The Lesfic Book Club had a special additional book discussion on Sunday, August 12th, and Jae joined us to talk about her historical fiction novel, Backwards to Oregon. Check out the transcript below!

A couple of notes on the transcript:

  1. If you want to join us live, we discuss lesfic novels, generally on the 3rd Sunday of every month, at http://tinyurl.com/lesficlove (sign up or follow me on Twitter to find out what we’re reading each month).
  2. Some chat participants requested that their names be obscured, so below you’ll see the author’s name in bold, while everyone else has been anonymized as Reader 1, Reader 2, etc.

Jae
Hi, everyone! Thanks for inviting me to chat about Backwards to Oregon.

Reader 3
So, I’ll just start, @Jae we’ve all been looking forward to this for the entire month, especially when @Reader 1 mentioned you’d be gratefully joining us
Thank you for joining us!!!
So, what was your favorite part of writing BTO?
I loved how you included a map of the trail to follow along with

Jae
It’s hard to name just one favorite part. But if I can name two… The first one was the research. I’m a bit of a research junkie, which is a good thing if you’re writing historical fiction.

Reader 2
How much time was required to research everything for the book?

Jae
It’s been 10 years since I first wrote Backwards, but if I remember correctly, I did research for about 6 months.
The second thing was the characters. I love developing characters. Must be the psychologist in me

Reader 4
Why did you choose that time period?

Jae
It all started with the idea of Luke–a person whose assigned gender is female but who lives as a man in the 19th century. At first, I wanted to set it during the Civil War since I know that hundreds of women fought disguised as men, but then I thought the Civil War era was already overdone. So I ended up with another fascinating era–the westward expansion.

Reader 4
It’s unique that nora has a daughter. Most period pieces wouldnt have included her.

Reader 4
What was your reasoning for including  amay, and having nora get pregnant?

Jae
Good questions! First of all, I wanted the book to be realistic. Many of the women working in brothels had children since they didn’t have reliable methods of birth control. Second, I wanted a way to bring Luke out of her emotional shell and confront her with parts of herself that she had buried deep inside. Making her an instant “father” was a good way to do that.

Reader 3
Did you ever play the Oregon Trail game on the old Mac computers when it first released?

Jae
No, sadly, I didn’t. I’m not even sure it was available in Germany.

Reader 2
What was the hardest part of the book to write?

Reader 2
What was the thing that was the hardest to research?

Jae
Hardest part to write… Probably the love scene. Those are always hard to write because there’s a lot going on, not just physically, but also emotionally.

Reader 3
I mentioned to @Reader 1 once that I didn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but I am curious if anyone felt that maybe if this novel were set in today’s society, would you have made Luke’s character trans?

Jae
I’m getting this question a lot these days, and I think it’s a valid one. It’s hard to say really because she’s very much a product of her environment and her time. I’m fine with however readers want to read her. Personally, I think she might be outside of the gender binary if she had been born today.

Reader 3
THANK you for that, I appreciate you being kind in your answer because I wondered to myself a lot about whether she’d identify as male or at least non-binary with the way she tries so hard to deny some of the female characteristics, despite that I understand she did it as a product of her time which is good to play with anyhow.

Jae
Part of it was necessary for her disguise, but it’s also how she feels most comfortable.

Reader 3
I agree–its the comfort part that made me wonder though, so much obliged for clarifying. I guess we’d have to be there to always truly understand, then again I’m glad Nora came around

Reader 1
See I don’t think Luke would necessitate be trans in today’s world
She needed to escape and there was only one option then. Definitely curious what @Jae feels

Jae
I agree that she wouldn’t necessarily be trans. In Hidden Truths, she re-connected with a lot of her female traits. But I think she would be at the very least a gender-nonconforming woman.

Reader 3
How long did BTO take to write, edit, re-edit, re-write, publish, the whole shebang?

Jae
I think it took me about a year, if I remember correctly. I was still working full-time back then.

Reader 3
that’s phenomenal. Either way I am in awe of your talent. I haven’t found a book you’ve written so far that hasn’t sucked me in and made me want to disappear to that setting. You’re a wonderful writer.

Jae
That’s wonderful to hear. I try hard to make each character and each book unique and not a weak repetition of a previous book.

Reader 2
Did Rosie really have to die?

Jae
Yes. But only because it meant Amy ended up with a much better toy.

Reader 8
I’m guessing this happened to deepen the bond between Luke and Amy.

Jae
Yes. It forced Luke to realize that the needs of a child are different than those of an adult and that sometimes she would have to be the one to take care of Amy.

Reader 9
I genuinely felt for her then. The mom panic totally kicked in. I loved the wooden animals luke made. 🙂 my daughter is 3.5 so Amy was fun to read.

Reader 4
Another reason i :heart: jae. She gives awesome answers.
In regards of the civil war, and slightly off topic,  do you have a fave author that deals with it? Lesfic and not.

Jae
One of the first lesbian novels I read was “Words Heard in Silence” by T. Novan. That novel was part of the reason why I chose a different era for Backwards to Oregon because I didn’t want to write a book that is too similar, even though both books have main characters who are women living as men.

Reader 10
Makes sense. That’s why (if I ever finish) mine will not be on the oregon trail. No way to compare to yours.

Reader 3
I will probably not be the only one who says this but how thrilling was it for you to write off those two bastards who made Luke and Nora’s lives miserable on the trail?

Jae
That was very satisfying indeed. Especially since Luke & Nora got to work together to finish them off. I didn’t want Luke to be the hero while Nora is the damsel in distress. That would have destroyed all the progress that Nora made throughout the journey, learning to stand up for herself.

Reader 3
You did a good job making Nora also feel the shock of what it takes to take another person’s life. I’m glad you didn’t just make her content with killing a man, no matter how vile, and let her soak in what she’d done. It really rounded out her character

Reader 10
And it really set them up as equals, which i adore. There is a safe, balanced dynamic between the two leads. Neither one is stronger or weaker than the other. Neither is too wholesome or too damaged. They are balanced.

Jae
Which is one of the most important things I’m striving for in each book. If the characters aren’t equal, the romance won’t work. Each can have areas where they are stronger, but they need to balance each other and take turns helping each other.

Reader 4
I hate broderick cowen. With a furious passion. Just fyi. Lol.
Therefore, he’s a perfect villian

Reader 3
I have to say I was on the edge of my seat when Luke nearly outed herself to Mr. Garfield … the prison bit, that was a genius idea–was that planned? Or did you have an idea to really out Luke to him and have him come around like Bernice finally did?

Jae
No, that was planned. I didn’t want to out Luke to too many people since I didn’t think it would be realistic to have everyone be so accepting. I read some lesbian historical fiction novels where an entire town was just fine with two openly gay women living together. Completely unrealistic.

Reader 3
agreed. Have you ever read Midnight Melodies?
Post-titanic crises that had the entire town accepting of a woman living her life as a man with a wife to boot

Jae
No, I haven’t read that one. I read a lot of nonfiction reports of women living as men and only upon their death was their real identity discovered. I think maybe some people in their lives at least suspected (but didn’t really want to know), but for sure not an entire town.

Reader 9
It helped that people wore a lot of layers then.

Reader 1
That whole dynamic with the Garfield’s was brilliant I thought.

Reader 3
Agreed–I was happy that Nora came around when she did and didn’t betray Luke.

Reader 2
Did you mean Bernice?
Bernice was the female half of the Garfield couple and Nora’s friend.

Reader 3
no, Nora. She came around quickly enough to talk Bernice out of outing Luke to the rest of the camp after she was shot

Reader 4
And it really set them up as equals, which i adore. There is a safe, balanced dynamic between the two leads. Neither one is stronger or weaker than the other. Neither is too wholesome or too damaged. They are balanced.

Reader 2
Oh, ok. I get what you mean now.

Reader 3
If you could give a piece of advice to any of us on being a good author, what would you say?

Jae
Take your turn to learn the craft of writing. Because that’s what it is: a craft. It takes 10,000 hours to master any craft, and writing is no different. If you ask readers to pay for your books, you owe them a carefully crafted, well-researched, well-written, and well-edited story.
It’s not always a popular opinion, but there aren’t any shortcuts.

Reader 3
Well said, @Jae thank you for that
I write incredibly fast sometimes just to get the story out of my head because otherwise I lose steam–but then I go back and try to make sure that things are well paced and correct :3 but everyone has their own method

Jae
The first draft can be as fast and as messy as you need it to be. We all know that writing is rewriting anyway.
So, let me ask you: Did you pick up Backwards to Oregon because it’s historical fiction and you love historical fiction, or did you read it DESPITE it being historical fiction because someone talked you into it?

Reader 6
Personally I love historical fiction.

Reader 1
I saw that some of your older books were republished with updates. Can you explain that? I only discovered you this year so only know the new versions

Jae
Backwards to Oregon was the first book I ever published back in 2007, when I was still with L-Book (which no longer exists). When I switched publishers in 2012 and joined Ylva, I had learned a lot about writing in those 5 years and I wanted to revise each of my already published books and publish a newer, improved version. The story itself and the characters is the same, but the writing flows better, the descriptions are more interwoven into the story, and I corrected some of the bad writing habits I had in the beginning.

Reader 3
I actually chose to read this because it was highly suggested to me by @Reader 4 and @Reader 1.. I’ve read other works of yours though that I’ve simply loved so I didn’t see the harm in adding to that list

Reader 4
This was the second novel I read as an E-book forever ago. I love historical fiction (B.S. in History) and it caught my eye. It was the first novel of yours I had read.

Reader 1
I read it because everyone loves it and I love everything I read from you. But I get nervous about historic lesfic because I am not always up for reading closeted stories.

Reader 4
I might be a tad bit obsessed with it. It’s my go-to reread when Im having a bad day.

Jae
Comfort reading is great, isn’t it? It’s like comfort food, just without the calories!

Reader 2
I read it because it was there. I read any and all lesfic I come across. Though I’m not as fond of stories with vampires and werewolves. From what I know vampires and werewolves were symbolic representations of psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, sadists and the like and seeing them romanticized and sometimes made into the good guys feels really weird for me. It pulls me out of the story.
At any rate I’m glad I read it. It’s one of my all time favorite books.

Reader 3
I agree with @Reader 1 sometimes closeted stories are difficult to read, but I am also a huge history nerd and the Oregon Trail, you just don’t really hear much about it going on these days, its almost as though people don’t remember how difficult it was for many of our ancestors to cross over to the West, with disease and famine and just the sheer amount of stress it puts on a body

Jae
Yeah, it’s difficult to imagine people basically WALKING every day for 6+ months when we can cover the same distance by plane in a few hours.

Reader 3
it’s insane what the body could do if forced as well. It’s great that you made this journey as difficult for the reader to see as it was for the characters to cross

Reader 7
I read it because everyone who had read it here was raving about it. I’m not really a fan of historical fiction but _loved_ this book. Couldn’t put it down

Reader 8
Historical Fiction is my favorite genre, really.

Reader 5
I love historical fiction about lesbians making a life together

Reader 8
@Jae, How did you do your research for the beginning of BTO? You’re very accurate, even down to the brick county building.
(I live in the Kansas City Metro area, so I’m familiar with much of the beginning sites)

Jae
I read everything, and I mean EVERY SINGLE THING I could get my hands on that had to do with the Oregon Trail and life in the 1850s. Countless diaries of people who crossed the country in a covered wagon. Cookbooks from that era. Studied old maps. Nonfiction, websites, you name it…
Oh, and old photographs. I don’t remember where I read about the brick county building, but it might have been one of the old photographs.

Reader 1
Did you plan to connect all your books in some way, or did it happen organically?

Jae
Some of the connections were planned, but others happened more spontaneously. For example, one thing that bothers me in some lesbian romances is that some of the main characters don’t seem to have a life outside of that romantic relationship. No family. No job. No friends. So I try to make sure my characters have friends. And I figure: why can’t they be friends with each other if they live in the same city? That enables me to give readers glimpses into the lives of characters from previous books.

Reader 3
We all loved your book/LWord map lol

Jae
Some of the connections were planned, but others happened more spontaneously. For example, one thing that bothers me in some lesbian romances is that some of the main characters don’t seem to have a life outside of that romantic relationship. No family. No job. No friends. So I try to make sure my characters have friends. And I figure: why can’t they be friends with each other if they live in the same city? That enables me to give readers glimpses into the lives of characters from previous books.

Reader 2
Who is your favorite lesfic author?
Or favorites if you can’t pick just one.

Jae
Oooh, tough question. Let’s see… In no particular order: Gerri Hill, Fletcher DeLancey, Lois Cloarec Hart, Lynn Galli, EJ Noyes, and about a dozen more
I can recommend some books if you want. All very subjective, of course. I love Lois’s “Coming Home” and Fletcher’s “Without a Front” (science fiction with a wonderful romance). And EJ Noyes “Ask, Tell” was my favorite read of 2017.

Reader 3
Do you have any plans to write a book concerning Luke and Nora’s descendants? Maybe something that could flash back?

Jae
Not yet, but I have one in mind already. I want to give Dr. Lucy Hamilton Sharpe her own novel.
I’ve learned to never say never since I hadn’t initially planned to ever write a sequel for Backwards to Oregon. But at the moment, I’m not planning a book about their ancestors. I’m focusing more on their descendants.
I haven’t decided if Lucy will go home to Oregon in her novel. But if she does, we might get to see Luke and Nora. They were both very young when they traveled to Oregon, so they’d be in their 70s.

Reader 5
That would be a good read, I liked her

Reader 2
I think one of her books deals with one of their grandchildren.

Reader 5
Is there a book related after “Shaken to the Core”

Jae
Yes, Shaken to the Core is set in 1906 (so basically 50 years after Backwards to Oregon), and the most important supporting character is Luke & Nora’s granddaughter, Lucy.
If you read it, I hope you’ll enjoy it. It’s set during the Great Earthquakes & Fires in San Francisco.

Reader 1
Any plans for books set in Germany?
Teach us all about your home!

Jae
Actually, my first book set in Germany is about to be published! Paper Love is set in Freiburg, the lovely city where I live, and I can’t wait to hear what readers think about it. The first reviews are already in, and it seems everyone loves the setting. Phew!
It’s going on pre-order at Amazon on Wednesday, and will be available on August 29.

Reader 11
What made you start writing lesbian romance

Jae
I have always been a writing from the age of 10 or 11, and once I discovered lesbian fiction and my own sexual orientation, it seemed like a natural progression, if that makes sense.

Reader 1
I think everyone agrees that we adore your books and are grateful you hung out with us tonight

Reader 3
I hope you will continue to keep writing and spending time inspiring us all

Jae
Thanks so much for inviting me to the book chat! You asked some great questions. I’ll definitely keep writing, and I hope you keep enjoying my books. Have a great Sunday!

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