Author E.J. Russell joins us this week to talk about the interactive game that’s being made based on her novel Cutie and the Beast. We also discuss the stories she’s released this year that are part of shared universes, Playhouse Purgatory in The Magic Emporium and King’s Ex in Royal Powers II. We take a look at the historical Jeff & Will have fallen for, Silent Sin. E.J. has increased her audiobook production this year, working with narrators Joel Leslie and Greg Boudreaux, and she gives us the scoop on the audio coming our way. Of course we also get into how E.J. started writing and get a book recommendation.
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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.
- E.J. Russell Interview
- E.J. Russell: website | Reality Optional Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram
- Cutie and the Beast by E.J. Russell on Amazon | Kobo
- Where Death Meets the Devil by L.J. Hayward on Amazon | Kobo
- Maybe: Interactive Stories App on Apple App Store | Google Play
- Howling on Hold by E.J. Russell on Amazon | Kobo
- Mythmatched series by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Greg Bourdreaux on Audible
- Joel Leslie on Audible
- Kim Fielding on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Bad Boy’s Bard by E.J. Russell on Amazon | Kobo
- Silent Sin by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Episode 289 – An Insiders Tour of “The Magic Emporium” on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- Purgatory Playhouse by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- The Magic Emporium series by various authors on Amazon
- Steinert Hall, Out of Use and Far from Sight on Boston Globe
- Kings Ex by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Royal Powers II by various authors on Amazon
- Chris Cox on Amazon
- Duking it Out by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Royal Powers by various authors on Amazon
- For a Good Time, Call… (Bluewater Bay Series) by Anne Tennino & E.J. Russell on Amazon | Kobo
- The Frogman and the Spy by Irene Preston & Liv Rancourt on Amazon
- Singing in the Rain on Amazon Prime Video
- Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly on Amazon | Kobo
- A Cast of Killers by Sidney Kirkpatrick on Amazon
- Taylorology website
- Looking for Billy Hanes by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon | Kobo
- The Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History by Diana Serra Cary on Amazon
- Jim Butcher on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website
- Prince Joe by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon | Kobo
- Rose City Romance Writers website
- Josh Lanyon on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Geeklandia series by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Plumber’s Mate Mysteries by JL Merrow on Amazon | Kobo
- The Confidence Men: How Two Prisoners of War Engineered the Most Remarkable Escape in History by Margalit Fox on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Single White Incubus by E.J. Russell on Amazon | Kobo
- 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.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, author E.J. Russell joins us to talk about a new interactive game based on her novel “Cutie and the Beast.”
Will: Welcome to episode 321 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction I’m Will Knauss and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Mr. Jeff Adams.
Jeff: Hello rainbow romance readers. Welcome back for another episode of this show. It’s so good to have you here.
Will Knauss: It’s the start of a new month, and this is where we usually tell you the selection for the Big Gay Fiction Book Club. For July however, we’ve decided to take the month off from book club for a brief summer break. Rest assured we’ll be back in August with a book club selection, and we’ll reveal that to you in just a few weeks.
Jeff: You know, I was just thinking that it’s always interesting to see the different formats that a story can come out in. Of course, books come out all the time as audio books, and we certainly hope to soon to see stories from our favorite authors go down the more typical path of maybe becoming movies or TV shows or plays or musicals. And of course, we’ve also seen stories get transformed into graphic novels and role-playing games, but more recently through a company called Cinamon Games, they’ve taken a couple of titles and turned them into interactive games that you could play inside their Maybe: Interactive Stories app, which is available on iOS and Android.
These interactive stories contain multiple episodes that release over time where you actually get to be a character inside the story. Author LJ Hayward’s 2018 novel, “Where Death Meets the Devil” is already available inside Maybe: Interactive Stories. And now E.J. Russell’s “Cutie and the Beast” is being released for gameplay later this month.
The new game was the perfect reason to sit down and talk to E.J. Not only does she talk about “Cutie and the Beast,” but also the audio book that she’s bringing out this year. And we get into the stories that she released into shared universes this year with entries in both “The Magic Emporium” and “Royal Powers II universes. We also get the scoop of what got her started writing, what’s still to come for her this year, plus she’s got a book recommendation for us to.
E.J. Russell Interview
Jeff: E.J., welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here.
E.J.: Hi Jeff. I’m so glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me
Jeff: We have so many exciting things to talk about, and we’re going to kick it off with something that we don’t necessarily see a lot of in our genre. Your book, “Cutie and the Beast,” which came out like four years ago in 2017 is on the cusp of becoming an interactive game.
E.J.: That’s right.
Jeff: For those who haven’t read that story perhaps, tell us a little bit about the story before we talk about the game.
E.J.: Well, the original title for “Cutie and the Beast” was “Temping for the Beast” and it was, intended to be, a story about a cursed Fe warrior who’s now a psychologist for the supernatural community in Portland and the human who is assigned to be his temporary office manager. And hi-jinks ensue because, the tagline that I like to use in my advertising is “one cursed Fe warrior turned psychologist, one determined office temp. Hello, immovable object meet irresistible force.” because those two, they butt heads.
So, it’s an office romance. It’s opposites attract. It’s redemption. It’s, “hey, we’re going to feiry for the Midsummer rebels. Let’s go.”
Jeff: How did it become this interactive game?
E.J.: Well, it was completely random. “Cutie and the Beast” and my whole “Mythmatched” series, which now has, eight books, with the publisher and one that’s a freebie, is with Riptide. And they have, an agent who works to develop secondary rights markets. And they, contacted this company Cinamon Games, which is, I believe, South Korean company, who is looking, for LGBT content. They actually have a hashtag, #BL for boy love, on their site or readers are looking for that content.
So they’re developing interactive games. They’re also serializing books. In fact, they purchased their serial rights for almost all of my other Riptide titles as well and those will be coming out. I’m not sure exactly when. But apparently it was all, due to the work of the secondary rights agent, because apparently selling secondary rights for anything is very difficult.
So, the Riptide people were like astonished, but it looks like it’s doing very well. I mean the first title that they licensed is called “Where Death Meets the Devils” by LJ Hayward, and it’s doing quite well. So they have high hopes that “Cutie” will do the same, even though it’s a very different feel. It’s a paranormal romcom. And the first one was a very intense romantic suspense. So, we’ll see.
Jeff: And the artwork that they generate for these games, having seen some of what Cinamon does is really extraordinarily beautiful.
E.J.: It really is. I mean, some of them are quite you know, so cartoony, anime type, but some of them are also extremely realistic. So it’s a whole range depending on what the book is that they’re trying to interpret. So I’m really looking forward to seeing what it looks like.
Jeff: Is it a little strange in this case that you don’t get to see some aspect of it before it comes out? Cause I know that happens a lot with secondary rights that you don’t get to see or say.
E.J.: A little bit that’s one of the reasons why I looked at that first book to see what they had done, because one of the issues about Alun’s curse in “Cutie and the Beast” is that his face is massively deformed.
You don’t actually see it because it’s on the page, you know? So I’m interested to see what they actually do with that when they reveal it. How they reveal it. How they draw it. I’ll be really interested to see what it is, and of course, out of my hands. So all I can do, if I don’t like it is, you know, sit in the corner and whine.
Jeff: Having talked to many authors who do things like audio books, there are authors who don’t want to listen to the audio book, for example, because they don’t want to have to relisten to their words past what they may have to do to like maybe proof it a little bit or something. Are you going to dig into this game when it comes out?
Because it sounds like it’d be really fun. To see how they’ve done it. And how your story, turned into that medium? Or, is it going to be like, look at it a little bit and then maybe step away from it?
E.J.: I think I’ll probably really dive into it because for one thing it’s a completely different sort of, motif or a different delivery method than what I’ve used before.
And it’s intended for a completely different market. This is a market that we don’t ordinarily reach people who are just reading graphic novels on their phones, who are looking for that kind of interactive experience. And I want to see what that’s like for them. I’ve also gotten better since I’ve started delving into audio this year, and I proof my own books now, of being able to listen to the, whole thing and then with a critical eye. Sometimes I think, hey, did I write that? That’s not too bad.
Jeff: You really have dove in almost headfirst into audio. You’ve had some come out already, but you’ve got quite a list coming soon.
E.J.: For the longest time. Until 2020, I had no audio whatsoever. And then Riptide contracted with Greg Boudreaux to do “Howling on Hold”, which was like the seventh book in the “Mythmatched” world, which is like, okay, let’s stick it out there in the middle.
But I have wanted Joel to do “Cutie and the Beast” in that series almost from the time I met him which I met him at I think GRL in Kansas City. That was the one Over the Rainbow. Because when I first met Joel, he was basically naked and painted silver.
Jeff: Yes. The Tin Man costume, I remember that. Or, the Tin Man painting. It was hardly even a costume.
E.J.: But I think that was the one where I was in a reader panel with Kim Fielding and joel, who was narrator of her book came in and read it for her. That was Denver that happened in Denver. And that was when I really, really wanted him to do “Cutie and the Beast” because it’s got, you know, 18 bazillion different British and different kinds of Celtic accents, poor guy, but he does those so brilliantly.
And so since Riptide hadn’t really done anything with the audio rights for the rest of the series, I asked them for the rights back and they gave them to me. So I was able to, talk to Joel myself, and we’ve got, the third book in that first trilogy just released this week and he’ll be starting the second trilogy later on after he finished his “Silent Sin”.
Jeff: Excellent. And “Silent Sin” is something we’ll certainly be coming back to as we talk further.
You’ve had a couple of releases this year already as well. And you had a super fun entry in “The Magic Emporium” series. Listeners might remember that we had several of the Magic Emporium authors on the show back in episode 289. Your “Purgatory Playhouse”, I mean a musical staged purgatory. Why not? Tell us a little bit about Lonnie and TD and what inspired this story?
E.J.: Well, I actually have two theater degrees. I have an undergrad degree in acting and an MFA in theater administration. But, until this book I had never published anything set in the theater.
Jeff: That’s amazing, that you went to college and didn’t take advantage of it.
E.J.: Well, part of it, maybe because both my sons are both gay and they’re both professional dancers and I didn’t want to get in a position where I was almost writing sex scenes for my sons because they were in the performing arena. So it’s like, okay. Sort of distancing myself a little bit. But also the stories that I had been pursuing just didn’t really, sort of lend themselves to a theater setting.
And several years ago, I think it was maybe around 2015. It was quite a while ago. I ran across an article online about Steinert Hall, which is this derelict concert hall four stories underneath a piano store in Boston. And, the pictures were just fascinating and the story was fascinating.
It was closed in 1942, because I mean, it only has one entrance and exit up four flights of stairs, and the fire codes changed and they could they couldn’t redo that. Now you can see pictures online of what it looks like now.
And you know, me being me, I looked at it and thought, what if it’s not always derelict? What if sometimes if the conditions are right, it phases into this dimension and you know, what better time than tech week, which is always hell. So you know, why not? You and I both have a theater background, right?
Jeff: We have dabbled in like community theater and stuff.
E.J.: If I say TD in a theater context, what do you think of first?
Jeff: I probably go to technical department first.
E.J.: Well, it’s technical director actually. My, curmudgeonly husband was a technical director and lighting designer when we met working at a summer theater together.
But when I first start writing a story, I usually haven’t named my characters yet, so I put in placeholders and so I knew one guy was going to be a technical director. So I’ve used TD and I just, that’s what I called him. And his love interest was L.I, you know, love interest. And then finally, I just said, you know, screw it I’m just going to may name him TD. That’s his name.
So then I had to find an you know, an L name for his love interest, which is how I named Lonnie. But it was just, it was so much fun to sort of revisit all of my theater past, and also get to kick some Greek gods asses because they are not nice people. I’ve been annoyed with them since I read my first mythology book when I was in fourth grade. So I was able to sort of merge those two things and have a lot of fun.
Jeff: And this also will come to audio soon-ish.
E.J.: Well, Greg Boudreaux, we’ll be doing the audio for it. I think he will be starting it in August. So sometime this fall.
Jeff: Nice. That’s something very much to look forward to.
And then as if that wasn’t enough, we go backwards a little bit more and you’ve got “King’s Ex,” which is the second book in the “Royal Powers II” series. We’ve gone like 180 degrees from, you know, “Purgatory Playhouse” now to a superhero romcom.
Tell us a little bit about this story and the shared universe that it sits in.
E.J.: Well, the, there are actually two different series for “Royal Powers”. And my books are the first one in both of those series. So it started out I met Chris Cox when he was a member of my local RWA chapter, Rose City Romance Writers. And he and I became friends and then he moved to Texas. So we couldn’t do brunch or writing sprints anymore.
But we stayed Facebook friends. And one day he messaged me and said, how would you like to be part of a shared universe about super powered royalty? And of course I said yes. And by the time we finished that first messaging conversation, I had the basic premise for “Duking it Out,” which was the first book in the entire world and my first book in the series. Royal dukes shipwrecked on a desert island with super powers.
And then there were 10 books in that first series. And then we move on to season two, but Chris always called season two and “Kings Ex” is the first book in that one. And we meet several of the characters who appeared in the first books.
And if “Duking it Out” with my forced proximity, enemies to lovers trope, then this one is workplace romance, fake fiancé trope because the king needs a fake fiancé. He wants to escape an arranged marriage.
So it’s a lot of fun because we were able to pull in cameos from characters that other authors create. I love riffing off of things like that. I do that with my own books let’s face it. I love having repeat characters show up in various places. So it was just a lot of fun to do that. Especially when you’ve got a plot point that you need to really find some way to work your way out of just, invent a superpower.
Jeff: It is nice when you can do that. I was trying to imagine. Since I haven’t read the book, like if you’ve got a superpower, how do you actually end up stranded on a desert island? Cause you, you could use a super power out of that somehow. So you’d have to have a good superpower that also can’t just get you out of the problem.
E.J.: That was one of the things that we had to agree on when we were first setting up the world is that if they have a superpower, they also have to have a kryptonite. So there has to be something that prevents them from using the superpower and in “Duking It Out,” one of the characters his nickname is The Monster of Roses because he had an uncontrolled power that caused death and untold destruction when he was 12 years old.
And so he pretty much lives as a recluse. He can’t have any electronics near him because he’ll fry it. And the other one can receive any message that’s sent through the airwaves. He can intercept and send. But he can’t do it if he’s surrounded by water. So you end up with, you know, a character who can’t use electronics and has no electronics on the boat that he built by hand and a character who can communicate with anyone, but not be surrounded by water. And you stick them on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean.
Jeff: I Love that. I love like the thought exercise. You would have to decide what they were going to have, that would stick them there with no way out, without some other ingenious thing to happen.
E.J.: With “King’s Ex” one of the other premises of this world is that royalty has to have powers. If they don’t have powers, they cannot rule in these two countries. But commoners are legally barred from having powers and if they are discovered to have them or use them, then they are subject to prison or exile. So in “Kings Ex” we have the king who is a very good king, but he’s hidden for his entire life that he does not have a superpower, he thinks. And his commoner fake fiancé has a power, but he has to keep the king from finding out while they’re in this big engagement.
Jeff: Wow. Very cool.
So, this is a couple of shared universities you have between “Royal Powers” and “Magic Emporium.” What draws you into joining up for these kinds of projects?
E.J.: They asked me,
Jeff: There you go. Come play with us and why not say yes.
E.J.: These are actually the only two that I’ve ever been invited into.
Well, Anne Tennino had me co-write a story with her in the “Bluewater Bay” world for Riptide. But that was just because I was just the sidecar for her in that case. She was one who had contracted the book originally.
My statistical data set is very small. It’s, you know, it’s conceivable that I could say no if someone invited me to join it. But if the world intrigues me and I’ve got it in my schedule. It’s like being chosen for the dodge ball team in third grade. Me, Me! Pick me!
Jeff: And there are those moments, like you mentioned, with “Royal Powers” where you can bring in other characters who are hanging out in the world and I agree that’s a very fun thing to do, to have invite guests stars into your book and maybe have your characters be a guest somewhere else.
E.J.: Right. Liv Rancourt and Irene Preston wrote a book in the second series too. And beta read “King’s Ex” because they were going to have King Bastien show up in their book and they wanted to make sure that, you know, anything that they were doing was not going to interfere. And they brought in the two Dukes from my first books too. And so that was fun, you know, having my character be cameos in other people’s books. I like that too.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s a fun thing.
So I mentioned we were going to come back to “Silent Sin.” Listeners probably know that Will is having this year of historicals and from the very cover itself, which is very, you know, 1920s, Hollywood. The very dashing figure on the front. The art deco style of it. We both kinda glommed on to that and we’re both reading it and so just loving this romance set in the twenties. Where did this story of Robbie and Martin spring from, for you?
E.J.: Well, it actually came from two different directions because, there was the inspiration for the romance and also the inspiration for just early Hollywood in general, which I’ve always been interested in as far back as the first time I saw “Singing In The Rain.” And then I read Barbara Hambly’s book, wonderful book, “The Bride of the Rat God”, which is set much earlier. So much earlier than “Singing In The Rain”, but later than “Silent Sin.”
My obsession with the milieu just grew from that. So when I saw a call for submissions about books set in the twenties, and I thought, well, I want to do that, but I need to do some research. So I went to the library and the only book listed that was based in Hollywood, in the 1920s was this book called “A Cast Of Killers” and I thought, well, that’s weird. But I read it and it’s written by Sidney Kirkpatrick, but it’s based on notes written by King Vidor who was a director in silent Hollywood and transitioned out of that into a very long career in Hollywood. All about the murder of director William Desmond Taylor in early 1922.
And I had never heard of William Desmond Taylor before, and it’s this whole story. It was just so fascinating to me also because Taylor was very, probably gay and the whole mystery surrounding him and surrounding his murder was just. It’s unsolved to this day. Nobody knows. It’s one of the things that, you know, it’s golden age Hollywood murders.
There are at least four books written about this guy and also a website called Taylorology. And about the same time that was happening, Roscoe Arbuckle was on trial for murder, because of the death of a woman in the St. Francis hotel over Labor Day in 1921. So those two things were happening at the same time. Very big events in Hollywood and they were actually pivotal moments for the direction that Hollywood was going to go after that, because there was an outcry, you know, Hollywood is Babylon. Hollywood is corrupt, blah, blah, blah. Think of the children, or whatever.
Prohibition was new. Women could now vote, that was also brand new. Very different world, but Hollywood was afraid that all of the power that could do something that like pushed through temperance could shut down their entire industry. So they invited a Trojan horse into their camp. They invited Will Hays to come in and be their sensor and he changed the way that Hollywood looked until the sixties.
So it was this whole change between a very artistic, very open, very insular world that was controlled by the studios who control the police, they controlled the press. So they could protect their assets, if one of their actors or technicians ran a foul of the sodomy laws that were everywhere then they could pretty much take care of it.
But after Will Hays came that started to change. But at the same time, there were still ways to live your life if you were a queer person, in a relatively authentic way. And the second thing that inspired part of “Silent Sin” was the story of William Haines who I had never heard of and a lot of people have never heard of him because Louis B. Mayer pretty much erased him from history. I only heard about him because Suzanne Brockmann wrote a play called “Looking for Billy Haines,” which is actually a contemporary play. But the main characters is trying to discover who Billy Haines was. And he was actually the top box office star the male box office star in like 1929 and 1928 or 1930. I mean, several years in a row. He was major star but he was also openly and unabashedly gay and he lived with his lover.
L.B Mayer possibly, or, you know, the legend has it anyway, that Mayer pulled Billy into his office and said, you need to get rid of Jimmy and marry a woman. And Billy apparently said, sure, as soon as you leave your wife and this, of course, enraged L.B Mayer and he didn’t fire Billy outright, but his parts slowly decreased and finally it was essentially gone. And rather than repine, he became one of the most successful interior decorators in Hollywood. One of his closest friends, was Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard too, I think.
And he and Jimmy were together until Billy’s death in 1973.
He died a week after my 18th birthday, which is another thing that I find astonishing about stories about this age is that it wasn’t that long ago. If I had the right connections, I could have talked to some of these people I could have actually met Billy Haines. I could have met you know, Colleen Moore, King Vidor even. They were all alive during my lifetime, which is another reason to maybe understand why the studio execs did what they did when they pulled Will Hays in because the industry had only been in existence for about 15 years at that point, it could have been completely erased if the government came in and decided that wasn’t what needed to happen. So, what was the price? A few people’s careers? They could pay that, especially if it wasn’t them.
Jeff: That’s incredible to research. I mean, just the two inspirations that you had there, but then the research that you did cause you’ve actually got, you know, notations in the back of the book that elaborate on some of the research that you did and how it all pieces together to kind of form the world, your Hollywood, where Martin and Robbie exist.
E.J.: Well, here’s one tip I will give to everyone do not read “Hollywood Babylon” because it does not know diddly squat. I looked for the anecdotes from the people who are actually there. So there were a lot of books like Kenneth Brown who’s a film historian has several wonderful books that include stories you know, told to him by the people who were there, who, you know, who were in the trenches who were in the movies behind the screen.
One of the books I’ve got is called the “Hollywood Posse” and it’s about all of the Cowboys who used to work on ranches or wild west shows, but they came west to work in movies because of all the westerns that were being filmed. And so if you look at some of the very early westerns, especially if you can find any footage of any silent movies, those were actual working cowboys who came on the set and did what they did.
The book is written by a woman. Her name is Diana Cary, but when she was a child, she was Baby Peggy. Baby Peggy starred in a whole series of westerns in which she was dressed. She was probably four or five. I mean, she was a very small child and had this, you know, Campbell Soup pixie haircut, and she had a miniature horse and there were like these, she was massively popular. But, she knew all of those cowboys personally because her dad was also one of them and he managed her career. And it was just fascinating to read about the ways they found to extend their life when so much of it was dying.
Jeff: Tell everybody a little bit about Martin and Robbie.
E.J.: Silent Sin” is the romance between Robbie Goodman and Martin Brentwood. Robbie is a naive young man on the run from a traumatic experience in Idaho, his home in Idaho. And he’s been at the opening of “Silent Sin” he’s been on the road for I think, six weeks and he’s virtually starving. And he runs into the gatekeeper from a studio in Hollywood who offers him a job and he becomes the driver, even though he’s never been to Hollywood before. And the person he is assigned to is Martin Brentwood who is a silent film star. But his star, so to speak, is sort of on the decline because the studio head doesn’t like queers and he suspects that Martin is in fact gay, which is true. But as long as you don’t say it, you were okay.
So this is the story of the two men as they come together. It’s Robbie being as naive as he was, had no idea what really what being gay meant. So in addition to learning about the new town that he’s living in the new industry, he’s also learning about what it means to be himself, to understand himself and understand his desires. And Martin is trying really hard to not fall for Robbie because that’s usually a bad idea. I mean, why do people come to Hollywood? They come to the Hollywood because they want to be in films. And if the only reason someone wants to get close to him is because they want his connections he doesn’t want anything to do with them, but he finds Robbie really appealing.
So, as Robbie learns about the industry and learns about Martin. And Martin learns about Robbie and finds his heart opening again they find a way to sort of creep closer together and under the scope of the studio where they both work they hopefully find those answers.
Jeff: Of course it’s a romance so we pretty much know there has to be an HEA there. It’s all about how they find those answers though.
As we talk about a historical, let’s actually talk about your history a little bit. What got you started writing?
E.J.: Well, I grew up in Southern California in Orange County. At the time the public school system was really invested in making sure that elementary school kids had lots of opportunities for creative writing.
So after our second grade class visited the dairy, we had to come back and write about our experience. So I wrote an extended story about a Holstein cow named Trinket, who kept getting bonked on the head and waking up to imagine that she was a different animal and she produced all these hybrid offspring.
Of course as an eight year old. I had zero knowledge of reproductive biology. So, you know, but what the heck? That’s fine for the, you know, the K through six people. Go ahead. Indulge your flights of fantasy, have your cow lay an egg. It doesn’t matter. But once you hit seventh grade, junior high, high school, it’s all expository all the time.
And so it wasn’t until my forties that I actually returned to fiction. Even thinking about fiction writing. And I happen to see, and I’ve always been a reader. I’ve read voraciously my whole life. And I was reading Jim Butcher’s books at the time. And I saw some posts on his website about his writing process and that spark sort of ignited again.
And so I started working on a fantasy trilogy based on Welsh mythology, and I took some classes. I went to a book conference. And then for Mother’s Day 2008, I got a version one Kindle. And version one Kindle’s did not have a lot of content available to them. And so I was trying to find my usual suspects, you know, fantasy, science fiction, mysteries. But then Sarah Wendell and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books collated a romance collection. And one of the books in it was Suzanne Brockmann’s, “Prince Joe.” And that blew the lid off of everything. Because I discovered, you know, I had read Jane Austin and I, you know, all of that stuff. Jane Eyre, sorry. Crazy about that one. But I had never read really modern romances. And so Suzanne’s books were the first ones that I read and just sort of exploded from there and for my first NaNoWriMo in 2010, I wrote the first draft of my first romance.
And remember I said that I hadn’t published any books set in the theater? Well, that book was set in a theater, but it has not been published. It’s a male/ female romance. And I had imagined that it would be a six book series at least two of those were going to be gay romances. You know, I come from theater. That’s my experience, just as likely to have a same-sex couple as an opposite sex, couple, why not? And then I went to a writer’s conference and I pitched that to an editor and they said you can’t do that. I thought, well, but Suze did it. And then I’m not Suze. So. I still pursued the romance side because that’s where I discovered the promise that things are going to end well, because I really want things to end well.
Jeff: What continued you down the path to publish m/m? And have you published other m/f in your history as well?
E.J.: Well, I’ll start with the first part of that question.
At one of my Rose City Romance Writers meetings, the presenter was talking about writing sex scenes and she had a number of different slides that she used to illustrate her talk. And one of the pictures was very soft focused picture of two men, obviously lying on a bed with their hands clasped. And one of my chapter mates said that reminds me of a Josh Lanyon book. And I said, I don’t know who Josh Lanyon is. But as soon as that meeting was over, I went out and found out. And I discovered that there was a whole world of MM romance that I had not known about before. And so heck, yes, I can write books about two men falling in love, even though I might not be able to match them up with you know, with books about hetero couples too.
Even though that doesn’t mean I didn’t try, which is the second answer. My first published book was contracted with Entangled and it was male/male, ghost story in response to a call for submissions. And at the time it was probably the worst possible choice of publisher for me, because it was only the second LGBT title in their catalog at that time. So not exactly the market. But I also submitted another story to them which was supposed to be the first in a four book series, the “Geeklandia” series four friends who are geeks in Portland and how they connect with non geek people and they accepted the first one, which was male/female.
And that one is now in fact, in print “Geeklandia” number one. But the second one, which was a gay romance. And eventually Riptide picked that one up instead after I started writing for them. And then I got the rights back. So both those books are now in print and “The Boyfriend Algorithm” remains my soul published male/female romance. But it’s still there on my website on little book.
Jeff: Do you think you’ll finish that four book series or have you finished that four book series?
E.J.: I’ve got the rough draft of the third one, which is another hetero romance, but the fourth one is problematic because I don’t know what I want to do with that. So it’s unlikely that I will finish it. I think that my character is both ace and aro but she’s also a cis female. So I’m not sure exactly where that would go within my brand and probably nowhere, which is where my hetro books have gone.
Jeff: You mentioned that you’ve got two gay sons. What do they think that mom rights gay romance?
E.J.: They actually buy my books. I don’t know if they read them because whenever I have a book release, I always text all three of my children and say, it’s book release day, support your mother.
They always buy them. I know Nick, my younger by nine minutes son, was really looking forward to “Silent Sin” because he was really interested in that historical period. I think my daughter, does not read fiction at all, and never has, which is always sort of, you know, hurt my heart because I love reading fiction, but she has a journalism major so it’s like reality or nothing. She’s a reality show fan. When she was in fourth grade, the entire year, she read only books about the Titanic. All year..
Jeff: That’s a choice
E.J.: Year before that was about the time she stopped reading fiction, she read “Ella Enchanted” over and over again. The same book.
Now she reads blogs. She writes blogs too, she’s in public relations. She’s a communication manager. Both my sons were professional dancers. Now both of them are working for plant-based companies. So dance to plants it’s a career trajectory for which I was, you know, I had no idea.
Jeff: That’s not what I would have naturally picked, but.
E.J.: Well, theaters will be open soon. So hopefully my darling son B we’ll be able to get back to work.
Jeff: Just within the context of this interview, we’ve talked about a lot of genres, paranormal, Fe historical. Is there a theme or a genre that you want to take a leap on but haven’t quite figured out what to do with it yet that you really want to?
E.J.: I may have already taken the leap. The one area that I’ve wanted to explore is mysteries. And the reason I haven’t usually is because I just can’t figure out what the mystery should be, which is a problem. Also, I don’t like to kill people. But I’m actually, co-writing a traditional cozy mystery series with a writer friend.
I’m using a different pen name for that though, just so that it won’t be confusing, even though it won’t be a secret, I’ll tell everyone what it is. But I’m also dabbling in what I call a cozy-ish mystery spin off, from my “Mythmatched” world. So I’m starting down that path and we’ll see how that goes.
Jeff: That’s exciting. I do love a good mystery.
E.J.: I know you do.
Jeff: What’s a book that you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners.
E.J.: I’ve been rereading JL Merrow’s “The Plumber’s Mate” series because she just released book six. And it’s a paranormal plumber. He’s a plumber and he’s psychic. So, he doesn’t fix the pipes with his mind. He can find things. So it’s, you know, one of the first things he finds is a dead body, which is not something that he’s particularly fond of. But I love her POV character’s voice so much. He’s just so funny and engaging. I’m so excited for the sixth book. So I’ve read the first five and I’m ready for that next one.
And I’ve also got my eye on a non-fiction book, that I just saw a blurb about a couple of days ago. It’s called “The Confidence Men” by Margalit Fox. And it’s about two British officers who escaped from a World War One prison camp in Turkey using a Ouija board.
E.J.: And as you can imagine that pings all of my circuits.
Jeff: I could see plot bunny’s coming for you from that book.
E.J.: You betcha.
Jeff: We’ve talked about a lot of stuff coming up. We talked about all the audio books earlier. We’ve talked now a little bit about the cozy mystery spinoff or the cozy-ish as you put it. Is there anything else kind of coming up that we should know about to keep an eye out for?
E.J.: Well, the first cozy-ish one, it’s the “Quest Investigation” series, which is a spinoff from the “Mythmatched” books. And it features that the POV character is my sole human among all of the soups. He first appears in “Single White Incubus.” He’s a former tabloid photographer who had a crush on one of the main characters and it is still not quite over being in love with Ted. But the first book in the series is called “Five Dead Herrings.”
Jeff: A very cozy-ish title.
E.J.: The second one will be “The Hound of the Burgervilles.” the third one is “The Lady Under the Lake,” and I think the fourth is “Death on Denial”.
Jeff: Wow. Good job on the titles.
E.J.: So as you might guess, they’re not going to be too serious but I’ve got to call back to those classic mysteries.
Jeff: Absolutely. And where can people keep up with you online to know when all these good things are coming out?
E.J.: My website is EJRussell.com. That’s two S’s and two L’s, in Russell. My Facebook reader group is called Reality Optional. I interact more there than on my regular Facebook timeline, just because I’m an introvert online as well as in real life. My Instagram handle is EJ_ Russell_author. I have a Twitter handle. I don’t go there very much because frankly it’s scares me. But most everything links to my newsletter sign up for my newsletter on my website is the best way to get all of the latest.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well, we will link to all the books and everything we talked about in our show notes so that people can find them easily. E.J has been so wonderful talking to you and catching up on all this great material. I’m so glad we could do this.
E.J.: It’s been great to be here, Jeff. Thanks so much.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes 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 to E.J. For coming by to talk to us. It was so cool to hear about “Cutie and the Beast” becoming a game. There are a few more LGBTQ plus stories inside Maybe: Interactive Stories. I’ve actually signed up to the app and I’m looking forward to checking out this storytelling format cause I played around with a little bit and it’s really intriguing how you become this character that you get to kind of move around the stories a little bit. So looking forward to diving into that a little bit more.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday and episode 322, we’ve got a special extended interview with the do who write as K.A. Merikan.
Jeff: I had so much fun talking with Kat and Agnes. Among the things we’ll discuss is the upcoming 11th and final book in their “Guns and Boys” series. So, you won’t want to miss that.
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.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.