TNA: The Novel Approach is happy to welcome Heidi Cullinan back today as she brings the Special Delivery Blog Tour to a close. Today we’re going to talk a little bit about Tough Love (Special Delivery #3), and we’re also offering a chance for one lucky reader to win an e-copy of the book, so read on and good luck!
Welcome back, Heidi, and many thanks for taking the time to be with us and answer all these questions along the way. It’s been great having you as our guest.
Heidi: Thanks for having me!
TNA: So, let’s talk about Chenco and Steve: first, how difficult is it to successfully write a drag queen, to make sure you respect all the subtleties of the art and talent without falling into a stereotype? What are some of the things that give Chenco depth beyond what he does for a living?
Heidi: I based Caramela largely on local drag queens and on a show I caught when I was in the Rio Grande Valley a few years ago. What I’ve learned is that there are all kinds of queens, and each one is personal to the man who carries her. The queen comes out of the man, so by and large I let Chenco dictate how Caramela evolved, and pretty soon she became her own character straight up.
Performing drag for Chenco is an extension of the independence and individuality he gave up so much to claim. He deliberately walks away from choices his mother was determined to make for him, but he also walks towards a fuller expression of his culture: as a Latino man and as a gay man who wants to perform drag.
TNA: What is it that compels you to write about couples who have a significant-ish difference in their ages? What sort of nuances do you find you give the characters and the relationships in contrast to that of a couple who’re the same age?
Heidi: I’m not sure why that keeps coming up, but it does seem to be a theme with me. One thing that brings me back over and over is the idea that it isn’t necessarily the older person wiser than the younger. I also love the idea of second chances in life, of finding yourself stagnated at an age where it’s tempting to feel benched and then circumstances leading you to an unexpected renaissance.
More than anything else, though, my love of the May-December comes from my own experience in basically missing my youth. I haven’t yet written a May to a December who didn’t have significant loss and forced adulthood at a time he should have been worrying about who to take to prom. When I was that age, I always dated older than myself, sometimes significantly. Partly it was because people my age tended to have no clue what I’d been through. A lot of it, though, was wanting not only someone who understood struggle but also someone who could help me see the other side. Not parenting so much as offering a window: the idea that survival was an option. Having been the leader too often young, it was nice even in small ways to have someone be able to say, “It really will be okay. It’ll suck a lot, but you’ll be fine.”
TNA: What would you say is the single most powerful gift Chenco gives Steve in terms of helping him overcome his demons?
Heidi: Strength. I think while Steve is very strong, he needs somewhere to lay down. So basically what I described from the last paragraph, he never had anyone to say he was okay. At this point I think the someone almost has to be younger, someone he’d never guard against. Also I think Caramela had to be there. It was a dual effort.
TNA: If I were to ask you to choose your favorite scene to write in Tough Love, what would you say that scene is, and why?
Heidi: Oh, wow. A lot of them. I liked the date with Randy for a lot of reasons, but I also loved the backstage scene from the first part of the book. Probably I have to say the whole flogging sequence. One because I almost lost it in a Scrivener biff, two because Samhain’s initial reservation over the watersports meant I went back and wrote the hell out of that scene, and in the end I like it better than the first version. But I also like the petting scene. I don’t know. I like a lot of it.
TNA: Now that all three books have been released, will you tell us which was your favorite of them to write, and who would you say your favorite couple was to explore? What makes that book and that couple so special to you?
Heidi: Double Blind will always be my favorite to write because it was fast and amazing and exhilarating. Special Delivery took too long and didn’t want to come out, and I was nervous about its reception. Tough Love was kind of that part two, this time with more eyeballs on me. Also Double Blind is Randy and Ethan. I always say I’m more Randy than I’m not, and Ethan is very, very much my husband. To the point that he read DB and lamented Randy wasn’t real. I cocked my eyebrow and said, “You married him.”
TNA: Do you foresee there will ever be more books in this series: vignettes, holiday codas, bonus scenes, or will these characters simply live a quiet and private happy ever after?
Heidi: When I started Tough Love I was adamant I was done, but by the time I finished the first draft I’d left myself three deliberately loose ends, plus endless possible walk-ins to Herod’s. Then in Sam and Mitch’s Q&A on my forum Sam declared he wanted a kid.
Honestly, I’ll probably write more. I have to get some stuff in order first, and I have several projects ahead of any drafting, but I think I love the boys too much to put them down forever. So nothing is imminent, but I won’t say never.
TNA: Would you care to share and excerpt from Tough Love with us?
Heidi: I’ll share the introduction of Lincoln, where he and Chenco discuss. This whole section is a strange nod to Damon’s obsession with me writing erotica under the pen name Heide Hole. I said no, but I used the name for Lincoln’s drag queen. Here Heide, Lincoln, and Chenco problem solve and throw shade.
Crescencio “Chenco” Ortiz pulled himself up by his garter straps after his father’s will yanked the financial rug from under his spank-me pumps. He doesn’t need anyone, yet when Steve Vance steps into his life, the prospect of having a sexy leather daddy on tap begins to take on a certain appeal.
There’s a hitch when he learns Steve is friends with Mitch Tedsoe—the half-brother Chenco never knew except through his father’s twisted lies. Despite his reservations, soon Chenco is living his dreams, including a performing gig in Vegas. Now if only he could get Steve to see him as more than just a boy in need of saving.
Steve’s attraction to Chenco is overshadowed by too many demons, ones he knows his would-be lover is too young to slay. Yet as he gets to know the bright, determined young man whose drag act redefines fierce, Steve’s inner sadist trembles with need. He begins to realize Chenco’s relentless tough love might be the only thing that will finally set him free.
Warning: This story contains glamorous drag queens, exhibitionist secondary characters, and no-holds-barred BDSM play, including watersports. Readers advised they may well leave this novel feeling uncharacteristically fierce.
Chenco was running out of time. He’d done a cursory look for new places to live, and his prospects were worse than he’d expected. As time dragged on, Chenco’s anxiety increased, and when he flipped through a wig catalog, trying to plan for Pride month performances, the cold depths of reality hit him—Cooper’s betrayal didn’t just affect him, it threatened his alter ego.
Chenco called Lincoln.
He caught his friend on the way to work—Heide had a show at Lasers, Lincoln said, but she’d finish at midnight if Chenco could meet after at the club. Since Chenco worked until nine, he agreed, and after running home to shower and change, he headed up to Edinburg to catch the end of Heide’s act. As soon as he stepped into the main room, he heard the drag queen’s booming, brazen voice bellowing across the bar. She was in the middle of her erotic balloon-tying act, the audience roaring as Heide gave a swollen green penis a heavy hand job.
Heide was full-on clown queen. She drew on her lips almost to her nose, and Chenco knew from bra shopping with Lincoln her tits were 36HH—HH for Heide Hole. She made them perky by special blow-up inserts affixed to the straps of her gaudy green gown. Her hair tonight was a three-foot-high fire-engine-red tower of curls set off by the tackiest gold tiara this side of a toddler beauty pageant. Her earrings were fiber-optic lilies dangling to her shoulders, matching the necklace nestled snugly in her faux bosom. Her shoes as always were stunning—six-and-a-half-inch clear stilettos with a string of dice along the heel stem, a glitter buckle, and floating disco balls in the see-through rise below the balls of the feet.
Caramela was so borrowing those.
Chenco settled back to enjoy the show. When she closed her final set and blew the audience a kiss goodbye after her encore, Chenco gave her a few minutes to get settled before heading through the stage door and knocking at her dressing room.
“Come on in, hooker,” a clear voice called in singsong.
Slipping inside the cramped former closet, Chenco smiled as their gazes met in the reflection of the stage mirror. “Bitch, have you been getting collagen in those lips? You look like you gave a blow job to a Hoover attachment.”
Heide snorted. She sat hairless now, Lincoln’s patchy mop of dull brown locks matted beneath the nylon cap as she curled her lip at herself in the glass. “Allergic reaction to new lipstick.”
Chenco flattened his lips. “What did I tell you about buying out of the clearance bin?”
“Whatever.” Heide pulled off one of her lashes, wincing as the last of the glue gave way. “So, go on. Rip me to shreds, skank, I’m ready.”
This was their game when they saw each other work, and usually Chenco was all over it. Tonight, though, he didn’t have it in him. “It was good.”
Heide stopped tugging at the second eyelash and turned to Chenco with the accessory winging up toward her overly penciled brow like a demented neon caterpillar. “What the fuck.” She pointed at the stool beside her. “Sit. Spill. And if you try and bullshit me, I’ll kick your ass.”
Chenco sat. He gave Heide the whole story, starting at the funeral. He told her about seeing his half-brother Mitch there and leaving before the ceremony started. Heide threw shade as only she could.
“What a fucking cunt. He hasn’t been back to the valley in years, and he shows up now, lurking around waiting to jump you?”
“That’s just it. I still don’t know for sure he knows about me.” He explained about the letter and the meeting with Cuevas.
When Heide heard about the trailer going to the KKK, she shouted so loudly and angrily the stage manager came in to make sure everything was okay. Heide shooed him back out, muttering under her breath as she wiped off the last of her makeup.
“What a fucker. Oh my God, I knew your dad was an asshole, but even I didn’t see this coming.” She tugged off her nylon cap and rubbed a wet wipe furiously around the base of her hairline. “Do you have an apartment yet? What am I talking about, you don’t have any money. Fuck the apartment. You’ll move in with me.”
“There’s no room.”
“We’ll make room.” She was in the strange transition between Heide and Lincoln now, titless and wearing her male side’s face but still using Heide’s vocal tones and hand gestures. Caramela usually shut off with the wig, but Heide liked to linger.
Chenco shifted uneasily on his chair. “The lawyer bought me some time. Unless of course he’s in on the scam with Vance.”
“What scam? Who’s Vance?”
Chenco told the story of interrupting Vance’s meeting, of his finding Chenco in the alley and offering to help. “Vance kept after me, like he couldn’t let it go. I was almost ready to trust him when this other guy shows up, the one I’ve seen hanging out all over town with my brother. God, what would they have done to me if I’d been stupid enough to believe he really wanted to help me?”
Instead of commiserating, Heide frowned. “Honey, something about this is off. You said the lawyer made time for you, cut off this other guy’s appointment. The leather daddy was nice to you, and he came right out and said he was gay.”
“It could have been part of the act.”
“Maybe not. Maybe it’s Jansen and your brother who are the assholes.” Heide arched Lincoln’s eyebrow to her hairline. “Or maybe your daddy lied about your brother too.”
“You’re forgetting the Pulitzer-level journal in the trailer detailing all the ways Mitch hates fags and hopes they all get AIDS and die.”
Heide grimaced. “Fair point. Well, fuck them. I still don’t think the lawyer’s part of this. Nobody’s come to kick you out yet, so either the KKK doesn’t give a fuck about a half-rotted trailer in Donna, Texas, or the lawyer really is doing you a solid. My money’s on the latter. Did you Google him?”
“Whatever. You know I don’t have a computer or a smartphone.”
The last of Heide slipped away as Lincoln rolled his eyes and picked up a phone from the dressing table. “What was his name? Luis Cuevas?” He punched at the screen with his index finger. “Hmm. Well, if he’s fucking you over, he’s in some deep cover. He’s done pro bono on a few bashing cases, and he’s big on immigrant rights. Looks like he does the estate and property work to pad the bank so he can save the world on the side.” Lincoln put his phone down. “I’ll ask around at work, but I think this will check out. Besides, why would a legitimate businessman draw out an elaborate scheme when he could laugh at you and tell you to get off his lawn when the will already had you nice and fucked?”
“Why would a father bleed his son dry, lie about his will and leave everything to white supremacists?”
“Cooper Tedsoe wasn’t a father. He was a professional cunt-sandwich.” Lincoln reached for a bottle of water. “We’ll look around for a place, sweetie, but if you don’t find something you like, you’re coming to mine. I never get laid anyway, so you can take the other side of the bed with a clean conscience. We’ll put Caramela’s stuff in the garage or rent a storage space.”
“Oh my God, she wants to claw your eyes out so hard right now.”
“Miss High-and-Mighty can surely try, but this old queen can take your skinny-assed Chiquita any day, any time. Makeup and melty shit comes inside, but her precious muff-muggers and designer mop heads can survive a bit of baking. You can let your queen fly, but she don’t get to drive.”
This, this right here, was why Chenco hadn’t come to Lincoln straight off. He never understood about Caramela, despite being the one who’d helped her come to life. He’d let Lincoln tease him and distract him, and he’d let his friend help try and find somewhere new to call home, but as he headed to the flats and his bed, he made his queen a promise they’d only go to Lincoln’s apartment if it was absolutely the only place left in the valley to go.
TNA: Thanks again, very much, for making The Novel Approach a stop on your virtual tour. It’s been great having you here with us.
Heidi: Thanks for having me!
About the Author: Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and ten-year-old daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.
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