The show kicks off with news about the TransBook365 hashtag, and the Romance for Haiti auction.
Author C.B. Lee is here to talk about A Clash of Steel, which is the first book in the Remixed Classics series where authors from diverse backgrounds take different literary classics from centuries past and reinterpret them. We hear from C.B. about how she approached remixing Treasure Island, setting it in 1800s China with queer main characters. We also celebrate the fifth anniversary of her Sidekick Squad series, including a few hints about the new and final book coming for Spring 2022.
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.
- Meet Cute Diary by Emery Lee on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- #TransBooks365 on Twitter | Instagram
- Romance for Haiti auction website (includes details on the organizations supported and how you can make a direct donation)
- The Will Darling Adventures series by KJ Charles on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Game Changers series by Rachel Reid on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Episode 191 – C.B. Lee’s “Sidekick Squad” Returns on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- C.B. Lee Interview
- C.B. Lee: website | Twitter | Instagram
- A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Remixed Classics series by various authors on Amazon | Libro.fm
- Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Feifei Ruan website
- Descendant of the Crane book cover on Feifei Ruan website
- Last Night At The Telegraph book cover on Feifei Ruan website
- Not Your Sidekick (original edition) by C.B. Lee on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Not Your Sidekick Fifth Anniversary Edition by C.B. Lee on Interlude Press
- Not Your Hero by C.B. Lee on Amazon | Kobo (pre-order through October 11, 2022)
- The Ones We Were Meant to Find By Joan He on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- From Little Tokyo with Love by Sarah Kuhn on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Donut Trap by Julie Tieu on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Cool for The Summer by Dahlia Adler on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Black Boy Joy anthology on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- So Many Beginnings by Bethany C. Morrow on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre order through March 1, 2022)
- What Souls Are Made Of by Taha Suri on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order through July 5, 2022)
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re looking for treasure with author C.B. Lee. as we talk about her latest release, “A Clash of Steel.”
Will: Welcome to episode 331 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance readers. It is so good to have you back for another episode of the show.
Before we get into our conversation with C.B. Lee, we have got some news that we would like to share.
With the goal to celebrate books featuring trans characters and books written by trans authors, Emery Lee, who debuted earlier this year with “Meet Cute Diary,” a book that we both absolutely fell in love with. Emery created the hashtag #TransBooks365. Readers and authors took to social media on August 31st to share their favorite books and authors, and it was so great to see recommendations pop up throughout the day. We want to encourage you to check out Twitter and Instagram for the #TransBooks365 posts and check out for yourself all the books and authors that were shared that day. And to take the opportunity to continue to use that hashtag so that you could put your favorites out there too. It’s really a tremendous way to highlight the books that are featuring trans characters and written by trans authors.
And in one more bit of news. Following the devastating August 2021 earthquake in Southern Haiti, the romance community stepped up in a huge way with the Romance for Haiti auction that supported three relief organizations. Over five days more than $55,000 was raised as people bid on some really amazing items, including from some authors you’ll recognize, including R.L. Merrill, Jason June, Annabeth Albert, Adriana Herrera, Xio Axelrod, Riley Hart, M.A. Grant, Suzanne Brockmann and Roan Parrish.
And there were a couple of incredibly high bids worth noting too. A set of the “Will Darling Adventures” paperbacks from KJ Charles went for $800. Then there’s a signed set of Rachel Reid’s “Game Changers” paperbacks that went for a staggering $1,255.
Really incredible that the romance community came together in such a big way. I do have to say that I was. Well, I was awesomely happy at the $1,200 that those Rachel Reid paperbacks went for. It rapidly got out of my price range. I’m like, she’s auctioning paperbacks, I’m going to go get those. They did not land in my house, but congratulations to the person who did get those.
As I said, it’s really wonderful to see everybody supporting such a good cause.
And now I am so happy that author C.B. Lee is back with us. We talked to her back in June 2019 as she was releasing the third book in the “Sidekick Squad” series, a series that just happens to be celebrating its fifth anniversary this month. In addition to that anniversary, C.B. has a new book out called “A Clash of Steel,” which kicks off the “Remixed Classics” series of young adult books.
“A Clash of Steel” remixes “Treasure Island” and in our interview, C.B. talks about her approach to taking on the classic, setting it in 1800s China with queer characters. It is a really wonderful conversation. And of course, we’re going to talk about that “Sidekick Squad” anniversary as well.
C.B. Lee Interview
Jeff: C.B., welcome back to the podcast, it’s wonderful to have you back with us.
C.B.: Thank you for having me here. I’m so excited to be here to chat with you all.
Jeff: We’re super excited to talk about this book. This week you’re releasing “Clash Of Steel”, which is billed officially as a YA a remix of “Treasure Island.” Tell us about this adventure that Xiang and Anh embark on.
C.B.: Sure. So, a remix, as far as it’s part of a, series called “Remixed Classics,” which takes on a number of, well-known works in literature and, different authors give their spin on it. What we intend by remixing it, it’s not just telling or reimagining cause that framework is thinking about accompanying or what we’re doing is challenging and the story is much more of its own story where I take the concept of “Treasure Island” and use that as a launching point for this adventure.
So, there’s a treasure, there’s a map and there’s an adventure and a Motley crew. So if you look beyond those core beats of “Treasure Island,” I think once you take the setting and just even the main character of Xiang who is a young queer girl in early 18th century, China, then the story changes dramatically, right.
I can’t just do a parallel character for character. Exact oh, who’s this character, what’s the storyline. So her story is her story. And the adventure they embark on is they’re looking for the legendary treasure of Zheng Yi Sao, who is a famous historical figure in real life. One of the most successful pirates of all history. And so, in Western vernacular, she’s most commonly known as Ching Shih. But her treasure is what these girls are looking for. And it’s a journey about not only looking for treasure but finding yourself along the way.
Jeff: How true did you feel you needed to stay with “Treasure Island,” for those who read it or was it just taking those four beats and then really just jumping off from there? Cause you’re obviously in an entirely different time and place than where “Treasure Island” was.
C.B.: My editor, Emily Settle, was very open to pretty much… whatever you want to do. There’s no hard and fast rules for how we want the series to go. It’s your vision.
What I wanted to do is take that emotional, what are the beats that struck me most, what’s important here and also engage with themes and concepts that I don’t think were really engaged with in the original and present them with my own spin.
Truly, there’s a map. There’s a treasure. There’s a ship with a motley crew. And so beyond that, everything else is entirely. I think if you like adventure stories, I think part of the book will speak to you.
It’s pretty much instead of oh, what are we doing to the canon? I’m like, yeah, I’m going to throw the canon into the sun.
Jeff: How did you decide that you wanted to undertake a retelling of “Treasure Island?”
C.B.: So, the “Remix Classics” series, Emily Settle pitched this to me and asked if I’d be interested in taking on a classic. And she kind of explained her vision, and a lot of it came about a lot of criticism of classics. Why are these ones taught in schools? Or why are these the ones that have been upheld as the canon. Right? She was just, like, I’m really interested in your work, and would you be interested in any of these particular classics? I have you in mind for maybe, “Treasure Island,” but if you have something else you’re really interested in.
I’ve always had a fascination with Zheng Yi Sao and her legacy and also a fascination for pirates. And also a lot of my work has to do with queer teens or Asian American teens. And so I was like, you know what? I could work with this. I can take “Treasure Island” and set it and work with Zheng Yi Sao’s legacy and then that is where the kernel of the story began.
So, that really was where I was like, this is a not often told aspect of history. When people think pirates or real life historical figures, they think like Black Beard or Sir Francis Drake. It’s a very like a westernized, romanticized view of pirates in general, and the way they’ve lasted throughout our imagination have been a very specific, a very colonial ideal. Just the American consciousness of, when you think cowboy, you don’t imagine that real life cowboys were men of color, right? Black men and Latinx men and Mexican men who were, part of it and the way it’s been romanticized or remembered is different from how it was.
And so is a lot of historical fiction for that matter, where people are “oh, this isn’t historical.” People consider it an anachronistic if there are people of color in it. And so, getting to write a historical fiction where I get to explore aspects of my identity. Not only my Chinese Vietnamese identity and also my queer identity, getting to write that was incredibly important to me.
Jeff: How long did this book take to write, because it really seems like, you’ve got this China 1826 setting, that gives you an idea of the history you’ve got to go back and look at. And then you’re queering that history to, to be able to present that. What kind of challenges and frankly, maybe some fun research came of all this and how long did all that take?
C.B.: It was pretty challenging, especially with finding sources. A lot of the primary sources about Zheng Yi Sao, about this time and period were from… And you think about history, you think about what do people deem important to write down. A lot of the documentation around this area, maritime history and training, we’re from the perspective of Europeans, people who are doing trade and they’re like what is the value of this people? What is the value of this country? It’s how much I can get out of it, how much I can trade out of it. And a lot of the early documentation about her life was primarily viewing her as a threat, right? Which she was.
She was a woman who basically united all of these pirate fleets together, and at the time was so powerful that the English, the Portuguese, the Ching dynasty, no one could get in and out of the South China Sea with all these pirates or they’re fishermen during regular trade, they needed protection, bribes and stuff. It was such a problem they were like this is a significant threat. We need to deal with this. It was literally the size of a small country.
Unpacking all that, her life, her history, from all of these perspectives about people who didn’t really see her as a person, but as this mysterious force. And it’s fascinating too, right? So I had to reckon with a lot of reading in between the lines. I worked with a translator who helped me look at Chinese documents and maps and understand what was going on. And that was helpful. Doing the research took a long time, but it was fun. And I went on a lot of tangents. And, it’s hard to recognize too, like doing the research. You’re like basically excavating. You’re looking through history, but also understanding that this is a history that people only wrote down what they thought was important, right?
So, aspects of what I was interested in, like what did people do on the boat to hangout? What was every day? What did they eat? What did they wear? How did they feel about these things that were happening? And a lot of that when I think about life in the village or what the marketplace was. A lot of that was drawn from my real life experience, spending time in a small village in China.
My parents, on my dad’s side. I spent a summer as a child in this very small village where people still live like they did a hundred years ago. One, it’s very similar to how they lived couple hundred years ago. So drawing from what that feeling of community was, and then the crowded marketplace, or the floating marketplaces in Vietnam and what that feeling is like.
When you’re writing historical fiction, there’s no actual way to hop into a time machine, and I want to look at this exact what was this place, right? I hunted down out-of-print books on eBay. I read a lot of academic papers. I read the footnotes of footnotes and chased down all these particular sources and looked at the works of Asian-American scholars who were deeply fascinated by this time period.
A lot of love went into, looking at this history, and I hope that readers are inspired to get excited about history that they may or may not have learned about when they’re young.
Jeff: That’s what I love about historical fiction done this way, where you really dig in, but you also, as you noted, you have to read between the lines because queer representation in 1826 was probably not written about very much.
C.B.: Yeah, one of my favorite lines from one of the books that I read was this, European sailor was observing life on this boat. And he was like “the men seem to have no use for women.” And he was just making an observance on like, see they’re all very fond of each other. And sometimes it seems there’s very close partnerships that, act like a marriage. And I was just like gay. What he was observing was they clearly had partners. The observer was just, seems strange that none of these guys in the ship seem to want women. I’m like nope that doesn’t seem strange at all.
Jeff: You noted that you drew on some of your personal history from some of those villages that you lived in. I’ve also seen pictures of you on Facebook documenting some trips. You had one recently where it’s, this is the place that the treasurer from “Clash of Steel” would have been placed, and you were actually there.
C.B.: Yeah. I mean, I was just trying to pick out places that I wanted… I spent some days I did a kayaking trip and I hiked up. I was looking for places that would be good to stash a treasure and filling what would be the riddles that I wanted to place. Which mountain and what it looked like, and what it felt like to do that hike on this island to swim across this. And partly also, because I like adventure, camping and kayaking. So doing that and getting to feed that into the journey of the story was a wonderful experience to get, to be able to have. Doing that particular trip, getting to see those places and instill that experience into my work was, really fun.
I’m very lucky to have gone before the pandemic, not knowing the world would shut down shortly after. Cause it’s probably going to be the last time I’ve traveled internationally for a long time.
Jeff: Had you always had it in your, mind’s eyes somewhere to do a historical?
C.B.: I think I’ve always wanted to, but this was the perfect opportunity to get to explore that. And now that I’ve done it, it’s kind of that first book challenge, right? Once you’ve written a novel, you’re like oh, okay. I did that. That was a big, scary thing, but now I know that I can do it.
And writing the historical was daunting, of course. Cause I was like, I’ve never done this before. How much research do I have to do? But it was so much fun. I felt like I was in grad school again, where I was compiling research and writing a bibliography. And of course the bibliography didn’t make it into the book. I wrote a 30 page, historical notes essay that my editor was like this is beautiful, but there’s so much stuff in this book, we need to cut this.
But yeah, it was, it was a lot of fun, and. I would love to write another historical. I feel like partly having done so much research on this time period, I would probably write at least one more set during this time. But, it definitely opened the door oh, now I know how to do this. I know what I’m doing, I can do this again.
Jeff: I know some people, if you do a lot of research for schoolwork while you’re in college or something, that might set you up to know how to tackle this. Was that the case for you? Or did you have to essentially figure out how to research what you wanted to know as you went?
C.B.: A little bit, I mean, I went to grad school, for environmental science and geology. I was a little all over the place as an undergrad, and then as a grad student in the hard sciences, a lot of doing research involved, also field work. So that was what inspired me to oh, I need to be boots on the ground. I need to touch this rock. I need to get my toes in the sand. I need to feel this water. I need to see with my own eyes with this feels like.
And it’s not something new to me that I did for this book. I did this for “Sidekick” to where a lot of the places that you traveled to in the “Sidekick Squad” universe are inspired by real life places, in the U S national parks. Where the story starts in Nevada. A lot of that is based on my experiences, hiking and traveling and trekking and climbing and in Red Rocks Canyon, Nevada.
“Not Your Villain” takes place in a lot of the Pacific Northwest in the redwoods. And then there’s a lot of wild, vast wilderness places that we see, that are inspired by real life places that I have traveled to them and gotten to see and touch and feel.
Jeff: Beyond grounding readers so well in time and place. The adventure sequences are just exquisite. I mean, in just the prologue alone, you’ve got this big storm at sea and everybody trying to, make sure the ship is secure and all that attention to detail and the descriptions are just kind of mind-blowing to me. It’s like I’m watching a movie on the page and how vivid all that comes to life. And I imagine that that had its own separate research to understand the workings of the boat and how all this would play out. And even, how people are going to move around while they’re trying to secure the boat. How did all that factor into your research?
C.B.: I did get on a boat and I did work on how to tack and jibe. I’ve never worked on a boat during a storm, but it is a lot of watching videos, asking a lot of questions of friends who have sailed and working with my understanding and in the imagination of what would this have felt like? I deeply appreciate that you felt like you were there because I want it to be an immersive experience. But I’m such a kinetic learner that physically turning a boat in doing this particular movement. What does it take to navigate and be part of a team while trying to accomplish a specific goal was very helpful.
Jeff: That’s amazing. I love that you did all these things. That’s so exciting to me. I wish you had a docu series, about the writing of “A Clash of Steel”
C.B.: Next on Discovery Plus, follow this author as they do the research and most of the episodes would be me on the couch. Deep in thought. mmm, yes.
Jeff: You noted in the acknowledgements that your editor told you you could make the story as gay as you wanted. How gay would you say you ultimately made it and what kind of a challenge was that given the time and place? You noted that bit of the history about the men seeming to not need women. How gay is it and how accurate do you think it is?
C.B.: I feel like, queer people have always existed and it was very, very cathartic and fulfilling too write Xiang as queer and get to have her explore that, because I think it’s a very easy thing to forget for queer people today feel like, oh, this is a modern experience. But I think, given the opportunity in the past, people would have identified as such, right?
Doing the research was very interesting too because you look back on even 13, 14th century, there was not a lot of anti homosexuality sentiment. It was very acknowledged that anybody could fall in love with anybody else regardless of gender. And there very deep personal relationships that were formed.
If you go back to Emperor Ai, he had a long-term boyfriend who he tried to make emperor after him. And that’s where the whole legend of the cut sleeve comes from because his boyfriend was taking a nap on his sleeve, and then emperor had to go do some courtly stuff and he was, oh, he looks so cute. I don’t want to disturb him. So he cut his sleeve rather than disturb his lover and then he went to his meeting with his cut sleeve, and that, became a fashion statement. Because other men were like, my gosh, I’m going to cut my sleeve too, to show my dedication to my partner. The term cut sleeve has become a euphemism for, like, queerness.
There’s all these different historical examples about queer people in Asia that have existed. And not just Asia, all over the world, right? Once the Western influence of Christianity and the moral ideals about homosexuality in general, and that started to infiltrate thinking.
And so this time period, 1826, you do see some of that right? Where you have more of that fear. Whereas, a couple hundred years before it would have been, oh yeah if your marriage is an economic partnership and then you can create children from that. But as far as romance, anybody date, anybody,
Jeff: And I love books that point that out. The hangups started later and weren’t always around necessarily. It’s a good message to put out there to people who, don’t know enough history
C.B.: Yeah, and it was really interesting to write it especially on the age of piracy too. On the sea you’re free from the laws of the land, right? You are free from the constraints of society. And there’s a lot of questions that I asked about, why piracy? Why, the ship? Why this this group of outcasts? And what is it about this place that allows them to be themselves?
Jeff: That also brings up such a favorite part of what I like so much about pretty much any queer book is that sense of found family, which in this case is the motley crew on the ship because they’re all right there together.
I always love asking authors what their favorite scene was to write. What is that for you inside “Clash of Steel?”
C.B.: This is a no-brainer. There’s a scene where Anh is teaching Xiang how to fight with the sword. And that was a kind of turning point in the novel for me, where writing that scene was where I was like, this is the heart of the novel. This is the first time that I write on the page “a clash of steel.”
This is a turning point in their relationship where they go from friends, maybe friends who are building their relationship on trust. But it’s also about they’re teaching each other, and it’s about, I’m meeting you where you are right? There swords meet in a clash of steel. It’s a fight, but it’s also a dance. It’s also a journey where they’re building this partnership that I think is kind of a metaphor for the relationship where it’s not just one person giving and other person taking, it’s you parry and you counter them and you bring out the best thing each other. So that scene was my favorite to write probably in this entire book, just cause it’s so fun, and it’s very flirty, and it’s charged with tension, and it’s a sword fight.
Jeff: And its a sword fight, because those are fun anyway.
We have to give a shout out about your cover artists too, because the cover, which if people are watching the video, they can see behind you is just exquisite.
C.B.: Yes. Feifei Ruan is so spectacularly talented. When I heard that she was doing the cover, I was completely blown away. I really loved her work, “Descendant of the Crane” and “Last Night At The Telegraph.” Like, everything that she’s done has been chef’s kiss. So I was, absolutely blown away by her work on this piece.
Jeff: I hope you got a print of the original art without all the words over the top of it, because it’s totally gorgeous.
Besides the terrific adventure and the story that is just inherent to this book, what do you hope readers come away with after they read “Clash of Steel?”
C.B.: I hope people that enjoy the book or read it find what is it that you’re looking for and to define that for themselves. Maybe it’s not something that you set out that you thought you were looking for, but something you found along the way. And also I hope readers feel seen. I hope they feel that they’ve been here. I want young queer teens, particularly, like, Asian American teens or people who feel they’ve never quite fit in to feel they have been present in the past and they deserve to have adventures like this.
Part of writing a historical fiction for me is very validating because it’s hey, I see you you’ve existed in the past because you exist in the present. And I want you to feel you will continue to exist in the future.
Jeff: Well said, and yeah, the representation is so wonderful in this book.
We’ve got another milestone, “Not Your Sidekick” is actually hitting its fifth anniversary, right alongside the release of “Clash of Steel.” It is crazy to believe that was five years ago that the “Sidekick Squad” was introduced to all of us. So major happy anniversary for that.
C.B.: Thank you.
Jeff: How’s it feel to hit that milestone?
C.B.: It’s been really overwhelming. It’s been incredible to think about. “The Sidekick Squad” has such a huge place in my heart because I had no idea, that “The Sidekick Squad” would resonate with so many people and that this journey would be so rewarding.
And so, it’s been a beautiful journey. I’m incredibly thankful to Interlude Press and Duet Books for the opportunity to tell these stories. I’m excited about the new content that I hope readers will enjoy.
I look back on 2016 and thinking about this book, I was who’s going to read this book? Probably my friends and maybe some random people on the internet, but I hadn’t no idea really that there would be so many readers who would find connection with it. And that’s part of what’s really invigorated, my desire to continue telling stories. I have so many feelings wrapped into all of it right? Because we’re both celebrating and I’m writing the last novel in the series. So I have a lot of feelings about having to say goodbye to these characters. But I’m really happy that, there’s a new anniversary edition and I got to share I did a special interview with Annie Harper, my editor for all the “Sidekick Squad” books. And so we got to reminisce and chat about some of our favorite moments and what it’s meant to me as just to be able to write this series.
Jeff: And you mentioned that there’s some special new material that’s come out because there is a special edition of “Not Your Sidekick.” What are some of the things that people, if they pick up the anniversary edition are going to see?
C.B.: So originally, when I first wrote it, every chapter was going to be prefaced with some like in media content, blogger posts or interviews or transcripts of stuff. And so there’s a lot of those in universe snippets are going to be in the books that you get, like Jess’s files from when she was working for Monroe Industries.
You get some other fun secret files from the North American Collective. Maybe a little bit of a, it’s not really a spoiler for books, but I hope it also gets people excited for “Not Your Hero.” Cause there’s snippets about how they’ve been monitoring these kids and then, so you have that bonus content and then the interview as well.
Jeff: That’s super cool. See, now I’m gonna have to update my copy of “Not Your Sidekick” to get this extra material in there.
C.B.: Yeah. I mean, it’s available from Interlude Press and it’s out September 1st. So, highly encouraged readers to, look for that new, special edition.
Jeff: And you mentioned “Not Your Hero” coming summer 2022. What could you maybe tease us about this last book of the series?
C.B.: Sure, it’s an Abby’s perspective and it is the last chapter where the resistance is coming together to take on the new challenges facing them at the end of “Not Your Backup.” So without spoiling “Back Up,” there’s a turning point in their battle for justice.
And “The Sidekick Squad” really has to meet those challenges and Abby who is facing a lot of challenges with her own understanding of her own capabilities, and just the trauma that she’s experienced as a child. And as a young adult fairly recently within the series.
So it’s going to be a lot, it’s been an emotional journey for me writing it. I hope that, readers enjoy it. And it’s going to be a lot about identity and defining who you are. Getting to write, Abby’s story after all of this time has been really exciting because it’s something that I had planned in the back of my mind and then you meet Abby in book one. This is the first time we’re going to be in her head. So I’m excited for readers to get to see her perspective.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m excited about that too. I like how you’ve jumped character to character to character as you’ve done the books that we get somebody’s different perspective in all of these. So I’m really excited to get to Abby’s to close it out.
Was it always planned as four?
C.B.: So when I wrote “Not Your Sidekick,” I pitched it as a the untitled superhero trilogy. And actually it wasn’t even untitled superhero trilogy until after I finished writing “Sidekick,” because I’ve made this too complicated and I can’t finish it in one book. How do you feel about a series? Annie was like yes, that sounds great. So then that’s when the trilogy came out.
And then while writing “Not Your Villain,” I realized that the structure of the trilogy wouldn’t work for having a main cast of four characters, because I really wanted every character to have their own book. So once the through line of Jess, Bels, Emma, and Abby was decided back in 2017 when I was doing “Not Your villain.”
Jeff: And is this for sure it? Or do you see maybe coming back for any other “Sidekicks” spinoffs or anything that you can envision at least at this point?
C.B.: Closing the door for now. We’ll see what happens in the future, if we ever decide to open it again.
Jeff: Was there any whiplash going from “Clash of Steel” to “Not Your Hero” in terms of writing in the past to writing it a slightly distant future of some kind?
C.B.: I always have more than one project going at a time. So I think it’s helpful for my ADHD and my like, if I get stuck on one project. Although, I think part of it’s helpful cause they’re similar stories, but also in some ways, but very different settings. The main characters kind of are very different. But I think in terms of just writing in general, if I were to write completely in one genre forever, I might feel unchallenged or get stagnant. So it’s been fun to be able to bounce between different genres.
Jeff: That is very cool. I’m one of those people I have to just focus on the thing that I’m doing. So I’m always enamored with people who can do multiple projects at the same time and kind of bounce around. I have to start and I have to finish. Otherwise I just kind of short circuit somewhere in the middle of all of it.
We love to get book recommendations. What are some things you’ve read recently that our listeners should take note of and add to their reading list?
C.B.: I would recommend “The Ones We Were Meant to Find” By Joan He. “From Little Tokyo with Love” by Sarah Kuhn and I just finished, “She Who Became the Sun” by Shelley Parker-Chan, which is absolutely phenomenal. “Gearbreakers” by Zoe Hana Mikuta “The Donut Trap” by Julie Tieu. “Cool for The Summer” by Dahlia Adler. “Black Boy Joy,” which is an anthology, that’s a middle grade that just came out. There’s so many amazing books coming out every week I feel like, but those are just some of the titles that I’ve enjoyed in the past, fairly recently.
Jeff: Anything particular about those that have made them stand out for you?
C.B.: I think reading a lot of queer fiction has made me so excited about the concepts people are pulling off and where they’re seeing themselves and the sheer possibility about genre and it’s everything, right?
The sweeping historical drama of 1300’s, China and aura, huge mechs in “Gearbreakers.” Also just finished “These Violent Delights” by Chloe Gong, which is a 1920s remix of “Romeo” and Juliet set in Shanghai.
There’s a lot of work that I’m really excited about that’s coming out from authors every day. And there’s new work that I’m discovering every day as well. So, I think people adding books to their reading list. Oh, definitely also read “So Many Beginnings” that’s coming on September 7th as well, by Bethany C. Morrow, which is another book launching with “A Clash of Steel” and as part of the “Remixed Classics” series.
Jeff: You’ve just damaged. Everybody’s booked budgets. I’m just going to put that out there.
But yeah, so many good books. I agree. It’s, so hard to just keep up because there’s so much, I want to read that, that, that, that, that, that, that, it’s an amazing time to be a reader, for sure.
C.B.: Yeah. Every genre, every mood, there’s a lot of amazing stuff.
Jeff: We talked a little bit about the future with “Not Your Hero” next summer. Is there anything else you can kind of tease on what’s on the horizon for you in the coming months?
C.B.: Sure. I mean, definitely “Not Your Hero,” we’ll be out in 2022 and then in 2023 I have an contemporary fantasy called “A Coffee Shop in an Alternate Universe,” which is about two girls who meet in a liminal coffee shop and their romance plunges them into an impending catastrophe where the multi-verses are colliding. So that’ll be a fun adventure romance.
I’m excited that there’ll be more down the line. I’m excited to tell more stories. Tell more queer stories, and the journey has always been rewarding. I’m excited. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Jeff: I love that you’re taking the basic idea of a coffee shop romance, and then turning it into something where the multi-verses are colliding.
C.B.: There’s so many tropes packed into that book. I’m looking forward to having fun with it.
Jeff: I think you’re the first official book now my 2023 reading list. So looking forward to that.
the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they can get all of your updates as new projects come up.
C.B.: My website is cb-lee.com. People can find me on Instagram and Twitter at cblee_cblee.
Jeff: Perfect. And of course we’ll link to those in the show notes, along with all the books that we talked about.
CB, we wish you the best of success with “A Clash of Steel” and the anniversary edition of “Not Your Sidekick.” And can’t wait to get that new book in 2022 also. Thank you so much for being with us.
C.B.: Yeah, thank you so 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. Don’t forget the show notes page also has links to everything that we talked about in this episode.
Jeff: Also on the show notes page, you’ll find links to the audio books that are available on Libro.fm. Including “A Clash of Steel.” Of course, Libro.fm is the place that when you buy an audio book, you’re also supporting 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. To take advantage of that, simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
And thanks again to C.B. for telling us all about “A Clash of Steel.” There are three other remixed classics to look for. You heard C.B. mention “So Many Beginnings” by Bethany C. Morrow, which remixes “Little Women,” focusing on four young black sisters coming of age during the civil war. That book also releases this week, along with hers.
Coming in March 2022 is “Travelers Along the Way,” which is Aminah Mae Safi’s remix of “Robin Hood” with a band of misfits swept up in Holy Land politics. Then in July 2022 comes “What Souls Are Made Of” by Taha Suri and it’s a remix of ” Wuthering Heights.” I’ve already got “So Many Beginnings” on my Kindle because I love the “Little Women” story so much. And I imagine I’ll be checking out those others next year as well.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday in episode 332, we are joined by American Ballet Theatre principal dancer James Whiteside. He’s going to be talking about his new memoir “Center Center.”
Jeff: It was really incredible talking to James about this book and how he chose the stories to tell about his life as a dancer and a creative.
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 books 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.