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The review team interviews author Heidi Cullinan to discuss her highly acclaimed book “Special Delivery”
Boys in our Books welcomes back one of our favorites, author Heidi Cullinan to answer questions about the rerelease of “Special Delivery”, the *ahem* kinky stuff, and oh yeah…that guy, Randy (*grumbles*).
BioB: HI HEIDI! Thanks for stopping in! So great to have you back!
HC: Thanks for having me—and thanks, Susan, for being brave enough to take a ride on Old Blue. I know it was a little scary, but glad it worked out okay.
Susan: Back in November 2013, we had a week dedicated to BDSM material. You graciously participated with a very informative GUEST POST. You reached out to me afterward…me, the non-kink reader in our group and asked if I’d be interested in reading “Special Delivery”. What were you thinking? Ha!
HC: Well… I was thinking maybe Sam could win you over. ;)
Susan: Well, I invited our entire team to give it a go. We place ourselves all over the “kink scale” when it comes to our level of enjoyment (in our reading) so it was a fun and interesting buddy read. What is it about “Special Delivery” that you think resonates or sticks to so many readers, no matter what their tastes?
HC: There’s a lot of space in Special Delivery, particular Sam’s character, to insert yourself. I’ve had letters from gay men saying they wished they could have felt like Sam (just as many gay men saying, “How the hell did you know????”), bisexual women who for whatever reason felt incredibly heard by this book, kink/Lifestylers who felt the same, and a lot of people who didn’t want to feel shamed about sex or what they wanted to read about/enjoy personally felt vindicated. That was decidedly not what I was after when I wrote it, so this is all Sam. Honestly by the time I finished whatever aim I originally had wasn’t just lost but forgotten. I wanted to finish the book and get out alive. Which is maybe why it feels magic to a lot of people. I certainly didn’t orchestrate it. It happened either by accident or its own design, or both.
Susan: I have to admit, being as big of a wimp as I am, I’ve stuck mostly to your tamer books (Love Lessons, Dance With Me, Let it Snow). I’m curious what it takes for you to get yourself in the frame of mind to “go there” when it comes to the kinkier stuff. Also, what do you do for, um, research?
HC: Honestly, I’ve always had a very kinky imagination, probably because in real life I am, compared to my books, fantastically boring. I have a lot of hangups in my head that keep me from having the kind of sex lives my characters do. While I would have to call myself bisexual at this point and definitely polyamorous, my life is very heterosexual monogamous, and it would take a seismic event to change that. I like control and certainty, and I don’t trust easily—and when I do, I tend to choose badly, excepting my husband. So at forty I’m tired, jaded, and would rather hang out with him and write books. At this point while I’m all down for a kinky dominatrix showing up at my door, she’d have to literally do that, and then stand there six months while I doubted she was real or trustworthy. I think the odds of that happening are LOW.
So my mind goes there pretty easily, in fact, no research required. I’ve written things that make people blush since I was twelve, sometimes stuff I share, sometimes stuff I don’t. I actually enjoy hardcore erotica of absolutely all stamps and flavors, and I’ve been picking that up since…god, since whenever those Sleeping Beauty books by Anne Rice showed up in bookstores. I’ve watched porn sometimes to check an angle or something, but mostly this stuff downloads to my mental hard drive because apparently my head is a nice place for it to nest.
I’m reaching this point where I want to do really kinky and then really vanilla, or more erotic-based and then more kink-based, but it kind of drives itself. Nowhere Ranch was supposed to be a sweet book for my friend Jan. It ended up with fisting cowboys. So I honestly have no answers.
Jenni: Heidi, where have you been all my life?
HC: Iowa. Except for the two years I was in Wisconsin.
Susan: Ok, so our group review posts later on in the day, but I’ll say this: I did not expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. I was shocked, actually. I feel like you answered every question I’ve ever wanted to ask about the “why’s” of kink…because Sam was going through his own evaluation of it all. (Quite frankly, I think it should be Kink 101 for anyone interested in reading more of the subject matter in further books). But even more than ALL of that, it’s a true romance at heart. What inspired you to write this book? Which of the characters came to your first? Did you think “romance, and add some kink”? Or was it “let’s go kinky, and add a romance?” Or am I just totally off that they have to be considered separately?
HC: This was supposed to be a 10k one-off about a stockboy and delivery man hooking up in the back room. It very quickly morphed into something else, Sam as kinky ingénue and Mitch as jaded elder with good heart pretty much the second I started typing. I got as far as the first phone sex scene and then put it down, kind of scandalized by myself. This became the pattern for a long time, me writing to a sex scene, freaking the fuck out, and putting it down. I always knew I’d publish, if I ever did, under my own name, because everyone would find out anyway so whatever, and all I could think was my mother will read this. Except, actually, she’s never read my books, but my mother-in-law reads every single one.
I think this is how the Kink 101 happened, actually. I kept flipping myself out, and while I was in the October of this book there were six or seven scandals on the internet about people writing BDSM badly, women getting ragged on for writing about gay men in a very public way—basically everything I was doing. I was already practically starting my writing morning by throwing up over nerves, but this prompted me to not just edit with an extra-critical eye and to double check all my BDSM research, but to seriously bring it. I took my choir director’s advice, thinking if I was going to sing a wrong note, I would sing it with passion and fervor. If I fucked up gay BDSM, so be it, but it would be because there was something I didn’t know and couldn’t find after a lot of looking and after a lot of care.
Though honestly, mostly I listened to Sam. He wanted it but was nervous, so I let him drive. Seemed to work better than any research/talking I did.
Sheri: The main focus appeared to be on Sam’s journey, but Mitch’s trip was just as powerful. When would you say Mitch realized he was ‘past the point of no return’ and had fallen hard for Sam?
HC: The alley.
Honestly, I never saw this as Mitch’s story. He had almost no arc. He saw Sam in the alley, fell like a ton of bricks, talked himself out of it for a while, but mostly just stayed slain on the floor, and then once he gave over to it, he waited for Sam to figure out if he’d pick Mitch or not. He got right away Sam was really too young, that he wasn’t tied down yet (pardon the pun), that he shouldn’t be. But then Sam tied himself down because it was what he wanted. As far as Mitch is concerned he’s a fallen angel who had the most perfect angel come make his hell a heaven. I think probably in another few years he’ll stop waiting for the other shoe to fall, but yeah. The alley.
Susan: Well, we can’t talk SD without bringing him up…so here goes…RANDY. Wanna give us the who/what/when/where/why about this character? I mean, he’s polarizing, yes? (well, at least in our group read he was!) Love him or hate him? TELL me about Randy in your mind. He’s interesting enough to get his own book…though I personally would not have thought to even want any more of his story. So, yeah…explain! J
HC: Ohhh, Randy.
So, the thing to know is that when I wrote this book I was very much a disciple of Jennifer Crusie and her rules of writing, the foremost of which was, IT’S THE ANTAGONIST, STUPID. I knew I needed an antagonist in this book but I couldn’t ever make one stick. Tried the aunt, tried Mitch, broke the rule and had it be “the adventure,” but it always felt funky. THEN, they had the flat on the way to Vegas and this guy got on the radio, and I got shivers. I really can’t describe what it’s like having Randy Jansen live in your head. He is louder than anybody can know. I talk to him all the time because he is both wise and terrible, like a god sitting on your shoulder who likes to pinch boys’ asses. Anyway, there he is. He just ARRIVES, and he starts screwing up all my plans…and saving my book at the same time. Just when I’d finally gotten used to Sam and Mitch being kinky, he showed up and didn’t just dial it up again, he attached new knobs to the amplifier. But at this point I was so desperate to get the book done, I kept doing deals with Devil Randy.
And, honestly, fell in love with him. I don’t know how it is for other authors, but when I write I see the characters as colors and shapes, and I could see Randy really clearly—why he was, what he really wanted, and he made me all mushy, because I could SEE how soft he was under all his armor. And I thought, man, you need a book. He said, well, sure. Honestly, Double Blind is my favorite book of mine I’ve ever written. I don’t think anything will ever top it inside my head. I really think it’s less kinky, more enemies to lovers meets heist. I think I like that book so well because I didn’t think I could write it, and I only could because it had Randy in it. Which is probably why I like Randy so much.
Also, to be honest, I’m so much more Randy than I am anybody else I’ve written, except maybe Walter Lucas. So that makes me narcissistic, liking the guy who’s most like me best, but I can take it.
Susan: Again, our review team was split on this, but I LOVED all the romantic bits in this book! I loved the gift of the glass box (a few of us were blubbering idiots over this gesture)! I loved the ending…sappiness be damned…I LOVED IT! And I loved how the entire thing felt more like a coming-of-age tale for Sam. (oh yeah, and, I just…well I love Mitch!) If you were just Heidi-the-Reviewer, what parts would you say you loved most about this book?
HC: Hmm. My favorite bits are the ashes, and the ending because I like a big cheesy sappy end. I get dinged for it in reviews all the time, but it’s not going to change, I gotta tell you. I love when the truck comes down the hill! Both times, actually.
Though I think my favorite part is the kiss after Wolf Creek Pass, and the way Mitch talks Sam down. To me that part was so crucial. It was the point after which none of us could go back. Sam had crossed over to changing his life, Mitch to letting Sam in, and me to not giving up on the book. Which I tried very hard to do, up until that point.
Sue: In the Acknowledgments you mention that a produce manager at Wheatsfield Cooperative casually commented about deliveryman which pretty much handed you your plot bunny. What exactly did he say to you? How much did it shape the story?
HC: Okay, this how that went down. And I feel like I’ve answered this a few times on this tour so I apologize if I contradict myself or everyone gets tired of reading it.
This is Adam. The produce manager at Wheatsfield. Now as it happens this page has a contact form, but I’m not entirely sure we should all spam him with messages since this is his work. But he knows about the book, and more about that in a minute. And there’s his pic. Sometimes he goes scruffy with a beard, which is also cute. But he seriously gets good produce. I only shop there for fruit and veg if I can help it.
What happened is way back in like, I don’t know, 2006? 2007? a friend of mine said I should write a straight-up gay romance, because I kept writing these secondary characters that stole my show, or I was writing fantasy with gay male characters, and she said, “You need to write a gay romance.” She, by the way, is Corrina Lawson, and she writes books. Also she is Geek Mom. Anyway. Cory told me about this magazine that was taking shorts and putting them to pictures, which I thought was a little odd but whatever. I’d give it a go. Except I didn’t know what the fuck to write.
So I’m wandering around the co-op with my preschooler, thinking, “What do I write? What do I write?” and as I’m checking out, the produce manager was working as bag boy, and he leans over to the checker and says sotto voce, “That delivery guy is HOT.” By the time I walked out the door with my cart, Mitch was doing Sam in the back room of my head. (Because he was right. The delivery guy WAS hot.)
Obviously Special Delivery wasn’t a short story. But that’s how it got started. BUT WAIT. It gets better.
So a year after the book was first out, I finally got up the nerve to take a copy of Special Delivery down to Wheatsfield to give to Adam. I didn’t really know him, and I worried he’d be offended or something, and I was so nervous I almost threw up. I sort of threw the book at him and ran. Well, he read it, loved it, was very pleased by it–AND GAVE IT TO THE DELIVERY MAN TO READ WHO IS ALSO AS IT TURNS OUT GAY AND HIS PARTNER LIKED IT TOO. I gave Adam Double Blind when it came out, and he sometimes needles me about when does he get to read the wedding (Sam and Mitch). We usually say hi to each other in this little “I know what you know” way. And I think someone has been telling tales because I think half the staff there is gay and they all seem to KNOW. I came back from GRL this year and was sick and wiped out, and babbled some comment about a conference and explained I was an author, and the checker (who is also gay) said, full of meaning, “Oh, I KNOW.” It’s a little weird, because mostly I go there to get flax milk and gluten free vegan cupcakes.
Anyway. That’s the story of the acknowledgments. I’m a little nervous to give him Tough Love because it’s so steamy, but it’ll be a whole year before I have a paperback anyway, so I have time to gather my nerves.
Shelley: Do you have plans for more of these raunchier works? And if so, when can we expect it?
HC: Um, probably? I guess, Sleigh Ride (Minnesota Christmas #2) is a lot more so, because Gabriel is a kinky librarian who discovers with Arthur he likes to pretend non-con. But it’s lighter still, so I don’t know. Except when I think something is not very sexy people still say it is, so apparently my needle is broken.
I guess I will probably always do kinky, but not all the time. It really depends. It just sort of happens. Usually when I say, “this is going to be a sweet book.” Though I think Love Lessons 3 will be a bit kinky. I don’t know. I’m usually as surprised as everyone else.
Susan: Lastly, I’m…conflicted…about reading on in the series. Can you tell us a little bit about books 2 and 3 and what to expect? As kinkier or kinkier? As romantic or romantic-er (<-uh…)? Are the couples featured as likable or more likable?
HC: Okay, so. Double Blind is like Ocean’s Eleven but with men who sleep with each other, plus more poker. It’s definitely more romance-focused to me. There’s a four way which people talk about, but the whole point of it is that it’s about them connecting and being vulnerable. It’s where I get gritty about polyamory too, what it’s about to love more than one person romantically at a time, and how that shakes out and how it’s hard. There’s not much of it, but I felt like there was this elephant of the triad that needed to be discussed as Ethan and Randy became a unit. Double Blind is mostly though about two guys who don’t think they’re anything or can have great things becoming great and getting more than they ever hoped to wish for. Plus, you might learn how to gamble. The two biggest comments I get about my writing are tweets when they see a blue semi and notes saying they took Double Blind with them to a casino so they could play poker.
Tough Love. Okay—so, Tough Love is very kinky. VERY. Kinky. But I would also argue it is the most romantic thing I have ever written, more pull-you-open vulnerability than I’ve ever done. The thing is, I never write kink for kink’s sake. I saw a review of Nowhere Ranch once on a blog where they were angry that I made them boring and settled them down with a kid. It was the only review I’ve ever read where I felt a little sick and distasteful, because the whole thing was about what a fun kinkfest it had been until I ruined it by being sappy. Uh, the whole point of that book was to show vulnerability, and it just kind of worked out that part of that illustration was being vulnerable enough to let someone put their fist in your ass. I mean, everybody squicks and giggles, but stop and think about it. Fist in your ass. You can seriously hurt someone for that, for one. But it’s so incredibly vulnerable. You have to trust and you have to let go for an invasion. I don’t mind someone getting off because of that stuff, but it was never about that for me. It was about letting go, letting in.
Tough Love is similar in that it’s very kinky but to me it’s all about the romance. Whereas in Nowhere Ranch I went there because the story led me to it, this time I said, “I want to write about a sadist, and I want to write about physical pain.” Because there’s a lot of both sort of tossed off, and it usually sets my teeth on edge because…well, I don’t buy it. Again, to let someone inflict pain on you is huge trust, and to trust yourself enough to hurt someone on purpose is huge. To admit you want that is huge. To say, “I want this but I’m normal and fine” is something I’ve very rarely seen in fiction. So I wanted to go there.
BUT, like Nowhere Ranch this quickly became about something else. Damon Suede read the “I’m lost, please help me” draft and said, “This book is all about drag.” Which seems obvious when you hear there’s a drag queen in there, but what he meant was everyone is in drag, and he was right. It’s about fronts we put out and guards and costumes and roles we take and wear to get through life and to hide from it. Labels we embrace and fear without really examining them. Walls we accept or put up for no real reason, limits and strictures we place on ourselves, often to our detriment. About how loving someone is one of the most effective and beautiful ways to take those walls and labels apart.
To me the summation of this book is a quote from it which also explains the Great Controversy in the blurb, which is the warning that there is piss play. There is. One scene, and I worked it for over a week to get it right, and honestly I wanted that scene to move people to tears, to shatter them in ways that were not even remotely about shock or titillation. Because, later in the book Chenco breaks down and says to Steve, paraphrased, “Why will I let you whip me, hurt me, piss on me, but can’t let you in emotionally?” And honestly, the same thing is true for Steve in a kind of reverse. So I guess it’s a love letter to sadists and masochists, a book about drag, and about letting people in. It happens to contain flogging and a piss play scene where I never actually use the word piss or pee or anything that says, “somebody is urinating on someone here.” It was kind of a throwdown, a challenge. I’d already done fisting cowboys that make you cry. Now it’s a leather daddy and a Latino drag queen, no fisting, but yes, a wee bit of wee. I can’t promise you’ll cry, but I did my best .
Sorry, this is a very long answer. But I would say Chenco and Steve are incredibly romantic. And actually, there are not a lot of sex scenes in it. Okay, there are several, but it feels like less to me. There’s the one really big flogging scene, which I don’t even know how to describe, but whatever. There are a few others, and okay, the one in the truck. But there are probably progressively less sex scenes in the three books, even though Tough Love is the kinkiest thing I’ve written to date. A lot of its scenes are BDSM scenes which very deliberately don’t contain sex, because that’s actually much more common that fiction would have you believe. Because BDSM is about control and headspace, not whips and cuffs.
And now I will stop talking.
BioB: Heidi! Thanks so much 1)laying down the challenge for us to explore some kink!, 2)for stopping by and answering our questions, and 3)for being such a great friend and supporter of the blog! *muah!*
HC: Thank YOU for everything! <3 You guys are great. Carry on being fabulous. And Susan, Randy sends his love. ;)
Boys in our Books is offering a chance to win ALL THREE books in the Special Delivery series! Leave a comment on this post to enter! Winner will be chosen and then announced on January 31st!