Jeff and Will review books they’ve read recently, including Manhandled by Lauren Blakely, The Billionaire’s Assistant by Silvia Violet, and two books by M.A. Wardell, Teacher of the Year and Mistletoe & Mishigas.

Matt discusses the Teachers in Love series, the inspiration he drew from his teaching career, and how Teacher of the Year went quickly from a standalone book into a series. He also talks about the latest installment, Mistletoe & Mishigas, and how Christmas and Hanukah provided the perfect setting for this fake dating rom-com. In addition, Matt chats about why he makes his rom-coms spicy, the artwork he commissions for the stories, and offers some book recommendations.

Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Monday, December 4.

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Show Notes

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Will: Coming up on this episode, author M.A. Wardell brings us holiday romance with “Mistletoe & Mishigas.”

Jeff: Welcome to episode 441 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, Will.

Will: Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader. It is so great to have you here. And if you’re in the U. S., we wish you a very happy Thanksgiving weekend and hope that you’re celebrating in whatever way makes you the happiest.

Jeff: Now, before we get into our interview with M.A. Wardell, we want to take a moment to tell you about some of the books that we’ve been reading recently, and I know you’ve got a couple for us.

Book Reviews

Manhandled by Lauren Blakely

Will: Yeah, since it is Thanksgiving weekend, which is all about food, black Friday, and football, I actually have a story I want to tell you about. It’s called “Manhandled” by Lauren Blakely. This one features football player Luke and baseball player Tanner, and they are the very best of friends. At a charity event that Luke is emceeing, he places the winning bid on Tanner. Their date night gets extra spicy when they finally give in to their attractions. And it’s supposed to be the classic onetime thing to get it out of their systems, but they cannot stop hooking up, which makes them question, when exactly does a friends with benefits scenario turn into a real life boyfriends situation?

After a far too eventful Napa Valley wedding trip, and a grand gesture while wearing a green thong. Don’t ask, it’s a whole thing. These two finally come to the conclusion that they were meant for each other.

This whole story is a very specific vibe, one that Lauren Blakely has perfected. Sports bros getting their HEAs. And reading Luke and Tanner’s story, I remembered that, you know, oh yeah, I love it when two hot dummies hook up for an entire book before realizing that, you know, oops, we’ve fallen in love. And if you like that kind of vibe as much as me, be sure to check out “Manhandled.”

The Billionaire’s Assistant by Silvia Violet

And another sexy fun read that I recently enjoyed is the latest from Silvia Violet. She is one of my long time go-tos for when I want to read something extra smokin’ hot. And for a while she’s been focused on her dark mafia stories, but she recently launched a brand new “Bad Boy Billionaires” series, which I snatched up, obviously, right away.

In the first book, “The Billionaire’s Assistant,” Miles is immediately attracted to nice guy Ben. Like right out of the gate. And he hires Ben to be his personal assistant, even though it’s fairly obvious that Ben’s unscrupulous family is using him to steal corporate secrets. They end up working well together, and their mutual attraction leads to some scorching hot times in the bedroom. And they have to figure out if that chemistry means that they’re truly meant to be. Plus, there’s the problem of getting Ben out of the clutches of his evil family.

In this story, you’ve got all the delicious tension that comes from the employee/boss trope. And then there’s the opposites attract, alpha male/nice guy dynamic, plus wealth and power and glamour. This book is so seriously damn good and it’s a really fantastic way to kick off a new series. Miles has got lots of hot friends that I cannot wait to read about. I think everyone should check out “The Billionaire’s Assistant.”

Teacher of the Year and Mistletoe & Mishigas by M.A. Wardell

Jeff: So I have to take just a moment to talk about M.A. Wardell’s books before we get to the interview. I finally took the plunge on “Teacher of the Year” when it came out in audio. You pair a book I already want to read with the narration from Kirt Graves and it really just helps move that book to the top of my TBR.

I was absolutely delighted with the story of teacher Marvin and hot dad Olin. Falling for the dad of a student in his class is probably not a good idea ever. But even more so with the teacher of the year competition. Marvin needs to be at his best and focused on bringing home a win for himself and the school. But it’s so hard for Marvin to ignore how the friendship with Olin shifts as they start to fall more and more for each other.

This is such a swoony good story that’s pretty low on the angst, too. Marvin and Olin are just so, so good together. And wow, does Kirt’s narration just bring the story to life so perfectly. I loved these two and I’m so happy to hear from Matt what’s in store for them. And you’ll hear about that too, a little bit more as we talk.

Then there’s “Mistletoe & Mishigas,” which is an opposites attract, grumpy/sunshine story, once again with a teacher, and this time the pairing is with the school’s custodian. Sheldon and Theo really do not meet under the best of circumstances. Sheldon’s under stress because he’s been transferred mid year to help out at a school, and he’s got to set up his classroom the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s Theo who ends up helping out, since he’s already at the school, to get it in order to open after the long weekend. And he’s not particularly happy about having to help, because helping is not something that he likes to do.

As these two begin to work together, though, helping one of Sheldon’s students who is acting up in class, they begin to see that there’s more to each other than they originally thought. As they find an easier relationship, it comes up that they could both use a fake date. Theo’s parents are coming to town and he accidentally blurts out that he has a boyfriend so that they’ll actually stop nagging him. Meanwhile, Sheldon needs a date to his ex’s Christmas Eve wedding that he’s been invited to.

Of course, as they practice for this fake dating, they quickly discover that it probably isn’t as fake as they thought it was. Matt’s given us a terrifically different story with Sheldon and Theo from what we had with “Teacher of the Year.” Theo has so much in his past, including PTSD from his time serving in the military. It’s something that Theo and Sheldon have to navigate together. And Matt gets into the heart of all this, and the story is that much richer as we see what it takes for Theo to know that he can be loved, and for Sheldon to realize that Theo is also the guy for him. These two go through a lot to get to their happy ending. And I enjoyed going on that ride. If you haven’t picked up M.A. Wardell’s “Teachers in Love” series yet, now is the perfect time to become a fan of his spicy, swoony rom-coms.

And it’s probably not a surprise given how much I love these books that I really enjoyed talking to Matt. We talk about all of the things, including what inspired him to start writing, and why teachers are at the center of his stories. Matt’s also going all in on swag and artwork, and he shares what got him into that and what’s still to come, including a little bit of breaking news about something that’s coming next year.

M.A. Wardell Interview

Jeff: Matt, welcome to the podcast. It is so exciting to have you here.

M.A.: Well, I’m excited to be here.

Jeff: I read “Teacher of the Year” and I’m like, oh my gosh, this is awesome! And then, “Mistletoe & Mishigas” was coming right behind it, and you got me the NetGalley early and I was so happy. Oh, my goodness. Just such good stuff. And I guess we have to kind of set a proper stage for everyone since “Mistletoe and Mishigas” is brand new. Tell us how all of this started, “Teacher of the Year” and that book and the series that it kicks off.

M.A.: Well, where do I begin? So, I was a teacher for many years. I love being a teacher. But I also, you know, the teaching is hard. It’s a hard job just in general, but teaching now, post, like, I don’t want to say post pandemic. I know the pandemic still going on and all that, but like post lockdown where we were all home. It got even harder to be a teacher and then being a queer teacher on top of all of that now in America, especially, is really tricky and not fun for a lot of folks.

And so, when it got to the point where I thought that I wanted to write something, I thought, I want to write a book that celebrates all the things that I wish I could celebrate, right? And things that I don’t necessarily see in a lot of books that I read. I mean, maybe they exist in some books. I’m sure they do.

So that being queer, teachers, Jewish. So, I’m Jewish. And like, especially in romance, like you don’t see a lot of queer romance specifically, you don’t see a lot of Jewish representation. Or if you do, it’s like a mention, you know, like just “Oh, he has blue eyes.” that kind of a thing. And, you know, there’s not one right or wrong way to be Jewish, but for a lot of Jewish people, it’s part of their culture. It’s not just a religion. It’s also kind of like your culture. So, I wanted to celebrate that.

And so, I thought, well, if I’m going to write a rom-com, that’s what it’s going to be about. And then when I started planning and outlining and thinking about the first book, I thought, this isn’t going to just be one book, this is going to be a series.

Before I actually started writing the first book, I loosely planned out the first three books. Originally, it was only going to be three books, but something happened. And I was like, oh, wait a minute, there’s going to be a fourth book too. And right now, I’m thinking that is going to be the end. It feels like a nice button on the series.

But that’s how it started. And ,yeah, I don’t want to oversimplify and say, “I just did it. I just wrote a book,” you know because I know… cause anyone who’s written a book knows it’s really hard. I didn’t know what I didn’t know and so I didn’t know how hard it was. And so, I just thought, oh, sure. I’ll do it. And then once I got into it, I was really overwhelmed and I almost quit a few times, which I think is pretty standard for people who write.

And then when I finally did write the book, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I didn’t know, like, oh my gosh, I thought for a while, I thought I was going to try to go the traditional publishing route and like get an agent and all of that. And I got some feedback about the book that I would probably need to change some things about it, specifically the spice. And I thought, you know what? I’m not interested in doing that.

And at that point I had already spent a lot of my own money, like on editing. And I did a developmental edit, and I did a regular edit cause in my imposter syndrome brain, I thought, for me to even query for an agent, I need my book to be edited, which is not the case. But that’s what I thought.

So, I had spent all this money, and I was like, I’m just gonna publish this myself. cause that’ll be easy. It’s not. Nobody tells you that writing a book and publishing it, it’s like running a business is what it is. And I did not know that. But now I do. And I do love it. I’m not complaining at all. It’s just more that I was ignorant. I didn’t know.

And I will say like, not that I feel like I’m accepting like the Academy Award or something, which I’m totally not. But I will say my saving grace throughout the process, and this continues to this day has been other authors, not just indie authors, but I have some traditionally published authors that have. befriended me who have helped me with like the creative side. And then for the business side, there are some independent authors who have just… it’s almost like they take you under their wing and they mentor you and they tell you things that you would never know. At least for me, like I would never know. And I’m so eternally grateful to them because it’s changed my life because of the decisions that I’ve made with their guidance. And so now my hope is that I can help other people. And this is what you just do. You just help other people.

Jeff: It’s a tremendously awesome, helpful community. Like if you show that you’re there to learn, they will show up for you and tell you everything you need to know. I’m so glad that you have discovered them in the months since you’ve started.

What were the inspirations behind Marvin and Olin? I mean, they’re such delightful characters. They’re everything I want. Nice guys doing nice things.

M.A.: So, people who know me, like my friends, when they read “Teacher of the Year,” they all say, that they think that Marvin is just like me. Like it’s cause there’s a lot of things that we have in common. We’re both Jewish. I was a kindergarten teacher. That was the grade that I taught more than any other grade. Although I did teach other grades.

I like to say that Marvin is like a heightened, exaggerated version of me. Everything is just like cranked up a little bit, including like, you know, the Jewish references, the anxiety, the ADHD, the horniness, all of it is like cranked up a little bit. Maybe not the horniness, but like mostly everything else is.

And the reason I did that for the first book was honestly, this is the first fiction book I’ve ever written. Ever in my life. So, I thought it would probably be a smart idea, you know, they say write what you know. Well, I know a lot about a lot of those things.

Now, Olin, totally different. So, Olin was inspired by the fact that I love nerds, which is not like normally what you see in romances and maybe rom-coms a little bit, but like, that’s not like the typical thing, right? And so, I was like, I’m going to make a nerd that people fall for that they just think it’s so amazing, and hot, and everything. So that’s number one, that he’s a nerd.

The other thing that is like my Achilles heel is a good dad. Like a man who is a good father, seriously is such a turn on to me. And so, I was like, well, that’s going to be part of it too. And when you’re a teacher, especially when you work with younger children, you are very isolated, right? Like you’re basically in the room with like whatever age, five, six, seven, however old the kids are that you teach. That’s your life, you know. And as a male teacher, you know, it’s a predominantly female age group, early elementary. So, all of the people that I worked with, almost exclusively, were women. And so, it’s like, there’s no man around.

And so then like, if a hot dad comes around, you know, like for parent teacher night or to volunteer, I’ve had that happen before. And every once in a while, it doesn’t happen every year, but every couple of years, there would be a dad that was just, beautiful. Like a gorgeous hot dad that all the teachers would just drool over and, you know, like come looking when they come.

And so, I was like, what if, you know… almost like I was writing fan fiction for my life.

Jeff: I love that definition.

M.A.: That’s where Olin Stone came from.

One of the things that I decided as a… I took a lot of classes. People were like, how did you learn how to write fiction? I took so many classes, and I took classes with some amazing people. I don’t know if you know, Steven Salvatore, I took a class with Steven, Alison Cochran. I took a writing class with Alison. I’ve taken classes with other authors too, Amy Spaulding. Some people who are not authors that are well known. But I spent probably two or three years taking classes and kind of just figuring out how I was going to do this.

Jeff: I’m glad you brought up the taking of the classes though, because you talked about two to three years of taking classes. What was the thing that at some point inspired you to take those classes and decide, I want to write some fiction?

M.A.: So, I had been reading, like, I’m a big reader and I have read mostly queer books as long as they’ve been around. Funny story. This is, I swear I won’t go off on a tangent, but when I was young, and I won’t say how old I am, but like, I’m not young, so this was a long time ago. My mother had a book, and I don’t know if… You may have heard of it, cause you’re a person that probably like knows every queer book that’s ever been written. But there’s this book called “The Front Runner.” Have you heard of it?

Jeff: Oh yeah.

M.A.: Yeah. Okay. So, my mother had that book. I don’t know why because she didn’t have like other queer books. I think that might’ve been like the only one in existence at the time. And I remember as a child, like, I don’t remember how old I was reading that book. And it’s a gay book. It’s like, and it had sex in it and everything. My point is that like, as long as I could find queer books, I’ve been reading them. And so, I love queer books. I went through a phase where I was reading a lot of queer YA because that’s mostly what there was.

And I love YA, but I like a little spice, you know, I’m a grownup, I’m a grown man. And I, like that. And I also, I’m at a point in my life where like, I don’t have time to feel shame about that because I think for a lot of gay men, especially there are… Not all gay men, but like some gay men. I’ve had conversations with friends about this. There’s a lot of shame around sex, around talking about sex. It’s like sex is something that you do that’s private, right? And it is. I mean, it is for me to. I’m married and I’m not like sharing my sex life with the world. But I also think that it’s okay to talk about sex. And it’s okay to read about sex. And it’s fun to write about sex.

So, I kind of went through this thing with YA where I was looking for YA that had a little spice to it. And there is some. But it’s like, you know, it’s like barely there. I’m thinking of, I can’t remember which book, but Sophie Gonzales, who is probably one of my favorite YA authors. Her books are phenomenal. Like I’ve never read a Sophie Gonzales book that I didn’t adore. And there was one of them that was like a little spicy, but not really like it was like hinted at, I think.

This is how my journey went. I think the first book that I read, which I know probably a lot of people say this, that had like a little bit of spice to it was “Red, White & Royal Blue.” Like I think that might have been the first book where there was actually sex on the page, right? And at the time when I read it, I thought This is pretty spicy, right? Cause I hadn’t really read anything that spicy. And that started to push me into the world of more traditional male/male romance that is very spicy.

Like, I know she was on your show K. Sterling, who is like one of my favorites. Her books are fucking hot. When I discovered her books, I was like, what the hell is this? Like, what the hell? I was in love. And she’s actually one of those authors when I was talking about that’s like mentored me and helped me. She’s one of them. I love her. Like, she’s just a beautiful human being besides being an amazing writer. Anyway. So, she was one.

And the other person who I discovered, whose books I love is Roan Parrish. That “Garnet Run” series.

Jeff: Oh my God. Yeah. So good.

M.A.: People talk about their favorite books or like comfort reads or whatever they want to, you know, people have different names for it. To me, that whole series is just perfect. Like, I love it. And it’s pretty spicy, you know, like those books, they’re pretty explicit.

However, before K wrote the “Nanny” books, like before those… they’re not really rom-coms. They’re just more like traditional romances and I enjoyed those. But I love a rom-com. I am a rom-com person. That’s my thing. Those are the movies that I love. Like my favorite movie of the last five years. And I should be embarrassed to admit this, but I’m not, is “Marry Me” the JLo movie. Did you see that?

Jeff: I thought that was delightful.

M.A.: Once you start studying the structure of rom-coms, that movie is a perfect rom-com. Like it literally just hits every beat. And JLo, I don’t care what anyone says, can do no wrong in my book. Like she’s perfect. And I thought she was great in that movie.

Anyway, I love rom-coms. So, I was looking for rom-coms that had the same spice as the romances. And I love “Red, White and Royal Blue,” like I’m not shading that book at all. I love “The Charm Offensive.” So, when I say rom-coms, I’m talking about queer rom-coms. But the queer rom-coms that I was finding, they were not that spicy.

So, in my brain, when I was gearing up to write, I thought I want to write a book that’s like “Red, White and Royal Blue” or “The Charm Offensive,” but it’s not going to be closed door and the sex is going to be very explicit but it’s going to be part of the story. It’s going to be part of the character development. It’s going to be part of the narrative. It’s not gratuitous, right? This isn’t erotica. It’s still a rom-com. But I’m going to make it super spicy.

And so, then when I wrote it, then I was like, this isn’t a thing that people want because if it were, it would exist. While I was writing this, that first “Nanny” book came out. So, then I was like, okay, I wouldn’t be the only one. There’s at least another queer rom-com that’s really… I mean, that book was really spicy. But it’s rare, right? Most of them aren’t.

So that was my motivation. I was like, I want a rom-com where you’re laughing, like it’s laugh out loud, funny, but then also hot. And I think I did it.

Jeff: And the reader seemed to gobble it up.

M.A.: Obviously “Teacher of the Year” is my first book. I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but I think there is an audience. I think there are people who want that warm, fuzzy, sweet… and when I say sweet, because you know, if you say sweet and romance, it usually means there’s no spice. But I don’t mean it like that.

I just mean there’s a sweetness to the story. Because, I mean, without, like, being too personal, like, that’s how I feel like I am, and I think a lot of people are like that. Like, I’m a nice person. I have a very, like, loving relationship with my husband. We just had our anniversary, 10 years. We’ve been married for 10 years, and we’ve been together longer than that, but that’s how long we’ve been married. I want to show that in books, right? Like I want to show that you can be funny, and you can have fun and be sweet, but then also, you know, get down with it.

Jeff: We call it nice guys doing nice things. And we’ve also recently started calling it soft heroes.

M.A.: Oh, I’ve never heard that.

Jeff: I think Will coined it a few episodes back. I’m like, that is perfect. Soft heroes.

M.A.: I love that. And so, this is another thing. When I took the class I took with Steven Salvatore, there was this exercise that we had to do was like, what is your mission? When people think about you and your books, what do you want them to think? Or what do you want them to identify with? Or I can’t remember exactly what the wording was. And for me, part of it was also diversity.

And when I say diversity, I’m not just talking about skin color, which partly, a little bit, I am. And this is something that also I was like, I don’t want to say struggling with, but it kind of just like was like picking at me when I was doing all the reading that I was doing. In most queer romances, male/male I’m talking about most of the guys look like, and again, I’m not shading anyone, I’m just stating what I noticed. Most of the characters look like the “Red, White and Royal Blue” boys, right? Like in the movie. They look like they go to the gym 10 times a week and they look like they could be on the cover of a magazine because those boys are on the cover of magazines. They’re beautiful, right?

And like, I love hunky guys as much as everyone like clearly hunks are popular for a reason, right? They’re beautiful to look at. But I don’t look like that, and my friends don’t look like that. And I don’t really know anyone mostly that looks like that. No shade to my friends. I’m not saying that they’re unattractive.

In “Teacher of the Year,” Marvin calls himself painfully average. And I want to write about those people, right? And so that was part of my mission too and make them desirable and let people see that everyone deserves to have a love story and to have good sex. You don’t have to look like that.

I think in straight romance, like heterosexual male/female romance, there’s a whole movement around plus-size female characters. It’s like a whole thing. The woman who I’m friends with, Jenny Howe, who’s doing my Ripped Bodice event with me, exclusively writes plus-size female main characters. Like that’s kind of her jam. All her books are like that.

But in most of those books, the men are not. The men still look like hunks, but they fall for bigger women, which is awesome, right? And so, I was like, where are the plus size guys? Because I have friends who are plus size. I mean, I am not a plus size person, but I know a lot of guys, a lot of guys who are. And I see people online who are readers who are. And I think, where do they get to see themselves in a book like this?

Also, I mean, I know I’m starting to like talk about the second book already, guys who are more feminine, right? I’m starting to discover there are some authors that do write characters who are much, even more feminine than how I wrote my character. But everyone deserves rep. That’s how I feel. And so that’s kind of my thing that I’m trying to do as I write these books.

I feel like because people like “Teacher of the Year,” I feel like they’ll trust me a little bit. So, like with the second book, I was like, well, I’m going to do a femme main character and a plus-size main character. And those two are going to be the couple. And after I decided that, I was like, what the hell was I thinking? Is anyone going to read this? I don’t regret that I did it.

Jeff: Well, let’s talk about the second book, which I absolutely adored. These two are just amazing. So, I love that, you know, as we come into the holiday season, you’ve put out “Mistletoe and Mishigas.” Tell us about Sheldon and Theo and the amazing pairing that you’ve created there.

M.A.: So, it’s going to sound like I’m not talking about the second book, but I promise there’s a story. So, when I wrote “Teacher of the Year,” I honestly was not thinking about tropes much at all. I was more thinking about the story. And when the story was finished, I was talking with a friend of mine and she was like, well, what are your tropes? Cause you have to tell people what the tropes are. That’s how you’re going to market the book. And I was like, “Holy crap. I don’t know. I didn’t even think about that. I just wrote a story.”

And then she’s like, all right, well, let’s think about it. And it’s like, you got a single dad, that’s a trope. You’ve got kind of like a bi-awakening, that’s a trope. I was like, oh, okay, there are tropes. So then when I went to write the second book, before I started to write, I was like, okay, I got to know what the tropes are. Like, I don’t want to be in the same situation. So, I have to at least know some of the tropes, right?

For me, I was just like, “what are my favorite tropes?” Like when I think about the books that I love, fake dating is number one. I love fake dating because it’s so stupid because you know, they’re not faking it. Like it takes like one date and they’re like falling for each other, but it’s fun, right? So, I was like, oh, fake dating. I love fake dating.

Grumpy sunshine is the other one that I just love. I don’t know. Well, I do know my husband’s a little bit of a grump and he knows it. Like he admits it and all of that. So, I think I just have a thing for grumpy guys. Like I think they’re kind of funny and hot. It’s cute, you know, like when someone’s grumpy and you also know that there’s usually a reason for the grumpiness, right?

So, I started coming up with the tropes and then that led me to these characters. So, I don’t want to give away too much personal information about people. So, Sheldon, who is the first grade teacher, who’s a little bit more feminine, he is actually based on a real person. So, there is a person that I’m friendly with, who is a teacher, who is very effeminate and has actually had some struggles in the field, like in teaching, because it’s like, he’s so effeminate, you can’t hide it.

And actually, there are some lines in the book that come from conversations that I’ve had with him. He’s like, Matt, you can walk through life and people won’t necessarily look at you and just say like, “Oh, he’s gay.” They might wonder, or, you know, depending on what you’re doing, but you could probably just like pass for like, not knowing. He’s like, I can’t do that. I walk into a room, and everyone knows I’m gay the minute they look at me. And they do. Like, that’s how gay he is. And I just love this person too. He is like a ray of sunshine.

And so, I’m like, this guy never sees himself in a romance. Never. Especially like a rom-com or something like that. Like he’s Jack in “Will and Grace,” but he’s never Will. He’s always like the gay best friend, the side character. So, I’m like, let’s move him front and center.

And then Theo, who’s the grumpy one, he is very loosely based, like very, on my grandfather, who has passed away so I can talk about him. He’s dead. But my grandfather was a very proud veteran and from what I know about his life and conversations with him, he came back from the war that he was in, which I believe was the Korean war, damaged. You know, like that damages you when you are in a war and people are being killed and people that you know, and you know, not to get into like a talk about veterans and politics and all that, but we don’t necessarily take care of veterans the way that we should.

And also in addition, men, just for the sake of argument, you know, I know I’m speaking in generalizations, but men generally are not people who seek out counseling and therapy when they might need it. And so that was my grandfather, and he was just kind of a grumpy guy, but there was a reason for it. That part of the book is a little bit of a tribute and a love letter to my grandfather, who was not gay at all.

And also, without getting too personal. I keep saying that and then I’m like telling you all this personal thing. I did work at a school many years ago with a custodian who was a veteran. And I didn’t like have a crush on him or anything like that, but there was just something about him that was so interesting. If you know anyone who is a veteran, like it’s so a part of who they are. I’m talking again in generalizations. But the veterans that I’ve known, they’re so proud and it really is a part of who they are. I mean, it’s life changing, right?

So, I thought, well, what if? Then my mind starts spinning and then I’m like, well, how the hell am I going to get these two guys together? Oh, forced proximity, a snowstorm. I mean, it’s like classic, right? And I love a snowstorm where, you know, only one bed.

So, this book was different. The tropes came first almost, and then I built the story around the tropes. And I will say, and again I can’t speak for other people, although some authors that I’ve talked to have said, yeah, that happens to me too. There is a point when I’m writing a book where, and, like maybe it’s not healthy. I don’t know. Like they feel so real to me, and I really fall for them. And that’s how I know that’s getting good.

I don’t want to like give away too much about the book but there is a scene where Theo has like a PTSD related incident that’s kind of hard for him. I was shaking when I was writing that, like it was really emotional for me writing it. And I remember even at one point thinking, is this too much for a romantic comedy? Like, have I crossed the line? And one of my author friends who I talked to about things was like no, it’s okay because it’s just one. It’s like one scene and then it’s over and you know, you’re putting laughs right before it and right after it. You’re good. I’m, like, okay. I don’t want to like, you know piss the rom com gods off or whatever.

Jeff: But it’s such a connection point for them. I mean in some of the same ways that the sex is such a connection point for your characters and tells part of the story, having that moment to me, alongside to, and we should talk a little bit about the fact that there’s also some really poignant connection between Theo and a student that happens as well. That just plays into, maybe not the comedy aspect certainly, but the romance and the character building for these two, and the emotions that… It’s different than what you have in “Teacher of the Year.”

M.A.: I’ve had people tell me, readers say, that they don’t like books that have children in them. Like romance books. That’s like a big no to them. And so, if that’s really how someone feels, they probably are not going to want to read my books because they’re teachers, so they’re going to be children in the book.

But for me, there is something so magical about, especially young children, which the kids in my books are typically like five, six, seven years old, so they’re pretty young. There’s something magical about the connection that children make or that the connections that they try to make. In the first book, the main child is Olin’s daughter. So, there’s the whole like teacher/student relationship, but really, it’s Marvin seeing how Olin fathers his daughter that just makes him just swoon, you know, because it is it’s swoony.

And so, with this book, I wanted to feature a student in a different way. And so, the little boy, his name’s Brody, who is the main student in the second book, he is a little bit different. He is a child who has some issues that we don’t know what they are. And I will tell you, I’ve had some advanced readers who’ve reached out to me, who’ve read the book early and have asked me, does he have a diagnosis? Like what’s going on? Like what’s happening with this child? And my answer to them is, I don’t know. And that is purposeful because when you’re a teacher who teaches, especially preschool, kindergarten, first grade, like those first few years of school, you have kids that come in who… they’re not identified. You don’t know if there’s a diagnosis, what it is. And the reality is you still have to do what you have to do, right? Like you have to make it work and try your best.

And so, Sheldon struggles with that a little bit because this little boy is very challenging and difficult. And he and Theo have a little bit of a connection because they have a little bit of that being misunderstood in common and they kind of connect on that level.

And I also wanted to… and this is like, no, one’s going to get this, except I’m going to tell you. So now you will. I wanted to honor the fact that in schools, there are so many people that it really is that whole idea of it takes a village. People always think like of the teacher, which obviously teachers are the ones who are doing the heavy lifting, but even people like custodians, the lunch people all the people in the building, pitch in with children.

So that custodian, that real one that was the veteran that I worked with many years ago, I remember he would do things, like similar things that Theo does in the book. Like he would take kids, and they would help him, and he would do all these… it was not part of his job. That’s not what he was paid there to do. And so, I kind of wanted to show that a little bit.

Jeff: And I love kids in romance when they’re presented as like integral parts of the story. Like I think K Sterling does it brilliantly in the “Nanny” books.

M.A.: Yes.

Jeff: And here too. And it’s different. I mean, yes, with Olin, it’s his daughter. And so, you know, she’s very key to the story. Here it’s Brody, who’s maybe not as key to the story, but also kind of is because it shows us who Theo is a little bit more.

M.A.: Well, and so this is a funny story too. So, when I did my developmental edit for “Teacher of the Year,” the person that I worked with didn’t know anything about me. So, at this time I was very anonymous and secretive because I was still doing a lot of education work and, you know, here I am writing this book with all the sex in it. And the first thing she said to me after she read my book, and we had a Zoom meeting, and we were going to talk about it.

She’s like, I’ve never read a book that’s like partially set in an elementary school, like a queer romance. And she’s like, I want to know? Like, how did you know how to write children so well, like these seem like real kids? Well, let me tell you something, I know children pretty well.

Jeff: So, we’ve got a question from a member of our Patreon community, and this comes from Sarah. And she asks, what memorable mishigas have you gotten up to trying to attract someone’s attention? And then she adds the fact that you and I both have to answer this question. I’m going to give it to you first.

M.A.: Well, okay, so as I said, I’ve been married for 10 years, so it’s been a long time since I’ve tried to get anyone’s attention, like romantically. And so, I hope this isn’t a cop out, but like, I’m one of those people that is a little bit… actually now that I’m thinking about it, Marvin is like this too. So, I think I gave this to Marvin from me… a little clueless about someone who is interested. I’m the one that has no idea that he’s being flirted with. And then everyone’s like, oh my God, he’s flirting with you. I’m like, no, he’s not. Yes. He, and he actually was.

So, like, I don’t know. But I don’t want to like not give an answer. So, I’m going to tell you something that my husband did to get my attention. This was like so many years ago and he won’t be mad that I’m sharing the story. So, when I met my husband, he was working at a gay and lesbian health center. He was like the head of computers or something like that. He’s a computer nerd. Again, I love nerds. I was a volunteer because I thought that would be a cool way to meet people is to like volunteer instead of, you know, just going to bars and things like that.

This was like before apps, like that was not an option to meet someone. So, I was volunteering, and we were like working together and I definitely thought he was cute. But I also was like, yeah, whatever, like we’re volunteering and it’s, like, probably not appropriate. He was kind of like my, not supervisor because I didn’t work there, but he was definitely like leading me or whatever you want to say.

And so, one day we were there working, and I don’t remember how it came about, but we were talking about tattoos. Like, do you have any tattoos? You know, people do that when their like getting to know someone or whatever. And he was like, yeah, I do have a tattoo. Do you want to see it? That’s what he said. And so, of course, I was like, sure. It was like on this part of his arm, his upper shoulder, like right up at the top here. Now what he could have done is just like lifted his shirt and it would have been right here. But that’s not what he did. He took his shirt off. His whole shirt. Again, I didn’t do it, but he did it, but I still tease him about that.

And that was a long time ago. That was actually probably the first time I was like, okay, he’s maybe… I think he’s… And I think I then like went and said to a friend, told the story, and my friend was like, he’s totally flirting with you.

Jeff: So, you and I are kind of the same here cause I’m very clueless. Like when Will started, you know, pursuing me because he was the one who pursued. I was oblivious to like what was happening there. And there were friends who were like, this is kind of happening. And then he finally just asked me out to like bypass the rest of it. And we were pre apps too, like, 2025 will be 30 years. That’s how far along we are.

We used to have this thing, that was primarily me that did it, because I had no flirt game, but if like we were having like dinner somewhere or something, there could be a little throwing of napkins back and forth to each other because that was my weird flirt thing that was happening.

M.A.: That’s very Vincent, by the way, like having some napkin play, we’re going to make that a kink now.

Jeff: And we still joke about it to this day, occasionally, just by randomly throwing napkins at each other, but still. I mean, it’s like, that’s about as much mishigas as I probably had because I had zero game.

M.A.: Yeah, I really don’t either. I just am me and then if someone thinks I’m cute, then I’m not really aware. And that has happened to me even like since I’ve been married, like where someone has been maybe flirty or whatever. And I’m like, clueless. And then it gets to a point where I was like, where I’m like, Oh, ooh. I didn’t realize. And now I do. And it’s not good.

Jeff: So, there you go, Sarah. I hope you enjoyed that, in itself a bit of mishigas between the two of us.

So, since this is a holiday story, and this episode is going to be coming out at the end of November towards Thanksgiving week, we’re still a little bit away from when Hanukkah starts this year, but can you tell us a little bit about what your Hanukkah traditions are?

M.A.: Well, so my husband is not Jewish. And so, when we moved in together and started living together, it was like we were melding, you know, like Christmas and Hanukkah, and Easter and Passover, like all the different holidays. And so, I like it because as a… I mean, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to say it anyway… like as a little Jewish boy who, usually the only Jewish kid at my school. I didn’t go to a Hebrew school, a Jewish community school or anything like that. I was always envious of Christmas. So now I’m like, oh my gosh, we can have a tree and stockings, like all the things I never had my whole life.

And like one of my favorite things, which is not Hanukkah, but Christmas is my husband’s mother… I don’t know, maybe a lot of people do this. I think they do… bakes like all these Christmas cookies and like every year sends us a box of cookies and we have our own little tradition where what we do… this is horrible and it sounds really unhealthy, but I don’t care. This is what we do: we open the box, and we eat the whole box so that like we get rid of it.

Jeff: I support that idea of eating all the cookies.

M.A.: Let’s just eat them all now. And just like, you know, maybe be sick. But then they’re gone, right? So that’s one of the things we do. But you know, we light the menorah, which I love lighting the menorah. Hanukkah is really like the Festival of Lights.

The thing about Hanukkah that not everybody knows, like depending on how much you know about Judaism, it’s really not a big holiday for Jewish people. What’s big about it is that it happens at the same time as Christmas. So, it’s like kind of swept up in that, which is the big holiday for Christians. But Hanukkah is like, not that big of a deal. It’s like not even like top three holidays. So, you know, we light the menorah, and we say the little prayers and my husband is really, like he wants to know about Judaism. He’s like really interested in it. When we got married, we had the chuppah and we broke the glass, and we signed the marriage contract. And we did like a lot of the Jewish traditions.

It’s like kind of uneventful. Like they do way more in the book than I do in my life. Like they have like a dreidel tradition where they like play this like cutthroat game of dreidel, which I don’t know. I just made that up because I thought it sounded fun. Dreidel is like more for children, right? Most adults aren’t going to sit around and play dreidel, although you could, I mean, it is a fun game.

Jeff: I loved the cutthroat thing because that was the very first time, I’d ever even at all had the concept of that there could be cutthroat dreidel.

M.A.: It’s a game that you can…

Jeff: True…

M.A.: win or not win. So, depending on, you know, how competitive you are, and I just thought it would be fun to make it a little bit, you know, competitive.

Jeff: It was hilarious. I loved it.

Do you have a favorite scene as people are reading “Mistletoe and Mishigas” they can go? Oh, here’s Matt’s favorite scene right here. And can you give a favorite scene without necessarily spoiling the book? I guess might also be the same thing.

M.A.: Yeah, let me think. Well, so this is something that’s interesting. Like now that this is my second book, what the… I’m not really answering your question, but kind of answering it. What I’ve discovered is that when the book is out and people start reading it, there’s always a scene, like one scene that everybody else, it’s like the scene that they all talk about. And it’s one of the sex scenes in obviously, in both books.

But like in the first book, it’s the scene that happens in that printer closet after the parent teacher conference. That’s the scene that everybody talks about. And I remember when I was writing it, like, I love that scene. Don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t think like, oh, this is the thing that everyone’s going to talk about. And it is.

And in the second book, without giving too much away, it’s the first scene where they’re intimate. They don’t really actually even touch each other. They just are intimate in the same room. If you know what I mean. I almost didn’t even write that because I was like, I don’t know, are people going to go for this? And that’s the scene everybody talks about. And there’s a lot of other sex scenes in the book. So, what I’m learning is that I don’t know what people are going to find super hot or what’s the thing that’s going to be like the lightning rod in the book. So, I just write the book and then let people let it kind of reveal itself. But so that didn’t even answer your question.

But I guess my favorite scene. Oh, I know what it is. Oh, but it’ll spoil the book I can’t tell you. It happens towards the end, and it has to do with… Theo does something that surprises Sheldon and it’s very sweet. It’s like a very sweet thing that he does.

Jeff: It’s essentially the grand gesture of the book.

M.A.: Yes.

Jeff: If you were to put it in true romance terms.

M.A.: And I just remember when I wrote it, it just was like… it felt so yummy to me, and it was like… I got emotional when I wrote, I was like, like you said, this is the grand gesture. The reason I don’t want to say what it is because it’s a surprise, right? Like it’s a surprise to Sheldon and it’s a surprise to the reader. And that’s what I love.

I love, because romances, rom-coms, have beats. This is the meet cute. You know how the flow of the book. I love the surprise. So that even though you’re still following the formula… And the same thing with “Teacher of the Year”… I don’t know. I don’t want to say because maybe someone hasn’t read it. But at the end the thing that Olin does that you don’t necessarily see coming. That’s my favorite thing. Like, I still get emotional when I think about that or like when I… oh my gosh, tangent. When the audio book came out and part of that process is, you know, I have to listen to the whole book when it’s really long, to just make sure that they, that he didn’t make any mistakes, or I don’t know what I’m supposed to be listening for. But I have to listen to the whole thing. And when it got to that part, I got all choked up and I’m like, I’ve read the book 400 times. Like, I know what’s going to happen.

Jeff: It’s different when you hear the narrator and you’ve got Kirt. You’ve got Kirt Graves doing it. And he’s one of my favorites and boy, did he hit all your emotional beats perfectly.

Speaking of other collaborations that you have out in the universe, you collaborate on a lot of art. It starts with the beautiful covers that are on the paperbacks already. There is stunning artwork on the special hardback edition that you did for Steamy Lit, which people can kind of see back on the bookshelf back there if they’re watching the video. You’ve got amazing art in your store, including brand new, not safe for work art. How did you get into creating all of this amazing artwork that I have to imagine started with just the cover of the paperback itself?

M.A.: Well, it did. It started with the cover. I knew that I wanted an illustrated cover because they’re rom-coms. Rom-coms typically have illustrated covers. They just do like in queer rom-coms, straight rom-coms. They don’t typically have the photograph you know, real people on the cover. So, I knew I wanted to have an illustrated cover.

The other thing was my characters are not stock photo people necessarily. And so, it just was going to be easier for me to find someone to illustrate. I’d looked at a bunch of different artists. Myriam, or her Instagram handle, username, I don’t know, whatever you call it, is @peaches.obviously. Myriam is someone whose work I admire. She has done a lot of… She did a cover for “Red, White, and Royal Blue,” like an alternate cover. She did one for “Charm Offensive.” She did some artwork for that. And oh, I can’t remember. Lots of other famous queer books. And I always loved her work. But I honestly did not think that… I thought, well, she’s starting to do traditional work, so I’m like, she’s never going to do me. Or I wouldn’t be able to afford her. P. S., she’s amazing. I could afford her.

And she’s also, I have to say, like, not just Myriam, I have had amazing… every artist I’ve worked with. I have, like four main people that I work with Myriam, Venessa Kelley, who did the Steamy Lit cover. I have a woman her name’s Mayhara, who does all the character artwork that you see. She did the character artwork that you see if you look on my social media. And if you look in “Mistletoe” at the chapter headings, that’s her. And then there’s a man whose name is Ian, who does my not suitable for work art. But then also the artwork, like even the work where they’re like kissing, he does that because Mayhara, who does the character artwork, she doesn’t do that kind of stuff.

I can’t say anything but amazing things about all of them. They are the nicest people. They collaborate. They take feedback. They want it to be perfect. But for me, I am a visual person. I think a lot of men are typically like, that’s why porn is so popular. Like we’re visual, right? Like we want to see things. And so, I started doing artwork for “Teacher of the Year,” honestly, because I loved the book, and it was like a way for me as an author to celebrate that I had written this book.

And one of the things I think that has worked for me is that people feel like they know these characters at least a little bit before the book comes out, right? I see people on Instagram saying like, I can’t wait to meet them, or I can’t wait to learn more about Sheldon and Theo. And that is because of the artwork.

And I will tell you, okay, this is like super spoilery. Like I have not announced this even, but this is the…

Jeff: Oh, breaking news.

M.A.: This is the thing, Jeff. I cannot keep my mouth shut as you probably could tell. So, I’m going to tell you because it’s going to come out soon anyway. I’ve hinted at it in my stories on Instagram, but I haven’t like announced it. So, one of the things that I’m also being coached on by some of these authors is next year I’m going to ApollyCon, which is like another one of these big conferences, which also naive me, I had no idea what it even was when they asked me to come. And then once I said, yes, then I’m like, oh my gosh. It’s like Taylor Swift concert for readers.

Anyway, one of these authors that I was talking to who does all this stuff and does really well. She was like, Matt, are you doing anything special for ApollyCon? And I was like, well, I’m going, I mean, I’m going to bring books and things. And she’s like, no, no, no. You need like something special, like a special edition, that you’ve made for ApollyCon.

So, next year, it probably it’ll be around ApollyCon, which is in April, I think. There’s going to be a special… I don’t know. I think I’m going to call it like a special spicy edition. I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve made that up. Of both books, like a set that are going to have new covers. I have this amazing artist that I’ve… I’m trying to find like queer artists because… I don’t know… I just like the idea of that they’re queer. So, this person is a queer, trans artist, whose work is amazing. And he’s doing these brand new covers, which I’ve seen the concepts for, and they’re fantastic. The covers are not spicy. But then all this spicy art. So, you’ll read the chapter of whatever the scene is and then at the end of the chapter, it’ll have the artwork.

Jeff: Oh, nice.

M.A.: Yeah. And I’ve gotten three pieces already. And. It’s really good.

Jeff: Book your trips to ApollyCon now.

M.A.: But I’m also going to sell it on my website. So, if you want to get it at ApollyCon, you can order it and I will have it there and I will sign it and all of that. But if you can’t come to ApollyCon or you weren’t able to buy a ticket, I will also sell it on my website and I will sign it. It’s going to come with like special swag and stickers. Cause it’s me, I love swag. As a reader, I love that stuff. I love when a book comes with art or stickers. So, it’s going to come with all that.

But the spicy art. Oh my God. This guy, Ian, is so good. I will just send him a little bit of the scene from the book. And I’m like, do you need any help? And he’s like, nope. And then he sends me a sketch and it’s literally what I pictured in my head.

Jeff: So, you’ve got two more books coming in “Teacher of the Year.” you’ve teased about them a little bit here. You’ve teased them a little bit on your social media. But here’s your moment. Tell us what we’re going to get there that you’re comfortable sharing here in November of 2023.

M.A.: So. I’m actually writing the third book right now. Like that’s kind of what I’m doing when I spend my writing time is I’m drafting book three. Book three is about Vincent, who is the napkin guy from “Teacher of the Year” who goes on that date with Marvin towards the beginning of the book, who has like borderline crippling OCD, which you can kind of get from the book. And then Kent, who is the principal in the second book, which, you know, it’s just coming out so maybe people haven’t read it.

Jeff: I like Kent a lot so I’m glad he’s getting a story.

M.A.: Yeah, he’s getting a love story. He’s bi but he’s never really had a relationship with a man. He was married to a woman for a long time. And with him, I want it to be really clear that it’s not bi awakening. Like he’s known that he’s bisexual since he was a teenager. He just happened to be married to a woman.

And that comes from, you know, I have a lot of friends, they’re mostly women who are bi, but they’re in straight relationships. And that whole like bi erasure thing that happens. So, I kind of wanted to touch on that a little bit. So that’s how I’m doing it. So that’s the third book.

And then the fourth book is called “Husband of the Year,” which is going to be Marvin and Olin’s wedding.

Jeff: I’m so happy you’re doing that.

M.A.: I will say, cause everyone’s like, “Oh.” That’s the reaction. Everyone’s like, “Oh, I can’t wait to them.” But wait a minute, it’s Marvin getting married. So, whatever you think, like how you think it’s going to be. It’s not going to be. But I will say, unlike some other books that came out that had the word “husband” in the title, my guys are going to get married. It just may not be how you think. But they will get married.

And I’ll tell you, so the original plan was to only have the three books. Like that was it. And when Steamy Lit asked me to do the special edition, they asked if I would write a bonus chapter, which I did. And I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s pretty obvious because I just said it. The bonus chapter is the proposal. That’s what happens in the bonus chapter.

And when I wrote that, it just kind of happened and in my head, I thought I would love to write a book about them getting married. Like I started thinking, what would that look like? And, oh, you probably going to think this is going to happen, but then this is going to happen.

And the other thing, tangent …one of the things that has been one of the criticisms of “Teacher of the Year” is that it’s a single point of view story and a lot of people have said like they didn’t get Olin’s point of view and they wish they had more of Olin’s point of view. Personally, this is just a personal decision, like for me as a person and as an author, I don’t feel comfortable writing first person point of view of a black man. Like, I don’t think that’s something that I should be doing. So that’s why. That’s the number one reason why I didn’t write his point of view. But I want to give more of his point of view. It’s not going to be dual point of view, but you’re going to get a lot more of his point of view.

I don’t know that makes sense, but I want to tell more of his story because you like there’s hints of it in “Teacher of the Year” about his childhood and about his family. His family is going to come front and center and it’s going to be the thing that kind of is the force that kind of changes how things play out in that book.

Jeff: I can’t wait. Are we going to get both of these in 2024, do you think, or?

M.A.: No, so the other thing that I’ve decided, I don’t know, maybe I’m nuts. I don’t know. But I have decided that it’s partly marketing, but then it’s also partly for my sanity. I cannot be one of those indie authors that puts out, like… K, I don’t know how much she maybe told you about this. But like, I couldn’t do what she does. Like she’s a machine the way that she writes. That’s not how I work. Like I have a very slow process and it takes me, you know, probably I can draft a book in four to six weeks, which is quick I know. But that’s a draft that is like not very good. And then it takes me weeks and weeks of revision. I like having a developmental edit, which a lot of people don’t do. It takes time. It adds at least a month to the process. So, I have decided that I’m going to slow down.

Like the reason you’re getting “Mistletoe” so soon after “Teacher of the Year” is because “Teacher of the Year” is my first book and I had written it, you know what I mean? The schedule was backed up. So “Mistletoe” comes out in October of 2023 and then “Napkins,” which is the third book, is June of next year. So, it’s like a good eight months. And then “Husband of the Year” is going to be February of 2025 is the way that I’ve planned it. So, I’m giving myself a good eight months.

And again, not every indie author does this, I do think that there’s a lot of value in having a couple of months before the actual release date for advanced readers. I just do. I think it helps build excitement. It helps market the book. And that you have to build that into the schedule, right? So, when I say, when people are like, oh my gosh, eight months. Well, advanced copies will be, you know, it’s more like five or six months.

Jeff: Everybody’s got to find their own pace. Yeah. I mean, K’s schedule is amazing and certainly not one I’d ever be able to maintain, not ever.

M.A.: Creatively, my brain just doesn’t work like that. I can write about 3,000 words in a day is about my max. And so, you know, that’s not that much. And it will honestly, like today, it took me like most of the day to write 3,000 words because I have ADHD. And so like, you know, I’m looking things up and I’m researching things and, oh, someone messaged me on Instagram and, oh, now I’m hungry, and oh, look, the cat wants to be fed, and… I don’t know.

Jeff: So, we love recommendations, of course, here on the show. What are you reading these days that the listeners should be checking out?

M.A.: So, I’m listening to the audiobook of Dominic Lim, who I was lucky enough to meet in person at Steamy Lit, and is just, like, one of my new favorite people. If you don’t follow Dominic, you should look him up on Instagram. He’s just sweet and handsome. Not that it matters. I know it doesn’t matter that what he looks like, but he is handsome.

But his book is called, “All the Right Notes.” Okay. So, I was like, I was about to say “all the right moves.” I’m like, that’s not it. Oh, there it is. Okay. So, the audio book, I have the audio book and it’s fantastic. It’s got like music and the person who is the narrator is a Broadway actor. He’s phenomenal. So, I’m listening to that.

I have this book. I have not started reading it, but I am like really excited to read it. I’m going to show it to you. It’s called “I’m Kind of Chubby and I’m Your Hero.” Okay. Like how cool is that title?

Jeff: That’s a great title.

M.A.: It’s a graphic novel. And it’s, you know, a chubby main character, which is like after writing Theo I’m like looking for that more. I was like, oh my God, this is something I wish was represented more.

There’s another book that I bought, but has not come yet, called “The Charmer” by Riley Hart, I believe.

Jeff: I love Riley Hart. I haven’t read the book yet, but Riley is amazing.

M.A.: It just came out like I think it came out like a week ago and I think it’s a part of a series, which I have not read, and one of the main characters is plus size. So, I was like buying that. Basically, if you put a male plus size main character in a queer book, I’m going to buy it because there aren’t many.

Jeff: What is the best way for folks to keep up with you online, especially your fun Instagram?

M.A.: Yes. So, you can go to my website, which is That’s like the easiest place and from there you can find me all the places.

But on Instagram it’s mawardellauthor. I also am on Facebook, and I have… Someone convinced me again, like people convince me to do things, like the dirty art, to have a Facebook group. I was like, nobody’s going to want to join. Hundreds of people join. So, I have this Facebook group, which is really fun. It’s more like a community where you can chat with people. And I’m teasing things from like the third book.

I’m also on whatever it’s called. Twitter X, I don’t know. It changes the name every time. I don’t do a lot on there because I don’t know. It just feels like I’m overwhelmed. I’m on TikTok, although like TikTok confuses me, but I like to go on and just be on there because people… let me tell you. If you want to sell books, be on TikTok, because those people sell books. More than even Instagram or any place else. I have seen people on TikTok share my book in certain ways and literally then seeing the TikTok go viral and have like, you know, 300,000 or whatever people look at it and then see my sales go up. And I know that it’s because of that. I love my TikTok people. Like they like my book because it’s spicy. That’s what it is. And I’m like, hey, let’s do it.

Jeff: We will link to all the stuff that we’ve talked about in the show notes for this episode, so people can easily go find all the books and all the stuff. Matt, it has been so awesome talking to you. I can’t wait to read the next stuff in this series cause it’s just so, so good.

M.A.: Thank you. I’ve had a great time and thanks for having me. I love your show, so I’m happy to be here.


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

Jeff: And thanks so much to Matt for talking to us. I really loved hearing about the year that he’s had with both “Teacher of the Year” and now “Mistletoe and Mishigas,” and the support that he’s received from readers and authors. I am certainly a fan and I cannot wait to read more from him next year.

Will: Alright, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday, December 4th, we’ll continue with our holiday romance theme with author David Valdes.

Jeff: I loved David’s debut YA book “Spin Me Right Round,” and now he is delighting all of us with a holiday rom-com called “Finding My Elf.” It’s about two 18 year olds who are not exactly leading the lives that they thought they would. Cam and Marco end up working as elves in a Santa’s village where there’s a whole competition thing going on for top elf. With prize money, of course, that could really help them both out. Of course, you can guess what happens next, they’re competitors who fall in love. It’s a whole thing. It is absolutely holiday romance perfection, and we’re going to talk to David all about it next time.

Will: On behalf of Jeff and myself, we want to thank you so much for listening. And we hope that you’ll join us again soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories we all love, the Big Gay Fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.

Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at Original theme music by Daryl Banner.