Halloween is officially over and that means a move toward winter holiday romances. To kick that off, I’m excited to tell you about Unwrap Me by Jack Harbon, which comes out November 23! This feels like a very queer NA Christmas romance, complete with an MC home from college for Christmas, supportive siblings, queer antagonism from parents, lovely holiday traditions, and an intense attraction to dad’s queer colleague who is staying with the family over Christmas. At it’s core, its about working through internalized shame to claim queer desire, and I love that about it. I’m thrilled to share an interview with Jack about his new queer holiday romance!
A Bit About Jack
Jack is your typical eccentric college student, writing stories much more interesting than his real life. If he’s not writing, he’s either reading books about magic girls, watching shows about blackmail and murder, arguing about politics/social justice, or baking coconut macaroons.
An Interview with Jack
How would you describe yourself to a new reader just discovering your work?
If I had to give a quick summary to new readers, I’d say that as an author, I love all things scandalous. Secret relationships, betrayal, sneaky plots, and sex scenes that bounce between romance and straight up smut. One of my favorite things someone’s said about me is that my books are the Pornhub of the writing world, and though they intended it as an insult, I kind of fell in love with that.
All jokes aside, my entire goal of writing has always been to entertain and provide a hero we don’t normally see in queer romances, let alone romances in general. I like to keep my stories lighthearted with moments of soul-crushing angst, because life isn’t without ache to balance out the happiness. Throw in a dash of gross sex jokes, social and political commentary, and men kissing all up on each other, and you have one of my books!
What authors or books have you been reading lately that you would highly recommend?
I’m honestly terrible about finishing the books I start, but lately I’ve been reading Wanna Bet? by Talia Hibbert, Showing Him the Ropes by Christa Tomlinson, and an assortment of Harlequin Desire books I picked up at the grocery store. It’s a given that I have to recommend Talia, and Showing Him the Ropes actually kind of made me obsessed with wrestling? I loved the glossary at the front, and I was a little skeptical since sports romances aren’t my usual cup, but Christa really did that! I highly recommend anyone interested in M/M check that one out.
What sparked Unwrap Me for you? What made you want to write this particular story?
In all honesty, ever since Ariana Grande’s Christmas album Christmas and Chill came out, I’ve wanted to write something seasonal. I’ve always found the holiday season to be the most interesting for erotic romances, and I think it might have something to do with the weather. There’s something innately intimate about being either snowed in somewhere, or snuggled up by the fire, and those scenarios always get the wheels turning in my head. Plus, most people are in a good mood during the holidays, and I’ve seen plenty of people do crazy, reckless things because their spirits are lifted and their guards aren’t up about romance and love!
Holiday romances often depict an idealized concept of family, but Unwrap Me shows something much more complicated, where there is love, but there also is the toxicity of parental queer hatred. What led you to write a romance that grapples with difficulties around familial queer hatred in this way?
It’s like you said, a lot of romances set during the holidays are picture-perfect and warm, feel-good stories, but that’s not how it is for a lot of queer people. From my own experiences alone—and compared to others in the communities, these are a blessing—I’ve been around family members who openly use slurs, side-eye other queer relatives, or just pretend the community doesn’t exist. For us, things are rarely ideal, or Hallmark-y, and I wanted to stay true to that.
Danny loves his parents with all his heart, and his parents love who they think he is. This is a potential spoiler for the end of the story, but by the time Danny and Trevor go to the grocery store, his relationship with his folks isn’t perfect. It’s exactly the same. But this isn’t a story about him being accepted by his parents, because queer people don’t always find that. This is a story about Danny finding acceptance in himself, and letting go of all the shame he harbored due to his upbringing.
I felt that the authentic ending to Danny’s story was complex, and couldn’t simply be wrapped up in decorative paper with a bow slapped on top.
This is a high heat erotic romance, and it has a lovely sweetness to it alongside the raunch. How do you balance heat and heart when writing an erotic romance like this?
If anyone knows me, they know that I like sweetness with my smut. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with just plain porn, but for me, what makes the sex matter more is the connection the characters have. I have to know about their family, and their friends, and how the two main characters feel about each other outside of the bedroom. I like to try to establish inside jokes or shared thoughts that they have, or maybe put them in a scenario where they can see the other’s lighter, more joyous side. It’s usually just something I feel out, and if I feel there needs to be a break in the sexual tension, I’ll toss in a scene or two where they’re in a different scenario doing something other than making innuendos and bedroom eyes at each other!
The characters are navigating an age gap, something that comes up in your other work as well. Tell me how you navigate thorny issues like power and consent in stories like this.
LOL, this is definitely a common theme in my novels, and I always try to do my best to make it obvious that power imbalance is acknowledged and never abused. To me, there’s nothing attractive about an older partner influencing and manipulating their younger partner into doing what they want, so I steer clear of that by establishing in the text that the characters recognize what they have isn’t exactly balanced. In other works, I’ve played with the power dynamics and let the younger man be the more dominant one, and in Unwrap Me, every instance that the situation might get romantic and sexual, Danny is the one to initiate it. The story is an exploration of his sexual awakening, and in a perfect world, we’d all get to cross the bridges on our own time just like he does. As for Trevor, he’s just happy for Danny to do anything with and to him, haha!
The central character arc in the story is about the MC grappling with his own internalized queer hatred and shame around queerness and queer sex. What made you want to write a story showing this kind of internal conflict?
I think the biggest reason I wanted to explore this topic is because none of my characters have ever really gone through this aspect of their sexuality—at least not on page. Nearly all of them have reached a point in their lives where they’re happy with who they are and don’t let internalized queer hate and shame get to them. Upon realizing this, I decided I didn’t want Danny to be like all the others.
Danny isn’t completely comfortable with himself and his sexuality, and with that comes a lot of interesting complications. You see how he interacts with his brother compared to his parents, and both of those are also different than how he interacts with himself. I’ve always found self-acceptance stories compelling, and I figured this one was perfect for the setting!
What’s next on the horizon for you?
Weeeeell, I’ve been kind of tight-lipped about it (by some miracle) on Twitter, but I’m currently working on a project with Talia Hibbert and Rhonda Merwarth. We’ll each be writing a book that takes place in the same town with our characters overlapping and interacting together, and I can’t say enough how happy this makes me. When I talked about this idea months ago, I thought it was a pipe dream, and now I’m getting to work on something with two amazing ladies who are both badasses in their own right.
We’re still working on the major details about our stories, but it’s such an exciting project and I can’t wait for everyone to see the final products!
More About Unwrap Me
When college sophomore Danny Simmons returned home for the holidays, he’d expected to find his mother with a tray of goodies and his siblings bickering just like old times. He’d even been prepared for his father’s obnoxious and mildly-offensive jokes. What he couldn’t have predicted was the gorgeous Trevor Gutierrez spending the holiday break with his family.
With his deep laugh, scruffy exterior, silky voice, and smile that could melt the snow in the front yard, Danny finds it impossible to resist his father’s coworker. Luckily, he doesn’t have to, because it seems all Trevor wants for Christmas is Danny, and Danny is more than happy to give him that gift.
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