Gregory Ashe talks about his new crossover series Iron on Iron, which unites characters from the four series that make up the “Hazardverse.” He also shares his strategies for balancing the large cast, and why he decided to do a Kickstarter. In addition, Greg discusses his day job as a high school librarian and the book bans he’s dealt with first hand.
Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Monday, October 9.
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.
- Gregory Ashe Interview
- Gregory Ashe: website | The Gregorian Order Facebook Group | X (Twitter)
- The Face in the Water (Iron on Iron Book 1) by Gregory Ashe
- The Girl in the Wind (Iron on Iron Book 2) by Gregory Ashe (pre-order until October 6, 2023)
- Pretty Pretty Boys (Hazard and Somerset Book 1) by Gregory Ashe
- Orientation (Borealis Investigations Book 1) by Gregory Ashe
- Episode 436 – In Conversation with Gregory Ashe, Josh Lanyon, Layla Reyne & Felice Stevens
- The Same Breath (The Lamb and the Lion Book 1) by Gregory Ashe
- Tracker Hacker (Codename: Winger Book 1) by Jeff Adams
- The Strangest Forms (The Adventures of Holloway Holmes Book 1) by Gregory Ashe
- They Told Me I Was Everything (The First Quarto Book 1) by Gregory Ashe
- Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe
- The Handmaids Tale on Hulu
- Top 13 Most Challenged Books of 2022 from the American Library Association (ALA)
- Final Orders (Hazard and Somerset: Arrows in the Hand Book 5) by Gregory Ashe
- The Witcher on Netflix
- Puzzle for Two by Josh Lanyon
- Broadway Butchery (Memento Mori Book 3) by C.S. Poe
- ReQueered Tales website
- Death Trick (A Donald Strachey Mystery Book 1) by Richard Stevenson
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Will: Coming up on this episode, author Gregory Ashe takes us inside his epic “Iron on Iron” series crossover.
Jeff: Welcome to episode 437 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 very awesome husband, it’s Will!
Will: Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader! We are so glad that you could join us for another episode of the show.
Jeff: We’re gonna get right into our interview with Greg. I am such a fan of his mystery thrillers and the world that he began with Hazard and Somerset. He’s brought together the four series that make up the Hazardverse into the “Iron on Iron” crossover event, which is four books that will be releasing into 2024. Greg’s got all the details for us on why he decided to bring everyone together—that’s eight characters he brought together into one big crossover—the challenges in doing that, and why he decided that the crossover was the right moment to do a Kickstarter.
We also talked to Greg about his day job as a high school librarian and what he’s witnessed firsthand with book bans, and more importantly, advice on what you can do in your town to help protect access to reading for everyone.
Gregory Ashe Interview
Jeff: Greg, welcome back to the podcast. It’s awesome to have you back.
Gregory: Thank you so much for having me. It’s an awesome privilege to be back here.
Jeff: Well, we had to talk about this crossover that you’ve got going on cause I keep reading about it. As we’re talking in middle July, it actually hasn’t come out yet. That first book, four part event, is coming out on August 11th. Then you’ve got another one in October and then spaced out from there. Tell us about this massive crossover.
Gregory: Oh man, thank you. Well, I’m really excited about it and it’s been so much fun to work on. I primarily write mysteries with a pretty strong romance subplot. And I have four fairly, I would say they’re like my biggest series in terms of the audience that they have.
And so these four mystery series, I’ve kind of gotten into this habit of writing little pop up appearances by characters from one series who might show up in one book or the other and they interact a little bit. And readers have always told me they enjoy those scenes and they’re really fun for me to write.
And so when it came time to start thinking about my next project, this was, maybe last year that I really started thinking seriously about this. But I started thinking, is there a way to do something like this? And of course, the. easiest shorthand model that I go to when I talk about this is something like the Marvel “Avengers” movie, right? Each one has their own franchise, each superhero has their own franchise, and you can see all the “Iron Man” movies, and you can see all the… But the “Avengers” movies are when they all come together. And so it’s kind of something like that.
And it’s been just a tremendous amount of fun to write. And I’m excited to see if that fun translates into a product that the readers will also enjoy. So we’ll see what happens in August.
Jeff: What led you to thinking that bringing together all of these folks was something you wanted to undertake? Cause there’s a big difference in having them pop up and an integrated story for all four couples bringing in eight people.
Gregory: Yeah. No, you’re right Yeah, those are very different things as I found out the hard way doing this. Part of it is for me, like the next project that I’m going to pursue or the project that I put on my production calendar is really all about, where do I feel like the most energy, the most charge? What do I feel like is going to be just really fun for me to do? Because at the end of the day, I can’t really control if people are going to buy it, if people are going to like it. So I try to pick things that I’m really passionate about.
And coming out of these, I’d mentioned these little scene that would show up in the different books when characters might pop in. And readers really kind of built on that and they brought a lot of energy to it talking about “well, what would happen if so and so met so and so?” They propose things and they’d say, “Oh, I bet this would happen.”
And, all of that really kind of gathered momentum and built inside my head. And finally, I was like, I really think there’s something I’m excited to do with this. And so, on top of that, it really was a fun challenge. I should say it is a fun challenge and the fun part is relative. The challenge stays consistent.
But yeah, it’s been really fun to see things I was excited about take on new energy and enthusiasm from kind of interacting with readers.
Jeff: I love that the readers kind of had a little nudge for that.
Gregory: Absolutely. Yeah. I’m really lucky that these readers are so, I don’t know, they have just formed this awesome community.
And I get to tap into that. It’s this source of so much fun. I just sent out like a little request today and I said, “Hey, I’m working on this little…” it’s just a tiny little project that I wanted some creative input in about this crossover. And people just showed up and started dropping in answers and suggestions and thoughts.
And so it’s really fun for me to see that kind of feedback loop of… I don’t know, just people who are fun and passionate and smart. Yeah. So anyway, it’s been really exciting for me.
Jeff: When you started out with just the original “Hazard and Somerset,” did you ever envision building out a universe where they could like, go visit each other like they do currently and popping up?
Gregory: No, I really didn’t. In fact the first “Hazard and Somerset” book was going to be a standalone. It was going to be a one off and now 19 books later, it was not a one off. And no, even the crossover, those kind of cameo appearances, if we want to call them that, even those were something of a surprise.
So I ended up, when I finished the first “Hazard and Somerset” series, I kind of thought, I might be done with that. So I kind of set it aside and I went on to write the first set of books called “Borealis Investigations.” And I was just writing and writing.
And those books are set in St. Louis and Emery Hazard, who’s in the “Hazard and Somerset Mysteries” had been living in St. Louis before he moved back home. And so I thought, “Oh, well, maybe somebody here knows him.” And that led into kind of the first of those cameos. And it really was, I mean, one of those whether you call it luck or fortune or inspiration, but it didn’t come from planning, it wasn’t something constructed. It was just something I was really fortunate to have come out of that writing.
Once I realized how much I liked it, then I started doing it on purpose. But yeah, I mean, that was never the plan. So it’s been fun to see this evolve and take shape. It’s been fun too, for readers to give me their claim on it, make their own claims on it. So like my readers were the ones who started calling it the “Hazardverse,” right? This expanded universe of characters, the “Hazardverse.” And so that’s been really fun, stuff like that makes it feel like a shared creation.
Jeff: And it all starts with that original series, of course, because you look at like over on the CW, regardless of the shows that came after, it was always the “Arrowverse,” even when “Arrow” didn’t exist anymore.
Gregory: Exactly. Yes, exactly. That’s a great comparison. Yeah.
Jeff: It was interesting to hear you talk in the Barnes and Noble panel for Nook that we did, that aired in the previous episode of the show, where you also mentioned that “Hazard and Somerset,” originally that first book, also had a wildly different ending.
Gregory: Yeah, originally John-Henry Somerset, who is now the romantic interest, was the bad guy. It was really more of a bully revenge story or a bully comeuppance story than it was a bully romance. And I just found myself as I was writing it, realizing he was not the character I thought he was. Has that happened to you in your own writing where characters are not who they? Because… I know, I mean… I feel like authors often… this is like a joke among authors at this point that the characters take over, right? Or they don’t do what you want them to do. I mean, has that been your experience as well?
Jeff: Not to that level…
Gregory: That was such a great way to say it.
Jeff: Well, because there’s gradations of characters who are like, “Huh, that’s an interesting way to take this” and go over there with it as opposed to “you are the villain to becoming one of the romantic heroes” in the story, and then leading an entire universe.
Gregory: Right, right. That was a pretty drastic. Well, and a lot of revisions, a lot of revisions from that draft zero, as I call it now. But yeah, I mean, it was, again, another of those things we can attribute to fortune or whatever we want to call it.
Jeff: How do you essentially deal with having eight major stars populate four books?
Gregory: Oh my gosh.
Jeff: And to keep it even? Like page time. Or are Emory and John-Henry like the leads because it’s their universe first?
Gregory: Well it is, I mean that. And that was one of the things I really tried to think about in advance because I knew even though these series have all had some kind of readership and audience, certainly the “Hazard and Somerset” one is the biggest for me.
And so I wanted readers who were coming to this series to understand, right? It’s not only a Hazard and Somerset story, but to still get enough of that, that they would be happy with it. So what I ended up doing is I decided that I have four couples, I have four books. So I’m going to do kind of each book in the series is kind of an homage to the original series that they came from.
So the first book is the point of view, from the point of view of my characters called Tean and Jem. They’re the only ones who aren’t in Missouri. They’re set in Utah and one’s a wildlife veterinarian, one’s a con man. And their books always have to do with animal investigation because of the wildlife vet aspect. And so the first book in “Iron on Iron” is from their point of view, and it’s got the animal angle that I built into it. And I did that with all the couples. So they each get a book. That book has some of the elements that kind of stood out or were motifs in their original series.
The other characters, the other six in each book, they’re there, they’re present, but I try to keep them on stage in kind of smaller groups because just the voice hopping of jumping from voice to voice when they’re all eight together is hard. And I think it’s hard to keep track of everybody.
So I only have a few scenes in each book where they’re all on stage interacting. And usually it’s four… three or four, that’s much more manageable. But it gets out of control fast. I mean, I don’t know. We’ll see. Well, that’s been the plan so far. That’s what I’ve been doing so far.
Jeff: In some ways, it almost sounds one of those like “Law and Order” or “Chicago” universe things where like in each show, it’s those characters who lead, but everybody else shows up and has a thing and then it sort of arcs across.
Gregory: Yes. That’s very, that’s a great comparison. That’s actually helpful. I might be, I might have to steal that. So thank you for saying that, because, like I’ll say, in the Tean and Jem book, here’s a scene where they’re gonna do something with couple A, here’s a scene where they’re gonna do something with couple B, here’s a scene where they’re gonna do something with couple C, because that way I know everybody’s doing something, but I’m not losing the cohesiveness of that story by diluting it with too many, trying to do all eight characters all at the same time.
I’ve heard back from beta readers on the first book and they seemed to feel like it was working. So I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that it, readers feel the same when they get it.
Jeff: Is the story one big arc?
Gregory: Yeah, the way I set it up is that there’s an overarching murder that they’re working on investigating, but that each book has a smaller mystery that gets wrapped up inside that story. So, there’s a little bit of closure in each one and then progress towards… So the last one, which is going to be from the Hazard and Somerset point of view, is where the series long mystery will get solved.
Jeff: That’s awesome.
Gregory: Oh, thanks. It’s been really fun to write and I’m halfway through it in the writing. So I’ve just you know… I’m feeling the momentum start to build. It’s kind of like once you get through the middle of a book… I don’t know if that you feel that way, but like in the last third it’s a lot easier. Everything starts to click and starting to feel a little bit of that energy, which is exciting.
Jeff: As long as I know what the end is. Once you get over that hump, yeah.
Gregory: Totally fair. That’s very valid.
Jeff: Overall, has it been easier or harder than you expected it to be? Because it sounds like you expected it to be a challenge for sure. But has it fallen on the easier or harder side to these first two books?
Gregory: Harder for sure. I mean, part of it is, I feel like these characters have pretty distinct voices. And so to go from one set of characters to another in the span, I go write a book and then I have to switch voices, write a book, have to switch voices. To me that’s hard, especially because some of these characters I haven’t written for two or three years. And so I’m going back to those books that I wrote and I’m trying to remember what they sound like. So that part’s been hard.
And then honestly, when I started this I just did not realize I… I didn’t remember because I’ve done it a couple of times, but I didn’t remember how hard it is to do those series, long multi-book mysteries to kind of deliver enough in each section, in each individual book to keep the momentum going.
So it’s been harder, but there’s been some really fun, cool stuff that has come out for me that I was like, “Oh man, I didn’t ever expect that.” And so that’s been… maybe that balances out the unexpected difficulty.
Jeff: It’s good you could surprise yourself in good ways.
Gregory: Yeah. I mean, so it sounds like you are not always a plotter. Do you ever plot?
Jeff: I plot a lot, especially something more complex. So if you think about the “Codename: Winger” thrillers, those were heavily plotted.
Gregory: Oh, those were. Okay. So you knew where they were going to end. Did you have surprises in there?
Jeff: There were a couple of surprises along the way. Like all the major points clicked, but there were some little things, it’s “Oh, that’s interesting. Let’s pull on that and see where it goes.”
Gregory: Yeah. That’s so much fun when that happens, when you’re like, even you don’t really know what it’s going to be but you kind of have the safety net of that story structure you put in. Because I’m an outliner for my mysteries as well. So I think I know where it’s going to end. I mean, I don’t always, obviously, as we just talked about, but yeah.
Jeff: And I found too that because there was the overarching plot in those books, that as I kept writing forward and was still in revisions in the early books, I could go seed that back there. Just one other thing to put back there so that everybody could look back and go, “Oh, that is there.”
Gregory: Yes. Yeah. That is so fun when you can, yes. And that’s the beauty of having a little bit long… not necessarily longer, but having that revision time, that draft time to do that. That’s awesome.
Jeff: I feel for your audiobook narrators, like whoever gets these books. Are they all split up amongst the narrators to do them?
Gregory: Well, I really wanted to do… I thought it would be awesome to do the ensemble cast or whatever you call it, cause it’s not duet. But you know what I mean. But it was just not feasible.
So what I hope is going to happen, I’ve reached out to these narrators and they’ve committed to this, so I’m hoping it works out this way, knock on wood, all that good stuff. To do the book for the characters they originally voiced. And at least that consistency, I think, will go a long way toward helping people feel like, “Okay, even though some of the characters sound different from book to book, the one I really remember, sounds true in this book.” So I hope…
Jeff: Multicast would have been awesome or full cast I guess it’s called.
Gregory: What is it? Full cast.
Jeff: I think it’s full cast. I think it’s the term that they use for those, but that would have been very cool, but what a logistical…
Gregory: Oh man. Yeah. I don’t know how it would. Yeah. Cause even this way, I think I’ve got a couple of them not happening until next year. And so it’s these guys are busy and rightfully so, cause they’re all very talented. But yeah, I did not want to try to get them all on a calendar and work that out.
Jeff: Is there a favorite moment, and we’ll just pick book one here ,that you could share that you really love, but at the same time, not give up spoilers for it?
Gregory: Oh man, that’s a great question.
One of my favorite moments… so I have Emery Hazard who is the main character from this “Hazard and Somerset” series. He’s a private detective at this point. He’s an intellectual. He’s pretty lacking in social graces. And then Teancum Leon, Tean Leon, is the wildlife veterinarian. He is a pessimist, would be putting it lightly. He’s kind of always in the throes of existential despair and kind of verging on nihilism. And so it was really fun to write a couple of scenes where these two guys who love dark, depressing statistics really got to go at it with each other.
And sometimes they were arguing and sometimes they were actually kind of egging each other on. But even though they’re pretty different as characters, that trait that overlaps for them was really fun to make it… it had some productive friction, between both of them. Those were really fun scenes to write with them.
Jeff: I can only imagine them egging each other on.
Gregory: There’s one point where they’re giving each other relationship advice and that was pretty fun to write because it’s just… it’s really not… It’s not great, but they’re both so satisfied with it.
Jeff: As long as it worked out for them.
Gregory: Right! Good attitude, Jeff.
Jeff: Is it different to work in these from the romance standpoint since each of these couples is pretty set from their own series and you’re obviously not going to break them up because you’re not going to disrupt the HEA they’ve had previously.
Gregory: Right, yeah that was actually one of the things that was an kind of a writing issue that I didn’t really… I didn’t realize I was going to face until I was well into the first book, which was, “Oh, usually my subplot in these, in a book is what’s going on in the relationship. And what’s that going to look like in in these books.” And I was just coming off of the “Holloway Holmes” series where they’re very much still negotiating their relationship and their HEA. And so, I actually had to kind of had to step back from book one and say, “Like I’m hitting my head against a wall.”
I need to stop and think what is going to be kind of the emotional heart of these stories if it’s not them negotiating their relationship, or if it’s not them kind of verging on a breakup. So the answer is a little bit different for each book, because it kind of depends on the couple. But, the other part that I really… once I realized I needed that, I pivoted towards, was part of what these books are is it’s what my readers have been asking for, which is they’ve been saying, I want to see these characters interact.
And so I… this sounds so dumb, but I had to realize, “Oh, that’s where I need to be spending my energy and my time in these books is on doing the fun things that readers want to see.” And once I realized that, it was really liberating. But it was hard. It was hard to get there probably just because that’s not a type of book I’ve ever written before.
Jeff: That makes sense. Flex some new muscles in that.
Gregory: Yeah. Some new muscles and maybe just think a little bit differently about what these books offer, right? What they’re offering readers, cause usually what I offer readers is a mystery with a strong, angsty romance, and that’s not what these are. Like you said… and you saw it immediately. I did not see it immediately, Jeff. I was like 60,000 words into a book before I realized it. But yeah, where were you four months ago? That was a fantastic question cause it was really… it really was a big turning point for me.
Jeff: I look forward to seeing how you navigate that, especially since you’ve got couples in different phases. Like most of them are kind of in their thing, but you’ve got ones that are still in the navigating kind of, and I guess even Emery and John-Henry could blow themselves up at some point.
Gregory: Oh yeah. Yes. Yeah. That’s the beauty of it. they’re all on the brink at any moment.
Jeff: So for “Iron on Iron” you did a Kickstarter and that was a first for you. What led you down that route, which we’re seeing, I think, more and more for writers in general?
Gregory: Yeah. My thought is all, I mean… so I feel like there are a couple of ways to think about Kickstarters for author. And I’ll tell you the different options I see in them, the one that I felt was the best fit for me.
So one kind of the, maybe the most immediate or straightforward one, is to say, well, it’s. just an alternative to getting an advance from a publisher, right? These people are going to help. Your backers on Kickstarter are going to help you raise enough money to pay for your cover and to pay for your editing and your formatting and get your book out there. And that’s a great model because as I think you and I both know, indie publishing has opened the doors for a lot of voices that would never had, and probably still wouldn’t have, a chance in mainstream publishing.
But another way that I see people doing it is they just want to tap into their audience. They’re like, I know I have an audience for this book. You keep a larger percentage of the money from Kickstarter than you do selling a book on Amazon or another retailer. And so I see people doing that.
Then the third way that I see this working, and this is the one that I really wanted to do with this, is that it’s an opportunity to offer your readers and your fans more. And so for me, the point of the Kickstarter was to offer all these extras that I can’t offer through a lot of normal distribution methods.
I’ve got a set of short stories that are accompanied by an original piece of art and they are every possible combination of the eight characters. So like in pairs. So like it’s a chance to see all eight characters interacting with each other as pairs. Cause I knew that was one of the things that people wanted. So that’s been really fun to put together. It’s not something though that I think I could have sold, launched and sold, as a regular ebook with much success because it’s going to be short, right? The art is very costly. So that was more of a niche project that I could do because of the Kickstarter.
I’m offering some writing classes because that’s another thing I really love to do is just talk about writing and I know a lot of my readers are also writers or they want to write. I gave people some chances to actually collaborate with me on different aspects of the book. So there were some opportunities for people to customize things if they wanted to be part of, or have a voice in making the “Hazardverse” story come together.
So it was just… that’s kind of the way I thought of it is if all people want is the ebook or the audiobook or the paperback, that’s awesome. They’re going to be everywhere you normally buy them, right? Like they’ll be there. Don’t feel like you have to rush to the Kickstarter.
I did a swag box too and that’s been really fun to put together. It’s a bunch of different pieces of swag customized to these characters. Again, something I couldn’t really see a way to do without either making my life really difficult and trying to sell it on my own through like my website or, something like this.
What’s your sense of the authors doing Kickstarters? As you said, there are more and more people doing it. What’s your view on it, or what do you see?
Jeff: Basically, it falls between two of the areas that you mentioned. It’s getting it pre-sold so you’ve got the funds to do your cover, maybe do your audiobook, do all your production stuff. So it’s already in hand.
Gregory: Yeah. The audio seems to be a big part of it too. Yeah. Good point.
Jeff: And I think that is a strong way to go, and you do keep more money. Of course, even if you were selling it, I think even on your own website, you’re probably keeping a little bit more of it. And so it’s a great thing too, like for super fans, if they’re backing you on Kickstarter, they’re probably getting it some span of time earlier than people who are just gonna pick it up on the stores. And then there’s the super fan method, if you will, where you’ve got your tiers that have all this extra stuff that won’t ever be anywhere else.
Gregory: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And that’s a great way of saying… that idea of kind of some exclusivity also of like opportunity, right? This is an opportunity. I had a couple of people who had never heard of Kickstarter before, which to be honest, did kind of surprise me. Like I didn’t realize that there were people that…
But I had a couple of people be like, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Things are going so hard for you right now and you need this money.” And I was like “no, no, no.” That’s not what this is. Because I really wanted people to understand if you aren’t comfortable with this, it’s not something you’re interested in, no big deal. The books are going to be wherever you normally buy a book, and if you want it in 10 years, it’ll be there still. It’s really about that exclusivity, that opportunity, that extra. I was like, so happy and blown away by the response. So that was awesome.
Jeff: Yeah. You were backed almost instantly.
Gregory: Six minutes. I was really, yeah, I know because I made the letters on it. But yeah, six minutes. I mean, I was really just blown away by the support of my readers. They were amazing. They really turned out for that.
Jeff: You think you’ll do it again sometime, or is it at least something in your like arsenal of things to do?
Gregory: Yes. I think when I have the right idea and when it makes sense. Because I kind of, like I said… I still have a day job and so I cover my production costs already. I mean, it’s not the Kickstarter. It’s not something I… and it is more work, right?
Jeff: You’ve got to fulfill all that stuff.
Gregory: Well, right, exactly. Yeah. So when I have the right idea. When it’s the right project. I was very pleased with this and I think it would be cool to do it again for the right project.
Jeff: So I’ve got questions for you from our Patreon community.
Gregory: Oh, love it. Yeah.
Jeff: So Rebecca’s got a couple questions. So she’s been going back, getting ready for “Iron on Iron,” and she’s back at “The First Quarto” and is curious about the rest of the series in audio. An ETA for that perhaps that you can share here?
Gregory: Yeah. I actually do. So, J.F. Harding had some life stuff happen last November, which is when he was scheduled to record book three and book four of “The First Quarto.” And it really threw his whole schedule for a loop. He managed to get book three done by about February, March. And then he was still just really struggling to catch up on everything.
So, he has told me that he’s got his schedule blocked off for me in August to do book four, and then he’s going to… because he narrated two different series for me. He’s also going to do the first two books in “Iron on Iron” and he gave me some dates he’s already blocked out.
So it sounds like he’s back on track and I’m hoping, I’m looking at our calendar right now, by the time it airs, it’s possible the fourth book will be out, right? I mean, this is going to air in September, right?
Jeff: This is going to be September, yeah.
Gregory: Yeah. So it could very well be out by then.
Jeff: Rebecca also is curious if you think there’s more for Emory and John-Henry. She thought she’d be done with them, but she’s also kind of eager to see more even beyond “Iron on Iron.”
Gregory: Oh that’s awesome. That’s like the best thing an author can hear is that people want to spend more time with your characters. So thank you.
I left the door open to come back to them at the end of… my little trademark move at this point.. I always do a short story collection that comes out after the last book in a series. And the last short story usually has some sort of little cliffhanger or twist that promises something that’s going to happen later. So I left the door open for them and my hope is that I’ll come back to them when I know what I want that project to look like because I don’t know if it’ll be another full series.
I just… I love those guys. I’ve spent more time with them than any other fictional character in my life. And I think there’s probably more to tell, but I don’t… they’re not on my production schedule right now. And I don’t even know how extensive that project would look at this point. So the answer is… Probably, but I don’t know when.
Jeff: How many books is that with them now?
Gregory: I think there are 19.
Jeff: I was thinking 18, but yeah, 19.
Gregory: It might be, maybe it is 18, I don’t know.
Jeff: Almost 20. We can call it that.
Gregory: Yeah. Almost 20. Yeah.
Jeff: Now Karen has a question. Karen’s a fellow English teacher. I would love to know how you find time to write. She’s tried, but she’s actually putting off her writing until she retires next year.
Gregory: Yeah, no, I get it. So, fortunately now I’m a school librarian, which is a great, amazing job, and it is a time consuming job, but the big advantage over it is it doesn’t have the grading after school. And so, that was a big turning point for me was when I didn’t have grading anymore. That opened up a lot of time.
But I was still writing full time, I was still writing a lot of my books while I was in a classroom, when while I was an English teacher and so what I did then was I just I got up at five and I wrote until I had to go to school. And I still do that actually, I get up at five and I write until I have to go to school. But I think I also have some luxuries in the sense that I don’t have children. I have a really supportive partner. I don’t know that this is, I mean, I understand that me saying I get up at five and write until I have to go to work is not feasible for everyone. But that’s what I do. That’s what I did when I was an English teacher. That’s what I do now. And at least that way I felt like I was getting words down.
Jeff: And not having papers to grade certainly opens up a little bit more time.
Gregory: It does, yeah. That has made it easier for me to do the revisions, cause I revise at night and so I just feel, again, fortunate that I’m in that position.
Jeff: I’d love to talk a little bit about you being a librarian. That is a transition that you made a few years back. You live in a predominantly red state. How are you faring in your school with book bans? At what level of librarian, what level school are you in?
Gregory: I’m in a high school. It’s a nine to twelve.
Jeff: So you’re right there in the target demographic too.
Gregory: Yeah, and I will say, I, even for a red state, I’m in a particularly red school district and I will not say the name of it and I will not say too many details. We had the FBI out because there were death threats against every administrator of color and it has really been eye opening to see the people. The sad part is, it’s really the adults. It’s not the kids that I teach. Yes, there are a lot of students who come to school in MAGA hats and Trump shirts. But the thing about that is, no matter how aggressive they are or the kind of level of hostility they begin with, they are often really just wanting someone who will be kind to them, you know, and they’re not.
But the parents are not. The parents are not. And what’s particularly striking is a number of the book challenges we had, because of the way our school district’s board documents are written, the challenges can be brought by members of the community, which does not require them to have a child enrolled in the school and they can be brought by staff.
And we had perhaps the most horrible, horrifying, offensive, vile one was brought by a staff member who was completely unconcerned or unfazed by the things he was saying to his colleague’s faces. So anyway, that’s, I don’t know if I really answered your question, but that was kind of my initial thought. This last year was much better. But the year before that was pretty hard.
Jeff: Well, it’s good to hear that it got better at least.
Gregory: Yeah. What I see here is it’s just a bunch of… They’re throwing up smoke wherever they can. They’re trying to see the people that are behind these machinations because one of the most upsetting things about all of this is that people challenging books are not doing it out of goodwill. They’re not coming from a place of sincere intent. This is not because they’re genuinely worried about children. At least not the people I dealt with. These are people who have political axes to grind. People who are driven by hatred of people who are different from them. Or who feel disenfranchised or marginalized or whatever. And so, as soon as the signal comes from the mothership to start doing something else, they move on.
That more than anything else, to me, is proof that this was not coming from a place of sincerity and authenticity. But another really good sign that it was not sincere or authentic was the fact that it was very clear the people, many of the people placing these objections or raising these objections, had not read the books.
At least two of the books they objected to were about how drug use ruins your life, right? I mean, it’s about teenagers who become addicted and whose lives are ruined because of it. And they were objecting to them for glorifying drug use. Well, at one point, one of our people on the committee was just like, “did you even read the book?” You know what I mean? Like, did you even get to the end to see what happened? So, I mean, it’s, it was stuff like that, that made it…
I understand, of course, that people are concerned and want their kids to be safe, but it was really hard to take it seriously when it was clear that was not the motivation here.
Jeff: Yeah. I think we hear so many reports that there’s like just this list of books that you should be going after. And even the people who made the list maybe don’t necessarily read the books they put on the list.
Gregory: Yeah. They often include screenshots of pages so that the parents who placing the objection or raising the objection know which page to cite. Or they send typed up excerpts from it. It’s a whole national level machine, you know what I mean? It’s not anything. It’s very disingenuous, I guess is the best way to say it.
Jeff: Has your school managed to avoid actually having to pull books?
Gregory: To an extent. So we did not have to remove any from these objections because I mean, we have a process and each time there was an objection, a committee was convened and parents… well, I shouldn’t say it’s parents, it’s members of the community, teachers, librarians, administrators. There’s a meeting, the person raising the objection gets to be present and speak their concerns. These were all over Zoom. There was one gentleman who decided to screenshot each of our faces and send them out to the community. So that was really lovely. We ended up not having to pull any.
The one that I was on that I had to fight the hardest for… most of them were pretty clear cut… but the one I had to fight really hard on was the “Gender Queer” the graphic novel. So we made it through all of those. And then our illustrious legislature passed a law that was designed to protect victims of sexual assault. It’s a great law, except for one man added an amendment that made it a felony for schools to distribute, promote, encourage… I mean, there’s every verb you can think of in this little amendment… content to students with visual sexual content. So then we had to go through, we pulled 20 odd books that were against the law. And it really is a censorship law that the ACLU is fighting right now in Missouri. But while it’s the law, the district did have us remove, those books. And “Gender Queer” was one of them because it’s a graphic novel.
So, yeah, that was really disappointing. This is the same legislature, by the way, that spent a good portion of this year arguing about what clothes the women in the legislature were allowed to wear. I mean, like it’s 1950s level. Well, what’s the, what was that Hulu show? That was the book, the, all the women in red. You know what I’m talking about? “The Handmaids Tale.” Yeah. I mean, it’s that level stuff. You’re like, you have to sit there and argue about women’s clothing when we’ve got… anyway, yeah, great stuff.
Jeff: Any advice you can give to parents and community members to help their librarians if these kind of things come up in their communities.
Gregory: Like what is important is for… if you are an advocate and you want to support your librarians and support your teachers and your educators, to reach out to people at the building and the district level and let them know that you’re interested in serving on these committees if there’s an opportunity.
Ask them if there are other ways that you can help support these efforts in your school. Often the real roadblock is just finding people who are willing to serve on these committees. And as you can imagine, the people who are angriest are the ones who are pushing their way to the front of the line.
And so, if you’re not already in contact with people in your local school district, it’s worth just sending an email or two to say, “Hey, this is who I am. I would really like to be part of this if there’s ever an opportunity.”
Jeff: What do you hear from the kids as all this is happening around them?
Gregory: It’s incredible. I mean, and I don’t know if there really is a generational difference or if as kids grow up they become a little more jaded and hard. It’s probably a little of both, but every year we teach a lesson during banned books week, which is in September. And we talk about… we show them a list, right?
The ALA has a list of kind of the most commonly banned books and they’re always shocked. Why is “Captain Underpants” on here? Why is the Bible on here? You know why? It’s all these books that they either respect or that they loved as children. And we talk about, “Well, why do you think? Like, what are some people’s motives in getting these books banned?” And unprompted these kids understand that it’s people who have an ax to grind or people who don’t like certain political beliefs or people who are offended easily, right? And pretty much unanimously they, on their own suggest, “Well,, if you don’t like it, why don’t you just not read it?” Great idea, right? Seems like a very easy solution. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to read it. Wonderful.
I know that there are kids who get enlisted by their parents in these efforts, and I think that’s a shame, but for the most part, kids are really not the issue. They really don’t care. Most of them don’t read anyway. I mean, the sad truth is most of them don’t read at all.
But they’re really not worried about it in the way that… parents seem to believe in this tremendous power of books to warp their children, and there just doesn’t seem to be any evidence, scientific or otherwise that that’s true. And so, kids are just, they don’t care.
Jeff: They have better things to worry about.
Gregory: They do, they’re keeping up their Snapchat streak. You gotta worry about that.
Jeff: And how do you take care of yourself when you have to face all these things in your workplace? I hope you’ve got some good self-care methods in place.
Gregory: Oh man, that’s nice of you.
I feel really lucky that I have great colleagues, great administrators, really good level district support, and good parents in our community who have reached out to us and who are kind. I was more angry than anything. I never really felt particularly like traumatized or upset by the experience, but I was… it is always, important to have those people around you who verbalize their support and their care and their concern. And then having safe communities outside of school where you… I feel welcome. But I am very lucky and I’ll just admit that, that I’ve been very lucky that the people around me and the people that I work with are all supportive. Except for the guy that showed up to challenge a book.
Jeff: I have to imagine the workplace may not be too kind to him at this point.
Gregory: I’m fascinated. I mean, he’s still there, but I’m fascinated to know what the pushback has been on him because I think he burned a lot of bridges.
Jeff: And you wrote a book about this… into a “Hazard and Somerset” book.
Gregory: Yes. Yes. The last book in the “Hazard and Somerset” series, “Final Orders,” is about a parent trying to ban a book at a high school. I did get to channel some of my frustration and just kind of dissatisfaction with the arguments being made into that book. So it was fun to write.
Jeff: Perhaps a little cathartic.
Gregory: Oh, yeah. Very much so.
Jeff: So what can you share about what comes next for you after “Iron on Iron?”
Gregory: Oh man. I it’s actually top secret right now, Jeff. I would love to talk about it. But I am keeping it secret because I’ve got some plans for how I want to reveal it and it’s going to be something… It’s gonna be something new from me in a lot of ways, new in a lot of ways.
And I really hope… I think that it will be something that has enough similarities with my current work that people will know it’s a Gregory Ashe book and be happy to get it, but who will also be happy to see something maybe a little different for me. So, so I’m anticipating that will be in April of 2024. So that’s the… that’s probably when it’ll come out. So I’ll probably start talking about it in February and March next year.
Jeff: Okay. So we’ve got a ways to go.
Gregory: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a ways off, which is good cause I got to actually figure it out.
Jeff: And fair enough. You’re still working on “Iron on Iron.”
Gregory: Yeah. I got to finish “Iron on Iron” first. I’m excited. It’ll be another mystery series. That’s all I’ll say, but it’ll be something a little different from me.
Jeff: Cool. Now we love to get recommendations. What are you reading or watching right now that we should be checking out?
Gregory: Oh, man. Okay. I love I’m loving season three of “The Witcher.”
The seasons, I felt I feel like they’re all uneven, but they’re still all so good. So I’m really enjoying “The Witcher.”
I just finished Josh Lanyon’s “Puzzle for Two,” which was a really fun standalone. Just read Carol Poe’s oh gosh, “Broadway Butchery,” the third book in the “Memento Mori” series. Tremendous series if you haven’t tried that one. And then, I’ve actually been reading some classic gay mystery that ReQueered Ink has been putting out. So, the “Donald Strachey Mysteries.” They’re such gems. They’re such a treat to read.
But yeah, I’ve really taken advantage of this summer break to read as much as I can. So I’ve really been enjoying kind of reading all over and catching up on Josh Lanyon’s cozy mystery series, which I really enjoy. Yeah. Yeah, good stuff. A lot of good stuff coming out right now. It’s awesome.
Jeff: And what is the best way for people to keep up with you online so they are tuned in for that big reveal next year, but also to get all the “Iron on Iron” news.
Gregory: Oh, thank you. So my website probably, or my Facebook. I’m on, Facebook as Gregory Ashe. My website is www.gregoryashe.com.
Jeff: You’ve got the great Facebook group too. Lot good engagement in there.
Gregory: Oh, are awesome. They’re such an amazing group of people and we’re in the middle of the summer of a lot of activity and fun stuff. So, yeah, it’s been great.
Jeff: Fantastic. Greg, it’s been so great having you back. Wish you all the success with “Iron on Iron.”
Gregory: Thanks, Jeff.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, 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 Greg for joining us and talking about “Iron on Iron,” as well as what he faces in his day job as a high school librarian. It was very interesting getting to talk to an author in our genre who faces these things daily. We’ve heard about it from other librarians, but to have somebody, who writes the books that we all read, I think just drives it all the more home that we just really have to stay vigilant around all of the book ban things happening around the country.
Will: All right, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday, October 9th, tis the season for all things spooky. And we’ve got some great recommendations for your Halloween viewing.
Jeff: We’re going to talk about one very wacky Halloween variety special—and we’re talking “Star Wars Holiday Special” level of wacky—along with some fun, hot, and sometimes scary films for your streaming watch list.
Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening. And we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.