Hey there! I’m Jay Bell. I like telling stories! Hearts on Fire Reviews was kind enough to invite me for an interview, and together we decided to do this one a little differently. I turned to my readers for questions, inviting them to ask me anything at all. Below you’ll find ten of those questions, along with my answers. I also decided to create a video response. We are living in the year 2015 after all. It’s bad enough that we’re not zipping around in hover cars. At the very least, we should be watching lots of videos on our fancy wireless devices, right? I tried to make my written answers a rough transcript of the video, but not entirely, because that wouldn’t be as fun. No matter which way you decide to proceed, I’m relieved and grateful that you’re sticking around. Let’s get chatty! May asks… When you met Andreas, did you speak German? Was learning the language the hardest part of moving countries? For those who don’t know, Andreas is my husband. We met while he was an exchange student in Kansas. He was just about to return to Germany when we hit it off, which certainly complicated things. That set the tone for our entire relationship. Being an international couple is always full of complications, but I love it. Three years after Andreas and I met, I got it into my mind to not only see the world he came from, but to live there. I only intended to stay for three years, but somehow that ended up being twelve years. We only just now moved back to the USA. Chicago, to be precise. But no, when we first met I didn’t speak German, and his English was still adorably wonky. A lot of our first dates were spent pointing at things and asking each other what that object was called in each other’s language. I started teaching myself German before the move and took a short class once we were there. While it was fun learning a new language, as the years went by, I got really tired of struggling to either express myself or understand every nuance of what was being said. My German is good enough to sustain me in just about any situation, social or otherwise, but it still felt great to return home and have English at my disposal again. Josh asks… Since the Something Like series originated as a standalone novel with Ben as the main character, I’m curious how much of you there is in Ben? He came to us so fully formed in that first book. I’m just wondering where he came from. A lot of people have very generously accused me of being Ben, and while that’s flattering, Ben and I are very different in a number of ways. I can’t sing, for instance, and our personalities aren’t quite the same. What we do have in common is that I also came out at a young age. Being openly gay at sixteen wasn’t so common in the nineties—not like now, when people are coming out at even younger ages. I think that’s great! Ben and I are also both recklessly brave when it comes to love. I’ve always chased after any guy I wanted and done my utmost to get them. I’ve never been afraid to make a fool of myself. We definitely have that in common. I feel like young Ben has a better set of morals than I did at his age. I got into lots of trouble as a teenager and did things that I really shouldn’t have, not that I have many regrets. So while Ben and I do share a few similarities, I think that’s only because a writer always puts a little of themselves into each character they create. Phillip asks… The one character that really stood out for me and I could relate to the most is the character of Tim Wyman. I went through almost the exact same thing in my coming out process and I literally felt every emotion he did. How did you come to create his character? Was it from a personal experience? Did you go through something like that yourself? Tim Wyman is the opposite of Benjamin Bentley. Instead of being open and proud, he struggles with his sexuality and wants to please his parents. Except for very rare circumstances, all gay people are like Tim before we come out. I certainly was, and I cheated myself of some interesting experiences because I didn’t want anyone to discover the truth. Having walked in his delightfully blue shoes before, it wasn’t hard for me to write from his perspective. The only challenge was when he realized he had feelings for Ben, because that was a fork in the road for me. As soon as I met a guy I liked, and who liked me back, I came out. That relationship and those feelings were too important for me not to. For other people, like Tim, love isn’t enough. They need more time, and that’s perfectly fine. Corey asks… Were there events that took place during your writing of the books or that happened before, that helped to shape these wonderful people we grew to love? Yeah, for sure. I draw from events in my past a lot, simply because it’s easier that way. No research required! Or things will happen during the course of writing a book which have an influence. A good example is Something Like Summer, which mentions that Tim had a mentor who died of cancer. I didn’t know at the time that my father had cancer. None of us knew. Sadly, my Dad passed away soon after. So when it came time to tackle Tim’s story… I might have ended up writing that same scene even if my father hadn’t died, but obviously losing him changed the dynamic of how I approached that part. There were so many examples like this when I first started writing that I was beginning to get superstitious. I would write things and they would happen. Luckily that hasn’t been the case recently. I prefer for drama to stay in my books, where it belongs. Stephanie asks… You have the best developed characters, so much so, that they seem real to me. That makes me wonder; do your characters haunt you regularly? If you are at a restaurant, for example, do you think about what your characters would be ordering? Do you think of them often when you are not actively writing? What’s most common is that I obsess over whichever character I’m currently writing about, so I’ll think about them a lot and see the world through their eyes. Sometimes that can be fun, or a little rough if my characters are in a bad place, because I’ll feel just as gloomy or angry as they do. All of my characters seem real to me though, so what’s more common is I’ll think of Ben and wish I could call him up, even though I obviously can’t. It’s the same feeling when you think of a friend you’ve lost touch with a little. You might experience an emotional jolt, think about how much you love them, and want to reach out. My characters are always with me in that regard. Keirre asks… Why did you decide to introduce a new character in Something like Spring instead of a storyline that would have featured Ryan from Tim’s past? I was surprised when he wasn’t the feature character. Ryan’s life could have been a great story. The truth is that I don’t like Ryan much. I know I often take reprehensible characters and redeem them by allowing them to tell their own story, but I’d be hard pressed to do that for Ryan. The only character I dislike more is Chuck from Kamikaze Boys. You’re right though that his life would probably make an interesting story. I’d rather leave that up to the imaginations of the readers. You guys can decide where Ryan came from and where he’s headed. As for why I chose an entirely new character, I felt we had already seen these characters and their lives from the most important perspectives. All that remained was to see them from the outside via a neutral party. Spring turned out to be much more than that, but this was the initial premise I had when conceiving of the book. Spring Dowse asks… Will you incorporate any trans characters in the future? What about a spin off with some of your amazing lesbian characters? I actually already have a transsexual character. I just haven’t revealed who they are yet. It’s an issue I’m trying to educate myself about first, by talking with more trans people and watching documentaries. I don’t want to stumble into that issue blindly. I want to do trans people justice. But yeah, I’d love to feature a transsexual character. Or let one of my lesbian characters take the lead. I’ve been experimenting with short fiction lately, so maybe that’s how this idea will manifest. Or maybe a longer book will be the end result. We’ll see! Shane asks… Since Something like Summer was originally a stand alone book, do you ever regret continuing the series? Has any part of the process felt like a chore to you now that you’ve decided to continue writing it and it has gathered a fan base? When I announced that the Something Like… books would continue past the seasonal theme, someone on social media accused me of milking it. This baffled me, because continuing the series is what I desired most. If these books weren’t a commercial success, I’d still be sitting here and writing more. That’s how much I love them. That also keeps them from ever feeling like a chore. The only trick to writing a series is a sense of pressure, because I feel like I need to up my game with each release. I don’t want to disappoint you guys! I felt I bought myself some leeway when the Something Like Spring was finished, since what followed wasn’t so connected. Had I been milking it though, I never would have chosen Kelly as a character to write about next, since hardly anyone liked him at that point. So no, these books are always a pleasure for me to write. Eric asks… How much of the “other side” do you know when you first write scenes that overlap between books? I’m thinking of things like the water park scene, where it turns out that *spoilers spoilers spoilers*. When you first wrote the scene in “Something Like Summer”, did you have some idea that that was the reason Jace reacted how he did, or did you “fill in the blanks” later when you focused on Jace’s story? The water park scene is a perfect example, because it’s one where three main characters converge. I never imagined I would need to rewrite it from each of their perspectives! It’s also a scene where I sprinkle in lots of mysterious tidbits, such as Tim having a scar that Ben had never seen before. I did know at the time how Tim got the scar, although some of the details changed when I actually wrote his book. As for Jace, I honestly didn’t have a clue. That makes the writing process fun for me, since there is an element of discovery. Often times the explanations will fall into place naturally. I focused on telling the story of Jace’s past, and when I finally reached the water park scene, it all simply clicked. So that’s why he was so forgiving! Ah ha! It doesn’t always fall into place though. A character might be less angry when I get to a certain part of their story, but I still have to make it work while remaining true to the previous books. It’s also a challenge keeping a scene fresh and interesting on the third time around. Tiffany asks… As much as I love the “Something Like” series, I’m curious about whether you think you might be ready to move on. Do you have an idea for another book/series, and if so, will you tell us about it? I don’t want to move on. Please don’t make me! LOL I truly love writing the Something Like… series. I recently did have the urge to take a break, and if that happens again, I suppose I could return to my fantasy series. Mixing it up a little by writing a handful of short stories helped get me back on my feet again. If I wanted to do something really different, it would probably be mainstream, maybe under a pen name. I figure if I’m going to write about gay love, I’ve already created a world that I enjoy and which allows me a lot of creative freedom. We’ve already moved away from the core characters with books like Lightning and Thunder, and the response has been positive. The stories don’t have to stay in Austin, or even in that time period. There will always be a way to build a connection to the other books without letting it dominate the story. So basically, I’m still very content to keep the series going. I love revisiting this world. That there are others out there who care about these characters and stories just blows my mind. I feel incredibly lucky. Thank you to everyone who has given these books a chance! I really appreciate it! This isn’t a coming out story. Nor is it the tale of a lonely heart seeking companionship. This is about how I learned to fight. My name is Nathaniel Courtney and I’m a survivor. I didn’t let the cruelty of others wear me down, and I’ve weathered the more subtle hardships of the heart. Love is a Trojan horse, slipping past your guard and leaving you ransacked and vulnerable. I emerged from that war not unscathed but as a new man. The only mistake I ever made was letting the right guy get away. Now I’ve got one more chance. This is the final battle, because if I fail now… I won’t. You’ll see. Just listen to my story, Kelly Phillips, and when I’m done, please don’t walk away. Take this weary soldier into your arms so we can find peace together. Something Like Thunder is the sixth book in the ongoing Something Like… series, shedding light on past events while leading the reader toward an exciting new future. Review by Barb: Where to start? Hmm, I guess I’ll start my review by saying that it’s likely that if you are reading this review you’ve read the other stories in the “Something Like” series since this is number six. And, like you may have done for books two to five, you are getting psyched for an emotional, gut-wrenching, tearjerking, smile-generating journey to whatever destination Jay Bell has decided to take you to this time. Well, get ready because it’s a doozy. You are about to embark on the path to Nataniel’s and Kelly’s HEA, but fasten your seatbelt because it’s a bumpy journey through some twisting and turning life paths and some dark and scary places. And be prepared to say hello to a character or two from other books and for some surprising connections between characters who pop up from the past when you least expect it. Nathaniel Courtney and Kelly Phillips are trapped together in a penthouse apartment as the story opens. The perpetrator of the prank is none other than Nathaniel’s boss, Marcello Maltese, the charismatic, manipulating fellow who was a strong influence on Tim Wyman in “Something Like Winter”. They’re trapped there because Marcello believes that Nataniel needs this chance to win Kelly back after he pushed him away in “Something Like Lightning”. And Nathaniel is finally ready to try by revealing his truths to Kelly—truths which he had previously refused to share. We’re taken back in time to Nathaniel’s senior year in high school when he meets Caesar Hubbard for the first time. And we witness just what is going on in Nathaniel’s house as he’s beaten by his brother to the point where he fears sleeping at night. Then he learns the shocking truth about his true parentage and finds out that his father has been abusive to his mother. It’s an emotional powder keg at home and the connections to his father and brother are irreparably damaged. We see the situation with Caesar and the Hubbard family from his perspective, including the final damning scene when he’s kicked out. And we see how he and Caesar reconnected and ended up at Yale together, but we learn what happens to drive them apart and the betrayal by his best friend, Rebecca, is heartbreaking. It’s also life-changing, and Nathaniel finds himself working for Marcello and taking on a friendly, goofy dog that he names Zero. Zero plays an important role in Nathaniel’s life. He becomes his best friend and confidante, his reason to keep going at a time when he needs that most. Zero is there when Nathaniel and Kelly break up, when he rescues his sister-in-law and nephew from his abusive brother, when he learns truths about his biological father, and when he finally heals the relationship with Heath, the man who raised him. Zero is also there when Kelly rejects Nathaniel even after being locked in that penthouse apartment and pouring his heart out with honesty and truths he’d never previously spoken. And it’s Zero who actually brings them back together when he’s critically hurt and about to be euthanized. Jay Bell is a master storyteller. The plotlines and subplots interwoven throughout this story, the connections to past characters and events, the emotional mind-blowing, heartwarming and heartbreaking experiences that the author forces the reader to go through is unquestionably superb. I highly recommend this story to all lovers of M/M romance. If you’ve read the others in the series, don’t miss this one. If you haven’t, by all means get started with “Something Like Summer”. This series is on my all-time favorite series short list. I hope it will be on yours too. I can’t wait for the next installment. Whose story will be featured? Caesar? William? Jason? Whoever it is, I’ll be first in line again.