Jeff & Will welcome Ruby Roe to talk about her debut sapphic fantasy romance A Game of Hearts and Heists. Ruby is the alter ego of author and podcaster Sacha Black, who writes books for authors as well as fantasy YA. Sacha discusses what inspired her to write queer romance and this first book in the Girl Games series. We also find out why she picked the name Ruby Roe, and how much she enjoyed writing this book. Sacha also has several book recommendations.
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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.
- Jeff Adams Newsletter Signup
- Ruby Roe / Sacha Black Interview
- Ruby Roe website | TikTok
- Sacha Black website | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube
- A Game of Hearts and Heists (Girl Games Book 1) by Ruby Roe
- Keepers (The Eden East Novels Book 1) by Sacha Black
- “Lessons Learned from Starting a New Pen Name” on The Rebel Author Podcast
- Atlas Obscura website
- CliftonStrengths website
- 13 Steps to Evil: How to Craft Superbad Villains by Sacha Black
- A Game of Romance and Ruin (Girl Games Book 2) by Ruby Roe (pre-order until September 14, 2023)
- Queen Takes Rose by Katee Robert
- House of Hunger by Alexis Henderson
- Jane Green on Amazon
- Confessions of a Shopaholic (Shopaholic Book 1) by Sophie Kinsella
- Adam Croft on Amazon
- Mistress of Desire by Ruby Scott
- Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
- Episode 180: Making Our Books and Content Accessible with Jeff Adams and Michele Lucchini on The Rebel Author Podcast
- Content for Everyone: A Practical Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs to Produce Accessible and Usable Web Content by Jeff Adams & Michele Lucchini Where to Purchase | Buy ebook direct from Jeff’s Website
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
- Rainbow Romance Reader Report Subscription Sign Up
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re going to play a game of hearts and heists with author Ruby Roe.
Will: Welcome to episode 416 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast. The show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Will and with me as always, hey, it’s that guy sitting right across from me. It’s my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s me. I’m right here as always. Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader, it is great to have you back for another episode of the show.
As always, this podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. Thanks to Muskox for recently joining the community. If you’d like more information about what we offer to patrons, including a monthly bonus episode that you’ll find nowhere else, go to Patreon.com/BigGayFictionPodcast.
Will: So before we get to this week’s author interview, Jeff, I know that you’ve got some news to share with us. You are getting ready to serialize a story on your newsletter.
Jeff: That’s right. Starting on Friday, March 24th, I’m going to be offering one chapter a week of the short story, “The Adventures of Jake.” Now this story has a special place in my heart as it is the first short story that I ever wrote intended for publication. Now it was the second one published just by, you know, how things worked out in the world. This actually appeared in an anthology called “Nerdvana.” And as you might tell by the name, it’s all about queer nerds.
This story has been out of print for a while and as I prepare to republish it, I’m going to be sharing it in my newsletter first. You can sign up for the newsletter JeffAdamsWrites.com where you’ll find a link to the newsletter right there on the homepage. Or you could find that direct link, of course, in our show notes as well.
Now “Adventures of Jake” is the story of this college student who works a couple of jobs as he goes to school. He works in a theme park as a superhero, and at a comic book store. The adventure part of all this comes when he ends up spending time with a guy that he thinks is way out of his league. Now, if you want to catch the chapters in the newsletter, you can just sign up to start receiving it. And those folks on the newsletter also have the opportunity to get a free copy of the ebook before it goes on sale.
So I hope you’ll join me for the “Adventures of Jake” as it starts rolling out in the newsletter in just a couple of weeks. And again, you can sign up at JeffAdamsWrites.com. Just look for the newsletter link right up in the top of the site.
Book Review: A Game of Hearts and Heists by Ruby Roe
Now I have to talk for a moment about the incredible “A Game of Hearts and Heists” by Ruby Roe. This book had the perfect mix of enemies-to-lovers romance, a high stakes heist, magic, and a strong found family that I can’t wait to see more of in future installments of the “Girl Games” series.
Scarlett and Quinn are enemies. Scarlett is an assassin, and Quinn is a poisoner who has been getting work that should be Scarlett’s. And they’ve got a past where they’ve end up in quite a few scuffles that leaves one or both of them injured. Suffice to say, these two do not get a long… but as much as they’d like to kill each other, they’d also like to fuck each other senseless.
The kingdom they live in has been torn apart, literally. Years before, due to an argument, a map of the kingdom was ripped in two and when that happened a cataclysm happened that the world has never recovered from. Now the queen has a plan to restore the map and put everything back together again, except she needs the other half which is in a dangerous area where travel is restricted and nowhere is safe.
Of course, it’s the perfect job for Scarlett and Quinn, who would each stand to gain if the world was restored. Scarlett could clear her family name. Quinn could be in a better position to help her brother who has been in ill health for years.
There’s so much to love in this book, starting with the fiery passion between Scarlett and Quinn. The levels to which they both hate and love each other is intense and I was there for every interaction between them. It’s intense before they’re forced to work together, but having to join forces pushes them in some great ways. Ruby does an amazing job balancing their personal and professional desires that just keeps creating obstacles for them to overcome. It is a true pager turner that kept me awake several evenings because I had to find out what would happen next.
Beyond Scarlett and Quinn, there’s a great team working with them on the heists. There’s a lot of magic in this world, and so a fair bit of world building has to be done. Ruby was perfect in the way the information was doled out just when it was needed. There was no deep dive on why the world was the way it was, and I appreciated that so much because the story never lost its momentum.
In particular of this team, I have to shout out Remy, who is a runes expert and in many ways the team’s locksmith for the job. The passages where she’s breaking down magical locks and barriers was so fun, it reminded me a bit of computer hacking. I look forward to Remy’s story so I can see more of her at work.
You know I love a good heist and this one is brilliant. So many twists and turns to what Quinn and Scarlett find out as they go. So many twists even after they’ve completed the job. So often I found myself in a state of “no way” as I read because I couldn’t believe what had just happened. Ruby has plotted out a stunner of a heist.
I loved every single thing about “A Game of Hearts and Heists” and highly recommend it for your TBR.
And now let’s get into my conversation with Ruby. So, here’s the thing, Ruby is the fantasy romance pen name for author and podcaster Sacha Black. For a few years now Sacha has written non-fiction books for authors to help them with writing as well as young adult fantasy. This is Sacha’s first time writing romance, and as you just heard in my review I loved this book so much. So let’s hear from Sacha now about why she decided to write romance, how she selected her new pen name, and what else she’ll be writing in the “Girl Games” series.
Ruby Roe / Sacha Black Interview
Jeff: Sacha, welcome to the show. It is so wonderful to have you here, you and your alter ego.
Sacha: Yeah, I am literally honored to be here. Like I have like lustfully, wistfully, like, spent eons hoping that I could come on your show one day and I’m just pleased that I’ve finally written a book that fits the bill.
Jeff: Not only does it fit the bill, it’s a brilliant book. Yeah, we’re so happy you’re here because we’ve been on your show and now you’re finally…
Sacha: I know.
Jeff: …you’re finally on this one on “Big Gay Fiction”. I mentioned to folks in the introduction that Ruby Roe is a new not-so-secret pet name for you and that you’ve written books for authors and YA Fantasy series as Sacha Black. Tell everyone what kinda led you to create Ruby and to move into sapphic fantasy romance.
Sacha: So, originally it was going to be a completely secret pen name, and I was insistent that that was the case right up until the moment I sent the book to the editor. And at that point, I had kind of a realization that my brain switches from being precious about the creativity of a book into, “Okay, this is a book, this is a product and now I need to market this.” It’s almost like a tangible physical switch in my brain and everything feels different. I feel differently about the book once that creative process is over. And I realized I wasn’t actually as precious as I thought I was about the book, but this is the first queer fiction that I have written. And as a queer woman, I think I needed the secrecy of it being a secret pen name at first to, I don’t know, lean in to explore, to make sure that I could deliver something that I would be proud of and that would do the community proud.
And I needed a safe space to do that and the only way to do that was to be secret. But like I say, once I shipped off the book to the editor, I was like, ah, hell no. Like I am totally wanting to shout this from the rooftops because I just loved the work as well. Still love the work so much. The other reason for having a pen name is purely because the other stuff is a completely different genre. And so, in order to like massage the algorithms and to keep audiences not separate, separate as there has been crossover, but for the purposes of the stores and the algorithms to keep the audiences separate, that was the other reason for having a pen name
Jeff: And what led you to sapphic fantasy romance because there’s a lot of queer fiction you could have written but you, you targeted right in there for this debut.
Sacha: Yeah, so it was really interesting because I actually started by writing young adult queer fiction. So, I have a completed manuscript that I haven’t published yet and I haven’t done anything with. So, I actually wrote that book first and it still sat waiting to be like queried or published as an indie. And so, this whole journey started by me reading young adult sapphic fiction, and I read and I read and I read, and I realized that something was missing for me. And I think it’s because as young adult, okay, it’s not a genre but just for the sake of ease, as young adult, as a genre has matured, we are seeing a proliferation of difference in young adult and more extreme things on the page. More explicitness, more openness, like teenagers have sex, okay? We all know this yet 10 years ago that wasn’t on the page and wasn’t in the books.
And my frustration is that most of young adult sapphic books are clean and sweet and so you’ve got straight teens able to access fiction with appropriate sex on the page, and we don’t have that for young adults. And so that’s what started me writing sapphic young adult books, and I will continue to do that. But in doing that, I also realized that I actually really, really like smart, if I’m perfectly honest, and I started reading more adult books and then I fell into like, you know, spicy, steamy, BDSM, erotica, all of those and I was just like, “OMG, what is this? This has been missing from my whole life.” And I have always been a fantasy writer, I think I will always stay more or less on the fantasy side. And when I was doing market research, I was like, “Wow, there are really not many fantasy books.”
And on the one hand, I knew going into this that was a danger zone because either there are no sapphic fantasy books because there’s no market, or the market is underserved. And you can’t really know until you start trying to push material into that market whether or not, I mean, there are some ways to look at, you know, I spoke to Alex Newton from K-lytics, which is an analytical market report that he does, and the thing was most popular full-time sapphic romance authors write contemporary. So, this was a very, very big risk for me to do this. But also, I bloody love fantasy and I was reading a lot of fantasy romance that were straight and was like, I just want lesbians banging in a fantasy world. So, I had to do it. This is what we…this is what we do as authors, right? We write the books that we want to read. And so, that’s what happened. I noticed that there was a hole in the market, and I planned to deliver and fill it.
Jeff: You’ll just make that whole like subgenre of maybe come to life finally in the epic realm.
Jeff: I do wanna call out for folks, especially for authors in our audience that if they wanna know more about creating this new pen name and the research that you did, because you went all out. There’s a fantastic bonus episode of your “Rebel Author” podcast from February 12th, 2023 called “Lessons Learned from Starting a New Pen Name.” Will And I love that episode because it was just so chockful. So, you know, authors out there or any of you know, the readers just wanna know some behind the scenes of the thoughts that go into this stuff, that episode has so much good information in it.
Sacha: Yeah, I promised everybody I would do that, and so I just poured every single detail. And I was like, people are either gonna hate this or they’re gonna love this because it was just like 80 minutes of like information after information after information. But thank you so much, I took a while to produce.
Jeff: Well, I don’t doubt it because I mean, it really goes into everything from deciding to create the new pen name, to the research that you did to figure out how to position this book, and either was it gonna be fantasy forward or romance forward. So much good stuff in there. And honestly, some readers may just kind of, you know, geek out learning a little bit of that on the side too.
Sacha: Yeah, a hundred percent.
Jeff: How did you settle on the name Ruby Roe?
Sacha: Okay. So just like creating this whole pen name, it was a tactical choice. Ruby, like look, I don’t know why, but Ruby is a name that I see in the like sapphic sphere all of the time. Ruby Rose or I think it’s Ruby Rose, is it Ruby Rose? Yeah. The Australian actress, model, whatever. There was an example, lots of characters, and funnily enough, Quinn is another name that, and Quinn is one of the characters in the book, is another name that I see constantly in sapphic fiction. I cannot tell you why. I love alliteration. So, I always knew it was gonna be an alliterated name. My stepfather, his surname is Roe, and for about three years, he has been pressuring me into writing romance because he’s like, “Sex sells. You need to write where the money is,” blah, blah, blah. And so, it ended up being a bit of a nod to him because he really, really pushed hard for me to do it. And then I was like, “Okay, I will do it if I can steal your name.” And he was like, “Okay, I think that’s a fair deal.” So, yeah, I took his surname and yeah, Ruby just felt like the one that fitted. I’m really funny about names. Like, I have to like the way they sound in my mouth, and yeah, I think Ruby Roe is just, chef’s kiss.
Jeff: The alliteration definitely helps, right, to just roll off the tongue well. So, has your stepfather read the book?
Sacha: I really hope not.
Jeff: He pushes you to sell, so I had to ask if he’s like now read what, you know, what his last name is attached to.
Sacha: No. I did put… I actually, the dedication in the front of the book is dedicated in three parts, and the first part is to him. And I literally put like, “PS, please don’t read this book.” I’m just like, “This book is filthy, you cannot read it.”
Jeff: He could just skip those parts and just pay attention to the heist.
Sacha: Oh, my goodness. My mom keeps threatening to read it as well, and I’m just like, “Please don’t.”
Jeff: Or if you do, please don’t tell me you did it.
Sacha: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff: So, let’s talk about “A Game of Hearts and Heists”. Enemies to lovers, a terrific heist going on. So, there’s some romantic suspense elements. What are readers gonna find in the story of Scarlet and Quinn?
Sacha: Okay. So, this whole series is like an homage to angry women and to like female rage and empowerment. So, you’re gonna get two women who are like just full of fury in a really positive like action-driven way, emotional ferocity. You’re gonna get a lot of like on-page banter, you’re gonna get a lot of sarcasm, like found family in the way that I think like queer people do found fam. Like I just feel like the whole queer community is found family, we all just embrace each other and accept each other, and that’s kind of what I wanted in this group. And as the series goes on, that will get like deeper and better as well. What else do you get? Female bikers and then like a whole bunch of my absolute favorite tropes. So, things like only one bed, training sequences, you get touch her, you die, what else do you get? A play on magic that I haven’t seen done before. I’m sure there is somebody who has done this, but you also get a world in which magic comes from mansions as well. So, that was kind of like, yeah you get that, and emotional frosty, that’s the other thing you get.
Jeff: The magic is interesting because of how it seems to work. But then also the knowledge that at least within this book, it’s also not working quite like it’s supposed to because of how the kingdom’s been torn apart. What was your inspiration to kind of put all that spin on things? Because I mean, I don’t read a lot of fantasy myself so I can’t say well I’ve never seen that before, but it certainly felt like something that was like, huh, that’s kind of different.
Sacha: You know how everybody has like weird rabbit holes that they really enjoy going down? For me, that is architecture. Now look, I know nothing about architecture in terms of like structural integrity of buildings or like how things are built, but I am so utterly fascinated by, in particular British, but anywhere we go. We were just in Paris and I spent most of my time looking at the beautiful, you know, town buildings and stuff. But I spent a long time going to visit British mansions, castles, estates, and I literally dragged my son and my wife around all of these places and also some derelict locations as well. And so, the magic seed, I always, always knew that I wanted the magic to come from the castles and the buildings, and for the buildings to hold the power almost as if they were alive and like had personality.
And as we go through the series they will become more and more sort of personality-driven. And so, that was the seed for the world. And then in terms of the fact that the world is torn in two, I had fallen down a rabbit hole again on YouTube and put all of the time just watching random things like Atlas Obscura is catnip for me. But I was looking at the Berlin Wall and there was just some devastating stories and, you know, documentaries on that and I had been watching that, and I was like, “Oh, what would it be like if that was in a fantasy world and where buildings and magic it comes from the architecture. What happens if you tear an integral map and it tears the world?” And so, that was kind of where it came from. And it was just one of those rabbit holes, like authors absorb everything, all of the little bits that we see and stories that we hear, and yeah, that is where it came from.
Jeff: That is so cool. Like I know some of your architecture stuff, especially around light poles.
Jeff: Street lamps,
Sacha: Oh, my goodness. Yes.
Jeff: But to know that it goes far beyond that, I love that story.
Sacha: There are like no depths to how deep I will go into these rabbit holes. It’s unbelievable.
Jeff: So, going down more rabbit holes, which ones did you go down to find Scarlet and Quinn? Because these women are probably more alike than they wish they were. But then also, of course, radically different in so many ways as well. They were really just fascinating to watch come alive on the page, and learning kind of what all their little pain points were.
Sacha: So, I use a bit of a like mosaic of tools and resources for creating characters. The first thing I do is find a visual. I’m extremely visual as a person, and I can’t write about somebody if I can’t see what they look like. And so, I go down a Pinterest rabbit hole spending hours like looking for either real, and it can be a real model, a person, or it can be like a caricature or manga or whatever. It doesn’t really matter. But when I land upon something that I’m like, “Oh, that’s who they are.” So, I always start there. This time I’ve done something slightly differently. So, I used CliftonStrengths and I dunno if like listeners will know about CliftonStrengths, but it’s basically a personality profiling metric tool that people use to succeed and help you change your working processes in order to work better with your natural skills.
And so, I literally gave them strengths, because this is how I understand the world now. And so, I gave each of them strengths and having studied CliftonStrengths and like the psychology behind it and where people’s strengths are and also how your strength can become your weakness, and looking at what some of the flaws or blind spots are for people when they have these strengths, that really helped me to understand like who these women were and what would create friction for them. And then it’s just like a little bit of exploration sometimes flash fiction as well.
And so, the very first scene that I ever wrote in this story is only referenced loosely in one of the scenes and it’s when Scarlet discovers the blade, she holds the blade that is Quinn’s blade, she kind of steals it off of Quinn and there’s whole flash fiction and that was the first scene and this blade sort of almost is personified and has a bit of like personality and I can’t remember the exact line but it’s something like I almost feel like the blade is greeting me one weapon to another because, for listeners, Scarlet is an assassin.
And yeah, so like those little bits of just flashes of either them in like heightened emotional situations or something that I can use, like I have to be able to use these bits of flash fiction. So yeah, that’s kind of like how I develop them.
Jeff: That is so cool. I mean, over the history of the show we’ve heard many different ways to create characters. Some people might use tarot cards to play that out and create the characters based on those, or use specific verbs and action verbs to create, you know, the verbs that make that person who they are, but using CliftonStrengths, that’s fascinating. I have to file that away for future reference, for someone else who has done CliftonStrengths, you know.
Sacha: Yeah, it’s the first time I’ve done it. I didn’t used to do this. But I think because I’ve spent the last two or three years now studying CliftonStrengths, I literally, like if somebody comes into my life and they’re gonna be in my life for a while, I make them take the test. So, I’ve got a boot camp instructor like, and I literally make them take the CliftonStrengths because I see them five times a week. I was like, “I cannot be in your class and not know what your strengths are.” And they were like, “Okay.” So, yeah, I like gifted it to them for Christmas.
Jeff: Oh, nice. You didn’t just make them take it but then you gifted it to them so they were even inspired to do so.
So, you’ve got a lot of stuff that you had to build for this story. You’ve got your whole fantasy world itself. You’ve got the magic within it. You have an intricate heist, so many twists and turns playing with that heist. I know I was messaging you occasionally going, “Oh, my god, you just did this thing. What is going on?” How did you sort all that? Are you one of the putters or are you a panser? Are you in the middle? Because there’s a lot to keep track here with everything.
Sacha: Yeah, I would say I’m in the middle. So, I need a skeleton I need to know…or like a map maybe is is the best way to describe it. So, I have to have a couple of post-it notes per chapter. But that’s about it. The other thing that I do is I visualize the night before. So, I start writing book two tomorrow. Before I go to sleep, I will look at my post-it notes and the last thing I do is I think about, and I try and visualize the scenes that I’m going to write the next day. So, I can’t go in with nothing. But the other thing that happens to me is that usually the best twists, I don’t always see coming. So, what I did know going into this is the romance. We know a true romance has a HEA, happy ever after.
So, I knew the ending, I knew the journey that they were going on. The side characters, I did not. So, there’s a couple of twists with two different side characters and I didn’t know either of those things before I started. And in my opinion, they’re almost sort of the best twists. So, what I had to do was, as I wrote, I came up with a twist. I would write the twist in wherever I was in the book and then I would kind of make like editorial notes to myself to go back later. But I have to get to the end so I just write on as if everything is fixed already and then I go back and I seed things.
So, this book is one of those books that’s really good to go back and read a second time because you will then see where I’ve seeded it because every single twist is seeded, you just like in the first read you don’t necessarily know, I mean authors often pick these things up because this is what we do. We’re trained to see foreshadowing. But if as a reader, if you reread, this is a fun one to go back to because there are subtle clues as to what’s gonna happen.
Jeff: Yeah, the seeding work is really good. I think I caught most of them but some of ’em were like, whoa. And then I think about going, oh, not bad, okay. You kept them going too because even when you’re like into like the final few chapters and things are really on a…you would feel are on a wrap-up, there’s still like, surprise, this actually is a thing.
Sacha: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And also because, you know, because I’m writing episodic standalones, and each book is a complete story, I wanted enough that there are reasons to read on because you will be able to read any of these books in any order. So yeah, that was an intentional choice.
Jeff: The side characters you have are so amazing. I mean, Scarlet and Quinn obviously lead the show, but this found family that you have around them that we get to meet as we go and that they have to go, this is not a heist that one or two people pull off. This is a team effort to get it done. What was it like coming up with them? Because obviously you’re gonna have to use them going forward, so you had to create them interesting enough that you’d wanna write the rest of the books too.
Sacha: Yeah. So, I kind of created them in levels. So each book in the series will be from a different side character’s point of view. So, my intention was to have whoever the next main character would be, they would be like the biggest side character. And then the other side characters don’t get quite as much page time, but I had to know enough about them that there would be the intrigue there. So, when I write book two, the next side character that will be the main character in book three will be the biggest side character. And so, Scarlet and Quinn will be slightly reduced because they’ve already had their book, but book three character will be the next biggest side character.
And so, you know, that has played out well and also not so well. So, some people have had an issue with that and some people have gone, “Oh my goodness, mate, these side characters are amazing.” And I’m like, “Because I love them.” But yeah, it’s picking enough nuance and quirk for them to feel interesting without allowing them to take over the page or the story because it’s not their book and they will get a book.
But for me, yeah, I like acceptance. For me, found family is about acceptance and small acts of kindness. So, there’s like a moment where Jacob, who’s one of the side characters is fixing Scarlet’s motorbike and like to me, and he did it completely off his own back without asking permission. And it’s like those small acts of kindness really bond a group and giving them like moments and time together so that there’s like a barbecue in there before they start the heist and in every book there’s going to be a barbecue. So, like it’s those little things that you can have these repeating motifs like throughout the series that really start to bond a group. And I just, yeah, I love found family.
Jeff: I love those things like the barbecue that give everybody a moment to breathe before the next, either after or before or you know, sometimes between the two things that they’re having to deal with. And the barbecue was so just, huh, okay. We get to have a moment. We get to chill out for a second. and even Scarlet and Quinn are kind of doing okay with the chill out even though they kind of wanna kill each other for a while.
Sacha: Yeah. Hundred percent.
Jeff: Let’s talk about smut a little bit. Okay. It is your first time to really put smut on a page, and Scarlet and Quinn are together a lot. Because they would just as soon kill each other as fuck each other. So…
Sacha: Thousand percent.
Jeff: What was it like putting all that together for you for the first time and finding the balance that all authors have to do between making the sexy bits drive the story forward at the same time as having them there in the first place?
Sacha: It was like coming home, it was like an awakening. It was like realizing that this was the thing that I was supposed to be writing. Like I fucking love writing the sex scenes, that is by far and away my favorite thing to do. I studied hard, I would say, I read a lot of books in preparation to kind of work out where I sat, like how far along the explicitness line did I want to be.
And so, that was really important to me because I didn’t want to yet get put in the erotica dungeon or anything like that. But also, I didn’t want clean and sweet, I wanted there to be explicit steam. In terms of writing it, I just would constantly ask myself, “What is the most fun thing I can do next? What is the most like, you know, fun position they can be in or the most fun location?”
Or the other thing is that for me, and this was a real realization for me, is that romance is a competition. Or at least that’s how I frame it in my brain as somebody who’s extremely competitive, it makes sense in my brain that romance is a competition in that it’s a race to see like who says I love you first or who can win the heart of the other person first. And once I understood that once, and that’s like…and this is a thing, right? That’s not gonna be the right framing for everybody listening if they’re an author. For some people, or even a reader.
For some people they will feel that romance is a story or a journey of feelings, and that’s okay. For me, this is how it works. So, that was how I framed it. Every single interaction was a competition. Who would buckle first, who would kiss first, who would say the best bantery line first? And it was always about taking it one level further, one step up, and ensuring that each of the characters had their moments to win and to lose and to like give in to the lust that just controls them, let’s be honest. And so yeah, like it was that framing moment that made it for me, made it easier for me to do.
Jeff: And the competition worked so well for them because this is enemies to lovers. I mean, they really want to best each other constantly. I can’t wait to see as we, now that they’re in their HEA, how they play with each other in the background through the rest of the books like…
Jeff: Because I can’t ever see them being just all like heart, eyes and, you know.
Sacha: No, no. I’ve written a bonus epilogue, kind of like a steamy scene where you get to see them like one chapter from each character’s point of view, and it’s still full of banter. So yeah, don’t worry. Like it will just be one of those relationships, I think, you know, everybody has a different type of relationship and these two will always banter and bicker with each other, it’s just who they are.
Jeff: What’s a favorite scene of yours from “Hearts and Heists”? If you can give it without giving spoilers away at the same time.
Sacha: Okay, there’s two scenes, one that I will be more open with, and the other one I will just say when Morgan enters the book, there is a scene with her and another character that just sets everything up for their, like another story in later in the series. So, I love that one. And in chapter three, chapter three is by far and away my favorite chapter. So, this is available, you can see this on the look inside on Amazon, and I did that intentionally. But chapter three, the two women are in a nightclub, which is more like a sex club really. And they’re both doing both, well, one of them is on business and the other one was dragged there. And they meet, and it’s immediate like knives to the neck and to the ribs and they get caught because, in this club, you’re not allowed to have weapons.
And so, they get thrown into the nightclub jail, I say in air quotes, which is just basically like a kinky cage and they inevitably end up having sex, and one of them handcuffs the other one to the ceiling and basically leaves them there and locks them in and the scene ends with them like screaming at each other, and the one who walks away just like smugs as anything. And it is just the most exquisitely enemies-to-lovers scene that you can possibly have. And it is by far and away my favorite thing.
Jeff: I remember that scene, and like, yeah, I could see why that would be a favorite because you…it’s interesting because you’ve got “The Rebel Author Podcast,” and you’ve written books about villains for example. These two seem to play to your brand so well too. Was that deliberate in this first book?
Sacha: Yeah, because I wanted to write something that was as me as possible. So like without, like, of course, any character in any book is going to have elements of the author, but I wanted to write the most fun thing I could, which inevitably meant the most me thing I could, which is why it is packed full of morally gray characters, and competition and feisty sarcasm and swearing, and sex like at the end of the day. So yes, like it was intentional.
I wanted characters who did bad things but you still loved them anyway, because she is an assassin and she does assassinate people, and like not always with any kind of moral inhibition about it, right? So, like she is definitely a morally gray character, but still you can’t help but like her anyway. And I really like when an author does that to me, and I’m like, “Oh, but I shouldn’t like this character. Oh, but I really do.” So it’s just about having fun there.
Jeff: You really threaded the needle really well there. Because like I don’t always connect to enemies to lovers, because sometimes the enemies are so much enemies are so much like, yeah, I get why they don’t like you that much, that it’s hard for me to like them. But something about Scarlet and Quinn in very short order because I don’t suffer books that I don’t like, typically, I was invested and I’m like, okay, you’re living in a place where it’s hard maybe to be nice, and kind and all those things I typically look for in a book, but you’re navigating it in a way that still makes me like you understand your choices and yeah, I’m in it for you to get this HEA.
Sacha: I think a lot of that comes down to characters who do bad things for the right reasons or the right reasons in their head, and when they believe fully that they are doing the right thing, quite often that makes us like them more. And I think the other thing about enemies to lovers is that you have to show the juxtaposition and the conflict that they experience. So, in their heads, they’re like, “I hate this person, I’m supposed to hate this person,” but their bodies lie to them. Their bodies are traitors.
And then you give the reader that visceral experience of like their body wanting nothing more than to have the other person’s body. And the other thing that I think is really important is consent. And I was extremely careful to make sure that without being like, oh, can we have sex now? You know, because that’s not fun for anybody to read. I was extremely clear that despite the way they have sex, there is a hundred percent consent there. And so that like there is nothing sexier to me than consent. So, yeah.
Jeff: And especially the way you did it for them because I mean, they do want to kill each other, but still when it comes to the sex, there is that moment it works so well for the way that they are, but the consent is still there.
Sacha: Yeah. And it’s so important to me and I know, look, I’m not kink-shaming anybody. I know there are lots of like noncon or dubcon, and that’s completely fine, but this is what I wanted to write, which is why it was important to me.
Jeff: So many good side characters lurk around here. What could you tease us about? Let’s start with book two, but then what’s beyond that for the Girl Game series as well?
Sacha: Okay. So, there are definitely going to be four books, as long as they sell, right? Which if they don’t sell, I’m gonna pivot, but as long…and they are selling at the moment so that’s fine. But so, Sterling is book two and then Remy is book three, and then Jacob’s book, I’m unsure at the moment because it might run concurrently to another book, so I’m not quite sure where to slot it because the timeline’s an odd one. So, he will get a book, but it’s just where that book happens, I’m not sure. So, that will be them.
But the other thing that I’m doing is I’m seeding. So, in book two, I am seeding references to other cities in this country, this world, and that is so that there can be crossover characters. So, I am intending on bringing in characters from a future series. So, I’m thinking about a vampire series, I’m thinking about a Fay series, and kind of seeding those little subtle notes in going forward. So yes, for now, I will continue on with these books. Book two is definitely Sterling’s book, and yeah, that’s what’s gonna come next. I’m so excited. I can’t wait. I start tomorrow and I’m literally like bubbling over.
Jeff: You mentioned in the bonus episode, and you mentioned it a moment here too, that you read a lot of romance, specifically sapphic and fantasy romances gearing up to write this book. Were you much of a romance reader before that?
Sacha: Yeah, and I never really realized either. Like it’s been a real revelation to me that actually, the thing I love more than anything else is romance. I don’t know why I didn’t see that. I used to read a lot of young adult, and so I was reading a lot of like contemporary young adult sapphic stuff in the run-up to this.
And then I read “Queen Takes Rose” by Katee Robert, which is BDSM. It’s technically contemporary but it’s based on like the Disney villains. And so, it’s set in this contemporary world but has this feel of fantasy about it. I just, I’m like, I have devoured so many of her books now. Like it is ridiculous. So, I read that. Another one that I read and loved recently was “House of Hunger” by Alexis Henderson, which is a sapphic vampire-type novel.
My teenage years, the only two things that I would read, they are such in contradiction with each other, was like heavy crime or romance. Like I remember reading Jane Green who is like this contemporary, oh, and Sophie Kinsella, she’s still around I think the “Shopaholic” series, which are all these like women chicklet kind of romancey type stories. And that was like everything that I read as a teen. And then I just, I don’t know, I just stopped when I went to university. I just completely aiming… You veer off into academic stuff and then I’ve sort of come back to it.
But all of the like fantasy books that I’ve read, the ones I prefer have romance in them. And even the first series that I wrote, the young adult series, was romantic fantasy. Now I look back at it with the education and the knowledge that I have now. It was romantic fantasy as opposed to fantasy romance. And I think the reason I did that is because I wasn’t letting myself write the thing that I should be writing. I was trying to deliver what I thought I should be writing or what I thought society wanted me to write or some nonsense like that. But over the last, I would say 18 months to two years, I’ve just had this complete awakening about, you know, finding myself, finding queer fiction, finding all the things that give me joy, and allowing myself those things. And so yeah, now I’m allowing myself to both read and write as much as romance possible.
Jeff: So, how was the experience? I mean, let’s strip away the fantasy element and the heist. How was it writing this romance and knowing you were writing the romance?
Sacha: Oh, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. Like it was the most fun thing. I wrote this book in 16 sessions, like three weeks. It took me to write this book because I just, it was like all-consuming. And I think the pace is kind of reflected. Like it’s a very fast-paced book. And part of that is because I was just like churning through, and romance feels so easy to write for me particularly because I want to fall in love as these characters fall in love. I am going through that experience with them.
And it was freeing, like, especially because it’s sapphic, like as a queer woman myself, I don’t understand why I didn’t write this before, but like I didn’t even really… As an author, we know these genres exist, but I didn’t cognize it. Like I didn’t know it in a tangible sense until I started reading it. And for whatever reason, I hadn’t been reading it up until about 18 months ago. And it was a eureka moment of, oh, my goodness. And so writing it was like a gift to myself. Writing this romance felt like a gift. Yeah, that’s the only way I can describe it. And fun.
Jeff: That is so awesome. I love that you’re able to frame it that way. Are there other romance sub-genres, you’re in fantasy right now, that you think you might want to take on? Can you see yourself like writing a contemporary or writing more paranormal or something like that? There’s some paranormal, what you mentioned, obviously, the vampires and fae and things like that.
Sacha: Definitely paranormal, a hundred percent, vampire fiction is catnip. I’ve said catnip before, but literally, there is no vampire book that I won’t read. I’ve waited and I’ve held off and I’ve held off because I wanted to be good enough to write a really good vampire story. So, that will come. In terms of other genres, interestingly, I never thought that I would write like erotica or anything BDSM, but the more I read, the more I’m like, I love this. Like I really might do that as well. I don’t know if I, I don’t know.
Right now I’m just enjoying writing spicy, steamy stuff, but that might be something that I do later. Whether or not I do it under this pen name or another one, I don’t know. But yes, in terms of contemporary, I’m not sure the young adult book that I’ve mentioned, which is called “The Center of Death,” this is the lamppost book that is contemporary with just like a hint of magical realism. That’s probably about as contemporary as I’m gonna get, I think. Yeah, I find it difficult to just write pure contemporary.
Jeff: You’ve written a lot of craft books to help other authors. Was there something you’d wished you learned in all of that work that you knew before you took on creating Ruby and taking yourself into this genre?
Sacha: Juxtapositions. I think I’m gonna write a whole book about juxtapositions and the power of juxtapositions, and it’s like, here’s why. Story is a juxtaposition. The start of a book is usually the polar opposite to the ending. The end state or the end of the story is usually the opposite. The characters aren’t together and by the end, they’re together. Then when you look at characters, heroes, and villains, they’re juxtapositions of each other. When you look at things like tropes, enemies to lovers, it’s a juxtaposition. Some of the best marketing I see uses juxtapositions. So for example, taglines.
Adam Croft wrote a fantastic tagline, could you, I think I’m gonna butcher it now, but it’s something like, could you murder your wife to save your child? Murder, save, juxtaposition. There is something psychologically innate in all of us that absolutely adores a juxtaposition when you look at it at the sentence level and it heightens the imagery for the reader. They are, I think, the key to writing really successful books. And so for me, I wish I had written the book that I will write before I started. I mean, I did do some of that work in the book, but every time I write a craft book, I deepen my own knowledge and my own craft gets better. So, I kind of wish I’d written that book before. Yeah.
Jeff: And now you’ve got a new craft book that you, you know, get ready to write. Now that you’ve got all that in your head about juxtapositions.
Sacha: Yeah, exactly.
Jeff: You’ve mentioned a couple books as we’ve gone along here. Are there any other book recommendations you wanna give to our listeners to help them add to their TBR?
Sacha: Yes. Well, so I’ll just round up again. So, “Queen Takes Rose” by Katee Robert. If you want something more along the erotica BDSM lines, I read, think it’s “Mistress of Desire,” it’s by Ruby Scott. If you look for Ruby Scott, she’s got these beautiful black covers with like a purple face on it and a gold face. You’ll find the series and “The House of Hunger” by Alexis Henderson was the vampire, really unique twist on vampire that I have not seen before, and just exquisitely beautiful praise.
And the last one I read in audio, which was “Red, White and Royal Blue”, I’m sure your listeners already know about that one by Casey McQuiston, but, oh, my goodness me, their books are so funny, so quirky. If Casey isn’t number one input, I will eat my hat because the detail in characters is just chef’s kiss. I covet that ability.
Jeff: Yeah, Casey’s writing is so amazing. Like “Red White, and Royal Blue” is one of my all-time favorites. I reread it last year because the collector’s edition of some kind came out and it had a bonus chapter in it. I’m like, I’m gonna read this again. I’m like, ooooh, that book.
Jeff: So, we know four books most likely in “Girl Games.” What else can you share about what’s coming up for you as Sacha and you as Ruby?
Sacha: So, me as an author, definitely focusing on fiction, yeah.
Jeff: That works, you as an author. There you go. We won’t split you up too much.
Sacha: And the funny thing is, I also have a legal name, which is neither of those two names, so I get very confused about who I am on what day. But yeah, so me as an author, the focus is on fiction this year. I will be producing non-fiction books, but because I’ve gone through so much coaching with the CliftonStrengths, I have gone from taking like four years to write a book to being able to write a book in three weeks. And so, I’m upping the amount of books. So, I am focusing on book two this month.
And then I’m going to be doing a course which is a deepening of kind of the podcast, the bonus podcast episode that you mentioned, and helping new writers to understand their market. How do you get that data, how do you understand the data, how do you find the meaning and the data? And then I will be writing non-fiction and then more Girl Games books this year. So, kind of like a load of stuff.
Jeff: Fantastic. What is the best way for folks to keep up with you online to know when all of this happens?
Sacha: Okay, so Ruby Roe, which is all of the sapphic fiction, is literally rubyroe.co.uk. Or you can find me on TikTok. That’s the only place I am. And that is @rubyroeauthor. And then if you are a writer, then find me on sachablack.co.uk. That’s Sacha with a C, so S-A-C-H-A, the color black .co.uk or the “Rebel Author” podcast.
Jeff: Fantastic. We will link to all of that stuff and all the books we talked about in our show notes. Sacha, thank you so much for being here. It has been such a fun conversation. Can’t wait to see what comes next in “Girl Games.”
Sacha: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by your community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at BigGayFictionPodcast.com The show notes page has links to absolutely everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And thanks again to Sacha for coming to talk to us about “A Game of Hearts and Heists.” I am so eager for the next book. I can’t even tell you. I really wish September would just hurry up and get here so I could read it.
And if you want to hear more of me talking with Sacha, check out “The Rebel Author Podcast,” episode 180 from just last week. Sacha talked to me and Michele Lucchini about our book “Content for Everyone: A Practical Guide for Creative Entrepreneurs to Produce Accessible and Usable Web Content.” Michele and I had a great time talking with her about the importance of accessible content.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on March 27th best-selling author Onley James is going to be joining us.
Jeff: I loved talking to Onley so much about her “Necessary Evils” series, including the recently released “Maniac.” And it was so interesting finding out what got her started writing too. You are not going to want to miss this conversation.
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.