Lisa: Thanks for having us! Um…about me. I live in Townsville, the most unimaginatively named city in the world. It’s in north Queensland, Australia, and is more interesting than the name implies. It’s right on the Great Barrier Reef. At the moment it’s getting into summer here, my house smells like mangoes, and I think when I was away last month a possum moved into my ceiling. I can hear weird scratching sounds from up there. I really, really hope it’s a possum and not something worse.
J.A.: We’re really excited to be here! About me…I live in Chicago. It is NOT summer here. I walk dogs part time and write the rest of the time. I don’t like to wear pants. I have a major shark fixation. Lisa and I are planning to take over the world, but don’t worry about it. You all go back to whatever you were doing. Don’t look over here.
TNA: Tell us how your partnership formed. Were you fans of each other’s work? Who reached out to whom and proposed you start writing together?
Lisa: It’s all her fault, your honor. I think that J.A. emailed me because we had books out at around the same time, and what started as a relatively polite and professional exchange somehow turned into this crazy weird thing we have now where we just spend our days writing together and then insulting each other on social media.
J.A.: Yeah, that sounds right. I can’t recommend it enough as a way to live life.
TNA: How would you describe your writing chemistry? Are your writing styles in an opposites-attract relationship, or are they like-attracts-like? What makes you work so well together?
Lisa: We have developed a hive mind. It might be the next step in human evolution. Or it might be the result of too much wine. I think a lot of our writing is purely about oneupmanship now. We try to be smuttier, sadder, or funnier than each other in every scene, depending on what we’re going for.
J.A.: I would say like-attracts-like. We have similar styles and interests, but I think we each bring our own quirks to the table. The hive mind helps–we tend to have freakishly identical ideas/reactions/opinions. About everything except spelling.
TNA: Let’s talk a little bit about Brandon Mills Versus the V-card. What are some of the challenges that came up during the writing process? Was there ever a point the story went places you hadn’t expected it would go? How so?
J.A.: I know a challenge for me was being kink-less! Luckily I got some practice with vanilla sex when we wrote our PLAYING THE FOOL trilogy last year. But yeah, we usually write kinky, and we had to construct an erotic romance around two characters who have zero BDSM interest, and also can’t navigate vanilla sex that well. I think the characters ended up surprising us in good ways. We knew we’d have to be careful about any boyfriend we gave Brandon–he’d need to be understanding and mature, but still believable as a horny eighteen-year-old boy.
Lisa: Exactly what she said about the kink. Also, we had a bit of a challenge here in that Mark Cooper Versus America was basically a funny book, and we wanted Brandon Mills Versus the V-Card to be similar in tone, but of course Brandon has a backstory that is in no way funny. He’s a very damaged character, and while we certainly didn’t want this book to turn into a huge angst fest, we also didn’t want to be too casual or dismissive about his past trauma. So that was a bit of a balancing act at times!
TNA: Tell us about some of the creative tests you faced with Alex and Brandon, the virgin and the guy who’s sworn a vow of lifelong celibacy. Was there ever a point where you worried you’d have a difficult time resolving their relationship without over or under examining their characters?
J.A.: We did wonder how to give them a sexual relationship that suited both their needs and that didn’t read as “magic penis heals damaged guy.” This series is with Loose Id, so knew we had to include sex. But we also knew the emotional relationship, and Brandon’s needs, were more important than steaminess. The sex we ended up with is super awkward. So we did worry a little that LI was going to be like, “Ummm…no.”
Lisa: It really was super awkward sex, but I’m convinced anyone who says their first time was magical or mind blowing is just a liar liar pants on fire. Or a hell of a lot luckier than the rest of us, right? But for a book where the title is all about virginity, we didn’t actually want the focus to be on just sex. And we definitely didn’t want sex to solve all their problems. Brandon and Alex are always going to have things to work though, particularly when it comes to sex, and that’s okay. This book isn’t so much about giving them a happy ending as it is about giving them a solid beginning.
TNA: What is it about nerdy guys? What do you think makes them so sexy?
Lisa: Smart is sexy. It lasts forever. Also, I’m a nerd at heart so I’ll always prefer a nerdy guy over some guy who’s into stuff I don’t get. I know way too much about Star Wars, I get excited talking about etymology, and I will always, always chose to go to a museum over a trendy club. Not that the choice comes up often, but you get my drift. I love people who are passionate about knowledge, and who never lose that sense of wonder about the world.
J.A.: Also, not thinking you’re the coolest shit ever? Really sexy. I have very little patience for ultra-cocky, domineering guys. Not that nerds can’t be arrogant or domineering. But I’d generally rather read about guys who are prouder of their brains than their dicks. And who might not be cool by mainstream standards, but would be rockstars in the paleontological community.
TNA: Would you care to share a short excerpt from the book with us?
Blurb: Smart, shy Prescott sophomore Brandon Mills is working hard to overcome his troubled past and be normal. With the help of his friends Mark and Deacon, and his brothers at Phi Sigma Kappa, he’s slowly coming out of his shell. But when he accidentally drenches a freshman in orange soda, he faces something he’s not ready for: a boy crushing on him.
Alex Kekoa pledges Phi Sig because it has everything he wants: a house full of nerds who won’t tease him for being smart, a dog, and Brandon Mills. Brandon is just the type of guy Alex needs to help fulfill his college ambition: losing his virginity. Except Alex doesn’t know that Brandon can’t stand to touch or be touched.
When Alex and Brandon are drafted onto the Phi Sig Academic Challenge team, their mutual attraction grows. If there’s anyone who can help Brandon discover it feels good to touch and kiss, maybe it’s klutzy Alex with his cute glasses and his dinosaur obsession. But as the competition–and their relationship–heats up, Alex’s determination not to die a virgin clashes with Brandon’s vow of lifelong celibacy, forcing them to examine what’s truly important to each of them about love.
Excerpt: “Why do I have to pretend I want something I don’t just to make other people happy?” Brandon sounded furious. And was it Alex’s imagination, or was Brandon suddenly closer to him? Their gazes locked, and Brandon’s hand trembled in the diminished space between them. “Why can’t I do what I want?”
He was breathing hard, his face inches from Alex’s. Alex definitely wanted to wait this one out in case he was misreading…
Okay. Brandon’s lips were on his. Brandon was kissing him—kissing him! And now it was okay to kiss back. Had to be. Alex groped blindly, knocking the fast-food bag onto the floor, until his hand landed on the back of Brandon’s head. Brandon dropped the carton of fries and they spilled across the desk. Alex stepped forward and accidentally crushed the fast-food bag. Brandon’s lips were soft, and his hair was soft, and his teeth scraped Alex’s lower lip just a little. Alex needed to remember all this for later, but it was happening so fast.
When Brandon pulled away, Alex froze, sure that he had still managed to do something wrong, even though Brandon had 100 percent initiated that.
“Oh shit,” Brandon whispered. He moved toward the door, and Alex gaped. No way—no way—was Brandon going to kiss and run. But Brandon stopped and fished something out of his pocket. Something small and plastic. He handed it to Alex. “I got you this.” Alex took the object. A dinosaur. Not just any dinosaur. A Sinosauropteryx. “I have to go. I have an eight a.m. class.” He left the room.
Totally fucking left.
A few seconds later, he was back.
“No, actually, you leave. This is my room.”
“No!” Alex surprised himself with the force of his tone. “If you kiss me, you have to talk to me about it. You have to tell me whether we’re ever going to do that again.”
“I don’t know.” Brandon sounded so agonized that Alex almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
“What’s the problem?” Alex asked boldly. “In the closet? Worried about fry breath? Something about me?”
Brandon closed his eyes.
“Tell me,” Alex said. “I’m not stupid. And I won’t—I won’t be a dick about it, whatever it is. You can trust me. Please?”
Brandon shook his head.
“I’m not letting you give me a dinosaur and run away!” Dinosaurs fucking meant something.
Still no response.
“You have two options.” Alex willed his courage to hold, because he had a feeling he knew which one Brandon would pick. “One: Talk to me. Let me stay here, and talk to me. Two: Agree to take my spot on the team. I’ll leave, and we can pretend this didn’t happen—again. If that’s what you want.”
Alex wanted Brandon to talk to him. But more than that, he wanted Brandon to have someone, even if it wasn’t Alex. So if Brandon doing Academic Challenge meant he’d be out there interacting with people and having fun instead of holed up in his room reading about Keynesian economics, then good.
Brandon had a third option, which was to tell Alex to fuck off. Alex wondered how far Brandon would go to get him out of his room. He imagined Brandon calling the neighbors for backup and a couple of muscular Alpha Delts braving former enemy territory to remove Alex from the premises. Imagined the Phi Sigs telling Alex maybe it was best if he dropped out of the pledge process—that staging a one-man sit-in to get a boy you liked to talk to you wasn’t really model Phi Sig behavior.
With a sigh, Brandon sank onto the edge of the mattress. Put his face in his hands. “I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said softly. Alex’s chest tightened in sympathy. “With you, or at Prescott. Or…anywhere. Anything.” He blew a loud, frustrated breath into his hands. “And this is the first time I’ve kissed a guy. Well, second. I mean, you’re the first guy I’ve kissed.”
Which was awesome.
TNA: Everyone has a book or two they consider “the one”, the one book that is most memorable, resonated most deeply, is simply a favorite. If you could name the one book you wish you’d written, what book would that be, and what makes it so special?
Lisa: I love too many books to have a favourite. The list always changes, but always somewhere in the top five is an Australian YA book called JASPER JONES, by Craig Silvey. Jasper Jones is a boy of mixed Aboriginal and European heritage, and he seeks out the narrator, Charlie, when he finds the girl he had feelings for, Laura, hanging from a tree in the bush. I recently read this again, and it’s just one of those books where everything works for me. I love quality YA books, and this one is right at the top of the list.
J.A.: Quite possibly my favorite book ever is THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE by Michel Faber. It has everything I love: Victorian England, a huge cast of characters, humor, angst, creepiness, and a badass heroine who is realistically badass given the constraints of the time period. I wish I had Michel Faber’s ability to juggle so many subplots and intersecting lives. I read most of it under the table in physics class in high school. Because let’s face it, I was never going to be a scientist.
TNA: If there’s a reader out there who’s never read your books, which one of your books would you tell that person to read first? What makes that book particularly special to you?
J.A.: WHEN ALL THE WORLD SLEEPS is my favorite of the ones we’ve done together. We’ve both agreed there was something particularly magical about that writing experience. Maybe because it’s our most atmospheric novel. I can still remember exactly how it felt to get lost in that world.
Lisa: That’s the book of ours that I reread the most. When usually I don’t reread anything I’ve written because instead of enjoying it, I just find bits that I should have done better. But I really like reading WHEN ALL THE WORLD SLEEPS again. But if you want a fun, light read, I’d totally have to recommend JA’s CALLING THE SHOW. It’s hilarious, and sweet, and made me buy a hula hoop.
J.A.: Aw! Then I’m going to do a Lisa recommendation and say SWEETWATER. That is all.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information about your upcoming projects and current WIPs with us?
Lisa: At the moment we’re working on a bunch of things because we’re completely easily distr– SQUIRREL!
Where was I? Oh yeah. At the moment we’re working on the third Prescott College book, tentatively titled LIAM MCDERMOTT VERSUS AUTHORITY. We’re also working on an untitled book in the BOY series, and it’s so much fun getting back to Derek and Lane again, and Brin and Ferg, and our favourite character ever, Mr. Zimmerman the foul-mouthed macaw.
J.A.: It’s funny, because Lisa really was easily distracted by squirrels when she visited America. She was exactly like the dog from UP. Our upcoming releases are the PLAYING THE FOOL trilogy–book one comes out December 29th, and the next two on February 2nd and March 9th. If you like donuts and Shakespeare and drag…we’ve got your back. And our Christmas kinkfest FALL ON YOUR KNEES, which is part of Loose Id’s Rated XXXmas Anthology, releases December 16th.
TNA: Thanks so much to both of you for being with us today. Would you tell us all the places we can find you on the internet?
THE GIVEAWAY: THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED