First, a huge thank you to Love Bytes Reviews for letting me celebrate the release of GUYLINER here!
Here’s a little Q&A to help folks get to know me and let you know a little more about GUYLINER.
- How would you describe Guyliner to someone who has not read any of your books?
GUYLINER is, on the surface, a coming out story. Like a lot of YA novels, though, the real overarching theme of the book is coming of age, or a coming-to-terms with who the characters are, and who they are meant to be. For both Connor and Graham, they rely on what the world sees of them. On the surface, Connor is the Golden Boy, the one with his life in order, a plan for a future, and the ambition and dedication to see it through. On the surface, Graham is out and proud, refusing to let outsiders define him. Below the surface, though, Connor is struggling. He’s struggling with family and community pressure and expectations. He’s struggling to reconcile who he should be with who he is. Below the surface, Graham tries desperately not to let a traumatic past define his present or future. He faces the guilt he feels about the adjustments his parents have had to make, and anger and resentment he tries hard to bury. The two of them are complete opposites, and at the same time, they are the same. The core of GUYLINER, though, is a story of acceptance, both external and internal.
- Is there a message in this book you want your readers to understand?
Be true to yourself. It’s one of the hardest things for a person to do, but it is so important. Life can be miserable if you spend too much time trying to be someone you’re not.
- What made you want to write this particular book?
So many things. It really was a combination of several factors. I was completely immersed in male/male romance novels. I had a bit of a crush on Adam Lambert. I talked to someone whose father never seemed satisfied with her grades or sports achievements. The big one, though, is a chance encounter in a Taco Bell where I met a cashier with thick black eyeliner around bright blue eyes and burn scars up one arm. All of that stewed together until GUYLINER was born.
- Do your characters ever take over your writing and make the story go somewhere you didn’t originally have in mind?
It depends on how you look at it. I’m a total pantster when I write (meaning I don’t start with an outline or a detailed expectation of a book), so the characters always sort of develop on their own as the story progresses. But GUYLINER is actually one of the books I’ve written where the character refused to become who I intended him to be. When I started, I expected Graham to be a quiet, moody, loner type. Taciturn, and focused only on his passion for soccer. As I wrote, though, that guy never came out. Instead, I ended up with an outgoing, confident guy who wasn’t afraid to show the world exactly who he was. In the end, that Graham was a much more dynamic character and a better fit for Connor and the book that the one I’d originally envisioned.
- Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always been a bit of a writer, but I didn’t always think consider it a viable pursuit. I’d jot story ideas down now and then with vague ideas of doing something with them in the future, but it never occurred to me to write something that someone might actually want to publish and that people not related to me might actually want to read. It took a long time for me to realize that writing was a huge part of me and that I was doing myself a disservice by not following through on it.
- What is the least satisfying thing about being a writer?
Ugh. The “business” side of writing is kind of a pain. Mostly because I’m not business-minded. I don’t want to worry about promotion and marketing. I don’t want to review contracts to make sure I’m getting the best deal. I want to write a good story that people will enjoy. It’s hard, sometimes, to switch between the “artist” hat and the “businesswoman” hat. I’m grateful I have an agent to deal with some of the pieces that stress me out, so I can focus on the creation process.
- What is the most satisfying thing about being a writer?
The best part, bar none, is when someone you’ve never met reads something you write, and the totally get it. When the story resonates with them, and they pick up the subtleties and themes. And when they take the time to post a review or mention you in social media, that is the best. The thrill of knowing that something you’ve written has affected someone in some way is really hard to describe.
- Where and when do you prefer to write?
I can’t do early mornings to save my life, and I spend my days at the Day Job, so most of my writing gets done after work. And since I can’t concentrate at home (it’s amazing how often I decided now is the perfect time to clean the toilet, or organize my pantry, or sort out my sock drawer), I have to go somewhere. My preferred location is the Panera Bread that is halfway between my office and my house. They’ve gotten to know me there. To the point that they know my “usual” meal and that if they see me several times a week, they know I’m on deadline. I go there because of the wi-fi and the fountain soda. Because I don’t drink coffee, the stereotypical Starbucks doesn’t work for me. Bun an unending supply of Diet Pepsi? I’m set.
- How much of your own life and personality do you put into your work?
I put a lot of myself into my work, though rarely anything major. GUYLINER is actually the exception. There is very little of me in this book. In DO-GOODER, the male/male YA novel that released last month, there was a lot of me, especially in terms of dealing with my “daddy issues.” Other books contain less major things—cracking knuckles, fear of confrontation, the importance of family—that define me, but also help me add texture and emotion to the story.
- What do you hope to accomplish in the next 12 months?
I’ve got a couple of projects in the works. One is a New Adult male/male shapeshifter series—a quirky take on the shifter genre (think Darynda Jones’ Charley Davidson series with shapeshifting buffalo and other random animals instead of demons), and the other is another male/male contemporary YA about a city kid shuffled off to the middle of nowhere Wyoming to live on a dude ranch.
So here’s a question for you guys–and a lucky random commenter will win a free digital copy of GUYLINER—what are you reading right now? I’ve been focusing on book releases and promotion for the last couple of months, so feel like I’m a little out of touch with what’s new out there. What books do you recommend and why?
Seventeen-year-old Connor works his butt off to maintain the golden-boy persona he’s created. He has the grades, the extracurriculars, the athletics, and a part-time job at his dad’s shop… every detail specifically chosen to ensure the college scholarships he needs to get the hell out of the Podunk town where he lives. The last thing he needs is an unexpected attraction to Graham, an eyeliner-wearing soccer phenom from St. Louis, who makes him question his goals and his sexuality. Sure, he’s noticed good-looking boys before—that doesn’t have to mean anything, right?—but he’s got a girlfriend. There’s no room on the agenda for hooking up with Graham, but the heart doesn’t always follow the rules.
As he and Graham grow close, other aspects of Connor’s life fall apart. Family pressure, bad luck, and rumors threaten to derail his carefully laid plans. Suddenly the future he’s fighting for doesn’t seem quite as alluring, especially if he has to deny who he really is to achieve it.
[Connor] dusted his hands on his jeans and stood back from the now-empty bin. “I think this is a good place to stop for the day. I’ll haul the cart with the trash to the dumpster if you want to start putting away the rest.”
Graham nodded and grabbed an armload of cross-country skis to take into the shed. He’d returned to the court for the next batch of equipment when a whistle pierced the air. Roy and Clint walked across the court. Clint scooped up a baseball that had rolled a few feet away from the pile of good balls. He tossed it from one hand to the other, the gesture casual, but with an edge of menace. Graham wiped suddenly sweaty hands on his shorts.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
Clint smirked. “We heard you and Golden Boy were out here playing house. We had to see it for ourselves.” He made a show of looking around. “Where is the Golden Boy? Surely he didn’t leave you alone to do all the work.”
Roy looked at the piles of random sports equipment and empty crates. “So you guys, what, spend the day playing with your balls?” He snickered.
“Each others’ balls, more like.” Clint smiled as though he’d made a particularly funny joke. The way Roy laughed, he must have thought so too.
Tucking his thumbs into the waistband of his shorts, Graham shrugged. When in doubt, bluff. “Since you guys are the reason we got stuck in this particular punishment, it’s only fair for you to join us.”
Clint’s face twisted in disgust. “You wish.” He tossed the baseball and caught it again. “I’m actually a little surprised to see you here. Figured you were too good to do manual labor.”
“I’m not afraid of a little dust.”
Clint stalked a little closer. “I don’t like you.”
Graham snorted. “There’s a surprise.”
“I don’t like people like you. You walk into town, with your fancy clothes and fancy cars, looking down your nose at regular, hard-working folks.”
“And here I thought it was the queer thing you had a problem with. And all along it was, what, my car?”
“You show up, and Clint gets dropped from the soccer team. You got a spot on the team, just like that. You weren’t even there for tryouts. Once they found out you were a fag, they were probably too afraid to kick you off. I bet you haven’t had to work for anything in your life. Whatever you want, you get. No questions asked, right?”
This was new. He’d grown up with plenty of money, yeah. He’d never been attacked for it before. He shook his head at Clint. “Dude, you have issues. You should mind your own business.”
Clint’s grip on the baseball tightened, turning his knuckles white. “You think you’re so much better than the rest of us.”
“You don’t know anything about me or what I think.” He turned his glare to Roy. “Do you have anything to add to this entertaining conversation? I didn’t think so.” He turned and headed back to the shed.
Graham whirled around in time to see Clint hurl the baseball at him. He didn’t even have time to blink, let alone duck. He squeezed his eyes shut, preparing himself for the pain. Instead of a ball to the face, he heard the smack of an object hitting flesh. His eyes popped open. Connor was there, the baseball gripped in his hand, mere inches from Graham’s face.
He looked like some kind of avenging god. Tall, broad, and blond, Connor became Thor facing his enemies across a field of battle. “You did not do that,” Connor growled, lowering his hand and dropping the ball.
Clint swallowed heavily but stuck out his chin. “What are you going to do about it? Tattle to a teacher?”
“I don’t need to tell a teacher.” He dipped and grabbed a baseball bat off the cracked surface of the court. “Twelve years of baseball has given me a hell of a swing.” He rotated the bat and stepped forward.
Graham grabbed Connor’s shoulder. No way was he letting him get into an actual fight with two dumbasses. He didn’t have to worry, though. Clint and Roy sneered and grunted, but didn’t waste any time hightailing it to the parking lot.
When they were out of sight, Connor dropped the bat and scrubbed his hands over his face. “That was fun.” He flexed his hand, the one he’d used to catch the ball.
J. leigh bailey is an office drone by day and the author of Young Adult and New Adult LGBT Romance by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything…but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation or paranormal affiliation deserves a happy ending.