The Amazon Iowan

Blog of Author Heidi Cullinan


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Contest for Libraries and How My Characters Became My Cats

This is the flushed out version of my newsletter, basically.

It was my birthday yesterday, and as is now my custom, on my birthday, I give things away. I’d meant this to be done all through August, but my August has been a bit wonky, so I’m STARTING the contest around my birthday and running it through September 5, though it will take me probably until October to get everything organized and gathered.

A sample of books Heidi will be giving for the contest.

A sample of books Heidi will be giving for the contest.

This year my contest is for librarians. If you are a librarian and would like some of my books and yet-unspecified others, enter yourself at this link. If you want to try to get books for YOUR library, make sure they’re down with that, and then you can enter on their behalf. Here are the rules, which are also posted on the form:

This contest is void where prohibited by law. Must be 18 to enter. Only one entry per person. No purchase necessary. Contest open worldwide unless contest is illegal in your country. Contest winner will be chosen at random by online randomizer from total number of entrants. Prize is one of FIVE paperback packages of some of Heidi’s books and other books as donated.  Prizes will be mailed directly to the libraries or their designated representatives. Non-librarians entering must affirm with target library to ensure they wish to be considered for the contest. This contest will open August 26 at 14PM CST and close at 8:30PM CST on September 5. To enter participants must fill out this Google document form. Winners will be announced on Twitter/FB and Heidi’s blog and will be notified of their wins via the email they provide in the contest entry. If a winner does not reply within 48 hours to claim prize, or if it is discovered the winning library doesn’t want the prize, a new winner will be chosen.  Prizes will be delivered by media mail and posted no later than October 1, 2014.

If I get a lot of author donations, I’ll do more than five packages. “Library” can be vague. If you have an LGBT center with a bookshelf, that counts. The only thing I’m not doing is your personal home library or the little free library in your front yard. If you have questions, email me at heidi@heidicullinan.com.

If you’re an author or someone who loves donating your favorite books to libraries, email me and let me know what you want to chip in. I’ll take all books from all genres.


 

The other story of the day is that we have two new members of the family, and their names are…Sam and Mitch.

I want it emphatically stated I had no part in the naming of these cats. How these two became named after my novel will be explained in the story.

So as regular blog readers know, we lost one of our cats, Sidney, in July. We didn’t want to get a new one until after my surgery and well into recovery, and we wanted to take our time and do it right. We’ve been peering at cats here and there, but this morning at the Animal Rescue League in  Des Moines we found two cats we liked, and one of them came with the name of Mitch.

Anna and Mitch

Anna and Mitch

I had almost looked at him last night because of the name, but it felt too on the nose, plus I am biased against longer-haired cats. Yet today when we asked for a good lap cat, he was the first guy named, and my daughter fell in love with him. He’s a rare bird: a male tortoise shell calico. He really is sweet. Ironically enough, he hates riding in cars.

Anna had originally wanted a cute baby kitten, but we talked her out of it because she already has a “her” cat who is weirdly still kitten-sized, and we cautioned her that if she’s after cuddly, kittens aren’t always the way to go. Mitch is a HUGE cuddler. He’s exceeding chill, not interested in toys or treats, just a good dish of water, snug places to hide, and people to lie on. He looks damn good in a blue collar, and he LOVES being brushed.

The other cat had been named Jacob at the shelter, but this was the cat Dan picked out, and Dan had his heart set on naming him. In the car on the ride home, Dan pointed out it was only natural to call the other cat Sam. I could hardly argue, and Anna thought the name suited him very well.

Sam does not hold still for photographs.

Sam does not hold still for photographs.

Sam is a firecracker. Whereas Mitch is an adult, Sam is still a kitten, and he zooms around the room, attacking feet, crinkle balls, socks, carpets, and anything he can get his hands on. He’ll endure being held, but he wants to run more. He, naturally, has a silver glitter collar.

We haven’t introduced Sam and Mitch to the other cats, but the other cats are already pissed. Daisy is growling at everyone, Glinda meows angrily at the door where the newcomers are sequestered, and Walter glares at us as if to say, “How could you?” We’re hoping they all get over each other quickly enough. Sam was unsure of Mitch at first, growling and batting at his face, but they’ve already made nice and are big buds.

(Don’t make any comments about what they’re going to do after dark. They’re both neutered.)

That’s the story of how I ended up with three of my five cats sharing names with my characters.

 

Please share this link with any librarians you think might be interested in getting some books. And stay tuned to social media for more cat pictures. You know there will be a million.

 

Also, since I’m rehashing the newsletter: Hero is available in all retailers, and Fever Pitch and Sleigh Ride have preorders. DON’T MISS the cover reveal for Carry the Ocean at Heroes & Heartbreakers.  See it also on my website, and sign up for my newsletter to be alerted for preorders.

Also also, there will be more of these in the coming month as we do the Fever Pitch tour, but this quote pic is my very favorite, and I can’t stand waiting to share it anymore.

safe space


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Be good to yourself

Heidi Cullinan:

This is my husband. Kind, wonderful, wise. His take on the issue of depression/anxiety, and you should listen, because this time it’s the horse’s mouth. Love you, honey.

Originally posted on This Man's World:

There has been a boatload of words written about Robin Williams this week.  I have to say that I was only a casual fan of Williams’ work – he was frequently too frenetic and intense for me to really appreciate – but I was still saddened by his death. The thing that impressed me the most this week was how Twitter really served as a communal grief center. It seemed that this particular celebrity death hit many people very, very hard.  This was undoubtedly compounded by the fact that Williams died by his own hand.  How do we reconcile the funny man that everyone saw with the act of suicide?  It’s tough, but not so tough when you think about it.

Williams’ death has also brought an amazing number people out of the mental health closet.  The famous and the not-so-famous are all writing their own bits on dealing with…

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Lights in the Darkness

life_under_the_ocean-widemy emotions feel loud and big. its hard for me to keep hold of them. they weigh me down. make me heavy and tired and overwhelmed. sometimes I feel like everyone else is carrying a bucket of water but I’m trying to carry an ocean. its very hard. sometimes I would rather not carry my ocean, even if it meant I couldn’t be alive.

— Jeremey Samson, Carry the Ocean

I got the news about Robin Williams while I was at the barn with my daughter. At first I tried to push it away, but it was like this huge stone ball in the middle of my head that kept rolling back in. Then Twitter began its snowball of grief, and I have not been able to stop. I’m unable to edit this properly as I usually do, so please forgive any thoughts that ramble to nowhere or things that aren’t quite fleshed out. I confess, this is largely therapy for me tonight. Forgive me my indulgence.

For me Robin William’s suicide is a multi-fold pain. To start, he has been, for my whole life, the magic, maniac man whose very presence on a screen could change my day. He made bad movies good. He made good movies excellent. He was Mork, a show I watched religiously as a child. He has forever been so huge in my head. The idea that he could be taken down by depression is devastating not only for the literal loss of him as a man and an entertainer, but also because it drags in its wake the terrible thought: if a man that great, that wonderful, that beloved can be a victim to depression, what hope does anyone have?

And now comes the part that keeps making me cry: I love so many, many people with depression and anxiety.

This is hitting me so much harder than it is my husband, who is open about his struggles with depression and anxiety (mostly anxiety), but that makes a great deal of sense, to be honest. For him this is sad, but it isn’t news. Yes, he knows acutely how nasty the whispers of mental illness are. How they steal hope. How they distort the world and turn a blue sky into an ominous storm. While he works hard to avoid letting it tell him things are so bad he should remove himself from the world, he can see the road to that place far, far too easily. It lives on his horizon in a way that alarms me when I’m made aware of it, but which also far too easily fades from my view.

This is not to say he is constantly considering suicide. This is not to say he isn’t a strong, intense, wonderful, deeply caring human being. He is. He’s amazing. The problem is he lives with a shade, an illness which is not a cancer of the cell but of the spirit. While I look at him with love and feel deep affection, even express affection, left unchecked, it can tell him I am lying. It can tell him many ugly, terrible things. It can turn a banquet into a graveyard. It can turn wonder into despair. And it can do all this without me ever knowing it’s happening.

I know and love so many people who fight this fight. There are more people I love who fight, but I don’t know they do.

Let me assure you, the people who struggle with depression and anxiety are ten thousand times stronger than those of us who don’t. I’ve had a few bouts of situational depression, and it’s soul-sucking–but I could at least point to chronic pain and undiagnosed illness as my culprit. Clinical depression and anxiety do not have to have a cause. Depression and anxiety can strike anyone for any reason, or for no reason. And it doesn’t present with a nice rash so you can say, “Oh hey. There goes my anxiety again.” It sneaks into your thoughts. It looks and feels like you. It walks with you, talks to you. It can be entirely invisible, even when you know someone is suffering from it.

This makes me crazy. This makes me sick, it makes me furious, it makes me rage helplessly inside myself some days. It makes me say the wrong thing to the people I love who have depression and anxiety. I am a woman who prizes my strength and control, who loves with passion and intensity, and this fucking disease makes me watch it hurt the people I love and keeps me from reaching them. Keeps me from knowing they need help. Twists my words of love, contorts my support. Even when I dance the support team dance right, it can still make all my efforts ash.

There is something about this horrible, godawful sonofafuckingbitch disease taking Robing Motherfucking Williams that makes me feel so much despair I don’t know how to even express the words. I keep cycling through this like a madwoman, so I started to blog in hopes of bleeding off some of the pain–but I think this is one we have to sit with. Depression and anxiety eat so many lives. It doesn’t take them all by suicide. It takes most by inches and hours. It cuts them off from love and hope.

It makes me so crazy I feel like I will explode.

It makes me want to cry until I puke.

It makes me want to hug my husband until he tells me to get off.

It makes me turn inside out for my child, who is winning her own war with anxiety right now…but I fear not arming her enough, not loving her enough, that I could do everything right and it could still speak louder than me.

Inevitably when I get like this, I feel like a fool because I’m not the one carrying that pain around, I’m only watching. I think, though, as I watch the whole Internet lose its shit over this, we need to all start carrying this pain too. We can’t take depression or anxiety from those we love. But we can work hard to make sure we’re loving not only them, but speaking publicly about the reality and truth of these illnesses, including that a whole, whole lot of amazing, wonderful people carry that ocean.

I find myself returning often to mental illness in my stories, sometimes overtly and sometimes indirectly. I don’t know that I always do a good job, but I always try to present anxiety and depression as real, normal aspects of life, with people who get happily ever afters. I think that keeps happening because I cannot control real life but I can control my fiction. I want everyone to feel they have hope. I want everyone to have models of hope. I want everyone to feel they can be okay, whoever they are, whatever they carry.

The quote at the beginning of this post is from a novel coming out in April 2015, about a hero with high-functioning autism and another, the character quoted, who suffers from depression and anxiety. I have the novel on my desk as a pre-edit, a chance to go over it with one last hard polish before my editor and I begin working on it together. When I gave it to people to beta, I gave it to several people I knew had depression and/or anxiety, and then others who didn’t. Or rather, who I thought didn’t. It turned out every single one of my beta readers identified as depressed or anxious or both.

So many of my readers have depression and/or anxiety, which I know because they tell me. The number of times a reader has reduced me to a mess at a signing because they identified with a character who had depression, anxiety, and/or disability is more than I can recount here. It always humbles me, shakes something in my core, because it’s both wonderful and terrible. Wonderful that my words could mean that much to someone, that they could be so personal–but it’s always followed up by my terror that I might have gotten it wrong. That I can never go deep enough, write enough, be careful enough.

I think, though, that is what it is to love someone with depression or anxiety. You must sit with the truth that you cannot take their cup. You cannot be louder than the illness, not always. You cannot always see its blows coming. It can, and too often does, take good people from us. For no reason at all. It is terrible to realize how powerless we are. It is this helplessness and ache which make us screw up, make us try to dismiss people’s depression and anxiety, because we want so much for it not to be true. We don’t want that pain of helplessness, and we try to push it away.

We have to stop pushing that pain away.

I cannot carry anyone else’s ocean for them. But I will probably always try. To be sure, I will carry even more people even more closely now as I do that edit. I will carry every reader who has written or approached me. I will carry my husband and my daughter. I will carry my friends and my family. I will carry the total strangers who connected with me on twitter tonight. I will carry Robin Williams. I will carry everyone I can, knowing I can’t ever be powerful enough to make someone okay. But I can be a light that helps them find their way out. I can be part of a sky full of light. It is worth the pain of trying and failing, because we never know when we are light. Sometimes the simplest thing can be what allows someone else to hold on.

We all can be lights in the darkness. We are all light, even in our greatest darkness. Be light for those you love. Be light for anyone you can. Because yes, depression can fell the most magic, wonderful people. But I will never stop believing that even the tiniest shard of hope can save us all.


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Not Enough Memes in the World For My NO: Amazon, Stop Dragging Me Into Your War With New York

What-the-fuck-is-that

Is it me, or does this Ariel look like Victoria Dahl?

I had this whole other post started last night, and then I abandoned it until the wiser hours of the morning. In between now and then, Chuck Wendig has written this, and I can’t say I disagree on a single of his points, though I was up until blarp o’clock talking on the phone, not to a toddler.  I agree that this letter from Amazon, which I was sent because I once tried to upload a free short and then gave up because they made it too hard, is so freaky weird wrong that I seriously still wonder if they aren’t being punked. (Though I like his sentient Al theory.)

Before I get going, however, I want to address readers up front in case you (wisely) see author politics and want to run screaming. Before I turn inward toward industry, let me clarify points I have been worrying my readers might be concerned about.

  1. I want you to buy my books from wherever is most comfortable and easy for you. I will never tell you where to buy your books. If you ask me where I want you to buy them, my answer is always, “Wherever your book buying experience is happiest and best for you.”
  2. I will never make my book exclusive to Amazon, because I know a significant chunk of you don’t want to shop there. To my best ability, I will place my books with as many book-buying options for you as possible, including paperback.
  3. I will never ask you to email anyone on my behalf. Not a publisher, not another author, not any business or individual. I think that’s tacky and gross and invasive of our relationship. If you ever choose to do such a thing on your own, that’s fine. But I want my readers to read my books, and I want that reading experience to be the best for you that it can be. I want nothing to get in the way of that, especially an activist campaign.

 

Now I’m going to talk shop. Please don’t feel bad if you say, “I think I don’t want to read this.” Mostly this is for the authors in the room, because a number of us are scandalized and upset, and we’re talking to each other through our pain.

I CANNOT BELIEVE a book distributor just emailed me and asked me to write an angry letter to a publisher who is not my own. That is still ringing in my head ten hours later. Is Amazon hoping I’m really stupid? Because if I write a letter to a major publishing house parroting the party line of the entity currently at war with them, I run the real and likely risk of being blacklisted not only at that house but all NYC houses. Not because they are big colluding colluders. Because they talk to each other at lunch. You’ve put them all in the same boat, Amazon—you outright say in your letter you see this as a flagship for the great ebook pricing revolution—and even if you hadn’t, those editors chat. If I am a tool to someone at St Martin’s, the Harper Collins editor she goes to the gym with will hear my name associated with bad behavior, and if my agent floats a manuscript to them, they will remember that I’m that ragey-pants bitch who flounced at the SMP editor they do pilates with. So, no. I’m not shooting myself in the foot because you’ve decided all authors should be collateral damage beside the Hachette authors.

53445327Even if that weren’t a fast track to being blacklisted—legitimately so—again, they are not my house! This is not my business! I have no horse in this fight except for the awkward part where except for the extortion, hostage taking, propaganda and bully tactics, I agree with several of Amazon’s points about ebooks. Yes, I sell more books when they’re priced lower. Yes I make more when I get a higher percentage. And yet I don’t always make more money when my ebooks are priced lower. On my popular books I sell about the same number because readers are buying it at any price, and the way math works, I get less when the book is priced lower. Yet I’m okay with that, because I believe if I create enough work of quality, if I work hard and reach deeper and deeper into mainstream romance culture and work hard hard hard to politely, patiently convince readers who haven’t read LGBT romance to try me—I believe, like a doe-eyed Pollyanna, that someday this will pan out for me in a big way.

I don’t know if that’s true, though. My research is personal and based on many variables I have no true details for, and by the way Amazon, YOU are the greatest withholder of information which would help me better understand my career. If you would tell me what the fuck your “bestseller” numbers mean, if you would stop prioritizing sales of people who publish exclusively through you–if it made any goddamn, consistent sense, I could do stuff with that data. But you give me charts with no graph lines and no numbers except on one side, and if I blink the whole board changes.

Let me be frank. I’ve seen “bestselling” authors on Amazon charts, particularly the gay romance chart, publicly crow about their sales numbers, and every time my eyebrows raise, because let me tell you, I know a lot of authors at publishing houses riding the lower levels of those same charts whose numbers smoke the pants off these “bestsellers.” These are always Amazon-only sales, which means these authors are being snookered, told they are better sellers than they truly are, and by miles. This is an example of not only Amazon not helping me but deliberately walling off large bodies of authors into a ghetto, feeding them slop while smiling and telling them this is the best gourmet soup ever, as good as if not better as the stuff they get at that silly New York house down the street! This is great, right? Don’t look over the wall. Stay focused on me.

Because Amazon is not simply a Barnes and Noble who also sells beef tongue, coffee pods, and gluten free groceries. Amazon has become a publisher too, which means they are a publisher trying to dictate terms to other publishers, trying to shrink and thereby control the publishing environment. Let’s be very clear about that and not sugar-coat it. If they were one or the other, it would be different, but they are both. This changes everything and forever gives me pause.

53440643Yes, Amazon, a higher percentage and lower price points which generate higher sales is wonderful. I have that in my publisher Samhain. They give me a beautiful bridge between the assets of New York and the benefits of a small, lean publisher. And so far you’re leaving them alone. But if you successfully topple New York, what will you do to my publisher? What happens when you’ve killed all publishers or all but enough to keep the government from breaking you up as a monopoly and you decide I should settle for 25%? Or back down to New York levels of percentage, but with no production value and basically no control whatsoever, because you have it all now? I love the utopia you paint, except for the part where you’re in control of it all.

I love Amazon. I use it at least once a week to order something. I buy my books exclusively on kindle one click download because it’s the way I like to do it. I make, no question, the lion’s share of my money on Amazon. We’re at this moment waiting for what we call in this house the “Amazon check” from Tough Love, the payment from my publisher where Amazon’s release day numbers show up in the royalty payout. It’s always the big dump, the money we can use to pay things down and squirrel away, and those numbers always carry on for several months. When I give away books and readers tell me format, overwhelmingly it is mobi. There is so very much about Amazon that defines and shapes my life and my career.

Which is why I get so upset when I see things like this. I don’t want to hate Amazon. I don’t want them to drunk text authors and god help me, readers, pissing me off so much I start getting books from elsewhere and figuring out how to upload them on my kindle. Because I’ll buy less books then. Part of the lure of one-click is it’s so effortless. I have no time to second-guess myself. I can buy a book via a twitter link on my phone. My kindle becomes littered with gems while I shop for groceries. My readers love Amazon. I want Amazon to stay.

I don’t, however, want Amazon to take over. I think the Big Five have a lot to learn about ebooks and the way the world is turning, but I believe whole-heartedly they should be able to make those decisions themselves. I understand and respect they have much more data than I do and are making the choices they make because they truly believe they’re the best for them and for their authors. I comprehend that there is a true and frustrating ceiling to being a largely ebook author, and that Amazon is only interested in helping me reach further if I give them exclusivity—though as mentioned above, I don’t know how in the world I’d be able to measure my success.

53445517I don’t want to be kept in the dark. I don’t want one bookseller to rule them all. I don’t want to kiss the ring of anyone—I don’t want New York to be able to make my small publishers go away because they’re frustrating to the world they used to know and understand, and I don’t want Amazon to create some post-apocalyptic new world order. I want to write my work, get paid a fair wage for it, and get the widest distribution possible. So no, Amazon. I won’t be emailing on your behalf.  You need to fight your own battles. And honestly, you need to be careful. Yes, I spend a lot of money at your business and enjoy a number of sales because of you. I want you to remain strong and let me keep doing both those things. This? This isn’t strength. This is insanity.

Amazon. Sell shit. That’s what you do well. If you don’t like New York publishers, don’t sell their books. You don’t have to. Except you know what we all know, don’t you, that they still make the lion’s share of everyone’s money. Should they maybe join this century? Yes. Are things in publishing going to get worse before they get better? Yes. Very much yes. But this isn’t helping. This is a power grab and manipulation, and I absolutely don’t ever want you to involve me in it again. And never bother my readers. If you try to shame my readers into your war, I really will start shopping elsewhere, even if it’s less convenient and means I can’t stream Hot in Cleveland on Amazon Prime anymore. As you point out, there’s a lot of content out there. I’ll find a way to survive.


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Congrats, Amy and Miss Rose Rose, also an update since I’m overdue.

picard_clappingAmy R won her choice of paperback, and Miss Rose Rose won the ebook. Congrats to you both!

On to the quick update portion of the blog post: as you can tell from the way I’m ready to shout at online magazines, I’m feeling pretty good. Recovery is going quite well. I’m 2.5 weeks into my 6-8 week recovery, and I feel better than I have in ten years. A lot of my chronic pain is gone, though not quite all. I still get intermittent neck and shoulder trouble, and after a great start my feet and knees are still a bit princessy, but overall, everything is good. There are also some signs that the food stuff might calm down, but no, you can’t come over yet and hand me an egg and cheese on wheat with some almond milk to wash it down. Environmental allergies are also a bit improved, though still there. There’s hope those may all ebb or reduce, but this will be the work of months and possibly years.

My biggest issue is I need to rest, and I’m not always good at it. I still get tired very quickly, and it’s essential I listen when systems shut down. For example, tonight Anna and I went on several errands, and I did really well–right up until the end. So though I wanted to go to the grocery store too, I had to put that off until tomorrow. That and everybody has to carry everything for me. But I’m able to do small household tasks now, and I think tomorrow I’m going to try driving out of town.

So the bottom line is, things are good, and so am I. Thanks to everybody for the cards, notes of support, and everything. They totally helped.


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Please Enjoy The Fisting, @Salon and @Vice.

Vice.com had a snigger yesterday about how romance novelists don’t know what fisting is and isn’t that funny. Then Salon got in on the act. (Both links via donotlink.com.)

It’s true. Romance novelists, like all genre novelists, get creative with their use of words, and it is decidedly an easy reach to fist someone’s hair or fist all kinds of things, and yeah, sometimes it doesn’t actually work. Some of this comes because there are overeager editors and houses with zeal about NO BODY PART MUST EVER APPEAR TO ACT INDEPENDENTLY, despite personification/anthropomorphism as actual things. Some of it is because it’s convention, because sometimes it does work.

Yet first bro at Vice randomly sampled some authors (not industry names, either), made some sniggering assumptions, and then Salon zombied over and used the moment to gasp at the ignorance of romance authors.

Jenny Kutner, Mike Lee Pearl, having read your articles I’m assuming you don’t know how to research. Because looking only at this one example of your work tells me everything I need to know about you, at least by YOUR metric. You clearly either didn’t go to college, or you went somewhere grossly incompetent, because you don’t know how to write an article or do any research. You think it’s okay to slap shit up and call it good. Fuck those dippy little romance novelists anyway.

Well, fuck you back, without lube up your clenched assholes, with this. HAT TIP. That is not fisting. That is a humorous dildo. This is more of a fisting dildo, though of course human hands may also be used. Please do actual research before you do this at home, journalists. Or, maybe not. Just make sure someone’s doing it to you, not you to anybody else. PLEASE, people, don’t let these journalists fist you until they go back to school.

Many, many romance novelists and readers know what fisting is. Many of us have written and read fisting scenes which also happen to be moving. Sometimes they’re hot. Sometimes they’re tender. Sometimes they’re both. Sometimes they’re funny! Because we do a lot of research, and we work hard, and so do our editors and publishers. Unlike you, we know how to write. We make a lot more money than you do too, sweetheart.

But before you go, Jenny, Mike: please let me illustrate what fisting in romance looks like. I encourage all romance novelists who have fisting examples to do the same.

***

9781611183801_cover.inddFrom Nowhere Ranch, copyright 2011 by Heidi Cullinan

I headed upstairs, where I knew Travis was waiting for me. Haley wouldn’t have known what that extra little growl in his voice had been about when he told me it was time to go to bed, but I did. Before I headed to the bedroom, though, I hit the bathroom at the top of the stairs, did some business and some prep, and headed down the hall to meet him.

As I knew he would be, he was on the bed, lounging, wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. He doesn’t look particularly hairy when he’s dressed, because he shaves close and generally wears long sleeves, but he’s actually more than a bit of a bear. His gray-brown hair curls in a thick pelt across his chest and down his arms, and right then it caught the dim lamplight and made me want to jump onto the bed and bury my face in it. His right hand was tucked casually under the pillow, but that just thrilled me more, because I knew why he was hiding it, knew what he was wearing there. He had figured this out last week, and now he hid it to ramp me up.

I undressed without being asked, but I did it slow and extra clumsy, letting my eagerness and my nerves show, because I knew that ramped him up. But I was nervous, yeah. Because I saw the canister on the bed stand, and I saw the towel draped over the bed.

When I was naked, I went over to lie down on that towel. I waited a second, looking him in the eye, and then I pulled my legs back, held them open, and waited.

He pulled his hand — cased in a glove — out from its hiding place and reached for the grease.

It turned me on when we did this all silent, no questions, no instructions, just looks and sounds, but it freaked me out too. For him it added to the wickedness of it all, that he was greasing up with Crisco to shove his fingers way up my ass. I lay there, still and quiet, looking into his eyes as he worked the first finger into me. He watched my face for the first few thrusts, but because he couldn’t help himself, pretty soon he looked down and watched. I did then too. It was fucking hot. He’d propped up a few pillows behind my head, but I leaned forward as much as I could to see his slicked-up fingers — two now — going inside me.

“We really are leaving early in the morning.” He kept his eyes on his work, speaking casually, like pushing his fingers in and out of my ass was just something he had to get done before he went to bed. It made my blood hum.

“Where we headed?” I wasn’t able to be casual. My voice was thick, and my words were raspy. He liked this too.

He added a third finger, and I moaned.

“East.” He pushed his fingers in deep and twisted. “Going to check on something to see if it will work out.”

And that was all the information I was going to get about our errand tomorrow.

His pinky worked its way in beside the others, and I gave up, lay back, and sang.

He had not properly fisted me yet, but the mindfuck was that he could have, because my body and my mind were both ready. I was so fucking ready it wasn’t funny. This game would end tonight, I knew, as it always did, with me red-faced and straining, looking up at him in a haze as I begged in slurred speech for him to please put his hand inside me and fuck me. I would tell him how much I loved his fingers scraping inside me. I would describe my insides with crude and ridiculous terms both, because he liked that — why the hell he got turned on by me saying I wanted him to stroke my velvet channel I don’t rightly know, but Jesus did that make him bite hard on my lip. And let me tell you how I wanted that, no matter what you called it. I wanted so bad to look down and just see his wrist or even forearm showing. I wanted to know he was in me. I wanted to feel so vulnerable and safe at once. I wanted it like I had never wanted anything else.

He greased that hand like you would not believe, working each one of the fingers inside me, pairing them, dividing them, teasing them. Two days before, he had worked me over on the couch like this while we watched a porn where two guys interrogated a prisoner who had allegedly smuggled film canisters in his ass. Travis wore surgical gloves, but in the video it had been a black glove. That night Travis had just about made me climb the walls, digging around in my ass, biting my ear as he whispered, “You got anything in there I need to find?” And I’d said, “Yeah. Get in there and get it.” But he couldn’t find it, he said, so he’d have to dig deeper, and pretty soon I was begging and clutching and begging, sure that was going to be the time he went all the way in. But no.

There was no way it was going to be tonight, with him telling me we had to get up in the morning and go “east.” But the game was that I begged, so I did.

“What do you want, Roe?” He had his hand cupped, thumb tucked, four fingers pushed in to the first knuckle. I was so well greased you could have rammed a silage tower up my ass.

“I want your hand in my ass,” I rasped, and tried to fuck myself on his fingers. “I want to feel your fingers at the back of my throat. I want you to fuck me up to your elbow, sir. I want you to tickle me from the inside. I want that big, bad hand punching at me, making me whine. I want you to fuck me with your fist, Mr. Loving.”

It took me a bit to say all that. Speeches are tricky when you are acutely aware of your ass being stretched. If he’d get that hand in, it’d be a fucking relief. I’d be full as fuck, but the pain would ease. But then his fun of torturing me would end. And it was my job to take what he dished out, so I told him what I wanted, then got ready not to get it.

But that night he leaned over me, looked at me with wicked, wicked eyes, and said, “You remember, boy, that I always give you want you want.”

And he pushed inside.

 


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Read-a-Romance Month: Hope is a Powerful Weapon

This post is part of Read-a-Romance Month, which features romances all across the genre. You can find out more about the project here, as well as read posts from other authors, and try your hand at prizes. I’m giving away a prize too, so read on.

For my stop on the tour, I’m going to talk about how romance novels celebrate hope and how vital that is for our world, especially right now. I remember, vividly, the day I was given my first romance. My life was insane. My parents were fighting like cats and dogs, but putting off officially divorcing because we had an exchange student. (Don’t ask. It’s never going to make sense.) We’d moved from a great school to one where I essentially treaded water for two years, and where I was the only person in my family with a steady job.

I didn’t even know that the worst was yet to come as far as how much stress I would endure. I’d already gone from the church youth group star volunteer to the girl who went out boozing on Wednesday night with high school dropouts and guys whose ambition was to play darts for a living. I’d eventually start smoking like a chimney and break down intermittently both at home and at school. It wasn’t a great time, no, but it was when I was first handed a romance novel, and I’m here to testify, I don’t think I’d have come out the other side in one piece without them.

Romance novels come in varying lengths, theme, subgenre, and even quality of content—but whatever else they are, romance novels always come with a heaping side of hope and happiness delivered. Bad things happen, yes, and yeah, we can relate to that, but good things happen too. The good guys always win. Love surmounts all obstacles. Whatever darkness comes for the characters, hope carries them through, and love saves the day.

LetItSnow72lg 2We discount, often, how much that means to us as humans, that power. We forget that the story doesn’t have to be full of meaning and emotional heartstrings to move us. Last year I released a category-length Christmas novel, Let It Snow, the first in a series. I was so excited for it. After writing lots of angst and intensity, this was going to be short, sweet, and fun. Maybe it would be silly. I didn’t care. It was for me, my release, my relaxation. If nobody bought it, so what.

People bought it. People bought it a lot, more than anything else I sold that year. People loved it, had a great time–and wrote me to tell me that it moved them. One reader told me it got her through a rough time at the hospital when she wasn’t sure how things were going to go down for her family. My silly, simple book became her lifeline. Knowing everything would be okay, that hope would win out–that was a gift to her. That was power.

In college, I read dead white men all week, and every weekend I read romances. I can’t remember most of the titles, but I do remember the sense of hope. That safety and comfort. When everyone else went out drinking, I went home to read. I racked up a credit card full of almost nothing but book purchases. And they were more medicinal than any drugs, prescription or recreational, I could have used to get me through. So here’s to romance. To the silly and the serious, the soft and the sexy. To hope. To happiness. Ever after.


Questions from Read-a-Romance

Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did.

Well, I’ll tell you about the event that felt daring and adventurous but was mostly silly and unnecessary and me all over. When I was in high school, I hung out with the bad boys a lot, usually during the week. One night we were up on a hill off an old road when a car came toward us and someone shouted, “POLICE!” A bunch of us took off into the night, literally into the woods and cornfields, because anything was better than being caught drinking underage (or providing alcohol to minors, as others would have been guilty of). We wove our way through brambles and harvested corn rows, sobering up in a hurry, ruining our shoes, and scraping up our limbs. It felt epic. It felt terrifying and amazing. There were no cell phones back then, no nothing, and it felt like we were in one of my beloved fantasy novels, living off the land and escaping the law. I remember feeling intensely, acutely alive. Sore and nervous and sick to my stomach, but one hundred percent present, and not bored at all. Especially when I had to walk over the train bridge and hope nothing came to kill me while I was crossing. It turns out there were never any cops. We fell for someone’s joke, and they all had a good laugh about it later. All I know is I still think about that night and how it felt. And that I had to throw out my shoes.

 

Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. (How did you decide to get started? Did you always know or was there a specific moment when you knew?)

 I’ve been writing since I was twelve, when Barbies became less satisfying but I still wanted to tell stories. My first novel was published in the school anthology. It was incredible pap and took up over half of the final volume. Very early 1980s saga, but less sex. Though I didn’t know it at the time, it was my first romance novel too. I wrote fantasy until college, when I started thinking, you know, I could get paid for this…  IMG_0972

 

Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?)

That honor definitely goes to A Knight in Shining Armor. It was my gateway to romance, both reading and writing. I’d technically been writing romance before that, but mostly I was writing fantasy with romantic elements. This was the book that changed my focus and taught me that romance novels could always make me feel good and safe. I haven’t been able to quit them since. I got to meet her at RT 2013 in Kansas City. I shook the whole time and cried afterward. My original copy, faded from age, is now also signed.


Drawing

I’m giving away two prizes in two separate contests: one choice of ebook from my backlist, one signed paperback of Family Man, A Private Gentleman, Love Lessons, or Let It Snow.

You can enter both contests, and both contests are open internationally. If you have a post office I can ship a book to, you can enter. (Currently I cannot ship to the International Space Station. Sorry. But you could get an ebook!)

To enter, you MUST fill out these forms. Leaving a comment here will win you nothing, alas. Here is the form for the ebook contest. Here is the form for the paperback. Good luck!


Bad Boyfriend book coverRecommendations

Part of my job in this post is to recommend two other LGBT authors to you, which as you can imagine, only two is all kinds of awful. The first recommendation is easy: KA Mitchell. I heartily recommend you read any and all of her books. Bad BoyfBad Idea book coverriend is my personal favorite, except now I kind of like the one coming out in December better. (Yes, I’ve read it! Be so jealous.) Learn more about KA here at her website.

My other recommended author is Damon Suede. He’s still working on building his backlist, but he’s brilliant, crazy-wonderful, and my spiritual brother. Bad Idea is one of my favorite books ever, about comic geeks and following your muse, all wrapped up in a big New York bow. Check out his work and his website here.


Heidi Cullinan author photo

(As part of this tour, I have to include a bio, so those of you regular readers who already know who I am, please enjoy the overly familiar.)

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 and upcoming releases, at www.heidicullinan.com.

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