Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Guest Blogger - Stephanie Vaughan

Writers are used to being asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” It’s probably our most frequently asked question and most of us have an answer ready. Usually it’s along the lines of “Everywhere.”

Something about what makes us writers makes us observers. Or maybe it’s the other way around and we’re watchers first and writers second. I’m not sure which came first, but at a recent academic conference, a couple of writer friends and I took part in a panel discussion, along with an editor friend and another friend who’s a professor of literature. We were all there for the weekend and I couldn’t help but notice how frequently it was the non-writers who were carrying the conversation, while the compulsively watchful writers in the group were usually sitting back making mental notes.

It’s not anything we try to do. In fact, I think that for the most part we can’t help it, any more than we can stop using bits and pieces of our friends, families and acquaintances in our characters. We cannibalize mercilessly, taking an old friend’s mannerism, a co-worker’s laugh, the way a brother-in-law can never quite seem to get it right when it comes to ordering pizza.

No one is safe, nothing is exempt. Grandma is no more off the hook for her misuse of the word “dildo” at Christmas dinner than is the poor misguided husband who thinks a garden rake and a post-holer make dandy Valentine’s Day gifts. For the sake of familial harmony, as well as a dislike of lawsuits, most of us have the good grace to at least change the names. (Unless, of course, the author is divorced—in which case I always take an especially close look at the names of any barnyard animals that may happen to show up in the story.)

For the most part, though, I think our families know and accept that pretty much anything they say or do for the rest of their lives is fair game for inclusion in a book. Our friends don’t mind when we borrow their name for our handsome hero or even the loathsome villain. They’re a little flattered when we use the funky old house from their college days as the setting for a story. They’re forgiving when we shamelessly reproduce, scene for scene, that Thanksgiving they got trashed on Jagermeister and told us what they really thought of our ex-boyfriend, unaware that we’d gotten back together with him the night before.

There’s an extra little spin, though, for those of us who write gay romance. “How do you do your research?” is always one of the first questions people ask when they hear what I write and I always tell them that ninety-percent of it is exactly the same as more traditional romance. It’s the same three-act drama, heroic journey, character-driven type of story that my favorite writers have been writing and I’ve been reading since my mother began dropping me off at the library on summer afternoons all those years ago.

But, oh, that other ten-percent.

I’ve always thought that gay men and straight women were natural allies and it seems especially true to me when it comes to sex. “What are they thinking?” is the question we always ask ourselves and I’ve gotten some of the most honest, unfiltered responses I’ve ever heard from my gay friends. The Venn diagram of our lives overlaps in all the right areas for them to be able to shed light on things I so desperately want to know: What does it feel like? Where does he go in his head when he gets that look in his eyes? Why can’t he pick just one channel and watch it?

I wander places like the EroticaCon when it comes to Los Angeles every year, checking out the displays of toys and accessories. I stop in at Mr. S Leather whenever I’m in town and pester the hot sales boys with impertinent questions. At the West Hollywood Book Fair I drift repeatedly over to the Tom of Finland booth, breathing in the character and ambiance of another place and time.

So if you see me at the book fair or con and I’m flipping through the racks of skin mags and gay porn, just remember, I’m not doing it because I’m a perv -- it’s all in the name of research.

Stephanie Vaughan
http://www.stephanievaughan.com/
stephanie@stephanievaughan.com

P. S. I will draw a name from the comments on this blog to win a download of "Crossing the Line" - so don't be shy.

26 comments:

Jen in WA said...

I'm a relatively new fan of the m/m genre. I think it was a menage story with 2 gay men and a woman that peaked my interest. Now I'm hooked and love finding new authors that actually write a romance along with the man-love. :)

Now while I read these books, I'm not sure I'd have the courage to do any of the "research" you do. But that's why I'm a reader and you're a writer.

Jodi said...

To only have the excuse of research, life would be much easier for many people.
I've read a few m/m stories, and I admit that I can't believe how HOT they were!

kaisquared said...

Steph, I would love to go researching with you.... bugging the hot sales boys sounds like fun! Your thoroughness and curiosity certainly pays off in your writing, to the enjoyment of your readers.

Lucy Monroe said...

Hey, darlin'! You are so right about EVERYTHING being fodder for our stories. My daughter, M2B, works at a shoestore. The other day a family came in. Mom, Dad and Son. Son was a cute little boy with a cherubic smile and winning manner. Until his parents both turned their backs and then the little fiend flipped M2B off. She was shocked. I would have laughed so hard, I split a gut. And I would have informed the parents with a huge smile that their son had learned some interesting hand gestures. :) Now, this is definitely going to make it into a book one day.

As for research? I'm addicted to doing it and delve into every aspect of my books with both feet, including the sensuality. I've read tons of books on sex and sexuality, talked to lots of people about their own experiences and tried out many new ideas with Hubcap. LOL I *don't* write about my personal life, but I do want to make sure that what my characters do works. ;-)

Lucy Monroe said...

Oh, and I just wanted to say that I loved the first version of "Crossing the Line", but am totally intrigued by the new elements you've added and can't wait to read the new one? I'm a total fan-girl when it comes to your writing and I'd say your research shines through with joy and passion for life. :)

Cathy said...

Hi Stephanie, I really enjoy your storytelling. Just got thru reading the excerpt for Crossing The Line, and have it on my wish list already.

k's friend, k. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
k's friend, k. said...

i hope i win, but i already own all of your m/m stuff! love it. just got the newest off world at the pca conference and am eagerly awaiting the boys on the train story! any chance you'll do a torquere sip with either jaime or kevin's stories?
:0)

k's friend, k. said...

oh. you added new elements to crossing the line? i hadn't heard that. what? what? what?!
*shiver*
so cool!
:0)

Lucy Monroe said...

Stephanie wanted me to let you all know she'll be responding to your comments as soon as she gets off work. :) Those pesky day jobs - they just do us in, yes? LOL

LindaK said...

I've got the chills just thinking about this. The original version had me in tears more than once. I love the way you write. Always have.

Amy said...

Hi Stephanine, I enjoyed your bog. I have never read any of your books or any gay romances. I do read menage so I am open to reading a gay romance.

Jennifer A. Ray said...

Hmmm... Maybe us reviewers of erotic romance should do that kind of research too! LOL

Syd McGinley said...

Hmmm.... I think you meant not _just_ because you are perv....


I agree though -- all sort of daily life ends up grist for my writing. And the more you write, the truer that gets I find.

Before I wrote regulalry, I was puzzled where ideas came from -- but once you begin everything is a story nugget!

Tom Waits once said song ideas are like rain -- I stick out my hand to get wet.

Stephanie said...

Ah, Jen... welcome to the dark side. *g* That's actually how I got started, too. I wrote two men and one woman ("Home for the Holidays") and fell so in love with writing the two men, I've barely had time to look back. There's just something so intriguing about the m/m dynamic... it's so much fun to play with.

Stephanie said...

Jodi, you're so right. And not that m/f isn't hot, it's just a different kind.

And as for research, this is definitely way more fun than the kind I did in college, or do now for the day job. :-)

Stephanie said...

kaisquared- Thank you for the kind words! It's just the most fun, ever and you can never predict when a great opportunity's going to arise. I definitely recommend San Francisco as a great place to hang out and research, with terrific customer service.

Mr. S Leather, Blowfish, Good Vibrations...All good places with wonderful people willing to share their knowledge.

Stephanie said...

Thanks, Lucy! I have to apologize if I gave the impression that I'd expanded "Crossing the Line." There were a few tweaks, but it's so close to the original most people probably won't notice the difference. I always thought it was much more complete the first time around than "Jumping the Fence" was.

Torquere has been terrific to work with and they've given me the green light if I'd like to add more stories to the series, either new characters or 'further adventures' with the previous two couples. I've got plans for a third book, starring Ben's brother Scott, from JTF and I've got ideas for some shorter pieces, showing how the guys' lives are progressing after they get together.

I had so much fun revisiting Ben & Kevin when I added on to JTF, that I think I'd like to do that. My struggle is always finding the time. Darn day job eats into my writing time something fierce.

Stephanie said...

Hi Cathy. Thank you so much. That's so wonderful to hear and it means so much to me when people connect with the characters. If you read "Crossing the Line," I hope you'll write and let me know what you thought of it.

Stephanie said...

k's friend k--You were at the PCA conference? Did you come to the seminar? I remember you! Wasn't that a blast? We're trying to figure out how we can do that again; it was so much fun and we felt like we'd barely gotten started when it was time to go.

The boys on the train story should be out in November. I finally settled on "Another Believer" for the title, but I don't know the name of the anthology title yet.

As for more stories with Jamie or Kevin, I've gotten mail about Jamie's family and I think showing the guys' familes--maybe at a wedding--would be fun.

Stephanie said...

Hi LindaK! Thanks so much for the love and support. You've always been an awesome source of morale boosting energy. I couldn't have done it without you. :-)

Stephanie said...

Amy, that's awesome that you're open to trying it. It's not everyone's thing and that's okay. We're all so different, I think about how boring it would be if we all liked the same thing. If you do give one a try, I'd love to hear what you think.

Stephanie said...

Jennifer, I think you should *definitely* get into the research. Think of what it will add to your reviews. Knowledge and learning are wonderful things. ;-)

Jennifer A. Ray said...

LOL, Actually, I think I've been a researcher for a while now...

And last year I discovered that Amazon has an extensive selection of adult toys and other products under the 'Health and Beauty' section... Who knew?

Stephanie said...

Sydlicious, you're so right. "Jumping the Fence" began with an ad I read on craigslist and "Off World" came from a comment I made in a chat one night about my fixation on Worf. "Another Believer" came from watching too much "Mythbusters" and "Off World 2" is my love letter to Rufus Wainwright. Story ideas are everywhere--capturing them is the hard part. Or, finding the time to, I should say.

Stephanie said...

That's excellent, Jennifer. You're already reaping the benefits of your new knowledge, or so one imagines. I dream of being asked to write a review for Blowfish.com one day. The toys--erm, I mean, products--are almost tangential. The reviews are so entertaining I hop all over the place checking out things I have no intention of buying. They make everything sound enticing.