up that we stayed with the same house through the whole three-book series.
So each of us would, kind of, be responsible for writing the chapter in that character’s point of view. But then, it went to the next writer who was also writing that same character, obviously, in the next chapter. So, the character kept getting deeper and new additions, and then we would also edit each other’s work. So that was how we smoothed it out and made it seamless.
Jeff: And I know you actually mentioned in the book who wrote what. And Eli turned out to be the geek and Tara, you became the jock. Did it just happen that way or did you go, “I want this character and I want this character?”
Eli: We, sort of, went back and forth but Tara had done a whole series of football jocks. And some of my most popular characters were from, like, “Blame It On The Mistletoe.” I just tend to really write good nerds. And so, we just decided to go that way on book 1, and then on book 2, it’s like, “Well, let’s just keep going since it seems to work.”
Tara: I had had to learn a lot about football and Eli said, “You get to do the football.”
Eli: And I think the other thing that probably, in terms of process, that Tara did mention is that during the books, we would have three or four calls where we would just be on the phone for a couple of hours working out the plotline. Like, what about Rand’s family? What is his father really like? What is his motivation? How is that going to lead to the crisis moment? And so the plot was something that we went back and forth with on the phone, just sort of brainstorming.
It’s just like, “No, I don’t like that. How about this?” And just, kind of, knocking it out until we got to a point where we felt like, “Yeah, that’s the plot this is it.” And so, in that sense both the character arcs and the basic plot flow, and the crisis points were really a collaborative effort, even though we were each writing a chapter we both had agreed on what that character’s arc was and what their relationship was with the family and all that.
Jeff: Did you have that as you started or did you pants your way through the majority of the plot? How much did going into the writing and how much, kind of, manifested as you went?
Tara: We kind of mapped out the story and the kind of guys that they were in a general, sort of, way but then we let them evolve on the page. And then not only based upon the person who was “writing that character,” but on both of us and then also in the way that we edited each other’s chapters.
After the chapter was done, it would go on to the co-author, the co-author would edit that chapter and write the next chapter. And so we were constantly adding and commenting on each other’s work, always with the idea that the author who was ultimately responsible for that character had the final say.
Eli: I tend to write this way with all my books, is I’m, sort of, a mix of a pantser and plotter. It’s like I have to have enough material in my…I have to have enough of an idea of what the story is to really begin, but I never know the whole thing. And then I’ll write for a couple of chapters and then I have to stop again and think about like, “Where am I going? And so we did that a lot.
The third book, for example, we kind of knew it was the first few chapters would happen at the Quizbowl final. And that book particularly really sort of…the plot really evolved as we went and so we had to go back and do a really hard edit fast because a lot of the first few chapters were not in line with what the plot ended up being exactly.
Tara: Yeah, the third book was a wonderful mystery. Literally, the only thing we knew, going through the whole arc of the series, was that these two people hated each other. They hated each other.
Jeff: And that’s clear very early.
Tara: Right. As you can see that on the page, right? And we knew that and we manifested that on the page, and we got to book 3, and it was like, “But we don’t have any idea why.” We didn’t know why they hated each other. So, we had to come up with a whole story that explained why they hated each other.
Jeff: And for people who haven’t dove into this series yet, it basically all starts because of a frat prank gone wrong to the point of almost burning down one of these houses. Now, Eli, you mentioned you came to the table with the idea of nerds versus jocks, but where did the idea to have this frat prank go wrong come up from? What inspired that?
Eli: Well, the nerd versus jock thing like I said, some of my more popular books have been set on college campuses. And so the idea of two rival frat houses was pretty much the germ seed of the series, but then you could have gone any number of different ways. Like, one idea was to have each book be a different moment in time, like in the ’80s when these two houses were fighting, and then in the ’90s. And so that, kind of, got trashed. Another one was just to have the series be these continuing pranks, right?
So the idea of actually having the dean step in the very beginning of book 1, these houses have been fighting forever, and the dean finally steps in because of this one particularly bad prank, but it’s not the first one. It’s like the 300th prank they pulled on each other. It just happens to have a really terrible consequences. So the dean steps in and forces the two houses to basically swap key members for their beloved Quizbowl and flag football. So forcing them to work together with the idea of being that maybe they would finally get over their hatred of each other. So that was, kind of, there when you stepped in, I think, Tara, but we didn’t really…
Tara: It was. Absolutely.
Eli: …at the point know who the characters were or what we were going to do with that or…
Tara: No, I mean, we hadn’t named the characters or really defined them, but Eli came with the idea that it was two houses, that they had been rivals forever, that they had done terrible things to each other, and that the Dean had had it. So that was already there when we started talking about the series. And then everything from there was blank. But we knew that much, which was a lot, obviously. That was a huge amount to hold the whole thing together.
Eli: But I knew nothing about Quizbowl at that point, or flag football.
Tara: Or flag football. We did a lot of research on those two things.
Jeff: You had to have because they’re so integral to how it works because it’s not just Quizbowl within the school and not just flag football in the school. These are competitive Quizbowl and flag football teams that are going out and headed towards state and potentially national titles.
Tara: And Quizbowl is very much a thing. I mean, Quizbowl has a national structure, has very popular people. We suspected that there could be people who would read the books who would know a lot about Quizbowl. So. we had to stay at least somewhat true to the actual facts of it.
Now, flag football is not so much. It’s a much more, kind of, campus-to-campus kind of activity. So that while there are…I mean, there’s even a national NFL flag football team. So, there’s very specific rules and that sort of thing. But as far as when there was a tournament and who they would be playing against in that, that wasn’t so delineated. So, we could make that up, and that was good because we could fit it around Quizbowl.
Jeff: And the timelines are key here, especially in the first two books because “Schooling the Jock” and “Coaching the Nerd” are very much intertwined as the Quizbowl competition season is going on and they’re headed towards a flag football tournament as well. How did that manifest itself for you in writing these two books, like, managing timelines between them and knowing things that you seeded in book 1 could have repercussions in book 2?
Eli: I initially was trying to be…When I thought about the series, I thought it would be really clever to get really, like, “Inception” with it and really have all these interlocking events that, like, you might come across two characters talking and then you wouldn’t find out what they were saying until the next book. But I think it ended up being not that complicated. I mean, I think we have a few scenes in book 1 where Sean, who’s the nerd in book 2 is really sore and Dobbs is worried about him because he’s been training with Bubba.
I think there’s another scene where you see Rand and Jax having some kind of argument in the distance, but we really didn’t get that involved with it. We have a few scenes. And then when we went to book 2, it was actually a challenge because we had to make sure that book 2 actually fit what had happened in book 1. , we had this timeline laid out and it actually got us into a little bit of trouble because given what was happening with Sean and Bubba story we wanted them to come out sooner rather than later in the year, and so we had to, kind of, push that right up against when Jesse and Dobbs came out because it actually happens on the same weekend because we just couldn’t push it back any earlier or push it back any later.
Tara: Let’s say that relationships got hurried a little bit from time to time because we didn’t have enough time between events for them to get to know each other any better and things like that.
Jeff: Let’s talk about the characters a little bit starting with “Schooling the Jock.” One of the things that I was so endeared here and really found different than at least most of the books that I’ve read that involve the nerds and the geeks is that Dobbs is very much alpha. He’s in a frat, he’s king of what he does, and he’s very confident and kind of a good foil for Jesse, who is also the football jock and is very determined in school. And they butt heads really well because nobody wants to back down. How did you develop these characters?
Tara: Actually, I think it would be fair to say that none of our nerds are betas. I think they’re all alphas. Would you agree, Eli? Wouldn’t you say all three of them are, of the nerds?
Eli: Yeah, I mean, I think maybe Jax is the least just because Jax is very laid back.
Tara: He’s laid back but still, he’s pretty…No, he doesn’t take shit from anybody.
Eli: But he doesn’t make shit from Rand. Rand can spark him like that, and he’s back at his throat. So, I think for me, like, probably one of the key characters…, for Dobbs, it was just we wanted somebody with a smart mouth because we wanted a lot of fun dialogue. So we called him Mickey Mouth.
Tara: Mickey Mouth.
Eli: Mickey Mouth is what Jesse calls him.
Tara: Among other things.
Eli: He has, like, so much sass. For Jesse he’s basically…we knew he’d be closeted. And for me in this day and age, if we’re going to write a closeted character, there has to be something unique there. It can’t just be he’s afraid to come out because he’s a football guy. It’s just overdone. So that really led to finding a reason that was unique and that led back to his family and his concern for his family and this pressure that he was under to never take any of his family’s attention because of his younger brothers were so demanding of attention but in a very sympathetic way. So I think, for me, it’s just important to find those unique twists so that it’s not like…, there’s just so many gay romance books I always want to find some unique twist that is not a character I’ve read before.
Tara: And in some ways because Jesse is closeted, and for the reasons that he is so protective of his family, Dobbs is in some ways more alpha than he is. I mean, he’s certainly an alpha character in the sense that he’s a jock, and he’s a football star, and all of that but he’s somewhat shy. , he’s a lot more reticent than Dobbs, who was very forthcoming. So the tables even get turned there a bit.
Jeff: Well, that’s what I liked in the book too because the tables kept turning as they learned more about each other and seeing more of family situation. They both learned so much and ended up…and grew so much. I mean, that’s what you want out of a romance, obviously, not just to get the HEA, but to really watch the characters bloom in a new way. And I just…
Tara: It was fun having Quizbowl, even though some people were like, “Oh, my God, those Quizbowl questions,” but it was fun having that framework to, kind of, drape their getting to know each other over. We didn’t have to make up artificial reasons for them to be together. They really, really had a reason. And so that was a good excuse. It was a really good reason to bring them together.
Eli: What you said, Jeff, about them each…, I think all the characters in all three books really do grow a lot and learn a lot about themselves. And I think that’s the nice thing about college-age is that they are at that age where they’re still, sort of, transitioning from family to being an adult and from figuring out who they are and what they really want in life. So it’s a good age for that.
Tara: And family plays a huge role in all three of the books, really a lot, I think more than we even anticipated…
Eli: Yeah, more than a lot.
Tara: ….would be the case when we started the series.
Jeff: It’s really interesting as you bring up family because there’s not only the found family, sort of, elements that you get with the two frat houses and then how each of our main characters in the book gets a little more family as it extends out to the people that they are now connected to because of who they have fallen for. But the families that we get to see, both with Hedgehog’s in “Coaching the Nerd” and with Jesse’s in “Schooling the Jock,” plays so much into the story too. It was really nice to see it in the case of “Schooling the Jock,” it was a really amazing family scene, and then “Coaching the Nerd,” we kind of got the anti of what was going on over there a little bit, too.
Tara: Yeah. And…
Eli: And I think we both feel too is that when you have those characters, like even in book 3 there’s a father that’s kind of a villain character. But even then, I mean, and with Sean’s parents, you don’t want something that’s just black and white. I mean, that you have to have real nuance there in terms of they obviously want the best for their kids and there’s love there in the family, even if it is dysfunctional.
Tara: Yeah, and you’ll see a when you get to read “Head to Head,” family, they’re a huge role. I mean, really enormous in terms of Rand’s motivation. And he does have a…he has a somewhat negative quality to him, but again, he has a lot of elements. He’s a very important character, the father. Rand’s father is a very important character in book 3.
Jeff: And I don’t want to shortchange Bubba and Hedgehog in “Coaching the Nerd.” Their story intrigued me, not only because I think they’re even more opposites in a lot of ways than Jesse and Dobbs were but they also essentially give each other makeovers through the story, which is so amazing. They’re very different makeovers, but they’re still makeovers nonetheless. But tell us a little bit about their story and how they kind of, came into being in your head.
Eli: Well, I love the whole “My Fair Lady” trope having that ugly duckling character that is transformed, and that’s always fun to play with. So, Sean in book 2 is…I think it’s really fun that in book 1, when he volunteers to be on the flag team the whole nerd house is just like, “Oh, my God.” This is, like, the biggest nerd in our entire house, the most, like, limp noodle unathletic person, and he’s volunteered to do this. So he’s got a long way to go.
Tara: But the most wildly self-confident at the same time. So…
Eli: Yeah, I mean, he’s very determined. He’s like, he knows what he wants and he’s going to go…and he’s funny. But yeah, so he ends up…In book 2, he’s being trained by Bubba, who is also introduced in book 1. He’s one of the jock house guys who’s not the brightest bulb in the pack.
Jeff: Well, sort of.
Tara: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I mean that’s the other thing with both of them. It’s both they could so easily have been caricatures but it’s only, sort of that they are that way, the way that you expect them to be. I loved Bubba. I think we both, kind of, went…we both glommed on to the character that we wanted in that book and that happened to continue us with the house that we had been in. And that proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy because each of us were creating the houses that our characters were in as well, and who the other characters were, and that sort of thing.
So we ended up staying with our house all the way through, but Bubba was one of those guys that really could have been just a cipher. He just could have been such a caricature. And because Sean was going to get his makeover, it was like we wanted Bubba to have his as well, maybe on a slightly more subtle level. But because he’s been told he was dumb his whole life, he believes it. He’s already risen above that self-image a lot but he has much further to go and it’s because of Sean that he’s able to finally do that. So, they both make each other over.
Eli: But I think in any romance I try to think about what is this character’s arc for each character? What do they need and how does this other person help them get there? How does this other person help them fulfill themselves? To see that that’s key to the romance, it’s not just oh, you’re really attractive and I want to have sex with you. It’s not a cheap romance book. It’s where is this character going and how does this other person fulfill them as a human being and how do they fit together? And so for Sean and Bubba, obviously what Bubba needed was to find confidence in his intelligence. And so figured out how Sean could help him do that.
Tara: Interesting because one of the ways that I tend to start with characters is how can these two characters create conflict with each other? It’s like how can who they are at this point in time rub up against the other one and create friction and sparks and conflict? And Eli’s focus is so much on how do they fit together? How do these pieces go together? So, that was great because I was constantly saying, “Okay, but we need more conflict here.” And then oh, no, but we need to understand how they go together, how they make a perfect couple. And so, we were constantly adding, kind of, those dimensions to our characters.
Jeff: Something you did in “Coaching the Nerd” too that I really like, you subvert a lot of expectations around Bubba’s father. And I’m not going to give away what goes down there because it’s so amazing. But that was like 180, that it’s so it’s minor to the story in so many ways but yet, it’s also significant there too. And it was really brilliant to see how that, kind of, manifested itself and what that did for him. Is that one of those happy accidents you discovered along the way or was that, kind of, you knew that was going to happen there?
Tara: The father definitely unveiled himself to us as we went along in this story, and we knew that he was going to be one of the influences on Bubba and that it would be one of the influences that made him doubt himself. Right? But then we grew to understand him and to know that he didn’t really…he didn’t do that out of meanness. He did it, in a sense, out of love, out of not wanting Bubba to not get above himself, to not have too great expectations and be terribly disappointed. And then as he revealed who he was, that part of his particular story unfolded.
Eli: We discussed that. It’s like, every time I got back a chapter where the father was involved, I think it was an early phone call where he was really mean, and then the Bubba goes home for the first time of the weekend, and then that scene where he goes back and has that conversation with his father. And every time I got those chapters, I just was like, “Yeah, okay, that’s great.” I loved the conflict. I mean, Tara is great at conflict. So it just worked. I mean, I think we did discuss after she wrote that last chapter, like, “Are people really going to buy this that the father…
Tara: I mean, that was one really big question. And to some degree, it’s still the question. I mean, I think there’s some people who are like, “Didn’t like that part.” But then there are other people, like you were saying, Jeff, who loved it. So it just felt right. It felt like it wasn’t a reach like this was the guy who ultimately emerged from the page and that we could put that piece of the story in.
Jeff: I didn’t think two ways about it. It’s like, “Oh, that’s really nice.” That was exactly my thought about it. So, the third book, which we’ve hinted at a little bit so far, comes out on May 25th. It’s called “Head to Head.” And you’ve got the guys here who lead these frat houses. What can you tell us about Rand and Jax’s story as they fight their way somehow to an HEA that I just can’t picture in my head yet?
Eli: Yeah. These guys hate each other so much in book 1 and 2 that you can’t even mention Rand to Jax without him, kind of, bugging out. And the funny thing is that Jax is so laid back about everything, but not Rand. It’s like, he’s the one exception to the rule. Yeah, so the book takes place…most of it takes place in the week before…So the Quizbowl final is in Philadelphia, on one weekend, and everybody’s there. And then there’s a week before the flag football final in…is it Omaha?
Tara: Yes, in Omaha. I think it is.
Eli: Like, the following weekend.
Tara: Yeah, we discussed different…geography played a huge role in this book. How far apart cities were…
Eli: So then one week later…and both Rand and Jax just happened to have decided independently that they were going to drive between these events and take that week off because it’s the week before graduation, and then they end up…, Jax’s car breaks down and Rand has to rescue him. So, basically, most of the story takes place in this one week between the Quizbowl final and the flag football final when the two of them are in forced proximity. And…
Tara: Actually, but then there’s a fair amount that goes on after that. We did end up carrying the story on further, I think, than we had originally anticipated. Yeah.
Eli: Yeah. But the main bulk of when the bromance happens is in this period of time.
Tara: Right. And we knew that much. We knew that early that that was going to be the case, that their story, whatever the heck it was, was going to happen in that week. But we didn’t know what it was. We didn’t have any idea.
Eli: And there’s some fun elements that came in. I think it’s almost like a royalty story. We, sort of, figured out…I mean, we always knew from book 1 and 2 that Rand’s family was wealthy but we really didn’t get into details about it. And then when we were trying to figure out the plot for the third book, we’ve figured out that his father was actually a billionaire who owned this oil empire. Basically, he…
Tara: He’s a fracker. I mean, he’s…
Eli: He’s a fracker, but they have more than that. They do oil drilling and everything but they also do fracking. And of course, that would be anathema to Jax who’s very…, comes from a vegan household. He’s very environmentally conscious. But Rand being this billionaire’s son, he’s sort of like American royalty. And so there’s, sort of, a prince vibe to the story, which was kind of fun, that developed. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of conflict and then there’s a big twist in there about, like, you finally figure out why Rand hates Jax so much. So that was fun.
Tara: And that’s a fun moment. Yeah, that’s a definite fun moment. And it doesn’t happen terribly far into the story. It’s fairly early that they finally get why they hate each other. And then they have to work it out. But that’s…
Jeff: It’s interesting how you phrase that, “And they figure out why they hate each,” other as if they really didn’t know but they keep up the appearance of hating each other.
Tara: But one of the twists of the story is that to some degree, they don’t know.
Eli: There is a real reason.
Tara: Yeah there’s the real reason why they hate each other and they honestly don’t know what that reason is.
Jeff: Wow, I can’t wait to read this book.
Tara: Yeah, I mean, at the beginning of the book, neither one of them could really explain. They think they could they think they could outline all the things that the other has done to them by just existing, if you will that makes them hate the other person. But truthfully, I mean, it’s so against Jax’s nature, as you learn who he is. It’s completely anathema to him to hate anybody. And the fact that he just loathes this man and the fact that Rand, he hates Jax on sight, and he’s never analyzed why. He doesn’t know why. He’s hated him since the first moment he ever saw him. And he could give you lots of reasons but it takes them a while for them to figure out what the real reason is.
Jeff: I have to say, I like what you did with Rand too because there’s another a moment of where you’re subverting the expectations because you’ve got a gay guy as the president of the jock frat.
Tara: I think part of his character that he is so, kind of, cool and so much the prince, and such royalty that he kind of shines out and rises above in any environment and people automatically, kind of, respect him.
Eli: Well, you find out in the book that he is that perfect blonde, country club…, I mean, then he was raised that way very specifically, very specifically. I mean, like, to the point where having etiquette classes and like, he was groomed to be that. So it’s almost like even though you’re gay you have…And even with his father, who is not at all a liberal person he’s sort of, like, come to accept that Rand is gay, but then he has all these other “Well, if you’re going to be that, then X, Y, and Z.”
Tara: Right. And we get to see pretty early on also that Rand is very much the sort of manifestation of his dad’s idea of perfection. And so, living the way he has always, his not very many years on the planet, 21, he has always, kind of, manifested that but that might or might not be who he really is.
Jeff: So “Head to Head,” is that the end of this series or might you do more in this universe?
Tara: Well, we’re definitely talking about doing more. We originally conceived it as a three-book arc. And there’s no doubt that “Head to Head” does kind of, tie things up, but there are still characters whose story hasn’t been told. So we’re definitely talking about that.
Eli: Yeah, we’re talking about maybe doing one more in this series. There is another couple that we’ve been, sort of, setting up. And the funny thing is, this is like the gay romance problem is that initially when we laid out, like, all the different characters in each house, we wanted lots of heterosexual characters because we…
Tara: We didn’t want them all to be gay.
Eli: …didn’t want these houses magically all be gay, right? So, we set up some really good side characters that were definitely heterosexual, like Felix, who’s like a total ladies man. But then as the books went on, it’s like, well, maybe…
Tara: Maybe he’s not.
Eli: Maybe he’s going to have a change of heart.
Tara: And we’ve talked about doing other things together as well and going on and possibly developing another whole series. Yeah, both of us have…We write a lot of contemporary. We write a lot of paranormal. We’ve both written other sub-genres that we could possibly think of doing together.
Jeff: It’s great to hear that the experience has been so good that you would co-write again together, which is fantastic. Would you co-write…maybe look for other co-writing experiences now that you’ve got this one under your belt as well?
Eli: I think so. I mean, definitely, I think that it’s…Like, I saw some things that I was concerned that Tara wouldn’t like working with me. I mean, I’m a very heavy editor. I think…and this is just my process. She tends to more, like, write linearly from start to finish and, like, each chapter is pretty well wrapped up in her mind before she moves on to the next chapter. Me, I’m like, all over the place and I edit really heavily. And I kept saying, “Look, Tara, I’m editing my chapters as heavily as I’m editing your chapters. It’s not you. It’s just my process.”
Tara: And I think that I only mentioned it one time and I was like, “Whoa, hang on just a second.” But like, no, I mean, for the most part, I really appreciated it. And yes, our process…I mean, considering how different our inherent writing processes are, very different. I mean, Eli, as she says, she can write a scene from the end of the book and write the highlight from the middle and then go back and start the beginning. And I can’t.
I am a writer. I am wired for story. I got to know what happened in chapter 1 before I can write chapter 2. That’s just the way I’ve always been which is inherently quite different, and yet, we managed to make it work without really any effort. I mean, maybe because each one of us was writing every other chapter, it didn’t feel quite as linear to Eli as it would have if I’d forced her to sit down and write my process. I think that would have been pretty…
Eli: Well, to finish what we were saying, so I think I would…if I were to co-write with somebody else, I’d have to really discuss at a time, like these are the kinds of things I notice that I do when I’m collaborating and if that’s going to bother you, maybe…yeah. So you’d have to find the right person, I think. It did work really well with Tara, which was fortunate. But in terms of that linear thing, I think just, again, knowing that if I’m left to my own devices, I kind of float all over the place and, like just write because I’m concerned about getting in my words for the day. So if I just happen to have in my mind, well, I know I’m going to write this scene and I already know what that’s going to be in that scene, so I might go write that. But knowing that Tara was waiting on me and that she needed that next chapter, it kind of helped discipline me, I think, to sit down and write the next thing, which was good.
Tara: When I want to be, if you will, I’m pretty disciplined. And so I was like, “Okay, let’s just keep going. Let’s get those chapters done.” And that forced both of us to stay on track and to not get, kind of, veering off on tangents. We allowed plenty of time for both of us to do our stuff to have our lives because I actually have another job. I still run an advertising agency three days a week. And so on those days, it’s harder for me to get in my words. And so, we accommodated that in our schedule. And then Eli has days when she has special projects that she’s going to work on and she needs to have hours to do that. So we just built that into our writing schedule and just kept going.
Jeff: And yet you still turned these books out in a month a piece. It’s amazing.
Tara: Yes. I mean, I think we amazed ourselves, quite honestly. But we were writing a full chapter at a time. Whereas, like, if I’m doing my words, I’ll write 2,000 words, I’ll write 1,000 words, I’ll write 3,000 words, but we were doing a chapter. And so it didn’t make any difference if the chapter was…
Eli: It was often 3,000 words.
Tara: Was often 3,000. Yeah, so maybe the chapter was 1,500 words, but usually, it was more like 3,500 or occasionally even 4,000. So we were leaping ahead chapter by chapter.
Eli: For each of you, what are your favorite scenes to write within the entire series?
Tara: I have a favorite scene in “Schooling the Jock,” which was the scene, interestingly enough, of Jesse’s kind of inner monologue after he lets Dobbs down at the motel, and he disappoints more than disappoints, break Dobbs’ heart and breaks his own. And his pattern of thought after that and then he gets the call from his little brother and responds to that. I enjoyed writing that scene a lot. I also loved the scene in “Coaching the Nerd” where they break up. But why do I love these heartbreak scenes? I don’t know. That was one.
And then there’s definitely a scene in “Head to Head” where Rand, who goes through a lot of inner turmoil in this book, it’s very much…He’s very much an unrealized person. Jax is more of a realized person. But Rand is a work in progress, even though it seems not that way at the beginning of the book. And there’s a moment where he gets clear about what’s true for him and what he wants his life to be. And it was the scene that we knew was coming. And I was, kind of, revving up to write it and I put my fingers on the keys and it was like it wrote itself. It was just like, there it is. This is that scene, and I really loved that. That was fun.
Eli: Yeah, the conflict is always fun to write. I agree with Tara there. There’s a scene in “Head to Head” where there they go to a carnival and part of what Jax brings out…and remember we talked about what does this one character do that helps this other character, like, become more of a full person? And Jax helps Rand play. And so they go to this carnival and there’s this great scene in the funhouse, which I won’t spoil, but it’s very much, sort of, a hate clashing/hot scene.
I think the first scene in “Coaching the Nerd” where Sean’s trying to play flag football, it was just so much fun to write this character who’s just trying to analyze, like, everything about this game because that’s how he succeeds. And he’s just completely failing this thing. And then I do like the scenes with the autistic brothers in the first book, “Schooling the Jock,” where Dobbs can relate to them and, sort of, has some moments of bonding with them. I thought that was really critical to their relationship to show that…
Tara: I thought that scene was so brilliant. I mean, it was so inspired. I mean, the games. She’s a game creator. Anyway Eli creates games, but creating the games and the play on words that you did, I mean, I just sat there and laughed and thought it was so…it was just so clever and utterly creative. I love that scene. I thought it was amazing.
Eli: Thank you. That’s nice. Yeah, I just thought it was important, not only because his brothers were so important to Jesse, but because I sort of had this idea of Jesse that he’s maybe just a tiny bit on the spectrum because we know early on that he’s very…, he comes off as very stuck up, very arrogant, very sort of…And it’s really just because that’s the shell…that’s the way he relates to the world because he has a hard time with people. So he’s just a tiny bit on the spectrum and his brothers really are on the spectrum. So in a way, Dobbs being able to relate to the brothers and, sort of, draw them out is, sort of, almost a mirroring the way that he can draw out Jesse too. So that was fun to write.
Jeff: So looking ahead, beyond “Head to Head,” what’s coming up for you both later this year?
Tara: We’re both back to working on our own books right now. And both of us are going slightly crazy because honestly, to some degree, we got used to working together. I mean, three books in four months is a lot of intense working together. And so, we both fell into a slightly different process. And so, I for one am definitely having to, kind of, restore my process to write my own book. Yes, so I am in fact working right now on, again, fingers crossed, the third book in my Papillon series, in my “Passions of a Papillon,” which they’re kind of rom-com mystery stories with dog. And so that I’m hoping to have come out early in the summer.
Eli: I had two books, one was “A Prairie Dog’s Love Song.” And the second one was called “The Stolen Suitor.” It was set in this same small Montana ranching town as “A Prairie Dog’s Love Song.” So since I’m republishing both those books, I decided to make them a series with a third book, which is what I’m working on. So there’s a villain in the first two books named Henry Atkins. He’s the guy that outed one of the characters as being in porn. So, he’s one star of the third book. And then the other guy is a huge porn star that comes to visit his friend who had been in porn for a while. And so it’s two of these characters in this little Montana cowboy town. So, it’s a lot of fun to write. It’s very folksy and kind of “Bonanza”-ish with the dialogue, and so that’s what I’m working on. And then…
Tara: We’re still helping each other plot, like, brainstorming a bit.
Eli: Yeah, it’s been good. So then after that…We’re both writing a book alone and then we’re thinking about writing a book together over the summer.
Tara: In the NVJ series.
Eli: Possibly a fourth book in Nerd Versus Jock and then we’ll each do our own Christmas book separately, and then possibly start a new series together.
Tara: After that.
Eli: Or, like, …
Jeff: That’s exciting.
Eli: …January, February timeframe.
Jeff: Yeah. We always like to get book recommendations when we talk to folks. What’s something you’ve read lately that you would recommend to our listeners?
Eli: I just finished “Better Than People” by Roan Parrish. And I really like that. I love her comfort stories. I’m not so much into the, like, alpha male super guys. I really like to read about more normal, average guys, and especially guys who have some sort of disability or problem that they need to resolve. So her book has…one guy has broken his leg and he’s a fairly alpha male kind of guy, but he has all these dogs and he needs somebody to dog walk for him while his leg’s broken. And the guy who shows up is this guy who’s just, like, horribly, horribly shy. And so the romance is between them, and I love it. Loved it.
Tara: I can’t say that I read this recently, but I wanted to recommend a book by an author named Eli Easton, and that is called “How to Walk Like a Man.” I mean, I don’t have to tell people about the Howl at the Moon series it takes place in Mad Creek. I mean, it’s one of the most wildly successful series, I think, in gay romance. But that particular book, which is, I think the second book in the series, yeah, the second book in the series, touched me so deeply. And I mean, the fundamental premise of the series is so original. It’s so clever, the idea of dogs who most of us love, right, and of dogs that are so related to the people that they’re with, their masters, that they can’t do anything when they lose their master except become human, which is a very poignant idea, but at the same time, a terribly funny idea. And so she’s got all these dogs in that creek that are scratching and they’re humans. But they’ve got their hind legs going and they’re doing all kinds of funny dog-like things. But here is a dog who was a military dog, right? Am I saying the right thing, Eli? He was a military dog who lost his master…
Tara: And he is such a wonderful dimensional heart-rending and heartwarming character that I just…I love that book so much and I think everybody should read it.
Jeff: Fantastic. Let’s tell everybody how they can keep up with you online to get all the latest news, every book that will be coming out later.
Tara: I’m lots and lots of places online. But my website, which is very simple, which is just www.taralain.com. And I keep it very updated. So, all my new books are constantly on there. But perhaps more particularly, there is a link on my website to my newsletter. And my newsletter comes out a minimum of two times a month and sometimes four times a month, depending on everything that’s going on. I do a release about me, about my books mostly, and some contests and things like that. But then every other issue of the newsletter is what I call a release report. And I report on all the new books that came out from my favorite authors that particular week, actually. And so people can get a lot of great ideas for new books from just reading the newsletter, but they can also keep up with all my stuff.
Eli: have a website, it’s elieaston.com but I’m also on Facebook, and I have a Facebook group called something like Eli Easton Mad Creakers. So I post there quite a bit in terms of just, like, update on my work in progress and cover reveals and art calls, and things like that. So if people really want to, sort of, get more of the first scoop, that’s a good place to go.
Jeff: Great. Well, we will link to all of the social media, all the websites, all the books in the show notes so people can just click away to get all this stuff. Thank you both so much. I have enjoyed our conversation. And thank you so much for this wonderful series as well. It’s made my spring so far.
Eli: Oh, thank you so much.
Tara: Oh, thank you. Thank you so much.
Eli: Thank you for having us on. Appreciate it.
Tara: Hope you love “Head to Head” just as much.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the shownotes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. And don’t forget the show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And thanks again to Eli and Tara for spending time with us. It’s always fun to talk with collaborators to understand how they work together. And for them it sounded like it really all came together so easily and so much so that it’s been interesting for them to figure out how to return to working on solo projects.
And remember the third book in “Nerds vs. Jocks” series entitled “Head to Head” comes out next week on May 25th.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday in episode 311, autho, Hudson Lin is going to be joining us to talk about her new book, “Hard Sell.”
Jeff: I had such a great time talking with Lin and we’ll not only discuss “Hard Sell and the new “Jade Harbour Capital” series, but also a couple of other amazing projects that she’s working on too.
Will: Thank you so much for listening. Until next time, stay strong, be safe, and above all else keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Jeff: Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Our original theme music is composed by Daryl Banner.