260. Inspiration and Illegal Contact: An Interview with Santino Hassell

I interview author Santino Hassell about his new series with Berkley, starting with Illegal Contact, which just went on sale on August 15th. We discuss his inspiration for football romance since he’s a baseball fan, and we talk about his being one of few men writing romance. We cover how he got started as a writer, what writers inspired him to start and keep going, and how he addresses stereotypes of bisexuality in his writing, We also discuss his writing projects with Megan Erickson, and, a special note for all of who who are fans of his work: we describe the perfect bait to trap him, should you wish to do so. (Kidding! That would be creepy.)

I also have a giveaway to go with this episode! I have a very, very cool pair of Barons athletic socks, and a copy of Illegal Contact for one of you. There will be a giveaway widget in the show notes for this entry at SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com/podcast, and you can enter to win.

Standard disclaimers apply: void where prohibited. I am not being compensated for this giveaway. Open to international residents were permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18 and prepared to wear some very nifty socks. Whereas, upon participation in the contest as aforesaid, said participant shall nonetheless deliver hereunto all such paraphernalia as reasonably necessary and appropriate.  Notwithstanding anything hereinafter to the contrary, the contest shall nonetheless be conducted as heretofore described thereupon. Do not taunt happy fun ball.

Read the transcript

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Here are the books we discuss in this podcast:

Giveaway! You can enter the giveaway right here:

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And if the widget doesn’t work for you, this link should work as an alternate. If you’re having trouble, please email me, k?

Standard disclaimers apply: void where prohibited. I am not being compensated for this giveaway. Open to international residents were permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18 and prepared to wear some very nifty socks. Whereas, upon participation in the contest as aforesaid, said participant shall nonetheless deliver hereunto all such paraphernalia as reasonably necessary and appropriate.  Notwithstanding anything hereinafter to the contrary, the contest shall nonetheless be conducted as heretofore described thereupon. Do not taunt happy fun ball. Winner will be chosen at random and announced on 25 August 2017.

And, of course, we have links!

You can find Santino Hassell on his website, on Twitter, on Facebook, and in his Facebook group, Get Hasselled.

If you like the podcast, you can subscribe to our feed, or find us at iTunes or on Stitcher. We also have a cool page for the podcast on iTunes.

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Sponsor us through Patreon! (What is Patreon?)

What did you think of today’s episode? Got ideas? Suggestions? You can talk to us on the blog entries for the podcast or talk to us on Facebook if that’s where you hang out online. You can email us at sbjpodcast@gmail.com or you can call and leave us a message at our Google voice number: 201-371-3272. Please don’t forget to give us a name and where you’re calling from so we can work your message into an upcoming podcast.

Thanks for listening!

This Episode’s Music

Our music is provided each week by Sassy Outwater, whom you can find on Twitter @SassyOutwater.

This is from Caravan Palace, and the track is called “Panic.”

You can find their two album set with Caravan Palace and Panic on Amazon and iTunes. And you can learn more about Caravan Palace on Facebook, and on their website.


Click to view the transcript


Sarah Wendell: Hello there, and welcome to episode number 260 – whoa! – of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books. I’m Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, and this is a podcast all about romance, the genre, and the people who read and write it, because we are so interesting and so awesome! Especially you. You right, you listening? You are most excellent.

This week I’m interviewing author Santino Hassell. We talk about his new series with Berkley, starting with Illegal Contact, which just went on sale this week on August 15th. We discuss his inspiration for football romance, since he is a baseball fan, and we talk about his being one of the very few men currently writing romance. We cover how he got started as a writer, what writers inspired him to start and keep going, and how he addresses stereotypes of bisexuality in his writing. We also discuss his writing projects with Megan Erickson and a special note for all of you who are fans of his work: we describe the perfect bait to trap him, should you wish to do so. I’m kidding; that would be really creepy.

Now, I also have a giveaway to go with this episode, which is really fun! This isn’t a thing I do frequently, but this is really, really cool! I have a very neat pair of Barons athletic socks – the Barons is the football team in his new series – and a copy of Illegal Contact for one of you. There will be a giveaway widget in the show notes for this particular episode at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast. You can enter to win! Okay, now we do the fun part where I talk really fast; are you ready? Okay.

Standard disclaimers apply: void where prohibited. I am not being compensated for this giveaway. Open to international residents where permitted by applicable law. Must be over 18 and prepared to wear very nifty socks. Whereas, upon participation in the contest as aforesaid, said participant shall nonetheless deliver hereunto all such paraphernalia as reasonably necessary and appropriate.  Notwithstanding anything hereinafter to the contrary, the contest shall nonetheless be conducted as heretofore described thereupon. Do not taunt happy fun ball.

Now, moving on. [Laughs] Yes, I had a lot of fun with that.

Some of the Patreon supporters helped me with questions for this episode, and I want to thank them for their suggestions. If you would like to be part of the Patreon community, help support this here podcast, and help me come up with questions for future guests, you can have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches. For monthly pledges starting with one dollar, you can help the show grow and become bigger and better, and you can help me collaborate on questions and ideas for future guests because, well, you’re all very awesome.

So thank you to all of the Patreon folks, and thank you to you for listening, for sharing about the show and telling a friend and for leaving reviews on iTunes and Stitcher and wherever else you find your fine, fine podcasts. I am very honored that you’re listening, and by the way, if you’re cleaning the house right now, your home looks fricking great, so nice job!

The music you’re listening to is provided by Sassy Outwater. I will have information at the end of the show as to who this is and where you can find this fine music.

We also talk about a number of books, and I will have links to them at smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast, which is where you can enter the giveaway, and also we have an iTunes page at iTunes.com/DBSA.

And without any further delay, let’s do this podcast interview thing! Don’t worry; I will talk slowly during the episode.


Santino Hassell: My name is Santino Hassell. I am a queer romance writer. I hope to one day write male/female romance as well, and I hope I do a good interview! [Laughs]

Sarah: I have no doubt that you will, so do not worry. I know that you have a new series, with the first book being Illegal Contact, which comes out really, really, really soon.

Santino: Really soon.

Sarah: Really soon. Can you tell us about your new book and your new series?

Santino: My new series is The Barons. It is a male/male sports romance. The first book in the series is called Illegal Contact, and it’s about Gavin Brawley, who is the tight end for the New York Barons – made-up team, obviously – who gets himself into some trouble. He has a public fight. He gets himself suspended for a whole season and put on house arrest, and he’s pretty much sent off to the Hamptons to stay in his house, and he can’t do anything, so his manager, Joe, decides that he needs a personal assistant, so they interview a couple of people. They come across Noah. He and, Gavin and Noah both, like, clash instantly. You know, Noah doesn’t respect sports. He thinks they’re just overpaid jocks running around on a field, and he’s only doing this because he needs the money to help support his dad, who was recently laid off. And anyways, they get into it in the interview, he and Gavin, and Noah up and leaves, but Gavin decides to give him the job anyways, because he’d rather have someone like Noah take the job than a fanboy who’s going to be all up in his business and, like, possibly, like, taking pictures of him and, while he works out and stuff like that.

Sarah: So I’m sure you can hear my dog in the background. He’s clearly a fan of this book.

Santino: [Laughs]

Sarah: Barking out one very loud –

Santino: Oh, don’t worry, my dog might be, like, running around here soon enough. I have a dog and two cats that might just burst in, so we might have to edit them out.

Sarah: Okay, great.

Santino: [Laughs]

Sarah: No, no, pets, I leave them in. I have two dogs and two cats. One will try to crawl into the sound box where my microphone is; the other will bark at, you know, a random squirrel, so if your dog or cat joins in, that’s, like, a total win.

Santino: All right!

Sarah: So, these two characters get into it in the interview, which isn’t typical interview ideal behavior.

Santino: No.

Sarah: You don’t actually want to get into an argument during your interview. [Laughs]

Santino: Not with the person that’s trying to hire you, no, definitely not.

Sarah: So the conflict is there, like, right away.

Santino: Yes, absolutely. You know, it’s because Noah, he really doesn’t have, like, he has issues with men of power, like – I’m sorry, men that have power over him, that’s what I was trying to say. [Laughs]

Sarah: Right.

Santino: He’s had really bad experiences in the past with guys that were his boss. He just gets really nervous and defensive.

Sarah: And he already doesn’t like this person, ‘cause it’s a, he’s a professional football player. He gets a lot of money –

Santino: Yes.

Sarah: – to just – and so he walks in with all of these presumptions about this guy –

Santino: Yeah.

Sarah: – some of which are probably true, because this, he, he kind of has a, an anger/impulse problem?

Santino: Yes, definitely.

Sarah: Little bit? [Laughs]

Santino: Yeah, a little bit. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah. Like, buckets.


Santino: Gavin definitely has some anger issues. I believe it all stems from his past. He, you know, he grew up in foster care. He didn’t have, like, you know, the, he didn’t have parents that cared about him. He didn’t have, like, the privileged life that Noah goes in thinking that Gavin had. Like, you know, he’s this spoiled jock that had everything given to him, and his parents, like, trained him to be this football player, but, though really he just –

Sarah: That’s not how it is.

Santino: But, yeah, he just, Gavin really just struggled through, like, the younger years of his life, and he used football as a way to escape.

Sarah: I know in your, in your bio, it says that you’re a baseball fan, which is cool. What led you to writing about football?

Santino: Inspiration for it came from my friend who’s a football coach and just, like, watching how he is so, like, dedicated and devoted to this game, not only just because he’s a coach, but also because he’s a fan, and it got me really interested in football culture, and I wanted to learn more about it, so I started, like, asking him a bunch of questions, and I started following college football, which is amazing. I love it so much more than actual pro football. But, yeah, just, like, the fact that he enjoys helping kids, like, you know, get scholarships to schools; maybe, you know, it’s not, like, a D1 school or anything like that, but he just helps them improve their life through a sport that they enjoy playing, and I really liked that, and I wanted to, wanted to write a character that, like, benefited from something like that.

Sarah: So the series essentially came out of someone that you knew.

Santino: Yes.

Sarah: That’s very cool.

Santino: Well, I mean, the, the inspiration for Gavin, yeah, came from, like, like the things that he does with kids and, like, how he, like, helps them. Like, he was, he was just telling me some stories about some kids that he knew that had it really rough and stuff, and then they, like, used football, and they, you know, they still have to keep their grades up and everything, they can’t just play football and get a free pass, but they used football to help them, you know, get to college and escape the rough childhood that they had. And I was, like, really impressed by that.

Sarah: And when you’re – yeah. And, and when you’re a coach, you learn a lot of intimate details about people.

Santino: Yes, you do! [Laughs] I won’t go into the stuff that he told me, but, yeah, you do.

Sarah: It sounds like the, the people that he knew, pieces of them found their way into your books, or, or little fragments of them.

Santino: Yeah. I would say little fragments of things that he had told me had worked their way in there. I try not to base, like, books and, or characters in books entirely on people, but there’re, like, little fragments of them in there.

Sarah: Right. Well, it makes them more real if there’s connection to a real person.

Santino: Yep.

Sarah: So one question I have from several people who are part of my Patreon campaign is to ask you what led you to writing romance, ‘cause I don’t know if you’ve noticed –

Santino: [Laughs]

Sarah: – there aren’t a lot of dudes. I don’t know if you’ve caught that.

Santino: Oh, yeah, no. There, there’s, there’s a couple of us.

Sarah: Yep. I, I don’t think you have a baseball team yet.

Santino: [Laughs]

Sarah: I actually don’t think you can cover the infield, but I might not be accurate.

Santino: No, we definitely probably couldn’t, but –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Santino: – what led me to writing romance is, well, I’ve been writing since I was a teenager, you know, started out as a teenager writing, like, angsty poems and songs. I, like, wanted to be the next Kurt Cobain, as horrible that was, or horrible as that sounds now.

Sarah: I don’t know; he had a way with lyrics.

Santino: He did, he was awesome, but – so, you know, I mean, I started writing back when I was teenager. It was, like, angsty poems and songs, and then it progressed to whenever I was in my, like, early twenties, I moved on to, like, fanfiction and original slash. Out of writing all my fanfiction and my original content, I enjoyed the relationships between people. I enjoyed developing these relationships and seeing them get together. So, but once I guess I discovered no romance that seemed like, you know, a place that I should go because these types of relationships, they just, like, flowed out of me more naturally, I was more interested in them, and it just seemed like, you know, the place for me to go because I wanted to write about happy things that made other people happy that, you know, shit made me happy.


Santino: So, I mean, that’s pretty much why I chose to start writing romance.

Sarah: So was there a, a particular book that really inspired you to write, or was there a particular author you discovered, or was it just sort of the, oh, I really like this genre?

Santino: I started reading Jordan Castillo Price first, so her work really, like, helped me. Helped me decide what I wanted to do, because I loved her voice, I loved her characters that she created, and I just really loved her work when I was a, like, a little bit younger and stuff, so.

Sarah: I’m curious what it is about romance that captured your attention to the point where, not only did you want to read it, but you wanted to write it too. I mean, that’s a, that’s a big step. What, what it is about the, the genre that you really, really enjoy that you try to put in your books?

Santino: Well, the idea of queer characters getting happy endings and –

Sarah: Oh, yes!

Santino: – in the books, that, that really is what I wanted to do, and also, like, a lot of queer characters in books would, like, you know, die at the end and stuff, and I didn’t – and when I was younger – and I don’t want, I didn’t want to write that. I didn’t want to read that anymore, you know? I got tired of reading that.

Sarah: I can see why that would be a total bummer. You don’t –

Santino: Yeah.

Sarah: – I mean, everyone dies miserably in the end is a terrible romance.

Santino: Exactly! [Laughs] So, I mean, I like romance just because you’re pretty much guaranteed a happy ending. I mean, you’re not guaranteed something like that anywhere else in the world, really. I mean, I know I can pick up a romance book and read it, and I’m going to see some characters that I’ll like. I’ll see that they’re going to go through some issues, but in the end, I know that they’re going to be happy, and I wish, you know, the world could be that way. I wish everyone could have, like, a guaranteed happy ending, but, you know, not the case! [Laughs]

Sarah: No. No, it’s not. Writing queer romance and giving queer characters a happy ending is like the, like the bonus beyond the Dan Savage It Gets Better. Not only does it Get Better, but there’s, like, real, genuine happiness; here are many examples.

Santino: I mean, yeah, I mean, I hope that my queer readers’ll read, and I hope that younger people who are, you know, still trying to figure out their lives will read and be like, wow, this is for me, and enjoy it and –

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Santino: – you know, get something from it.

Sarah: Now, I know that you write a lot of books with other people. I know you write a series with Megan Erickson, and I wanted to ask you about your writing process when you’re writing by yourself versus when you’re writing with another person. I’m presuming it’s different, but how do you make that work?

Santino: When I’m by myself, it usually just starts with something that inspires me, be, you know, be it, like, you know, the idea for a character or the idea for a plot, and then I usually go to developing the character’s background and then working out a rough plot and creating an outline and trying to follow this outline.


Sarah: Doesn’t always work.

Santino: Usually it just, like, gets thrown away. I don’t follow it toward the end, but it helps me keep my pace. With Megan, we try to do the same thing together, but, except I’ll take, like, a character, and she’ll take a character, and we separately develop them and then come together and try to, like, fit all the pieces together. And then we will make the outline together and hopefully stick to it. [Laughs] And all the actual writing we do on Google Docs, and we, like, like, edit each other’s work and go back and forth.

Sarah: Do you each take a character and alternate points of view from your characters?

Santino: Yes.

Sarah: So the conflicts then are almost like, almost real, because you’re, you are firmly located in your character and their motivations.

Santino: Yes.

Sarah: That, that is really interesting. Is it, is it difficult to be able to see somebody editing you while you’re doing it?

Santino: No, I don’t watch it. I leave the document, and I wait till she tells me it’s ready to go.


Sarah: I can understand that.

Santino: I used to be really shy about, like, writing sex scenes and stuff, so I would, like, hide. [Laughs] I, I get really hung up on researching minor details and, like, put a little bit too much detail into these minor details that nobody really needed to know about, but, yeah, that’s what I waste my time on.

Sarah: Curiosity rabbit holes are the worst.

Santino: Oh, hell, yes.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Santino: Never-ending. Never-ending; you’re tumbling forever.

Sarah: Were there, were there details about football or the Illegal Contact characters or their world that led you down a really long path of research?

Santino: Football research came mostly from my friend who is a coach and from one of my beta readers, Cheryl B., who was, like, infinitely helpful, and thank you, Cheryl, if you’re listening. [Laughs] I did some, like, research on whether, you know, athletes got stipends in college and realized that they didn’t until recently, and Gavin would have still been really poor, like, throughout college and stuff like that. Found one story who, who was this college athlete. I mean, he had to sell everything that he owned just so he could stay in college and continue going to class and, you know, play-, paying for books and playing football because, I mean, he didn’t have any money to eat. It was, like, really messed-up situation. I’m like, that’s kind of messed up that they can give, like, they want you to come play this game for them, they make all this money, but they can’t help you out a little bit. That’s really fucked up to me.

Sarah: Yeah.

Santino: Sorry. [Laughs] Oh, but, yeah, they changed it now, so, they gave ‘em some, a stipend so they can make it through and not have to do something like that. I mean, see, see, that’s, like, one of the things that I did a lot of research on that, you know, I probably shouldn’t have. [Laughs]

Sarah: I don’t know. It, it would seem to, it would seem to inform the motivation of the character.

Santino: Yeah. It did, ultimately, like that, but it was, like, it just really made me mad that these students got treated like that and stuff. But, yeah.

Sarah: With, with Illegal Contact, were there, were there scenes that were really difficult or really fun for you to write. Are there particular parts of the books that were very memorable for you?

Santino: One memorable part for me is the time when Noah chased a paparazzo off of Gavin’s property. I just, I really like that scene because, yeah, you see Noah lose his temper, and Gavin was like, was like, you know, what is this? He’s watching Noah do this, and he, like, yeah, he’s like, this buttoned-up college boy is, like, you know, chasing this paparazzo off my lawn. What’s going on here?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Santino: And he just, he develops, like, I don’t know, Gavin just seemed to really like that about Noah. Like, seeing the other parts of him that he didn’t know about, and also because Noah was defending him.

Sarah: Which probably meant a lot to him.

Santino: Yes. It did mean a lot to him.

Sarah: So, one, one question I have is that you’ve mentioned that you have strong feelings about representing bisexual experience in your characters and smacking down stereotypes about bisexuality. What does that mean for your writing, and what are the stereotypes that you’re looking to smack down?

Santino: Usually there’s, you know, these stereotypes that bisexual people are, you know, selfish and they can’t make up their minds, or if they end up with a guy, they’re gay, or if they end up with a woman, they’re straight. You know, the word bisexual is not used a lot. As a bisexual person myself, I thought, you know, that I should represent this, because, you know, that’s who I am. I should represent these people; I should help them. I don’t always go into the stereotypes, but I have them own it on the page and say it. I, like, Gavin, for instance, he says it on page two, that, you know, I’m bisexual. What does he say? I’m bisexual. I, my manager probably wishes that I was straight.


Santino: It’d be, like, you know, easier for my reputation and stuff like that.

Sarah: Right. Because your characters sort of name that on the page, do you hear from a lot of bisexual readers?

Santino: Yeah, I do.

Sarah: What, what are their reactions? Because I’ve seen fan reaction to your work, and it is very enthusiastic, which is so cool!

Santino: I mean, they love the fact that I, that he’s a bi character, that there’s that representation there. Also, in Five Boroughs, they love that, you know, Raymond’s bisexual and that Oli’s bisexual. I have tons of bi characters throughout my books, so.

Sarah: And for a reader to see themselves represented over and over and over again is very meaningful.

Santino: Yes. I hope so! I hope it’s meaningful to them.

Sarah: Well, like I said, I have seen fan reaction to your work, and it is so enthusiastic. What have been some of your favorite responses from readers?

Santino: I got a lot about Sutphin Boulevard, how people could identify with Michael and the issues that he goes through in that book. You know, like alcoholism, his tough family, being closeted, and a lot of readers just identified with him, surprisingly. Also, in Strong Signal, with Megan, you know, a lot of people identified with Kai because of bad anxiety and stuff like that, so. Just get really good emails and messages a lot, so it makes me feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah, I can understand that. Does it, does knowing reader reaction inhibit your writing sometimes? Does that make it more difficult to know that there are people who are really excited to read the next book, or is it sort of like you know who you’re writing for?

Santino: Well, when they’re really excited to read the next book, I’m nervous that, you know, I’m going to let them down and not, you know, give them something that they want? [Laughs] At the same time, though, I feel like my readers are, are still so supportive of me, though. You know, like when we all watched the RITAs together, they were super supportive; they were really excited. Like, I felt like they were more excited than I was. Some were like, we’re going to throw, throw, so, I’m going to throw up, and I’m so scared right now. I’m like, it’ll be okay. We’ll, we’ll make it through this together.


Santino: ‘Cause, yeah, ‘cause we, we all were watching it together in a chat room, and it was really fun.

Sarah: Oh, that is really fun!

Santino: Yeah, it was an amazing experience anyways. I’m just honored to have been nominated.

Sarah: Yeah!

Santino: You know, just being so new to romance and everything.

Sarah: You write a lot of books. You are a very –

Santino: I do!

Sarah: – quick writer, which is a really good thing for your readers, ‘cause I’m sure they appreciate that. Although, I’m –

Santino: Kind of a workaholic, you know? [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah. [Laughs] And I’m sure there are readers who tell you to write faster, which I’m not sure how that’s possible. Is that, are you, are you, are you keeping up with the sort of output of your creativity? Or is that, like, a, a skill that you’ve built to meet reader expectation?

Santino: I mean, I try to keep up, but I’ve been feeling a little burnt out lately. I’ve just been, for the last couple of weeks I’ve been taking it easy, just writing a little bit. Just until Illegal Contact comes out.

Sarah: And then it’s promotion time!

Santino: And then it’s promotion time, yes. [Laughs] Berkley’s been, like, really awesome with this whole book, with the Barons series. Like, I met them in New York; they gave me socks.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Santino: They, they bought me, they bought me pasta. It was great; it was a good day. I, I love everyone that I’ve been working with at Berkley.

Sarah: So – [laughs] – someone listening right now is like, all right, should I wish to set a trap for Santino Hassell, socks and pasta.

Santino: Socks and pasta! I’m a sucker for food, you know? And socks. So, like, there’s these, the socks they gave us are, like, super high athletic socks, right? And they come up to my knee, but on Megan they go up past her, like, knee, up into her thigh, and they’re, like, fricking just leggings at that point. I was like, you just wear a shirt and that, and you’re good, Megan. Go!


Sarah: How did you two meet and start writing together?

Santino: We met on a Facebook group, and we just started chatting and both started watching Twitch together and – you know, Twitch, like, you know, where people broadcast themselves playing games or doing other weird stuff, and we wanted to, or we had decided that we wanted to write a book about a Twitch streamer, and we decided to, like, do it together, and that’s –

Sarah: And it worked out!

Santino: Yeah. It’s, it’s been awesome working with Megan. Cyberlove has been extremely successful, and I’m just glad that I got the chance to do it with Megan. And I hope that we get to write more!

Sarah: Yeah!

Santino: Very excited about that. I don’t know, I love working with Megan; it’s fun. [Laughs]

Sarah: I bet. It, it sort of shows in the writing, too. It shows that you’re having a really good time.

Santino: I hope so!

Sarah: What are some things you’ve learned from working with her as a writer?

Santino: I’ve learned, I’ve definitely learned how to promo and market more.

Sarah: Mm-hmm.

Santino: I used to be afraid to do stuff like that, but she introduced me to my personal assistant, Kiana, who is absolutely amazing. She handles a lot of promo for me, and we actually just all hung out recently in Philly together, me, Megan, Kiana, and Megan’s husband. It was, it was a really fun time, getting to meet Megan’s husband and to hang out with Kiana at the same time. It was fucking great, and we got Philly cheesesteaks, which were awesome!

Sarah: So, the third element to the, I need to trap Santino Hassell being Philly cheesesteaks, pasta, and socks.

Santino: Oh, and there’s one more: comic book stores.

Sarah: Comic book stores. Okay!

Santino: Yes, and video games. And –

Sarah: That works.

Santino: – pot, if you have pot.


Sarah: Just put all those under a box, a little stick, just wait. [Laughs]

Santino: Exactly.

Sarah: So it sounds like one of the things that you’ve learned from Megan is sort of the, the business part of being a writer.

Santino: Yes.

Sarah: It’s a lot to learn, isn’t it?

Santino: Hell, yeah.


Santino: Before, I mean, I just, like, wrote and hoped for the best. I was just like, throw it out there and wait –

Sarah: [Laughs]

Santino: – for somebody to grab it.

Sarah: Yeah, that doesn’t work so well.

Santino: But, like, you know, she, like, helped me do a lot of stuff, and, oh, like, set up my, like, reader Facebook group and – yeah, my reader Facebook group, Get Hasselled; let me just drop that name in there, you know, if people want to come visit me. Go for it, ‘cause that’s where I hang out. [Laughs]

Sarah: I will link to that; do not worry.

Santino: I’m just really grateful to Megan for showing me everything that she has shown me. There’re things that I can’t even remember that she’s probably shown me, but she’s been, like, a great co-writer, partner in crime, whatever you want to call her, and she’s awesome.

Sarah: Yeah! Promoting a book is very difficult work; it’s very hard work. What parts of it do you really enjoy? Is it connecting with readers on Facebook and connecting to readers online that you seem to enjoy most?

Santino: I really, like, love the excitement of readers when they enjoy the book. You know how they’ll, like, you know, pimp it to each other and be like, hey, you should read this, and they’ll show pictures of what the char-, or what they think the characters look like, and they get other readers involved, and stuff like that. I just, I really enjoy seeing stuff like that. It’s like, you know, spreading by, like, word of mouth pretty much. Also, like, the fact that they’re, like, talking to each other and not just to me about it, ‘cause it’s, like, not about me; it’s about the book and, like, what they get from the book, not my opinion on the book or why I wrote this book. You know, I stay out of reader spaces. I don’t go to Goodreads and hang out and do all that stuff, but on Twitter and Facebook, I love to see their excitement; it’s great.

Sarah: It must be a thrill to see people creating in response to what you’ve created. Like, I believe this guy would play this character, and then this actor would play this character, and this is where they live, and this is what they look like. It must be really exciting to see that!

Santino: Oh, yeah, I love that stuff; it’s great. People do a lot of fan art for the Five Boroughs series.

Sarah: It’s the best, right? [Laughs]

Santino: And it’s fucking great! I love it! [Laughs] Like –

Sarah: Isn’t it amazing?

Santino: It is! I’m like, man, you, you guys shouldn’t be doing this stuff for free; you should go get a job somewhere.

Sarah: Fan art is one of my favorite things to look at. It’s, it’s so inspiring.

Santino: Mm-hmm. Someone actually did a fanfic for Five Boroughs, but I haven’t read it yet or anything. I need to do that, but that’s – maybe I shouldn’t do it; I don’t know. I’m on the fence about that one. But –

Sarah: I can understand that.

Santino: But it’s just really awesome that somebody thought enough about it that they wanted to write a part of it too. I, I don’t – it was just really cool.

Sarah: That actually leads me to an, a question that someone asked me from my Patreon group, who’s a huge fan of yours. Her name is Pamela, and she says, I love how New York City and the neighborhoods are like characters in the books, and I want to know if he creates actual characters out of whole cloth, or are they creations based on other people? Either way, you’re hella creative, she says.

Santino: I, I try mostly to write, like, about people that I would see in the city. You know, like the guy sitting on the subway next to me or the guy that I see as I’m passing by docks, like, out there working, or the, the guy in the suit, like, rushing off into a cab to, like, go to a business meeting somewhere. I try to, like, show all the parts of New York City and try to make it, it re-, make it realistic as possible, and not just write about Manhattan. Like, I like to write about the other boroughs and stuff because life really isn’t like Friends where everyone lives in giant apartments and doesn’t have a job and hangs out in coffee shops all day. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah. [Laughs] Pamela does, Pamela does have a good point, that the different boroughs have a different style and, and flavor. They are very distinct, especially neighborhoods and inside them, and that can be really challenging to write. What, what do you do to develop those places where your characters live? Is it basing them as much as possible in reality?

Santino: Well, yeah. I mean, I grew up in the city, so –

Sarah: Yep.

Santino: – I’ve been around all of these different locations quite a few times, so it’s – Staten Island was the newest one to me at the time, but –

Sarah: It’s like a whole other country.

Santino: It is. It’s, it’s a separate place –

Sarah: It’s its own thing.

Santino: – all its own. It doesn’t belong to New York; it doesn’t belong to New Jersey. It’s just an island in the middle of the water that – [laughs] – belongs by itself. I mean, and the culture there is, like, really, there’s, there’s just tons of it there. Like, you go from, like, Mariners Harbor, there’s, it has its own culture there, or you go down to Todt Hill, and you’ve got completely different culture there. Yeah, like in Todt Hill and South Beach you have, like, the strong Italian-American vibe, which is pretty, pretty cool, and then you go more north on the island, and you have, like, the more diverse cultures up there and everything. And you have, like, awesome Dominican food, awesome Chinese food, whatever, the Jamaican food. Like, whatever you’re looking for, really, you can find it on the north side of the island, but if you want good Italian food, you go to the south part of the island. I really tried to capture that vibe a lot in Fast Connection. I hope that it worked. I hope that if someone in Staten Island reads it then they’d be like, wow, this is exactly like where I’m living right now.

Sarah: Have you gotten a reader response like that?

Santino: Yes! Absolutely. Especially with the Jamaica, Queens.

Sarah: That must be just the, the best feeling.

Santino: It, it is. It’s really awesome whenever people give, send me those messages, and they’re like, you know, I really like what you did with this. It feels like, you know, ultra-realistic and everything like that, or they’ll say, like, you know, Raymond sounds exactly like one of my friends that lives down the street and stuff like that. It’s, it just, it really makes me happy that people got what I was trying to portray.

Sarah: That is an enormous compliment, isn’t it?

Santino: It is. It, it really is. I never really know if it’s going to come out the way that I want it, and I get really nervous wondering, like, man, is this going to be good? Is this going to be bad? Are people going to be like, this is, like, trash, and this isn’t real!


Santino: But, yeah, I, I enjoy that stuff.

Sarah: So I always ask this question, and I warned you in advance so you wouldn’t be like, no, not this question, this is horrible!

Santino: No, not this question!

Sarah: [Laughs] What books have you been reading that you want to tell people about?

Santino: What I’ve been reading right now. Well, I read most recently Permanent Ink by Piper Vaughn and Avon Gale. I got an advance copy of it, and I fucking love that book. Full disclosure: they’re friends of mine, and we’re probably going to be trapped in an RV together, me, Avon, and Piper, driving across the country – oh, and Roan – driving across the country next summer, so you can expect some antics from there.

Sarah: [Laughs]

Santino: But their book is just fucking amazing. It’s really hot. It’s about a twenty-three-year-old graffiti artist named Poe, who gets himself in trouble with the law. His dad’s got to bail him out, and his dad’s really tired of having to deal with stuff like this, and he’s, like, you know, ranting about it to his friend Jericho, who happens to own a tattoo shop named Permanent Ink. Jericho offers to give Poe a job so that he can put his – or, sorry, an internship – to give Poe something to do with his art besides, like, you know, using it to tag up buildings and get himself in trouble, so Poe reluctantly agrees to this and goes to apprentice at the shop. So first he starts off working the front desk, which he hates, and he’s a real brat about it. Jericho and Poe clash about this a lot. Eventually he starts to – [coughs] sorry – eventually he starts to, like, you know, take it more seriously, because he sees people coming in to get tattoos of loved ones that they’ve lost and to get tattoos that they love that are flawed fixed, and they feel proud about their tattoos again, so he’s like, these people are doing this for reasons that are huge. So he starts taking it more seriously, and the, the more he matures, Jericho starts to become attracted to him, and they develop this, like, really great chemistry between each other. Yeah, but the thing is, is like, there’s a, like, almost-twenty-year age gap between Poe and Jericho. So.

Sarah: Ooh, age difference.

Santino: Yeah, so they have this, like, you know, this, like, sexual dynamic, ‘cause Poe likes older men, and he likes to be bossed around and stuff like that, and, you know, it, I just love it. It’s a really hot book. I suggest everyone, like, read it. It, it comes out soon, so everyone should pick it up and read it. Read it!


Santino: Let’s see, what else am I reading right now? I just finished Coffee Boy by Austin Chant.

Sarah: Oh, how did you like it?

Santino: I liked it a lot. I think the character Kieran is fucking awesome. He’s, like, this sarcastic, takes-no-bullshit, very blunt character. He reminds me of Noah, actually. You know, he recently graduated. He is, he’s interning at a senator’s campaign office – not, like, the main office; like, one of the little satellite offices that runs part of the campaign for him – and he started working there. He’s hired on by one of his old professors, Marcus, who’s like this, like, flighty, unorganized guy who, Kieran really just doesn’t respect him because of how he ran his class and stuff like that? He, like, knows that he’s only working there because he’s related to the senator? But Seth, the campaign manager, who’s like this, like, stick-in-the-mud type of dude – kind of reminds me of Caleb from First and First, one of my books – he’s intrigued by Kieran because he realizes, you know, that he’s queer, and they, like, you know, hit it off. They bond over, like, yeah, well, they bond slowly over, like, you know, ordering coffee and escaping the office whenever Marcus brings his infant daughter into – and then Seth really tries to be, like, a really strong ally for Kieran in the office. Like, because Kieran’s trans, like, in one instance, a coworker, this lady, keeps misgendering Kieran, and Seth corrects her –

Sarah: Ouch!

Santino: – in front of the whole office and is just like –

Sarah: Whoa!

Santino: – you know, he’s going to make sure that it’s a safe, comfortable place for everyone. But Kieran knows that, like, Seth is also not doing it just for, like, a pat on the back, that Seth actually, like, cares. He gives a shit about him, like, and him being comfortable where he’s working. Yeah. And for it to just be a good place to work because, you know, no one wants to deal with that kind of stuff at work. And they get together, and they have hot sex, and it was a really good read; I enjoyed it. [Laughs]

Sarah: Which is exactly what you want in a book like that, right?

Santino: Exactly! I want them to get together; I want them to have some hot sex at, you know, some point and be happy!

Sarah: Yay! That’s the best part.

Santino: Yes, it is.


Sarah: Are there any other books you want to make sure readers know about?

Santino: Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon.

Sarah: I love that book –

Santino: Me too.

Sarah: – so. Much. I was once going to a, a dinner, like a party, and I got there –

Santino: Yeah.

Sarah: – and I was five minutes early, and I hid behind a plant so that I didn’t have to go in so I could read it a little bit more –

Santino: [Laughs]

Sarah: – ‘cause I’d been reading it on the subway, and I sat behind a plant in a restaurant and hid so I could read a couple more chapters before I had to go in and not read, ‘cause, you know, reading at a dinner party is rude?

Santino: Apparently so.

Sarah: Right? It’s –

Santino: I never knew that.

Sarah: I wish I didn’t know it now, ‘cause I would just do it?


Sarah: But, like, seriously, I hid behind a plant so I could read a few more chapters of that book. That book is so, so fun!

Santino: Yeah, I mean, I loved it. I, like, burned through that book really quick, it was so good. I, I really liked the scene at the end where it’s like something had happened between the two main characters – I don’t want to give away a lot of the plot; I want people to go read it, because it’s that good, a really feel-good book – so, like, Alexis goes to the laundromat where Treasure, aka Trisha, is going to be because Trisha does her laundry there every Wednesday at the same time, and Alexis –

Sarah: Yep.

Santino: – knows this, and she goes there, and she has to apologize and make up for something, so she kind of, like, does this grand gesture of playing the violin for her, and I thought that was, like, really sweet, and I was like, man, I wish somebody would do, like, a grand gesture like that for, for me, and then I’d be, like, really, really happy but mortified and, like, run away and hide somewhere.


Sarah: One of my favorite things about that book is how the characters recognize each other on a very intimate level almost right away –

Santino: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – but that they, that the one character knows where the other is in her own sort of sexual journey. I believe she says, oh, I’m, I’m looking at a baby gay. I, I have – and, and it sort of changes the way that she interacts, and I was like, that’s so kind to figure that out so fast.

Santino: Yeah, like how she, like, tries to ease Alexis into her sexuality. It was –

Sarah: Yes!

Santino: – really sweet.

Sarah: It’s not like, surprise! Guess what, you’re gay!

Santino: Surprise! Guess what! Yeah.


Sarah: I’m, so, I’m going to hide in this cake.

Santino: Yeah.

Sarah: You come in, and then I’m going to jump out of the cake!


Sarah: So get ready!

Santino: I real-, yeah, I really liked how she called her a baby butch. I thought that was, like, the cutest –

Sarah: That’s, yeah, baby butch, not baby gay.

Santino: Yeah.

Sarah: Thank you for correcting me. But I just, I loved not only the recognition but the kindness. Like, oh, I see where you are, and I want you to feel safe and happy, and I can see where maybe, perhaps, it’s likely that you will go.

Santino: That’s why I thought the grand gesture was so important at the end, because, you know, she was so kind with her and everything like that.

Sarah: Yes.

Santino: And Alexis had to, like, make up for what happened to kind of, like, separate them. Not going to say what happened, because –

Sarah: Right.

Santino: – that would ruin it for people. It would be like, you spoiled the book for me!

Sarah: [Laughs] You told me all the good parts!

Santino: It could happen.

Sarah: But that scene, especially with the violin got, or the, with the, with the, just the laundromat –

Santino: Mm-hmm.

Sarah: – every time they were in the laundromat, it was like, oh, it’s emotional time; they’re doing laundry. Which is a really intimate thing! Like, you know, your underwear is just spinning on the wall right there!

Santino: [Laughs] Al-, also, like, you know, during the grand gesture thing, I just, I just couldn’t help but, like, think of that old, like, ‘80s movie with John Cusack standing outside the window with the boombox, holding it up in the air. I can’t remember what movie that is, but it just reminded me of something –

Sarah: That would be Say Anything...

Santino: Oh, that’s what it is, Say Anything…? Okay.

Sarah: Yep.

Santino: I couldn’t remember the name of it for the life of me. I’m like, this reminds me of that so much, but what movie is this?

Sarah: [Laughs]

Santino: Say Anything…; now I’ve got to go rewatch that.

Sarah: It’s a really interesting movie to watch with – God, has it been, like, twenty years since that came out?

Santino: Does it age well? [Laughs]

Sarah: You know, in a lot of ways, it really does, and in a lot of ways it’s sort of like, oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s, okay, that’s older. There’re some parts of it that age beautifully.

Santino: Yeah. I mean, I, I notice, like, a lot of movies are problematic when I rewatch them from, like, you know –

Sarah: Ohhh, yes.

Santino: – way back then, and I’m just like, yeah, no. And even some books, too. I’m just like, no, that’s just weird. [Laughs]

Sarah: Yeah, I, I, I will reread a book and be like, Past Sarah, you did not know things, and now I know them, and this book is not good anymore.

Santino: Exactly. I do that quite often.

Sarah: It’s very hard when you reread something and you’re like, ohhh, I can’t enjoy this.

Santino: No, I’ve got to put this down. I need to get rid of this book now.

Sarah: Yeah. And your memories are not the same.

Santino: No, they are not. It kind of, like – but, you know, it does kind of, like, also let you know that you’ve grown as a person, too. That –

Sarah: Yes.

Santino: – that you see these differences and stuff now.

Sarah: Yes.

Santino: It’s like, man, if I would, I wish I would have known half the stuff I know now. [Laughs]

Sarah: Well, I, I think as, the more that you realize and sort of unpack for yourself –

Santino: Yeah.

Sarah: – the more you have to be compassionate to the person you were, because at least you’re still the same person who’s trying to learn to do better.

Santino: That’s true, yeah.

Sarah: You know, and it’s, it’s, it’s easy to get mad at yourself, I think, for not knowing, but you are also the same person who said, I don’t know, and I should know, so I’m going to go find out more; I’m going to learn more.

Santino: Exactly. I mean, you should always just try to grow as a person –

Sarah: Yep.

Santino: – and, like, better yourself. That’s how I live.

Sarah: Yep, and as a writer and as a person.

Santino: Yep, as a writer, as a person, as just, you know, a functional human in society. You know, you grow and you learn from your mistakes. I know that all too well.


Sarah: Hence a lot of your characters learning and growing from their own mistakes.

Santino: Yep. Definitely.


Sarah: And that is all for this week’s episode! I want to thank Santino Hassell for hanging out with me and to thank him for this conversation. I had a really good time doing this interview, and I hope that if you are among the fans of Mr. Hassell’s writing that you enjoyed it as well.

As I mentioned in the intro, I have a very cool pair of Barons athletic socks and a copy of Illegal Contact for one of you, and you can go to smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast and find the show notes for this entry and enter to win! There’ll be a little widget, enter your email address, and I have bunch of things to say, but I won’t say them as fast as I did in the beginning. This is just the super-important parts, so: void where prohibited. I am not being compensated for this giveaway. This giveaway is open to international residents where permitted by applicable law. You must be over eighteen and prepared to wear some cool socks in order to win. And you should not taunt happy fun ball, but I am sure that you knew that. So head over to smartbitchestrashybooks.com/podcast and you can enter the giveaway. The giveaway will close the following Friday of this episode, which, if you are listening on the day that it drops – heh-heh-heh-heh, drops; I’m so not cool – this is coming out on August 18, so August 25, I will be picking the winner. Then prizes will be awarded, and it will be very awesome, and I will contact the winner by email from me, Sarah.

And you know what? If you want to email me and ask questions or have ideas, Sarah@smartbitchestrashybooks.com works. It’s always cool to hear from you!

And if you would like to support the show, may I invite you to have a look at patreon.com/SmartBitches? You can help me craft questions, you can suggest guests, you can ask questions, you can get feedback. Sometimes I post really horrible, terribly embarrassing outtakes. Sometimes I post remixes of my dogs barking, because they do that a lot when I’m recording. But your support on Patreon means an enormous, enormous amount to me, so thank you.

And if you have reviewed the show online or on your iTunes or Stitcher or whatever app you’re using to listen, or you’ve told a friend, or you’ve just tuned in while you clean the house or dye wool or walk the dogs or work out – if you’re on the treadmill, by the way, keep going; you could totally do, like, a whole other mile? You have so got this – thank you for being part of the show; I really appreciate it.

The music you’re listening to is provided by Sassy Outwater. This particular track is by Caravan Palace. I know you are not surprised. This is “Panic.” You can find it on their double-album set, Panic and Caravan Palace, available on iTunes and on Amazon. And I’m really pleased that I didn’t mix those two up again, because in the past I have said Izon and AmiTunes, which is just really embarrassing.

I will have links to all of the books that we mentioned during this episode, as well as a link to his Facebook group, and again, can enter to win a pair of socks and a book, which is really cool!

But in the meantime, on behalf of Mr. Santino Hassell; my cat, who is trying to kick over the microphone right now – I’m, I’m holding him by one paw; it’s very embarrassing – and everyone here, we wish you the very best of reading. Have an excellent, excellent weekend.

[bouncy music]

This podcast transcript was handcrafted with meticulous skill by Garlic Knitter. Many thanks.

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