Jeff and Will share news about a holiday hockey romance anthology that features a new short story from Jeff. They also review books by Sarina Bowen, Keira Andrews, and David Valdes.
David also discusses his new adult holiday rom-com Finding My Elf. He talks about drawing from his own love of Christmas traditions in creating Cam and Marco’s story. He also shares some of his favorite holiday traditions, offers up some reading recommendations and details on what he’s working on next.
Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Monday, December 18.
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.
- The Little Gay Shop website (Use code BIGGAYFICTION at checkout to receive 15% off through December 31, 2023)
- Pucking Around holiday hockey romance anthology by various authors (only available through December 16, 2023)
- I’m Your Guy by Sarina Bowen
- The Christmas Veto by Keira Andrews
- Episode 270 – Big Gay Fiction Book Club November 2020: “The Christmas Deal” by Keira Andrews on Big Gay Fiction Podcast
- David Valdes Interview
- David Valdes: website | Twitter | Instagram | TikTok
- Finding My Elf by David Valdes
- Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes
- Brighter Than the Moon by David Valdes
- “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses on YouTube
- “Grapevine Christmas Eve” by The Rocket Summer on YouTube
- “Just for Now” by Kelly Clarkson on YouTube
- “Little Drummer Boy / Peace on Earth” by Bing Crosby and David Bowie on YouTube
- “Jingle Bells” by Ella Fitzgerald
- “Jingle Bells” by Barbra Streisand
- Chaussons aux Pommes recipe on Bon Appetit
- Cardamom Buns on NY Times Cooking
- World Peace Cookies from Dorie Greenspan
- Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies from Quaker Oats
- Kransekakke from Martha Stewart
- Divinity Fudge from Food Network
- West of the Sea by Stephanie Willing
- Red by Annie Cardi (pre-order until January 30, 2024)
- The Hunt by Kelly Ford
- The Savage Kind by John Copenhaver
- So Let Them Burn by Kamilah Cole (pre-order until January 16, 2024)
- Polite Society on Amazon Prime Video
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast Links
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re headed to the mall and a cookie party as we talk to David Valdes about his holiday rom com, “Finding My Elf.”
Will: Welcome to episode 442 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Will, and with me, as always, is my co host and husband, Jeff.
Jeff: Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader it is great to have you back for another episode of the show. And we want to take a moment to wish everyone who is celebrating Hanukkah, which begins later this week, a very happy, joyful, and safe Festival of Lights.
As always, this podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. Thanks to Meredith for recently joining the community. If you’d like more information about what we offer to patrons, including the opportunity to ask questions to our guests, just like Sarah does in this episode, go to patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
And as the holiday shopping season continues, we want to recommend a place for you to check out for great gifts. It’s The Little Gay Shop. It’s based in Austin, Texas. And this shop is a queer marketplace sourcing art, books, magazines, home goods, and gift items from artists, authors, and makers exclusively from the LGBTQIA+ community. The Little Gay Shop is also a queer haven in Austin, hosting countless events and markets, and an online shop that gives queer artists and authors the exposure they deserve with a percentage of all the revenue going directly to artists and organizations that support and advocate for LGBTQIA+ lives. You can check out the shop at thelittlegayshop.com. Or if you happen to be in Austin, you can drop by and check them out in person.
Now through the end of the year, they are offering listeners of this podcast 15 percent off any order. You can simply use the code biggayfiction, that’s all one word, at checkout. We certainly hope you’ll have a look at all the cool things that they have to offer, including their selection of gay romances and YA books.
And I’ve also got some news this week that I’m excited to share. I am part of a holiday hockey romance anthology that’s called “Pucking Around.” And this is an anthology that is free for just a couple of weeks, so you need to get it while the getting’s good on it. Now this collection has eight stories from ten awesome romance authors who are going to make your season bright with some fun and festive stories.
Now, in addition to my story, there are also entries from Amy Aislin, Brigham Vaughn, Hope Irving, K.C. Kassidy, Kimberly Knight & Rachel Lyn Adams, Susan Scott Shelley & Chantal Mer, and Victoria Denault.
Now my story is called “Taking a Shot at Love,” which I have to say that I kind of picked because it sounded like a title that could be a Hallmark movie. Now this is a second chance, friends to lovers story about Miles and Cole. They’ve been friends since childhood. teammates through college, and now they are rivals in the big leagues. But when a holiday travel mishap leaves Cole stranded with Miles, their true feelings can finally emerge. The big question is, can these professional athletes score a relationship together living in different cities? You know that’s kind of going to have to be yes, right? I had such a good time writing this story and giving it all the holiday festiveness as Miles and Cole celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah.
Now, “Pucking Around” is available for a very limited time, only through Saturday, December 16th. You can get your free copy of the anthology at biggayfictionpodcast.com/holiday2023 or from the link that I’ve got in the show notes for you. I hope you enjoy all the holiday romance that’s packed into this anthology. I’ve had the opportunity to check out these stories already, and I am so very glad they were part of my seasonal reading.
So since I’ve been talking so much, can I talk about a couple books that I’ve read recently as well?
Will: Of course.
I’m Your Guy by Sarina Bowen
Jeff: First up is the latest from Sarina Bowen, “I’m Your Guy,” which is the second book in the “Hockey Guys” series. You may remember that series began back in February with “The New Guy,” another book which I absolutely adored.
“I’m Your Guy” focuses on Tommaso, who has recently been traded to Colorado and is trying to settle in. He’s got a brand new condo that he needs to furnish, but he hates shopping. Especially for furniture. And he’s got a deadline because his mom is coming for Christmas in just a few weeks, and he wants her to be comfortable. It’s at a terrible furniture store that Tommaso meets Carter, an interior designer who desperately needs a new client.
Carter doesn’t follow sports, and he has no idea who Tommaso is when they meet. Carter gets the job and has to learn how to get Tommaso to make decisions about the decor so that he can create a home for the brooding hockey player as well as a place that will be perfect for his mom’s visit.
These two, Tommaso and Carter, what an amazing pairing they are. Tommaso’s packing a lot of family baggage. You see, he came to Colorado from Jersey where he got a bad reputation because he punched his teammate, who also happens to be his cousin, and that, of course made headlines and ultimately got him traded. He’s never told anybody why he did what he did. And in Colorado, he just wants to put that behind him and play good hockey.
Carter’s also got problems. He recently broke up with his boyfriend and business partner. He’s currently on the brink of bankruptcy, and if he can’t turn things around, he may have to go home to Montana to regroup.
Tommaso is deeply in the closet, but he knows he’s attracted to men. It’s one of the things that led to his divorce. He finds himself drawn to Carter and his easygoing manner, especially how he doesn’t hide any part of himself. Tommaso is also now a teammate of Hudson Newgate, whose story we got in “The New Guy.” in fact, Tommaso lives across the street from Hudson and his boyfriend Gavin. And it was great to see more of Hudson and Gavin. They’ve got a wonderful B story in this book, and that really impacts Tommaso as well.
I absolutely loved every single thing about this book. Tommaso and Carter’s journey from sunshiny Carter showing grumpy Tommaso that he actually deserves some sunshine too. I never really thought that interior design talk could be so cute and flirty, but it is. And I was so there for it. Tommaso helps Carter navigate some things with trying to get his business back on track and even kind of nudges Carter into appreciating hockey.
And Carter’s there as Tommaso starts to bring his true self to the surface. The ways that Sarina gets these guys to their HEA was so brilliant. And the way that Tommaso ultimately handles his family problems back in Jersey was beyond perfection.
I’ve got to shout out the supporting players in this story too. Carter’s friend Rigo is such a terrific support system for him as he tries to figure out what’s happening with Tommaso. And Rigo’s also really good about supporting Carter on the business side as well, keeping an eye out for his friend. Tommaso’s Colorado teammates are so great, as they start to understand why Tommaso is the way he is when he arrives. And they all play a part in him coming out on the other side of that. Tommaso’s mother and sister are really great, too.
And if you like audiobooks like I do, this is one to pick up, because Teddy Hamilton and Jacob Morgan do a great job bringing Tommaso and Carter to life. I can’t recommend this story enough, which, of course, is always the case anytime I’m talking about a Sarina Bowen book.
The Christmas Veto by Keira Andrews
Now, while “I’m Your Guy” happens to take place over Christmas, I wouldn’t call it a holiday romance. One that very much is a holiday romance, though, is Keira Andrews’ “The Christmas Veto,” which is the third book in the “Festive Fakes” series. I am so glad I picked this book up, because it brings back Connor, the bratty teenager from “The Christmas Deal,” which was our Big Gay Fiction Book Club pick from November of 2020.
Connor’s all grown up now and in medical school, where he is driven to study hard and get good grades. He absolutely does not want to fail. He ends up in a fake dating relationship with Reid, his best friend’s older brother who he’s had a crush on since high school. It’s a hastily arranged agreement so that Reid has someone to bring to holiday functions, so people will stop asking him if he’s seeing anyone.
The hitch here, or at least one of the hitches, is that no one knows that Connor’s gay and no one knows that Reed is bi. Connor stayed in the closet even though he’s got two dads for reasons that I’m not gonna spoil here, because that’s a big part of Connor’s journey in this book that is handled oh so well by Keira.
Reid’s got other issues too, like he doesn’t want to take over the family hotel business. He actually wants to work to create sustainable housing. Of course, as with any good fake dating story, it doesn’t take long for feels to come into play. For Connor, he’s getting to hang out with his crush, who until now has never given him a second look. For Reed, he’s discovering his attraction to the cute med student. These two have so many great talks about what’s going on in their lives. For Connor, it’s not just school stuff, but also an incident that has plunged him into thousands of dollars in debt, which he’s trying to pay off without his dad’s finding out. He and Reid make a great arrangement to help solve that problem. Meanwhile, Reid shares what he wants to do with his life and the struggles that he’s having to make that happen.
Reid also shows Connor New York. Connor’s been so laser focused on school that he hasn’t explored the city much. And their dates to do city things are so wonderful and sweet and really grow the attraction between them. And when the sexual chemistry and flirtiness really starts, to boil over, the sexy times ratchet up from sweet, because you see it’s Connor’s first time to do anything, even kiss, to eventually becoming searingly hot, including some really amazing FaceTime sex while they’re separated for a while.
The Christmas-yness runs high here too as Reid and Connor attend Christmas functions, along with the events of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day when so many awesome things go down that help lock in their HEA, which of course you just knew was gonna happen.
As you can imagine, there’s a great array of side characters with Reid and Connor’s friends. And among my favorites on some of the supporting characters, are Reid’s grandmother, who really shows some great moments of growth through the story. She’s an interesting character to pay attention to, as Reed tries to make his own way in the family.
We also get to see Connor’s dads, Logan and Seth, and it was really great to see how those two are doing since they appeared in that first story in the series. This is a great audiobook, too, with narration from Kirt Graves. As always, Kirt just does an outstanding job. So I highly recommend that you also say yes to “The Christmas Veto” as part of your holiday reading.
Finding Your Elf by David Valdes
Will: So in addition to those, Jeff and I were both feeling festive recently because we both read “Finding My Elf” by David Valdes. We loved it so much that we asked David to come on the show and tell us about writing this new adult holiday romance. We’ll get to that in just a second, but first I want to tell you a little bit about the story.
In it, Cam has just finished his first semester at NYU, and let’s say it just didn’t go according to plan. He felt so out of place and did so poorly that he’s afraid he’ll no longer be eligible for his scholarship.
When he returns home for the holiday break, he can’t quite bring himself to tell his hard working single dad how badly he has screwed up. So, in need of money, and to avoid his dad, Cam gets a job at the new upscale mall in the elaborate Santa’s Village. It’s then that he learns there’s a 12 Days of Elfmass contest going on, in which the most popular Santa’s helper will get a big Christmas bonus. So while navigating elf workplace politics, courting votes for the contest, and starting things up with his old high school boyfriend, Cam gets to know Marco, his relentlessly cheery co worker, who Cam reluctantly starts to really like despite all his goofball rah rah Christmas spirit.
The holidays are a crazy time of year, but the challenge of working retail while trying to get to know the boy that you like at the same time, I’m telling you Cam really has his work cut out for him. Jeff and I, we both really loved “Finding My Elf.” It’s got heart and holiday humor.
Jeff: I love this book so much, and I have to say that I read this right after we were at a conference that was actually held at the Mall of America. So in my head, that mall in this book was the Mall of America, because as we were there, I’m like, what does this place look like at Christmas? What happens in this ginormous complex at Christmas? So that kind of filled everything in for me.
So now that you know we both loved “Finding My Elf,” let’s get into my conversation with David. David absolutely loves Christmas, and that certainly helped inspire the story of Cam and Marco, and you will just see Christmas plastered all over this book in the most amazing way. We get to find out what inspired the elf competition, including the individual things that they had to do during it, the amazing supporting cast that’s in this story, and their traditions of David’s cookie party, which is also featured in the book. So let’s get into this interview that’s full of some holiday magic.
David Valdes Interview
Jeff: David, welcome to the podcast. We’re so excited to have you here.
David: I’m really excited to be here. I think this will be a lot of fun.
Jeff: I think it will to cause this book is so much fun. I loved “Finding My Elf” so much. And we’ll talk all about what I loved about it as we keep going.
But for those who maybe haven’t picked it up yet, tell everybody what it’s about and this just amazing holiday story about Cam and Marco.
David: Yeah, so, ” Finding My Elf” is a young adult holiday rom com with gay leads Cam is this kid that has gone off to his first year of college and is kind of tanking and is on the verge of not being able to go back to college because his grades are so bad, and he needs the scholarship. He needs to keep his grades up for the scholarship that got him there. So, he’s back home for the holidays and he needs to work. And the only job he can find is as a mall elf. And this is not his dream job by, by any stretch.
Cam comes from a Christmas loving family. His dad is a big Christmas fan. But Cam is not in an especially cheery mood. And so, the idea of being anybody’s elf is like death to him. And when he gets there, he discovers not only is he stuck being an elf, but there’s a competition the mall is putting all the elves through to be top elf. And he is now up for public vote. The people coming through Santa’s Village and going to the mall are choosing their favorite elf.
This is enough to make anybody a little bonkers. One of his main rivals is the super cheery Marco, who just, kind of loves everything. Human puppy dog. Has a great attitude. And so for Cam, this is enough to drive him crazy and, maybe make his heart flutter a little.
Jeff: Oh, more than a little bit.
You call yourself, in the acknowledgements to the book, and I quote, “a Christmas whore of the highest order,” which I absolutely love, because I’m pretty much right up there on things. Although, I have to say that I’m envious that you do have a cookie party, much like Cam’s father does.
Jeff: How did your love of Christmas influence Cam and Marco and the story as a whole too.
David: So, this was an interesting thing. I already had a book, “Spin Me Right Round,” published. And another one that was through the editorial phase that was coming out this year called “Brighter Than the Moon.” And really truly it felt like out of the blue, Harper Collins called and asked if I would write a Christmas rom com. They wanted there to be a gay Christmas rom com. A holiday rom com for teens that was specifically for gay kids. And it was like this present falling from the skies. I was like, you want it to be gay and Christmas.
And I said to them, early on, I said, all my books have at least one Cuban American lead and kids of color. And I was like, how do you feel about that? And they’re like, go for it. That’s great. So, I was all over it. I was thrilled. I was off to the races. So, it’s the dream assignment really, truly. So, I just brought together all kinds of things that I love.
The cookie party, for instance. This coming year my cookie party will be the 28th year that I’ve had a cookie party. It’s cookies and cocktails, basically. But I make a starter, I don’t want people to come to my house and not have enough cookies, so I make a starter round of between 10 and 13 kinds of cookies. Then everybody who comes brings cookies they’ve made as well.
And I live in a condo. I don’t live even in a freestanding house, but we’ve had… a quiet year is 50 people, and I’ve managed to get 100 in my condo. People know that, okay, when it’s too much, they could leave. But also, you can’t leave without a bag. You have to grab cookies. The ones you like, you just fill a bag. I sort of police the door and no leaving without more cookies. And it just, it’s just a blast. It’s just the best time. I was so thrilled to be able to work that in. And yeah, the cookie party is my favorite day of the year, period. Really. It just is.
Jeff: Cam’s father works up to that for like weeks. I assume you have to do that as well, because to make cookies for up to 100 people is a lot.
David: Yeah, I start a few weeks before the party with like doughs that will freeze, right? Chilled doughs or cookies that will actually keep that long if they’re in like a cold container. And I’m strategizing, like there are certain things that you can’t make in advance. So yeah, I’m giving myself little tasks in all the lead up, which typically this is not ideally timed because I teach college. This is also finals, and I should be grading as opposed to, oh, I’m going to try Italian rainbow cookies this year for the first time, which, is taking away from the work I’m paid to do, right? But that’s fine because I do love it. It’s a, it’s such a joyful occasion.
Jeff: It sounds absolutely wonderful what you do yourself and what was represented in the book, too, is just like this big holiday moment, especially for that family. The cookie party is so important to them. I mean, Cam’s got a single dad working two jobs. It’s really like the pinnacle holiday moment here. And in this year in particular, Cam’s come home with a bit of a secret that he’s got too because he’s kind of falling out of college.
David: Right. This party ends up meeting a lot because Cam’s dad worked two jobs to get by. Cam has always had a single dad. And that was actually by design. One of the things about this is that his dad, wanted to be a dad. Never found a person and went the surrogacy route and became a dad that way. So, it’s been a two person family for a long time, but in the economy, that, we all live in his dad ends up working two jobs to get by, which is something I can relate to much of my life. Even currently as a professor, I’m kind of working two full time jobs.
So, I really wanted that element in there. So, things are tight and for his dad to be working these two jobs, so that can’t even go to college. For Cam to be failing out of college is a problem, right? And it’s a problem he has not shared with his father.
So, it’s a loaded, sort of thing. So, this moment like that, the cookie party is a moment of joy and meaningful to them in the light of all that they have been through and the light of what’s going on between them this particular holiday. But also, Marco, who comes to the party has his own challenges. His father has passed away and things are tight for he and his mom.
Some of the other members of the mall crew that they’ve come to know are all there. And it’s true for me every year, with the party that the players change, right? Year to year, some of the players, most of the players are the same, but faces come and go, you lose people, you have difficulties in your life.
I’ve certainly been through some really difficult things, but the cookie party is this constant. I had the cookie party during the pandemic. People had to stand outside. It had been this mild winter and of course it snowed just before the cookie party. So, people literally stood outside in the snow, and I brought down… like I had sealed packs for each family.
But you know what, people stood outside in the snow. And nobody left. People stayed there for as long as we could in the cold just to be together. So, the cookie party, which is so important to me, I really wanted it to be that valuable and that important to them.
Jeff: The other component that obviously plays such a big part here is the elf competition. It helps bring Marco and Cam closer together as they’re kind of like being competitors but figuring out other stuff between themselves. All of their elf compatriots who are in the mall. How did you come up with the elf competition and the challenges these guys had to go through?
David: Well, when thinking about the challenges, I started first with like the idea that the age we live in that this would be social media, right? So, I had this idea of almost like playing cards, like trading cards that you would get of the different elves. And so, I had fun coming up with, what their elf characteristics would be and how they would feel about these representations of themselves, which are now all over the mall projected on digital screens.
And after that, I was just thinking about things that I associate with Christmas. So, there’s a wrapping contest, there’s a children’s book reading, they sing, they do a bake off. So, all the things that I, myself, associate with Christmas, really.
I had an extra one that I didn’t include. I was thinking at one point of having the elves had to make up their own backstory and tell a dramatic backstory about their elveness to people. But it was crowding the field in terms of number of days, but also that it began to become unwieldy, when which we’re making up a fake backstory for a persona that they’ve just acquired. And yeah, so I let that one go and then just played the other ones, which was fun.
And if I were one of these elves, I would lose the wrap off in general.
Jeff: Me too.
David: I projected onto this. The wrap off was actually probably the most fun of the challenges to write because I sort of wanted to make it absurd and I won’t spoil for readers how it ends, but I really had fun with that notion. But partly because I’m a terrible gift wrapper. I do what I can, but I have had people, people that I know well, tease me before. You’re a gay man, shouldn’t you be better at this?
And it’s no, that is not a baked in gene. There’s no…
Jeff: Not part of the gay card.
And I have no doubt you would actually excel at the baking component because of the cookie party.
David: I feel confident that I could win or come in second on that, right? Because that’s my sweet spot for sure.
Jeff: You mentioned leaving on the cutting room floor, the backstory of the elves and yet I feel like some of that does still wind its way through here because the guy who has set up all of this competition in the mall kind of gives them a little backstory. But then, certainly for Cam, we won’t spoil too much, but his elf name goes right to the backstory of why he has that name.
David: Right. Right. So, I didn’t make it part of the competition in terms of they don’t tell us, but each of them you are getting glimmers into who they are based on their elf name. With most of them have an elf name that reflects them in a way that they’re comfortable with or like. As readers will discover, Cam adopts his as a, when life gives you lemons kind of moment.
Jeff: His ingenuity around that, I really enjoyed seeing how he navigated himself through the challenges and the challenges that those things themselves actually ended up representing for various reasons.
Jeff: It’s really interesting how you structured this because there’s the rom com that is obviously happening and the romance that’s budding, but there’s a little bit of suspense going on in here too because without, spoiling again, there is this little you know sabotage that seems to be going on as we’re all used to in reality competitions, you know that goes on in there And so much stuff that also happens with a large cast.
Certainly, Cam and Marco are front and center, but Cam’s dad is there. Cam’s got some former teachers who show up, his best friends, all of the elf folks that are around, the people who are running the mall. And you managed to balance all of this, and everybody has a story really that kind of factors in here without becoming too much information or get me back to the action.
How did you work to set that up in your processes? So, it all kind of, sussed out in the end. And I’m curious too, like how much revision did you do to keep the balance?
David: So, I’m a social person, and I just kept thinking if he’s, you know, who he is, theater major kid and in this particular setting there are a lot of people that can be part of the world. One thing I was worried about is that, like the elf job, it couldn’t just be the elves talking to Santa. And there’s a competition. So, there are all these people built into it. And I wanted the job to feel like a real job, right? And so there are recurring customers, right? There’s the safety mom who’s somebody that I really wanted in the story and wanted to keep there.
So, I do a lot of like mapping and, thinking about where a little bit of somebody’s life is going to peek in or pop in. I needed to also see him outside of that setting, which is why we get a little bit of like his story with his best friend. And what, like their trajectory over the course of this, partly, with the exception of Safety Mom, partly so that, when we do get to the cookie party, I want the audience to feel rewarded by their presence. The presence of all these people gathering around them, right? That’s so much of what the holidays is when you gather people. So, I loved populating the world that way.
There were some revisions, for sure. In the first, very first draft of it. So, Harper Collins came to me with this idea could you write this book? And I had seven weeks about until they needed it. So, for a first draft, it was pedal to the metal. And I had this great conceit. I was a little worried I don’t want it to be too obvious, who ends up together despite the fact that is what many people actually like about a rom com. So, I had two love interests in the mix, like two extra love interests, right? So right now, there’s sort of a triangle between Cam, Leroy, and Marco.
And originally there was a character that I don’t even remember his name now, but his joke name was the first time that Cam is in the mall, he sees this elf working that looks like Timothee Chalamet and he calls him Chalam-elf the whole time. And so, he goes on dates with Chalam-elf as well. So, there were two possible spoilers and I just thought that would keep it more interesting and keep the tension alive. And my very fine editor Stephanie Gordon read it and said One is plenty. She’s like they are serving the same purpose, right? And I was like, oh very good point. So, I think he was the only full character to come out. I decreased a little bit the presence of two people. I wanted him to have tías. I’m Cuban American. And I wanted him to have more relatives than just his dad in the book.
And so, I gave him tías named Ellie and Mari after my sisters. And my editor’s, do we really need them? And I’m like, yeah, we do. It’s tiny. It won’t take up much real estate. So, we kept that. But yeah, the juggling the people became a thing, like that balance of how much is too much. But I really wanted a lot of people for this story.
Jeff: Where did safety mom come from? She is such an interesting character throughout the book that I think people will be very interested in her evolution through the story. And where she ends up at the end as well. It was such a masterclass for me on how to handle like a supporting character because she’s got an entire arc sitting in that book. Where you sometimes, she could have been very superficial and also as a reader, I probably would have cared that she was superficial, but it was such a treat that she was the fully fleshed out character too.
David: Yeah. Thank you. So, safety mom, I have a child. She’s not a child anymore. She’s 18. She has started college now. But when she was younger, I had joined a mom’s group when we first adopted, we got her as a baby. So, I joined a mom’s group. So, my life for a very long time was only among other parents and in settings like the fall hay fair, the Santa’s village, right? All this sort of thing, and you discover parents that you find very difficult and that you disapprove of, right? Like you’re sort of judgy about. And that you’re like, well, I wouldn’t do that boy, this person is oversensitive, or over cautious, or over whatever.
And also I used to work retail, like I’ve worked retail. That intersection of there’s always like the difficult person, and sometimes it’s a difficult parent. I was really interested. I knew that I wanted a character like that, that would keep coming back. That’s the other thing is, why would you keep going back to the Santa land? You get your Santa photo, why do you keep going back?
So, I loved the idea of that. But also, part of the book is about Cam’s growth, and Cam’s growth is facilitated by these interactions, and getting to a point where he can see her through a new lens.
There are a lot of things in the book where some of these characters are partly there to help Cam re-see. He re-sees Marco. He re-sees Safety Mom. He re-sees two of his fellow competitors in a way, right? And the audience is at the same time. He re-sees his old drama teacher. He begins to see people in a new way as part of the sort of breaking old Cam into new Cam.
Jeff: I think you struck right there what is going to be so interesting for the teens who read this book, because I think so often, and I was certainly this way as a teen too, even though it’s been decades… like it’s very black and white, things are this or that, and you keep giving Cam these opportunities to re-see these individual things, even re-see himself for why he’s failing in college right now.
I think it’s for that age group to read it, I think they’re really going to see some interesting things in there, depending on where their own kind of self-realization is in the moment.
David: I hope so, because none of my books are just about the plot, right?
This book is a Christmas rom com with a very specific plot, but the title is “Finding My Elf” as a play on finding myself for a reason, right? It’s not just that he’s finding Marco, but he’s also finding who he is. And finding, when he’s finding my elf, why is it Marco and not somebody else? Why is he who he is, right? The book is so much about that first year of college in which there is so much discovery.
Jeff: What made Marco the perfect foil for Cam through this? Other than the obvious, so opposite thing that Marco is this really happy person at least on the surface to everybody, to help him kind of get through his day.
David: Yeah, well, that’s part of Cam’s growth. There are a couple of things going on. One, Marco’s cheeriness is not Cam’s mode, right? That is not how Cam operates. And so, he finds that at first like, too much and kind of insincere. But part of his growth is to see, what is genuine and also that a person can choose joy and choose to be happy despite their circumstances because he doesn’t know anything about Marco’s circumstances. He’s just seeing what he sees as a sort of annoyingly cheerful person. But he’s also, we have these experiences with Marco where Marco is thoughtful, and Marco is kind. And this isn’t like the treatment that Cam has always received, but it’s also not the treatment Cam has given.
Cam has been very focused on, before, on a particular kind of what’s cool enough. Am I too cool for my town? Am I too cool for my boyfriend? So, he’s seeing somebody else who would just approach his life in a really different lens.
The other thing about Marco and about the two of them is that they are both me in a way. I, especially like grad school, you know, Gen X’er, person of the nineties, all things ironic. All things, right? So, I did a lot of the kind of like Cam posturing in certain ways, in certain settings.
But my default nature is Marco. I’m a Marco start to finish. And I’ve had friends who are much more Cam-like who’ve joked with me that I’m a lot, right? They’re like, that in other settings, maybe they wouldn’t even like me because I’m optimistic, I’m cheerful, I’m hopeful, right? Despite a ton of bad things having happened in my life, it’s just how I’m built. It’s how I’m wired. And so, I think, I wanted Marco to reflect all that, but in a way that the reader doesn’t hate, even if Cam initially does.
Jeff: Was there any thought given to dual point of view for the book so that we could also check more in with Marco and what’s actually running through his head through all this?
David: No, actually there wasn’t. I, for this one, I knew it was going to be Cam, partly because “Brighter Than the Moon” has three protagonists and I had just come out of. And “Brighter Than the Moon” is a longer, a little heavier book, still sweet, but very heavy comparatively and spending time in three different voices, I wanted to go back to a first-person point of view for this one and just kind of stay with Cam for a little bit and watch his growth that way.
So, that would be really fun to do like the Marco point of view. I mean, my, like my secret wish is I ended up enjoying these guys so much that I would love to do like a series, like “Calendar Boys.” We see them at Valentine’s, but now let’s maybe let’s do it for Marco’s perspective, right? Like just kind of keep working through a year with them. So, maybe next time.
Jeff: All right, Harper Collins, you heard that. Let’s bring that to fruition. I would totally read that.
Besides being very into Christmas, there’s certainly an element of theater that is in some of your books, too. You’re a playwright…
Jeff: In addition to the fiction. But “Spin Me Right Round” also had theater kind of as one of its core things. So, what is it about theater that you keep giving that to your characters?
David: I think it’s just because so many queer kids pass through theater as a part of their life, right? There’s so many queer kids who access it, whether they are actually on stage, or the tech crew, or they just hung out around drama club because those kids, by the standards of their high school, were as queer as it got.
So that’s always baked in, and I love theater. I was a playwright before I was a novelist. With Cam specifically, I teach at Boston Conservatory at Berkeley. That’s my full-time job. And so, I’m around theater kids all the time. What’s funny is, he doesn’t get to spend much time… we don’t get much of a deep dive into his theater life. But we find that what he ended up doing at NYU was not the right fit for him. Because NYU has different tracks of theater, and he ended up in the very experimental theater. He does not get it at all.
And there is a way in which that’s speaking for me a little bit. I can always intellectually appreciate the super weird theater in which you’re watching somebody pull strips of paper from the wall while somebody, bangs a pot and a bird goes by. I can appreciate the ideas, but it never viscerally speaks to me. It’s not the art I can make. And so, he gets to school and discovers he’s gotten accepted by this great school into this prestigious program. That is not a fit for him.
Jeff: Yeah, I questioned his choices there a few times in the book.
David: It’s a very, I have to say though, it is a very common, especially male, but not entirely, thing to be like, I’m too good for this now. I was the best. I was edgy at my high school, so I’m going to do the coolest thing. The more mainstream stuff is below me. He’d grown up loving “The Music Man” and idolizing Hugh Jackman, but then he’s like, I’m too cool for that now. I’ve got to go do the experimental stuff. It just isn’t who he is.
There are people like his, he has a friend that’s a minor character in the book. It’s who she is. It’s not who he is. And that’s what the book is about is who… You know, honestly, that’s what all of my books are about in a way.
Jeff: Yeah. It is okay to be Hugh Jackman. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Jeff: Possibly a difficult question to answer and not give a spoiler, but I’m curious what your favorite scene in “Finding My Elf” is.
David: Oh, that’s not hard. It’s not really a spoiler either. Honestly, my favorite scene is once they get to the cookie party, because it’s late in the book, and a couple of things have resolved by then, though the sort of big question about the future is not resolved. It’s my favorite scene because you’re watching all these threads come together in all these people and people you wouldn’t necessarily have imagined all being at that party at the beginning of the book. And the way that like he’s observing his dad and a love interest. I won’t say who the love interest is but observing them. His, aunts pulling out photos to show his friends. A little repair time with his best friend. Some romantic time with Marco.
So that scene to me was like, it encapsulates, what I love about Christmas, this coming together. This moment of having everyone you love around you. So that’s my favorite scene, for sure.
Jeff: That was one of many for me, because the cookie party is just, you’re not at the end yet, but you see the end coming and it is kind of a pinnacle moment because it’s been talked about forever.
Jeff: Got a question for you from our Patreon community.
David: Okay, yes.
Jeff: So, Sarah wants to know, what is the best holiday song to hear in a department store?
David: “Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, for sure. If you don’t know this song, it’s like a story song. Somebody talking about like a sort of… lame Christmas that ends up, instead of going to awry, going all right. It’s really fun. It’s really upbeat. Anywhere I hear that, I’m always like ready for it. I love that song.
A song I love, you’ll never hear in a department store probably, but a song that I think is kind of a perfect capture of a particular time is a song called “Grapevine Christmas” by The Rocket Summer. It’s basically about going back home when you’re sort of a young adult, a newly adult and returning to your hometown. And it’s just, It’s so right. It’s so perfect.
I love the Kelly Clarkson version of “Just for Now,” which is a song that’s equally good. Like it’s a Thanksgiving or Christmas song, but it’s all of its… you’re inside somebody’s head, hearing all of the voices of things people are saying at this holiday meal. And they keep saying, I got to get out of here. And they need to like, go get some fresh air because of all the voices in their heads.
And for a classic I would say the Bing Crosby, David Bowie version of “Little Drummer Boy,” which is really lovely. And, if you want, if you want your standard “Jingle Bells,” if you need a “Jingle Bells,” it has to be Ella or secondarily, Barbra Streisand.
I could answer this question all day long. I looked at my phone just before I hopped on here. And I have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten… I have eleven Christmas playlists. The longest one is called Pocket All Christmas Radio, and it’s a mix of all the different genres, and it’s 25 hours long.
David: So, my, my go-tos generally are Ho Homos and Santa Sleighs but you know, when I want Christmas music, I got you covered for whatever kind of thing you need.
Jeff: You should make Spotify playlists for the rest of us. I don’t know that you’d have time necessarily to want to make 25 hours of Spotify playlist.
David: Yeah, that’s a no. Yep.
Jeff: But for those ones that you mentioned, I’ll see if I could find some places that I could put links in the show notes so people can hear some of those cause some of those were not ones that I was familiar with either. So, I’m looking forward to kind of checking those out.
Now, of course, we’re talking about Christmas, so I’ve got to ask you a little bit about the holiday. What’s a favorite tradition you have outside of the cookie party?
David: Well, Christmas morning. So, I mentioned I have a daughter. My husband and I divorced about seven years ago, but we have kept the same Christmas that we’ve had since my daughter was little. So, our Christmas tradition for years and years has been that Christmas morning, he comes over here, we open presents. When she first gets up, I’ll either make chausson au pomme, which are like the French apple slipper pastries, or cardamom buns, which she loves.
So those will be making when she first gets up. So, we have those as we open presents and then we just kind of hang around in the morning, and then we have Chinese food for lunch, and watch a movie. And yeah, I love that. I love that tradition that we’ve kept it going, despite, rocky times for us adults. And that’s always what she still wants to do. And yeah, I think that’s probably my favorite.
I think you may have answered a little bit of this other question about favorite holiday foods with what you just listed off with those breakfast treats.
David: Well, so it’s funny, the breakfast treats for sure. I have my favorite like my favorite things from the cookie party. I don’t make the same cookies every year. I predominantly switch them up every year. So, there are things that will recur every few years, right? But I think the only cookie that I make every single year, because it’s easy to make and people love it, is the World Peace Cookies, which are mentioned in the book. They’re by Dorie Greenspan and they’re a little chocolate sablé. They’re like really tiny, but they’re delicious. So, I make those every year.
But my favorite cookies from the cookie party are cookies that two of my friends individually make, and then I started insisting they have to make, or it isn’t the cookie party. So, my friend Ashley makes these white chocolate oatmeal cranberry cookies. And my friend Kristen makes a kransekakke, which is a Norwegian sort of stacking round of almond rings. So those are always on the table. I love those.
What is funny is, so I’m bicultural, right? Like I have Scotch Irish farm people in Maine and then Cuban immigrants. So, the Cuban food for Christmas Eve, Nochebuena, is a roast pig, right? And I love that. I love to make that. But I grew up with the Cuban part of my life being summers with my dad in Miami and so the winter part of my life was in Maine, so I wasn’t getting the roast pig then. So, I like, I do the classic Cuban Christmas Eve meal the whole rest of the year, I’ll make that for friends, but not at Christmas.
In Maine, growing up, there wasn’t like a Christmas meal food, but my grandmother would start making cookie tins, which is where my cookie party comes from. She would start making individual tins of cookies for everybody in the family. And she would start several weeks before Christmas, there would be three or four kinds of fudge, popcorn balls, date bars, three or four kinds of cookies, nuts.
And so, when I was a kid, I really loved that because you got your own. And so, for three weeks, you had this every night you were like, I will choose one thing, right? So, the thing that most was my favorite growing up, I’ve only made once or twice because most people can’t abide it, is divinity fudge, pink divinity fudge.
Jeff: It is so good.
David: It is like a melt in your mouth, but it is so sweet, right? If a single food could put you into sugar shock, this is the food.
Jeff: That is so true. But it’s, that melt in your mouth creaminess is so wonderful. And when you’ve got that, it’s easy to parse out to three weeks, if you have a tin full of it, because you can’t take more than one, probably a day, without going into that sugar coma.
David: I’ve only probably ever done that like twice for cookie party, and you cut it into the smallest pieces and people see them at first and what is this chicklet of fudge that you have put up here. But then they try it and they’re like, okay yeah, I get that.
Jeff: Yeah, and then you go find like a more savory cookie to chase that with to kind of balance things out a little bit. That’s where the oatmeal cranberry white chocolate would come in really handy after that.
Jeff: Now I really am craving cookies.
What’s a favorite gift that you’ve received over the holidays, whether that might be as a child or even as an adult?
David: You know what’s funny is that I’m so not an object person. I couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas last year, right? So, I honestly don’t, I don’t know if I have a good answer for that, but I will say that, especially when we go to childhood…
So, okay, when I was a kid, we were super poor. There were always two packages under the tree. So, there were five people in my family, my grandparents, my mother, my brother and I. So, there were always 10 presents under the tree. Five of those presents were socks. And so, as a kid, opening up your pair of white tube socks that Grammy got you, not exciting.
So, the other gift became more fraught, right? So, there are two that stand out, both for gay reasons. One is that when I was five, I spent a year waging a campaign to get a baby doll. And this was not going to fly. This was not going to fly. And finally, one of my mother’s friends was like, this is the 70s. It’s just a doll. What could go wrong? So, they got me a baby doll and Christmas morning, like when I went to the package and I picked it up, I just knew that this was going to be a baby doll that cried, which is what I wanted. And so, like I flipped the box. I like while unwrapping, I was flipping it to get, I knew exactly what I was, you know, such a thrill. They got me this doll, who I named Dolly quite inspirationally. And I loved my doll. This was great. I took it too far. I had it for a couple of months, but when it was like early spring, I had taken some material, leftover material that my mother had for making a church dress, and I made Dolly and I matching outfits.
And I was proudly walking down the street carrying Dolly. And my grandmother drove by on her way home. And the next day, when I came into my room, Dolly was gone and had been replaced, are you ready, with a set of NFL football sheets for my bed.
Jeff: Those things are not analogous in any way.
David: Yeah, so that the idea was that like, no more playing with this sissy doll and now we’re going to make a boy out of you by… I didn’t know what the NFL was. And, Grammy was like, they’re NFL sheets. And I was like, I didn’t know what it was. I literally didn’t know, but I also knew it had been such a battle to get that doll. I also knew, okay, I’ve overshot, right? I can’t push it.
When I was nine, I was obsessed with the Dorothy Hamill. I had my hair cut the same way as she did, and I really wanted white figure skates. Because you grew up in Maine, you’re skating all the time, right? You’re skating in bank parking lots, you’re skating in fields, you’re skating in your yard if it’s wet and cold enough. So, I really pushed for white figure skates and my aunt and uncle sprung for them because my family couldn’t really afford it.
So, my aunt sprung for these white figure skates, and I was delirious with joy. I was so happy to have these white figure skates. A little bad news for my brother because they typically got us very similar things after the year of the doll. They pretty much got us the same thing each year. We would get largely the same thing.
So, my brother also had wanted skates and when he opened his box, and it was a pair of white figure skates. This was not a great moment for him. He was expecting brown hockey skates, like traditional, more like boy skates. And they had unwisely given him also my dream white skates. So, that was a little, that was a Christmas that went better for one sibling than the other.
Jeff: Just get out the spray paint and make them black and…
Jeff: It’ll all be fine.
Now, “Finding My Elf” is your third book of fiction, this one kind of stretches a little kind of into that new adult territory a little bit because they’re 18 and in college and such, but primarily young adult books.
Jeff: Each of them has a very different story, including that time travel element that’s over there in “Spin Me Right Round.” With all the differences what would you say are the trademarks of your books and your stories that kind of makes these hang together.
David: Well, in every case, you’re watching teenagers wrestle with the sort of question that’s at the heart of so many of my books and plays that I mentioned earlier. Am I the person that I think I am, right? Who do I want to be?
It’s these questions of identity. And not am I gay or not, but how do I navigate the world? How am I with other people? So, questions of who am I? Am I the person I think I am? Are a part of all of these books.
The other thing is that even, you know, so, “Spin Me Right Round,” you have sort of this race against time to keep a bad thing from happening in the past. “Brighter than the Moon,” you have somebody who experiences a loss in the midst of a love triangle that actually blows up a friendship. So, it can be heavier. But even with that, this one obviously is light as all hell, right? There’s no tragedy involved of any kind. But with all three of them, all three books lean hopeful. They all are books that reflect a sort of positive view of humanity and of possibility and the idea of growth and change and not being afraid of that.
I’m an optimistic person. I have been through all kinds of things. I had a suicidal mother, an alcoholic father. I’ve been through a shooting. I’ve been through divorce. I grew up poor, like, I’ve been through a lot of things, but the arc of my life is always hopeful. And that shows up in my books.
I had an agent years ago, when I was still writing nonfiction even, he said, your brand is smart uplift, right? I want you to be able to come away with some joy and hope and light without it being mindless. Like “Finding My Elf,” it’s a holiday rom com, right? We’re not talking “War and Peace” here. But even in that, I hope you are seeing somebody grow. I hope you’re seeing, a little bit differently than when you started the book.
It’s also part of just my mantra in general, because all of my books feature queer, and BIPOC protagonists, which is important to me. I’m a Cuban American with a daughter who’s of African American descent. I want the world to be inclusive and I also just want there to be more stories about queer kids.
“Brighter than the Moon,” super queer, right? The kids are cis and trans, gay, straight, pan, and then the lines get all blurry, right? I just want these stories to be out there so that we have our books to read too. But I do want there to be this hopefulness to them, which is a part of who I am.
When I said it’s like my mantra, part of my daily gratitudes is to put out to the universe that, you know, to let my words make a difference for whomever they can reach. And that includes when it isn’t like a deep serious topic, but by people who needed to re-see queer kids or the queer experience or what growing up meant, or to think about possibility and hope. I want to move the needle in that way.
My whole theory is hope is emotion. It’s an arc, you lean toward the thing that you want. You lean toward your vision. And if you are hoping, then you’re in a better angle, right? Your arc is upward. You’re in a better trajectory than if you’re not hoping. Even if you don’t get the outcome exactly the way you wanted or the outcome you wanted, that process of the way there is better than if you’re at this the whole time, right? Like that you’re just this straight grim trudge and that’s important to me
Jeff: Now, we love to get recommendations. So, what are you reading or watching these days that our listeners to check out?
David: So, I was thinking about that. So, I just started reading Stephanie Willing’s “West of the Sea,” which is a middle grade novel. The same week I pre-ordered Annie Cardi’s “Red.” Neither of these are like queer themed, right?
So, for fans of big gay fiction, things I love this year are two mysteries, back-to-back queer mysteries. I read Kelly Ford’s “The Hunt” and John Copenhaver’s I don’t actually know how to say his name. Sorry, John, wherever you are. But his novel, “The Savage Kind,” both of which have lesbian protagonists.
Coming up is Kamilah Cole’s “So Let Them Burn,” which comes out in January, which is just gonna I think, take the world by storm. It’s a little bit Joan of Arc, a little bit dragons. It’s got demi and lesbian leads. It’s Jamaican. It’s just going to be fresh and not like anything you’ve read. So those are a bunch of book recommendations.
And then in terms of what I’m watching, probably the most fun I had in the movie this year was “Polite Society,” which is a film with an Indian American girl who doesn’t want her sister to get married to somebody and decides there’s a whole nefarious plot. And it’s a little bit like “Sense and Sensibility” meets ninjas.
Jeff: Okay, well I want to go look that up. Those two things don’t go together for me necessarily in my head.
David: You have to see it. It’s a blast. Yeah, it’s really fun.
Jeff: And what could you tease us about what might be coming up next for you?
David: So, right now I’m actually working on an adult thriller…
Jeff: Oh, exciting.
David: With a gay man as a lead propagandist, I won’t say too much about it right now. But it takes place in Andalusia which is Southern Spain and that’s where I was when Harper Collins called about “Finding My Elf,” so it’s a book that’s been percolating for a little bit because I was planning to write it then, but instead wrote “Finding My Elf.” So, I’m working on that and I’ve just mapped out the next young adult novel that I want to work on as well.
Jeff: What inspired you to move over to thrillers?
David: Well, I had wanted to like, I love that. I love reading mysteries and thrillers. I just love them. I read them all the time. And in between nonfiction and young adult fiction, I had written one thriller for a very small indie press and had sort of a good time with that. The publishing experience for that wasn’t the best experience. And so, I moved away from that. But I knew that at some point I wanted to try and get back to working on a thriller. So, hopefully that, like having a little gap between books. I mean, I got three out in two years for young adult and hoping that buys me a year off that I can get another one out after.
But I also write… I’m writing all the time and I write first drafts really fast. So, I’m working on the thriller right now, but me being me, I’ll have the thriller done, the first draft of it this winter and start the new young adult novel and have that done by summer. So, it’s not forever away that I’ll be removed from young adult. I still want to be working in young adult, but I need to get this thriller out of my system.
Jeff: Look forward to seeing what you’ll do with a thriller.
What is the best way for folks to keep up with you online to know when these next books are coming out?
David: I think probably the best is Instagram, my Instagram, which is @davidvaldeswrites, and that’s Valdes with an S, though I know everybody wants to Z-it. It’s Valdes with an S. I used to do a version of the Liza Minnelli, it’s Valdes with an S, not Valdez with a Z, cause Valdes with an S goes sss, not zzz. So, it’s @davidvaldeswrites at Instagram. You also can go to my website which is www.DavidValdesWrites.com. You can look for @dvaldeswrites on TikTok, but I’m really bad at posting there. I’m very erratic at that.
Jeff: We will link up to all of that and all the books and things that we talked about. David, thank you so much for being here and thank you for such a wonderful holiday book for everybody this Christmas season.
David: Thank you. It was a blast to write. It was really fun to be here to talk about it.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. We’ve got links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.
Jeff: Thanks so much to David for talking to us about “Finding My Elf.” I don’t know about you, but after talking to him, I kind of want all the cookies. Oh my God, it was such a thing, talking about all the cookies that he brings to that cookie party. I have made sure to include in the show notes, links to some of the recipes for the cookies that he mentioned. Plus, I found all of the Christmas songs that we talked about too. So if there’s something in there that you don’t know what it was, or you just feel the urge to hear it, I got you hooked up in the show notes.
Will: Alright, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday, December 18th, Rachel Reid is going to be joining us to talk about her holiday hockey romance.
Jeff: I loved Rachel’s “Time to Shine” so, so much. I had to invite her to the show to talk about it. Plus, we’re going to tell you all about our favorite books from 2023.
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.