J.R. Gray joins us for this Big Gay Fiction Fest: Pride 2022 Author Spotlight. We talk with Gray about how making up sci-fi stories when he was young led to the queer romance author he is today. He also shares how a pre-pandemic discovery about himself helped him stay focused and writing through it all, and how he likes to learn at least one new skill per year. We also discuss his new Love Equations series, how his stories have evolved over the years, and what Pride means to him.

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Show Notes

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Will: Coming up on this Big Gay Fiction Fest episode, J.R. Gray joins us in an author spotlight.

Jeff: Welcome to episode 384 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me as always is my co-host and husband. It’s Will.

Will: Hello, rainbow romance reader. Welcome back to the Big Fiction Fest Fest.

Jeff: For this author spotlight we’ve got J.R. Gray. Gray’s been publishing since 2014 when his book “Legally Bound” came out. And that was a book that he was actually encouraged by a friend to release. Currently he’s releasing books in his “Love Equation series,” which continues with the “Forbidden Equation” that comes out on June 22nd. In addition to talking about those books, we also discuss how a pre-pandemic realization helped him focus and keep writing through the distraction.

Author Spotlight: J.R. Gray

Jeff: Gray, welcome to Big Gay Fiction Fest. We’re so glad you could join us.

Gray: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Jeff: Before we get into your latest book, let’s look back at some of your past. And I’m curious to know what set you up on the path to being a writer?

Gray: I have always written. Even before I could write, as a little kid, I told stories, I loved to make up. I had an imaginary alien race when I was about four or five that I used to tell stories about, you know, different currencies and planetary ranking systems. And I’d just go on and on about. So, it’s always been a kind of therapy for me. I put feelings and emotions and just everything into writing. Not where it would reflect my real emotions or feelings, but depending on what I’m feeling, just emotion-wise would go into a different scenario in my novel. So, I wrote for just myself, I never planned on publishing. So, yeah. I would just spend hours and hours. And then finally, I had a friend who begged me to read one of my finished books. And I had just finished “Legally Bound,” which is my first published novel.

And finally, I was like, “Okay. You can read this. It’s probably crap.” I mean, no editor, nothing. I didn’t have beta readers. I didn’t know anything about the publishing world, which was nuts. And she read it in a day and came back and was like, “You have to publish this.” And I was like, “I don’t know anything about publishing, you know.” Twitter… I had been on Twitter for a few years, so I looked around and found some smaller publishers that did m/m and submitted. And I think I submitted just six and four of the six ideas and I was like, “What? What am I gonna do?” I didn’t know there was an m/m community. I didn’t know it was a genre or a thing. It was very bizarre like diving in headfirst experience, which is not really the best way to do things, but it worked out.

Jeff: So, there’s so much interesting stuff to unpack there, but I have to go back to the five-year-old.

Gray: Oh, yeah.

Jeff: What got you into not just telling stories, but I mean, constructing worlds and like you said, currencies and stuff, and essentially going down that kind of sci-fi fantasy path?

Gray: Well, my dad was a huge sci-fi buff. So, he bought every new sci-fi novel, which at the time, there weren’t a ton in the 80s and 90s. So, he would buy everyone that came out, we had all of Frank Herbert and all the big names and all the smaller names. So, we had, by the time I can remember, a library of sci-fi. So, sci-fi was a huge influence on my whole childhood. And so, I don’t know if it was that or he was very into it, but because I couldn’t read at that point. So, I just always made up stories and they tended to veer towards that direction. Even if I was playing Legos with my friends, I would play 18 characters where they all played one because we used to do “Deep Space Nine” Legos, and build the spaceship out of Legos, and then I would be all the side characters because I just wanted to be 18 personalities. So, I think I’ve always gravitated towards huge making a full world.

Jeff: That is awesome. And of course, it sets you up well to be a novelist since you’ve been making up stuff all the time.

Gray: Oh, yeah. Which I never planned on being. So, it just happened because I went to school for… I’m a pilot so that was my initial plan was to fly planes, so. And I still do but not for a living.

Jeff: That’s also awesome getting to just fly. Being a pilot in the first place up in the air and everything, but you can even go on your own research trips now just…

Gray: That’s true, but it’s just so expensive, especially with gas as high as it is. Jet fuel is even great for even small planes. Gas is just so expensive. So, it’s fun, but on occasion where you can rent a plane, but I really enjoy it.

Jeff: And what sent you down the path of m/m romance? You had that first book that you did that your friend kind of pushed you into publishing. How did you end up writing in that genre?

Gray: Because I’m queer. I’ve always enjoyed queer stories and I just wrote them myself because I didn’t have a lot of them. So, because I tend to put myself in the stories and my feelings in stories, they’ve always gravitated towards a queer space. So, that’s just where I’m happiest. I’ve definitely written some m/f stuff, but it’s not my preferred.

Jeff: What would you say at this point, eight years in, what’s the trademark of a J.R. Gray book?

Gray: I would say gritty and raw and real. I like deep emotions and very real characters. I know fluff is really big in gay romance, but that has never been… I can’t do it, my brain won’t. It’s like we need some conflict here, some suspense or feelings, something to get past.

Jeff: And certainly, one of the themes in your books is mental health topics.

Gray: Yes.

Jeff: Where did your passion for mental health awareness come from?

Gray: Well, I have anxiety, terrible anxiety, and have had depression off and on my whole life. But I also…my sister died by suicide when I was 18. So, I think that just profoundly changed the way I interact with the world. And when she died, it was very…nobody talked about it. I grew up Catholic, so it was very…we can’t talk about this, it’s shameful. And mental health awareness is just always something I’ve been very passionate about because it’s not talked about enough. And I want people to see themselves in stories that I want to fill the representation. Just like with queer stories, it’s important to acknowledge that a lot of people are living and surviving. And to have a happily ever after because I love romance for that reason. It might be rough getting there, but we’re gonna get that happily ever after.

Jeff: And sometimes, the rougher it is, the sweeter that happily ever after.

Gray: Exactly.

Jeff: It turns out to be too.

Gray: Yes, especially with people suffering depression. Some of the best reader comments I’ve ever gotten was, “I’ve never seen depression written how I feel it and I connected so much with this character.” I love those emails because that makes doing what I do so much more worth it.

Jeff: Are those difficult stories for you to write? Or does it turn into kind of a catharsis for you to put that onto the page?

Gray: Like I said, a lot of times it’s therapy. It’s so good to get it out or things I felt or things I’ve gone through or bad days like it definitely…or especially anxiety, because I deal with anxiety too. Once I get it out on the page, it feels like a weight has been lifted. It’s nice to get those things off my chest.

Jeff: And how do you think your stories have changed over your eight years? Beyond the fact that you figured out all the publishing bits and pieces, how have you evolved as a storyteller in those years?

Gray: I think my prose has gotten a lot better in eight years. So, writing is a craft. And I think we’re all constantly evolving as writers. So, I do think you can see that progression from earlier books because even though I’ve written a lot of books before I published my first one, you can still see the progression and the… I love Stephen King’s philosophy of leave every chapter on a cliffhanger, even if it’s a small question, even if it’s not a huge conflict, but leaving questions because that keeps people turning pages. So, I’ve always carried that, and I think I’ve gotten a lot better at that. I think I’ve gotten better at more well-rounded stories and fleshed out characters and prose definitely is my biggest, I think, accomplishment.

Jeff: And how do you think that the landscape of publishing has changed since you first got in there eight years ago? Certainly, we’ve seen queer stories going from a handful of niche publishers to really expanding who’s publishing it, where you can find it, more than just e-publishing now and things like that.

Gray: Well, it used to be when KU was brand new. It was…the rank was different. So, my earlier books ranked well, but they had a fraction of the numbers I do now. So, it’s interesting to see how many more people are reading and especially queer stories because you can just see the numbers from eight years ago to now that so many more people are reading books just by your Amazon rank and sales. So, you can definitely see the genre has exploded that way because we have a lot more readers, a lot more people buying and reading in KU. But also, so many people, like mainstream authors are doing m/m books, which is nice to see there’s the more awareness of it, they’re at signings, and I hope that helps push it more in the mainstream media as well because, with Netflix and all these people who will tell queer stories. We need them.

Jeff: Yeah. I know, for me, it was nice this last holiday season to actually see a queer love story in a holiday movie on Netflix because that’s next level of accomplishment. Essentially you…

Gray: Exactly.

Jeff: Some kind of accomplishment badge with that.

Gray: Exactly. And even for minor… I know there was a minor side character in a Marvel that was referred to as queer or… These small steps, they are important to mainstream acceptance and seeing more of ourselves in the mainstream media. So, it’s so nice to see, especially romance because romance has kind of always been, I feel like, shit on by the rest of the book world as this light thing that’s Fabio on the cover. And it’s not. There are so many well-told, beautifully done stories that are romance. And it’s a massive genre. It carries publishing. So, for Hollywood to be acknowledging that with Netflix and a Christmas movie that’s a romance that’s bigger budget, I feel like they’re finally acknowledging that romance dollars are important and that there is an audience for them.

Jeff: Yeah. I was seeing…I don’t remember the outlet that published it, but somebody was saying that it was once again, time to acknowledge romance in general because of “Bridgerton” and how good season two is doing plus you’ve got that new Sandra Bullock movie, “The Lost City,” I think it’s called, and all the box office that it did and it’s romance centric. And yeah, people…

Gray: Yeah. And I feel like they gave us rom-coms for a little while, but it was like they’re like, “Oh, they’re chick flicks.” And nobody took them seriously. But I do think romance has such a spending dollar that it needs to be acknowledged for what it is. So, I’m really happy to see Netflix doing them and hopefully, it’ll keep picking up and we’ll get more queer romance stories in mainstream.

Jeff: Had romance always been where you wanted to write? Even again, going back to your early days telling sci-fi stories. How did you land really in romance to be what you’re publishing?

Gray: Everything has always had an element…like I wrote even some YA stuff and even that had a romantic element to it. So, I found I just really like telling love stories. I love the conflict of it, I love character dynamics of two people coming together to make things work and even putting in hard work for those because even at their best relationships are work which I acknowledged is even…I have books that are… ship angst, as I call them, but higher like outside conflict angst. And there’s still things to work through. And two people coming together is just such a great connection. I have always loved it.

Jeff: You released quite a few books in 2020 and 2021. How did you keep your creative well filled as the pandemic began and then rolled on for two years? Because I know a lot of people struggled through that timeframe.

Gray: I had a… Right before the pandemic in January before that hit, I had a huge lightbulb moment. I was in a writers’ retreat with some of my friends. And my friend Katie McGee looked at me and she was like, “You have ADHD?” And I was like, “No. I’m not hyperactive. I’ve never…” And she was going through the list of how ADHD presents in people. And I had one of those oh shit moments like, “Yeah. That might actually be true.” So, I came home and talked to my doctor, my psychiatrist, and realized I do have ADHD, and that realization really, really helped me more than almost anything else in my publishing career, like being able to turn off some of that noise sometimes, with medication and therapy has helped me just…because I used to have a big problem where I’d start one book and then jump to another book and then jump to another book. So, I’d have like six half-finished novels. And I still have that problem a little bit. But finishing and sticking to a story, it has made it so much easier. So, whilst the pandemic was really rough in a lot of ways, it also was really helpful to me to be able to figure out that and stay focused on one novel at a time, or at least try.

Jeff: And speaking of your latest, you’ve got the “Love Equations” series going on. And you’ve just released the third book in that right here before the Fest. Tell us about that series and what readers are gonna find in “The Forbidden Equation”.

Gray: So, I’ve always had an issue with tons of pot bunnies, I have a whole file of them. And I write with Ellis James a lot. Not together, but we will sprint as a lot of authors do. So, her and I will talk about ideas constantly. And I had this idea for the first “Love Equations” book, “The Friendship Equation,” and I brought it to her and she’s like, “You have to write that book right now.” And I was like, “I have this other series I’m working on,” which is the “Pretty Broken” series of rockstars. And that book was coming out and she was like, “No. You have to write it right now. I need this book.” So, I rearranged my schedule and wrote the first one and people just loved it. So, it was gonna be a standalone, I turned it into a series. So “The Forbidden Equation” is about the main character from “The Friendship Equation’s” brother. And yeah, it just kind of exploded that way.

Jeff: What are the stories that you’re telling in that series?

Gray: So “The Friendship Equation” is sports romance, it’s high school and swimmers, but it’s a bi awakening out-for-you. One character, Vance, is in love with his best friend, Harden. And he blurts it out to him over a conversation. And so it’s like coming of age and realizing that they are in love and they are best friends and then with a background of swimming and sports and Harden’s father is running for office. So, it’s a big complex puzzle of, “I want to be out and accept who I am. And I realized that I’m bisexual the same time my father is running for office, and this might not be good for his political career.”

So, it’s a very big world with a lot of complex life issues that I think 18- and 20-year-olds are facing these days with being out in the current political environment. So, the third book, the “Forbidden Equation” is about his younger brother coming out in a time where his father is in office and there’s a lot of drama surrounding… just he’s trying to lead a normal 20-year-old life, but it’s compounded by what everybody else wants from you.

Jeff: What do you think resonated so much with people even going back to the author you were doing sprints with who’s like, “I need that book right now?” Even as you’re describing it.

Gray: So, this conversation was more than a year ago. What… I can’t remember the… Because I wrote the blurb I think, which I don’t usually do. Usually, I wait like most other authors until the last minute to write the blurb before it needs to be put up on Amazon.

Jeff: Right. Because they’re the worst thing to work on.

Gray: But with this one, I just had such a clear vision of what the book was gonna be. I wrote the blurb and sent it to her. And she just was like, “I need this book right now.”

Jeff: And a new series was born.

Gray: Yeah. And I usually write… Most of my characters are 20s to 30s, so 18 was young because it’s definitely not a YA, it’s definitely adult because it’s spicy as they’d say on I’m TikTok. But that’s not usually my…high school is not usually my thing either. So, it was a different direction for me, but I had a lot of fun with it.

Jeff: You’d mentioned you’ve done some YA previously.

Gray: Well, that was before I was publishing. It was just for me. So “Burn that Bridge” is a little bit YA, but again, they’re 18. So, and that’s my book with a trans main character, but it’s definitely not my normal.

Jeff: You mentioned the file of plot bunnies, where do you find yourself getting most of your plot buddies to put into that file?

Gray: They just come to me. I don’t know what it is. It’s just “this would be an interesting…” Like my first book is “Legally Bound,” the first published book I have. I was like, what if this lawyer had a one-night stand and the next morning in court he realizes that he’s defending, he’s a public defender, he’s defending his one-night stand from the night before, and just the chaos that ensues? So, I usually start to something like that. A first chapter or something, a situation that I find interesting. And that’s how my “Pretty Broken” series starts too. It’s a writer who’s writing in a sex club, and he makes eyes with a guy across the room, and they just… he goes over and they talk during sex acts. So, it’s shocking that… And they’re just having a conversation while this rockstar is, yeah, in the middle of a sex act. So, just the connection that formed from that. So, I like big first chapters, I guess. It will shock you into this book.

Jeff: Shock you into it, but also hook you in to keep you kind of…

Gray: Yeah.

Jeff: Just the hook on “Legally Bound” alone, it takes the idea of what you can see sometimes in kind of workplace romances sometimes where it’s like you’re coming to interview and oh, the guy I just hooked up with is now interviewing me or vice versa. It’s a whole other level when you’re the attorney and your hookup happens to be your defending.

Gray: And I loved that shock, and we’re in a courtroom. And a lot of times public defenders are meeting you for the first time right before an arraignment. So, it’s very complicated and not a great place to be like, “Why were… I was just with you last night. What did you do from the time you left to now that we’re in a courtroom?” So, there’s a lot of dynamic to that.

Jeff: You mentioned too with “Love Equations,” for example, that it was gonna be a standalone, but then it became a series. In general, do you plan out “I’ve got this idea, and I’m gonna make this into a series,” or is it more of the idea of, “Well, that worked well, let’s make it a series?”

Gray: Usually, if it’s a standalone, it stays a standalone for me. “Pretty Broken” was planned to be five books and it’s gonna be five books, one for each rockstar in the band. But yeah. Not usually do I turn a standalone into a series if it’s done really well. So, “Legally Bound” was five books and it was planned to be that. But, no, “Love Equations” it’s kind of just…everybody loved it. And then I was having lunch with a friend of mine who, she runs the Wanderlust signing, and we were talking about it, and she was just telling me how much she loved Harden and Vance. And then sitting there at lunch, I got the idea for book two and book three, and they just kind of took off from there and I was like, “When am I gonna fit this into my schedule? This was supposed to be standalone, which is another problem altogether.”

Jeff: Stand, alone series. It’s fun, though, right?

Gray: It is fun, but it’s like, we don’t have infinite amount of time which we need, especially I feel like this year has gone so fast that trying to fit in everything because I had already planned… I have my “Working Dogs” series that started with the YBBB giveaway. Book one is free in that giveaway. So, I plan on doing this FBI “Working Dogs” series, so I had to slot in the “Love Equations” books with those books. So, it’s definitely been trying to juggle a lot of things this year.

Jeff: How much do you try to plan for your year versus just deciding I want to work on this, I want to work on this? And I ask this question already knowing that you’ve got 2023 pre-orders up on Amazon.

Gray: So, pre-ADHD, I didn’t plan anything. It was like I have to really be in a mood to write a book. I jumped around so much. It was a problem. So, I tried not to plan anything. And still, my muse is definitely fickle. So, sometimes I’ll have a plan for a book and it turns into something completely else while I’m writing it, which I just let go because characters, they’re gonna do what they wanna do. They do not like to listen to anyone. So, I tried to… I’m a pantser, I don’t fully plot out my books, so I have no idea where they start and where they end and they go where they go. And even sometimes the ending changes. But since that, especially with series, I’ve done much better in being able to plan out about how long the book takes me and where they are gonna fit in my schedule. My ’23 dates, I push stuff out a year because Amazon lets you schedule the year out. So, I will bring those in as long as I keep to my schedule and can fit everything in that I wanna fit in. So, those will probably end up being fall and winter instead of next spring.

Jeff: Oh, nice. Even sooner to get to some of those titles in those series.

Gray: Yeah. Exactly.

Jeff: Do you have favorite tropes that you like to work with? With so many divergent types of books out there, it seems like you may also diversify across tropes. But do you have some that are your go-to favorites?

Gray: I do. And I try to write those less because I don’t want them to be in every single book. So, I absolutely love enemies to lovers. And I love there’s only one bed. I don’t know why but like forced proximity is like… I will read every book with that. So, I definitely try and not put them in every book. And I try and really diversify across tropes because I feel like readers don’t…well, probably some readers want the same thing over and over, but people like differences in different scenarios, and I try and do twists on tropes like “Pretty Toxic,” my book that came out in March, which is number two in “Pretty Broken” was best friends to enemies to lovers. So, it wasn’t just one, it was throwing it in that they went through the evolution of we’re best friends and now we hate each other and then they got back together.

Jeff: Is there a trope that you would like to work with more?

Gray: No. I don’t think there is. I think I do try and cover them as much, but I like, like I said, I like to change them. I’ve been waiting so long now I don’t wanna be repetitive of myself even, so I try and turn them on their nose a little bit even.

Jeff: You’ve got several series in progress. And of course, standalones in the backlist too because you’ve got eight years of backlist. For someone new to your work, where would you recommend as the ideal on-ramp?

Gray: I would say “Love Equations” is great. “The Friendship Equation” is a great introduction to my work. I would also say “Scapegoat” which is my working dog series if you like suspense and FBI-type stuff is great. Even “Pretty Broken.” I like my recent work. I think it’s better. I think the last two years are better than even some of my favorites. I know “Unscripted” is probably one of my most read books ever. And that’s celebrity romance. Yeah. I think my newer work really, it’s above and beyond.

Jeff: Excellent. I know I’m gonna be picking up some books soon. I’m gonna have to go back to “Legally Bound” because you kind of got me there with that one that pairing so…

Gray: That’s how I sell it too. When I’m at a signing or because I do a lot of those, I like to have little one-liners as a lead-in and that gets so many people. And I think that’s why that book did well because it was just packaged well and it has a great cover so…

Jeff: And coming up after “Forbidden Equation,” what do people have to look forward to from you later into this year? You mentioned perhaps pulling in some of those 2023 pre-order dates. What can you tease us about?

Gray: I am doing…right now I’m gonna be working on the second “Working Dogs” novel. So, it’s another pair of search and rescues who work with labs for the FBI and they will be in Alaska on a search and rescue mission. So, pretty excited about that one.

Jeff: Nice. I like your divergence across sub-genres too. You’ve got a little bit of new adult, collegeie, and a little bit of romantic suspense going on and…

Gray: Yeah. I find if I just stick to one area, I get bored with myself. So I like…especially writing series, I don’t think I could write one series all the way through. I need to be back and forth a little bit to keep my brain engaged.

Jeff: Yeah. Definitely keeps it interesting to kind of mix things up a little bit while also keeping to what your trademarks are.

Gray: Yeah. And I think my readers have been great about…they’re very happy to go from this romantic suspense to the rockstar or the new adult and with the sports mixed in. It’s been great.

Jeff: I know you said you’re a pantser. How much research do you have to work in as you’re either having to research how an investigation goes or maybe what’s gonna happen with a rockstar on the road or what attorneys are doing in court. How does that fit into being a pantser at the same time?

Gray: I do an insane amount of research. I do months and months of research leading in. Everything from writing rockstar romance, I taught myself to play guitar. And I started listening to another podcast that just talks to songwriters. So, they just sit down with songwriters, and the host is a songwriter. And they talk about the writing process and their lives. So, I listen to…my research spans massive parts. I do a lot of YouTube. I read a lot of articles for my rockstars and my celebrities about what it was like to work in-depth with directors and how weird even sex scenes got when they were filming because I remember reading this one article talking about how the director was in a tent with them and they were in a sleeping bag. And it was like this tiny, cramped space and just one camera while they were filming a sex scene for… I can’t remember the movie, but it was just how awkward it was being in this tiny tent with your co-star and a director with very little on. And so I love to get into those little elements of how awkward things can be and just the difficulty.

I was listening to another podcast on blind items. I don’t know if you know what blind items are for celebrities, but they’re basically little bits of gossip overheard by industry professionals and published in a way that doesn’t really state who it’s about, but you can figure out who it’s about. And that’s so they don’t get sued for libel. So, I’ve been doing a ton of research on celebrity gossip and what teams allow to come out, and how difficult it is still in this day and age to be queer in the industry, and how you’ll get blackballed if you come out as a celebrity or a singer-songwriter. So, I love my research.

Jeff: You make the research sound fun. Learning how to play guitar sounds fun, although a big lift to do the research at the same time.

Gray: I have this thing where I like to learn one new skill a year. So, in 2020, it was skateboarding so I could skateboard with my kids. In ’21, it was playing the guitar. I don’t know what ’22 will be. But I’m gonna write these books. I’m gonna teach myself to do this. I’m gonna listen to… I have a Skillshare account where I mostly learned how to play guitar, but they had songwriting classes and music theory and it is fun. And I try and keep it that way because you should enjoy those parts of your job you want to. It has to be engaging because if you’re excited about it, then that shows in your reading, I feel like.

Jeff: Yeah. I would agree. You could tell when somebody’s really into what they’ve written and put on the page.

Gray: Yeah. And so if I feel like I’m not into a story enough or connecting enough, I try and do more research because I feel like that spurs your creativity to really get into how this life would be led and what they’d be dealing with day-to-day.

Jeff: How much time did you give yourself, for example, to learn to skateboard or learn guitar before you had to apply those into your book?

Gray: Skateboarding has not been applied to a book yet. That was… We were mid-pandemic, it was the summer and I was like, “I’d like to learn to do something every year.” So, my oldest son really wanted to learn how to skateboard so I was like, “All right. Let’s do this.” And it went pretty well.

Jeff: That’s really bold doing skateboarding. It just seems like a way to get super hurt.

Gray: That was a fear. That was definitely… And I had just gotten a new iPhone 12 or 11 or something and the only time I’ve actually fallen… I fell… I was holding my phone and I fell right on it and shattered the thing. It was like three days old. And I took it into Apple because I had AppleCare and they were like, “Wait, how did you do this?” They were like, “We are not even mad, we’re kind of impressed.” So, that was bad but… And then the next day I woke up and I’m like, “Where did this giant bruise come from?” “Oh, yeah. That was my bad.” So just one fall and the rest has been fine, but it is definitely, I feel like there’s a steep learning curve. I also started with a longboard, which is a little bit easier than a trick board. If you get a nice one, they glide really well. They have good wheels, they turn great. So, yeah. I just jumped into that one headfirst, too. But the guitar, I think I played for three months before I started writing.

Jeff: And certainly guitars a little safer, so…

Gray: Much safer. That was a better indoor pandemic skill.

Jeff: So, of course, this Big Gay Fiction Fest is taking place during Pride month, and we would love to know what Pride means to you.

Gray: I still, to me, Pride is fundamentally a protest and it’s remembering how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go, especially in the current climate and how many anti-trans bills there are coming up and how vulnerable trans children are that… It’s definitely a celebration of how far we’ve come and where we are, but I still think it needs to be viewed as a protest to remember that we have still so much to fight for, which is important.

Jeff: Yeah. As you said, especially now when it seems like the things that you have fought for might be taken back.

Gray: Or are in jeopardy. Yes. So, I feel like there’s so much at stake still every day with the anti-trans bills coming up and what Texas and Florida have done. Florida with the “Don’t Say Gay.” I think there’s so much more we have to protect. So, Pride is a celebration, but it still needs to be viewed as a protest and we still need to claw back and keep every right we’ve gained.

Jeff: How does Pride manifest itself in your stories?

Gray: I think in the acceptance. I think there’s so much, especially in my “Love Equations” there’s a lot of coming into yourself and acceptance and being excited and happy. And it reflects in my rockstar romance and I wanna be out and I want people to know, and I wanna be able to walk down the street with my boyfriend and not have to hide it. So, I think those elements of Pride are very important to me and they are in my books over and over that even against families or political or whatever odds, I wanna be out and accept myself and have other people accept me and be happy.

Jeff: Well said. And I think in some ways, the stories that we all write are a little bit of a form of protest as well. Just continue to put those characters out there.

Gray: Exactly. Yeah. And support for readers is important. And like we said, mainstream support has just been…we gotta keep growing it.

Jeff: What do you hope that readers most take away from your stories?

Gray: I want people to feel stuff when they read my books. I like feelings. I love when readers send me a message that they have a book hangover or it made them cry or they connected with a character. Sad, happy all of it is… I like books that make me feel. So, I think it’s important when readers have those same experiences.

Jeff: It always means something to me when I hear from a writer who says this part of my book really made me laugh or this part of my book made me cry as the author. I think that always means that the reader is probably gonna take just that much more from it if you as the creator could have that reaction.

Gray: And that’s… Since writing has always been therapy for me, it is I like to put things I’m feeling. Happy sad, frustrated, mad, that’s what I’m usually feeling. So, no matter if the circumstances are completely different and still these made me obviously very upset or depressed or anxious. And for those to come through words and other people can feel them and be moved by them is a wonderful experience between a writer and a reader I think.

Jeff: I absolutely agree. What is the best way for people to keep up with you online? So, as they come away from Big Gay Fiction Fest, hopefully pick up “Forbidden Equation,” but keeping up with you on everything that’s coming up next.

Gray: My website is jrgraybooks.com. It’s really easy, I just rebranded it and it’s very pretty. And I also have a Facebook group, the Gray Pack. So, I’m very active in there. And of course, my newsletter has everything, so that’s the best way to keep up to date.

Jeff: Fantastic. We’ll make sure we have links to all of that going along with our conversation here so people can find all that. Great. Thank you so much for spending some time with us and being here on Big Gay Fiction Fest.

Gray: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. It was amazing.


Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. Don’t forget the show notes page also has links to everything that we talked about in this episode.

And if you’d like even more gay fiction recommendations, Jeff and I have put together “Happily Ever After,” a free e-book for the reviews and suggested romance reads. So whether you’re in the mood for a contemporary or historical or even holiday romance, we have got you covered. You’ll get it when you sign up for the Rainbow Romance Reader Report, our weekly podcast newsletter. To learn more and to get your free ebook, go to biggayfictionpodcast.com/report.

Jeff: And thanks again to Gray for joining us. I enjoy hearing all about his books and process, but in particular, how the “Love Equation” series started coming out now because Ellis James insisted that he write that book right now. Ellis was not going to be waiting for that. It’s really great to have people in your inner circle who can prompt you to take the leap on things, even like his friend who had nudged him to push “Legally Bound” all those years ago.

Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Thursday in episode 385, we’ve got another Big Gay Fiction Fest panel as we talk about paranormal romance.

Jeff: We’re going to be joined by Jenn Burke, Kiki Burrelli and Mia Monroe to talk about werewolves, phoenixes, witches, and all manner of paranormal creatures and goings on.

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 kinds 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.