Wednesday, May 29, 2019

An Interview with Jeff Adams, Author of the Gay YA Spy Series "Codename: Winger"

Jeff signing books at the 2014 Gay Romance Literature Conference, where he got the idea for his Gay YA Spy Thriller Series, Codename: Winger

Lee: Hi Jeff, I'm so excited to chat with you about your Codename: Winger series! I just finished the first book, "Tracker Hacker," and there was so much I loved about it. Let's jump in! First question: A gay teen spy? What inspired this?

Jeff: There are several factors that played into the genesis for Codename: Winger. It began at the Gay Romance Literature conference in 2014. Someone there had a phone with the Kim Possible ringtone (the one that Kim’s communicator always played). I love that Disney show with the strong teen heroine and her sidekicks—Ron, the bumbling one, and Wade, her tech guy—saving the world. I also talked with writer friends at the con about my overall writing path and my desire to spend at least some time writing YA. One of the things I wanted to do was write a gay teen where being gay was the least interesting thing about him.

Another piece in the puzzle is the TV show Alias. Not only was that a super sharp spy show, but I loved how it showed Sidney Bristow’s personal life, which she had to balance with being a spy…and sometimes those worlds collided. I could also imagine Kim Possible growing up to be Sidney.

On the flight back to California from Chicago, I wrote the prologue to Tracker Hacker, the first book in the series. It severed as the foundation for Theo, his boyfriend, and his “uncle” (who’s not really his uncle at all). For the most part, what I wrote on the plane is the prologue that made it into the book. That’s how clearly I saw Theo’s backstory.

There are other influences as well—the teen heroes of Big Hero 6, aspects of techno movies like Tron, War Games and Hackers (to name a few). And more recently Mr. Robot, which debuted while I was writing the series.

Lee: Please tell us about your journey to getting this book published.

Jeff: Between 2014 and 2015 I worked on honing the idea for the series, which turned out to be four books. There’s an individual “mission” in each of them, but there are elements that all roll up into the fourth. Back at GRL in 2015, I pitched the series to Harmony Ink Press, which is the YA imprint of Dreamspinner Press, where I’d already published some romances. Happily they said yes and Tracker Hacker debuted at GRL in 2017. Now, just under two years later, the series is wrapping up with Netminder.

Lee: You’ve grounded the main character with a loving family, a boyfriend, a straight best friend, and a passion and mad skills for hockey and computer hacking. How much of that is pulled from your teenage life and how much of that is aspirational--your creating a life/character that has what you want gay teens to have?

Jeff: I love hockey. My grandfather took me to a couple of Detroit Red Wings games when I was six and seven years old and I loved it. I’ve always followed the Wings and then later the Pittsburgh Penguins as well. In my mid-30s I finally learned how to play the game and joined a team with the New York City Gay Hockey Association where I played for a decade. So the hockey aspect is real, even though I didn’t do that as a teen (I was not a sporty kid at all).

Computers were a part of my teen years too. I got a Texas Instruments computer (one that used cassette tapes as the storage medium) when I was in the eighth grade. I wasn’t doing anything crazy with them, but I learned some simple programing and have always loved the idea of what computers can do.

Theo is very much the teen I wish I had been—skilled athlete and skilled computer geek. He also lives a life that I want gay teens to have. It goes back to what I mentioned before about a gay character where gay is just a part of life and it’s not something that’s ridiculed or even something he thinks about. It just is. Theo has a boyfriend. His straight friend Mitch has a girlfriend. That’s life.

Having that foundation, where Theo and Eddie have been together for almost a year as Tracker Hacker opens, shows teens an established relationship. The story for them is how Theo manages the relationship when he has to keep so many secrets. It’s a delicate balance between trying to be a normal teen and, as he is in the series, having to actually go into the field on missions instead of just staying his room behind the computer.

Lee: What’s the response you’re hearing from readers? Are you, like me, hearing from a lot of adult readers as well as teens?

Jeff: I couldn’t be more happy that Theo’s been so well received from the beginning. Teens and adults seem to enjoy the adventures he ends up on and the growth he has. Across the four books we see about thirteen months of Theo’s life since book one is in the fall of his junior year. From there Schooled is in the second semester of junior year, Audio Assault is over summer break and Netminder is just after Theo starts senior year. (I should call out that there’s also a free short story that takes place over the holidays called A Very Winger Christmas.) In each of the books he’s challenged as both a teenager and an agent.

One young man’s story really stuck with me though. Just before Schooled came out, I heard from a mom whose pre-teen son had just come out at school and it hadn’t gone well. He loved techo-thriller books and she wanted to know if the Winger series would be okay for him. She decided it was and it turned out Tracker Hacker was the book he needed in that moment—to see Theo living an out and proud life where being gay was okay. It didn’t hurt that Theo played hockey and loved computers because the young man did too. I’m so glad Theo was there for this young person.

Lee: That's great! Tell us about book four in the series.

Jeff: Theo ends up on his toughest mission yet—professionally and personally—in Netminder. He had a rough go in Audio Assault and just as he started to recover from those events and get back to school, he arrives home from hockey practice to a major security breach. He’s forced to institute the emergency protocols he worked out with his parents years ago. He soon discovers that Tactical Operational Support, the organization he and his parents work for, has been compromised and that he’s being targeted by an evil group who wants his help to take over the Internet.

I can’t give up too much more without getting into spoiler territory. So far, early reviewers have liked the story and how it wraps up the series and I hope that holds true for everyone as my intention was to create a satisfying conclusion.

Lee: How do you juggle podcasting, other writing (you write gay romance with your husband, Will, right?), and working on Codename: Winger?

Jeff: Honestly, it all comes down to time management. Every afternoon after I wrap up the day job plus weekends, time is devoted to writing (and everything that goes with that) as well as the podcast. Luckily Will is in the business with me so he understands if I’m on deadline and need to spend time on whatever the current project is. Since I’ve been publishing regularly since 2013 (and podcasting since 2015), I’ve found a routine that thankfully seems to work and lets me get between three and four stories done per year.

So far Will and I have co-written one romance together—the second chances, friends to lovers novel called The Hockey Player’s Heart. I also have other romance novellas published and will be releasing more next year. I’ll also have another YA series re-releasing late this year.

Lee: Are there more future adventures for Theo?

Jeff: While the Codename: Winger series is complete, I plan to take the universe I’ve created with Tactical Operational Support and its agents into a romantic suspense series. Characters from the Winger books will definitely show up in those stories to provide mission support. The plan is for the new series to begin in late 2020/early 2021.

In addition, I’ve been preparing the Hat Trick series, a YA tale about two high school hockey players who fall in love during the senior year of high school, for re-release. When it comes out, the series will be re-named Pride League since I plan to expand beyond the initial trilogy. Spoiler alert: Theo and Eddie get a cameo in the first book—tying the two universes into one.

Lee: Sounds great! Thanks for sharing the story-behind-the-story of Codename: Winger with us, Jeff!

You can find out much more about Jeff and the The Big Gay Romance Podcast he does with his husband, Will Knauss, here.

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