Of being queer, crazy fluxes, and writing: Interview with Heidi Cullinan

After reading the ARC of Heidi’s latest novel The Doctor’s Orders, I absolutely wanted to know more about this excellent writer. I confess I came to know her through the three books of this series, Copper Point: Medical, and ever since finishing the last book in the line, I have added her previous books to my TBR, making it very long in the process. I guessed Heidi’s schedule would be crazy, so I simply wrote her an email asking her if she would allow me to ask some questions. She gracefully accepted, and we’ve been exchanging Q&As ever since. Here’s the result… a very personal and honest “encounter” with Heidi Cullinan, of which I’m immensely proud.

ParisDude: Hey, Heidi. I feel very honoured to interview you. Especially as I guess you must be quite exhausted after your recent Copper Point: Medical writathon. Let me see if I get this right: book #1 was released last April, followed by #2 in June, and #3 will be available on August 20, but what with ARCs being sent out, it’s already written…
Heidi Cullinan: You got the dates right, correct. Book three will be out August 27. Because this was a publisher release, book three was put to bed early this spring, possibly earlier, but my memory is slightly fuzzy.

PD: How on earth were you able to go through with it? I mean, three major releases in such a short time! We’re not talking novellas nor short novels, either, but a total of 1,200 pages…
HC: Well, you might have noticed I didn’t publish a single word last year. That wasn’t the plan—I’d intended to make these books shorter and faster and get out some self-published titles as well, but that didn’t happen. Plans are always tentative around here. It did get a little intense, though, because normally I have cooling off periods while I write books, and there just wasn’t the time here. Thankfully Dreamspinner was flexible with deadlines for me and allowed me to bring in my long-time editor who kindly and gently beat things into shape and kept me on brand.

PD: Are you a fast writer then? Or in other words: how do you organize your writing? You know, I read somewhere that German writer and Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann kept a regular, daily writing schedule, several hours each morning, several hours each afternoon. Is this what you do? Or do you have any secret means that keep you going, I don’t know, vitamins, ice cream, special music, voodoo…?
HC: Well, this is a work in progress at the moment, my writing schedule. My physical and mental health has been a struggle for the past three years, so I keep tweaking to find what works for me. The closing of Samhain was a huge earthquake for me on every level…

PD: Sorry, I know it’s rude to interrupt, but—closing of Samhain? We’re not talking Celtic rites here, I guess…
HC: LOL, no. Samhain as in Samhain Publishing, my former publisher. They closed in 2017.

PD: Oh, I see. Thanks. So yes, I would imagine them closing must have been quite a huge thing for you!
HC: The greatest understatement of my career. They had 70% of my books and represented 90% of my earnings, and it vanished overnight for four months before I could even begin to attempt rebuilding. That year I pretty much worked for twelve months straight, no breaks, no holidays, no nothing trying to get my books back out and devise new plans for the future. During the writing of the Copper Point: Medical books, my editor—bless Sasha Knight forever—had a reckoning with me and pretty much forced me to slow down, deadlines and financial needs be damned. It was about then that I instigated the “no weekends, no after five”-rule, which I generally stick to with a few exceptions. But a lot of my strategy lately has revolved around making sure I don’t hurt my body (I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), but even with that there are days, sometimes weeks there’s just not going to be any work getting done.

Honestly, what keeps me going are my readers, my friends, and my family. I do drink a lot of water, make story playlists (listening to one right now, in fact), and do my best to eat healthily, keep up with my PT exercises and water-walking, but there are still rough days. There are times a reader email/social media comment comes at just the right time. And I can’t talk about what motivates me without mentioning my patrons. They’ve been waiting for a self-published release for me since The Christmas Fling, which was some time ago now. Their generosity and support have been the last line of defense on a lot of days.

PD: Did your writing leave any time for other things these last months? I reckon your cats, as long as they’re fed, won’t be too demanding, but I read that you had a daughter? And even more time-consuming: a husband? I know what I’m talking about; I have one myself…
HC: LOL. Well, my daughter is a senior this year, and I’m quite aware that as of this month I’m counting down the months until she doesn’t live in our house full time anymore. This is part of the reason for the no-writing-after-five rule. Sometimes we watch TV as a family, but Anna and I keep up with several anime, and we game together. A lot of times I watch her play, but sometimes we play together, or she exasperatedly helps lurch me over my many hurdles. Actually, as of this very second, she’s working on a cosplay (Berkut from Fire Emblem: Echoes) and I’ve been helping her problem-solve and build. We’re going to an anime convention next weekend, which doubles as work and play. (I’m researching a potential new series.)

PD: I saw in your bio that you’re a passionate advocate for LGBT rights. What was it that made you first decide to defend this cause?
HC: You know, I can’t remember how it started or when, but it was a long, slow boil, probably driven by my subconscious trying to get me to come out to myself. Things got passionate here because of Iowa’s legal fight for same-sex marriage, which culminated in 2009, but we’d been donating to HRC long before that. Now it’s personal on a lot of levels, for me and family. My daughter identifies as pansexual and demisexual leaning asexual. She calls herself a pandemic. So, advocacy at this point is highly personal. Since I identify as queer in my bio, and since my published name is my legal name, I’ve had times where I’m trying to live my life and random government agencies challenge me on it. (Some people don’t understand you can be pansexual and still marry a man.)

PD: Some people say, ‘Enough is enough’, and here and there one hears complaints that the LGBT community is gaining the upper hand, with straights becoming the oppressed minority. What’s your take on that? Truth, fake news, or something else altogether? Have we, the LGBT community and those who support us, reached all our goals? And do we still need to keep up the fight?
HC: Straight fragility is real, and it intersects with white fragility a lot too. That’s a mess and they can marinate in it, though of course it affects the rest of us. And since we have transgender discrimination getting worse instead of better, since most people don’t know what asexuality is or won’t include it under the queer umbrella, since a lot of queer advocacy leaves out people of color—no, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to done, and thinking we are is highly dangerous. Equality on the backs of others isn’t equality, it’s oppression.

PD: Nick, one of the MCS of your upcoming novel The Doctor’s Orders, has a very hard time coming to terms with his being gay, accepting and embracing his feelings and emotions. I found that aspect very well described, but then I saw that one reviewer argued that ‘given our current time in history, the main characters’ views concerning “coming out” seem excessively retro’ and that it becomes ‘a stretch for us to fully identify with the angst of either main character’. Has it really become so much easier to be openly gay nowadays? Has coming out become a mere rite of passage, a sort of stress-less non-event?
HC: I came out to myself when I was in my late thirties. I’m still not out to most people in my life, in part because the conversation makes me tired before it happens. There are gay and bisexual people very close to me, especially men, who are not out. Also, over the years I’ve somehow become the whispering post for a lot of bisexual authors who are not in any way out in their published lives, some not in private either. This isn’t simply a rural issue, either—some of these people live in cities. Look at Pete Buttigieg. He came out practically ten minutes ago. I think it’s easier to a degree for younger generations, but sometimes even there, people hesitate. I can’t even say I’m glad some people think the issue is moot, because that diminishes the struggle for those who still can’t live their truths and embrace their identity, adding a second level of shame in a situation that’s already stressful. I think it’s important to show stories where people come out without issue, or don’t have to come out at all, just fall into their truth as a matter of course—that’s my daughter’s story. But Nick’s story isn’t even my story, though I borrowed from my own feelings for him. I wrote Nick to speak to someone very close to me, who is out only selectively and still struggles daily to accept himself. And I wrote him for everyone else who wants to come out but can’t, who doesn’t know how, who can’t step over the fear and baggage.

PD: One of the things I noticed in your Copper Point: Medical series was the multi-ethnicity of your MCs. It was no superficial copy-and-paste thing with changed skin colours either, because each MC came with his background, which in turn was rooted in specific cultures, Histories, communities… Is it important for you to write about different ethnical and cultural backgrounds? Did you have to do a lot of research to get it right?
HC: I can tell you as someone who reads widely in books by and about people of color, someone who made an effort to dig even deeper as I wrote these characters, that even if I had quadrupled my already extensive studies and self-checks to write characters other than myself, I would still not be anywhere near the authenticity of own voices AOC. My best efforts are lacking in ways I can never make up. Yet at the same time I don’t want my stories whitewashed, something I think I have unconsciously done in the past. I also know AOC writing queer stories featuring people of color often struggle to gain audience and have reviews riddled with quiet or overtly racist remarks. A white woman writing diverse characters isn’t representation, but my hope is that making an effort for inclusion helps increase awareness even in a small way. There are so many great AOC writing queer romance, many of their stories better than mine. I love LaQuette’s work, Adriana Herrara, Atom Yang, Allie Therin, Blue Saffire/Royal Blue—I’m barely scratching the surface here. Go to Queer Romance POC Authors and go find yourself some new books. We have so much richness, and it breaks my heart not to see white authors actively lifting these amazing, important stories up.

PD: Speaking of research… did you have to research the particular part of Wisconsin where the series takes place? Or have you visited it?
HC: I actually lived in Appleton, Wisconsin for two years when I was in high school, and for all of my youth we regularly visited friends in Freemont. I did a high school arbor camp in the Northwoods of Wisconsin and did a few family trips through there as well. I know enough about Wisconsin to know it’s more than cheese, (though cheese is truly a religion there), that you can pass legally on the right, that weddings WILL go until 2AM and have grandmas doing shots during the midnight march, that the fact that Walker broke the unions there is a shot to the gut like no one out of Wisconsin can understand. I choose Wisconsin because I default to Minnesota and decided I should branch out slightly. I rarely write about Iowa because I have a lot of anger about it. See Shelter the Sea for more on that.

PD: There’s one question that makes me always wonder… How is it that you are capable of describing gay guys, their thought processes, emotions, physical sensations so accurately? Research again? Or is there a hidden bunch of gay besties who tip you off?
HC: I mean, at the end of the day people are people? Steven King writes about serial killers and nobody asks him if they can inspect his basement. I am queer myself, so it’s not a straight lens you’re getting from me. Also, there’s so much about writing gay romance specifically that is a middle finger to the patriarchy, and everyone has a stake in that struggle. I didn’t particularly do any research at any point. I think one of the most important things about writing gay men is the agency to have emotion without judgment, honest, free, sex without condemning their masculinity—or femininity, if they want to embrace that too. Honestly, it’s much easier for me to write gay and pansexual men than it is for me to write queer women. When I write about my own orientation, all the things that kept me in the closet rattle in my head and slow me down. I stop to have conversations with myself, to mourn, to rage. When I write gay men, it’s like enough and yet just far enough I can get there easier. I still want to write women with women, and I have a lot of plans there. But it’s really different for me. I don’t pretend that it’s this way for all women, or that gay men have the same struggle writing their own stories. I just know this is where I’m at. Everything’s a journey.

PD: In my review of The Doctor’s Orders I was musing whether you could be sweet-talked into writing a follow-and-clear-up sequel where you tell us about how everybody’s faring later on… I guess—and I’m winking as we speak—I could just have a try right now. What do you think?
HC: Well, the idea was always that I set up the series so that I could write trilogies in several pockets. I did the hospital, but now I can do main street, or the college, etc. The idea was we’d see how well this series did, and we’d all make a decision about that later. It’s going to be a minute, though, because I’d do the next trilogy much the same way, and first I have to get more self-published titles out. I really want to finish all these series I had to abandon when Samhain closed.

PD: What are your next writing plans?
HC: At this second, I’m writing Rebel Heart, book four in the Love Lessons series. There will be one more book in that series, which I also want to get to sooner rather than later. I’m also working on a book that was supposed to go one place but might end up somewhere else instead, still waiting to see how that shakes out. I have full intent to make my next works after these the Roosevelt series final books—probably no Christmas book again this year, sorry. After that it’s just me chipping away at the series that got waylaid, maybe writing more Copper Point, maybe writing a different series. Everything’s in crazy flux at the moment.

PD: The Doctor’s Secret has been released in French in early June. Do you have any idea when the next two books will be published?
HC: I think soon? It’s possible I saw something come through, but maybe not. That’s a question for Dreamspinner, and they have all my foreign rights, even for self-pub stuff. I know there will be plans for it, but I don’t know when.

PD: By the way, in The Doctor’s Orders, Jared uses a French phrase, which Nick immediately (and rightly) corrects. Do you happen to speak French? Already been in France?
HC: I took college French for a year, which I have largely forgotten. My daughter is about to start her fourth year of high school French, and I think (maybe?) she helped me on that one, though I might have just Googled it. My Japanese is better than my French, but even that is pretty terrible. My cover artist is French-Canadian, though, and has helped me with things several times, especially the Clockwork Heart French. All the dirty stuff is from her.

PD: Your bio says you’re an avid reader, as of course you would be—no good writer hates reading. Did you find time for a good book over the last months?
HC: So, my reading has been rough for some time—a bit of it time, a bit of it brain. I started doing author interviews for Joyfully Jay and soon for Pink Heart Society in part so I could push myself to read more. The last wonderful book I read was Allie Therin’s Spellbound, but I also love everything Atom Yang touches.

PD: What are you currently reading?
HC: You know what I read most? Webcomics, especially Chinese webcomics. Also, the English translation of The Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation, also Chinese. Lots of manga too. Like, full truckloads.

PD: And your all-time favourite ever?
HC: Sir Terry Pratchett. Everything he wrote, but top novel of all time is Going Postal.

PD: Heidi, thank you so much for taking the time. It has been a real pleasure, sincerely! Give my best to your hubby and daughter, and a friendly stroke for each of your cats, of course.
HC: Absolutely! Thanks for having me.

A member of Romance Writers of America since 1999, Heidi Cullinan has served as president of Rainbow Romance Writers, run local chapter newsletters, and volunteered for committees on the local and national level. In addition to teaching writing since 1993, she also served as the writer’s workshop coordinator for GayRomLit Retreat for 2013. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi has written over thirty positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after.


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Title: The Doctor’s Orders (Copper Point Medical #3)
Author: Heidi Cullinan
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: August 20, 2019
Genre(s): Contemporary
Page Count: 384
Reviewed by: ParisDude, Kirstin A and Bob-O-Link


Sequel to The Doctor’s Date
Copper Point Medical: Book Three

Once upon a time Nicolas Beckert was the boy who stole kisses from Jared Kumpel beneath the bleachers, but now Jared’s a pediatrician and Nick is the hospital CEO who won’t glance his way. Everything changes, however, when they’re stranded alone in a hospital elevator. Ten years of cold shoulders melt away in five hours of close contact, and old passions rekindle into hot flames.

Once out of the elevator, Jared has no intention of letting Nick get away. It’s clear he’s desperate for someone to give him space to let go of the reins, and Jared is happy to oblige. But Jared wants Nick as a lover in a full, open relationship, which is a step further than Nick is willing to go. They’ve traded kisses under the bleachers for liaisons in the boardroom… and it looks like the same arguments that drove them apart in high school might do the same thing now.

Jared’s determined not to let that happen this time around. He won’t order Nick from his shell—he’ll listen to what his friend says he needs to feel safe. Maybe this time he can prescribe his lover a happy ever after.

Copper Point Medical

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Dieter, born and raised in Austria, studied Political Sciences in Vienna in the early 90s. He's living in Paris, France, with his boyfriend and working as a graphic designer. In his spare time, he loves to write, read, cook, take photos, and travel as often as possible. He’s already published two short-story collections as well as four poetry collections. His first murder mystery novel “The Stuffed Coffin” featuring Damien Drechsler and the dashing Greek student Nikos has been released on Jan. 6, 2019, and is available in English, French, and German. By the way, the French version "Le cercueil farci" has won the prestigious Prix du roman gay 2019 in the category murder mystery. Dieter runs a gay book reviews site in French and is also writing reviews for Gay Book Reviews under the pseudonym of ParisDude.