Transcript: 2. Ariella Zoelle

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Full episode transcript

Lee: Welcome to episode number two of the low angst library podcast. Today, we have an interview with Ariella Zoelle.

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.

I created this podcast because I wanted to talk to other authors who write romances with main characters on the LGBTQIA2S+ spectrum to learn more about what draws them to the lighter side of angst, more about their books and their writing processes.

This episode is my very first interview with my very first podcast guest Ariella Zoelle. We talked about Ariella’s journey from high angst to no angst, the book of her heart that she published after 17 years, studying Japanese adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, and much more.

Ariella writes low angst gay romances full of heat, humor, and heart. Featuring sexy, swoony boyfriends and lovable smart-asses. One of Ariella’s most popular series includes Good Bad Idea, which is part of her Sunnyside universe. Writing in that world has been a dream come true and she looks forward to expanding it with more feel-good stories in the future. When Ariella’s not trying to be a plot bunny wrangler, she enjoys Japanese musical theater and traveling the world.

Before we jump into this fabulous interview with Ariella, I wanted to share a note about the timing. This interview was recorded about five months ago and due to a long string of tech issues and bad tech support response times, I’ve been really delayed in getting these episodes finished. So when we start talking about Ariella’s upcoming projects, please know that most of them are actually already out in the world. So I recorded a brief update at the end to share a bit about what’s going on with her books as of now which is March 2023.

All right, time for the interview.

Ariella Zoelle, thank you so much for hanging out with me in the Low Angst Library today. I am thrilled you’re here.

Ariella: Thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here.

Lee: Oh my gosh. I love talking low angst. And your books are amazing and they’re low and no angst. And I just want to get to know your writing process and learn more about your stories. And you’ve got some really exciting ones coming up, which I’m thrilled about.

Ariella: I do. I’m excited to share with everybody.

Lee: Yay! Okay. So let’s start at the beginning. What got you into writing books and romance specifically?

Ariella: So I originally have always, since I was a little kid, I’ve just always been a natural storyteller. Part of that was I had all of these ideas inside of me that just needed to come out. And so I’ve always been writing. There was a period in my life where I kind of took a break from it, ironically, due to angsty reasons. And I kind of stepped back from writing and I got back into it through writing fan fiction of all things. And so I wrote fan fiction for about 10, 11 years before I went, you know, I bet I could, I could actually write original fiction now.

So I started off with something super dark and angsty. Because that was where I was in my life back then. And that didn’t work at all to be perfectly blunt. And I just wasn’t that person anymore. It grew out of the past, and so I kind of shifted away from that into low angst. And then I realized, oh wait, people actually really enjoy that and I don’t need all of this heavy, super angsty stuff to keep people interested.

And so after that, I made a deliberate decision to veer in the direction of low angst. And the deeper I got into my series, I started eventually becoming no angst. So I’ve completely gone you know, around the bend from where I started to where I am now.

Lee: I love that. It’s so fun to watch authors, but then also experience as an author that growth and change as you sort of settle into just what feels right as an author. And watching other authors just move and develop and just settle in that spot or try new things. I think that’s great.

And I would love to know what does low angst mean to you? Because one thing I’ve discovered while setting up this podcast is that, the definition, just like spice levels, everyone defines spice levels differently. It’s the same for low angst. So what does it mean to you?

Ariella: So low angst for me is pretty much when nothing bad is happening. Like for me, the angst roller coaster is, you know, the couple, they have their little meet-cute, and then things are going really great. And then, oh no, the ex-boyfriend shows up and there’s a huge misunderstanding. So they get into a fight and they’re gonna break up.

It’s the things that drive them apart. Those kind of external, oh no, there’s a car crash and he didn’t say “I love you.” Are they ever gonna get together? Like that kind of heavy sort of drama that puts the happiness at risk of potentially falling apart. And that’s kind of what I moved away from in my own work.

You can certainly have low angst and the miscommunication. Hallmark is clear evidence of that because you always know in the last 15 minutes of that movie, somebody’s gonna overhear part of a conversation, misunderstand it, storm off and be hurt. So I think you still can have a little bit of angst in that sense. But for me, it can’t be that kind of cataclysmic, you know, are they gonna make it? Yes, no. Like for me, low angst is their happiness and their being together is never really a question.

Lee: That’s a great way to think about it. Thank you.

So, I think that something I am always curious about with authors, and, I feel like a lot of readers are curious about, is your writing process. I just would love to know more about your writing process. Whether you write multiple books at once, one book at a time. Are you more of a panster, plotter, discovery writer? Whatever you’d love to share, I’d love to know.

Ariella: As of last year, I was working full-time at a law firm. I was working part-time as a coach. And I put out nine books last year. That’s a lot for anybody to handle. And honestly, I don’t know how I did it. But for me, I didn’t really have the luxury of going too far off course because I had so little free time to write. I had to be very deliberate with it. So, at heart, you know, I do outline but I keep it very like slim details because the odds I’m gonna go off are pretty high. So I’m kind of like a plantster where I’m like a plotter and a pantser simultaneously. Like I need a little structure, but then I kind of veer off.

I do all of my writing in Scrivener. I usually try to work on one project, but I’m a big believer if what I’m working on- Let’s say I’m working on chapter four and if chapter four is not talking to me, but chapter seven is, I’ll jump ahead to chapter seven and start working on seven. But if nothing in the story is talking to me, I’ll put it down and I will work on a story that is talking to me.

It may be something really random that sometimes is a story that’s just for me. That maybe I’ll put up on my Ko-fi account for my patrons. I think it’s good to have those little side projects where you just write like a chapter to get it outta your system, and then you can go back to your main project. I do have ADHD so having multiple projects is pretty common.

But for the most part, I try to be disciplined and stay on one project. But Scrivener for me is the program I use. That made the biggest difference in how I actually like structure my writing, structure my books. And that for me was like the big game changer when I moved away from Word.

Lee: I love Scrivener. I used that for a really long time too. I’ve been dabbling with Dabble a little bit and kind of going back and forth. But it’s broken up the same way where you can have the different chapters or scenes. The sort of different many documents which helps my brain as well.

Have you always written like this, or even with your fanfic? Or has your process evolved over time?

Ariella: So with fan fiction, I had to write in order because, you know, if I jumped ahead, well, I can’t post that. If I jump ahead by four chapters, I can’t post that for a month and you need to be able to have everything like in the can, ready to go. And I posted every Sunday, so I literally was working on it every single week. So it wasn’t like a sporadic thing. For me, it definitely was important to write in order.

Now, I have a lot more flexibility. In general, I try to write in order, but it is not unheard of for me to start a book and be like, all right, I’m gonna start on chapter six. And chapter one will be the last thing I write. Like that’s happened more than once.

Lee: Hey, whatever works. I love it.

One thing that I love about your stories is they sort of have a theme. Not just a series, but there seems to be an element that kind of connects the different series. I would just love to know where do you get your ideas and inspiration? Whether that’s for specific books or like your recent series, the connection to music. Or with your upcoming series and Alice in Wonderland, and those types of things. Where do those ideas come from?

Ariella: Yeah, so I I have a wide, wide, wide range of interests and it all kind of informs the little details in my work. For the Good Bad Idea series, I had this idea about two bros who wake up married in Vegas and, you know, where does that go? And that kind of turned into Bet on Love. And I was looking at that going well, that’s a, you know, something on that on its face is a really bad idea. But it ended up having a good outcome.

And so I have an idea file in Scrivener, that is just massive. It goes back to 2004, like it is a massive file of just any idea I’ve ever had. And I will go through that and see, are there any ideas in here that kind of parallel that theme?

I started going, okay, well, you know, two guys pretend to be dating. On a blind date, like they- not a blind date. A double date. They misunderstood what the two women meant by double date and so they’re like, oh, I guess we’re just gonna pretend to be fake boyfriends now. And it sort of spins out of that. Which again, sounds like a terrible idea, but it worked out really well for them. So, that’s kind of how I loosely structured the idea for the series.

For my Suite Dreams series. I’ve been very fortunate to travel all over the world. I lived in Japan for almost eight years. So I’ve been to some really, really, really, cool hotels. And so I was like, hey, it’s a pandemic. No one can travel. How about we take a vicarious vacation together through all of these couples going to these super fancy hotels and falling in love, which was kind of the thought process behind that one. And then for Musicians, like I love music. I always listen to it. And so for me, being able to incorporate that into my writing has been really fun. And sometimes my ideas are very random.

I have a Christmas novel coming out in November and it’s called Friend or Mistlefoe. The idea just hit me one day about these two guys who are, you know, constantly just bickering with each other. And one of them decides I’m gonna shut him up. I’m gonna win this argument. I’m just gonna kiss him under the mistletoe. But he makes a really big miscalculation and that the other guy’s always gonna kiss to win. And so they just start going at each other under the mistletoe and then they quit kissing and it’s like, oh. Well, I felt things I didn’t mean to feel. Okay. And you know, it’s just like random little bits of inspiration where I’ll like get that scene or I’ll get that fun word in the title. And then it just kind of builds out from there.

Lee: I am so excited for this Christmas story. That is such a fun premise.

Ariella: Yeah, I’m going on Santa’s naughty list for all of the jokes that I have because they’re very naughty. But I am doing one fun thing with that. So I love doing graphic design just for fun. And so I have the character of Mingo. It’s Domingo, but it’s short. Mingo nickname. And he makes mugs that are really cute or really naughty. And so he designs mugs in the book. And I will be making those and selling them on my website. Hopefully in November and through December. And so it was really fun getting to come up with all of these cute mugs. Things like a candy cane that says it’s not gonna lick itself. You know, some naughty ones. There’s also cute ones like a flamingo wrapped up in Christmas lights and it says, “Fa la la la mingo”. And since a nickname’s Mingo, it’s super cute.

Lee: That’s a really clever idea. I really, really, really appreciate it when authors do merch connected to their stories. Especially when it pulls out jokes or references that’s- It’s just really fun. It’s a fun way to engage with stories and bring them into a more tangible world.

Ariella: Yep. And I also will have a Hanukkah mug too because I like making sure that we have a little bit of everything for everyone.

Lee: That’s great. I can’t wait. I can’t wait for all Christmas books. So excited.

Ariella: It’s gonna be fun.

Lee: So when you talked about where your inspiration for these books have come from and these stories. This is a hard question. At least for me. I don’t know if it’s a hard question for you. What’s been your favorite book or favorite characters to write so far?

Ariella: Yeah, that is a tough one. It’s always like trying to pick between the children. I would say, I’ll break it up. For me, the character I’ve probably had the most fun writing is Noctis from Make Music Together, which is book two of my Harmony of Heart series. That boy has a mouth on him with the most colorful swears you have ever heard in your life. And as a bonus to that book for, if you joined my newsletter, I actually put out a swearing dictionary that he publishes in the world that I actually put together, made a little cover for it, and everything. It was so fun. I never knew what was coming out of his mouth. And he would just say things and I, would be like, I don’t know where you came up with that, but I’m still laughing. I’m going to hell, but I’m laughing the whole way there. So definitely him.

I think the two characters that mean the most to me are definitely Iasen and Orion from Play by Heart, which came out earlier in April of this year. That was the kind of- the story that really set everything off for me. I started it back all the way in 2005. I was really sick at the time. Like really, really, really sick. And I was an undergraduate and just a lot of things were going on. I was not in a good place.

And I just woke up one day. And I go and sit in front of my computer and there’s just this like 15,000 word fragment of a story. And it was the first romance I had ever written and it was the first MM thing I had ever written. I had no memory of it and I was just like, when did I do this? I have, I have no idea where this came from. It was the first thing I had ever written that I liked. Because back then I used to be hypercritical of everything I did. I didn’t like anything that I wrote. I just tore everything, you know, death by a thousand cuts. And it was the first thing that I liked, and I didn’t know what to do with it because I was like, I don’t remember writing it. So I don’t remember where I was going with it.

It took an embarrassingly long time from 2005 to 2018 for a friend of mine to go, it doesn’t matter what 2005 you would’ve done with it. What does 2018 you wanna do with it? Well, 2018 me wanted to make it super angsty. Because 2018 me, that’s where she was. At the time I was in my PhD program, I had six jobs, I did not have time for a hundred thousand word story that was just like beyond my control. And so I had to set it aside. And when I was getting ready to start my third series on my Sunnyside universe, Iasen had popped up in several of the Suite Dreams books. And I was like I think his place is in Sunnyside.

It’s this little town in California, small town. It’s the central point of my Sunnyside universe. And it’s a low, at this point no angst even. So my angsty 2018 idea didn’t work. And so I was like if Iasen’s gonna fit in Sunnyside, I have to get rid of all of that pointless angst that was just there because I thought it had to be. I reworked the idea and it grew and became Play by Heart.

Seeing that story in particular, to see that couple embraced after like their long journey from 2005 to 2022 to see the light of day? You know, it really meant a lot. Because more than, than any other book, like I really, really, really wanted that one to do well because it had so much meaning after such a long journey. So I would say that’s probably my most meaningful couple is the two of them.

Lee: That’s amazing. I love that you stuck with it, and that an idea needed to wait and bake until you were at a point as an author that the story fits with kind of the style that you’re writing. I love that you stuck with it and brought that story out and that it’s doing well. That’s gotta be so fulfilling and validating.

Ariella: It really is. And you know, I think that’s really true. It’s like I had to become a good enough writer to do that story justice. And so, yes, it had a long percolating period, but it is so much stronger because of that. I think it really speaks to people in you know, kind of-

It’s a story that potentially could have a lot of angst because it’s about a singer who writes- he’s famous for all of these love songs. He’s never been in love, and he sees a fan across the room and the fan is straight. Having that kind of bi-awakening process could be a naturally angsty situation about what am I feeling? Why am I feeling this way? Maybe I don’t wanna feel this way. And that’s really not the way the story goes at all.

Orion is very open-minded and he’s just like, hey, you know what? Something’s here. I may not understand it, but I wanna see where it goes. And so he kind of wholeheartedly embraces the unknown. And to me that makes it a much more exciting and interesting story than like a typical quote unquote, where you know, you can plot the beats of he has issues with it. He rejects it. He feels bad. They kind of break up. They get back together Like we can skip all that.

Lee: That’s great. And it’s such a great start to a wonderful series.

And with that, so you’ve talked a bit about your Sunnyside universe so far, I would love to know about your decision to create a world where you have interconnected series. ‘Cause that’s one of the things that I appreciate and enjoy about your stories is characters appear between series and you know, between books. And there’s that big connection within the universe. So what made you decide you wanted to connect things in that way?

Ariella: So at first, when I started the Good Bad Idea series. I did not have plans for a giant universe. Like that really wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. But I realized I was a big fan of people like Lucy Lennox. You have the Marion clan, you have Hobie, Texas, and then from the Marion’s you go into Wilde, which is where Hobie, Texas comes in. And, you know, these characters pop up and the thing is I hate having to tell characters goodbye. Like, I love these characters. I love getting to see them kind of continue on their journey. And so I was like wait, if I make a universe where all of these characters can kind of come in and out, then I don’t have to say goodbye to any of them. And that would be awesome.

So, as I got toward the end of the Good Bad Idea series, I found a way to kind of transition it into the Suite Dreams series. After that I was a lot more deliberate about how can I build all of these to enhance each other. And now like Sunnyside also has a sister city in Wintervale out in Colorado. And So my Christmas novel that’s coming out November is actually in Wintervale, Which one of the Suite Dreams books was set there. So I think we’ll be seeing more winter vale cause the snowy little, you know, small town where everybody knows everybody’s business is kind of fun.

Lee: I agree. That’s one reason why I love Hallmark movies so much is that exact vibe where you get the small town, all the sweet activities and—

Ariella: Yeah, it’s like, you’ve got all the people who know all your business and it’s a really, it’s a charming and quaint little town. And so I think definitely in the future I’ll be planning to do some more stuff in Wintervale. Maybe have some of the Sunnyside people go out there either on vacation. I’ve got two really great hotels out there from the Suite Dreams series. So I think it, it makes sense to build out. But for me, it’s, I just like being able to have all of these characters pop in and out and you can see their full journey and really appreciate that.

For example, I have Callum and Roone. Callum, we first meet him in book two of Good Bad Idea, which is Love Means More. He’s the little brother. He just got kicked out of his house cuz he’s Irish. His dad, who’s an alcoholic. I know this doesn’t sound like low angst, but I swear it is. His dad kind of boots him out and so he goes to Sunnyside to live with his brother where he actually gets to have a happy life.

And so in book three, he’s very shy, like painfully shy, trying to figure out who he is. And he meets this guy who’s a playboy. Who on the surface seems like he’d be a totally bad plan, but is a secret academic nerd at heart. And he is charmed. It’s very grumpy/sunshine. And in the next book in the series, we get to see Callum continue to grow and gain confidence.

In book four he gets to be a really good friend to somebody who needs it, which is a Elias. And then in book five, which is Elias’s book, we see Callum continue to grow. To me it’s just really beautiful to like see his whole journey. And then he shows up again in the Suite Dreams series. Um, so, yeah, Callum’s my special sweetheart that everybody falls in love with. He’s so cute.

Lee: He is. I loved him. sweet. And you’re right. Watching the characters grow even after they’ve had their book and still getting to live in the furthering of their lives, their happiness. That’s one of the best things for me as a reader getting to enjoy series is when authors do bring their characters back.

And you did mention a couple of tropes. Grumpy-sunshine, a nosey small town. So, what are your favorite tropes to write and read?

Ariella: Yeah, So, definitely for me, my perennial favorites are friends to lovers just because there’s a special banter that goes with friends that is so much fun to play with. Like my books are of chock full a banter. And so friends to lovers really kind of lets you have a special shorthand that I think works really well.

Bi-awakening is another one that for me is a really important one and one that I love just because I’m an academic at heart, and so we’re always learning new things. And sometimes we learn stuff about ourselves. And I think there’s this sort of expectation that, oh, you completely understand your sexuality by the time you’re four. And it’s like, wait, no, what? That’s not true at all. It’s like if you don’t have it figured out by the time you’re a teenager, you know you’ve missed the boat. And I just don’t think that’s true.

Sometimes it really is a case of meeting the right person who makes you go, oh wait, this is actually something I wanted. And It’s very like dependent on the person. So for me, I think that learning about something new about yourself to me is very exciting. It’s a really enriching process that, to me, is just fascinating to like, learn all this new stuff about yourself and see yourself in a new light.

I will say enemies to lovers. I’ve been, having a lot of fun with that. Usually, it’s pretty angsty. Usually it’s hate to love. It’s this really like gritty, old, deep-seated hatred. I’ve certainly played with that in the angsty front, but doing comedic enemies to lovers is so much fun.

So, my Friend of Mistlefoe that’s coming out in November, it’s a comedic enemies to lovers Christmas book, which doesn’t sound like it should go together. But their bickering is so funny because it’s lighthearted. Like this is not a deep, “I hate you and the air you breathe.” It’s more like, “I’m really attracted to you and I’m really annoyed by that. So I’m just gonna constantly keep poking at you because you annoy me.” And, you know, it’s like a small yapper type dog. It’s like, “you’re really annoying. My God. You’re cute. Fine. Here, have some treats. You’re too cute. That’s fine.”

Lee: I love that, and I think you’re right. It totally works. On its face it seems that enemies to lovers would be really difficult to do in a low angst setting, but adding the comedy and just the banter and the bickering, completely changes it. It can still come from a tough place, a tough moment in history. It can be annoyance. But I totally agree with you that the comedy and the banter can really lighten it up while still while giving it that antogonistic vibe.

Ariella: Yeah, absolutely. One of my favorite exchanges is in chapter one and Mingo, he is like Mr. Christmas. He adores all things Christmas and so Christmas puns, Christmas jokes like that’s his love language. And so one of his friends is like making fun of him and kind of poking like, “Ooh. you like him a little more than you think you do.”

And he’s like, “Me like him? No, I wanna deck his halls. Thank you very much.” And Marley’s reaction is like, “Funny. It sounds more like you wanna jingle my bells and make it a white Christmas. That’s their whole relationship dynamic in a nutshell. That kind of banter that’s super slanted, but very funny.

You know, it’s, It’s a lot, a lot of fun. But like I said, I’m definitely on the naughty list and Santa’s giving me a one-way ticket to hell. I’m pretty sure. Cause like oh the things I do to Christmas jokes.

Lee: Who knows? Maybe Santa’s going to love it.

Ariella: Hopefully. But yeah, I’m also gonna do another enemies lovers in February with Music to His Ears. So it’s gonna be kind of fun to dive into that. I’m having fun with it.

Lee: Good That’s such a fun trope. I love bi-awakening as well. Same reasons. That’s a great one.

So we’ve talked about your contemporaries, and you have a big thing coming up.

Ariella: I do.

Lee: You are writing a fantasy romance as an Alice in Wonderland retelling. I want to know what inspired this. And you mentioned in your newsletter expanding what you’re writing. So, tell me more about this. This is exciting!

Ariella: Yeah. So, Alice in Wonderland, it was one of those stories that as a kid I was obsessed with because there was a talking cat and who doesn’t wanna live in a world with a talking cat? And having this white rabbit who’s obsessed with pocket watches, like that’s to my kid brain was just like the coolest thing ever.

And Alice in Wonderland is something that I have actually studied academically. When I was in my PhD program, I studied Japanese adaptations of Alice in Wonderland as a component of my degree. When I did that, I kind of found a way to work it into one of my Sunnyside books.

So, in Snowbody Like You, Rigby, actually- His PhD is in Alice in Wonderland adaptations in Japan ’cause they are wild and wacky, let me tell you. There’s this really great role playing scene where Jude dresses up as Alice. I was super nervous about that scene because having Jude dressed as Alice, acting as Alice, in an MM book, I was like, people are either really gonna love this naughty teacup bra, or people are really gonna be like leaving me some bad reviews over this.

And I did it because it scared me and because I loved it. so much and to my great delight, people really, really loved it. It kind of revived that interest that I had in doing a Alistair in Wonderland where I had a male Alice. Back in 2019, I kind of had this idea to do a harem retelling where Alistair ends up in Wonderland and he hooks up with every single character in Wonderland. That’s just not practical. Like that’s not “to market” as we would say in the author world. And so that idea just kind of sat around and I didn’t really know what to do with it.

So, after I did the Alice role-playing scene in Snowbody Like You, I was like, man, I really wanna do something with that Alistair idea because I think there’s really something special there.

Again, in 2019, I was still writing super angsty stuff. So people were out to get Alice and I think that when you look at Alice in Wonderland adaptations, people are always trying to kill Alice. Like you have the McGee one where literally everyone’s out to murder this poor Alice.

I think in a lot of reverse harem tellings, Alice is always in danger and Wonderland is always like a twisted, fractured fairytale. And I was like, but what if we just had a whimsical wonderland where nothing bad happened? Wouldn’t that be nice? Like that would be a lovely change of pace. And so, I kind of embraced this idea of having a Wonderland where nothing bad really happens.

I’m like, what if the white rabbit, what if Cheshire cat, like what if they were shifters? And it just kind of grew out from there and I really embraced this idea of a no angst Wonderland. Because it’s fun. And for me, Alice in Wonderland is always about the fun and the adventure. And So I really didn’t wanna have it be this super heavy, angsty, everyone’s out to get Alistair, he’s in danger, if he doesn’t do this, the world’s gonna end. I didn’t want those kinds of stakes.

There’s still definitely a plot and an element that moves It forward because the core idea is in Wonderland Alice came back in her teens for the Magic Wars and kind of put an into it. And one of the sorcerers is like we’ll put all of the dark magic in Alice, and when she returns home, all of the dark magic will be gone from Wonderland. Well, problem is he screwed up and put all of the magic in her.

And so Wonderland’s been without magic, but the only people who still have access to it are the people who were closest to her. So the white rabbit, Cheshire cat, they can still shift, but everybody else, it was like If you were in your animal form when she left. You’re just stuck in your animal form for the next hundred however many years. And so the white rabbit has been looking for the descendant of Alice to bring the magic back and so he’s been hunting for almost 200 years, and so he finds Alistair.

And kind of brings Alistair back and Alistair hates his job. Like he is just, he has a terrible job with a terrible boss. You meet the boss. You understand exactly why he cannot stand her. I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear, but his dream in life is he wants to bake a “fuck this shit, I quit” cake. Like that’s his level of antagonism toward his job.

He doesn’t really have any friends. His family’s gone. He doesn’t have anything keeping him in the real world. And so when he meets this beautiful white, albino-looking prince, and he’s like, you wanna promise me a sexy adventure? Hell yeah! Let’s go get up to some sexy shenanigans. Awesome.

He embraces the whimsy of Wonderland and he doesn’t feel the need to like, “but I should go back home.” He’s just like, “screw home. Home sucks. I wanna stay here in Wonderland and have fun. You get to be friends with the Cheshire cat. Who wouldn’t wanna stay here? It’s awesome.

So, removing that element of the struggle of, should I stay here or should I go back? Like, he has literally nothing except laundry waiting for him back at home and he’s fine with not doing that. I think that it’s, it’s fun to have a playful Wonderland where you just know you’re gonna have a good time.

I will say I do go against the grain. The strict Alpha Omega kind of dynamic. I think a lot of time, there’s a lot of angst that’s attached to that. And for me, I don’t like unbalanced partnerships. Like for me, reading the same thing every time for me personally, I just, I have ADHD, I get bored. I like being able to switch it up.

And for me, a relationship is not about a position, it’s about more than that. Getting very locked into this top-bottom dynamic to me, it just doesn’t appeal to my brain. And so having shifters with flexibility in being with their mate to me is a lot more interesting. Like yes, their inner beast still very much wants to be like on top and is allowed, but you know, it also understands balance.

And so people are either really gonna love the fact I have verse shifters or they’re really gonna hate it. So I am braced for those one star reviews that are probably coming my way, but hopefully people will at least appreciate that like I’m trying to do something a little bit different from the norm in having this no angst world. That’s just, it’s a fun place to go. Like It’s like Sunnyside to some extent, only just now with magic. Like it should be fun.

Lee: This is going to be so exciting. I love it. I love the changes that you’ve made and reworking the no angst kind of world. I can’t wait to read great.

Ariella: Yeah, I’m really excited about it. Like, I think it’s, if people are willing to give it a chance, they’re in for a really, really fun series.

Lee: Oh, that’s wonderful. So we’ve got that coming up for you. We’ve got the Christmas book. You mentioned another book in February. So, what can readers get excited about? Either generally or specifically. Whatever you want to share about upcoming projects for you.

Ariella: Yeah, so I have been a very busy bee. I pretty much have a new release every month for the next, oh God, I don’t even know how long. So I have Alistair coming out in October in the middle of GRL. I thought that would be fun. Why not go to a conference and launch a book in the middle of it? Um, so I’m doing that. And then November’s Christmas. December is Cheshire’s book, which is going to be so much fun. He is so impish. And his book situation on its face, like people are probably gonna break out the pitchforks ’cause they’re probably gonna think like I’m breaking the no angst, low angst kind of rule.

Because the setup for that one is Cheshire and the King of Hearts used to be a couple. And then when Ray became king, he was like, I can’t be with you because that would be selfish. My people don’t trust you because shifters have become this unknown and Cheshire kind of flaunting his magic, like freaks people out to be perfectly blunt. And so he doesn’t feel like they can be together, but Cheshire’s like, yeah, no, you’re my mate. I’m not letting you get away. So, I’m just gonna keep being here and being cute ’cause cats.

And so there is a prince for Mirror Land, Prince Renner. And he ends up coming over to the Kingdom of Hearts for a marriage interview with King Ray. And I think in a lot of people’s hands, it would be this huge strife between Ray and Cheshire about this third party coming between them. That’s not what’s gonna happen at all. Like it’s gonna be unexpected, but Prince Renner, instead of being this huge angst point, he’s gonna end up being an ally to Cheshire because he is a huge fan of Cheshire. He’s like, “man, I’ve heard all the legends about you. You were like a legendary troublemaker and I love that. So helping Cheshire earn his king back is a lot more fun to me. So I’m excited to play with the middleman gone awry kind of a thing.

Then in January I have a really cute little novella. It takes place in Winter Vale that I mentioned earlier, and it’s actually based on a real car crash that I had. Car crash is uh, kind of strong term. It’s more of just like a very minor fender-bender. Um, many, many years ago I was in the car with my father. He was driving ’cause I was getting blood work done and I get a little woozy afterwards. And we were in a convertible. We had the top down and we were at a stop sign that has like a left and right lane, which that is such a stupid thing to do. And there was a big Ford F150 truck in the left-hand lane, and we were in a little convertible like sports car, low to the ground. So like my dad’s edging up, edging up, edging up, like trying to see around the stupid Ford F150. And the woman behind us thought we were pulling out, and so she just lightly tapped our bumper. Like just the top was down and I had to ask my dad, I’m like, did she hit us? I don’t- did, I don’t, did she? Like It was so low impact, right?

So, we get out of the car and this woman, this poor woman having the worst day of her life is having an absolute panic attack because we were in a Mercedes and she was driving a Nissan. And she was like, “you’re gonna own my house, my kids, my car, my life. And I’m like, ma’am, ma’am, I don’t want any of that. Especially don’t want your kids. I’m like, I’m not interested any part of this. And so she was just having an absolute meltdown and I’m like, are you okay? I don’t care about the car. Like cars can be replaced and also you like didn’t even dent my bumper. Like your bumper’s super screwed. My bumper’s fine.

And so I was just hugging her, just going like, ma’am, it’s, it’s gonna be okay. Like, you’re fine. As long as you’re not hurt, that’s all that matters. So she’s just sobbing on my shoulders. I’m hugging her. Well, somebody else called the cops. The cops come up and they wanna be all Mr. Badass. And the cop’s, like wait, so she hit you? And you’re hugging her? And I’m like, yeah, I know it looks really weird on the surface, but I was just like so worried about her cause like clearly she had like had a day. And so he was like trying to give her a ticket, and I’m like, no, no, sir. You are not giving this poor woman a ticket after everything. Like she has been through enough. She does not need you trying to be a hard ass.

And I always just thought like that would’ve been a really interesting meet-cute of you know, you ran into my car and offering comfort to a stranger who’s like, I just, I just hit your car. Why are you being nice to me? And so that kind of kicked off the story. That one’s called Come From Behind, ’cause I can’t resist a naughty title. Yes, yes. Lots of jokes about rear-ending.

And then in February, like I said, I have music to his ears, which is book four of my Harmony of Heart series. It’s about Sal the keyboardist. He has always kind of joked, I wanna wake up in bed with Mr. Perfect. And he ends up coming back from the world tour. Iasen’s been on vocal rest and he just is like so tired from the tour being canceled. He gets home, it’s like four o’clock, he’s been traveling for like 38 hours. And so he just collapses in bed ready to like pass out. And a guy’s like, “excuse me, what are you doing in my bed?”

So he freaks out. He’s like knocking over the lamp. Lamp’s hitting the floor. And he’s like, what do you mean? You’re in my bed. Why are you in my bed? And so they immediately are just getting into this fight about like, this is my room. What are you doing here? And it turns out that Sal’s roommate was like, “yeah. So you were gonna be gone for like four months, so I might have sublet your room.”

Well, he sublet it to an attorney who understands tenancy laws. And so the attorney’s like, you can’t evict me. I know what my rights are. And so I was like well, I’m not gonna live on the couch, like this is my damn room. He’s like, then I guess we’ll just sharing the bed. And so it’s this really cute enemies to lovers, forced proximity, where you know, on the surface, they seem like they have nothing in common. And then They eventually realize like, oh, we’re a little too similar. That’s why we keep butting heads. So, it’ll be a really cute little story.

And then after that comes Hatter’s book. So I’ve got a lot of fun things in the works.

Lee: You do! Oh my gosh. Such a good time to be a reader of Ariella Zoelle. So much good stuff.

Ariella: Yeah, It helps I’m a fast writer and I have a great team of people who can keep up with me.

Lee: That’s amazing.

You’ve talked about your writing projects. I would love to know a bit about you as a reader. Do you read low angst or do you read different angst levels?

Ariella: Yeah, so at this point I pretty much read low angst exclusively. I used to read pretty heavy angst across all levels. There were certain things that I wouldn’t read. Things that really dealt with like heavy abuse I just never have had the stomach for. But like Ella Frank is somebody who I used to read like every time she had a new book come out. And now I still love her work, but I just find I gravitate more towards people like Lucy Lennox, K.M. Neuhold, Charlie Novak. I’ve gone more toward what I write in the same style. And all three of those authors, like if you love their work, you will love my work ’cause we have a lot of similarities. So, I find I’m reading what I love and what I write now.

Lee: The same for me. I just sort of gravitated that way.

I’m curious if you read while you write or if that’s too hard. Just over the years, in talking to some authors, they’re like, if I read, I can only read what I’m not writing. Like a different genre entirely. Or I read what I am writing just to kind of stay inspired or to stay in that tone or mood. So, what’s that like for you?

Ariella: Yeah, so, back whenever I used to write fan fiction I always had a rule. I cannot read fan fiction in the series that I write. If it was any other show, I could do it, but not the one I was working on. Usually I’m so busy writing that I don’t have a lot of time to read in the downtime. So it’s definitely- it’s not necessarily a choice, it’s more just a lack of time.

I will say I’ve always had a really unhealthy kind of mentality, which is like, if I have time to read, I have time to write. Which kind of grew out of having a full-time job, a part-time job, putting out nine books. It’s finite time kind of leads to that sort of stark thinking and I’m trying to evolve out of that. I’m trying to be better about it. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded necessarily, but I’m trying to.

Lee: That makes so much sense though. Do you have any low angst book recommendations? You mentioned a few authors so far, but any specific books come to mind?

Ariella: I think the one that I have read most recently was Charlie Novak’s new series, which is super, super cute. Like you always know when you pick up one of Charlie’s books, you’re in for a good time. It was Like I Promised, which was Heather Bay. That was the new series of Charlie’s that I was really quite enamored with. And book two’s actually should be coming soon, I believe.

Lee: Yeah, I think so. That’s such a great series so far. I love it.

Ariella: Like I just, the the small town to me. I just really have been gravitating toward that, which is why I think you’ll start seeing more of that even in my own work too. Um, so I’d say that’s, that’s the most recent.

Lee: That’s a great one. I love the small town she set up. It’s so picturesque. Quaint English small town on the water. I love it. And the community. I love so many of the authors you mentioned and your books as well for having that network of friends or the group and the books follow that group and you see the interaction. I’m loving that with her series so far.

Ariella: Yeah, it just, to me it makes it more interesting and well-rounded whenever you do have this kind of revolving cast of characters that kind of pop in and out. And even things like, you know, I have in Sunnyside, for example, I have the Hurley Burley Bar and Grill and one of the bartenders there is Red. And Red has shown up in so many of the books. And every time a new book comes out they’re like, when is Red getting a book. I’m like, I swear I’m working on it and working my way there. Just gimme one more series. I should be fine.

You know, but the fact that people can become fans of these side characters who maybe originally weren’t in the cards to get their own book and then they kind of grow over the books and it’s like, yeah. Red’s gonna get a book. Don’t worry, he’s too cute not to. Him and his cute. cat Gonk. Just short for Al Gonk win. Algonquin.

Lee: Oh, I love that. It’s so fun when readers express interest in a secondary character because it just makes our jobs easier when we know there’s already interest in a character. At least for my brain. I’m like, okay, yes, good, you do like that person. Great. Now I can move forward with some ideas.

Ariella: And honestly, it is a huge help whenever readers kind of let us know. So one of the questions I keep getting from the Harmony of Heart series is when are Duke and Early gonna get a book? And the answer to that is they’re book six where they welcome a third character into their marriage. So it’s gonna be my first comedic MMM. But I know that some people really wanna see like what’s their origin story. And so I have written a prequel about how Duke and Early first meet in college and how they get together. And so I’m like, ’cause people keep asking. I’m like, if you want more Duke and Early, I can do that. So that’s kind of how that came around.

So, you know, it really does matter. Like when you reach out to authors and go, hey, what about this person? It’s like, all right, you want them in a book? You gonna get an extra book. I like being responsive.

Lee: Yeah. That’s great. So, as we’re sort of wrapping up, I would love to know, you know, we’ve talked about your books and we’re definitely getting a sense for what you write. But how would you summarize what can people expect from an Ariella Zoelle story?

Ariella: The thing you’re gonna get is heat, humor and heart. You are gonna get a ton of banter. They’re gonna be very funny stories, but they’re also gonna be very heartfelt. They’re also gonna be very, very high heat. Um, you know, because I think for me it’s heat has a sense of purpose. It’s not just being sexy for sexy’s sake. A lot of their character development and the way they can communicate in a relationship grows out of those intimate moments. And so for me it really those kinds of scenes have to have a reason to be there to move things along. It’s not just smut for smut’s sake. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but, you know, I like it when it has a purpose. And so my books are definitely you’re gonna have a very good time. And you’re just gonna laugh a lot and swoon a lot. And you know, you can’t ask for much more than that.

Lee: I love it. So, what’s the best way for readers to learn more about you and your stories and get in touch with you.

Ariella: Yeah, so you can go to and sign up for my newsletter. I also, at the bottom of my website, have links to all of my social media profiles. I really would love it if people would join my Facebook group, which is Ariella Zoelle’s Sunnyside. Because I named my group after my universe. Um, you know, we have a really tight-knit group where, you know, we just, we have fun and everybody is really sweet and it’s a really fun place to get to know other people who like the genre.

And I’m also super active in it because I’m not one of those people. who are like, I’m on a pedestal. I can’t be bothered. I like talking to people. I’m very, you know what you see is what you get. This is me and the reason my characters are the way they are is because there’s so much of me in them.

So, if you wanna talk to me and want an author who sees you like, go join my Facebook group. That’s the place to get seen. Um, but yeah, so and I have Instagram, I have Facebook, I have Twitter, so I’m on all those. I’m not on TikTok. I should be on TikTok, but I’m not on TikTok.

Lee: Perfect. I’ll put the links to those in the show notes. I’m trying to be more active in TikTok and it’s really hard because all I want to do is watch the videos.

Well, thank you so much for being here! It’s been such a pleasure to talk to you and get to know you. Thank you!

Ariella: Yes. Thank you for having me. It was so much fun. I’m really excited about this podcast and kind of getting the word out about low angst romance. I think it’s something that a lot of times people kind of dismiss as being fluff, and to me, it’s like, you know, low angst is actually in some regards a lot tougher thing to write, because whenever you have something super angsty and you have those beats of like, oh no, it’s the boyfriend and the misunderstanding, and oh no, there was a car crash and oh no, his job’s gonna transfer him. Like all of those beats, the drama is naturally baked in, and so that kind of cliffhanger necessitates reading on.

But when you remove that and you’re reliant entirely on interesting characters that people get invested enough to care about, even though “nothing happens.” To me, I think that’s a lot bigger challenge as an author to kind of tackle is making these characters so well rounded, people wanna read about ’em even though bad things aren’t moving the plot along. And so that’s one of the other reasons I like it is I find it a lot more invigorating from a challenge perspective. So I’m glad other people can read it. I’m excited.

Lee: I agree with you. I read somewhere a while ago that someone said it’s harder to make someone laugh than cry in many ways. And not that all low angst is funny, but that sort of struck me. It is a different challenge. It’s not always as easy as some people think. I enjoy that challenge too.

Ariella: That’s great. But thanks again for having me. lot of fun.

Lee: Thanks for being here. Good to talk to you.

It was such a blast getting to chat with Ariella and getting to meet her at the Gay Romance Lit Retreat in October. I had so much fun at that event. And as I mentioned earlier, I want to give an update on Ariella’s current projects since the info in the interview is a little bit older.

Since we talked to the projects that she told us about have all come out. Lucky for us. This includes Music to His Ears and Cheshire in Heartland. She’s also got Skip a Beat available for pre-order. This is book five in the Harmony of Hearts series and has an age gap, bi-awakening and is a rock star romance. It’ll be out on April 28. She also shared with me that the third in her Wonderland Ever After series, which is Renner in Mirrorland will be out later this year. I’ve got a link to her Amazon page in the show notes.

Thanks for joining me in the Low Angst Library. I hope you enjoyed this interview.

Is there an author of low angst queer romance that you’d like me to interview? There’s a link in the show notes and on that has a guest suggestion form. If you’re an author writing low angst queer romance, there’s a self-suggestion form in the show notes and on the website as well.

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. Your guest suggestions will be a big help with that.

If you’d like to financially support the podcast to help offset the costs of hosting, editing software, and transcription for accessibility, you can buy me a coffee. The link is in the show notes.

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Until next time, keep reading.

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