Interview with Monica McCallan

Monica McCallan is not just a great writer; she is a fabulous Twitter follow. Her commentary on lesbian media is single handedly responsible for my Seven Husbands for Evelyn Hugo hangover that has lasted for months. Monica has been kind enough to chat with me.

I’m just out here screaming into the Twitter void, so I’m happy it’s (mostly) having a positive impact!

Your latest book, When I’m With You is one of my favorites.  I think it’s because I feel such a connection with Brooke. She appears to be an extrovert but doesn’t let too many people see beneath her mask. Are you more a Brooke or Kennedy, who is an introvert, total Type A person? 

Brooke really is the sweetest and a bit of my version of the ideal human, but I’m definitely a Kennedy. Type-A all the way, even if I don’t want to be sometimes. Kennedy’s so stuck in her own head that she misses a lot of what’s right in front of her.

If we’re talking about me though, I think I tend to be more vulnerable than either of them. I love letting people see what’s beneath the mask. I’ve found that by letting myself be truly vulnerable, it’s led to a lot of great friendships and conversations. Some people find it hard to take the first step toward someone else, which hasn’t ever been my problem. I love talking about ideas and feelings and things I love. So, in that way, I’m like Brooke superficially. But in the way I plan and execute on my life and hold myself to expectations that may no longer fit the best, I’m much more like Kennedy, sometimes to my own detriment.

Your new book will be coming out soon. Can you give us a preview?

Absolutely! It’s a second chances romance, which honestly, is my favorite type of story to write. The fallout from the past relationship or yearning coupled with the MCs finding their way back together in the present? Count me in!

Quinn McKinley left Kingsford, New York at eighteen to escape a bad home life and get a fresh start. Seventeen years later, she comes back to town as a real estate agent on behalf of a client in New York City. Only, it’s a more complicated situation than she’d expected, as the home she’s trying to purchase is owned by the family of her former best friend and maybe-slightly-absolutely unrequited love, Sawyer Kent.

Sawyer’s framework for life is about being agreeable, helpful, and not pushing for what she wants. She works at an antique store owned by her brother, and after a failed relationship a few years ago, she hasn’t really mustered the courage to get back out there. While she wants more from life, she doesn’t exactly know how to go about getting it. And she’s absolutely still hurt about how Quinn just up and left all those years ago.

Like all my books, they both have to deal with their own personal issues before they can find happiness with someone else. Regardless of which book of mine you read, that’s always the central theme. A lot of idiots-in-love, but usually they don’t see it because of their own issues they need to sort through first.

Which character from one of your books do you most identify with? 

Remy from Back to the Start, for better or worse, is the character most like myself. I sometimes have opinions that cement over time that I’m not always willing to revisit. A lot of Remy’s opinions about Farmingdale, about Fallon, and about her perceptions of the world in general, were all drawn from my own experience. Luckily, she’s able to grow and change over the course of the book, and like many of my characters, she’s ultimately her own worst enemy.

You are a connoisseur of all things lesbian in the media. What little known books, movies or tv shows should I know about?

I mean… I rant about a lot of things on Twitter, so hopefully not too many if I already love them! And I fully know that I tend to do this thing where I’m wildly resistant (probably because I know I’ll get obsessed) and when I fall over the edge, I fall hard. It’s zero-to-one-hundred in the blink of an eye with me. I’m that way with what I like, who I love, and how I write.

The pairing #juliantina from Amar a Muerte, a Spanish telenovela was huge for me. I did a 40-episode podcast with Sheena from The Lesbian Review just to fangirl about it for as long as possible. It’s truly just *chef’s kiss* and everything you’d want in a television show featuring a relationship between two women.

As for movies, Saving Face is my absolute go-to when recommending a wlw movie to people. It was made in 2004, but it still resonates and is truly one of the best examples of what I’d want to see if a lesbian romance was made into a movie.

Motherland: Fort Salem, which just had its second season, had a significant wlw storyline in season one that carried over into the second season. Witches! The military industrial complex! Lesbians! For whatever reason, sci-fi/speculative tv shows seem much more willing to have wlw storylines, and this one knocks it out of the park, even though it’s a little hard on the heart at some points.

One of my favorite books that I think everyone should read is Some Part of Me is You by Adrienne Marsh. It’s basically (in my opinion) fanfic about what would happen if Taylor Swift fell in love with the female guitarist touring with her. I’m more of a graphic love scene kind of person, and the plot was so good that I didn’t mind that it was mostly fade-to-black or more implied than anything else. The feelings were that good!

Your love for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is single-handedly responsible for my reading it in two days and the emotional disaster I was afterwards.  I understand your obsession but for someone who has yet to read it explain why they should.

First of all, I’m sorry but not that sorry. I feel like in my hundred or so tweets about Evelyn Hugo I gave a number of disclaimers about how badly it would hurt (so good). This book was on my radar for a while, and I just knew it was going to mess me up. I decided to read it on a Saturday so that I’d have all day Sunday to wallow in my feelings. Spoiler: it wasn’t enough.

It’s one of those broad, sweeping, epic love stories. It encapsulates the early era of Hollywood vividly, and I think, something you don’t see in a lot of specifically wlw romance books, it’s very possible to root against Evelyn Hugo at some points. She’s flawed and complicated and the only person who’s ever really made her stop and consider if that’s how she wants to live her life is Celia St. James. God, I still have all the feelings just typing that. It also doesn’t help that there are two Evelyn Hugo bots on Twitter who constantly post quotes from the book.

The story spans over fifty years and packs so many emotional punches. I love lesrom because the stories are tied up neatly and I need that in my life, but this is a story of difficult decisions, people doing the best they can to have it all, and how the choices we make are often more far-reaching than we can imagine at the time.

As anyone knows from almost any lesbian period-drama that’s come out in the last few years, there isn’t usually a happy ending. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo asks the question: How is that happy ending possible, even if the world can never know it’s the case?

Your friendship with Erica Lee makes for some entertaining tweets.  What does Erica mean to you as a friend and fellow author? 

Erica is just… the best. Our friendship actually started because we both got deeply invested in Juliantina from Amar a Muerte. It was on at 10pm five nights a week, and we’d use this Facebook link by a guy named Panchito to watch the show in real time and completely in Spanish (which neither of us speak well). That kind of thing bonds people!

But after Juliantina, we stayed friends, and it blossomed into Erica becoming an amazing friend and sounding board for me. She always has access to my WIPs, and she’s left more than a few frustrated comments when I just… stop writing. Let me tell you, if you want to know who was the angriest about my Rosmello (the Italian reality tv show) obsession, it was her. I stopped mid-sentence in my WIP and didn’t start writing again for months.

As an independent author, having other people in your corner who understand, can commiserate, and can provide feedback is truly invaluable. And on top of that, she’s just a lovely, generous, warm person. We can complain about our day-to-day lives, celebrate our wins, talk books, or do anything in between. I’m so thankful to have found her as a friend in this crazy world.

You live in Philadelphia. Like Brooke and Kennedy, you take a weekend trip to a cabin and get snowed in. Which people in the writing community are with you?

Erica Lee, obviously. She brought Paxton, her son, and his adorable little snowsuit too.

Haley Cass is coming too so that she can tell me about all the stories she hasn’t written yet. That woman’s ideas have ideas. It would make the weekend pass by in a breeze.

Lucy Bexley can project manage the hell out of anything, so I definitely want her wrangling the troops if we’re all stuck together. She’s currently co-owning an I Read Indies project with me and damn… she’s impressive.

Milena McKay, for sure. Might be difficult to get her back from abroad, but I’d like to hear her rattle off the best age-gap romances, a new trope I’m slowly getting into.

Morgan Lee Miller, for many reasons but so she can help me cook fantastic vegetarian dinners while we’re all stuck together.

Besides Evelyn Hugo, what books have been your favorite this year?

The Covid-existence really knocked me on my butt for a while, so I didn’t do a ton of reading in the first half of this year. I was struggling to get When I’m With You out, I got wrapped up in an Italian reality tv show (I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!), and reading wasn’t as enjoyable as it used to be.

In the last few months, and actually after reading Evelyn Hugo, I went on a huge reading spree. I’ve devoured almost all of Fiona’s Riley’s back catalog, and let me tell you, they don’t call her The Queen of Steam for nothing! I especially loved Media Darling which has some Evelyn Hugo.

I also hadn’t read The Do-Over by Georgia Beers until this year, and I appreciate her willingness to tackle tough subjects in her books. The wlw crowd is a tough one, but nuanced, layered, complicated stories are so important, and I’m grateful that she’s willing to tell them.

I’ve also been trying to expand to books by authors I hadn’t yet read. Just Jorie by Robin Alexander was laugh-out-loud funny, Beowulf for Cretins by Ann McMan was stellar and intellectual, and The Headmistress by Milena McKay was just so goddamn good.

I also love re-reading my favorites, and those include Those Who Wait by Haley Cass, Waiting in the Wings by Melissa Brayden, Alone by E.J Noyes, Poppy Jenkins by Clare Ashton, and Casting Lacey by Elle Spencer.

Thanks so much for chatting with me Monica. It was an absolute thrill and I really appreciate you taking the time and I hope we can chat again! 

I am just so in awe of the lesfic community and the work everyone does to help make this insane machine run. I appreciate you taking the time to interview me and give an extra voice to wlw authors. We say a lot of things in our stories, but it’s always so nice to be able to talk about other authors and things we’re excited about!