Welcome to our very first…
Wednesday’s Wine & Wisdom Author Takeover
The team here at SSBR are passionate about reading, the authors we love and the books they write. Not living in major cities we don’t have access to those book club meetings, or signings where an author is invited along as a guest. Having never been to one, we envision a roaring fire, drinking wine and eating nibbles whilst listening to a guest author narrate a passage from their book, or their favourite book, chat about their life experiences, perhaps even share some funny stories, and a Q & A session to round it off… Haha… you can tell we’re all readers, we have very active imaginations!
So, we wanted to recreate a bit of that here at SSBR, even though the ambience isn't quite the same... we hope to bring you lots of interesting posts from some of our/your favourite authors every Wednesday in our Wine & Wisdom feature, where they have the opportunity to take over the blog and our Facebook Page and bring to you our readers a different experience.
To celebrate our very first Wine & Wisdom guest, I‘d like to raise our virtual glasses of wine and say a huge welcome to the very lovely Heidi Cullinan… who this week has released the third book in Special Delivery Series… Tough Love. We were delighted when Heidi agreed to take time out of her busy blog tour schedule to take over here at SSBR for the day and later on this evening between 5PM – 7PM EST/ 11PM – 1AM GMT you can find her over on Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews Facebook Page. Where Heidi will have…Prizes, a which Special Delivery character are you quiz, behind the scenes snippets, videos and more… plus you get the chance to chat to Heidi yourself in person… so don’t miss out, put a reminder on your phones!!!
Writing to the Romantic Edge
Pushing the Boundaries While Keeping the Reader Safe
Thanks for having me here, guys!
Today I want to talk about reader risk and reward in romance novels, and to do that I’m going to talk a lot about my most recent novel which released yesterday, Tough Love. I won’t give you any spoilers, I promise, outside of things already covered in the blurb.
One of the most common comments I’ve had so far in reviews of Tough Love is “Heidi took me some places I didn’t want to go/was nervous about going” and almost always that’s been followed with “but she made it okay.” Every time I read someone say that about any of my books I smile and do a little fist-bump in my head, because flirting with that edge of reader comfort zone is exactly what I love to do.
It’s not that I’m some kind of romance author sadist—well, maybe a little. The thing is, it’s less about making someone uncomfortable for fun and more about knowing how fine a line it is between discomfort and boredom. It’s the romance author and reader’s curse: so many of the story rails are nailed into place already, it’s hard to be surprised. People will meet and fall in love, usually two of them. There will be a happy ending. People can only be so messed up and “bad” at story start, because otherwise they’re unlikeable and no one wants to read.
People are also usually pretty—I think that’s more easy reach on the author’s part, because we all know real beauty has nothing to do with physical features and everything to do with charm and personality. Exhibit A is how only in movies is someone’s affair with a bombshell or stud specimen—somehow the Other Person is always startlingly off-media-message in the looks department.
I believe the answer to why is the same answer as to why we need our novels to push the envelope at least a little—but not too much. We need to feel a little danger, a little discomfort, and need to trust the author will make it okay in the end.
I tried to give a lot of different in Tough Love. Some of it was built in—having Mitch be from the Rio Grande Valley already put him in a zip code not usually written about, and when I gave him a half brother, I knew I wanted him to be Latino. In the RGV that’s not different—that’s an overwhelming majority of the population. Chenco made himself a drag queen, which added another bit of not-the-usual. Originally I wanted more Valley flair in the novel, particularly in Chenco, but I would have had to live there for six months to truly pick up the feel.
Leather daddies and motorcycles aren’t really something different—but those elements became an anchor, because I knew from the initial conception of this novel I wanted to play with some of the harder elements of BDSM, particularly sadism.
I know a lot of people in the BDSM Lifestyle, and the thing that comes up over and over is how different real people are from their fictionalized representatives, so much so that sometimes it feels like writing “real” practitioners would never sell. At a leather event here in Iowa last fall, an adorable, uber-friendly leather daddy belted out a sappy-sweet showtune medley, lyrics altered to describe the nasty things he wanted to do to his not-yet-met dream boy. That same leather event featured plenty of gear, but few smoldering looks and Mr. Benson scenarios—there was a lot more laughter and casual conversation and strangers welcoming you to make you feel at home. I wanted to put some of that community feel into the novel.
I also wanted to play with the fronts we put up for other people and for ourselves. The drag we all wear to keep other people from seeing us. It starts with a way to protect ourselves, but all too easily it becomes our prison. As a flip side to that, I wanted to address harder edges of BDSM. I wanted to take some of the kinks most beloved my some of my friends and all kinds of normal, healthy Lifestylers and make them okay. I wasn’t sure I wanted to include the needle play until I read the book Play Piercing and was blown away with the reverence and joy I saw people have with needles. Flogging I knew I wanted from word go, but I wanted to explore sadism any way I could get it in. All too often sadism is written off as something bad, too far out there to be acceptable in a hero. I wanted to not only include it and celebrate it but also feature it in a very romantic hero’s point of view.
Of course I can’t discuss the hard edges of Tough Love and not mention That Warning in the blurb—watersports—something Samhain asked me to put in. This was in a lot of ways new terrain for a mainstream publisher of romance novels, but I fought to keep it in because this is very common in play, and it really shouldn’t be a taboo. It also became a critical element for Chenco, who is so proud and sensitive of being shamed. Very quickly in writing this novel I knew that scene had to happen. So I did my best to write a watersports scene that would make you cry, or at least be moved.
To me, that’s my job when pushing the edges of your reading comfort envelope. To make you nervous to go there, but moved and grateful when you finally arrive. To make you uncertain but make the floor smooth so maybe you’re walking somewhere new, but it’s not a rough road. I can’t promise I did my job well enough to please everyone—but that’s the fun of the risk, right? If you knew you were totally safe, it wouldn’t be as exciting.
The joy of romance, though, is that we can enjoy the thrill of risk wrapped in a beautiful buffer. Tough Love might take you into places you haven’t been before, but the familiar elements were woven in with deliberation and care: longing, vulnerability, and sexual chemistry. Friends and family who challenge and support.
Plus Sam Keller-Tedsoe is present, which means there’s a steamy exhibitionist scene. Probably not the world’s most common security blanket, but if you’re one of my readers, reading that was your fist-bump.
I hope you enjoy Tough Love and other romance novels that push your sense of safety. I wish you many wonderful rides, full of thrills but also safety and satisfying resolution. Go out there and enjoy your edge, whatever it is. Meanwhile I’ll go back to my desk and see if I can’t write you some more safety-lined twists.
Series Reading order
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.
More Books From Heidi
5PM – 7PM EST/ 11PM – 1AM GMT
Don’t forget you can find Heidi on Sinfully Sexy Book Reviews Facebook Page, where she will have…Prizes, a which Special Delivery character are you quiz, behind the scenes snippets, videos and more… plus you get the chance to chat to Heidi yourself in person… so don’t miss out, put a reminder on your phones!!!
Facebook Link ~ https://www.facebook.com/sinfullysexybookreviews
Heidi will gifting an ebook of your choice from the Special Delivery Series… just enter the Rafflecopter below for your chance to win.