Today is a big honor as we get a chance to talk to award winning author and LGBTQ+ ally Suzanne Brockmann.
Q At first glance romance series centering around military personnel might seem an unusual mix, but one that you make work wonderfully, what inspired you to put the two together?
A: It was pretty much the perfect combination for me. When I was a kid, I was a World War Two history buff—as a result, I know a great deal about the military. So I knew, back at the start of my career when I “discovered” the Navy SEAL Teams, that a series of romantic suspense novels centering on a team of SEALs would be a good fit for me. It was cemented by the fact that, at that time, readers of the military romance subgenre had a reputation for being even more socially conservative than traditional romance readers. Because I was actively looking to use my books to help make the romance genre more LGBTQ inclusive, I knew that I wouldn’t be preaching to the choir!
You see, back in those early years, as the young mom of a gay son, I was working hard to bring LGBTQ characters into genre romance. When I first started writing in 1992, gay characters weren’t “allowed” to exist in mainstream romance novels—not even as secondary characters. Over and over again, I collided with gatekeeping editors and publishers who insisted that I remove the gay characters from my books. It was total erasure, which shocked and angered me.
I vowed early on to work to change the genre—to change hearts and minds to be inclusive, open, accepting, welcoming. And I think, through relentless pushing back against bigoted genre rules, and by creating characters like out gay (and totally kickass and heroic) FBI agent Jules Cassidy in my long-running Troubleshooters series, I helped to do just that.
I still have extremely vivid memories from those early years, of doing a driving book tour across the county from Massachusetts to California. I remember walking into book stores in tiny towns like Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, to find the place packed with readers—all of whom were desperate to find out if Jules Cassidy would appear in my next book in the Troubleshooters series. (My answer was always “Yes!”)
For many of those readers, Jules was their first out gay friend. (That they knew of, of course!!) For others, they were seeing their reflection in the mainstream romance genre at long last, along with the message that “happily ever after” is for everyone.
We’ve come a long, long way in thirty years, and I’m so glad for that!!
Q Besides your romance, your novels you also put out paranormal books, what have you learned working in a new genre and with your daughter?
A: When I first decided that I wanted to write genre fiction back in the early 1990s, I actually considered writing science fiction. I’m a longtime fan of SF. But I chose to get my start in romance partly because at that time it was a much friendlier, more accessible genre for those of us who aren’t cis het white men.
So writing a romance series with science fiction and fantasy elements wasn’t a hard stretch for me. I wrote a book some years ago called Born to Darkness, set in a rather dark future, and after it was published, I realized it might be a better sell as a YA (young adult) series. So I approached my daughter Melanie who was closer in age to YA, and we collaborated on two books set in that same world, Night Sky and Wild Sky. They’re pretty fun stories.
Writing novels is such a solitary endeavor, and it was great to work with another creative brain—especially since that brain belonged to my kid! I’ve always liked working with members of my family. I’ve got a production company, and I’d co-written a movie with my son, Jason T. Gaffney, and my husband Ed Gaffney: The Perfect Wedding, an LGBTQ rom-com. And then, just before the pandemic, Jace and I co-wrote a paranormal LGBTQ rom-com feature called Out of Body (which is streaming on Amazon Prime. I also wrote the novelization after we wrote the screenplay—backwards, I know, but the book was a finalist for a RITA Award.).
Q Besides your success in novels you also produce movies though your production company called small or LARGE Productions, How did that come about? Do you have plans for any new projects in the near future?
A: It started with 2012’s The Perfect Wedding, which we wrote and produced, and Jason starred in. Ed (my husband) got a phone call from Jason, who was of on a tear because at that time he was struggling to find gay movies where the characters were like him: young LGBTQ people who had supportive families from the jump, families who loved them completely and unconditionally with zero angst. He said something like, “We’ve got make our own movie!” And Ed and I kinda shrugged and said, “Sure. Let’s go.” So we did.
As Jason got older, he became more involved in filmmaking. He moved to LA (and also happened to meet and marry the man of his dreams!!), and started directing, too. Since Ed and I have indie movie producing experience, we always help out. Indie movies can be intense. We prep like crazy in advance, and then work our asses off nonstop, so we can film an entire movie in a matter of a few short weeks. (Big budget studio films take months and months to complete, in comparison.)
Jason started directing with our feature, Analysis Paralysis, which he co-wrote with Ed. That might be my favorite of all of the feature film projects we’ve done. It’s a rom-com about a man with intense anxiety who desperately wants to meet the cute guy who regularly runs past his house, but he can’t seem to get out of his own way. It’s so funny and sweet, I just love it. (It’s available for rental on Amazon, iTunes, and GooglePlay.)
Our latest project is something new for us: a TV series! Marriage of Inconvenience is a six-episode gay rom-com series that starts streaming on Dekkoo on April 6, 2023. (Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/1Dlz5fs7p00 ) I’m really excited about that! And wow, did it take intense effort to get MOI made. We were scheduled to begin shooting (we were completely ready to go) in April 2020, right when the world shut down at the beginning of the pandemic. We were able to film in April 2022, and now the series is finally ready to be seen by the world!
I’ve discovered that my filmmaking strengths lie in post-production—editing, music, sound, captions. In fact, I was post production supervisor for Marriage of Inconvenience. I did lots of scheduling—making sure we stayed on schedule, as well as plenty of hands-on work. I was editorial assistant, assistant music supervisor, official creator of our closed captions…
As for the future… Jason’s the creative mastermind behind Marriage of Inconvenience, and he went into the project with three seasons fully outlined. He is, indeed, my son. I, too, plan and outline four, five or more books out! Our hope is that the show is successful enough to warrant a second (and third!) season. We’ll probably hold another Kickstarter, too—crowdfunding can make a huge difference for LGBTQ indie filmmakers, I’m sure that’s no surprise! Pre-production for MOI Season Two will no doubt start soon, but first we’re going to enjoy the show’s April 6th release!
Q You have been writing the Tall, Dark and Dangerous series for 14 books, how do you keep things fresh when writing a long running series?
A: Yes, I just released the 14th and final stand-alone installment in my TDD series, BLAME IT ON RIO. This is a series I started back in 1996, when I wrote category romance for Silhouette Books. I’ve self-published the last three books, after a long break from writing the series. It just felt like it needed to be ended intentionally, rather than abandoned!
From 2000 on, I kept busy writing my mainstream romance Troubleshooters series—more military romantic suspense—with eighteen books and a bunch of short stories. (This is the series where Jules Cassidy plays a major role!)
The key to any long running series, I believe, is making sure each book stands alone. In other words, even though the story is set in the series’ world, you-the-author have to make sure that it is accessible to a new-to-the-series reader.
That’s not that hard to do if you remember not to overload those new readers with recurring characters from other books. I would pick and choose who appears in each book, while embracing the concept that the spine of the story is a new romance between two characters (one of whom is probably brand new).
Like I mentioned earlier, I’m a hardcore outliner, so with a series like TDD or TS, I always know exactly where I’m going with any through-storylines or longer arcs.
As for fresh, that’s all about the characters. You can throw different people into similar situations and get completely different actions and reactions! (That’s true in real life, too!)
Q You made quite a stir with your speech at the RWA back in 2018, do you think things have gotten better for diversity in romance? What steps still need to be taken?
A: I think we’re at an incredibly dangerous place in this country, and we all need to get very VERY LOUD—something I’ve tried to do my entire career.
You know, throughout my career, I would get “bad” reviews, like “Here goes Brockmann again, waving her rainbow flag in her latest novel.” And I was always like, “Yes! Thank you! I am waving my rainbow flag! Watch me, I’ll wave it higher and harder!”
Romance has always, always been stories about people who take enormous risks to let someone who is a stranger to them, some “other,” into their lives. You don’t win your HEA in a romance novel unless you take a chance and open yourself to unknown possibilities, to uncertainty, to something new and possibly dangerous. Only by doing that can you make a connection that brings love and joy.
So how do you write romance novels without believing that love is a gift, in all its mysterious and wonderful forms? It doesn’t make sense to me that someone could say “You get an HEA, and you get an HEA, but nope, sorry, not you!”
And yet… RWA. It was not a group known for being open and inclusive. Lots and lots and lots of “nice white ladies.” Yikes.
When I spoke at RWA in 2018—they were giving me a lifetime achievement award, which was weird for a lot of reasons, but okay—I knew it was my chance to speak my truth about the romance genre and the organization. We were two years into TFG’s presidency, and I was more than ready to kick ass. I mean, RWA gave me a platform, and I’ve got a reputation for speaking out. So I packed my verbal flame-thrower and went to Denver for their conference and spoke out.
Did it help? Maybe…? I don’t know.
But what I do know is that in the past thirty years that I’ve been writing romance, I’ve seen a great deal of change happen. In my career, I’ve gone from being told that gay people can’t exist in romance novels, to hitting the New York Times Hardcover List with All Through the Night, a mainstream m/m romance novel in which Jules Cassidy and the love of his life get married at the Arlington Street Church in Boston—because at the time I wrote ATTN, Massachusetts was one of a very few places LGBTQ people could get married in the U.S. (I used All Through the Night to help fund MassEquality’s fight to protect equal marriage rights in Massachusetts back in 2008. All of my author earnings (advance, royalties, subrights—well over a quarter of a million dollars to date) went and continue to go, in perpetuity, to this excellent LGBTQ org. We won that fight, BTW, and MassEquality now focuses on protecting trans rights.)
But the biggest and most important change, in my opinion, is that the romance genre is now filled with many amazing, brilliant LGBTQ own-voices authors.
That thrills me!
The first time I saw a Harlequin/Silhouette category romance written by an LGBTQ author with LGBTQ characters on the cover, I got teary, thinking about how far this genre had come since my Silhouette editor insisted that the heroine’s brother absolutely could not be gay in my 1996 category romance, PRINCE JOE—the first book in that same Tall, Dark & Dangerous series we were just talking about—that series that I just ended with BLAME IT ON RIO.
It was really important to me to end my TDD series with that particular book. See, BLAME IT ON RIO is an M/F romance in which the Navy SEAL hero, Rio, meet his perfect match when he goes to a wedding as his friend and teammate Dave’s date. Dave’s asshole-of-an-ex is gonna be there, and Rio feels pretty strongly about Dave not getting back with said asshole, so he cheerfully plays Dave’s fake boyfriend. And high-jinks ensue when Rio meets and falls for Dave’s best friend, an actress named Casey, who’s also at the wedding as a guest.
I couldn’t have written BLAME IT ON RIO back in 1996.
Not only would Harlequin/Silhouette have turned the book down due to their bigotry and prejudices, but 1996 was when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was in full, devastating effect. So Dave couldn’t have been out to his SEAL teammates. The entire story wouldn’t’ve worked, historically. So yeah, that’s a big change, too—the fact that people in our military can now serve openly and honestly. I’m so grateful for that!
I thought it was important to have an out gay SEAL in my ancient TDD series, and I’d introduced Dave a few books ago, back when I started writing the series again in 2018, after that long break. And Rio was a long-established character in the series, so… It seemed perfect to me to end this series with a cis het hero who knows how to be a good ally. (The book’s heroine Casey is a good ally, too. It’s actually kinda easy to be a good ally—that’s a message more romance readers need to hear, I’m afraid.)
Q What is the next project you are working on?
Right now I’m writing the next installment in my Troubleshooters series. (And yes, Jules Cassidy plays a role!) I write very slowly these days, because I’m also in heavy promotional mode for my TV series, Marriage of Inconvenience, which drops on Dekkoo on 4/6. (Did I mention the trailer just dropped! YAY!!!)
Q} if people want more info about you or your books where should they go?
Ah, best place is always my website, www.SuzanneBrockmann.com
There are pages for my 60+ books and for my movies and other projects, too.
Final four questions –we ask everybody
Q) When the zombies take over the world where will you be?
Volunteering to help with the logistics of the defending resistance. I’m not much of a fighter these days (age plus waning strength), but I think I’d be an asset with organization and resupply!
Q ) What is your favorite Fandom
Ooh, hands down Our Flag Means Death. That show! I haven’t felt the pull of fandom like that since I was fifteen and watching Star Trek for the first time. (And yes, my love of Star Trek was epic. I attended Star Trek Cons back in the 1990s! My first three books were Classic Trek fan fiction. I wrote the first one in chemistry class when I was a junior in high school!!)
I watched OFMD in April last year, and it grabbed me by the heart and soul in much the same way that Star Trek had, and you know, that was startling because I’m not fifteen anymore, by a long shot! But it gobsmacked me in so many wonderful ways. Not the least is the incredible burst of creativity that it sparked among its audience—it’s awe-inspiring to see all the art and fan fiction that have been blasted into the world. I love knowing that I am not the only one who got shaken awake by David Jenkin’s masterpiece!
Q) What piece of art, be it in the form of music, a book, a film or picture, do you think people must experience before they die?
(whispers) Our Flag Means Death.
That foot-touch… See, I’m still in the grip of this thing.
But seriously, art is so subjective. I just think it’s important that everyone finds something that they adore passionately the way I do OFMD—something that moves them, shakes them, makes them feel.
Q) Give one fact that most people would not believe about you?
I was a musician before I was a writer. I busked in T-stations in Boston, sang in coffeehouses, started my own rock band, formed and led three different a cappella groups including the OK Chorale which performed at the World Trade Center in NYC with an internationally known orchestra (singing Bach), and Serious Fun, which performed as the house band for the Boston 24-Hour Science Fiction Film Festival (singing ten-part a cappella arrangements of SF greats like the themes from the Jetsons, Star Trek Next Generation, 2001, and Time Warp from Rocky Horror Picture Show). (Confession: the SF film fest was my all-time favorite gig!)
Here are of the places you find some of Suzanne ‘s greatest hits
Blame It on Rio: https://suzannebrockmann.com/books/tall-dark-dangerous/blame-it-on-rio/
Marriage of Inconvenience IMDb page: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12368998/
Marriage of Inconvenience trailer: https://youtu.be/1Dlz5fs7p00
Jason T. Gaffney IMDb page: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3428878/
Tall, Dark and Dangerous series: https://suzannebrockmann.com/books/tall-dark-dangerous/
Troubleshooters series: https://suzannebrockmann.com/books/troubleshooters/
All Through the Night: https://suzannebrockmann.com/books/troubleshooters/all-through-the-night/
Out of Body book page: https://suzannebrockmann.com/books/out-of-body/
The Perfect Wedding: https://suzannebrockmann.com/movies/the-perfect-wedding/
Analysis Paralysis: https://suzannebrockmann.com/movies/analysisparalysis/
Out of Body (movie) streaming on Amazon Prime: https://amzn.to/3lgVCO2