My New Release: Crossing the Wide Forever

Crossing The Wide Forever 300 DPIIt was hard not to get lost in the research for this book. Not the technical data or anything like that, but rather the personal stories of the women that migrated west during the mid-1800s. Many of whom were white and from middle-class economic backgrounds. Slavery and massacres were prevalent during this time period and gravely impacted the lives of black and native women. Conflicts between anti-slavery and pro-slavery factions in the Kansas territory required farmers to carry firearms to the field with them. The heated debate over the extension of slavery into the territories west of Missouri were being hotly debated in Washington D.C., while in the Deep South succession was in serious discussion. A lot was going on in the 1850s. I tried to be strategic about where I placed this story because of that.

I hadn’t realized until I started this book how many first-person diaries were available. Many of the story details that might seem far-fetched, like the electrical storm on the plains, or the ghoulish skulls of long dead buffalo, are taken from first-person accounts. The women who made the journey west didn’t so much write about how they felt, maybe they kept those feelings private, but they did describe the day-to-day challenges of managing a traveling home (wagon) on the open prairie.

I also didn’t realize how many white women dressed as men to migrate west. I had this idea that one of the characters in Crossing the Wide Forever might disguise herself as male but I wasn’t sure how plausible that was. It turns out there were lots of reasons for white women to disguise themselves as men. Some were fleeing abusive relationships or hoping to avoid an unwanted marriage arrangement. Some found themselves in situations where they had to feed and care for their children alone. Many white women during this time had two options, get married or resort to prostitution. The third, more radical option was to dress as a man and find work. Only men had the luxury of finding decent paying jobs on the frontier. In many cases free black men and white men worked side-by-side.

One of my sources for the historical setting of Crossing the Wide Forever was a book by Peter Boag titled, Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past. Boag’s book contains stories of both men and women who cross-dressed. I can only assume that some women also cross dressed so that they could marry the woman they loved, as many of them did. Sex was not viewed as binary at the time and there was no real word for homosexuality so newspaper stories about these cross-dressing women rarely made any mention of sexual orientation or the role that may have played in the woman’s decision to dress in masculine clothing. Sometimes the undertaker was the only one to discover the true identity of many of these women when he prepared their body for burial.

Winslow Homer’s work as a watercolorist during the mid-1800s provided some of the basis for Lillie’s career path as a landscape painter in Crossing the Wide Forever. Lillie’s experiences as a woman in the male-dominated field of art were inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s early life. O’Keeffe overcame many obstacles to succeed as a painter. Some of what she had to say about art critics and how they interpreted her work through a misogynistic lens is heartening to read, especially if you’ve ever received a bad review.

This novel is not intended as a history lesson and it was my goal not to let historical detail bog down the story. But context is important. All of the research was simply to put the reader in Cody and Lillie’s world. The story is about adventure, about charting your own course, about believing in yourself, and ultimately about falling in love.

 

The End

theend

My wife Evelyn took this picture.

I finished the first draft of the manuscript for Crossing The Wide Forever today. Weighing in at just over 67,000 words it’s the longest story I’ve written to date.

There seems to be a moment about seventy-five percent into every book that I have written thus far where the whole thing stalls and I worry that I’ve gone off the rails and have no idea how it’s all going to come together. I lose sleep, I fret, I drive my wife Evelyn crazy recapping scenes in the story. (She says not, but I’m sure I do.)

With a fourth cup of coffee in hand, my writing playlist piping in through noise-cancelling headphones and the lights in my studio dim… I write the next 1,000 words. Because you just have to. You have to push through to the other side.

Four thousand words later I crawl into bed, exhausted, frustrated, and dream about the book. Scenes flash through my mind like I’m watching a movie. And then it happens. Somewhere between asleep and awake, at about four o’clock in the morning the whole thing comes together in my head. I can see it all the way through.

In the dark I get up and go downstairs to scribble all of it down on a giant yellow legal pad. My cat Otis is happy. He finally has somewhere to sit. (Cats and paper, what is that?)

I’ve also noticed that every time I finish a book, the minute I type the words “The end,” I’m euphoric. My head feels lighter. I can finally stop worrying about these characters that I’ve been living with for weeks. I’ve gotten them through to the end and they’re going to be okay.

Everyone gets what they need in the end, except me, because now I’m feeling sad. I begin missing those characters. They have more stories to tell.

I email the acquisitions editor Sandy at Bold Strokes Books and tell her I have a great idea for a sequel. Sandy is always kind in her correspondence, so she promptly replies and gently reminds me sequels don’t sell as well. Sigh.

#TheWritingLife

Taking a Moment to Say Thanks

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer

I recently spent nearly a week in upstate New York with a group of my new best friends: writers, editors, proofreaders and even a lawyer or two. This group of women and a few fearless men are part of the Bold Strokes Books pack, of which Radclyffe is the ever-inspiring Alpha.

Radclyffe and Sandy

From left to right: Alpha Publisher, Radclyffe and Senior Editor Extraordinaire, Sandy Lowe.

Two years ago I attended my first Bold Strokes Books retreat as a newbie author. I was nervous about meeting writers I admired. My first lesbian romance, All Things Rise, had yet to be released so I had not even had a chance to really prove myself as a writer. Yet everyone at the retreat was incredibly welcoming and willing to share their experiences in the publishing world. I left that first retreat feeling like I’d just made a group of new pals for life. Since then I have found that this group stays connected, and that’s been just one incredible part of this whole writing experience.

And now, after retreat number two, I feel as if I’ve expanded my friend circle exponentially.

I assume most of us do this writing thing because we have a strong desire to tell stories, to create. We write because we love the craft of writing and we love connecting with other writers and readers. I think very few of us do the things we love for money. The royalty checks are the gravy.

I would like to dedicate this blog post to the community of writers, readers and editors I’ve met since I published my first book with Bold Strokes Books. My world is so much brighter with you in it.

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At the helm, my awesome editor, Cindy Cresap.

As the release date for book number five, Valley of Fire, quickly approaches I want to say thank you. Thank you, Bold Strokes Books family, for the late night encouragement via email and texts, beta reading support (Jenny and Deb!) and most of all, thank you to my editor and publisher for giving this writer a voice.

Oh, and added bonus, I came up with some good ideas for new novels while I was at the retreat. Can’t wait to get started on them!

All Things Rise is OUT!!

Missouri Vaun and All Things Rise

My All Things Rise selfie :-). Tweet me yours at @MissouriVaun or post it on my Facebook page. I’d love to see it!

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” — Matsuo Basho

I am so happy that one milestone along my new journey as a storyteller has arrived. All Things Rise is now live in the Bold Strokes Books webstore! It can be purchased in paperback and in all eBook formats exclusively through our store, ahead of its widespread release.

I’d like to send out a special thank you to the Bold Strokes Books family of writers who have been incredibly kind, supportive and welcoming during the months leading up to the release of my first novel. Radclyffe has created an amazing creative community and I’m grateful every day for the opportunity to be a part of it.

The Missouri Vaun author page on Goodreads is also now up and running. Please visit me there and let me know what you think about All Things Rise.

All Things Rise is Out May 12!

Main Characters of All Things Rise

The names of the main characters in All Things Rise: Audrey, Cole, and Ava.

I first started working on All Things Rise more than a year ago. This particular manuscript went through probably three significant rewrites before I got to the version that was worthy of publication. It was a fun process to evolve as a writer alongside the characters. This book is a little unusual because it’s told from three different points of view. I’m not sure if I would do that again because it was complicated to give all those characters an equal voice.

I’ve been finishing other manuscripts while waiting on this one to be released. It was helpful to have the distraction of other projects because the suspense of waiting for this first book was tough! And now finally, here it is. I got my box of advance copies this past week. I’ve actually been keeping the box by my bed. I’ve opened it more than once to see that the books are real and are still there.

Box of All Things Rise advance copies.
It was really fun to write a story where being gay is accepted openly. I imagined a time when being gay is as unquestioned and un-judged as is having blue eyes. Some might call it fantasy or science fiction. I’d like to think it’s the future.

I look forward to hearing what readers think of All Things Rise when it is released on May 12th.