Today I am so excited to welcome back Heidi Cullinan for part 2 of our three-part Special Delivery series interview. Heidi stopped by last month to talk about the rerelease of Special Delivery (and if you missed that, you can find it here). Now she is here to talk to us about the rerelease of the second book in the series, Double Blind, as well as a free short story she wrote that comes between the two. Heidi has also brought a copy of Double Blind to give away to one lucky reader.
Welcome back Heidi!
So before we get into Double Blind, I want to chat a bit about the free short story you just released, Hooch and Cake, which comes in between Special Delivery and Double Blind and features Mitch and Sam’s wedding. What made you decide to revisit these guys, and why now? (And BTW, I LOVED it!)
I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Well, I’ve always meant to write it, and I tried several times but it didn’t ever quite work, or I got distracted, or something came up. I felt like this was my last real shot, because otherwise it would always be this real throwback. Plus I honestly thought it would be 5-10k, something more like “Frozen Heart.” Well, this is even longer than The Twelve Days of Randy! But it seems to have worked out okay anyway.
There were a lot of things I wanted to address between the books, little stuff that wasn’t technically necessary but fun to have. Also, I wanted it to be a big schmaltzy fangasm. I didn’t want to pretend for it to be anything but fun for everybody. My only regret is I wish I could have gotten done with enough time for Sasha to edit it for me.
Although that story centers on Mitch and Sam, in many ways it is about Randy, and where he fits in. It is clear that he is an incredibly important part of their lives, and they show him that. But we also see that he definitely is missing having someone of his own. Since this story was written after Double Blind, what was it like to go back and depict Randy at this stage of life before meeting Ethan, knowing what was to come for him?
It was kind of fun, actually. I knew the second I met him he had an Ethan-sized hole in his chest, and I wanted to show that even more. There’s always ten thousand times more to each character in my head than gets on the page—which is good, it makes for space for the reader to make her own Randy—but I liked laying him out a little more clearly. It was a lot easier because this is a lot of the same kind of Randy you see in Tough Love, and writing that is still fresh in my mind.
So that brings us to Double Blind, which is Randy and Ethan’s book. Before we go too far, can you give everyone a quick overview of the story in case they haven’t read it yet?
Well, it’s definitely a romance, and it does get quite kinky in places, but it’s a lot more caper/heist. Not for nothing did I watch the movie and listen to the soundtrack of Ocean’s Eleven and Ocean’s Thirteen for this book. A lot of poker, on and off the table. There’s plenty of domestics for both Randy and Ethan and Sam and Mitch as well.
I will say this is my favorite book of any book I’ve ever written. That doesn’t mean it has to be anybody else, but when people say favorite book/favorite character, I don’t always admit it, but for you, Jay, I’ll confess that it’s Double Blind and Randy. [Thanks for giving us the inside scoop!]
One of the key aspects of the book is really getting to know Randy and the soft inside to his crusty exterior. Randy starts off Special Delivery a little rough (and to me, not totally likable), but slowly we get to know him and see what a good guy he really is. What was it like to write that kind of character transformation?
To be honest he largely wrote himself. He stormed into my book like a bull in a china shop, and mostly during the first draft I panicked every time he did something. He has the distinction of being the character who taught me to let my characters make a mess because sometimes the story needs it. He also taught me to let people be raw and honest and unlikeable, because to be truthful, most people are. But if you peel the crust away and provide the right stimulus, the distasteful becomes something you cherish.
Though I admit to having a soft spot for churlish, sarcastic assholes with secret hearts of gold. So he kind of had me at hello.
Although Randy is the returning character, to me the real lead of the story in many ways is Ethan. At first he is a total mess and has really lost his way, and by the end of the story he really comes into his own. Did you always see Ethan as having this powerful, strong man inside of him?
Yes. Randy doesn’t really have the arc of this book—like Mitch, he kind of falls for Ethan right away and then helps him to his HEA. I did always see Ethan as strong—in a lot of ways for me he is the epitome of what we as a culture do to good men who don’t have physical strength or sarcasm or some other kind of buffer for the bullshit we tell men they have to be.
Also, I unabashedly based Ethan on my husband, which is fitting because I always say if I’m any of my characters, it’s Randy. Except I will never, ever ride the Stratosphere rides. In fact when I wrote those scenes I shivered and wanted to hug the earth.
Poker is a big element of this story, both in terms of playing the game, as well as its symbolism for the larger story. Do you play poker? And if not, how did you prepare for writing a story where it is such a big focus?
When I started this story, I didn’t know anything about poker except that it used cards and I was pretty sure aces were high. I did a ton of reading. My favorite research book was Ace on the River, from which I take the quote at the opening of the book. I bought a Hoyle computer game and played a great deal, but I never played a real game in a casino. I don’t think I’d be very good. I’m too much of a watcher and not enough of a doer. But I might get there. My biggest problem is I couldn’t get over the money, how much I was losing. I am highly risk-averse.
Which brings me to the other interesting tidbit probably nobody knows: that opening bit with Ethan and the twenty-five dollars? I did that. I was getting ready to write the book, and I thought I should do at least a bit of gambling, so we went to Prairie Meadows Casino in Altoona. I had twenty-five dollars my mother had sent me four our anniversary, and that was my limit. I was going to play video poker, and one of the tables. But I was so intimidated by the room that I went to roulette because it was shiny and easy. I played exactly like Ethan did and lost everything in under five minutes.
I cried all the way home—which was silly, but we didn’t really have twenty-five dollars to blow like that, and I was so angry and felt so cheated, like I’d been a sucker. Then as I got researching I realized I’d played the worst game in the room. That got me interested in all the games and the odds and probably taught me more about the book than anything else I’d done, in the end. But even before we got back to the house, I’d said to Dan, “I’m opening with that horseshit. First scene of the book is Ethan losing money just like that.”
Double Blind was originally written for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). This is the sort of the holy grail for books because so many are started, or even completed during this time, but so few are published and become success stories. Can you talk more about that process, both writing the book so fast, and also getting it ultimately published?
I’ve done many books for NaNoWriMo, though I likely won’t ever again, because this is the single book which has ever worked via that process. Mostly I made messes which took four times as long to clean up or never worked. It’s not that the process is bad, but that it’s not mine.
The original draft of Double Blind is 140k. It’s cut down for Samhain to under 120k, and that’s very, very good. Not a scene was cut, though two were combined. Mostly it was dialog tags, rambling speeches that literally went on for pages and repeated themselves four times, and nattery telling that didn’t need to be there. A lot of that over-wordiness happened because when I should have stopped to stew or think, I pressed on to fill time. I do think there was an advantage to this book being written that way, but it also definitely had its problems.
The best thing about writing it this way was that Special Delivery was not out. I wrote this book in the dark, with Special Delivery sold but not published. I sold and edited this book before Special Delivery was out. I regret its timing, because it was too close and got buried by book one, plus the original covers were so disparate some people are just now figuring out they’re related. But the fact that nobody knew who I was when I wrote this, that nobody loved the book but my betas, meant nothing clouded me and I felt no pressure. Which was also why book three took forever, because by the time I got there the series had become a Thing, and it definitely bogged me down a bit.
As with Special Delivery, Double Blind was previously released and has been revised as part of the roll out for the third book in the series, Tough Love, next month. For readers who have read the original, can you tell us what is different and whether they should also buy the new version?
While I said with Special Delivery not much has been changed, just some tightening, there is one significant, possibly worth change in this book I’ll bring up: the reporting of poker hands. In the original version we attempted to use digital images, which this book taught us don’t work, and they came out instead of 5<heart symbol> 6 <spade symbol>, 5y 6w or other random gobbledegook. There were some attempts to retroactively fix it, but mostly it didn’t work and was a huge mess. Also, the book truly is too long in its original, and the benefits from Sasha holding my feet to the fire and making me stop babbling and letting Randy and Crabtree do the same are great. The book is fantastically tighter and more focused, and properly formatted.
That said, if you liked the first version fine and don’t’ mind the stupid reporting of hands all messed up, you’re fine. I will say that as always buying the book even for a friend is a great way to show Samhain you’re glad they gave Old Blue a sweet garage. But there’s no urgent need to buy a new book. In fact, when I suggested adding bonus material for the new addition, Sasha and Samhain were reluctant to do so because they didn’t want readers to feel like they’d been trapped into buying something they already had. So if you want to reward THAT kind of thinking, buy this book and/or SD for someone you think should have it. Or just say, “Thanks, Samhain,” and go on about your life. Everything’s good here.
I know Tough Love is coming out next month, but is there anything else coming soon or that you are working on that you’d like to tell us about?
No other quick shorts between releases this time. But if you want to read a novella between Double Blind and Tough Love, try this one. It’s free as well. It’s also only edited by me and well-meaning people who pointed out my oopses, but hey, free. Also somebody comes out of a cake. Or a present? I forget which one.
If readers want to learn more, where can they find you?
www.heidicullinan.com has all my social media links in the upper right, my blog link is there in the menu, as is the forums. They’re not wildly active, but I check them every day or so, which means if you post something I’ll see it soon enough. And it’s run by me, not Facebook, so nobody will 86 your gay kisses.
Thanks again for stopping by Heidi! I look forward to talking to you next month for our final installment in the interview!
Heidi has brought a copy of Double Blind to give away to one lucky reader. Just leave a comment at the end of the post to enter. The contest ends on Thursday March 6th at 11:59 pm EST.
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