Heidi Cullinan and Amy Jo Cousins. Two BIG names in romance. Both write nuanced, sexy characters grappling with issues like identity and self-discovery. Both portray college aged protagonists who are slightly…more evocative than the norm. Both have big personalities and aren’t shy about discussing their ideas about romance and writing with the public. Amy Jo has been urging me to read Dance With Me for ages so getting these two together for an in-depth chat about Heidi’s rerelease of it? Well, it certainly seemed smart but these results? EPIC.
So without further ado, here’s Amy Jo Cousins chatting up Heidi Cullinan for our latest installment of Authors Interviewing Authors!
Amy Jo: Dance With Me, your latest book, is a re-release of one of my favorite romances ever. I love Ed and Laurie to pieces, and that book moved me with its message about being able to find love and joy in a world where we may not ever end up living the life we’d hoped for. You have self-published re-releases of a couple of your backlist titles now, with gorgeous new covers. How do you find the self-publishing end of the business? Do you enjoy having all the control over the details, or does it take away too much time from your writing?
Heidi: Thank you so much for your kind comments about Dance With Me. All my books are close to my heart, but this one I’ll admit is more personal. Always good to hear it resonates.
Self-publishing is absolutely more work, and a staggering amount of money up front, but if you’re a control freak (which I am), once you learn how to do it properly, the process is heady and addicting. What I like most is being able to try new marketing angles and make last-minute decisions without having to go through a chain of personnel at a publisher. I can’t speak decisively until I’ve self-published a new title, not a re-release, but I think the time issue might be a wash. I’ve always been hands-on about my marketing, but this way I get more royalty to spend marketing dollars on and can do things like issue foreign editions and audio almost immediately. So on the whole, so far, I’m liking it a lot.
I will say, though, it’s not for everyone. It’s not easier or better, it’s just different.
Amy Jo: As a follow-up, what’s it like revisiting some of your earlier books? Can you see how you’ve grown in your own writing? I think you’ve said with both Nowhere Ranch and Dance With Me that you haven’t made substantial edits in the re-release, but you’ve done small edits throughout. When I reread my earliest Harlequins, there is one that I love and one where the writing is occasionally clunky in ways that make me cringe. Is it a happy process, revisiting and tightening up the manuscripts, or a tough one?
Heidi: A significant factor in most of my reissues is I’ve worked with Sasha Knight, the editor with whom I really click. So along with the satisfaction of cleaning up old habits and putting on another polish, I get to revisit the story with someone who makes my work shine like no one else.
It’s a happy process, but yeah, it’s still work. With Dance With Me in particular I was horrified by some of my bad habits, and it was a lot of effort to eradicate what to me was sloppy writing. Yet all the while I was aware even with what I felt was bad writing, many, many readers and reviewers had loved that story as-is. So what to me is essential address is probably not so much for readers. I’d say most readers don’t notice the difference between editions, and even if they do, they won’t care. Which does beg the question, why revise? To which I say, see the above notation about being a control freak.
Amy Jo: You write both standalone novels and series, although you seem to favor series quite a bit. I know that I loved seeing Ed and Laurie pop up in the Love Lessons series, so you managed there to pull a standalone novel into one of your series, which was terrific for us fans! Have you ever found yourself planning to write a standalone, but then ending up with a series because you can’t resist telling stories for your secondary characters? Or do you always plan series out before you start writing them?
Heidi: Pretty much every series I mean to be standalone and then they morph on me. The exception is the Minnesota Christmas series, though they got in on hijacking my plans to close the curtain too. I wanted Winter Wonderland to be the last one, and then the plot wove itself into a perfect open door for a related series.
I don’t plan much. When I do, most of the time it doesn’t stick at all. Sometimes I get lucky and can make a map of either a book or a series, but if I don’t leave room for organic growth, I always pay for it and the whole process takes longer.
Amy Jo: Is it hard to say goodbye to a series when you’re done with it? I’m having a rather difficult time figuring out how to end a series I keep having story ideas about. I think part of it is not wanting to let the shared universe go. Do you wrap up your series with a sigh of relief and excitement at the idea of moving onto something new, or is it tough to let go?
Heidi: Well, I have yet to wrap up a series, so I can’t speak to it. The only one which might qualify is the Special Delivery series, which I’m not ready to say I’m done with. So, yeah.
Amy Jo: You’ve experimented with some genres other than contemporary in your books, including historical (A Private Gentleman) and fantasy (Hero, Miles & the Magic Flute, the Etsey series). I know that when I’m making decisions about what books I’m going to work on next, I have to factor in the realities of the market, because I can’t afford to spend months working on stories I might love, but that won’t sell as well. Do you have any plans to write more books outside of the contemporary genre? What kind of factors go into your making choices about what books to write next?
Heidi: How funny, I was just about to vent-tweet about this. I try to write things I think will sell well, but if I do that too much too long, my muses revolt and I end up either not writing at all or finding myself neck-deep in a steampunk. Also often I say, “This one will be short and simple” and then I have a stack of philosophy books near my reading chair and simple is long out the window.
I guess I could force myself to write to a certain pattern or genre, but whenever I do that my writing feels flat to me. Or even if it’s not that way to readers, it’s an uncomfortable process to me. I have to be incredibly respectful of my id while I write. I’ve found if I trust it and don’t fight it, what feels like a wild tangent will be okay in the end.
And honestly, I grew up on the romance novels where my favorite authors subgenre-hopped. If I had to stick to one forever, it would really bum me out. And my work would suffer, and my sales would be crap anyway.
Amy Jo: What are some of the best books you’ve read lately, within our genre or outside of it? Or maybe, who are some of authors you see doing interesting/new/challenging things?
Heidi: I’ll confess, I’ve had a very hard time reading books this year. It’s zero to do with the books and a lot to do with me. The exception is I’ve really been digging everything by Jordan L. Hawk. I haven’t yet gotten to the point where I’ve emailed her and said PLEASE GIVE ME THAT BOOK EARLY but it’s been a near thing. Some of it is I really dig her voice and the way she plays with story, and tunneling through her early work was fun, because I enjoyed watching her try things out and go down different roads. But mostly I love knowing whatever the hell she writes, even if it’s not my favorite thing in the world, it will feel comfortable and safe and I’ll leave happy. That’s everything, man.
Amy Jo: I was fascinated to see you start your experiment with Patreon. I am both a romance reader and a SFF fan, and in the latter community, Patreons for writers are much more common. I support one for Mary Anne Mohanraj, which is actually based around her working on a new Sri Lankan cookbook, as opposed to her SFF or literary books. I love getting delicious recipes in my inbox every month, and it’s totally worth the $2/month I pledged! How has your experience been so far?
Heidi: Well, I’ve just started poking around. It was kind of a fever-dream, and I was going to delete it the next morning, but people were already there, and they keep coming. It’s incredibly humbling. It feels like this amazing, starlit space, but it’s contained. Like being inside some kind of Russian Easter egg, those sugar things with all the stuff inside. It’s also a fun place to put stuff I don’t want all over the whole planet, though of course I’m aware any of it could go interstellar with one social media share. So far it feels good. And I’m eager to play with it with some self-published stuff.
Of course, I need to have time to write things to self-publish, but I’ll get there eventually.
Amy Jo: Any hints about future Heidi Cullinan projects for us?
Heidi C: Well, right now I have no idea what I’m about to write. I have a Dance With Me novella sequel lying around, a new adult which I really want to be a standalone but I’m not marrying any idea right now, and of course the eight million series I need to finish. I started the next Roosevelt book, and I keep thinking I’ll do the next Love Lessons, which will be Rose and Mina, but so far between family and other nonsense nothing has been able to take off. That’s going to change real soon, one way or another.
So the answer is that something is coming, but hell if I know what.
Thanks to both Heidi and Amy Joy for being on Binge on Books today! Today’s interview was part of our monthly Authors Interviewing Authors series and features your favorite authors interviewing their favorite authors.
You can purchase the newly released Dance With Me in the following ways: Direct from author (all three formats!), Amazon, All Romance Ebooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Kobo. The paperback edition is in process and will be coming soon. See below for more information about signed paperbacks.
Heidi Cullinan has always enjoyed a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. Proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality, Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights. She writes positive-outcome romances for LGBT characters struggling against insurmountable odds because she believes there’s no such thing as too much happy ever after. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, playing with her cats, and watching television with her family. Find out more about Heidi at heidicullinan.com.
Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series. Find out more about Amy Jo at amyjocousins.com.