Rockets and Romance by Wendy Qualls

RocketsandRomanceFS_v1Confession: I am very good at plotting, planning, and otherwise obsessing over details. Less enthusiastic about the actual “writing a first draft” thing, but it’s worth it to get to edit afterward. Enthusiasm for plotting, though? That I can do.

This is my only excuse for why, at 4 AM one morning last summer, I sent a thoroughly rambling and bouncy email to my agent about this book, Rockets and Romance.

I’d come across Dreamspinner’s “States of Love” series before, even read a few, but well after my bedtime I discovered the call for submissions page. A romance set in every state, something that could only happen in that state–what a cool idea! Then I looked at the list… forty-some books already out or coming soon, and Alabama was the only one not already claimed.

*insert very loud, high-pitched squeal here*

Y’all. Y’all. I’m not an Alabama native, but I’ve lived here since 2004. In some ways, I think this has made me more aware than usual of the ways Alabama is “special.” Not all of them are good–a lot of them are incredibly annoying, even to a middle-aged allocishet white woman–but there are a few. And one of them is that Huntsville is not like anywhere else in Alabama… or the world, for that matter. We’ve got Deep South plus the second-most engineers per capita in the US, right behind Seattle. It’s a fantastic mix.

I sat there at my desk in the dark and vomited ideas onto my screen for a good two hours. Then I didn’t have the patience to actually cut them down into a logically progressing series of coherent thoughts, so I pulled out the most important parts and sent them to my agent. (Note: the most important parts were not necessarily what you’d think. My local-boy hero yelling “I’M NOT THE OFFICE GAY ANYMORE!” featured heavily in my first email, even though it was literally only one line in the book.) Then I panicked that I had no title ideas and sent another, only-slightly-more-coherent email fretting about that.

Have I mentioned my agent? Her name is Moe Ferrara and she is amazing. She read through my Pinkie-Pie-like plot firehose with what I like to imagine was a straight face, then very intelligently waited long enough for me to calm down a bit.

Her reply:

This looks great. I think we can send it sans-title… since the only thing I can think of is BLAST OFF and… probably not the tone we’re going for here. >.>

I should probably note that I have never in my life come up with a decent story title at the time I was writing the story. For my last series, Moe got all the agents at BookEnds Literary together and they brainstormed a list of ideas for me–some good and others a lot funnier 😛 Long story short, she and the wonderful people at Dreamspinner Press are 100% to credit for the fact that this book is called Rockets and Romance and not, like most of my early drafts, Two Dudes Banging But Also In Love.

So back to the offer–she reached out to Dreamspinner for me because she’s actually good at the whole talking to people thing, and helped me condense my ramblings into something similar to the blurb that’s on the book now. And Dreamspinner said yes, sounds interesting, we’d love to see it.

Y’all. The whole “I hate writing the first draft more than any other part of the creative process” thing? Did not apply to this book. It felt like a story I really really really wanted to read but couldn’t because nobody had written it yet, so I had to make it exist on paper (or, well, screen) before I was able to find out what happens. A lot of it was like my outline, but once I got my heroes’ voices in my head they developed their own personalities and suddenly some of my plot points didn’t work anymore. Luckily, the characters offered better ones.

So the book does, indeed, include Cody yelling that he’s not “the office gay” anymore. It includes him putting together a bag of random useful conference swag for Julian and telling him it’s “like a sourdough starter, but for housewares” even though they kind of can’t stand each other at that point. It includes Julian getting a grilled cheese sandwich with fried okra in it from a food truck because I found one that had that once and it was delicious. And it includes two brilliant rocket scientists being idiots for each other–my favorite plot of all!

Happy reading!


Julian Barlow has finally landed his dream job working for NASA. The catch? He has to move to Huntsville, Alabama—a daunting prospect for a gay pescetarian from Los Angeles who’s never been south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Fellow engineer Cody Ewing is an Alabama boy through and through, and Julian’s casual assumptions about the South in general and Southern homophobia in particular makes it dislike at first sight. Then NASA throws them together on a months-long project, and they have to make it work.

Forced to rely on each other, the two men develop a tentative friendship that becomes something more as Cody shows Julian Alabama’s good side. Julian’s insistence on secrecy and Cody’s hot-and-cold act could scuttle their chances before they ever get off the ground, though.

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