Today I am so pleased to welcome Heidi Cullinan to Joyfully Jay. Heidi has come for the first installment of a new feature with Joyfully Jay. Heidi will be here monthly to conduct interviews with some of her favorite authors and share some books she loves. Today, Heidi will be interviewing LaQuette, author of Under His Protection. Please join me in giving them both a big welcome!
Hi, everyone! Heidi Cullinan here, starting what will be a monthly column at Joyfully Jay talking about books and authors I’ve discovered I think you might enjoy. As much as possible, I’ll be talking to those authors in an in-depth interview. We’ll dish about their projects current and future, the books they love, and any and everything that comes up along the way.
Today I’m talking to LaQuette, author of the recent release Under His Protection from Dreamspinner Press.
LaQuette, President of RWA/NYC, is the 2016 Golden Apple Award Author of the year winner. She writes bold & sexy tales for diverse characters who are confident in their right to appear on the page. She’s represented by Latoya C. Smith of the LCS Literary Agency. Find out more about her at her website, LaQuette.com or shoot her an email: LaQuette@LaQuette.com.
I met LaQuette years ago at a New Jersey writing convention. One of her books, Heart of the Matter, caught my eye and I snapped it up. That started me down the road to LaQuette fandom, but over that time I’ve enjoyed a wonderful friendship with her as well. She’s helped me twice slap my manuscripts into better shape, and we’ve reconnected at several conventions since our first meeting.
Though Under His Protection is LaQuette’s second gay romance, it’s not going to be the last. She has a three-book series coming from Dreamspinner set during the Harlem Renaissance where a mobster, a writer, and a musician strive to blaze their individual paths to social empowerment, identity, and love. Although the release date is to be determined, I’m super excited about these stories and cannot WAIT to get my hands on them. LaQuette also has written several heterosexual romances that in their own way explores the intersections between love, social consciousness, racial identity, and love. Essentially, her work normalizes black romance and provides positive representations of people of color (POC)—especially the black heroine.
In short, she’s an amazing author I hope you get to know if you aren’t familiar with her already. But let’s hear from the author herself. Welcome, LaQuette!
LaQuette: Hey, Heidi! Thank you for having me.
Heidi: First, tell me a little more about Under His Protection. What made you want to write this story?
LaQuette: Under His Protection is a prince meets pauper kind of situation. Camden comes from a wealthy family with heavy political influence. Although Elijah is a cop who’s the son of a cop, his family is very middle class, and has no pedigree that Camden’s family would take notice of. Pushing those two worlds together and adding just a touch of intrigue to them made me very excited to complete this project.
Heidi: I really love me some worlds colliding romance, and the way you handled the class differences/family situations really did it for me. Reminded me too of Alisha Rai’s A Gentleman in the Street and Bad Company by K.A. Mitchell. This same dynamic is going to come up with Adriana Herrara’s American Fairytale. Super stoked for that.
LaQuette: Avril Ashton’s “Brooklyn Sinners” series is brilliant at showing the differences in supposedly differing perspectives too. It pairs each underworld boss with a law enforcement agent and the juxtaposition of law and order is both delicious and skillful.
Heidi: Ashton is a new to me author, so you can bet I’m going to be running to make some purchases. What would you recommend I start with?
Heidi: Excellent, thanks! Okay. Back to your books. This is your first Dreamspun Desire, right? My hat is off to anyone who can write category romance. I keep trying and end up with spiraling sagas instead. The discipline! What was it like to write with this style? Because I know it departs a little from your usual.
LaQuette: Initially I didn’t want to submit to this line because of the very reasons you’ve mentioned. Kate McMurray encouraged me to submit to Dreamspun Desires. After reading the line description, I wasn’t exactly sure it would be a good fit for me. Categories are intended to be sweet, lighthearted, and whimsical, and most importantly, short. That isn’t my usual writing style. My work usually has a more intense feel to it with a higher word count. But after talking to Lynn West, one of the co-owners of Dreamspinner Press, I thought I should at least try it.
Once I decided to submit, I knew if I did this, it had to be LaQuette style. Which meant although keeping with the expected tropiness of category romance, I would have to sprinkle a little Brooklyn realness into it to make it my own.
Since I was bringing two worlds together by adding my writing style, which is a mix of Brooklyn brashness with deep emotional exploration, to a line that was intentionally lighthearted, I figured the story should represent that too.
Heidi: See, that really worked for me. In part what I enjoyed was that while of the two I would identify more with Camden because of his family’s socioeconomic status, there were times when the “Brooklynness” was something a little new, like a great remix for me. I love it when books can make me familiar but also like I’m taking a trip into somewhere new without leaving my house. All of Damon Suede’s books do that for me too. That New York feeling wrapped around stuff I recognize. Love it.
LaQuette: Hot Head is my favorite Damon Suede book. It’s not only the real-world depiction of New York, it’s also the level of emotional angst he’s able to provide that both frustrates the reader and keeps them turning pages at the same time. It is the hottest book I’ve ever read where the couple doesn’t actually have sex until the last few chapters of the book. He’s so talented and diabolical.
Heidi: One hundred percent agree. Dang it, now I’ve got to go reread Hot Head again. Also, I won’t lie, you did take me direct to category romance in your book. That feeling of not too intense, not too light, but juuuust right. You had me feeling some Farrah Rochon, some Brenda Jackson Westmorlands, and basically every category book I’ve picked up and snuggled into a couch with.
LaQuette: Farrah Rochon and Brenda Jackson are excellent category writers. I can attest to how difficult it is to write within these very specific confines. I take my hat off to anyone who does it at the level of excellence these two writers do.
Heidi: True facts! So let’s talk about the other amazing thing that your book does, something a lot of white readers won’t immediately think about yet is a huge part of your stories, this one and all your work. Like all romances with Black characters, your work further normalizes Black love, and in this book, it normalizes queer love and interracial love. Representation on so many levels going on.
LaQuette: For ages, we as media consumers have been trained to consciously or unconsciously deny the humanity of Black and other POC people. My work celebrates the fact that Black people share the same love, desire, triumphs, and pitfalls as white characters do. There’s no difference in the emotional and human experience in my work compared to any white writer’s work. The only difference is my characters are African American.
Society has spent a lot of time telling us why we’re so different. My work shows the exact opposite. It focuses on our similarities instead.
Heidi: Amen! Another super-important thing this book does is normalizes Black success. Elijah has such a good life, so much going for him. He is so solid. And his family! Man, they made me feel so good, watching them interact. I just yearned for those scenes of family, and you delivered.
LaQuette: Elijah and the Stephensons are not monolithic or imaginary. I know several Black families that fit that same mold. Black people are part of the middle class, they’re part of the upper class, and the lower class too. Race doesn’t eliminate the possibility for people to live comfortably or happily.
Elijah is a single man with no spouse or kids. He’s an NYPD lieutenant. If he were real, he’d be making a base salary (meaning the exclusion of things like overtime and other incidental bonuses) of one hundred and ten thousand dollars a year. Knowing that dollar amount, it should not seem strange that he can afford a mortgage in Westchester while renting a one-bedroom apartment in East New York, Brooklyn. And yet, some people can’t wrap their minds around that. It seemed too fantastical a detail for them. Why? Because Elijah’s a Black man, and if you follow how Black people are depicted in both media and pop culture, that reality shouldn’t be possible.
LaQuette: If you take your perspective of Black people from the media, we’re all either criminals, destitute, our families are broken, or we’re substance abusers. Whenever we’re shown in media—be it the news, or movies, or books—these narratives are used to build what I call, the “struggle” story. Meaning, those traumatic and sad circumstances are used to justify the Black character’s ability to obtain a happy ending. So, if Elijah was born a crack-addicted baby who later struggles through life, but then finds love with a compassionate and benevolent person (ie his savior), then that character has “earned” his happily-ever-after. Only then does it makes sense that he can be happy.
I believe that by the very nature of a person’s existence, they are entitled to happiness. There need not be an explanation why. Elijah is happy because he is. His family is loving and supportive because they are. It’s as simple as that.
Heidi: Absolutely. Standing ovation.
Okay…I’m gonna just lay this on the table. These were some intense and excellent love scenes. And I use that word deliberately. Even when they were all, “oh, this is just working off steam” or whatever, you could feel it on the page.
LaQuette: I write from a “grown folks” perspective. I write very explicit sex because in my mind, emotional maturity means being open about the enjoyment of sex. I try my best to write characters who are emotionally full-grown adults. So using euphemisms for sex acts and body parts don’t work for me. If they can’t call a thing what it is, should they really be engaging in it? That is not me saying every author should write sex scenes the way I do. That’s simply how sex and emotional growth work in my mind. I also believe that sex and emotional love are deeply connected. So, the sex my characters have is usually a physical representation of the intensity of their emotional connection.
Oh, and by the way, as hot as my sex scenes are, I’m a lightweight compared to Avril Ashton and Damon Suede. Everything Avril writes can get you pregnant from the page. And Damon is pretty much on par too. Have you read Lickety Split? That book is filthy for no reason at all, and I love it!
So, if you’re willing, tease me a little about this trilogy you have coming up. I’m desperate, I’ll take any crumb you’ll toss me.
LaQuette: I can’t give you too much detail because the books haven’t been written yet. But I can tell you how I came up with the idea. I was tired of critics and consumers using terms like “not historically accurate” to exclude Black and LGBT love from historical romance. It’s not that people from either of those communities didn’t experience love, it’s that mainstream society simply isn’t aware of it because it doesn’t mesh with the struggle ideology that media applies to POC and LGBT people in the historical context.
Subsequently, my idea was to focus on stories that featured Black men on a journey of self-discovery during the Harlem Renaissance. Each character is trying to establish and define their identity from a social aspect, while simultaneously trying to figure out how love fits into that equation.
I guess the only thing I can tell you that is a bit of a teaser is that each man is based on a real person who lived and contributed to that well-documented era of prohibition and the Harlem Renaissance. Bumpy Johnson, Langston Hughes, and Cab Calloway are the inspiration for each of the Black heroes in this series.
Heidi: Okay, I’m gonna need a preorder link ASAP. This sound incredible!
This has been so great, honestly. Always love chatting with you about everything, but especially romance! I know we got in some recs above, but do you have any books/authors you want to highlight we didn’t get to? Because you know everyone here is dying for that next autobuy author.
LaQuette: Adriana Herrera, Royal Blue, Harper Miller, and Alyssa Cole. If you’re ready to add new flavor to your reading, these authors are a must buy.
Heidi: Excellent choices, fully endorsed. And with that, I leave you all to run to the bookstore and stock up, and of course to read Under His Protection. I’d love to hear what you think of it and any of these books!
They can escape their enemies, but not the desire between them.
Prosecutor Camden Warren is on the fast track to professional nirvana. With his charm, his sharp legal mind, and his father as chief judge in the highest court in NY, he can’t fail. Nothing can derail his rise to the top… until an attempt on his life forces him to accept the help of a man he walked out on five years ago.
Wounded in the line of duty, Lieutenant Elijah Stephenson wants to ride his new desk job until retirement—not take a glorified babysitting gig with more risk than it’s worth… especially not protecting the entitled lawyer who disappeared after the best sex of their lives.
The threat against Camden’s life is real, but their passion for each other might prove the greatest danger they’ve yet to face.
An author of contemporary, historical and paranormal romances featuring LGBT characters, Heidi Cullinan is best known for stories of characters struggling with insurmountable odds on their way to their happily ever afters. Her latest release is book one in the Copper Point: Medical series, THE DOCTOR’S SECRET. Books two and three will be released this summer from Dreamspinner Press. Find out more about Heidi at www.heidicullinan.com and be sure to follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.