The Partner Writers Really Need
When Marie answered Heidi’s call for authors to join her at Des Moines Pride in 2010, neither one of us had any idea this would start a chain reaction leading to an ten-day road trip, a naughty blog, and in short an epic partnership. We’re fond of saying, “We’re Thelma and Louise, except we’re not going over any cliffs.” At GayRomLit 2011 we took to calling each other “wife.” Whatever we are and however we got here, we’re bunker buddies now. And we highly recommend you find one of your own.
The term “bunker buddy” is better than “BFF” or the other usuals for us because sometimes this genre feels like a war zone, and it’s all about having someone in your trench. “Writing partner” is a term that gets tossed around a lot, but that implies writing together, which we don’t do, outside a project we’re working on for fun. While we’ve been each other’s critique partner, we aren’t always, and even when we’re looking at each other’s work, we’re still more of a BB than a CP for each other. A bunker buddy is the one who has your back. The one who will lie to you or tell the truth to you and knows when each is appropriate. They don’t have to be local (though you’ll wish they were), but they’re excellent travelling companions. Forget writing software: the bunker buddy is the writing “tool” neither of us wants to live without.
Bunker buddies are there for venting, and not just about writing. Spouses. Children. Other people on the Internet. Twitter. Deadlines. How much we don’t want to write, and how much we do. How hard writing is. And spouses. And cats. And children again. A lot of children. Like, the other day when Marie wanted to sell her daughter for PEZ. Or when Heidi had to go outside and play basketball and pretend she really, really wanted to because her daughter decided to become a basketball star.
Bunker buddies are good for spit-balling ideas too, and again, not just for writing. Guest blog topics is a perennial favorite between us. But bunker buddies are sometimes even more vital for reality checks. We all like to preach to the choir, but sometimes what you really need is for somebody to play devil’s advocate. You need them to say, “No way in hell is that going to work.” You need your bunker buddy to give you The Look. (Marie has patented this: Heidi can even sense it in chat.)
Bunker buddies are invaluable as conference-going pals, and in this too, the fact that we’re so opposite works in our favor. Marie would spend the entire conference sitting at the bar, trying to be invisible, if it weren’t for Heidi. And Heidi would get so caught up in some random conversation in the hall that she’d never get where she needed to be on time. Marie would never remember to eat and would become a rampaging bitch. Heidi would smoke herself into the Emergency Room and pass out from too much Jamesons in her flask. The venting applies here too, but more than anything at conferences we turn into Power Team HAMEMA. We function almost entirely as a unit, from booking the room down to finding our venues, wearing the right clothes and getting our smiles properly in place. This year all our conferences were chosen together, and it just might be a practice we continue from here on out.
It’s not all sunshine and roses, having a bunker buddy, and like good marriages, they take work. Possibly more than marriages. Remember your BB is not your personal savior, and you are not theirs. BBs have their own lives and their own problems, and there will be bad days and tough times. Know when to say, “We really shouldn’t talk about this anymore.” Also, Heidi says, don’t volunteer your bunker buddy for a committee or guilt them into doing something that’s good for you but not so much for them. Remember that your enthusiasm is not necessarily theirs.
When your BB is going down a road you’re very sure isn’t going to work out but seems determined to travel, this isn’t the time to harp and carry on. It’s the time to sit back, watch, and be ready to catch them and nurture them if things go as badly as you feared. And for the record, “I told you so” is unwise almost all the time, unless you can couch it in terms that won’t rub salt in the wound.
Watch out for jealousy – let’s face it: this happens. We all know it does. You can be happy for your bunker buddy, but still have that little nagging voice saying, “why isn’t that me?” What seems to work best for us is saying it. “Congrats on that great review. I hate you just a little bit.” We’ve both been there. We both know by tomorrow, the review won’t matter. We both know the jealousy will pass. We both know that what matters isn’t that moment but the relationship, the partnership. The bunker buddy-ness.
For this reason, bunker buddies possibly work better when found after publication, or rather, you might want one for pre and one for post. This might not be the case for everybody, but it has been our observation that unless your success or lack of it arcs the same way, your pre-published buddy might not work out so hot after one of you gets a sale. Maybe you get lucky and follow the same paths, or you’re just that good at managing your relationship and things work out okay. Anything is possible, and we’re only experts on the two of us. The ugly truth is that jealousy is a factor and that becoming published is a huge change in the friendship arc. Be careful how you navigate it.
In the end, the cardinal rule is that you never betray your bunker buddy. Never. And if you do, on purpose or on accident, you apologize like all get out and you carpet your doghouse until the shit passes. Betraying your bunker buddy is probably worse than adultery, because unlike physical marriages, the bond of the BB is the only cement you have. The vows aren’t ever spoken, but they’re still there, tying you together, keeping you both sane.
And the truth is that very quickly your bunker buddy knows you better than you know yourself, at least in certain areas. The moments you need your BB most is when you shoot yourself in your own foot or act like a complete dumbass or get caught out in the metaphorical rain or get knifed by someone else out there. The longer you’re published and the more people admire your work, it seems like the lonelier you get, crazy as that sounds. The margin for error and dipshittery becomes razor thin, because every day more people are determined to see you fall. Your bunker buddy is the one who will always catch you when you fall. Who will always dry your tears and clap for you. Who will love you and care for you when nobody else will—even you yourself.
We stumbled into our bunker buddy relationship, but we’ll fight for each other to the bitter end, and even then we’ll grab shovels and make a new beginning. We can’t promise you there’s a bunker buddy out there for everyone or that everyone will find their BB even if the other half is ready and waiting. What we can promise is that if you do get lucky enough to stumble across one, we both agree you should hold on with both hands. It might just be the most important relationship you ever have.
And if not, if our experience is any model, you ought to at least have a rocking great time.
Heidi and Marie are co-owners of a naughty little blog called Coffee and Porn in the Morning. Stop by for some NSFW pictures, ebook giveaways, and 25 freeshortstories from some of your favorite m/m authors! http://cupoporn.net
Marie Sexton lives in Colorado. She’s a fan of just about anything that involves muscular young men piling on top of each other. In particular, she loves the Denver Broncos and enjoys going to the games with her husband. Her imaginary friends often tag along. Marie has one daughter, two cats, and one dog, all of whom seem bent on destroying what remains of her sanity. She loves them anyway.
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When she isn’t writing, Heidi enjoys knitting, reading, movies, TV shows on DVD, and all kinds of music. She has a husband, a daughter, and too many cats.