To open the show, Jeff & Will discuss a recent post on Oprah Daily featuring queer owned book stores across the U.S, and how you can support queer owned book stores by buying audiobooks from Libro.fm.
Author Steven Salvatores and Bookstagrammer/Booktoker Jacob Demlow join us to talk about the inaugural Pride Book Fest, which took place during Pride Month 2021. They talk about how they went from idea to festival in just three months. Steven and Jacob discuss some of the programming highlights and offer advice for anyone wanting to take on a similar project.
We also find out about Steven’s young adult novel Can’t Take That Away, which is about a genderqueer teen finding the confidence to speak up for equality while trying out for their high school production of Wicked. Jacob shares what lead him to starting A Very Queer Book Club on Instagram and TikTok to promote queer fiction.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- 56 LGBTQ-Owned Bookstores You Can Be Proud to Support on OprahDaily.com
- Choose Your Book Store on Libro.fm (use the “filters” to select specific categories)
- Jacob Demlow & Steven Salvatore Interview
- Jacob Demlow/A Very Queer Book Club: Twitter | Instagram | TikTok | YouTube
- Steven Salvatore: website | Twitter | Instagram
- Pride Book Fest: YouTube | Twitter | Instagram
- Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore on Amazon | Kobo
- Becky Albertalli on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Owning Own Voices Panel on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- Make the Yuletide Gay (Sapphic Christmas Romances) Panel on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- Terry Blas website
- Storytelling & Queer Narratives in Graphic Novels on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- The Body Positive Panel on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- Nuance and (B)idenity panel on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- Sophie Gonzales on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Ashely Woodfolk on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Coming of Age in YA panel on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- Ana on the Edge by A.J. Sass on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Drag Queen Story Time on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel (Saturday | Sunday)
- The College Years Panel on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Burn It All Down by Nicolas DiDomizio on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- If This Gets Out by Sophie Gonzales & Cale Dietrich on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order until December 7, 2201)
- If This Gets Out Pride Book Fest Conversation with Sophie and Cale on Pride Book Fest YouTube Channel
- What If It’s Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Here’s to Us by Becky Albertalli & Adam Silvera on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order until December 28, 2021)
- The Poison Heart by Kalynn Bayron on Amazon | Kobo
- Mirage by Somaiya Daud on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Court of Lions by Somaiya Daud on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Rise to the Sun by Leah Johnson on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson 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.
Will: Coming up on this episode, we talked to the organizers of the Pride Book Festival, author Steven Salvatore and Bookstagrammer Jacob Demlow.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 324 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff Adams and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Will Knauss.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance readers. We are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show.
Jeff: Toward the end of pride month, the Oprah Daily website released a list of 56 queer owned bookstores from across the country. And we were thrilled to find on that list one that’s actually near us in central California with A Seat at the Table, which is just down the road a ways in Elk Grove and is going to be opening up later this year with a physical bookstore.
We’ll have this list of bookstores in the show notes for you so that you could see if there’s one near you. If there is, of course, we highly recommend that you support them by buying your favorite books there as often as possible.
Many of the bookstores on this list are also ones that you could support when you buy audio books through Libro.fm. Now you already know that we love Libro.fm for buying an audio book because it means you are supporting a local bookstore of your choice. And it was really great to see so many stores from this list available to support.
In fact, we noticed that Libro.fm has an awesome bookstore finder on the site where you could search for stores that are owned by specific communities, including AAPI, black, disabled, indigenous, Latinx, LGBTQIA, women, and bookstores that are actually owned by authors.
So if you’re not using Libro.fm yet, this is a great reason to do so so that you’re supporting a specific business. And as always, listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast have the opportunity to get started with a two month audio book membership for the price of a single month. To take advantage of that offer simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
And we really hope you’ll check out a queer owned bookshop that’s either near you, online, or through Libro.fm.
Will: Yeah, doing something that you already love, for instance, listening to amazing audio books by amazing authors and being able to support local businesses. I mean, I think it’s a no brainer. It’s a total win-win for everybody involved.
Jeff: Now I was so excited when I discovered that the Pride Book Fest was happening back in June. The brainchild of author Steven Salvatore and Bookstagrammer Jacob Demlow brought together over 100 authors with more than 30 panel discussions that premiered over three days on YouTube
Jacob and Steven are simply incredible. They went from having the idea for the festival to premiering it in just three months. Their story is really fantastic. And we not only talk about the festival, but they’ve got some advice too for anyone who has an idea to do something similar, which, long story short, is just go for it. We also talked about Steven’s book and Jacob’s experience as a Bookstagrammer and Booktoker.
Jacob Demlow & Steven Salvatore Interview
Jeff: Steven and Jacob, welcome to the show. I’m so excited to have you both here.
Steven: Thank you so much.
Jeff: I am so in awe of what you two did for Pride Book Fest, which happened back in June, it was an incredible undertaking, which we’ll talk about as well as your individual projects. And before we get into all that, though, I’d love for you each to introduce yourselves to our audience.
And Jacob, we’ll start with you.
Jacob: Sure. So my name is Jacob Demlow (He/They). In the book world, I’m relatively new. I’ve been on Bookstagram and Booktok for about a year and a half at this point. I joined, in January of 2020, and then really kind of started at the beginning of the pandemic, when I had a lot more time, started kind of getting more active. And then joined TikTok in July of last year and just kind of things took off.
But outside of books, since I up graduated college in 2014, I work in theater, I’m a theater director and producer. Kind of lended itself to working on Pride Book Fest with Steven, because it was basically just like producing a big event. So I mostly work on queer theater, currently in New York City.
Jeff: Fantastic, and Steven.
Steven: I am Steven Salvatore. I’m the author of “Can Take That Away”, which came out March of this year, which seems like five years ago at this point. My next book “And They Lived”, comes out March of 2022, which I’m really excited about. I have other stuff that I’d love to talk about, but I can’t announce quite yet.
But beyond book writing and Pride Book Fest, I’m just like I’m chilling trying to write books and pay my bills. So that’s pretty much who I am.
Jeff: Getting through life. In other words.
Steven: Exactly. Yeah. Yes. And that is honestly, that’s a full-time job just trying to make it through the day how it goes.
Jacob: Especially during a pandemic
Steven: Especially during a pandemic!
I’m just out here trying to like live my life and not get a cold. You know, like push COVID aside for a second. I just want to like live my best healthiest life at this point.
Jeff: Yes. Best and healthy lives are awesome.
I’d like to know kind of the origin story here. How did you two meet and how did meeting turned into “let’s produce a festival” in relatively short order?
Steven: I’ll start, and then Jacob, you can take it away, because in trying to figure out like, who to send promo stuff of “Can’t Take That Away” to, Jacob was at the top of my list. Not that I’m relatively new to like the book world. I’ve just always been on the fringe, observing. And so I known of like different accounts when they pop up and Jacob’s was on like the top of my list, like around this time last year.
It was never really much beyond all right, I’m going to follow Jacob, and eventually he’ll get a copy of my book. Then when it was time to promote my book, I reached out and I was like, can we do something on your Instagram? And through that, we just started talking and DM’ing, and Jacob, you can take it from there.
Jacob: Yeah, kind of on my side of things, I was so excited about “Can’t Take That Away” because like I said before I work in theater and so any queer book that involves theater, I automatically am like, great, cool, sign me up. So I was super excited about it and I was relatively new to getting ARCs kind of thing.
So I followed Steven and I like was trying to find a way to politely ask, and then I ended up getting one, which was really wonderful. We did the event together the day after your book launched in March, and then we were just like DM’ing after the event. We were just chatting and Steven was like, I have always kind of wanted to do a big festival like this. And I was like, oh, well, I also wanted to do something like that.
And it’s also something I have experience doing. And then maybe it was the producer brain in me where our event was on a Wednesday, we were chatting later that week into the weekend. And I think by Monday or Tuesday of the next week, we were on a Zoom call. And I don’t know who was the one who was like to let’s hop on a Zoom.
But I think for on my side of things…
Steven: It was all you were the one who were like, we’re going to do this, let’s get on this. At that point I was like if I were going to ever, think about maybe trying to start something, I would need somebody who is going to be just as enthusiastic, if not more enthusiastic, because I am somebody who if I’m in a group project with somebody, I need somebody to match it or go above me so that I can continue to rise up.
Otherwise, I was always that kid who just like fell back. And Jacob was always like one upping me, like always there. So I knew that with his enthusiasm, we were golden until things started to come together and it was like, oh wow, this is actually like a thing.
Jacob: I think for me, it just stemmed from, for the months leading up to that…
My producer brain is always like, what can I do to take what’s already is done it and is working and make it gay. Or what can I do that someone isn’t doing, or what is a need that needs to be met that isn’t being met. And this kind of wrapped into all of that.
For me, I was like, no one has done this kind of fest before, but there’s all of this potential. And so yeah, we met the second week of March and we just like started reaching out to people we knew. Like, Steven reached out to some of their contacts. I reached out to the few, I had to see if there was any interest.
Cause if at that point people had been like, nah, I’m good. Like it would have been, it had been done. And then I think less than a few weeks later we had like 50 people and we were like, oh, we’re good.
I think in our first meeting, we were like, if we have like 20, 30 authors, a couple panels were like golden that we would be happy. We did not think that it was going to become this 110 person event, over 30 hours content. But yeah, so that’s kind of, I guess the root of it, where it came from.
Jeff: And that’s, what’s so incredible to me. In the span of about three months, you went from, let’s do a thing to 110 authors, more than 30 hours of programming between what’s on YouTube and then what doesn’t exist anymore, because it was live streamed on Instagram or whatever, multiple people on panels, 3, 4, 5 people.
So it wasn’t like you were just getting 30 people to talk for an hour for something. I know what it takes for our show to put out 30 hours of content, which is nowhere near what you guys did in the span of time that you did it. It boggles my mind and big kudos to you, both for pulling it off.
Steven: I don’t know how I existed. I won’t speak for Jacob. I felt like I was in limbo and I was also editing like books and stuff while all of this was going on. So I felt like the last like month, since we stopped doing Pride Book Fest, I’ve been on like a solid vacation and not doing anything of note, which is great.
Jacob: I agree, but at the same time for me, I have always thrived on just being so incredibly busy. And I think for me, it’s just always the freelance artists life. Like, if I’m not busy, if I’m not super packed, then I’m not paying my bills, which was a little different for this because it wasn’t paying my bills and that’s fine.
Steven: We did not get paid.
Jacob: And that’s okay, it’s fine, it was a passion thing, but I was working on a musical in New York at the same time as this.
But , for me, it was the first time in the past, like year and a half during all of this pandemic that I was like, oh, I’m thriving. I’m doing work. Things are happening. I’m doing something important. And that was the only reason I think either of us got through it is because we knew we were doing something that was important and yes, it was stressful and hard, but important.
Steven: Very true.
Jeff: I have to agree with the importance of it. The topics that you put out there, weren’t just here’s some people talking about new releases and here’s this kind of topic that we see, if you’re at an in-person conference where these things may happen, right? How did you decide your topics and kind of combined with that, figuring out your topics and how you brought authors into them as it all kind of piece together?
Steven: That’s definitely a loaded question. So the first part I think is easy because our idea, when we first started this was we want the authors to dictate what they want to talk about. Because like you said, at conferences and conventions and festivals and such, you never really get that sense that authors have a say in the topics that they’re discussing, it’s always like, here’s this like really general thing. Or like gay YA. Let’s talk about that. It’s like, wow, there’s a lot of things that we can talk about, and that’s like super general and not really whatever.
So we were like, when we started approaching people, I think the initial batch of authors that we approached, probably the first 30 or so authors, we were like, what do you want to talk about? And then from that, we like put together this whole list and we were like, okay, this person wants to talk about this. This person wants to talk about something that’s kind of similar to this. So we can like take these ideas and come up with one succinct theme. And then, okay, who else would be good for this? Let’s approach this author and see if they would be game to join this panel.
So that’s sort of how a lot of our initial panels came together. Really was just, getting ideas and feedback and interest , from the other authors.
Jacob: And I think giving them that at least that first batch the ownership of that really was what kind of helped us get that initial group of people.
There was several panels that specifically stemmed from an author’s idea, like, Becky Albertalli brought us an idea and was like, I want to talk about this. And also not only that, but then we were able to be like, okay, Becky, you want to have this conversation? Who else do you think would be interested in having this conversation? Who are people you trust to have this conversation? Can you bring them in? And then once we announced, there were other people that reached out to us that were like, I would love to be involved.
And of course we weren’t able to use all of them because it just got to a point where there was only so much capacity that Steven and I had. But there were people that reached out to us, that were like, I want to talk about this. And we were like, great, awesome. Can you put together a panel of five, six people, if you can get back to us, and there were people that did.
Three or four of the panels were created completely from the outside and then brought to us. And we were able to be like, great. We have this panel that we didn’t have to like, do any of the outreach for, which was really wonderful.
Steven: I think probably about 14 already done panels before we announced. And then after we announced, I think, the Sapphic Christmas panel came to us after we announced, and they were like, we have this idea, would you be-, we’re like a freakinglutely. That’s the best thing I’ve ever heard of. 100%,
Terry Blas who is a writer and illustrator at Marvel. He came to us and he was like, I want to do a graphic novel thing. And we’re like that, that, that is my dream, please. And he brought in all of these incredible, writers and illustrators from Marvel to DC, to do that, that particular panel. The body positivity panel came after we announced.
Becky Albertalli’s panel Owning Our Voices, like she curated that for us. She brought in people for that panel. The Nuance and (B)identity panel. That was one that we had from the very beginning with Sophie Gonzales. Like we really wanted to make sure that, we put people together that really wanted to talk about the things that they were passionate about.
Jeff: The Owning Own Voices I have to say was from the moment I saw it put up on the schedule, I’m like that’s going to be an important one. And I saw that Becky was attached to it. I would have every reader go listen to that, to realize what they can potentially put authors through. What’s behind what we see when these authors say, I’m backing away from Twitter or I’m doing this thing or doing that thing. Such an important panel.
Steven: Thank you. As the person who was moderating that panel, I have to say I was terrified, because , these things that we were talking about are not just incredibly sensitive areas. There are authors who have been the subject of harassment, based on a lot of the things that we were talking about.
So, I definitely felt, and I know Jacob probably felt this pressure from me. Are we going to be able to pull this off? And thankfully, everybody on that panel was just so incredibly powerful in the things that they said. Especially Ashley Woodfolk, getting to hear her speak, I think was just really important from the industry perspective too.
She had that, like dual author, industry point of view that I thought was really, invaluable on that panel. Then obviously like the vulnerability that, Becky and Rod and Sophie expressed throughout that as well.
Jacob: I think going broader than just that specific panel. I don’t think there was a single panel that we recorded, that there wasn’t a single moment or several moments that Steven and I would be watching from the back and being like, oh my, like one of us is crying or what, or we’re texting each other being like, oh my God, this is so powerful.
Even though some of them were like lighthearted fun conversations, like Sapphics at Christmas, or Coming of Age Romance but I don’t think there was a single panel that there wasn’t a moment or several moments that weren’t so profound and powerful because we allow these authors the space to have conversations that they’ve never gotten to have before in a safe space.
That is something at least I know I am so proud of what we got to do because that space was created that hadn’t been there before.
Steven: Yeah I think just from like being behind the scenes and getting to watch everything multiple times, especially Jacob, because Jacob was the one who edited all of the panels. Like we talk about like, who did what, like Jacob edited every single one, except I edited, one of the shorter ones that was nothing, but Jacob did every single one of those panels. And so we had to rewatch so much.
I think one of the through lines that came through every single one was that there such an incredible power in queer storytelling. Not just that, but how queer stories and queer writers are perceived from the outside and sort of like the hurdles that we have to overcome with readers and within the publishing industry and amongst ourselves. Because we get that pushback from like other queer readers and people within the LGBTQ community and people outside of the LGBTQ community.
And so, yeah, I think that was cool that like, if you really listen closely through all the panels there, these little things that tie every single thing together that I thought was cool and unexpected, but not unexpected at the same time.
Jeff: It was great the way that you rolled these out too, with the premiere function on YouTube, because it let people have that chat going on while it was live. So while the presentation itself was prerecorded, those of us attending could all have the reaction like, “wow, that just got said.” “Oh, that was so cool.” And to see those comments on unroll, as opposed to static things that get left in the comments later. I thought that was a really wonderful way to give a sense of community to those who are watching in that live premiere moment.
Steven: That was something that when we were talking about just like safety and all of that. We knew that we wanted to disable the static comments. Just because a lot of the authors, I mean, listen, if you’re a queer author, especially if you’re a queer black author or queer author of color, you probably have been at one point a victim of harassment from some sort of online troll.
So it was really important. Like we want to disable the comments, but we’re going to have the live chat and live chat can go away, and it’s great. Jacob and I are both there, or one of us was there like monitoring everything. With the exception of one instance, One moment and Jacob and I both caught it at the same time. We were like, oh, got to get rid of this. Boom. And other than that, it was a very positive, wonderful, chat, live experience.
Jeff: That’s excellent
We talked a little bit about the Owning own Voices panel as being, I think it’s a favorite for all three of us based on that conversation. Are there other moments that really stand out for you from all of this programming is like, wow, I’m really glad we were able to put that out there.
Steven: Well, so many, Jacob, I’m probably gonna like, take this from you, but the Queer Middle Grade panel was just a joyful, wonderful, wholesome moment. There’s this one moment in that panel where, A.J. Sass talks about the cover of, “Ana on the Edge” being the colors of the, non-binary flag, which I don’t think any of us like fully realized that was the color scheme on, that book cover. And Claribel Ortega who was on that panel also just started to cry. And like, all of us were like in happy tears and Jacob and I are behind the scenes and everyone on the panel is getting verklempt and Jacob and I are just like, oh my God, what a moment this is. So like that stuck out to me.
Jacob: I think one of the biggest things for me is I feel like so much of, and I know a lot of our program is very focused on YA. So I think what I was most proud of is where we kind of hit the mark on things kind of outside the YA space.
Like we had Drag Queen Story Hour, which was the, one of the very first events I mentioned when we started talking about this. I’ve been wanting to do a virtual drag story time, this entire pandemic. So I was really proud that we got to do that in partnership with Drag Queen Story Hour.
One of, and it wasn’t just because it ended up being the one that I’ve moderated, but one of the first panels that I mentioned wanting to do was a new adult college age thing, because I feel like that is a demographic that kind of gets left out a lot as well. So I think a lot of my favorites were when we got to kind of spotlight maybe lesser known demographics.
Whenever we kind of got to reach out of the YA space, even though I love the YA space, don’t get me wrong. If you look at my account for two seconds, you know how much I love YA. But it feels nice to kind of get to spotlight, maybe lesser known, demographics as well.
Jeff: I really liked the YA tilt. Not only do I like YA in general, of course, but this is such the year I feel for queer YA. It’s just like book after book. It’s like I could spend the rest of the year reading just queer YA and not hit all the books I wanna read. So it was such a great year to highlight that, and especially with how queer youth and in particular trans youth are under such fire this year in state legislatures. It was really a good moment to just bring all that forward.
Steven: Yeah, and that was something that, just in terms of representation across all of the panels. One of the things that Jacob and I were really, cognizant of was not having an all cis-gender panel.
We did not want that to happen We were really like razor focused on making sure that each panel had accurate and broad, gender spectrum representation. Yeah, and I think that’s important for the exact reason that you just mentioned was that trans youth and gender nonconforming youth are under attack and have been for a really long time.
Jeff: Will you do it again next year?
Steven: We want to. I mean…
Jacob: That’s the plan.
Steven: We’ve had like little discussions here and there about it, like little ideas floating around. But we haven’t started fully thinking about, how we’re going to execute it.
We’re definitely gonna need some support out there because it was a lot. It was a lot for just two people, I will say that. It came together, but it was a lot. I really want to take it, into like a hybrid-ish space, where we have, live in-person events, but also have those events be streamed. So that people who don’t live in whatever area are able to still attend and watch. There’s going to be a lot of figuring all of the logistical stuff.
Jacob: And I think, yes. We absolutely would like to do it again, but honestly, that all is very hinging on in a month time, we’re probably going to go look at the views and what are the views look like?
Did people actually watch, did people, this is going to sound really sad, did people care? And so far it feels like people cared. People have been reaching out telling us how important it was, but at the end of the day, the numbers matter. So the more people that watch, the more people, the higher view counts on those videos.
It was really wonderful we had publishers reach out to us and be like, how can we help? And it kind of was a little chaotic and we didn’t know what we were doing. I think we definitely could have gotten some more mileage out of some of those sponsorships or partnerships. And I think now that we have those contacts, it’s really great for us looking into the future. But when we go back to those people, we have to have the numbers at the end of the day.
Yes, we would like to do it again, but it all hinges on the support that we get over the next few months I think.
Jeff: So all of you listening to the podcast right now, go watch some videos.
Jacob: Go watch some videos
Steven: Share them to your accounts so that other people can watch them too who might not be familiar with what Pride Book Fest is. I think it’s fairly niche. I don’t know how many people are in general checking for book festivals who aren’t like immediately part of book communities. So if you watch something and you like it, share it, because I think there’s a lot to be gained from any one of those panels.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. What would you say to somebody who has a similar idea who wants to undertake it? What advice could you give for somebody who gets a crazy idea like this.
Jacob: I mean, the first thing find someone that is just as crazy as you. Just like Steven said before, this would not have happened, if both of us hadn’t done this wild amount of work. It’s so weird how Steven has become one of my closest friends over the course of three months.
I would trust Steven with just about anything in my life at this point. And you have to find that person. Like that person is absolutely essential. You can not do this alone. There are people out there. There are people so excited about books, so the person is out there, no matter how niche you think what you want to do is. So find the people because they’re there.
Steven: Like Jacob said, like I would do anything for Jacob. When we first started this, that was my biggest fear was, is Jacob going to ghost after like the first two weeks, and I’m never going to hear. Like, we have the ball rolling, and then all of a sudden, because like, that’s the thing. You don’t know how people are going to gel. You don’t all personalities are gonna mesh, and ours just…
Jacob: we got real lucky
Steven: We really got lucky because like the stuff that, that stressed me out did not stress Jacob out. And the stuff that stressed Jacob out did not stress me out. So like, it just happened that way. We were really able to work together in a lot of different ways, not just in a business type of sense.
Jacob: Just finding the people you mesh with and gel with is absolutely essential.
Steven: And having a clear vision. Not with each other, not for the partnership, but like for the thing that you want to do and the thing that you want to execute, like you have to be on the same page. Because if Jacob and I had two wildly different ideas and that would just lead us to butt heads, and I don’t know that we would have gotten far, if we didn’t have pretty much an identical vision, which was weird, but it’s so again, like cosmic.
Jacob: But also don’t be scared to, if there are moments that you have different ideas to talk that out. We had a very similar idea, but like the ideas I have for panels were very different for the ideas that Steven had. Like we had different ideas and I think there aren’t many panels that we talked about at the beginning that we didn’t end up having. The core idea was the same, but we brought both of our such different experiences to it, which I think helped make the programming as diverse as it was.
It was just, it was magic. It was truly a magical experience.
Jeff: Let’s talk a little bit about your individual projects.
Steven, you mentioned “Can’t Take That Away”, which was your debut, YA novel that came out in March. I can’t believe you did this to, dealing with your debut novel at the same time.
Steven: I mean, honestly…
Jacob: First of all, everyone should go read “Can’t Take That Away.” It’s so incredible, so important, so wonderful. Go read it. It’s so good.
Jeff: Tell us about it, Steven. What’s this book about? I’m hooked because like Jacob, it’s like there’s musical theater in there. So like, yeah, I’m all for that.
Steven: Yeah. So I “Can Take That Away” is about a gender queer teen named Carey Parker, who… they are an incredible singer. They dream of becoming a diva like their hero, Mariah Carey. But something’s holding them back. And throughout the course of the novel, you kind of start to unravel the bits and pieces of what sort of arrests Carey.
They eventually get up the nerve to audition for the role of Elphaba in their high school production of “Wicked.” They land the role because they are so talented. And through some really queerphobic actions from one of the teachers at their high school, they end up getting removed from the show. So Carey and their group of friends who are incredible, decide to protest and rally the rest of the student body to get Carey back in the show among some other things that.
Summary is not my forte. So I don’t really why I could go into like all the little like subplots, but yeah, so that’s basically it, and it’s really about Carey, like finding their voice, learning to stand up for themselves and also like taking the spotlight and standing up for what’s right too. So that’s, “Can’t Take That Away.”
Jeff: Why did you pick musical theater as kind of the glue that held the story together?
Steven: So that’s kind of interesting. At first my original idea was like a battle of the bands type of a situation where Carey would end up being like a lead singer type of Freddie Mercury vibe.
But I had tried that in a previous manuscript and I didn’t love it and I didn’t want to rehash that. When I first started writing Carey as a character there’s a scene where Carey is in their therapist’s office. And they’re talking about how a bully destroyed they’re lucky ruby red slippers. And it was this symbol that I can go into like my whole childhood, but we don’t have time for that. But ruby red slippers were really important to me growing up sort of like an important late childhood artifact. And as I was writing that in, I was like, how do I make the ruby red slippers thing work?
And musical theater, just it’s a passion of mine. Not participating in it, but going to theater, going to Broadway shows. And Wicked is my favorite of all time. And I’ve seen it way more times than my bank account would like me to have seen it. And I was like, oh, I can see some parallels in the story.
Like Elphaba is this activist and they become a martyr. And like, I can sort of vibe with this and it fits with the ruby red slippers thing instead of going Wizard of Oz, because listen, the gays love themselves some Dorothy and some Wizard of Oz. And I was like we’re not going to go that route, but we’re going to go the Elphaba route. So that’s how that just played a role in the writing process.
Jeff: I love that. I’ve been trying to think through to what a high school production of Wicked could look like.
Steven: All right Jacob’s giving me the look right now because when we, I think when we did our event during my release week, that was like one of the things that he asked was like, how does a high school have the budget? How did they get approval to do Wicked? That was one of those things that like, as like a preliminary conversation I had with my editor. She brought that up and it was like, okay a high school’s really not going to have a, the funding to do “Wicked” because even if you’re at like high end upscale high school with like all of the donations, they’re still not going to be able to pull it off and do it well.
At the same time, they’re not going to have the rights because the rights aren’t available, they’re not out there. And I was like, okay but, can this be one of those like fiction things where like, we don’t have to explain it. It just it’s a work of fiction and therefore we just have to suspend our disbelief and my editor was like, yeah right. That’s fine.
Jacob: When I asked even that question, it was purely a joke. Cause it totally works. The only person that would think about that is because I work in theater and in New York, and that’s how my brain works, but most people aren’t even going to think about that. It works and it works well.
Jeff: And Steven, you’ve got another book planned. What can you tell us about “And They Lived” that’s coming next year without giving too much away?
Steven: I’m very excited about “And They Lived” so it’s more of a romance. It takes place in college. So it’s a college set YA. It definitely skews older. There’s a lot of sex positivity on the page, which was really an important thing for me to explore just especially in a college setting and something that I’ve wanted to write through.
The main character is recovering from having disordered eating and they have suffered from, and continue to suffer, from body dysmorphia. They’re a budding animator. They dream of like animating a Disney animated fairy tale one day. All they want is to fall in love. They want to find prince charming. And I think that’s one of the things that the main character works through is realizing that he’s okay to be loved as he is.
And he’s a bigger guy and he’s what the gay’s referred to as a little bear cub. And he has to like work through all of this, like body dysmorphia. But the guy that he ends up meeting loves his body, and it’s just, it’s one of those journeys where these characters are learning to find themselves through each other and learning what they’re worth, together.
There’s a lot of finding your people some found family stuff in there. Some platonic gay friendship, which lord knows we need in the world instead of romantic love interests. So I don’t know. I tried to pack a lot into it and I’m really excited for it. I love it more than I thought I could possibly love another story that I’ve written.
Jacob: We need it. We need it now!
Jeff: Nine months away-ish, maybe less than that now. What led you to wanting to write YA
Steven: It was honestly, a class that I took in undergrad. I took a children’s lit course when I was a junior in undergrad and I just fell in love with it. I didn’t really know that it was a thing until then pretty much all that I read was like humorous nonfiction, like your David of the world. And like I knew that there were books for younger folks, but back in like 2007, like the only things that I really knew about were like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight.”
And it wasn’t really a defined thing yet for me. So that class really opened up a lot for me, and I was like, okay, this is a voice that I want to write and work with. And so I spent way too much time trying to write books and sell them before I actually sold the book that was readable and worthy, I guess
Jeff: That’s very cool. I didn’t know they had classes like that. I don’t think there was such a class when I was in college, back in the day. So it’s good that those are out there now.
Jacob, for you, you talked a little bit about, becoming a Bookstagramer in early 2020. What got you interested in talking about books on both Instagram and TikTok.
Jacob: So, I mean, I’ll be really honest. When I joined Bookstagram, I didn’t really know the Bookstagram community existed completely. I have always loved reading. I mean, my mom’s a children’s librarian. My dad’s a school teacher, so I grew up reading.
But then like It’s age old story. I fell out of love with reading cause I stopped seeing myself represented in a lot of the books. But then in 2015 I met Becky Albertalli at a queer feminist bookstore in Atlanta and we got to chatting and that kind of launched my relove of reading, I suppose.
And Becky and I have stayed in contact over the years. Becky was kind of always, my guiding light. Her Instagram because she always was posting about new queer books. And that’s how I found “Red, White, and Royal Blue” and all these other things that I’ve really kind of fallen in love with.
And then I just was reading so much, I would have friends reach out to me and be like, hi, what should I read? What’s new? What’s great? And I was like, well, okay, let me just like create a little silly account on Instagram or I’ll post some books. I didn’t know that was a thing a lot of people did.
And then real Bookstagramers started finding it. And I was like, wait a minute, this is like a community. That kind of was over the course of like January, February, March of last year. Then kind of once COVID hit, I, was like, oh, this is a thing that I can do at that point.
Becky had been like, let’s do a giveaway together, and because of that, I had kind of gained some following and I had met some of my favorite people over the last year on Instagram and BookTok. And then in July, actually my BookTok anniversary is coming up in just a few days.
I was like, oh, let me just try this. I put up a video and it went viral and I was like, great. I guess I’m on BookTok now. And it’s just been, it’s been really rewarding. I’ve met some really wonderful authors and other readers. And I’ve always like had this weird pipe dream. It feels silly to call it a pipe dream now because I’m working on it, but I’ve always like, I’m going to write a book someday. Never thought I was ever actually do it. I made a friend who is an author and also a reader and we got to chatting and she was like, oh, I would like to try writing. It was a romcom I wanted to write. I told her about it. She was like, well, how about we try doing it together? And so now I’m writing a book with her, which I never thought was going to happen.
So that’s how I got started and where it’s kind of gone and now it’s just kind of become this really great tool. I just want to promote books to people that may not be able to find them. A lot of times I feel like YA is so marketed towards adults. That’s why I fallen in love with TikTok because that’s where you find the 13, 14, 15 year olds that these books are actually supposed to be for.
And that’s been the most rewarding thing is to be able to hear from them and I’m like, wow. There’s all these representations that didn’t exist, like that books didn’t exist for when I was growing up, to be able to like show them to people now has been really rewarding.
Jeff: And I’m impressed how many books apparently are in your New York apartment…
Jacob: So is my roommate. So is my roommate.
Jeff: I mean, you’re not near your bookshelf as we’re recording this. So people are not seeing that, but if they look at your BookTok or your Instagram, it’s incredible. The number of books you have. I fear for you if you ever move.
Steven: It’s really beautiful in person to see all the books because it’s like, wow. It puts my little bookshelf to shame.
Jacob: Well, to me, it feels like the thing I never got to have growing up. I never got to have all these queer books. Then the other side of it, it’s like all these adults, I know that are my age. Like, oh, I bought this piece of art for my apartment. And I’m like, I have a really pretty bookshelves that counts as a piece of art to me. I don’t know.
Jeff: You curated it, it is a piece of art.
Jacob: It’s a conversation piece.
Jeff: There’s a lot of effort that goes into, presenting on Bookstagram and on BookTok. The styling and I think certainly as a theater producer, director in that community, you know how to do that, but is it something that is it just innate to you that you’re able to do it? Cause like, I think about it sometimes, like, I don’t know how to make this look good.
Jacob: Literally earlier today I was like, I had to take some photos and then I thought about it and I’m like, I’m tired. No way. No, I mean, it’s one of those things I think at least at the beginning of book talk, the reason I was kind of able to connect with so many people is because a lot of people I know on Bookstagram and BookTok, they’re kind of scared to get in front of the camera and I have absolutely no fear about that because my degree is in theater performance.
I mean, I’ve come to directing, producing kind of life, because that’s what I enjoy more. But I’m like, that’s not a fear I have and so it makes it more personable. And so that’s been where I’ve been able to kind of succeed, I think. And also if I’m in front of the camera, I don’t have to style anything, I just have to brush my hair and turn on the ring light.
There’s all these people that have all these fancy props and style these photos, and I don’t know how they do that. I’ve done a couple of those and they take so long. So I’m just like, I’ll do a couple of those every once in a while. I always have tried to bring theater into what I do because at the end of the day, hopefully when theater comes back after the pandemic, I’m hoping that I get to go back. So I’m trying to keep those skills fresh as well.
Jeff: You just make it look so easy, to be honest.
Steven: Truly effortless, honestly. Like anytime I take a picture of books that I post on Instagram, which is not all that often, I’m like, wow, this takes a lot of time and I need a sandwich now because this is a lot. It’s way too much. So I bow down honestly.
Jeff: So I have to ask, because it would be so remiss, especially with the Bookstagramer here. What’s a book or two that each of you have been reading that you would recommend to our listeners to go pick up.
Jacob: I just read last week, “The Charm Offensive”, which comes out in September.
It is a gay romance, set with the backdrop of a fictional bachelor reality TV show, where the main guy, the bachelor, ends up falling for one of the producers and not any of the women on the show. And it is truly, and this is going to sound extreme when I say this, but go with me. It touched me and made me feel things in the same way “Red, White, and Royal Blue” did, which, if anyone follows me on any sort of social media platform how special that book is to me. And there’s asexual, demisexual rep in it, which is really important to me. And so truly that is one of the greatest things I’ve read recently.
And then something that’s already out, I loved “Playing the Palace.” It was so much fun. It was so silly. It was so charming, and again, going back to theater, it was written by a playwright who’s worked on, Broadway. So I’m like great. The melding of the two worlds is possible and there are other people that are doing it and there is a blueprint for what it can look like. So I loved “Playing the Palace” as well.
Jeff: ” Palace” was so awesome, and now you’ve given me one for my TBR for September. Cause that book sounds amazing.
Steven: For me, I think my favorite book that I’ve read this year so far, and I guess specifically within the last couple of months, was “P.J. Vernon’s Bath Haus.” I lived for that book. I just love seeing messy, gay characters, making a ton of mistakes. And I loved, I mean, P.J. Is just amazing master of suspense. I loved pretty much every moment of that book.
I also loved Nicolas DiDomizio’s “Burn It All Down.” Highly recommend. A gay son, mother, buddy comedy, revenge, thriller. If you liked “Gilmore Girls” and “Thelma and Louise.” Make it gay. Burning down houses, running from the law trying to get revenge on toxic men. I mean, just perfect.
I’m also right now half way through Casey McQuiston’s “One Last Stop., Which I, yeah, it took me a minute to get into it because I loved “Red, White and Royal Blue”, but the beginning of “One Last Stop” was a little slower. But now I’m like, I’m in it and I’m here for it, I am hooked, I’m ready. I need to find the time to finish it because, I try to find the time to write, and it’s a lot. It’s a lot to read and write at the same time.
Jacob: And I, know you asked for just a couple, but I would also be remiss to… in December, we’re so lucky as a community, we are getting two queer co-authored books. Sophie Gonzales and Cale Dietrich are doing, “If This Gets Out”, which was incredible.
Steven: Pride Book Fest has a panel on that. You can watch them on Youtube!
Jacob: Order it from E City Book shop to get a signed copy, because that’s very rare because they’re from Australia.
And I was very fortunate to be the fourth person ever to read the sequel to “What If It’s Us,” “Here’s To Us”, which is coming out at the end of December Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. And when I tell you that, that is the epic conclusion that everybody has been so eagerly waiting for, it’s truly a feat. It’s so wonderful. So, and I think that’s so incredible. They’re both coming out in December. Like it’s going to be a good month.
Steven: I have to say too, I’m really excited to start ” This Poison Heart” Kalynn Bayron’s new book. And I just finished, I completely forgot about this. Jacob, I don’t know if you’ve read Somaiya Daud’s “Mirage” or “Court of Lions.” But I just finished “Court of Lions” I mean, if you like, gays in space. Lesbians in space we love so that The “Court of Lions” was really great. I loved “Mirage.” So I was really excited to see how that ended.
Jacob: I promise this is the last one. You reminded me. It just came out and I just finished it this past weekend. “Rise To The Sun.” So good. Leah Johnson is a master of the pen. Loved “You Should See Me in a Crown.” “Rise To The Sun” is a fantastic followup to that.
Jeff: So, so many books for me to read and for our listeners to go get to. Plus sneak peaks, I’m super jealous you’ve read Adam and Becky’s book.
We’ve talked a little bit about Steven, what’s coming up for you with the next book. We’ve talked a little bit about PDF coming back next year. Anything else you want to tease us about for projects or things we should keep on the lookout for as the rest of 2021 happens.
Steven: There are things that I cannot talk about yet that I would love to be able to talk about. But there may be more books coming, not for a couple of years, but still there may be more books coming. And I don’t know, Jacob and I might have a little something PBF related perhaps, maybe coming at some point before next year festivals. So we’ll see.
Jeff: Very cool. Very cool. I guess the better question might be, how can people find you online to keep up with projects as they get ready to come out?
Steven: Well, anything PBF related? You could follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube at Pride Book Fest. Easiest way to get anything. Any announcements will be made via Twitter or Instagram or both.
For me, if you are a glutton for punishment and you can find me on Twitter at StevenSWrites. I much prefer Instagram because I could post fun Instagram worthy things there at StevenSalvatoreBooks.
Jacob: If you want to find me I’m on for A Very Queer Book Club, it’s A.VeryQueerBookClub on Instagram. Youtube. And then on Twitter, I’m at Dat Demlow. I have not created A Very Queer Book Club Twitter because book Twitter scares me. So I’m staying on the fringes because it terrifies me.
Jacob: I am on Tiktok as well. Very Queer Book Club. Same as Instagram and Youtube.
Jeff: Perfect, we’ll link to all the books we talked about. All of these different handles, to the PBF stuff on YouTube so folks can find it. That’ll all be in our show notes for everybody to find. Thank you so much for coming and talking PBF and all this other cool stuff. It has been an absolute pleasure to have you here.
Steven: Thanks so much.
Jacob: Yeah. Thank you so much.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by your 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 Jacob and Steven for coming to talk to us about Pride Book Festival and their own projects. I really hope everyone listening will go check out their great programming that they’ve got on the YouTube channel. The discussions are fantastic, and I suspect you’ll find some new to you authors so that you’ll add to your TBR.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now coming up on Monday in episode 325, we are going to kick off August with reviews of what we’d been reading recently. Plus you’re going to be taking a peek at some of the books that we’re looking forward to later in the month.
Jeff: I always love these episodes, getting to talk about all these good books and everything, and that peek forward is always fun to know exactly what I should be reading and just stuffing into my TBR for the month.
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.