By Wendy Qualls
- I’m a huge BBC Sherlock fan. I can’t help it – the show is amazing. Sharp-eyed readers may notice a few (okay, many) little nods to the Sherlock TV show here and there in this series. St. Benedict’s, the college Paul teaches at, got its name from Benedict Cumberbatch (the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes) and St. Bart’s, which is the hospital where Sherlock Holmes and John Watson first meet in the show.
- I grew up in Wisconsin, but I’ve lived in Alabama since 2004. One of the reasons I decided to set the HEART OF THE SOUTH series here is because the Bible Belt is a hugely different world from where I grew up.
New Neighbor: “I just moved to town, actually.”
Wisconsinite: “Oh, yah? Good weather for moving. Wait until we get to November, and [insert long, terrifying description of sub-zero temperatures here].”
New Neighbor: “I just moved to town, actually.”
Alabaman: “Oh, wonderful! Where from? If you’re ready to start looking for a church family, you’re welcome to come with me on Sunday…”
The HEART OF THE SOUTH series isn’t specifically about religion, but in WORTH WAITING FOR I try to showcase the South’s strengths while not ignoring the difficult position LGBT people here often find themselves in. The book follows two heroes who take very different routes in life–Brandon and Paul met as freshmen at St. Benedict’s, a conservative religious college. One unplanned romantic evening together sends them on different paths: Paul stays in the closet and ends up as a professor at his alma mater; Brandon transfers to a more LGBT-friendly school and becomes a cyber-security consultant.
WORTH WAITING FOR is a story about what happens when Paul and Brandon reunite, ten years after their single, life-changing encounter together, and have to truly examine why they made the choices they did. The Bible Belt’s odd mixture of “bless your heart” and “let us never talk about this again” is a fascinating environment for a M/M romance, and I hope I do it justice.
- At one point in the book, Paul and Brandon order chess pie. My beta reader (in Oregon), my agent (in Pennsylvania), and my editor (in New York) all had no idea what chess pie is. In my opinion, if y’all have gone this far without ever tasting chess pie you’re probably living a cursed half-life à la Voldemort.
For the uninitiated: chess pie is made from eggs, sugar, butter, and cornmeal. It tastes like if you made a pecan pie, took out all the pecans, and doubled the sugar content. It’s the super-saturated sweet tea of pies. It makes for an excellent dessert because nobody over the age of ten can eat more than a tiny slice at one sitting. It’s not hard to make, and if you’ve never tried it you really should.
- Every writer hits the inevitable question: What on earth do I name this character? Some go through baby name books or websites, some just name them whatever comes to mind, and some get a bit more scientific. I’m a huge fan of gov/babynames: it’s a lovely tool that lets you look up the most popular names in a given year and the popularity of a specific name over time.
My process goes something like this:
- Figure out how old the character should be
- Look up age-appropriate baby names
- Stare off into space for an hour or so to come up with a last name consistent with the character’s ethnicity, geography, and the socio-economic environment their parents were living in when the character was born
- Google first + last name and discover it’s the name of a rapper, or a famous football player from the 60s
- Scrap that. Go back to step 1.
- …Eventually pick a name at random
I finally sat down and made a “name bible” for myself – a spreadsheet of all the names I’ve used in every piece of fiction I’ve written. Hopefully this will help me avoid pairing up twelve heroes all named Paul further down the line.
- I mentioned I live in Alabama, right? Here, as a wrap-up, is a particular writing-related moment that left me literally speechless:
Way back when, I announced to everyone I knew that I was going to write a romance novel. (I did. It was terrible. I wrote another, and another, and finally finished one worth reading.) My mom, being 100% supportive even though she wasn’t really sure how I got this whole romance thing in my head in the first place, gave me a sweatshirt for my birthday that said “ASK ME ABOUT MY BOOK.”
Unlike Wisconsin, it gets cold enough for a sweatshirt about two days out of the year down here. One of those two days, I was in the checkout line at the grocery store when the cashier noticed what I was wearing.
Cashier: “Oh, I love your shirt!” *bright, enthusiastic smile* “Is that about the Bible?”
Me: “…” *pause* “…” *another pause* “…”
Turns out, when a hopeful stranger asks if your shirt is a Bible reference, there’s no good way to respond with “No, I actually write about gay men falling in love and having quite a bit of sex in the process.” Instead, I ended up going with “Oh, um, I hadn’t thought of it like that! Haha. It works, doesn’t it?” and then rushing off so fast I forgot my receipt.
So yes, now you know five things about HEART OF THE SOUTH series you never knew you wanted to learn. I invite you to meet Paul and Brandon in WORTH WAITING FOR on August 15th, followed by Lito and Dave in WORTH SEARCHING FOR February 2018 and Jericho and Sterling in WORTH FIGHTING FOR later next year!
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