Ep 196: Music and Fame with Roan Parrish
The guys talk about the television they’ve been watching so far this summer, including American Ninja Warrior on NBC, FX’s Pose, American Masters: Terrence McNally: Every Act of Life on PBS, Grand Hotel on ABC, Good Trouble on Freeform and What/If on Netflix.
Jeff reviews In Case You Forgot by Frederick Smith & Chaz Lamar.
Jeff interviews Roan Parrish about Raze, the latest book in the Riven series. They talk about the research she did for the series, including going on tour with a band, as well as the eclectic music she enjoys. The origin of Roan’s collaboration with Avon Gale is also discussed along with what got Roan started with writing gay romance.
Complete shownotes for episode 196 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.
Interview Transcript – Roan Parrish
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Welcome, Roan, to the podcast. It is so great to finally have you here.
Roan: Thank you. I’m so happy to be here.
Jeff: And it’s a perfect opportunity because just last week, you released raise “Raze,” just the third book in the “Riven” series. And for those who don’t know, tell us about the series and, of course, this latest installment.
Roan: Sure. So “Riven” starts out with the book, “Riven,” also the series title. And it’s kind of an anti-rock star romance. It’s about Theo, who’s the lead singer of the band, Riven. And they’ve suddenly hit it big and are super famous. And everyone in the band loves being famous and their success. And Theo hates it. He hates being famous. He hates being the center of attention. He hates, like, people knowing things about him or looking at him when he leaves the house. So he loves the music, but he finds fame, like, the worst thing ever. And so he’s about to go off on a new leg of the tour and is sort of, like, wandering the streets of New York, feeling a little bit sorry for himself.
When he hears this song coming from a bar, like, someone just strumming guitar, and it’s one of the most beautiful things he’s ever heard. So he goes in the bar to see who’s playing this or what the song is. And he meets Caleb, who is the one playing the music. And Caleb, we learn later, has been a musician for a long time, a working musician, but has sort of gone away from the scene and hidden himself away in his uncle’s house out of town because he’s had some addiction issues, and he’s trying to stay clean by staying away from everything that reminded him of the scene, including music. So they start to talk to each other and they bond over music. And then little by little, they fall in love. The problem being, of course, that for Theo being in the scene and being public is kind of part of his thing. And for Caleb, everything about that just brings back a lot of bad memories. So they have to sort of work together to figure out how that’s gonna impact their relationship and if they can get through it.
And then it kind of takes a hard left, I feel like this is the thing that I should say for people who haven’t read the series, is that the series really does hang together. It has the same secondary characters. It deals with a lot of the same themes, like, the themes of ending up someplace that you never thought you would be. But then in book two, we met Reese, or we’ve met Reese in book one, but we have a book about Reese who was Caleb’s best friend and Reese’s husband, Matt. And Matt has nothing to do with the music scene. And the book is told from his perspective. So for people who go in expecting that the whole series is about music, it is in some ways, like, music as a through line. And certainly, this idea of fame and this idea of struggling with fame is a through line. But book one is sort of anti-rock star. And then book two is like working musician and person who’s not involved with music at all. So I feel like that’s the thing I should say.
Jeff: Well, they it does hang together because you’ve got the working musician.
Roan: Yeah, totally. And Reese, who is the working musician is someone who toured with Caleb when Caleb was still playing music. So the characters all hang together and the series hangs together, but it’s not a kind of musician book, if that make sense.
Jeff: Yeah, that makes sense.
Roan: And then “Raze,” which is book three, it also hangs together. “Raze,” it’s similarly about characters ending up someplace that they never thought they would be. And in this book we meet Huey, who was in the first two books, and has been a sort of a little bit of a shadowy figure who we never knew his backstory, we didn’t know who he is, he just pops in and dispenses wisdom, and pops out again, he doesn’t say much else. And so he was Caleb’s sponsor in Narcotics Anonymous. And he’s still been working as a sponsor. And he is so used to taking care of everyone else being a sponsor, helping people work through their own addiction issues, dealing with his own, that he doesn’t really ever focus on his own life. He’s built up this kind of wall of focusing on everyone else, so he never has to think about himself.
And we meet Felix, who is doing the same thing, taking care of everyone else but him himself, but through his family instead of through NA. So he grew up and help take care of his younger brothers and sisters, and always helped his sister get whatever she wanted, and has now found himself as his sister goes off to do her music thing, found himself kind of like, “What the hell am I doing with my life? Who am I? I kind of forgot to ever notice what I wanted.” And so the two of them come together. And two people who are so used to looking out for everyone except themselves, as you can imagine, when it comes down to trying to make a relationship, they kind of don’t know how to do it. They don’t know how to ask for what they want. They don’t even know what they want from each other. And so feelings kinda bubble up and nobody knows what to do with them. And then it ends really happily.
Jeff: As all romance must.
Roan: That’s a must. And there’s even a kitten. So, yeah.
Jeff: What attracted you to writing this series?
Roan: I think that there’s themes that go together. I love music. And I’ve always been a huge music fan. And one of the things that I’ve always thought was interesting is that music is so personal, to me, anyway. And I know for many other people, like, each of us, listens to music and feels something – has associations that are deeply personal. And something about the weirdness of something so personal, experienced on a large scale of fame has always struck me as really odd. So you can be at a concert with the band and have thousands and thousands of people there. And each person has been hit with his music in a really personal way. And yet, we’re all there together in a super public space, having kind of a personal experience, like, smooshed up together with each other. And I’ve just always found that really strange.
And I know for people who make music, the process of making music is really personal. And it’s really different than the process of performing music. And so I think I was interested in what would it feel like to do something really personal in front of a lot of people and then watch as this thing that you’ve made gets loose on the world, and you no longer have any control over it or what people think of it. And to me being famous seems like absolutely the worst thing I can imagine outside of, like, actual torture. And I know that for some people, that’s not the case. But, yeah. So I was interested in writing, like, the genre of rock star romance is a thing. And I was interested in looking at it from the perspective of what would a rock star romance look like, if instead of rock star being a desirable thing, it was a terrible thing or a thing that caused a lot of problems for the rock star.
Jeff: What was the process around some of the research, because, like, you talk about this very personal thing. How do you research that? And then how do you try to read and put it in a book so everybody else gets it?
Roan: You know, I mean, I don’t know. I can’t really claim that I did it correctly. I’ve never been a musician. I like singing karaoke to Paula Abdul once with five other people very drunk in college. And that’s about my performance level. But my sister-in-law, my sister’s wife is a musician. And she’s very personal and writes very personal music and then performs it. And, you know, I’ve been to many of her shows, obviously. And I went on tour with her in Europe once, like, carrying her stuff and hanging on for the ride. And one thing that struck me was, like, people would come up to her after the show and tell her like, “Your music has meant so much to me. I was going through such a hard time and your music spoke to me in these really hard moments.”
And so I would see that and I know that people are having these personal responses and have personal relationships with the music. And I know that my sister-in-law does as well. And then, like, the moment that the two of them would be having together would be personal. But there was still this whole performance element that I kinda…yeah, just seems like a very strange crucible of the personal and the public smooshed together, and maybe the performativity of that, in some way, like, hides the personalness…or not hides necessarily, but, like, you need a little bit of distance, like, the lights and the smoke machine, and the darkness, and the space between the stage and the crowd to insulate you a little bit in order to take something that’s so personal and project it out in public.
Jeff: I love how you kinda had the personal research going on there that you actually went on this tour and got to see all of it kinda go down about as close to it as you could without being the actual performer.
Roan: Yeah, yeah, which is awesome. And I mean, like, I’ve had many friends who do music. So I knew that if I had, like, specific questions, you know, I had some questions about, like, the studio stuff and how you laid out tracks that I was able to ask friends about. But I really do think it’s, like, the feeling of performing that I was trying to capture and the sense of what it felt like to have something that was yours, like, the music, and then watch other people make it theirs. And although I’ve never been a performer in any way, I mean, that’s a little bit, like, what happens with books is that I sit at home in my pajamas, like, with cat hair all over me, and I write these books. And then when they’re published, it’s not mine anymore, it belongs to the people who read it. And I don’t really have any control over it. So that part was easy to kind of understand.
Jeff: Of course, you mentioned your love of music. And your bio actually mentioned that you listen to torch songs and melodic death metal. Now, I get eccentricity because my playlists are, like, wildly, you know, strangely hooked together in some way. But these two seem very different. What attracts you to these two individual styles?
Roan: I think I was trying to write my bio in a way that was, you know, like on dating sites, you wanna say the two things that seem most opposed. So you can be like, “Listen, this is what you’re getting as a human being who is essentially at odds with himself,” maybe that’s just me. Anyway, yeah, I love both of those genres. I think they’re both simultaneously really raw and really beautiful. Like, torch songs, I love because they are heartbroken, and tender, and they tell a story, and they’re so vulnerable, and beautiful.
And melodic death metal is like, doing the same thing, only it can’t be vulnerable, or, like, it needs a really harsh bass riff, and loud guitar, and loud drums in order to do something that’s that tender and that personal. And I find not like screamy death metal, but yeah, melodic death metal. I find it like one of those puppies that growls at you until you get a little bit closer, and then little by little it sorta lets you pet it. And then by the time you’re petting it, it’s like, “Oh, no, I really do love this. Please don’t ever stop petting me,” but then, like, someone else walks in the room and they’re all growly again.
Jeff: I love that analogy. So awesome.
Jeff: Now, speaking of music, with the “Riven” series seems such an obvious thing to perhaps you write to music if you’re a writer who does that. Was there a particular playlist that sort of pushed you along in the writing of the series?
Roan: You know, I actually didn’t listen to music at all writing the series, which is sort of strange when you say it like that. I go through phases of whether I like to write with music on or not. And there have been books that I’ve written where I listened to the same music over and over. Like, when I wrote…what book was it? Oh, “Out of Nowhere,” which is the second book “In the Middle of Somewhere” series, I listened like obsessively to “The Civil Wars” just over, and over, and over. And for some reason, the mood of those albums was, like, exactly the mood that I needed to be in to write that book. But with the “Riven” series, I didn’t listen to music at all.
Jeff: Interesting. Okay.
Roan: Yeah. And none of the music in the books is real. Like, I made up all the band names and all of the music. And I wonder if maybe part of it was like, I didn’t want real music in my head because I was making it up.
Jeff: That would make sense. Yeah. If you’re having to write any kind of song lyrics or anything inside the book, I could see where you would wanna, like, accidentally just pick up something.
Roan: Right. Well, it was super adorable actually because one of my best friends who reads all my stuff first is, like, she likes music a lot, but she’s like a top 40 radio kind of tastes music person. And so she thought that all of the musical references in my books in the “Riven” series were real, because she knows that I like lots of different kinds of music, and she just didn’t know that they were fake at all, which is totally adorable.
Jeff: Oh, that’s awesome. So you could have an extra career then as a songwriter if you’re writing lyrics.
Roan: Maybe a band-namer. I like the band names more.
Jeff: So I have to ask for the audio book then that you’ve got song lyrics – does that mean your narrator is actually singing the lyrics? Did you make Iggy sing and Chris sing?
Roan: No. And, you know, I don’t think that I have a chunk of lyrics long enough to be sung. They’re like a couple snippets. But I didn’t even think about the fact that I could have written a song of it for the audio book. That would have been awesome. Too late.
Jeff: Something to think about maybe for a future book or another installment in the series.
Roan: Yeah, yeah. I could do it as like an extra or something, I guess.
Jeff: And speaking of the series, is there more to come in this series?
Roan: There’s not. Like, The Good Place that we were talking about earlier, I have decided that book three is the end.
Jeff: Okay. Time to wrap up that universe.
Roan: Yeah. And, you know, I say that and obviously maybe I would go back in the future and write another one. But I think the fact that the last book is about a character whose story we’ve kinda been wondering about for the whole series, it felt like a good place to stop because it’s sort of the wrap up of, like, solving the last interpersonal mystery. So that felt like the right place to stop. And there are definitely tendrils. Like, people who’ve read a bunch of my books will notice that Riven, the band, is mentioned in another book, and that some characters from the “Middle of Somewhere” series are briefly alluded to in “Riven.” So there’s, like, little Easter eggs for people who have read all the books because I sort of think of everything as being connected in that way. So it’ll pop back up, I’m sure.
Jeff: I love that. I love the broad interconnected universe thing.
Roan: Yeah, yeah. Secretly in my head, all of the books are connected in lots of ways that I don’t necessarily put on the page. But, like, I like to get a couple in there.
Jeff: Nice. Now, you also co-write with Avon Gale. What got that collaboration going?
Roan: You know, that collaboration happened completely by accident, or on a whim, I should say. And I’m so glad it did. So I was living in New Orleans a couple years ago. And Avon and I were friends on the internet. And she offered when I was moving back from New Orleans to Philadelphia, she was like, “I love a road trip. What if I fly to New Orleans and drive with you,” because it’s a many day drive and you have a cat. I had like my truck and then I had my car hitched to the back of the truck, and it was a whole big thing. So I was like, “Oh, great. This will be fun.”
So we started driving from Louisiana to Pennsylvania. And it was, like, a torrential downpour. And we couldn’t hear the radio. We couldn’t do anything. And so Avon was like, “Okay. Well, I’ll just tell you about this book that I’ve been working on. And I am really stuck on it. I can’t get the plot right.” So I was like, “Okay.” And I’m pretty introverted and Avon is very extroverted. And we going in…
Jeff: And it’s very true, she is.
Roan: Yes. And, you know, I really just love a clear communicator, so I loved it. She was like, “Basically, I talk constantly. And if you want me to stop, you have to tell me to stop.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s amazing. I run out of steam socially in approximately two-and-a-half hours, and I’m still listening to you, but I won’t respond.” And she was like, “Okay, great.” And thus, it was. And so she basically narrated to me the entire plot of this book that she was trying to write, and she was having trouble with it. And I kept doing this probably obnoxious thing where I was like, “Oh, what if you did this?” Or, “What if you did that?” Or, “Oh, my gosh, it’s so funny, because if that were me, I would totally do this.” And she, instead of being annoyed, was like, “Well, you should obviously write this book with me.”
And that book was what it turned into “Heart of the Steal,” which is the first book we wrote together. And it was so fun because then as we were driving, we just plotted the whole book. And she had her little, like, computer that she was typing on while we drove. And I drove the truck the whole way. And so I would like yammer at her and she would take notes, and then in the hotel rooms at night, we would kinda hash it out. And so it happened on a total whim, and then turned out to be really fun. And so we planned it on that trip. And then I went and visited her months later, I guess. Yeah, some months later, and we actually wrote “Thrall,” which was the second book that we co-wrote together, like, in the same place. So we wrote it, like, together, even though we don’t live in the same place. So it was two very different writing experiences, but both equally awesome.
Jeff: That’s fantastic. And I have to imagine it’s a nice way to kill the time in a road trip to just write a book.
Roan: Oh, yeah, totally. And it’s really fun because I don’t know about you or about other writers in general, but, like, I find that traveling is one of the best, like, brain, what do you call it? Like, catalyzers, brain catalyzers, something about moving through space constantly, whether it’s, like, on a train or just walking or whatever. It’s, like, the rhythm of moving through space makes my brain also work in a forward rhythm. And I find myself, excuse me, getting so many ideas when I’m just, like, walking a long distance, or on a train, or on a bus, or something. And so something about driving and plotting the thing together was, like, super, some word…
Roan: Yeah, awesome.
Jeff: Probably better than awesome, but awesome was the first thing that popped into my head.
Roan: Yeah, yeah.
Jeff: And then I totally get what you’re talking about there, too, because I’ve done a lot of plotting and some writing on planes. Because it’s like, yeah, there’s something about just that that just you’ve got the time, and, like, the brain is working, so use it.
Roan: Yeah. And it’s, like, looking out the window of something moving through that kinda space with everything passing so quickly, it almost feels like it changes the rhythm of thoughts or something.
Jeff: Yeah. And kudos to Avon for being able to type in a moving vehicle because I don’t know that I could do that.
Roan: Oh, my God, she has, like, motion sickness proof. I swear to God.
Jeff: That’s just crazy.
Roan: Oh, I know.
Jeff: But we definitely got to talk a little bit about “Thrall.” I reviewed it back in Episode 157. I was just blown away by it. For folks who don’t know, tell us about what that book is and what in fact does make it so special?
Roan: So “Thrall” is our modern “Dracula” retelling, basically. And for anyone who’s read “Dracula,” you’ll remember that “Dracula,” it’s an epistolary novel, so it’s told through letters, and diary entries, and, like, newspaper clippings, telegram, stuff like that. And so we did “Thrall” in the same way, we made it an epistolary novel. But since ours was modern, and that one was 19th century, instead of letters and journal entries, and stuff like that, we have emails, and g-chats, and tweets, and podcast descriptions, and stuff like that. So the whole thing is written in that way, this combination of different print media.
So we have the main characters that people will recognize from “Dracula.” And Mina, and Lucy, who are the two characters that people will know from “Dracula,” in our version, have a podcast, a true crime podcast in New Orleans. And they get caught up in basically trying to solve the mystery of Lucy’s brother who seems to have disappeared. And so in getting caught up in that mystery, they stumble upon this a role-playing game kind of thing, where they use an app, and they go to different places, and they try to solve clues, hoping that it will take them to Lucy’s brother. And so in addition to it being an epistolary form in general for the whole book, then kind of within that epistolary form, there’s this mystery that they’re trying to solve on a computer, I mean, on a phone app. So it’s like a game inside an epistolary novel that’s an adaptation of another epistolary novel.
Jeff: And epistolary just not something you see very much. At least I don’t, especially in the romance genre that I tend to read in general. What was it like as a writer, and just plotting to take on such a different narrative format?
Roan: Yeah, it was awesome. It was really, really cool. I love form, like, I’m super interested in what different things you can do with form. And one of the things that, like, when I’m reading other things I’m always interested in is what form did this author choose, whether it’s something simple, like, short chapters, or long chapters, or, like, flashbacks versus telling everything in order, all of that stuff, I think, has such an impact on the way the story gets delivered. And so I was really excited to play with the form.
And I think that with the genre of romance, one of the reasons why we don’t see epistolary stuff so often is that it’s, like, an additional level of remove between the two characters. And romance seems, to me, to be all about intimacy and connection. And sure, it can be really romantic or sexy to write a love letter or love email, I guess, in 2019. But there’s still something where you’re not in the moment. There’s no, like, tracking a touch as it happens, or a kiss, or whatever it is. And so I think that going into “Thrall,” we were like, “How the hell do we make a romance happen when the characters essentially are never in the same scene?” Like, in order to be texting each other, they probably aren’t together. In order to be chatting each other, they’re probably not together.
And so any evidence of an encounter, which is all we could show, also demonstrated their distance. So that was a challenge. And we got around it in a couple of different ways, including characters literally writing out sex scenes that they wished would happen like fantasies, having chats that were more intimate. But yeah, the romance part, I think, was actually the hardest to portray via the epistolary form because it introduces that necessary distance, which is sort of the anti-romance. It was much easier, for example, for the mystery, or the suspense parts because those things can be portrayed that way no problem. But, yeah, the romance part was tricky.
Jeff: Well, as I said the review, I think you guys pulled it off so amazingly. If people have not read “Thrall,” they should really pick it up and give it a try.
Roan: Oh, thanks.
Jeff: Because maybe a little much to call it a breath of fresh air, but it’s certainly gonna be something very different than what I think most people tend to read.
Roan: Yeah, it definitely is different. And it’s one of those books that Avon and I knew going in, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s an adaptation. It’s an adaptation of “Dracula.” It’s an adaptation of “Dracula” without vampires. It’s a romance where you don’t ever see the characters touch necessarily. But like, I feel, like, for people who are interested in form for people who are interested in Dracula or interested in suspense, and all that stuff, we were really excited to just do something totally new for us.
Jeff: Yeah. It was super cool. Please do more of that sometime.
Roan: I would love too.
Jeff: So laying a little bit of your origin story, how did you get involved in writing M/M romance?
Roan: You know, at the risk of making, it sound completely accidental, it was kind of accidental. My good friend from graduate school, got a job in Phoenix, and didn’t know very many people. She didn’t have many friends. And she and I both started reading both young adult and M/M mysteries in grad school. And so I went to go visit her and she was having a hard time. Like, I said she didn’t know very many people, didn’t have any friends, and she just wanted like, escape reading. And we were, like, in the kitchen cooking dinner or something, and she was saying that she just wished that there was, like, a romance novel that she could read about someone who was in her situation. So someone who was a new professor in a new place, didn’t know very many people and was kind of struggling to fit in. And because she’s my friend and I wanted to make it all better, I was like, “Oh, no worries, I’ll write you a story. Everything is gonna be okay.”
So on the plane home from Arizona, I wrote the first chapter of what would eventually be “In the Middle of Somewhere,” my first book, thinking that, like, I would send it to my friend, and she would read it and be like, “You are such a nerd. I can’t believe you actually wrote me this story. I was just complaining. You’re weird.” But instead, she read it and wrote back and was like, “Oh, a story. Oh, my gosh. What happens next?” And, of course, I didn’t know what happened next because there was no next. I thought that it was going to be a little one-off thing. But then I wrote the next chapter and I emailed it to her, and she wrote back and was like, “What happens next?” And I actually wrote the whole first half of the book that way just chunking out a chapter, emailing it to my friend, and I was really writing it for her. I never thought I would show it to anyone. I never intended to send it to a publisher. I didn’t even have a plot, I just was writing these little sections.
And around halfway through the book, I suddenly realized that, like, it was getting kinda long, and I should probably figure out how it was gonna end. Otherwise, I would just end up writing this, like, email missive to my friend forever, which was really fun. But also, I thought she would get sick of it eventually. And then when I finished the book, I thought that was gonna be the end of it. And it was my friend who was like, “No, you should totally try to publish it.” And I owe it all to her, I never occurred to me to send it to anyone. And I would never have done it if she hadn’t made me.
Jeff: Well, kudos to her for making that happen. And that’s the best accident story ever. I mean, just amazing. Were you writing before that at all? Or was this just really like, “Hey, I could write. I’ll write you something. No worries.”
Roan: Well, you know, I’ve always written different things. I was a poetry major in college of all the super useful things to pursue. And so I wrote poetry or some short fiction. And then I did my PhD in literature. So, you know, I wrote a dissertation, I wrote nonfiction for years, and years, and years. But I’ve always loved to write. And I love reading novels. And so sitting down to write a novel, I think it actually helps that I wasn’t thinking of it as writing a novel. I just thought of it as writing the story for my friend. So I didn’t have any of the self-consciousness or like that internal editorial voice that I’m sure if I had planned to send it out, would have like, killed me as I was trying to start.
And in terms of, like, as we get back to your original question, which I don’t know that I actually answered in terms of, like, why M/M romance specifically. I hate misogyny, and sexism, and can’t deal with stories where I read female characters and feel intensely alienated from them. And I find often in romance, not all by any means, there are some amazing, amazing, like, revolutionary really amazing people writing romance with women, but I’ve often found that reading romance novels that are, like, heterosexual romance stories make me feel alienated, and angry, and the opposite of anything that I associate with romantic. And so, yeah.
Jeff: Who are sort of your author influences?
Roan: Oh, man. Well, you know, growing up, I read everything. I’m a real, like, moody reader. So I go through phases. And when I’m in that phase, that’s all I read. So, like, when I was in elementary school, I was obsessed with S. E. Hinton Hinton, “The Outsiders” and “Rumble Fish,” those books. And she writes with this very kind of, like, spare style, but lots of sensory detail. And I think that that’s definitely something that I’ve always really admired was the ability to evoke feeling even while being very spare.
And then when I was in middle school, I was obsessed with Anne Rice, obviously, because middle school. And I read her books over, and over, and over. And I think that she is like the master of the kind of Baroque sentence structure that when you’re deep in, reading one of her books, you don’t notice that she’s, like, in a strange Yoda way, like, flipping a subject and predicate to make things sound, more flourishy and purple prosy. You don’t notice it because you’re so deep in it that, like, of course, that character would talk that way. But if you go and you read another author or another book, you realize suddenly what she was doing.
And so I think from her, I got just, like, I really respected this immersive detail-rich all the senses engaged kind of writing. Also, I really love long books, and the ability to sustain a story over 800 pages, and keep going with this level of detail. I mean, I know it’s not everyone’s bag, like, some people really like a short one and done, but I mean, I will read a series that goes on forever if I’m still engaged. And I just think that she does that incredibly well. Then, oh, gosh, I’m taking you on a tour. I don’t know if this is actually answering your question, but I do think…
Jeff: It is actually. Yeah.
Roan: Oh, okay, good. The real answer is, like, I learned things from every single author I read. And sometimes, it’s things that I don’t ever wanna do. And sometimes, it’s things that my mind is blown because I’m like, “Holy crap, I didn’t even know you could do that.” Sometimes it’s like I feel like I’m weak in one area at a moment. And so I wanna go read someone who I think does something really well and try to learn it. Oh, Francesca Lia Block was a huge influence when I was a teenager. She writes this kind of magical realism that is, like, very urban set – in LA, deals with real world problems, but has this, like, pink fog over the entire thing. And I was really, really taken by that.
That way of combining urbanity with fantasy, and so that’s definitely something that I took from her. I went through a really deep, like, epic historical fiction kick, which maybe is that same kind of, like, very immersive detail, huge cast of characters, all that stuff. And, oh, gosh, I’m totally blanking on her. Oh, Sharon Kay Penman is her name. Okay. Sorry, this is maybe a tangent. But this story blows my mind and is, like, one of the more impressive things I’ve ever heard in my life, if you’ll indulge me for a moment.
Jeff: Of course.
Roan: So Sharon Kay Penman writes these, like, hugely epic, 1,000-page long, British Isles historical fiction. And she wrote this book called “The Sunne in Splendour,” in, like, I wanna say the early 80s, maybe mid-80s. And the book is epically long, and just detail, and hundreds and hundreds of characters, and like tons of things translated into Welsh. It’s about Welsh civil wars, or wars with England. Anyway, she wrote the book and, like, on a typewriter, and had it in one of those, you know, the boxes that reams of paper come in…you would put your manuscript in this box. So she was going to drive her book to her publisher. And she stopped at the bank to, like, deposit a check or something. And when she came back out, her car had been stolen with the copy of the book inside, the only copy of the book, which I don’t even know how that happens. So the car stolen, she’s just sure she’s never gonna get it back. And whereas, like, I don’t know, I would probably immediately go home and, like, order seven pizzas, and you wouldn’t see me for a month. She drove home and started writing the book again.
Jeff: Wow. I would have done the seven-pizza thing and then walked away for, like, at least a week.
Roan: Yeah. Like, I would have told every single person who would listen that my life’s work had been ripped from me. And it was the worst thing that ever happened to me and which, you know, I think that’s actually speaking pretty well of my life that that would be the worst thing. But, yeah, I just, like, that level of tenacity and dedication to a project, it just blows my mind. Anyway, she’s amazing.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s awesome. And just, like, I can’t even imagine, it speaks so well to these days where we’re like, “Did you back that up on Dropbox?”
Roan: Yeah, at least someone’s like, “Oh, man, I just spent, like, 20 minutes writing that email and it got wiped.” And I’m like, “Sharon Kay Penman.”
Jeff: So what’s coming up next for you? What’s yet to come this year?
Roan: Well, do wanna be the first person to know because I actually just found out yesterday?
Jeff: Oh, breaking news.
Roan: Breaking News. Yeah, I just sold a new book, which I’m pretty excited about. Okay. The concept is, there is a guy who has a bunch of animals. He’s like, kind of antisocial, kind of pissed off at the world for reasons that I will not divulge yet. And he likes animals better than people. So he has all these rescue dogs and a bunch of cats that hang around. And basically, all he wants to do is take his dogs on these long rambling walks and think about how fucked up his life has gotten. It’s the only thing keeping him sane, it’s just, like, rambling walks with these dogs.
And one night he is walking with the dogs and one of them starts chasing something. And he starts chasing the dog and falls down a hill and breaks his ankle. So all of a sudden, he can’t do the one thing that he’s liked, which is walk his dogs. So he goes online, and he finds this app that, like, match makes pet owners with people who wanna hang out with animals, but can’t have pets of their own, because he’s looking for someone who could help him walk his dogs, since he can’t do it anymore.
Then you have this other character, who’s super shy lives with his grandma is, like, husband saving up to try to, like, get a new apartment so that he could have a dog. And then his grandfather dies, he has to move in with his grandmother, and he can’t have an animal because she’s desperately allergic. So he goes on the matchmaker app, and gets matched with this dude who needs someone to walk his dogs. And so the Meet Cute is a dog walking app, and a grouchy meets a shy guy, and lots of animals, and love.
Jeff: Well, this sounds awesome. When do we get to see this? I’m guessing 2020 sometime?
Roan: I think so. I don’t have a date on it. I’ll start working on it soon. But, yeah, I think it’s gonna be, like, cute-ish in tone. And I don’t know, I keep, like, accidentally writing animals into every single one of my books. And I don’t even mean too. And this time. I was like, “Well, I mean, I keep doing it by accident. Maybe this time, I’ll just, like, actually do it on purpose.”
Jeff: And what’s the best way people can keep up with you online and find out when this next thing comes out?
Roan: Well, they can check out my website, roanparrish.com, where I post all things that exist. And then in terms of social media, I’ve been very active on Instagram stories lately. I just bought a house, my first house, like the first non-one-bedroom apartment that I’ve been living in. And I’ve been doing all these, like, garden planting, and baking, and projects, and stuff. So I’ve been really liking Instagram stories. So people should follow me there and tell me all the things that I’m doing wrong in my garden.
Jeff: They may not think you’re doing wrong.
Roan: I mean, it’s my first time and I feel, like, I’m doing everything wrong. But we’ll see, it might grow.
Jeff: I bet it does. And congratulations on the first house. That’s such a huge thing.
Roan: Oh, thank you. I really went, like, in the space of one month from a person who thought that they would always live in one-bedroom apartments to a person who bought a house. And so it was very shocking for me. I keep wandering to the extra room and being, like, “What’s gonna go in here? I don’t know.”
Jeff: It’s part of the fun of home-ownership.
Roan: Yeah. Mostly, it’s like my cat goes in there. And that’s what happened. So I mean, I’m on all the social media things. I’m everywhere as Roan Parrish and people can find me. But Instagram stories is totally the most fun. And for people who, like, wanna know about when books are coming out, but don’t dig the social media vibe, BookBub is a great place to find me because they’ll just get emails when I have books coming out or on sale.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well, we will link up to everything we talked about in the show notes. We wish you the best of luck with the release of “Raze.” And thanks so much for hanging out with us.
Roan: Oh, thanks so much. It was a blast.
Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:
In Case You Forgot by Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar. Reviewed by Jeff Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar are new to me authors and I loved reading their first collaboration, In Case You Forgot. Frederic and Chaz are two black gay men writing about two black gay men living in West Hollywood. This year in the life story left me wanting sequels because I want to read even more about these two interesting characters.
Zaire James and Kenny Kane are in similar positions. Coming up on his 30th birthday, Zaire decided it was time to separate from his husband, even though a lot of his family and his friends thought Mario was perfect for him. Kenny, approaching 40, was dumped by Brandon-Malik via text as he was en route to his mother’s funeral. Both of these guys need a reboot.
For Zaire that means moving into WeHo–it happens that he moves in across the street from Kenny. He’s got a new job at a social media firm and he’s looking for what comes next. He’s got a family that wants him to find it too–the James Gang siblings–brother Harlem and sisters Langston and Savannah–are always on him to get his life together and find his happy.
Kenny, on the other hand, is working on getting his consulting business off the ground since he’s recently finished his doctorate. He’s trying to mostly focus on the business, but he also wants to find Mr. Right. Kenny also carries the weight of having watched his first boyfriend, Jeremy, die after a stabbing. He’s working on his life with some therapy.
So what happens in this book? Life. Kenny and Zaire, at times together and at others separate, look for a good date that may lead to more, celebrate birthdays, experience success and failures. The last line of the book’s description captures this perfectly: “…they hope new opportunities, energy, mindsets, and connection will reinvigorate what is missing in their lives–drama and all.”
That’s exactly what I liked about In Cast Your Forgot, the slice of life feel. It’s happy, sad, angry, messy and full of great triumph and really bad mistakes. It takes a lot to make this kind of loose plot work, especially since the two lead characters aren’t always together as the year progresses. Frederick and Chaz made it work though. One of the reasons it works is the cast of supporting characters from family, friends, roommates and co-workers.
Among my favorite parts of the book was the use of social media to plan their lives and sometimes even to stalk their exes, at times to the chagrin of the friends trying to help them move on. There’s also a Labor Day trip to Palm Springs that was one of my favorite parts of the book because of the realness of how it unfolded and how it tweaked Kenny and Zaire’s relationships.
The characters reminded me of Noah’s Arc, a show I loved that ran on Logo in 2005 and then was a movie in 2008. The show focused on queer men of color in various states of life and relationships. Kenny and Zaire would fit right in there.
I do want to set some expectations around this book. As you may have figured out, it’s not a romance. It’s categorized that way on the Bold Strokes Books site as well as at retailers. I think that’s wrong. It doesn’t have any of the typical romantic story beats and, most importantly while Kenny and Zaire date for a bit in the middle of the book they don’t get an HEA or HFN as a couple….although the book does end with both characters in good places.
If you want a great look at a year-in-the-life of some terrific characters who are trying to get their lives together, I highly recommend In Case You Forgot. And I’d love to see sequels to this book. Frederick, Chaz, please write romances for these guys…