For our second Big Gay Fiction Fest panel discussion we take on paranormal romance with Jenn Burke, Kiki Burrelli and Mia Monroe. We talk about the differences and crossovers between urban fantasy, magical realism and other genres, as well as the work that goes into creating a world where you decide all the rules. Of course we also discuss what drew each of them to write paranormal, their latest books, and how they make paranormal creatures uniquely their own.

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Show Notes

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Jeff: Coming up on this Big Gay Fiction Fest episode, we’ve got a terrific panel discussion on paranormal romance.

Will: Welcome to episode 385 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. We hope you’re having a great Pride month and enjoying these special Big Gay Fiction Fest episodes.

And it’s time right now for another panel discussion. This time we’re focused on paranormal romance as we talk with authors Jenn Burke, Kiki Burrelli and Mia Monroe. One of the many things I love about this conversation is the representation of many paranormal beings that these authors write. We’ve got everything from witches to phoenixes to werewolves to vampires, and so much more, including how one author tends to smoosh a whole bunch of different types of characters together. We also find out how each of these authors decide to make characters their own, such as vampires who actually aren’t dead.

Paranormal Romance Panel Discussion: Jenn Burke, Kiki Burrelli and Mia Monroe

Jeff: Jenn, Kiki, and Mia, thank you so much for joining us on the Big Gay Fiction Fest.

Jenn: Thanks for having us.

Mia: Thanks for having us.

Kiki: Thank you.

Jeff: I am excited. We’re gonna talk about paranormal romance. And let’s get everybody started with all of you introducing yourselves. Mia, I’ll start with you.

Mia: Okay. I am Mia Monroe, and until…let’s see. I’ve been writing m/m romance since 2019. And until recently, meaning just a few months ago, I wrote contemporary m/m, but I have just launched into paranormal.

Jeff: Exciting.

Mia: Very exciting.

Jeff: Jenn, what about you?

Jenn: I’m Jenn Burke, and I write paranormal and some sci-fi romance in there too. My latest big series, paranormal series is kind of the “Not Dead Yet” universe and the spin-off series is just concluding in May. So, yeah. So the last book in that universe is going to be out in May.

Jeff: And Kiki?

Kiki: I am Kiki Burrelli. I write paranormal romance. I get really attached to my characters, so I tend to write big worlds where there’s many series where you see characters come again, and again, and again. And I also like to smoosh just a bunch of different types of paranormal creatures together.

Jeff: Smoosh. That’s a technical term, right? the smooshing of the characters together.

Kiki: Yes, I made my Word learn that word because I was done with that red squiggly line.

Jeff: Mia, I’m curious because you’re newer to paranormal, what shifted you from contemporary over to paranormal?

Mia: So, I think it started with…I read the book in December that was sort of magical realism paranormal-ish, and I loved the book so much that it sort of made me think, “Well, why am I not writing this type of book? Why am I only reading this type of book?” And then, when I start to look back at my own life, I grew up in Massachusetts, and if you don’t know anything about Massachusetts, the entire place is haunted. And I lived in Salem, home of the witches, and I walked to school through a decrepit old cemetery with, you know, gravestones tumbled over, and you couldn’t even read them anymore because they were so old and ignored. And so my entire life has been surrounded by this sort of paranormal flavor. Yet when I decided to start writing romance, I was…I don’t even know why, but I just gravitated naturally to contemporary. But in December when that book sort of like really resonated with me, I decided it was time to embrace that part of me and jump in.

Jeff: That’s very cool, making that kind of transition. Kiki, for you, what inspired you to do paranormal as opposed to any other of the romance genres that are out there?

Kiki: I think with paranormal, I love that there’s more freedom in it, you can just make up what you want. And if you decide this exists, it exists now. I love having that ability, just the sky is the limit, your mind’s the limit.

Jeff: Do you build kind of, I guess, guard rails for yourself essentially to like what your world has in it or is it truly just, “I want somebody to now do this thing,” and you just kind of go for it?

Kiki: To an extent, it’s both of those things. That’s another thing that’s hard about paranormal is you have to…if anything can be true, then you have to decide what isn’t true. That can be tough. But after a while, after you’ve been established, and you’ve written a few books, I mean, it just naturally has these rules. And, I mean, you can’t have wolf shifters and all of a sudden bring in mermaids if there is no chance that mermaids could ever exist. I mean, things have to make sense I guess in the realm of the world that you’ve created.

Jeff: And Jenn, for you, what was it about paranormal that drew you in?

Jenn: So, it goes way back. So I kind of credit Mercedes Lackey and Tanya Huff as two authors who really inspired me back in the early ’90s. So I was a teenager reading that stuff, and it was just kind of…I’d always write fantasy, fairy tales, that sort of thing, and then I found Mercedes Lackey, Diana Tregarde series, which is, it’s, a paranormal urban fantasy, you know, witches in the real world kind of thing, and that kind of introduced me to the idea of, “Hey, these kind of stories could happen in the real world.” So I sort of sought out those. Charles de Lint is another great example. And then Tanya Huff, especially her “Blood Line” series that’s set in Toronto, that really opened my eyes to the fact that, hey, I could write these kinds of stories set in Canada, which for Canadians is kind of a big deal because you don’t see a lot of books set in Canada. So that kind of introduced me to the whole paranormal thing. So paranormal has been my…kind of the love of my writing life forever. Interestingly enough, the first series I did with Kelly Jensen was actually science fiction romance. But when we were done with that, then I refocused on paranormal. So the majority of my books are paranormal.

Jeff: I do love “Blood Ties.”

Jenn: Yes.

Jeff: I was first exposed to it with the TV series when it ran in the U.S., and then I went back and read some of the books because I was so into those characters.

Jenn: Those books are awesome, and I have to say, it’s one of the highlights of my writing career that I’ve actually met Tanya Huff. She came to a meeting with the Ottawa romance writers. I can’t remember what the meeting was about, but she was presenting. And then I met her later, and she remembered my name. It was like one of those things that teenage me would never have believed would ever happen, and it was just one of those oho kind of moments.

Jeff: That’s cool.

Let’s define things a little bit because sometimes when I’m reading, I’m like, you know, what is paranormal versus something like urban fantasy or magical realism? What does the story have to have to be considered paranormal in your minds?

Jenn: For me, paranormal is kind of the classic monsters that are…they’re the good guys though, so like the vampires and the witches and ghosts and that sort of thing. So that’s kind of brought in. And there’s the difference between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. Urban fantasy is focused on those monsters with some romance. Whereas the paranormal romance is focused on the romance with some of those monsters in it. So it’s a little bit similar yet different. Like in a lot of urban fantasy series you’ll see love triangles that go on and on and on or you, know, are never resolved. Whereas in a paranormal romance, you might have characters that go from book to book but the romantic arc is continuing across those books between that character or those characters, it’s not always, you know, will they, won’t they? It is they will, but it’s just gonna take a while to get there.

Jeff: Mia, what about you? Anything you would add to that?

Mia: Yeah. I agree a lot with what Jenn said. I think it’s the creatures that we think about in a mythical sense or behind the veil existing in the real world and interacting with, you know, mortals or humans, however you wanna word it depending on which creature you’re talking about. And yeah, exactly, the romance part is that it really features the romance between, you know, the monster and whoever they’re with. When I think of urban fantasy, I do think that it has a different sort of feel to it, even like it can be maybe a bigger mystery like saving the world type of mystery, and maybe a grittier backdrop sort of thing, maybe even a little bit more action-adventure at times with the romance sort of intertwined. Whereas definitely, with paranormal romance, the plot is going on but the feature is about the romance between the main characters.

Kiki: I look at paranormal and paranormal romance as more of just anything that is about “the other,” like anything that can’t be proven to exist in our world that’s in a book. I feel that all is classified as paranormal romance. And then I sort of look at the paranormal genre as maybe like the parent and then paranormal romance and urban fantasies as offsprings who are siblings because they are like very similar, and urban fantasy tends to, like everyone else said, it’s grittier, it’s got more of like…tends to have a more sarcastic tone. Whereas paranormal romance can have sort of elements of urban fantasy, but you don’t usually find… I guess those more acerbic narrations, you don’t usually find in paranormal romance.

Jeff: Along with the creatures, how does magic play into it? Because I also think magic factors heavily in urban fantasy, but then I’ve read some paranormal where magic’s not part of that world necessarily but some where it is.

Mia: Well, for my book the series “Covens of Eaton Falls,” I originally planned it to be featuring a witch coven and a vampire coven. So it was always gonna be heavily focused on the witches and their magic existing in the real world unbeknownst to sort of the…we call them basic… Can I say bad words on this? I don’t know…

Jeff: Absolutely.

Mia: Basic ass humans is what they call jokingly what they call the regular mortals in my books. The technical term is non-magical beings. So they have actual magic that’s going on through my witches. And so I think that’s just part of the world that I chose to create. Witches exist in our world but the type of magic that they create does not…at least not to my knowledge to what Kiki said cannot be proven. You know, but magic balls of light and different things happening like that I’ve never seen happen, whereas they do exist in the world that I created. So, for me, I think it’s just a matter if you want that type of magic to exist in your world that you created.

Kiki: I think that magic is also so broad depending on your system, your structure of magic, you know, you can have magic that naturally exists within people, magic that needs to be learned, magic that’s like nature magic, animal magic. And you have to decide what type of magic it is because that part’s very important I think.

Mia: Mmm-hmmm.

Jeff: As you’re plotting a series or a book or a singular book, how much thought do you put into your world as you’re starting versus how much can you pants something like paranormal where at least to me I would get anxious if I didn’t know how the world worked before I started writing something? How does it work for each of you? And, Jenn, we’ll come up to you first.

Jenn: I tend to come up with an idea and then I start thinking of, “Okay, what are the rules?” That’s one of the first things that I do just so that I…because a lot of the time when you come up with the rules, that can kind of point the plot in a certain direction. So, example, in my “Not Dead Yet” series, one of the rules I came up with is that witches can’t use magic for their own personal gain, it never works properly. So, that kind of led into the main plot, which was a coven of witches who are trying to find a way around that rule and doing a whole bunch of bad stuff in the process. So, without that rule in advance, I wouldn’t have had that piece of the plot to kind of build on. So for me, you know, figuring out the rules, figuring out the types of magic, figuring out the types of creatures, those are all things that I want to do in advance so that when it comes time to figure out the plot, I have those pieces already to go.

Kiki: I think for me, when I’m first starting, it’s just the general premise, it’s sort of like the overall lump of clay, like what colors is this clay, and what is this clay made out of? And then as I start writing the first book, I’ll start adding in the specifics of the world just so that it makes sense with the plot in deciding, “Oh, yeah, of course, it’s that way because this other thing needs to happen.” I think that whole process of writing it through the first time to sort of cement details is very important to me. And I also like to leave certain things open, certain things unanswered, certain like prophecies just sort of very vague so that later on, I can decide, “Oh, yeah, it means this.” Yeah. So I think that’s how I plot it through.

Mia: I would say that my process is similar to Kiki’s in some way since this was my first time ever writing a paranormal book. Maybe it was a little bit of blend between Jenn and Kiki like I sat down and said, okay, well, I definitely want vampires because that’s my jam and I definitely want witches because I wanted to write a bunch of twinkie, sassy but powerful witches. So, I knew those were gonna be the two main beings that lived in my world, and I knew why they were not supposed to interact with each other. And so, to Jenn’s point, that was sort of my big reason, the big plot behind everything. But then similar to what Kiki did, then I just kind of started writing, and then when I would get to something that I said, “Oh, I need to answer this question,” then I would answer it and write it down, so I knew this is something I have to be consistent with through the whole book. And then I just kind of went through it that way.

And I ended up changing to a very big a-ha moment at the end of book one because, as I got through it and I was answering those questions, there was this moment where I was like, “Oh, here’s a fork in the road, I can either make this go fated mates or I could not.” And I just love the idea of fated mates, and since I’m in a paranormal world, I decided to go that way, and it worked with the rest of the plot that had already been created. But now the great thing, like Kiki says, is now you’ve made those rules. So now in every book, you go forward, you’re like, “Oh, wait, that can’t happen because I said in book one, it only works if…” So it’s kind of a work in progress, but it’s been a blast. So I love it.

Jeff: When you’re doing series, do you try to think through? Like, you know, Jenn, you’ve done two trilogies, but even if you’re going, you know, further than that, do you have a sense when you’re in book one how much you need to set in stone for your rules? Or do you leave yourself room to create new rules in the subsequent books?

Jenn: So for me, I have to have a good reason to break my rules, and not to say that they’re never unbreakable, but there has to be something that is out of the ordinary. So, you wouldn’t necessarily break the rule just on a whim because there’s gonna be a consequence. So, yeah, for me, it’s a little bit different because for the “Not Dead Yet” series and the “Ashes and Dust” series, those are the same characters going across both trilogies, so it’s not like a new pairing for each book. So I have stuff fairly plotted out kind of vaguely for the…like when I’m working on book one, I have ideas where book two and three are going to go and what the final product is going to look like. But the stuff in between, there’s the ups and downs about, you know, what is actually going to happen to get me there, and that normally comes out as I’m actively plotting the next books, so.

Jeff: How have you approached your like series building, Kiki?

Kiki: I plan ahead. I try not to plan too much ahead, but I plan pretty far ahead. When I was writing “Truth,” which is the first book of my “Wolves of Walker County” series, I was deciding things for a book that happened seven books and two series later. So I like to start early and keep those notes, but I also think it’s really important for me personally to not decide anything that I don’t have to decide yet because I don’t want to write myself into a corner that didn’t…that didn’t need to be a corner. So I like to leave sort of a bunch of those questions unanswered until they must be answered.

Jeff: Like that flexibility sound. It might freak me out a little bit with the planner that I am, but it sounds like a really good plan. How did you approach all that, Mia? I mean, as you kind of dove into your very first paranormal series, were you looking across your series to make these rules?

Mia: Yeah. So, the first thing I had to decide was…because in contemporary, I write a lot of series but they’re all interconnected stand-alones, so they’re together, you know, maybe it’s a friend group or something like that, but each book can be read as its own standalone story. So I had to decide right away if I wanted…what I wanted for this series. So, each book is a different couple but the plot carries through the entire series. So, I had to learn how to…not only I had to think about how many books I wanted, which is something I typically do anyway, I sort of put the couples together and figure out how many books there’s gonna be, maybe even figure out the tropes or whatever reason is going to keep them together or keep them apart. But for this, I also had to figure out how was the plot arch going to work through six books.

So, something Kiki said earlier, which I didn’t realize what I did, is I left a lot of the stuff vague where the characters don’t know what’s happening either. So, that gives me some wiggle room to decide what happens as we get further into the story. So I don’t have to have it all figured out. I can kind of let the characters tell me as we get through each book. I’m about halfway through book three, and I’ve just figured out who the actual villain is. Like I knew who he was, but now I know what his motive is. And so I had to get through two and a half books before I realized why is he causing all of this…you know, why is he doing all of this? What is the point? So now I kind of know that as I’m going through the rest of the books.

Jeff: What kind of bibles do you keep to keep all this stuff straight? I mean, it’s hard enough writing contemporary for me to go, “Eye color was this, hair color was that, you know, this is where they, you know, had their first job, or whatever it is.” There’s a lot more stuff here keeping track here.

Mia: My PA does it. I gave her book one and said, “Here, write down everything that seems important, write down how their parents…you know, stuff about their family, what they look like, any quirky, you know, things that they have, what they said their specialty magic was, you know, what the vampire’s color eyes look like.” And so she basically just made me like a big table and separated them by vampire, witch. And I also have some extra special characters, beings, in my world, and I did that intentionally so I could spin off into other paranormal creatures later. So write them all down, tell me their names, and what I said they did. And so, yeah, it’s just a big spreadsheet that I can refer back to when I get stuck on what color were his eyes again, how were his parents, what happened to his parents. So, [crosstalk 00:22:17].

Jeff: How did that magic work?

Mia: Yeah. How did that magic?

Jeff: Where were my rules?

Mia: What’s the reason behind that? Yeah, exactly.

Jenn: I was not as good at keeping my bible as I was writing in the “Not Dead Yet” universe. It was kind of like, “Oh, maybe I should write all this stuff down.” So, yeah. I do have a PA, but I haven’t tasked her with doing a Bible yet, something that’s been on my mind. But yeah, so I do have some stuff written down. It was kind of neat in the “Ashes and Dust” series because it’s a spin-off of “Not Dead Yet.” I already knew the characters and I had them in my head. Like I knew the world and all that stuff, and so there was a little bit less work than in setting up the universe as there was in the first series.

Jeff: And Kiki, how are you keeping track of everything?

Kiki: I think like Jenn, I often fall into the, “Oh, you’ll remember that. Why would you forget that?” And then you do always, always forget. So I’ve tried to be more careful about just as I go along, as I decide things, when I’m in the plotting stage, I use Scrivener to write so I just have…the left-hand side is just, you know, a long list of just different files and inside each is just rules of that specific subsection. Because, I mean, if you have a world that has shifters and witches and werewolves, I mean, each of them needs kind of their own origin, their own story, or their own rules, and things like that.

And I also when I’m plotting a book to a next book, I’ll read through the book before so that I can make certain connections that maybe I would have been able to make otherwise like I would have forgotten that they went to a restaurant and their waitress was weird. And then so in the next book, I can maybe describe like that waitress is actually a selkie, and that’s why she’s weird. So that’s another big part of it.

Jeff: I love how everybody’s got their own kind of method or non-method to dealing with all of that.

For each of you, I’m curious to know, what’s like the funniest part of writing paranormal because…since you’re getting to, you know, kind of dig into things that don’t exist in our real world?

Mia: We think don’t exist.

Jeff: That’s a good point.

Kiki: Hasn’t been proven.

Mia: Hasn’t been proven yet.

Jeff: You could be writing contemporary and just don’t know it yet.

Mia: Yeah. I went on a vampire tour in New Orleans a few…I was there last month in March, and I was convinced by the end of it that our tour guide was absolutely a vampire. He was so into his job that I was like, “Yep, he’s actually one of them, and now I know it for sure.” Yeah.

Jeff: Will he be showing up in a book eventually?

Mia: Well, yes, he’s actually going to the book that I’m gonna…the series I’m gonna spin-off after this one is actually gonna be set in New Orleans because of him and some of the experiences I had while I was there. So, yes, he is going to be a muse for me.

But I guess I’ll answer the question since I’m already yapping. I think the best thing about it for me has been taking off the wheels of contemporary, right? In contemporary, the world exists as it exists, it’s the world that we live in. Even if it’s historical, it’s the world they lived in at that time, which is not contemporary but you know what I mean, they’re living, normal people. In this, I get to have so much fun with all the characters that I’ve always been interested in, I get to create them. I have mermaids and reapers and dragons and fae and, of course, witches, and vampires, and I get to humanize them and create a world that I wish I did live into some extent. And the rules are mine, so I don’t have to… And I know there are some conventions that people believe in or that are I guess common, but even my vampires deviate from a lot of those rules. Like they can go outside when the sun is out and there’s, you know, different conventions that I created for my vampires because that’s what I wanted my vampires to be like. And no one can really argue with you because who knows of any real vampires. So, I think that’s the funnest part is that you just get to do literally whatever you want to do.

Jenn: For me, it’s taking those conventions like you said and twisting them a bit and making the types of creatures mine, like to sit down and really think about, “Okay, what sort of creature do I want to have in this book? And how can I make it different from other times that I’ve seen that type of creature in another paranormal book?” So, like my vampires aren’t dead. They transfer their magic from life magic to blood magic at the moment just before they die. They still have to eat regular food, they’re still alive, you know, they are sustained by blood magic as well as, you know, your regular human needs. That’s just one of those things like it just makes…like finding those ways to kind of make something your own is really fun. Like how can you twist it just a little bit that, you know, this person is familiar enough with the concept, but they haven’t quite seen it like I’m going to show them? That’s fun.

Kiki: Yeah. I think I agree with both, with Mia and Jenn, it’s the freedom of just creating what you want and deciding how a thing is and now that’s how that thing is. If you want your alphas to impregnate their male mates, and then they, you know, have a baby by turning into a light cocoon and it flashes into being, you get to do that. That gets to happen. And I also love looking at just folklore that already exists around the world and taking bits of that and just adapting it into my stories.

Mia: Yes, absolutely. One of the funnest things I did with “Covens” is I added Greek mythology to it because I’m a huge geek about… In fact, I’m gonna get some tattoos later this year with Greek goddesses on them. So I found a way to like incorporate the witches having sort of a Greek goddess as their, you know, deity, someone, you know, that they admire and can connect to. So I made them real in my world, Greek gods and goddesses exist, because I wanted them there. And so I think that’s exactly what you’re saying is you can create whatever you want.

Jeff: I love that Mia got to go on a little bit of a research tour, going to New Orleans like that. Jenn, and Kiki, have either of you had the opportunity to do that kind of like “research” for your stories?

Jenn: So I was working on a, or I am working on a series set in Prince Edward Island, which is a small province in the Maritimes of Canada, one of my favorite places to go, and we actually went last year and…we’ve been before, but it’s been quite a few years since we were there. So, we went to PEI last summer, and while I was there, I did quite a bit of writing for “Ashes and Dust” or sorry, “Out of the Ashes,” the last book in the “Ashes and Dust” series. But I also went on a little tour of Charlottetown, which is the capital, and took pictures just for reference for this new series that I was thinking of. So that was fun, not quite as much fun as going to New Orleans and having a possible vampire lead me around the city but still enjoyable, it was a good vacation.

Kiki: Yeah. A large majority of my books are all based in the Pacific Northwest because it’s what I know but it’s also what I love. So I feel like I’m surrounded by the stuff that I’m writing all of the time. And I also think that watching horror movies is part of my research. I get to do a lot of that and not feel bad about it. And I do dream of writing something based in Hawaii just so I could go and write it off but I haven’t quite done that yet.

Jeff: I am sure there’s gotta be something paranormal to go explore in Hawaii.

Kiki: Something.

Jeff: Something.

So I wanna ask the flip side of the question that I had. What are some of the most challenging aspects to writing in paranormal? And Kiki, we’ll just come right back to you.

Kiki: I think like what I was saying earlier, if anything can happen, then you have to decide what can’t happen. And sometimes that sort of feels like going into a candy store and taking some of the candy and just throwing it in the trash or putting it up on a shelf for later because you can’t have that candy yet. That can be tough I think for me, you have to restrain yourself.

Mia: I think the hardest thing for me has been because I am a panster in contemporary, I have had to learn to slow down and actually think about things before I put them on paper and question things that I’ve already done. And I guess it’s similar to what Kiki’s saying, once you’ve established the rule, then you can’t break it unless you have a really good reason to like Jenn said earlier. So, like I wanted to create everything I write in this world of Eaton Falls for the future. So I was in charge or I’ve been asked to write some short stories for different promos and things. I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna set them in Eaton Falls.” And then I’m telling my alpha reader, “Oh, I’m gonna do this, I’m gonna do that.” And she said, “Well, you can’t do that because your vampire rule is this.” And I was like, “Oh, right, so I can’t do that plot if I want it to be set in Eaton Falls because that magic doesn’t work with the rule I’ve already created for that series.” So then I either have to change it or not make it part of that world. So I think it’s more just remembering that you’ve actually created something and the rules have to make sense, in the way that they make sense in our natural world, they have to make sense in your created world too.

Jenn: One of the most difficult aspects for me is kind of drawing that line between reality and the paranormal aspect in the sense of where do I break the rules of the real world because paranormal is set in the real world. So, like, for example, in “Not Dead Yet,” I had a detective who has to work at night for various reasons. And, you know, I highly doubt that there would be a detective in the Toronto police force who would only work at night, but I decided that, okay, for this, I’m going to just go for it. Like, of course, he’s going to because I say so, and I’ve got ghosts and vampires and witches and whatever in this world, so why can’t I have a detective who works only at night?

And it reminds me, I’ve always kind of keep it in my head… I happen to be at a talk that Kelley Armstrong gave. So Kelley Armstrong is a Canadian urban fantasy author. Again, I was with Ottawa Romance Writers, and she gave a presentation. And one of the lines that I took away from the presentation was, never let reality get in the way of good storytelling. And in her case, she was talking about a detective that normally works with a partner, but he had to go off and do some investigation without the partner for this plot point to work. So in reality, that would never happen, but for her storyline, it had to happen. So she just let it happen. So, that’s something that I keep in my head. If it’s set in a contemporary setting, I want it to be as real as possible, but at the same time, I always keep that in my head like don’t let that get in the way of good storytelling. So it’s sort of a mantra that I go back to if I get stuck, you know, like this wouldn’t really happen, but I’m gonna make it happen that way.

Jeff: I like that. I may put that up on my wall or on my computer or something just as a reminder because actually, I mean, that as you noted, plays in any of the genres that we may write in.

Jenn: Exactly. Yeah.

Jeff: Let’s talk a little bit about your individual books and series. And Mia, we’ll start with you. You’ve got two books out in the “Covens of Eaton Falls.” There’s a third coming in July. Tell us a little bit more about this series that you’ve got the witches and the vampires.

Mia: Yeah. So, the “Covens of Eaton Falls,” the beginning of it starts with there is a peace treaty between the vampires and the witches, and it’s centuries-old and it came out of conflict that happened, you know, many, many thousands of years ago. And so they live in harmony in this fictional town of Eaton Falls, which is I’ve made it up to be something in Massachusetts. It’s kind of a Salem, Cambridge blend of that town. Salem is in the book as its own city, so it’s sort of like a take on Salem. I used to live there but I was a teenager when I lived in Salem, and I didn’t wanna be stuck to what is Salem like now, right? So I didn’t wanna create that for myself. So, it’s a fictional city so I can make it be whatever I want. And they live on opposite sides of the town, and everybody knows that the two shall not meet, they shall not interact, there’s nothing.

So, book one starts with a witch waking up in the bedroom of the vampire and having no idea how he got there. And then that’s basically what kicks off everything. So they have to figure out how did he get there because the vampire doesn’t know either. The vampire took him in but he doesn’t know how he got there. And there’s this tension because it’s forbidden. They’re attracted to each other. They don’t wanna break the peace treaty, but they have to understand what happened that brought them together. And that’s basically what kicks off this six-book series.

Each coven has about six people in it. The witches have more, they have some female witches who play pivotal roles in the book, but they’re obviously not love interest because it’s an m/m book. But they have important roles. And then for the witches, they’re the ones who find out that other than the vampires and fae, there are many more supernatural beings in Eaton Falls that they weren’t aware of. So it’s sort of this exploratory awakening for the witches as well.

And, yeah, I think that’s probably all I can say about it without spoilers, but it’s an absolute blast because I wrote my vampires… My favorite vampire movie is “Interview with the Vampire.” So, I wrote my vampires very much in sort of a Lestat, you know, not as boisterous maybe and troublesome as Lestat is, but sort of that old, you know, they’re relics of the past. And they’re not modern and they’re not funny and they’re not sarcastic, they’re just these thousands old guys that are making do what they can in the modern world and end up in a mystery entwined with these witches who they thought were their mortal enemies or immortal enemies. There we go.

Jeff: So, Jenn, you recently finished up the “Ashes and Dust” trilogy as you mentioned with “Out of the Ashes.” What are Colin and Evan up to in this final installment?

Jenn: So, in this final installment, we’ve got the repercussions of what happens at the end of book two. So everybody’s read that knows that there’s a little bit of a cliffhanger, Colin ends up breaking his bond with Evan against Evan’s wishes, but he had to do it. And so we’re dealing with the repercussions of that where Colin remembers everything, but he doesn’t have the emotions connected to those memories. You know, he likes Evan and he remembers the fact that they were together, but it’s like watching a movie, he doesn’t have any connection to it. So Colin or Evan is actually, you know, trying to date Colin, trying to get him to remember how they felt about each other.

When they go on a date, the restaurant they’re in… Something happens, not between them, it’s something bad. So that kind of kicks off the action of the third book where they’re trying to figure out, you know, the bad guy that they identified in the second book, is he actually the real bad guy? Is there somebody else that’s behind everything? And, you know, at the same time, Colin is battling with trying to reconnect with, you know, these emotions that Evan says that they had. You know, it’s obvious that Evan is in love with him, and he’s trying to get back to that point but it’s difficult. Anyway, so it’s basically them trying to find a real connection as opposed to the one that was forced on them in the first book. So, I have to say that the epilogue of this book is one of my favorite chapters I have written for any of the books that I’ve written. It is just really, really full circle for Evan, and everybody who’s been looking for him to find us happily ever after, he does, I promise.

Jeff: I had no doubt that he would because, you know, it’s a romance, but to hear you say that about the epilogue, it’s like I’ve gotta hurry up and read this book having, you know, invested in the rest of the series too to find out how it all ends up.

Jenn: It’s so satisfying to write that epilogue, so satisfying. I have never written a character who started out so low. So for those of you who don’t know. Evan’s introduced in the first book of the “Not Dead Yet” series, and he is at an epic low, he is dealing with depression, he’s dealing with suicidal thoughts, and he is like planning that the night that he’s introduced is going to be his last night on earth. And he’s basically kind of destroyed but also rescued by the characters in that book. So he’s grown over the six books the five years that in or six years that encompassed all the books. And to see him at the end and to see him get that happily ever after is like one of the most satisfying character arcs I’ve ever written. So, I really hope that everybody enjoys it as well and, you know, will forgive me for book three of “Not Dead Yet” and book two of “Ashes and Dust.”

Jeff: Kiki, we’re gonna jump into the future with you a little bit. In August, you’re kicking off “Lunar Wolves.” Well, can you tell us about “Pressure” and what you’ve got planned for this new series?

Kiki: So, “Pressure,” like you said, it’s the first book in the new “Lunar Wolves” series. And for me, it’s a departure from what I’ve been writing because it will be one of the first books that doesn’t have any sort of mpreg or omegaverse elements at all, it’s just strict paranormal romance. I’m so excited but it’s also a little bit scary because I think that at some point, they’re different stories, certain things have to happen. And in just straight paranormal, you kind of have a little bit more freedom, which was, as we all know, for me, a little bit hard. I had to bring myself in a little with all of that extra freedom that I got.

But “Pressure,” it exists in this world that has werewolves and witches, And, you know, long, long time ago, there was a sacred pact that they enacted together to make them both stop all this ancient fighting and to also make both of these species stronger. And so the sacred pack says that werewolves and witches, at a certain amount, must marry, mate, come together every year to kind of keep this peace going. And then in this world, a portal opens that brings in werewolves from two other dimensions. So we have three different kind of species of werewolves, and in “Pressure,” we’re learning how all of these species have kind of come together in this place called Crescent City, so you have just a lot of them, animosity and fear and just sort of like that political intrigue going on.

But on the romance end, which is what we all care about, my lead werewolf, his name is Axe. He must find a witch mate in order to keep his position, and he sort of has this sordid past that has made that very difficult, which has kind of led him down to sort of his last options of finding this young man named Caden. And Caden does not even know that paranormal world exists. He doesn’t know he’s a witch. And so through the process, they come to terms with having a fake relationship contract where they just pretend to everyone else that they have like this regular mating relationship and it’s a lot of fun because they’re just opposite sorts of people. Axe is very like strict and orderly, and Caden’s kind of the more wild, spontaneous type. And then it goes about as well as you think fake relationships go, and it’s just really exciting.

And I’m also excited because, as we know, I love big worlds, and so this is the first book in the series. The other books are “Attention, Force, and Thrust.” And then after that, I’ll have the “Solar Wolves” series, and then so the “Celestial Wolves” series. So it’s kind of like a groundbreaking exciting moment.

Jeff: Wow. So you’re starting a whole new universe here.

Kiki: It’s all happening here.

Jeff: That is very cool. I’ll send this question back to you first, Kiki. How do you think you’ve evolved as a writer within this genre since you started out?

Kiki: I think basically, I’ve had to become somebody who plans and somebody who writes things down. And, you know, before maybe I sort of just decided things as I went along and that stopped being able to be something that could happen. So I’ve become someone who looks, you know, years and years ahead and starts plotting books that I’m nowhere near writing, and that was never who I was before. So I think that’s basically the main way.

Jeff: How about you, Jenn?

Jenn: That’s a really good question. I think I’ve gotten a little more confident in trying different things in my writing but also a little more aware of what I can and can’t do like what the readers will and will not accept. I have a lot of readers who are still not happy with me because of “Graveyard Shift,” that’s the last book in the “Not Dead Yet” series. And it comes up frequently in the reviews for my “Ashes and Dust” series, which is a spin-off. So that’s one of those things that, you know, I’ve learned…from everything I do, I’ve learned a little bit on storytelling or on the business side of things or on the way to approach doing a spin-off series like what works, what doesn’t, what would I do differently next time? It’s constantly an ongoing learning experience. I try to take that to heart and realize, “Okay, if I do this again, I need to be prepared for X.” So not to say that, you know, there…I wouldn’t take those same things if the story called for it. If I wouldn’t do those same actions, but, you know, a little bit more aware of how far romance readers will allow you to go with characters that they really love even if they’re not the main character.

Jeff: Mia, a little bit of a tweak on the question for you. How has your writing evolved since you’ve kind of moved from contemporary in to paranormal? And you touched on it I think a little bit too because you’re planning more now than you had before.

Mia: Yeah, I’m definitely planning, but I also took this opportunity to challenge myself from a craft perspective. The contemporary books that I write are very…well, they’re very contemporary in the sense that my characters are very much embedded in pop culture. So they, you know, speak with slang, and they listen to what’s popular on the radio right now, and they reference TikTok videos. And, you know, they’re very much products of the world that they live in. And that’s pretty easy to do, I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty easy, right?, You know, I’m on TikTok. I know what the kids are talking about these days even though I’m not one of them obviously.

And so envisioning a guy who’s 35 years old and lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and is meeting another guy online is pretty easy. But envisioning a witch who has spent his life being told, “Don’t ever trust a vampire” and then meeting a vampire and instantly feeling connected to him is not normal. And creating a person who has been alive for 2000 years is not contemporary. And so trying to create how that vampire would view the modern world and how that witch would view the paranormal world now seeing it through someone else’s eyes has been a stretch in a good way.

So I’ve really been challenging myself to step up my craft, think about my dialogue, think about pacing. And one of my weaknesses I guess I would call them is setting because, again, it’s really easy for somebody to go, “I know what San Diego looks like, or I’ve never been to San Diego, but I have a general idea what it’s like, I’ve seen it on TV.” But they don’t know what a vampire’s liar looks like necessarily. So I have to create that for them. So I’ve had to focus on those types of things as well, which is not something I had to focus on as much with contemporary writing.

Jeff: So much goes into these stories, I swear.

With paranormal being such a broad genre and so many potential ways to take the genre and to take the creatures that you’re creating, I’m curious what you think the unique ingredient is that makes your story stand out. And I’ll just come right back to you, Mia, to kick that off.

Mia: That’s an excellent question. One of the things that I think stands out is that I did a lot of reading, of course, of vampire books and what’s popular in my genre right now. And I do think it’s kind of that throwback vampire, if you will. You know, a vampire who’s not entirely assimilated with modern society and he doesn’t quite blend in. He can get by in a crowd, but he’ll catch your eye as something other. And I also think having a myriad of other characters in the story that are also paranormal, but I don’t have any werewolves, for example. And mostly it’s just because that just wasn’t a particular being that called to me, but I have…like I was mentioning earlier, I have like the Greek mythology piece.

One thing I think could be challenging for some readers is that I have a lot of…what’s the best way to say it? I have a lot of discussion about Christianity because I think that for the witches and paranormal people in general, there’s a contrast there, right, between Christianity and paranormal world. And one particular witch, once he finds out that he’s got access to these people that have been alive for 2000 years, he has a long discussion with them about Christianity because his parents died on a missionary trip. So he has a lot of questions. And one of the vampires, and this is not a spoiler if you’ve read book one, but one of the vampires is actually a priest. So, I’m gonna have a lot of fun with that come book six. But if you’re a devout Catholic, you might wanna skip that one.

So I think, you know, sort of challenging that theology a little bit, but in a context that would make sense for people who are existing around this narrative, especially gay people and their paranormal on top of it. So, to me, it felt quite natural that they would have some thoughts about the religions of the world around them, not just Christianity, but many religions. So I worked that into the story because it felt authentic to me. What I think is different about my world that I’ve created is there’s a lot of historical discussions about historical people, and like I said, theology and again, that the vampires are very much products of their time when they were created, and they’re just sort of doing the best they can in a modern world.

Jeff: That’s some very cool ingredients.

Jenn, what about you? What are some of your unique ingredients?

Jenn: Settings in Canada. So, when you read any of my contemporary set books, not contemporary romances, but contemporary set, they are set in Canada with zero exceptions at this point. So, “Not Dead Yet” and “Ashes and Dust” are set in Toronto. My “Golden Kingdom” books, one is set in Ottawa, one is set just outside of Montreal. The series I’m working on now is set in Prince Edward Island. So, I like to have those elements because these are all things that I know.

I’ve spent time in the States but never anything really significant to get a really good feel. And let me tell you, there’s enough language differences between Canadians and Americans that I always feel that I’m going to mess up something. Like my editor has pointed stuff out to me all the time about these Canadian-isms that I didn’t even realize were Canadian-ism. So I just feel like, you know, putting my books in Canada are, you know, way more authentic to me and who I am. So there’s that.

And there’s also, typically, you’re going to find a white knight who’s a bit tarnished in my books. That’s my favorite trope of a character to write or favorite archetype. So, you know, these are the guys that are doing the best that they can, but they feel, you know, they wanna make the world a better place. But they’ve messed up somehow in the past or they’re messing up, you know, in the present, but they’re still trying to do their best to make the world better than they found it. So that’s always fun to write, you know, these guys that aren’t as bad as they think they are.

And I would say too like I love to have humor in my books, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, sometimes absolutely ridiculous. Ask anybody about the “suck my toe, Hudson” scene from “Not Dead Yet,” that still remains my favorite scene I have ever written. And please tell me if you read it, and don’t laugh because that would be shocking. But, I enjoy adding in humor into my books as well because I think when you’re writing paranormal, especially when you’re dealing with darker elements, you know, things, it can be violent, it can be scary, you need to have that humor to kind of balance it out. You know, and I think it helps the readers kind of have more fun when there’s a little bits of humor happening in the book as well, so.

Jeff: And Kiki, how about for you?

Kiki: I think one of the things that maybe make the Kiki books more unique is that you know you’re gonna find a little bit of everything in there, there’s gonna be some action, some slow-motion violence, some snark and sass, there’s gonna be steam, there’s gonna be heartwarming moments, moments that are gonna make you wanna cry. There’s just gonna be that whole spectrum of emotions. A lot of my books have just found families coming together, and I like to write packs that people want to be a part of that people wish that they could go and live with. And I also like to write things that are connected so you know when you meet a character, you might be able to see them in a few books later and learn a little bit more about them.

Jeff: Nice. Family is always a favorite thing because it’s so important so often to so many. It’s great. I love seeing that manifest in books.

This Big Gay Fiction Fest is taking place in Pride Month, and I’m curious to know from each of you kind of what Pride means to you and then how you manifest Pride for your characters as well as they go through the various things that they go through with these paranormal romances as they’re trekking their way towards their HEA. Jenn, we’ll come back to you to start that off.

Jenn: Sure. So Pride Month to me is, you know, being a very supportive ally as supportive as I possibly can be. Not only to, you know, readers who are reading my books, but also to my daughter who identifies as queer. And, you know, just being there, being a voice, being someone who can help elevate the voices of, you know, people who identify as queer and help them…you know, just support them through whatever challenges that they’re facing.

In my books, how I kind of manifest that is really the found family, you know, people accepting people regardless of who they are, who they love. I try to write in a world where, you know, there isn’t a lot of overt homophobia or anything like that because I want people who are reading my books who identify as queer to say, okay, so, you know, this is…maybe it’s not an ideal world, but there’s some things in this world that are way better than the one we’re living in right now, you know, with the found family with, you know, guys who identify as gay or bi or ace going out there making a difference. You know, so people can see themselves in my characters having adventures, having…you know, being superheroes, which, you know, might be challenging depending on what their real-life circumstances are. I want people to be able to have fun and to, you know, enjoy that element of who they are rather than feeling oppressed or suppressed as they may sometimes feel.

Jeff: Kiki, how about for you?

Kiki: To me, I think Pride is at its basic like celebrating people just being exactly who they were meant to be. There’s also an element of acknowledging just sort of the sacrifices that have been made to get where we are today, but then also recognizing how much more work there is left to do. And then ultimately, I think Pride is just about love and about allowing and accepting people to love whoever they choose to love.

And I think in my books, a lot like Jenn, I deal with a lot of found families. I have a lot of characters who feel different for a variety of reasons. And it’s very important in my stories that I don’t have my characters change who they are authentically to be loved. My characters learn that how they are now, that’s good enough, and you shouldn’t have to change for someone to accept you. And, yeah, I think that’s basically it.

Jeff: And Mia.

Mia: Yeah. I think Pride absolutely what the two guests have already said. I think it’s about… For me, one of the biggest things about it is that I also identify as queer, but I learned that by being a part of the m/m community. I had a lot of signs, but at the time that I grew up, there wasn’t language for that and there wasn’t…it just never dawned on me that I wasn’t straight because everything around me said you are, regardless of your behaviors, regardless of your thoughts, you’re just straight. So that’s just the way it is. Once I realized, oh, that’s not, okay.

Pride also is meaningful to me in the sense that joining this community helped me embrace who I am, and so I want to be able to give that to other people. And obviously, I’m female, and so I like to make sure that other women know that…you know, especially women of my generation, that it’s okay even if you’re 50 when you figure it out. It doesn’t have to be something that you learned when you were 12 or 16 or 20. And it doesn’t have to change anything. Like you can be married to…I’m married to a man, and that’s fine, it doesn’t change my sexuality though, right? So, it’s just opening up conversations around that, and I try to do that, not only in my personal life, but in my reader groups and things like that.

As far as books go, I definitely agree with the found family, that’s one of my brand points in my contemporary books. It’s definitely part of the “Coven” series because none of them are blood relatives, but they’re all chosen family. I also like to create this world where things are…it’s just being gay isn’t any different than being straight or any level of queer, and that people are just naturally accepted for it that if there’s an attraction between two people and they happen to be of the same gender, they don’t question whether the other person, you know, sees that differently or not. They just accept that, “Hey, I think you’re hot. Do you wanna go out?” kind of thing.

I feel like there’s so much out in the world that romanticizes straight romance, right? We see it in Hallmark movies and books and TV shows and everything else. And I just want queer people to have that same availability to them. I want trans people to have that in abundance, and I want to do whatever I can to help them be able to casually walk into a bookstore, turn on a TV show, and pick a queer show that they feel they relate to. And that’s what I strive for with all of my work.

Jeff: So well said all three of you. Thank you for sharing that with us.

As we get ready to wrap up, we love book recommendations, of course. So not including the three of you, you can’t recommend each other’s books. Who’s an author who you would recommend to our watchers today within the paranormal genre?

Jenn: For me, I would hands-down recommend Charlie Adhara, who was also published through Carina Press. Their “Big Bad Wolf” series is amazing. It deals with an offshoot of the FBI who deals with werewolf-on-werewolf crimes, and the narrator of the book, his name’s Cooper, I can’t remember his last name, but he is like prickly porcupine, amazing detective, but has absolutely no social skills. And he is just awesome to read from his point of view.

I believe they have a spin-off series that’s coming out in August that features one of the characters that’s introduced in, I think it’s book three of the original series. Anyway, I hands-down recommend Charlie Adhara. If you haven’t read “The Big Bad Wolf” series, do yourself a favor and read it because it’s amazing.

Kiki: I can recommend mine. I have two recommendations. I recently read Macy Blake’s series, the “Chosen Champion” series book one is “Logan,” and I thought that one was very amazing and it’s a great series. Maybe outside of like the m/m romance world is Sarah J. Maas’ “House of Earth and Blood.” It’s this just sort of paranormal urban fantasy collection of just awesomeness. It’s got sort of that grittier narration that we were talking about earlier, but just a smorgasbord of paranormal beings all existing in the same place. So, those two.

Mia: I also have two. The book that flipped me from a contemporary writer to a paranormal writer was “On a Midnight Clear” by Lily Morton. I probably falls more into like magical realism or maybe somewhere in there. But it just seduced me, and I was stuck. So I would recommend that book. She writes a blend of contemporary and other things but that book. And then “Sons of the Fallen” series by Jaclyn Osborn. It’s frigging amazing. I mean, it’s Nephilim brothers cursed with the seven deadly sins. And it’s got all kinds of beings in it as well, it’s got dragons and vampires and lots of demons. And it’s really an addictive series. I would definitely recommend that too.

Jeff: Fantastic. Something for everybody’s TBR there.

And then I wanna know what’s coming up next for everybody. I think, Kiki, we might have a good idea for you because it sounds like you’ve got this building block for this new universe and then multiple books and series coming from there. Anything further you wanna tease us about?

Kiki: Well, I do have…around the holidays, I have a few books planned for an old ongoing series that I have, it’s called “Welcome to Morningwood.” And it’s this little town of just every kind of shifter you could imagine. I called it my Hallmark books because they’re just…it’s this cute little shifter town where everyone lives together. I’ll be hopefully adding a few more holiday books to that one. And, yeah, the whole list I gave you. I am hoping “Pressure” will get out a little bit earlier than August and then moving forward from there. Yeah.

Jeff: I am dazzled by the fact that you’ve got a paranormal hallmark-esque kind of series.

Kiki: They’re so cute. I just love them so much. I do have to give a warning, there’s tarantula shifters, there’s snake shifters. There’s shifters that you wouldn’t normally see out there, and that’s another thing that I love about it is just there’s all just different kinds of shifters, all existing in the same little small town. And I don’t know. They’re so cute.

Jeff: Well, I’m glad I have the warning about the tarantulas now because that might be too much.

And Mia, you’ve got six books in “Covens of Eaton Falls” that you’re working on. Anything else coming up for you or is it gonna be all “Eaton Falls” all the time for the next, foreseeable future?

Mia: Well, this summer I will have two more contemporary releases in a series that I had already started before the paranormal bug hit me. And so to be kind to my readers who like that series, I’m gonna finish that series this summer. And then I also have a naughty Santa book coming in the fall, of course, November. And then after that, it will be the rest of the “Eaton Falls” books, and then I’ll probably be spinning off into the New Orleans vampire books, which are totally different than…they’re much darker. That was another challenge I wanted to give myself is a darker story with sort of the morally gray hero because I write cinnamon rolls really, even if they’re vampires. So I’m trying to write guys that are maybe a little grittier because it just sort of matched the New Orleans vibe for me. So, that’ll be what I’m up to for the foreseeable future.

Jeff: Fantastic.

And Jenn, “Ashes and Dust” is done. What’s next?

Jenn: I don’t know. I’ve got works in progress. I don’t have anything on contract yet. So, hoping that I will, but right now I’ve got a whole bunch of ideas and some like ones that I’m kind of focusing on and seeing where they go. But I don’t have anything planned. So it’s kind of nice because it’s been…I’ve been working in the “Not Dead Yet” series since 2018. So, that’s been a universe that I’ve been writing in, you know, six books. So it’s kind of nice to take a break. Yeah.

Jeff: Nice. Well, we look forward to whatever comes next as you start something new.

Kiki, Mia, and Jenn, this has been so much fun talking about paranormal romance. Thank you so much for joining us on the Big Gay Fiction Fest.

Jenn: It was lots of fun.

Mia: It was a pleasure.

Kiki: Thank you.


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 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 for more information.

Jeff: Thanks again to Jenn, Kiki and Mia for joining us. One of the things that really intrigued me from the discussion was how for each of them, what are the things that drew them to paranormal was the freedom to create whatever characters they wanted and to decide how their worlds would work. It was really great getting some insight into their creative process around that type of world building.

Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up on Monday in episode 386, we’ve got the last of our Big Gay Fiction Fest author spotlights.

Jeff: This time out we’re talking with Beth Bolden and among the things we chat about is her brand new “Miami Piranhas” series.

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 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 Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.