TNA: Hi, Ashlyn and Morgan, welcome to The Novel Approach. I’m happy to have you both here with us today. Why don’t we start things off by having you tell us a bit about yourselves?
Ashlyn: I’d rather cook than do laundry. The only houseplants I can reliably keep alive are peace lilies and bamboo. Sometimes I forget to go outside. I’m very excitable and high-strung, but only when I have someone around to ground me. When other people are more excitable and high-strung than I am, I am a cool cucumber. I went on a road trip with Amy Lane and Julianne Bentley, and they were all “chaos! Panic! What if we run out of gas! What if we drive off the road!” I was like, “Ladies, chill. This is a Honda, we’re not going to run out of gas.” They thought I was Xanax personified. My husband still doesn’t believe me. If it had been the two of us in that car, I would have been a neurotic mess.
Morgan: I’m terrible at talking about myself. I never know where to start. I’m a huge geek—books and made-up worlds and people are totally my jam. I probably consume too much tea and coffee on the average day, and spend too much time sitting in front of a computer (darn the need for gainful employment). Though to be honest, I’d be there anyway working on or finding inspiration for writing. Shy, but not always quiet, I’m not better at people or making friends than the star of our latest book.
Ashlyn & Morgan as a writing duo: We met at university, where we soon discovered a shared interest in entertainment—generally speaking, we love to watch and read the same things. It wasn’t long before we were sharing books, then sharing our own writing, and then writing works together.
TNA: What were your first published novels? Did you begin publishing in the gay romance genre, or is that something that came along later in your careers? What is it that drew you to this genre?
Ashlyn: My first published novel was True North, which is a gay romance, with Bethany Brown. That’s almost five years ago now. Before that I had a poem published in an anthology of poetry by high school students. I guess you can say I started publishing in the gay romance genre because I followed someone on Livejournal and she had done it and I thought, Hmm. I could make a go at this. But as for what drew me to M/M—I don’t know if I can qualify it. I was about 15 when I started writing in the genre, just little snippets. I actually wanted to write the Great American Novel (please feel free to roll your eyes; I was young… and Canadian) with a thread of underlying tension between the two male leads, but writing a romance instead was a lot more fun.
Morgan: My first published novel was the first one that Ashlyn and I wrote together, Return to Sender. I probably never would have thought to write and publish such a book myself if it weren’t for Ashlyn, who told me one day I was helping her write her next novel. Like a lot of people (including Ashlyn), I’m a fan of a happy ending, especially after some angst, so romance was a logical choice for fun writing. As for why M/M…. Well, I started watching Queer as Folk at 16. It was, perhaps, a formative experience.
TNA: If you could go back in time to the moment you each began writing your first books, what advice would you give yourselves now that you have the benefit of experience?
Ashlyn: Edit. Edit more. Edit again. Ask for the meanest editor your publisher has on staff.You don’t have to take their advice, but at least try to objectively consider what they’re saying. It might hurt now, but the editor’s going to tell you things in private that reviewers will say publicly on the Internet. So….
Morgan: Don’t be afraid to cut things. Not all ideas are good ideas. Sometimes your characters talk more than you need them to. As a duo, I think we’ve gotten better at editing each other… and kindly but ruthlessly squashing bad ideas.
TNA: Do you remember the first gay romance novel you ever read? If so, what was it and how would you say it affected and influenced you?
Ashlyn: I do! I bought it in paperback—I bought a copy for Bethany too—and I still have it. It’s Caught Running by Urban and Roux. I remember it as being hot, funny, fast-paced, and cute. That’s really what I usually shoot for when writing—something with banter and camaraderie, not too heavy, that I can lose myself in for a while. Sometimes I end up with a mood piece like A Good Vintage instead, and that’s good too, but I love the fun ones.
Morgan: The thing is, I don’t read a lot of romances. I’ve read some teen queer books, but I’m not sure any of them qualified as romance. I tend to read mixed-genre things, so books that have really stuck with me are Maurice by E. M. Forster and the Nightrunner series by Lynn Flewelling. Though I’m not sure how much either of those influenced my writing.
TNA: Let’s talk a bit about your latest collaboration Hard Feelings. Would you say it’s easier or more difficult to write with another author? Either way, what makes it so?
Morgan: Well, I don’t know about all collaborations, but writing a book with Ashlyn is a lot easier than going solo. There’s someone else to talk out plotline with; if a scene isn’t working for me I can pass it off to her to see if it works for her. We can also write *fast*. We wrote the first draft of HF in under two months because we were pushing each other to meet wordcount. Having someone else depending on you to write and not put it off really helps.
Ashlyn: I’d say easier. I need to be poked and prodded and have someone patting my back and exclaiming over my cleverness. It’s motivating. And when it turns out instead that Morgan tells me, No, that’ll never work, this is dumb—well, I need that too. Someone has to keep my ego in check.
TNA: The book’s MCs, Rylan and Miller, have sort of a serendipitous beginning. Do you believe in that sort of fate/chance/destiny in real life? What is it that you find particularly romantic about those happy chances in fiction?
Ashlyn: I think chance or fate or destiny is really what you make of it. I got to know my husband when we were foiled in our attempts to date a brother-sister duo and decided to date each other instead. But I don’t necessarily think it was fate. We had chemistry, we got along well, and we made a decision to see what happened, and what happened was pretty great. But life is made up of happy chances. Just, not all of them get follow-through.
Morgan: There is something really romantic about the idea of two people being so compatible that they’re meant to be, MFEO. But on the other hand, the choosing to be with a person, making that commitment because you want to, not because you have to, is pretty romantic too.
TNA: If you were casting the movie of Hard Feelings, who do you think would make the perfect Rylan and Miller on screen?
Ashlyn: Oh man. Tough one. I think Henry Cavill would do for Rylan—handsome, kinda scruffy, pretty blue eyes. And maybe Alex Pettyfer for Miller. His nose is wrong, but his smile is right. The most important thing is being able to convey Miller’s energy.
TNA: If I were to ask Rylan and Miller, what would they say are some of the most annoying and the most loveable things about each other?
Morgan: Well, Rylan would say that the most annoying thing is probably the way Miller never stops moving or making noise. It can drive Rylan up the wall sometimes. But it’salso part of what makes him so loveable, his endless energy and enthusiasm that tends to catch Rylan up and drag him along.
Ashlyn: Miller gets annoyed sometimes by Rylan’s need to stick to a strict schedule—Miller’s much more of a free spirit and would rather play things by ear. But he gets that that’s just the way Rylan is. As for most loveable—the way he is with people. He loves that Rylan can be awkward and shy with strangers but is really, deeply committed to the close friends and family he does have, to the point where he would do anything for them.
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from the book with us?
Ashlyn: We’d be delighted. This scene takes place a few chapters in, when Rylan and Miller’s hate-sexing is in full swing.
Blurb: Rylan Williams hates conferences: too many people, not enough routine, and way too much interaction with strangers. When he gets stuck in a broken elevator with Miller Jones, the kid who fell asleep in his lecture, he figures things can’t get worse. Then Rylan realizes he’s the same guy he just spent an hour perving over from afar.
Rylan wants to await rescue in silence, but Miller insists on conversation, or at least banter. But just because they don’t get along doesn’t mean they don’t have chemistry, and Rylan breaks all his rules about intimacy for a one-time-only conference hookup. He’ll probably never see Miller again anyway. So of course, two months later Miller shows up at Rylan’s office, having just been hired to work on a new computer program—with Rylan.
And Rylan thought being stuck in an elevator with him was bad.
Soon Rylan and Miller learn that they get along best when they take out their frustrations in the bedroom. Their arrangement goes against everything Rylan believes in, but the rules are simple: Don’t stay overnight. Don’t tell anyone. And don’t fall in love.
Excerpt: They finally stumbled out of the bedroom just after seven. Rylan felt too lax and lazy to cook, so he let Miller toss his meal plan out the metaphorical window and they ate bowls of cereal sitting at the breakfast bar.
Cat came out of his bookshelf hiding spot then to rub himself sweetly against their shins and beg for food.
“You have a cat,” Miller said.
“Yes,” Rylan agreed, because it was easier than admitting Cat had just moved in without Rylan’s consent.
Rylan shrugged. “A while.”
“How come I didn’t notice him when I was here before?”
We were too busy having sex? “Cat is… temperamental, probably bipolar. He was hiding.”
Miller eyed Cat dubiously. Rylan didn’t blame him—it was hard to believe that this fluffy, purring creature was antisocial. “Right. Wait, did you just call it Cat?” Miller looked up, incredulous.
Rylan bristled. “Yes.”
“What—dude! You can’t just name a cat Cat!”
“It’s not….” Rylan sighed in frustration. It looked like he would have to explain Cat’s arrival after all. “It’s not like I went out and got a cat and called it Cat. I left the window open one night after I made salmon steak and he came in through the fire escape and ate my leftovers right out of the pan.”
Miller choked on a laugh and sent a Cheerio spinning across the countertop. “Yeah, man, cats do what they want. My friend Raphael had this sassy hairless thing in high school—his mom was allergic. When he started dating Heidi, his wife, the cat crapped in her shoe, like, every time she came over. I think you got off easy with nonconsensual cat ownership.”
Rylan looked down at Cat. “You can crap in his shoes if you like.”
Miller elbowed him. “Nice. But anyway, you can’t have a cat named Cat. You’re an artist. He should have a creative name.”
Rylan looked down at the cat. He didn’t look like a particularly creative cat, hence the name. And nothing Rylan had tried out had stuck. He’d never had a pet before; his parents hadn’t been able to afford one when he was growing up.
Cat was a large, fluffy white-and-black asshole of a feline, mottled like someone had spilled ink on him—or, more appropriate to his personality, like he’d knocked over the ink himself and then gotten it everywhere to spite his human master. (There had been an Incident with Rylan’s easel; Rylan maybe harbored a little bit of a grudge.) He had green eyes that occasionally flashed at Rylan when he got up in the middle of the night, and his tail was crooked at the end. He liked to drink out of the toilet, which Rylan thought was a dog habit, and preferred to wait to lick his privates until Rylan was eating dinner.
“Am I allowed to call him Asshole?” Rylan asked.
“No,” Miller said seriously. “That’s my pet name. Besides, it’s mean.”
“You’ll be singing a different tune when he jumps up on you in the middle of the night and starts trying to make your Adam’s apple a more comfortable place to sleep.”
Miller rolled his eyes and nudged Cat with his bare foot. “We’re not doing sleepovers, remember? Your rule.”
Right. Rylan fought the flush he felt rising up the back of his neck. What did he have to be embarrassed about anyway? “It was just a hypothetical situation.”
Apparently satisfied, Miller turned his attention back to Cat. “Come on, you can do this. What do you see when you look at his fur?”
“Veterinary bills,” Rylan answered. “He had ringworm when I first got him and his fur was all falling out.”
“Oh man, did he have a cone of shame?”
Rylan nodded, grinning. Now that he thought about it, maybe the Incident was payback for the cone. “He really wasn’t happy with me that first week.” He’d never been unhappy enough to try to escape, though—just enough to make Rylan’s life miserable too.
“Well, he’s a cat,” Miller reasoned. Apparently he’d passed Cat’s inspection, because Cat stopped marking him as territory and jumped in his lap to demand attention instead. “And you never even gave him a proper name. That’s just adding insult to injury.” He scratched Cat under the chin. Rylan could hear Cat purring, the traitor. He was supposed to be Rylan’s cat.
TNA: What’s next on the writing agenda? Can you give us a few hints on what’s coming up for you in the near future?
Morgan: Our next book, Winging It, has already been accepted for publication by Dreamspinner—it’s being edited as we speak. It’s a hockey saga about two professional hockey players who, naturally, fall in love, and the ups and downs of their lives and relationship as they try to figure everything out: handling the media, homophobia, how they fit together off the ice and why that needs to be different from how they fit on it.
And of course, we’ve already started writing the book after that. It’s untitled as of yet, but we lovingly refer to it as Golf Pygmalion. It’s still a work in progress, but it starts with two men who are ridiculous enough to bet on one man’s ability to teach the other to be a decent golfer in just two weeks.
TNA: Thanks so much for being here with us today, Ashlyn and Morgan. Tell us where we can find you on the internet, please.