Please say hello to Heidi Cullinan on the release day of
Shelter The Sea
The Roosevelt #2
Some heroes wear capes. Some prefer sensory sacks.
Emmet Washington has never let the world define him, even though he, his boyfriend, Jeremey, and his friends aren’t considered “real” adults because of their disabilities. When the State of Iowa restructures its mental health system and puts the independent living facility where they live in jeopardy, Emmet refuses to be forced into substandard, privatized corporate care. With the help of Jeremey and their friends, he starts a local grassroots organization and fights every step of the way.
In addition to navigating his boyfriend’s increased depression and anxiety, Emmet has to make his autistic tics acceptable to politicians and donors, and he wonders if they’re raising awareness or putting their disabilities on display. When their campaign attracts the attention of the opposition’s powerful corporate lobbyist, Emmet relies on his skill with calculations and predictions and trusts he can save the day—for himself, his friends, and everyone with disabilities.
He only hopes there isn't a variable in his formula he’s failed to foresee.
Get the book:
My boyfriend, Jeremey, thinks the moon looks like a watermelon.
He said this the night we visited my aunt for Christmas. My aunt who lives in Minneapolis, not the one who lives in Ames, though Althea was there that night too. Aunt Stacy has a telescope, and she let me use it to show Jeremey the moon up close. I was listing the names of the seas and craters when he told me what the moon reminded him of.
“It looks like a watermelon.”
I tried to work out how the moon could be similar to a watermelon, but I couldn’t do it. “Jeremey, it isn’t even green.”
“But it has the lines across it, the same as a watermelon, and they all come from a single point, the stub where the stem would have been, leading back to the rest of the plant. See? That spot there. The bright one at the bottom.”
He let me use the telescope again. I still didn’t see a watermelon. “That’s Tycho. It’s a crater.”
“Like the toy company?”
“No. The toy company is spelled T-y-c-o. This is T-y-c-h-o, for the Dutch astronomer. It was seventy percent likely formed by the asteroid 298 Baptistina, which they used to think was the same one that made the dinosaurs go extinct, but then they found out it wasn’t.”
“It will always be a watermelon to me now. But I’ll remember the stem’s name is Tycho.” Jeremey leaned on my shoulder, gazing at the moon without the telescope. “I didn’t realize there were so many seas on the moon. I didn’t think it had any water.”
“It doesn’t on the surface. Solar radiation burned all the water off, but they thought it might be in lunar rocks. Surface ice has been discovered recently, however.”
“Why do scientists always look for water on the moon and other planets?”
“Because it’s the essential element for any human habitation. Unfortunately, so far lunar habitation isn’t looking good.”
“But they have all those seas on the moon. Does that mean it used to have water?”
“No. Those are lunar maria, basaltic plains. The early astronomers thought they were ancient seas, but they were in fact formed by ancient volcanic eruptions.”
Jeremey settled his head more heavily on my shoulder, listening, and so I kept talking. I told him about the lunar dust, how it covers the surface and comes from comets hitting the surface, five tons of dust rising and falling every day. How the dust takes ten minutes to land.
Jeremey shook his head. “What do you mean, ten minutes to land? That’s how long until the dust hits?”
“No. It hits, then rises, but because there’s so little gravity, it takes five minutes for it to rise and then five minutes to fall back down. Which means the moon has on average one hundred and twenty kilograms of lunar dust rising one hundred kilometers above the surface at all times.”
“Wow. You know a lot about the moon.”
I knew a lot more than what I’d said so far, and when I told him this, he asked to hear the rest. We sat there for another hour, me telling him everything I knew, until my voice was scratchy and I needed water. He went inside and got some for me, and then he talked while I drank it.
“It’s so weird to think the moon has all those seas but no water. The names are so pretty. I almost prefer the Latin ones because they’re so mystical. Mare Nubium. Though Sea of Clouds is nice too.” He hugged his arms around his body. “Are there places on Earth called seas or oceans without any water?”
“They call the deserts sand seas, sometimes.”
“That sounds sad, though.”
He swayed back and forth, and I rocked and hummed with him because I was so content.
Then he spoke once more, his voice quiet. “I heard your mom talking inside. About The Roosevelt. Bob is worried about money.”
I stopped rocking, but my insides felt jumbly the way they always did when this subject came up. The Roosevelt was the place where Jeremey and I lived, and Bob was the man who owned it, the father of David, one of our best friends. “David would tell us if something serious was wrong. Bob’s having a fundraiser on New Year’s Eve.”
“Your mom is worried it won’t be enough. Not with the budget cuts the state is proposing and the way they’re restructuring the mental health system as a whole.” Jeremey hugged himself tighter. “I don’t want to lose The Roosevelt.”
I didn’t want to lose The Roosevelt either. I didn’t think it was a good idea to worry, though. “Why don’t we wait to talk to David. There’s not much we can do about anything up here on the roof. We should enjoy the moon and think about how slowly the dust is rising and falling.”
We did exactly that, and I noticed Jeremey relaxed. The next time he had something to say, it was about the moon, not about fears of losing our home. “Sometimes we say people have seas of emotion. What would sea of emotion be in Latin?”
“Mare Adfectus. And sand sea would be Mare Harenam.”
“I like sand sea in Latin better. But mostly I enjoy hearing you tell me all about things like the seas of the moon. Even if they are salt.”
“Basalt isn’t salt. It’s silica.”
“Can you tell me all about basalt and silica?”
I could, and I did.
Most people don’t want to hear me talk about the things I know, but most people aren’t Jeremey. He doesn’t mind that I’m autistic. He says it’s one of his favorite things about me. He says sometimes my autism is the best medicine for his depression and anxiety, which was why we’d gone up to the telescope in the first place. Jeremey was anxious in my aunt’s house, and he’d been depressed for a few days as well, he’d told me. He’d been depressed more often than not for several months now, in fact, and it didn’t matter how they adjusted his meds or how often he went to see his therapist, Dr. North. Depression, and sometimes anxiety too, kept getting the better of him. I wondered if it was because he was worried about the rumors we kept hearing about The Roosevelt being in trouble, though it was hard to say with depression. It could be for no reason except because depression eats happiness.
But Jeremey said when we sat together in the moonlight and I told him all the facts about the moon and basalt, he felt better.
Jeremey and I have been boyfriends for over two years now. We’ve lived together for most of that time in The Roosevelt. Neither of us is okay to function in the world alone, but together and with the help of our friends and family, and the staff at The Roosevelt, we’re independent and happy.
Except that night with Jeremey wrapped in a blanket and arranged carefully in my arms, I decided I didn’t want to be quite so independent anymore. I wanted to keep Jeremey with me, to take care of him and to let him take care of me. I wanted to be dependent on him. I wanted him to be there to tell me the moon looks like a watermelon and then ask me to talk for another hour about basalt. I wanted to do everything with Jeremey, forever. This is a special kind of thing between boyfriends, when you feel this way. This meant I wanted to marry Jeremey.
With people on the mean, coming to such a realization would be simple. I would have bought a ring, asked him, and we’d have gotten married. But I’m not a person on the mean, and neither is Jeremey. And when I made the decision to marry Jeremey, it was only December. There were so many changes about to happen, earthquakes coming because the world wasn’t content to let people such as Jeremey and me simply enjoy the next step in our happy ever after. Not without a lot of complications.
This story is about how we undid those complications and got ourselves the rest of our happy ever after anyway.
We had an opportunity to ask Heidi some questions:
How would you address the potential question from readers that Shelter The Sea might be "messing with their implied HEA?"
While The Roosevelt books are definitely stories about love and happy ever after, they are new adult books first and foremost, and coming of age stories. So if book one is the romance, the falling in love, this is the “next step” in the falling in love, along with all the complications life brings. Few of my books are ever purely romance, only the Minnesota Christmas and Second Hand books I would say—I don’t mind writing them, but I do lean on exploring the journey characters take as well as the romance. It’s the ride I’ve always sold to readers. But I’ve also never given anything but a happy ever after, excepting one cliffhanger ending in a book which is currently out of print (and which is truly high fantasy with romantic elements, full stop).
I would say not to worry, as the ending is happy, they’re still together, their relationship is never in danger, only in process, and the story is no different than other series with characters in multiple parts, such as Jordan L Hawk’s Widdershins books.
What kind of research did you do for for Emmet and Jeremey’s portrayals, and what reactions did their characters elicit from readers, good and/or bad?
I worked with adults and children with disabilities and mental illness extensively in my twenties, particularly teens and adults (elderly adults) with autism, and I have a number of close friends and family members in my life with anxiety and depression, so these issues are not alien to me in any way. This said, much in the same way that for Santa Baby sexual assault was something I had first-hand experience with, it’s because I know so much about the issues I go hunting for even more data, because it’s not possible to get it “right”. It’s simply not. There’s no one experience for anyone in any situation, and so the only way to compensate is to become as educated as possible and then do one’s best to speak to a general experience while still representing a specific character.
One of the most difficult aspects for Emmet is that there is absolutely no singular “autism experience,” as they call it a spectrum disorder for a reason. In Shelter the Sea I was able to highlight a little more some other characters on the spectrum, but even here we barely scratch the surface. For Jeremey it’s similar; depression and anxiety mix as a cocktail differently in everyone, and they rise and fall in their own waves for their own reason. It’s not the case that a therapy dog would help all persons who have depression and anxiety. It’s not the case that everyone who has depression would continue to get worse. Representation is tricky.
For Shelter the Sea I had two amazing advance readers who critiqued specifically from the aspect of disability. Rebecca focused primarily on the service dog research (and helped me invaluably) as she has the real-life Mai. Though Rebecca is a dear friend, and we’ve bonded through discussing living with chronic pain and making our way to our goals despite limitations, cheering each other on when life is a struggle. Her own experiences have colored a great deal of Shelter the Sea directly and indirectly, and though the book is not specifically dedicated to her, it is absolutely meant for her, because the characters’ struggles are often her struggles too.
Another advance reader who gave me simply amazing help in the forefront (and thank you so much for giving me the chance to highlight these two!) was one of my patrons, Nikki Hastings, who read in general for disability issues and gave me so much to think about, challenging me on some issues and pushing me to go further. I hope I did her proud in the final version, and I will be forever grateful for her help.
As for reader reaction, this is the series that has stunned me for how readers respond. I get letters frequently, but I also get many comments online and at conventions, and they tend to be incredibly emotional. They’re split evenly between people who know/care for persons with autism and are glad to see a positive story where Emmet has agency, and people with anxiety/depression or those who care for/know persons with anxiety/depression and feel the book helped them in some way. I do get more mail and comment on the latter than the former; somehow this is the book that sends people to therapy, because everyone wants a Dr. North. People use the AWARE strategy, or tell me the book helped them understand their own issues—I'm so glad it could mean so much to people. I never dreamed for that, I only wanted to tell a positive story for an autistic character, and when I searched for someone to pair him with, Jeremey appeared, and I thought, oh yes, there’s a fine twist, because I know how the world sees you. My daughter loves Emmet and Jeremey—she calls them her cinnamon rolls. It’s funny, because she identified with Emmet, and I hadn’t realized how much I’d based him on her until she pointed it out. She diagnosed herself as mildly spectrum after reading Carry the Ocean. And it’s funny, her dad and I had thought that all along.
About Heidi Cullinan:
Promotional post. Materials provided by the author.