I’m talking today with Vanda, the author of the Juliana series, which takes the reader through the decades of modern LGBT history. So far, she has published two books in the series: Juliana, Book 1: 1941-1944 and Olympus Nights on the Square, Book 2: 1945-1955. Book 3, Paris, Adrift will be out soon. She is shooting for a late March or early April release.
Vanda is excited to have Juliana featured in a BookBub Newsletter on March 6, where it will be on sale for $.99. She hopes everyone who hasn’t read it will grab a copy at this price and will tell their friends about it.
This series, says Vanda, is not only for LGBT folks. It’s important that LGBT folks know their history and know about the sacrifices that were made so that they could enjoy the freedoms they have today. But it is also a book for straight folks too. As one Amazon Reviewer said, “But this is not a ‘gay’ book any more than a novel set in a concentration camp is a Jewish book. This is a book about people dealing with oppression while they try to live large. This is of universal interest.”
I’ve read Juliana and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve started reading Olympus Nights on the Square as well. These are detailed, well-researched books that lead me into several questions for Vanda:
What kind of research do you do for your books, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Let’s start with the last part of your question first. I don’t do very much research at all before I begin the book. I have no special knowledge of the 1940s and 50s. Life was different for LGBT folks and for women and for racial minorities like African Americans. I’m absolutely insistent that my research be accurate, but I don’t know specifically what I’m going to need until I begin the book. I write the book and do the research at the same time. This way I stay excited about what I’m learning and I’m not just tacking on bits of research that I gathered and stuck in a notebook. Doing the two at the same time, of course, slows down the writing of the first draft, but since I’m having so much fun I don’t care. In the second draft, I double check my research findings. I may be still checking in draft three or four or whatever.
So, how long on average does it take you to write a book?
I have one book that took more than twenty years to write; it might be closer to thirty and I’m still not sure it’s finished. It was my first novel besides the one I wrote in eighth grade. Book 1 of my Juliana series took about four years to write, but I was also writing much of Book 2 at the same time. Book 3 I finished in about four months. That’s a record for me. Book 4 is coming along quickly too. I think I finally have control of my craft and can finish much more carefully than before without sacrificing quality.
Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading stories/etc. come from?
I think a lot of people aren’t going to like this answer, but it’s the only one I can come up with. Genes. My environment did very little to encourage my love of books or my writing ability. There was no storytelling around the kitchen table. My mother was always yelling at my father for reading the newspaper during supper. My mother had no love of books and could not understand how or why school was so important to me or why I wanted to go to college. She thought I was “odd.” My father, on the other hand, had been an excellent English student in high school. He got the only perfect English Regents in the town and he won an essay contest in high school. However, despite the GI bill, he did not go to college to develop his talent. He used to read fiction and non-fiction history books in the home, but he never talked about them in the house. (Both my sister and I have a love of history, which must’ve come from genes, since there were never any history discussions in the house.
In eighth grade, I had an inspiring English teacher and that led me to write my first novel. Then There were a lot discouraging teachers too, which led me far away from my writing and I didn’t start back again until I was in my forties. The reason I attribute my writing mostly to a strong gene is because there were so many reasons I shouldn’t be writing today, so many roadblocks and yet it kept coming back. This time it’s here to stay.
Who are some of your favorite authors that you feel were influential in your work?
When I was in high school my twelfth-grade English teacher gave us a huge list (pages and pages) of books we should read. She never really expected us to read it, but for me this list was my personal gold mine. It had all the classics from different countries on it. In the warmer months I would sit in our backyard under an old Maple tree and read The Brontes, Somerset Maugham, Steinbeck, Turgenev, Dickins and on, and on. There was one book I took from my father’s shelf that was about a cowboy who lived among the Indians. I loved that book and I read it twice. I wish I could remember it’s title. I’d like to find it again. I devoured all these books and I was in heaven. The writers on my teacher’s list influenced me. Reading their books for the first time gave me such special memories. I still carry Heathcliff and Mrs. Habersham with me wherever I go. I wanted to do for others what these did for me. Take people out of the humdrum or worse real worlds they live in and introduce them to characters they could keep with them always.
Do you write more by logic or intuition, or some combination of the two? Pantser of plotter?
I am definitely a Pantser. Surprise is limited if I plot it all out. The surprise—the one that even surprises me—is what makes writing special. I would never want to lose this. But, I’m not going to lie and say I have never done a little outlining because I have. I’ve never outlined a whole book or play. Only small portions that gave me trouble.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I just finished Book 3 which takes place in Paris. I’m now diligently working on Book 4, which take my characters from 1956 to 1958, I think. The fifties and the sixties were an especially awful time to be gay so I’m devoting a number of books to this time period. I also have a spin-off book in the thinking stages. This will be about one of the characters from Book I. Then I’m also in the thinking stages of a book that is not part of the series. It is a true story about someone who experienced the horrors of being a lesbian in the 1960s. I’ve recorded an interview with this person. Now, I just have to figure out when will be a good time to dig in and write it.
Given all of this, I have to ask – but I think I know the answer – does writing energize or exhaust you?
Both While I’m writing I’m frequently unconscious of the process or I go in and out of being conscious of what I’m doing. Whenever I’m too conscious, meaning my ego is sticking out. telling me what a wonderful writer I am, I yell out loud, “Shut up!” Keeping ego out of the process can be exhausting. But when things are going smoothly and I am one with the work, I am totally energized and completely happy. I don’t think I’ve ever known that kind of joy in real life. Sometimes I’m so alive with the characters—I mean I can feel them, practically touch them, when I know exactly what they’d do in a particular situation, I am high, energized. But at the end of a day of that I’m also exhausted. It just takes me a little while to notice. After a highly energized day, no way will I be ready for a night on the town. But you know, I don’t care. I have what is the best.
A couple of questions for fun?
What item, that you don’t already have, would you like to own?
I’m not sure if this qualifies as an item, because it isn’t something you can hold in your hand. I dream someday of having a balcony or a terrace. Now, of course, I am unlikely to have anyone come along and build one onto my current apartment. That means I also have to find a new apartment. But I dream of summer days looking out on the city and writing my novels. This is something I’ve wanted for a long time. Maybe my books will take off and someday I’ll be able to get an apartment with this dream terrace.
Anne: That’s an interesting and unexpected answer but I can see how that could be life-changing for an author that is a city dweller.
What’s your passion?
Writing my books. I never feel more connected to something higher than myself than when I am writing my novels.
Anne: Why am I not surprised?
One last question; Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will recognize?
Occasionally I drop a detail that is specifically for my lesbian readers without explaining it.
Here’s the blurb for Juliana:
She went looking for fame and found her true self, instead.
New York City, 1941. Alice “Al” Huffman and her childhood friends are fresh off the potato farms of Long Island and bound for Broadway. Al’s plans for stage success are abruptly put on hold when she’s told she has no talent. As she gets a job to pay for acting classes, Al settles into a normal life with her friends and a boyfriend. It all changes when she meets Juliana.
A singer on the brink of stardom, Juliana is everything Al isn’t: glamorous, talented, and queer. The farm girl is quickly enthralled, experiencing thoughts and feelings she never realized were possible. Al finds herself slipping between two worlds: the gay underground and the “normal” world of her childhood friends. It’s a balancing act she can handle until the two worlds begin to collide.
In a city bursting with change, can Alice find what she was looking for all along?
Get Juliana tomorrow, March 6th, 2018 for just $.99 exclusively at Amazon or read it free via Kindle Unlimited.