Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton On Characters, Stories, and their recent re-release Second Hand (a Tucker Springs story) (author interview)

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Second Hand by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton
Dreamspinner Press

Cover art: Reese Dante

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press

Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words is happy to host Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton here today talking about their new release Second Hand.

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~ A Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Interview with Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton ~

How much of yourself goes into a character?

Marie: A little piece of me goes into every single one, but how much varies from character to character. For most of them, it’s only small, random things, like their pet peeves or their favorite drink. Others have more. Trey from Family Man had a lot of my real life experiences, and Cody from Trailer Trash had a lot of my “not fitting in” teenage angst. 

Heidi: I’d agree that it’s mostly random things. I’ve had a few I identify strongly with, but no one has ever felt like a self-insert. They definitely end up with a lot of my personal stories and things I’ve witnessed/experienced, but it’s a real remix. For Second Hand, honestly, I’m the one who had El’s family making tamales, but that was all research. I’d never made them myself. Now I can make them like a pro and have had tutoring by people who know their stuff, and my tamales aren’t half bad. But at the time I wrote that, it wasn’t even borrowed from my experiences.

Does research play a role into choosing which genre you write?  Do you enjoy research or prefer making up your worlds and cultures?

Marie: I’m going to be honest here — I despise research. My degree is in history, so it seems like something I should love, but I don’t. Which is why I mostly write contemporaries. Every time I’ve started writing something historical, I got bored and shifted it to an AU instead, largely so I could just make shit up and not have to do research. (Song of Oestend and Release being prime examples.)

Heidi: I research everything because it makes me feel grounded. I usually only write about something I have at least some familiarity with, but even then I’m always investigating. I don’t think it plays a role in my choices, but it does vary by project. Interestingly some of the least research I had to do was for Clockwork Heart, which I thought would have the most. There my biggest problem was all the dang languages.

Do you read romances, as a teenager and as an adult?

Marie: Never. Growing up, I mostly read fantasy, with a smattering of horror, scifi, and mysteries in between. Back in about 2008, I read Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunner series. At the end of the second book, the two male protagonists become lovers, and I was blown away. So I started looking for more fantasy books with gay protagonists. I slid down a slippery slope into gay romance. I spent about a year reading every one I could get my hands on (which was only a few, really, because I was still reading paperbacks). Then, in 2009, I wrote my first book (Promises), and I haven’t read a romance since then (except for a handful that I’ve beta read for friends). These days, I primarily read thrillers and mysteries, with a bit of horror and fantasy in between.

Heidi: I started reading Harlequins in the library and sneaking them into checkout when I was a teenager, but I didn’t start formally reading romance until my choir teacher handed me A Knight in Shining Armor and told me I should read it. I really loved both the adventure and the female-centered adult story, plus the guaranteed HEA. In college I read a lot of them on the weekends after reading dead white men all week (I was an English major). Nowadays I still read romance, but I also read fantasy, Japanese fiction, and Japanese and Chinese manga and light novels.

Have you ever had to put an ‘in progress’ story aside because of the emotional ties with it?  You were hurting with the characters or didn’t know how to proceed?

Marie: Yes, I did this with Trailer Trash. I originally started it back in about 2011. But then I knew it was going to get heavy and angsty, so I put it aside for several years. I finally went back and finished it in late 2015. I loved those boys too much to leave them hanging.

Heidi: A lot of my stories take years to write because I get to spots where it’s like their a pudding that needs to set up. Sometimes I need to think about it, sometimes I need to wrestle with it, and sometimes I need to forget about it and come back. It’s never been because I was overly emotional about it, but sometimes I see what I have to do to it and think, I’m not ready for that. Antisocial was probably the most difficult. Honestly part of me wanted another six months on that one, but sometimes you have to write the book when you have to write the book. But this is why The Roosevelt series takes so long. Those books really make me sit and ponder stuff. I feel like I’ve been having an argument with David for three years now.

Do you have a favorite among your own stories?  And why?

Marie: My favorite is Song of Oestend, and its sequel, Saviours of Oestend. They have everything I love writing — friends to lovers, opposites attract, role reversal, a redeemed bad boy, and a touch of BDSM. And they have things I don’t get to write often — burly cowboys, paranormal elements, and an alternate universe setting.

Heidi: Double Blind is always my favorite, though while I wrote it Antisocial was. I began to get unwell as it was published and promoted, though, so it’s lost some of its luster for me with time. But pretty much Double Blind for life.

Have you ever had an issue in RL and worked it through by writing it out in a story?  Maybe how you thought you’d feel in a situation?

 Marie: I don’t do this often, but yes, it has happened. Back in 2012 or so, Heidi and I started writing a book together. It was supposed to be just for fun — not necessarily to publish — and without really deciding to, I ended up dumping a whole lot of myself into that. All my issues growing up with an addict, and then as an adult, watching my mother’s addiction catch up to her, seeing her in the hospital over and over again, dealing with the constant victim mentality — I dumped it all into that book. In hindsight, it was quite cathartic. And I’m glad Heidi talked me into publishing it after all. (But it’s not Second Hand. It’s the other book we wrote together — Family Man.)

 

Heidi: Yeah, I don’t set out to do it, but I talk to myself a lot while I write, and I hate chaos, so writing is a way to put order to things. The books I’m finishing up now feel to me like my way of creating a place/world I don’t know is possible to exist, yet I enjoy feeling like here, it could. I don’t try to overtly work through stuff, though. In fact, I work to avoid it. It just happens to me. I feel like if I deliberately attempt to address an issue, it comes out a mess.

 

What’s next for you as a writer?

Marie: I’m currently finishing up Spare the Rod, the third book in the Heretic Doms Club series. I have one more to write after that, to finish the series. But first, I have to squeeze in a new Tucker Springs book.

Heidi: I’m finishing up edits on the last of the Copper Point: Medical series out this year from Dreamspinner, and then I finally, finally get to write the books I was supposed to write in 2017, starting with Rebel Heart. Somewhere in there I have to write another Tucker Springs book, but I’m hoping to produce at least two indie works first. 2019 will be the Year of the New Books for me.

Check out Second Hand, revised and re-edited, re-releases on January 8, 2019 from Dreamspinner Press. We hope you enjoy it! 

Blurb:

A Tucker Springs Novel

Paul Hannon flunked out of vet school. His fiancée left him. He can barely afford his rent, and he hates his house. About the only things he has left are a pantry full of his ex’s kitchen gadgets and a lot of emotional baggage. He could really use a win—and that’s when he meets El.

Pawnbroker El Rozal is a cynic. His own family’s dysfunction has taught him that love and relationships lead to misery. Despite that belief, he keeps making up excuses to see Paul again. Paul, who doesn’t seem to realize that he’s talented and kind and worthy. Paul, who’s not over his ex-fiancée and is probably straight anyway. Paul, who’s so blind to El’s growing attraction, even asking him out on dates doesn’t seem to tip him off.

El may not do relationships, but something has to give. If he wants to keep Paul, he’ll have to convince him he’s worthy of love—and he’ll have to admit that attachment might not be so bad after all.

Tucker Springs Series

Welcome to Tucker Springs
Tucker Springs is located on the western slope of Colorado, in between Grand Junction and Silverton. One of the themes of Tucker Springs is that what you see is not what you get. Take, for example, the “springs”. Although many neighboring towns have actual hot springs, the spring here is more of a…

About the Authors:

Heidi’s Bio

Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys playing with new recipes, reading romance and manga, playing with her cats, and watching too much anime. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.

Marie Sexton

Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Colorado Eagles and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one teenage daughter, one adorable dog, and one very stupid cat, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.

Marie also writes dark dystopian erotic fantasy under the name A.M. Sexton. You can find her at http://mariesexton.net/, and on Facebook and Twitter.

An Ali Audiobook Review: Family Man By Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton/Colin Darcy (Narrator)

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Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sometimes family chooses you.

How does a man get to be forty without knowing whether he’s gay? That’s a question Vince Fierro is almost afraid to answer. If he is gay, it’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, he can’t help but wonder if he’s been playing for the wrong team.

There’s only one way to settle it, once and for all—head for Chicago’s Boystown bars, far from anyone who knows him. Naturally, he runs smack into someone from the neighborhood.

Between working two jobs, going to school, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his mother’s ongoing substance abuse, Trey Giles has little time for fun, let alone dating someone who swears he’s straight. Yet after one night of dancing cheek-to-cheek to the sultry strains of Coltrane, Trey finds himself wanting to help Vinnie figure things out—no promises, and no sex.

It seems like a simple plan, until their “no-sex” night turns into the best date of their lives and forges a connection that complicates everything.

I originally read this book when it first came out in 2103 and I was new to reading this genre.  I really enjoyed it at that time.  When I had the chance to review this on audio I was both excited and nervous.  I wondered if this book would stand the test of time (and honestly many of my reads from then have not).  I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it just as much.  Honestly probably more because the narrator was excellent and really added to the story.
The story is told in alternating points of view.  We hear from both Vince and Trey which was a bit weird at first because one is told first person pov and the other third.  It took me a minute to get my head around that but once I got used to the change I was able to easily follow along.
Vince is almost 40 and kind of lost.  He has a good job that he enjoys and a big, loving family but he’s just not happy and he’s failed every relationship he’s tried.  A series of events lead him to Trey who is a younger guy he knows from the neighborhood.  Sparks immediately fly and Vince is able to take baby steps towards dating a guy.  His journey is a tough one and there were times I wanted to shake Vince, but mostly my heart ached for him.  He’s so caught up in his fear and his overwhelming family and cultural expectations.  At his core though he is a really good guy.  He is kind and thoughtful and once he decides he’s committed to trying this thing with Trey he’s all in.
Trey I also loved as a MC.  He’s in his mid twenties but he’s way more mature.  Unfortunately his alcoholic mother has ensured he grew up way before his time.  I really loved the plot line that Trey wants to wait to have sex.  It wasn’t for religious reasons, just he wanted it to be special.  I don’t think I’ve read that before in the m/m genre and I thought it was a lovely change.
I thought the authors did an excellent job showcasing what it’s like to live with an addict.  Trey’s feelings were so honest and real and I thought they made a wise choice in not trying to pretty any of it up.
One of the highlights of this book for me was the narration.  It was narrated by Colin Darcy who I had not listened to before.  He did an excellent job.  He really nailed all of the characters and his performance made the book even more emotional to me than when I read it.  I had not listened to this narrator previously but will definitely seek out his work in the future.
This new cover was done by Kanaxa and I love it.  It looks enough like the old cover to not be a jarring difference but at the same time it’s totally unique.  The cover models match my perceptions of the MC’s perfectly and fit the feel of the plot really well.
Audiobook Details:
Audible Audio, 8 pages
Published June 5th 2018 by Dreamspinner Press (first published March 12th 2013)
Original TitleFamily Man
ASINB07DFT349S
Edition LanguageEnglish
CharactersVincent Fierro, Trey Giles settingIllinois (United States)

A MelanieM Release Day Review: Family Man by Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton

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Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5

Sometimes family chooses you.

At forty, Vincent “Vinnie” Fierro is still afraid to admit he might be gay—even to himself. It’ll be a problem for his big, fat Italian family. Still, after three failed marriages, it’s getting harder to ignore what he really wants.

Vinnie attempts some self-exploration in Chicago’s Boystown bars, far from anyone who knows him. Naturally, he runs smack into someone from the neighborhood.

Between working two jobs, going to school, taking care of his grandmother, and dealing with his mother’s ongoing substance abuse, Trey Giles has little time for fun, let alone dating someone who swears he’s straight. Yet after one night of dancing cheek-to-cheek, Trey agrees to let Vinnie court him and see if he truly belongs on this side of the fence—though Trey intends to keep his virginity intact.

It seems like a solid plan, but nothing is simple when family is involved. When Vinnie’s family finds out about their relationship, the situation is sticky enough, but when Trey’s mother goes critical, Vinnie and Trey must decide whose happiness is most important—their families’ or their own.

Heidi Cullinan and Marie Sexton are two of my “must read” authors.  They never fail to produce a story that will warm your heart and leave you thinking about love in all its combinations.   In Family Man, the authors give us an older Italian American who has been so afraid of his own sexuality that he has married three times in the past, each with the same predictable result, divorce.  His huge Italian family is pressuring him to date and enter into yet another relationship with a woman and Vince finally realizes that something has to change.  At first Vince comes across as almost a stereotype and I had a problem connecting with the character.  Vince stubbornly refuses to see that being gay does not lessen him as a man and until he can rid himself of that notion he won’t be able to accept his “gayness”.  It takes some time to really see Vince as the complex character he really is and most of that is due to his inner dialogs with himself that almost makes the reader lose patience with him.

The story really takes off when Vince and Trey connect with each other.  The story switches pov back and forth between Trey and Vince and it works as we become involved emotionally in their burgeoning relationship.  Trey’s situation is especially disheartening and stressful.  Overworked, he is trying to provide for his grandmother and deal with his mother who is an alcoholic and drug addict.  Cullinan and Sexton realistically portray what it means to live with someone who refuses to deal with their addictions.  It is heartrending in its futility and the damage it inflicts on those closest to the addict and the addict themselves is authentic at every level.

Vince’s issues are also examined and given an equally respectful treatment.  His fears of losing his large, Italian Catholic family if he comes out as gay are pretty realistic, especially at his age.  Vince has spent close to forty years denying his true self and that is a tragedy.  It takes time for Vince to visit all the ramifications of his decision and then move forward with his relationship with Trey.  I actually found the second half of the book just flies by as events speed up in both Vince and Trey’s lives.  It was my favorite part of the book.

Family Man is a wonderfully sweet story of romance and love found when least expecting it.  Cullinan and Sexton make a marvelous team and I can’t wait to see what they will come up with next.  Pick this up and prepare to meet an Italian family that is hard to forget and two MCs you will grow to love.

Cover art by Kanaxa.  I love this cover, I think it has the characters down pat.

Sales Links:  Dreamspinner Press | Amazon

Book Details:

ebook, 2nd Edition, 206 pages
Expected publication: September 11th 2017 by Dreamspinner Press (first published March 12th 2013)
Original TitleFamily Man
ISBN139781640800533
Edition LanguageEnglish
CharactersVincent Fierro, Trey Giles settingIllinois (United States)