C.J. Banks on their debut novel and Kobo Emerging Writer Prize shortlisted title, Dad Jokes & Pine Cones.

C.J. Banks (they/she/he) is a queer neurodivergent elder millennial from out east who currently lives in south-western Ontario with their spouse and five foster failure cats. They have also lived in Calgary and Incheon, South Korea. C.J. writes queer romances, reads queer romances, and lives a pretty awesome queer romance. They enjoy romances that range from light and fluffy to gut wrenching rip your heart out emotional.

They are involved in the mental health care field and including realistic and hopeful mental health conversations in their books is important to them. Conversations like normalizing going to therapy, setting healthy relationship boundaries, and finding laughter wherever you can. Laughing is important.

They are the family’s residential dad joke specialist, much to their spouse’s chagrin. They enjoy other creative art outlets like digital art, spinning yarn, stabbing wool, and painting while drinking wine and singing ABBA loud and off key with friends. They also enjoy going for country side drives, watching the waves, playing Stardew Valley, and watching ghost hunting YouTubers while on their stationary bike.

Can you tell us about your book in three sentences or less?

Dad Jokes and Pine Cones is a queer pun-fuelled, emotional, steamy, single dads rom-com. We follow Wishes (Aloysius) through his friends to lovers relationship with Ronan as he tries to balance his career, mental health and parenting with a social life. All while dragging around his giant duffel bag of trauma, which Ronan helps to unpack and shows him he deserves to be accepted as the beautiful weirdo he is.

What inspired this book?

A few years back, I was steeped in grief and burnout. It was rough. The video game Dream Daddies, a dating simulator about single dads who live on one street, brought light and joy to my days. It was ridiculous and cute.

My writing at the time was suffering. My genre and style didn’t work for me anymore, and I was floundering. When the grief clouds started to lift, I wrote a short story inspired by Dream Daddies and found my writing voice. I used it as an outlet for my grief, and my desperate need to tell terrible puns. It grew and evolved into Dad Jokes and Pine Cones.

Describe your writing style in five words or less.

Realistic, funny, dramatic, romantic, engaging.

What first drew you towards writing?

Honestly, I have a terrible memory and wouldn’t be able to pinpoint an exact reason. When I was in high school, I remember I wrote and thought about stories. Maybe it was escapism, or maybe it was just something to do. But I had undiagnosed ADHD and was teased for my struggles to form sentences and poor spelling. It stopped me from writing. I thought I wasn’t good enough to even try. But I had stories running through my head constantly.

As an adult, a friend mentioned NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and I gave it a shot. It was then I learned the joy of getting those stories onto my laptop. I never looked back. Getting stories out of my mind allowed for fresh stories to grow and breathe. And they keep getting better.

What do you wish you had known when you first started writing?

Everything? Lol. Balancing life is tough. Follow your own needs, and not what other writers are doing. It’s easy to forget the necessities of life while writing. Remember to pee, eat, and sleep. Marketing is another beast and its own full-time job. And it’s okay to take it slow because if you’re an indie like me, you are only one person who has a finite amount of energy. Don’t burn yourself out and see your therapist regularly.

Do you have any writing projects in the works right now?

Yes! I have a few, but the one I’m focusing on is a queer holiday romance series. It will have many of the same themes as Dad Jokes and Pine Cones; puns, mental health, drama, cinnamon rolls, sweet moments, and steam. Each book will revolve around a new queer couple (or polycule) and holiday, with a variety of sexualities, genders, ethnicities and disabilities.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

This is an impossible question! For a standalone, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It broke me down, rebuilt me, and then broke me again. All I have to do is think about the ending and I cry.

For a series, Relic by Maz Maddox. Adorable queer crime fighting shapeshifting dinosaurs that are hilarious. Yes, please!

The Kobo Emerging Writer Prize was created to bring literary recognition to Canadian talent and kick-start the careers of debut authors. A $10,000 CAD cash prize will be awarded to a book in each of three categories: Nonfiction, Literary Fiction, and a rotating Genre Fiction category. In addition, each winning author receives promotional marketing and ongoing communications support throughout 2022.

C.J. Banks is one of six authors nominated in the Romance category for 2022. Best-selling romance author Nana Malone will select this year’s winner, to be announced on June 22, 2022.

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