Love Lessons: “Let’s Write a College Romance”

Viviana made out this nice schedule for me yesterday over these blog posts, and then this morning I woke up and said, “Wait, no, I have an idea!” Which I hope wasn’t too annoying of me. In any event, you’ll have to wait at least a week to hear about the intense Disney-ness that goes on in Love Lessons. Today you get to hear about how it happened at all.

At this time last year I had just finished up Dirty Laundry and sent it to Riptide. Earlier in the year I’d worked on Family Man with Marie. Both novels had at least one character attending college. Even Second Hand was set in a university town. A dual university town. And all last year I kept ending up judging young or new adult novels, most of them gayrom. What I was supposed to write at this time last year was the novel that would become Tough Love, but my muses and my brain both told me to fuck off. “We want to write college boys. Nothing but college boys,” they declared. In a tone that told me I was going to be in serious trouble if I argued.

College boys it was.

You might think this was all some kind of dirty sniggering thing, a Beavis and Butthead heh, college boys kind of response, but man, it’s so far from where I came from I have to step on that before you go there. Because the books I was reading, the books I’ve been loving set in colleges? Holy shit, it’s so far from that. Yeah, there’s sex, and it’s great, but it’s that innocence, that stepping-into-the-world part that I wanted to wade around in. I kept flirting with it, have been since Sam in Special Delivery, but I never went in full stop, guys in dorms and exciting, nervous new times. As soon as I thought about it, I couldn’t wait to try my hand.

There’s a lot of kvetching and agonizing that October is so far away, that waiting for Love Lessons is hard. You need something to read in the meantime, yes? Well let me rattle off the list of books that got me all fired up to write this novel, and a few other ones I’ve discovered since.


Frat Boy and Toppy

Frat Boy and Toppy by Anne Tenino

How fun was this book, right? I think I’ve read it about five times, and I’ll read it fifty more. Brad cracks me up so hard, and of course the guys in the frat are their own sideshow. I love how adorable and clueless they all are, and how you can see the next books lining up in front of you. The follow ups are also fun, particularly Sweet Young Thang. Looking forward to the next one in that series.

Also, Sebastian? Love him so, so much. So fucking fussy and controlling.

Unknown-1Social Skills by Sara Alva:

I didn’t read this one until after I finished Love Lessons, and I have to admit I read the first chapter slightly sick to my stomach because I thought, holy shit, this is really familiar, how did we mind meld…? and then it totally diverged, of course, and I relaxed and enjoyed it. In hindsight it’s actually quite different from my book from the word go, but I think we tapped into the same story ether and went in different directions, so when I first saw it I panicked. It’s probably the anxiety that Connor has: for my Kelly it’s just regular nerves, but for Connor it’s very serious.  I like how she handles the anxiety: as I live with two clinical sufferers, it can be bad when it’s not done right. Alva knows her stuff here, and she treats it with respect.

This is a jock-and-shy-boy story, and neither Walter nor Kelly would be caught dead at a sports function. But it’s SO college, so exploring and finding the way. So, so, so much fun. Loved every minute of it and am totally looking forward to rereading it. And hopefully another book from Ms. Alva soon.

Unknown-2Plan B by Sjd Peterson

Another jock and not-jock, but this time the shy one is the jock. Danny is out and loud and so much fun, and so is the whole book. Again, so incredibly college. All these books have a breathless quality about them, a happiness and hope that makes you keep coming back. This one has it in spades.

These first three have all dealt with coming out, but all in different ways. In Frat Boy and Toppy Brad wants to come out and makes it a natural part of his journey. In Social Skills it’s more of a struggle, and the biggest conflict is how Jared’s need to stay closeted complicates Connor’s anxiety. In Plan B, the struggle for Danny to be out and himself against Lance’s acute need to not be out is very front and center and remains the central struggle through the novel.

Unknown-3College Boys by Daisy Harris

God, this one! They talk through the wall. Courtship through thin plaster. I’m totally overdue to reread this one. Must go put on my kindle immediately.

This is yet again another jock and not, but the thing is, each one of these four books is so different. It’s basically the same song and dance in romance: you can take the same trope and even the same setting and in different authors’ hands, it comes out radically different. This one is a bit shorter and the conflict much, much more understated—which is a lot of what I like about it. This is what Daisy’s so good at. And it’s only partially college, but her latest, From The Ashes, is totally worth picking up. Only part college, but I’m mentioning it because I just read it last night and it was great.

Unknown-4 Maybe With a Chance of Certainty by John Goode

This is full-on YA, so get ready for some serious sweet. Love it all over the place. I can’t write high school because my head doesn’t go there, but as all good YA does this novel concentrates the yearning and tension and confusion that are relationships, then adds in coming out and a lot of bravery.  Heaping piles of internal struggle that we get to watch turn into action and romance that despite their youth feels incredibly real. The sequel’s not bad either, giving you that rare look at what happens after the HEA–but with plot.

In fact, I would say these two books are what made me hungriest to try my hand at college rom myself. (Even though these are set in high school.)


TailorMade-194x300Tailor Made by Josephine Myles

This one is very Odd Couple, at least at first, and nobody does tension quite like Jo. Also, college in the UK!  Familiar but unique. It’s been quite awhile since I read this one, which I’m actually excited about because it means it will almost be like reading it for the first time. What I remember is the lightness and fun, but also the level of detail about the fashion designer. It felt like peeking into a world I’d never seen.

It’s Jo. It’ll be good. Go give it a try.


Unknown-5Marlowe’s Ghost by Sarah Black

This one is a little subtle, but that’s why I like it. There’s a bit of mystery in it too. The paranormal element is very slight, so don’t let that throw you. My very favorite by Ms. Black is Marathon Cowboys, but I like this one too. It’s grad school, not college, but I’m saying it counts. Plus they’re in England. What’s not to love?

I admit it’s been awhile for this one, but I’m putting it on my kindle to reread. It’s well past time. I can’t remember how the Bad Toys comes into play. What I remember is the research felt sound, and the pacing was a delicious unfolding. It will be one when I reread that I can pick up and put down like a pleasant afternoon’s occupation. Sometimes you really need those books. This is one.


Unknown-6Life, Over Easy by KA Mitchell

I have loved this one FOREVER. There’s a kind of paranormal-ish element, but to me it’s actually real life. I know people who channel like this, and I’ve experienced plenty myself.  Mostly what I love about this novel is how COLLEGE it is. Also the guys are wounded and soft and squishy and wonderful and the sex is great because it’s KA Mitchell. Plus, college. College, college, college. I know I keep saying that, but I love visiting college, especially when I don’t have to write it. Pretty much if you set it in college, I will probably give it a go.

Now, I have a small beef with KA. The title VERY BLATANTLY says (Fragments #1). There is no #2. I want my number two, Mitchell. I WANT TO READ MORE. I’ll beg if I have to…


At this point in the post I’m going to torture you, because there’s one more that I LOVE, but you can’t read it because it’s not out: Guyliner by J. Leigh Bailey. There’s a story here.

What happened was sometime last year, I helped the Rose City Romance Writers judge their contest. I read a lot of entries, but my very favorite, and not just because it was LGBT, was Guyliner. The problem was, it was only a sample! I turned in my scores and added a note saying how I really hope this sold quickly because I wanted to read it. I said I’d even be willing to beta just so I could finish. The coordinator asked if it was okay to pass that on. I worried it sounded weird or pushy, but I really freaking wanted to read the book, so I said yes.

Ms. Bailey took me up on my offer, and I reallly, really really liked it. It made me ten kinds of happy, and I  want to reread it but I’m waiting until it’s sold. I think it might be sold but not out yet. In any event, I loved it SO MUCH that I told my agent. I said, “Are you looking for YA? Because you seriously need to read this book.” Sary said she did, so I hooked them up. Now we share an agent.

Plus I get to beta her next book!!! Be jealous. You’re all like, whut? right now, but someday you’ll read, and then you’ll know. And then you’ll  be jealous, and I’ll be all, nee-ner, I got to read it first, ha-ha! Because apparently I am still somewhat in high school.

Guyliner like Goode’s book is straight-up YA. What I love is the hero who wears the guyliner, but I love the whole thing. That coming out, that bravery in youth, that happy ending of acceptance.

That’s the thing that draws me to writing and reading YA and NA. Real life is rough and hard. Neither my YA nor my NA period was pretty. There is a hell of a lot about Walter’s journey in particular, but Kelly’s too, that mirrors my own. In my real life, I didn’t get so much of an HEA, not for a long time. But it is hella healing to read it, and even more so to write it.

I love college romance. I love new adult. I love, love love it, and I want to write the shit out of it. Also, I want to read it. Do you have a book I missed? Put it in the comments. I read stupid fast, usually finishing every novel I start the same day. I can read six in a devoted weekend. I am perpetually hungry. Feed me, baby. Feed me.

Also, seriously, go read those books. You will be so glad.






Love Lessons: Love doesn’t come witha syllabus.

Kelly Davidson has waited what seems like forever to graduate high school and get out of his small-minded, small town. But when he arrives at Hope University, he quickly realizes finding his Prince Charming isn’t so easy. Everyone here is already out. In fact, Kelly could be the only virgin on campus. Worst of all, he’s landed the charming, handsome, gay campus Casanova as a roommate, whose bed might as well be equipped with a revolving door.

Walter Lucas doesn’t believe in storybook love. Everyone is better off having as much fun as possible with as many people as possible…except his shy, sad little sack of a roommate is seriously screwing up his world view. As Walter sets out to lure Kelly out of his shell, staying just friends is harder than he anticipated. He discovers love is a crash course in determination. To make the grade, he’ll have to finally show up for class…and overcome his own private fear that love was never meant to last.

Warning: This story contains lingering glances, milder than usual sexual content for this author, and a steamy dance-floor kiss. Story has no dairy or egg content, but may contain almonds.


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7 Comments on “Love Lessons: “Let’s Write a College Romance”

  1. Frat Boy and Toppy and Tailor Made are my two favorite NA books, ever. I’m adding the ones I haven’t read to my wishlist.

    Super Sock Man by Amy Lane is a sweet, funny novella about a boy, Donnie, with a crush on his older sister’s gay roommate – it’s not set at a college, but they’re NA age and I think Donnie’s in college for a lot of the story – it’s very light, sexy and sweet. There’s a sequel of sorts, Chase in Shadow, about Donnie’s closeted best friend – it’s not light or sweet, it’s high octane angst, even angstier than usual for Amy Lane. It’s a book that I’m conflicted about, but that has stuck with me, so I’m mentioning it here. It’s incredibly over the top and it tackles a lot – attempted suicide, bulimia, internalized and external homophobia, infidelity, and gay for pay porn (the Amazon sample gives you a good idea of the angst level and possible deal breakers). I think it works better as a coming of age story than a romance, but I felt it was an emotionally accurate portrayal of growing up, dealing with mental illness, and finding your family of choice when your family of origin lets you down. It’s not set at a college, but I count it as NA because the characters are college age / early 20s and it deals with growing up stuff.

  2. It’s YA, but I really enjoyed PLAY ME, I’M YOURS by Madison Parker. Also, ZA Maxfield’ s CROSSING BORDERS and DRAWN TOGETHER have college-aged protests, and Amy Lane’ s TALKER is short, but great.

  3. I’ve read almost all of those on your list. I would add How To Repair A Mechanical Heart by J.C. Lillis. Right after high school, the summer before college. Such a great book. I am a fan girl and I get squeal-ly (no idea how to write squeally), with shows and books and movies, and that book had shipping and romance and two cute guys traveling the country in an RV to visit comic-cons.

    I also really like My Roommate’s a Jock? Well Crap by Wade Kelly. That was a fun read.

    I really enjoy the genre. I also read a lot of non m/m YA and the field is wide open. It is such a great time to be a reader of YA because it is just exploding with talent. The Graceling books and The Poison Study books both have just amazing female characters. They are young women, but it’s not the focus of the books. There is so much more going on.

  4. Yea for recs! I need some new books. I’m on the fence about YA/NA. Not really a time in my life I want to revisit, but some of my favorite authors keep writing it (ahem) and I can’t not read the amazing stories they’re sure to be telling…

    On a different note- Do you get people randomly sending you stuff about truckers all the time? Because I was reading this article and all I could think about was Mitch and Sam, and Sam’s phone-

  5. Forgot to mention Cecelia Tan’s Magic University series – it’s kind of like if Harry Potter went to college, had a lot of sex, and THEN saved the world. It’s not strictly m/m or a romance – the main protag is bi (and there’s a gender fluid main char in the later books), but he does get a very satisfying hea at the end of book 4. I was completely obsessed with this series when I first discovered it.

    I don’t think of myself as a NA reader – mostly because I work in higher ed and reading about college students isn’t exactly a break from my real life – but I do tend to like gay NA. Not sure what the difference is.

  6. Just had a chance to read this Heidi, thanks for the mentions!

    Maybe With a Chance of Certainty was one of my favorite books ever and totally made me want to write College Boys. And when I read Frat Boy and Toppy, I had the exact same experience you did wondering how me and Anne Tenino mind-melded and had the same idea at the same time. But as your list shows, there are many many ways to write a jock/not romance.

    Can’t wait to read Love Lessons when it comes out!

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