Jeff and Will share some favorite reads of 2023 from Big Gay Fiction patrons. Jeff also reviews Heartstopper Volume 5 by Alice Oseman.

Kacen Callender discusses their first adult romance novel Stars in Your Eyes. They talk about writing and researching the enemies-to-lovers romance between two actors, and incorporating themes of mental health and social media culture. They also share insights about drawing from personal experiences to shape Logan and Mattie’s story. Kacen makes some recommendations for listeners, and teases with some details on what’s coming up next.

Look for the next episode of Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Monday, January 15.

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Show Notes

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Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re kicking off 2024 with author Kacen Callender talking about their enemies to lovers romance “Stars in Your Eyes.”

Will: Welcome to episode 444 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 a always is my co-host and husband Jeff.

Jeff: Hello and happy New Year Rainbow Romance Reader. It is great to have you here for another episode of the show.

As always, this podcast is brought to you in part by our remarkable community on Patreon. Thanks to Melissa 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, go to

Favorite Books of 2023 from Our Patrons

Will: And speaking of our patrons, we wanted to share some of their favorite reads they told us about after we shared ours in the last episode. Rebecca said that she did most of her reading with audio and two books that she loved in 2023 were “Fool Hearts” by Emmy Sanders, which actually got her into cowboy romance, and “Iced Out” by CE Ricci, which is a hockey romance. Rebecca also really enjoyed the latest by Keira Andrews, “The Christmas Veto,” and one book she absolutely loved and said that she kicked herself for waiting so long to read is “This is Not a Horror Movie by Sara Dobie Bauer. She even went back and re-listened to our book club episode after she read it.

Jeff: I am so glad that “This Is not a Horror Movie” continues to get a little bit of love cause that was such a wonderful book. Really good choices there. I’ve never read CE Ricci either, but I’m adding that to my hockey list cause you know I have to be up on all the hockey books.

I’ve also got a list to share. This one comes from RegencyFan93, who also read a lot with audio. There’s a very much a trend there with people reading audio. I know that’s how I take in a lot of books these days. Among RegencyFans’s, favorites from 2023 were “All the Right Notes” by Dominic Lim, “Always the Almost” by Edward Underhill, “Game Plan” by Amy Aislin, and “We Could Be So Good” by Cat Sebastian. Some of the books also had animals as their main characters. Not shifters mind you, but animals. RegencyFan cited the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” with an audio book read by Neil Patrick Harris, and the novel “Open Throat” by Henry Hoke and read by Pete Cross, which is about, as the blurb says, “a queer and dangerously hungry mountain lion.”

I’ve read this blurb. I need to check this book out a little bit cause I’m very intrigued by what I found there. Many thanks to Rebecca and RegencyFan for sharing some of their 2023 favorites with us.

Book Review: Heartstopper Volume 5 by Alice Oseman

Now, before we get to the interview, I’m gonna take just a few moments to talk about my recent read of Alice Oseman’s latest “Heartstopper Volume 5.” I was so excited for this book to come out and actually was able to snag it a couple of days early cause my local bookstore happened to have it available.

This book picks up as Charlie and Nick are having to navigate the fact that Nick is going to be going off to school at the end of the following year, and Charlie’s also going through exams, and it also is the time where Nick and Charlie are looking at getting a little more intimate for the very first time. I love how Alice continues to deal with these characters with such love, and, I would say, gently navigating them through some of these big changes that are coming up.

For Nick, he doesn’t really know what he wants to do in school. He knows he’s supposed to go to school and he’s trying to figure out if that means going away or if he’s going to be sticking around home so he can be close to Charlie. The whole road trip that he goes on with Tara and Elle is such a delight as they’re all looking at schools that interest them, and each of them finding something in the schools that they’re looking at.

Meanwhile, back home, Charlie’s kind of getting out of his comfort zone too cause not only is he dealing with some exams, but he’s actually gonna be performing with a band for the first time. Not just a school concert as we’ve seen before, he’s actually gonna be going out and performing with a band. And he’s got some nerves about that.

And meanwhile, Nick and Charlie are looking to sleep together for the first time and go beyond just kissing. The way that Alice treats this within the book is so wonderful. It’s cute, it’s funny. It can make you maybe relive some of your own angst of the first time that you were intimate with somebody, and going through some of the feelings that Nick and Charlie are having.

It’s so good. I mean, you would expect nothing else in a “Heartstopper” graphic novel. One of the extras that I really appreciated in this book was the Osemanverse timeline so we could see year one and year two spelled out how the graphic novels play out across these years, where the novels like “Solitaire,” and “Nick and Charlie” and “This Winter” fit into this. So you kind of get a reading order here, which is something that I’ve never really seen spelled out in this wonderful way before.

And also, in other “Heartstopper” news, I saw right before Christmas that Alice announced that “Heartstopper” season three for Netflix had officially wrapped production. And she also noted that events from “Volume 5” are also going to be represented in that season three. So really looking forward to seeing that when it comes out, whenever it does, next year. I haven’t seen a date for that. In the meantime, of course, if you are a “Heartstopper” fan, I highly recommend getting “Volume 5” if you haven’t picked it up already.

Kacen Callender Interview

Jeff: All right, now onto the conversation with Kacen Callender. “Stars In Your Eyes” was one of my favorite reads from last year with its mix of enemies to lovers, and Hollywood workplace drama, all wrapped up in some fake dating. And it was great talking with Kacen about this story of Logan and Mattie. Now this is Kacen’s first romance for adults, so we also chat about what drew them to writing in this genre, why they decided to set it around making a movie, and how the characters relate to Kacen’s own life.

Kacen, welcome to the podcast. I’m so excited to get to talk to you about this book.

Kacen: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Jeff: I reviewed “Stars in Your Eyes” a few episodes back. It was one of my favorite books of 2023. In your own words, tell everybody what this book is about and the story of Logan and Mattie.

Kacen: Yeah, thank you. “Stars in Your Eyes” is about two actors, Logan and Mattie, who are costars in a romantic comedy film.

And unfortunately, Logan is a little bit of the bad boy of Hollywood and insults Mattie on a red carpet for another event saying that Mattie has zero talent. And that makes the publicity for the film they’re starring in nosedive. So, the publicity, producers, they get together and they have the two actors pretend to be in a romance to help amp up the buzz of the film. And of course, they start to fall for each other. It isn’t long before Mattie starts to discover that Logan has his own past demons that he needs to heal, and the two begin to work through their own problems together.

Jeff: It was very old school Hollywood, the whole idea of the PR machine setting up the fake relationship. I don’t even really think of that as a thing anymore, and yet wouldn’t be surprised if it was.

Kacen: I don’t know. I mean, I am guilty of looking at so many of these relationships with celebrities and being like a little bit of a gossip king myself and thinking, Ooh, is that real?

Like Taylor Swift and the NFL star. I’m like, Is that real?

Jeff: Yeah, that’s an interesting example because I’m like how did that happen? But then, I mean, things happen, right?

Kacen: Right. Let me put in a disclaimer. Please do not sue me. I did. If anyone’s listening, do not sue me. I just, I’m wondering if it’s real.

Jeff: And no flame wars either, anybody.

What were the inspirations behind Logan and Mattie and their extremely complicated lives?

Kacen: Yeah, I feel most of the characters I write are pulled from myself. So, Mattie and Logan, the way that I create characters, I tend to start with their wound, their inner wound, and then kind of like branch out from there.

And they, both of their inner wounds definitely were inspired by my own. Like Mattie, I also struggle a lot with like shame and being seen and just wanting to feel free and open with who I am. Logan, I also have CPTSD like Logan. So, from there I do… and I feel like I actually have very similar personalities to both of them, even though they’re so different.

I can’t have my dark… I mean, everyone is very contradictory in their personalities at times. So, I also feel like I drew from my own personality for the characters.

Jeff: What’s it like for you to draw out so much from yourself to build these characters? Is it more difficult to write that, or does it become kind of a catharsis to write that?

Kacen: Exactly the second one. It’s very healing to be able to kind of reflect on my own wounds and let it out onto the page and then to also live vicariously through my characters as they begin to heal with each other, and they begin to feel loved and seen in some ways that maybe I haven’t always had the opportunity to. So, for me, it’s very healing.

Jeff: It’s interesting, as I was reading these two, they’re both in their early 20s. I think Logan’s 24, Mattie’s 23 and yet there were times that I had to remind myself of those ages because Logan carries so much. It feels like he’s had this longer life almost like I had to remind myself it wasn’t like a May/December romance and there wasn’t the age gap between them because of what Logan carries. Is that an accurate way to read him or did I just put more into that than I probably should have.

Kacen: It could be accurate. I think for me having CPTSD and like seeing the world and experience the world in a way that’s very similar to Logan, it can feel… sometimes I do feel like I have lived multiple lifetimes of many cycles of having to heal many different wounds similar to Logan. So maybe that’s what makes them feel a bit older.

Yeah, I hadn’t really considered that Logan might come across as older because of his traumas. I guess in my community, a lot of the people who I’m around are also feeling similar traumas so it feels like a natural thing regardless of age, like number age, and it can make you seem older.

Jeff: And it could be just what he carries. And I don’t want to call it brooding because that sounds like something else, but he just… life is heavier for him, I think…

Kacen: Yeah. That’s accurate.

Jeff: In a different way than how Mattie takes care of his trauma.

For people who don’t know, can you define CPTSD for us?

Kacen: Yeah, CPTSD is complex PTSD. And I am not, in any way, no licensed psychiatrist, none of that. So please, this is just me speaking from my own personal experience and what I’ve been working on.

But basically, complex PTSD can mean that it’s PTSD from chronic trauma at a young, early, an earlier age. So, for some people with PTSD, maybe they’re healing PTSD and they’re able to… like something happened in their adult years and they… their healing PTSD and they’re kind of like able to return to who they were before that traumatic event happened.

But when you have trauma from such a young age, it’s why I don’t even know who I was at that age, like four or five, who was I as a developing human being? So, there’s no real sense of person to return to. So, it’s complex. It’s called Complex PTSD.

Jeff: What was it about showbiz that made it the right setting for these characters?

Kacen: I had not even considered the fact that it’s Hollywood and unfortunately this is just a setting where a lot of the traumas that Logan experienced happened. But it turned out and as I was writing, it was oh, Hollywood, this, unfortunately, turned out to be the right setting for that. But it really started with the theme of them being actors and wanting to…

For the idea that we are all wearing masks and we’re all acting these different roles when we’re all trying to hide our wounds from ourselves and others. So, it felt like acting fit naturally with that thing.

Jeff: I feel like the Hollywood setting, which is one of the things that brought me to the book because I’m very into the idea of the machinery of Hollywood. And this one captured so much of it because between the chapters, and you’ve got a great dual point of view here, so we know a lot about both Mattie and Logan, there’s articles from Deadline. We get excerpts from Mattie’s future memoir. There’s snippets of social media, even notes from like Logan’s therapist and some other stuff in here. And you get this well-rounded view of everything while also seeing a lot of the machinery of Hollywood that they’re mixed up in that can’t be good for either one of them. How did you decide what to pull from those sources and how much research did you end up doing to put it all together in such a realistic way?

Kacen: Thank you. It started with me really wanting to show that these two guys were not just saying we’re famous like I wanted to show that they’re famous. So, I feel like if I’m remembering correctly the very first thing I wrote for the book was the YouTuber talking about the characters and trying to give the sense of, yeah, these are two famous people. They’re celebrities and trying to give the sense that they do not necessarily have ownership of how other people see them. And from there, I really feel like the story started to flow. For the research. I actually… I do the most. I moved to LA for a year.

Jeff: You went headlong into it.

Kacen: I did not need to do that, but I did move to LA for a year. I was interested in… I wanted to see what it was like to live there anyway also. But I did meet people who have worked on sets. I interviewed a publicist who works with actors or work with someone who works on sets for… and of course now I’m forgetting the official term for it, but the person who helps actors feel comfortable while they’re on set, like making sure that like boundaries aren’t crossed and…

Jeff: The intimacy coordinator, maybe.

Kacen: Yes, exactly. That, which I felt was especially important for this book with the different themes and different topics.

Jeff: I admire the all-in of moving. That’s a commitment.

Kacen: A very expensive commitment.

Jeff: You ended up here with a lot of stuff to balance because there’s the romance, of course, there’s everything going on with the movie. Everything going on in their personal lives outside the romance, which is quite a lot for both characters, there’s stuff with their families going on. How did you balance all of this? Cause that’s part of what turned it into, for me, such a perfect package because all of these things were happening and it’s part of what just made me have to keep turning the proverbial page like, well, what’s happening with the romance? What’s happening for Logan and Mattie individually? What’s happening with the movie? You know?

Kacen: My Virgo organizational skills come out with the outlining and plotting. I’m lucky that I’ve become a little obsessed with making sure different threads aren’t forgotten. But I tend to basically like, list out all the different plot threads that you were kind of naming just now. And one of my favorite things to do, I don’t think I had to do it for this one, but sometimes there are, like, books that just feel like I’m, like, I’m losing the different threads and different conflicts are dropping, so I start to list all of the different… like outline all the different plot points. And then I have a list of all the different threads, and I put them into color coordination on my word document and make sure, like, as I’m looking at the outline, oh, the lime green has not shown up in a while. Let me make sure that is continuing. Oh, the red was completely dropped after chapter 3.

Again, I don’t think I actually had the color coordinate for “Stars in Your Eyes”, but that’s one of my favorite tactics, and I think that does help with the plotting. And then, I’m sorry… I started to think about how sometimes I don’t even really enjoy outlining as much, because I do feel like I can start to cramp the style or the flow of the book, but it can be useful. It can be useful.

Jeff: Yeah, because I’m always fascinated and I know certainly the authors in our audience are always fascinated by, you know, who plots and who makes it up as they go and where do people fall in the middle. And I mean, for this one, it feels like you needed to at least get it on a plot at some point to know how everything kind of tied together.

Kacen: Yeah, I think that’s where I started to interrupt myself. I was like, I think for this one and it does happen. I feel like it’s the perfect balance where it’s like I am pantsing and everything is flowing and then after a while I hit like a moment of, I’m halfway through, let’s make sure all the plot threads are continuing in the way they need to.

And then I like outline everything out. That’s my favorite way to do it. Sometimes there are like monster books where I’m like, I’m losing it. I’m losing it. Got to just outline.

Jeff: How did you decide what to do with the interstitials? Were they written as you went, or did you drop them in after you had the story to help back up the story?

Kacen: I think it was a mix of both. I think, for example, I started with the YouTuber. The social media formerly known as Twitter, I think I wrote as I went, and those scenes like helped out whatever conflict was happening in the moment between like Mattie and Logan and what they were dealing with.

But there definitely were sections I went back and added in. I think the Deadline, more kind of like businessy things, I put in after the fact. And my agent, she had read the first draft before we went out to sell the book and she wanted to see more of Mattie and Logan’s fathers, which I understood because they were such a major part of both of their traumas. So that’s when I went back and added in Mattie’s memoir sections and the therapist notes for Logan. Which by the way, I have, after the fact, learned that apparently therapists don’t actually write notes like that. So, I do apologize to therapists everywhere.

But I am a writer… creative license.

Jeff: Exactly.

Mattie’s memoir is interesting because it’s that moment you have to write essentially into the future to some degree. What was that like going, I mean, however far out in the future from the film and the end of this book that he wrote that memoir to pull that back in?

Kacen: I really wanted… I thought that was a good opportunity to remind readers that this is a romance, and it is going to have a happy ending. I didn’t… especially in the darker moments and especially in the moments where you’re running into the romantic… romance trope of second act breakup. I really wanted to reassure readers that everything was going to end well. So, I felt like the memoir was the way to do that.

Jeff: It definitely helped. Because as I kept reading and getting into the last quarter of the book, I’m like, this has got to end well, this is billed as a romance, and I’ve been promised a romance, and this has got to end well. And listeners to the show, have heard me comment on various books. It’s like, I was not really sure this was going to be able to end up where it needed to be. And of course, it always does. It comes back to that page turning thing, too. I told you before we started recording, you cost me several hours of sleep because I could not put the book down.

Kacen: I’m sorry, but I’m also not sorry.

Jeff: Don’t be sorry. It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing. You also have this other element that plays along here because there is what this movie is based on.

How much of that do you actually know? Do you know this entire trajectory of the movie that they shot or, you know, is it just, these are the scenes that we’re doing right now, just because they make sense to the plot.

Kacen: The scenes were definitely always going to parallel and reflect what Logan and Mattie were doing. I wanted to make sure that felt more intentional.

Jeff: Which is just brilliant the way you did that. I just loved it.

Kacen: But I did have the idea to have a second romance novel that was sort of meta and that was based on the book that Mattie and Logan had starred in.

So that would have been really fun to actually look back at the scenes that needed to be there and try to puzzle out a plot around those scenes. It felt like a reverse kind of reverse engineering sort of game as a writer.

Jeff: That would be a very interesting writing challenge to undertake to have, you know, there’s probably what a half a dozen scenes where they’re actually shooting the movie within this book and then to be able to piece all that together to a book.

Kacen: Yeah. Yeah.

Jeff: I hope you undertake that one day, if only for fun for yourself.

Kacen: You know, that’s a good idea maybe I should.

Jeff: Now we talked a little bit about this. There’s a lot of Mattie and Logan of you in this book, and you even mentioned in the upfront note to the readers that is the case. And you mentioned to readers to also take care of themselves while reading, which is certainly necessary I’m sure for some people who will read this. How are you taking care of yourself as you were writing?

Kacen: It was not as triggering as I would have expected. It did feel very healing in a way. It almost felt like I was writing in a journal for a lot of different scenes. And, you know, the setting of when I was writing the book, I think kind of comes into play also. It was the middle of the pandemic that had just started. It was back in the beginning of 2020, I think, when I started writing this. So, I was kind of, locked inside my apartment. Also, the middle of a heat wave and I could not get… my AC also broke.

Jeff: Oh my gosh.

Kacen: I really thought… looking back now, I’m like, I’m feel like I’m lucky. It sounds like that, like I’m exaggerating, but I feel like I could have gotten heat stroke. And the day that like an AC person came in to fix it, they were like drenched in sweat. And I was like, how was I surviving this for like two weeks. But basically, for those two weeks, I couldn’t sleep. I was locked inside anyway. And it was like, I feel like this book was my escape. Cause I was like, either this, or I’m just sitting in the heat, unable to do anything else.

Jeff: Right. Escape into fictional LA. This is your first adult romance novel. You’ve written a couple other books for adults, but this is your first go at romance. What led you to taking on this genre after the other things that you’ve done in both young adult and adult?

Kacen: And I also… I started out in middle grade, and I think that for both middle grade and YA I started to feel frustrated with how trapped I felt by the characters ages sometimes, because they can’t just go. They can’t just… the plot would be… it would be so much easier if they just went on a train to New York to meet this one person. No, they’re 17. They have to go to school. They have to answer to their parents. And I started to… I felt like the plot just felt… plotting felt more trapped after a while and a little bit more frustrating. So, I knew that I wanted to have a go at an adult book just to let the plot feel more free. I also like for content, I just wanted to feel more free with writing whatever I really just wanted to write.

Jeff: How was it romance that you decided to tackle too? Cause you’ve done like adult fantasy and that genre, but what made the love story the thing to jump into now?

Kacen: You know, I’ve always been a romance fan. I always… I feel like I tend to also want to write what I read, so I basically read everything. And I have been on a kick of reading a lot of the popular romance books of that time. So, I think I had finished “The Unhoneymooners” and really loved it. There’s some other titles I’m not remembering, but I just… I feel like whenever I read something that I love, the urge to write it comes up, so I took a chance with “Stars in Your Eyes”. That’s what happened.

Jeff: Nice. And your two big tropes here are essentially fake dating and workplace romance. Are those favorites from your romance reading, or just what worked for this plot?

Kacen: Those are like some… I feel like the enemies to lovers for me was the number one. That’s my all-time favorite. So, for Mattie and Logan to start off not liking each other and developing their feelings for each other, for me that would be my favorite trope.

And then my second favorite trope kind of gives things away slightly, but second chances is also slipped into the book. Fake dating was definitely like the plot engine overall. But I feel like that’s a trope that I enjoy, but isn’t like really my passion, my passionate love of tropes though.

Jeff: It’s interesting that I did not mention enemies to lovers first, because certainly that’s the trigger as Logan says that Mattie’s a terrible actor. So, there’s an immediate friction going on there. And I just kind of overlooked that as the machine started.

Kacen: And what’s interesting, actually, I’m thinking about it now is that I’m realizing that fake dating is like more of a plot heavy trope, whereas enemies to lovers is more like character based. It depends on like the characters and their feelings towards each other.

Yeah, I think that’s always been a type of like reader and writer that I’ve gravitated more towards is more like character based over like heavy plot dynamic. So, I don’t know, random thought that’s coming out.

Jeff: And it’s interesting how you mix them here to, again, that great effect because they’re enemies and they’ve been forced into this scenario. And it’s an interesting fate dating too because They would have never come up with it on their own. It’s not I’m going to my mom’s house and we’re going to do this wedding and you need to come with me and be a fake date. There’s the workplace saying, you’re going to be a fake date, or this movie is not going to exist anymore.

Kacen: Right.

Jeff: What’s a favorite scene from “Stars in Your Eyes?” If you can give us one that doesn’t necessarily spoil it for people.

Kacen: All of the fan fiction sections are my favorite. They’re my absolute favorite. They’re my favorite because I love that they are zany, they were just fun to write, but that they also worked for showing that these are people who are so famous that other people are creating fanfiction about them. But then also added like a secret layer of… to the conversation of parasocial relationships that we have and the idea that some people feel like they have ownership over strangers as if they’re characters, which I feel like was a big part of Logan’s story especially.

So, even though I love that it was… it’s zany, you read it and you’re like, what the F is this? I’m allowed to say that. But then underneath it all, it’s no, there’s an intentional reason that it’s there also, you know.

Jeff: I have to imagine those were fun to write as just I’m going to take a break from the heaviness of these characters and I’m going to do this thing now.

Kacen: They were incredibly fun to write. I should also put out there that I love fan fiction. I have a secret Archive of Our Own fan fiction account. So, if you’re a fan fiction reader out there and you think that I’m making fun of fanfic. I’m not. I love it. But…

Jeff: A secret account. So, you’re not going to tell us how to go look that up are you?

Kacen: Absolutely not.

Jeff: From a fanfic reading point of view, what are some of your favorite pairings and fanfic fandoms?

Kacen: A lot of it is in anime right now. I don’t know if anyone out there is like big anime watchers, but especially since “Jujutsu Kaisen” is like at its all-time high right now. The. I feel like I’m talking gibberish to you right now. But I’m basically Gojo Satoru and I’m forgetting his best friend’s name, Geto.. It’s like a very tragic story. But they are a great romantic pairing.

Jeff: I’m glad you brought up the fanfic and we talked a little about some of the other social things that are in there. There’s the YouTuber and some other aspects of social that get in there. I found this to be an amazing commentary on fandom and showbiz as it is today with everybody on social feeling like they have a say in what happens and that they can look to destroy people or raise them up.

And you see that play out as some of the social media people, you know, get their pitchforks out at various times, and then have to go, “oh, you know, I might have been wrong.” Were you setting out to do that kind of commentary, or did it just work its way in here because of the story you were telling?

Kacen: When I wrote “Stars in Your Eyes”, I had just finished writing another book called “Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution,” which is even more on the topic of social media and how we treat people on socials. And I feel like that was lingering for me, and it felt like it was still an important part of the story, because how can you write about celebrities without talking about how people tend to treat celebrities on social media anyway. But I just feel like that was generally on my mind.

Basically the theme of Lark and Kasim being that we tend to treat other people on social media the way that we feel about ourselves, so there are a lot of people who are really hateful towards other people and it’s well, are you taking a look at yourself and what shame you might be feeling for yourself and how is that actually playing out and the way that you have decided to attack this random person? Anyway, that’s a huge tangent, that’s basically why it ends up in “Stars in Your Eyes” too, I think.

Jeff: Yeah. It’s fascinating and it just gave me pause on just how we treat people on social. Because it rises up periodically where things, you know, you can point to specific things along the way and go, you know, here’s an instance where social media really did a number on somebody. And it’s just terrible.

What’s the reaction from folks been? The book’s been out for a few weeks as we’re recording this. How’s the reaction from fans been of yours so far to this adult romance and the story you’re telling here?

Kacen: I don’t know. Speaking of socials, I’m not on it. I do have a private, also secret, TikTok account. But I forced myself really not to look up the book to see what people are thinking, because inevitably there will be the person who is like quite cruel, and it goes beyond what they think of the book, and it goes into like really insulting me as a person. And I’m right in the middle of writing another book right now. It’s like I just need to protect myself from all of that and just focus on my writing. So, I really have no idea what people are thinking or how people have reacted, but the book did get a starred review.

Jeff: Congratulations.

Kacen: Thank you. It got several starred reviews actually, I think.

Jeff: What do you hope people take from this story?

Kacen: I feel like I have a hope… I did not know that I had CPTSD for a very long time. I learned that I had CPTSD maybe like a year or so or a few months even right before I started writing “Stars in Your Eyes” and it’s been a healing journey. I feel like I was constantly the person of no therapy ever worked. Any book I read about psychology, nothing’s working on helping me heal. Okay, now I have CPTSD and I understand what I need to heal. And I kind of hope that the book maybe someone will pick up the book and realize, oh, this is me and maybe that could resonate for them.

But also, a part of having PTSD is kind of like this feeling of being isolated and not understanding why romance seems so easy to so many other people and we live in a society where romance is, it’s like you, you’re not complete without your other person, right?

Like, that’s what we’re taught from the time we’re kids and we’re taught to… like it’s in songs, it’s in movies, it’s in books that you’re constantly need to search for your other half. And that actually exasperates CPTSD a lot. It makes it feel like not only am I alone and isolated from… You know, for me. I shouldn’t say that this is all for me and not every person with CPTSD struggles within the way that I’m describing, but it’s exasperated in my symptoms and my struggles. And I wanted a romance book that actually reflected what it’s like to have CPTSD with healing rather than this idea of yeah, you’re struggling, but someone will come and save you. Someone will come and save you from your trauma, and then you’ll have your other half, and then you’ll finally be complete. I wanted to get away from that idea.

Jeff: And I like how you do that here, because Logan and Mattie are certainly good for each other often. Not always in the book, but often. But they don’t fix each other. They help, they support, they don’t fix, which I think is important.

And I like what you said there too about the drive to find your other half, find that person. I’ve been frustrated over the last, I want to say I’ve noticed this a lot in the last six months, particularly in romantic movies that I have been watching of a parent or a best friend going, well, you’ve got to go date, you need to go find this person. It’s important that you have a date, have a child, whatever that is.

There’s a zillion more plots out there that you can use than this naggy person who’s like the B character in the film.

Kacen: Yeah.

Jeff: But it’s so old and tired to push that and it’s… So, I’m glad you brought that up because it’s been bugging me.

This is our New Year’s episode. Hard to believe that 2024 is kicking off. Do you have traditions for how you like to begin a new year as we like turn the big calendar page over?

Kacen: I do not. I used to. And then I failed every single time. And I’ve learned after a while to stop telling myself I’m going to do something knowing I’m not going to do it, so. I do feel like I’m entering a new chapter in my life, especially as I was talking about finally figuring out how to begin healing. I feel like I’ve really entered into, like, a new era of my life. So, in a way I do feel like New Year’s symbolizes that and I’m excited for that, but I don’t really have a something I want to do to symbolize that. I don’t know.

Jeff: We love to get recommendations on this show. What are you reading and watching right now that our listeners should be checking out?

Kacen: If you do like anime, you already know “Jujutsu Kaisen” is doing well right now. Except for all the drama that’s happening with the animators. If you know, you know.

And for reading, I have been in the middle of the sequel for “Black Sun,” which has been incredible. I think it’s “Fevered Star,” really bad with the titles, by Rebecca Roanhorse. It’s just incredible. So that’s what I’m enjoying right now.

Jeff: Fantastic. And what can you tease us about what’s coming up next for you? You kind of teased you’re writing something right now. Can you give us some hints?

Kacen: Yeah. Please, if you are a praying person or anything like that, keep me in your thoughts. I’ve been writing the sequel for the fantasy that is coming out in February. The fantasy is called “Infinity Alchemist.” So that’s what’s coming up next. But I’ve been in the middle of the sequel for that.

Jeff: And fantasy books are no joke to write. I don’t think I’d ever want to take on a fantasy novel because there’s so much with world building and all this other stuff.

Kacen: You would think that the sequel would be easier because I already did so much world building in the first one. It’s not. It’s not easier. It’s harder, in fact.

Jeff: Do you think there’s more adult romance in your future?

Kacen: At the moment, no.

Jeff: Fingers crossed from me, at least, that you give it another try sometime.

Kacen: Oh, thank you.

Jeff: Because this one was so good.

You’ve cut across so many genres, and from middle grade to YA to adult and romance and fantasy and all this. What keeps you hopping around?

Kacen: From the get-go, I knew that I really did not want to be labeled or just put into one slot. And I used to work in publishing, and I knew that’s what publishers wanted to do for their own benefit really. It’s more beneficial to have their author be like, they are the romance adult author. But as a writer, I’ve always as a… I read everything and I knew I would want to write everything also.

So, from the get-go immediately plan to have each of my first books be different genres, in different age groups, so that people could not force me into any one particular box. And I am really glad that I did that.

Jeff: Do you have a favorite genre to work in?

Kacen: Oh, you’re asking me to choose amongst my babies. That’s not fair.

Jeff: I can accept that. So, I will not make you choose amongst your babies then. Through all of that is there something that are like the trademarks of a Kacen Callender book that regardless of what genre or age group we’re reading it, we’re going to get certain things.

Kacen: I think it always comes back to… I mean, maybe it’s a very obvious answer because it’s probably the answer for every writer, but I do think it always comes back to character for me and the wounds that they have and the healing of that wound. And it can look different in every age group in particular. But for me that’s always been the focus and the plot always reflects what their inner healing story is.

Jeff: I’m excited to see what you’re coming with next. And there’s a fantasy book coming in February. So that’s going to be exciting to check out too.

What is the best way for people to keep up with you online since you are not on social media?

Kacen: You can look at my website

Jeff: Excellent. We’ll put a link to that and all these other things that we’ve talked about in our show notes for the episode. Kacen, thank you so much for spending some time here with us and for writing this wonderful book with “Stars in Your Eyes”.

Kacen: Thank you. I appreciate it. I had a lot of fun.


Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, head on over to the show notes page for this episode at We’ve got links to absolutely everything that we’ve talked about in this episode.

Jeff: Thanks so much to Kacen for talking about “Stars in Your Eyes.” It was great hearing how all the elements of that story came together, including all the research they did. I know Kacen said they didn’t have another adult romance planned, but I so hope they write another one. It would absolutely be one that I’d pick up immediately because I love this one so much.

Will: Alright, I think that’ll do it for now. Coming up next on Monday, January 15th, we’re going to have the first of two episodes where we’re going to talk about the trend of subscriptions as a way readers can get more from their favorite authors.

Jeff: That’s right. Through 2023, many authors, including those in the gay romance genre, started subscription programs for their readers, and 2024 looks to continue and expand that trend. In the next episode, we’re gonna talk to Michael Evans, who’s an author, and also the co-founder and CEO of Ream, which is a new subscription platform built by authors specifically for authors and readers. Michael tells us what Ream is and what makes subscriptions something readers might consider as a way to connect more with their favorite authors.

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.