I’ll be honest–I’m a left-brained kinda gal. I like math, and logic, and schedules, and knowing what’s coming. I will happily plot out a 25-page outline complete with character spreadsheets before I even write the words “Chapter 1.” I love most of the parts of being an author–the plotting, the revising, the editing, the proofing, the business-y things. But I’m really, really bad at the “write the damn story” thing.
In Rockets and Romance, I knew I wanted a story set in my current hometown of Huntsville, Alabama. I knew it would be about a fairly flamboyant gay rocket scientist from Los Angeles who gets his lifelong dream job with NASA… but is told at the last minute he’ll have to move to Alabama to take it. One of his new coworkers is a local boy with a thick southern drawl who drives a truck and lives in a farmhouse–and is similarly queer. (“I’m not the office gay anymore!” may have featured prominently in my notes.) My California hero comes in with a lot of preconceived notions about how homophobic Alabama will be, but my local boy is able to help him navigate the LGBTQ-friendly places in town and shows him that Huntsville, like anywhere else, has plenty of places he can be himself without having to bend to what the stereotypes told him to expect.
Right, so I have a basic framework for a story. The daydreaming is the easy part. Now comes the more time-consuming step: research.
Authors have a weird relationship with research. Most of us could hold forth for a good twenty minutes about random topics that we spent hours and hours researching but were only able to use two sentences of in our books. Mystery writers on Twitter joke about “NSA Brad,” the theoretical NSA agent assigned to looking over their web searches, and all the terrible things they might have taught him that day. (“I’m not really a murderer, I was just trying to find out whether covering a dead body in kitty litter before burying it really keeps scent dogs from knowing it’s there!” Sure, Jan.)
Romance is no exception. Pretty much every romance author, at some point or other, has been asked with a wink-wink-nudge-nudge how we get our inspiration. Or whether our books are based on real life. Or if our significant others help us “research.” Or… well, lots of inappropriate questions, really. Things you would never ask a casual acquaintance.
The truth? Like with every other author everywhere, it’s a mix. There’s a lot to a romance novel besides bedroom scenes. Some details are things we’ve tried, some are things we’ve read about or seen, some are things that just sound pretty damn fun and it’s not like our heroes are going to be coming off the page to contradict us. Nobody asks mystery writers if they’re actually serial killers, so why the obsession with romance writers and sex? It’s not all that exciting, in reality.
Actual transcript of “research” I did for this book:
Me: “Honey, could you come in here a sec?”
Husband: “Sure, what’s up?”
Me: “I’m trying to figure out proportions. If you’re standing like this positions him and I’m leaning this way, how far can you lean to kiss me without losing your balance?”
Husband: tries, takes a few attempts before I find a sequence of movements that work
Me: “Thanks, hon!” jumps up to go write
Husband: looks disappointed
The little details of the setting are much harder to research. Sure, there are pictures of NASA spaces, but what do the breakrooms look like? (Ugly and dated.) What are the differences between buildings intended for the public and those for the rank-and-file engineers? (Think the difference between the state capitol atrium and a small-town post office. That.) How much paperwork is actually involved in dating a co-worker?
I’ll leave you with a spoiler and a little tidbit about the paperwork thing: it differs from office to office, but the answer is “more than you’d think.” I wanted to include a scene where my heroes tell their coworkers they’re filing a form such-and-such and that’s how the coworkers find out they’re dating. Cute, right? Except since the rules are different for different NASA jobs, there is no one form. So I picked the closest one I could: form GSA50. Its official title is “Requisition for Reproductive Services.” 😀 Technically it’s for asking to Xerox something, and I doubt anyone but my editor will look it up (she looks up everything), but now you’re in on the secret…
Happy reading! For more blog posts, nerdery, and sarcasm, come find me on Twitter at @wendyqualls!
So y’all–what is the weirdest thing you’ve found yourself researching on the internet? And was it useful?
Title: Rockets and Romance (States of Love)
Author: Wendy Qualls
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: August 2, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary Romance
Page Count: 97
Reviewed by: CrabbyPatty and Kristin
Love isn’t rocket science… or is it?
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.
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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.