Jeff & Will kick off 2023 with authors L.A. Witt and Anna Zabo. They discuss their collaboration with the On the Board hockey romance series, which includes Rookie Mistake (one of Jeff’s favorite books from 2022). Lori and Anna talk about what led them to writing together, and they share some of what readers can expect in the upcoming Scoreless Game. Plus, they each share a book recommendation, and what else is coming up for them in 2023.

Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Monday, January 16.

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Show Notes

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Will: Coming up on this episode, we kick off the new year with authors Anna Zabo and L.A. Witt.

Jeff: Welcome to episode 411 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. It’s Will.

Will: Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader. We are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show, and we hope that your 2023 got off to an amazing start.

Me, I’m still a little bit discombobulated. For some reason this year, more than ever before, the weird dead week between Christmas and New Year’s messed with my head so bad. I did not know what day it was, what time it was. I couldn’t figure anything out, which is really weird because I happened to have a calendar fetish. There are like so many calendars up in our home. You would think I’d be able to figure out what day it was. But no .

Jeff: Well, I didn’t help the fact… I mean, I had a week where I was off on Monday, from the holiday itself. I took Friday off because I was taking a long weekend, so I kind of worked three days in the middle. But who knows what day it is. I mean, yeah.

How many calendars do you think we have for 2023 in the house? You have such a calendar fetish. Folks, you have no idea. This year we actually bought more than usual. And personally, I don’t know where they’re all gonna go. Do you have a count by chance? I put you on the spot here.

Will: I don’t need to count because you could never have enough.

Jeff: It’s kind of like books. If it’s a pretty calendar, we kind of want to have it.

Show Schedule Update

Will: So before we get into this week’s author interview, we wanted to let you know about a change in the podcast schedule. Beginning now, the show will be moving to a biweekly schedule, meaning every other week.

You see, we’ve religiously maintained a weekly schedule ever since the podcast started all the way back in 2015. And last year after more than 400 episodes, we took our very first extended break giving us some time to reflect on the show and think about where we’d like it to go in the future.

First off, we want to assure you, don’t worry, the show isn’t going anywhere. But we really felt that, after all this time, we needed to lighten the workload behind the scenes. We personally wanted some more space to do other things. Fewer episodes to produce means more time for those things.

So, let’s talk about the new schedule. The format of the show itself is remaining the same. The same book reviews and other interviews that you love, just a little less frequent. For instance, let’s take a look at the month of January. Because of the way the days fall on the calendar, there would’ve been five weekly episodes this month. Under the new schedule, there will be three, a new episode every other Monday. New episodes will drop into your podcast feed the same way they always have.

Now is a great time to remind you that if you haven’t followed or subscribed to the show on your favorite podcast platform, now is the perfect time to do it. When you subscribe or follow, you’re assured never to miss a new episode of the show.

So the quick and dirty recap is same show, but it’s every other week.

Now, Jeff, over to you.

Jeff on Kissed by the Krampus

Jeff: Before we get to the interview, one last thing. If you heard last week’s episode, you know that will discovered monster fucking for the end of his 2022 reading.

Will: Well, to be… to clarify, I didn’t discover it.

Jeff: Well, you discovered it for your own reading purposes.

Will: I extended my exploration. Let’s say that.

Jeff: Okay. That’s a better way to put it. So, you know, we had a little discussion about it. I was like, where did this come from? How did you read it? And basically, he persuaded me to read it because of the excellent review, and enthusiastic review that he gave.

Will: I was like, dude, you have to read this book.

Jeff: Exactly. And I have over the last week of the year. And oh my God, it was so good.

I mean, you know, he’s always on point with his reviews anyway, but I wasn’t really sure that I would… I don’t read a lot of paranormal anyway, and I wasn’t sure I would go exactly towards monster fucking like he did. But Ollie and Christopher. Oh, goodness, this book, while it takes place at the Christmas holiday, it’s not filled with all kinds of Christmas cheer so this could definitely extend and be like a winter reading book cause it is certainly frigid between Antarctica and, you know, cold Michigan.

Give it a read, folks. They’re such an amazing couple. I know this is the beginning of a series for L Eveland and I think I may have to come back and check out the other ones too. Cause the setup for book two, the people that she mentioned in the author’s note at the end, I was like, yeah, I kind of, maybe wanna see what’s up with them too. So thank you for turning me on to that book and hopefully turning some of our listeners onto that book as well.

Will: Trust me, you are going to get turned on by “Kissed by the Krampus.”

Jeff: So anyway, now really onto our interview here. Y’all know, , and maybe too much by now, that I loved “Rookie Mistake” from L.A. Witt and Anna Zabo, and I was so thrilled to talk to them about it. How they came to collaborate on such a great story, which includes inspiration from Pittsburgh Penguin’s hockey games, and a lot of discussion that actually happened at those games. We also get some details about “Scoreless Game,” which is the sequel that is coming up this spring.

L.A. Witt & Anna Zabo Interview

Jeff: Anna and Lori, thank you so much for being on the podcast. I’m excited that we get to kick off 2023 with you.

Lori: Thanks for having us.

Anna: Thank you.

Jeff: And even more so, we get to talk about one of my favorite books of 2022, “Rookie Mistake.” Loved it, and can’t wait to talk all about it. But, really before we get into the book, I’m curious, what led to you two collaborating? What is the origin story behind that?

Lori: Well, we had tried to collaborate, I think it was back in like 2014, but it was just the wrong time, the wrong book. It just kind of fell away. But then the way this one got started was I moved to Pittsburgh at the end of 2021, and we started going to hockey games. And I got an idea for a hockey book, and I mentioned it to Ann, and Ann kept feeding the plot bunny.

Anna: “Oh, you should do this. Maybe you should do do that. Maybe you should do that.”

Lori: And I was literally walking back to my car after a hockey game, and Ann texted me, you know, “Maybe your character is dot, dot, dot.” And I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. My husband’s like, “What?” Like, “Hold on. I gotta text Ann.” And I wrote, I was like, “Do you wanna write this with me?” And they were like, “Yeah, I think I do.” And that’s how it got started.

Jeff: I love that.

Lori: It really was as simple as that. And then I wrote a chapter and sent it to Ann, and it just kind of went from there.

Anna: And it was just, you know, we were on, you know, it started going, you know, it was just…

Lori: We kind of talked about, you know, the characters’ backgrounds and all that, and where we thought it might be going, and some scene ideas that we had. But for the most part, we kind of just ran with it, you know, whatever, built off each other’s chapters. And because we were going to hockey games and seeing each other pretty frequently, now that we live in the same city, we talk about it quite a bit, and just, yeah, just ran with it.

Anna: But also going to the hockey games, and going up to practices and things like that.

Lori: Training camp.

Anna: Training camp, yeah. And going to training camp. There was a lot of inspiration, I think just seeing the players, and how they interacted on the ice, especially at training camp and at practices where, you know, they’re sort of loose and relaxed, and they’re really just kind of…I mean, they’re having fun, you know, they’re working out there, but you can also tell they really just enjoy what they do.

Lori: And they’re screwing off and chirping, and, you know, they’re obviously being little boys out there, and you see a little more of the team dynamic, you know, just the guys out there. And we also, we went to a couple of away games last season. We went to one where we deliberately got tickets behind the bench in Columbus. And then we went to one in Detroit. And a lot of that was just to see, you know, different…you know, part of it was just we wanted to, but also see what it actually looks like on the bench, you know? So, we’re like looking over their shoulders through the whole game. And so we were kind of researching it as we went, just being immersed in hockey and hockey culture.

Jeff: How much got really kind of talked about at games? Because I could imagine, you know, something happened to…you could turn to one another and go, “What if so and so did that? You know, that thing just happened.”

Lori: Well, a lot of times we’d be sitting separately, because at the time we didn’t have our season tickets, so my husband and I would just sit anywhere in the arena, and I would text and be like, “This could be fun.” Or, you know, they would text me and be like, “I could totally see Isaac doing X, Y, and Z, or things like that.” So, there would be some of that going on during the game.

Anna: Yeah. Or I think there was one play that ended up actually in the book. I think it’s was the…somebody went into the penalty box and they had to…like, toward the end of the game, and it was tied game, and they ended up in the penalty box, and they had to pull the goalie.

Lori: That was actually the opening scene when Isaac is in the locker room going, “Oh my God, I hope Julien doesn’t see me.” It was actually Kris Letang that went to the box, and that had gotten…we were kind of chatting about that, and that was when Ann had texted me and said, “You know, it would be really funny if your characters…if this happened.” And that’s when I was like, “Do you wanna write this with me?” So that ended up being the…it kicked off the book and us writing together and the opening scene.

Anna: Yeah. So that was based a little bit on an actual thing that happened.

Lori: Yeah, it was horrible for the Penguins, but it was great for “Rookie Mistake.”

Jeff: And it’s hilarious that you gave it to the rookie because Letang is just not a rookie.

Lori: Oh no, no.

Anna: No, no.

Lori: No, but it just worked better for that because I was writing Isaac, and he was the rookie, so.

Jeff: This is a great moment to ask the question we’ve got from a member of our Patreon community. So, Tessa lives in Pittsburgh, and is a Penguin season ticket holder also. So, she loves all the Pittsburgh references and the hockey. And she knows, of course, that the characters of “Rookie Mistake” 100% fictional, but couldn’t help, as she says, noticing a parallel between Elias, Nisha, and Julien with Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. Is this intentional, subconscious, or is it completely in Tess’s head, or somewhere in between?

Lori: It wasn’t based…like, we weren’t saying, “We’re gonna base them off these,” but that’s the dynamic that we see all the time. And like Anna and I were talking earlier, you see that a lot on NHL teams. There’s pairs and trios that kind of have that dynamic.

Anna: Yeah, I mean there are…certainly with Julien, there are some callbacks to Letang, you know, the French Canadian. I mean, it’s obviously not Letang because Letang doesn’t have the same background. But there are little things like having the nickname King. You know, if you ever see Letang’s gloves, they actually say Legend on them because of Malkin. So, there are like tiny little callbacks there. But that was really the only sort of specific thing because Nisha…

Lori: And those three characters really developed on…they took on lives of their own.

Anna: Yeah, yeah. But Nisha and Elias were just names on a page that started out as names on a page that Lori had written, you know, that I’m friends with these superstars on this team. And I was like, “Well, one’s going to be the captain. The other’s gonna be the alternate.” And it just happened that I picked Elias to be the captain and Nisha to be the alternate. And also I think it’s funny because there’s a meme that went around a little bit that had like, you know, pictures like a hockey team, and pictures people on the roster, on the NHL roster, and it was things like, you know, loudest man in the world, and you know, the player we don’t mention was a duck. And you know, they have things like, you know, one of two best friends, and you know, TikTok boy, and things like that. So, you can pick your what character…

Lori: It was like stereotypes one.

Anna: Yeah, basically stereotypes. And one of them was lovable Russian. Like every NHL team, it seems, has a lovable Russian. And so, you know, Gino is the lovable Russian on the Penguins, and Nisha happens to be the lovable Russian on the Griffins.

Lori: Yeah. But that’s kind of where the similarity between the two of them stops because Nisha’s his own…Nisha really took on a life of his own and so did Elias.

Anna: Yeah. And it’s funny because I actually got asked by somebody, and I think people see their own teams in those dynamics because I actually got asked by somebody else if we based Nisha and all Elias off of Ovi and Backstrom, which we did not. But you have the Russian and the Swede, so, you know.

Jeff: And we moved forward a little bit there. There’s gonna be some people who are like, “What are they talking about?” So, tell us about what “Rookie Mistake” is about, so everybody can kind of connect that together if they haven’t heard you gush about the book previously.

Lori: I mean, the short version is a rookie forward who has a major crush on a veteran defenseman. And it turns out that goes both ways or it starts to go both ways. They get together, but Julien has a really painful past from dating someone when he was a rookie. That kind of comes full circle in this book.

Anna: Yeah. And that’s the heart of the story. And then you just have the surrounding team. And Julien is one of the alternate captains on the team. And the other alternate is Nikolai Sidorov. And then you have Elias Karlsson who’s the team captain. And they’ve all sort of been friends for a long time. And then it’s really the sort of this unfolding of the relationship between Isaac and…actually it’s the building of the relationship between Isaac and Julien because they actually get together really fast. And I know some people are like, “Oh my gosh, they’ve gotten together and there’s still all this book left.” And the rest of the book is really about them finding their footing and developing an honest-to-God relationship after deciding they want a date. And then sort of this slowly creeping horror of what happened to Julien, sort of being slowly…bits and pieces falling into place.

Lori: Creeping in from the past. And getting that feeling of, you know this is gonna come up at some point, you just don’t know how.

Anna: And then what happens when it does come up, and the relationships between all the characters, and how that affects them as well. And sort of the support system Julien has.

Jeff: How did you decide on the trajectory of the romance? There were so many ways it could go with the rookie and the veteran and the crush, but then to add all of this other stuff into it too.

Lori: I think as far as the relationship went, we knew right off the bat, you know, we wanted to have…there was gonna be a power dynamic because of the age, because of the experience. And so that was part of the reason why… I mean, Isaac, I don’t think I could have made him a submissive if I wanted to. As soon as we started writing the dynamic between him and Julien, it was like, Julien’s obviously a submissive to us. And Isaac had that kind of dom feel to him, or like he could be a dom if somebody taught him how. And it kind of just developed on its own from there. Like, we didn’t really…the only things we really planned with the book was how things were gonna blow up, you know, how the past was gonna come. But as far as the relationship, we kind of just let it happen. Just saw where it was gonna go, and we had some ideas of things that were gonna happen, but it was mostly, “Let’s just see how it develops,” because we wanted it to feel organic because it really was.

Anna: Yeah. And I think one thing we wanted to make sure was that the blow up, or you know, the dark moment was not one of those, “Well, you should have told me about this.” And the one character getting mad at the other character because they didn’t tell them about the…we didn’t want it to be like this massive, “Well, we’re not gonna date anymore because this thing happened.”

Lori: Yeah. “Something bad happened to you and you didn’t tell me about it, so I’m not gonna date you.” We just didn’t…

Anna: Yeah. That kind of seems, you know, that’s… I mean, well, one, it’s been done a lot, but two, it always seems kind of like it cheapens the relationship a bit. You know, I don’t know if that’s how…you know, it’s not how I would react if I found something out. I would wanna be there and be supportive, not angry, you know, so.

Lori: Yeah. Kind of the understanding that if somebody’s been through something horrible, the reaction of, “How dare you not tell me,” has never sat right with me because what if I’m just not ready to tell anybody? What if I’m not ready to think about it, what if I’m not ready to even put it into words? And it’s…the, 2How dare you not tell me,” is making it about them instead of making it about the victim. And I don’t like that dynamic at all and neither did Anna. So, we really were avoiding that. And Isaac didn’t feel like the kind of person who would make that about him and take it personally. His reaction is to be, “I wanna make sure that Julien’s okay.” You know, he’s horrified to hear about this, but not because it was something that was kept from him. But, you know, he cares about Julien, and he wants Julien to be okay.

Jeff: The thing I really liked about Isaac in that scenario is it showed he was kind of wise beyond his years. I mean, he’s ribbed by the team because of his age quite a lot, especially in the early run of the book. And sometimes he proves himself to be the very kid that they’re ribbing him to be. But in some cases, especially how he handles Julien, he’s just extraordinary. And I wish more young adults could be that way in how they deal with the world.

Lori. Well, I think a lot of them are.

Jeff: I thought it really conveyed well for him.

Lori: The thing is, I think a lot of young people are, they’re not really given a lot of credit for it, but they’re kind of encouraged not to be, like the way Isaac reacted to Julien. You know, I was watching a TV show that my husband and I watch all the time last night, and I was off because half the conflict revolved around three people just overreacting to everything, making it about them, not communicating with each other. And I was like, “This is so just contrived. Real people don’t behave this way or they shouldn’t.” And I feel like, you know, Isaac, maybe he is a little bit wise beyond his years, but he tends to think about things before he reacts, which probably comes from being a hockey player, and having to kind of analyze everything. And it’s just not the way he does things.

Jeff: Yeah. You hit it right on the head there too because you give us Isaac’s thoughts as he’s like, “How do I deal with this? What am I gonna do?” And that back and forth, like his options. And I love that you dug that deep into the characters, really both him and Julien to give us, you know, that level of detail.

Lori: Yeah. Because they do both…they both overthink things, and they under-think things. But you know, I just think we just tried to write them as true to them as they could be.

Anna: As we could. Yeah. And be respectful to the characters. Yes. I think sometimes, as a writer, you have to also be respectful to your own characters, you know, and not push them to do things that they wouldn’t do.

Lori: Just for the sake of conflict.

Anna: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Lori: And I think it also comes down to, I think one thing that Ann and I both agree on with our books is neither one of us really cares for toxic relationships. Whether that, you know, is…obviously, there’s gonna be toxic relationships in stories, but as far as romanticizing a toxic relationship and having, you know, that kind of dynamic that we don’t find it romantic or attractive. And so personally, I prefer my characters to have healthy relationships. That’s why I kind of joke that you know you’re in one of my books, or if you’re most likely…if you’re not in therapy now, you will be by the end. Because it just feels…I like my characters to be in touch with their feelings, and to think about things, and to not be toxic with each other. You know, talk.

Anna: And when you make mistakes, you have issues, you know, actually learn how to handle things.

Lori: Yeah. And then we go on to write a book with two characters who absolutely need to learn to do that.

Anna: Oh, those boys.

Lori: Oh, God. Yeah. Elias and Nisha. They’re a mess.

Jeff: That’s clear even from “Rookie Mistake,” that there’s something going on there.

Lori: Well, then thing is, and a lot of people asked us, you know, “Are they gonna get their own book?” And we knew halfway through “Rookie Mistake” they were gonna get their own book. When we started with “Scoreless Game,” a lot of the thing was that they had had this dynamic with Julien for all these years that was just sort of the status quo. And then Isaac came in and threw the balance off, and suddenly they’re having to think about things, and deal with things, and dynamics are changing, and they’re not handling that very well.

Anna: No. Yeah. There’s actually…

Lori: And they don’t handle it as well as Isaac and Julien did.

Anna: No, there’s actually a scene I think from Elias’s point of view, where he’s talking to Julien, and Julien’s like, “Look, you know, the whole thing with Julien and Isaac stirred up the water in the pond, you know, and everything’s rising to the surface.” So all the stuff that was hidden is all coming up. And that’s sort of a lot about what’s “Scoreless Game” is about is all the…everything’s been disrupted. So, now they have to deal with everything that’s sort of floating to the surface. And also, Elias has this sudden realization that…I think he’s 30 in “Rookie Mistake.” He’s about to turn 31 in “Scoreless Game.” I think his contract is up the next season. So, he’s getting close to free agency and he is like, “Oh, shit, you know, life’s gonna change.”

Lori: “Everything’s changing.”

Anna: “Everything is changing. Am I even gonna be here next year, in two years? Because…am I trade fodder? Julien’s just settled down and I have no one. You know, what’s gonna happen? You know, I love the life I have here.” And so, he gets up in his head about future, about planning for the future because he likes to plan for things.

Lori: And Nisha hears that and thinks, “Elias wants to leave, I’m gonna lose Elias. And now, I’ve lost Julien and Elias.” He does not handle that very well.

Jeff: Oh, those guys.

Lori: There were a lot of texts back and forth while we were writing this of, “Oh, my God, these boys.”

Anna: You know, for people who actually speak two common languages to each other, you know, because they speak both English and Russian with each other that they…

Lori: They suck at communicating.

Anna: Yeah. They really suck at actually talking about stuff.

Lori: And as an Anna and I were talking earlier and they pointed out, the guys made a lot of assumptions about each other over the years. And that has really put their dynamic in a situation where, you know, Elias is assuming Nisha isn’t interested in him, and Nisha’s assuming the same, and they’re both very, very wrong.

Anna: Yeah. And yeah, it’s the progression of the book’s a little different because…

Lori: It’s a lot different.

Anna: Yeah. It’s a lot different than your average romance because you expect, you know, your first act to get together is like the meet cute, you get together. The second act is you’re building up to the dark moment. And the third act is like after the dark moment kind of thing. And the dark moment in this book happens in first act.

Lori: About 20% or 30% in, I think.

Anna: Yep. Yeah. And then it’s…

Lori: And then a fallout.

Anna: Yeah. So, this really deals with more of putting back together a friendship and building a relationship after.

Lori: And it gets pretty messy in the beginning because mistakes are made.

Jeff: As you would expect. You’ve shared on social that you’re done writing “Scoreless Game” and it’s in edits. Do you have…

Lori: It’s with our editor right now, yeah.

Jeff: …any projection on when we might get to have it in our hand?

Lori: We’re thinking March. It depends on what our editor says, and then schedules from there, but March is our thought right now.

Jeff: Cool.

Anna: Yeah. Yeah. That seems to be about when it…you know, unless there’s like really, really heavy edits, like we have to rewrite half the book or something, which I don’t think is gonna happen, I think that it’ll take a little bit to get through the edits, and then, you know, doing like proofing and copy editing, and things like that will take a little bit. But it should be…

Lori: And we’ve also both got…I mean, I’ve got other releases between now and then.

Anna: Yeah. And yeah, we have to work…I mean, I don’t have anything coming out right now, but we need to fit it into Lori’s schedule. It’s not a Valentine’s book, so I don’t wanna put it near Valentine’s Day, you know.

Lori: But I have a book coming out on Valentine’s Day, so.

Anna: But March seems like a good…

Lori: And then book three will be along when we…we’re kind of taking a break because Ann wanted to work on some of their solo stuff, and I need to work on some of my solo stuff. But yeah, book three is making noise, so.

Anna: Yeah. And I also need to figure out how to get in the head of the one character that I will be writing. Who you will meet in “Scoreless Game.”

Jeff: And “Scoreless Game” is gonna be long too, we know. “Rookie Mistake” was 500-some pages in paperback, 16 hours of audio, and apparently “Scoreless Game” is bigger than that.

Anna: Yeah.

Lori: Yeah, yeah. It’s bigger.

Anna: Yeah. It kind of got…I don’t wanna say it got away from us because I don’t think it did.

Lori: No, I think we had a lot of ground to cover.

Anna: We had a lot to cover. Yeah.

Lori: Because we had to deal with the things blowing up between the two of them, fixing all of that. There’s some kind of outside issues that become a thing later on. Plus, some people picked up in book one that Nisha’s got a bit of a drinking problem, and that becomes a core issue. And then, you know, once we do finally get them together, we wanna show them together a little bit. So there’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of things happening, and a lot of threads that we need to tie up by the end. So, it wasn’t that it got away from us, it just had to be that long in order to actually tell the story.

Anna: Yeah. It ended up being…you know, “Rookie Mistake,” they get together very fast. It’s kind of heavy on the sex. “Scoreless Game,” they don’t get together very fast. It’s a very slow burn.

Lori: I think this is the slowest burn I’ve ever been a part of.

Anna: Yeah. It’s a slow burn.

Lori: Yeah, the distance from the beginning of the book to the first kiss is the longest of any book I’ve ever touched. But it’s as long as it needed to be.

Anna: They work for it, and you know, they certainly earn their happy ever after quite a bit. And you get to meet some more characters, some new people on the team because there’s always somebody new on the team.

Lori: And some of the old.

Anna: And some of the old people, and you get to see more of Isaac and Julien.

Lori: Yeah. Isaac and Julien are there. Obviously, we’ve got, you know, Paxy. I love Paxy, so of course, he has to be there.

Anna: Yeah. Paxy and Ozzy. And we get to see a little bit more of Paxy’s family life a little bit.

Lori: There’s a little less hockey in this one too, as far as on-page games because a good chunk of the book happens either during the off-season or while Nisha’s unable to play. So, there is hockey on page, but not as much as in the first book.

Anna: First act is basically…leads up to right up to…

Lori: Opening night.

Anna: …opening night, essentially. So, there’s stuff that goes on beforehand, and it’s a lot of things. I mean, Julien’s birthday happens there, so they have a small birthday party, and then a larger birthday party for Julien. So, there’s stuff going on there. But then the opening night, of course, is their banner raising for the cup they won. And a lot of things, bad things happen right around there.

Jeff: Why are you giving them grief over the banner raising time? They need to celebrate that before the grief.

Lori: Yeah, we were kind of mean to them.

Anna: We were very mean.

Lori: A lot.

Jeff: That’s not nice.

Anna: Yeah, we were. When you read it, yeah…

Lori: Buckle up.

Anna: Yeah, buckle up is right, yeah. I mean, I actually really fell in love with Elias as a character. Somebody recently said, you know, no one says that…the writers don’t say they have a favorite character, but every writer has a favorite character. And, you know, I said, who’s your favorite character? And for the longest time, it was Eli from “Just Business,” but I think Elias may have elbowed him out of the way as my favorite character that I’ve written. Because I just love the way he thinks. I love the way he looks at life, and sort of the quirks he has.

Lori: He’s a really different character. I really like him.

Anna: Yeah. Yeah. I just enjoy him as a character.

Lori: I really enjoyed Nisha. Nisha was really hard to write just because a lot of what’s going on in his head is just kind of heart-wrenching because when you really get into his head, you start seeing that there’s a lot going on that. You know, the goofy Russian who’s always telling complete bullshit stories is hiding a lot. Like there’s a lot behind the goofy stories. And that was hard to write, but I loved him.

Jeff: What does the writing and plotting process look like for you both? Obviously, there was a lot of talking at games and texting across the arena at games, but then when it came down to writing it, how did that kind of work itself out? Was it kind of plotted, sort of plotted, more organic? Seems like it was more organic as it kind of went, from what you said so far.

Lori: It was fairly organic, but like I would…when I started “Rookie Mistake,” I wrote my first chapter, sent it to Ann, and we kind of…the first couple chapters were us sort of getting a feel for the characters. And then we would talk about, “Okay, I’m gonna get them to whatever game, I’m gonna have them do this.” And we would talk a little bit about it, but sometimes the scenes would just sort of, you know, take on a life of their own. Or I would like…certain scenes would be like, “We need to have this scene, but it definitely needs to be in Julien’s POV, or it needs to be in Isaac’s POV.” Or in some cases, like when they told the team that they were together, I really wanted to write that scene because I had an idea in my head for it. And so, we kind of just worked it out, so that when it came time to write that scene, it was my turn.

Anna: Yeah. You know, it was like, “Okay, we’re gonna have them at…you know, tell the team at Thanksgiving, and Lori’s gonna take that part.”

Lori: Like there would be a scene where…like the scene in Las Vegas, the scene where would actually come out, come out. I had that in my head really early on, and so I said, “Okay, I’m gonna go ahead and jump ahead and write it, but if it doesn’t work, or if, when we get to it, we wanna go a different direction, then we’ll just bin it.” It ended up working, but I would jump ahead and just write something just to get it out of my head. And then we would just see how it fit when we got there.

Anna: Yeah. And we certainly knew that the scene where Julien tells Isaac, and Nisha, and Elias, what actually happened had to be from his point of view. So, you know that…

Lori: The scene before that we needed to have some from Isaac. So, I had the scene before that to get his reaction a little bit, and the scene scene immediately after. So, we were trying to balance the emotions, but also make sure that, you know, we’ve gotta be in Julien’s head for that.

Jeff: What was it like to put Julien’s disclosure scene together? Because that was some of the most raw emotional material that I can remember reading in a book in quite some time. I come back to the word organic, and it was almost a monologue, like of just him just pouring this out. How did that kind of come together, and defined the balance that was right without tipping over? You know, there’s so many ways that that could have gone wrong at the same time.

Anna: That was probably the hardest scene of a book that I’ve written, I think, hands down, because there was so much that I had to be careful about, you know, because you don’t…you know, you’re dealing with a very heavy topic. You’re dealing with, you know, this abuse that happened when he wasn’t quite a child, but he was 19-years-old, and he was, you know, first time really away from family. I mean, he had been away from family, but you know, away from any support structure kind of…

Lori: On his own.

Anna: On his own. And then him remembering this and trying to tell it to his friends, and relive it in a lot of ways, it was hard. But also not trying to traumatize the readers too, because you want to make it obvious what happened, but you don’t want to…

Lori: It’s not a horror novel, you know?

Anna: Right. It’s not a horror novel, but it’s also, the situation is horrible and it’s horrifying, but you don’t want to…you want it to be close but not so close that it feels wrong to the reader, like that they’re…

Lori: Like that it gets gratuitous. There comes a point where it becomes gratuitous.

Anna: Yeah, that’s it. You don’t want it to be gratuitous. That’s the word I was looking for. So, it was sort of being able to show enough that the reader could infer happened without laying it all on scene because you don’t actually need to see that. You don’t need to actually see the assault itself, you know, and I didn’t wanna do that to myself. I didn’t wanna do it to the readers. You know, I didn’t wanna do it to Julien, even though he, you know, exists only on paper.

Lori: Well, I think the way you had where a lot of it was in Julien’s head, but we’re seeing Elias and Nisha and Isaac’s reactions. I think that makes it visceral without making it like so close to the bone, because you’re feeling it through Julien, and then you’re seeing them react. And I think it worked really well because their reactions elicited that horror without actually having to get into the horror, if that makes sense.

Anna: Yeah, yeah. And it was a lot of writing a little bit, and correcting things, and removing things, and adding things, and just tinkering with the words, and how feelings were gonna unfold. It took me a while. I mean, it wasn’t something that I just sat down and did it at one time. I would sit down and write a little bit, and then I’d go back over it. I spent a long time on it just, you know, working through and making sure that all the words were right. You know, it was a lot. It was…just took time, and being very careful. And I think it also helps that the… I’ve been sort of revealing little bits of things as the book was going on, so it wasn’t so much of a shock to the readers as it is to the characters, I think, because the characters…the readers…

Lori: Because the guys had no idea. The reader knew, but the guys didn’t.

Anna: Yeah. The readers knew more than Isaac and Nisha and Elias. Nisha and Elias, I mean, in “Scoreless Game,” they’re still kind of beating themselves up a little bit, especially Elias.

Lori: They’re beating themselves up a lot. It comes up a lot that they…

Anna: About not noticing what had happened. But yeah, it was a hard scene, to say. I don’t know. It was a hard scene to write.

Lori: And reviewing the audio of it was hard too.

Anna: Yeah. That, I’m not quite sure how Michael did that, you know, in terms of…

Lori: Well, I’ve put him through enough hell that I think he’s…

Anna: Yeah. But it was just…yeah, that was…

Lori: Yeah, that was a hard one.

Jeff: He really nailed it. We gotta give props to Michael Ferraiuolo for his performance throughout the whole book, because he had to work up to that, and then do that, and then, you know, come out of the other side of it as the voice performer. And he was just extraordinary.

Lori: Yeah, we knew two chapters in that we were gonna hire him to do it. I mean, he does most of my books anyway, but early on, we were saying that this is a Michael book. It has to be, you know, not just because there’s accents all over the place, but because it was really getting close to the bone with a lot of emotional stuff, and that’s something he’s really good at.

Jeff: Yeah, he absolutely just was so perfect there. Like he’s always perfect, but I think this is like one of my all time favorites of his performances.

Lori: Yeah, I mean, he’s currently recording his 50th book for me. And I think “Rookie Mistake” is of my…I have two favorites and “Rookie Mistake” is one of them.

Jeff: What’s the other one? We should all know. So, if we haven’t heard it, we should go get it.

Lori: “The Venetian and the Rum Runner,” which is also 800 hours long. That one was 144,000 words, so.

Anna: Yeah, the audio for “Scoreless Game” will probably be out later than it was for the “Rookie Mistake” just because it costs a lot to pay a voice performer to do that many hours.

Lori: Because that will be 20 hours probably.

Jeff: And I will happily wait for Michael to do it because I will need him to read this to me, because his accent work for Nisha and Elias. I just love it.

Lori: Oh yeah. And it’ll be…you know, it’s first person with both of them.

Anna: Yeah, we didn’t include, there’s like maybe a few words of foreign language this time. So, it’s not like with a “Rookie Mistake” where there was a lot of Quebecois French, we decided we weren’t gonna try to mix Russian and Swedish and all that.

Lori: Well, especially because with Russian, like you have to transliterate it to the English alphabet, and it just doesn’t work very well. And Swedish is really hard to pronounce. And speaking of the French in “Rookie Mistake,” a big shout out to Bey Deckard who we sent him the manuscript of all the French flagged, and he adjusted the phrasing and made sure that like the swearing was accurate, and the phrasing like, “This is how a Quebecois would say this.” And he did a great job on it.

Anna: Yeah. And this is how a young Quebecois person would say it as opposed to like your grandpa, because there were a couple things in there that was like, he’d never…you know, somebody who’s in their 20s would never say this. Somebody who’s 28 would never say this, and gave us other phrases to use.

Jeff: What’s a favorite scene for you both from “Rookie Mistake?” Can you pluck one out of the…

Lori: We were talking about this beforehand because we were having a hard time pinning it down. I mean, for me, the one we were talking about that really, to the bone, visceral one is a favorite because it’s so hard. But if I had to pick one, probably either the Thanksgiving scene or when they come out publicly.

Anna: Yeah. I actually really like the epilogue because you sort of see who Julien can become, you know, who he’s becoming after all of this, you know, but you see the support with his family and with Isaac, but you also sort of see that he’s taken on some agency of his own.

Jeff: Now, if I’ve done my research right, Lori’s had a few collaborations, we know that. But, Anna, looks like this is your first.

Anna: It is. Yeah, it is.

Jeff: What made this the right time to do a co-writing?

Anna: It’s the first one that actually came to fruition, I guess. Like I said, we tried writing before, but even before that, I actually started…it was a long time ago, I actually started co-writing a book with Jessica Freely, who unfortunately has since passed away. They passed away earlier this year. And that just never happened. It was sort of a space opera, wacky space opera type that we got about, I don’t know, a third into it. And then our lives both kind of went other directions.

Lori: It’s what happens sometimes with collaborations.

Anna: Yeah, I like the idea of co-writing, but I guess the timing just never worked out until…this was just the right time. And I think it really helps, probably not so much on Lori’s end, but I think it really helps me to have the person like physically in the same location as me. I think it helps because then it’s…

Lori: Well, because we see each other, and we can talk about things in person. Like Cari Z and I, we Skype at the beginning of every book, and sometimes like halfway through, we’ll Skype just to touch base on things, but we really only see each other or communicate that way on Skype. Otherwise it’s all via email. For anime, I think we work better if we can sit and talk about things and talk through.

Anna: Yeah. And we would do writing day, like after this, we’ll probably write a little bit, we’re working on separate stuff now. But we do writing days together where we’d both…you know, maybe Lori would be working on something different, but I’d be working on “Rookie Mistake,” and you know, it would sort of…I’d pause and say, “Oh, this is happening, what do you think?” Kind of thing. So, it really did help me to have the same location.

Lori: Yeah. And there were times like both the trips to Columbus and Detroit for games, we spent the entire drive both times hashing out “Scoreless Game.” We were still writing “Rookie Mistake,” but we were hashing out “Scoreless Game,” discussing kind of what our thoughts were on it, where we thought it might go, what might happen. So, by the time we sat down to write that one, we’d spent hours and hours and hours talking about what we thought was gonna happen.

Anna: Yeah. I mean, still didn’t quite go the way we had originally intended in some ways, you know, but it eventually, you know…but a lot of the groundwork was laid by actually talking in persons.

Lori: For what we were doing, I think this worked really well.

Jeff: So, on behalf of everybody who has loved “Rookie Mistake,” thank you, Lori and Eddie, for moving to Pittsburgh.

Lori: And Anna for dragging me to a hockey game back in 2018 when I was like, “I’m not gonna write hockey romances.”

Jeff: Not only are you writing hockey romances, you’re writing ginormous hockey romances.

Lori: I think I’ve written like 15 now, something like that.

Anna: And season ticket holder, and yeah. Sort of, you know, I did not make you drink the water. I just took you to the stream.

Lori: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, my living room has two walls that are completely covered in hockey stuff now.

Jeff: Nice.

Lori: There’s one wall that’s nothing but autograph photos, another one that’s got paintings, and then I have like 10 hockey sticks leaning against the corner of the wall.

Anna: Well, you can kind of see a little bit of…you know, back here, this is actually a Penguin season ticket holder flag, you can sort of see that. And then I’ve got my little stickers of guys here. And then if I go this way, there’s my Letang pride jersey hanging on the door there.

Lori: They got me Letang’s pride jersey from last year for Christmas last year. And I think, we have our bedroom has hockey jerseys, signed jerseys on all the walls, and we’ve now had to start spilling out in the hallway. So yeah, we are apparently a hockey house now, and it’s Anna’s fault.

Jeff: So what does the future hold for the “On the Board” series? There’s a bit, a little hint at a book three. Is this a trilogy or possibly more?

Lori: More.

Anna: More. Yeah.

Jeff: More.

Lori: We knew halfway through “Rookie Mistake” that there would be a sequel, and by the time we were done with “Scoreless Game,” we have ideas for three more right now. Whether or not those all happen, or whether or not they’re the only ones, it’s impossible to say, or when, we don’t know. But the next one, definitely.

Anna: There will at least be three. Definitely, the next one. Again, not quite exactly sure when that’ll happen depending on…because I really should finish something of my own and put it out.

Lori: I try not to the top monopolize all of Anna’s time.

Anna: Yeah. And the thing is, I do have a full-time job in addition to writing. So, that’s the majority of my days are with the job that keeps the roof over my head and the cats in kibble, especially the new very large cat. Surprisingly, one of the things that surprised me about the co-writing is just actually how fast it moves because it does seem to go a lot…well, one, you’re only writing half a book each, even though…

Lori: Well, that’s just the length of an entire book.

Anna: The length of a full novel. Yeah. Okay. But there’s something about writing a scene, and then finishing it, and like sending it out to somebody. And it’s like…and then it comes back and there’s more stuff. It’s like there’s a new thing you get to read what happens next, and you didn’t actually have to think about it yourself. So, I think once we pull the trigger, it won’t take that long to write.

Lori: Yeah. I’m probably gonna write my first chapter in the next book fairly soon just because it won’t shut up. So, because my character is very in my ear. I’ve been wanting to write that character since book one, so.

Jeff: Okay.

Anna: Yeah, so, one of the love interests is from book one, and the other love interest is from…you’ll meet in book two.

Jeff: Excellent. We love to get book recs. What have both of you read recently that our listeners should be picking up?

Lori: I’ve been catching up on the “PsyCop” books because I got behind on those, so that’s my go-to binge series.

Anna: I haven’t been reading as much. For some reason reading’s been really hard for me this past year. I don’t know why, I guess everybody goes through the sort of the swings of things. But I did read the first two books in Layla Reyne’s new series, “Perfect Play.” “Bad Bishop” is the second one. The first one is…I don’t remember what the first one is now. The cowboy on the cover, you know, and I’m like, “What is the name of the book?” But yeah, no, I love Layla’s stuff in general. Always, I will jump at any chance to read what she’s written.

So, I guess the other one that I read that I really liked, which just came out a while ago too, is Cat Sebastian’s “Tommy Cabot Was Here.” I really enjoyed that. She’s known for more of historical. This is still kind of historical, but it’s more modern because I think it’s, you know… But I really just enjoyed it. It’s actually a good book for the winter, I would think. Picking it up around winter because then it gets set around…there’s some scenes that are set around Thanksgiving and the winter months. So, it’s kind of a holiday read, although it’s not…I don’t think it’s positioned to be a holiday read.

Jeff: It’s winter solstice reading. So, besides “Scoreless Game” in 2023, what could you two share about what else is coming up for you in the new year?

Lori: I’ve got…Cari Z and I are releasing a fourth book in the “Hitman vs Hitman” series, you know, standalone “Hitman vs Hitman.” And we’re writing the fifth book, which should be the last one, but I make no promises. And I am starting a new series, contemporary series that will probably be out later this year. And I’m working on another hockey book right now that deals with addiction, and all kinds of drama and chaos from their past. So, that one, I’m hoping to have that one out this spring. That’ll be “Brick Walls.”

Anna: Well, you also have the Valentine’s story.

Lori: Oh, yeah. I have a Valentine’s Day story called “Two Dead Fish Named Kevin,” and that comes out on the 14th. And Michael Ferraiuolo’s working on the audio book right now, so it should be out in time.

Anna: I’m currently working on…it doesn’t have a title yet, I haven’t decided what it’s gonna be called yet, but it definitely will be a shorter book, and it’s a paranormal…

Lori: Famous last words.

Anna: Yeah, no, this one I think, because it’s framed by time. There’s only so much you can stick in when you do that. But it’s sort of a paranormal, kind of fated mate book that it’s set here in the Pittsburgh area. It’s fictitious town on the Ohio River, kind of like Sewickley but not. And if you know the area, you know Sewickley. And it’s between a crow shifter and a sort of half human, half fay character who hunts the dead. And they’ve known each other from childhood, and it’s sort of…one goes away for a while and comes back. And it’s sort of the ramifications of him coming back and taking on the mantle of his family. And the crow shifter is part… His family owns a jewelry store in town. And it’s just sort of this getting back to know each other. And both of them sort of knowing that there’s a bond between them, and one of them just not having any of it. Not wanting to be part of this thing. It’s a little darker than some of my other things because it does deal with, you know, the undead in some ways. Despite, you know, the being a lot of world building, it should actually be not that long. I just need to finish it. It’s about halfway done.

Jeff: Excellent. Things to look forward to in 2023. So, how can everybody keep up with you online so they know when everything’s gonna come out?

Lori: Everything is on my website, which is, and I’m also on Instagram and Twitter as @GallagherWitt, or you can join the Gallagher Witt Gaggle on Facebook.

Anna: Yeah, it’s similar with me. I do have a website. I keep it up to date though, the blog part kind of falls to the wayside. I am mostly on Twitter and Instagram as well. It’s @amregina. I do have a hockey Twitter as well, which I tend to be on more right now because there’s a lot more hockey going on.

Lori: Yeah, I have a hockey Twitter too. It’s @WittHockey, but I only tweet there usually during games, so.

Jeff: Live tweeting can be fun. Now that I know that you’re out there, I’ll be checking you out there when I know you’re at games.

Anna: Yeah, it’s hard because it’s a long…my hockey Twitter is @AmerPenguina, I think, which is hard to spell, but I tend to hang out…you know, my regular Twitter, my normal Twitter, there’s a lot on there. I’ve followed a lot more people on there, so I need to curate my list basically because it seems like there’s…I’ll get on there and there’s a lot of politics, and that just depresses me when I just…

Lori: That’s kind of the same way. My regular Twitter is basically half writing stuff and half politics, because I do tweet a lot politically, but my Instagram and my hockey Twitter are not political at all. There’s no politics on any of those. The hockey Twitter is just hockey, nothing else. And then the Instagram is basically my cats, my painting, and hockey.

Anna: And books because you post your books. Yeah. And I post my books on my Instagram, teasers and things like that. I’m also on Facebook. I do have a Facebook group.

Lori: We should do some teasers for “Scoreless Game” after we get edits, just to…

Anna: Yeah…

Lori: …build the people’s appetite a little.

Anna: I think on Twitter I do have a few teasers, little clips of things.

Lori: Well, we had one teaser and there was bookmarks at GRL. and the quote on it is just, “That beautiful blue-eyed jackass of my dreams.” And there were so many people going, “Okay, but which one was saying it? Was it Elias saying it about Nisha, or the other way around?” And we’re like, “I guess you’ll have to find out.”

Jeff: That’s part of the fun. That’s why it’s a teaser.

Anna: Because they are both beautiful blue-eyed jackasses.

Lori: It’s true. It’s true. And they do a lot of… Oh, god, those boys.

Jeff: All right, well, we’re gonna link to everything in the show notes that we’ve talked about, which is awesome. Anna and Lori, I’m so glad you both came and hung out, and talked about these wonderful books. Can’t wait to read the new one. And Happy New Year to you both.

Lori: You too.

Jeff: Have a great 2023.

Anna: Thank you. You too.


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 has links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.

Jeff: And thanks again to Anna and Lori for joining us. I love so much how Anna dragged Lori to a hockey game in 2018, and that led Lori to writing more than a dozen hockey romances now, and to the collaboration on “Rookie Mistake.” And now that I’ve heard about that sequel mmmmm “Scoreless Game.” will not get here fast enough, especially in audio.

Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next, on Monday, January 16th, Julian Winters is back with us to talk about his new YA novel.

Jeff: Julian and I had so much fun when he co-hosted our favorite YA books of 2022 episode. We talked so long. So guess what? I saved part of the conversation since his new book, “As You Walk on By” actually comes out on January 17th. We’re gonna talk about that book as well as our love of the comic series “Superman: Son of Kal-El.”

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 Original theme music by Daryl Banner.