We all love romance because we love to see characters of all types reach their HEA. In Heidi Cullinan’s latest New Adult, series starter Carry the Ocean, she pairs two protagonists who have considerable obstacles to overcome — both have mental illness. She told us more about these characters, and why you’ll love them. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post! Take it away, Heidi!
What I love about writing romance novels is the unwavering sense of hope, the certainty that the two protagonists will, absolutely, end with happy ever after. In writing Carry the Ocean, I got to push against assumptions of who gets the driver’s seat in a romance, to work around obstacles I’d never worked with before.
In the climactic musical performance of The Blues Brothers, Jake and Ellwood Blues rock the Palace Hotel ballroom with “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” This audience-rousing anthem proclaims, to a blues beat, that everyone needs someone to love. This song and the character of Ellwood Blues are touchstones for Carry the Ocean‘s Emmet Washington, a brilliant young man who is good at math and computers, who has eidetic memory, who loves trains and who has autism. Emmet wants someone to love, has no doubt in his mind he deserves a somebody. That Jeremey Samson, the somebody he falls for, has severe depression and anxiety is only another hurdle to overcome. Emmet has the force of will to carry them both over their limitations and into their story’s sunset.
In my youth I worked with special needs adults young and old, and what they drove home to me every day is that we are all people. We all crave the same kinds of experiences, and one of them is romantic love. I watched teenagers with Down syndrome flirt with each other, lead merry chases and have relationships. The autistic boys had crushes on people, though you often had to gain their confidence or learn their tells to discover who had captured their interest. Even in old age, people I worked with in this population would speak fondly of partners past and present or celebrities they dreamed would marry them. The same as we all do.
Unlike Emmet’s autism, in Carry the Ocean Jeremey’s mental illness was less joyful to navigate, though this was largely because he hadn’t been given tools to cope in the way Emmet had by his family. Jeremey’s obstacle is both more common than Emmet’s and in many ways more stigmatized in society. I have several close family members who struggle with anxiety and depression the way Jeremey does, which also made many of his moments especially poignant. This was all the more reason, however, why I wanted to give him a happy ending too.
Sometimes it feels like the best buffets in life, the most joyous joys, the universal hopes and wishes, are only allowed to us when we meet some kind of ideal. As if there is a bar we must clear before we’re allowed in those playgrounds. I never bought into that before I wrote Carry the Ocean, but having gone on that journey with some of my now most-favored characters, I can’t say I’ll ever buy that line. We all deserve happiness, and we all have the right to pursue it.
Everybody needs somebody to love—and everyone should go after that love with a confident heart and arms wide open.
— Heidi Cullinan
This giveaway is for one digital copy of Carry the Ocean, open worldwide. A winner will be announced here April 21. Good luck!
Thanks so much for sharing, Heidi! Carry the Ocean is available both digitally and in print now. For more New Adult titles, why not visit our Everything YA page?