The guys announce the September Big Gay Fiction Book Club selection: the delightful Hollywood romance, Running Lines by Jeris Jean.
Looking at books coming in September, Jeff & Will discuss titles by Garett Leigh, Lucy Lennox & May Archer, K.M. Neuhold, Nicky James, Riley Hart, Alison Cochrun, Sam Burns & W.M. Fawkes, DJ Jamison, and Haven Hadley.
Turning to reviews, Jeff talks about Best Laid Plans by Roan Parrish, Will shares his thoughts on Unforgotten by Garrett Leigh, and they each comment on dancer James Whiteside’s slyly dark memoir Center Center.
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.
- Running Lines by Jeris Jean on Amazon
- Salvation by Garrett Leigh on Amazon
- Hijacked by Lucy Lennox & May Archer on on Amazon (pre-order until September 2, 2021)
- Drilled by K.M. Neuhold on Amazon (pre-order until September 3, 2021)
- Not What It Seems by Nicky James on Amazon (pre-order until September 6, 2021)
- Firefly Lane by Riley Hart on Amazon (pre-order until September 7, 2021)
- The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order until September 7, 2021)
- Declared by Sam Burns & W.M. Fawkes on Amazon (pre-order until September 9, 2021)
- Tapped By My Roommate by DJ Jamison on Amazon (pre-order until September 9, 2021)
- Catcher Interference by Haven Hadley on Amazon (pre-order until September 9, 2021)
- Best Laid Plains by Roan Parrish on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Lights on Knockbridge Lane by Roan Parrish on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order until September 28, 2021)
- Unforgotten by Garrett Leigh on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Center Center by James Whiteside 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 in this episode, we’re going to tell you all about some of the books that we’ve been reading. Plus, we’re going to be previewing some of the amazing stories headed our way in the month of September.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 330 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me as always is my co-host and husband Will
Will: Welcome back rainbow romance readers.
Jeff: As always the podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. Thank you to Kjerstin, Rebecca and Susan for recently joining the community. If you’d like more information about the bonus content we offer our patrons go to patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: So today’s episode may be a little shorter than usual, but that doesn’t mean it is no less jam packed with amazing book recommendation.
So, what do you say we kick things off with an announcement?
Jeff: I definitely think we should.
Will: So it’s the beginning of a new month and that means it’s time to talk about our book club pick. After an unintended summer hiatus, I am happy to say that we are coming back strong with a romance. I think you’re all going to love. Can I get a drum roll, please?
Jeff: Not exactly a drum roll, but that’s the best I’ve got.
Will: Good enough. The Big Gay Fiction book club pick for the month of September is going to be “Running Lines” by Jeris Jean. Now, this is the sexy sweet story of two actors who fall in love while working on a TV show, think “Downton Abbey” meets “Bridgerton,” and they have to navigate the tricky, gossip-filled waters of Hollywood, as they try to make their personal and professional lives work. Now, this is the first book in the “Hollywood Hopefuls” series. And it also happens to be this authors very first book. She started writing this series during the pandemic, and I really enjoyed it to say the least.
Jeff: Oh my gosh, I love it so, so much.
Will: Yeah. We just recorded the book club episode and had an absolute blast discussing “Running Lines.” Members of our Patreon community will get a sneak peek of the episode and that’ll be coming your way later this week. So keep an eye out for that. If you are not yet a supporter of the show on Patreon, you can always check out the perks that our community receives at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
The book club episode featuring “Running Lines” will be dropping into the regular podcast feed later this month on September 30th. So there’s still plenty of time to read this book and give this new author a try.
Jeff: It’s so good. If this is what the first book from this author is like, I can’t wait to see what more comes, especially in this series, because I’m so hooked in the world that has been created in “Running Lines.”
September Book Preview
Will: So before we get to book reviews, do you want to discuss what’s new and upcoming?
Jeff: I definitely think we should. It’s another crazy month. You know, August had so many books in it and for September, I swear it stuffed even more with amazing books. My TBR can’t handle it. Let me just say that right now.
Will: Yeah, as we head into fall, the Olympics are now long over and the kids are heading back to school, so hopefully everyone is going to have a little more time to dive into some of the books that we’re going to be discussing.
The first one I want to talk about is by Garrett Leigh, who incidentally also wrote a book that I’m going to be reviewing in just a few minutes. But first, I want to talk about “Salvation,” which is coming out on September 2nd.
Reformed gang boss Dante has done his time, and through a prisoner rehabilitation program, he begins working and living with a sexy gardner on a palatial estate. The attraction, they both feel is undeniable and it just might be the salvation that they both need in this angsty hurt/comfort read, that is part of this author’s “Darkest Skies” series.
Jeff: This sounds oh, so good. Garrett is already a master of the angst and hurt comfort thing.
Will: So good.
Jeff: Yeah. You’re going to be telling us all about that here shortly.
Will: So good.
Jeff: This pairing. The reformed gang boss and a gardener. That sounds so opposite attract. And yet, you know that she’s going to draw these two together in just the best way that’s going to have you turning those pages. This is going to be amazing and I kind of want it right now and luckily I don’t have to wait too long for it, do I?
Will: Yeah. The second is just around the corner.
Also coming out on September 2nd is “Hijacked” the newest co-write from authors Lucy Lennox and May Archer. Now in this mad cap romantic comedy, the life of a renowned cardiologist is turned upside down when circumstances find him in a South American jungle at the mercy of a drug lord. Good thing he has his very hot, very mouthy ex-Special Forces bodyguard to keep him safe.
Jeff: So, May and Lucy. Those are a pair that are gonna generate a good book. No doubt, this is just going to be super fun. There’s something about this blurb. I know it’s a rom com, but I also get a little vibe of “King Me” in it, even though it’s not a heist. I don’t know. I think that’s just going to add to the fun. And how does this doctor end up in the jungle with a drug lord? All of it just makes me want to read this. And take in the magic that I know Lucy and Mae are going to do here.
Will: Well, the mention of the South American jungle gives me “Romancing the Stone” vibes.
Jeff: Ooh. Yeah. I didn’t even put that together.
Will: So I know this is going to be like outrageous and fun and I can’t wait. I’m really behind…
Jeff: Me too. It’s terrible
Will: On my Lucy Lennox books.
Jeff: I’m behind in so many books.
Will: I know.
Jeff: It’s not even funny anymore. I think you just keep adding to it with this list like this.
Will: And I’m going to keep adding cause next up we have “Drilled,” the newest book by K.M. Neuhold. It’s a case of best friends to enemies to lovers as the heroes of this story are forced to spend a month living and working together rebuilding the cabins at a remote camp ground, in this hilarious and steamy final book in the “Four Bears Construction” series.
Jeff: I’ve always loved this series. And of course I love K.M. Neuhold. This mix you just put out here of best friends to enemies, to lovers, alongside what you know is going to be forced proximity because they’re off this remote campground. It just all sounds so perfect. I am sad that this brings “Four Bears” to an end though. Not only have these stories been wonderful, but let’s face it from the get go, I’ve been in love with these covers and now I’m not going to have a new “Four Bears” cover to gaze upon every couple of months. So yeah. Now more than ever, I want the poster set that I can just put up at my office somewhere.
Will: Well, there’s a merchandising idea. K.M., if you’re listening.
Jeff: Yeah. I’ll for sure take a set if you want to produce those.
Will: Yeah. This author definitely knows how to bring the sexy and sweet. If you are interested in the last book in the “Four Bears Construction” series, it’s going to be headed your way on September 3rd.
Now coming up on September 6th is “Not What It Seems” by Nicky James. In this new romantic thriller, a noted psychiatrist is called in for a consultation. Cyrus is shocked to discover that the man accused of murder is River, someone he slept with a few months earlier. He should walk away, but he can’t. To find answers, Cyrus will have to turn his personal and professional life upside down. River’s life could depend upon it.
Jeff: Of course, I’m always on the lookout for romantic suspense. And I definitely want to try this one out. The stakes here sound so high. And the fact that you’re going to turn your life upside down for somebody that you only have just essentially met and slept with once. That just says high stakes and it’s a very intriguing twists are on the way to me.
Will: Yeah. This is what they call in the business high concept.
Jeff: Yes. And the cover. Oh my God. That looks like a great film noir slash Hitchcock kind of poster. I’m so drawn in. And the cover had me first. It’s one of those things where the cover is just like, “oh, check me out.” And then the whole plot, I’m just, I’m there.
Will: If you want to check out “Not What It Seems,” it’s going to be headed our way on September 6th.
Exactly one day later, we’re going to be getting the new Riley Hart book. It is called “Firefly Lane.” When circumstances bring Holden back to the small town he once left behind, the friendship piece strikes up with Roe has him rethinking some of his priorities. As these two mature men grow closer, can they find a way to live, laugh, love their way to a happily ever after?
Jeff: Well, in a Riley Hart book, of course they can.
Will: Happiness guaranteed.
Jeff: Yeah. Cause that live life love thing is something that she does so well. I just know this is going to be fabulous and I love that it’s got guys in their forties as the romantic hero. I do enjoy reading about the younger guys, don’t get me wrong. But it’s also good to read about people who are a little closer to my age, who are out there falling in love too. So thank you Riley, for bringing this out to the world.
Will: Also releasing on September 7th is “The Charm Offensive” by Alison Cochrun. Dev is the successful producer of a long running reality dating show. Charlie is the latest bachelor contestant who is no prince charming. As Dev works with Charlie behind the scenes, he finds that the chemistry they share is all too real. He might have to significantly rewrite everything, both real and fictional, if they have any chance of reaching a happily ever after
Jeff: I’ve been eager for this book for months, ever since I first saw it’s super cute illustrated cover. I loved that so much. And then this whole thing about the producer falling for the bachelor and the bachelor falling for the producer, how can that not be so fun because on top of whatever romantic elements are going to go on there, there’s going to have to be the drama generated by how the show has to keep going and how they have to keep producing, and how they’re going to keep that script together. I’m really sold on this and even more so now that I’ve read “Running Lines,” which I know isn’t set in reality TV, but it kind of set me back in the TV world a little bit for fiction. Oh, yeah. I’ve already, pre-ordered the audio book to be very honest. I want to read this sooner than later.
Will: The next book we want to talk about is coming out on September 9th. “Declared” by Sam Burns and W.M. Fawkes is the second book of the wildly popular “Star Marked Warrior” series. It finds sci-fi loving Wesley abducted by a band of sexy aliens. Jax is a warrior who has spent his life protecting the crown prince, but when his home world is invaded, he must choose between duty and the human he is fallen passionately in love with.
Jeff: So what sci-fi fan has not wanted to be actually wished away into space. This to me had Last Starfighter” written all over it, sorta kinda. The innocent earthling suddenly whisked away for some scifi, galactic adventure. The premise of this book just made me smile all over and, you know, scifi is something I only really pick up occasionally these days. I think I have to go all the way back to “Winter’s Orbit” from last year as like the last sci-fi thing that I picked up. But this one just might draw me back to that genre for a read because yeah, it made me smile.
Will: Abducted by sexy aliens is one of the cornerstone tropes of sci-fi romance. And unfortunately, it’s not something we get a whole lot of when it comes to gay romance. This past summer, I noticed there was a resurgence in the popularity of the ice planet barbarians series, which is m/f sci-fi. People are kind of falling in love all over again with those amazing sexy characters in the outrageous sci-fi situations that they find themselves in. And I think it’s really nice that gay romance fans have this particular series to help satisfy their hunky alien cravings.
Jeff: See, now you make me want to pick this up even more. You weren’t supposed to sell it to me even more than I was already into it. Haven’t I mentioned that my TBR is too full.
Will: I’ve got even more suggestions.
Let’s move on to “Tapped By My Roommate” by DJ Jamison, that is also coming out on September 9th. In this friends to lovers installment of the “Thrust Into Love” series, nerdy Ethan needs help getting his pet lizard back from a vengeful ex. Who better to serve as backup than his brawny roommate, Rhett. A hookup app mishap leads Rhett to help Ethan explore his bisexuality. Can their fun flirtation lead to a forever kind of love?
Jeff: Just out of the gate, this sounds super cute. Please help me get my lizard back. And, you know, thus starts the events. I can’t imagine what a dating app mishap actually means though. So I’m kind of interested to find out what’s going on there. I think I might need to find out how Ethan and Rhett actually make this work out. It sounds really interesting.
Will: And the last book we’re going to be recommending, a sports romance that’s also headed our way on September 9th. It’s “Catcher Interference” by Haven Hadley.
Bad boy ballplayer Marcus has quite the reputation, but all he wants is to settle down with someone special. He never could have imagined that, that someone special would be billionaire bachelor, Kasper. Everything he has ever wanted is right in front of him, if only he’ll take the chance and step up to the plate.
Jeff: Just when you thought we might get to the end of a preview list without a sports romance here it is sitting right here, some more baseball. I really liked the combo that’s sitting here, star baseball player, billionaire guy. So two very high profile kind of people. I bet there’s going to be so much kind of push and pull. I hate you, I love you, get away from me, back and forth that this is going to be so much fun to read.
Will: The stories we’ve recommended have really run the gamut of romance sub-genres. If any of these stories sound interesting to you, we’ll have the complete list on the show notes page at biggayfictionpodcast.com.
Jeff: All right, from a whole bunch of previews of what’s coming, let’s do some reviews of what we’ve read.
Best Laid Plains by Roan Parrish
Jeff: I’m going to kick it off with “Best Laid Plans” by Roan Parrish, which is the second book in her “Garnet Run” series. This book was just absolutely exquisite. It’s about finding a place and a person to call home. And this gave me so, so, so many feels. I both wanted to read faster because I needed to know the story, but I also really wanted to go a lot slower and really savor every moment because I didn’t want to let Charlie and Rye go.
We meet Rye as he’s arriving in Garnet Run after driving from Seattle because he found out that he’s inherited a house from his grandfather, who happens to be someone that he barely remembers. A house though means he’s got a place of his own rather than couch surfing or rooming with far too many people. When he arrives with his meager possessions and his faithful cat Marmot, he unfortunately finds a house that is, let’s just say less than move in ready. To really be honest here it’s a shambles and probably not fit to live in for even a night. But it’s the only place he’s got to go, so he settles in determined to make it work here because he has to.
Charlie has lived in Garnet Run all of his life and he has a tendency to make sure everyone is taken care of while usually ignoring his own self care and the things that might make him happy. Charlie runs the local hardware store, which is a store that’s been in his family for years, and it’s there where he meets Rye, who comes in to buy all sorts of random things as he’s trying to learn how to fix a house by YouTube videos. A little bit of lumber, few screws, some nails. To say that his efforts are really a disaster waiting to happen is a full understatement.
Charlie’s eager to help out in any way that he can since it’s clear that Rye is out of his depth. Rye, however doesn’t want help. It’s not his nature to ask for help. And it’s very difficult for him to accept help, even if it’s offered. It’s just not something he’s used to. It’s a great dynamic for Charlie and Rye as Charlie is very much “Let me help you” and Rye is all about, “Nope. I’m good.” Rye sticks to that, even when there’s all kinds of evidence to show that, in fact, he is not all good.
Thankfully, eventually Rye sees that he can’t do it on his own. And slowly he starts to accept the help. The slow, but steady pace of Rye seeing that he can accept help, and that help can be offered without strings attached… it’s such a beautiful evolution. Sometimes, people offer help freely, even if that help is on the scope of fixing a house.
Roan creates such a compelling, all kinds of feels, romance as Charlie and Rye fall for each other. They’re both so unsure about taking that step, and even if they could or should. All of their stuff is so tied up inside with so much baggage that they carry. Charlie thinks about everyone, but himself, and while he wants this relationship and to be loved, taking care of everyone else leaves him so little time. And he’s so caught up in that.
Rye, meanwhile has had a rough time before coming to Garnet Run, and he’s not sure that he’s able to love or even be loved. These guys don’t always talk as much as they should, but the talking they do do is so very good. Plus their internal dialogue is pretty epic as they sort through everything that they’ve got to get through to finally come out on the other side.
There’s so much that I love about this book. In addition to the wonderful romance as Charlie and Rye sort out that they really do fit, there’s working on the house, which is so much fun to watch them do as they kind of piece together how the house is going to be and navigate through the renovations. Plus Rye meeting more people in Garnet Run, including a good friend of his grandfather’s, who really shows him a part of his life that he missed out on while they weren’t in communication with each other. Rye also makes a bond with some kids who have been squatting at the house and really helping to make sure that kids are okay, which brings out kind of his helping side, too.
Most of all, the whole finding family, finding good friends and finding community, that whole vibe ran so strong in this book. And it was just everything. And I also don’t usually get super into pets in books, but Marmot was amazing. This cat had so much adventure and so much big personality, almost, not a cat, but yet completely a cat because of the independent streak that that Marmot had. And then there’s, Charlie’s cat Jane, who was also super great. And the two cats together, let’s just say that they know much better what’s going on than the humans do who take care of them? Roan, I would love a children’s book with these two cats. They could just have their own adventures and that would be so super cute. So maybe think about that.
Anyway, I’m so glad I read “Best Laid Plans.” I already enjoyed Roan’s books, but this one I think has now a special place in my heart. And I honestly can’t wait to read book three, “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane” to see what Christmas in Garnet Run is like.
Will: Fantastic a book well worth checking out.
Unforgotten by Garrett Leigh
So, as I mentioned at the top of the show, I read a book by Garrett Leigh. I finally dove into the story “Unforgiven,” which came out at the beginning of the year and has been sitting on my TBR for a while. ” Unforgotten” is a little bit different as it is not a standalone and it is not part of a series. It’s actually part of a duology. The first book “Forgiven” is an m/f romance about Mia and Luke. And it is followed up by this story, “Unforgotten,” which concerns Mia and Luke’s brothers, Billy and Gus.
Now also, as we mentioned earlier, we know that Garrett Leigh is an expert at hurt/comfort and heavy angst, things that usually are not at the top of my trope must read list. But the way that Garrett Leigh navigates the story of Billy and Gus is really special. And I was actually a little surprised at how much I was into the emotional journey of these particular characters.
As we kick things off at the beginning, Billy has truly hit rock bottom. He is in a lot of physical pain because of a serious shoulder injury months earlier, and a lot of emotional pain because of unresolved family stuff. And the only place he has to go is kind of crawling back to his brother. It’s the last thing he wants to do, but it’s decided that Billy is going to work in the family roofing business alongside Gus, a long time family friend.
Mia, Luke, Gus and Billy essentially all grew up together and Gus and Billy shared a kiss long ago. It’s because of their intertwined long shared family history that they’ve never really examined what that kiss meant for both of them, even though they’ve secretly been pining away for each other for a long time.
The first half of the book is really kind of about Gus breaking down Billy’s walls, of which there are a lot. And then even at the halfway point, after they fooled around and Billy spends the night in Gus’s bed, which is actually a bigger deal than them actually hooking up, they’re still both struggling, figuring out what it’s going to actually mean for the two of them.
They end up going to the lake for a swim and almost get caught doing in public what they can’t wait to do in the privacy of Gus’s bedroom. The thing is they make each other feel incredible, but their shared history, as I mentioned, and the complex emotional layers of their lives, means they have to decide what actually being together is going to mean.
And it means unpacking a lot of baggage, which understandably they are hesitant to do. They try to continue with business as usual, but that doesn’t seem possible. They’re just drawn to one another again and again.
At one point, Billy, trying to do the right thing, is involved in an incident concerning the rescue of a dog, locked in a car on a hot summer day. Local attention is focused on him for all the wrong reasons. Billy it seems has always lived his life with the best of intentions, but always gets into trouble no matter what.
Once Gus has made sure that that dog is okay, he comes home to Billy to show him just how much that he has always cared. But when Billy sees Gus’s Grindr DMs, he storms off. Later, after he’s had times to think things through, he comes back to apologize, but then it’s Gus’s turn to be angry. He is pissed that he has always had to be the adult and deal with everybody else’s pain and drama. The baggage they carry seems just so damn heavy that actual happiness is almost impossible.
After a week of working together in frustrated silence on a rundown cottage, it has both of them on edge. But when a life-threatening emergency on the job site has Billy playing the role of rescuer, things really start to change.
I really admit that the description is a little bit vague. It’s a really intense moment in the story that had me personally on the edge of my seat. And it’s a really big turning point for these two characters and if you haven’t read the story yet, I don’t want to spoil that particular part for you.
After a stay in the hospital, they each talk things over with their siblings, Gus with Mia and Billy with Luke, before the two of them declare their intentions to stay together forever. Cause you know, a near death experience will always help bring into focus what really matters. The epilogue gives us a deeply satisfying glimpse into their hard earned HEA.
And I’ll just say right now, “Unforgotten” kind of took me by surprise. I think you all know, I love things light and I love them fluffy.
Jeff: This sounds anything but light and fluffy.
Will: There was an incredible amount of emotional depth to the story that I really enjoyed. And I’m just going to say it right now. I think “Unforgotten” is going to be one of my favorite books this year. And I have written down right here in my notes, “Billy and Gus, A++.”
They really are a remarkable couple who I think on the surface really have nothing in common. But I think once you get into the story, Garrett Leigh is able to peel back some of those emotional layers and we really get to understand who Billy and Gus are, and how really at the heart of it, they are made for one another. I think this book is really something special. And if you haven’t read it yet, please give it a try.
I want to quickly mention the audio. It’s narrated by Dan Calley and I think it is exceptional. I will freely admit that Billy as a character is pretty broken, and at the beginning of the book he’s kind of a dick to most of the people. I think it’s Dan Calley’s performance that gives us a little more insight into his character so that we’re able to get through some of that initial emotional resistance to really understand what makes him tick. He really just does a phenomenal job. And if you are a fan of audio, please give it a try.
And also before I wrap things up here, we did speak to Garrett Leigh earlier in the year in February in episode 288. And in that interview we discussed “Unforgotten” and talked about the deep family connections of the four characters featured in this particular duology. We also discussed why there was a four year gap in the writing between books one and two. It’s a fascinating story and if you haven’t yet listened to that episode and that interview with Garrett, I highly recommend it. She’s amazing. I also happened to recommend “Unforgotten.” I think it’s something really special. And if you’re… even if you’re a wimp like me when it comes to angst.
Jeff: I’m so glad you finally gave this a try. I know it’s been staring at you from your TBR since around February, so, and I’m glad that was so deeply satisfying for you too. Maybe you’ll take the plunge on some more angsty sometime.
Center Center by James Whiteside
Jeff: So from romance fiction, I’m actually going to take us over to memoir. You know, the last few months we’ve done more memoir on this show than possibly at any point during our history to this time.
Jeff: But it’s been kind of the summer of memoir for us. And this one just fit so much into the things that we just love.
We are both big fans of James Whiteside, who is a principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. We’ve seen him perform a number of times at Lincoln Center in New York City, as well as seeing some of the performances he created online during the pandemic. We were super excited when it was announced he was writing a memoir. “Center Center” released just a few weeks ago. And honestly it’s just simply wow in every sense of the word.
In “Center Center,” James not that only tells stories about his decade plus journey to becoming a dancer with ABT, with all sorts of ups and downs and sideways journeys, but we also look at his other creative personas that he’s actually named. There’s a musician named JBDubs, and a drag queen called Ühu Betch. Reading about James’s pursuit of the ballet dream was so inspirational, how he kept driving forward from the time he was even a preteen to get what he wanted. But, we also see how he wouldn’t compromise for that goal either. I really admired how he set his sights on what he wanted and he kept at it.
And it’s really interesting to see how many of the stories, stories of his family, of boyfriends, and other events in his life are heavily influenced by his work and life as a creator. Some of these stories are bittersweet and sad, such as his telling of his mother’s passing. But then there are others that are absolutely hilarious like his flight from hell experience that turned into a chapter called “Stranded in Casablanca, The Pussycat Dolls Musical,” because yes, if you’re going to have a bad flight experience, why not turn it into a musical. We’ve all had those super bad travel experiences and James’s is especially horrible and yet, in fact, made better because he spun that chapter into this musical. And this chapter is actually done as a script. So it’s really an innovative way to tell a story within this memoir.
While so much of this story relates back to his pursuit of ballet and other creative interests, there’s also the story of a gay boy growing up, coming out, dating, figuring out how all of this fits into his life with his family and friends and, and yes, his work too. I really loved how he lays everything out, the good, the bad, the sloppy, and even things that I would call downright dangerous.
There’s a couple of segments that really highlight that such as getting a project called “The Tenant” off the ground. That was one of his projects away from ABT in some experimental dancing and oh my God, the things that he endured for his art sometimes is just really insane. And then there’s the last chapter of the book, about a trip that he made with friends one summer out to the Pacific Northwest, that is kind of just one side of what could become like an American Horror Story installment, because there’s some really crazy stuff that goes on there.
In the acknowledgements to the book, James thanks his mother for quote, instilling in me a sense of freedom and curiosity, and a general indifference to normal. And I think that this really sums up the stories that James tells here so well. You could just see those qualities that make him thrive and kind of are the driving force to what he does and what he documents in the book.
I really loved getting to read about one of my favorite dancers and to learn a little bit more about how he approaches creativity in life. There’s even some interesting areas of the book, where he talks about how he came to grips with the fact that he didn’t have the quote dancer’s body unquote, and how he started to spin that to his advantage and to understand the whole, the body image thing that so many people can get caught up in.
Plus all of the things that he describes, why he has these other creative pursuits, the musician, the drag queen, and how it all kind of comes back to form who James is. All of that creativity was just so wonderful. So even if you’re not into ballet and have never heard of James Whiteside, I still highly recommend “Center Center” as it’s a very entertaining and enlightening look at a life that is so well lived. And I hope he writes another memoir like another, you know, 30 to 40 years down the line so we can see how everything has evolved from him, where he leaves this particular book.
Will: The thing that struck me as I was reading this is that this book is like one hundred percent James Whiteside. It’s like his stories cannot be contained within a single through line. The tales of his family and his mother, Nancy are essentially a book within a book. In the way he presents his wacky travel stories as the script for a Pussycat Dolls musical, it is all like one hundred percent James. And he also covers some really kind of dark stuff, but in his own quirky, weird, humorous way. He is definitely a storyteller.
Jeff: Yeah. You could really see this becoming like an evening with James Whiteside at a theater where…
Will: Oh, God, exactly.
Jeff: Where he tells you these stories. And you did the audio book presentation, so you actually got to hear him tell you the stories.
Will: Like I said, he’s a storyteller.
Jeff: It was really fun to read and I don’t read honestly, a lot of memoir. You’ve pretty much here on the show have heard the number of memoirs I read. And usually the ones I have read are, you know, they start with somebody young and move on to where they are. James’s story is really all over the place and the way he’s threaded these stories together to form what is “Center Center” was a very interesting look at storytelling too, and how to tell the story of a life.
So, yeah, highly recommended. And in fact, I’m super excited to tell all of you that James is actually going to join us here on the show in a couple of weeks on September 13th in episode 332 to talk about this book. It was amazing to talk to him and it really intersects our love of books and dance and queer creatives, all in one big package. So hope you’ll join us for that episode in just a couple of weeks.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read our conversation and reviews for yourself. I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll do it again, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. And of course the show notes page has links to everything that we’ve discussed in this episode.
Jeff: And among those links, you’ll see which of the audio books are available on Libro.fm. You know, we say it all the time, we love Libro.fm because it’s the place where you can get audio books and at the same time support a local bookstore of your choice. Listeners to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast have the opportunity to get a two month audio book membership for the price of one. And if you’d like to get more details on that and take advantage of the offer, simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm and you’ll see all the details right there.
Will: Alright, I think that’ll do it for this episode. Coming up on Monday in episode 331, author C.B. Lee is here to take us on a high seas adventure.
Jeff: That’s right. Next week C.B. releases “Clash of Steel,” which is a remix, or a re-imagining if you prefer, of the classic “Treasure Island.” We’ll also talk to her about the fifth anniversary of the “Sidekick Squad.”
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself we want to thank you so much for listening. And we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kind of stories that we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then 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.