Jeff & Will kick off the show with details on an article they wrote for the Frolic website. They also remind everyone to reserve their spot for the Big Gay Fiction Fest coming up on Saturday, December 4.
Author Jenn Burke discusses House on Fire, the latest book in her Ashes and Dust series. Jenn also talks about why she created the spin off from the Not Dead Yet seres. She also shares why she enjoys spreading romances across multiple books, her enjoyment in writing second chance romance, and the twists that she always adds to her paranormal characters to make them her own. In addition, we get a great story about how Jenn and Kelly Jensen got together to write the Chaos Station series.
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.
- Breaking Barriers with Category Romance by Jeff Adams and Will Knauss on Frolic.media
- The Lights on Knockbridge Lane by Roan Parrish on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Big Gay Fiction Fest website
- Jenn Burke Interview
- Jenn Burke: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- House on Fire by Jenn Burke on Amazon | Kobo
- All Fired Up by Jenn Burke on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Not Dead Yet series by Jenn Burke on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Chaos Station series by Jenn Burke and Kelly Jensen on Amazon | Kobo
- Graveyard Shift by Jenn Burke on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Golden Kingdom series by Jenn Burke on Amazon
- The Gryphon King’s Consort by Jenn Burke on Amazon
- Dragon Age: Origins website
- Ottawa Romance Writers website
- Monica Hughes on Amazon
- A Diana Tragrade Investigation series by Mercedes Lackey on Amazon | Libro.fm
- SERRAted Edge series by Mercedes Lackey and Cody Martin on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Blood Ties series by Tanya Huff on Amazon | Kobo
- Moonheart by Charles de Lint on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Jack of Kinrowan series by Charles de Lint on Amazon | Kobo
- Sons of the Fallen series by Jaclyn Osborne on Amazon
- Forensic Files on Netflix
- Cold Case Files on Hulu
- 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, author Jenn Burke joins us to talk about the latest installment in her fated mates series, “Ashes and Dust.”
Announcer Clint: Welcome to the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for readers and writers of gay romance fiction. If you can read it, write it, watch it, or listen to it, these two guys are going to talk about. Now, here are your hosts, Jeff Adams and Will Knauss.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 346 of the podcast. I’m Jeff, and with me as always is my co-host and husband, Will.
Will: Hello, rainbow romance readers. It’s great to have you back for another episode.
Jeff: Before we start the show, we want to note the passing of a very good friend, Clint Rebik. Clint played a big part in our meet cute and our eventual happily ever after. He was also our podcast announcer, the voice of the show, for 150 episodes, including this one. We just want to say, Clint, we love you and you will always be in our hearts.
Will: In lighter holiday news, Jeff and I recently posted an article on frolic.media, featuring our interview with author Roan Parrish about her recent Christmas book, “The Lights on Knockbridge Lane.” We talk about what went into writing this groundbreaking romance. If you’d like to check it out, you can find it at frolic.media or use the link in the show notes.
“The Lights on Knockbridge Lane” is also our book club pick for the month of November. There’s still plenty of time to read this sweet, single dad, guy next door romance before the episode featuring our deep dive discussion goes live on November 25th.
We also want to remind you that there is still plenty of time to sign up for the Big Gay Fiction Fest. Now, as you might recall when we mentioned it the last time, this is the virtual reader convention that we’ve put together to help celebrate some of the irresistible holiday stories that are coming out during the Christmas season. We hope that you’ll join us and our amazing author guests on December 4th.
And if you can’t make it on the day, that’s okay. We get it. Things can get crazy this time of year. Replays will be available to watch any time so that you don’t miss a moment of the celebration of the genre that we all love. But you can’t watch the videos if you don’t sign up first. To learn more about the free event, just go to biggayfictionfest.com. Kind of like the name of our show, but with Fest on the end. So check out biggayfictionfest.com.
Jeff: Before we get to this week’s interview with Jenn Burke, let me tell you that I am glad that I finally picked up one of her books. I took the plunge on “All Fired Up,” which is the first in the “Ashes and Dust” series. And I loved the romance, suspense, all mixed in with some paranormal elements. Jenn’s spin on fated mates was great, especially in the ways that it caused problems for Evan and Colin.
So as the book opens, we find public investigator and vampire Evan doing something he’s not supposed to, work on a case while the bosses are away. It seems that something’s going on at a retreat for paranormals. Some are dying. Some are strangely affected after returning. Evan’s sure he can handle whatever it is, which of course is famous last words.
Evan signs himself up to go. And, since he’s got a history of depression, he could use that to help him gain entrance. What he doesn’t think through though, as the elements of doing the investigation, is that he’s not a typical vampire because he could be out and about in the daylight. But in this case, he has to restrict himself to only nighttime movements because of what he’s told the retreat. Plus he doesn’t have access to the special blood that allows him some extra special powers suffice to say he very quickly gets in over his head.
While he figures out there’s something fishy about the guy at the retreat named Red, who we’ll find out later is actually named Colin, he doesn’t quite know what’s up overall. It’s when he stumbles on some bottling supplies in a barn that he’s not supposed to be in, that he’s captured and given some sort of drug that restricts his abilities. Luckily Evan’s got people on the outside who are watching out for him and they swoop in and rescue him and Colin.
Now what unfolds from there is an intriguing mystery on what exactly was being bottled. Turns out it was an energy drink that carries a magical trigger, which is being used to some very nefarious ends. Of course, I’m not going to give up too many spoilers here, but suffice to say a lot of paranormals are at risk. The team has a lot to figure out and it makes for some great mystery and suspense as they piece that clues together.
Then there’s Evan and Colin. Colin’s been missing and presumed dead for more than 30 years. The last thing he remembers is working a fire because he was a firefighter. He’s got no memory of the intervening years between 1990 and the current 2024. So much has changed, including how gay people are accepted.
Colin was deeply in the closet in 1990 and seeing how much open people are now really throws him for a loop, especially since he’s coming to realize he’s got feelings for Evan and those feelings are definitely reciprocated. It’s an interesting addition to the romance as Colin deals with this new wrinkle in his life. And you’ll hear shortly that Jenn and I talk about this time gap in our interview and I really loved finding out why she had this aspect in the story.
And something else new for Colin, he’s also a paranormal now. As if he didn’t have enough wrinkles in his life.
The love story is great in how Jenn moves it from Colin getting rescued to Colin and Evan both having feelings for each other, while also dealing with the fated mates twist. They’ve ended up with a bond that happens to be magically messed up. They can’t be too far apart physically, because if that happens, there’s a lot of pain and discomfort involved. And of course that means when Colin tries to leave, they find out quickly how bad that can get. It also means that Collin is stuck following Evan around while he does his job.
I really enjoyed how Jenn balanced the romance with the mystery and suspense elements with that added paranormal layer, which while important to the story and who these characters are, we also don’t get bogged down in explanations for how it all works. I got equally into the romance, and what was causing so much havoc in the paranormal community at the same time. And I really appreciated how easy it was to jump into this book since I had not read the “Not Dead Yet” series, which “Ashes and Dust” is spun off from. All the necessary information was offered up when I needed it. And, you know, I love it when that happens because the info dump is no fun.
My TBR has definitely grown yet again, since I’m definitely going to pick up “House on Fire” to see how Evan and Collin are getting along and what the new mystery is. Plus, I very much want to go back and read “Not Dead Yet” to find out more about this world that Jenn has built.
And so now let’s get onto my chat with Jenn. Before we dive into talking about “House on Fire,” we do take a trip back in the way back machine to talk about “Not Dead Yet,” and why she created the series spinoff. We also discuss her love of fantasy and paranormal, why she has written a few stories where the love story actually tracks across multiple books, and we’ll get a few details about what she’s working on next.
Jenn Burke Interview
Jeff: Jenn, welcome to the show. It is so great to have you here, especially on the week that you’re releasing your newest book “House on Fire.”
Jenn: Thanks so much. I’m really happy to be here. This is awesome. It’s my first podcast interview, so that’s pretty exciting.
Jeff: Yeah. We’re excited to be your first. That’s really cool.
Before we dive in to talking about “House on Fire” and even the “Ashes and Dust” series, which it’s part of, let’s jump back a little bit more and set a proper stage because “Ashes and Dust” is a spinoff of “Not Dead Yet.” So let’s zip back there. Tell everybody for those who have it, maybe you picked up “Not Dead Yet” what’s happening there.
Jenn: Okay. So “Not Dead Yet” came about because Carina Press put out a call for paranormal mystery romances back in late 2017, early 2018. And, I saw that and I thought, “yeah, I could do that because I really liked reading those types of books.” So I decided I wanted to write about a different sort of paranormal creature. So instead of doing, focusing on the vampires and the werewolves, which I love, but I wanted to do something a little bit different. And I really like ghost stories, but the problem with ghosts and romances is that they tend to be kind of bittersweet because if you’re a ghost, you’re dead. So how do you have a romance?
So I thought, well, what about a ghost who isn’t a ghost most of the time? He’s a regular guy most of the time. And he has this ability to kind of shift into being a ghost. And so from that I had to kind of had to explain how that happened and all that good stuff.
Then, I wanted to do a second chance romance which is funny because I’ve done two series now that are second chance romance series. And it’s really not one of my favorite tropes to read, but it’s fun to write. Anyway, I wanted to have the love interest in the second chance romance have something really significant happen to him in the time that they were apart. That basically birthed the idea of Wes being this not ghost and Hudson being this detective in the Toronto police force that has this giant secret that comes out in the first book.
And I have to say that it was really fun following the updates that people were making on Goodreads, and when they got to about 30% in the first book kind of going, “Oh my, God, I wasn’t expecting that.” So that was really fun.
Anyway so basically “Not Dead Yet” is a series that set in Toronto that deals with Wes who is operating as, what he likes to call, a recovery specialist. So he’s basically a thief. He can turn into a ghost and go into the other plane, he calls it. And he’s basically invisible to everybody in the other plane, and nobody can see him. And he can sneak into places and kind of come back into the regular world, retrieve something, and then, turn back into a ghost and go through walls and get out of there.
So while he’s on a job, he witnesses a murder. He doesn’t act quickly enough to save the woman who’s being murdered and that guilt follows him for the first little bit. And he decides he needs to call somebody. Needs to bring somebody in who knows about his abilities so that he’s not stuck trying to explain the paranormal or lie his way through things.
So he decides he’s going to reach out to his ex-boyfriend Hudson Rojas. And they had been apart for 33 years at that point. They had dated in the early eighties and Wes being immortal, he still looks like he’s 23, and Hudson now though is in his late 50’s. So they reconnect and as things go on, they find out that there are secrets that Hudson is keeping and Wes has to deal with that and so on. So basically the entire series is there’s a different mystery in each series, but the romance is kind of building through that first series.
Now “Ashes and Dust” came about because one of the characters I introduced in “Not Dead Yet” is Evan Fournier. And he is a guy who is dealing with chronic depression and he’s turned into a vampire.
And there are a bunch of things that happen throughout the series. And at the end of the series, I realized, okay I, can’t leave Evan where he is right now. He needs to have his own series, and he was one of the fan favorite characters. So I wanted to make sure that fans got a chance to see that, yeah, he’s going to be okay. He’s going to have his happily ever after. So that’s basically the two series in a nutshell.
Jeff: I’m fascinated that you say you hate to read second chance. You seem to love to write it?
Jenn: Well, I don’t hate to read it. I do like it, but I find sometimes it’s. It depends on how it’s done because sometimes second chance romance can be really bittersweet because there’s all this time that they’ve missed.
And, especially when you’re dealing with a contemporary romance and so you don’t have immortal characters and it doesn’t matter how much time they missed, because they’re going to have so much time together. But when you’re dealing with a contemporary romance and they’ve been apart for 20 years, then it’s kind of bittersweet, they’ve missed out on a lot of things that they could have experienced if they’d only communicated or if they’d only given each other a second chance way back when.
So that’s what I find interesting. So writing it, and I don’t set out to write second chance romances generally, it’s just it kind of developed with the “Chaos Station,” which was the first one that I wrote with Kelly Jensen. And that’s very much a second chance romance as well, and then “Not Dead Yet.” So it’s interesting.
Jeff: And I like how you multiplied the trope-y goodness that was going on because in the case of “Not Dead Yet”, you also made an age gap in the long run because 23 and 55, they’re kind of the same age and yet kind of not.
Jenn: What’s really funny about it is that, so Wes seems to be 23 and Hudson is 58, but Wes is actually 113. So it’s because he died in 1933. So it’s been 80 some odd years that he has been “not ghost” as I call it. So when you see the characters physically, they look like Hudson’s the older one, but actually Wes is about 50 years older than he is.
Jeff: You just tweaked it a little bit more there.
Now you hinted a little bit at what “Ashes and Dust” is about because it’s Evan’s story. Tell folks a little bit more about that and bridge us into the new book with “House On Fire.”
Jenn: Sure. At the end of “All Fired Up” the big twist at the end is that Hudson’s brother, who knows nothing about the paranormal, is coming to stay with Hudson and Wes and Evan and live in their big house in Toronto.
So this is something that they’re having to deal with. The entire found family who are all paranormal creatures or know about the paranormal, suddenly have this mundane human living with them that they need to keep everything secret because he had a health scare and this is why he’s coming to live with them. So they, they’re really kind of tiptoeing around things.
The other thing there is that people who have read “Graveyard Shift” will know that one of the characters that shows up there, Hudson’s niece, so that’s his brother’s daughter, faked her death to protect her father. So she’s living in Toronto. Now her father, who doesn’t know she’s still alive, is living in Toronto. So there’s also that secret that they are trying to deal with and figure out.
So that’s kind of like the stage for what’s happening with Evan and Colin. So there everybody is sort of on eggshells. Evan and Colin are still dealing with their messed up bond that was formed in “All Fired Up” where they’re kind of bonded together. So it’s like a twist on the fated mates idea that they’ve got this soul bond that’s sort of happened, but they can’t be apart. It’s formed incorrectly. So they can’t be more than a few kilometers apart. And if they are then they each are incapacitated by pain and all that, you know, fun stuff.
So one of the things that Evan especially is dealing with is understanding that Colin, he’s not kind of as independent or autonomous as he wants to be because of this bond. In his past life he was a firefighter. He was used to being active. He’s used to doing things. And now he’s sort of been reduced to following Evan around as Evan does his job. And Evan realizes that this is not a good thing.
So actually I have a funny scene near the beginning of the book where Evan is trying to figure out what type of job Colin might be interested in by doing this online aptitude test. But he’s kind of couching it as a get to know you better questionnaire and Colin figures it out, but he plays along. That’s kind of amusing.
So yeah, so that’s basically where they’re starting. So they’re trying to live with having this messed up bond that’s tying them together, and trying to figure out a way forward with that. And then of course there’s another paranormal mystery that they have to solve. This time dealing with videos that are showing up that seem to show people shifting into different animals or vampires being vampires and that sort of thing. So that’s basically the main driver of the book for the paranormal side.
Jeff: I really like how you parsed out in “Ashes and Dust” what somebody who hadn’t read, “Not Dead Yet” needed to know to get into the world because I started with “All Fired Up.” And yet you gave me all of the good stuff like who these people are. And I got oriented really quickly into the universe while also focusing on Evan which I always, hesitant to maybe jump into the middle, especially of a paranormal or a fantasy series of some kind, and you made that easy. So I appreciate that very much.
Jenn: That’s awesome to hear. Actually I have to give a lot of credit to my editor, Deb Namath. I’ve worked with her since the very first “Chaos Station” book. And she is fantastic at poking me to just drop in stuff, explanations of things when needed, instead of just doing a big info dump.
She’s been like fantastic with that and helping me with that. So, cheers to Deb. She’s awesome.
Jeff: Big thumbs up to Deb.
I like how you played with time in “All Fired Up” too. And it’s a little bit like how you’ve mentioned did “Not Dead Yet” because Colin has a big gap of time between the eighties and the modern day, where the book is happening.
That’s an interesting juxtaposition amongst everything else going on too, without giving too many spoilers away for those who haven’t read “All Fired Up.” What’s it like for you as an author to play with time and ages of people and kind of their perceptions of the reality around them?
Jenn: That’s a really good question. It can be a lot of fun because I can revisit stuff from my childhood or that time. So, not giving any of the reasons, but basically the last year that Colin remembers is 1990 in “All Fired Up,” and the book is set in 2024. It’s five years after the events of “Graveyard Shift,” the last book of “Not Dead Yet” series So I, kind of threw myself back to 1990 in my head. I was at, just starting high school and the world back then was so different. And, just so much has changed in a really small amount of time when you really think about it.
Like the communication has changed so drastically and somebody coming from 1990 in to even 2021, and we’re carrying around these tiny little cell phones that, they’re basically computers that we can keep in our pocket. Even from the 1990s that was weird.
I remember around that time. My dad was a real estate agent and he had a car phone. Anybody remembers car phones? And we thought that was the greatest thing ever. And then they started coming out with the little handheld cell phones, the Nokia stuff. And I remember thinking at the time that why would anybody ever want a phone that you carry with you? I mean, all you would need is a phone in your car. It’s not like you need to call somebody when you’re in the store. And just, I remember so clearly thinking that and having that discussion with my dad. And so being able to take that sort of memory and put it into a book where the character is going to be feeling a similar way is so much fun.
The flip side of that is, like the not great side is that the attitudes in the early nineties were so different towards people who are LGBTQ. Just the horrors that, we’re dealing with. The AIDS crisis, HIV. I remember, being in high school, learning about that and being terrified.
And I can only imagine what, gay men, bi men, LGBTQ people were feeling at that time. So I wanted to address that as well, because that would be a huge, shaping element to someone who came of age in the late seventies and grew up, their twenties going through the period of the 1980s and into the nineties. I wanted to make sure that was captured in there too, because it’s, it would be an entirely different attitude than somebody, who came of age in the 2010s or even coming into, the 2020s.
So, that was like the fun thing that I could deal with Colin, you know, the technology advances and then without getting into a lot of detail, because i feel that’s not really my story to tell about that kind of experience, but I did want to make sure that it was partially, or at least touched upon in the book, because I think it’s a huge reality to what people were dealing with at that time. Then you have that huge, the 34 years that’s missing for him, so he doesn’t have that evolution of how things came to be. The fact that there are medications available now for HIV that 30 years ago, we couldn’t even dream of.
That’s just, it’s the two things that I really wanted to make sure that I covered with him.
Jeff: Yeah. I really like how Evan essentially coaches him, into what is now and what has changed over time, because Colin for a while is not out and is nervous about being out and then, everything going on with the AIDS crisis.
And like you said, you didn’t focus on that, the misery and those aspects of it, but you did help him kind of get through and come into the present day feeling that things were okay, and that he could be himself once he kind of, parsed all that in his head, cause that’s not an insignificant thing to, parse out that it’s 20 something years later for you.
I really enjoyed that kind of aspect of the book that it just wasn’t pushed under the rug if you will that not only is there the technology thing, but just the cultural shift as well.
Jenn: Yeah, exactly, because there’s significant. He missed, 9/11. He missed how the world changed. And yeah, it’s one of those things that it’s kind of fun to, to sit there and think of, okay, well, what did he miss in all the time? He missed the first Gulf war.
It’s these things that have shaped the world. And so he’s basically, a man out of time. And trying to deal with all of that is huge. So yeah it’s fun. It’s challenging. And it’s definitely something that, I wouldn’t want to do it in every book, but I think this particular character and this particular story, it was really good.
Jeff: And along with how you play with time, how do you decide the paranormal creatures you’re going to use in the story? I mean, Obviously the ghost is a great one when you’re kind of dealing with somebody who could do a heist rather easily in a lot of ways, right? But you know, you’ve got a lot of different creatures in play through the series. How did you come up with those and how to utilize them within the series?
Jenn: So a lot of it comes down to, with putting my own twist on paranormal creatures that people recognized. And then throwing something in there that’s a little bit different. So like for example, we have shifters. In my world, shifters choose the form they want to shift into. They can shift into any form they want to, any animal. But their clans tend to adopt a form and that’s the form that they shift into all the time. A little teaser. I play with that in the third book. So that’s coming out in May. So that was a lot of fun.
Vampires, aren’t actually dead in my world. They kind of switch from using life magic to blood magic at the moment just before they die. So this is why they still need to eat food. So that’s a little twist that makes them kind of my own vampires. And then we’ve got the witches. The big thing with them is that they can’t use magic for their own personal gain.
So that’s a big thing in the first book of “Not Dead Yet” series where, they’re trying to figure out how these witches are using magic for their own personal gain, because they’re not supposed to be able to do that. So these are all the kind of the rules that go along with my creatures. And I always come up with a limitation. For every creature that I create, what’s their limitation because there has to be something. They can’t be all powerful. The things that were a little bit different though, were Wes being the not ghost, and he’s the only one in existence. And, how that came about and all that good stuff. And, how his abilities operate.
then in “All Fired Up” there’s Colin and it was a little bit different because I wanted to come up with something. And, I’m trying really hard not to spoil what Colin is cause that’s…
Jeff: I wasn’t going to say those words.
Jenn: Because that’s part of the fun of the first book. So if you haven’t read the first book, I’m going to try really hard not to spoil it right now.
So with Colin, he’s something unique as well and I wanted to, like when I was thinking about what I could, throw in there that was a little bit different, in previous books I’ve done a dragon shifter. So in my “Golden Kingdom” series, the first book in that series, “The Gryphon King’s Consort,” there are gryphon shifters. And that was a lot of fun to do. But I didn’t want to do gryphon. Dragons are a lot of fun, but they’re they’re… I don’t want to say they’re overdone, but they’re done a lot.
So I didn’t want to go there. I did dragon shifter in the second book in the “Golden Kingdom” series. So I wanted to come up with something else. So I did. Something out of mythology. It’s a little bit different. And I put my own twist on it too. So it’s not what you expect. And that’s basically kind of a theme for me when I’m writing paranormals. I want to make it my own.
I want it to be different. I want people to come into it and recognize what they’re reading, because that’s part of the fun of the paranormal. Like you, you have expectations about, werewolves or wolf shifters or whatever type of shifter. But I want to throw my own little twist, my own little characteristics in there to make it mine so that what they’re reading in my books is different enough from other books that they can recognize it as being Jenn Burke and not somebody else.
Jeff: You mentioned another book coming and “Ashes and Dust,” next year. Is there anything you can kind of tease us about what’s going to happen there that won’t give anything away from “House On Fire”.
Jenn: So it’s called “Out Of the Ashes”. That’s the third book. Right now it’s going to be the last book in the “Not Dead Yet” universe.
I’m not going to say I’ll never write in this universe again, because I might. We’ll see what the characters have to say. But it is the third book in the series of “Ashes and Dust.” And it’s basically dealing with the aftermath of what happens at the end of “House On Fire”.
So there is a little bit of a cliffhanger at the end of “House On Fire”. But I promise that there is a happily ever after “Out of The Ashes”, so don’t worry. Don’t send me any hate mail. It’s… there’ll be happily ever after I promise.
Jeff: It is the Carina promise too. It has to be.
But what I will say is the final chapter that I wrote in “Out of The Ashes” is probably one of my favorite chapters I’ve ever written in any of my books, because it is such a wonderful closing the circle of Evan’s story. The story that started in “Not Dead Yet”, even though he wasn’t the focus of the series. His emotional arc was really important to that series. And being able to bring him from where he was when you first meet him in “Not Dead Yet” where he’s this despondent guy who’s dealing with depression, like a huge amount of depression, and he’s continuing to deal with that and learning to live with it and bringing him to a point where you know, that he’s okay. That he’s going to go forward and be okay.
And that was so satisfying as an author to be able to do that. I wrote that chapter and I was just so happy at where it ended up. So that’s my tease. It doesn’t really say anything about the plot except it ends really well. So that’s really what you can, all you can ask for from a romance book, right?
I love how you take and this, happened in “Not Dead Yet.” This happens in “Ashes and Dust.” It happens in “Chaos Station” where you take these romances and you spread them out and you really give them room to breathe, which is not to take anything away from the series that are, this pairing, then this pairing. But, I really like it when things get that spread out space. And you seem to do that a lot. What is it for you about staying with the characters over those extended periods rather than the series that are more this pair, this pair, this pair.
Jenn: So kind of funny. After we finished writing “Chaos Station”, which was five books in 18 months, which I don’t recommend to any authors to do.
It was a crazy schedule. They came out very quickly and I think that helped the series, especially because Kelly and I were really new. But anyway, after we wrote that series, I swore up and down that I would never write another series that follows the same characters over multiple books, and then I go and do it for another two series.
So part of what I really like about it is exactly what you said. You give the romance a chance to breathe. I think, when you’re writing sub genre of romance where you’re writing science fiction romance, when you’re writing paranormal romance. Sometimes that really helps to balance out the elements that aren’t the romantic elements.
You’re not trying to rush a romance because sometimes you can’t, depending on what you’re dealing with in the rest of the plot, sometimes the romance has to take a little bit of a backseat. You can’t or you shouldn’t, if they’re in the middle of a car chase or something, they’re not going to stop and kiss and, have a really heart to heart talk about their emotions and all that good stuff.
You have space, like you said, over the course of multiple books to kind of continue building on that romance. Like in “Chaos Station,” in the first book, we re-introduced Zed and Felix, so they kind of had to figure out who they were in relation to each other in that book. In the second book, they’re dealing with the fallout of the experimentations that happened to Zed and figuring out can they be together and overcoming the challenges with that?
The third book is really about solidifying their relationship after the fallout of book two. And then the fourth book they’re feeling pretty good. They’re solid in the fifth book is the happily ever after. So if we had tried to give them the happily ever after in the first book, it wouldn’t have worked. There’s too much other plot that we needed to cover. So that’s part of it.
And it’s the same thing with “Not Dead Yet” series. In “Not Dead Yet” Wes and Hudson had been apart for 33 years, so you’ve got a cover a lot of time apart. And then there’s, the major change that happened to Hudson while they were apart, dealing with that. There in a good place at the end of that book, but there not a hundred percent sure of each other.
And so that’s where I was going with book two and book three is really kind of solidifying the relationship between the two of them. And again, I don’t think I could have done that in the first book and still told the paranormal element of the story that I wanted to tell.
And it was the same thing with Evan and Colin. Their story was never going to fit in one book. There was too much for them to get over. Colin has, all of his baggage that he has to get over the fact that he’s missing 34 years and all the stuff that happened. And then with Evan, there was all the things that happened at the end of “Graveyard Shift” and him getting over, or evolving to the point where he’s ready to have a relationship with someone.
It was really about giving the romance the space it needed to develop as well as tell the paranormal arc that I wanted to tell.
Jeff: And so maybe you’ll do this again sometime where you spread things out a little bit cause it sounds like it works certainly when one of these instance.
Jenn: Yeah. Yeah. And I do enjoy it.
And I think part of it my, my reluctance to do it was the five books in 18 months and, you know, on top of that, learning all the ropes of being a new author and all the little, the editing missteps that we had. It was just, there was a lot that happened in that 18 months.
And by the end of it, I think I was just ready to take a break. But yeah, so it’s not a never say never. When I’m thinking of doing series, I tend to start with doing one couple over the series. I do have one that I’m thinking of that is going to be multiple couples and it kind of struck me as I was plotting it, that I was trying to plot these books with the one couple and it wasn’t working. So then I switched it to multiple couples and suddenly it was working. It basically, it’s all about the story, what the story needs. I need to listen to it.
Jeff: It’s amazing to me that as you were starting out, you did a five books series in 18 months. You’re, co-writing also, so you’re being a new author and learning how to co-write and everything that kind of goes with that. That was a lot.
Jenn: Yeah. Well, so they’re a little bit of a history there with Kelly and I. We actually met in 2009 through a video game. She and I both played a game called “Dragon Age: Origins” by BioWare. And we were absolutely obsessed with it and it was a single player game. So we didn’t meet through the game itself, but we went to the forums to chat about the game and the characters and the plot and all this good stuff.
And so we happened to meet each other there and we talked about characters and then we actually moved into doing a play by post role-playing forum. So we were writing characters based in this world. And so it was kind of like writing fan fiction together. So we actually had a background of writing together for quite a few years.
And one day, we had done this epic storyline with these original characters set in this world and we were chatting and I said to her, you want to write a book? And she’s okay. So we wrote a book. And it was a male, female dark fantasy romance. And it will probably never see the light of day. But it was a lot of fun.
And after we finished writing that book, I said, do you want to write another book? She said, yeah. And that was “Chaos Station.” We had already been writing together for a while, so it was just kind of a next kind of evolutionary step for us to put the story together and, try to sell it.
Carina Press was the first place that we shopped it to and they offered us a five book series. A contract for a five books series. So yeah, it was a big surprise. But, it was awesome because working with Carina Press is fantastic.
Jeff: That is a great story. I like how the video game and just meeting at a forum started the whole kind of machine going forward from there. And really awesome that you learn how to be co-writers in that scenario when you hadn’t really been writers separately before that so much.
Before you got into like creating that fiction with Kelly in that scenario, was the writing and your background? Had you thought about being a writer at some point in the past?
Jenn: Yeah. I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I kind of credit my grade six teacher with kind of planting that seed. He had us write a story for our English class and then he took the story and had us make a cover for the papers. I think I even printed it on like our dot matrix printer. This was back in the day, like late eighties.
So he had us create covers on Bristol board and he actually had the covers laminated, and then he had the stories bound so that it was an actual book. The stories were like maybe 20 pages. But it was really cool, and it was one of those things that just kind of stuck with me that, hey, I could maybe do this.
So that just kind of continued through school. So I wrote a novel in grade eight. We had to write a journal, but I decided to write like chapters of stories instead of this book. So the book in grade six was about a unicorn. The book and grade eight was about a magical horse. So there’s a little bit of a theme going on there. I was a kid, a little girl who loved horses. And then I just continued writing all the way through high school and actually up here in Ontario, we had a grade 13 in high school. So for grade 13 I had to do an English assignment, independent study, and it was actually trying to get my novel published.
That’s what I did. Nobody wanted it, which was fine. It was terrible. That was this kind of thing. Like I always wanted to actually pursue writing, but I thought, you know what, I’m never going to make a living at it. So I better come up with a different idea.
For my day job, I started doing proofreading and editing and worked my way into web communications, but the writing was always there. I always wanted to do it. Back when my daughter was born in 2004, I was off. So I tried writing then. I kind of got somewhere with it, but, you know, not great. So when Kelly and I met, that was actually really great because I was still able to do the writing with her, but I had left behind the pressure of trying to write for a publication.
And I really got back into enjoying the writing and having fun with it. And then, I think we were both ready when I said, you want to write a book? I think we were both ready to give it a shot. It just, worked out, really well.
Jeff: What led you to wanting to write romance?
Jenn: So I didn’t start out. When I was writing all through school and when I was a teenager and later on, I wasn’t writing romance. It was when my mum actually introduced me to reading romance and I was in, I think it was in my late teens, maybe in my twenties. And I got hooked on the Silhouette Shadows line. I don’t know if anybody remembers that. But it was a category line of these paranormal romances put out under the Silhouette name. I think it was Harlequin at the time.
Jeff: I think it was, yeah.
Jenn: Yeah. So I found them in, like, used bookstores a dollar or whatever. So I would just grab 20 of them at a time and all the ones I think I read all of them by the end of it.
And it really got me thinking like, okay, I could do this, I could write this. And so at one point years ago, I joined the Ottawa Romance Writers Association and started learning from them and, getting to know the industry a little bit better and kind of refining my skills. Then I took the break when Kelly and I were having fun playing Dragon Age and doing, role-playing and fanfiction and all that good stuff. And then, got seriously got back into it in the mid like around 2013, 2014.
Jeff: Was “Chaos Station” always designed to be an m/m romance? You mentioned the first book that you keep in the drawer was m/f and then “Chaos Station” became, m/m. How did you both decide to go with queer characters?
Jenn: So that actually goes back to the video game, as well. So when in my reading up to that point, I really hadn’t been exposed a lot to LGBTQ characters. I didn’t even realize that there were books out there like that. I knew that there was fan fiction.
But I think I was a little bit past the curve on the fan fiction era. I was a little bit older when that became a big thing in Live Journal and all that stuff. I just, I wasn’t involved in it. But I really do credit BioWare with kind of introducing me to media with gay characters, bi characters, that sort of thing.
They’re really well known for adding diversity into their video games. And not as much as some people would like. And way more than other people, of course. That’s the way it goes. But they really kind of exposed me to the idea of this adventure story that features characters that are male and they’re having a relationship.
And yeah, there’s a lot of choice involved. If you’re playing a male character and you want to romance the male character, you can, or you can romance a female character. But the fact that it was built in that, this could be something that people could experience was really interesting to me.
When Kelly and I were doing the role playing, we actually were role-playing characters who were best friends, childhood best friends, and separated by war. And then they got back together and realized they want it to be lovers. And that was really the storyline, that inspired “Chaos Station.” This role-playing storyline that we had put together with these original characters.
When we wrote “Chaos Station,” it was always intended to be male, male. At the time we were brand new to that category of book. We didn’t really know that there was much out there. That was 2014 that we were writing it.
So that really kind of opened us up to, this whole world of male, male romance that’s out there and it’s so varied and amazing. And we really felt that the story that we were telling, I mean, it’s set 250 years in the future where who you love shouldn’t be an issue. And we really wanted to make sure that we encapsulated that in the story. You know, we wanted to have these two characters who were in love with each other and it was no big deal.
So that was really important to us.
Jeff: And it sounds like the fantasy and even the paranormal has been with you since you were a child. Cause you mentioned, that first story was a unicorn and then there was the magic horse. What drew you into paranormal so much versus any contemporary setting?
Jenn: That’s a good question. I honestly, as far as I come back, as I can remember, I’ve loved the stories that have, the science fiction elements or the magic elements or the paranormal elements. When I was a kid, I was reading Monica Hughes, which I don’t know if anybody knows her, but she was a Canadian author who wrote young adult. A lot of them were female main characters, which was, as growing up as a girl that was fantastic and they’re having adventures and they were, going to under sea colonies and solving mysteries, or they were living on another planet with only a robot for companion or, stuff like that.
that kind of shaped it, and then when I got into my teens, I discovered Mercedes Lackey and her “Diana Tragarde” novels were just mind blowing to me. The fact that she created a world that seemed like it could be real with all these magical elements. Like it was just kind of a, “oh, of course it would be like that” sort of thing.
Loved those books. Absolutely devoured them like crazy. Same with her “SERRAted Edge” series, which was a lot of fun. So it was basically elves that raced cars and their cars were actually their horses because they couldn’t be around iron. So there was a whole world that she built on that, but it was also in the real world. So that was really interesting.
And then from there I started reading Tanya Huff. So Tanya Huff is in case you don’t know, is…
Jeff: “Blood Ties.”
Jenn: Yeah, “Blood Ties” was amazing. But she’s Canadian author. And so her “Blood Ties” series kind of showed me that, there could be a paranormal series or an urban fantasy series that’s set in Canada. It’s one of those things that Americans probably don’t really get that a lot where, because so many of the stories are set in the States, but for a Canadian to see Canadian settings with that sort of thing. It’s really sort of, “oh, this is awesome.” You know, you have that little extra bit of, thrill which is one of the reasons why I set all of my paranormal stuff in Canada. So I really credit, Tanya Huff for showing me that.
And then there’s Charles de Lint on the same level and yet not. Like his “Moonheart” and “Jack the Giant-Killer.” “Jack of Kinrowan,” I think, is the name of the series. Those are set in Ottawa where I live just outside of Ottawa. I grew up in Ottawa. Seeing settings that I know, like I could go find this theoretical house on this theoretical corner and I know exactly where it could be. It’s all of that sort of, the layers of the possibilities on top of the real world. And that always has really spoke to me.
And that’s what I try to do in my stories too. I like to have these secret kind of communities that exist within the real world so that people, as they’re reading, they can have those moments of, oh, wouldn’t it be cool? Wouldn’t it be neat if I could meet somebody like Wes? Or, if I could use magic or I could shift into a wolf? O,r you know, just so that they have that sort of experience as they’re reading.
Jeff: You mentioned with use of the paranormal creatures that you always look to put your kind of twist on those. What else would you say kind of make up the trademarks of a Jenn Burke story?
Jenn: Adventures. Happily ever afters. I lik to entertain. I want readers to have a good time. I want them to enjoy what they’re reading. That’s not to say that I don’t get into some dark themes because I do. Evan, especially he’s a character with some darkness in his past, like personal, dealing with his own demons sort of thing. But I really want to have people go on an adventure. Go on solving a mystery. Being the good guy, defeating the bad guy.
That’s really what I want people to enjoy. That’s the type of stuff I like to read. I like to read these heroic sort of romantic adventures and I think probably if I had to say, if somebody was looking for a particular archetype, character archetype in my books, I would say you’re probably going to find a tarnished white knight.
So like Hudson, very much tarnished white knight. He’s the guy who wants to do things right, but he’s messed up in his past and it kind of haunts him. Zed is the same kind of character in “Chaos Station” where he’s done bad things for the right reasons. That just seems to be a character archetype I go back to a lot, just because I like it so much. I like to be able to have this heroic guy who’s screwed up, in the past and he hasn’t always done the right thing, but he wants to. So yeah, so that’s what you’re going to find in a gender book, adventures, happily ever afters and probably a night in tarnished armor.
Jeff: What’s something you’ve read recently that you would recommend to our listeners.
Jenn: Actually, I picked up a book by Jaclyn Osborn recently called “Galen.” And it’s in her series “Sons Of the Fallen”. And it’s about these seven half angel they’re kind of brothers, but they’re not really blood brothers, but they’ve formed this family.
And they’re the sons of the first angels that fell when Lucifer had his war on the world. So they’re half angels and they all represent one of the seven cardinal sins. So in the first book, Galen is the representation of wrath. He’s always got this anger that he’s dealing with. And so he’s like the epitome of the grumpy one. And then he’s ends up trying to protect a antique shop owner who’s like the epitome of the sunshine one. So that was a lot of fun.
The second book is called “Castor.” That was also a lot of fun. And I think the third book will be out shortly. And I can’t remember the name of it off the top of my head, but so the series is the “Sons Of The Fallen” by Jaclyn Osbornen. It was a lot of fun, again, it’s that adventure sort of thing, and it’s guys who like to walk around shirtless because they have wings.
Jeff: And if you needed any other reason that would work perfectly.
You teased us a little bit about that third “Ashes and Dust” book next year. Is there anything else you can kind of share with us about what’s coming up next for you?
Jenn: So I have a secret project in the works right now. I can’t really say anything about it, but I’m sure that news will be coming out in the next few months on that one. The other thing I’m working on, the next book I’m working on is a psychic and a cold case detective. And I like to call this one my pandemic novel because at the beginning of the pandemic, I basically watched nothing but true crime, especially like “Forensic Files” and “Cold Case Files” and that sort of thing, and HGTV. I mean, there was nothing in between. It was one of those two things. So at one point, I thought, how am I going to blend these two into a book?
So the psychic is actually a house flipper. He works for renovations company. And then the cold case detective has to come and talk to him about the house that he’s renovating, that they need to find a girl that went missing 20 years before. So they’re starting out at the house that she used to live at. So that’s how they connect.
Anyway, that’s a lot of fun. So that’s something I’m going to be working on over the next month and we’ll see where that goes. It’s just something I’m working on right now.
Jeff: Sounds really fun though, all that blended together.
Jeff: So where can people keep up with you online to get details on the secret project and to find out everything else that’ll be coming up later.
Jenn: Yeah, so everybody can have a look at my website, www.jennburke.com, J E N N B U R K E.Com. All of my social links are there. You can find out about my books. You can find my very much neglected blog, and that will have links to my Twitter, my Instagram, and my Facebook. That’s probably the easiest way for people to find me to make sure you’re following the right Jenn Burke.
Jeff: Well, thank you so much for spending some time with us. Wish you all the success as “House On Fire” comes out and look forward to reading more from you too.
Jenn: Great. Thanks so much for having me. It was a lot of fun.
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. The show notes page also has links to everything that we’ve 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 Jenn’s “Not Dead Yet” and “Ashes and Dust” series. 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. For details, and to take advantage of that offer, simply go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
And thanks again to Jenn for coming to talk to us about “House on Fire.” Of course I loved hearing about “Not Dead Yet” and “Ashes and Dust,” but I have to say the story about how she met Kelly Jensen and came to write the “Chaos Station” books with Kelly has to be one of my favorite stories on how co-writers ended up coming together. And it makes me want to read those books even more now.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday in episode 347 author Jeris Jean joins us to talk about her brand new series, “Coleridge Cliffs.”
Jeff: Now you all know, we fell in love with Jeris’s writing with her “Hollywood Hopefuls” series, and with this new series debuting next week, with the book “Romantic Hero,” it’s the perfect time to have her on the podcast to talk about her writing.
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.