Ep 197: Inside Online Romance Magazine "Blush"

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Jeff talks about going to the reading and Q&A for Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar's In Case You Forgot. The guys also talk about their recent trip to see the musical The Drowsy Chaperone starring Bruce Vilanch.

It's a Heidi Cullinan double feature this week as Will reviews Nowhere Ranch and Jeff reviews The Doctor's Secret.

Jeff talks with Jacqui Greig, the creator and editor of Blush magazine. Jacqui talks about why she created the magazine and what sparked her love of all things romance. We also find out about the books that she writes and how she encourages anyone who is interested to start an online magazine.

Complete shownotes for episode 197 along with a transcript of the interview are at BigGayFictionPodcast.com.

Interview Transcript – Jacqui Greig

This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.

Jeff: Thanks for coming to the podcast Jacqui it is so great to have you here.

Jacqui: My absolute pleasure.

Jeff: So Will and I have loved “Blush” since the first issue came out and.

Jacqui: Thank you.

Jeff: I love what one of the things on the website that talks about you where it says “I may or may not have started this publication and in order to fangirl my favorite authors without getting slapped with a restraining order.”

Jacqui: Pretty much.

Jeff: Which sounds so awesome. It’s like a mission statement.

Jacqui: But it’s so true. I used to finish reading a book and then I just I loved it so much that I wanted to be best friends with the author. I wanted to know everything about them. I just you know wanted to delve into their heads I guess. And that’s kind of what “Blush” lets me do.

Yeah without getting hit with a restraining order.

Jeff: We feel the same way about the podcast it’s so great to just dive in with these folks.

Jacqui: Yeah absolutely.

Jeff: Tell us a little bit for our listeners who may not have discovered blush yet. What is the magazine kind of all about besides obviously of course romance books?

Jacqui: So essentially, it’s an online magazine for romance readers. So I just wanted something that was specific for people who read romance and there’s already so many amazing blogs and podcasts that I just thought a magazine would be a fun way of getting that information across. And yeah. So it’s kind of interviewing authors, looking at the different books that are coming out at the moment, the different trends in the industry. I’m calling it an online digital platform.

There’s even things like I imagine what a particular heroine in a book would wear.

And I based a fashion page on that. So it’s just kind of interpreting the romance genre in different ways.

Jeff: It really is because you go so much further than a Book Review blog or like what we do on the podcast because you do have, as you mentioned, the fashion thing or I believe in June it was the ‘book crush’ with Jamie Frazier which everybody can have that crush, right?

Jacqui: Right?

Jeff: There are elements of reviews that work their way in, but then you do some dives on the industry too, or talking about tropes and such.

Jacqui: Yeah. I think that’s probably my background in journalism as well. I used to work on magazine in Sydney. I worked in a travel magazine and on a hair magazine of all things. And then I started my own magazine, a women’s lifestyle magazine, which was print – that was more than 10 years ago now. So the industry has evolved so much since then and it’s so much easier to do a digital magazine than it is a print magazine. Yes. So I just thought I’d give it a go.

Jeff: How do you decide what goes in to each issue. Because there’s so many things to pick from.

Jacqui: I know there’s so many things to pick from and it’s actually been a little – it’s getting easier every month because the magazine is getting more widely known and people are actually messaging me, emailing me, then giving me content ideas, which is fantastic, but it’s just whatever I like. Yeah. I don’t know. Whatever I’ve been reading or what I’ve seen or I am quite big on Instagram I get a lot of inspiration there.

Jeff: Yeah. And I enjoy watching your Instagram just because it’s so creative.

Jacqui: I’m a graphic designer as well so I see lots of cheeky quotes and things like that and I just redesigned them for my own purposes which is fun.

Jeff: Your July issue will have been out a short time by the time this episode airs. What can readers find in July?

Jacqui: So I’m super excited. In July I have three authors that I definitely fangirl over. So I’ve got Eve Dangerfield. I’ve got an interview with her. I have an interview with Sarah MacLean and an interview with Abbi Glines.

Jeff: Wow. Three of them are all in the same issue.

Jacqui: Yeah, well in my very first issue I had Beverly Jenkins and Kylie Scott and I thought, “Right, I’m happy to finish this right now. I’ve reached my peak.” That was epic for me.

I think romance authors are so generous with their time and knowledge and it’s just such a beautiful, interesting industry to be in.

Jeff: Yeah, it really is because there’s so many warm people who are just happy to tell their story and tell everybody about their books. What are the regular sections that readers look for each month?

Jacqui: So I generally start with a ‘Lust-Haves’, which is just kind of products/bookish things that basically I would like to be spending my money on. I think in one issue I had a pair of cashmere socks that were like one hundred and ten dollars and I had a girlfriend calling me, she said, “You didn’t buy those, did you?” I didn’t. I’d like to. So yeah, we did ‘Lust-Haves’, we do an IG profile. I pick an Instagram account that’s really inspiring and has gorgeous images and profile them. We’ve got our author interviews. I generally have a couple of features. So for example, in the current issue we did one on the rise of rural romance. So it’s basically Australian authors writing romance set in rural settings… on farms which is really lovely. I live in a small country town myself, so I can really identify with that. We do a ‘Book Crush’ every issue. So that’s just a hero that we’ve got a bit of a crush on at the time and it’s really fun to contact the author and find out what they had in mind when they were writing that character. I get them to share their Pinterest pages with inspiration that they drew when writing, which I love. And there’s a bookshelf at the back, which features a lot of books, and it’s a really great showcase for indie authors I think. So yeah, that’s kind of it.

Jeff: You say that’s kind of it, but that’s a lot. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that goes into these issues. What kind of overall timing and process goes into creating a single issue?

Jacqui: Well, having done in my previous life the print lifestyle magazine that was a whole circus. So I had staff and we had an office and because that I was spending forty thousand dollars an issue just to print it. So it was big. Right. So because [Blush] is digital – it’s online – my overheads are tiny, it’s literally me sitting at my kitchen table and, I have I don’t have it here, but I literally designed up on an A3 bit of paper for weeks and split it into the days and split the jobs across it and I laminated it so that I can write over the top of it – every issue. And it’s actually not too involved I think because I know what I’m doing. And I love what I’m doing. And I think as a working mother you become… I just have to get shit done. Like I just, I’ve got no windows in between kids being at school or ballet lessons or you know all of that kind of jazz. I just have to really, really be productive with my time and bang it out.

Jeff: And I think the online magazine in a lot of ways gives you a much broader design to work with than if you were locked in to any kind of website format.

Jacqui: Yeah, I think it’s fun because you can flip through the pages. It kind of it feels interactive and you can, you know, I can put gifs onto the pages so there’s movement, there’s different animations that you can use. And it’s just readers really like the tactile experience of a physical magazine. And because I can’t do that, I think a digital magazine – it is still something different from a blog post and not to say that, you know, there’s some fantastic blogs out there, but this is just a different format.

Jeff: Yeah, it’s a different medium, but it’s going to be interesting, I think to see if other people move in that direction. I think we’re all so used to seeing blogs that this is another similar but different way to go.

Jacqui: Yeah, it’s just a bit fun, little bit different.

Jeff: July is also kind of a milestone for you because it’s six months old for the magazine – issue number six.

What’s your favorite thing to write about so far in those six months?

Jacqui: I think the interview with Beverly Jenkins, that was kind of amazing. She’s an icon in the industry and she’s so generous and I couldn’t believe that she’s giving me the time of the day, especially because I hadn’t published a magazine by that stage. I literally had nothing to show her. She just kind of said, “Yeah sure.” So that was really incredible.

I do freelance digital marketing, which I’ve just stopped, and I’m focusing all my energy on ‘Blush’ because I really want to give it a go. I felt like I was building other people’s dreams, helping them build their dreams and I wasn’t really putting any time into my own. So yeah, I’m kind of all in with this. I got skin in the game now.

Jeff: That’s awesome. It’s a good feeling.

Jacqui: Yeah, it really is. And I do need to say my husband is super supportive and I’m very lucky. But yeah, like this is my gig now.

Jeff: What’s surprised you over the six months.

Jacqui: I don’t know if it was surprise. It was probably just reinforced how wide and how deep this romance genre is and how amazing it is. I mean, if Alexa Riley can beat Michelle Obama in the rankings on Amazon, that’s huge.

Jeff: And you’re right about the romance genre being so big. I have found, so far, that you try to cover seemingly all of it. You’ve featured all kinds of romance including LGBTQ romance.

Jacqui: Well, that’s a that’s a big sector and it’s valid and I know that, especially in the states, you’ve been having a lot of diversity talk at the moment – and so you should. ‘Blush’ is a vehicle for the romance industry and I want it to encompass all aspects of that.

Jeff: And we talked a little bit before we started recording that it was ‘Blush’ that first put ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’ on our radar as the thing we needed to watch out for in the spring.

Jacqui: Well, I’m sure you hadn’t seen it with me, you would have seen it very soon because it has been so well received and validly So like she’s amazing, Casey’s [McQuiston] she’s going places.

Jeff: Yeah, absolutely. What got you into romance?

Jacqui: So my parents owned a newsagent when I was younger. And romance novels were distributed by magazine companies, which meant that if they didn’t sell, it was cheaper to rip the cover off and throw it out than it was to send it back to the company. So I used to scavenge through the back bin and I just fell into it. I read to my heart’s content. The only problem was, that because it didn’t have a cover, I knew the title, but without that image on the top on the cover and the title, I can’t remember any of them. And probably I was reading so many of them, I was just kind of consuming them. But yes, so that’s how I got into it – scavenging.

Jeff: That is awesome. What a great way to get books.

Jacqui: I know right. I mean it’s so demoralizing and awful for an author to think about – that’s how some of your books may end up. I don’t know if that’s still the practice – I would hope not. But yeah, that’s back when I was 12 or 13. That’s how we did it.

Jeff: On the other hand, I mean how terrific that it must be – Yes, they didn’t get paid for – but they inspired somebody to go out and create something like this later in life.

Jacqui: Well that’s true. That’s a really nice way of looking at it. Oh, thank you.

Jeff: You can’t remember some of the titles and authors obviously, but do you remember what tropes and what sort of elements of the story fueled your interest in the genre?

Jacqui: I read a lot of the historicals, which I loved. But I kind of stopped reading for a while – going through high school and then university – and got back into it with Kylie Scott, who’s an Australian author who wrote a romance in a zombie apocalypse, which is very far removed from historical romance, but freaking awesome. She wrote two books and a novella and then found mainstream success with her Rockstar romances. But she kind of got me back into reading romance, her and Amy Andrews who is another Australian author. She’s got a ‘Sydney Smoke’ rugby series, which is a series of books set around a rugby team in Sydney and she just has the dialogue down pat, like she is so dynamic with her writing. Yeah, she is really, really incredible. I think those two got the ball rolling to get me back into it and now I don’t really have a favorite trope or a favorite genre. I will literally read anything you put in front of me. I will read it.

Jeff: That’s awesome. I’m kind of the same way. Will has is his thing where he likes contemporary/low angst – may take a few diversions off that path… But if I like the blurb, I’m at least game to see where it goes.

Jacqui: Exactly. Yep. I’m with you.

Jeff: Now, since we are an LGBTQ romance podcast, what are some of your recent reads, kind of in that genre.

Jacqui: So what I’ve really loved is that some of my favorite authors are diversifying. I guess they’re going into that queer space. So Kate Canterbury, she wrote The Walsh series – which I devoured I loved – and then it’s an offshoot. There’s a lobster fisherman who marries Aaron and Nick in book 6. And So the lobster fisherman he gets his own book and he falls in love with a tech tycoon. And honestly it was one of the hottest romances I’ve ever read. Like it was. She nailed it. And that was her first male/male book. And I just went, “Oh wow, you’ve done such a good job.” Also Tessa Bailey she wrote a male/male.

What’s it called… I wrote it down. ‘Heat Stroke’. She wrote ‘Heat Stroke’ which is just really sweet.

And the relationship between the two men, it was so believable and she’s really good at characterization. She’s fantastic, but my absolute favorite of mine is Sierra Simone, who wrote the ‘Camelot’ series. So it starts with ‘American Queen’ goes to ‘American Prince’ and I actually haven’t read the third one because I got a spoiler and I don’t have the emotional fortitude at the moment.

Jeff: I understand how that it goes.

Jacqui: But she just writes… So it’s a male/female/male, but the two guys, they’ve been in love for so long before Greer, the woman, actually comes into it and just the depth of their love for each other. And she’s, I mean, it’s kind of filthy – the writing, but awesome. It’s emotional and it’s just, yes, she’s fantastic.

Jeff: Since you look at romance really from around the world for ‘Blush’, because you’re in Australia and have read so many Australian authors, do you see a difference of what romance is around the world – what gets written into the books from the native authors?

Jacqui: I think that a lot of Australian authors are actually setting their books in the US. I don’t know if that’s a marketing thing or if that’s just what they read and that’s what they want to write, but then there’s a whole crop of Australian authors who are writing rural romance, which is set on an Australian farm as opposed to an American ranch.

So you know there are differences in words I guess. I don’t know.

Apart from that though, I kind of think everyone’s just writing their own happily ever after. And it’s and in different ways, using different tropes, different locations. I do wish that there were more Indigenous Australians writing romance novels. I think that would be amazing. There are some amazing Indigenous authors, just not so many writing romance, so that that would be really incredible to see. I actually am writing as well. I’m sure everyone who reads is trying to write as well. So I’ve just published my second book, but I would like to co-author a book with… I grew up in a small country town with a high indigenous Aboriginal population. So I went to school with all of these Aboriginal girls and I need to make contact with them and see if one of them will sit down with me and co-write a book, a romance from their point of view. I think that would be amazing. I don’t think that I would have the guts, I guess, to write from that point of view, even if I had a sensitivity reader come in and read it afterwards. I really do think that their issues and their worldviews and, you know, they have their differences and you’ve got to do justice to that.

Jeff: So what do you write? Tell us a little bit about your books.

Jacqui: Well my full name is Jacqueline, and my maiden name is Hayley, so they’ve written under Jacqueline Hayley. And second, which literally I published yesterday, it’s ‘Getting Under Her Skin’, and it’s set in Sydney. So they’re contemporary romances that are a little bit sexy, I don’t think I really want my mum reading them.

Jeff: Yeah that’s awesome. Any chance of a male/male book in your future?

Jacqui: Yeah, I think So but I think that, again, I would want to team up with a gay male author to help me do that. Like, I just I don’t want to presume that I would know their life experiences. So I think that would be super fun.

Jeff: I hope you get to do that. We’d have to have you back on the show to talk about that when it comes out.

Jacqui: Absolutely.

Jeff: What can you tell us about upcoming issues [of ‘Blush’] for the rest of this year?

Jacqui: Oh, the rest of this year. So I’m actually heading to the Australian Romance Writers Association, their annual conference is in Melbourne, and I have lined up some authors that I’m going to do video interviews with as bonus content for my readers. So we’re just finalizing the details of that, but I do think that video, which can be embedded into the magazine – in the magazine we also find YouTube clips and things as well, the digital magazine format allows for that, which I think is really fun. The video will start to become a little bit more of a thing with the magazine, as much as I don’t really want to see myself on video, I think that it would be really fun for authors, who are normally behind the pen – behind the computer – and you don’t see their faces or hear them. I think that that would be a really fun thing to do.

Jeff: Very much looking forward to that. It’s great seeing how the video gets in there to really make this interactive magazine.

What’s the best way for people to keep up with ‘Blush’ online and how do they get the subscription? Tell us all about that.

Jacqui: So at the moment, to be able to read the magazine, you have to head to the website which is blushmagazine.com and sign up with your email address. So it’s free. And then the magazine gets emailed to you, well a link to the magazine gets sent to you, so that you can view the magazine. Previous issues are available on the website, so you can you can click through there, but probably I’ most prolific on Instagram. That’s kind of where that’s my jam. That’s what I like doing. So you know, for cheeky quotes and books that are coming up, all the behind the scenes of what I’m doing here, that’s Instagram, is where it’s at.

Jeff: Very cool, and can readers of the magazine get in touch and suggest ideas?

Jacqui: Absolutely. I love it. The interaction is one of the best things that I love about what I’m doing, so I get DMs on Facebook, Instagram, and my email is hello.BlushMagazine@gmail.com.

Jeff: And what would you say to anybody who is like, “Gosh, I really like that. Maybe I should start my own.”

Jacqui: Yeah. So I guess have a look at the different platforms that are out there to do a magazine on. I use readymag which I really love. But there’s also issu, which I’m kind of looking at as I get bigger. That might be where I go just because you can get more stats on what particular pages people are staying on longer. That kind of thing. So I guess just have a really clear view of what you want to put in your magazine, you’ve got to structure it like a real magazine. So go and get a physical magazine, you need a contents page and an editor’s letter and kind of build it from there, but just know that readers like continuity, so if you’re going to start a section, you’ve got to kind of continue it. So have a really clear idea of what kind of content you want to do. I haven’t done this and I probably should have build up content so that you’re an issue ahead of yourself so that, you know, just to for timing I guess, that would make life easier. I like making things hard for myself. Give it a go, like why not? Compared to the money that I used to put into print publishing, digital publishing… there’s barely any any cost. So yeah, give it a go.

Jeff: Cool. Hopefully somebody will take up the inspiration because – at least the way we feel concerning podcasts, the more podcasts the better, the more magazines the better, the more blogs the better.

Jacqui: Built this industry!

Jeff: Yes absolutely. Well Jacqui, thank you so much for telling us about ‘Blush’, we’re going to link up to everything we talked about- the authors and the magazine – in the show notes, and we look forward to see what comes out in future issues.

Jacqui: Thank you so much for having me. It was just the highlight of my week. Thank you so much.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s book reviews:

Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan. Reviewed by Will. Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party when It comes to this book. When I posted online that I’d finished reading Nowhere Ranch, I got a slew of responses, “Isn’t it the best?”, “That’s my favorite Heidi book.”

So, for the few that haven’t yet experienced the sexy wonder of this cowboy romance, Nowhere Ranch is about a young guy named Monroe, Roe for short. He’s the prototypical lone cowboy who’s just landed a job at Nowhere Ranch. On one of his free nights, Roe travels several hours away to the nearest gay bar. To his surprise he runs into his boss, Travis Loving.

After some flirty banter and surmising that they are both definitely into each other, they spend one wild night together in Travis’s hotel room.

Roe tries to keep things professional with his boss, but Travis is just too damn irresistible. After a trip to the rodeo, he gives into his desire yet again. His hook-ups with Travis are so amazing that he begins to reconsider his ‘no relationships’ policy.

When it comes to the bedroom, Roe likes things a little kinky. Travis is more than willing to give him everything he wants. After a rough and raunchy tumble in a horse stall on his birthday, Roe is so turned on and turned around, that he just doesn’t know what to do.

Guys, this book is incendiary. I’m no expert when it comes to Heidi Cullinan’s books, but the few that I have read, have ridden that delicious line between sweetly romantic and utterly filthy. The kink explored in Nowhere Ranch isn’t your mommas 50 Shades style slap ‘n tickle. This is hardcore stuff in the best possible way.

Back to the story. Hailey, the daughter of the ranch foreman, becomes fast friends with Roe and it becomes her personal mission to tutor Roe so he can get his GED. After learning some English composition basics, Roe writes an essay especially for his boss entitled, “Why Travis Loving Should Fuck Me”.

What’s wonderful is that the entire text of the essay is included as part of the story. It’s sweet, it’s funny, and it leads to some more smoking hot sex for our two heroes.

Unfortunately, the course of true love never did run smooth. A letter from the family that rejected Roe years earlier, forces him to examine what “home” really means. Home is definitely Nowhere Ranch.

Some drama eventually forces Roe to make an unwanted trip to deal with the backwards, judgmental people he once called his family. With Travis and Hailey by his side, he sets things to rights and accepts that he is, in fact, worthy of his very own happily-ever-after.

There’s a brief time jump at the end of the story to show us just how happy the happily-ever-after is for Roe and Travis. It’s wonderfully schmoopy and surprisingly sweet for a story that is so dang filthy. It just goes to show, that in the hands of a skilled author, kink doesn’t have to equal dark or angsty. The story of two hot and horny cowboys can be just as swoon-worthy as the lightest of rom-coms.

The Doctor’s Secret by Heidi Cullinan. Reviewed by Jeff. This book had me at its cover with its clean design, heartbeat along the top and the handsome doctor. And I snatched the audiobook out from under Will because Iggy Toma was doing the narration. As with my other experiences with Heidi and Iggy, this one was above and beyond.

The Doctor’s Secret brings Dr Hong-Wei Wu, or Jack as he tells the staff to call him, to Copper Point, Wisconsin. Hong-Wei’s left a high powered residency and his family in Texas to re-locate to this tiny town that needs a surgeon. He also hopes to lead a quiet life here. That’s derailed almost as soon as he steps off the plane because he meets Simon Lane, the hospital’s surgical nurse and the person who was dispatched to pick him up. Simon wasn’t quite ready for the attraction either. He’s in Copper Point working alongside his two best friends who all wanted to stay and give back to their home town–a place so small Simon’s sure he’ll never find a man for him.

Hong-Wei is torn from the beginning because he came to Copper Point to get away from complications, but he can’t deny the immediate attraction to Simon. He tends to put himself under a tremendous amount of pressure to always do the right thing, even if that means saying yes to things he doesn’t want. As Simon learns more about Hong-Wei–from his love of classical music as well as his dislike for most pop music, his love of Taiwanese food and even the meticulous way he wants his operating room set up–only made him fall for the man more.

Simon’s incredible from the get go. Instead of using “Jack,” Simon wants to use Hong-Wei’s given name and takes the time to learn how to pronounce it. It’s super adorable too how Simon can’t believe Hong-Wei might be flirting with him–their interactions at the hospital are super cute as they both easily get flustered.

Their potential relationship comes with great risk. Copper Point is a small town with small town drama and shenanigans. St. Ann’s Hospital has a stranglehold on its employees with a hospital board that attempts to rule with an iron fist. This includes a no-dating policy. As they grow closer though, Hong-Wei’s having none of it, insisting he’ll protect Simon. Simon’s friends Owen and Nick, also doctors at the hospital, help the two get together in secret. As you can imagine neither men want to live in secret, and the more they fall for each other it becomes more difficult to keep it.

Beyond Simon catching Hong-Wei’s attention, he starts to fall for the entire town of Copper Point. From the owners of his favorite restaurant to his co-workers to the local orchestra. It’s far more than he ever planned for and he’s not quite sure how to manage all the feelings of peace and happiness he has here.

When a medical emergency forces Hong-Wei to reveal more of himself than he planned, the major power struggle begins around the dating policy and the future of St. Ann’s. Heidi does a tremendous job about making us care not only for Hong-Wei and Simon, but for everything that’s at stake for the town.

There’s so much to love in this book between Simon and Hong-Wei, their friends, the citizens of Copper Point. The book also has one of the best grand gestures ever. It gave me all the feels.

Kudos to Iggy Toma for a brilliant performance, infusing everyone with strong emotions and rich personalities. The tender moments between Simon and Hong-Wei are perfection.

I’m looking forward to Owen and Nick’s books in the series. Owen’s is already out but I’m hanging tight for the audio and Nick’s book releases in August.

219 episodes available. A new episode about every 6 days averaging 52 mins duration .