TB: Writing young men is not new for you, but the college boys theme is, you’ve mentioned before a particularly special connection to this book. Can you tell us about your inspiration in shaping Kelly and Walter’s character?
HC: Thank you for having me, and for saying such kind things about my work.
Mostly this novel got started because I was reading a number of college-set sweeter romances and I wanted to play along. I had this idea Love Lessons would be 50-60k, sugar-sweet and simple and take me a few months to write. It took me six, I routed about thirty demons from my college years, and at one point I had a three foot-stack of philosophy books on my reading stand and twice as many on my kindle. So the sweet and simple thing didn’t work out quite so well. The other irony is I intended it to be a series initially, but it became a stand alone…and now it’s a series again.
Kelly and Walter started out as a rake/ingenue dichotomy, a pretty standard trope. It didn’t take long for them to do the character equivalent of, “No, listen to me,” and they ended up tangling themselves, switching roles, and in general making a mess. As soon as I took my expectations and rigid schedule out of the way, though, everything lined right up.
TB: There is a wonderful dichotomy with these boys, one is enamored with the idea of the perfect happy ending, and one is completely jaded on love. This is a classic theme in romance, but you always manage to make those “issues” the thing that makes your men unique and special.Broken characters are your niche. Can you talk about where you go to make your characters so triumphant in their “weaknesses”?
HC: Lord. You make it sound so good, but I have to admit, mostly I go to myself. Walter is so me it’s not funny…but so is Kelly. Walter’s front of snark and “I don’t need anyone” with an aching neediness underneath, Kelly’s naiveté and burning optimism. Sometimes I put myself or my issues directly into my books: Ed’s chronic pain came from a football injury, but it was part and parcel my struggle. Laurie’s disillusionment and frustration I know well, as well as his reticence. Walter’s struggles are all mine, from the parents to the professor. The actual facts are very different in a few instances, but the emotions and loss and sense of being alone were entirely what I experienced. The ones that didn’t make it into Love Lessons have ended up in its sequel.
Probably worth noting is each one of my books has been written through physical or emotional pain or both. Sometimes I challenge myself to process something through fiction, sometimes I simply mine a thick vein, and sometimes it’s the only way I could stay sane at that particular moment. Sometimes writing is therapy, sometimes it’s a meditation.
TB: In terms of erotica, this story is a bit of a departure for you, a strong and often times intense physical connection are large themes in your romances, but with Kelly and Walter that took a backseat. Is this a format that you are exploring in your future stories, or was it just a conjecture of the setting/age of the characters?
HC: A lot of it was the way the story worked out. Book two will be a bit steamier but more on the lines of Dance With Me than Nowhere Ranch. For Love Lessons any time I let the sex amp up it seemed to take away from the emotional vulnerability. I’m fairly sure Kelly and Walter get up to some pretty sexy shenanigans, but this story wasn’t about that. It was about sensuality and connection and vulnerability.
I think it’s safe to say I’ll dance in and out of heat levels depending on the story and the characters. I maintain Dance With Me is pretty low steam compared to most, but not everyone shares that opinion. I love writing sexy, but even in my most erotic stories it’s not about the sex for me. I know Nowhere Ranch gets a lot of attention because of the graphic nature of their play, but it was never about titillation for me, not in that book especially. Sex was the only way those characters could speak to each other for a long, long time.
If graphic sex serves characters, I’ll write it, but if it takes away, it goes. Every time.
TB: Now my blog is a bit different, since I usually do a wine pairing and a meal that would go well with the book or inspired on something from the story. This book is especially exciting to me, since Kelly has so many dietary restrictions; I had to be extra creative. For your boys I decided to make tasty enchiladas with a tofu/calabacitas filling, topped with Salsa Verde. Do you think I could get Kelly and Walter to enjoy my delicious recipe without a visit to the emergency room?
HC: It should be okay, and sounds delicious! Only his almond issue is anaphylactic. The rest would make him break out in hives and have a horrible stomach ache. Walter would probably inspect your kitchen, though, and Kelly would blush in mortification and apologize for his boyfriend.
TB: Going forward do you think you will revisit the young love theme? If you do would we get to revisit Hope University?
HC: I think I’m probably done with Hope, but there’s already a second book in the series and it’s set in Minnesota. I know there’s a book three as well, and…well, you have to wait for the rest.
TB: To wrap things up, there is ONE thing I’ve been DYING to ask you from the first book I read from you. Given your love for wedding proposals, in the future will get to see a wedding?
HC: LOL. Well, I keep threatening to write the Sam and Mitch wedding, but that hasn’t happened yet. I think, possibly, we get to see Kelly and Walter’s in book two. But it might be book three. Fever Pitch is kind of wringing things out, so we’ll see. But it’s my goal for it to be at the end. Honestly I think it will be in both, the end of book two and the opening of book three.
There’s another one coming too. Soon. And that’s all I can say without spoiling.
Well that is all folks! A huge thank you again to the kind Ms. Cullinan for taking the time to answer my questions. I am so looking forward to her upcoming books and hanging out with her this week in Atlanta.
Cheers and Happy Reading to all!!!!