I delivered the final draft of All Things Rise, my debut novel with Bold Strokes Books, to my editor today!! In anticipation of delivering the next manuscript in the series (stay tuned!), I had a long chat with Ruth Sternglantz of Bold Strokes Books about what she thinks is unique about books by Missouri Vaun. In essence, what is the Missouri Vaun brand?
Branding used to be a word that really bothered my “inner artist,” you know, that sensitive creative underbelly of those of us who do commercial work. But over the years I have come to embrace branding as basically a way to focus your “voice.” What are you trying to communicate as a writer or as an artist? If you can clearly define that then I believe everything that follows that declared path is much stronger.
My conversation with Ruth really helped sharpen my focus, and the work I produce as Missouri Vaun. Not that I don’t already have stories in mind and manuscripts half-written. The conversation keyed in on why I am writing the sorts of stories I am writing as Missouri Vaun. Ruth’s insights helped identify that the Missouri Vaun brand is about exploring identity through love. How we define ourselves, whether that’s through the eyes of others, or through our own eyes; of what is left when we strip away elements of identity that we believe define us – family structure, geography, social status, and profession. Basically Missouri Vaun books are about being a stranger in a strange land, being “other,” whether literal or metaphorically, and discovering true identity through finding true love.
Later, when I mulled over my conversation with Ruth some more, a friend pointed out to me that I have a lot of personal experience as an outsider, as being “other.” Growing up a lesbian in the Deep South definitely cast me as a stranger in my own world. Intuitively I knew this, but I’d never really thought about it as I did right at that moment. Unconsciously, I am writing about myself, Paige Braddock. Every writer probably realizes that at some point and I suppose I am no different. I can see now how this personal experience of navigating as an outsider for so many years has informed the motivations of many of the characters that populate my Missouri Vaun stories.
My teen lesbian self in Mississippi with my brother.
In All Things Rise, Cole is searching for her place in the world. Through an unfortunate incident she finds herself in the upper-class, urban environment of Easton. Part of her experience is affected by the assumptions wealthy urbanites make about those who live a financially poorer, rural existence. Both sides of this equation make assumptions about each other, not all of those assumptions are correct.
Of course, in all Missouri Vaun books, there are beautiful women who help my primary characters along their paths to self-discovery, and ultimately to true love ;). All in all, I suppose we each want what my characters want: to find our place in the world and to feel content once we’ve discovered that place. Who knew a conversation about branding could be so illuminating?