Today, I have author Sara Dobie Bauer in the interview chair. We discuss her latest release, We Still Live, a m/m contemporary romance. I’m also reviewing her book, so read what I have to say about her new novel that takes readers deep into trauma and love.
1. Hi, Sara. It’s great to have you at my blog today. Before we get started, can you share about the everyday you?
Thanks for having me, Maggie! The everyday me is a writer, yogi, bartender, wife, and dog mom living near Cleveland, Ohio (although I’d like to live in a Tim Burton film). As a lifetime sufferer of depression and anxiety, I’m a mental health advocate who speaks about my experiences with mental illness at colleges and universities. I’m an extroverted introvert, which means I’m really outgoing and friendly for about three hours, after which I run home and hide in my closet.
2. I’ve been to your web site, and I see you write across the board from m/m to m/f to m/m/f, and in many genres from mafia contemporary to the paranormal. Can you tell us why?
Blame it on my Gemini status? According to the stars, I’m at least two people. Maybe, though, it comes down to years spent reading anything and everything. I’ll pick up any book. I’ll watch any movie. I’ll listen to any song. I like variety in my consumption, so my output is the same.
3. What elements do you think a good contemporary romance should contain? Did these elements influence We Still Live?
It’s all down to character chemistry. That’s it really. Simple. Even if they’re polar opposites, the lead characters have to share a common link. They have to “work well” together. You gotta feel the love. In the case of We Still Live, Isaac and John first connect over their brokenness. They’re both seriously busted men, which draws them together, because finally (finally) they’ve both found someone who understands. In their case, it begins with shared pain and blossoms into pleasure.
4. We Still Live was recently released. Can you share your writing process for this novel?
It sure wasn’t easy. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I no longer watch the news because I just couldn’t handle it. There were too many shootings, too much senseless violence. The universal pain shared worldwide over every new tragedy inspired this book. I don’t know if “inspired” is the right word. More like “expelled.” I felt so much panic inside that I channelled my panic into the characters of We Still Live in an effort to exorcise myself. It took several drafts to get Isaac and John just right, but I got there eventually, after shedding many tears.
5. We Still Live addresses depression, anxiety, and PTSD. What research was involved to write this novel?
Due to my personal experience with each of these psychological conditions, not much research was necessary. As I mentioned, I channelled my own pain into this book. I took the sadness and fear that raged in my own heart and bled on the page. (Also, the setting is based on Athens, Ohio, where I went to college, so that was a no-brainer.) I observed the people around me, too—the way they reacted to news of another shooting and another. Observing the human condition is way more effective than hiding in a library.
6. Let’s talk about the main characters. What do you love most about Isaac Twain and what makes you want to shake him?
I love the way Isaac observes. He was a writer once (and might someday be again), so he sees things—notices things—that other people do not. Because of all his observing (and his tumultuous past), he’s still learning to find himself.
I want to shake him when he’s dishonest—dishonest about his past, his present, his feelings, and his fears. It’s important to share our true selves with the people we love. It’s not easy, but it’s important, and Isaac has trouble with this.
7. The same for Professor John Conlon. What do you love about him and what makes you want to shake him?
I love John’s passion. He’s a freaking firecracker in a pretty package. I would not mess with this guy, even if he is shorter than me.
I want to shake him because he won’t admit that he needs help. So many people who suffer from mental illness suffer in silence. We need to speak up and get the treatment we need in order to rediscover joy and find some peace.
8. Without giving away any spoilers, what was your favourite scene to write for We Still Live?
Isaac and John’s first trip to the bedroom.
9. What makes We Still Live different from other male/male contemporary romances?
We’re dealing with a lot more than romance here. True, Isaac and John’s relationship is at the forefront, but We Still Live tackles school shootings, mental illness, and homophobia, too. Despite some excellent sex (wink), there’s a lot of emotional stuff to unpack.
10. If a reader asked why they should read We Still Live, what would you tell them?
Read this and be reminded that everyone is worthy of love, no matter how busted they are, how screwed up their past, or how unclear their future. No matter what you’ve done, you are worthy of love.
11. You have a lot of books under your belt. Let’s look at your m/m romances. Which one was your favourite to write and why?
Abstract Love … and it doesn’t even exist in the world yet! I just finished this manuscript a couple months ago, but I’m excited to eventually get it published. It’s an enemies-to-lovers gay-for-you romantic comedy.
12. The same for your m/f romances. Which one was your favourite to write and why?
Bite Somebody because it was just so much fun to write. I love vampires, so writing about an awkward one, looking for love, was a blast. Plus, I snort-laughed through writing most of it; what’s not to like about that?
13. And lastly, your m/m/f romances. Which one was your favourite to write and why?
Wolf Among Sheep because I got to write from three different perspectives. It’s set in early 1900s Charleston, South Carolina, where I used to live, and I enjoy visiting the setting in my mind. Plus, it’s totally sexy and twisted. Love it.
14. You have an extensive backlist. Besides We Still Live, which book would you recommend to readers and why?
Ha, I can’t answer that. Put it this way: the Bite Somebody series is hilarious; the Escape Trilogy is sexy as hell and dark; Broken News is DARK (like really DARK); and Destiny’s Dark Light is fast-paced and filled with witches. Take your pick!
15. What do you enjoy most about writing?
Making characters fall in love.
16. What do you enjoy least about writing?
Facing all the rejection on the path to publication.
17. Can you share what you’re currently working on? Readers love hearing about works in progress/upcoming releases.
I wrote a lengthy Timothee Chalamet/Armie Hammer fan fiction in which Armie is a cocky vampire and Timothee is his beloved prey. I’m working with Carnation Books to turn this popular fan fiction into original fiction right now. It’s called Handsome Death and will be available early next year.
18. I enjoy doing random questions, so humour me:
- What’s your favourite movie?
Call Me By Your Name
- What book is currently in your e-reader?
Find Me by Andre Aciman
- Who’s your favourite musical group?
Right now? The 1975. (I have a severe Matty Healy thing.)
- What song puts a smile on your face?
Oddly, “Somebody Else” by The 1975. It’s not a happy song, but I’m obsessed.
19. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you want to become a better writer, read more books.
Book Title: We Still Live
Author: Sara Dobie Bauer
Publisher: NineStar Press
Release Date: December 9, 2019
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Heat Rating: 4 flames
Length: 62 000 words
To escape the past, accept it.
Blurb: Running from a scandal that ruined his life, Isaac Twain accepts a teaching position at Hambden University where, three months prior, Professor John Conlon stopped a campus nightmare by stepping in front of an active shooter.
When John and Isaac become faculty advisors for the school’s literary magazine, their professional relationship evolves. Despite the strict code of conduct forbidding faculty fraternization, they delve into a secret affair—until Simon arrives.
Isaac’s violent ex threatens not only their careers, but also John’s life. His PTSD triggered, John must come to terms with that bloody day on College Green while Isaac must accept the heartbreak his secrets have wrought.
Note: WE STILL LIVE is a standalone M/M friends-to-lovers romance featuring detailed adult content, graphic violence, hurt/comfort, and mental illness.
Close as they were to the foyer, Isaac was the first to notice the front door opening. A student walked inside. The kid dragged a heavy-looking suitcase behind him. Dressed as he was in a slim-fitting button-down, Isaac immediately assumed preppy, although that assumption altered and changed when taking into account the tight black jeans, Converse sneakers, and shaggy hair the color of caramel and chocolate—a mass of waves and curls that fell down the back of his neck but not quite to his shoulders.
The kid pushed his hair out of the way and looked up, eyes finding Isaac and flashing a moment of panicked nonrecognition before seeing Tommy.
“Um.” Isaac pointed toward the new arrival.
Tommy turned and shouted, “John! My man!”
Not a student, then.
Tommy wrapped John in a hug that actually lifted his feet off the ground. Isaac imagined it wouldn’t be difficult. The new guy might have been average height, but he was gangly, skin and bones.
Tommy ruffled his hair. “Have you lost weight?”
John grumbled and scratched his face with his middle finger. “What are you freeloaders doing in my house?” His voice was surprisingly resonant for someone Isaac considered “pretty.” At John’s pronouncement, crows of approval rang from every direction.
“Come meet Isaac,” Tommy said.
John wiped his palms on his jeans before reaching out to shake, and Isaac’s large hand dwarfed his.
“Isaac Twain is the newest addition to our special corner of Hambden hell. Isaac, this is John Conlon.”
John brushed more hair out of his face. “Nice to—”
John and Tommy froze.
Isaac jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “The books on the shelf. Those are yours?”
John’s face, immobile in what looked like dread a moment before, melted into relief, tinged with a bit of blush. “Oh, yeah. You’ve read?”
“No, but I should. You’ve published a lot of books. You must be good.”
John’s nose wrinkled, and he looked away.
Tommy shook him by the shoulders. “John is an amazing writer. He had a story published in The New Yorker when he was, like, five. Are you working on anything right now?”
John glanced at the bookshelf. “Not lately.”
“You need a drink,” Tommy said.
John’s eyes widened on a big breath. “God, yes, I do.”
“Nice to meet you,” Isaac said, but John just nodded quickly, smile thin, before allowing himself to be herded farther into the house toward the sound of quiet laughter and clinking bottles.
Isaac felt it then—an outsider’s emptiness. He became a nervous-looking coat rack in the corner, a terrified tree waiting for the ax. As the party doubled in auditory volume, he bemoaned his spilled wine. Was it okay for him to leave? It wasn’t like he was supposed to make a speech. He was only there because he figured it was the easiest way to meet everyone before the first official faculty meeting, but he’d been standing around too long. He wanted to run.
Out of curiosity, he reopened John’s book from earlier and read the front flap. It was a coming-of-age story about a gay kid in the Midwest. He flipped to the back, and a picture of John stared back at him. He’d assumed the guy was tired when they first met, but no; apparently, John had perpetual bedroom eyes, and his hair was always an artful mess. He skimmed…creative writing professor at Hambden University…gay rights activist…Converse-wearer and “old-people music” enthusiast.
All arrows pointed to John’s probable sexual preference for men. A spark of interest flickered but quickly went out. True, John Conlon was what most people would consider beautiful, but he wasn’t Isaac’s type. John was the kind of man butch guys fought over in gay clubs, but he was too small for Isaac, too fragile-looking, girly. After all he’d been through, the last thing Isaac wanted was someone feminine.
A thin figure ducked into the library and literally hid against the doorframe. He took a long drink of something brown and leaned his head back. “It’s not good when you want to hide in your own house.”
“Library is the best place for it,” Isaac said.
John kicked away from the wall. “Tommy mentioned you just moved here? I’ve been in Lothos forever, so if you need anything…” He examined Isaac from his brown boat shoes to the top of his blond head. John’s large eyes, dark green, seemed bottomless—drowning pools of intellect and soul—only slightly overshadowed by his thick eyebrows.
There is a lot to cover in this review because the author tackled many subjects. First, the writing is impeccable, as always. Sara is wonderful at her craft, and I much enjoyed reading her written words for the second time, since I previously reviewed another novel by her that can be found here.
Because this is the second novel I read by her, I’m assuming she enjoys developing extremely flawed and complex characters that I think more of as protagonists than heroes. Some might find Isaac hard to like, but I liked him, because his flaws are so real. Instead of dealing with something (I won’t say what in fear of a spoiler) that led him to taking a teaching position at the university, he ran. And he’s even a runner in the novel, jogging late at night, suffering bouts of insomnia.
He wrestles with temptation, with lust, with fear, with guilt. I thought he really shone in this novel and was wonderfully written. He was deep and complex, just like every human being is.
However, with Isaac being extremely flawed, John is presented as the guy everyone wants or wants to be. He was a little too perfect for me. I wanted to rub some dirt on him and make him at little stained, but the stains he carries are those inflicted by a terrible incident that he had to suffer through, and still suffers through. He didn’t have a POV in the novel, and he didn’t need one. This is Isaac’s story.
The dialogue is wonderfully executed. Each character in this novel has their own way of speaking, their own wit, their own sayings. Well done. As for the setting, the author really excelled here. She paints a detailed world that doesn’t overwhelm the novel, but became part of it, a character of its own, especially because of what happened in the town and the university.
There is no true GMC, but more of a knee-jerk reaction to what happened to both protagonists. Neither is looking for a romance, neither is looking for answers. They’re simply trying to bear with the scars they carry because of the past. And it’s John, though, who finally tries to take a stand by attempting to approach what happened through the literary magazine.
I really enjoyed this part of the novel, and I liked the reactions from the many characters involved. It kicks the plop into overdrive. Everything that happened afterwards is well portrayed from people suffering over what happened, and their feelings they buried finally coming to the surface—even John’s. Then we find out maybe John isn’t so perfect.
I highly recommend We Still Live. It’s a deep look into trauma and healing, with romance bleeding into the worlds of the characters. Sara is an excellent writer. Read what she has to say.
Sara Dobie Bauer is a bestselling author, model, and mental health / LGBTQ advocate with a creative writing degree from Ohio University. She lives with her hottie husband and two precious pups in Northeast Ohio, although she’d really like to live in a Tim Burton film. She is author of the paranormal rom-com Bite Somebody series and Escape Trilogy.