Posts Tagged 'general fiction'

Smothered and Covered


By Missouri Vaun


The first installment in the Adventures of Nash Wiley comes out this month, titled “Death by Cocktail Straw.” There are those (who will remain nameless) who can vouch for the fact that this first story is loosely based on actual events. For the sake of comedy I have of course embellished, but not the part about the trip to the E.R. after the incident. Or the residual fear of misdirected cocktail straws.


I had this idea for a series of short stories staring a central character that focused on her dating adventures (uh… misadventures). The concept was that each story would build on the previous story so that if all four are read in sequence there’s a longer narrative arc.smothered-and-covered


Humor is tricky. As my editor, Cindy says, humor in fiction is an odd mix of character, dialogue, action, and strong setup. It all has to be in the right amount at the right time.


That’s so true. The setup is everything. And subtle, detailed threads that repeat themselves and refer back to previous actions can make the setup even stronger.


I’ve had some practice being funny as my alter ego writing Jane’s World. Jane has endured a lot of silliness over the years just so I could rehearse.


Comedy is all about ending up where you don’t expect to end up. Like a train jumping a track. Usually, when I’m trying to set up a gag I imagine the obvious consequences taking a particular action would create and then I try to avoid that obvious path at all costs. It’s the unexpected consequences that end up being the funniest. Case in point, from Jane’s World, a fledging lesbian is nearly smothered by her busty date during a make out session. CPR is required. The newbie lesbian ends up developing a breast phobia as a result of this traumatic, yet sexy encounter.


A lesbian with a boob phobia… now that’s funny. (Or maybe sad, a lot of humor originates in sadness, but that’s for another blog.)


one-more-reason-to-leave-orlandoThis short story series is set in Orlando, where my misspent twenties took place. I pitched this concept more than a year ago, long before the shooting at Pulse. After the shooting I considered changing the location because all of these stories have an element of humor, but in the end I decided to leave them as they were. I decided to celebrate Orlando and the vibrant LGBT community that resides there. Maybe this is the best time to celebrate Orlando, with humor and love.







twitter: @MissouriVaun   privacy-glass



Sam lollar


What made you decide to become a fiction writer?

I bet I’m typical of most fiction writers in that I never really decided to become one: I’ve always written fiction. As soon as I learned to write I began composing little stories that I would share with my school friends. The more important question for me is why I decided to try to get my fiction published. I have published numerous scholarly articles, but never fiction. A former therapist I saw for many years listened to me whine about how “I’ve always wanted to be a writer,” yet I never submitted anything for publication. He noted that when I felt that I had something to say, I would write for publication. I guess I finally feel like I have something to say.


What type of stories do you write?

My first novel is a coming-of-age tale. I’ve begun writing a second one that is also a coming-of-age story. I grew up in the 1960s—a turbulent time socially for the U.S. Homosexuality was still listed as a mental illness by both the American Psychological Assn and the American Psychiatric Assn; being homosexual would get one kicked out of the military with a dishonorable discharge. It was not a time to embrace one’s “otherness.” That struggle—the inward revulsion reflecting societal hatreds—scarred me for most of my life. Yet that struggle seems so distant today, as gay people celebrate the legal right to marry in the U.S. (and all the other ways being gay today is different from being gay in the 1960s). I feel that I have stories to tell that expose that grim reality that gay men and women endured in the 1960s.


What do your family/friends think about your writing?

My mom and dad used to think I was extremely creative and enjoyed showing my writing efforts (short stories and the like) to their friends and coworkers. If my parents were alive they would be delighted with my novel, but not surprised that I’ve finally gotten a novel published. Years ago I was a co-author of a textbook, my name prominently displayed on the cover. I gave my mom a copy of it. Imagine my (delighted) embarrassment when I picked her up at the doctor’s office one day, and she was carrying the book—the cover conspicuously in view. I asked her about it, and she said she just had to show it to everybody—in fact for several weeks, she carried it everywhere she went and showed it to anybody with a pulse! I wish she were here now to carry my novel around town! Most of my friends have died or scattered to the winds over the years, but I think they would enjoy seeing themselves reflected in my books (current and future).My surviving family is delighted that I have published my first novel.


Where do you get your ideas?

Where do any ideas come from? They come from my existence—from the difficulties I endured, the struggles of my friends (gay and straight), various news stories that caught my eye. I discovered that I can weave “real” events with fictional situations rather well. Much of the action that occurs in my first novel actually happened, just not quite in the way I have written it. When writing, it’s not uncommon for me to come to an impasse with my characters—they refuse to do what I want them to. hen I’ll think of something that happened to me (or that I read about) over the years, and I’ll try to put my recalcitrant characters into those situations. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.


How do you write: do you plan everything out or just write?

With my first novel, I started out writing vignettes. Each little tale stood alone. I was in a faculty writing group at the university where I taught in California when the ideas for Tallulah first popped up. I wrote one vignette and got favorable feedback from the writers’ group and continued to write little “mini-short stories.” After I shared three or four of these efforts, the writing group suggested that it would make a good novel, so I began stringing them together. The original vignettes that I wrote were based on real events; later in my efforts, I began to pull in events that I had read about or just dreamed up. Tallulah was just a conglomeration of ideas, a bit of a muddle at first. In fact I thought I had finished the book in 2010 when I went to a writers’ workshop in New Orleans. I was asked to submit the first two chapters when I signed up for the workshop and realized that I didn’t know for sure which chapters were the first or second ones! The instructor (author CJ Lyons) advised me that I needed to figure out how I wanted the story to start before I could continue with a logical story arc. With the input from Lyons and the other group members, the “finished novel” that I had brought to the workshop began to take shape. The real finished novel bears little resemblance to that earlier effort. Whole chapters have been rearranged, new characters were introduced, chapters were deleted, and the entire story line was extensively modified. That is not the way to write a novel! The second novel I’ve begun writing is more structured from the outset. I know who my characters are, I know the setting(s) of the tale, and I know the story arc of the main character (not surprisingly, a young man coming of age in the late 1960s).


What makes Tallulah Bankhead Slept Here special to you?

tallulah-bankhead-slept-hereI actually worked as a bellboy at a motel in my hometown, and a faded movie star really did stay several weeks at the motel, although I had almost no interaction with her. Many years later, at the writers’ group in California, I began to think that having a naïve teen interacting with a world-weary movie star would make a fun premise for a novel. Over the years I would pick up the pages I had written while in the group and either tear them up and start over, or fawn over them, thinking them to be the best work written in English. Sadly for me, mental illness overtook my life, and I couldn’t focus on writing for many years. Finally, I entered a period of mental stability from the late 1990s onward and was able to revisit the book I had begun so many years before. At one point I had saved the first draft on a 3.5 inch floppy disc, then deleted it from an old computer I threw out. I then managed to lose the floppy disc. Years later, as I was about to be evicted from an apartment, I packed up my meager belongings and moved in with a cherished lesbian friend. Once on my feet, I relocated to southern Louisiana; during the unpacking I discovered that lost floppy. I don’t believe in the supernatural or any such things, but it did seem like this was a “sign” for me not to give up. I reworked Tallulah and attended the writers’ workshop in New Orleans, then reworked the novel yet again. I thought I had finished the book and had saved it to a flash drive when my computer crashed. I figured everything was okay because I had the flash drive, but no sooner did I plug the flash drive into my new computer than I bumped into it and broke the damn thing in half. There was no way I could recover the material saved on the drive. So, once again, I started over. Happily I had a hard copy of an earlier draft and didn’t actually have to start from scratch. After all this drama, I decided to give it my best shot to get it published. I am pleased to see the results of these efforts. Mental stability and a published novel make for a happy author!


How much of yourself and the people you know are in your characters?

Several of the characters in Tallulah are based on real people that I met while working at the motel. They would be virtually unrecognizable to anyone from that period, however, because I had to make them work together in ways they never did in real life for the novel to make sense. The main character is based on me (what a surprise!): the naïve teen working at a motel and interacting with the world-weary movie star. Most of the scandalous actions actually occurred to a friend of mine (Richard Luna, to whom the novel is dedicated). He was quite the little horn dog back then, and I was the somewhat envious, somewhat mortified observer. One of the characters is a television star with whom the main character has a sexual fling. Richard never told me who this TV star was that he cavorted with, just telling me that it was a gorgeous guy in a TV Western. So, it’s as much a mystery for me as it is for the readers—who was that star of TV Westerns who seduced a teenager in El Paso, Texas during the summer of 1967?


Which gay/lesbian authors inspired you the most? Do you have a favorite of this author(s)?

Actually three authors (two gay identified, one not) inspired me. I wanted to write a novel including a real, well-known (though deceased) movie star. I didn’t know how to do that without being sued by such an actor’s estate. Then I read Stewart Kaminsky’s detective series featuring Toby Peters. There is a string of about twenty books featuring all kinds of movie stars, from Joan Crawford to Mae West. I realized that I could have the movie star do anything as long as it was not indecent, illegal, or immoral .For instance, I learned that I couldn’t have Tallulah Bankhead sleeping with anybody—although I allude to her sadness at losing her sexual allure. So Tallulah is kind of the Yoda of my book: worldly, wise, “seen it all, done it all,” and acting as a stable rock around which the actions of the hapless protagonist revolves. I also wanted characters that were so real you just knew the author was writing verbatim about events that actually occurred. I don’t think anybody does this better than Felice Picano. When I read Like People in History I was convinced he was transcribing the events as they actually happened. I hope I have been able to get a bit of that “real-ness” into my book. The third element of the book that I wanted very much to include was a sort of breathless wonder that overcame the protagonist; the character is agog over all the events going on around him. And who better to capture that sense of amazing reality than Armistead Maupin? His Tales of the City series leaves me breathless as the characters engage in one amazing experience after another. I hope I’ve been able to achieve that wonderment to some extent.


Do you have any suggestions for new writers?

Write! I have come across two ideas from authors whose names I have forgotten: if you want to be an author you have to write! And “what do you call an author who won’t quit sending his/her efforts to agents and publishers? You call him ‘published.'”


When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?

I read extensively (and intensively, come to think of it). I get as focused on the structure of the book as I do on the plotline: what words were used and could another word or phrase have been used instead? I am a slow reader because I absorb the writer’s technique as much as I absorb the story line. I enjoy jogging and hiking (especially in desert country).I also play with my two Shih Tzu puppies. Over the years I have lost so many friends, family members, and pets that I thought I’d not want to have any more pets. Then these two little guys came into my life. It’s hard to be blue and morose playing with them. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on the “why” of writing my novel.

Jane’s World: Drawing with Words

By Paige Braddock

Janes World template.eps


It’s been amazing to be in this world of authors and readers as Missouri Vaun ( After years of creating comics, using my great-grandmother’s name allowed me to write in a different voice. I was able to tell more serious stories, but I realized after the first few novels came out that I missed my comedic roots.


I had basically stopped creating new Jane’s World ( comics so that I’d have time to work on the Missouri Vaun novels. But that meant walking away from a character that had basically been a constant companion every night since 1995. After working all day I’d come home and stay up until the wee hours of the morning crafting Jane’s universe. Jane, Dorothy, Chelle and Ethan have been there for me through up times and down times. Through lonely nights, new jobs, cross-country moves, and break-ups Jane has been there.




My friend, Terry Moore, who created “Strangers in Paradise,” ( said to me once, “good characters are a gift.” He’s right. And after working on the Missouri Vaun novels I realized I missed these characters. It was really fun to delve back into their psyches and their deeper motivations, but comedy is in my nature. So the Jane’s World novel has affirming friendships, unrequited crushes, sharks, rogue waves, luxury yachts, trailer park hijinks, surly cats and a sweet romance.


Jane started back in 1991, originally pitched as a single panel comic for the Women News section of The Chicago Tribune. The editor passed on the comic at the time, but there was something about Jane. I kinda liked her.


By 1995, I was working for The Atlanta Constitution. I’d leave work around 9:00 p.m. Most of my friends who had day jobs were in for the night, so I’d entertain myself by eating a giant bowl of Frosted Flakes, watching episodes of Silk Stalkings and drawing Jane comics with a sharpie marker. As you can see, this was a highly sophisticated development process. Some might refer to this sort of process as “organic” or “intuitive.” But you will know the truth. Jane’s World was the result of too much refined sugar, bad TV and sleep depravation.


Fast forward to 2001. Jane’s World, became the first gay-themed work to receive online distribution by a national media syndicate in the U.S. And then, eleven comic book collections later here we are: Jane’s World, the novel.


After writing a few manuscripts for Bold Strokes Books as Missouri Vaun, I sheepishly asked Sandy Lowe if she thought Radclyffe would ever be interested in publishing a Jane’s World novel. Rad said yes!


Then the panic set in. Could Jane truly break out of her comic book world and be a novel?




The process for creating a comic is very different and I had a really hard time switching gears. After a few false starts trying to get the narrative moving in the right direction, my wife, Evelyn suggested I visualize drawing the story first. Genius. Once I started visualizing the story, the whole narrative came together with a bonus of 14 illustrations published in the novel.


And listen, don’t worry if you’ve never read the comics, because you won’t be lost. I wrote the book as a standalone story. I hope readers enjoy it and that it makes people laugh. Most of all, I hope readers fall in love with Jane just like I have.




Links etc:



Twitter: @PaigeBraddock

A Voice for Intersexual Infants: The Case of M.C


      My debut novel, In Between,In Between 300 DPI and my novella, The Man Who Was Not, both have main characters who were born intersexual. Sophie Schmidt, of In Between, was born in the early sixties, at the time when doctors had obtained the ability to perform gender reassignment surgery on infants. After being pressured by the doctors, Sophie’s parents allowed them to perform surgery on her five days after birth to make her as much of a girl as possible. Stephen Hyde, of The Man Who Was Not, The Man Who Was Notwas born as an intersexual in the mid-1800s, at a time when the intersexual condition was not even recognized. Stephen’s biology was both male and female, and he lived as a man for the first part of his life and as a woman for the second.

I have grown to have great passion for the subject of intersexuality and for the struggles of people who are born intersexual; thus, I have taken particular interest in the first lawsuit to be filed in the United States against the South Carolina Department of Social Services, the Greenville Hospital System, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the doctors who performed gender reassignment surgery on a 16-month-old infant known as M.C. The lawsuit was filed by the Advocates for Informed Choice, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and pro bono counselors from two private law firms on behalf of M.C.’s adoptive parents on May 14th, 2013. When the defendants proposed a motion to dismiss the case, the U.S. District Judge of the South Carolina Charleston Division, David C. Norton, denied the motion after oral arguments were made on August 22, 2013.

At birth M.C. could not easily be labeled as male or female, and the doctors labeled the baby as a “true hermaphrodite.” After that determination, the doctors removed a completely healthy phallus and testes, rendering the baby as “female.” The lawsuit, which was filed in both state and federal courts, states that it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution for the doctors who were working for the state to surgically remove the healthy genitals, not knowing if M.C. would grow up to identify as a man or a woman. At age eight, M.C. identifies himself as a boy, though he no longer possesses his male genitalia.

The importance of this case is paramount, as it is about ensuring the safety of children who have no voice, since no one advocated for M.C. when he was an infant in the South Carolina Social Services System. The case also will be the first attempt at putting an end to the sex assignment surgeries that have been performed on intersexual infants in the United States since the 1950s. We’re not talking about just a few infants, as it is estimated that 1 in every 2,000 babies is born with an intersex condition. As M.C.’s adoptive mother stated, “They disfigured him because they could not accept him for who he was—not because he needed surgery.” My hope is that this case will ensure that all intersexual infants in the United States are treated with justice and dignity as we proceed into the future. Once again, we are at a critical juncture at which, as a society, we can put forth the reality that never have there been only two genders.

In Praise of Readers

Elan Barnehama

Since you visit these blog pages, I’d be willing to bet the house that you consciously and purposefully devote some of your time and energy and imagination and focus to reading books.  I’ll double down and venture that many of those books are fiction.  As a reader myself, I applaud your passion for the make believe.  As a novelist, I thank you for being a reader.  It’s a cool cool thing you do.  And, should I be fortunate to have you as a reader of my novel Finding Bluefield , well then, cooler still.  And humbly appreciated.

The average stay on a web page is about a minute; most stays are far shorter.  So, if you’re still reading this, it means you are above average.  But I already knew that about you.  Because you read fiction.  That makes you an expert at sustaining attention and thought for long periods of time.  In case you think I’m about to mock the web and our distracted wired life, I’m not.  I’m a fan of the web, even if it’s a tad needy.  It’s good for books and good for readers of books.  It brought us together; why would I berate it.

Recently, researchers using fMRI’s  (functional magnetic resonance imaging), scanned the brains while their subjects read fiction.  Their data suggests that close reading of literature requires and improves the function of a complex and coordinated set of brain activities. Doesn’t this data support what we already knew?  What seemed obvious?  Reading literature is good for the brain.  Scientists create meaning from data.  Readers of fiction do that as well.

Humans are story-tellers by nature and by necessity. As soon as we’re born we are told stories and as soon as we can speak we start to tell stories to anyone who will listen.  In those early years, just about every story is a fiction.  We need to tell stories to place ourselves in the world.  We listen to stories to understand how others place themselves in the world.  We just plain and simple like stories.  They’re fun and they make us feel stuff.  All kinds of stuff.

There’s no limit to how we can tell a story.  And we tell them through song, film, fashion, painting, sculpture, weaving, architecture, cooking, and of especially writing. I’m biased, but I think that when we read a book, when we spend time with the written word, we are connected to one another.  When we read, we are never alone.

So, dear reader, I thank you for that connection and wish you many happy readings.

You can contact Elan at / @elanbarnehama

The Story’s The Thing

Elan Barnehama

When I began writing Finding Bluefield, I started with Nicky.  For me, fiction begins with characters so when I write I have to start with a character.  And since I don’t use outlines because I don’t want to get in the way of the story, I rely on my characters to help lead the plot forward.

Next, Barbara showed up and I wanted to know how she and Nicky would make their way through the turbulent 1960’s.  I wanted to chronicle the lives of these two women who, by seeking love and family, found themselves navigating unknown territory during a time when relationships like theirs were mostly hidden and often dangerous.

Nicky and Barbara’s multi-generational tale crossed paths with political and social events of their day, such as JFK’s election, Woodstock, the MLK March on Washington, the moon landing, voter registration, the Sanctuary movement, and others.  But, as their lives unfolded against this backdrop, I wanted to avoid writing a message novel, the kind where the writer relentlessly hits the reader over the head with their message and renders life as simplistic, and situations as black or white. The thing is, very little of life is black or white.  It’s mostly grey. If we’re lucky, some other colors too.

Instead, as I imagined Barbara and Nicky’s journey, I knew I wanted to tell a tale that was at its core personal, not political.  That was about characters, not causes.  That told a story, not sent a message.

Finding Bluefield is foremost the story of Nicky and Barbara creating a life for themselves and Paul.  It is the story of their need to be able to imagine a life that they did not know existed, to imagine a life that they could not see, and for which they had no model.  Because if we can not imagine, then we can not change.

You can contact Elan at

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