Exclusive Interview With Popular Gay Romance Heidi Cullinan

We were blessed with the opportunity to interview popular Gay Romance Author Heidi Cullinan.

Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. They write positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because they believe there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. Join us in our conversation as Heidi talks about the thought process involved in the making of each of their novels and upcoming book releases!

1) In “Special Delivery Series”, we have main characters who try hard to fight their mutual attraction and yet end falling in love inevitably. What did you have in mind while scripting their romance?

Well, originally book one of that series was meant to be a short story, but I’ve never been good at developing short, tight plots, and they always balloon into something much bigger. This story went from being light and fun to exploring how two people at different ages felt constrained and trapped by their lives, how their own fear kept them at bay, and of course how they help each other find the happy ending, in life and love, they always wanted. Book two is similar: a cheeky guy ignoring how much his life is going nowhere, and a good and proper man who tried his best and still felt disappointed, but together they save each other and find an exciting new life together. Book three is sort of a mix of both—the same message, same struggle, and again with an age difference. But book one is a truck driver and a college student, book two a card shark and a desk worker, book three is a drag queen and a computer designer. All three books also feature mild to heavy BDSM, which isn’t related to their struggles but thematically helps them connect to themselves and each other.

All my books are at least a bit about characters finding themselves, but many like these also feature explicit sex. Since even in the most permissive cultures sex, particularly gay sex, is somewhat or explicitly taboo, incorporating this into the relationship in a positive light helps the reader truly feel the freeing of the character from their own expectations and society, so that they can be fully realized people and as happy as they can be.

2) “Dancing Series” is your attempt at creating indomitable characters that are inexplicably drawn to each other. How did you envision their life experiences?

In the Dancing series, it’s more a focus of emotional and physical pain and how that stunts the characters’ lives. I struggle with chronic pain myself, so book one of this series was very personal, a way for me to process some of what I was going through, how I too could find happiness in my life despite struggles. Mental health is also an important topic for me, and I wanted to show how people can recover from disappointment and redefine themselves after a loss. Book two is more political, covering the topic of undocumented immigrants and foster care and the struggles of gay parenting, but it too follows this same type of theme.

3) “Tucker Springs Series” are bustling romances where the main characters get a second chance at life and romance. Talk to us about these standalone love stories that you have crafted?

Second Hand I wrote with another author; it’s a bit unusual in that she wrote half of it first and then I finished it, and upon the reissue she shaped it again. I love the setting of that one. Never thought I’d set a book in a pawn shop! Dirty Laundry I wrote myself, and it started with a free short I did as part of a newsletter: a fun, sexy little scene in a laundromat. But readers always wanted more, and I discovered I did too. It stayed a fun, sexy book, but it also deals with a character who has OCD and another with a learning disability. They’re from very different worlds, but they find happiness and self-assurance together.

4) Your “Love Lessons Series” features two polar opposite characters, Kelly Davidson and Walter Lucas. What did you have in mind when you created this pairing?

At the time I began writing this series, I was reading a lot of gay romances set in colleges, and I found I couldn’t get enough, so I wrote my own. Book one of the series is the familiar trope of the virgin and the bad boy (a bad boy who of course isn’t so bad.) Book two is about two guys who are right for each other from the start, but they need to grow up a bit more before they’re ready for a romance, and we get to watch them do that. I enjoyed the large cast in this series, so I kept using them to make more and more stories. The third novel is about two rather messed up individuals who find a happy ever after despite all their issues. That one also features references to anime and Ghibli movies. I hope to write more books in this series someday.

5) While most books in “Minnesota Christmas Series” are sweet romances, the book series heavily leans on the central characters Arthur Anderson, Gabriel Higgins and their blossoming relationship with Dale Davidson. What is so special about these three, that you wanted to share their life stories?

This series started because I wanted to write a snowed in story, and then I just loved everyone in the series so much that I wanted to give all the characters a happy ever after. I started with “the three bears,” but it eventually branched out to all the characters in that small town. They’re meant to be feel good holiday romances for a snowy day.

6) Your “The Roosevelt Series” features a diffident couple Jeremey Samson and Emmet Washington who suffer from different mental illnesses. How much did you research about autism and clinical depression. Where did you draw from inspiration from?

My husband has depression and anxiety and my daughter is autistic, so these were familiar themes for me. I’ve also worked with both children and adults with disabilities, so in many ways this story was a love letter to a lot of people in my life. I also wanted to portray the autistic character as positive, well-adjusted, and happy. I see too many stories of autistic people struggling. The autistic people and children I know and have known are varied and beautiful and strong in their own ways. I wanted to celebrate that.

7) “Copper Point Medical Series” surely sounds interesting with variant characters that are hellbent on denying their obvious attraction. How did this medical romance materialize?

Well, I was looking to start a new series with my publisher, and they suggested medical since I’d never done that before. My partner is a hospital pharmacist who has worked in several places, so with him and his contacts I had a lot of help with the research. I wanted it to have the small town feel from the Christmas books, but set in a new, slightly bigger place and not set at a specific season. I’m working on the second series in this universe now, and I really enjoy it.

8) Your latest release “The Bookseller’s Boyfriend” is the first book in the “Copper Point: Main Street Series”. Why did you decide to use fake relationship as the base concept for this book?

This is that second series I was just talking about. I begin all the Copper Point books with a set of tropes to inspire me, and I really wanted to try a fake relationship for something different. It was a lot of fun and gave me ample opportunity for romantic tension. Writing that book was one of my favorite times.

9) It’s clear from your personal website and social media handles that you are a big fan of Chinese author, Mò Xiāng Tóngxiù (popular for Untamed and Heaven Official’s Blessing). Have you read the novels?

I absolutely LOVE Mò Xiāng Tóngxiù. I’ve read all three novels, seen the donghuas (what there is so far) and read the manhuas, and watched The Untamed. I think I’m missing a few of the extras from the novels, and I long for the day the novels are published in English. I’ve gotten my daughter hooked as well: her favorite character is Wen Ning and Xie Lian. I can’t pick favorites, but probably the red blacks, especially Hua Cheng. But really, they’re all fantastic. At this point MXTX is my favorite author, excepting Sir Terry Pratchett. I’m very excited to see what she writes next. What I’d really love to do is learn Chinese and read them in their native form, but that’s not happening anytime soon, alas. I love all the artwork, both official and fan made. The only thing I haven’t done is read fan fiction, though it’s on my list. I don’t think I’m confident enough to write fanfic of her works, though.

Donghua_dragon_boat_festival

10) It seems like you are a huge fan of the main couple “Hua Cheng and Xie Lian” from the Chinese BL novel “Heaven Official’s Blessing”. Have you watched the Donghua adaptation of the novel? What do love about this couple?

I love the whole story. It’s so complex and incredibly mature. I love how wise and yet silly Xie Lian is. I love how heaven and earth is terrified of Hua Cheng, but Xie Lian alone knows that at heart he’s still a soft boy who just wants to be loved. I love Hua Cheng’s incredible devotion, I love the way they interact…I just love it! I’ve honestly thought several times about typing out a translation so I could then print it out and make myself a book. I want to get the Chinese editions too. I just want all of it! It’s so great. I could talk about this forever.

11) What is your opinion about the current status of LGBTQ representation in Gay novels? Do you feel that the MM Romance genre is adequately representing them?

Well, for full disclosure, I have not kept up on the current releases, particularly in the west. Perhaps it’s because I’m old school, but I have a difficult time finding things because there’s just no good source—I miss bookstores so much, though they never had the books I want to read anyway—and I can’t find a thing on Amazon or any of the other retailers. Honestly, these days I read Korean, Chinese, and Japanese comics/manga/manhua, and Asian novel translations of all types. The one problem is my eyesight is a bit dodgy, and screens really get me. What I need are Asian audiobooks! I just need to learn the languages, but I’ve been greatly struggling with my mental and physical health the last few years, and that’s a bit beyond me.

What I will say, regardless of what is out there right now, is that we can never have too much rep, and that I welcome pairings beyond just the G in LGBTQIA and wish them to appear in abundance. Unfortunately, I’m probably stuck with the G for now, at least for a while. I’ve only recently come out as nonbinary, to myself and to others, and my dysphoria is definitely complicated and limiting in strange and frustrating ways in regards to what I write, which I’ve learned the hard way. I’m getting better though, and my daughter is not letting me off the hook from writing her lesbian gamers romance. And I very much dream of writing nonbinary main characters! I think I just need to get myself a little stronger first.

12) Would you like to share details about your upcoming book releases?

Ah, this is the heart-breaking question. I’m currently about 18 months overdue (maybe longer? My sense of time is broken) on the second book in the Copper Point: Main Street series. I’d already been struggling a bit, and the pandemic just slammed me into the wall. But I’m enjoying getting back into writing. My publisher is particularly great about being patient, and my editor has become a rock I don’t know how I’d function without. So the books are coming—book two and three in that series—I just don’t know when. Doing things like this interview and Fujocon this summer are steps I’m taking to wade slowly back into the game.

What I can tell you, though, is that book two of Copper Point: Medical is The Barista’s Beau. It’s set in a coffee shop, and because I couldn’t seem to write anything else, it’s set during the pandemic. But honestly that’s mostly an excuse for a close proximity romance. I think about the story all the time, and whenever I’m able to write, I’m so happy and looking forward to when I can do it again. I’m also excited for book three, which will be another enemies to lovers romance.

Thank you so much for having me for an interview! It was a lot of fun, and I hope I give your readers some satisfying answers.

The BL Xpress would like to express their gratitude to Heidi Cullinan, for taking the time to talk with us!

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