Jeff & Will welcome author Jess Everlee to talk about her Victorian historical romance series Lucky Lovers of London, including the new book A Rulebook for Restless Rogues. Jess discusses what led her to historical romance and what she loves about the Victorian era. We also find out about the varied characters she’s written so far, including a book store owner/erotica author, that author’s biggest fan, a tailor, and the manager of an underground queer club. Jess also has a couple of recommendations, as well as details about Lucky Lovers book three.
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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.
- Young Adult Panel Discussion Interview
- Jess Everlee website | Instagram
- The Gentlemen’s Book of Vices (Lucky Lovers of London Book 1) by Jess Everlee
- A Rulebook for Restless Rouges (Lucky Lovers of London Book 2) by Jess Everlee
- Cat Sebastian on Amazon
- Unfit to Print by KJ Charles
- Sins of the Cities of the Plains by Jack Saul on Project Gutenberg
- Henry Poole & Co.: The First Tailor of Savile Row by James Sherwood on Amazon | Bookshop.org
- Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg
- She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, author Jess Everlee joins us to talk about her Victorian Romance series, “Lucky Lovers of London.”
Will: Welcome to episode 430 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, is my co-host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, rainbow Romance Reader. It is great to have you here for another of our Super Summer bonus episodes.
Will: So as Jeff just mentioned, we’re going to be learning a little bit more about Jess Everly’s writing in a moment. But before we get to this week’s interview, I want to tell you all about how much I enjoy Jess’s “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices.”
Now, this story is about Charlie, a man who is about to get married, who searches out his favorite erotic novelist and finds that Reginald Cox is brooding bookstore proprietor Miles. Charlie goes to his shop hoping to get an autograph.
So, okay, a hero who loves sexy books. I mean, done. This was a total one-click for me when the book came out last year. Unfortunately, this book kept getting pushed down on my TBR list through no fault of its own, I should say. Sometimes, you know, that’s just how things work out. Anyway, I read it this past week, and I was totally in love with Charlie and Miles story.
So, their first meeting, things don’t exactly go smoothly, but eventually, these opposites do, in fact, become very much attracted. So much so, that Charlie considers calling off his wedding.
But Alma, the nice girl that Charlie genuinely likes, reveals that if it is called off, the consequences could be catastrophic for her, which leaves our heroes, it’s like the seemingly impossible task of working out a way for everyone to get their HEA.
This book has got so much. It’s got a great story, wonderful characters, and something I wasn’t quite expecting was how cozy this story is. It takes place during a particularly brutal November, so almost every scene takes place indoors. Whether it’s Charlie’s favorite gay club, The Curious Fox, or Miles’ garret above the bookshop, each setting is described with really warm, rich, cozy detail. The book genuinely feels like being wrapped in a cuddly blanket.
So, whether you’re looking for a fun setup, characters who are totally obsessed with each other, or just some simple, cozy vibes, I think “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices” is going to be the book for you.
Now, what do you say we get to our interview with Jess Everlee? She arrived on the historical romance scene last fall with “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices,” and this week, Jess is back with “A Rulebook for Restless Rogues,” which becomes the second book in her “Lucky Lovers of London” series.
Jeff: And you actually mentioned exactly where that book is set, because it happens at The Curious Fox, which, of course, you got to visit a little bit in “Gentleman’s Book of Vices.” So yeah, we’re going to find out from Jess what brought her to Victorian romances, because at one point she was writing a fantasy, and why she’s having such a good time writing about this period, which includes some of the topics that she gets to research and we’ll get some hints at what comes after “Restless Rogues.”
Jess Everlee Interview
Jeff: Jess, welcome to the podcast. It is so exciting to have you here.
Jess: Hi, it’s so exciting to be here, too. I actually started listening to your podcast right when I began writing “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices.” My friend said if you’re going to write a big gay book, you got to listen to “Big Gay Fiction Podcast.” So, I took the recommendation and started listening right around the same time that I started writing it, so it’s super cool to be here.
Jeff: That is amazing to be part of the early part of your writing history. That’s awesome.
Jeff: Before we get into the new book, because you’ve got the second book of “Lucky Lovers of London” coming out as this podcast comes out, I’d love to know what brought you into writing queer historical romance.
Jess: So, the “Lucky Lovers” books are my first published books, but they are not the first books that I wrote. I actually was writing fantasy for a very long time, urban and epic fantasy for many years but struggled to actually get published in that. I did get an agent. I took a book on submission, kind of tried a few different things, and it wasn’t really going anywhere. And I was tired, and I needed a palette cleanser, and I was like, “I need to do something else.”
And I started reading romance just somewhere along the way, and I was really enjoying it. I was picking up different sub-genres and just exploring. And I was like, “I’ll try writing a romance. That sounds like fun.” I had some romantic elements to the fantasy I was writing. A romance editor had actually almost considered acquiring it, but it wasn’t quite enough of a romance, so I was like, “Let’s just give the genre a full-on try,” but I really also loved being able to aim for 70,000 words instead of 110,000 words, which had been my previous project’s word count goal.
Jeff: Fantasy books are no joke in length.
Jess: No, they are not. So, I know historical romance isn’t exactly easy but at least had those things that felt a little bit more manageable at the time. And I decided to go with historical over contemporary because I had just done a bunch of research into turn-of-the-century technology and social stuff for an epic fantasy that I’d been working on, and I was just already in that mode. I was like, “I want to stay in this mode, I’m enjoying this mode, I like some of the historicals that I’ve read, and so let’s do it.”
And I had a couple ideas. I liked the forbidden aspects that are in historical. There’s just so many reasons to keep your characters apart of any pairing in historical settings. But ultimately I was so excited about the research that would be required for a gay historical romance about an erotica collector in particular. I had to research really cool stuff for that, so I decided to go with that idea and then that’s the way “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices” and the “Lucky Lovers of London” series came from. And it’s been really fun. I’ve really enjoyed writing romance and historical romance in particular so far.
Jeff: How does it compare to fantasy? Because not only did your word count come down, but you’re not… I mean, you’re doing a little bit of world-building obviously to put us in the right spot, but you’re not having to make everything up either.
Jess: Yes. It was nice to not have to rewrite the laws of physics before I sat down to write another chapter. It has its own things though, because then I also can’t just make something up. I have to actually look up what kind of lighting or plumbing and stuff they would have. I can’t sort of hand waive it and make up my own answers. So, it’s nice to be in the real world in some ways, and then in others, people, they know the right answer. I don’t get to make up the right answer. But it’s been great. It has the same element of getting out of this world as fantasy does, so I really still enjoy that.
Jeff: What kinds of historicals had you been reading before you took off on writing your own? I’m wondering who inspired you to take the deep dive in, on historical romance.
Jess: To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you right now because I was literally just going to the library and just picking up some romance books and starting on them and reading. And I’d finish them and I’d put some down. I had a chat…I went to a writer’s group thing, and I met some different people that wrote romance. I was like, “If I’m going to write a romance, I should talk to some romance authors.” I should get some recommendations. I should start to, like, learn this genre better if I’m going to actually be sitting down and writing it.
And that was when I talked to someone else who was actually… She had already written some Victorian-era gay historicals, and so she’s actually the one who said, “Okay, sit down. You got to read Cat Sebastian. You got to read KJ Charles. And you cannot do this if you have not read these people.” So, I was really glad that she was able to direct me.
So, I started to really fall in love with some of those authors and their stories in tandem with writing, though I did put off certain ones like KJ Charles has “Unfit to Print” about pornographers in Victorian England. I put that one off, and I was like, “Oh, no, what if it’s too close to what I’m writing? I’m going to have to scrap this whole project.” Fortunately, it wasn’t but I eventually did pick it up and it ended up being a very different story, but I was definitely being a little careful about which exact ones I was picking up at the same time as writing the book that I was working on just in case.
Jeff: You certainly got good suggestions there, because of course Cat and KJ both can practically deliver masterclasses in historical romance.
Jeff: Queer historical romance.
Jess: Yeah, that friend is in my acknowledgments for making sure that I knew who I needed to know if I was going to write these things.
Jeff: And in your background, I mean, you’ve got your degrees in English and gender studies. And part of that focus is on Victorian literature.
Jeff: And public health topics, too. How did that factor into your romances? And I imagine it had to have helped do the research because you’d already done research in your studies.
Jess: It did. Yes, it gave me a good starting point for deciding what kind of romance to write. And the books I was writing were already inspired by some of those stuff as well even before it was in the romance genre. I gravitated to those subjects because they’re just very much of interest to me. I laugh out loud reading Charles Dickens who’s known as quite dry, but I have a great time when I sit down with a Victorian book.
And I also just love…I love researching queer history. I’m queer and have been very fortunate, especially when I was younger, to have a really good queer community. I went to a performing arts high school, and we were all just very tight-knit. And I just developed this kind of love of the community, I wanted to learn its history, and anything that lets me do that, I’m here for it.
And then the Victorian era’s particularly very…it’s very interesting the way that light and darkness is put together on the page in the Victorian era. I like to bring that out especially talking about… Gender stuff can be quite dark in the Victorian era honestly for everyone but particularly for queer people and non-conforming people. And it’s an interesting mash-up. It really holds my attention.
Jeff: So, tell us more about this series. And we’ve got Charlie and Miles in the first book, “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices.” There’s so much I love about this. You tell us about it before I dig into what I love about it so much.
Jess: Okay. Well, that’s awesome. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it. So, “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices,” it’s a grumpy-sunshine romance about a collector of erotic novels and his favorite author. So, the collector’s name is Charlie Price, and he’s sort of this disastrous, sunshine dandy. He’s the third son of an upper-middle-class banker. So, far the “Lucky Lovers” series deals exclusively with middle and upper-middle-class working people, not royalty or the dukes and things like that. They’re all working people.
But Charlie’s family does have money due to their business, though he himself lives as a halfhearted accountant who is a wholehearted hedonist with spending habits that are better suited to his family’s wealth than his own. So, when the story opens, Charlie’s racked up a lot of debt with his habits of fancy clothes and fancy drinks and his beloved collection of signed illicit erotic novels. And then he has to beg his parents for help but they’re not going to help Charlie again because they’ve already had to help Charlie before. This time he has to settle down and get married and start living an upright life if he means to be bailed out of his debts.
So, his family sets him up with a perfectly nice girl and a perfectly nice job, and Charlie, pathological optimistic that he is, has convinced himself that he is not utterly miserable about it. Though not exactly a spoiler, he is very miserable about it, and coming to realize how miserable he is about it is part of the story. As kind of a last hurrah, before he has to hide this collection of erotica away from his would-be wife, he and his friend conspired to collect the signature of Charlie’s favorite author, Reginald Cox. Once the friend secures the name, Charlie’s like, “I can just waltz in. I’ll just smile, and he’ll just give me that autograph that I’ve always wanted.”
What he’s not counting on though is that Reginald Cox is actually a very reclusive and grumpy bookseller named Miles Montague. Miles is a failed literary novelist. After the tragic death of his previous lover, he turned to writing this very dark and very kinky sadomasochistic erotica that was actually very popular during this time period. And so while the grieving Miles would be perfectly happy to just write his tragic, dark, mean erotic novels all day and never speak to another person again, that lover actually left him a bookshop, the one that he barely manages to keep afloat by padding his coffers with the money that he makes writing his erotica.
Because of the circumstances of that lover’s death, he is very cautious, even paranoid, about his identity as a writer and as a gay man in general. And he is not pleased at all when this grinning fop wanders in, asking for an autograph and knows his pen name. So, it’s sort of a meet disaster of the highest order, but they have a lot of chemistry even from the start, and those opposite natures that they have are very complementary when they meet back up and kick off that affair that is the rest of the story.
Jeff: I love how you characterized it as “meet disaster” because sometimes you get the meet cute is great. The meet hate is interesting, but meet disaster really classifies this one really well.
Jess: Yeah, I think so. I can’t remember… Someone said that once, and I just loved it. I was like, “Yes, it is a meet disaster.”
Jeff: You combined so much of my favorite things right there inside of Miles between bookstore owner, even though he’s a reluctant one, and author. I’ll practically read anything that’s about a bookstore owner and/or an author, then you put them together but then you made him grumpy.
Jess: He had to be grumpy, very grumpy.
Jeff: How did you come upon this story for author and biggest fan? Because those are always fun to read anyway.
Jess: It is a fun trope. Something I liked about doing it this way was that it flips the trope on its head. I feel like when you have a celebrity and their biggest fan, a lot of times the conflict is coming from that celebrity being in the limelight and a lot of the visibility that they have. Not always but a lot of the time. And then this one though, Miles as sort of celebrity has to remain very secret. There is no visibility. Charlie is literally one of the only people in the world who even knows his pen name. So, I enjoyed that twist on the trope where Charlie’s very fanboy but nobody else even really knows who this guy is and they don’t want to admit that they know who this guy is.
And then as for Miles in general and writing him as the author, I don’t ever set out to write characters that are based on myself or anybody else, but when I looked back at Miles being failed in another genre and gave up and started writing smut while unenthusiastically working retail, I can’t help but see some parallels to what I was going through at the time when I started sitting down to write this book, so it’s actually funny to look back and see those similarities there. But it’s a fun trope, and it was a good one to start with, I think.
Jeff: You mentioned having to research smut of the era and actually peddling smut of the era, which was a very no-no back then. What kind of research were you doing and what was some interesting bits of the research that either did make it into the book or maybe didn’t?
Jess: It was interesting to actually read the texts. So, because they’re so old, you can actually…if you want to read Victorian pornographic literature, you can just go on Project Gutenberg and you can just read till your heart is content. That is out there, and it is free. And so I did actually read the books and some of them are specifically referenced in the book, particularly “Sins of the Cities of the Plains” by Jack Saul is referenced in this book, as being another rare tome that Charlie has acquired and so there’s some little snippets and fun facts in there.
It also served…interestingly enough actually researching the erotic literature also helped research what queer spaces might have looked like in the time period. No one sat down in 1883 and wrote down, “Here’s exactly what a typical night at a gay bar looks like,” because that was illegal and that’s just not what they were doing. And so you’re piecing things together from these erotic pieces that were out there, and then you have court records, and you can find letters between people and accounts later on that people give of other people’s lives. And it’s piecing together all these bits and parts of what life might have looked like, what writing this kind of stuff might have looked like, researching the different publishers, and, sort of, interesting characters who were putting things out.
Miles’ publisher is vaguely slightly based on an actual publisher who ended up publishing some work that was probably written by Oscar Wilde that was erotic in nature and some of his other things that he didn’t have his name on later on that were attributed to him properly. But there’s a lot of interesting characters, there’s a lot of funny things going on at that time, and it was just kind of cool to piece it all together.
Jeff: So, the second book, “A Rulebook for Restless Rogues,” comes out July 11th. We get David and Noah this time, a nice little friends-to-lovers scenario playing out. Tell us a little bit about their story.
Jess: All right. Well, you’re going to get a lot of pining with this book. I’m going to say that right out the gate, David and Noah have plenty of pining. They’re obviously pining in Book 1 when they’re introduced in that. During Charlie and Miles’ story, there’s some side characters in that story, and you see what’s going on there. And in this particular book, they do get their own story, and it was so much fun to write.
So, David is the manager of The Curious Fox, which is the queer club that’s introduced in Book 1 that Charlie goes to and brings Miles to. And he doesn’t just manage this club. He finds his life’s purpose at this club. He’s providing a safe space for London’s persecuted gay community. He’s got a bit of a rough family background, and so being able to protect and care for those people is very important to him, especially one of those people is his best friend Noah who is a bespoke tailor by day and a drag queen/card shark by night at the club.
So, since “Lucky Lovers” focuses on these working-class characters, David and Noah did not meet anywhere particularly prestigious, but they did meet at boarding school in one of the many sketchy short-lived boarding schools that were popping up all over the place during this time period for middle-class teenagers and things like that. And so while they were very passionate friends and fooled around in broom cupboards and such while they were at school, their understanding of their own queerness was really stunted by the society they live in.
So, they didn’t have the language that would have let them label that relationship for what it was and so, due to outside circumstances, it fizzled into this warm friendship before they developed better self-awareness later on in life. And by that point, it felt like the shift had sailed, and it was kind of too late so they kind of convinced themselves they’re happy with this friendship that they have and that’s enough for them.
So, the book opens with these old friends who everyone knows they’re half in love with each other, but for their own reasons, they get revealed through the book. They are content with that friendship until there’s a cruel and unscrupulous baron who actually owns The Curious Fox. David manages it but he does not own it. It’s owned by this nobleman who’s threatening to close the club down. David is desperate to save it. His whole life is tied up in it, and he’s going to do anything to get the baron to keep it open.
So, Noah of course wants to help his best friend however he can but starts to realize that David is in a more precarious situation with the club and the baron than he realized. The club is obviously illegal. What David calls matchmaking, the law is going to call procuring and going to call pimping essentially basically, so he can be jailed for a very long time if he doesn’t play his cards right in this situation. But in the meantime, the baron’s keeping all this information, and it’s just kind of sketchy. It’s kind of this high-risk, high-intensity situation for David.
And when David and Noah are in the thick of it, they just don’t have as much energy to spare to ignore their feelings for their each other. It’s all bubbling to the surface while other things are going on. So, looking for comfort, they’re hooking up again like they did at school, but this time they both know they’re queer. They’re older. They know what’s going on, and they can’t shrug it off as schoolboy stuff anymore. They have to confront these feelings that they’ve had, and the fears they’ve had about increasing their commitment to each other.
It’s a really sweet and emotional story. I really enjoyed writing it, and it was hard sometimes because getting David to a happy ending in these circumstances required some really creative problem-solving because he’s really in a situation but we get there in the end. And along the way, there’s a lot of kindness and friendship and humor and things like that happening that balances out those other aspects of it. I love these characters. I had so much fun writing their story, and I’m so excited for people to finally be reading it.
Jeff: I love a good friends to lovers tale in historicals because there are so many more consequences to that friendship if you’ve read it wrong maybe or just how much can you show in public that could be read as friends but could be read as something else. How did you kind of strike balance to maybe make it feel dangerous for them but also let them have their thing too?
Jess: That’s a good question. I’m thinking about how to best answer that one. So, there are flashback chapters to their schoolboy days and a little bit after. And part of it is just that they’re a little bit oblivious. You can kind of read about this in historical things that it wasn’t particularly uncommon for boys at boarding school to have… or even call each other lovers as long as no one actually believed that they were doing anything sexual. They would still have special friends, and they would sometimes even use that term lovers at boarding school at this time. It was just like a more affectionate terminology that was used.
So, they can slide under the radar while they’re at school. It’s when they get a little bit older, which is some of I think the more interesting flashbacks particularly when Noah hasn’t even really figured out… He doesn’t really know it’s possible to be queer. He just knows they’re kind of doing this thing and probably other boys were doing it, too. So, it’s whatever, but he’s got these intense feelings he doesn’t know what to do with.
In terms of the danger aspect, they’re more open than I think other characters. I actually was really interested in seeing how far I could push that realistically with Noah’s character in particular. So, he actually comes from a family of progressive unitarians who were active in certain areas and social situations during the time period. So, his family is actually…they aren’t terribly stressed about it, and there is historical precedent for the fact that there were people who were all right, and there were people who were living somewhat openly as long as they weren’t specifically caught. In 1885 and then going into 1886, some of the laws changed and became more difficult. But up until that point, unless they could prove something or there was someone who really had it out to get you, it was possible if there were circumstances that you could probably…just everyone could talk about. And as long as they approve it, you’d be okay. And that’s kind of Noah’s situation. And so it was really interesting to get to write that.
Charlie and Miles in the first book are very closeted, but Noah and David are actually not nearly as concerned about secrecy just because of their circumstances, because Noah’s kind of in this bubble of non-conformists that he’s surrounded with in his daily life and because David is mostly surrounded by people who do illegal things anyway. So, he doesn’t really have anything to hide from anybody because that’s kind of his world. So, it was an interesting one. I was trying to push some of those historical things a little bit in a different direction than I did with the first book, and I enjoyed doing that.
Jeff: I suspect some of this may have played into The Curious Fox, too, because as it’s described, it very much strikes me as what we have in the modern day of the safe coffee house or the safe bar or a place that you know as a queer you can go and be with your tribe. And I don’t know that we often think of that in terms of historical fiction in historical times.
Jess: Yes, I agree. And I think that part of it’s just because we don’t necessarily have all of the records, but it seems pretty obvious that they would be there. And then in terms of the…you mentioned the safe coffee house or whatever like Noah has his place that he goes to, but it has a very different vibe than The Curious Fox. So, Noah’s family who’s very accepting of Noah when he’s being very polite about things, they don’t like David because David’s doing this lascivious club, and he’s doing things illegally, and they don’t like how he… They don’t like David’s kinds of queer. Noah’s fine as long as he is doing things he’s supposed to do, but David takes things way too far. And so I enjoyed really exploring that tension, which I think we see today too and so part of it is sort of this idea of respectability stuff versus living a little more out loud kind of things still come up now. And I imagine they’re sort of timeless.
Jeff: Probably. Yeah, I would agree. So, you researched smut for “Book of Vices.”
Jess: Yep, I did.
Jeff: What was the big research for “Restless Rogues?”
Jess: There were a couple of things I got to research that were… The research was so fun for this. So, as I said, I was researching these sort of progressive spaces. So, I did some research into British unitarianism, some different coffee house culture, and the sort of burgeoning gay rights movement that was beginning. You start to actually see documents written… You see them in German earlier but in English and coming out of England about five-ish years after this book is set. And so I did make a little bit of an assumption that those conversations were starting to bubble up behind closed doors before we would’ve seen the publications that we see out into the world. So, I did bring some of that into this world, and that was very interesting to kind of get to look into these other alternative spaces. So, not just the obvious queer community but these other movements and things that were happening, these other counter-cultural, non-conformist spaces that were there, because you think about conformity a lot with the Victorian era but they also had… It’s London, it’s a big city. It had all kinds of people with all kinds of ways of thinking and doing things, and so that was a lot of fun.
I also got some research on the whimsical side—bespoke tailoring and Savile Row and the history of all of those kinds of things. I don’t have it with me. I have a coffee table book about the Henry Poole showroom on Savile Row that was open then and is still open today and still doing hand-stitched bespoke tailoring. And so it goes through all their famous clients and things like that. He doesn’t work for Henry Poole. I’m going to say that right now. Noah doesn’t work for Henry Poole. It’s a made-up tailor shop. I must say that because it’s still open after so many years. But it was really cool to get to kind of see all the pictures of what a tailoring showroom would look like and all of the really famous, rich people that Noah might in theory be able to be dressing and working with if he was indeed working somewhere like that on Savile Row.
Jeff: I like how you have kind of the fun light aspect of that, especially the fact that you got a coffee table book that I imagine must just be exquisite.
Jess: It is. It’s so cool.
Jeff: So in “Restless Rogues,” what’s a favorite scene of yours if you can give it away without causing spoilers?
Jess: I think I can. I have a lot that I really enjoy, but I think that some of my favorites were those flashback chapters that I got to write in their younger days. So, the first chapter was just a prologue. I had just a prologue, but my editor wanted me to put in a few more chapters, so it was like more dual timeline. And I think it just really helped explore why they never committed to each other in the first place when they’re so obviously into each other.
So, I really enjoyed especially… And if you read the first book, then you see a lot of Noah cheating at cards, and he dresses up in drag, and he makes up all these rules for his card games to ensure that he always wins because no one can remember the rules because they’re too complicated. And there is a scene, a flashback scene that shows the moment that he realized that he has like… It’s a little angsty, but it’s also a lot of fun that he has not so much control over the outside world and the ways that he can live in the world. And so he starts… He’s like, “Let’s set some house rules and play this card game.” It ends on this slightly angsty but also kind of fun note to kind of get to see that moment that he sort of becomes who you’re going to see in these later books. And the beginnings of that comedic relief that comes about when Noah is taking everybody’s money at the card table. So, I really liked doing that one.
Jeff: I love that you have him just making up rules.
Jeff: We’re not just playing poker or something. I’m just going to make up all the rules. Now you’re going to have to sort that out as the player.
Jess: So, a fun fact about that, I actually invented Noah in the first book because I didn’t want to learn how to play whist, which was the really complicated card game that they played in the Victorian era. And I was like, “I just have this one scene and I want them to be playing cards, but they got to have dialogue but I can’t learn this whole game just for this one thing I’m not going to be able to be realistic about.” So, I was like, “What if we add a character who just makes up stuff that doesn’t even matter?” And it ended up being a really fun fix, and I didn’t go back and get rid of it in a later draft. I was like, “I’m going to lean in and we’re going to do this all the way.” And then he got his own book, so we leaned in all the way.
Jeff: Are you going to publish card game rules now too as bonuses?
Jess: Oh, gosh, that’s a bad idea. Actually some newsletter content, I like that. Noah’s rules.
Jeff: Newsletter content. Yeah, sign up for my email list, play this card game.
You teased us a little bit, mentioning Book 3.
Jeff: How much more can you tell us about what’s next in this series?
Jess: It doesn’t seem to be a secret. So, I can tell you that there is one more book that is contracted and in progress right now. I would love to write some more, but as of the time of this recording, I don’t yet know if that’s going to happen or not. So, the third book is a classic hate to love story, which is a very different trope from the first two because I feel like the first two, the characters really like each other kind of pretty quickly. So, this one is a lot of fun because they do not like each other for quite some time, and it is actually one of my most requested characters, which is the dapper and mysterious Miss Jo who is the one who procures Miles’ information in the first book. And she’s sort of forced to seek help for a friend from a character that readers are going to meet in Book 2, which is Noah’s twin sister Emily, who is, as I mentioned before, this sort of no-nonsense, very tightly laced, very practical female physician, but if you’ve read both books, you’ll probably be able to predict what an interesting pair these two make. They have a lot of chemistry and a lot of banter, and they’re also just like… So, I don’t know, they’re just so snippy and so much fun to write.
The tentative title is the “Blue Stockings Guide to Decadence,” but it is still in edit, so that’s not final but it is fitting. So, you will get blue stockings, you will get decadence. I can promise those things. I can’t promise you the title but probably. And as I mentioned, there’s a couple other characters I would love to write stories for, so we’ll see. I’ll keep you guys posted.
Jeff: How do you go about picking the titles? Because the titles have a very nice cadence of sound to them. “Rulebook for Restless Rogues” definitely has the alliteration going on. “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices” is not quite classic alliteration but also rolls off the tongue nicely. Do you come up with those? Is that your editors that come up with them? Is it collaborative?
Jess: I did not come up with the first one. The original title was actually “A Curious Collection,” and it was going to be the “Curious” series was kind of like the working title that I had. And Carina had me fill out a title change worksheet because they wanted it to be different, and they didn’t take any of my ideas because honestly they weren’t very good. But they came by “The Gentleman’s Book of Vices,” and I was like, “That’s amazing. I love that. Let’s do that.” So, that was the first one.
And then the second one, I just like made up a working title that kind of sounded like it went with the first one. And there’s a funny thing with that. It was actually supposed to be “Reckless Rogues.” That was my working title but somewhere along the line, I don’t know if there was an autocorrect or something, but like I got my cover and it said restless. I was like, “That’s interesting. I didn’t know we changed the title.” Nobody knows. It’s a mystery how the title got changed, but everybody liked it and I liked it too. So, we’re just like, “You know, let’s just roll with it. Let’s just keep it.” And so that’s that one. And then again with the third one, I was just like, “Let’s just come up with something that sounds like it goes.”
Jeff: And it totally does. And reckless to restless, I could totally see that being autocorrect somewhere, given how pesky autocorrect is sometimes.
Jess: Yeah, it actually fits. It fits just as well, if not better. So, it was a very happy little accident with the title there.
Jeff: We talked a little bit about you were writing fantasy before you came into doing the palette cleanse with historical romance. What prompted you to write in the first place?
Jess: I’ve been writing since middle school. Since the time I was I think 14, I’ve pretty much had a novel in the works. I just really enjoy putting pen to paper and writing stories. I have a really good time with it. Before that, I was even, I’ve just always been a creative. I was a creative kid and that just kept on going. It was a nice way to connect with friends. I would sometimes write stories with my friends and then started putting things together, myself as well. And it was just kind of like a hobby. It was just something that I was always doing from that age on.
And at a certain point, I just got a little more serious about it. I wrote a book that I thought I might publish right after I graduated from high school. I kind of figured maybe this will be the one. It was not the one, it was not very good, and it was not going to be the one, and I didn’t really know what I was getting into. But that was when I started researching how to get published and how to be a better writer and started… Actually, I went and I pursued that English major and decided to take it more seriously.
So, it’s just something that I really enjoy and just, kind of, started doing one day as a hobby for fun and have just never stopped and don’t really want to stop. We’ll hopefully get to keep on doing this, and even if nobody wants the books, I’ll probably keep writing them anyway just because it’s an enjoyable part of my life.
Jeff: Do you see staying in historical romance or going back to fantasy or kind of…where do you, kind of, want things to go or do you even…?
Jess: I love it. I love historical romance. Now that I’ve started, I don’t really have any inclination to change. I read more romance. I’m enjoying writing the romance. It’s been a really cool… It’s a cool space. It’s a really sort of positive space and really enjoyable to write the books. So, yeah, I’d like to stay there.
Jeff: What is the enjoyable part about writing the books?
Jess: I like getting into the characters’ heads. I enjoy trying to really explore the characters, the things that they would do, find those places where they can be vulnerable and you can get to know them better, and then sort of have them interact and watch how two characters can bring out the best in each other. And that’s always been something that I like. There’s so much more of it in romance than any other stuff I was writing. And it just, kind of, lets me dig into that thing that I like the most, which is it’s the dialogue, it’s the interactions between the characters, it’s some of that internal stuff going on with building the characters and making them grow on the page.
Jeff: I do love a good internal monologue. I was glad you kind of hinted at the internal stuff too, because sometimes, with some characters, they’re internal. It’s as interesting as their external, very often if they’re freaking out or something.
Jess: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. That was something else I really like about this genre. There’s more space for that. Whereas I feel like when I was writing fantasy, I was always being asked to cut a lot of that, and I was training myself to put as little as possible. Whereas here I get notes saying we need more internal. It’s like, “I got you. I would love to put more internal. I just didn’t think anybody wanted it but they wanted it, so I’ll put it.” So, that’s great.
Jeff: We love to get book recommendations and actually watching recommendations too. What have you been taking in recently that our listeners should check out?
Jess: So, this one is not a romance, but one of my favorite recent queer historical reads was “Confessions of the Fox.” I don’t know if you picked that one up.
Jeff: I don’t know that one.
Jess: It is this very literary historical novel that queers…the story of “The Threepenny Opera” in this sort of outlandish, fantastical way. It has this meta element of a trans researcher who’s discovered this secret manuscript or something that tells the true story of “The Threepenny Opera” character, Jack, I can’t remember the character’s name right now, but it is a wild ride and I’ve never read anything like it in my life. And I highly recommend it to anyone who is not currently in the mindset of needing all the fluffy content because it is not fluffy content but it is…
Jeff: “The Threepenny Opera” is not light material.
Jess: It’s not light material, so that caveat is there. It’s really interesting. I actually am in a mindset of needing fluffy content at this time, so I’m actually rewatching my comfort watch, which is that newer adaptation of “She-Ra” on Netflix.
Jeff: Oh, yeah.
Jess: I don’t know if you’ve seen that. It’s just so gorgeous and it’s so funny. And my guinea pigs like it. I have guinea pigs and they sing along to the theme song with their guinea pig sounds.
Jeff: That’s amazing.
Jess: Yeah, it’s hilarious, so I am re-watching that right now as sort of a chill out comfort thing before I start the next round of edits on the third book, which should be coming one of these days.
Jeff: Is there anything you could tease about what comes after that yet? Do you have things that you’re thinking about even outside of the series?
Jess: I want to do a Western… So, I am thinking about that. I want to do something set in a mining town. I think that would be a lot of fun. I’m really interested in… That’s another sort of time and place that I’ve done some research into before and that I find really interesting. Have you ever watched that super corny hallmark show “When Calls the Heart” that is set in this mining town?
Jeff: I’ve seen the ad obviously. I’m a big Hallmark fan, but I’ve never watched the show, though I suspect I would enjoy it if I did.
Jess: It is just like so over… It’s just like an over the top mushy with all of this ensemble cast, and I would just love to like fill it with disaster queers. Just do this mining town but just with a completely different vibe and different casts. So, I’m actually going to go to Montana later this year. So, if we do a little bit of in-person research into that sort of space and see some different historical things and so fingers crossed, whenever “Lucky Lovers” to sort of run its course. That’s my hope to be hopefully the next kind of project.
Jeff: Oh, that sounds amazing.
Jess: I’m really excited about it. I don’t have anything very specific. It’s just a vague idea right now, but it’s going to be a lot of fun to get ready for it.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely because I love a good cowboy romance or something set at the ranch or whatever. So, yes, please write me something in a mining town with all the Hallmark tropes around it.
Jeff: What is the best way for folks to keep up with you online so they know when Book 3 comes out and everything else that you get up to?
Jess: I first direct people to my website. It’s just jesseverlee.com. From there, you can send me a message or you can find the link to subscribe to my newsletter. And that’s really the best way to get news, like the pre-order info and information about new releases and things like that. I send one out about every month…not every month, every other month, unless there’s something like really exciting going on or time-sensitive and then I’ll send an extra. So, the newsletter’s not really a big time commitment for you. I’m also on Instagram @jesseverlee where I post updates and stuff that I think is fun. I’m not like super duper online, but I do love to hear from readers. So, like I have these channels open so anyone can feel free to get in touch with me either of those places. Readers are really just the best. And my publicist asked me to start making reels, so you can join me on that journey if you find me over on Instagram. It’s been more fun than I expected so far, but it’s still new.
Jeff: Excellent. All right, we’ll link to that plus all of the books and things that we talked about. Jess, thank you so much for being here. It’s been so great to hear about everything and wish you all the success with “Rulebook for Restless Rogues.”
Jess: Great. Well, thank you so much for having me. This was a really good time.
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, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at BigGayFictionPodcast.com. We’ve got links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: And thanks so much to Jess for coming to talk to us about the “Lucky Lovers of London.” I really loved hearing about the research between learning about Victorian erotica, and we really do have a link to the one that she pointed out in our show notes, and then bespoke tailoring as well. So wonderful. And I really hope she pursues that historical cowboy idea, because I would love, love, love to read that.
Will: Alright, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next Monday, we’re celebrating Christmas in July with Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone.
Jeff: If I felt like I could get away with singing it, I would do a little fa la la or something, but really, nobody wants to hear that.
You know we love our Christmas romances here, and Julie and Sierra gave us an excellent one last year with “Merry Little Meet Cute.” And they take us back to the Christmas Notch universe with “Snow Place Like L. A.” You are not going to want to miss this fun and funny conversation next week.
Will: Jeff and I 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.