Transcript: 1. Lee Blair
Full episode transcript
Lee: Welcome to the Low Angst Library. I’m your resident librarian Lee Blair. This library is your stop for all things light, fluffy, funny, sweet, spicy, and everything in between. I not only publish low angst queer romances, but I’m a voracious reader of them too. Check out my Kindle Unlimited insights.
I created this podcast because I wanted to talk to other authors who write romances with main characters on the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum to learn what draws them to the lighter side of angst, learn more about their books, and their writing processes.
I am so excited to finally share this podcast with you. Oh my god. For this first episode, I want to introduce myself, tell you about my plans for the podcast, and share why I decided to create it. If you’ve been patiently waiting since I announced plans for this podcast over, god, six months ago? Thank you. I am so, so grateful you stuck around.
To kick off this podcast, I interviewed six incredible authors who I love to read and who have inspired me as an author as I’ve settled into a corner of romance writing that honestly, I’ve just never felt more comfortable in. I’ve released all six of these interviews at once, so you can get a sense of the podcast right away and really get to know these amazing authors.
I hope you’ll listen to those episodes next, or even read the transcripts, which are available at LowAngstLibrary.com. So these first six interviews are with MM romance authors Ariella Zoelle, A.J. Truman, K.M. Neuhold, Charlie Novak, Jaclyn Quinn, and Isla Olsen.
I recorded those interviews about five months ago—yikes—with plans to release them in October 2022, right before the Gay Romance Lit Retreat. But unfortunately I encountered a seriously frustrating string of major technical issues with the service I use for editing the episodes and producing transcripts. It led to about three cumulative months of waiting on their tech support to help me with the various issues. And a part of that is making sure that I have a transcript for each episode, which is a really important accessibility element to me. And so it was worth waiting through those tech issues to make sure that I could have these episodes as complete and accessible as possible. So thank you so much for your patience.
And finally the tech issues have stopped, or I learned enough about how to troubleshoot the issues myself so I didn’t have to keep waiting. And here we are, finally, in March 2023. So with that said, some of what’s been talked about in these interviews, for like their upcoming books for those authors, are a bit out of date. So a lot of what they said are coming up or actually out now. On those episodes, I’ve added a bit at the end of each interview, a new recording where I will provide some recent info about their upcoming and recent releases.
So for this first podcast episode, I want to tell you about what you can expect from the show, why I decided to create it and basically, I’m kind of going to interview myself as a first guest.
I am a voracious reader of low angst, queer romance, and I wanted to create a podcast for other readers to learn about the creators of our favorite books. I’ll be interviewing authors who write low angst romance with main characters in those romances who identify all over the LGBTQIA2S+ umbrella. Selfishly, I wanted an excuse to talk to fellow low angst authors and learn more about them and their writing and what they think about low angst. And I figured why not record it so other people can listen too.
I’d love for this podcast to be collaborative, which means if you have guests suggestions, please, please, please send them my way. I’ve got a link in the show notes to submit those suggestions. And if you’re an author of low angst queer romance, don’t hesitate to submit yourself. That would be great. There’s a separate form for that too.
For full disclosure, most of the low angst authors I know write male-male romance because that’s what I’m currently writing and that’s who I’ve met. Um, so the guests, the first six guests and beyond are mostly if not exclusively writing male-male. However I intentionally created this podcast to cover a broader scope of queer representation. So if you adore low angst books with sapphic main characters, non-binary or other LGBTQIA2S+ representation, please nominate the authors who write those as well.
Before I jump into just talking about myself and starting this podcast. I really want to send a huge thank you to Jeff with the Big Gay Fiction Podcast for being so generous with his time and helpful as I got this podcast going. The Big Gay Fiction Podcast is one of my absolute favorites. It’s hosted by husbands Jeff and Will. And I’ve got a link to their show in the show notes.
Instead of asking someone to interview me, I figured I would just talk about my writing and my books, so you can get to know me a little bit better and my perspective and background that I’ll be bringing to these interviews.
So who the hell am I? Hi, I’m Lee. My pronouns are she/her/hers. I’m also great with they/them/theirs. I’m a queer woman who writes low angst, queer romance. As I mentioned earlier, I’m currently writing contemporary male-male stories, and I’ve got plans for some sapphic stories as well. I live in Portland, Oregon. I’ve got two adorable ginger cats. They are adorable. They are siblings and a bonded pair and I have more hobbies than time to enjoy them. I’m also obsessed with Schitt’s Creek, which I’m going to talk about because that’s kind of important to my journey of how I got here.
There’s one question that a lot of authors get asked and that’s, when did you know you wanted to become an author or writer? I can’t really pinpoint a moment. I remember writing lots of short stories when I was a kid. But I don’t think that I really considered it as an career option for me, for whatever reason.
But recently, in the last year or so, six months or so. Well, however long, you know, pandemic time. It’s weird. My mom has been cleaning out my childhood home, just going through stuff in their house. And she has been finding a lot of interesting things. A lot of notebooks with early stories from when I was quite young. These early stories are very, um, how do I say? Gory. Spooky. Haunted. Murdery. I don’t know how I went from that extreme to low angst romance, but here we are.
So that’s what I wrote when I was younger. And then in 2005, this is going to sound weird, but I accidentally read a romance novel. I’d been reading a lot of vampire fiction after graduating college. I just was tired of reading things I was told to read, and I just wanted to read something for me. And so I’d been reading Anne Rice’s books and back then Amazon in its earlier days used to have this like feature where people could make their own recommendation lists. And I came across a vampire fiction list and it was saying things like, okay, if you want really like dark and intense vampires, read this. If you want more scifi vampires, read this. If you want light and funny vampires, read this. And honestly? I didn’t even know that light and funny vampires were a thing. That just didn’t even cross my mind.
So I ordered the book it recommended, and I was reading it and I just loved it. I could not read it fast enough. I was reading it during my breaks at work. And I was like, wow, this is like romantic. The romance is a really big thread in this story. That surprised me. So then I Googled the author and I’m reading about it. The book was A Girl’s Guide to Vampires by Katie McAllister and it was a romance novel. I had no idea.
I honestly thought that romances were more like the historical bodice rippers, Fabio on the cover. Like I had internalized so many of those stereotypes about romance because I didn’t know anyone who read romance. And so I wasn’t exposed to the broad breadth of the genre. Immediately. Obsessed. That is the thing I do when I find something I like, I go all in.
We’ll talk about my hobbies later. And I knew finally, like, this is what I want to write. It just clicked for me. So I joined Romance Writers of America, I started writing paranormal romance, mostly vampires. And eventually shifted to contemporary. I tried to draft like a contemporary rugby romance and never quite finished fleshing it out. But it took me about a decade to finish my first novel and a lot of failed attempts. And that came on my first trip to Scotland years ago. And I was at that point, writing male-female straight romance. And I had an agent for a while, but decided that being an indie author was a better fit for me.
And I got- With that romance that I wrote that was inspired by that trip to Scotland and the super gorgeous tour guide I had. Um, I that’s the book I signed an agent with and eventually just kind of decided that traditional publishing was not the path for me. And I was struggling with romance too. I wasn’t feeling like I was fitting in as much anymore. And I discovered cozy mysteries and started writing that and thought, well, maybe this is where I need to be.
So when that is happening a few years ago. You know, I’d been really involved with romance publishing for 15, 16, 17 years, but I just wasn’t quite connecting like I used to. And so then meanwhile, for years, friends were urging me to watch Schitt’s Creek. And I am a bit of a stubborn asshole sometimes. And I guess I should warn you once in a while there’s going to be some cussing in the podcast. Because I’m me. And a lot of friends had been urging me to watch the show. And if something’s really popular, I don’t know why, but sometimes it can be hard for me to want to jump in with it. And I also don’t love sitcoms. And I also like to be able to binge something when it’s done. So Schitt’s Creek kind of had a couple strikes against it in my head. And my friends, a couple of them were being quite wiley and they were sending me David and Patrick compilation videos to show all these romantic highlights of a romance in the show.
And so that had been happening for a couple of years. And then shortly before the pandemic, this all comes together, I swear. Shortly before the pandemic, I think late 2019, I joined TikTok for work. I work in communications and was trying to monitor some social media stuff. And that TikTok algorithm. Let me tell you. Oh my god. Pretty quickly, pretty quickly it had me pegged as not straight as I had assumed for decades. No, no, no. I am not. And that was an interesting realization to have right before a pandemic. That I am in fact, not straight and lesbian TikTok is fantastic. Uh, non-binary androgynous, gender fluid, all of those things. Wonderful.
And when the pandemic hit, I was having this like, queer awakening. I was nearing the end of my master’s degree and preparing to defend my archeology thesis. And I had told myself, okay, I’m finally going to watch Schitt’s Creek to celebrate because the show had that spring had finished running, the last season had finished. So I thought, when I defend my thesis, I’m going to watch Schitt’s Creek to celebrate. The show’s done. I can binge it. Love it. Love this journey for me.
So the night of my thesis defense, I started watching it. I binged the entire six season series in a week. And for those of you who are familiar with Schitt’s Creek, you’d know Patrick’s journey as someone who came out later in life. And that really hit home for me at that time in my life as I was having my own kind of bi queer awakening journey.
I binged the show two more times from start to finish over the next three weeks. And a friend who’d been writing Schitt’s Creek fanfic sent me some of her fic. She’s a friend that I met through my local romance group. And so we knew each other as writers. And she was one of the friends who’d been sending me like the compilation videos. So I read her fic, it was great.
And I thought, oh, this seems like something fun to write. Because as I mentioned earlier, I was struggling with writing romance. And I think part of that, like reflecting on it later, was I was struggling to write straight male-female romance because I didn’t realize that wasn’t my identity. I wasn’t as straight as I thought I was. And so I just, I wasn’t connecting with the stories I was writing, or I felt like I needed to write to fit into this mold that for whatever reason I had for myself.
So I was just so stressed from the pandemic and my day job. And Schitt’s Creek fanfic. That was my first fandom. My first time reading fic, first-time writing fic. It was consuming for me. It was so wonderful. And for the next year I read hundreds of fics, wrote over half a million words of fanfic. That fandom was where I, you know, I had to get used to the lingo and the tagging. Through that, that was the first time I was exposed to people openly talking about angst.
All the years I’d been involved in writing and reading romance and the publishing industry, I never heard people talking about angst level. They would talk about conflict and beats and those types of things, but from a reader’s perspective, people would ask. I need something angsty, recommend me a fic that’s angsty, something low angst. And that just really got me thinking about an angst.
And I think one of the reasons why I loved writing fic so much and I could really lose myself to it was I didn’t feel the pressure that I absorbed over the previous 16 years of being around the romance industry. Like expectations about beats and breakups and miscommunications and things happening in dark moments at the three-quarters and all those things. I could write happy, fluffy stories that were lighter on the conflict or didn’t have any conflict. Like I could just subvert these expectations that I’d been taught.
So reading Schitt’s Creek fanfic led me to read more queer romance and especially male-male, because I’d been writing male-male writing David and Patrick romance. And I just realized that I was having so much fun writing queer fanfic that I should do that for my original writing. I really liked, you know, bi-awakening stories and just infusing my stories with queer representation. And I just hadn’t thought about that before, because of my own bi-awakening that year.
So that year when I started reading a lot of male-male, 2021, I’ve read hundreds of novels and novellas since then. And I’ve really been able to kind of hone on what my favorite tropes are as a reader and writer and where my books are positioned, what I like to read, what I like to write. And I would say my favorite tropes are read and write are fake relationship or fake dating. There’s only one bed or forced proximity.
And then there’s not a good succinct name for this, which as a person who works in marketing and communications just kills me inside. But it’s kind of like a secret online mistaken identity. Basically when two people are talking in like a digital or anonymous space and they know each other in real life as well, but they don’t know that who they’re talking to online is the person in the real life. I love that. I also love bi-awakening tropes for obvious reasons.
So really all of this kind of like reading fanfic, writing fanfic, led me to reading and writing queer romance and finding my corner, my place in the world. And really helped me understand and think about an angst and what that means for me. And especially that low angst is a thing. It’s okay to have low angst. You don’t always need to have high conflict, high drama, high tension in the romance.
And so with this podcast, I just really wanted to explore more about low angst. I wanted to support fellow authors who write it because I know there are so many readers out there like me who want something lighter, who have anxiety or high empathy, or really like to read high angst stuff, but then might need something lighter to read after. Or just can’t read things that are too heavy because how you internalize it. Like all of those things. And the fact that we have low angst as terminology to help us find those stories? It’s incredible.
So with this podcast, I really want to help readers find more authors and more books that have queer representation and are low angst. And so when I’m interviewing authors, one of the questions I ask all of my guests is what does low angst mean to you? So I figure if I ask them, I should probably answer that question myself.
And I think about this a lot. And I think my answer is always kind of constantly shifting around as I read more and think about more and hear other people talk about it. But generally to me, low angst feels lighter in tone and conflict. My version of low angst is when the conflict is less between the people in the romantic relationship and more external. Where they can team up for battling something that’s happening externally and support each other.
Or when the conflict is circumstances, like meeting someone while you’re on vacation and you have to get over the distance or things like that. Or if someone has some like internal confidence or backstory issues that they’re trying to get over to accept this wonderful romance in front of them. That to me, is low angst. When the conflict is stemming between the characters or there’s a lot of miscommunication or a lot of strife in the romance, that’s when it feels more angsty to me. For whatever reason, that hits me harder in a way that’s harder to bounce back from.
So I think for me, low angst can still have characters with heavy backstories and bad things can happen. But I think it depends on how heavily those hard things are described. And how much page time is given to those and how much emotion is poured out versus, you know, if humor is added in. I also think there can be a breakup at that 75, 80% mark, whenever it happens in a lot of books. But to me, it’s lower angst when it’s being resolved quickly.
When I want to read a low angst story, which is basically a hundred percent of the time because I have a hard time reading anything that’s high angst. I can’t shake the heaviness. I want to read those stories because I want to have something that’s going to have me smiling and laughing at least 95% of the time. Or most of the time, and then the other bits that are more emotional and angsty, aren’t too heavy. I think about kind of peaks and valleys in a story in terms of angst. In low angst, the valleys just aren’t as deep as angstier stories.
And I don’t know. I know I won’t be as emotionally drained after reading a low angst story. And that’s important to me as someone with really high empathy. When I read something angstier, it can just linger and bring me down and affect me in ways throughout days. Throughout, like in all parts of my life. And so I have to be careful with what I read because of that.
And that’s why I’m so grateful that we’ve got this language of high angst, low angst, medium angst. What kind of angst? Oh, this is relationship angst. This is parents angst. This is backstory angst. To help us find stories that we feel safe reading. And that’s why I am so grateful we have this terminology.
And as I’ve embraced my love for low angst, I’ve really had to spend a lot of time unlearning expectations of romance novels. I did not realize how much I had internalized over 17 years of attending romance writing workshops and classes and trainings and being involved in clubs and things and planning conferences that I had really internalized this expectation of a breakup and intensity and miscommunication and all those things. And there is absolutely a place for all of that. Intense conflicts, heavy angst, breakups, all that. But I just love that there is also room for things that are lower angst than that.
And as I’ve just really been embracing this as a reader and writer, I really wanted to try to build a community and connect with other people who love to read and write the same thing. That’s very much something for me as a person, I love to find communities. And if I can’t find what I’m looking for, I like to build it. That’s just something about me. And so I sought to build a community specific to low angst queer romance, and I made a Facebook group for published authors writing low angst queer romance. And then decided, well, I want to make a podcast and bring that to readers and have something that’s reader focused.
And I’m just so humbled and grateful that fellow authors have embraced this idea for a podcast and are so graciously willing to participate and give me their time and talk to me and help spread the word. I am a huge podcast fan. I listen to them all the time. And I just thought this medium would be a fun way to get to know fellow authors. And I really like learning about everyone’s definitions of low angst and how that varies.
And as I mentioned earlier, and I was talking about the technical issues, I am using a software that produces a transcription of each episode and those transcriptions will be on the low angst library website under each episode. So if you don’t want to listen to the audio version or can’t listen to the audio version, there is a written version as well because I want this to be available to as many people as possible.
And I figured I talked a lot about kind of my journey as a writer and low angst. And I figure, I’ll tell you a little bit about my books for those of you who aren’t familiar with me. So obviously I write low angst romance. Are you shocked? But I specifically am writing contemporary romance and specifically set in Oregon, which is where I live. I was born and raised here.
So January of this year, 2023. I wrapped up my debut year. I started my romance publishing journey with a novella called Just Watch Me. I am big, big, big on series as a reader and knew I wanted to do that as an author, but I thought a standalone novella would be a good way to test the publishing waters and learn a bunch of things while working on my first series. So this novella started as a really steamy premise of two guys whose studio apartments were really close together across a narrow courtyard. And I was thinking what would happen if they could see into everywhere in each other’s homes, other than the bathrooms.
I meant for the story to be mega spicy, but I quickly realized that for every ounce of spice, there’s a pound of sweet. And I guess that’s just where I gravitate to naturally. I should’ve known that from all of the comments I get on my fics that I post. That’s what people say like, oh, this is really steamy, but oh my god sweet is. So how do you do sweet and steamy? This is so sweet and steamy.
And I just needed to embrace low angst, sweet, steamy, funny. Like that is what I write. My sweet spot. My author voice. And so while I was writing that novella, I started trying to brainstorm my first series. Because as a reader, I love big casts of characters, where several people in a group get their own books or family friend, group, whatever.
And then when those people appear in each other’s stories or when it’s connected worlds with multiple series that crossover with offshoots? Oh my gosh. I love that. Which you will be able to tell by several of the authors I invited for these first episodes. Like that is what I love as a reader and a writer.
I shrug off a lot of writing advice, but one piece of advice I truly believe in is writing what you want to read. That works for me and so that’s what I did. And I created a world, which I call my Dahlia’s Springs universe. And Dahlia’s Springs is a progressive and inclusive small town in Western Oregon. It’s totally fictional. I’ve set it about an hour outside of Portland. And I’m setting multiple series and lots of books there. And the first series that I’m currently publishing in is my Tap That Brewery series.
I decided to start a series with four best friends who own a brewery together. And I published book one, which is Pitcher Perfect, April 2022, book two, which is Eternal Hoptimist, came out in October 2022. I love puns. I will not apologize for that. The titles are ridiculous and I love them.
And I’m working on book three now. In my head, this group of friends is sort of like a boy band with all, you know, they’re each individual archetypes. I love boy bands. And I’m just having so much fun writing my first series around these four best friends. Well, sorta five, cause one of their brothers kind of snuck in.
And these books are definitely me writing the kind of stories I want to read. Tight-knit friend group, working together, living together, lots of teasing each other inside jokes, shenanigans, and just unconditional love between them. I’m having so much fun watching their family grow is each one of them finds love.
I’ve also been working on other books set in Dahlia’s Springs. ‘Cause like I said, I love when characters from other books and series pop up elsewhere. I released a freebie novella for Pride last year called Perfect Blend. And that’s about the town’s coffee shop owner, Dave falling in love with his high school crush. It’s got that trope I love. The one that doesn’t have a succinct name, like with the secret online identity thing. It’s got that. I’m also working on some other projects, connected to Dahlia Springs, with more info to come.
And then last November I released my first Christmas book was set in Dhalia Springs called 24 Dares of Christmas. I am a sucker for Hallmark Christmas movies, and I really wanted to write my own versions of just that feeling you get from a Hallmark movie, but with way better queer representation. Hallmark’s been a little bit better, but there’s a long ways to go with all sorts of diversity representation.
And I just love Christmas stories with festivals and small town vibes and warm, gooey sweetness and lots of festive activities. I had so much fun writing all of that in that book. It’s centered around an advent of dares instead of an advent of days. And I’m already working hard on some more Christmas goodness that I can’t wait to share this year.
So upcoming projects for me, as I mentioned, I’m working on book three and the Tap That Brewery series. And I just loved writing my first Christmas book and so expect more of that. I don’t have details to share yet, but I’m already working hard. They’ll be coming soon. Ish.
I also have a short story in a group anthology. That’s coming out in September. It was inspired by a temperamental elevator at the Gay Romance Lit Retreat last October. And that’s a charity anthology to benefit the Trevor Project. So more details to come on that. And another secret project I’ll be announcing soon. So there’s just lots of creating right now. Um, and it stresses me out. I don’t have like a book coming out ASAP or release date, but I had some rough stuff going on late last year. And, um, so the creation bit just kind of went dormant for a couple months. But I’m picking it back up and I feel like the second half of this year is going to be just majorly focused on publishing.
And one of the things that I ask the authors about in these interviews is about their writing process. I thought I would share a little bit about mine as well. My writing process is always evolving and changing. Like I said, I started this back in 2005 and what I do now is completely different from what I did back then. So I’m always kind of fine tuning it.
I think a reason it took me 10 years to finally finish my first book after lots and lots of an incomplete books, it was because I tried to plot too much of it. Tried to kind of plan too much in advance. And when I do that, I realize I lose the joy of discovering the story. When I tell too much before I write by plotting, I feel like there’s nothing left to tell and I no longer want to write it. So a lot of my writing process is sort of navigating and balancing how much to plan to get me going versus how much to discover along the way. And that balance changes with each book. ‘Cause some of the best stuff has just popped up out of nowhere. It is wild what comes out of brains without realizing it.
So with my last two releases, Eternal Hoptimist and 24 Dares of Christmas, I actually wrote both of those simultaneously and I dictated them as well. Like I spoke the first drafts and had them automatically transcribed. And I really loved that because I’ll kind of hit a wall with a story and need to let it percolate for a while. And instead of just stopping production on everything, I can go back to another story while my brain is subconsciously figuring something out. I can move forward on a different book and just go back and forth, which I love. And so I’m doing that right now. And I really hope that helps me publish more regularly or more frequently.
When I’m not writing, though writing consumes a lot of my time and brain power, I have a lot of other hobbies. Um, some friends and loved ones and my bank account might say, I have too many. But it’s a good thing I recently moved to a new place that has more space for all my hobbies. I love to crochet and hand embroider, knit, cook, travel. I especially love Scotland and the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
And now that I live in the Portland, Oregon area, and I used to live in a more rural area in Western Oregon, I have access to so many fun, big city things. Oh my god. I’ve been taking gardening classes and I have my own garden for the first time ever. So that is like a brand new consuming, wonderful hobby. For the past few years, I’ve also been trying to learn how to manage houseplants and help them not just live but thrive. I’m still learning a lot about that.
I’ve got a canning class I’m taking soon, which I think is going to come in handy with my vegetable garden. And then in the spring, I’m hoping to get into this like 10 week intro to ceramics course. I’m so pumped. And I’m working through like an introduction to American Sign Language class. So like I said, a lot of hobbies. When do I have time to try dating you and my therapist ask? I don’t know. It’ll happen someday. Maybe I’ll meet someone at one of these hobbies, but at the very least I get lots of book ideas, so that’s great.
Anyway, I’ve talked a lot. I am just so excited you have joined me in the Low Angst Library. And I mentioned this earlier, when I point this out again, if there is an author of low angst queer romance that you’d like me to interview, there’s a link in the show notes. As well as on the LowAngstLibrary.com website. If you are an author writing low angst queer romance, there’s a self-suggestion form would love to hear from you.
A major goal of mine with this podcast is to have guests writing main characters in romance novels representing identities all over the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum. And your guest suggestions will help me with that.
If you’d like to financially support the podcast and help offset costs of web hosting, editing software and transcription for accessibility, you can buy me a coffee and there’s a link to that in the show notes. Other ways to support the podcast are by sharing episodes with your reader friends, leaving a review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you’ve accessed this podcast. And sharing social media posts with the handle for the podcast is @LowAngstLibrary.
Thank you so much for tuning in, and until next time, keep reading.