Hi everone! Today I am excited to welcome Heidi Cullinan back to the blog for another installment in her interview series. This month, Heidi is chatting with author Adriana Herrera.
Hi, everyone! Heidi Cullinan here, with the next installment of my column 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 Adriana Herrera. Adriana was born and raised in the Caribbean, but for the last fifteen years has let her job as a humanitarian relief worker (and her spouse) take her all over the world. She loves writing stories about people who look and sound like her people, getting unapologetic happy endings. Her debut novel, American Dreamer, has been called “Compulsively readable” by Publisher’s Weekly, was featured in Entertainment Weekly, on NPR and on the TODAY Show on NBC, and was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 Debut Romances of 2019.
We’ll be talking about her latest release, American Love Story.
Haitian-born professor and activist Patrice Denis is not here for anything that will veer him off the path he’s worked so hard for. One particularly dangerous distraction: Easton Archer, the assistant district attorney who last summer gave Patrice some of the most intense nights of his life, and still makes him all but forget they’re from two completely different worlds.
All-around golden boy Easton forged his own path to success, choosing public service over the comforts of his family’s wealth. With local law enforcement unfairly targeting young men of color, and his career—and conscience—on the line, now is hardly the time to be thirsting after Patrice again. Even if their nights together have turned into so much more.
For the first time, Patrice is tempted to open up and embrace the happiness he’s always denied himself. But as tensions between the community and the sheriff’s office grow by the day, Easton’s personal and professional lives collide. And when the issue at hand hits closer to home than either could imagine, they’ll have to work to forge a path forward…together.
I’ve known Adriana for years and have loved watching her debut series take Romancelandia by storm. I’m so excited for you to get to know her a little more here.
Adriana:Thanks for inviting me!
Heidi: You teased us with some stories in your bio, but give us a little more about you. You’ve literally been around the world and have been involved in a lot of things.
Adriana: I have been places! LOL I am originally from Dominican Republic and came to the US in my early twenties, and settled in New York City. Since then I have worked in international humanitarian relief organizations in East Africa and Central America. But in the last eight years home has been New York. Ithaca for five years and the last three back in New York City, which is still my favorite place in the world.
Heidi: Also I understand you recently finished some coursework you’d been chasing for some time?
Adriana: Yes, I’ve been working in advocacy in domestic and sexual violence for a while now and had been wanting to go for my Master of Social Work. I graduated in May and last week passed my licensing exam. I’m going to pivot a bit and go from programmatic work to focusing solely on working with trauma survivors as a clinical therapist.
Heidi: Congrats on that! What drew you to writing gay romance and specifically starting with this trilogy?
Adriana: I’ve been reading gay romance for a long time, and in that space I found stories that really spoke to me. I was very drawn to the idea that LGBT people could have happy, fulfilling lives in fiction. That’s a reality I knew to be true for myself and for many people in my life, but not something that I had stumbled across in the books I read. So discovering queer romance about ten years ago was a game changer. It brought me back to romance.
My intention is not to just write gay romance, my mandate as an author is to write romance full of people who look and sound like my people, and my people are not only gay men (although MANY of the are LOL). This series is based around four Afro-Latinx best friends who grew up together in the Bronx. The first three are M/M and the last one is M/F.
The inspiration for this series for the most part came from my desire to write romance where people who shared my culture and my background could be at the center of the stories. I was also inspired by my group of friends in my early twenties when I first moved to the US from the Dominican Republic.
Heidi: When we were first setting up this interview, you gave me a great alternate bio for American Love Story. Would you mind sharing it here?
Adriana: I’m calling American Love Story my Black Lives Matter romance. It’s intense and racial justice plays an important part in the conflict between Patrice and Easton the heroes.
Heidi: Love it.
One of the things I love about this series is how you write about the intersection of small towns & diversity. There’s this (strange) narrative we get about how less urban areas are homogenous, but even here in 90% white Iowa it’s rare to find a town without a racially diverse makeup, to say nothing of queer residents, residents with disabilities, and so on. I appreciate the way you capture that small town feel but also represent in a way I so seldom see.
Adriana: In the series I chose to set the books in Ithaca and New York City. They’re the only two places in the US I’ve personally lived in, and I thought it would be an interesting contrast. Wherever I am I look for my people. Latinx, Dominicans, etc. And I wanted to show that we’re everywhere, and we’re always pushing and striving.
Heidi: As you’ve done in every book in this trilogy, American Love Story has some deliciously flawed characters. They make mistakes with each other, with their work, with their community, and with themselves.
Adriana: I wanted to show people growing into the love they’d found. Being confronted with something amazing, something worth stepping up for and then working like hell to live up to the promise of that happy ending.
Heidi: I loved the strengths these characters too, that Patrice had honed the struggles of his past into a career as a professor but also a community force online, and in person as he settles into Ithaca. Meanwhile, Easton has chosen to eschew the destiny his father set up for him and pursue literal justice as a county prosecutor.
Adriana: Easton is a phenomenal hero. He is a deeply good man, and what I wanted to show was that you can be a good man and STILL falter. That part of what it means to step up in a relationship is being humble enough to say, “I don’t know how to do this.” I wanted to put that against Patrice a man who has impossibly high standards, and it makes him exhausting to love. They are such a contrast to each other, but they fit just right. And once they figure out how to be together, they’re unstoppable.
Heidi: Something else you did in the story that I loved was depict in this deeply real way what I can only think to call white people trying and messing up and then trying again. As a white person who does exactly this on the regular, it felt like a model we’re sorely missing. It’s a beautiful interruption of the narrative by the white patriarchy I think a lot of us feel, that once we make a mistake everything is over, we’re thrown out and done, or that something is either good or bad with nothing in between. I talk about this with my daughter a lot, this idea that you can find something problematic, like a show or a video game, but you can still enjoy the parts of it that have positive attributes. (Most recently this came up with Ninetendo coding Claude gay in Fire Emblem: Three Houses but not letting him be romanced by the male version of the main character.) I really, really loved this model of a white character who tries with all his being to do what’s right, realizes it’s not enough, and corrects. Shouldn’t be such a revelation, but it is, and I want more of it.
Adriana: I try to grapple with the issues and the things happening in the world that I think are important. I want to place in the romance space worlds that are black and brown. Stories that are held up by our experience and gaze and where the white people in those worlds are learning and growing along with us (Except for Misty. She sucks.). I try to write my white protagonists as people who organically understand and believe that people of color, immigrants, differently abled people…all the people living at intersections of marginalizations are valuable and make THEIR own worlds better.
That’s why in American Dreamer Jude spoke Spanish and had lived in Central America. He could articulate to Nesto how fortunate he felt to be able to listen to our music and read our stories in the original language. Before he ever knew Nesto he got how much he mattered. I tried to do the same with Easton. He was an amazing guy, and he was a righteous man. Literally seeking justice. He understood clearly the value someone like Patrice had. BUT, he also had enough privilege to have lived to his mid-thirties without really needing to put skin in the game when it came to racial justice.
There are many sides to people, and these are very complex issues, so I tried to show, that you can be objectively a wonderful person and still fall short.
Heidi: Allie Therin did something similar in Spellbound with a white, wealthy character focused on social justice but sometimes still had a ways to go. Honestly, I think this kind of modeling is a serious gift and I’m so grateful. It’s not that I can’t write this kind of arc, but it’s tough to write from inside the mess because you’re scraping off your own skin. I feel like white authors could do more of this, but we may need AOC to keep guiding us through. So thank you to all of you who light the way.
Adriana: I think there are a lot of things that one can say about social justice and identity even with a billionaire! LOL In my second book in the series, Fairytale, Tom Hughes one of the heroes is a tech billionaire. He’s giving millions to Camilo’s domestic violence agency, and that allowed me to speak to a lot of issues: trauma, mental illness, and gentrification just to name a few…and I still managed to write a pretty HOT book! LOL Tom is also Dominican, but white passing. His dad is American. So I could speak to that experience as well, and again show the nuances and the many many stories that fit in the Latinidad label. I think for us who are trying to write intentionally, the possibilities are pretty endless when it comes to diverse stories.
Heidi: I also love how you do not remotely hesitate to get political but do it in a way that completely serves the story and the characters. I’ve got to be careful there about giving away plot, but you do some deft work on highlighting the tension between police/authority figures and POC, while also showing where and how white people have agency and responsibility to help. I can’t think of a community that isn’tstruggling with this right now, and I love how you made real both the issue and the way to see paths forward.
Adriana: It was important for me in this story specifically to show positionality and reflect on who can afford to sit back and wait things out and who is literally fighting for survival. Patrice lives in a body that makes him other.If black and brown men were being stopped by the police, that potentially meant, him. For Easton, even though he deeply understood what was happening was not okay, he could rationalize taking a passive approach. I also wanted to show that there are different kinds of oppression. And that perhaps a queer black man (or any other person), is not ever in a position to ignore racism, but a white gay man (or any other person) may be able to do so.
Heidi: You also talk about immigration via Patrice and his past and some secondary characters nervous about exposure. I’m just going to pass you the mic here and let you go off because I know you have so much more to highlight here, and it’s never felt more timely or important.
Adriana: The Dreamers series from its name, to the titles asserting that each book is an American story, are about the America I live in and want to see more of in romance. Patrice came to the US from Haiti as a refugee, after a coup in 1991 that put the country in a crisis. In Fairytale I talk about the Marielitos which was a particular group of Cuban refugees that arrived in the US in the early 80s. I talk about these moments and experiences because they inform the characters and it’s important for these pieces of American history to be in the consciousness of readers. The immigrant story is the American story, no matter what the current narrative around our place here is.
Heidi: Let’s get to some recs. Who are you reading right now? What are you looking forward to?
Adriana:I am reading The Vagina Bible, a nonfiction book that is absolutely phenomenal and I just started the ARC for the The Worst Best Man, an M/F rom com by Mia Sosa. I am also looking forward to the last installment of the Whyborne and Griffin series.
Heidi:What’s next for you?
Adriana: What’s next after American Love Story is the last book in the Dreamers series. American Sweethearts, which is Juan Pablo’s and Priscilla’s story. It comes out in March.
Heidi: Sounds great. Thanks so much for coming to chat today!
Adriana:Thanks for having me, Heidi! This was a great conversation!
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 upcoming release is the final book in the Copper Point: Medical series, THE DOCTOR’S ORDERS. Find out more about Heidi at www.heidicullinan.com and be sure to follow her at www.heidicullinan.comand be sure to follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.