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Jess Everlee delivers a charming, queer, historical romp in her sophomore novel, “A Rulebook For Restless Rogues” on-sale July 11, 2023.
London, 1885. David Forester and Noah Clarke have been best friends since boarding school. All grown up now, clever, eccentric Noah is Savile Row’s most promising young tailor, while former socialite David runs an underground queer club, The Curious Fox.
Nothing makes David happier than to keep the incense lit, the pianist playing and all his people comfortable, happy and safe until they stumble out into the dawn. But when the unscrupulous baron who owns the Fox moves to close it, David’s world comes crashing down.
Noah’s never feared a little high-stakes gambling, but as he risks his own career in hopes of helping David, he realizes two things:
One: David has not been honest about how he ended up at The Curious Fox in the first place.
Two: Noah’s feelings for David have become far more than friendly.
What future lies beyond those first furtive kisses? Noah and David can hardly wait to find out…if they can untangle David from his web of deception without losing everything Noah has worked for.
I had the opportunity to chat with Jess about her new novel, the challenges she faced with this particular story and more.
Kat: What inspired you to share David and Noah’s story?
Jess: One of my favorite things about writing the first book in the Lucky Lovers of London Series, The Gentleman’s Book of Vices, was building a really fun ensemble of side characters. I knew pretty quickly that the queer club that the series centers around, The Curious Fox, had more than one story to tell, so once I finished that first book, I just had to decide what order to tell them in.
David and Noah, a pair of old friends who are clearly crushing on each other, were part of that ensemble, and they were a lot of fun. They each also had backstories and inner lives that I was interested in delving more deeply into than I could when they were providing comedic relief in another couple’s love story. David has this nosy, meddlesome matchmaker vibe, but he manages The Curious Fox and the matches he makes are all queer. That’s very dangerous work in 1885 when the book takes place, so I wanted to explore what sorts of pressures he might be under that his patrons don’t see. Meanwhile, Noah, who’s best known for cheating at cards and dressing in drag, is very aggressively himself within the club’s walls. I wanted to push the boundaries of who and how he could be in the outside world as well, to build a character who, unlike David, is relatively safe considering the social mores of the time.
As a pair, I just love the friends-to-lovers trope, and there was something especially beautiful in writing about characters who value each other’s safety and well-being as much as David and Noah do. It’s witnessing a relationship that’s already quite strong overcome inner and outer obstacles to really flourish. It was healing to write, and hopefully—for those who need it—it’s lovely and healing to read as well.
Kat: Was there anything challenging about writing this story, and if so, what did you learn in the process?
Jess: When I decided I wanted to dig into those pressures of David’s, I didn’t quite realize what I was getting into. While I grew very familiar with the difficulties that gay relationships faced in Victorian England during the writing of the first book, David’s situation—running a club that allows backroom sex and drag—was far more dangerous. On top of that, the man who actually owns the club is a wealthy, titled gentleman who is very cruel and engaged in other illegal enterprises. While the reality of David’s work wasn’t exactly a surprise, that extreme power imbalance between the rich and everyone else in this time period was a bit more than I’d bargained for.
Part of the point of the Lucky Lovers of London series is to show relatively funny, fluffy, steamy love stories defiantly existing within a historically hostile environment. But ultimately, the amount of power that this rich club owner would have over middle class nobodies like David and Noah required some alterations to the original plot. I was writing along my very basic outline, and just finding that if I didn’t make some tweaks, I couldn’t create a happy ending that was even half-way plausible. It’s a romance and a fun book, so it didn’t have to be a likely ending (it’s called “Lucky Lovers” for a reason). But it did have to be somewhat believable.
To make it work, I had to lean more deeply into the core relationship. To keep the blossoming of David and Noah’s love for each other, and the building of circumstances that would allow it to thrive, at the very center of the story. It’s very tempting to let an exciting plot run away with you as a writer, but at the end of the day, a romance plot must be in service to the relationship arc. I really had to absorb that lesson to get this book written, and while it’s not quite the book I thought it would be, I do think it’s all the better for the changes.
Kat: What do you hope readers take from the story?
Jess: There is a lot of uncertainty in the queer community right now. In the US, where I am from, many states are pushing for restrictions the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime. While I personally haven’t encountered much pushback writing for adults, my author friends who write LGBTQ+ books for kids and teens are being harassed, their books banned or used as fodder to argue for bans.
I write in the time period I do because it is known as a particularly terrible time and place for queer people, and yet, if you know where to look, you really do find stories of love and resilience through the ages. While I admire queer stories written today that chose not to include political unpleasantness to give readers a break, I feel called to envision ways of taking care of each other, enjoying our lives, and finding connection no matter what reality holds. David and Noah’s story is very much about finding a way forward through impossible circumstances, by finding it together. More than anything, I want readers to close the book feeling hopeful that they can do the same.
Kat: What LGBTQ+ romances are you looking forward to reading this summer?
Jess: I’ve been really enjoying Cat Sebastian’s move to mid-century stories, and am excited to read her June release, We Could Be So Good. I’m also enthralled by every description of Adriana Herrera’s An Island Princess Starts a Scandal, so I can’t wait to dive into that! I’m a little behind on my reading, so I’ve also got Courtney Kae’s wintery In the Event of Love on my list for summer, along with KD Casey’s Diamond Ring. That one’s a departure from my usual—it’s a sports romance, which isn’t my go-to, but everything I’ve heard about it sounds so good that I’m excited to try something new!
Kat: What’s next?
Jess: A third Lucky Lovers book is in the works! A sapphic hate-to-love romance this time, between more beloved side characters from the first two books: the cross-dressing decadent Miss Jo, and Noah’s serious spinster sister Emily. It’s in edits right now, so details might still change, but even at this point, I can promise great chemistry, off-beat Victorian fashion, and possibly the best banter the series has to offer. It’s slated for release next summer.
If readers want to stay updated on things like the final title, cover, and release date for that book, they can sign up for my newsletter at jesseverlee.com or find me on Instagram. It’s been a lot of fun to work on, and I’m so excited to finally finish it up and start sharing more details with everyone!
*Special thanks to Harlequin Romance for setting up this chat.