TNA: Hi, EM, thanks so much for joining us at The Novel Approach today. Why don’t we start things off by having you tell us a bit about yourself?
EM: Thanks for having me back here yet again. This is one of those questions you get in job interviews or first dates, and never know just where to start!
I’m a full-time writer. That’s a good place to start. It’s exciting and scary not to have a regular paycheck, but I feel privileged to be able to sit down and make up stories all day. It’s a lot easier to come up with ideas than it is to write, so my job isn’t quite as fun as it sounds on the surface.
Besides writing, my passions are cooking and travel. If you’ve read one or two of my books this should come as no surprise. I’d love to be able to make my way around the world again trying different foods in different places, and learning how to cook them.
And I’m a Taurus. What’s your sign?
TNA: What was your first published M/M novel? If you could go back in time to the moment you sat down and started writing it, what advice would you give yourself?
EM: Sex, Lies & Wedding Bells was my first published novel. And it’s interesting you ask because I have just rewritten it for re-release by Dreamspinner Press. It was a humiliating experience to go back and see how awful some of it was—especially the writing style. I’ve developed a lot as a writer and as a storyteller since 2007 when I wrote that!
The main advice would be to work harder at developing the characters. It’s been one of my biggest lessons over the years. I haven’t been as successful at getting my idea of the characters onto the page so the reader loves them the way I do. So I did quite a bit of rewriting and more showing to bring out personalities. I also was guilty of having an unlikable female character—it was something of a popular trope back in the day. Now that character has a lot more layers. One of my betas actually said she cried over the woman character, once she read the new version.
TNA: Which came first for you, reading gay romance or writing it? Do you remember the first gay romance novel you ever read? What was it, and what makes it especially memorable?
EM: Definitely reading. This was back in 2005 or 2006, when most of the m/m stories had a lot of sex. I thought it was super hot! A friend of mine said, “Hey, check out this fanfic…. What do you think?” She didn’t say she liked it, maybe to see my reaction first. Once I said I loved it, she showed me where to find more!
The first published gay romance novel I remember was probably Tin Star by JL Langley. It’s got cowboys! What more does it need? Actually, what I liked was that it was about average guys living their lives and the relationship felt real. As much as I enjoyed slash fanfics, those pairings weren’t always realistic and the stories could be really ridiculous. Of course, that’s a separate genre, and fun in a different way.
TNA: Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about your latest novel, Spaghetti Western. First of all, the Delectable Series, overall—do you consider yourself a foodie? Which do you enjoy more, the cooking or the eating, or do you enjoy both equally? Why?
EM: I’m absolutely a foodie. I’ve got about 500 cookbooks and I’ll pick one up and read it for entertainment, even if I’m never going to cook anything out of it. I absolutely love to cook, especially complicated things with difficult techniques. It’s a great challenge to see if I can make things you’d get in a restaurant. And I love bringing food to potlucks and getting people’s reactions.
I do love to eat. If you’ve seen me, that won’t come as any surprise. (I have more than a few extra pounds on me). When I’m cooking, I don’t always enjoy eating the dish as much as making it. But when I’m at a restaurant, or someone’s house for dinner, then I can really focus on the eating. At restaurants, I’ll spend a long time going through the menu trying to decide what to eat. That tends to annoy my friends, but they usually say “I wish I’d ordered that” when the food arrives.
TNA: I know this is a difficult question, but which book in the series would you say is a particular favorite? What makes it so?
EM: That is difficult, because each book is special in its own way. Each has something specific I tried to do. An Intoxicating Crush is set in the world of winemaking, and since I worked in the business for seven years, it’s a story I really enjoyed writing. Lighting the Way Home features Jewish characters and brings up (mostly) good memories of family and growing up. Gingerbread Palace introduced me to the situation faced by LGBTQ foster kids, and there are firemen in it! Brand New Flavor is all about ice cream. Hello, ice cream!
TNA: If you owned a restaurant, what type(s) of cuisine would you serve, and why? What would be your specialty of the house?
EM: Wow. I would have a very hard time choosing. I absolutely love French cooking. Not the fancy version, but farmhouse cooking. Nice, hearty, comforting dishes like stews and rustic tarts. Coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, duck stew, that sort of thing. The Italians have their own version of farmhouse cooking, too.
But I also love Asian food. I think I could eat noodle dishes every day and never tire of the variety of ways to prepare them.
So, I can’t decide. It would be really tough to pull off, but it might be interesting to have a rotating menu with different themes by countries or regions of the world.
TNA: Food obviously plays a role in Spaghetti Western, and you’ve even shared some recipes in the book.Would Riley say he begins to express his feelings for Colby first through his cooking? Did he realize he was doing it in the beginning, or was it more a subliminal expression?
EM: Riley loves to cook, and for him it’s a challenge. But he doesn’t really see food as communication or love. He grew up in a very formal household with a nanny. Meals were not fun, so for him cooking doesn’t connect with good emotions. But he does want to please Colby, so he starts seeing his food as a way to make Colby happy. And eventually, he does find ways to express his love through food.
TNA: If I were to ask Colby what dish he loves most that Riley cooks for him, what would he choose, and what makes that a favorite?
EM: Colby hasn’t had much haute cuisine, and he’d much rather chew on a steak than eat something that needs a special fork. If he can’t say it, he won’t eat it. Through Riley’s food, Colby comes to appreciate all the nuances in different ingredients and preparation techniques. But the dish that really stands out for him is the special pasta Riley prepares to impress Wellington. It was delicious, but the fact that Riley stayed up all night do make it had an even bigger impact on Colby.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from Spaghetti Western with us?
EM: Sure! This is from Colby and Riley’s first “date,” a moonlight trail ride and a sexy interlude by a campfire. I really love this scene! These two are so hot together.
Cordon Bleu-trained chef Riley Emerson arrives in Aspen, Colorado for a summer at the best restaurant in town, only to discover his jerk of a boyfriend has dumped him, leaving his heart and his plans in tatters. Doubting himself and longing for a change of pace, he takes a low-paying position at the Rocking Z guest ranch, though he expects nature up close and personal won’t hold a candle to his exciting Paris lifestyle.
When born-and-bred cattle rancher Colby Zane spots a newcomer being pawed at by a passel of horny cowboys at Aspen’s Club Rawhide, he rushes in, throws the guy over his shoulder, and rescues him. Sober, Riley Emerson is sweet and sexy, but not interested in more than a one-night stand. Still, Colby’s over the moon when Riley later arrives as the new cook on his family’s ranch.
But all’s not well at the Rocking Z. Unsurmountable financial problems force them to seek a cash infusion from outside investor Fitz Wellington. Fitz is hot for Colby, and he won’t sign on the dotted line without some very personal incentives. The future of the ranch is at stake, and Colby’s just that desperate, but saving the Z might mean losing Riley.
Excerpt: Riley watched the stars twinkling above them. “I can’t remember the last time I saw so many stars. The city’s too bright. I used to know the names of the constellations when I was a kid. We had a place on an island that was so dark at night I was afraid at first. My dad bought me a telescope so I’d be able to see the stars and know where I was.”
“Did that help?”
Riley inhaled, trying to recall. “Maybe. At least I had something else to think about. That’s my dad for you, into distraction and bait and switch.”
“You don’t get along?”
“I didn’t turn out like he expected.”
“You mean gay?”
Riley glanced toward Colby, then back at the sky. “He doesn’t care about that. He wanted someone to follow in his footsteps, same college, family business, tradition. His world never interested me.” Riley swallowed. He’d sugar coated the situation. “What about your family? Parents, siblings?”
“I’m an only child.” There was something heavy in Colby’s pause before he continued.“Born and raised on this ranch. Haven’t been all that far from home, except when I went away to college. But that was in Fort Collins, a ways north of Denver.Yeah, I guess I am the traditional type.” Colby’s voice got soft and low.
Riley couldn’t imagine staying in one place his whole life. He got bored, needed to try new things, have new adventures. “Your parents got tired of this place?”
“No.” The word was a raspy whisper. “They died when I was seven. They were on—” He stopped. “There was a car accident. I wasn’t with them.”
Sharp pain skewered Riley’s heart. Shit. He’d come across like a real bastard, bad-mouthing his father when Colby didn’t have a dad around anymore. “I’m really sorry to bring that up.”
“It’s okay. I don’t remember much about them anymore. Except my dad showed me the constellations too. We’d do overnight trail rides and….” He stopped talking, voice creaky around the edges.
Riley rolled onto his side and traced a fingertip along Colby’s arm. “Are we staying here overnight?”
“Wouldn’t you rather be back in a nice warm bed?”
“Your nice warm bed.”
Colby nodded. “I forgot about that. Wouldn’t you rather be in my bed?”
“I like how that sounds, but only if you’re there too.” Riley played with strands of Colby’s hair. “It might be warm, but it wouldn’t be as nice as this.” He leaned forward and kissed the corner of Colby’s mouth.
Colby pulled Riley into his arms and they kissed for a while, slow deep kisses that got Riley dizzy again. When they parted, Colby touched a fingertip to one of Riley’s peaked nipples.
“Cold? You’ve got goose bumps too.”
“I think those are from you. I like how you kiss, Colby.”
“I like how you do everything.” Colby wrapped his arms around Riley again.
TNA: Would you like to share some information on your current works in progress and upcoming releases with us?
EM: I’m putting the finishing touched on Precious Gems: Book 4. One of those touches will be a title (fingers crossed!). This one takes Trent and Reed to Turkey on the trail of some looted Babylonian gold, and we get to meet their families for the first time.
Upcoming releases include an all-new edition of Sex, Lies & Wedding Bells from Dreamspinner Press in early spring 2015, and a fun smutfest of a story called Dirty Dining, that should be out in December or January. There’s more dirt than dining, so no recipes. It’s set in a club that’s a mix between a strip club and a restaurant. I have some of an early draft (unedited) over on my website if anyone wants to see what’s in store there.
TNA: Thanks again for stopping by today. Would you share all the places with us we can find you on the internet?
EM: Thank you for having me. It’s been fun and I love your questions.
The Giveaway: Enter via Rafflecopter for your chance to win a winged horse charm, a signed paperback copy of Spaghetti Western (US Only), a $10 Dreamspinner Gift Card, or a backlist e-title.