Today I am so pleased to welcome Robin Reardon to Joyfully Jay. Robin has come to talk to us about her Trailblazer series. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
Robin has written some questions and answers to share with us!
You’re about to publish the third book in your Trailblazer series. How did you decide on a theme that would tie all the books together?
Between my junior and senior years in college, I nearly died. Literally. On Mount Chocorua, in New Hampshire. In March. In a snowstorm. Just like college freshman Nathan Bartlett in my novel, On Chocorua.
Although my stories are far from autobiographical, there’s a little bit of me in every one of them. When I decided to write a series, it was easy for me to choose a theme that would run through all three books: hiking. I’ve hiked in New Hampshire, Maine, California, New Mexico, Vermont, Hawai’i, Italy, Germany, England, Switzerland, and Austria. I’ve hiked on popular trails, and I’ve hiked wilderness trails where I’ve seen no one else. I’ve hiked with others, and I’ve hiked alone.
On Chocorua, the first book in my Trailblazer series, describes that ill-advised hike up Mount Chocorua. If you read the book, you’ll make that climb not only with Nathan, but also with me; his experience is step-for-step the same as mine. We even did it for the same reason: We lusted after a guy who invited us on the hike—a guy we had no chance of having.
There are a lot of straight/cis women, like you, who write M/M fiction. What drew you to the genre?
In 1983, while sitting at a table of a Manhattan sidewalk café, my dear friend Jody Thomas told me in hushed tones about something he referred to as “the gay plague.” I’d never heard of it. Neither of us knew then that within ten years it would claim him.
I watched in horror as friend after friend sickened, and many died, while society, government, and most of the medical community looked on and shrugged. It seemed like as long as it was just the “gay” plague, it was no big deal.
Even once work against HIV/AIDS began in earnest, I was appalled at the way gay people were treated, in so many ways, from living quarters to jobs to marriage—all aspects of life. And I learned about horrible organizations like the Westborough Baptist Church, and Focus on the Family, and the American Family Association—the list goes on.
I had always wanted to write. In fact, I’ve always written, though I didn’t try my hand at a novel until the early 2000s. Almost on a lark, I wrote a story about a gay teen who was just finding out about himself. A boy who had been bullied and tormented and made to feel as though he was somehow not quite human. A boy who needed to understand that his destiny should not be determined solely by whom he loved. A boy who needed to know that being true to himself was the only way to be truly human. I wrote A Secret Edge. And I dedicated it to Jody. It was my square in the AIDS quilt for him.
From there, my agent just kept selling my books.
You published several books through Kensington Publishing, and now you’re an indie publisher. Why the change?
My first few books were fairly uncomplicated, very accessible, and they leaned toward the romance category. But the more I wrote, the longer and more complex my stories became. I began to explore characters more deeply. Kensington does a great job in this bizarre publishing world, but they want true commercial fiction—stories that are plot-driven. My books began to be driven more by a balance of plot and character, which is harder for a house like Kensington to sell. We agreed to part ways after Educating Simon.
My agent has shopped around to see if other publishers might want meatier stories like mine, but he keeps getting responses like, “Could she write this story, only not with gay characters?” This makes my blood boil. It made me dig my heels in. And it inspired me to include not just gay characters, but also people who are bi, gender queer, and intersex. So far.
So in On Chocorua, Nathan nearly dies on a mountain. What happens in the second book, On The Kalalau Trail?
Yes, among other things, Nathan barely survives his first hiking experience. In the second book, he goes to the Kalalau Trail on the west coast of the island of Kaua’i, which follows the breathtakingly beautiful Na Pali Coast. Just as Nathan had followed a man up Mount Chocorua, he follows a different man to the Kalalau—though not as an unprepared novice this time; he’s now a true mountain man. The trip for him is a kind of mystical quest, an effort to figure out who he is and to address—and maybe even change—ways in which he thinks he has fallen short of the kind of person he wants to be.
Does he nearly die?
No. But there are a couple of extremely harrowing scenes. I’ll say no more.
And the third Trailblazer book? When will it drop?
I’m working right now on that book, On The Precipice. Nathan is back home in New England. He’s taking a gap year between graduating from college and starting an advanced degree in psychology. A number of influences will bring him to Mount Desert Island in Maine.
In Acadia National Park, there is a trail called the Precipice. It’s an extremely dangerous trail. Many people have died falling from it. The name of the trail, and the book title, call to a decision Nathan must make about his future. I don’t have a firm date yet, but it will certainly be released this year.
What’s the most important message readers can get from your stories?
That’s easy. Here it is: The only thing wrong with being queer is how some people treat you when they find out.
Self-discovery. Sounds simple, right? After all, you’re already there. You’re already you. So it can surprise us that it takes so much time, and so much effort. It surprises Nathan Bartlett.
In the first Trailblazer book (On Chocorua), Nathan’s adored older brother had died a tragic death. Two years later, during this second book, his grandmother—who’d raised her three grandchildren alone since Nathan was a baby—passes on as well.
Nathan realizes he hadn’t really known the people he’d loved. So he goes on a quest, searching for connections he hadn’t known how to make in life. Part of Nathan’s journey is a physical one, a hike promoted by Conroy Finnegan of Finnegan’s Walks.
Conroy is sexy, very masculine, and charismatic—a rolling stone with no moss, a gypsy rover, leading a life with no strings attached, and he seduces Nathan in more ways than one. His invitation is irresistible:
“Come experience a place where the physical and the spiritual are one. A place where magic happens, where the very names are magical: Na Pali. Ho’olulu. Waiahuakua. Hanakoa. Hanak?p??ai. Nathan, come to Kaua’i.”
Conroy leads Nathan to paradise and lets him find his own way back.Nathan begins his journey as a searcher. On the way he becomes a seeker. These states of mind are different. And neither is in itself the end of Nathan’s journey.
Robin Reardon is the author of novels and short stories about LGBTQ youth. Her stories feature characters who are gay, straight, bi, gender queer, trans, and intersex. Robin has contributed works to benefit The Trevor Project and author Brent Hartinger’s Real Story Safe Sex Project. Several of Robin’s novels have received awards, such as Lambda Literary finalist, ALA Rainbow list, Rainbow Awards, and North Street Booker Prize.
Robin’s interests outside of writing include singing, nature photography, and the study of comparative religion. She writes in a butter yellow study with a view of the Boston, Massachusetts skyline.
Robin has brought a copy of On Chocorua to give away to one lucky reader in epub or mobi. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Tuesday, January 28th at 11:59 pm ET.
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