Adib Khorram talks with Jeff about his new YA novel, The Breakup Lists. He discusses what inspired the story of stage manager Jackson and swimmer-turned-actor Liam, including some elements that come from Adib’s real life. We also find out about how Adib approached the deaf representation in the book, why he chose the plays he did to be staged within the book, and scenes that got left behind. Of course, Adib’s got some great recommendations too.

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Show Notes

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Jeff: Coming up on this episode, Adib Khorram joins us to talk about “The Breakup Lists.”

Hello, Rainbow Romance Reader. Welcome to episode 452 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of queer romance fiction. I’m Jeff, and it’s great to have you here for another episode.

Now before we get into my conversation with Adib, I want to tell you briefly about a new charity anthology that’s coming out this Thursday, April 26th. Thirteen authors have joined together for “Elite Connections.” Let me just read you this blurb to get you intrigued about this.

Every need met. Every desire fulfilled. Welcome to Elite Connections, the secret exclusive service where money is no object and your every wish is guaranteed to come true. Fake dates, arranged marriages, or just some company for the night, whatever it is, with Elite, you are covered. “Elite Connections” is a queer charity anthology containing MM, FF, and other LGBTQ+ romances, and it’s available for a limited time only.

Now, if that didn’t make you want to pick up a copy, this should. The proceeds from the anthology are being split between two organizations that do some incredible work. First is Outright International, an organization that works to amplify inclusion and equality across the world. And second is Lambda Legal, which fights for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people.

This is a great lineup of authors too, featuring Anna Ashley, BA Tortuga, Colette Davison, Emily Silver, Erin Zak, Jax Calder, Kelex, Frances M. Thompson, Jodi Payne, Rhys Everly, Sarah Zane, Saxon James, and V.L. Locey. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of “Elite Connections” for some great stories and to support these two organizations doing great work.

Now let’s get into my conversation with a Adib Khorram. Usually, I review the book before the interview, but we talk about absolutely everything I love about “The Breakup Lists” in the interview. So, rather than being redundant, I think we should just get right to it.

I really loved talking to Adib about this book. And the real life inspirations behind some aspects of the story. Adib’s also got two more books coming out this year, including his first adult romance that we’re gonna find out about. And he’s got some terrific recommendations too.

Adib Khorram Interview

Jeff: Adib, welcome to the show. It is so exciting to have you here.

Adib: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Jeff: We’ve been thinking about having you, of course, going back to “Darius the Great Is Not Okay,” but then you came out with “The Breakup Lists.” This book and its theater kid scenario, kind of a “High School Musical” thing overall going on. It’s like, okay, now’s the time. Gotta have him here. Tell us about this book and the story of Jackson and Liam.

Adib: Goodness. So “The Breakup Lists” tells a story of Jackson Ghasnavi, who is an Iranian American, gay, deaf, stage manager in his high school in Kansas City, Missouri, who’s quite cynical and whose older sister is constantly falling in and out of love and to help her cope and to give himself some peace in life he’s taken to making lists of all the faults of her most recent exes which he calls his the breakup lists.

At the start of “The Breakup Lists” he meets a, a boy named Liam. He has kind of known Liam cause Liam is a swimmer and Jackson’s best friend, Bowie is a swimmer. But Liam decides he’s going to audition for the fall musical even though he is never been a theater kid. And the theater kids tend to be a bit, territorial. That’s a nice way of putting it.

Jeff: That’s a good way to put it.

Adib: Indeed. But Jackson gets to know Liam and gets to really like Liam about the same time that his sister Jasmine is also getting to know Liam and falling in love with him. And so even though Liam is dating his sister Jasmine, Jackson comes to realize that he may also have a, a bit of a crush.

And, geez, I don’t know how far to go into it. I feel like that’s a good, like, top level pitch without spoiling any of the chaos that ensues. But if you want me to go into the chaos that ensues, I will. I just don’t wanna spoil things. I never know how much to pitch.

Jeff: We’ll, we’ll get into some of those deep dive things a little bit as go.

Adib: Suffice it to say it is a romance. So, you kind of know that Jackson and Liam are in fact going to end up together at the other end of the mess.

Jeff: Although…

Adib: That’s the rules of genre, I don’t make ’em, I just follow them.

Jeff: This is one of those books that people on the show have heard me talk about it from time to time. It’s like the mess is so big. It’s like, I don’t know how they’re gonna come back from that to get to where I know they have to go. And that’s kind of my favorite, right? That I can’t figure out how it’s gonna like put us all back together again. And also, one of those I just kept with, with Jackson going, oh, don’t do that. Don’t, no, don’t do that.

Adib: I feel like for me the best YA books are the ones where we can see someone making the same mistakes we made at that age and being like, oh, I a hundred percent understand why you’re doing this. And I a hundred percent wish I could just tell you to make a different choice. But I don’t know. I think that’s what makes ’em real. cause we all have made those mistakes when we were younger. Sometimes we still make those mistakes as an adult.

I often hear people say that they’re like, really don’t like the miscommunication trope. And I’m like, listen, I’m almost 40 and I still sometimes miscommunicate with the people in my life. I get it. But obviously not to yuck anyone’s yum, or yum anyone’s yuck. Like everyone is allowed to like what they want to like.

Jeff: You mentioned in the acknowledgements that you were a theater kid.

Adib: I was indeed.

Jeff: Where are the parallels between you and Jackson?

Adib: Goodness. You know, Jackson is not me. Thank goodness. And he is not me in a lot of ways. But like Jackson, I was also a techie. I was backstage. I actually got my college degree in lighting design. And though Jackson’s very much not me, I think I gave him some of what, with hindsight, I think were some of my rougher edges from when I was a teenager. I was maybe a little bit on the judgmental side and maybe a little bit of a grudge holder and maybe a little bit cynical.

And I think I gave those parts of myself, to Jackson. But he’s also very much his own person. He’s self-possessed in a way that I wish I was when I was a teenager. He’s also out and queer, which I definitely could not be growing up in Kansas City in the late nineties and early two thousands.

So, in those ways I think he’s very different from me. But the love of theater that I had and still have, I think are very much a part of him. And you know, as is the stage manager, his job is not to be on stage. His job is to make sure everything goes well. And I think that’s part of who I was as a teenager and who I still am in some ways as an adult, before being an author.

I spent more than 10 years in the event production industry in Kansas City, making live events happen for people. And so, I’ve always been, I think, pretty good at keeping multiple plates spinning and you know, subsuming my own ego enough to let someone else have the night be about them and have a good time. And I think that’s something I gave to Jackson too, cause for all of his faults, and there are, there are numerous. I don’t think he’s a very selfish person most of the time.

Jeff: I would agree with that. He really wants things to go well for everybody. Mostly. I mean, he definitely has that like I want things to go well for me, but you know, he wants the shows to go off well, and I certainly having stage managed a few things myself, although as an adult, I certainly appreciate all the things that has to go into, like, making that happen correctly and well night after night after night, performance after performance. And I thought that stuff was just brilliant. I could, go Mm-Hmm. That, that, oh, the notebook. Mm-Hmm.

Adib: Many, many of the hurdles he faced were drawn from my own large repertoire of theater stories as I think anyone who’s been in theater for any amount of time just has a bunch of weird stories.

Jeff: The thing that I love most about Jackson, and, and we’ll see how not spoilerly we can kind of keep ourselves here, but just how much he misses clues about how Liam feels about him. Or sometimes he’s like, cause Bowie will kind of try to nudge him. He’s like, no, no, no, no.

It’s like this guy’s learning sign language for you. He’s learning another language for you. Please see that, you know.

Adib: I think, for all of his self-confidence and Jackson is pretty self-confident in a lot of ways, and self-assured. But he also is insecure in a lot of ways and in particular in romance because he’s been burned quite badly by his only other experience.

And I think. This is something that I imagine a lot of queer people have to grapple with when they were growing up, especially my generation of not quite believing that you’re deserving or worthy of love. And I think that really comes through in Jackson that to admit that Liam might actually like him means to admit that he’s worthy of love and he has built his entire personality on being cynical because he is not lovable, and he just doesn’t know how to accept that maybe he in fact is.

And so, it’s much easier to be like it’s all in my head, it’s wishful thinking. This is a normal bro behavior, even though it’s clearly not a bro behavior.

Jeff: Clearly not. Clearly not.

Did you have to fight with yourself a little bit to let that play out as long as it did and to not kind of nudge it further. cause it’s almost in a lot of ways, a slow burn that’s going on there.

Adib: Actually, my editor had to fight with me to make the book not 800 pages long because the burn was slower to start with. And I was like, let me relish all of these little hints and clues and Jackson being so, like blinded by what’s going on and Liam being so obvious and Jackson’s still not getting it.

And my editor’s like, I love how self-indulgent we’re being, let’s just rein it in a little bit. We really want to hit, I don’t remember exactly what the page count is, but you know, usually however big the book is depends on how it gets placed in libraries, how much it costs to print, et cetera, et cetera.

And it’s like, we really think this is the sweet spot. So, you maybe just, just reigned it in just a little. Just a little. And I did, and I do think the book is stronger for it. Like I think it moves along at a nice pace. And I don’t think it feels rushed, but I think it has a certain urgency to it that you want to know what happens next.

Jeff: It was definitely a page turner for me. It’s like, oh, I just wanna read a little bit more before I have to put it down for a bit,

Adib: Which is good. you know, we can save all of the other slow burn scenes for the director’s cut.

Jeff: Exactly what I was thinking. Later on, this could have a special edition with everything you wanted extra in it.

Is there anything that got left on the cutting room floor that you’re like, oh, I wish that that thing could have snuck its way back in.

Adib: One of the scenes I held onto for probably longer than I should have, cause it just wasn’t working was drawn from my own theater days where Jackson and the other theater kids try to have a camp out outside the theater teacher’s house and the cops get called on them.

And so, they end up decamping to a, like a, a local park where they set up tents and, Jackson having never been camping before, enters into an only one tent scenario with Liam. It was tropey and fun and just didn’t quite work for the arc of their relationship or the arc of the plot. But it was very fun and really just felt like the sort of misadventures that theater kids have because I did in fact have such a misadventure when I was in high school. I’m definitely sad that that one didn’t survive the editorial process, but that just means I can put it in a different book someday. Knock on wood.

Jeff: There you go. And now we all know it too. It’s like, oh, I can just work that into my own head story for those two on a thing that didn’t Actually show up in the book.

I’ve gotta ask about these breakup lists cause this is so unique that you’ve got somebody maintaining the lists for somebody else. Not just somebody else going, I hate this person because of X, Y, Z.

But having somebody maintain it for them, almost like their social secretary in some way. What was the inspiration for making that kind of come about? And I know, cause you mentioned the acknowledgements too, like leaning on some of the stuff with your sister a little bit too. Were you, her social secretary?

Adib: I’m only saying this because my sister gave me permission to say this. I was her social secretary for one particularly nasty breakup that she had.

Where she just was having a really hard time getting over this guy, and so to make to make her laugh and cheer her up, I just started inventing the most ridiculous faults I could for this guy. Some of them were clearly not untrue or perhaps not even applicable to members of the human species, but nonetheless, I would just make up the most ridiculous things about him, and that always did get a laugh out of her.

And something that even now she’s well and truly over it and healed, but she will occasionally just like remember something I said and as I was making this list of faults and just like crack herself up and we’ll have a good laugh about it. And I was describing this to another one of my author friends and they’re like, that’s kind of a fun hook for a book.

And I’m like, oh my God, you’re right. I cannot write this book without getting my sister’s permission first. And so, she did thankfully give it. And so, it spiraled out of, you know, I did this one time for one guy. Well, what if it’s someone you know, what if it’s a character doing it for like every guy because their sister is a serial dater?

And then of course the, the, the logical conclusion was well what if he has a hard time making a list because he likes the guy that he’s making one for. And that was really the seed of the entire novel.

Jeff: Interesting how many lists that he had to keep because she is that serial dater. And I love how it’s represented in the book in places too. And even some of the ways that his internal monologue works because there are places that you can see in the book like where things are scratched out and something else is like written next to it or just crossed out. Or as he’s editing his own thoughts, even crosses it out. Here’s what I’m really thinking or saying or whatever.

It’s a very interesting device that I can’t remember seeing anywhere quite like that before. To see that level of like character self-editing in the monologues, if you will.

Adib: Thank you. I definitely, I wish I knew where that came from. I tend to write by the seat of my pants when I’m kind of deepest into my writing. I do sometimes outline things as necessary. But I’m like at my happiest when I can just kind of sit down and write. And so, I don’t always know where things came from. And that emerged pretty organically early on that I’m like, oh, Jackson is afraid to say what he really thinks. So, he’s constantly censoring himself.

I wanna say it was my agent who said that there are other books that have done similar, but it’s been a while since we’ve had a book that use it similarly. And so hopefully everyone will have forgotten all of the others and think I’m a genius. And I’m like, yes, please, that would be wonderful.

But it definitely, it was just a lot of fun being like, let me make him as mean as he can possibly be. And then he’s just, he redacted that, and here’s the milder version. And I think with queer people and with people of color and with disabled people often we’re filing off little edges of ourselves to make ourselves more palatable to other people. And so having kind of done it on a whim, I’m like, oh, this feels a little too real, but now I have to do it. because it just felt like something a lot of us have experienced.

Jeff: It was really a wonderful reading experience to see all of those elements of Jackson, like the, what I really wanna say and then even redacting it almost to himself, like lessening what he’d said in his mind a little bit too. And I just wanted to hug him so much and just say like, this is all okay.

The deaf representation you’ve got here with Jackson is something that kind of blew me away in the book. Listeners to the podcast know that I work. in digital accessibility so I am considering these elements all the time and working with people who are in the disabled community. And I’ve heard people discuss deafness and loss of hearing with needing to turn hearing aids off cause it gets to be too much trying to process and the effort in trying to process, even with hearing aids.

And then I love how in the dialogue portions, if Jackson’s not hearing correctly. It just is like “something, something” just written in the dialogue. So, you know as the reader that something happened that he didn’t understand.

First of all, thank you for putting that in the book, cause while I’m not deaf or hard of hearing myself, I certainly appreciate the representation that people are gonna see themselves in this book in a way that they may not have elsewhere.

What kind of help and support and research did you do to be able to write that with what, again, appears only to me as a non-deaf person, to be some really excellent representation.

Adib: Thank you. I am also not deaf or hard of hearing. When I was younger, I did speech therapy. It turns out turns out they were trying to get rid of my gay voice, but at the time they thought I had a speech impediment and made me go to speech therapy for like six months. And several of the other kids in there were deaf and hard of hearing. So that, that was like my first introduction to that community.

But it’s not what I’m part of. And as a writer you know, my thinking around who gets to tell what stories is constantly evolving and these days I find myself feeling like at the end of the day we have to make more space than we take.

Early on I envisioned Jackson as deaf. There are people in my life that are deaf or hard of hearing. Some of them are minors and I’m not going to talk about them. But suffice it to say people I care about very much are deaf for hard of hearing, and I was cognizant that while representation of deaf folks is increasing in children’s literature, it’s still not a whole lot.

And almost all that I could find was by white authors. And it’s exciting that we’re getting more books by deaf creators like Sophie Lang and Anna Sortino, who both have Sophie’s debut is this year and then Anna’s sophomore novel comes out this year both with deaf protagonists, written by deaf authors and certainly in the, the adult space deaf writers have been writing.

So, I felt like there was enough other books out there that I could join in and make some room rather than taking it up. And hopefully that will end up being the case.

But as far as research aside from talking to the deaf folks in my life. I did read as much literature by deaf people as I could find. One of my favorites was actually Sara Novic’s “True Biz,” which was recommended to me by my friend who’s a CODA, a child of deaf adults, because their mother read it. And I was like, oh my God, this book is amazing. You have to read it. And so down the chain, it came to me.

I also watched one of my favorite pieces of deaf media I watched was “Deaf U,” the documentary on Netflix about Gallaudet University. That was really fun. And then I also, as many writers, worked with an authenticity reader to find basically all the points of ignorance I had that I butted up against.

I went into writing with the philosophy that it’s not my job to put my thumb on a pain point that I don’t share in. And so, in earlier versions there was less of Jackson hearing “something, something” and there was less of him being frustrated with his family’s unwillingness to learn sign language, and the reader said something to the effect of, basically it felt almost idealized that he wasn’t more frustrated with what was going on around him.

And so, then I had to make the decision of like, how honest do I need to be here to accurately represent his reality? Without, again, just jabbing a pain point that’s not mine. And I think with the help of that reader and with the help of my editor, I, I hope I’ve done it justice and come to a happy place.

But at the end of the day, I’m human and we all make mistakes sometime. And so, I hope if I did make any mistakes, they’re minor and don’t cause any harm, cause that’s certainly not my goal.

Oh my God. That was really rambly. I hope that made sense.

Jeff: It did make sense. And I hope, like you, that there aren’t mistakes there that you weren’t aware of and didn’t surface. It’ll be interesting as this gets out into people’s hands to see how all that resonates with people. And I hope it resonates for them in a good way cause I like seeing that kind of representation, knowing the work that I do and how, how little representation there can be in certain spaces.

Adib: I hope so too. And I hope you know, I hope young deaf readers and young deaf readers of color will see the book and be like, oh, I get to write about my own experiences too, and that it will open doors and not close them.

Jeff: Yeah. Absolutely.

I have to say over on, on the theater geeking-out side, I very much wanna see the version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that you’ve portrayed in this book. I have been through versions of “JCS” that I both adore how they do things and other ones where I’m like, how did you decide to do that thing? I wanna see the thing that you did in that book. So, if you ever put that on somewhere, let me know where.

Adib: Oh no, I won’t. It did happen in real life.

Jeff: It did?

Adib: And the company did get fined for veering too far from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s vision and lost a huge chunk of their season’s budget.

Jeff: Oh my gosh. I’m sad that I missed that somewhere.

Adib: Indeed. For those listeners who haven’t read the book yet, the version of “Jesus Christ Superstar” that Jackson’s teacher decides to mount is one that leans really heavily into the homoerotic subtexts of Jesus and Judas. And that was very much based on a production I was tangentially involved with, in which those same choices were made and cost the theater company a lot of money.

Jeff: Wow. you always hear about those things that kind of happen when they veer too far off. And to know that this was real, it’s like, wow.

Adib: And I feel comfortable saying this. It was an adult theater company, not a children’s theater. And so, I will say that was definitely the sexiest that “Jesus Christ superstar” has ever been. The guy that had playing Jesus was a very attractive man.

Jeff: Nice. And so, I guess… I was gonna ask why did you choose JCS and I’m guessing that that whole incident might have been one of the reasons it made its way into the book.

Adib: It actually was the last reason I picked “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I really picked it, primarily because in, in earlier versions of the book, betrayal was perhaps a larger theme that ended up being in the final version. And so, it felt thematically appropriate to have them be doing “Jesus Christ Superstar,” especially when they later go on to do “Twelfth Night,” which is about… am I allowed to cuss on this?

Jeff: Oh, absolutely.

Adib: It’s about gender fuckery and siblings. And I’m like, yes. Also, a big theme. I’m a genius. These are illusions. Oh my, God. English teachers are gonna be obsessed with me. But so, once I had the idea that I wanted to, to be something about betrayal, I’m like, well, I know I had this one hilarious production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” I was once involved in. That’ll be hilarious and great.

And so. once I had made the decision, I very much leaned into it and enjoyed getting to use this part of my past.

Jeff: That’s awesome. I love that so, so much. And I mean, even still there’s some big betrayal that goes on in this book. All I’ll say is as things start to kind of come together, Jackson’s sister like just blew my mind with the lengths that she went on some of what she did. And that’s all I’ll say on that, but it’s like, whoa!

Adib: It felt like that was the only choice she really could make for the narrative to have meaning and to feel satisfying, like she had to do what she did. But I did not have a lot of fun. I don’t like writing people being mean. I had a really hard time. That was really one of the last pieces of the book to fall in place was kind of Jasmine getting even with Jackson for stealing her boyfriend even though they had already broken up beforehand.

And yeah, it’s been interesting. I’ve started seeing kind of early responses to the book from people and Jasmine has been an a more polarizing character than I had expected. I think she’s delightful and hilarious, and I feel like we all know or knew when we were teenagers that one person who literally is just has to be in a relationship.

And so, I, I find her very human and endearing in a way, even as she’s messy. And some people are like, she’s unlikeable. And then I’m like is this misogyny at work or is this just people like seeing a little too much of themselves in the character and being like, no. Like, I don’t know, maybe people doth protest too much. You never know.

Jeff: She was interesting. She’s the character I had the most difficulty with… just like, why are you putting your brother through this thing with the lists?

That’s kind of where I was with it. I, mean, it wasn’t like that she was completely unlikable. It’s just like, why aren’t you keeping your own lists kind of thing?

Adib: To be fair, that dynamic is just as much Jackson who is like, let me tell you what’s wrong with your boyfriends.

Jeff: That’s very true.

Adib: Jackson does like listing people’s faults.

Jeff: You have a lot of subplots in this book. I mean, you’ve got everything with…

Adib: There used to be more. My editor made me tear them down.

Jeff: I can only imagine the sub plots that are in the director’s cut, but I mean you’ve got everything with Jackson’s sister. There’s stuff with the school’s GSA, which we haven’t even really touched on here, but some things going on there.

Jackson’s friend Bowie, who I would love to see an entire book about, college application and decision time staging two plays. How did you and your editor kind of bring all this into the package that it became? And how long did it take? It feels like this book might have taken a while.

Adib: It definitely took, I think, four good rounds of edits. Plus, pretty substantive line edits. I would say generally I tended to write too much. I got too in the weeds with subplots. And so, it was basically constantly my editor reigning me in and saying, remember this is a romance or a romantic comedy, depending who you ask.

We’re going to be here for three hours if we try to define what a romance versus a romantic comedy is, to the dissatisfaction of everyone on the planet. And I’m not sure it’s actually possible.

But because it’s a romance, you know, the thrust has to be thrust. Well, that’s a different romance. But the point of the story has to be Jackson and Liam. And so yes, make sure all the other characters have rich internal lives. But if they’re distracting from will Jackson and Liam have a happy ever after or not, then we gotta either cut it or trim it down to use it kind of as breathing room for when Jackson and Liam are getting too intense. Let’s go follow someone else for a little while.

It really was just a constant matter of pruning really. I rarely added to the subplots. It was usually trim the subplot to have a little more room to flesh out something between Jackson and Liam. And it was a real challenge, but like it was a good challenge. It made me really consider how much space I was giving on the page to any given subplot and how to do as much as I could with as little page space as I could. And I’m always a fan of scenes that can do more than one thing at a time.

This book and my editor Ellen, really like, made me do that a lot, which I think at the end of the day was good for me as a writer to have some bumpers to go up against, as it were.

Jeff: Has the, this method where you’ve got too much in it then have to pair back, is that kind of common for what happens when you write? Or did book just kind of bring more out of you and story to tell?

Adib: I think usually I end up writing a little bit short or writing just about the right amount, and therefore it’s just kind of a matter of shuffling. This one I definitely wrote too much. I think part of it is because it was characters I loved so much and you know, a topic and a piece of my life that I loved so much that it was a very self-indulgent writing process because it’s part of my life that I love and that I had endless funny stories. And so, I just put like all of the funny stories from my theater days into it and, part of the editing process was just being like, which ones are the funniest and which ones actually drive the plot forward or are so funny we’d have to leave them anyway.

The constant writing advice is to kill your darlings. And I always give myself the power to pardon one darling per book that I just keep it in there because it makes me happy.

Jeff: What got pardoned for this one?

Adib: Oh my gosh. I knew you were gonna ask that as soon as I said that aloud and I can’t remember.

Jeff: Oh, I couldn’t let it go.

Adib: I know, right? Well, the problem is like, I finished the book like last year, like when I’m done with it and then when it actually comes out. There’s such a gap that sometimes I forget. What did… oh my gosh.

Okay. Actually, one of the darlings I did, pardon was, was actually keeping them doing two plays. The question was that was like, can I combine it into one? I was like, no, no. I think they needed to do a fall musical and a spring play. And so that meant I had to work harder to make it work. Which is sometimes the compromise is you can keep the startling, but you have to earn it. And I do think I earned that. Like I think it works the way it turned out though.

Jeff: I can’t imagine it another way because the black moments happen shortly after “JCS” and kinda leaning into the next show, and you needed the space for all of the things that went so wrong to eventually work themselves out. And if you’d like, solved it sooner I think it would’ve been felt like, well, why did we just rush all of that. It’s what it needed to tell its story, at least in my opinion.

Adib: I was, I was, I was happy with how it turned out. It definitely took a while to get there, but I was very happy with how the book turned out. And, really grateful to Ellen for making me stretch and making me make it good.

Jeff: Given your love of these characters, do you think you might revisit at some point? Like I said, I want a book about Bowie really badly.

Adib: You know, I never say never. For me, I like, I always have to have a story to tell. I feel like if there’s not a story there, then in a way it feels like writing fan fiction of my own characters, which feels… not that there’s anything wrong with fan fiction. But writing fan fiction of your own characters feels self-indulgent to me. And in some ways like diminishing the role of, and the joy of fan fiction. Like one of the joys of fan fiction is filling in the gaps or imagining how the story goes on after the end. And I feel like if I’m going to tell you what happens after the end by writing another book, it has to be a good story worthy of being told or there’s no point to doing it.

So, all of which to just say, if I ever come up with the right story for them, and also someone buys it, then I would absolutely write about them again.

Jeff: We talked about something that was on the cutting room floor that you wish it could come back in. But what’s a favorite scene in the final book?

Adib: I mean, one of my favorite small interactions comes at a holiday meal where Jackson’s dad, who’s Iranian American and is really bad at cooking vegetables, wants Jackson to come check the carrots he’s cooking. And he is like, do you think they’re cooked enough? And Jackson’s like, how long have they been in this boiling water? And he is like, about 45 minutes. And Jackson touches the carrot and it just like dissolves in the water. And he’s like, yep, they’re dead.

I think that was really funny because I feel like a lot of Iranian American children come from families that have tended to murder vegetables. We all make fun of our parents for overcooking vegetables and so that’s a favorite scene.

I also think, I don’t know, Liam has this habit of tucking in Jackson’s t-shirt tags cause I always end up sticking up. And I feel like every time I got to write Liam doing that, I was like, oh, like that was my favorite thing to do was just let me show Liam being tender to this boy who is all bristles and like get through his shell.

That was really fun. because I think it’s… I don’t know. It’s nice to write about queer characters falling in love and nice to write about a queer character being shown that they’re worthy of love.

Jeff: And Liam, in all of his, just kindness. I mean, I don’t feel like there’s an evil bone really in, in Liam’s person. He’s just, he’s nice and he’s kind, and he wants to do right by people and do right by himself. And so of course he’s gonna tuck that tag in and it was just like, I loved it. Every time I read it, it’s like, aw.

Adib: I was like, yes, psychological gesture. Excellent. You know, we talked, me and my editor talked a lot about like Liam and make sure like, yes, he is perfect, but also, he is very imperfect.

And one of the things I actually struggled with during the editing process was how to get across that like, yeah, he’s great. Yeah, he’s kind, but he is also kind of a people pleaser and like how to show him growing through that and like learning to take care of himself in a way that was possible when we were a hundred percent in Jackson’s head. And, like that was a great challenge. But one I hope I rose to.

Jeff: I think you did. I could think of a couple scenes, and I won’t give them away where you see Liam, have to take that leap into a little personal growth, with how he’s handling a few different things that crop up along the way.

It occasionally made me wonder like… this could be an interesting two person POV. But on the other hand, I like just being with Jackson too.

Adib: I think it would’ve been interesting, but I think Jackson’s personality is just a little too strong to share the page with someone else.

Jeff: I could just envision Jackson somewhere in your head going, what are you doing? No, no. This is my book.

Adib: Exactly.

Jeff: You’ve got a couple more books coming out this year. It’s a busy year for you. There’s a picture book and a romantic comedy. You could try to define romantic comedy, maybe with that.

Adib: I’m not even, I’m not gonna try.

Jeff: What can you tell us about these two?

Adib: So, yeah, so the picture book is called “Bijan Always Wins,” and it comes out in July. And it’s about a little boy named Bijan. who basically makes everything in his life a competition to be won. And then ends up just really making everyone in his life really, really mad. And it’s illustrated by Michelle Tran, who just did a fantastic job, like entirely throughout. It’s such a fun, cute, but funny and whimsical picture book. I’m really excited for it. And if you’re wondering if I, as a child, I also was overly competitive. I don’t remember anymore. I was too, that’s too long ago now.

I’m actually, in addition to having three books out this year, not to age myself, but I’m turning 40 this year as well. So, it’s like the year of Adib. in fact, actually maybe that’s a branding opportunity. I should go with the year people and see if we can make it the year of a Adib.

Jeff: Absolutely.

Adib: Or just smack my, like, put a sticker of my face over a dragon and that way it can like, do double duty. And then my, my debut adult romance is called, “I’ll Have What He’s Having” and it comes out in September. And it’s about an Iranian American man named Farzan who lives in Kansas City, and he and his two Iranian American gay best friends from high school are still like best friends forever.

When Farzan goes to restaurants, sometimes he uses the name Frank Allen, cause his real name is Farzan Alavi. But when you try to make a reservation, sometimes people are like, what? And so, his white person name is Frank Allen.

And so, after getting dumped by a guy that he’d been on three dates with and is about to like start, finally like, he’s having this guy over. He is gonna cook for a man. Maybe they’re gonna Netflix and chill afterward. But the guy’s like, I’m not feeling it and cancels on him.

And so Farzan goes to a restaurant he’s wanting to try and gives his white person named Frank Allen for the reservation. Forgetting that Frank Allen is also the name of like a famous restaurant critic in Kansas City. Not in real life, but in the Kansas City of the book. And so, the sommelier at this restaurant named David, who is studying for his master sommelier test, he’s like, oh crap, a critic’s coming. I gotta roll out the red carpet for him.

So, he starts basically giving Farzan a lot of free food, and a lot of free wine. And Farzan thinks David is flirting with him, and David thinks Farzan slash Frank is flirting with him. So, they end up going home and sleeping together, and then the next morning realizing that it was all a mistake.

David is studying for his sommelier test, which is very stressful. And Farzan has just agreed to take over his family’s Persian restaurant in Kansas City even though he doesn’t know how to run a restaurant. And so, they’re like, ah, what if you help me study for my test and I help you learn how to run a restaurant? And also, we bone sometimes. Surely, we won’t catch any feelings. This is a purely professional transaction. We’re just letting off stress.

Of course, naturally they do catch feelings. Drama ensues. But there’s a lot of wine and a lot of boning and I would say it’s maybe like four chili peppers on a, on a scale of five. I know everyone has their versions of what that is. Suffice it to say, it’s not a children’s book. Very much not a children’s book.

Jeff: What led you to get into adult romance after doing some picture books and some YA along the way?

Adib: I think probably like a lot of people I had a hard time reading any books for pleasure during the kind of worst parts of the pandemic, and so I started reading basically exclusively adult romance cause I’m like, ah, this will be happy. And it’s about people falling in love and boning. None of which I’m able to do during the pandemic because I was single at the start of the pandemic and like, I didn’t need any pandem-dick.

You know, growing up I read romance some. Usually by appropriating various family members Harlequin novels, because certainly as a closeted gay boy, you’re not supposed to be reading romance. So, it was a genre I always loved and appreciated. Reading a bunch of it in 2020 and 2021, like I was reading queer romances and romances by authors of color, which weren’t around when I was growing up. Or at least I’m sure they were around, but I was not exposed to them, and they were harder to find.

And I was just reading so many of ’em and loving them. But at the same time, there weren’t a whole lot of traditionally published romances by queer men of color. There were some, and there are more now than there were, but I was like, hmm, none of these are by gay Iranians. So, at least none of the ones I could find. I think there probably are some romance is such a big genre and certainly the presence of indie romance is a beautiful thing.

But it makes it hard to know if what you want actually exists and it’s hard to find or if it doesn’t exist. So, I won’t ever, I won’t claim that I’m the first gay Iranian man to be writing queer romances. But I wasn’t finding a lot of it. And I was like, I should write romances about people like me.

And then separate to that, I also, helped two different friends move house on two different days. And then my body was destroyed, and I drank a bottle of wine and ate a pizza by myself. And then I was like, man, I should go to Italy. And so, I booked myself a trip to Italy and then sobered up and I was like, emailed my agent Molly, and I was like, dear Molly, I’m going to Italy, and I need to make this a write off. What if one of my romances is set in Italy? And she was like, great.

So, book two is set in Italy. It’s three books by the way. Three books for three friends. The Middle one is in Italy to make my trip to tax write off. Also, I’m not a tax professional. Don’t take tax advice from me on what to do if you go to Italy.

Jeff: But a great way to make Italy work for you. That was wonderful.

Three books, three romance books coming. That’s exciting.

Adib: Yep, yep. Fall 2024, fall 2025, and fall 2026. So, I’m kind of, I’m deep in edits on the, on the second one right now.

Jeff: Do you see for the future, just kind of going back and forth a little bit between writing young adult and, and also writing adult romance? Or is this more of a transition perhaps?

Adib: I think so. I love writing for young people. They’re endlessly fascinating and in a lot of ways every experience for them is a first. And so, when I get to write about their experiences. I get to kind of rediscover things for myself, and that’s incredibly fulfilling.

And I also think even though queer literature has come a long way, there’s always room for more. And I think with the current climate in the United States around access to books for young people, it’s more important than ever that we let young people and young queer people know that there’s a future out there for them and there is a world that will welcome them despite what the ugliest adults in their lives are saying.

And so, yeah, I think I’m gonna keep writing both. But on the other hand, I’ve had so much fun writing adult romance that I would love to do more if they’ll let me. I already have ideas for more books, different scenarios, different tropes that I haven’t gotten to get into, but want to get into. So yeah, I can see myself doing both as long as they’ll let me.

Jeff: That’s exciting. Oh, I’m looking forward to the fall to check out the, the adult romance, especially four chili pepper, spicy cause you’re certainly not writing that in young adult.

Adib: No. Right. I haven’t put any pole in hole in any of my young adult books, and I can’t imagine myself doing that. But this is an adult book and I’m like, yep, they’re just gonna get a little messy.

Jeff: We do love to get recommendations on this show. So, what are you reading or watching, or even, what theater have you been to recently that you wanna tell our listeners to check out?

Adib: Oh goodness. Okay. So, like every other person that’s ever done this podcast, as soon as you ask the question, I immediately forgot every book I have ever read in my life.

Jeff: Oh yeah.

Adib: I had a list next to me. I had a list prepared in case this came up. So, I recently I’ve read Julian Winters adult romance debut, “I Think They Love You,” which is delightful and amazing. I recently read Martha Wells “System Collapse,” the latest in the “Murderbot” novellas. I recently read Natalie C. Parker’s “Assassin’s Guide to Babysitting,” a YA queer adventure about assassins trying to kill a babysitter who’s also an assassin. To be clear, they’re all assassins. It’s great and delightful.

And I’ve also been re-reading Rebekah Weatherspoon’s “Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny,” which is just one of my favorite romances of all time.

Also, theater wise, I mean, I think it closed now, but if you have a time machine, go back in time and see “Some Like it Hot” on Broadway. It’s the queerest most delightful musical I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw it three times. I’m just obsessed with it. It was so perfect and everything you would want writers to do to a movie about white men dressing up as women to escape mobsters in a movie in the fifties. Like everything you’d want them to do to update that to be relevant to today. They did and more. It was so great. So, if it goes on tour, if they ever remount it, go see “Some Like it Hot.” It’s great.

And then my other obsession has been “Baldur’s Gate 3,” which I think I’m coming up on 400 hours of playtime on. I’m on my third and a half play through right now. I’m finally doing a dark urge run and I made my dark urge so sexy. It’s terrible. I’m like, oh no. Oh no. He’s so attractive. What happened? And it’s funny cause in the character creator sometimes you like think, ah, this person’s gonna be hot and then you see them in the in-game lighting and you’re like, oh, you’re look kind of weird.

This time I thought they looked kind of weird in the character creator, but then once it’s in the game lighting, I’m like, oh no. So, I’ve just, I’ve sabotaged myself. It’s such a good game though. It’s so good.

Jeff: That is some great stuff there. I’m so excited for Julian’s adult romance debut cause I love everything he writes, and I can’t wait to get a hold of that.

And I’m so annoyed that I didn’t get to “Some Like it Hot” before it closed.

Adib: I am so sorry. It was so good.

Jeff: Yeah. I was thrilled that they won a Grammy for cast recording.

Adib: Oh, that’s great. I was so happy that J. Harrison Ghee won. Them and Alex Newell tied for being the first non-binary performers to win Tony’s and I was so thrilled for that.

Jeff: Adib, this has been such a wonderful conversation. As we wrap up, tell everybody the best places to keep up with you online so that they can know what all of your new books are coming out and the other things you may be doing as “The Breakup Lists” comes out into the world.

Adib: Yeah. First of all, Jeff, thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure. Assuming there is social, still social media by the time this podcast comes out and given how many temper tantrums Elon Musk seems to throw, who knows what the answer will be? I am on Instagram and I usually forget to post unless it’s a picture of my food. @adibkhorram, I’m also on Blue Sky, which is I think my new Twitter. I feel like half of book world went to Threads and the other half went to Blue Sky and I was on the Blue Sky side. cause I don’t like Meta very much. But also @adibkhorram. I have a website, And I actually have a monthly newsletter that I’ve been sending out I think for the last two or two and a half years every month, which I’m very proud of myself cause that’s a very impressive consistency rate for me.

But yeah, I’m really lucky in some ways that I have a name that not a whole lot of other authors have, and so I didn’t have to do anything weird to my name to get it on every social media that I wanted.

Also, if you love “Star Trek” or “The Untamed” or random cultural musings, I do also have a Tumblr and it’s basically all “Star Trek” and “The Untamed” because those are my great loves. So, and that’s also

Jeff: Fantastic. We will link to all of that in the show notes along with all the other things that we talked about in the show. Thank you so much for being here. I’ve enjoyed this conversation so, so much. Wish you all the success with “The Breakup Lists.”

Adib: Thank you very much. I had a blast.


This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by our community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, check out the show notes page for this episode at And of course, we’ve got links to everything that we’ve talked about in this episode there too.

And thanks so much to Adib for talking to us about “The Breakup Lists.” I really cannot recommend this book highly enough. I also cannot wait for the fall release of, ” I’ll Have What He’s Having” because that sounds so incredible.

All right, that’s gonna do it for now. Coming up on Monday, May 6th, Cat Sebastian’s gonna be here to talk to us about her new book “You Should be So Lucky,” which features a romance set in 1960 between a baseball player who’s in a slump, and the reporter who’s been assigned to write about him. It’s such a great book and a wonderful conversation. You are not gonna wanna miss it.

Thank you so much for listening and I hope you’ll be back here soon for more discussions about the kinds of stories that we all love, the big gay fiction kind. Until then, keep turning those pages and keep reading.

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