After opening the show with a review of Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles, Jeff interviews the author about the Will Darling Adventures, which recently concluded with the June release of Subtle Blood. KJ discusses the pulp influences in the trilogy, and how the characters of Will and Kim evolved for her over the course of the series. KJ also talks about how she started writing, the benefits of having been an editor for a publishing house, and what she’s working on next. Of course there are book recommendations as well.
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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.
- KJ Charles Interview
- KJ Charles: website | KJ Charles Chat Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram
- Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Sugared Game by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Subtle Blood by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo
- Patricia Wentworth on Amazon | Kobo
- Nagio Marsh on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Edgar Wallace on Amazon | Kobo
- Dracula by Bram Stoker on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope on Amazon | Kobo
- The Avenger by Edgar Wallace on Amazon | Kobo
- Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers on Amazon | Kobo
- A Charm of Magpies series by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo
- I Reach for the Stars by Barbara Cartland on Amazon
- Think of England by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo
- Proper English by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo
- Tiferet Design website
- An Unseen Attraction by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo
- Episode 285 – Big Gay Fiction Book Club January 2021: “An Unseen Attraction” by KJ Charles on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins on Amazon | Kobo
- The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins on Amazon | Kobo
- Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon on Amazon | Kobo
- An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo
- Seven Days in June by Tia Williams on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Companion by E.E. Ottoman on Amazon | Kobo
- The Calyx Charm by May Peterson on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- 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 in this episode, author KJ Charles joins us to talk about the final book in the “Will Darling Adventures” trilogy.
Will: Welcome to episode 323 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: Hi everybody.
Will: Now, before we get to our interview with KJ, Jeff…
Will: You recently read the first book in the “Will Darling Adventure” series.
Review of Slippery Creatures by KJ Charles
Jeff: Oh, I did. I’m so, so glad I finally got into this series and in fact, it was the release of the third book that finally spurred me to pick up “Slippery Creatures.” It has lived up to all the hype that I’ve heard about it since it was released last year. I love the mystery and the adventure that Will Darling and Kim Secretan embark on, which not only has all of these amazing kind of pulpy elements that we’ll hear KJ talk about in the interview, but then it also does this amazing job of drawing these two closer and closer together. Most of all, I really loved the characters of Will and Kim and all of their amazing complexities. I’ve never really found characters that have so, so much going on. So many nuances.
Now at first meeting, Will seems like a simple guy returning home to the UK after World War One and struggling to get his feet under him. Luckily, when he reaches out to an uncle, he’s welcomed to the uncle’s bookstore where he starts working and ultimately he takes care of his relative in his final days. Will ends up owning the bookstore, which is great. And it will be even better when it clears probate so they’ll have some actual cashflow so life won’t be such a struggle.
Now he’s not really a book seller, but this is a thing that he can do. And he barely settles into the routine when some thugs show up looking for some information. Initially they mistake Will for his uncle because they share the same name.
Now, Will has no idea what his uncle has that they want, or where in the shop full of books, stacked to the ceiling on two different floors, where on earth these papers could actually be. Will send the people away despite their threats, but shortly afterwards, officials from the war office show up looking for the same documents and not believing that Will doesn’t have them
When the thugs returned a few days later, Will is helped to fight them off by Kim, who initially just seems to be in the right place at the right time to help him out. But as Will discovers, there is far more to Kim than he realizes. One of the things that makes Kim such an interesting character is that he only parses out information about who he is when he’s forced to. And he’d really rather not discuss anything about himself or why he ended up at Will’s bookshop when he did.
Is he with the thugs? Is he with the war office? Is he only looking out for himself? I’m actually not completely sure we get all the answers inside this book and I’ll have to check out the next books because it’s already a given that I will need to do that, to see exactly how all of this works out between Will and Kim.
I love the KJ has multiple mysteries and adventures happening here. Not only is there the matter of the documents and where they might be. Not to mention that if Wil does find them, should he actually give them over to somebody or should he destroy them because what’s contained in those documents is actually a weapon that could kill many people.
KJ does a wonderful job here of rolling out this element of the story from searching the store, figuring out what information is in these documents and what to do with them once they find them. Even when Will is doing this work alone, his internal dialogue about it is honestly quite fun to read and it just keeps pulling you through this story as he goes back and forth from grumbling about owning a bookshop, to why are there so many books, to why is there no organization to these books, and ultimately putting together the puzzle that leads to finding the clues that will lead them to the documents.
And then there’s the question of Kim. As Will learns more about him, including things from the woman that he’s engaged to, he’s truly baffled about what to do about this guy. It’s not only should he trust Kim to help him with this mess, but also, should he give his heart to Kim?
Will and Kim are also so, so good together. There’s such a good team on the mystery front, but they’re good at other ways, too, as they help each other navigate finding their way to what their true selves are, and who they can actually be within the society that this book is set in. And of course for Will, there’s also the question of, can he be with someone who seems to not be able to be open and honest.
KJ keeps the action coming in “Slippery Creatures” while also giving us time with Kim and Will together, along with some terrific side characters with Kim’s fiancée Phoebe, who I have to say is completely charming and friendly and someone who is happy to gently point out how stubborn some of these characters are being. I loved every time that she showed up on the page and tried to set Will on the right track. There’s also Will’s friend Maisie, who knows exactly what to do. She is so, so clever and I cheered for her so, so much.
Now, this is my second KJ Charles’ book, and I’m totally into how she tangles up the mystery, the intrigue, the action and the romance. Calling this trilogy and adventure is perfect since Will is just a regular guy running a bookstore, and he ends up having to fight for his life over secrets that everyone wants for themselves.
I’m for sure going to have to read the next two books and see were Will and Kim and up. And what other adventures they’re going to find themselves in the middle of.
And of course, with the late June release of “Subtle Blood,” KJ Charles wrapped up the “Will Darling Adventures.” It was the perfect time to have KJ come to the podcast to talk about the trilogy as well as her author journey and what she loves about historical so much. It was an absolute pleasure talking with her, so let’s get into that interview now.
KJ Charles Interview
Jeff: KJ, welcome to the podcast. It is so good to have you here.
KJ: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.
Jeff: I have just adored the “Will Darling Adventures.” I finally read book one recently. I’m so excited that the trilogy’s done now, so I can kind of binge out the rest of it. “Subtle Blood” is just out at the end of June. But before we get into that, let’s kind of go backwards a little bit for those who maybe haven’t picked this up yet. Tell us about what the “Will Darling Adventures” are about.
KJ: Well, basically, it’s very much a golden age pulp adventure, which I’m a huge fan of. I love the Patricia Wentworth and the Ngaio Marsh, the Edgar Wallace as well. Just after the first world war, everything’s very unsettled. Nobody quite knows where they stand. And you’ve got Will Darling, who was a soldier in the great war, who’s come back to the situation that many people found themselves in, which was the economy had tanked. They weren’t jobs that there’s suddenly this great influx of young men. Many of whom had never had a job, suddenly needing work and the country had actually been coping quite well without them.
So there was a terrible sort of situation of unemployment and frustration and people wanting to forget about all the horrors of the war and not wanting to hear about it. So Will find themself in this. But luckily he inherits a bookshop. But unluckily, he also inherits some kind of massive espionage problem that he doesn’t really know how to deal with. And Sir Kim Secretan, completely trustworthy, passer-by, innocent passer-by, no ulterior motives who just happens to turn up in the shop when Will is getting involved with the criminal gang. At which point everything slowly, slowly, but inexorably spirals out of control.
So that’s our basic premise Will is a bookseller who was also a soldier. Kim as an aristocrat, who is also a spy. And, neither of them can trust a word the other ones.
Jeff: I don’t know, I always felt like Will was trustworthy or at least if he wasn’t being fully forthcoming, even the reader kind of knows why. It’s Kim who’s a little dodgy.
KJ: Kim is exceedingly dodgy. Will is straightforward, he doesn’t bend over backwards for other people. He’s very, very stubborn character, which was fun to write because he’s basically learned in the trenches. He digs his heels in and he just gets on with what he thinks he ought to do, which may not accord with what other people thinks he able to do.
Jeff: What is it about pulps that intrigues you so much?
KJ: I spent a lot of my youth reading pulp between the Victorian pulp like, “Dracula”, but there’s lots of really fascinating pulp going on with penny dreadfuls and so on. Then sort of the Edwardian stuff. You’ve got a “Prisoner of Zenda” and all those wonderful adventures. I love adventures. I love shameless, shameless plotting, like really shameless. I love the kitchen sink aspect that you can throw at it, where it doesn’t matter how ridiculous. If I want the criminal gang where they all have tattoos on their wrists, by God I can have that. So it’s wonderful sandpit to play in basically.
I’m deeply embedded in it because I read an awful lot of it. I read an Edgar Wallace book recently, which included a film set, there was a trained Orangutan that killed people. There was some sort of massive cave in the Earth and there was a missing Plantagenet army, and there was a guillotine. And all of those things were just flung into the plot because why not? And I thought, yeah, you know that’s the kind of thing I enjoy.
Jeff: So that we don’t spoil the current book, is there something in “Slippery Creatures” that it’s like the most pulpy of pulp thing that you think you put in there? You mentioned the tattoos there for a second, but…
KJ: Yeah, a criminal gang with a ridiculous name where they all have code names and I’ve got secrets hidden in remarkable places. I love the Dorothy Sayers and “Lord Peter Wimsey,” the secret hidden in a book and the literary puzzle. That’s a very, very common pulp device, which I use in “Slippery Creatures”. That sorts of thing, and obviously the mysterious gang that has resources and houses and whatnot all over the country. So our heroes are out numbered. Yeah, all fun.
Jeff: I like how you named this trilogy because you could have easily gone with mysteries, but you went with adventures.
KJ: Yeah, definitely.
Jeff: Which puts a different spin on it.
KJ: Oh, it is. Yeah. It’s not meant to be a whodunit, you know. The revelation of that isn’t as important as the fighting and the fleeing and the other things to begin with ‘F’.
Jeff: It’s all about the F words.
Jeff: Will and Kim are such interesting characters and of course it’s very much opposites attract with them. How much of them did you know before you started writing the first book and how much of them revealed themselves as you were working your way through the trilogy?
KJ: That’s a really interesting question. I had a pretty good sense of Will in particular, especially once I’d written the first, in fact, the first line, the first line of the entire trilogy is “Will Darling was outnumbered by books.” And I felt that sort of gave me a clue to his attitude. You know, he’s sitting in this bookshop looking around thinking what happened how have I got a bookshop and he’s not a big reader.
But it’s the kind of stubbornness and the rather soldierly or aggressive way of looking at the world. But yeah, I had Will, but I didn’t actually fully have him until quite late in the process with “Subtle Blood,” because he’s a very self-sufficient person who doesn’t ask for help and doesn’t admit that everything’s wrong.
And not to sound terribly authory, I believed him that he was all right for quite a long time when I was writing. I really had to dig into the vulnerabilities that he had been hiding, which I have to say are all there in book one and two, because obviously I knew that about the character, but I didn’t know it very consciously, if you see what I mean. I’m sorry. I’m sounding awfully authory, but this kind of thing that’s happened occasionally. So yeah, I learned about him.
And then with Kim, I had, I had a fairly good sense again, of him as a person that sort of deepened quite a lot. And again, “Subtle Blood” was a really interesting book to write because there’s a big switch in between books two and three, where we moved from Kim being fundamentally untrustworthy, to him making an effort to change and actually working my way through that was also fascinating. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure when I started writing it, if he would succeed or fail and if he failed, how he would fail and so on. It’s been a really interesting process, actually. I think that’s, what’s lovely about doing a trilogy with the same characters that you give yourself so much more scope. So that was an exciting experience. I’m not sure how I’m going to go back to doing a couple in just one book actually.
Jeff: Was this the first time you had your story of your couple spread out like this?
KJ: No, I didn’t. In fact, my first ever books, ” The Magpie Lord” was a trilogy. So I’ve got “The Magpie Lord,” “A Case of Possession” and “Flight of Magpies.” But they are in a much better place at the end of the first book and the relationship has different challenges, but they’re much more an established couple. I think they don’t have quite so much to go to. So my first books, and then I haven’t done it again until now. So, I’ve learned lots in between, I think, or at least I hope I have.
Jeff: When you’re thinking about reader expectations, do you worry about spreading that story out? Because so many readers say I don’t like cliff hangers and I really have to say, at least for me, I didn’t feel like “Slippery Creatures” ended on a cliffhanger per se, but Will and Kim are certainly not a couple.
KJ: It’s a very, very tentative. It’s not even a happy for now, really. It’s a promise of things are going to happen in the future. I did worry and I made it really clear. I put it in the blurb and on all the marketing, there is no happy ever after until book three. You know, if you don’t read the blurb, I can’t help you. But, I did make sure to say that because I know there are some people who would rather, you know, absolutely have that guarantee. And that is fair enough. You know, it’s a romance promise, and I struggled a lot with “Subtle Blood” because writing in the pandemic is terrible. But you know, I had to finish it and I had to deliver the happy ever after. There was no way I could fail to do that.
Yeah, I think, if you signal clearly enough readers are forgiving, they don’t like being messed about, but you know, if you make it clear, you’re not messing about, you’re just taking your time. That’s a different issue.
Jeff: Let’s talk a little bit about “Subtle Blood” and I do love one of the descriptions that sits in your marketing material that it says Kim Secretan is a one man game of fuck, marry, kill. Will Darling is changing his vote.
KJ: One of the great things about being a independent publisher is that you can actually do that because there’s no way a publisher would have, let me get away with that. Absolutely not.
Jeff: Can you imagine?
KJ: No! They would have a hemorrage. So when you do it yourself, you can just put it on out there.
Jeff: What can you tell us about “Subtle Blood” without giving too much away?
KJ: Well, at the beginning of “Subtle Blood,” we’ve got Kim and Will. Things changed a lot at the end of book two, “The Sugared Game.” Kim is out on his own. He’s not sure what he’s going to do. He’s working in Will’s bookshop. They’re sort of tentatively building out their relationship, everything’s going fine when it starts in a kind of, there’s a lot of things we’re not talking about way.
Will, is just a tiny bit bored because nothing has happened that involves violence for at least four months, which it’s obviously terrible. Everything is floating along going fine, right up to the point that Kim’s brother is accused of a vicious murder in a gentlemen’s club. At which point it all goes south. Of course the danger with Kim’s elder brother being accused of murder is that he is the heir to the marquisate. And if he hangs for murder, Kim is the heir to the marquisate, but Kim doesn’t want to be the heir to the marquisate because this is going to ruin his life.
And since Will has quite a lot of class consciousness, he’s not happy about this either. So basically, the process of the book is the pair of them having to work together, having to actually confront things like Kim’s incredibly posh family and Will’s own issues and insecurities, and find a way through where they decide what they’re going to do and how they’re going to cope and if they can stay together, given all the pressures on them. And also deal with a small matter of murder and criminal conspiracy on the way, because, you know…
Jeff: Small matter. I love the fact that Will’s a book seller and you did open it up so well in that opening line that you gave us a bit before that he was outnumbered by the books I’ve been in those bookshops. Personally I loved them because why would you not want that? How did you decide on bookseller for him?
KJ: There is actually a significant back story here. So basically, I was in one of those secondhand bookshops and I randomly picked up a book called the “Private Papers of a Bankrupt Bookseller”, which was anonymous and it was dated from the 1920s, the early twenties. And it was basically collections of essays and musings on books written by this bookseller who had been in the war and who had got this bookshop and he was struggling to survive. And it becomes rather bleak actually, because he’s really struggling and he’s struggling for money and it’s very difficult and the wartime experiences keep bubbling up. And then at the end of the book there’s a note just saying that unfortunately he was found dead. That he killed himself.
I know. I’ve read all this book with this very strong personality. And then I read that and I was just like, I had to find out something about this, because I was, I was gutted to be honest on behalf of this man. So I found to my great relief, it was actually a work of fiction. It wasn’t a real biography. It had been published by a writer named William Darling as it happens, who did so anonymously, who actually went on to be a very important man. And I think it was in the Bank of England and ended up being the grandfather or something of a Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling.
Yeah, I know. It’s all very unexpected. So there was this sort of bleak, suicidal bookseller, but I haven’t got the idea of a soldier turned, book seller into my head. That was what sort of pushed it along and Will Darling is nothing like the bookseller in “The Bankrupt Bookseller” book. But you know, the, the piles of books and the ridiculous customers and the irritations of it all came and, you know, the, memories, all that kind of thing, it just really put them together in my head. But he kept a lot better with things. I think it’s fair to say.
Jeff: It’s a harsh way to end a piece of fiction. I mean, even a piece of nonfiction that way, but
KJ: I was genuinely shocked. It was one of those really surprising things where you sit there and you’re just staring at the page. Like this is a total gut punch. You know, I had to find out straight off Google. I had to know if it was real. It was one of those actually quite surprising books that people wrote before they’re very conscious of form of genre because I don’t know how you’d sell that now. It’s a fake biography of somebody who dies. What?. Why?
Jeff: Would not get good Amazon reviews at all.
KJ: No. No, It would upset people on Amazon.
Jeff: Given the pulp nature of the books, as you noted, you could just throw anything in that you want. How much is rooted in research at the same time. Obviously Will has a lot of juicy kind of real world back story to a degree. What’s your kind of balanced between the more whimsical, fantastical, I’m just going to throw that in versus reality?
KJ: I think the facty bits have to be grounded and you do have to research, you know, I didn’t want to put anything that was incorrect about the war. So, you know, Will’s German trench knife, they were a thing and he needed to steal one because the British army didn’t issue trench knives to their own people. And, you know, so the details of the things he went through in the war were as accurate as I could make them.
And then small details, like for example, Maisie Jones, who is his best friend, who was a black woman. She comes from a place called Tiger Bay in Wales, which was one of the most multicultural places in Britain in the 1910s and twenties. Yeah, they spoke something like 40 languages over there. It was hugely multicultural, really varied place. After the war, there were race riots and it all went a bit wrong. But, people don’t tend to know or don’t tend to think that in the 1920s, there was a large black population in Wales, but there was, so that kind of thing I think is important.
Whenever I write any of my historicals, I want there to be those historical truths that people don’t necessarily know about. So that is important to me. Nobody’s going to think there was definitely a criminal conspiracy called Zodiac. But for the more solid details, I do my best to check pretty much everything as I go. So if I say there’s a cocktail. There ought to be a cocktail. I spent longer than you can imagine trawling through Barbara Cartland autobiography in order to find out about hemlines and how high they could be expected to be in 1923 and so on and so forth.
Jeff: Because I imagine that all of this stuff’s in Google either necessarily.
KJ: No, no. I have piles of books. I have vast quantities of books. Of course it helps if you’re reading pulp written at the time, because a lot of the details you can glean from there as sort of passing comments. But no, I do quite a lot of research and reading around and so on.
Jeff: And you mentioned Maisie. I adore the side characters in this book, both Maisie and Phoebe are just the delight and kind of breaths of fresh air that propel everybody kind of along where they don’t want to be propelled.
KJ: I had immense fun with them.
Jeff: And how could you not really? And Maisie without giving anything away, she’s a clever, clever person.
KJ: Yeah, no, Maisie is a very clever woman and Phoebe is also clever woman, she just doesn’t like to show it because they’re both obviously products that their class at the time and so on. I absolutely reveled in writing them. I just rolled around in it to be honest.
No, I think that’s important. I think it’s so much more, when you’ve got a romance, that’s just focused on the couple that can be great, but it also doesn’t really give you a context for their lives. Whereas I think when you open up the scope a bit, so the reader can feel a bit more like they’ve got an entire hinterland and friendships and found family and all these things to support them as they go along. So for me, that’s a, that’s an important thing in the romance.
Jeff: How do you put up with their ridiculousness in the case of Maisie and Phoebe?
KJ: Yes, well there is a lot to put up with…
Jeff: I would almost like them to have their own books, like where they go do stuff together.
KJ: A lot of people were asking for that. I don’t know if I will do that. If I, if I have an idea, I might do a short story. You never know. I’m just composing an epilogue actually, which is going to come out in September because I wasn’t quite ready to give them up yet. But I will see what goes in that.
It’s also finishing because the books are linked to my previous books “Think of England” and “Proper English”. So they’re all part of the same world. Although those books take place 20 years earlier and there’s some recurring characters from those books. So I thought I did a bit of an epilogue and just sort of close it all off. Tidy up.
Jeff: That’s fun. I was going to ask, of course, you know, with this being the end of the trilogy, is it really the end? And now we know you’ll give us a little bit of an epilogue, which is kind of fun.
KJ: Yeah. It’s one of the things I really like about E publishing and self-publishing is that you can just do that now. The hinders didn’t get to do that, but I can!
Jeff: How does it feel to be closing these characters out? Because you’ve put these books out relatively quickly cause “Slippery Creatures” only came out last year.
KJ: I’ve spent a long time embedded in their world. It actually took me, I took it the best part of a month off and once I’d actually finished with “Slippery Creatures” before I could even think about starting the next book, I went away on holiday, but I tidied my office a lot. I did my taxes, that kind of thing. They’ve been living rent free in my head for quite a long time. So it is jarring actually, because I tend to wake up early and I will lie in bed with the day’s seen sort of turning over in my head and what I’m going to write. And I’m actually still getting Will and Kim, which is quite irritating. Like guys, shut up. You’re done.
Jeff: You’re story is over. Please move on.
KJ: Exactly. Go to where good characters go.
Jeff: And that was going to ask you brought up the trench knife. How did that come into things? Because, I mean, not only is it key in “Slippery Creatures” in a few spots, but it does recur on all of the covers for Will to be having the trench knife slightly out, you know, potentially out of view from folks because of where it sits. How did that become such a thing?
KJ: It was one of those slightly escalating things. So with the first one we wanted, they both wanted to be holding something. Kim’s got the book, Will’s got the knife. And then, somebody I think in my Facebook group referred to it as Will’s emotional support knife. Which made me laugh hysterically. But also was just so ridiculously true that actually after that it had to be on all the covers and that became the theme of the covers. That was beautifully, very cleverly done. All Tiferet’s genius.
So, we go from them being unequal to them being apart, them being equal and together and in each one of those Will’s got his knife because Will needs the emotional support knife.
Jeff: I love that. That is such an awesome story. It’s kind of like the Linus and his blanket. Now I will forever think about that one when I see those covers.
KJ: Yeah. It was one of those insights that, yeah, my Facebook group is particularly good at, insights like that. They give you something like that and you just say, oh gosh, of course, you know, marvelous. So I absolutely embrace that.
Jeff: You mentioned one of your earlier trilogies with “The Magpie Lord”. So often we’ve heard on this show since we started, nearly six years ago that that routinely comes up as either people’s gateway books or among their favorite books. What do you think in that series clicks so well for readers?
KJ: Do you know? I don’t know. I don’t know if I knew, I obviously do lots more of it. I’m not sure what it is. It does. I mean, I think people do like the sort of pulp fantasy Victorian setting a lot, which is quite odd because when I published it, I published it first with Samhain who were back in the day, an independent romance publisher. And they pretty much said to me, look it’s Victorian and it’s historical and it’s paranormal and it’s M/M, so this is so niche you can expect to sell about four copies, which we have exceeded somewhat by now.
But yeah, no, at the time it wasn’t considered to be something that was going to make a big splash. I enjoyed writing it. I enjoyed the characters. I think they’ve got a lot of the things that people like in my writing. There’s people that are stubborn and people who are extremely rude and people who swear a lot. I was having a lot of fun with it. It was a very escapist thing for me writing that first book. And I think that does come through. But I poured a lot of my love of pulp adventure into that one as well.
Jeff: It’s interesting how you balance the pulp versus other stories like “An Unseen Attraction,” which we did as the book club earlier this year, doesn’t seem really rooted in pulp. It’s more, at least the way that I look at it, more of a traditional historical, if you will.
KJ: It actually draws quite heavily on what sort of precursor of pulp, which is the sensation novel. So, Dickins’ friends and I think relative by marriage Wilkie Collins who wrote “The Moonstone” and “The Woman in White”, he wrote sensation novels. So “The Moonstone” is like the first detective novel. Then you get “Lady Audley’s Secret” by Mary Elizabeth Braddon and books like that. So they’re not pulp, but they do have quite extravagant plots with lots of murder and fog and being chased and finding dead bodies on your doorstep and shenanigans in Highlife and all that kind of thing. So I, I was sort of channeling that there as well, I think. I think my most traditional sort of romancey romances are the “Society of Gentlemen” books, which are your classic regency romances more or less. But, no, I do like the pulp.
Jeff: It’s interesting. You brought up the fog because that was something that really stuck with me in “An Unseen Attraction”. The whole scene were out wandering in the park in that super dense fog that can happen and it was like, this is really creepy. The nuance you put into that.
KJ: I mean, it was a terribly creepy thing. It was, I mean, it was extraordinary. You read about it and it’s hard to believe. Mark Twain was doing a lecture tour in the year that I set that book and he was speaking in a theater and he’s standing on the stage and he couldn’t see the front row because that’s how thick the fog was. I mean, and that’s inside.
KJ: It’s absolutely mad. London is quite foggy anyway, cause it’s on the basin and then he had all the coal fires and so on. So yeah, amazingly enough, I have an entire book just on London fog. So I read a lot about that. There’s a sequence in the sequel in “An Unnatural Vice”, where they, again, there’s an escape in the fog and you’re within two meters of a murderer who you can’t see because of the fog. That again, that’s an absolute staple of British and London terror, because it was absurd. It was absolutely frightening.
My father who is older. So he remembers in the 1950s crossing a road and coming to a roundabout at the center of a junction and there was a man hanging, just standing in the middle of it crying because he couldn’t see any of the roads and he didn’t know where to go. He was just so hopelessly, hopelessly lost. I mean it, it was that bad. Yeah. it’s extraordinary
So I really leaned into the fog obviously, because why would I not in a sensation novel? You absolutely want it wreathed in fog, but you know, we say wreathed in fog and we sort of think like, mist, not, you could be hit by a bus because you literally wouldn’t know it was there.
Jeff: Yeah. And the bus wouldn’t know you were there either, most likely.
Let’s talk a little bit about what got you started writing. How did you begin this journey?
KJ: Oh, well, I was noticed for about 20 years working in publishing. I wrote a couple of novels that were sort of bottom drawer stuff, got an agent didn’t sell and sort of gave up. And then when I had my first child, I wanted to just try and do something. I don’t know, try and find something else, but I was sort of struggling with it for a bit. This is a bit of a way in, so my daughter was two or three and I was telling her the Magpie rhymes while walking in the park and it was a bunch of Magpies.
Do you count Magpies in America? Do you do a thing: one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy? No?
Jeff: I don’t know that…
KJ: It’s a very common thing over here. We do a lot of things with magpies, including saluting them. But if you see them, you count them and what you count, you know, as I say, one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four a boy. So I pointed at three Magpies and I said, look, three Magpies, three for a girl. That’s you. And my daughter went, but how did they know I’d be here? Which is a very good question. That sort of gave me an idea of what it would be like to be haunted by Magpies you know if it did mean something. If every time you saw Magpies, it actually meant something, especially because there’s actually several different rhymes and you’re not sure what it’s going to mean.
And yet when some of it is five for heaven, six for hell, then you actually would like to know what that means and make sure it’s not a different one. So that’s what gave me the impetus to keep writing the story. I had the end scene in my head and I just pushed on through just to see if I could do it. And then I sent it to Samhain just to see if anyone would buy it. And they did it. And at that point, it all basically snowballed from there really. Wanting to get out of publishing was I think a thing as well.
Jeff: And yet you just became a publisher, essentially yourself instead.
KJ: Since no one else was doing it.
Jeff: Coming from being an editor, make it easier to pick apart your own work as you edit?
KJ: Yeah, I think so. I have edited a couple of my own books. I prefer not to, but if I’m on a time crunch, I can. I think the most useful thing, because I used to work at Mills and Boon. This was back in the day when the slush pile was on paper and you would not believe the amount of slush we get, cause we allowed non agented submissions. So, anyone who wanted, could just send in a letter and a synopsis, or they might just send in their first three chapters or we’d request the full manuscript and then it just got stacked up by the wall. There was so much of it. I mean, I can’t describe it. We’re talking about piles about four feet high going the entire length of a really large office all the way along the wall. Everyone’s got them on their desk. Everyone’s got them on the floor. You’ve never seen so much paper.
Obviously it’s very high turnaround with Mills and Boon as well because they have to publish a certain number of books a month. So what I got very good at very quickly, because I had to was actually looking at the structure and the skeleton of a book and taking it apart and say okay, this is shonky, but if you did this and this, then it would come together and then I can tidy the rest up in edit if it was necessary.
So it’s being able to strip a bit down to the bare bones and say why this is working and why this isn’t working. And it’s hard to do for yourself, but you actually can. If you take a step back, you can say, well, hold on this conversation hasn’t progressed the plot or this arc isn’t going anywhere. So learning to take that analytical look, I think was the biggest learning for me and it’s been very valuable.
Jeff: And you help people on your blog a lot too. You’re not just talking about your books on the blog. There’s a lot of your writing journey sitting in there too, which is I think good insight for the readers, potentially and also really good for the other authors who might be looking as well. How did you decide to start that?
KJ: I was a new author and you’ve got to have your thing and I don’t have a thing. I mean, I just do books, not a very interesting person. But the one thing I do know is writing and editing and I also love talking about it. So I just started writing when I came across something. Pretty much everything I’ve ever blogged is inspired either by a problem I’ve hit in my own work or by something I’ve hit in a book, something that just seems a bit wrong. I talk about it because it helps me to think it out and it hopefully helps other people, if they’re facing the same problem. I find it quite rewarding.
Jeff: I find this to be a great read. It’s like, oh, let me see what she’s saying today.
KJ: Well, I do enjoy, I mean, I’m not blogging as much as I should be. The past year, you know, obviously desperately trying to get “Will Darling” done, that’s been murderous, but I’m hoping to pick it up again. You run out of subjects as well, if you’re talking about writing, I haven’t thought anything new to write about in a while. And then I came across a bit of a conundrum involving a conflict. So I thought, well, yes, I haven’t done this one and thoroughly enjoyed digging into it.
Jeff: Yeah. I really enjoyed that one because I have the worst time with conflict, but that’s just me. As you were beginning your career and doing the first book, what drew you into historicals with LGBTQ characters?
KJ: I literally don’t know. I didn’t actually plan it at the romance at all. I thought it was going to be a fantasy novel and I didn’t actually plan. This is my first book, I was making it up as I went along, and it turned out that they were gay. I didn’t actually particularly expect to be doing that, but it was obvious from the characters. So I went with it and then I wrote two more with the same guys and after that, it actually felt like writing queer historical characters was quite something I wanted to be doing because the more people we have putting people in history where they belong, the better is what I feel.
Jeff: For so long kind of been that white washing, straight washing of history. That that was all that was there. But all of us were there. Everybody was there.
KJ: Yeah, exactly, exactly. If you actually read the history of Britain, it is not a history of white cishet or anything. There’s so much being dug out. The majority of books are not reflecting a reality that they’re playing in a fantasy sandbox, which is fine. You know, I play in a fantasy sandbox with pulp, but it’s a very exclusive one. If it’s only for a white cishet aristocrats and I don’t find that fun. Apart from that, it’s really playing on easy and I’d like my romance have a bit more meat to it, it’s just not true. I do feel, no matter how much fantasy you’ve got in an historical, the heart of it needs to be true. And, you know, writing queer characters and, black or Indian or Jewish, or whoever characters is true about this country and especially now it’s something we flipping will oughtn’t forget.
Jeff: Right. There’s never been a more important time to bring these stories forward.
KJ: It needs asserting because there’s a lot of people who’ve seen to have a vested interest in trying to make us forget and that’s not okay.
Jeff: You mentioned a few of these before, but I suspect there might be a longer list. Where do you get the trademarks of your stories are? That makes it a KJ Charles story
KJ: Swearing. Definitely swearing.
I hope it’s kindness. Kindness with an edge, I suppose. That’s something I really love in a lot of other writers and it’s something that calls to me. So I hope that speaks to people. I hope historical accuracy as well, you know, where it needs to be. A lot of people find me quite political. It depends how you define politics. I’ve written a couple of overtly political books. I don’t know. It’s really hard. That’s a really hard question.
Jeff: I like that you lead with swearing because one of the things I love, especially in “Slippery Creatures” is there’s nothing better than a British accent swearing. I’ve done these with audio. I get that with the narrator. It sounds more proper in the accent when the swearing happens.
KJ: Yes. Especially actually, if you’re doing British upper-class romance, they swear, you know, we’re a sweary nation. Americans are a great deal less. You do get these wonderful explosions of swearing now, and again, but in general, people are not more likely to be shocked by swearing, whereas, we sort of rolled around in it a bit more.
Jeff: Now, of course. You’re all about the historicals. And sometimes there’s a little horror. Sometimes there’s a little fantasy in there. Is there some genre or theme that you really want to tackle, but you haven’t taken the leap on yet?
KJ: Oh, that’s a good question. I wanted to do more fantasy. I’ve got quite a big project sort of bubbling, but it’s still very much lurching around in my subconscious not being usable yet. I’ve also drafted a book which isn’t really a romance, which I’m sort of working on. I don’t have any great desire to do anything completely different. I’m not going to go off and write a sort of thriller or something like that. I feel like romance is basically where I belong. It’s one way or another probably. Although yeah, we might go a bit more heavy on the sort of fantasy horrory side when I finally get a chance to do this project. I’ve got three contracts to get through before I do that, so.
Jeff: So maybe 2023, we might really see that.
What’s something that you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners?
KJ: Good things that I have read include “Seven Days in June”. It’s a big hit it’s a male, female romance by a black author about African-American writers. It’s wonderfully funny about the literary scene, the New York literary scene. I mean, hilarious. Has a great romance. It’s lots of love reunited kind of thing. So we’ve got some angsty backstory, it’s nicely paced, but mainly the literary scene thing is just so funny and it’s really worth reading for that alone.
I absolutely loved “Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake” the new Alexis Hall book, which is basically the great British bake-off with extra swearing and lovely romance setting. I can’t wait for the next one of those. I read the “Detransition, Baby”, which was stunningly good. Have you read that?
Jeff: It’s high out of my list to read, cause I keep hearing things about it.
KJ: Don’t miss out. Not a romance, but, oh, goodness me. It was one of those books where you sort of put it down and you just have to sit there and sit with it for some time. Yeah, startling good.
On the romance side of things, the latest E.E. Ottoman book, I also thought was excellent in much quieter way. Also it’s a sort of trans menage with the kind of, apparently the word is cottagecore. It’s all people living in upstate New York, being a bit self-sufficient and it’s a lovely book. There’s a lot of trans writers doing amazing things.
May Peterson’s third book in her “Sacred Dark” Series, “The Calyx Charm”, that’s going to be coming out soon and I’ve got an ARC of it, it’s terrific. It’s really strong fantasy adventure with the trans girl lead. So don’t miss out on all that one either.
Jeff: Oh, you’ve added to my TBR in so many ways.
KJ: I do that. It’s like a bad habit of mine.
Jeff: That’s a great habit to have.
What could you share about what’s coming next for you now that “Will Darling” has been put away?
KJ: Oh, well, my next thing. So, having self published very happily for the last X number of books, I have signed a two book deal with Sourcebooks, who are going to be publishing two novels set on Romney Marsh, which is basically the Kent coast, which was an absolute hotbed of smuggling, like crazy smuggling. It was where all the smuggling came in pretty much. It’s got these huge, very sloping, beaches and wonderful history there. So it’s set in and around the Napoleonic wars. So there’s going to be smugglers, there’s going to be gentlemen, there’s going to be riding at night, there’s going to be drama.
I thought I’d go Gothic. So we’re going to have big houses and people sort of standing there going, why are you all completely mad in this big house? So I’m having fun with that. I’m writing the first one at the moment and it’s going quite well. So that’s nice. So that’s my big project.
I can’t tell you about the other one, cause it’s not signed yet and I’m not allowed to mention it. And I’m not sure about that, but I’m sort of hoping that my subconscious bubbly plan will actually finally get a chance to be written. Otherwise it’s just going to annoy me.
Jeff: Fantastic. And a little Gothic historic, that’ll be a little bit from where you’ve been before.
KJ: Yeah. I like to do a bit. Just the kind of Gothic where it’s people running from houses, but also the smuggling element was actually quite big, and you’ll be amazed to hear a pulp fiction series, which is called “Dr. Sin”, which was set on Romney Marsh with a smuggling gang and it’s all very wildly over the top and quite fun. So I thought I’d just tap into that a bit.
Jeff: Well, how can people keep up with you online to know when these new things will be coming out?
KJ: Twitter is where I waste far too much of my time. It’s @kj_charles. I have an excellent Facebook group, which is called “KJ Charles Chat,” which is one of the nicest places on the Internet. We’ve got more than 2000 members. It’s really nice, it’s really friendly. We have a lot of good book ideas and that’s where I release things like epilogues first because my group of lovely people. We decide on what different merchandise and they vote on stuff if I don’t know what to do and things like that. So that’s a very good place to find me if you do Facebook. I’ve just started on Instagram, but it frightens me.
Jeff: Well, we will link to all of that along with all the books that we talked about in our show notes so people can easily link to all of that. KJ, thank you so much for talking to us. It has been an absolute delight.
KJ: Great. Thank you very much for having me!
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 has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: Now many of KJ his books, including the “Will Darling Adventures” are available from Libro.fm. Libro.fm is the place you can buy audio books while you’re also supporting a local bookstore of your choice. Listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast can get a two month audio book membership for the price of one to find out more about that offer and take advantage of it go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
Will: Yeah, as Jeff just mentioned, it’s a fantastic deal. As Jeff and I have been taking our morning walks this summer, I’ve been listening to some gay memoirs, all of which I’m really enjoying and all of which I have been listening to on the Libro app. I’m certainly enjoying my listening experience and I think you will too. So be sure to check out biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
Jeff: And thanks again to KJ for spending some time with us. I loved hearing about the influences behind the “Will Darling Adventures,” plus where she draws from for her other stories. Plus knowing that she’s working on some Gothic romances. Oh, I can’t wait for those.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up Monday and episode 324, we welcome Bookstagrammer Jacob Demlow and author Steven Salvatore. They’re going to be joining us to talk about the Pride Book Fest.
Jeff: Steven and Jacob put together the amazing Pride Book Fest in June with so many wonderful panel discussions, which you could still watch and enjoy on their YouTube channel. I talked with them about how the festival came together. Plus we find out about Steven’s amazing book and Jacob’s Bookstagramming and Booktoking.
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.