Jeff & Will welcome authors Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone to talk about their new installment in the Christmas Notch series, Snow Place Like LA. Julie and Sierra discuss the origins of Christmas Notch, which began with Merry Little Meet Cute and continues this coming holiday season with Holly Jolly Ever After. Of course, they share what’s happening for Angel and Luca in Snow Place Like LA. We also get details on their holiday traditions, how they became friends, and we find out what’s coming next for each of them.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone Interview
- Julie Murphy website | Twitter | Instagram
- Sierra Simone website | Instagram
- Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone website
- Merry Little Meet Cute (Christmas Notch Book 1) by Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone
- Snow Place Like LA (Christmas Notch Book 2) by Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone
- Holly Jolly Ever After (Christmas Notch Book 3) by Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone (pre-order until October 10, 2023)
- Balsam Hill website
- Natalie C. Parker on Amazon
- Dating Dr. Dil by Nisha Sharma
- Emporium Pies website
- Camp Sylvania by Julie Murphy
- Salt Kiss (Lyonesse Trilogy Book 1) by Sierra Simone (pre-order until September 12, 2023)
- Tristan & Isolde (2006 film) on Amazon Prime Video
- Bable by R.F. Kuang
- The Neighbor Favor by Kristina Forest
- Big Swiss by Jen Beagin
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, it’s a Christmas in July spectacular as we welcome authors, Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 431 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and with me, as always, is my co-host and husband and elf, it’s Will!
Will: Fa-la-la-la-la, everybody! It is great to have you with us as we take a moment in our super summer bonus episodes to celebrate Christmas in July.
Jeff: And we’re gonna get right to it. If you’ve listened to this show for any length of time, you know we love the holidays, and the holiday romances that come with them. One of our absolute favorites is last year’s “Merry Little Meet Cute” by Sierra Simone and Julie Murphy, which I think Will called one of the most perfect romances he’d ever read.
Will: Indeed I did.
Jeff: They’ve just released a sequel novella called “Snow Place Like LA,” which features Luca and Angel, who readers met in “Merry Little Meet Cute.” This novella is so, so, so, so good, I can’t put enough so’s in there, bringing us back to everything wonderful about the Christmas Notch world that Sierra and Julie created. And for those of you who might not like reading Christmas in July, they’ve got you covered here because most of the story actually takes place in the summer.
In this extended interview, we find out how Julie and Sierra hatched the idea for “Merry Little Meet Cute” and the all-Christmas-all-the-time-town of Christmas Notch. Give you a little hint, there was pie and a hot tub involved here. And we’ll hear what readers will find in “Snow Place Like LA,” and this fall’s follow up with “Holly Jolly Ever After.”
Hang on to your Santa hat, too. This is one of the most entertaining interviews we have ever had. If you’re like me, Julie and Sierra are gonna have you laughing out loud multiple times during this conversation.
Julie Murphy & Sierra Simone Interview
Jeff: Sierra and Julie, I’m so excited to have you here. Merry Christmas in July.
Sierra: Merry Christmas in July. This is double dose of Christmas from us each year. You can’t get rid of us.
Julie: Yeah, this is the time of year that the really fancy Christmas trees are on sale, right?
Sierra: Yes. If anyone is a fan of fancy Christmas things, Nisha Sharma turned me onto Balsam Hill. Is that one of those?
Sierra: Balsam Hill. And they have a sale every year in July, Christmas in July where you can get big discounts on Christmas trees and decorations and all that.
Julie: There’s a free ad for you, Balsam Hill. You’re welcome.
Sierra: Yeah, I want to be a Christmas influencer.
Jeff: That’s right. Can we get a good discount?
Sierra: Yeah, right.
Jeff: Yeah, I’m very familiar with Balsam Hill having watched more than my fair share of Hallmark Christmas movies. I loved the tree that you just flipped, and then, boom, it’s all fluffed and ready to go.
Sierra: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Jeff: So, I’m so happy you’re here because we get to talk about the sequel to the very awesome “A Merry Little Meet Cute.” “Snow Place Like LA” just warmed my heart so completely. But before we talk about books, how do you celebrate Christmas in July?
Julie: Oh, I feel like I’m a big “treat yourself” kind of girl. So, if you need a friend to encourage you to be indulgent, that’s me. I’ll be that person. And I’m always looking for any little thing to celebrate. So, I think one year I actually did send a Christmas in July care package to Sierra’s kids, because I was like, “You don’t spoil them enough, and they’re too kind-hearted. They need a little bit more spoiled brat energy,” so I sent them a huge box for Christmas in July. So, yeah, I just any little way I can, but I think that the whole purpose to me of Christmas in July is to treat yourself as you’re going to treat others hopefully in December.
Sierra: Yeah, and I think I’ll speak for you a little bit, Julie, and say that your spouse used to be a public school teacher. So, you had summer… What I found being friends with someone who was a public school teacher is that the gravity of their schedule just, sort of, pulls everyone in. And so we would all end up going to a lake, a random midwestern lake during July because he had it off and the kids were off school. So, we would take family trips together, and so it was really nice because it was sort of like a pause halfway through the year like everything stopped, slowed down for a minute, let’s just lay on couches together and watch bad movies.
Julie: Yeah, that’s true. Totally did.
Jeff: I love that. The indulgence and really think about treating people as you would treat them in December. If you can’t do it all year long, at least capture that holiday spirit for a little bit in July.
Now, for those who missed “A Merry Little Meet Cute” last year, I’m going to ask you to go backwards a little bit. Will adored this book. I think we gushed about it throughout November and December because he called it, “One of the most perfect Christmas stories and perfect romances that I think I’ll ever read.” I have to say I agree with him because it’s just pitch-perfect. Tell people about the story of Nolan and Bee.
Sierra: All right, Julie and I are like… We always take turns who’s going to talk.
Julie: I know. We’re always staring each other down. We’re like, “Are you doing it? Are you doing it? I’m definitely doing it.”
Sierra: I talk a little bit about it. So, basically “A Merry Little Meet Cute” is about Bee Hobbs also known as Bianca Von Honey who has a job as an adult performer. And she gets, sort of, through a series of misadventures, semi-accidentally cast in this very wholesome Christmas movie. For legal reasons, it’s not a Hallmark movie but, you know, it’s like a Shmallmark movie.
Jeff: But it is.
Sierra: Yeah, right. And so when she gets to set, she really has to keep her day job or night job as it were under wraps. Under no circumstances can anyone on set know, because if they do, basically the people around her, sort of, found family of friends and her producer who got her into this mess, everyone could, kind of, suffer.
So, the stakes are like no one can find out. No one can know who I really am, and she gets to set, and she needs her co-star, Nolan Shaw, who is a former boy bander who’s, kind of, like the bad boy and really lived up to that reputation and he had a brand to maintain. He’s trying to reform himself as well. He also cannot afford any more scandal except, when he sees Bee, he knows immediately who she is because he is her number one fan. And so basically the book never looks back from there.
Jeff: That is it perfectly in a nutshell, and it’s just…I mean, you distill it to that nutshell and yet it’s this amazing romcom, all of these additional characters and the found family that builds up around the set and who, kind of, rally around Bee and Nolan as everything unfolds. But then the amazing families that they have essentially back home, you know, and the things that they’re dealing with outside of making this movie, there is so much packed into this that actually makes it more than a Hallmark movie because no Hallmark movie goes this deep in the 90 minutes that they have. How did you decide all the elements to put in here to create the world?
Julie: I think that all those… Of course, I love writing the romance and the primary relationship, but all those outside pieces are what I get most excited about when I’m writing, so all those supporting cast members, all of the world-building and things like that. I think that every character at some point became its own inside joke, and then at some point, we were like, “Every character feels like they should have their own book.”
And that’s what gets us excited about ensemble cast like “Schitt’s Creek” and “Ted Lasso” and things like that. So, it felt like a really natural thing and nothing we necessarily did on purpose, but then it was definitely what made the project so exciting was getting to write all these additional characters that were fully fleshed out and also had just these absolutely unhinged backstories.
Jeff: And it’s the perfect way to phrase it, too, I think.
Sierra: Yeah, and I think that we, sort of, unintentionally through the studio that Bee works for is called Uncle Ray Ray’s. And we, sort of, unintentionally created this found family with, sort of, the people associated with Uncle Ray Ray’s. And after we realized what we had done, we were like, “Oh, my gosh, this is so perfect,” because it mirrors our own lives where we have good relationships with our families as well, but we would not be the people we were today and would not have had the security and safety to grow into the people we were today if it weren’t for our found families, especially when we were younger in college and our early 20s. I think those were really vital to us and so it was such a natural, organic thing to, kind of, put that on the page for these characters, too.
Jeff: And even though it’s a male-female romance, this is extremely queer at the same time, which I thought was just wonderful how you just put all of that together and put a nice little Christmas bow on top of it.
Julie: I think our constant anthem for the book or for this entire world really is queer until proven straight. That’s just our threshold going into this.
Sierra: Yeah, and I think that Julie and I are both aggressively bisexual, and I think that one of the things that we really, kind of, loved doing is, sort of, picking apart the heteronormative monolith that is a male-female romance, that you can have queer M-F as well in a world that’s populated with queer characters.
And so we didn’t want…or I guess what we did want was to, sort of, poke holes in this idea that there’s, sort of, like a straight default that romances are gravitationally oriented to and just do our bit to, kind of, you know, disrupt that as much as possible.
Julie: I love when she uses words like monolith. It’s just so sexy.
Sierra: When you say it like that, that makes me think that it should be like a dirty synonym for… There’s stamen and pulsing member. His monolith.
Julie: Yeah, his monolith.
Sierra: So, look for that in the next book.
Jeff: Oh, my gosh. If that shows up in a future book, I’m going to know exactly where it originated from.
Julie: We’ll thank you in the acknowledgments.
Sierra: Forget polyamorous. Welcome to monolith.
Jeff: You two have been friends for quite a while now. How did you decide to actually do a collaboration? What led to that?
Julie: A hot tub.
Sierra: A hot tub. So, Julie and I have been, sort of, enacting a slow-burn Christian Grey-Anastasia Steele romance for the last eight years. And our friendship was actually, kind of, born with a lot of romance tropes. So, like, we have a mutual friend, Natalie C. Parker, who is an organizer, and so she was going to put together this book tour. This was when I was writing young adult books as well under a different name. Obviously not under Sierra Simone.
Julie: You say that but I write our books under Julia Murphy and my kids’ books are under Julia Murphy.
Sierra: I guess I have corrupted you. So, we were going on this tour together, and Natalie was organizing her friends. And Julie and I had never met each other. And Natalie was like, “That’s fine. I think you guys should just come and help me pay for this anyway.”
And so we rented a van and the idea was that we were going to load up in the van and drive around these bookstores in the Midwest on our own time because we weren’t really the kind of authors that had a marketing budget for my publishers or anything. But the catch was, because we were all paying for it ourselves, Julie and I were going to have to share not just a room but a bed. And so Julie, I think, was pretty…
Julie: Listen. I’ll thank my personal space, okay? I was very skeptical of this person that I was going to be sharing a bed with. So, when we first pulled up to Sierra’s house, I got out of the van and I said, “Hi, my name’s Julie Murphy, and I snore,” like, kind of, like challenging her like just throwing down the gauntlet.
Sierra: Yeah, like a threat. And then I was like, “That’s okay. I have narcolepsy and I can sleep through anything.” And we never looked back from there. We basically immediately became best friends. Insta-love. Fated mates. Whatever you want to call it. We were best friends within a day, and that was eight years ago now. Was it?
Sierra: No, it’s longer. It’s nine years now, isn’t it?
Julie: I mean, I believe you. I totally believe you.
Sierra: It’s nine years.
Julie: But I cannot math time. We started going on these yearly writing retreats because we quickly found out that we were both vampires and liked to work through the night while our other friends would get up at 6 in the morning, and do yoga and have a smoothie, and set goals for the day. And we would roll out of bed at 11:00 and look for Pop-Tarts and lunch meat just to feed ourselves. And so we were definitely bringing major teenage boy energy to our friends’ very nice, aesthetic writing retreats.
So, we started going on these writing retreats for vampires only, which was just Sierra and I. And it just sort of snowballed from there. We started reading for each other and brainstorming with one another. And then finally just one year, we were sitting in our hot tub. I think it was 2020 because this is how our writing retreats end every night. We just write until our brains are noodles, and then we go cook in a hot tub and eat as much pie as we can.
Sierra: If I may, I am fact-checking you live. We were in bed eating pie when lightning struck. I just had to tell you.
Julie: We were in bed. That’s right. We were in bed eating pie with bites of pie balanced on our boobs. And that’s when lightning struck, and one of… We were watching Hallmark movies, and one of us turned to the other and said, “You know, these movies aren’t so different than other movies that you might watch by yourself alone in bed at night.” And it just kept going. And then it did end up in the hot tub, yeah, our brainstorming session.
Jeff: Your writing retreat sound amazing.
Julie: I mean, there’s no standard is what’s great about our writing retreats.
Jeff: And essentially the meet cute had all the tropes in it between forced proximity, and only one bed, and opposites attract. And, you know, it just kept going from there.
Sierra: You know, I can see… You know how people do little graphics on social media with their book cover and then it’s got all the tropes? Yeah, we should do that with just a picture of our faces, Julie.
Julie: Cool. Marketing tool, check.
Sierra: Marketing tool. We’ll put you in the acknowledgments, too.
Jeff: Thank you. If I researched right, Julie, this is your first collaboration. How was it for you from moving as a solo writer to now collaborating with somebody?
Julie: I was a little nervous. I think that we were both a little nervous to dip our toes into this because we value and treasure our friendship so much that we really wanted to make sure that, like, it was the right idea, it was the right time. And, sure, it was the right idea, but was it the right time? Was it ever going to be the right time? Are we endlessly busy? Yes.
But it was really way more liberating than I expected it to be, I guess. I just was shocked to find out that writing this book felt a lot like writing my very first book. Writing felt new and fresh again, and it felt like every time I was writing a chapter, it was just to show off for my best friend and just to try to make her laugh.
And as we continued to write together, we’re still finding that’s true. So, I don’t know if I could collaborate with literally anyone because I’m a Scorpio, but we are a really good fit for each other. And it has made me excited to try collaborating more and more because I don’t want to admit this because I am a Scorpio but it gets a little lonely writing by yourself all the time.
Jeff: And how was the new collaboration for you, Sierra, because you’ve done it a time or two already?
Sierra: Yeah. I think this was maybe the most seamless one because Julie and I have such complementary strengths. So, Julie comes from a theater background. She’s written screenplays. And so no one understands beats and pacing and dialogue better than Julie.
So, when you want a scene to move, when you want it to snap, when you want that banter to be just very sharp and sparkling, Julie is an expert at that. And I am really good at describing what kinds of trees grow around a town. So, together we made one normal writer. And so it was really great.
Julie: And the sex scenes, and the sex scenes.
Sierra: Oh, yeah. Yeah, trees and sex scenes.
Julie: You were definitely like my shepherd through writing my very first sex scenes like 100%. And also I hate writing about trees. I hate it so much. I will literally, in my chapters, just be like, “Talk about the mountains here. Thank you.”
Sierra: Well, and it is nice because it means that you have someone to lean on a little bit if you’re stuck. We talk on the phone almost every day while we’re drafting, and so we’re talking through everything to make sure that we’ve still got the flow right, that what we’ve plotted before still works.
But then also we write in Google Docs and Google Docs really facilitates communication, I think. And so we can leave notes for each other in there and be like, “Hey, Julie, make this funnier,” or, you know, she can be like, “Sierra, please do the sticky parts.” And so we can, kind of, talk to each other that way, but we have also gotten in fights in Google Docs.
Julie: Many times.
Sierra: Because you can be typing at the same time, and, yeah, sometimes we will just get into little arguments in there. All in good fun, all in good fun. And Julie always wins.
Julie: Like, silly arguments.
Sierra: Yeah. Playful arguments.
Jeff: You could release those as the bonus director’s commentary. Here’s what we argued about in this part.
Julie: Oh, my gosh.
Sierra: That’s the behind-the-scenes footage of us writing.
Julie: Don’t tell me that because my ego will suddenly get so big, I’ll think that someone wants to read that.
Jeff: How did you split up the writing? Because it comes back as, you know, this cohesive voice like you would want a co-write to do, but it’s so strong here. How do you approach that element?
Sierra: Well, we actually have two different approaches. So, with “A Merry Little Meet Cute,” it’s dual POV, and so we each kind of took ownership of the character. I took ownership of Nolan, and Julie took Bee. And we would write those POV chapters and then tap into each other. So, I think because we were also taking ownership of the characters themselves, you know, Julie could come in and be like, “I think Bee would say this more like this way,” and adjust her dialogue or adjust the reactions. And then I would do the same with Nolan.
So, even though we kind of split it up by POV chapter, we were in each other’s words a lot, just adding and layering and finessing. But with “Snow Place Like LA,” it’s one POV and so we were a little nervous about how that would work, but we ended up falling into a really great rhythm where we would trade off chapters, and then the other author would come in and kind of write over the chapter.
So, like I said before, Julie is so great at those one-liners, those just really great…I call them indie movie moments where you can imagine the character in a music video or in a montage in an indie movie. And then I obviously like to, you know, make everything five more chili peppers as I’m going through. And so with us kind of layering over each other’s voices, we kind of got one singular Luca voice in the novella.
Julie: Yeah, I think with the novella, you went in and wrote the very beginning. I went in and wrote from the beginning on through most of the middle, and then you picked up the end. And so then we just started writing over on top of each other.
But, yeah, I think it helps that we have a really similar sense of humor, and we really have like we could finish each other’s sentences kind of friendship. So, I do think that like our voice for these books is very distinct from the voice you might find in our own solo projects.
Jeff: How did you go about building Christmas Notch? I mean, I don’t often think about world-building per se in a contemporary romance, but Christmas Notch is its very own unique place, especially with the puns for all of those businesses. I mean, we’ve seen towns like this in Hallmark movies. I think about Evergreen, but Evergreen doesn’t lean into it even to the degree that Christmas Notch does. So, where between you two did this place come from?
Sierra: I think it was a joint…like, it was really us kind of spitballing it back to the hot tub. We brought the pie to the edge of the hot tub, and we were pieing it up as we were… You know how there’s the movie stereotype of Wall Street traders doing cocaine or something and they’re like, “Let’s go make money”? We were like We were like mainlining pie, and we’re like, “What if there was a town where it was Christmas all the time?”
But Julie and I think are united as contemporary authors in that usually setting comes first for us. Setting is probably the foundation of all of the stories we tell. And if we don’t have the setting really lined up in our minds, it’s difficult for us to move on to developing characters and then developing the story. I think generally the story is the last bit that kind of comes for us. It’s like setting, characters, story. And I love all kinds of settings, but, Julie, you have a lot of practice with small towns in particular.
Julie: Yeah, I really do love small-town settings, and I think we felt even more validated in creating this forever Christmas town after our dear friend, Nisha, who is “Dating Dr. Dil”-fame-fantastic but also obsessed with Hallmark movies. And she was the one that really kind of put us onto the fact that a lot of these movies are made in the same places over and over again. And it’s like some of these towns, some of these actors are essentially re-skinned for movie after movie.
And so once we found out that it made sense to have this 365-day Christmas town and also made plot sense, that’s all it took for us to just off to the races. So, there’s a toy shop in…it looks like a toy shop on the front, like a very child-friendly toy shop on the outside, and it actually doubles as the costume shop for these productions.
But in the second book, we actually got to make the Toy Shop 2. And the Toy Shop 2 is the nighttime dirty version of the toy shop just down the road. And we got to put it on our map, and it has these little butt plugs in the windows because that’s another thing was like we saw this town as a fully formed place.
So, we were like, “We know this is unusual for a contemporary romance, but we want a map in the front of this book.” And our publisher thankfully was really excited to work with us on that. But, yeah, it’s just something I love to do, and it makes the inside joke even bigger.
Jeff: You mentioned pie quite a lot, and I do love a good pie.
Jeff: So, I have to ask, what are the go-to pies for these hot tub writing sessions?
Julie: So, every year, our retreats are normally in December and we normally rent a little cabin somewhere. And I bring the pie. I am the bringer of the pie. And I usually bring a pie from a place in here in DFW called Emporium Pies. And I think our favorite has got to be the Father Christmas pie, right? It’s like a peppermint, chocolate cream Oreo-ish pie. I don’t know. It’s delicious.
Sierra: Think like a key lime pie but the crust is chocolate and then the limey part is like a peppermint chocolate. And then it’s got the whipped creamy stuff on top. It is amazing.
Jeff: Oh, my.
Julie: It’s really good. And then the other one we get, we really like a lot is the Merry Berry, right? I can’t remember what that one is though.
Sierra: It’s like cranberries. I want to say cherries. Some other berries. But then it has this really delicious sugared crust on the top. Oh, it’s so good.
Julie: It’s really good.
Jeff: One more reason to come to your writing retreats.
Julie: I never go to a thing empty-handed. Anytime I drive up to Sierra’s house in Kansas, I bring a box of donuts from a weird donut place or something like that. Just let me feed you.
Sierra: I just wish I could bring you something from Kansas City, but we don’t have food that travels. I could bring you cold ribs.
Julie: Cold ribs. I love cold ribs.
Sierra: Eight-hour old ribs.
Julie: Yeah, I love cold ribs said me never.
Jeff: So, you brought us back to this universe, although not to Christmas Notch specifically this time with “Snow Place Like LA.” And I have to say it’s an apt title since it did snow in LA this past winter. It just kind of worked out that way. Tell everybody about the story of Luca and Angel who we got to see a good bit of in “A Merry Little Meet Cute.”
Sierra: So, Luca is our costume designer and he comes from Uncle Ray Ray’s. So, normally he is costuming, you know, adult movies. He sort of segued into also doing these wholesome Christmas movies as well, a very different kind of costuming. And his real passion is designing wedding dresses, which he gets to do for the movie in “A Merry Little Meet Cute.”
And over the course of “A Merry Little Meet Cute,” he and Angel, who is an animator and also the son of the producer who owns Uncle Ray Ray’s, Uncle Ray himself, they strike up a little romance. But due to some miscommunications and a series of unfortunate events, their relationship kind of fractures when Angel travels to Europe.
Now, Angel would like to dispute every version of events that Luca thinks has happened between them. But in Luca’s mind, when you open up “Snow Place Like LA,” Angel has ghosted him like broken his heart in just the most unconscionable way by going to Paris with his hot ex. You know, that’s unforgivable. And so Luca is very wounded by all of this.
And at the same time, Uncle Ray Ray’s has started doing a porn parody of “Pretty Woman.” So, Luca is working on set of the porn “Pretty Woman,” and lo and behold, Angel has to work on the movie too, and they’re thrown in on the same movie set at the same time. And Luca is like, “Well, LA is huge. Like, what are the odds that I’m going to keep running into him?” And yet there he is at every turn.
Jeff: So much I loved about this book. I mean, right from the moment you kick it off with the whole thing about “Love Actually” and airports.
Julie: That was definitely Sierra. She has something to say about “Love Actually.” So, that was definitely Sierra’s small moment.
Sierra: I don’t know that I have something to say, but I just feel like multiple things can be true about “Love Actually.” I think it has had a cultural impact and still be a very messy movie.
Jeff: And you also managed to speak the truth about cantaloupe as well in the movie.
Julie: Another cantaloupe hater.
Jeff: I highlighted that in my Kindle like, “Yes, this thing right here.”
Sierra: I’m so just glad to be here in this moment with you of hating cantaloupe. Even our editor…
Jeff: Julie, based on your reaction you’re not a cantaloupe hater or just surprised that there’s so many of us?
Julie: I’m indifferent to cantaloupe. What did cantaloupe ever do to me? But. I have been just so amazed to see how much Sierra can hate cantaloupe. I didn’t know that a hate for something could run this deep. And my sister recently put together a real… I was sick recently. My sister put together a fruit salad bowl, and I forgot to send you a picture, but it was like 75% melon-based fruit. I think that you would’ve…
Jeff: Send it back.
Julie: Yeah, Jeff’s like, “No, send it back. The worst gift ever.”
Sierra: I feel so validated right now.
Jeff: How do you describe the voice that these books have? Because the two that we’ve read, and even the snippet that is…you know, the preview for the next book that’s at the back of “Snow Place Like LA,” there’s such this distinct voice and vibe that even though you’re talking about and working with completely different main characters, it holds together so well. And I can’t think of a series that I’ve quite seen like that before. It mesmerizes me as a reader and as a writer to understand how you did this.
Sierra: Gosh, I…
Julie: I don’t even know that it’s on purpose.
Sierra: I mean, I think it’s pretty organic. I think that, first of all, we did want it to feel, as a friend of mine has described, wholesomely filthy, and so we wanted it to have lots of chili peppers but what we like about Christmas movies is that they’re sort of unapologetically earnest. And I think that that’s like not cool right now I have teenage kids and a lot of things are cringe, I hear. And so I think we’re kind of in a moment where like earnestness is kind of…it’s suspect or it must be unnuanced or something like that.
And we really, kind of, wanted to indulge ourselves with some earnestness and, you know, really make an unapologetically sentimental book that was also still very sticky inside, you know, lots of fluids. But I also think that we really wanted early on for there not to be an antagonist in the traditional sense. Really the two antagonists in “A Merry Little Meet Cute” are the paparazzi and the American healthcare system.
And so these characters are really dear to our hearts and they are coming to the page with different identities. And so we didn’t want those characters to have to go through some sort of really wrenching storyline in order to get their happily ever after. You know, Bee as a plus size actress, and there’s a lot of really hard and miserable stories that we could tell. And I think that we really wanted to create a world where Bee gets the best version of that story. And we, kind of, applied that lens to everything.
Julie: Yeah, I mean, I think the same goes for Angel. Angel is someone who grew up in what is probably a very homophobic town with…
Sierra: Luca. I’m fact-checking you.
Julie: Oh, my gosh, I’m sorry. I always get Angel and Luca’s names confused, and this is my fatal flaw. It’s going to ruin us.
Sierra: We need a couple name like… Lugel or…
Julie: Lugel. Lugel. That’s so sexy.
Jeff: That sounds like a baked good from somewhere.
Julie: Yeah. Oh…
Sierra: From Germany maybe like, “Oh, the lugels are very good at this Christmas market.”
Julie: But yes. Okay, so sorry. Luca comes from a really small Oregon town with a family that didn’t really know what to do with him. And it was really conscientious on our part to make sure that Luca’s story was always hopeward-facing. It was always in search of his perfect happily ever after and that there wasn’t all this trauma that had to continue resurfacing throughout his story in order for him to gain any kind of character arc or anything like that.
But I also think that like “A Merry Little Meet Cute” starts out with sort of like the trope joke of the whole story, which is like Bee is automatically like, “Who is possibly ever going to recognize me in this movie?” because she watches adult film and also craves these wholesome Christmas movies. And it turns out that a lot of us do indeed. So, yeah, you said really smart things, Sierra.
Sierra: You said smart things, too. You’re so smart.
Julie: You’re so smart, you’re so pretty.
Sierra: You’re so pretty.
Julie: You are too, Jeff.
Jeff: How was it coming back to work on these characters again with Snow Place and then for the next book as well with Holly Jolly?
Sierra: I mean, amazing because we had so much fun creating these characters. And I think when you’re co-writing… Well, when you’re solo writing, it’s very natural, I think, for characters to become a magnified slice of you, you know, like not… My characters aren’t one-to-one matches to me, but they are sort of…you know, there is some alleles plucked from the DNA strand of me that goes into that character. And so over time you develop a Sierra Simone kind of character or a Julie Murphy kind of character.
And writing together meant that we were writing different kinds of characters. And so I don’t know on my own that I ever could have written characters like Sunny and Luca who are…let’s just say they have big theater kid energy, right? They’re funny, they’re vocal, they’re very vivacious. My characters tend to be more like Angel, who’s like, “I’m quiet and tortured because I’m so artistic.”
And so it was so exciting to get back to these characters who are so different from what I normally write because they’re so much fun. And I think that one of the beautiful things about getting to write a series like this is that, by the time we started writing Luca’s story, we knew Luca pretty well. We knew him from writing “A Merry Little Meet Cute.” And now that we’re working on Book 3, which has Sunny in it, I feel like I know Sunny really well because we’ve written so much Sunny. And so it’s like you get to know these characters better and better instead of each book kind of being a blank slate, you know, a tabula rasa where you have to get to know these characters from scratch.
Jeff: There was another big word there with tabula rasa.
Julie: I know.
Jeff: That might even be a bigger word than monolith.
Julie: You’re like a little walking museum library.
Sierra: I don’t even know… Who is that? Is that Locke? Is that Descartes? See, I don’t even know where the word comes from.
Julie: Stop. Stop.
Sierra: Some philosopher.
Julie: Just stop. I’m going to have to power you down.
Jeff: So, for each of you, what’s a favorite scene out of “Snow Place Like LA”?
Sierra: Okay, I think I’m going to do my favorite scene that Julie wrote, which is there is a moment where Angel and Luca are…they realize they’re trapped on the set of making this movie, and Sunny is directing it. And Sunny is like, “I am not having this impact my great debut of directing.” And she locks the two of them in a room together and she was like, “Talk it out. Like, just figure it out so you guys can work on this movie.” And rather than talk, Luca decides to dive out of a window headfirst into some rose bushes. And then of course they’re thorny and so he falls and then his hands are prickled by the thorns. And he’s like, “My hands, my beautiful hands.” Anyway, that’s my favorite scene.
Jeff: That was my favorite romcom-y moment, I think, in the entire book right there.
Sierra: It’s so funny. I was just rolling when I read it.
Julie: Oh, my gosh. My favorite scene that you wrote is very spoiler-y and involves a bathtub. So, I can’t give away too much there, but this is a sort of more R-rated reference to the book, but my favorite little line or thing that you wrote was when you established the ex-boyfriend is having a wind sock dick, because that joke just really…like, we took that joke and ran with it. So, yeah, that…
Jeff: Every single time it came up, I smiled. I was like, “Oh, here it is again.”
Sierra: Yeah, beige wind sock. That sounds like a band name like a college band name, “beige wind sock.” I can see it now.
Julie: Yeah, perfect.
Jeff: How did you decide on “Pretty Woman” to be what was being parodied on the porn shoot?
Sierra: Well, I mean, I wish I could say that we sat down seriously and we were like, “What art do we want to deconstruct and bring back into the conversation?” But I think really it was when we were writing “A Merry Little Meet Cute,” we were hyper aware of “Pretty Woman” as sort of an err narrative of sex workers in contemporary America, and sort of this component of the movie is that, you know, Julia Roberts’ character has to leave sex work at the end in order to kind of get her Prince Charming, right? That’s really fundamental to the movie is that being a sex worker and getting a happily ever after were incompatible.
And so when we were working on the book, we were trying to sort of dodge, not even dodge but, you know, fray the edges of that narrative as much as we could. We really wanted to make sure that this book was not just sex positive but sex work positive and that sex work was not being sort of held as a last resort or anything like that. And so it was really on our minds. And so when it came time to write this novella, I think it was just like the natural thing that our brains went to.
Julie: I am so glad you answered that first because all I was going to say was that we just really liked saying, “Big mistake! Huge!” to each other.
Julie: So, I’m so glad that you had this smart answer to unroll there for us.
Sierra: That was also equally important is that we wanted a character to say, “Big mistake! Huge!”
Jeff: And I love how many distinct opinions Luca has about this whole thing too, and how it’s being costumed and who’s playing the role. And that actress had not seen “Pretty Woman.”
Julie: She hasn’t seen “Pretty Woman.” What is it? She doesn’t think that there’s been a good movie…no good movies were made before “Iron Man” or something.
Jeff: Something like that. It was one of the Marvel movies.
Sierra: Yeah, which is that’s a little bit of a Sierra DNA there because I divide all movies by before Jurassic Park and after Jurassic Park. And you’re going to have to do a lot of convincing to get me to watch a BJP movie because I just don’t think any good movies were made before 1992, 1993 except for “Trimmers,” which is an objectively perfect movie.
Julie: Oh, my God.
Jeff: Oh, that’s a good one.
Sierra: Yeah, it is.
Julie: You just like to be divisive.
Sierra: Don’t even get me started on sugar cookies. I got words to say.
Julie: She hates sugar cookies. She hates oatmeal cookies. Oatmeal raisin cookies.
Sierra: Yeah. Well, everyone hates oatmeal cookies.
Jeff: You hate sugar cookies?
Julie: Snickerdoodle cookies.
Sierra: They’re God’s mistakes is how I feel about sugar cookies.
Julie: You don’t want to go on a Christmas bookstore with this girl when people are asking you…
Jeff: But that’s the foundation of Christmas cookies.
Sierra: I don’t like them. They’re tasteless. They’re just like eating the inside of drywall. What is that like gypsum powder? That’s what they taste like.
Jeff: But it’s what you put on top of them that make the difference.
Julie: Can we mute her?
Sierra: I don’t know. That’s suspect to me.
Jeff: We’ll have to take this off offline somewhere, reconstruct this problem a little bit more because this is concerning. Since we are celebrating Christmas in July, I really want to ask the questions that I would ask if we were doing this for December. So, what’s a favorite holiday tradition for each of you?
Sierra: Okay, back to “Love Actually,” every year since high school, my friends and I have gotten together to watch “Love Actually.” It has sort of become the “Love Actually” family Christmas. It’s like the linchpin in our holiday season. And what’s really great is this has been, gosh, almost 20 years now, and so babies, and divorces, and second marriages, all of that has kind of happened in conversation with watching “Love Actually” once a year together.
And it’s developed into like a midnight showing kind of energy. So, we act out different parts. There is a scene where Rick Grimes is…you know, he has to tell Keira Knightley that he likes her and creepily records her. And then he walks outside and he dramatically zips up his pullover and then squats in the middle of this square. And so everyone has to, you know, reenact it as they’re watching it physically.
And then I think this year we’re going to dress up as background characters. So, one person is going to come as a CD player because there’s a CD player in the background of every shot. One person is going to come as Keira Knightley’s hat. I’m going to be the person who wears one earring at Bill Nighy’s celebration party when he finds out that he hit number one. So, I don’t know. I know that the movie is a giant mess and yet I love it so.
Julie: That’s really good.
Jeff: It sounds like a ton fun. I hope you post images from that on your Instagram or your social somewhere if your party guests allow it.
Sierra: Yes. Oh, I forgot that one year I did go to a midnight showing, and I dressed up as the art that is in the back of Rick Grimes’ art gallery. And so I put on like a skin tight purple dress and then I put tiny Santa hats on my nipples so that I looked just like the art in the art gallery. It was great. It was well received, I think.
Julie: Oh, my God, it was so good. I forgot about that. That was really good. Oh, man, my favorite tradition… So, we normally send each other a huge box of presents to each other’s families every year for Christmas. And one year, my box of Christmas presents to Sierra’s family was late by two months.
Jeff: Oh, my gosh. And I was losing my mind because I forgot to save my receipt and couldn’t find the tracking on it. And so Sierra just kept being like, “I told you, you should always buy your postage online so that you always have your tracking in your email and you can always…” And I was just… I couldn’t hear, “I told you so again.” And so this last year, we decided to spend New Year’s Eve together, and we got to trade presents in person, and it was a lot of fun. So, I really liked that, and I hope we make a tradition of it. I am Jewish and only started, in the last few years, lighting menorah with my spouse, and that has turned into a really fun thing for us to try to figure out what the hell this means to us and latkas and things like that. Very experimental on our end. So, that’s been really good. Yeah, lots of different little things.
Sierra: And you’re a real tree girl. You go and you get the real tree.
Julie: Yeah, we’re real tree people. But you know what? This last year, ours was dead on arrival, so I’m really second guessing my real tree thing here.
Sierra: Well, if you’re in the market for an artificial tree, I have a great company to tell you about.
Jeff: Who happens to be sponsoring this episode.
Julie: Yeah. Sponsored by Balsam Hill?
Jeff: There’s also a Hallmark movie about dying Christmas trees, so you know…
Julie: Oh, yeah. Save the Christmas tree farm.
Sierra: I haven’t seen this one. Oh, man. I got to watch it.
Jeff: Danica McKellar and I can’t remember the male lead, although it’s one of the usual Hallmark male leads. She’s a tree whisperer, and she comes in to figure out why all these Christmas trees are dying after they get cut.
Julie: Does this make us the villains in a Christmas movie that we’re hawking fake trees at people?
Jeff: Certainly not. Nothing wrong with a good Balsam Hill. I mean, Hallmark’s primary sponsor of Christmas is Balsam Hill.
Julie: Exactly. We have always been real tree people, and this is mainly because of our cats. I can deal with my cats ruining a real tree that I get once a year. But if I spent Balsam Hill money on a Balsam Hill tree, I’d be really sad if those branches were destroyed by my cat who thinks they can sit six stories high on a tree, you know?
Sierra: Yeah, and all of your cats are also Scorpios, I feel like. The fact that you wouldn’t want them to climb in the tree would just make them want it more.
Julie: Yeah, yeah. It would just push them to do it.
Jeff: So, going back to childhood, what’s a favorite holiday gift that you received?
Julie: Me and Sierra were poor kids growing up, so we probably got like… I think I got like the weirdest homemade gifts from my mom. One year, everyone was getting a Skip-It, which was that ball attached to the hard plastic thing that went around your ankle. And my mom made me one out of prickly yellow rope and a tennis ball, and it shred my ankle to pieces.
Sierra: I’ve never heard this story before.
Julie: Are you serious? Yes, Gale Murphy made me a Skip-It, and it destroyed my ankle. So, that was very memorable but also I really remember loving the Walkman my mom got me one year. I was like, “This is the meaning of freedom. I can listen to my own music on my own time.”
Sierra: The future is now.
Julie: Yeah, the future’s here.
Sierra: Well, like Julie said, we both grew up pretty poor and so my mom had a variety of mental health issues. And so there were times when I would go live with my dad and he was working two jobs. We were living in a trailer, just a very poor single dad. And I remember we were walking through Kmart. I’m really dating myself here. And that was back… I don’t know if they still do this, but every year there was a Holiday Barbie. And so she would have a unique dress and it was like, you know, a limited edition for just that year. And we walked past a huge display of them, and she had this beautiful silver dress with sparkles and poofy sleeves like Ariel’s wedding dress in the “Little Mermaid.” And I wanted it so badly, and I remember tugging on my dad’s hand and I told him that I wanted it and he said, “I’m really sorry. I can’t afford that for you. And I don’t think I’ll be able to get it for Christmas.”
And then that year for, you know, later that year for Christmas, it was the only present I got, that I got that Barbie. She was under the tree on Christmas morning. Yeah. And I remember he had roommates in the trailer so that he could afford rent. And so I didn’t have like a whole lot of room of my own, but he would turn over his lunch cooler that he would pack his lunch in because he was a plumber. And I could put my holiday Barbie. She would be going to her holiday balls inside of this little plastic lunch cooler. Yeah.
Jeff: Oh, I love that. That’s a good story. You both have good stories. More sexy holiday magic on the way in November. What can you tell us about “Holly Jolly Ever After,” which I have to say I kind of want it right now, now that I’ve read the prologue and Chapter 1?
Sierra: So, I think pretty early on in the hot tub with the pie, you know, buzzing in our systems, we decided that we really wanted there to be a reason why these books would be related. And romance is pretty common to have interconnected standalones where they’re a family or group of friends or a book club or whatever. And so we decided that we wanted our group to be a defunct boy band because Julie and I are survivors of the NSYNC v. Backstreet Boys wars. It was very formative to us. We were like the TRL generation, and so we really wanted to have them be boy bands.
So, each book in the Christmas Notch series has as its hero one of the members of the boy band. And so this hero is Kallum Lieberman. Do you want to talk a little bit about Kallum, Julie?
Julie: Yeah. So, Kallum Lieberman, if you were to think of our boy band as these 2000s boy band icons, Kallum Lieberman is the funny one. He’s the dad bod. He’s like our Joey Fatone. He’s not the bad boy. He’s not the hot one, but he’s funny and you really just need him there to round up numbers.
And so Kallum has gone on after his boy band fame to start a local or a regional pizza chain called Slice, Slice, Baby. And he’s actually found a lot of success being the pizza mogul of the Midwest, but he’s not quite settled down. He’s sort of got a reputation for banging bridesmaids at weddings. And then those bridesmaids oftentimes go on to find the love of their lives. So, he bangs them, sends them on their way, and then, you know, they find their happily ever after. And it’s sort of like Kallum’s curse but the bridesmaid’s blessing.
And so Kallum has this little homemade tape of his that gets out in “A Merry Little Meet Cute.” We find out about it, and it’s a sex tape. And it goes a little viral. And it turns out that people are still pretty hot for Kallum Lieberman. And so Kallum decides to capitalize on this moment that he has reentered the zeitgeist, and he decides that he’s going to go ahead and star in a new Hope Channel original film, as the Hope Channel has recently discovered that there is an appetite for spicier holiday movies. And so they’re going to do a spicy Santa origin story called Santa Baby about how Santa and Mrs. Claus met for the very first time. And then you want to tell us a little bit about our Mrs. Claus?
Sierra: Yeah, so Mrs. Claus is played by Winnie Baker, who is actually the actress who was supposed to star in the movie in “A Merry Little Meet Cute.” And then she’s kind of taken out at a music festival. She’s not dead or anything, she’s fine. But she has an unfortunate experience at a music festival and has to be hospitalized for exhaustion for a couple days. And so she can’t do the movie and Bee takes her place.
And since then, her star has really fallen because she was known as sort of the Hope Channel darling. She’s one of those actresses that’s in, you know, four or five of these movies a year. And it was all about maintaining that clean image, which is now tarnished. But here’s an opportunity for her to go back to the Hope Channel with that tarnished reputation and kind of trade on it a little bit.
And so she’s going to film this spicy movie that she’s never done before. And Winnie Baker grew up in what we would call purity culture. She has been really a victim of that mindset for a long time. But after her divorce, she’s been to therapy. She’s done a lot of work to sort of decolonize herself of that mindset. But as soon as she gets to the set of Santa Baby, and it’s time to start filming some of these spicy scenes, she’s really struggling a little bit.
And it turns out that she’s not very good at the spicy scenes because she’s never had good sex in real life and so that’s really hindering her. So, Kallum, as an artist who cares about art…
Julie: A scholar.
Sierra: …volunteers… A scholar. Valiantly volunteers to give Winnie good sex so that her sex scenes will improve for the movie, for the sake of the movie. And so that’s where the story kicks off. Sex lessons and Santa Claus and pizza.
Jeff: There’s the marketing line right there.
Jeff: I love that we got to see Winnie, because we just get the tiniest little glimpses of who she is in “A Merry Little Meet Cute.” It was cool to see her come back and get to have her essentially redemption moment and get back in the spotlight a little bit. And I’m so into the fact that you created Hope Channel after dark. Something I can’t even imagine the Hallmark channel ever doing.
Julie: I mean, there’s money there, Hallmark. Come on.
Sierra: Money on the table. Money on the table.
Jeff: So since there’s four boy band members, does that mean we get two more books after this?
Sierra: So, we are going to have… There is the heartthrob after Kallum, and that is Isaac. And so the third book in the Christmas Notch series is going to be Isaac and Sunny, which we’re really excited about, and it’s also going to dive a little bit into Christmas Notch itself. There’s going to be one Christmas Miracle, exactly one. And you’ll get to hear a little bit about how Christmas Notch became the town that it is. So, we’re pretty excited. Also, I think there’s going to be a double date with two hot lady librarians, Sunny and Isaac. So, we’re really excited about that.
Julie: Yeah, we’re really looking forward to that. And there will be another novella too in between Book 3 and Book 4. That’ll be out next July.
Jeff: More Christmas in July. Yay.
Sierra: Christmas in July.
Jeff: Speaking of boy bands, NSYNC or Backstreet Boys? Who is it for you?
Sierra: Oh, NSYNC. Yeah, I think hands down. But I think that we, you know…there’s good stuff about Backstreet Boys, right? It’s like a buffet. I’m not going to eat the pasta salad but I will take a roll. I think there’s some rolls in the Backstreet Boys. So, you know, when we were writing “A Merry Little Meet Cute,” I really had in mind how AJ McLean was really the bad boy. He had the stocking cap and the tattoos. He just seems so edgy and so I was kind of borrowing that energy. But, yeah, I think we’re both pretty, pretty much NSYNC people.
Jeff: NSYNC, got it.
Julie: What about you? Who’s your drug of choice for boy bands?
Jeff: You know, I mean, I really like them both, let’s just be totally honest. But Backstreet Boys, because Backstreet Boys was first for me. We had that timeframe, which would have been even, I guess, somewhere in the middle ’90s based on how we saw it. We were seeing Backstreet Boys initially when they were hot in Canada.
Jeff: Because we had a satellite dish, and we had access to, I think it was called, Much Music, and they were playing there. So, we were seeing things like Backstreet’s Back and some of that stuff before it hit MTV and before it really hit a state. It’s like, “This is kind of fun, this thing that we’re seeing here.” So, we had a little bit of an advanced edge on that, and it’s always been Backstreet Boys as my primary one, but NSYNC, I mean, you know, I’ll take that just as easily.
Sierra: I have two things to add. One is that I think Hot in Canada would be an amazing romance title. Just throwing that out there for anyone who wants that.
Sierra: And then, two, we were doing an interview with, gosh, was it Mel at Heaving Bosoms? And she was like, “Neither. I choose 98 Degrees,” and we were shocked.
Julie: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff: I can tell you a 98 Degrees song. I mean, I know the Lacheys came from there, but I can’t tell you a 98 Degrees song.
Sierra: Yeah, yeah. Mostly just known for “Love is Blind” now, I think. Nothing else.
Jeff: But, I mean, they had their fans, so it’s good that they’re number one for somebody, which is good, right?
Julie: Yeah, there you go.
Sierra: “Number One for Somebody” would also be a good book title.
Jeff: So, beyond Holly Jolly that’s coming out later this year, what can you share about what’s coming next from each of you in your solo projects?
Sierra: Julie, tell them about my favorite book that you wrote.
Julie: Okay. Well, this will be out in July, and so my next middle grade will have just come out called “Camp Sylvania.” And it’s basically like if Gwyneth Paltrow bought a fat camp but was actually maybe a vampire, so it’s pretty…
Jeff: That’s very specific.
Julie: Yeah, it is, isn’t it? It’s pretty funny, pretty, full of hijinks, very ridiculous. And then, you know, we’ll have “Holly Jolly Ever After” out in October. And then I’ll also have my very first picture book out this year called “Chubby Bunny.” So, buy it for every kid you know. It’s super cute, super hilarious. The artwork is fantastic.
Jeff: That’s awesome, branching out into picture books. I don’t think there’s enough of those out there…
Jeff: …to keep spreading the complete diversity of messages to let all the kids find themselves in a picture book.
Julie: Yeah, I agree.
Jeff: Like, that’s such an awesome trend that’s going on.
Sierra: Yeah, and I got to say the art for it is so adorable and, like, inclusive too. Like, I mean, Julie and the artist, I think really hit a vibe and a resonance together, and it’s amazing. But legally, I think we have to say do not try to play Chubby Bunny at home alone.
Julie: Yeah, so Chubby Bunny is a schoolyard game essentially that I learned in Girl Scouts where you put a marshmallow in your mouth and you say Chubby Bunny. Then you put another marshmallow in your mouth and you say Chubby Bunny again. And basically whoever has the most marshmallows in their mouth at the end of the game and can still say Chubby Bunny wins. And that’s what the picture book is about, and we had to put like a legal warning at the beginning of the picture book. Only play Chubby Bunny under adult supervision.
Sierra: Yeah, because I think it was like someone in 1987 in Latvia died playing Chubby Bunny.
Julie: Yeah, but they were 39 or something. We got all the facts wrong just now, but the essence of it…
Sierra: The essence.
Julie: Yeah, yeah. Okay, what do you have coming up, Sierra Simone?
Sierra: So, I am working on a trilogy that is a kinky, contemporary queer retelling of Mark, Tristan, Isolde, that legend if anyone has seen the 2006 film where James Franco cries a lot. That is the same legend that I am borrowing from. And I did this with King Arthur a few years ago, and I was like, okay, I’ve said everything I need to say about power, and sacrifice, and marriage and loyalty. And then a year later, I was like, “No, I didn’t. I have to do it again.” And so I’m back for Mark, Tristan, Isolde, so that the first book in that series is called “Salt Kiss” and that is out in September. And I’m very excited. It’s set in a kink club, so it’s really raunchy right off the bat, but that’s how I like it.
Jeff: Awesome. Good stuff to look forward to. So, as we wrap up, we got to get some book recommendations? What have you been reading recently that our listeners should be checking out?
Sierra: Okay. So, I will say, because I mentioned it at the beginning of the episode, for anyone who is in Central California, I just read, “Forget Me Not” by Julie Soto which is set in Sacramento, that is about a florist and a wedding planner who had a horrible breakup and now they have to work together on an influencer’s wedding. And it’s like the kind of wedding that can make both of their careers. So, the stakes are really high and he is super grumpy and tall, which shouldn’t matter but sometimes it does matter when people are tall. So, he’s tall and grumpy and it’s really beautiful.
And then I’m also reading a book called “Babel” by R.F. Kuang, and it is a fantasy book but it’s also like historical fantasy. So, it’s set in the 1830s in a slightly alternate universe of Oxford where they have figured out that silver has magical properties, and they can use silver to do translation work. And so it’s a book that’s examining empire, and colonization, and translation, and language and how empires use language and translation as a tool to oppress people. But it’s like fun. That makes it sound like a textbook, but it’s really gorgeously written and fascinating.
Julie: You’re so smart. I mean, I love that you answer first with stuff like this, but then I’m like, “I’m reading a book. I can’t remember what it’s about, but it has a cute cover.” Okay, but I am about to start “The Neighbor Favor” by Kristina Forest. What were you going to say? You know what book I’m about to say?
Sierra: You are reading “Big Swiss,” which has the best cover I’ve seen in forever.
Julie: “Big Swiss,” it’s so good. I am a slow reader too. Sierra reads voraciously and I read very slow because of the ADHD but I am reading “Big Swiss” right now and it is about a girl who starts transcribing for a sex therapist and falls in love with one of the sex therapist’s clients. And it is so funny and a little bit weird. And the cover is weird and uncomfortable and kind of sexy, but it’s sexy…
Jeff: I just pulled this up and I’m like, “Whoa.”
Julie: Yeah, isn’t it uncomfortable? It’s like the kind of face I’m sure we’ve all made before, but do you actually want that photographed? Anyways, lots of fun.
Jeff: Awesome. Yeah, we’ll make sure that book’s linked to the show notes so everybody at least can go look at the cover and then decide if they’re going to pick that up.
Julie: The cover’s worth looking at.
Jeff: The cover’s definitely worth a look right down to the font on it too. It’s not just the picture but how the font sits and everything.
Julie: I know. I love it, I love it.
Jeff: There’s a big design going on there.
Sierra: I bought it just for the cover and then I was like, “Oh, this is like a Suffolk romance.” I had no idea.
Julie: Yeah, and it’s Suffolk.
Sierra: I was just like, “I don’t care.” This could be a Heidi retelling for all I know, and I’m still going to buy it because of the cover.
Julie: Right. Yeah, yeah.
Jeff: So, tell everybody where they can keep up with you online to know about the new stuff coming out. Any extras you put out there for the world?
Julie: To keep up with Sierra, you have to go on a quest and cross at least three bridges and like moats and then answer several riddles to a troll who won’t actually ask you the questions to begin with. You have to figure out the questions. Oh, and that’s how you get in touch with Sierra.
Sierra: That’s a really good description of being friends with me as well.
Julie: It really is. Yeah, I’m in charge of Sierra Simone’s social media essentially.
Sierra: Yeah, Julie is my social media manager, so just follow Julie on Instagram and then you’ll know what I’m doing. But I will say that I have a newsletter that I like more than social , because when I start talking about, I don’t know, monoliths and Heidi retellings, I can get a little wordy, and I like that newsletters give you a little bit more room to chatter. So, you can sign up for my newsletter on my website. Julie and I also have a joint newsletter…
Julie: Yes, we do.
Sierra: That you can sign up at julieandsierra.com, and it’s also linked in our Instagram bios. But, yeah, I think you’re mostly an Instagram girl, aren’t you?
Julie: Yeah, I’m mostly in Instagram. You can find me just about anywhere as @andimjulie. I’m on TikTok as @andimjulie0. And I do have a newsletter that I send out sometimes, but that’s the great thing about my newsletter is I don’t actually send out newsletters. Isn’t that a great thing? I don’t know.
Sierra: I mean, I don’t think a marketing manager would say that’s a good thing, but maybe it’s a good thing for people who don’t want newsletters.
Julie: There you go.
Jeff: Julie and Sierra, I’ve enjoyed this so much. I don’t know that I’ve laughed in any given interview over the eight years of this show quite so much.
Julie: We’re honored.
Jeff: Thank you so much…
Sierra: On brand. It’s the brand.
Jeff: …for these wonderful Christmas Notch books. I can’t wait to get to November and the next one. Thank you so much for being here.
Sierra: Thank you for having us.
Julie: Thank you for having us.
Sierra: This was so much fun.
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: Thanks so much to Sierra and Julie for joining us. I love so much the universe that they’ve created and talking to them about it was an absolute blast. I’m also certain that I need pie from the place that they mentioned. The next time I end up in Dallas, I think I’m gonna be seeking that place out. And we just might need to have an intervention with Sierra to help understand and help her through her sugar cookie issues.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next Monday, we’re going to help Robin Knight celebrate his 15th publishing anniversary.
Jeff: Robin’s books were some of the very first I read in this genre 15 years ago, so it is so wonderful to celebrate with him. We’re going to talk about the wrap up of his “Fathoms Five” series, which is actually what he started with 15 years ago, and we’re going to talk about his recent romances, “Under the Arabian Sky,” and the forthcoming “Heartless.”
Will: Thank you everyone 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.