I’m absolutely ecstatic to be joined today by Amy Jo Cousins, one of the most amazing romance authors I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading! Her newest book, Real World, came out yesterday, and is the fifth in her Bend or Break series.
I absolutely loved Real World, which was “flawless, gorgeous, with characters so real they practically jumped off the page”. It’s the perfect holiday romance, and I’m thrilled to be revisiting Tom and Reese.
If you haven’t read Off Campus or the rest of the Bend or Break series, you can still read Real World, although you should totally check out the other books as well.
So without further ado…
El: Hi Amy Jo! Thank you so much for joining me here today. The entire Bend or Break series is absolutely incredible, and Real World was a blast to read!
AJ: Thank you for the lovely words about the books! I have had such fun with this series. I had no idea it would still be going strong for this many books!
El: The first question I wanted to ask was about your original image for the series. Was it always going to be multiple books following these interconnected characters, or did you start out with only Reese and Tom’s story in mind?
AJ: I didn’t even know it was going to be one book at first. I was training for a marathon, and whenever I had my long runs, this scene kept getting stuck in my head: one guy taking care of another guy, who was injured, and then the caretaking becoming something more. After a month or two, it was clear I needed to write this down. 🙂 And that became Off Campus. But it wasn’t until I was talking to my agent, and she asked me if I had more books planned in a series, that I realized I did. I knew I wanted to write about Jack, the antagonist, and Cash and Steph. But the rest of the series has been a surprise to me. The ideas keep coming, so I keep writing!
El: I’m not complaining if it means we get more in this series!
AJ: Thank you! I’ve really enjoyed following this extended group of friends around.
El: I wanted to ask about “Real World” first, since it just came out yesterday… what made you decide to revisit Reese and Tom?
AJ: I loved writing about Tom and Reese so much. I was emotionally invested in that story, more so than usual for me. And I was happy with how I left them at the end of Off Campus. I’m excessively fond of realism in romance, and for me, two guys of that age, still in college, really only had a HFN ending to their story, not a HEA. And I wanted that HEA! So I always hoped I’d get a chance to revisit them. And because my editor Christa is an awesome and amazing woman, she signed on for a holiday novella where I could really wallow in the sappy, mushy stuff for their forever HEA. But not until I made them work for it, of course.
El: Sappy and mushy HEAs are exactly what I want to read during the holidays! Makes me feel warm and happy inside :D. If I remember correctly, Reese and Tom was the first M/M story that you’d written. Did you have a sense of nostalgia going back to them, or a better feel for the characters after writing other books where they cameo?
AJ: Ooh, good question. Both! The nostalgia was hardcore. I was right back in that mental place where it so matters to me that these two end up together in a rock solid relationship that will last until they’re old and grey. But after writing The Girl Next Door especially, where Cash and Steph had transitioned into the years after college, I had a better idea of what Tom and Reese’s challenges would be down the road. Because we never really 100% overcome most of our issues, right? We get better at something like communication or managing our stress because we focus on correcting our bad habits. But three or four or five years down the road, we backslide. We fall back into old bad habits, and then the challenge is: do we fix our relationship, and ourselves, again, or do we give up, because we think that we shouldn’t have to deal with the same problems all over again? It really fascinated me.
El: You did an incredible job of showing that backsliding, especially with Tom… who is incredibly lucky to have Reese, Steph, and Cash around– people who know what he’s like when he gets stuck in his head. Did you base any of the characters off people you know in real life? (I’m especially curious about Steph, because she’s the kind of woman I aspire to be!)
AJ: You know how there are writers who say things like, “It’s all from my imagination, none of this comes from my life”? Yeah, I’m not one of those people. 🙂 I pull from my life–my family’s life, my friends–all the time. I mean, by the time I’ve used something in a story, it’s been smashed up with so much other stuff, no one who knows me would recognize any of it. But I definitely pull from real life. I think Tom has a lot of me in him, actually, in that I’ve always felt tremendously fortunate to have such amazing family and friends, who very patiently point out when I’m screwing up my relationships with them, and then give me another, a hundredth, chance. And Steph! I love Steph. She is a combination of several totally badass women I know. I went to college at Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, one of the oldest remaining women’s colleges in the country, and I was surrounded by amazing women at that school. MHC was also where I got most of my early education about LGB issues (because I am old, this was pre-adding the T and the Q). Steph has her vulnerabilities, but she is definitely my fantasy of a totally competent, smart, and smartass woman.
El: I think authors who write only from their imagination don’t get the same kind of depth in their characters are authors who draw from actual interactions and experiences… and your characters definitely reflect that realism that you mentioned before that you strive for!
So stepping away from Reese and Tom (just for a minute!), I wanted to ask about the next wave of college students– Rafi and Denny, and now Austin and Vinnie coming soon. What is it about the college setting that draws you in as an author? And can you tell us anything about Austin and Vinnie’s book?
AJ: I think part of what draws me to the college setting is that it’s such a concentrated time for emotional challenges, especially for LGBTQ folk. I mean, everyone goes through a lot of ‘figuring out who you are and how you’re going to present yourself to the world’ stuff at that age, but for queer young adults, there’s an extra layer of new experiences and testing bold moves that applies. There’s lots of sitting around in dorm rooms or apartments and telling people things you’ve never told anyone else before. It’s scary and a relief and the bonds that form can be intense. I love it. As for Austin and Vinnie, the biggest surprise to my readers, I think, was when I announced that each of them are getting their own story. A lot of people picked up on the (fairly obvious) connection between the two of them, beyond their BFF status, and assumed the next book would be about their future relationship together. But that wasn’t how it worked out in the end. Lesson learned: don’t assumed your occasional hookup will wait for you forever… 😉
El: I was definitely one of the ones rooting for Austin and Vinnie from the little glimpses we saw of them, so I’m going to trust you to take care of them! (I might be a bit sad though… I’m a romantic soul!)
AJ: I will promise you plenty of romance! Austin’s story turned out to be full of happiness and good humor. Vinnie’s is a little more serious, but with a calm center that makes me really happy for him. I think you’ll be happy for them both in the end, and they’ll be best friends forever. 🙂
El: I trust you! Okay, a couple more quick questions and then I’ll let you get back to your day… it’s almost lunchtime for me, so I’m thinking about food, and I have to ask about this rigatoni recipe that may very well give me a heart attack if I try it. Is it a family recipe? Something you invented on your own?
AJ: It’s become a family recipe by now, since everyone in my extended family, including my young cousins in college, call me for the recipe whenever they need to feed a crowd. The original basis for it is a Real Simple recipe I clipped about a decade ago. Over the years, I tweaked various details to suit me (more garlic! always more garlic!) and now it’s one of my favorite things ever to make. But yes, between the heavy cream and the cheese, you’ll need to balance out the rest of your meals with…salad. Steamed broccoli. Raw fruit. Or else just wallow in the cheesy goodness & promise yourself you’ll run a hundred miles next week!
El: Can you talk quickly about your other upcoming projects, outside of the “Bend and Break” verse? I know the “How We Began” anthology just came out, but what else is in the works?
AJ: I wrote stories for two charity anthologies this holiday season, and I’m so proud of both of these collections. How We Began is an LGBTQ YA anthology that benefits the Trevor Project, and Wish Come True is an m/m NA anthology benefiting Lost-N-Found Youth. I wrote about a trans girl finding her true family for How We Began, and about a twink who accidentally catfishes a college football player for Wish Come True. Then I’ll be putting out some very kinky m/f erotic romance and erotica in January & February, before Austin & Vinnie’s books arrive in March! In the long run, I’ve got a couple of series planned for 2016 & 2017, both LGBTQ: a small town romance series, and a historical series based around a 1930s drag dance hall in London. So many plans!
El: You can’t see me right now, but I’m definitely making grabby hands at my computer screen. These sound amazing, I can’t wait to read them!!
AJ: *happy dancing* Yay! I’m excited to get to work!
El: Last question, and it’s the most important one… as a former resident of Chicago, I have to ask: what’s your favorite deep dish pizza restaurant?
AJ: I’m a Gino’s East girl, all the way. Although the last time I had deep dish (because that’s another meal you have to space out in your lifetime or die), it was at Lou Malnati’s and they do it up right!
El: Whew, okay, I’m in agreement with Gino’s! You can definitely learn a lot about someone by their favorite deep dish.
AJ: As long as they don’t say Giordano’s… 😉
El: Yes, exactly! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, I absolutely adored “Real World” and I can’t wait to read everything else that you have coming out!
AJ: Thank you for having me! This was delightful. And I’ll get to work on the next books right away! Don’t want to leave you hanging for too long. 🙂
“Real World” is out now! Five years ago, Tom Worthington busted his ass to overcome the fear and paranoia that led him to withdraw from the world and nearly lose his boyfriend. He never thought he’d find himself right back there, shutting Reese out, keeping secrets again. Reese Anders is ready to try anything to get Tom to talk: if he can’t seduce his boyfriend with food, he’ll get Tom to open up in bed. But even Tom’s confession that his dad is getting out of prison soon doesn’t clear the air between them. And as the holidays approach, intensive mentoring from a new British boss creates more distractions, until Reese is keeping secrets of his own. Buy “Real World”: Samhain Publishing / Amazon. Read My Review: Link
“How We Began” is anthology of never-before-published sweet LGBTQ+ stories, six authors explore the beginnings of love between young and new adult couples. All proceeds will support The Trevor Project’s work with crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. Buy “How We Began”: Amazon. Read My Review: Link
“Wish Come True” is a collection of contemporary, new adult, holiday short stories by some of our favorite authors! Proceeds will be donated to Lost-N-Found Youth , an Atlanta-based nonprofit corporation whose mission is to take homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths to age 26 off the street and transition them into more permanent housing. Coming Soon!
Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series.
Find her at http://amyjocousins.com/ and on twitter @_AJCousins