Author E.J. Russell has written several holiday stories over the years and she’s recently released a box set of shorts called Christmas Kisses, which is also available as an audiobook narrated by Kirt Graves. E.J. and Kirt discuss the new collection, and all of the holiday magic it contains. (Note: When this was part of the Fiction Fest ticketed event, the full audiobook of An Everyday Hero was included. Now that this interview is available widely, that has been removed.)
This Big Gay Fiction Fest presentation is only available on YouTube.
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.
- E.J. Russell & Kirt Graves Spotlight
- E.J. Russell: website | Reality Optional Facebook Group | Twitter | Instagram
- Kirt Graves: website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Christmas Kisses by E.J. Russell, narrated by Kirt Graves on Amazon
- Christmas Kitsch by Amy Lane on Amazon
- All Through the Night by Suzanne Brockmann on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Merry Cherry Christmas by Keira Andrews, narrated by Kirt Graves on Amazon
- Fire and Brimstone Scrolls series by Nikole Knight, narrated by Kirt Graves on Amazon
- Weavers Circle series by Jocelynn Drake & Rinda Elliott, narrated by Kirt Graves on Amazon
- Kiki Clark on Amazon
- Enchanted Occasions series by E.J. Russell, narrated by Kirt Graves on Amazon
- Quest Investigations series by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Silent Sin by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Supernatural Selection series by E.J. Russell on Amazon
- Mythmatched series by E.J. Russell on Amazon
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow romance readers. Author E.J. Russell and narrator Kirt Graves teamed up this year to turn three of E.J.’s short stories into the collection “Christmas Kisses.” I got to talk with E.J. and Kirt about this collection and the recording of the three stories that are in “Christmas Kisses. We also get some of their favorite moments from the collection.
Featured Guests: E.J. Russell & Kirt Graves
E.J. and Kirt, welcome. We’re so glad you could join us for the very first Big Gay Fiction Fest as we celebrate the holidays for 2021.
E.J.: Hi, Jeff. So happy to be here.
Kirt: Thanks for having us.
Jeff: We’re excited to have you both here and E.J. you’ve made Will so happy because you’ve boxed up your holiday stories. He loves all three of the stories that have made “Christmas Kisses”, but for those who aren’t familiar with these stories, please tell us about what’s in this box set.
E.J.: Well, it includes three stories that were previously published and Will read all of them. And I was so thrilled that he liked them so much.
“The Probability of Mistletoe,” “An Everyday Hero” and “A Swants Soiree.” They’re unrelated although at one point I was considering maybe adding a little coda to the first two that was sort of daisy chain them together. But then I decided no, just let them hang out on their own.
They’re all opposites attract. All of them are low heat. They essentially end with first or nearly first kisses which is where I come up with the collection title. ” The Probability Of Mistletoe” is estranged best friends reunited, but the other two are couples who they meet for the first time in the stories under sort of, you know, help my hair’s on fire kind of personal disasters on the part of one character and the other guy who comes to his rescue.
Jeff: Personal disasters, just exactly what you don’t want during the holiday season, if ever.
You’re also putting these out on audio for the first time. What was it like for you hearing Kirt, bring life to these stories?
E.J.: I was so fortunate to have Kirt for this project. He has this wonderful light touch that’s perfect for these stories. So as I was proofing them, I basically got to just, you know, sit there and chuckle along with them as though they weren’t even my words.
Jeff: That’s kind of magical as long as you don’t forget, you’re actually having to proof at the same time, because I’ve had that issue before you’re just listening and you’re like, but wait, I’m supposed to be listening for things.
E.J.: Well, luckily Kirt provides such clean files that there’s virtually nothing to find. So it’s all good. Very enjoyable listens.
Jeff: And what were some of your favorite moments from these stories Kirt, as you got to narrate three very different shorts.
Kirt: Well, first of all, thank you E.J. for saying that that’s a great sound clip, please. Don’t cut that out. Jeff, about how clean the audio files are. Very proud of that.
You know, people who saw the live stream that you did last year for the holidays. Well remember that I’m a bit of a Grinch that like…
Jeff: I wasn’t going to mention that, but it’s true.
Kirt: But like, it’s part of the context of this answer, which is that like, I’m not an enthusiastic Christmas gay and most gays are enthusiastic Christmas gays.
So for me, like what was fun about the stories was one, I love doing short stories because it’s so much fun to get to have the meet cute and the resolution happened within like a day and a half of recording. Like you rarely get to go on that whole journey very quickly. It’s challenging, but in the fun way to like switch gears so quickly when you’re working on an anthology like this. It’s challenging to come up with the different characterizations and making sure that like one story doesn’t sound too much like the other.
So the things I loved about the stories were the fact that they were well-written, charming, short stories that happens to take place around Christmas-about which I don’t care that much.
E.J.: Perfectly fair.
Jeff: Absolutely. We gave him, well, I didn’t give him grief for it last year. Some of his other people in that live stream gave him a little bit of grief on that.
Kirt: It’s true. I get it. I get why people love it. It’s just not my passion.
E.J.: Well, just so you know, Kirt, since my kids moved away from home, I have taken great pleasure in not putting up a Christmas tree because if I picked it up, I have to take it down.
Kirt: Exactly. Exactly.
Jeff: Talking a little bit about the voices, since you’re boxing these into one set. Does that really inform how you choose your voices across the set, as you mentioned, making sure they’re distinct enough.
Kirt: Yeah. I mean, cause you don’t want the love interest in story number two to sound exactly like the love interest in story number one, that’s just confusing for the listener. I think or I thought about it too much and I did more work than I had to, but I just felt like, yes, these people should sound distinct from one another because the author has written different people.
E.J.: But these are sort of unusual stories for me just because I tend to veer more towards paranormal and these are all contemporaries and they’re all set in Portland more or less, even though one of them is a transplanted Portlander. So, you know, no goofy accents to try and juggle and no Icelandic words, which is what I threw at Kirt with one of the other books he did for me?
Jeff: Nothing like a little pronunciation exercise thrown in for good measure.
Kirt: Oh, I can send you the spreadsheet. You’d weep.
Jeff: What made some of these stories perfect for you to set over the holidays?
E.J.: It’s not holidays per se, but sort of like the way the calendar works, you know, it’s the end of the year and the beginning of the new one is just around the corner. So it seems like a perfect time for the dawn of a new relationship or in the case of “Mistletoe” for reigniting and an old one. And, you know, holidays can be undeniably stressful for some people, but I like to focus on that sort of hopeful, you know, new dawn kind of side.
Jeff: Is that what brings you back to holiday stories year after year? Because you’re pretty consistent in how often you’re putting out holiday shorts.
E.J.: One way or another, even if it’s just from walking into a store in the United States at this time of year, the season provides a common frame of reference for so many people, even if let Kirt they’re Grinches. I mean, just try and ignore it as much as possible, but, you know, there were traditional activities to look forward to or to dread.
it turns into sort of a landmark in the year and once, once you’re out of school as an adult it’s one of the ways to mark the passage of time. And, you know, I mentioned that I’m a closet Grinch as well. I don’t really bring out all the accoutrements, even though one of my sons starts counting down Christmas, I think around Valentine’s Day.
One year, I think the boys were still in high school and my daughter was maybe in her first or second year of college. We started inventing our own traditions. We called them, you know, a Very Arab Solstice because my husband is Syrian Lebanese. So they were things like the Ritual Cleansing of the Hound, you know, which was the boys had to give the dog a bath, you know, things like that. So I really need to bring out the very Arab Solstice traditions again, because they were sort of fun.
Jeff: Those sound awesome. And a lot of fun too, just to kind of not just make your own traditions, but really put a whole new twist on what most people are thinking about in terms of holidays.
E.J.: And make them sound as grandiose as possible, even if there’s something as simple as washing the dog.
Jeff: Are there certain elements that you consider a must have for a holiday story?
E.J.: Well, for me it has to be fun because if it’s not fun, why bother? So. I don’t like to write angst. I’m not a very good angsty writer. I don’t like to read it, especially around the holidays. When, as I said, I’m trying to look sort of look forward in that hopeful manner. So it always has to be something fun, a little light. And snark is good. The same as for any of my stories.
Jeff: Snark as good any time of year.
E.J.: That’s right. It’s perennial snark
Jeff: And you’ve voiced more than a few holiday stories Kirt. Are there things that you, at least around the holidays, like to bring life to in these stories?
Kirt: You know, I didn’t think about it until E.J. just talks about it, but it is such a time of transition that I guess one common theme I’ve seen in all of the stories I’ve done is there’s this willingness to take a leap, to take a chance to be bold. And so I guess that’s something I’ve noticed as a theme, that’s been a part of many of the holiday stories I’ve narrated.
Jeff: Interesting. I read a lot of them and even as E.J. said, I’m like, “yeah, that is very much kind of a thing” because that and springtime are I think the two major kind of pivot points into a new thing, whether it’s a new year and that reawakening of everything at spring time.
Kirt: You know, it’s almost more important than whatever holiday you celebrate in December. it’s the coming of the new year. And often the, the sojourn back to your home, you know, that we, we all take a trip.
Jeff: Do you read a lot of holiday romance, E.J. or does your Grinch-ness kind of ease into not reading the stories as well?
E.J.: I am not one of the people who seek them out. I know that for a lot of people, once you hit November 1st, it’s all holiday stories all the time. That’s all you’re looking for.
I tend to be more author focused or genre focused, or as I said, not a lot of angst. So I’m looking for, you know, the stories that make me feel good. So if they happen to be set around the holidays, great. But I’m just as likely to read a summer story in the wintertime or around the holidays as I am a holiday story.
Jeff: Do you have a particular holiday favorite?
E.J.: ” Christmas Kitsch” by Amy Lane, even though it does have some angst in it, is one of my comfort rereads. I read it over usually at least once a year, just because I’m so captivated by her inarticulate hero. Because he has to find different ways to express himself other than, my characters who tend to like talk all the time and they, you can’t shut them up. So I love that.
I also love Suzanne Brockman’s “All Through the Night,” which is you know, Jules and Robin get married right around the holidays. So that’s another one that I like to review quite often.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s a good holiday story and groundbreaking as well for when it came out too.
And, that was our Big Gay Fiction December book club selection last year too, was to recap that book, which was a lot of fun.
Do you have a favorite Christmas gay romance Kirt, either ones that you…
Kirt: What do you think Jeff?
Jeff: Are going to come down to the ones that you think… Well, you might like the story holiday agnostic.
Kirt: This is like most other books in my life. I really only have a chance to read what somebody is paying me to read. There’s just not a lot of free time for reading. So given the choice to read a book, I’m not really reaching for Christmas book.
The other one I have narrated this year that I would like to highlight was “Merry Cherry Christmas” by Keira Andrews. And I actually, I did her anthology last year and was delighted to find that this short story tied into one of those short stories. And so there was a little bit of a callback to that previous story. And it was just kind of nice to go back to those people. And the location, which was a Christmas tree farm, which I did find quite enchanting, the notion of being surrounded by Christmas trees, but that are still in the ground and a beautiful snowy winter locale. She writes all of these stories take place in Canada where there’s actual snow, like here in Wisconsin. And so that, that I found to be quite, quite charming.
Jeff: I do like those idyllic locations like that, because they’re just so pretty.
Kirt: And, and not this story, but the one that was tied to from last year, like the reason I got together is cause, like, He ran off the road in his car because he didn’t have the right tires on it.
And I was like, relatable content. Yes. Those of us who know what this is about. And he’s like, don’t drive down that gravel slushy road with bad tires. You’re for sure going to get stuck there. And then he did. But then they fell in love.
Jeff: You knew that was coming.
Kirt: Yeah. Yeah. I was like, oh no, but yeah, relatable content. That author lives in a place with snow.
Jeff: Going back into holidays past a little bit. I’ve been asking this question this year. What was the favorite present you got as a child?
E.J.: All right. Let’s face it. I’ve got at least 20 years on both of you guys. So my childhood was a long time ago and I was trying to remember a present that I got before high school and I just couldn’t do it. And possibly, because I think my mother probably thought I was some kind of changeling because I didn’t want the kind of things that, that she found interesting. I wanted books and not dolls and other kinds of things.
But I do remember two presents I got while I was in high school that made a difference in my life then and later. One of them was a Smith Corona electric typewriter. Because up until that point, I was typing all of my school assignments on a manual Underwood typewriter, which requires a whole lot of finger strength in order to get anything done.
And the other thing was a portable sewing machine. It was that the brand was Elena Lotus and it was such a beautifully designed piece of machinery, that it lasted for 40 years. It was just an incredible, incredible thing. And I, at the time I sewed all my clothes because that’s what we did in my family. Since my son stopped performing in local theaters, I had said no more sewing for me ever. I never went to do that again. But the, the machine itself, lasted trips across the country, multiple theater costume shops, various kinds of things. So it was, it was a very remarkable and long-lasting present at that point.
Jeff: Kirt, how about you?
Kirt: I have a very clear memory of receiving the Power Rangers Zords, the action figures of their vehicles that were shaped like animals. For those who are not Power Rangers, or well-versed in Power Rangers, they had these, these giant machines that you know, they use to save the day, but also probably made a lot of damage on their own.
But there was a particular Christmas where between my brother and I we got all of the power Rangers Zords so that we could combine them into the Megazord.
Jeff: That’s amazing.
Kirt: That was a big deal. And I still remember that Christmas being like, whoa.
Jeff: So looking into 2022 a little bit, and even at the very end of 2021, what can you tease us about what’s coming soon for both of you?
Kirt: We’re currently in November as we record this, it is basically my “Fire and Brimstone” month for Nikole Knight. I’m doing three of her books and I also have another book in the series by Jocelynn Drake and Rinda Elliott, “Weavers Circle.” There’s another one coming out this year. And then I just booked for early 2022. I’m not even sure I can say the title yet, cause I’m not sure when we’re allowed to start talking about it. So I will just say there’s a new adult book coming from Bloomsbury in 2022, that I’m very excited to have been selected to narrate.
And then there are some new series. One by Kiki Clark that’s coming up with a coauthor. Yeah, there’s just, there’s lots of cool stuff on the horizon for me, including some more E.J. Russell books in the “Enchanted Occasions” series that will be, fingers crossed, done by the end of the year as well.
Jeff: Fantastic. And E.J., what’s on the horizon for you besides some more audio books.
E.J.: Well, this is November 15th as we’re recording this and just yesterday, I released the second book in my “Quest Investigations” paranormal cozy mystery series. And this morning it had an orange banner…
E.J.: In LGBT Mystery books so that was exciting.
I’ve got two more books to finish out that series that are coming in 2022. I also need to write the last book in that “Enchanted Occasion” series because I keep teasing Kirt that I’m going to ask him to narrate it, but it actually has to exist first. I’ve also got let’s see “Silent Sin” is coming in audio narrated by Greg Boudreaux and Greg we’ll also be doing my “Supernatural Selection” trilogy, which is in my “Mythmatched” universe.
And I’m also branching out to traditional cozies with a co-writer and were expecting those to begin releasing in September. Different pen name.
Jeff: Lots of good stuff coming there. What’s the place people can keep up with you to find out about all that stuff.
E.J.: My website, ejrussell.com, is probably the best place that has all the links to all my social media. I’m not a very social person. So, I do hang out most in my Facebook reader group, which is called Reality Optional and Instagram. I’m afraid of Twitter so I don’t go on there very often, but I do have all those handles on my website.
Jeff: Fantastic. And for Kurt,
Kirt: I would say the same go to my website, kirtreads.com And you have links to all my socials there. I will say that I have made the decision to start a Facebook group starting in 2022. So people who have been bugging me about that, watch for it in early 2022. I will do a group and then I will start posting mostly inside that group so that I can stop bugging all my family members who don’t care with all these book posts. And and I can really focus on promotions and just updates and getting to know people better within a Facebook group starting in 2022.
Otherwise, I’m on Twitter pretty regularly. If you want to have a conversation with me, sending me a DM on Twitter or Instagram is a great way to do it. And I also keep my Facebook messenger pretty close if you want to get in touch and have a chat, I’m usually available.
Jeff: Fantastic. Now we’ve got a very special presentation coming up here cause this isn’t called Holiday Story Time for nothing. We’re going to bring everybody the full story of “An Everyday Hero.” E.J., set us up a little bit for that story. a little bit more than you gave us at the top.
E.J.: Well, one of my coworkers and friends moved from Portland to Phoenix and she discovered a scorpion in her house. And when she told me this and showed me the picture, I said, oh, hell no, I’m never going to Phoenix.
But she moved there to be closer to her son and daughter, because they were about to have her first grandchild. And I thought, well, that might be a reason for someone to go there to be closer to family. So my character Adam, in “An Everyday Hero” moves from Portland to Phoenix to be closer to his sister who’s about to sprout his first niece.
Oddly enough, the first thing that happens when he gets there is he finds a scorpion in his living room, actually his bedroom, I guess. And he is desperately seeking pest control operators to come and save him. And that’s how he meets his love interest, Garrett.
Jeff: I have issues enough of like spiders and bugs, a scorpion’s like next level household past.
E.J.: There’s actually another event that occurs later on in the story that was also inspired by something that happened to my friend, Tony. Kirt, you know what it is.
Kirt: I do. I do. And I have to say that, like, I’m not that bothered by most pests, but I always say like, but a scorpion is where I draw the line.
E.J.: Things that will kill you.
Kirt: Yeah. Yeah. Things that will kill me is really where I draw the line.
Jeff: Now, E.J., you’ve mentioned to me that Kirt brought something special to Adam. What was that for you?
E.J.: Well, I was smiling pretty much from the first line of the story, which is Adam’s because current really captures Adam’s quick silver energy and he’s got this extra personality, you know, everything is just out there and Kirt really captured that really well. And I enjoyed that so much.
Jeff: Was it as fun as it sounds to get Adam on the recording?
Kirt: Oh yeah. I love when you’re reading a book and that’s the personality that comes through cause it is, it’s just, it’s a lot of fun to, portray people that, like E.J. said, just put it all out there. There’s no holding back and especially you know, because the book has a lot of it from his perspective. Like it’s not even just what he’s saying out loud, it’s, what’s going through his head. And, that’s just like another level of extra.
E.J.: Extra is pretty much the definition of Adam.
Jeff: Is there anything, Kirt, you think people should listen out for in this or that it was a particularly fun moment for you within this story.
Kirt: Without giving too much away, I love how E.J. approached the dynamics between these two people. And that’s all I’m going to say.
It’s a part of the conflict of the story of them coming together. But I enjoyed the way that each person got over themselves enough to find the other. But I think the insecurities were authentic and relatable.
Jeff: Thanks so much again to E.J. and Kirt for being part of the Big Gay Fiction Fest
And I have to say it was such a treat to hear Kirt portray Adam. He is extra just like Kirt and E.J. said. I have never heard Kirt narrate a character like that before. I think I’m usually listening to his more serious or angsty characters with the books that he narrates. So I loved hearing a very different character for him in “An Everyday Hero.”
Will: Yeah, I really loved this holiday short. I’ve read and talked about each of the stories that are featured in “Christmas Kisses” on the podcast in the past. I really adore E.J.’s style, especially the way that she writes Christmas stories. And as Kirt mentioned earlier, we hope this look at this Christmas collection has piqued your interest enough that you’ll give it a try.