I’d like to thank the delightful Heidi Cullinan for talking with me. It’s been a pleasure to get to know her a little bit more.
Heidi’s Bio: 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.
History of the Special Delivery series
Special Delivery was first published in February 2010 by Dreamspinner Press, Double Blind in April of that same year. In 2013 they were re-sold to Samhain Publishing in package with a new third book in the series, Tough Love.
Special Delivery and Double Blind have been edited for their second edition, though no significant new content has been added.
Special Delivery won several awards in the 2010 Elisa Rolle Rainbow Awards, including Best Gay Contemporary, Best Character, Best Writing Style, and Best Overall Gay Fiction. It was a Dear Author pick for Best of 2010 and a finalist in the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books-Dear Author DABWAHA contest in 2011.
Double Blind was also a Dear Author pick for Best of 2010 and a finalist in the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books-Dear Author DABWAHA contest in 2011.
Me: This might turn into fangirling. Just so you know.
Heidi Cullinan (HC): LOL. No worries. Imagine I’m sitting here with messy hair in my bathrobe full of stains. Which…is true.
Me: I read your blog post on the demands of the modern day author and I have to say, I really respect everything you had to say. At the end of the post you said you’ve drawn a line in the sand, so I’m wondering how that line is holding?
HC: It’s holding. I took FB off the phone–well, I put on my personal account, which is an entirely different thing. That’s helped a lot. I think FB is the hardest because unlike Twitter it’s not self-selected. It’s a much harder thing to refuse a friendship on FB but no sweat at all to not autofollow back on Twitter. Plus if I follow someone I actually get their tweet in my feed, unlike that other place. I think it’s the chaos and lack of control on FB that makes me lose my gourd. So I go there when I can, which is still usually at least once a day. Right now I’m not aggressively writing, just grabbing time when I can, so it’s more informal. I’m also trying to catch up with everything I’ve been pushing off for the last three months, so a FB break is a good thing, not a stress. In general I’m trying to be gentler with myself about quitting at dinner time and all weekend work being bonus time. Still a work in progress, but I think there was something cathartic about throwing that big blog post out into the world.
Me: Indeed. I’m not a FB fan either. What sorts of things do you do to unwind?
HC: Bad TV. I adore bad TV. It has to be a certain kind of bad, and sometimes it’s actually good TV. But there’s something about a nice sci-fi show with selective reality and cheeziness that does it for me. Reading too, but there’s always a political edge there. If I read romance, which I often do, I can’t talk about it much unless I really like it. Overall it’s just too close to the bone.
My family likes to watch TV together. We get to the point we just want to be together, so we go find things to watch. We have several shows subscribed in Hulu, and when a new episode shows up, we get very excited. Not so much about the show but knowing we have an event coming up to experience together.
I used to knit, but somewhere in the chronic pain stuff I lost it. I keep thinking I’d like to learn to crochet and just sit there making blankets.
Me: I thought everyone knew how to crochet but me. I understand you’re a fan of cooking as am I. Do you have a favorite kind of food to cook? Are you a fan of any celebrity chefs?
HC: Well, I”m in the process of relearning everything I’ve ever known about cooking, and I’ve done that three or four times now due to allergies. I don’t really have a favorite thing, but I want to relearn bread, because I miss it. I have to make my bread both gluten free and egg free, which is a real bitch. But I have a book, and next week I intend to get real with bread.
I’m not really a celebrity chef person–think I’m too Iowan. I like the idea of Julia Child, but I never watched her. If there were a gluten free/dairy/egg free chef, though, I’d be all over them.
Me: I’m actually kind of surprised there isn’t one already. I think Gweneth Paltrow has done a lot for the gluten free movement. Who are some of your favorite authors?
HC: Top is Terry Pratchett, followed by Neil Gaiman. Lois McMaster Bujold is right behind, and I have to always say Henry Fielding because he’s like my book grandpa, the one who started it all. I’m also a big, big fan of Tessa Dare, Vivian Arend, classic Jenny Crusie and Jude Deveraux. In gay romance my auto-buys are KA Mitchell, Josephine Myles, ZA Maxfield, Marie Sexton, Damon Suede. I have a lot of people on a short list where I kind of scope it out and buy a sample first, but for whatever reason those are my go-tos. Though for several of them I’ve done beta work, which is cool but makes that thrilling release day moment a different kind of thing. I did a binge of KJ Charles over the weekend, which was fun. And then obviously there are a million people I didn’t mention but we’d be here all day.
Me: If you weren’t an author what do you think you would’ve grown up to be?
HC: Crazy. This shit had to go somewhere. Much tidier for everyone that it goes on the page. I was a teacher, but it would have eaten out my soul. I’ve worked a million odd jobs, I’ve been a SAHM, but the writing was always there. Even if it wasn’t published, it’d be happening. It’s been happening since I was able to make two Weebles talk to one another. This is just more organized and helps pay bills.
Me: LOL! Are there any words of wisdom you’d impart to aspiring authors?
HC: Write. A lot. Read more. Write everything, read everything. If you just want to tell stories, rinse and repeat. If you want to be published, do that and when you need a break study the market. Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t try to game a system. Don’t take big leaps before you’re ready. Be patient and smart. And whether you’re published or not, don’t ever equate sales/reviews with validation of your work. Sharing is a risk and a game, but it no more defines who you are than going out into a crowd of strangers and deciding how they receive you is your judgment.
Also if you’re in this for the money, stop now. There are ten million ways with an eighth of the work. Do this because you love it, it’s fun, or you can’t seem to do anything else. Fame and money in this biz are earned, and it’s more than blood and tears. It’s bone. Not a damn thing wrong with writing for fun and pleasure and taking fame/money as it comes, no pressure. Easier now than ever too.
Me: I think my girl crush just expanded exponentially.
I’ve only read a few of your books but in looking at your body of work, I couldn’t pin you down to a specific sub-genre. Do you feel like you gravitate towards one over another or are you comfortable with all of them?
HC: I’ve always read everything, and I love romances above all, so there will always be a romantic element at the very least. I’ve been writing mostly contemporaries lately because it’s where the money is for me, and they’re less work for more payoff. I still write paranormals and fantasy though, and eventually I have to finish the one fantasy series, though there are some complications I need to sort out first. I grew up reading romance novels across the board, and my favorite authors went from contemporary, to historical, to paranormal. I have a real love for fantasy/paranormal, but somehow those don’t seem to speak to readers as well.
Right now I’ve done a lot of moving around, but I’m incredibly happy at Samhain and with my editor there, so I’m trying to focus on building back up a base of books there, learning what Sasha teaches me, and I’m hoping eventually I can try some new fun things using the lessons I’ve learned in contemporaries. But I’ll probably always be all over the map genre-wise, and heat-level wise. Though apparently even when I think I’m writing sweet, it’s steamy. Unless Marie writes with me, then they’ll say it’s sweet.
Me: What does your research process involve?
HC: Depends. A lot if Internet, always. It’s a good thing Google Maps is free, that’s all I’ll say. Sometimes I read books, every now and again I can visit, but as was the case for Double Blind, I had to do a lot of creative things because I’ve never really been to Vegas. My research is always a kind of immersion, and when I need something I go get it. Sometimes I have to stop writing to go look something up for a few days.
Me: Never been to Vegas? *sputters* But… you described Vegas so well in Double Blind.
How does your writing process work? Does it differ depending upon what sub-genre you’re working on? What kinds of things inspire you?
HC: Writing process is always the same. It always starts with an idea, which gets kicked around in my head. Some die there. The shiny ones I might write down or make a digital collage and soundtrack for. If it gets both those things, that’s a good sign it might be something someday. But then we get the 20k rule. I can write about anything to 20k, and then it has to bring it. Lately I’ve been outlining at that point, which is not usual. I do always outline, usually four or five times during the process, but they’re never right, or even close. Lately I get stuck at 20k and then outline a road map, which so far has worked, but I’m not holding my breath.
A lot of books die at 20k, though, spiraling around in that initial bloom. This is largely because I don’t start with the conflict idea, but the character and a deep internal arc, which is the thing the readers will enjoy later, but the plot has to be there to hold it up. Honestly, a lot of my paranormals have started with the conflict, come to think of it. Hmm.
Anyway, at 20k I have to sit with the thing and figure out where if anywhere it can go. When I suss that out, then I sail on to 50-60k no problem. Then I get stuck again, and it’s the part where I write forward 20k, erase 30k, write 30, erase 25, and this keeps going until I see all the way to the end. But once I get to the end, I have to go back over the thing several times, because there are usually scenes missing, arcs incomplete, and almost always the time sequence is so off you’d have to be drunk to read it. Also my books are way too long initially, with lots of repeats and babbling. It’s not uncommon for me to shave off 25-30k of a final, leaving the final between 90-115k instead of 120-150. And yes, I write way too long. I keep trying to write shorter, and I’ve done it a few times, but it’s much, much harder for me. I have to keep my focus very narrow. The books are rich in a different way, and clearer-focused.
Though usually when I write short people wish the books were longer. That’s the number one comment when I write under 80k.
Me: I like your long because it focusses on the characters. I like angst. A lot.
Are you one of those people that can write anywhere or do you need to be in a certain mind frame or place to get the juices flowing?
HC: I have to be somewhere I won’t blow out my body, and I need quiet. Right now my favorite thing is to switch back and forth between my 27″ inch iMac and my Air, because at the first I sit up straight and can work hard and fast, but at the laptop I can be in my squishy chair with an ice pack/heating pad, cats on my legs, and work a little slower/more casually. Headphones have always been part of my work habit, but for Christmas I bought myself noise-cancelling headphones. I want to marry them.
Me: How do you know if a book is going to be a stand alone or if it will evolve into a series?
HC: Ha. I don’t. I’ve written exactly three stories thinking they’d be part of a series: Let It Snow, The Seventh Veil, and the ones for Tucker Springs. I knew there would be a second book to Special Delivery as I finished it, but not as I started it. I had NO intention of Love Lessons being the big behemoth it’s about to be (I have the sequel coming out in the fall, minimum of three more books after, probably four). It just seems to happen. Love Lessons/Fever Pitch is the best example. I had the whole thing set up, but it felt like something was missing, and then suddenly Walter walked into the room. Then I could see everything, so I moved it to Minnesota and here we are.
I’m trying to be more deliberate about series because I love them, fans love them, so why not?
Me: Speaking of series… I LOVED LOVED LOVED Special Delivery. Please tell me Sam is based on someone you know. *crosses fingers and toes… contorts self*
HC: Thank you! Well, I don’t know who Sam is. I think he’s definitely me, or rather the me I wish I could have been. I am much, more Randy. Mostly Sam is my brightest archetype. I swear ninety percent of my characters appear in my head first as some version of Sam, and we have to stand there and tweak because there can only be one Sam.
His fear of heights is me. His music love is my husband. I don’t know where the rest comes from. Sometimes I feel like he’s the son I couldn’t have because my body broke before we got there. Mostly he’s Sam.
Me: Even more reason to fangirl.
Do you think there will be a follow up in the series with Sam and Mitch or is Tough Love the conclusion?
HC: When I started Tough Love, which I’d been ready to abandon, I’ll admit, I said no more. By the time I finished it, I realized I’d laid out three or four openings. Plus I always think about Herod’s and the guys Randy and Ethan pick up together. Plus Sam has this idea he wants kids. I need to sit with it a bit, but probably I’ll do another one at least. Just not sure exactly when.
Me: *caught fangirl twirling* *turns red*
What can we expect from you in the near future?
HC: In the immediate future, Double Blind comes out March 4, Tough Love April 8. Fever Pitch, the sequel to Love Lessons, is out in early September. There should be another Christmas book, Sleigh Ride, but that’s still in submission right now. Right now I’m working on three different books for three different things, trying to see what will take off, but as soon as we get done editing Fever Pitch in the next few months my focus will be the next book in that series. And when we get to the fall, I’ll write another Christmas book.
Me: Where can fans find you on the web?
HC: www.heidicullinan.com. All my social media links are in the upper right of the header–the FB link is to my fan page, but if you search and see the actual pic of me, not the avatar, that’s the you-can-friend-it page. I’m much more active on Twitter. The others are kind of however it happens.
I do blog as well (link is also on my website).
Also on my website, on the book page Mark’s made this great feature where you can sort the books by genre, series, and heat level.
Thanks for having me over today!
Me: Thanks for taking the time to pat a fangirl on the head.
Ms. Cullinan has also graciously agreed to award copies of Special Delivery AND Double Blind to one lucky responder! All you have to do is comment! Contest ends March 11, 2014 at 12:00AM CST.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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