Jeff & Will welcome Rob Kearney, the world’s strongest gay, and Eric Rosswood, an LGBTQ+ parenting expert, to talk about their new children’s book Strong. The book, based on Rob’s story of embracing his true self and the success he found as a result, shows the many ways to be strong. Rob and Eric discuss their collaboration on the book, the amazing illustrations from Nidhi Chanani. The duo also talk about what they hope readers of any age can take from the book, and the support that young people need today.
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.
- Big Gay Fiction Fest: Pride 2022
- Rob Kearney & Eric Rosswood Interview
- Rob Kearney website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube
- Eric Rosswood website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram
- Strong by Rob Kearney & Eric Rosswood, Illustrated by Nidhi Chanani on Amazon
- Journey to Same Sex Parenthood by Eric Rosswood on Amazon
- The Ultimate Guide for Gay Dads by Eric Rosswood
- Encanto on Disney+
- The Trevor Project website
- Priyanka website
- Worlds Strongest Man website
- Capital Books Events
- Eric Rosswood’s Recommended Children’s Books
- Love, Violet by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, Illustrated by Charlene Chua on Amazon
- Bye Bye, Binary by Eric Geron, Illustrated by Charlene Chua on Amazon
- Cinderelliot by Mark Ceilley & Rachel Smoka-Richardson, Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis on Amazon
- Big Wig by Jonathan Hillman, Illustrated by Levi Hastings on Amazon
- The Meaning of Pride by Rosiee Thor, Illustrated by Sam Kirk on Amazon
- ‘Twas the Night Before Pride by Joanna McClintick, Illustrated by Juana Medina on Amazon | Libro.fm
- If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It by Lil Miss Hot Mess, Illustrated by Olga de Dios Ruiz on Amazon
- Drag Queen Story Hour website
- Kind Like Marsha by Sarah Prager, Illustrated by Cheryl Thuesday on Amazon
- Mighty Red Riding Hood: A Fairly Queer Tale by Wallace West on Amazon
- They’re so Flamboyant by Michael Genhart, Illustrated by Tony Neal on Amazon
- My Sister Daisy by Adria Karlsson, Illustrated by Linus Curci on Amazon
- Grandad’s Camper by Harry Woodgate on Amazon
- Mr. Watson’s Chickens by Jarrett Dapier, Illustrated by Andrea Tsurumi on Amazon
- Two Grooms on a Cake: The Story of America’s First Gay Wedding by Rob Sanders, Illustrated by Robbie Cathro on Amazon
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
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, the world’s strongest gay, and an LGBTQ parenting expert join us to talk about an incredible new children’s book, “Strong.”
Will: Welcome to episode 377 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 reader. It’s great to have you here as we talk about something a little bit different this week, a children’s book that also happens to be a bit of a memoir.
Will: Before we get to the interview, I wanted to talk about our upcoming online reader event, the Big Gay Fiction Fest. The Pride edition of Fest will be happening on Saturday, June 4th. If you can’t virtually attend on the day, replays of all discussions and panels will be available to watch later.
Speaking of panels, we’re going to have some great ones. Like the one focused on cozy mystery with authors S.C. Wynne, Frank Anthony Polito and Michael Craft. There’s going to be a historical panel with Cat Sebastian, Merry Farmer, and Annabelle Greene. And we’ve also got a session focusing on paranormals with authors, Jenn Burke, Kiki Burrelli and Mia Monroe.
And that’s just the beginning of everything that we’ve got planned. If you want to know more and want to purchase tickets, head on over to BigGayFictionFest.com.
Jeff: We hope to see you in the virtual audience on June 4th.
So we’re very excited this week to welcome professional strongman, Rob Kearney, who is also known as the world’s strongest gay, and Eric Rosswood, an LGBTQ parenting expert. They’ve teamed up on a delightful and inspiring children’s book called “Strong. ” As I mentioned, it’s also a memoir as it’s based on Rob’s life. This book is an absolute, utter delight as Rob’s story plays out alongside illustrations from Nidhi Chanani.
Normally I’d review the book ahead of the interview, but you’re going to hear a lot of my thoughts during the conversation. What I’ll say here is that I love everything about “Strong. ” Even as an adult, its messages resonated and inspired me. I can’t recommend it highly enough for readers of all ages. So, let’s get into this interview and hear all about “Strong.”
Rob Kearney and Eric Rosswood Interview
Jeff: Rob and Eric, it is so wonderful to have you join us on the podcast to talk about “Strong.”
Rob: We are so excited about this. It’s been a couple of years in the making. Eric and I have been going back and forth for a while, and now we’re only about a couple of weeks away from the launch. So, it’s really fun.
Jeff: To get us started because our listeners may not know who either of you are. Let’s start with some introductions. Rob, we’ll kick it off with you.
Rob: Yeah. So, I’m Rob Kearney. I’m most popularly known as the world’s strongest gay. So, I’m actually the first and only openly gay professional strongman in the world. I compete in all the major strongman competitions worldwide, most commonly known for World’s Strongest Man. That’s seen on TV. The Arnold Strongman Classic and other major events. And, in my years of competing as a pro strongman, I have all also become a major advocate for the LGBTQ+ community, especially in the world of strength athletics.
Eric: And my name is Eric Rosswood. I am a stay-at-home dad. I have two awesome kids and a wonderful husband. My oldest kid is eight years old and our youngest is three. And I’m also an author. I have two LGBTQ parenting books at talks about the different paths to parenthood. That one is “Journey to Same Sex Parenthood,” it talks about adoption, surrogacy, foster care, assisted reproduction. I also have another one called “The Ultimate Guide for Gay Dads,” which talks about the things after you become a parent, such as finding LGBTQ friendly schools, doctors, questions you may get asked that other parents don’t get asked, things like that. And our children’s books “Strong,” which we’re going to talk about today.
Jeff: Rob, you noted that strong was about a two-year journey to come out. How did you and Eric joined forces and essentially find each other?
Rob: So, it was right after I had broken the American log press record in 2019, at a competition in Leeds, England. And, you know, got a little publicity for that, and Eric actually saw the story online and reached out actually just via Twitter, and said, I think what you’re doing is amazing. The story you have is amazing. I could see this being as really inspiring children’s book. Is that’s something you might be interested in? And up until that point in my career, like a children’s book was never even on the radar. But it’s honestly been probably one of the coolest things I’ve done in my career.
Jeff: What inspired you, Eric, to reach out via Twitter?
Eric: Like Rob said, I saw the article about him breaking the record and I just thought, oh my gosh, this is amazing. And I looked for more information on it and I wasn’t really finding a lot of coverage about it. And I was wondering like, why do more people not know about this?
This is pretty amazing. I mean, you have this person, that’s breaking stereotypes of what it means to be masculine, strong, and gay and all those things. And it was not getting the traction that I thought it would be getting. And I also thought this would be an amazing story for kids. There are not very many real-life LGBTQ role models out there. Especially in children’s literature and picture books. And I think that these kinds of stories need to be told more. Especially real-life people. We need to see that there are people in our community that can do amazing things. And a lot of people don’t know they can do something unless they’ve seen other people like themselves do it. And to me, that’s really important. And I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to bring that message to kids.
Jeff: That’s a good segue. We’ve mentioned the book title “Strong.” Tell us what this book is about.
Rob: You know, really, it’s about an athlete’s journey of finding themselves, and accepting themselves for who they are in order to achieve what they thought was impossible. The thing that I love most about this is when Eric and I were going through writing it. We wanted, I mean, Eric, it was honestly a lot of his ideas to keep it as true to my story as possible. I think Eric really describes it best, so I’ll let him go into it a little bit, more, but, using color as a metaphor, really is something that’s so powerful in this book. In terms of finding your inner strength and being who you are and what you can achieve, once you accept that.
Eric: Yeah. So, Rob and I had a lot of conversations early on in the brainstorming process about which part of his story to cover and how to make it a story that would work well with the picture book. And I’ve heard a lot of people through my workshopping say they wanted it to be a coming out story. And what was really important to me was to not have it be a coming out story, because I didn’t want that to be an obstacle. We want to show people who are open about their sexuality and orientation and who are striving. And I think the metaphor idea really helped talk about coming out, but not be what the story was about.
I think the story really talks about different ways to be strong physically, mentally, and being able to achieve your dreams when you can be your truest self. I think there’s so many different layers to the story, and I’m really excited to see it come out. Pun intended.
Jeff: It One of the things that did strike me in that it’s not the coming out story, which I think can make it even more universal because it’s about embracing that true self, regardless of what it is really. And I think everybody needs that message these days, but especially, the young people.
Rob: Yeah. It’s been interesting, you know, over the course of the last couple of years, you know, we briefly talked about it earlier in terms of book banning and everything that’s going on in the country and stuff like that. And it’s funny because, obviously we’re so, so excited for this book to come out and, I just got my copies of the book, just this weekend. And, you know, to hold it, feel it and, really be able to soak it all in, was such an amazing moment.
And, later on in the day I was thinking, it’s kind of cool that I might have a book that’s going to be banned in some places.
Jeff: It can be badge of honor, unfortunately, yes.
Rob: You know, it kind of is. That’s always how I’ve kind of went about my career because I deal with negativity on a daily basis via social media. But every time I see that, I always feel that there’s no bigger middle finger to those people than my success. And that’s kind of how I’m looking at this journey as well.
Jeff: It’s interesting, the negativity, I know you get on social media. But you keep pushing back against it, and I love the opportunities that have come up in the media, where you get to stand there and just be seen as just somebody else. The thing that always strikes me when I see you on Strongman, which airs on CBS. I think each year since you’ve come out, I think Joey’s been there in the crowd, maybe interviewed with you, they put the chyron up: Rob’s boyfriend. Now Rob’s husband, things like that. There’s not a big deal made of it on CBS. It’s just like, you know, Brian Shaw’s girlfriend is there and here she is, and here’s your husband. And it’s kinda awesome, how that’s manifested itself over the last couple of years.
Rob: Yeah, they’ve just done such an amazing job of. I hate having to use this word but normalizing it. Like, obviously there’s nothing abnormal about it in the first place. But like I said, they’ve never had to go out of their way, and I think it says another thing that’s so beautiful about the Strongman community itself is we compete in this insanely hyper-masculine world of Strongman. But everybody in the sport is so loving and accepting. And the first time I brought Joey to a competition with me, nobody batted an eye. It was just another weekend where we’re with friends about to lift some weights. It’s so beautiful to be in a sport like that where, there’s no judgment. Well, the only judgment is if you don’t lift a weight, not your sexual orientation. So, it’s really great to be in this community.
Jeff: I love how you just so nonchalantly say, “lift a weight.”
Rob: A car, pull a truck, whatever.
Jeff: The opening illustration of this book is you pulling a fire engine. Just to give people an idea of what Strongman is for those who haven’t seen it.
Eric: Just the fire engine, that’s all
Jeff: Just a fire engine. That’s all.
Rob: It was only like 42,000 pounds. It’s fine.
Jeff: Yeah, no problem.
What was the collaboration like between you two to write this book, as well as with your illustrator Nidhi Chanani, to really bring this book together between the words and the incredible illustrations?
Eric: The collaboration has been wonderful. We talked a lot through interviews in the beginning, a lot of phone calls, and basically it started with me interviewing Rob quite a bit and getting a deep dive into basically his whole life to see which chunks of it, we can pull into the story. from being a young, young kid in elementary school, all the way to where he is now. We did, I would say, probably over 30 to 40 drafts of the manuscripts. A lot goes into a children’s book manuscript because you have to say whole lot more with a whole lot less text, which can be a challenge.
We went back and forth a ton of times trying to get the story right. And I think like the first draft of it, one of the main hurdles was Rob breaking his ribs. And I don’t know if a lot of people know about that story, but he had an Atlas stone fall on them and basically break ribs.
He came back better than ever, and he placed and was doing amazing. Unfortunately, that part got cut out of this story. I thought that was a pretty interesting thing to talk about, but we went back and forth with things like that. What should be in the book. What should not be in the book. And when we finally got it and had our wonderful agents work with Little Brown to get our story sold there. They brought on Nidhi Chanani. And Nidhi is amazing, and she really worked the magic to bring the illustrations to life.
We actually had a little bit more say in the illustrations than authors normally do. And that was one of the things that was really important to us because we didn’t want to misrepresent the sport in any of the of the illustrations. We wanted to make sure, they’re wearing the proper gear. They are lifting things the way that, somebody would look when they’re lifting things. Also, we wanted to make sure that illustration looked like Rob. I don’t know if you’ve seen some of those statute revealings of Lucille Ball or, you know, other people where it doesn’t look anything like them at all. So, we wanted to make sure, you know, Rob was happy with the way he looked. Joey was happy with the way he looked. Everything was represented the way it was supposed to be. And it honestly, it was a streamlined process. Everyone worked really well together. And I think part of it’s because everyone really believed in the story and was excited to see it come to life.
Rob: To me, it was like, it was such a fun process to go throughout the entire thing, you know. I mean, from, getting each draft to making tweaks and changes to having the final manuscript complete and sending it off to, to find an illustrator. You know, I think the funny thing is, when it came time to find an illustrator, we got a list of names. And there was some that I liked, and some that Eric liked and some we’d kind of clash on. And Nidhi was honestly the one where both of us were like, we had that aha moment. We’re like, oh wait, no, this is who we need, to do our story. We chatted with Nidhi last week or so. And this is the first time she’s done a non-fiction children’s book and drawing muscles. So, it was great to hear from her how she loved the challenge of the story. But just the way, the characterization came out, the expressions, the emotion, you know, it really did bring our words to life.
Jeff: And I love how some of it is just, there’s no other word for it, but cute.
Jeff: There’s this one passage that where the first time I read it, it just really struck me as like just a wonderfully, cute moment because it talks about that Rob can lift more than a fridge, a piano or 800 stuffed rainbow unicorns, or 114 birthday cakes with chocolate frosting and confetti sprinkles.
I mean, I can’t imagine you’ve had your weightlifting broken down in that way before.
Rob: No, it is certainly a first. We talk about refrigerators and appliances all the time, but never, stuffed unicorns and chocolate cakes.
Eric: There’s a lot of research on how much those things weighed.
Jeff: I don’t doubt it just to make sure it’s right.
Where were the differentiation points between telling Rob’s story, but also getting the messages you want across? How did those two things come together? Cause it is kind of a memoir kind of an autobiography, but then you’re definitely trying to tell, a story but messages also, and to me as a reader, it just all flowed so seamlessly to make the package. How did that all come together?
Eric: I think one of the important things about telling a non-fiction story especially for picture books is to not just tell the facts. So, Rob did this and then he did that. And then he did that. And I think that those books can get kind of boring.
And I think to find the heart of a story, some sort of emotion that the reader is going to be able to relate to. If you can really find that, I think that makes the difference between a book that someone wants to read once and something they want to read over and over again. And so, I think it’s really important when you’re doing a non-fiction book, is to tell those facts, but to tell it in a story mode that isn’t like, it’s not making things up because it’s not a fiction story, but it’s telling the facts in a story arc,
So, for example, we put a lot of Rob’s feelings in. And so, we were lucky to be able to do that because a lot of nonfiction books talk about people who are no longer living. But we were able to talk to Rob. And how does this feel? How does that feel? And then like what you were talking about with he’s able to lift these stuffed rainbow unicorns, these birthday cakes, and things like that. It’s taking the fact of what Rob is able to do and find a way that’s more relatable to the reader.
And so, I don’t know if very many, like first graders, second, third graders are going to say, okay, how much does this fridge weigh? Or how much does this, piano weigh, the firetruck? It’s hard to really imagine that. But when you say a birthday cake. Kids have held cakes before they know what a cake is like they know what a stuffed animal feels like. But when they can envision, oh my gosh, she got how many birthday cakes, how many of these unicorns that that’s more relatable for them in terms of weight. So, it’s kind of finding those things to make the reader say, aha, I can put myself in that story.
Jeff: If I could just imagine children all over the place now getting all their stuffed animals together somehow and trying to figure out if they can lift all of their animals together.
Rob: I would love that. That’d be amazing.
Eric: I will tell you, as soon as I read the draft to our son, he wanted to lift our car. So, he was up there trying to lift it by the bumper, so…
Jeff: He went right for the car and didn’t start with a stuffed animal.
Eric: No, didn’t start with the stuffed animals. And, to actually see that it was an aha moment for me as well, because I was like, oh my gosh, this story really is relatable because one of the first things my son did was went and tried to do the things that were there.
He wanted to be like Rob, and we are big superhero family. We have superhero comic books everywhere, books everywhere, art, everything, and our son also used to talk about things like, I wonder if the superhero could do that, or the superhero could do that.
And I saw a couple of times that language shift too. I wonder if Rob Kearney could lift this, or I wonder if Rob could lift that. And then to me, that was my moment of, this is really resonating, and I think this is going to resonate with other kids in a similar way.
Jeff: There’s so many positive messages within this book. I mean, it’s not that many pages and not that many words, but there’s so much positivity in it. I’m curious what you both want adults to take away from it, but also the youth to take away from it.
Rob: For me, I think, the message is kind of universal, whether you’re a child, youth, or an adult, is, once you break down those barriers and you allow yourself to see yourself for who you actually are, then obstacles become really easy to overcome.
And, throughout this story, we obviously see my journey from, beginning in Strongman and not succeeding to, finding someone who supports me for who I am on the inside, and wants to bring out the best in me. And once I can see that for myself, I’m able to become a champion.
I think that resonates across all age groups, especially adults. They are sometimes afraid to follow their dreams and passions and let people in on what they truly want to achieve. The story, even though it is a children’s book, all of these things happened when I was an adult. So, you know, so I think everything is, it’s just really relatable in a sense across all ages.
Eric: I would just echo everything Rob said. I would add that I think it’s really important for people to see themselves in the media that they are consuming, whether it’s movies, books, music. And I think for kids to be able to see someone like themselves, being able to be successful, breaking records, doing things that they haven’t seen before, that’s really important.
But I also think, we talk a lot about representation and seeing yourselves in media, but I also think it’s important for the people that are not LGBTQ to, to read stories like this as well. So, they can see that those stereotypes that might be in their minds already. It can help break those stereotypes. And I think that can help with empathy and understanding. So, I think these kinds of books are important for so many people to read and like, well, what Rob said as well, it’s not just a certain age group. I think a lot of people can read this and get a lot out of it.
I like to add one other thing, but Rob actually said to me that when he came out, it was like a weight was lifted off his shoulders. And I thought that was a very powerful message as well.
We talked about seeing yourself in the media that you’re consuming. I don’t know if you’ve seen “Encanto,” but it’s very popular right now. And Luis says one of the big characters who was resonating to a lot of people who is also straight and had a metaphor there about carrying the weight of the world and the weight of your family on your shoulders.
And I know a lot of people resonated with that, adults and children. And I think that that’s going to be the same thing with this story as well, because it’s more than just someone lifting something. It’s how this is relatable about, feeling that weight on your shoulders. Feeling trapped or that you can’t be your truest self. I think there’s just so much with this story. And if you liked “Encanto” and you liked that character, I think you’re going to like “Strong.”
Jeff: I think that’s a great, comparison there. You bringing that up reminded me one of the things that I actually love most of the book is all the way in the back. It’s the final line Rob in your reader note, where you say, “I hope I could inspire other young athletes to live by my motto, train to be the person they said you would never become.”
Rob: Yeah, I kind of came up with that mantra actually going into World’s Strongest Man of 2017. It was my first year that I was invited to compete at World’s Strongest Man. And up until then it had been a long career of competing at lower classes, lower divisions, and different competitions. And all along the way, I was always told I, you know, was too small to be at World’s Strongest Man. I wouldn’t be able to be strong enough. And, again, like I just, I use all of that as motivation to prove everybody wrong.
So, when we were getting ready for World’s Strongest Man, they sent us this big info sheet and they asked us for like, what is an inspirational quote you live by and up until that moment, I had never really lived by one that somebody else had already written. And I was kinda thinking about everything that I’ve gone through in my career to get to this point and those words just kind of came to me in that moment.
And it’s really been, like I said, it’s been my mantra, my motto, since 2017 and even more so in this book, something that Eric, talked about earlier in terms of just the representation in media and sports and stuff like that, up until I was competing at World’s Strongest Man, I guess the best way to put it is, I never thought that I was possible.
Right? Because you had never seen a gay strongman before. You had never seen … You know, I think all too often we see gay men represented in media in one way. That’s the more feminine, flamboyant man that’s how we see gay men typically represented in movies and TV. And we don’t see gay men competing in sports, openly gay men competing in sports, especially something like strongman. That’s really one thing that, that I love that that comes across in this story is it lets everybody know, that sexuality and sexual orientation, it really holds no weight against what you can achieve in life. And having that as a message in the story has been really important.
Jeff: Hopefully this inspires the young athletes, like you’re thinking, but even collegiate and any other athlete, who’s kind of sitting on the fence about coming out. I think every athlete we hear from who comes out, regardless of sport, it’s always like that weight lifts when they’re their authentic selves.
Jeff: We got some questions from a member of our Patreon community. And the first one that Sarah asks is this, “what key pieces of advice do you have for fellow parents of queer children?” And to that question, I’ll actually add a little bit as well. Especially within this calendar year, we’ve seen LGBTQ youth just bombarded by negativity. Even if you’re not in a state like Florida or Texas, you’d still hear the broader message that’s being out there. Eric I’ll come to you first. What is your advice to the parents and the adult allies, really to make sure that the youth in their life are doing okay?
Eric: There’s so much to say about this question.
Jeff: Please say it all.
Eric: I mean, we don’t have time to stay at all, I think. you bring up an important part there is so much negativity right now. Mr. Rogers, I think said it best. I can’t think of the quote exactly, but about looking for the helpers. So, no matter how much negativity is out there, there’s always people out there trying to help and trying to make the world a better place as well.
So, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that and look at the other side too. So. Surround yourself with people who are supportive, I think is really, really important to find the people who will be there to support you and your family, to listen to kids. And, you know, if they’re having problems with something or struggling with something it’s important to listen to them and take in what they say and, just try to be there as much as possible.
The thing that I was talking about about supporting them, finding a supportive environment, too, I think goes with trying to find supportive schools. Understanding what’s going on in the schools. Understanding how you can be a champion for your children is very important too. Like I said, I can go on forever about this. I’m just going to cut myself there and let’s see if Rob has anything to add there.
Rob: Yeah. I think I think it was, I saw a statistic from the Trevor Project that said it was, if there’s an LGBTQ+ youth that has one, only one accepting adult in their life, it reduces their risk of attempted suicide by almost 40%. I’ll sometimes, put these kind of statistics on my social media and it’s, I think seeing those numbers and having things quantified opens people’s eyes to realize how much at risk our LGBTQ+ youth really are at, especially now with everything so volatile.
So, I really do think, to echo what Eric said, is, just like being those people that will listen, completely nonjudgmental. You know, I still work in a high school, and I obviously have the safe space on my door and, the pride flag in my office and all that stuff.
One thing that I’ve also done is I have a 15 second vent rule, where I’ll let the students come in, shut the door and for 15 seconds they can say whatever they want about whoever they want with no judgment. Then I cut them off and it just gives them that one outlet where they can just be completely free in the moment, air out all their frustrations with no judgment whatsoever.
And, having that, and I’m not saying like everybody has to do that. It’s just something that I found has worked with, the high school and middle school kids that I work with. And, you know, it really is just amazing how much just, acknowledging someone can make them feel seen and change their world.
Eric: I like to add something to that too. I think that’s so important because having that space where people, can just have an outlet is so important and kids from all ages, I mean, even from infants, they can see our reactions as adults and how things impact us. So, they’ll know whether or not we’re uncomfortable about certain subjects.
They’ll be looking to see how we answer certain types of questions, and they will be able to see whether or not something is right or wrong based on how we respond to it as well. So, I think it’s very important that when we see things that are wrong, we emulate the behavior that we want the younger generation to see as well.
So, we need to be those types of role models who are going to say, whether or not something is right or wrong, because they’re going to see and hear us stand up for it. But they’re also going to see and hear us when we don’t stand up for it. And when we’re quiet about things, and those are things that they’re going to recognize too.
So, if someone is constantly attacking the community and we are being quiet about something and the kids are only hearing one side of the story, they’re going to start thinking something that’s wrong. So, they need to hear the other voice that is saying it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being LGBTQ.
There’s nothing wrong with saying it in an elementary school. There is nothing wrong about talking about people who have same gender parents. All of those things that they need to hear come from somebody that’s a role model within their own community.
Rob: And I think like, especially with me working in the school system, it honestly, I would say, it makes me feel good about what’s to come. I work in a town that typically leans very far to the right. We have openly transgender students. We have a great LGBTQ+ community and support group in our school system. And all of those students, they use, preferred pronouns and don’t even blink about it. Right. It’s just normal to them. Cause that’s who that person is.
Sexuality has never been an issue with anybody in the school. It’s just like, oh yeah, those two people are dating. They just talk about it in normal conversation. And to be in a town that, typically leans one way politically and to see those kids in those situations acting the way they are, you know, it just, it makes me excited to see that just, that little glimmer of hope moment is really nice to see.
Jeff: Sarah had a couple more questions for you two, as well. “What would you both say to your younger selves, if you could go back in time?”
Rob: There’s a drag queen, whose name is Priyanka from Canada, who said it best and it’s “just be gay.” I struggled with my sexuality a lot growing up, and I was actually on a podcast the other day, and as I was talking about, my coming out journey and everything like that, the two hosts talked about was my activity involvement when I was younger in terms of high school involvement, stuff like that. And I realized that being hyper involved in almost everything I could get my feet into was kind of like a coping mechanism for me to not deal with the feelings I was having on the inside. And not having to bring those forward and I could just push them back because I had X, Y, and Z to do. I was always on the move. And I didn’t come out until I was 22. And it was 22 years of a heteronormative lifestyle. Twenty-two years of waking up every day and putting on this facade pretending to be somebody I wasn’t.
And it was 22 years of exhaustion, to be honest. And it’s really tiring to wake up every single day to think about how to act, think about how to speak, and how to interact with your peers. And it’s sad that it took me 22 years, but it also gave me a lot of perspective on things that I’d missed things, I would say. And I would just tell myself, like, stop ignoring it, cause once you accept yourself for who you are, that’s when you can actually experience true happiness.
Eric: I’m going to say this question is a little bit of a paradox because we’re not supposed to mess with the past cause it impacts your future, right? So, it would change who we are today.
Jeff: We can tell you are in a superhero household there. Not messing with time.
Eric: I am very happy with who I am today and if I change the past, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
Honestly though, I think that the biggest thing that I would probably say is, I’m going to go back to that Fred Rogers quote, about finding the helpers. I think there is so much negativity out there. It’s going to come from us at all directions. And it’s very hard to just not pay attention to any of it, but it’s also very important to make sure that that’s not overwhelming and taking over our lives. Finding the helpers, finding your community, finding the people who love and support you for who you are, they’re out there.
And I think it’s very important to find them and focus on those people and to try to make sure that outweighs everything else. Those people with all that negativity, they don’t know you, they don’t know who you are. They’re just throwing stuff and regurgitating things from generations before or something that they’ve had from one small experience. And they’re saying that everybody is like that, and it’s not going to stop and it’s never going to stop. So having those people who do love you and do support you in that positive message, make sure it over balances that, and that’s what makes things easier.
Jeff: So many great things you said today. I just keep getting all this inspirational feeling coming off of what you’re saying here. It’s so wonderful.
Eric: Well, Rob’s a very inspiring person too. So, he helps keep me in that positive direction.
Jeff: Everybody really needs a copy of this book. I can’t emphasize that enough. Whether you’ve got children or not. The book is full of such joyful messages and inspirational messages. So, I really hope everybody goes out and picks this up as it comes out.
One more question from Sarah for Rob. What’s a piece of lifting advice for someone who might be starting out with weights?
Rob: So, the biggest thing honestly, is not to be afraid.
I think everybody, when they go into a gym or they feel like they don’t know what they’re doing, they automatically have this anxiety, this negative self-talk, that they just can’t achieve it. And I think that’s the worst place to start because when you’re in a gym, you’re working on bettering yourself. For me, working out is a way of therapy. It’s how I get my alone time. I get to work through my day, what’s going on in my life. And I get to focus on bettering myself and that’s really all working out is. So, I think honestly, the biggest thing is really looking at what your goals are in terms of health and fitness. Is it to get stronger? Is it to lose weight? Is it just to be a healthier fitter version of yourself?
There are so many resources online in terms of the best ways to go about fitness and fitness is a science there there’s no right or wrong answers. So, you could do one thing for a few weeks and enjoy it for the first couple of weeks. Then realize you hate it on the fourth. And then look at that. You can find something new and change it. That’s the beautiful thing about working out.
And then, in terms of getting into the strongman stuff. The nice thing about our sport is it is completely accessible for anybody of any size and any gender. So, there are some great resources like startingstrongman.com, where they actually outline, they have resources online. They have competitions you can sign up for. There’s weight divisions for men and women. There really is just so much online, but it really boils down to not being afraid to take that first step. Jumping in the deep end, and always having that mindset that you’re there to better yourself.
Jeff: I have to ask, as I was reading the book, I was just really wondering what it was like for you to see yourself drawn.
Obviously putting the story together and putting the words on paper, was so much fun. And seeing the story arc and seeing where exactly this journey is going, as Eric mentioned, there was multiple edits and versions of the manuscript. But once we got to the point of having an illustrator and starting to really put this book together and have it come to life. It was so fricking cool. Like I said, I’ve done a lot of really cool projects in my life. I’ve done film. I’ve done commercials. I’ve done a lot of stuff, but having a children’s book, it’s, one of those things that’s just timeless.
And to finally see it. And especially this weekend, hold it and flip through the pages. It’s such just an amazing moment in my career. Yeah, it’s just, it’s wild. This is one of the few times, Jeff, that I don’t have words. So, you stumped me.
Jeff: Along with seeing yourself drawn, do you have a favorite illustration in the book?
Rob: I 100% do. So there’s this moment in the story where, I’m in the gym and I’m back squatting and I look across the gym and there’s this boy who just happens to be Joey and the way that it came together in the story, obviously it was adorable this kind of moment of these two men, meeting and finding love and in the gym in which is such a hyper-masculine place, which you normally wouldn’t see that happen.
And then the way Nidhi really had it come to life is just so amazing. And yeah, that’s probably my, my favorite illustration, in that moment. It’s kind of halfway point of the book where I am, competing, but then I find the support system in this guy, and he ends up being the reason for my success.
Jeff: Yeah. I have to say that actually is one of my favorites as well. As I was reading the book the first time and I turned the page, I was like, oh, Joey’s in it too. I was just so overwhelmed in that moment. That representation came into the book as well. Because I mean, I could envision a version where that isn’t part of the story and what you’re trying to tell, but to see it there, I was just… it meant the world to me that, that was there.
Rob: And I think it’s just, it’s just so beautiful. Cause like Eric said, it’s not a coming out story. But being gay is a part of the story and to be able to show that relationship and that support between these two men that love each other. I think it speaks volumes to how the story really came together to not make it, even though it’s a moment in the book, it’s not the overarching message that we’re really looking to get across.
Jeff: Yeah, exactly.
Eric, do you have a favorite illustration in the book?
Eric: Oh my gosh. I think Nidhi is just wonderful in what she was able to create. There are so many special moments I think in here. For example, when we’re, we’re talking about Rob’s younger life about being sturdy like a boulder and the way that she is making the boulder behind and feeling powerful like a rocket. And she actually drew Rob in space. And I didn’t envision Rob being in space, but it’s pretty cool. And I think if they’re just things you really have to look at to see, because it’s so imaginative and expressive and her artwork added so much power to the words. I love it.
My favorite illustration though, is the firetruck pull, because I think when you’re reading the story and you just turn the page and you see this massive fire truck going across both pages on the big spread, it’s just a wow moment for me. And I think that it’s going to be a wow moment for a lot of other kids too, because it’s just very much in your face, this massive firetruck. And it’s, it’s just hard to imagine someone being able to pull such a huge giant vehicle. And I think it’s exciting and empowering and I think kids are gonna love it.
A special thing that Nidhi did for me is she actually drew my family in that illustration as well. So, there’s an extra bonus too. That’s not why it’s my favorite one, but I’m excited that’s the one that she offered to put us in.
Jeff: That’s awesome.
Eric: I won’t tell you where we are, but you’ll have to find it. It’s like where’s Waldo.
Jeff: I love that firetruck picture. The pull is one of my favorite events in Strongman and fire engines, train locomotives, 18 wheelers. I think airplanes I’ve seen one year. It’s so symbolizes Strongman to me, even though I suspect for most it’s the Atlas Stones, but that pull is what does it for me. So, to see that on that opening spread was just awesome.
Rob: Well, it’s one of my least favorite events. So, if you want to hop in for me at World’s Strongest Man this year, Jeff feel free to tag in. Because being the smallest competitor, it doesn’t work to my advantage sometimes.
Jeff: I don’t see how anybody honestly starts that. I mean, even the heaviest of the strongest men, how you get going from a full stop on that. I mean, it defies physics to me, somehow. But no, you don’t want me taking in for you because you will not even take a step.
How does Joey feel about being drawn into the book, and how he looks in there? I imagine it’s gotta be pretty cool for him too.
Rob: Obviously with all the versions of the story and then how it ended. We were kind of interested to see how it would come together. And we got to that moment where Eric and I really realized that Joey was going to be a pretty big part of the story. You know, having that conversation with him, was, it was a lot of fun because he’s definitely one of those people that even though his personality is completely infectious and he’s adorable, he likes to try to stay out of the limelight as much as possible. So, when he had the moment that he had that realization that he was going to be in the book and being drawn and characterized he was a hundred percent onboard. And, to see it all come to life again, especially when we got the copies just this past weekend it was a really special moment to be standing there next to him and flipping through the pages and us reading the story together, seeing ourselves on the page. And it was really beautiful and so exciting.
Jeff: That’s awesome. Now just a couple of weeks after the book comes out and after this interview goes out May 24th through 29th, Rob, you’re going to be competing. World’s Strongest Man 2022, actually right in our backyard in Sacramento.
How are you feeling going into this year?
Rob: I’m feeling good? I just came off a great performance at the Arnold Strongman Classic at the beginning of March, where I took fifth place. So, we’re eagerly awaiting our qualifying groups as World’s Strongest Man, there are 30 athletes that go. We’re each split up into one of five qualifying groups. So, we’re kind of waiting to see who we get paired with.
But overall, my training has been great. I feel really strong. I feel healthy. Obviously, my body aches and hurts every day because of what I put myself through. But that means, that makes me realize, I know I’m doing something right at this point in the training, so. I’m really excited to get out to Worlds. This is my first time back since 2019. The past couple of years, I’ve had a few injuries that I’ve been dealing with. So, to be healthy, to be feeling strong, pun intended, and ready to go for “World’s Strongest, Man.” I’m really excited to get back.
Jeff: Looking forward to seeing you compete.
So, besides Strongman, coming up shortly, Rob, what should people be looking out for you for like, through the rest of the year and stuff? Any book tour plans or anything people should be paying attention to?
Rob: So yeah, we’re, we’re currently planning some book appearances. We don’t have everything nailed down a hundred percent, but once that’s squared away with our publicists, you know, we’ll definitely be you know, shouting that out from the rooftops so everybody can come see.
And other than that, it’s honestly a lot more competitions. That’s, that’s a lot of what my life entails now. So, I’m actually going to be competing in London, in July at the Royal Albert Hall at the Strongman Classic. Then hopefully later this year down in Austin, Texas at the Rogue Invitational again. So those are kind of the two big competitions I have coming up after World’s Strongest Man.
Jeff: And Eric what should people be looking out from you?
Eric: I think right now all of my focus is on “Strong.” I’m very, very excited to see it come out into the world. I’m very inspired by the message. And I really hope a lot of people get to read it. And I know Rob talked about book bans, as well earlier today, and I think you brought it up as well.
It’s a double-edged sword if books do get banned. I mean, some of those books may see a little bit of a spike in sales, but I think the trouble with being on that list is a lot of people who actually need to read those books, don’t get the opportunity to read them.
They don’t get to check them out at the library. They don’t get to see themselves in those stories. So, I think, if you live in a place where there are these book bans, or if people who are impacted by these book bans, if there’s any way we can help to make sure that those kids can get the books that they need so that they can see themselves represented, whether it’s “Strong” or any of the other books that are on that list.
I know there’s a lot of great books out there that kids can read. All the way from picture books to YA. So, it could be graphic novels. It can be middle grade books, young adult books, picture books, all of them. Every grade level needs to read it. And there’s nothing wrong with saying someone has two parents of the same gender in first grade or kindergarten. Cause all the kids are drawn pictures of their families. So those kids need to be able to see that it’s okay, as well.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s so important that the books get out there and it’s been inspirational to see the stories of people who find out about the banned books and then go off and buy a bunch of books to get them into the hands of the people who should be reading and need to be reading those books.
Eric: Yes, so in addition to me helping get the word out about “Strong,” I also am trying to focus on highlighting other LGBTQ books as well, to make sure that they get seen. I know some books came out during the pandemic, so they didn’t get the marketing that they needed. So, the word wasn’t really out there about those books coming out. So just trying to highlight LGBTQ kid lit is very important to me right now.
Jeff: Are there a couple of books you’d like to shout out here that either our listeners might want to pick up or to make sure that they get them into the hands of perhaps their loved ones or something?
Eric: Oh my gosh. There’s a lot of picture books that are coming out right now. One that just came out, I think in January, it’s called “Love, Violet.” It’s a picture book about, young love or being able to tell someone that you liked them and feeling nervous and having those butterflies in your stomach. It’s probably the most adorable, cute little love story that I’ve seen. So, I would definitely say get that one.
There’s a whole bunch of other books coming out for Pride that I think are picture books. I just want to shout them all on the rooftops. There’s Cinderelliot.” Lil Miss Hot Mess has a few, “If You’re Drag Queen and You Know It,” I think it’s coming out as well. Of course, “Strong.” There’s a lot. I’ll tell them to you if you want to put them in comments section.
Jeff: Yeah. Give us a list and we’ll definitely put them in our shownotes. Kind of like your book recommendations, if you will, we’ll have a section for that in the show notes.
Eric: That’d be great.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely.
And Eric, how can people keep up with you online just to follow what you’re doing and see what comes next.
Eric: You can go to my website, which is Eric Rosswood. That’s EricRosswood.com. I’m on Twitter. LGBT_activist. I’m probably most active on Twitter. It’s probably the best way.
Jeff: And Rob, how about your social media?
Rob: For me, I’m pretty easy to find at @World_Strongest_Gay on most platforms, Instagram, YouTube, and that is also my website as well. I’m most active on Instagram. That’s where I keep, most of my life on that social media platform. I we’ll keep you up to date on everything going on.
Jeff: Well, Rob, we wish you all the success at World’s Strongest Man this year. And Eric and Rob all the success with “Strong.” It’s such a wonderful book with a great message. Thank you for putting it out into the universe and thank you for being here.
Rob & Eric: Thanks for having us.
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.
And if you’d like to keep up to date with the show, and recent releases in our genre, check out the Rainbow Romance Reader Report, the weekly dispatch that delivers the latest news right into your inbox every Friday. Go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/report for more info.
Jeff: And thanks so much to Rob and Eric for talking to us about “Strong.” I have to say that listening to this interview again while preparing the episode for this week, it was something I so badly needed. As I’m sure you all know so much of the world is on fire right now, but the message that Rob and Eric are putting out there gave me a nice, needed boost, and I hope it did the same for you.
Now a couple of other things. First, I’m excited to say that while Rob is in Sacramento at the end of the month for the World’s Strongest Man competition, which takes place May 24 through 29, he is going to be joined by Eric for a Q&A and book signing at Capital Books, which is a great independent bookstore in the city.
The event’s going to take place Friday, May 27th at 11:00 AM. I’m going to be the host for the event. And to say that I’m thrilled to join them to discuss this book yet again is an understatement. More details are going to be coming to the Capital Books website soon and we’ve got a link to their events page in the show notes. And we’ll also mention it in our social media as the event draws near. If you’re in the Sacramento area, we hope you can join us there.
Eric’s Recommended Children’s Books
Now as Eric promised, he sent over a list of his recommended children’s books. It is a list of 14 wonderful books. And rather than just telling you to go look at the list in the show notes, which by the way, you should totally do so you can click on them and buy them, I’d like to take a moment to tell you about these books that offers so many delightfully queer stories.
We’re going to kick it off with “Love, Violet” by Charlotte Sullivan Wild, illustrated by Charlene Chua. Now, this is one of the three that Eric mentioned while we were talking. And has he mentioned, it’s about trying to tell someone how you feel about them. As Valentine’s Day approaches, Violet is determined to tell Mira just how special she is. And, oh my gosh, this cover from Charlene, oh, it’s so sweet. I just love it to pieces.
Will: Perfect. For Valentine’s Day, or any time of year.
Jeff: “Cinderelliott” by Mark Ceilley & Rachel Smoka-Richardson with illustrations by Stephanie Laberis. This is another one that Eric mentioned. And as you might expect, there is a definite Cinderella vibe here. But, oh my God, hang on. Instead of a ball, it’s a royal bake-off and you know I am there for any type of cooking competition. Here, Prince Samuel falls in love with Cinderelliot’s cake and they only thing that he has to help him find the young baker is the chef’s hat that he left behind before the clock struck midnight. This book’s coming into our home very, very soon. I can assure you with that.
Next up is “Big Wig” by Jonathan Hillman with illustrations by Levi Hastings. This one’s about a child who dresses in drag for a neighborhood costume competition. In drag, he becomes B.B. Bedazzle, and a key part of his ensemble is a wig named, well appropriately, Wig. Together they are an unstoppable drag queen team in this story about instilling confidence and inspiring dreams.
“Bye, Bye Binary” by Eric Geron, illustrated again by Charlene Chua. I got to tell you the tagline on this cover says everything, “Nobody puts baby in a pink or blue corner.” In this one, a joyful baby refuses to conform to the gender binary and instead chooses toys, colors, and clothes that make them happy.
Will: Being true to yourself as the perfect message for any age.
Jeff: “The Meaning of Pride” by Rosiee Thor, illustrated by Sam Kirk, looks at the history of pride, and how to show your pride and make a difference today by simply being you, whether you’re an athlete, a poet, a designer, a politician, a drag queen, or anything else you want to be. This is a book that was recently added to our library and it is really, really wonderful.
Will: This book’s illustrations are simple, but vibrant. And in its focus of queer leaders of the past, it gives us hope and ideas on how to move forward in the future.
Jeff: Next up is “‘Twas the Night Before Pride” by Joanna McClintick, illustrated by Juana Medina. This wonderful book is told, as you might imagine, in verse, modeled after “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” This book looks at Pride’s history in the Stonewall riots. It remembers AIDS marches, while also paying homage to community, inclusion, and the joy of pride. Vikas Adam does an incredible job on the narration of this very quick audio book. It’s just seven minutes. It was really wonderful to find this one that had an audio book attached to it.
Get ready for an ear worm. Here it comes. “If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It” by Lil Miss Hot Mess, illustrated by Olga de Dios Ruiz. This is another one that Eric mentioned during our chat. Now, Lil Miss Hot Mess is a founding member of Drag Queen Story Hour, and in this sing-a-long book you get to express your brightest and boldest self. And like I said, I’m so sorry if I’ve just left you with the ear worm of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” so feel free to sing that along to yourself as I continue with this list.
“Kind Like Marsha” by Sarah Prager, illustrated by Cheryl Thuesday, focuses on 14 inspirational LGBTQ people throughout history, including Harvey Milk, Sylvia Rivera, Audrey Lorde, Leonardo DaVinci, and, of course, Marsha P. Johnson. The illustration on this cover of Marsha is so wonderful. And I think this one’s going to have to come into the home too, because I mean, you have kind in the title, and it’s just something that I want to own because kindness is so much what we need right now.
Will: Looking forward to reading that one.
Jeff: Next up is “Mighty Red Riding Hood: A Fairly Queer Tale” by Wallace West. I have to say upfront, I love the cover of this one and the style of the artwork. Will and I were talking about this one. It’s very late-sixties, early-seventies cereal box type art. I can’t explain it in any other way. In this one, Little Red is not to be messed with when he’s wearing his favorite frilly red riding hood. He is going to be himself and not even a big, bad, bully of a wolf can stop him.
Next up is “They’re So Flamboyant” by Michael Genhart with illustrations by Tony Neal. I love how clever this one is. Did you know that a gathering of flamingos is called a flamboyance? Well, it is. And that’s how this book talks about individuality and community. None of the other birds on the block knows how to react to the flamingos that have moved in. Turns out, they’re not so scary after all, and eventually the other birds figure out how they were just simply birdbrained. I would be delighted if a flamboyance of flamingos moved in next door. Wouldn’t you?
“My Sister Daisy” is by Adria Karlsson with illustrations by Linus Curci. This story is based on a true story. Daisy’s older brother is thrilled to have a new sibling. They are best buddies, doing simply everything together. But in kindergarten, things change as his sibling tells him she’s a girl and wants to be called Daisy. And he must adjust to the change, and what it means for their relationship.
Next up is “Grandad’s Camper” by Harry Woodgate. I have to say, just reading the blurb for this one gave me all of the feels here. A little girl hatches a plan to get her granddad excited to get out and explore again. You see, since Gramps passed away, Grandad hasn’t been the same without his fellow adventurer. This story just sounds so beautiful on so many levels, not only presenting the same-sex relationship of Gramps and Granddad, but also how to deal with grief as a child. I think it just sounds absolutely wonderful.
Next is “Mr. Watson’s Chickens” by Jared Dapier with illustrations, by Andrea Tsurumi. This book made me think of Doctor Seuss. Because in this book, we meet Mr. Watson who has 456 chickens, and they are kind of everywhere. They’re in the sink, on the bed, in the bread box. And it’s a bit much for Mr. Nelson, who threatens to leave if something isn’t done. Whatever we’ll Mr. Watson do?
And the last one on the list. “Two Grooms on a Cake: The Story of America’s First Gay Wedding” by Rob Sanders with illustrations by Robbie Cathro. This book celebrates the story of two marriage equality pioneers, Jack Baker and Michael McConnell, who were married on September 3rd, 1971, becoming the first same-sex couple in America to be legally wed. The story follows their struggle to get a marriage license in Minnesota and their subsequent legal battles. And the story is told through the baking of their wedding cake. And the cover for this one too…hmm… it just looks it’s so nice and so lovely. I think I’m going to have to pick this book up too, cause it sounds really great.
Thank you so much to Eric for sending us this list. As I mentioned, of course, you could find all the links to these books in the show notes. All of them are available as physical books and some are available as ebook as well. Plus, there is that one in audio. Hopefully you’re intrigued by some of these to pick them up for your own library, for a young person in your life, or even to donate to a local library, community center, PFLAG group, or anywhere else they can be found and read by those who need them.
Will: An excellent list. And my personal TBR has grown by leaps and bounds.
Jeff: At least they’re all tiny books.
Will: That’s very true.
Will: All right, everyone, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on episode 378, author Lily Morton is going to join us.
Jeff: It was so wonderful to talk to Lily. She’s going to share details about her upcoming spinoff of the “Black and Blue” series, which some of you probably also know as the “Blue Billings” series. You’re not going to want to miss hearing what she’s got in store for her character, Will.
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.