Today I am so pleased to welcome Heidi Cullinan to Joyfully Jay. Heidi has come to talk to us about her latest release, Antisocial. She has also brought along a great giveaway. Please join me in giving Heidi a big welcome!
Thanks so much for having me today, Jay!
I’m so excited to tell you about my new book, Antisocial. Antisocial is a new adult gay and asexual romance set in a fictional college in upstate New York between a one-percenter fraternity boy and a highly antisocial artist. One encounter with Xander Fairchild’s artwork is enough to turn Skylar Stone’s carefully orchestrated life upside down, unlacing his secrets and inviting him into a secret anime-soaked world with a new set of friends. But will they be brave enough to embrace their fragile new relationship and let it last beyond the summer?
Antisocial is a book that surprised me in many ways and definitely challenged me, but it’s far and away my favorite book of mine now. It taught me to think about sensuality differently, to find new ways to make romantic tension, to unlock different avenues to erotic moments. To paraphrase one of my editors for the novel, Antisocial is my most erotic, romantic, and sensual novel of any of my titles…while having almost none of what we would consider traditional sexual content. But I found ways to make hand-holding something new and wonderful, and my goodness, are paint brushes fun…
Antisocial is also my love letter to Japan and anime culture, which pulled me out of a terrible mental rut this past year. I have always loved the Land of the Rising Sun, but this year it truly became somewhere special for me, and when I tried to sprinkle a tiny nod into this novel, the container tipped and it is instead soaked in it. You don’t need to know anything about Japan to read the novel, but you will know a bit more about it once you’ve finished.
Antisocial will be released on August 8 and is up for preorder now.
As the time for their meeting drew closer, Xander felt more and more drained. He’d thought the best plan would be to go to the coffee shop again, but the idea of going out made him want to go to bed. Which took him back to canceling, which meant they’d just have to meet again later.
God, Xander wanted to chuck all of it and run.
Xander texted Skylar his address, wolfed down the rest of his food, and dove into the shower.
He lingered under the hot spray, shutting his eyes and tilting his head down so the water ran in steamy streams over his face, cursing himself for feeling flustered now that he knew Skylar was on his way. This was not a fucking sh?jo manga. He was not a goddamned romantic heroine—hero, whatever—preparing for a big scene with his crush. He’d admit he found the guy attractive, but that was it. There would be no love confessions, for Christ’s sake. Why was he getting so worked up because the guy was coming over? He was here to discuss social media, not the starry pools of Xander’s eyes.
Emerging from the shower, he toweled himself off, put on clean jeans and a T-shirt and socks, because bare feet around Skylar seemed weird somehow. Odds were good the guy would show up in a suit or something casual but highly fashion show. He did a pass through of the main area of the apartment and the bathroom, making sure he didn’t have underwear somewhere random (he did), consolidating the dirty dishes to the counter and the sink. He fluffed the pillows and paced the living room, trying to think of what else he should be doing in preparation.
This wasn’t cleaning up for his crush. It was polite to be tidy for guests, was all.
The cats watched him in mild fascination, Hiromu from the arm of the couch, Hokusai from his favorite stalking spot beneath the kitchen chair, pleased to discover Xander so distracted he kept walking close enough to be caught in a paw swipe.
In the last five minutes before Skylar was due to arrive, Xander swept the piles of junk from the small table in the kitchen where he usually kept just enough room to eat a bowl of cereal or reheated dinner. Jars of ink, old nibs, pencils markers, and of course any loose junk mail and letters from school were shifted to the burgeoning kitchen counter, an Amazon box by the door, and his dresser in the bedroom. He was putting the last of his markers into their case when the knock came.
Despite his half hour of scolding himself for being ridiculous, his heart still skipped a beat when he opened the door and found Skylar there.
Traitor, he whispered to the organ.
Skylar smiled at him, but there was an extra sparkle to him this time, like he had something up his sleeve. It intensified as Xander awkwardly invited him in. “Thanks for letting me come over. I’m really excited to show you my new idea.”
Xander hugged his belly, not sure what the etiquette here was. Old gears turned, clunking and grinding. “Um, do you want something to drink?”
“No, thank you.” Skylar glanced around. “Would you rather sit somewhere comfortable, or at the table?”
Xander’s only comfortable seating option was the couch, which was full of cat hair, and it sagged in the middle, meaning it would tip them constantly closer to one another. “The table is fine.”
Thank God he’d cleaned it off.
The cats had scattered at the door knock, but Hokusai emerged to inspect Skylar as he took his seat. Skylar spied him and beamed. “Oh, the cats. Which one is this? Not a longhair, so it must be…Hokusai? Did I say that right?”
“Yeah.” Xander watched Skylar lean down to navigate the intricate art of petting Hokusai. Skylar laughed when Hokusai batted at his hand, scritching under the cat’s chin before creeping incrementally around his face to his head, at which point Hokusai submitted to the affection with mild surprise and eventual contentment.
Skylar glanced around the room as he continued to pet Hokusai. “Where’s the other one?”
“Hiromu? Under my bed, probably. She doesn’t like new people.”
Skylar looked like he wanted to say something but didn’t. Instead, he gave Hokusai one last scritch and reached into his messenger bag. He withdrew a legal pad in a leather folio cover and took out the pen hiding in a slim pouch along the binding. He sat straight in his chair, but he leaned forward, his forearms on the table, framing the open notebook and setting his focus like a laser on Xander. “I want to pitch an idea to you, something more than simply laying out a social media presence. I want to help you create an entire social persona.”
Xander pulled back in his chair. “A what?”
“A social persona. Another you, or rather a version of you, crafted to help you showcase your work and share it with people who want to experience it. I want to help you carve that version of yourself, hone it and practice it, and present it.”
“Right, isn’t that what we’re doing? With the profile stuff, I mean.”
Skylar shook his head, his blue-green eyes dancing with eagerness. “I want you to take it deeper. More than just online. You can live it, Xander. It doesn’t have to stay in your profile. You can use the same principles we were talking about for your digital look to change your whole life.”
The idea sounded like hell on Earth, but Xander could feel the Skylar Stone tractor beam pulling him in. “You want to be my social media Pygmalion?”
Skylar frowned. “Pygmalion? I swear I’ve heard that before, but I can’t remember where.”
“There are several versions. The original is the Greek myth of the sculptor, Pygmalion, who falls in love with his creation, a perfectly carved statue of a woman. Aphrodite brings her to life and she becomes Galatea. The modern version is the play by George Bernard Shaw, and the musical and movie adaptation with Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady. Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, makes a bet he can get Eliza, a Cockney flower seller, to pass as a duchess at a party. He teaches her how to speak, how to hold her posture, etcetera.”
Skylar brightened in understanding. “Right. I think I saw the movie once. They end up together in the end, and she humbles him a little, undoing some of his uppity and arrogant ways?”
“Well—it’s unclear if they end up together or not. In the original play, Shaw resented how producers always put the two of them together. He didn’t feel Eliza was emancipated if she stayed with Higgins. The musical and the movie made it ambiguous. If people want to imagine them together, they can, but Higgins doesn’t exactly come all the way around to humility.” Xander blushed hotly, worried he’d accidentally revealed his secret affection for Skylar. “What I meant was the idea of transformation. Which, I have to tell you, won’t ever work, not with me. It’s not as simple as changing my speech and getting me clothes without paint stains.”
“I think transformation would absolutely work. Because I don’t want to turn you into a mini-me or some rigid statue, some preset concept. I want to help you find a way to speak to other people the way you spoke to me today.”
Xander combed over their lunchtime conversation, trying to sort out how exactly he’d spoken to Skylar. “I don’t understand. I didn’t talk any differently than usual.”
“You absolutely did. You weren’t shy or hesitant. You were articulate, confident, and engaging. You changed the way I think about not only visual art but the creative process in general. You made me realize the key to your success at selling yourself is being yourself.” When Xander recoiled, Skylar smiled, a gentling gesture that made Xander tingle, despite his terror. “I want you to share that part of yourself with as many people as possible.”
Mayday, mayday, mayday. “I don’t think you understand how bad I am at dealing with other people. The only reason I keep talking to you is because I have to.” He acknowledged how awful that sounded and blushed hotter than he had the first time. “I don’t mean it like that.”
“It’s fine. And I do appreciate how little you like dealing with people. But that’s exactly why I want to help you do this. I want you to be able to protect that part of yourself while you deal with people.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“It will. I promise.” Skylar turned his palms up on the table. “Will you let me try to show you?”
If the devil came to tempt Xander Fairchild, he would come as Skylar Stone. “I don’t know. What does showing me entail?”
“Let’s start slow. And small. Give me a goal you have, something unrelated to the show. What’s something you’d like to do but haven’t been able to? Something simple but important to you.”
Xander’s panicked thoughts flopped around his brain like beached fish. “I don’t know.”
Skylar winked. “You don’t need to decide right now. We’ve got time.” He rose, gathering his folio, phone, and bag. “It’s almost eight, and I promised I wouldn’t take more than a half hour from your evening. I want to meet with you again soon, though. What openings do you have in the next week?”
Skylar wheedled not one, not two, but three meeting times out of Xander. When he left, Xander stood at the door, hugging himself, feeling as if someone had peeled him raw.
How did the guy keep doing this to him? And what fresh hell was this Pygmalion bullshit?
A furry brush of his legs and a nip at his ankle made him bend automatically, scooping Hiromu into his arms. He hugged his fluffy cat, shutting his eyes as he let his pet lick his face and snuggle into her favorite place at Xander’s neck.
As the silver glow of Skylar dissipated, Xander’s unease deepened, and the sense that something was not quite right about Skylar did as well. Xander tried to focus on that instead of his impending role as Eliza Dolittle/Galatea, but as usual he didn’t really get anywhere beyond something is slightly plastic in the State of Denmark.
With nothing else to do with himself, Xander drew—and he ended up drawing Skylar. Again.
He tried to draw a proper sketch, but it felt even more fake than the man’s smile, so Xander switched to manga style, and on impulse he drew Skylar as Henry Higgins and himself as a reluctant Eliza. As a drawing, it wasn’t bad. Skylar was as hot in manga as he was in real life, and Xander was just as dour. But the image bothered Xander even more than their conversation the longer he stared at it.
He wasn’t sure why, but all he could think when he looked at it was, this isn’t right.
He tried again, casting Skylar as Pygmalion and himself as Galatea—the drawing was better this time, in part because he’d improved the design of Manga Skylar, but as far as actual subject composition, Xander disliked this even more. Skylar honestly didn’t work as Pygmalion, and Xander sure as hell was no Galatea.
Hiromu jumped onto his desk and mewed at him, and Xander gathered her into his arms, frowning at the sketches as he stroked her fur. “Hush, it’s fine,” he murmured, crooning to himself as much as her. “It’s probably going to be just fine.”
Xander Fairchild can’t stand people in general and frat boys in particular, so when he’s forced to spend his summer working on his senior project with Skylar Stone, a silver-tongued Delta Sig with a trust fund who wants to make Xander over into a shiny new image, Xander is determined to resist. He came to idyllic, Japanese culture-soaked Benten College to hide and make manga, not to be transformed into a corporate clone in the eleventh hour.
Skylar’s life has been laid out for him since before he was born, but all it takes is one look at Xander’s artwork, and the veneer around him begins to crack. Xander himself does plenty of damage too. There’s something about the antisocial artist’s refusal to yield that forces Skylar to acknowledge how much his own orchestrated future is killing him slowly…as is the truth about his gray-spectrum sexuality, which he hasn’t dared to speak aloud, even to himself.
Through a summer of art and friendship, Xander and Skylar learn more about each other, themselves, and their feelings for one another. But as their senior year begins, they must decide if they will part ways and return to the dull futures they had planned, or if they will take a risk and leap into a brightly colored future—together.
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.
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