Today I am so pleased to welcome Wendy Qualls to Joyfully Jay. Wendy has come to talk to us about her latest release, Rockets and Romance. Please join me in giving her a big welcome!
I’ve got to say, this book was FUN to research. I’m not native to Huntsville, but my husband and I have lived here for just over fifteen years. He’s a huge space junkie even though he doesn’t work for NASA* and was extremely helpful when I had questions like “which craft took the highest-resolution pictures of Mars’s surface before the rover?” (Anyone else ever go to look up a fact for that one perfect line of throwaway dialogue that totally doesn’t matter but by that point you’re too interested in learning the answer to focus on getting any more words? Yeah. That.)
So… the US Space and Rocket Center offers a special three-hour tour of the NASA facilities that you otherwise couldn’t get to because they’re on the grounds of the local army base. My husband was kind enough to take a morning off of work so I could drag him around – he asked intelligent questions; I took pictures of the ceiling and the doorways and the fire escape. The Internet is a wonderful place to do a lot of research, but nobody ever tells you the scienciest science geeks on the planet have a break room straight out of the 80s and an analog wall directory. Or, as my local boy hero Cody puts it,
“Peak NASA for you,” he said. “Ugly building, awesome tech.”
After a lot of technical jargon and anecdotes from the glory days of Wernher von Braun and the Saturn V project, we got ushered into what I can only describe as a low-rent museum: one corner of a warehouse-sized room was blocked off and jam-packed with old electronics, materials samples, and placards describing what the engineers in that building are currently working on for the International Space Station. My husband looked out at the rest of the room and suddenly grabbed my hand.
“Look,” he said, grinning, “I’ve spotted a worm!”
Thanks to my thorough research that I had just happened to come across the day before, I knew he meant the NASA logo. The original logo was affectionately known as “the meatball” because it had a round background of stars and was, well, meatball-shaped. Then in 1975 a bunch of designers changed it to a more “modern” logo, nicknamed “the worm.” Sounds like nearly everybody hated it. They went back to the meatball logo in 1992, meaning whatever was in that crate has probably been banging around that room for at least twenty-five years.
This was a LEGIT SCIENCY THING that I ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD, y’all! The tour guide was less excited by the discovery than my husband and I were… but really, this never happens. Other people know important things and I’m more like “I know the difference between ‘vagaries’ and ‘vagueries’ or ‘Anybody ever wonder what percentage of a human’s surface area their genitalia takes up?’”** For the first time ever, I was able to get my husband’s opinion on a book as I was writing it and he didn’t resort to suggesting my plot needed more earthquakes. (He always says romance novels need more earthquakes. I write M/M romance set in the Deep South–if we get an earthquake here, it’s because our continent is splitting in half and romance might not be the first thing on everyone’s mind.)
Coming back to Rockets and Romance – part of what made this book so fun was getting to look at Huntsville, Alabama in a new way. Julian comes from a totally different world in gay-friendly LA, but he’s a total space nerd at heart. Cody may have a drawl thicker than molasses and live in a legit farmhouse, but he’s able to show Julian that living in Alabama doesn’t mean having to hide who you are. In his case, “who you are” being a fellow gay space nerd. From Julian’s first departmental meeting at his inconveniently-located NASA dream job:
The-guy-who-was-probably-Robert turned back to Julian. “Do you have a family in tow, or are you relocating solo?” he asked. “My wife Nora gave me her card to pass on to you. She works on the other side of the Arsenal but she’s got this women’s book club that meets for lunch twice a month and I’ve been instructed to extend an invitation. They’re a friendly group. In case you brought a wife who wants a leg up on making some local friends.”
Now or never. Julian sucked in a breath. “Actually… my boyfriend and I split right before I left. He didn’t want to uproot his own career. Leaving him behind was disappointing, I’m not going to lie, but I understand why he decided to stay.” He paused, waiting for the awkwardness that his friends in LA all hinted that he’d have to deal with…
It didn’t come. Everyone was looking at Cody instead, who jumped up out of his seat and pumped his fist in the air. “Ha!” He grinned at Julian’s bewildered expression. “I’m not the office gay anymore!”
Writers, what’s the weirdest/best/funniest nugget you’ve uncovered while researching? And readers, tell me something fun or quirky about your hometown!
*True story: when he and I were first dating, my dad sat him down for the big “so what do you plan to do with your life?” conversation. His answer: “My top choice would be starship captain, but if that doesn’t work out I guess I’ll be a programmer.” Dear reader, I married him!
**Between one and two percent. I won’t make you spend two hours Googling it like I did.
Julian Barlow has finally landed his dream job working for NASA. The catch? He has to move to Huntsville, Alabama—a daunting prospect for a gay pescetarian from Los Angeles who’s never been south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Fellow engineer Cody Ewing is an Alabama boy through and through, and Julian’s casual assumptions about the South in general and Southern homophobia in particular makes it dislike at first sight. Then NASA throws them together on a months-long project, and they have to make it work.
Forced to rely on each other, the two men develop a tentative friendship that becomes something more as Cody shows Julian Alabama’s good side. Julian’s insistence on secrecy and Cody’s hot-and-cold act could scuttle their chances before they ever get off the ground, though.
Wendy Qualls was a small town librarian until she finished reading everything her library had to offer. At that point she put her expensive and totally unrelated college degree to use by writing smutty romance novels and wasting time on the internet. She lives in Northern Alabama with her husband, two girls, two dogs, and a seasonally fluctuating swarm of unwanted ladybugs. Wendy can be found on Twitter as @wendyqualls. She is represented by Moe Ferrara of Bookends Literary Agency.