Author and podcaster Lee Blair talks about her Dahlia Springs universe, which kicked off earlier this year and includes her new holiday romance 24 Dares of Christmas. She also shares how she went from writing m/f romance to cozy mysteries to finding the place that was right for her with queer romance. We also find out about her new podcast, The Low Angst Library, which focuses on her favorite type of romance to read and write.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Queer We Are website
- Gay Holiday Romance Promotion on BookFunnel (through December 2, 2022)
- Lee Blair Interview:
- Lee Blair website | Lee Blair’s Buddies Facebook Group | Instagram | TikTok
- Pitcher Perfect by Lee Blair
- 24 Dares of Christmas by Lee Blair
- Schitt’s Creek on Hulu
- Just Watch Me by Lee Blair
- Smart Podcast, Trashy Books 532. Ghosts, Pets, and Zany Questions with Amanda
- Bonne Maman 2022 Limited Edition Advent Calendar
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on HBO Max
- A Night at the Roxbury on Hulu
- GayRomLit (GRL) website
- Low Angst Library podcast website | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok
- A.J. Truman on Amazon
- K.M. Neuhold on Amazon
- Isla Olsen on Amazon
- Charlie Novak on Amazon
- Jaclyn Quinn on Amazon
- Ariella Zoelle on Amazon
- Concocted (Fakers Book 1) by Zoe Lee
- Up to Snow Good by Charlie Novak
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, author Lee Blair joins us to talk about her Dahlia Springs universe, including a brand new Christmas romance.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 406 of the “Big Gay Fiction Podcast,” the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff. And with me as always is my co-host and husband, Will
Will: Welcome back, Rainbow Romance Reader. We are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show.
For those of you in the U.S., I hope you enjoyed your recent holiday weekend. It was of course, American Thanksgiving, which of course I’m deeply ambivalent about. I genuinely wonder if they still teach school children the bullshit they told us about Thanksgiving, which we all know is a complete fabrication.
Nowadays, it’s simply just a generic day for giving thanks because we of course know the Puritans weren’t awesome. There’s a reason calling someone puritanical is not a compliment. Oh yeah, and if you wanna know what it was really like, they wrote an entire play about it. It’s called “The Crucible.”
However you chose to spend the holiday weekend, whether it was with friends and family, eating lots of food, or spending some time with yourself in quiet contemplation, we hope your holiday was fulfilling and non-problematic.
Jeff and I have recently been up to some interesting things. He went on a business trip to NYC and had the opportunity to experience the Broadway while I stayed home and watched the entire “365 Days” trilogy in a single 24 hour period. Let me tell you, that was an experience. You can listen to us talk about that, and much more, in this month’s Patreon bonus episode.
Speaking of thankful, we are genuinely thankful for our Patreon community. Our patrons help fund the transcription of the episodes of the podcast, making sure that the show is accessible to all readers and listeners. If you are in a position to help the podcast grow and would like more information on our bonus content and access to those episodes from the past, present, and the future, simply head on over to patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: We’d like to take just a moment to tell you about a brand new podcast that has recently premiered. It’s called “Queer We Are,” and it’s produced and hosted by a friend of this podcast Brad Shreve.
You may recall that Brad hosted “Queer Writers of Crime” for three years, and while that show was ended, he has created this new one. In “Queer We Are,” Brad talks with LGBTQ+ celebrities, athletes, activists, politicians, entrepreneurs, and others who share stories of their success challenges and what they learned along the way. Among the show’s premiere week guests was drag entertainer. Miss Coco Peru, who is one of our favorite performers and who had some great stories to share. You can find “Queer We Are” wherever you listen to podcasts or at queerweare.com, and we hope you will give that show a listen.
Will: And one more quick news item this week. There’s a promotion happening for gay holiday romance novels which are either 99 cents or free. Authors included in this promotion include Kiki Clark, Helen Juliet, RJ Scott, there’s also Keira Andrews and Leta Blake, Tara Lain, Ali Ryecart, and many more. And Jeff, you’ve also got a couple of stories in there too.
Jeff: I do. I’ve got two short stories that are available for 99 cents. There’s “Rivals,” which is a second chance romance between two former high school hockey rivals who reconnect when they are back home for the holidays. And then there’s “Room Service,” which features an IT consultant named Martin who is stuck working on site for a client over the holidays and the romance that unfolds with Jose, who works at the front desk at the hotel he’s staying at.
Will: You can find the complete list of books in this promotion at biggafictionpodcast.com/holiday, and make sure you act fast because this promotion only runs through Friday, December 2nd.
Jeff: I think I’m definitely gonna get me some more holiday books this week. You can never have too many.
Now let’s talk to Lee Blair. I have become a fan of Lee’s since I read “Pitcher Perfect,” the first book at her “Dahlia Springs” universe. Lee’s gonna talk to us about what got her started writing m/m romances earlier this year, and why she’s decided to set all of them in the town of Dahlia Springs, Oregon. And since it’s the holidays, we have to talk about her latest book, “24 Dares of Christmas,” which lets us experience a Dahlia Springs Holiday Festival. And who doesn’t love a good holiday festival or soiree, or whatever’s gonna be going on to celebrate the holidays? We also get details on how Lee is extending the fun of the 24 dares to readers starting on December first.
Lee Blair Interview
Jeff: Lee, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here.
Lee: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here and get to talk to you. I’ve been listening for so long, and I’m excited to get to chat with you.
Jeff: I’m excited to talk because I fell in love with Dahlia Springs.
Lee: Oh, thank you.
Jeff: “Pitcher Perfect” ticked so many boxes for me, and we’re gonna talk about that. We’re gonna talk about your “24 Dares of Christmas.” But I wanna kind of back up a little bit because you’re new on the M/M scene this year, and I’m curious kind of what brought you to the genre and to start writing books.
Lee: Oh, yeah, I’d love to talk about that. So, I started writing romance actually back in 2005, but it was male/female hetero romance. And I, back then, had the goal of publication, I had joined Romance Writers of America, and really wanted to be a published romance author, but it took, gosh, about a decade before I finished my first novel. I kept just hitting walls and false starts. And I went to Scotland for the first time, and was really inspired by my trip, and came home and wrote a romance and kind of carved a niche for myself as writing contemporary Scotland-set male/female heterosexual romance. And I had an agent and I was on submission with that book, this was back in 2017, but I started to kind of realize traditional publishing wasn’t necessarily where I wanted to be with my interests. I’ve always been really entrepreneurial, and really liked the idea of indie publishing and having that control and getting to experiment with different things.
So, I decided to kind of step away from romance back in 2019 and I was writing cozy mysteries, and I drafted my first cozy in 2019. And then kind of meanwhile, in late 2019, I joined TikTok, and, let me tell you, that algorithm is so good that I realized, oh, hey, I’m queer despite thinking I was straight for 37 years. Surprise, surprise, I am not.
And so that was kind of, like, right before the pandemic and I had kind of backed away a little bit from reading the male/female romance and romance in general and was focusing on cozy mysteries. And then when the pandemic was happening, my day job was really, really, really stressful, and I was also finishing my master’s degree, and I had a bunch of friends, sort of all of this is kind of culminating, I’m having my own coming out, the pandemic is happening, and I’m finishing my masters, and I have these friends telling me to watch “Schitt’s Creek,” and just over and over and over, “Just watch it, watch it,” and they’re sending me compilation videos of the David and Patrick romance just trying to tug on my heart strings. And so I told myself, “Okay, kind of put the cozy on hold because of the pandemic stress, and when I finish defending my master’s thesis, I will watch “Schitt’s Creek.”
And that’s exactly what I did. That night, it was June 2020, I started watching it and I binged the entire series in less than a week. And I immediately watched it two more times, I became obsessed, and one of my local romance writing friends had been writing “Schitt’s Creek” fan fiction and sent me some of her work, and that was the first fandom I joined. So, this was, like, summer 2020, I started reading fanfic, writing “Schitt’s Creek” fanfic, and writing the David and Patrick relationship specifically. And over that next year, I posted over 600,000 words of David and Patrick fanfic.
Like, it was my pandemic sanity. Patrick’s storyline with his coming out as a gay man kind of, like, in his later 20s, into 30s, that really clicked for me, and so I was finding my way back to romance, I was writing male/male romance, and it felt comfortable. Like, I was so connected with them as characters, and with that coming out journey for Patrick during my own coming out journey and it just kind of gave me the bug to start writing romance again, and I just felt really comfortable writing queer romance in a way that I just never quite felt comfortable writing straight romance. And so I, kind of at that time, was like, “Okay, I’m gonna publish my first cozy mystery,” and I was working on that in 2021, and I said, “Okay.” My strategic brain was like, “You cannot start writing male/male until you publish three cozy mysteries until you have those first three out in a series because that’s a strategic thing to do and that’s a good start to that pen name.”
And I decided to let that plan go because I really wanted to write queer romance. And I started writing it in 2021, so last year, and I’m so glad that just that kind of windy journey of romance over the years and “Schitt’s Creek” and letting myself write M/M, I found my home. I feel so comfortable writing queer romance. I love it.
Jeff: Had you been reading romance, like, prior to starting to write even the M/F romance?
Lee: Yeah. I read my first romance novel by accident back in 2005, and that was when I was like, “Oh, this,” because I’d always written as a kid. I actually wrote, like, really creepy horror short stories. My mom has been discovering these notebooks the last few months and keeps sending me photos of them of just really creepy, weird things I wrote as a little kid. So, I knew I wanted to write and I liked writing, but I had never considered romance until I read that first one in 2005. And so romance was basically all I read from 2005 until probably around, like, 2018, 2019 was when I sort of kinda started shifting over to cozy mystery a little bit more, and then now it’s back. I’m reading, like, all romance all the time again.
Jeff: Nice. Starting with “Picther Perfect,” which was your second book, you’ve decided to set all of your books for the foreseeable future in Dahlia Springs. Tell us a little bit about this town and how you went about creating this place for all of your stories to occur in.
Lee: So, basically, Dahlia Springs is my personal utopia. It is just the town that I wanna live in. I live in a small town in western Oregon but it’s not exactly, how do I say this? A beacon of progressive values that I align with. So, I like a lot about small towns, but I struggle with feeling really comfortable in the town I live in as someone who identifies as a queer person. There’s just kind of some of those… It just doesn’t always feel quite as comfortable, and so I just thought, “Gosh, if I could write a place where that is okay, like, people do feel comfortable in that town, but then it still has all the, like, charms of living in a small town in Oregon.” And as a reader, I really enjoy small towns. It’s one of the things that drew me to writing cozy mysteries is getting to know and reading cozies, like, getting to know the side characters, quirky people, like, fun small-town festivals, and I really wanted to create a town where readers could get to know side characters who would appear book after book and have the sort of story of the town grow across series.
And kind of also, as a reader, I really love crossover and connected series. That’s just one of the things I absolutely adore is when an author has a series in a world and kind of sets up another series where characters pop back and forth. And so when I was thinking about writing my own books, I thought, “Oh, that’s something… Like, if I love reading that, I should probably write it, too.” And I think “Schitt’s Creek” was also a little bit of an influence because, you know, “Schitt’s Creek” has its own problems, but the problems are not based in homophobia, racism, sexism. It’s a town where people are accepted or if they’re judged it’s more like personality-based traits, and I wanted to kind of bring that spirit to Dahlia Springs a little bit, too, that it is a really inclusive and welcoming space.
And kind of in terms of, like, the specifics about it, I wanted it to be a location where it’s close enough where you could visit Portland easily, so I envisioned it being about an hour from Portland so that I could bring Portland in as a location and a setting for some of the books, but then far enough where it really is kind of a rural environment. And so I kind of just decided, well, what if there was a bunch of people in Portland who liked the progressive nature of the town but really wanted that small town feel, and so they founded a town kind of between Portland and the coast? And so that was kind of the idea behind Dahlia Springs. And I’ve lived in a small town for about 17 years now, so there’s lots of quirky stuff I’ve seen over the years that is fun to bring into the books.
Jeff: So. the first book that is in Dahlia Springs, of course, is “Pitcher Perfect,” and that sets up the first of the “Tap That Brewery” series. One of our members of our Patreon community, RegencyFan93, wanted to know if you’re a brewer. Because, like, we see coffee shops, and we see bookstores, and all of these things, you know, frequently for romances, but the brewery, not so much. So, how did you choose a brewery, and is there brewing in your background somewhere?
Lee: I love that question so much. I wish I had that skillset of being a brewer, and sometimes I think about getting into homebrew. I would really like to do that, but I do not have that skill, unfortunately. But it sort of came about, I would say I think fall of 2021. I was finishing the draft of my debut novella, which is set in Portland, it’s called “Just Watch Me” and it’s completely standalone. And at that time, I knew, like, I wanted to create a series and have a connecting hook that was kind of location-based. And as a reader, I really like groups of friends who work together and have those dynamics, and so I’ve just been kind of trying to brainstorm what are some options. I could have friend groups as a series connector, coworkers, families, just different things. And as I was brainstorming kind of those possible connection ideas, I was sort of initially thinking about maybe a food truck pod in Portland or some sort of market, like a night market, where different people had stalls, and so there could be the dynamics of working in a place like that, but I don’t know then. I just really wanted that small-town vibe.
So, I think it really just kind of came down to making a list of some different business types, and I don’t remember exactly what sparked it, but I’ve had that conversation with so many local friends and coworkers about how we wish more small towns in our area of Oregon had breweries. Like, it would be so nice if there were more small-town breweries. And so I thought, “Oh, well, if I can’t have one in real life where I live, why not just make one in the fictional world I spend so much time in?” And then the puns started writing themselves, and googling beer puns, and so I was like, “Yeah, they’re gonna work in a brewery. There’s so much pun potential.”
Jeff: And for myself, I have to know because the meet-cute in “Pitcher Perfect” just struck me as just wonderful, because you’ve got these two guys who meet in a paper store, like, a stationary store with papers and pens and all this stuff. How on earth did you land it at a paper store? Because I love a good paper store myself.
Lee: Part of it is there is a paper store in Portland, in the Pearl District, that I absolutely love, and I think I was picturing them there, and it’s sort of near Powell’s Books, which is kind of part of the story of possibly, you know, the guys visiting Powell’s while they were there. And I just really like paper products and pens and all of that stuff, so I think… I don’t know. I really write what I want to read. Like, my writing is a very selfish endeavor, and I think I just thought, “Well, if I’m in a paper store buying pens, I wanna have my own meet-cute, so maybe I’ll just write them having one there instead.”
Jeff: I was totally delighted by it. I mean, because it… And it’s in that first chapter, like, a meet-cute is supposed to be, of course. I’m just like this paper store meet-cute, yes.
Tell everybody about “Tap That” if they don’t know about this series, and, you know, the first book. The second one has recently come out. Tell folks about these brewery guys.
Lee: Oh, I’d love to. So, the series follows a group of four best friends who opened a brewery together. So, two of the guys, Austin and Ty or Tyler, they are cousins and grew up in Dahlia Springs and they roomed together in college, and the two guys rooming next to them, Ethan and Dom, are the other two. So, the four of them become best friends. And the series opens after they’ve already opened the brewery. Sorry, I can’t remember exactly, but I think it’s maybe been open for a year or so, maybe a little less. And I wanted to create it at a time where the brewery exists but there are still some growing pains that I could write about in the series, but then also it’s early enough in the brewery that there’s a lot of opportunity for growth, both in the series as well as just in the Dahlia Springs world as I write other series set there.
And so each of the guys are equal co-owners, and they have, like, a different area that they manage. So, Austin’s a brewer. He’s been doing homebrew for the guys since college. Ethan manages, like, the taproom and is the bartender, so he’s kind of the face of the brewery in that way. Ty does marketing and sales, and then Dom is, like, the finance and operations guy and totally thinks he’s the boss of all of them. And one of the elements I really wanted to add to the brewery and to their friendship is that they all live together, so I wrote it in a way that they each sort of contributed something to the creation of the brewery.
And Dom had sold his house that he had in the Portland area and bought a fixer-upper in Dahlia Springs, and the other guys live with him rent-free as a way to kind of keep their expenses down while they’re trying to get the brewery off the ground, and that provides a lot of fun opportunities, both to have them interacting at work but then to, like, have them interacting at home. And it’s been fun to think about the silly things that they would do as coworkers and friends. Like, they have a room in Dom’s house, it’s dedicated as a meeting room, and they each have, like, a matching armchair, so it sort of feels like four kings at a council meeting with their own parts of the room, and there’s a… How do I say this politely? Like, a double-sided hot pink silicone toy that they use as a talking stick when things get too heated in debates when they have their, like, weekly meetings. And so it’s been fun to show their shenanigans that they have as friends and coworkers over the course of the series.
And each of the guys will get a book, there’s a lot of texting in the books. So far, like you said, I have two out, that’s Ethan and Austin’s books. Now I’m writing Ty’s book, and then there’ll be two more. I’ve introduced Ty’s brother, and he will get a book, and then Dom will also get a book. So, there’s planned five in this series.
Jeff: Wow, five. There’s only four running the brewery, but now we’ve got the brother on the scene, so we get five. That’s cool.
Lee: Yeah, he’s in each book. He’s gonna be a little more. So, as I’m writing Ty’s book right now, he’s gonna be in that one a little bit more so we get to know him before his book.
Jeff: And then also you’ve already started to expand Dahlia Springs because earlier this month you put out “24 Dares of Christmas.” And if ever there was a Hallmark Channel-sounding title to a book, that would be one right there.
Jeff: We meet Reed and we meet Warren in this book. And Reed… I just love this. He’s come because he’s between jobs and he kind of needs a life reset although he doesn’t realize it when he gets there necessarily. He’s dog-sitting for his aunt who has resurrected his childhood thing of an advent calendar that’s full of dares. That, I just thought was a tremendous idea. But tell people a little bit more about what they’re gonna get with Reed and Warren.
Lee: Yeah. So, Reed and Warren, this is basically, like, my Hallmark Christmas fantasy. I love them so much. I really wish I could go through these dares like Reed did. And so he’s a little bit of a grinch, or he thinks he is until Warren meets him and proves him wrong. And so, like you said, Reed is there dog-sitting for his aunt, and Warren is the tenant of Reed’s aunt, and lives in a little, like, studio building in the backyard.
And so Reed completely expected to come for the month of December and dog-sit, be alone for Christmas, all of his family is out of town, and just kind of have this reset before he moves to Seattle in the new year for a new job. But with those dares, his aunt leaves him, you know, she’s got other plans, and so with the dares, she’s left him 24 things to basically get him out of the house and to help him find his Christmas spirit. And fortunately, Warren is basically a Christmas elf, and he just wants nothing more than to help Reed have a great Christmas and to do these dares with him.
And so there’s a kind of a mix of things like having Reed attend festival events because, of course, it’s small-town Christmas time and there has to be a festival with adorable things, very Hallmarky. Some are, like, more philosophical dares, and then just things having… Just enjoying things at home like Christmas movie marathons, or recreating of beloved family dish, or going ice skating. And so there’s basically a lot of opportunities to shove Christmas in his face like a snowball and just to have him and Warren spending so much time together doing really sweet schmoopy things.
Jeff: I like how you got him into having to cover the festival because, besides the dares, you just had to just keep thrusting him into it to get him to do that.
Lee: It was fun to get to torture him a little bit. And part of that, I think, comes from my background. My day job is communications and social media and marketing, and so that felt like a natural place to get Reed involved because it could very easily be an overwhelming job for someone to try to cover on social media all of these events, and it felt like a good fit for Reed to do it, and then it just forces him out of the house and he has to do all the stuff he doesn’t want to until he starts liking it and then, you know, oh, it would be so much fun, I wish I could experience it.
Jeff: It seems like a lot of fun to come up with the dares.
Jeff: And as you and I are talking, I’m about 60% done with the book, but we don’t get the dare for every single day of the 24 because then you would have a really big book, too, if you had to cover 24 days in the book. Are there dares that you came up with that got left on the cutting room floor that you’re like, “Oh, I wish I got that one in the book?”
Lee: Yes, there are. It was a kind of methodical process. I brainstormed a whole bunch of basically Christmas activities or holiday or festive activities, and honestly, it was an opportunity to put my hundreds of hours watching Hallmark Christmas movies to good use so now I can officially call all of that research, because I just was thinking, “Okay, by osmosis and just watching all these movies I have somehow absorbed a million different adorable holiday and Christmas moments.” And so I made a list, and then I was sort of, like, narrowing it down of what would make sense and what would be really fun to show in a scene versus what would work to just sort of casually mention in the off-page days between scenes of, “Oh, they did this thing.” It wasn’t necessarily something I needed to show, but there were quite a few things that I had brainstormed that I thought would be fun but didn’t quite make it in, so I’ll have to put it in a different Christmas book, but things like Christmas caroling, or making ugly Christmas sweaters, or volunteering at a food pantry, or I thought doing something with snow.
I think a lot of people assume it snows a lot in Oregon, especially in this part of Oregon, but it doesn’t. You get an inch and it shuts down. It’s pandemonium. People don’t know how to handle it. And to have them interact with snow, like if I had a dare of making a snow person, either I would have to have a freak snowstorm, which would kind of throw off parts of the book, or I would have to have them drive to Mount Hood, which would be a couple of hour drive from where it’s at. And I really kind of wanted them to have a fun snow day and I was thinking of making that an add-on to one of the days when they go to Portland for a day, but it just didn’t quite work out. So, that was something that hit the cutting room floor and I will have to add snow into a different book.
Jeff: Snow can lead to forced proximity, and being snowed in, and who doesn’t love that kind of book as well?
Lee: Exactly. And I’m already starting to think of next year’s Christmas book, so I think that there will have to be some snowed-in goodness.
Jeff: Excellent. Now, you’re also planning to do an advent calendar for your readers starting on December 1. What can you tease us a little bit about that?
Lee: Oh, yes. So, basically, I mean if this hasn’t come through yet, I wish I could live in Dahlia Springs, and I really wished that someone would give me an advent of dares. I thought that would be so much fun. And so I figured, why let it just sit in the book? I could do something like that. It would be easy to put together emails. And so starting on December 1, anyone who signs up to participate, I will email out a dare each day and there’ll be pretty easy things to do, something that someone can maybe post about on social media so we can see each other doing dares and kind of engage and have fun.
So, people can sign up at… I have an email sign-up at leeblairbooks.com/24dares, or if you find me on social media, @LeeBlairBooks, I’ve got a link directly to it in my bio. And then if anyone signs up after December 1, you’ll start getting the email the next day. And then in each email, it’ll have a list of the dares from the previous day, so if anyone doesn’t sign up right away, you can still kind of catch up and play along. But I don’t know, I just kind of thought I really like advents and I thought it would be just a different kind of fun interactive way to bring some holiday cheer.
Jeff: And there does seem to be an advent calendar for everything these days. I was listening to… it was a recent episode of “Smart Podcast, Trashy Books.” And they were talking about, like, literally anything you would want has an advent calendar. And now I see advent calendars everywhere I go just to help prove the point.
Lee: It’s so true. Last year, I bought a wine advent calendar, but I still have, like, half the bottles because it was too much for me to keep up with. I really wanna get… There’s some cheese ones at Costco that are so tempting, but, like, that’s a lot of cheese. I did buy a jam and jelly one, is it… Why am I spacing on the name? Bonne Maman?
Jeff: That might be it because Sarah and Amanda on “Smart Podcast” were talking about a jam advent calendar that they both really loved.
Lee: I’ve excited little tiny… And then the person in me who likes to collect jars and boxes, it’s like, “Oh, I’m about to have 24 tiny little jars I can use for things,” so I’m excited about that. I’m already planning on, like, trying to make crumpets and scones and different stuff to go with it. So, that’s my advent. I also did buy a chocolate advent because, I mean, I had to have it.
Jeff: That’s classic.
Lee: Classic, yeah. Who wouldn’t want that? So, I’m gonna have jam in the mornings and chocolate in the evenings, and I might stop there. We’ll see. We still have a couple of weeks, so we’ll see.
Jeff: What was your favorite scene to write in “24 Dares?”
Lee: So, I think if you asked me that about any other book, I would struggle to answer, but with this book, oh, my gosh, it’s so easy. So, I really wanted Reed to be on the grinch side and Warren to be, like, super Christmasy, and part of the reason why Reed doesn’t love Christmas is because he doesn’t feel super close with his family, there’s a big age gap between him and his siblings, and with his whole family being out of town for Christmas, Warren wants to, like, step in and make sure that Reed has a good Christmas.
So, Warren’s family, there’s four children, all close in age, and then his two parents, they all love Christmas and they have some really intense traditions. And so one of them is that they all get together at the parent’s house a few weeks before Christmas to decorate the house, and they draw chores, decorating chores. And so one person is assigned to, like, set out the Christmas village, which is an intense one because the mom really has, you know, very particular ways that she likes it, or to put the lights on the tree, or decorate the windows.
And then after that, there’s a competition that the parents put together for the four kids to compete over who gets to hang the creepy angel on top of the tree that’s, like, missing an eye and has cigarette burns. And it just is a gnarly-looking angel. And so I wrote part of the scene from Warren’s perspective and part from Reed’s perspective about rejoining the family for that. And I had so much fun writing, like, Warren bringing someone into the family who reacts really positively to all the festive cheer, and then Reed feeling really welcome, and then the competitiveness with all the kids teasing each other. I had so much fun writing that. They did, like, an elimination-style round-robin minute-to-win a set of games that are just absurd, but I had so much fun writing that.
Jeff: I’m so glad you picked that one because I adore that scene and the bonkersness that goes on with that.
Lee: Thank you.
Jeff: Where did you get some of those games? Because some of them are just insane, like putting the red nose on Rudolph coloring pages.
Lee: It was a mix of me googling, like, Christmas party games and then thinking, “And how can I make this bonkers?” I go, “What can I do to just make it totally wild and competitive and also brief, that it could be something where there could be multiple rounds?” So, it was a mix of googling, and then just my wild, wild Christmas brain, I guess.
Jeff: I can only imagine what you might throw if you were throwing your own festival for Christmas.
Lee: Oh, that would be the dream.
Jeff: Based on what’s inside this book.
Lee: Oh, I would love that so much, the power I would wield.
Jeff: What are some of your favorite holiday traditions?
Lee: I would say spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with my parents. It’s been the three of us for a lot of years, and so just getting that quality time with them is really nice. We watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” every year on Christmas Eve. And so, like, a really fun tradition I like with them is ever since I was a little kid, they’d give me a set of pajamas on Christmas Eve to open and wear that night and then wear, you know, the next morning, and they still do this. I’m 40 and I still get a pair of pajamas every year, and one of my best friends has taken that tradition and has been doing it with her kids, and so that’s been really sweet to see those photos.
And kind of, generally, I really just like the cooking and the baking, and I’ve been doing most of the holiday cooking and baking since high school. And I live alone and so I don’t get an opportunity to cook for other people that often. And so it’s really fun, like, the pace and the pressure of trying to cook a lot of things for multiple people is kind of a tradition I really like.
And then kind of solo, honestly, it’s sitting on my couch watching Hallmark Christmas movies and starting new crochet projects that I may or may not finish. That’s sort of the tradition phase I am in at present is I bought a bunch of yarn last weekend and a bunch of patterns off Etsy, and my DVR is loaded with Hallmark movies, so let’s do it.
Jeff: Nice. Along with those traditions, what’s a favorite gift that you got as a child that kind of still stands out to you to this day?
Lee: This is actually in the dedication for “24 Dares.” I dedicated that to my parents. And when I was growing up, I think my mom probably did most of the shopping for me, and every year, my dad would give me a special gift, like, something that he picked out. And when I was a kid there was… I really loved original Nintendo, and there was a thing called the Game Genie back then that you could, like, attach to a cartridge and it came with a book of, like, cheat codes for a whole bunch of games. And I think this was around the time that the Disney “Aladdin” movie, like, the old cartoon movie came out, and so that’s what I had asked for for Christmas, and I opened the special gift from my dad and it was in my mom’s handwriting. She drew, like, the genie from “Aladdin” in green, and they joked that, “Well, here’s your green genie that you wanted.” And me just being a really, like, super polite only child kid was like, “Oh, that’s so nice. Thank you so much.” And then, like, they let me think that that was my gift for a while and then they gave me the Game Genie. But I just love that level of trolling of a kid. That just I think really instilled my sense of humor.
And then related to that, one of my mom’s favorite movies is “A Night at the Roxbury.” She loves Will Ferrell. We all love Will Ferrell in my family. And every year, for quite a while, my mom would give me, like, a raunchier gift from Doug and Steve Butabi, the characters in the movie, and so every year I get to open something just ridiculous. And so those are kind of some of my favorite memories of basically just my parents teasing me relentlessly.
Jeff: That’s amazing.
We talked about this being your debut author year. It was also your debut to go to GRL. How was that experience?
Lee: Oh, my gosh, it was amazing. I loved it, especially now that I’ve recovered from the COVID I got from there. It’s a little easier without the brain fog, to just think over how amazing it was. I started attending author and reader events back in 2005 when I had originally joined Romance Writers of America. And while I was a member of that organization I had attended numerous national conferences, so over the years I’d sort of built up in my head, “Okay, when I’m published and finally can attend my own signings, like, these are swag ideas I have and I’m just really excited to get to talk to readers.” And so I’ve had, like, 17 years of that emotional buildup of just having that experience of attending that sort of event as an author, a published author, not just a reader or an unpublished author, and it was incredible.
It just is such a wild experience to have people talk to me about my books face-to-face in a way where I can read their body language, and it’s just a different kind of validation that… It hits differently than reading reviews online when you can get the animation of talking to someone about it. And it was also just incredible as a reader. I’m such a voracious reader of queer romance and getting to meet so many of my favorite authors and meet online friends in real life, and as an author, kind of in my debut year, who’s only been part of the M/M community for about a year and a half, I’ve been trying to find my place in the community because I was involved in romance for so many years. But this is a different, closer-knit, tighter niche of authors.
And so GRL, I think just having that in-person element, really helped me feel more comfortable in this space. And then as someone who identifies as queer, being at an event with several hundred people who were either queer or allies, I just felt so comfortable and at home, and it was incredibly validating of, yes, I have found the corner of romance where I feel super comfortable and super welcome as a reader and a writer. And yes, it was everything I could have hoped for and more.
Jeff: Wow, that’s awesome. It is a good feeling of tribe when you’re there.
Jeff: For sure. And I love seeing your photos from there, from the weekend of, like, you’re at your author table and some of the other stuff you post is like, “She’s having a good time.”
Lee: I really was. I needed to post. I was going around. Like, I was halfway through the event and I was seeing some other people posting selfies with author friends and I was like, “Oh, dang it, I haven’t been taking pictures of people.” So, then the last two days, I’m running around trying, like, “Hey, can I get a picture with you?” So, I still need to post those. But it’s interesting to try to navigate that being an uberfan of so many authors and then also trying to appear as a newly published author and trying to, like, navigate, “Hi, can we be friends? Also, I’m a huge fan of you and I’m trying not to be creepy because I’m also…” you know. That was an interesting thing to try to navigate in person, but I really, really, really liked it.
Jeff: One of the things I love so much about the couple of Dahlia Springs books that I’ve read so far is the low angst approach. I don’t mind a good angsty book sometimes, but certainly, over the last couple of years, you know, the softer and low angst it is better because I want that kind of book. What is it that appealed to you so much about low angst as both a reader and an author?
Lee: I would say one of the things that I struggled with over all the years that I’ve been writing romance and trying to work toward publication has been the dark moments, the breakups, the high conflict between characters in a romantic relationship. And I think ever since I joined Romance Writers of America back in 2005 and I started attending regular workshops and classes, I was taught that romances have specific beats, that there should be these dark moments and possibly misunderstandings or breakups, and it wasn’t really until last year, I guess, that I sort of clocked for myself, oh, I’ve really internalized over the years that romances in order to be, like, “good and memorable” have to have a certain level of heavy emotion and angst. And that isn’t always the case. Like, there’s room for all levels of emotion and angst to be good romances.
And it wasn’t until I got into “Schitt’s Creek” then that fandom, since that was my first fandom and my first experience with fan fiction, I started noticing people would use the word angst a lot. Like, “Hey, I’m looking for high angst recommendations, I’m looking for low angst and fluffy recommendations.” And so that got me really kind of thinking about what angst is and what my preferences are as a reader. It took me quite a while to really realize that authors can and are putting out low angst books successfully. They’re calling it low angst, and that readers are asking for low angst in, like, you know, Facebook rec groups, “Hey, I’m looking for low angst recommendations.” And I really didn’t realize that that was a thing because I’d so internalized this expectation of angst in the characters and that that needs to be there for the romance to be satisfying.
And I still carry… Now that I realize that and I’ve, like, moved to low angst, I carry a lot of guilt because I would critique for friends over the years and sort of push for more conflict, more tension, where’s the stakes? And one of my friends is a low angst writer, too, and I feel bad because now that I realize that that’s what she writes, I was recommending to her, like, “Hey, where are the stakes? This needs more oomph, it needs more heaviness, but it doesn’t.” And so having this experience has even changed how I give feedback to other authors because it has me rethinking that there can be many ways to approach telling a romance.
So, I’ve really realized that low angst is my comfort zone as a reader and an author, and I think part of it, this sort of realization is connected to I really love CliftonStrengths, like the psychometric test, and my top two strengths are positivity and empathy, which, for me, means I work really, really hard to be happy all the time, and so the media I consume can really tank my mood quickly and have really lasting effects on my mood.
And I think that’s one of the reasons I had sort of unconsciously moved away from reading romances toward cozy mysteries is cozies, the tone of those is so much lighter and fun and silly, and not all romances I’d been reading were like that because I didn’t have that, like, articulated language to be able to seek out the lighter end of the spectrum. And so kind of, like, when I read, I become the characters. I think that’s how my empathy works. I’m not in a room watching it happening, I become them. So, the higher the angst, the deeper the drop is for me, and oftentimes, the HEA can’t bring me out of that enough. And so with the low angst, it just kind of helps me sort of moderate my reactions to books because I just internalize them so much. And since I spend so much of my time either reading or living in the worlds I write, I found that kind of living in the lighter side of the spectrum has just been really good for my mental health overall I think.
Jeff: So, I like really what you did in “Pitcher Perfect,” and I think I talked about this in my review because there are definitely stakes for Austin and Caleb. They’re both trying to make their businesses, bring them to the next level. For Caleb, it’s about getting established in Dahlia Springs and, hopefully, being able to stay there. And for both of them, they both have issues a little bit around opening up their heart to, like, getting into the relationship, so there’s stakes, but they talk, they talk a lot, nothing festers. And to me, that’s, like, the perfect low angst, because I do want there to be stakes to help propel the story and have all the external stuff that needs to go on, but at the end of the day, they’re chatting, so even their dark moment isn’t the darkest of dark because we’re gonna talk about it and move on.
Lee: Yeah, that’s what I really like as a reader, too. And I think I’ve just really tried to internalize the philosophy of write what I want to read because I’ll have more fun writing the books. And I think my flavor of preference for low angst is that high communication, and even if there is, you know, they still have trauma in their lives that they’re still working through, they have goals, those might be in opposition from each other. There still is conflict and tension. A lot of it is external, or them just trying to get over their own mental and emotional hurdles. But the dips in my rollercoaster aren’t quite as much of a drop. Or if there is a dark moment, it’s either resolved quickly or they just ask for some time to just think about something before they react harshly and like, “Hey, I just need a minute. We’re okay. We’re gonna talk about this, but I need a minute,” because I think high communication is something I really value.
And I think, for me…because I know a lot of readers like reading about the messiness of communication because it feels very realistic because humans are messy, and I totally get that and agree with that. And I think, for me, part of the fantasy of romance and the romance I like to write and read about the most is when they communicate with each other, that’s something I struggle to do. I struggle with communication in relationships in some ways, especially if it’s expressing my own pain, my discomfort, if I’m upset about something, and so when I can read or write about characters who can manage that, that is part of the fantasy for me, like, “Oh, they can do that. Maybe I can do it, too.” But that feels, like, warm and fuzzy and fulfilling to me in a low angst way when they have that communication.
Jeff: And you’re kind of going all in on low angst. You’re even starting a podcast called the “Low Angst Library,” which we are so excited about. Tell our listeners what they’re gonna find on your show.
Lee: I’d love to. I really am going all in on low angst. Like, once I find a thing, whew, oh, boy. So, each episode of the podcast will have an interview with a different author who writes low-angst queer romance, and eventually, I think I’ll expand to interviewing other people in the industry, like maybe reviewers, readers who really like low angst, or maybe editors or cover designers who kind of work in this niche. But so far, I’ve interviewed authors, and so far they’ve been authors of male-male romance because that is more of who I know since that’s what I’m currently writing, but I really wanna talk to authors who write main characters, like, all over the LGBTQIA2S+ umbrella.
So, I’m hoping that listeners will suggest other authors because I really wanna have a lot of diverse representation on the podcast and a lot of representation of queerness. And so yeah, each episode will come out every two weeks is the plan, and an interview with an author each time, and just talking about low angst and what that means, because I’m finding sort of, like, if you ask someone what is spicy or steamy and those definitions are gonna be all over the place, it’s like that with low angst. People have really different definitions I’m finding, and that’s been really fun to talk to different people about that and just kind of get to know why they write and what they write and what inspires them, and it’s been fun so far.
Jeff: Who are some of your first guests that you can maybe let people know who they’ll find as you debut?
Lee: Oh, yeah. So, we’ve got A.J. Truman and K.M. Neuhold, Isla Olsen, Charlie Novak, Jaclyn Quinn, and Ariella Zoelle are the first batch of episodes.
Jeff: Oh, fantastic. Some good authors in there.
Lee: Yes. Some of my favorites. I was honestly selfish, like, “Oh, who are some of the people who really inspired me, and can I talk to them?” Especially since five of them were attending GRL and I thought, “Oh, maybe if I can do these interviews before GRL, I’ll get to talk to them a little bit, and then I’ll feel a little less awkward about approaching them in person at the conference.”
Jeff: Speaking of recommendations of what you like to read, what are some recs that you would give to our audience of books they should be picking up?
Lee: Oh, yeah. So, I’ve been reading a lot of amazing books lately, and a couple that come to mind, so on the non-holiday side of things, I met Zoe Lee at GRL and she was great. And so when I came home, I read her “Fakers” series. Books are concocted and fabricated and they’re low angst, super funny, Hollywood-set with celebrities, and those were just really, really, really fun reads, and I recommend those. And I just finished reading Charlie Novak’s newest, so this is a holiday wreck, “Up to Snow Good.” I love puns so much.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s such a great pun.
Lee: It’s so good. And it’s low angst, super sweet, and sexy, set in France. Basically, Charlie could write my shopping list and I would rate it five stars. I love everything she writes.
Jeff: She’s brilliant. She does the low angst, and she does holiday really well, too.
Lee: Yes. Oh, my gosh, this book is so good. I mean, I was really fortunate to get to meet her at GRL as well. So, those were kind of a non-holiday and a holiday wreck that came to mind.
Jeff: Fantastic. Now, you’ve already mentioned five books in the “Tap That” series on the way, so there’s four to come with the first one already out. What else can you share about, like, what 2023 holds for the Dahlia Springs universe?
Lee: Oh, yeah. So, yeah, got three more of the “Tap That” books coming out. I think the next one is Ty’s book. Will come out probably March of 2023 is what I’m thinking. And then hopefully, Seth and Dom’s books will come close-ish after that. And I am considering expanding a novella set in the town. So, I was part of a group promotion in June, and I wrote a story about Dave who runs the coffee shop, a Whole Latte Love. Did I mention I love puns? So, I released that in June, and that promo had a word count limit. And there’s more that I wanna tell about that story because it’s set in pride, it’s got amateur drag, but it’s got one of my favorite tropes, which is when two people know each other online anonymously and know each other in person but don’t know that it’s the same person, and I would love to expand that into a full novel and tell more of their story. So, I’m thinking about doing that.
And then I’m already planning next year’s Christmas books. I’m thinking about two of them. And also, once the “Tap That Brewery” series wraps up, I want to write another series in the town, probably centered on the Dahlia Farm and a few brothers who are part of the family that run that. So, I’m thinking that that might be coming later 2023.
Jeff: Nice. Any possibility that Mabel ever gets a story? I adore her so, so much.
Lee: Oh, I never thought about that.
Jeff: I’ve only seen her in two books so far, but she is such a strong supporting character.
Lee: I love her. She just is no-nonsense, and I just really respect the work that the Chamber of Commerce folks do in small towns. I never thought about that, but I am going to have to add that to my list of ideas. That would be fun to write a little Mabel story.
Jeff: Yeah, even if it’s not a whole book, if it’s, like, a little Dahlia Springs extra or something just to see who she is behind her Chamber of Commerce work.
Lee: Yeah, and I have plans to write suffix stories set in the universe as well because I have a lesbian bar in the town called The Lucky Tongue and I thought, “Oh, it’d be really fun to write a series, women loving women series, set around there. And that could be fun to work Mabel into that series, maybe. I’ll have to give that some thought. Thanks for the idea.
Jeff: Absolutely. Fingers crossed. So, how can people keep up with you online to know everything that’s going on with you, your books, Dahlia Springs, the podcast, everything else?
Lee: You can find me. My website is leeblairbooks.com, and @LeeBlairBooks is where to find me on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. I also have a Facebook reader group called Lee Blair’s Buddies, and on there, every Thursday, I post a random group text excerpt from the “Tap That Brewery” guys because that’s part of each book, and it’s just complete random…just randomness. It’s mostly Ty and his shenanigans, but those are really fun to post that. And then for the podcast, it’s called the “Low Angst Library,” and you can subscribe on any of the major podcast platforms or visit lowangstlibrary.com or @LowAngstLibrary on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok.
Jeff: We will link to all of that stuff in our show notes. Lee, thank you so much for coming to this show. I loved this conversation, and I cannot wait to read more from Dahlia Springs and to check out the podcast.
Lee: Thank you so much. This has been an absolute pleasure to talk with you, and I am just so happy to be here. I love this podcast. Thanks, Jeff.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. The show notes page has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: Thanks so much to Lee for talking to us about “Dahlia Springs.” I look forward to visiting that town again in the coming year, and I’m also signed up for the 24 dares and cannot wait to play along.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next in episode 407 is time for another episode full of reviews.
Jeff: We’ve got loads to tell you about, including several holiday romances to add to your seasonal TBR.
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 frolic.media/podcasts. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.