Interview with Santino Hassell, author of First and First (Five Boroughs)

The newest release in the Five Boroughs series is out now, and I have author Santino Hassell on the blog today to talk about First and First and the challenges he faced while writing it!

And don’t forget to check out JLR’s 5-star and 4.5-star reviews of First and First from Rafa and El!

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hassell-first-firstFirst and First, by Santino Hassell
Series: Five Boroughs #3 (Standalone)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: April 18, 2016

Plus there’s an awesome Rafflecopter giveaway at the bottom that you definitely need to check out… how does a $25 Amazon gift card sound to you?

So let’s get to it!

Hi Santino! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview.

Starting off with a quick question that I’ve been wondering about for a while: which 5B character do you think is the most like you? Did you base any of the other characters on people that you know?

This is hilarious because I asked this question on Twitter the other night. A lot of people said I was a mix of the Rodriguez brothers with a little Oli thrown in. I think it’s accurate that I’m a little like them all. Pieces of me end up in all of my characters. I share Michael’s vices and inability to cope with high stress, I have Raymond’s sarcasm and bluntness, but some of Oli’s background is very heavily influenced by my own.
I don’t set out to model the characters on people I know, but I think it seeps in. It’s why some of these stories are so personal to me.


When you were talking about First and First on social media, you kept mentioning that it was very different from the other Five Boroughs books. Did you have to take a different approach to writing this novel, which has a less “gritty” feel than your other works?

Definitely not. I’m not even sure what “gritty” means to different people, just that it’s a word that is very often used to describe my writing. And I’m totally okay with that! At this point, it’s part of my brand, and I think it’s because I tend to write stories in urban settings with characters who are brash and no-nonsense. For that reason, I found writing First and First to be super different and I wasn’t sure how people would respond. The book is still set in NYC but it’s a part of NYC that the typical New Yorker will never experience. There are penthouses, private parties, and there’s a lot of money thrown around. It’s also more romantic than the first two novels.

Caleb and Oli are the opposites of the Rodriguez brothers in many ways, but especially with their backgrounds and the way they view the world. Was it fun to write Caleb and Oli with their very different views on wealth, or was it a challenge?

Very challenging. I’d never written a character like Caleb before, and being in his head was trippy. I was writing from the point of view of someone who grew up in the bubble of NYC elites. Growing up that privileged affects a person’s view of the world, and it was challenging to do that while still making him a sympathetic character. I was thinking about this more as I introduced other characters from his world.
One in particular, Ashton, will have his own book eventually. It will be fascinating. People that rich live in another reality. Just look at the Brant brothers’ Instagram pages, and you’ll see what I mean. If you don’t know who the Brant brothers are it’s because no one does unless you’re a rich New Yorker. Or read Gawker and laugh at the articles making fun of them.


Were there any cut scenes from First and First that you can tell us about? Or any characterizations that you had in your head, but didn’t get a chance to include in the actual story?

Initially, I’d planned for Caleb to go MUCH farther with his sexual exploration. I won’t go into too much detail since it didn’t happen, but I think if you read the book you’ll be able to figure it out. He has specific fantasies and he used to be too ashamed to even talk about them aloud. I’d planned for him to experience those things before realizing he’s in love with Oli, but quickly realized Caleb enjoys fantasies but that doesn’t mean he’d ever feel comfortable acting on them. Well, unless he’s doing it with that one special someone.

You’ve developed something of a reputation for writing dark, angsty romances. I think the word “gritty” is used to describe your books in the overwhelming majority of reviews! Do you feel typecast (for lack of a better word) as an author to write those darker characters and plots?

erickson-hassel-strong-signalI’m not sure if that’s happened yet, but it is something I worried about. This conversation came up a lot with Megan Erickson while we were writing Strong Signal. It’s much lighter than my solo novels (although it still deals with heavy themes), and we wondered how people would respond to the combination of our styles. Overall, the book had a great response so I think readers will be open-minded in the future. At least I hope so!

What’s one story that you really want to write, but haven’t had the chance (or time) to yet?

An In the Company of Shadows prequel about a character named Emilio Vega. It’s a solo project, and a series of novellas, so it would carve a lot of time out of my current hectic schedule. I know ICoS fans want it, and I really want to give it to them, but I kind of have to wait until my romance career has a good foundation before I take off several months to work on it. It’s basically a collection of action/adventure erotic queer stories. There is a definite romance plotline, though. It’s about a boy who grew up in the favelas of Brazil and becomes one of the most famous assassins in a covert organization.

What’s next on your writing schedule? Can you give us any information about the upcoming 5B books, or any other projects that you’re working on?

Next, I have a paranormal romantic suspense trilogy coming out with Riptide. I’m pretty excited for it. Also, the next book in the Cyberlove series will be out soon! People are going to love Fast Connection. Luke and Costigan are magic together.

Purchase First and First from:

Dreamspinner Press (eBook)
Dreamspinner Press (Paperback)

Haven’t read the first two books
in the Five Boroughs series?


All of the quote graphics in this post were created by Em Anthony!


Caleb Stone was raised on the Upper East Side, where wealth and lineage reigns, and “alternative lifestyles” are hidden. It took him years to come out to his family, but he’s still stuck in the stranglehold of their expectations. Caleb knows he has to build his confidence and shake things up, but he doesn’t know how… until Oliver Buckley enters the picture.

Oli is everything Caleb isn’t—risk-taking, provocative, and fiercely independent. Disowned by his family, Oli has made his own way in the world and is beholden to no one. After a chance encounter on New Year’s Eve, Caleb is smitten.

As Caleb sheds the insecurities that have held him back for years, he makes bold steps toward changing his career and escaping years of sexual repression. But for Caleb to take full control of his life, he has to be brave enough to confront his feelings and trust Oli with his heart.


Santino Hassell was raised by a conservative family, but he was anything but traditional. He grew up to be a smart-mouthed, school cutting grunge kid, then a transient twenty-something, and eventually transformed into an unlikely romance author.

Santino writes queer romance that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

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How do you feel about a $25 Amazon gift certificate? Pretty good, right? Then you should check out this awesome Rafflecopter giveaway and enter to win!

Leave a comment on this blog post telling me if you’ve read a book by Santino Hassell before, and if you’re excited for First and First! Then click on the Rafflecopter link (or the GIVEAWAY image above) and click “I commented!” to enter.

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