This is the first book in our 2013 Book Club. I selected the book because I thought it was an m/m romance that even non m/m readers might find enjoyable. It had interesting discussion points about unexpected parenthood, social anxieties, and opposites attract. Moreover, I thought it was a good book. I asked the authors a few questions to prime our conversational pump.
1) How did the story come to fruition? Did you settle on a character first and if so, which one?
MJ: Piper came to me with the general idea of this story, and the two main characters already partially fleshed out. Usually we both write both characters, but we decided since we each felt a very definite affinity towards one character that we would split them. I chose Rue, who has a quick mouth and flamboyant personality. That came easily for me!
Piper: And Erik came very easily for me. :) The idea actually originated in response to a Father’s Day submission call from a different publisher, but we missed the deadline for that. I saw it and wondered what would happen if a flamboyant, young gay man made a huge mistake and ended up getting a woman pregnant. What if that woman didn’t want to keep the child? Would he take the child and raise her as his own? Would he let the child go up for adoption? If he did agree to take the child, how would he deal with raising her—him being young, single, in school, and trying to support himself? Then the character of Erik came to me, but as I started writing it in third person, I realized it just wasn’t working. MJ and I had already written one book together and were working on our second, so I went to her and told her I thought this story would work better in alternating first, and I asked if she would come on board and write it with me. Obviously, she agreed and “One Small Thing” was born.
2) How does your collaboration work?
MJ: Differently with every book. Usually one of us, or both together, will come up with the idea for the book, we’ll write a general synopsis and then go back and break it down so we can both pick chapters and go with it! For these books, where we both wrote our character’s section in every chapter, we went through and plotted each chapter out together so it all flowed. It’s actually very easy for us to write together! We rarely have any roadblocks.
Piper: Yep. All our collaborations have gone very smoothly so far. For the “Lucky Moon” series, we went by chapters. They didn’t necessarily go in a specific order, though. First we picked the ones that appealed to us most and then we split the rest. For this series, we each wrote an individual character, as MJ said above, and worked closely to smooth everything out and make it a cohesive whole.
3) The thematic overtones of the story are strongly “opposites attract” between the flamboyant Rue and the socially awkward Erik? Did you feel that conflict was the primary driver or was it the inclusion of the child?
MJ: I think the conflict was less about them being opposites, or even about the child since she was a source of togetherness rather than conflict, but with both of them overcoming their own personal issues to make a relationship work. Erik had to deal with his social anxieties, Rue had to learn how to let people in and not build walls out of sassy retorts and jokes.
4) Were the differences exaggerated to make a point such as Erik not only being socially awkward but also a virgin addicted to watching Star Wars every day or did you feel that the character tics were genuine?
Piper: They were genuine. Erik is actually very much like me. I suffer from some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and I’m Star Wars obsessed. But that aspect came not only from me, but also from a very close friend of mine who suffered from some serious anxiety issues when her marriage fell apart. She locked herself away to the point of reclusion, and her way of coping was watching the Star Wars movies in a row, over and over, all day long. So, yes, those parts of his personality were based on real-life experiences and meant to be genuine, not just to make him seem even more awkward, geeky, etc.
5) Rue’s initial reaction toward the child were very careless. Were you worried that might affect readers’ ability to empathize or relate to him?
MJ: I’m not sure I agree that they were. He knew right away that he didn’t want his child to grow up in the foster system, feeling unloved. He may not have known how to handle a baby, or what to do, but I’d not call it “careless” per se—more naive and flighty. He of course does grow through the story. And sure, maybe the readers wouldn’t like the way he handled the situation at the beginning but the world would be boring (and so would books) if people and characters reacted the right way to every situation. He had to have a place to grow from.
Piper: I agree with MJ. We didn’t write it intending him to come off as careless, but rather overwhelmed, out of his depth, and, frankly, desperate enough to make a decision that, yes, we knew some readers might disagree with. Sometimes people get pushed into a corner and they don’t make the wisest decisions. I have a son myself and so part of this story was written from the viewpoint of a parent. Would I have left him with someone I barely knew when he was an infant? If I was in Rue’s situation, not having anyone to turn to and knowing that without a babysitter, I’d probably lose my job and have to drop out of school, maybe I would have. I’ve never been in a situation like that, so it’s hard to say for certain, but in my mind, it’s not entirely outside of the realm of possibility. Bottom line, for me, is: Rue isn’t a perfect character. He was never intended to be. But we tried to make it clear that the decisions he made were to try to benefit his daughter.
6) Why did you have Erik make the change in writing SFF to m/m contemporaries? What message or point were you trying to convey in that character movement?
MJ: Speaking for myself, I thought it was fun to put both characters in situations they weren’t comfortable with to watch them grow. Also, I thought that giving Erik the outlet of reading those m/m romances and eventually starting to write them helped him realize his own feelings. It let him name his desires and gave them shape. I didn’t see it as a message, more like a chance for Erik to become a more actualized character.
Piper: I couldn’t have said it better. But Erik didn’t switch to contemporaries, actually. He was still writing sci-fi and fantasy, just m/m. There was no hidden message intended in having him switch, though. Our main reasoning was to take Erik out of his comfort zone, and we thought reading those types of stories would help him realize and acknowledge the feelings he was having for Rue.
7) The romance was slow developing (which is one of the things I liked most about the book). Do you feel pressure when writing romance to move more quickly toward the couple getting together?
Piper: No. For me, it all depends on the story. I adore sexual tension, probably above anything else in romance. A lot of the time, the buildup is what makes it for me when the characters finally do get together. For this book, it was necessary for them to go slowly, for them to become friends first before we could even broach the idea of them being lovers. With Erik, it couldn’t have happened any other way. And, really, for Rue either. His attraction to Erik was so unlike anything he’d experienced before. No way would he have rushed into sex or a relationship with Erik, someone who he originally perceived as straight, weird, and not at all his type, until he got to know Erik as a person.
MJ: No. Not at all. I think if the romantic plot is interesting, and the readers can ‘feel’ the characters moving towards each other, if they can feel that tension, than they don’t need there to be a relationship at the beginning. If it moves too fast, it’s not always satisfying. Sometimes, in the right book, there can be a physical relationship while the characters are moving towards emotional completion. With these two, mainly with Erik, that wouldn’t have worked out.
8) Have you written f/m romances before and if so, is there a difference in writing f/m versus m/m?
Piper: I have written M/F romance in fanfiction, but not in an original story yet. Those stories were published online at one time, but have since been pulled down. I will be writing it again in the future, though. There will of course be differences, at least in contemporaries, in that, unless you want to ignore our society and the prejudices that still exist, you might have to take certain things into account that you might not have in a M/F romance. For instance, your M/F couple might kiss at a movie theater without anyone blinking an eyelash. If you have your M/M couple do it, you have to take into consideration that someone in the audience may have a problem with that and choose to make that problem known. But, then, you can also have them be in a very GLBT friendly area where encountering someone who might take offense wouldn’t be very likely. Or you can put them in your own world where bisexuality or homosexuality is commonplace and no one minds. In those cases, gender becomes negligible. As far as the development of their emotional love affair, I don’t take the genders of my characters into account when writing that part. Love is love, and we all fall in love a little differently anyway.
MJ: I have! Before I sent in my first m/m to a publisher, I spent years plotting and writing m/f stories—starting back in middle school:) None of them have actually been published. Perhaps someday, I’ll be tempted to go that route again. I personally don’t see a lot of difference in the evolution of falling in love and finding family with each other, no matter who the characters are or what gender they happen to be. Of course, our society still sees straight and gay couples as different—so there will be different social constructs involved, different social experiences, for a M/M couple (or a F/F couple) vs. a M/F couple. Those realities will always color your story unless the book is set in a world/reality different than our current one.
Piper: There was one last thing we—or at least I—wanted to address with regards to Erik, in case the topic comes up during your discussions. I’ve seen this book labeled “gay for you” in numerous reviews. It was not our intention to write a “gay for you” story, and MJ and I don’t view it or Erik in that way. For us, Erik was pretty much asexual before meeting Rue. He was neither gay nor straight. There was never a time he was heterosexual or exclusively attracted to women, despite Rue’s assumptions that Erik was a “straight boy” when they first meet, and in a way, his slow sexual awakening is like a delayed adolescence. He’s experiencing what we did in our preteen/early teenage years, except much later on in life—but it was all part of his growth as a character. And, in the end, Erik doesn’t think about his relationship with Rue in terms of gay or straight. In his head, his attraction to Rue is simple and straightforward. It’s not about Rue being male. It’s about him being Rue.
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Readers, jump into the comments and let us know what you thought of the book. What worked or didn’t work? What characters did you like or dislike? What would you have changed in the story? What were your favorite parts? What questions should I have asked the authors?