Sophia: Welcome to Fiction Vixen, Heidi. We are excited to chat with you today.
Jen recently read the first two books in your Special Delivery series, which was originally published by Dreamspinner Press in 2010. Samhain will be re-releasing these titles starting with Special Delivery on February 4 and then a release in March and April. What can readers expect? Is there new material included with the new releases?
Thanks for having me at Fiction Vixen, Sophia!
The only real change in the books is that the editing is much tighter. Some of that comes with four years of honing my skills, but a lot of it is my Samhain editor, Sasha Knight. We’ve worked together on many things now, and she has all my numbers.
In Double Blind there’s a significant change that’s worth mentioning: in the digital editions of the first run every time there was a poker hand what was meant to be digital images came out as gobbledegook, which has resulted over the years of people either thinking I was crazy or emailing me to ask what weird poker terms I was using. It’s sad because every hand works out—I know because I laid them on my desk and worked out each hand to be sure. That’s been fixed in this reissue.
Jen: Thanks for talking with us! I really enjoyed these releases. I had not read them prior to Samhain picking them up so I was excited for the opportunity.
Mitch and Sam and a long-haul truck. The concept of the road trip was what initially pulled me in to Special Delivery. Then it was the (dirty word), holy moly the (dirty word). This was one hot book. As the miles slipped by, I really started to like these two complicated men. What made you decide to tell their emotional journey in this fashion?
Okay, apologies in advance: this is a long answer.
This book got started because I’d been writing heterosexual romance with gay secondary characters who hooked up and stole the show. A friend kept pressing me to write a straight-up (pardon the pun) gay romance, but I kept telling her I didn’t know where the market was for that. She then found me somewhere doing gay shorts, and so I set out to try to write one. Except I had no idea.
So then I go to the local food cooperative, where the produce manager was playing bagger and he leaned over to the checker and whispered, “That delivery guy is hot.” It rang in my head, and I went home thinking I had an idea for a short.
Well, the short turned into this novel. I’d meant it to be a hookup story, but it was just porn, not romance, and every attempt to get them to HFN in 15k or less ended in disaster, so I gave up and said, “Well, here’s my first gay novel.” (It ended up being my second, because it turned out what I think is a paranormal novella is novel length, and I finished Hero first.) There were a million versions where they never left town, and one went really dark with Sam turning tricks at the truck stop. I worked on this for two years, and they went in circles. What I wanted to do was show a sunny young man with plenty of crosses to bear only really held down by a sense of shame over sex…hooking up with a guy who had no shame about sex but didn’t even consider himself eligible for true love.
For two years, though, it lacked a spine. I was talking about this with my husband last night, this idea that a story has two parts: the more feminine, emotional, shaped plot that doesn’t necessarily move in a line or in a particular order or pattern, is always full and lush—that aspect of a story is like the internal organs. Essential, vital, what makes the story real. But without a spine, they sort of lie there in a gross heap. By itself the traditional “male” external plotline is just as bad, a bare-bones skeleton nobody cares about. But I was having a hard time putting them together.
I wanted to quit writing the story, and I kept trying. My husband had read versions, though, and he loved it. He liked the character of Sam a lot, loved the musical references, loved the hope of it (even though it had become a black pit of despair for me). In a Hail-Mary, I decided to put the characters on the same cross-country trip I’d just taken with my husband and daughter, going to many of the same places we had…and inventing a few sex shops and gay bars on the way. I’d intended to get them all the way to Los Angeles, thinking that would be enough spine, somewhere to go, a journey to hang their growth and adventures on. Then they started having kinky sex at rest stops, Randy showed up, and the rest took care of itself.
Jen: Randy, the hero of Double Blind, is such a polarizing character in Special Delivery. I liked him, didn’t like him, wanted him to go away, felt like he was the other clear head…what made you decide he needed his own book? Was he simply speaking to you? Are you afraid fans might start out not liking him in his story?
So, originally I met Randy and understood he’d be a character when he answered the CB call on the road to Vegas, which is the last third of the book. I had a different idea of where the story was heading while I’d written that, but then there he was. I’d been worrying over the lack of a clear antagonist, and then suddenly holy moly. Every word out of his mouth was a problem, and I think I sweated my way through the first draft.
And then…well, Randy happened. I think I fell in love with him even when he was still all asshole. I recognized parts of myself in him, knew where he came from. Plus he’s very much one of the characters who gets so loud in your head—I could put him on at any given second, give an interview, write another short. So his own novel was a given.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they don’t want to read Double Blind because it’s Randy, or they begin reluctantly and then get charmed. But then there are plenty of people for whom Randy is their favorite character of all the boys…and I admit, I’m tickled when they confess that. Because he’s my favorite of all the characters I’ve ever written. Even if he does drive me to drink.
Jen: As I mentioned Mitch and Sam’s story was particularly fascinating to me. The third book of your Special Delivery series, Tough Love, comes out in April. From the blurb it seems like there might be a connection to Mitch. Does that mean we will see more of their story in Tough Love like we did in Double Blind?
Yes—I always wanted to have everyone come back in the third book, which was part of what took me so long. It was such a cast of thousands at that point, plus I had to get everyone to the Rio Grande Valley. Not surprisingly Randy took a lot of screen time, but everyone, really, has their place in Chenco and Steve’s story. If two guys ever needed a village, it’s those two…and they got one.
Jen: Tell us about Tough Love and what we might expect from the book. And will it be the final book in the series?
Because this series is known for its kink and kept getting cited for its BDSM, I wanted to go full-on for this book…and I wanted to show a sadist. I know several sadists and masochists in real life, and I get tired of seeing them written into caricatures. Plus somehow we seem to have gotten into a rut of BDSM being about whips and chains and ropes, when everything I’ve ever understood about the Lifestyle says it’s about control, safety, and surrender. Honestly, I had a long list of things people thought they knew about BDSM which I wanted to turn on their heads, invite people to reconsider or see differently.
So expect BDSM, but more about the head space than about how titillating it is to be tied up. I’m not sure if it’s my kinkiest book or not, but it’s absolutely the one where I take you deepest into someone’s head, make them really articulate desire, attraction, release. There’s a lot about family in here too, about finding one’s place in a community, about personas we put on and why, about how those are both protective and limiting. I feel like this is the most community-oriented book I’ve written. I wanted it to be the kind of book you could come back to and sink into the world, feel like you were cozying up with friends. Who sometimes play in ways that might make you blush.
As for whether or not this is the final…oy. Well, originally I’d intended it to be, as it took me four years between two and three. And three’s a really nice number. But…well, now there’s Lincoln and Booker. And I keep trying to find somebody for Crabtree, even if it’s a secondary romance. And seriously, how many lost ingénues must Randy play gay-godmother for on the floor of Herod’s on a daily basis? So I guess my answer is…maybe. But remember how long it took me last time.
Sophia: You were recently featured in The DesMoines Register as part of their 14 To Watch series. Congratulations! In the article you said:
The genre will arrive when a mainstream Hollywood movie is made without its point being the m/m romance, — “Brokeback Mountain” taken a step further so that the protagonist hunks are occupied with a plot other than themselves, Cullinan said.
Sophia: Please tell us you’ve already written the screen play for this movie. At least in your head? What’s your vision? Action movie? Suspense? Who? What? Where?
LOL! I think I would so suck as a screenwriter. But I’ll option any of my books in a hot second and just get out of the way so someone who knows what they’re doing can do the job up right.
It’s got to happen soon, though, right, gay characters being protagonists without having to die in the end, having a romance on the side but diffusing a bomb or figuring out why the water tastes like licorice or whatever? People always raise an eyebrow when they hear my husband reads my books, then usually make a crack about his orientation—that right there, honestly, tells you so much about our culture, for one. But he says that while sex is sex and it’s always good, he also says what he loves most about gay romance is how much the stories are about men connecting with each other. His favorite scene in Special Delivery is where they talk while they drive through the mountains, his favorite in Double Blind when Randy talks Ethan off a cliff in a broom closet. We’ve walled off our men so hard from emotion and connection that they can only have it when they’re thinking about sex. Which is…all kinds of wrong.
This is why I want to see more gay male protagonists in film and TV. Because their mere existence makes everyone freak out and start thinking about sex…and of course in reality gay men are simply people. But they tend to enter the room cracking open millennia-old stereotypes and strictures we have on what male means. And that’s so, so good, for all of us.
Sophia: Thanks for talking with us today Heidi!
Thanks for having me!
About Heidi Cullinan
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and ten-year-old daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.