Take My Hand

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“Take my hand.” A simple request with the power to change everything.

Artist Clay Cahill retreats to her hometown of Pine Cone, Georgia, when she’s betrayed by a woman she thought cared and the pressure of the New York City art world becomes too much. Setting paints aside, she takes a job at her grandfather’s garage seeking the restorative comfort of small town life where women are sweet and life flows as slow as molasses.

Manhattan art gallery owner River Hemsworth is preparing for a show when she’s informed her aunt has bequeathed her a local gallery in Pine Cone, a place where the idea of fashion is anything with a Carhart label. En route to review inventory and unload the property quickly, River wrecks and Clay comes to her rescue.

If River can convince Clay to start painting again, she may be able to pull off the show that will make her career and quench the desires she never expected to feel again.

Welcome to part one of the sweet, romantic adventures of Pine Cone, Georgia. I was super excited to write this trilogy with two of my favorite authors: VK Powell and D. Jackson Leigh

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Getting started

Isn’t that the hardest part sometimes? Just sitting down and putting the first lines on paper. I can’t seem to move forward until I get a first paragraph that I feel good about and the very first line needs to feel just right. I’ve realized that many of my books begin with taking a first step, crossing a threshold, which is usually a signal that things for the main character are about to change.

For my newest work in progress, Spencer’s Cove, there is no first step. There’s a cat, who has no concept of how much he weighs (18 lbs.) and a mystery to be solved… oh, and a painfully shy heiress.

Now, back to work on that first chapter.

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A Time for Vigilance

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Now, more than ever, is the time to show our love for one another, to stand up for common decency wherever we go and to create stories that celebrate our diversity.

Probably anyone who’s reading this blog post is still feeling wounded and in shock two days after the election. I live in California. I’m surrounded by people in shock. We can commiserate together. But I grew up in the Deep South, so I know the same support isn’t there for everyone. Those of us in safe zones have to reach out to those who aren’t. Those of us in safe zones have to speak out for those who can’t.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

I spoke to a family member in Mississippi yesterday who voted for Trump. He assured me that everyone who voted for Trump isn’t racist, that their vote was simply about economics and voting for an outsider. My reply was simple. If Trump isn’t racist then he should stop saying racist things.

I’m working on a memoir project that has required me to have some in-depth conversations with my father about racial bullying that happened in Alabama, in the 1970s when I was growing up. I asked him how a parent explains racism to a kid. I thought he’d have some wise answer for me, but he just said, you can’t. He said that all you can do is set a good example, tell your kids to do the right thing and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

I keep seeing Facebook posts from people who are unfriending folks who voted for Trump. I think part of why this election took us by surprise is that too many of us insulate ourselves and our social media platforms with people who think just like we do. I’ve tried not to do that, even though some posts make me angry. They are a shocking glimpse sometimes into how people you thought you knew actually think.

I’ve discovered that the folks who make me angry because of hurtful words in their Facebook posts also believe that they’re saying these things in a vacuum. They think they’re only talking to others who agree with them. Most of them are friends who live in the South. When I go home, they seem happy to see me. We have dinner together and I do believe they genuinely like me. I believe we really are friends. And when I join their conversations on Facebook they’ll say that they weren’t talking about me. They were and I’m there to remind them that they do know someone in the LGBT community. Me.

I’ve found that if you jump into one of these conversations with anger it doesn’t work. I usually try to say something that’s rather quiet just to let them know I’m listening. Conversations with people who don’t agree with you are important. Genuine conversation can change minds and help us understand each other. It’s not easy, but it might be the only way.

I was thinking of all of this as I was driving to work this morning. On the way in I stopped at a Starbucks and there were two Latina women in line behind me. The woman closest to me looked visibly upset and was standing pretty far from me. From behind I’m sure I just looked like some random white guy so she probably didn’t want to stand too close. I asked her if I could buy her a coffee. Her face immediately brightened. I think she was shocked. I bought the woman next to her a coffee as well.

You always see that stupid bumper sticker that says practice random acts of kindness. I say let’s make that real.

A pumpkin spiced latte is not going to save the world, but it’s a start.

Now is the time for vigilance, my friends.

Now is the time to show everyone that love is stronger, for real.

My Final Draft Is In and What I Hope to Bring

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.

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?

Getting Stuck to Find Your Way

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“I’ve always run by the hierarchy of ‘If not funny, interesting. If not interesting, hot. If not hot, bizarre. If not bizarre, break something.” — Jon Stewart

I’ve been working for several weeks on my second book in my first lesbian romance series. (I can’t wait to officially announce my debut novel! It’s with my editor at the moment.) But this narrative hasn’t been like the first, which seemed to come to me all at once like I was channeling some long forgotten tale. This second book has dropped into my head in bits and pieces: random conversations, glimpses of scenes, feelings.

For the last couple of weeks I’ve also had this unsettling notion that all of what I’ve written is crap. If I’m feeling bored with it and I’m the one in control of the story, then there’s definitely a problem. I was talking with a friend of mine about it and mentioned that I had written myself into a corner. More accurately, I wrote myself into a ditch, some sad rut that I haven’t been able to steer out of.

Then it hit me.

This story I’ve been laboring over is bogged down because it got off track. Somewhere after chapter two I took a side road to nowhere. But all is not lost, because what I realized is that this story is actually part of book four in the series. Or book four is part of this book… At any rate the two storylines fit together like puzzle pieces filling in the dead spaces in both. I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I think I was lost in a maze of my own creation. Not only that, when scenes and words become too precious to be reconsidered, or edited, or cut, then you may be your worst enemy.

Make strong coffee. Deconstruct. Amend. Revise. Rewrite.

Suddenly it all makes sense. The story has life again, and it’s a full one.

This goes out to my fellow writers… Has this ever happened to you?