TNA: Hi, Vaughn, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself, hobbies, interests, things we might not know about you but should?
Vaughn: God, “tell us about yourself”, I’m having flashbacks to job interviews already. ;) It’s always the hardest question to answer, isn’t it? Right after, “Do you have any questions for me?” A good place to start is that I’m a bit of a pop culture junkie, whether it’s music, movies, TV, video games, books, at least in certain veins. I teach composition in addition to my writing, so I’m always bringing up movies and TV I’ve seen when I’m trying to get something across to my classes, and I’ve been teased about it on more than one occasion that I likely have watched more TV than they have. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a pop culture defender, primarily because I believe there’s a lot to learn from what’s put out there for everyone, a lot of unwritten rules, you know? Tropes, especially, are what I love studying, even though I’m filling my head with a lot of useless trivia, I’m sure, I probably work in one of the few career paths where knowing ahead of time how stories will end is actually an advantage.
I’m also a gamer, probably more than I should be, they’re my vice that distracts me from writing, that and Netflix. I’m pretty sure I’ve streamed the entire run of Ugly Betty more times than anyone on there.
TNA: What was your first published novel? With the benefit of experience, if you could go back in time to the moment you began writing it, what advice would you give to yourself?
Vaughn: If we’re going with the first novel I ever made any money off? I think it was A City Dweller’s Guide to the Supernatural, or How to Date People Who Shouldn’t Exist. I sold it to a website that put it up in chapters, I think I made like… fifty bucks off it? It was actually the first City story, which is funny considering it’s disavowed from the canon now. It starred James as the protag, and it was purely written as paranormal romance. Lightning Rod was originally written as the sequel to it, but that manuscript went through like… I want to say three complete rewrites?
My first published novel was House of Stone. I’d sold some novellas before, but I wanted to try an urban fantasy focused story. I remember writing all of it in an IM window. I was obsessed with real-time feedback back then. If I could offer myself advice on the writing of that? God, I’d tell myself not to practice the headbutt scene in real life. I think I knocked myself out for a few seconds!
TNA: Did you really try the headbutt scene?! Is realism in your fiction something you strive for, or did you just want to know what a good headbutt felt like? Who/what was your victim?
Vaughn: I was living in northern NY at the time, and my housemate had some training in martial arts so I figured I’d have him read the scene, and he immediately told me that headbutts are nothing like the movies, in that you have to do them almost perfectly or you’ll hurt yourself more than the other guy. Richard’s description of headbutting is based off that conversation, but unfortunately, I wasn’t convinced. My “victim” was while I was attempting the motion a little too close to a solid oak door. I hit it, fell flat on my ass and everything was really hazy for a few seconds. No concussion, thankfully, but I took my housemate’s word for it from then on.
TNA: Mythology and Fairy Tale archetypes play a big part in your writing. Who and/or what would you say are your biggest influences? Is there an author, or authors, you would say fired and fostered your imagination and love of epic storytelling?
Vaughn: I was really into Greek mythology growing up, there was a copy of… I think it was called D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths? I remember borrowing it from the elementary school library over and over again, but I’d have to say it was a mix of the Sandman, the Whedonverse, and tabletop gaming. I started playing Dungeons and Dragons when I was seven or eight, I think, and in my angsty teen years I got into White Wolf, particularly Mage: The Ascension. James Black was originally one of my characters in Mage. My friends who played in games with him still think it’s funny to see the little callbacks I put in here and there that only we would get. Gaiman was definitely a big influence, but I think that’s the case for a lot of UF writers. When I went back to college, though, that’s when I found Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, and I knew I wanted to write UF. I was pretty lucky to soak my mind in so many amazing Urban Fantasy books, comics, and movies.
TNA: I’ve read Urban Fantasy with Shifters, I’ve read Urban Fantasy with Vampires, I’ve read Urban Fantasy with zombies and the Fae and sorcerers and the Moirai and various other archetypes, but I have never, to my recollection, ever read Urban Fantasy with every manner of character and creature known in literature (let’s give Hades some props here too). What made you decide to throw them all together into your big melting pot known as the City rather than stick to just one or two paradigms?
Vaughn: Mostly I wanted to create a living world. I remember taking Urban Sociology in college purely to make the City more believable, so I imagined the different sections of the City, the economies, and what sort of people would live there. I’ll admit I borrowed concepts from everywhere, like supernaturals all living side by side with ignorant humans, gods relegated to day jobs, I think I leaned pretty heavy on the idea of consensual reality, mostly to see if I could make it all fit. I mean, if you can have vampires, why not werewolves? If there’s Fae, why not sorcerers and tricksters? It just seems more fun to put them all in the same place and see how they all manage to co-exist while keeping their existence on the D.L. If anything, it makes for a lot of fun conflict. Speaking of Hades, he’s probably my favorite “guest star” in that he practically writes himself, since he knows everything. ;)
TNA: I love Hades too, so let’s talk about him for a minute here. You made him a lawyer, which is way too perfect, by the by. How do get yourself into the headspace of the Lord of the Underworld? How would you describe Hades in just a sentence or two?
Vaughn: I think it’s safest to describe him as someone who knows exactly what he’s doing, with full knowledge of the consequences. After all, he knows everything. :)
TNA: How would you describe your books to someone who hasn’t read them yet? Do your characters share common qualities? What’s your idea of a great protagonist?
Vaughn: That’s always what I dread, describing my books to someone uninitiated in UF. I have a terrible case of the “basicallies”, which is where a writer of sci-fi or fantasy or anything speculative can’t describe the plot of their novel without using basically, essentially, at its core, or any other boiling down terminology a writer uses to avoid the eventual reveal of the fantastic. You know, where you’re describing a standard plot and you have to bring up the vampires and dragons and magic that you imagine will make the person say, “…Oh. Well, uh, that’s interesting,” while they back away slowly and look for another conversation. I guess I’d say it’s gay urban fantasy with romantic subplots. That’s something I learned early, you have to have the romantic subplots if you’re writing a series, no matter what sexuality your leads are. I think there’s a little shipper in all of us. :)
For common qualities, I like my leads to at least be a little pop culture savvy, because the readers are too, and it makes them more relatable and more fun to write. I mean, readers don’t just read anymore, you know? They read books, comics, graphic novels, watch movies, TV, play video games, and so most of my protagonists do too, as well as the other denizens of the City, which is how you end up with a Fae noble who’s into Pearl Jam, a dragon into AC/DC, and a god of the underworld that’s a closet Styx fan. For me a great protagonist has to be dynamic, they have to grow over the course of the story and the series, and they have to be proactive instead of reactive, or at least make the shift to being proactive. There has to be a reason that the story only could’ve happened to the protagonist, you know?
TNA: Speaking of great protagonists, let’s talk about Spencer Crain a little bit because I think I have a bit of a mad love going on for him and need to know every single thing about him. When you were imagining him up, who did you fashion him after, or does he break the mold?
Vaughn: The funny part is that Spencer was initially created by a video game. I was playing the Sims 3 and made random characters. Spencer was a funny, lazy, klepto couch potato and a hopeless romantic who wanted to be a criminal. His mom was randomly made as an insane writer. The house didn’t last long in the game but I started asking myself questions and coming up with backstory. I know it feels like there’s a lot of Joss Whedon in Spencer, but really, Spencer’s personality wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Simon Pegg’s performance in Spaced. I’ve always loved genre-savvy type characters (even though they tend to die) that can drown you in references, mostly because callbacks and references are there to make us feel cultured and smarter. :) With Spencer, I imagined someone who probably knew trope structure as well as any television writer but had to take that gift in a different direction due to his difficult circumstances.
TNA: If Spencer were here with us today, what do you think he’d want us to know about him to help us know and understand him a bit better?
Vaughn: Well, he’d probably want you to know that he can totally get his own place and that you’d completely understand him if you gave him your phone number. I have to admit, being gay, it’s weird writing a bisexual guy that’s such a shameless flirt.
But all kidding aside, I think he’d want people to know the reason he’s so obsessed with stories and the way that it’s all supposed to work. He was a kid with an absent father and a mother who needed a lot of extra attention, the sort of person Fate would pick some special adventure for. Spencer has to believe that the story’s leading somewhere, and that it’ll follow the rules we all expect because that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. Spencer is a hero who’s finding out that being a hero is a lot harder than he thought, that’s why he clings so tightly to the sidekick role. He’s a bit of an audience surrogate in a lot of ways, especially in the bits where he subtly knocks the M/M genre, or when he makes the jokes about girls on the internet writing stories about him and his brother. Seriously, I got e-mails asking me for “Craincest”. It’s not going happen. Ever. Just… ew.
TNA: Ditto the ew! I have to admit my mind never once went there. In fact, I think at one point I may have said I wanted to throat-punch a certain Crain. Not really. Okay, maybe a little.
If you were to take a guess, what do you suppose makes some readers see Spencer and Thornton that way?
Vaughn: Gotta be Supernatural and the “Wincest” trend that was going for a while. I remember hearing once that if you have two male characters that can’t stand each other, somewhere someone is going to think it’s because of sexual tension. It’s one of the reasons I put that little bit in Community Service, in the diner scene early in the book. I think it went, “What is it with people thinking I want to sleep with my brother? I blame the Internet” with that unspoken, “Yeah, you know who you are.” ;)
TNA: Spencer’s gone through a bit of an evolution since Coyote’s Creed, and especially since he and James (Black, who’s featured in Lightning Rod and Community Service) became friends. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d say Spencer might be getting in touch with some as yet unfelt feelings. Has he ended up exactly where you’d imagined he’d be at this point, or has your vision of him altered since you began writing him?
Vaughn: I think every character changes as you write them, you can’t avoid it, nor should you really. It’s rewarding to watch a character grow up and be capable of something in book 4 or 5 that they weren’t able to do in book 1. With Spence and James, I’ve got that generally planned out, and I’m pretty sure that if they don’t end up together the shippers will hunt me down. :) Those two need a light touch, it’s why I wasn’t all that surprised at the backlash to Ozzie dating James, because he’s the worst kind of obstacle: a nice guy who’ll treat James right even though the reader is positive James and Spencer belong together. I’m not ruling James and Spence out, but they’ve both got a lot of growing to do before they’d be what the other really needs. They’ve both got family issues, obviously, and both of them bring a boatload of baggage with complicated exes, though I think James has Spence beat in the traumatic ex department.
TNA: Is Spencer a difficult guy? Is he one of those characters who has a mind and will of his own, and doesn’t always do what you want him to do when you’re writing him?
Vaughn: Yes and no, honestly. Spencer is fun to write but he can be a pain in the ass. The difficulty of writing a genre-savvy guy is that he knows what’s coming and isn’t that wild about traipsing into danger. It’s one of the reasons that Coyotes are tied so closely to Fate, other Spencer wouldn’t go anywhere near half the situations that have moved his story forward. Still though, I have to give him the sensibility of a normal person because let’s face it, sometimes we take action without thinking it all the way through, and then we have to pay for it. Plus he’s definitely the more proactive of the duo, so rushing headlong is kind of his specialty, which means sometimes I end up in the middle of a scene I didn’t intend to write, but it’s always fun finding a way through it.
Vaughn: As much fun as Spencer would be, I’d probably go with Shiko, the scene-stealing Kitsune. I loved every scene she was in, you always knew there was a deeper story there and I’d love to hear it, though I seriously doubt she’d give me the real one! :)
TNA: Would you care to share an excerpt from Coyote’s Creed with us?
Vaughn: One of my favorite scenes to write in Coyote’s Creed was what some of my readers call “The Battle of the Blonde Jokes”. I just love how serious and intense it is right up to the first joke, because c’mon, they’re Coyotes, how else would they do a riddle contest to the death?
“By the laws of Father Coyote, I challenge you.” I honestly have no idea what’s going to happen next, if there’s more that I need to say or if he’ll just shoot me for having the audacity.
Instead, he laughs derisively, but not in any way that leads me to believe he’ll punctuate it with a bullet. “You’re challenging me?”
“You told me yourself the son never beats the father, so why not? If you shoot me, you’ll never know for sure. C’mon, Dad, I’ve tricked Dogs and Foxes, how do you know you’re a better trickster than me? Besides, you’re still Coyote, and by Grandfather’s laws, you can’t just walk away from this.”
“That a fact?” He smirks. “Son, do you even know what it means when you challenge me?”
He lowers the gun, thankfully, but I get the feeling I’ve stepped into murky territory here. “You see, Spencer, you think that I need time to prepare, that there’s a big ceremony, that you can stall everything until this challenge is settled.”
“But it doesn’t work like that?”
Dad shakes his head. “We settle it here and now. And then, after I win, I shoot you.”
“Okay, well, if I win you don’t shoot me, you let Thornton go, and you leave me and Mom and him alone forever.”
This, understandably, earns quite a laugh from Dad. “Don’t work like that.”
“I think it does, and you’re just trying to make me think otherwise. My old man’s a liar, remember?” I grit my teeth, as that gun is still in his hand. “Okay, no matter what happens, I lift that curse off you.” This gets his attention. “If you’re going to be nailing the Silver Lady, you’d want to get rid of it, right?”
“Why, ’cause I might stub my toe during sex?”
I smile, remembering the night of the wake. “May your stories be remembered as lies, and your prowess be remembered as laughable.” A chuckle slips out of me. “You really want your number-one crush thinking you’re a two-pump chump?”
A few seconds pass as he mulls it over. I keep expecting for a car to roll by, but the City might as well be empty. He narrows his eyes, cracks his knuckles. “You drop the curse, you come with me, you take Thornton’s place, and he walks, and that’s all you’re getting.”
“I win, I drop the curse, Thornton walks, you leave Mom alone forever, and you walk away. And if I lose, I go with you, you still let Thornton go, and right before your new girlfriend slits my throat I tell you how the Dogs managed an Emerald in the Snow.”
And Dad laughs, enough to bend over slightly, hugging his sides, convulsing with the hilarity of the statement. “You? You know an Emerald in the Snow?” He holds up a hand as if to ask me to stop, and then places it over his chest. “Oh God, that’s hysterical. Son, if you actually know one of the Emeralds, I’ll let you pick the challenge.”
An uncomfortable moment passes as his laughter fades, and he notices that I don’t look offended or indignant. I don’t look like anything at all.
“No fucking way, Spencer.”
I smile knowingly. “Long ago, when the world was a leaf in a pond of amaranthine fire…”
He trembles with shock, fear in his eyes now. “He wouldn’t have told you. He can’t.”
“And yet, I know it, and you’ve already seen proof. How else could I have escaped you earlier in the park, Dad?” I fold my arms, smirking, and it’s his smirk, I know, but I don’t care. “So I get to pick the challenge, huh?”
“Yeah. So what’d you have in mind?” He cracks his knuckles again, rolls his neck, limbers up.
“Simple challenge. Riddles. If you miss one, you lose.” I chuckle darkly. “And I’m a Bard, Dad, I’ve gathered riddles from the darkest recesses of humanity’s soul, questions that have made the spirits shiver, with answers arcane and maddening.” I can feel my eyes burning as I lean forward.
“But since the son never beats the father, you certainly won’t mind me going first.”
And I see my payoff. He swallows hard, his hand trembling. He grips the gun tighter before nodding once. He extends his free hand, spits hard in his palm. I do the same, and we shake on it.
Okay, Spence, time to be a Coyote.
“Why do blondes hate M&Ms?”
What, you thought I was serious with that shit?
TNA: How many books can we expect in the Broken Mirrors series? Do you have it plotted out to a definitive end?
Vaughn: Broken Mirrors is looking to be seven books. Book 4 is tentatively titled Breaking Ties, followed by Wayward Son, Open Season, and concluding with An Emerald in the Snow. I’ve got a loose outline of what I want to happen (which my boyfriend hates me for spoiling), but I haven’t prewritten the ending outside of the final line: “Fade to credits.” You have to make sure you can guide and shape the ending according to the development and what the audience expects. No matter how I end it, there are certain things that have to be set in stone, or it’ll disappoint no matter what else happens. Just look at the How I Met Your Mother finale if you need proof of that.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs with us?
Vaughn: I’m about 70,000 words into Breaking Ties, though teaching has hampered the progress, and I have a couple other projects that are set in the City, both standalones, and both over 20,000 words at the moment that I hope to turn novel-length. One of them deals with humans who hunt the mythics, the other with a half-blooded commoner Fae and is sort of a spiritual sequel to House of Stone.
TNA: And finally, would you kindly share with us all the places we can find you on the internet?
The Giveaway:Thanks again, Vaughn, for taking the time to answer all my questions. It was great to have you here.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED