J. Roman is a believer in second chances and making things happen. Recently relocated to an ivory tower in the wonderful city of Charlotte, North Carolina, she endeavors to keep everyone on their toes and get into as much trouble as possible. Not a lot has changed since high school, and many of her characters are based in whole or part around the people she grew up with. A firm believer in happily ever after, J. thinks that everyone deserves a happy ending, even if it takes a little more work for some people to get there. She welcomes comments and questions from her readers on her website, http://jromanwrites.blogspot.com.
HEARTLESS [KEEPING SECRETS 1]
For gay teens in the South, Erwin High School is as good as it gets. The prevailing liberalism means being gay doesn’t have to be the focus of your life—which frees up seventeen-year-old Jason Strummer to take on the role of bully. Jason understands his beauty and power and has a reputation to match his attitude. No one but his best friend suspects the cruelty Jason hides behind is a ruse to keep his hellish private life out of the public eye.
Jason has only loved one boy in his life, and that crush on Tommy Johnson ended so badly that they’re no longer on speaking terms. When an ex-lover threatens Jason and Tommy steps in to help, the heartless playboy can’t help but fall a little bit back in love with him—but Jason will have to choose between keeping Tommy or his secrets.
ADMITTEDLY, I was not an island. I needed people. Needed as in had to have them around me 24/7 in order to feel like a human being. I’ve always been that way as far back as I can remember. My first day of kindergarten, I was so excited I threw up my breakfast all over my new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt, necessitating a return trip home and a late pass.
I am the first to admit I still get a buzz over coming into school and seeing everyone lined up to greet me. Okay, so not everyone lines up to greet me, but I do enjoy saying “hey” to all of my friends. And I can safely say I had a lot of them.
“Hey, Jason, how’s it goin’, man?” That was Kevin. He’s the only jock alive that is super cool with having a queer-as-a-three-dollar-bill best friend. I’ve known him since I was four, and he’s known about me being gay since I was thirteen. He’s taller than most guys in school, with blond hair, green eyes, and an ass you could bounce a quarter off of with little difficulty. He plays tight end for our football team. Erwin High School isn’t really known for anything but football. It’s a Southern thing.
“Heyo, Kev,” I greeted him with my normal level of enthusiasm, slinging my ripped backpack down beside his against the brick wall where our group tended to congregate. “How is my stud muffin doing?” He cringed when I said that. He honestly should’ve been used to it by then. I did it every day, sometimes more than once a day, since he’d muttered through his “I don’t care what you are, man. Just don’t hit on me” speech when I came out. If not for his gorgeous red-haired girlfriend and her honest declarations that they screwed regularly, everyone would’ve assumed that he was my boyfriend. But that was gross. He was like my brother.
“God, J. You’ve got to knock that crap off.” He said that every morning.
“Oh, but why? Are you ashamed of me?” I joked, pouting for effect. He usually got fed up with it after that and started tossing crap at me. It was funny. A pinch to my ass interrupted his reply as I yelped. I half turned to see Aaron and his twin brother, Adrian, behind me, giving me identical white grins of mischief. They were just a little taller than me and had their hair dyed various colors, depending on their mood. They were also on the football team.
Let me just say this as a disclaimer: we live in Asheville, North Carolina. For those who have never been to Asheville, let me explain why this is significant. Asheville might be located in the middle of redneck country, but they call it the San Francisco of the South. It has an abundance of three things: great food, hippies, and gays. So when I say that going to Erwin High allowed for more liberal-minded social norms such as Kevin having a gay best friend and my punk rocker friends being on the football team, I’m not kidding. They were actually living within the “rules” of high school. Too conservative would’ve placed them outside the realm of acceptable liberalism and subsequently made them outcasts. Other high schools in our state tended to claim that our school colors of white and red mixed regularly to make pink. Yay for homophobia.
“What’s up?” I said. Adrian—or was it Aaron? At any rate, one of the twins pointed down at my feet.
“Nice shoes,” he said. My eyes flicked down to my toes. The torn orange off-brand sneakers that I’d pilfered out of a fifty-cent bin at Goodwill had been my pride and joy since I’d found them in the correct size three days ago. I had waited until Friday to wear them so they would have maximum effect and match my equally pilfered T-shirt that I’d worn for the occasion. I glared.
“Shut the fuck up, Adrian.” Kevin’s voice cut in before I could formulate an equally venomous reply. “He was just tryin’ to match your stupid-ass hair color, but since you dyed it already, J decided to just go for something obnoxious.”
My white knight. He’d always been like that with me. He was my big brother in so many ways it was frightening. Despite the fact that we were the same age, he’d always protected me. Even being in Asheville, there were still some people who hadn’t taken kindly to my announcement, my very brave announcement, in my mind. I’d done it in seventh grade, in the middle of fifth period English as we were waiting to be released to go to a pep rally. Some dickheads who were neck-deep in questioning their own sexuality had decided to make me pay for my bravery and their cowardice. Kevin had stepped in then too.
He’d done the manly thing. I’d done the revenge thing. When Tommy, the ringleader of the band of assholes, had come out freshman year and had asked to blow me after a football game, I’d let him. Then I posted the video to his mom’s blog. Petty, I know. But effective. The bastard never talked to me again. I’d sort of developed a reputation after that. Even the straight douche bags respected me.
Adrian laughed. “Okay, okay. Chill out, Kev. I promise not to pick on your boyfriend for his ugly shoes.”
“He is not my boyfriend,” Kevin growled for the millionth time. Did he really not get that the more he did that, the more they would say it?“Why do you deny me, baby?” I cut in. It was the only way to save him from the jibes that would have escalated with his temper. Everyone laughed at Kevin’s facial expression. Everything was fine again. Just another early morning at Erwin High.
INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW
Q: If you could spend a day with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
I really would like to sit down with Tommy’s cousin, Danny. He’s such a fun guy with his love of boylove and unending optimism. He’s the one I would call to watch a movie marathon of Supernatural and drool over Jensen Ackles’ awesomeness with.
Q: How do you know you’ve written a good book?
When readers react emotionally to what I’ve written I know I’ve written a good book. Whether they hate or love the characters, so long as they feel something when they get to “the end” I am satisfied. The death of a good book is indifference.
Q: How do you keep your characters and stories organized?
I have a pretty efficient spreadsheet that keeps my characters straight. The stories themselves are loosely plotted out beforehand. Everything else is just details that come from the characters.
Q: Are you plot or character driven? Please elaborate.
I’m definitely character driven. Since all the Keeping Secrets books are in first person, I have to let the characters drive the plot because otherwise the voices would be inauthentic. Jason wouldn’t be Jason and it wouldn’t be his story if I didn’t hyper focus on how he interacts with his environment.
Q: What are you currently working on? How is it different from other books you’ve written?
I’m currently working on Fearless, the next in the Keeping Secrets series. This book is different from the others because we finally get to see light at the end of the tunnel. With secrets exposed, things are going to change in a big way for our heroes. We’ll also get to know some of the other boys better in this book and perhaps some hints on who might get a story in the near future.