Thank you for having me here today, Marc!
Question 1: The title of each book is just one word, but it identifies a theme for that book. Do you start with that theme and then create the journey for the characters or do you just follow where the characters tell you to go and try to find a fitting title that summarizes the theme of the book?
Well, the working title for Equals was Sprained Ankle if that tells you anything. *grins* Seriously though, it’s a little of both.
Once the Equals name was in place and I began to write the other stories I knew I wanted to stick to a theme for the titles. I wanted to keep with the one word title and once the plot for the second story developed, Partners felt like the logical choice. From there, I knew I wanted to write a short holiday novella about introducing Russ’ father and sister to Stephen and Family was solid fit. Once I had that, Husbands sprang to mind, and in some ways that helped shape the theme and the plot for the final book.
Ultimately it was a mix of both and it all evolved very organically as Allison (my go-to person for the brainstorming for this entire series and an all-around fabulous beta and friend) and I discussed ideas.
Question 2: You design your own covers. How important do you think covers are and how have you tried to incorporate the theme of each book in this series into its cover?
Yes, I still can’t decide if I’m completely bonkers for designing my own covers on top of writing the stories. I do feel like covers are quite important though. Obviously, without a solid story it doesn’t matter what’s on the cover, but a good cover can certainly grab attention and sway a potential reader’s interest. That being said, taste is so subjective. Some people love illustrated covers, other people (myself included) much prefer photographs.
When I was making the covers for this series I tried to pull aspects of the story into it. Power inequality is such a huge part of Equals, and I very deliberately chose to put the man representing Stephen above the one representing Russ. Stephen’s stance is far more powerful and confident than Russ’ which represented the issues in the story. I also included the skyline of Atlanta between them, and the city place a big part in the story.
In Partners, they’re out of Atlanta, and in Putnam, the small, rural town where Stephen grew up. I kept the same fonts and basic design on the cover, but gave it a slightly more organic feel with a green background and view of a pecan orchard. The tone of the story is darker, so I went with a black font and a slightly darker tint to the coloring, but kept a nice glow of light behind their clasped hands to represent the lighter, happier note the story ends on. The clasped hands were also important, showing that Russ and Stephen had moved to more equal footing and were a united front against the outside threat of the situations they faced.
The cover for Family is brighter, with warmer tones of red and gold. The lit Christmas tree representing the entire holiday season and events they’re taking part in together. The figures are full length now, standing side by side and their postures are relaxed as they take in the scene in front of them.
Husbands is the lightest, warmest of the covers yet, with a rich blue-green background, water, and sky and lots of warm golden tones in their flesh and the sailboats. I went with lighter tones for the text as well. The story is not without conflict though, and the tilting sailboat pulls in the somewhat precarious balance they’re struggling to maintain as they rush forward into their future. To be perfectly frank, the second sailboat was an addition placed there primarily because there was an odd blank space that needed something in it. However, once I began to play with possible ideas, the image of another boat on a possible collision course with the first boat seemed perfect, given the sudden reappearance of Jeremy from Stephen’s past.
Hours (and often days) of thought and effort go into putting the covers together. At some point I may decide it’s not worth my time, but for now I enjoy working on them. There are certainly better graphic designers out there, but I feel as though there is no one who knows the story better and that I can hold my own. Hopefully the readers agree.
Question 3: At the beginning of the story, there seems to be a certain inequality between the characters. It’s a May/ December story and the different age of the characters is part of that perceived inequality. There is also the difference in experience, the different positions in the job, the different financial situation and each characters past that makes their dynamic difficult to balance. Which aspect of their relationship made it most difficult for them to find an equilibrium and why?
Oh man, that is a tough question to answer. Initially, it was all off those issues combined. If it had been any one or two, it might not have been such a big deal but together it really put a strain on things for them.
I think if I could only pick one issue though, it would have to be the differences in their finances. It’s the issue that keeps cropping up over and over again. It is something Russ will probably always feel a tiny twinge of discomfort about. It’ll become less of a concern the longer they are together and the more he brings into the relationship as his career continues, but I think it’s always a subject he’s going to be a little bit touchy about.
Question 4: In many books, the question of negative HIV results is handled in a side note to allow characters to have bareback sex or used as a sign the characters trust each other. What made you decide to have your characters tell each other they are negative, trust each other and still have them use a condom?
HIV is a bigger factor in both of their lives than in many characters. Russ’ uncle died of AIDS related complications, so his father was pretty vocal about him protecting himself as Russ grew up. Stephen was in college in the late 1980’s and HIV was a huge looming issue for the gay community. It’s actually an aspect of his past I wish I’d explored more because it certainly had an impact on his psyche. Some of Stephen’s dislike of casual sex is just because he’s the type of person who wants sex to have meaning and he wants a connection with his lover. But some of it is because of when he grew up. His first sexual encounter was in 1986 at the age of 19. He would have been fully aware of HIV and AIDS and how it was transmitted. Although meticulous about using protection, having anonymous sexual partners certainly put him at risk.
That fear of exposure would have colored every single sexual encounter he had.
I absolutely wish I had discussed it more in Equals but it wasn’t until I wrote Partners that I truly dug into Stephens’s back story and realized what a huge impact it would have had on his life.
Although I didn’t address it directly, I felt that neither of them would be comfortable with forgoing condoms even after a discussion about their clear bill of health. Yes, they trust each other, but there are degrees of trust and it isn’t until they’ve overcome some of the obstacles between them that they feel comfortable baring themselves completely. And, quite literally, trusting each other with their lives.
Question 5: Before ‘Equals’, you only had stand-alone books. Even ‘Equals’ was planned as a stand-alone. What made this story different for you? Were you unable to let go of the characters or did you feel their story was not finished?
The short stand-alone stories typically focused on discreet events in two characters’ lives, a turning point for them basically. With the Equals novella I was able to explore more of the characters’ personalities and relationship. I might have been able to let them go but my betas strongly pushed for more and I was glad I listened. The moment they suggested that there might be more to explore I realized what the possibilities were. And once I began to work on Partners I knew their story wasn’t finished.
Question 6: At the end of ‘Equals’, Stephen and Russ just found a fragile and new equilibrium in their relationship. Directly afterwards, that balance is tested when a big tragedy strikes that could have shattered their relationship, but ends up strengthening it. They become partners. Do you think it was important for Russ to be able to step up and be there for Stephen or did their problems just pale in contrast to the tragedy? Why could small problems nearly destroy them, when even such an enormous challenge only made them stronger?
Absolutely. Russ needed to see what he was capable of in a relationship and being able to step up and support Stephen was a big part of that. I think that their disagreements about money and relationship equality did pale in comparison to the death of Stephen’s father, but I don’t necessarily think it’s an either-or issue. Both of those factors played a huge part.
I think the difference is that the enormous challenge they faced was an external force. It was something outside of the relationship that they had to work together to face. The small problems nearly destroyed them because it was inside the relationship and pitting them against each other. That isn’t always true of course, sometimes huge external stressors can cause major problems, but in this particular situation, the outside challenge allowed them to learn to work together as a couple and face the world as a united front.
Question 7: I have encountered a lot of extreme antagonists in this genre, who act more like monsters than humans in their cruel, violent and openly hateful behavior towards LGBT people in this genre. I know that this kind of extreme and dramatic reaction of hatred exists and it breaks my heart, but luckily, I have never encountered it myself. I have, however, encountered thinly veiled disgust and disapproval. Even open hostility, but also support, love or indifference in the small village I grew up with. Those reactions may be more subtle, I never felt endangered or threatened by anyone, but they can be very painful in their own right. The small town reactions in ‘Partners’ felt very realistic and hit home. Was it a conscious decision of yours to not over-dramatize the town’s reactions and show how it affects the main characters?
When I first began working on Partners, I did have a vague idea of there being one extreme antagonist. But as the story developed I found myself struggling to create that antagonist because it seemed too over the top too me, too much of a caricature, too unrealistic. Yes, those people exist in the real world. Some of the politicians and fringe religious figures we hear about in the news are those monsters, but most of what we deal with on a daily basis is a much more subtle and complex.
In the end, I made a conscious decision to tone down the town’s reactions and explore a more nuanced reaction to Russ and Stephen’s relationship. For example, Waylon Lambert, the funeral home owner, is not a nice man. He intensely dislikes gay people (as you will see in the spin-off novel with his nephew Evan that will be coming out this summer) but he’s a shrewd businessman. He knows that Stephen is well-off and that he can make a lot of money off him.
That’s realistic. Sure, we’ve seen the few absurd business owners to are spouting their mouths off and championing discriminatory legislation, but I would bet the vast majority continue to do business with a wide range people they dislike despite their feelings toward them. By exploring the broad range of reactions to Russ and Stephen’s relationship I felt like I was able to write a much more realistic, and hopefully more interesting, story.
Question 8: It is heartbreaking that Stephen’s parents turned their backs to him and shunned him. Even though there are clues in ‘Family’ that they might have been unable to stop their feelings for him completely, they certainly tried hard and there is no chance for reconciliation. Did his family still love him? It is baffling to me that some families would stand by their children if they used drugs, stole, embezzled, would visit them in prison… just as long as they are not gay. Why do you think is sexual orientation such a big deal that parents would disown their children? Is it fear, religion, hatred in their hearts or spread by others?
Nothing like asking the impossible question! I honestly don’t know. I am not a parent and I can’t begin to understand how a parent feels about his or her child, but I have oodles of nieces and nephews and second cousins and it’s completely unfathomable to me that I would stop loving them for anything (short of maybe murder, and even then it would depend on the circumstances). How a parent can abandon their child over who they are is baffling to me.
I think it’s complex for most people; a combination of fear, religion, hatred, and what they learn from others. In Stephen’s case, it was fear and religion primarily, and that’s the same for Russ’ Aunt Caroline. I doubt it’s ever just one factor. Hopefully the fear of the unknown aspect is getting better as more people see more real life gay couples, but unfortunately I feel like we still have a very long way to go.
Question 9: While Stephen never had a chance to put things right with his family, Russ has taken the experiences from ‘Partners’ as a wake-up call and decided to get closer to his family, as long as he is still able to. Everyone seems to be trying hard and while it wasn’t easy and at times awkward, it looks like Russ’ family will be able to heal and grow together again. What kept them apart for so long?
Well, when Aunt Caroline convinced Addie that her brother was someone to be feared, someone she couldn’t trust, someone sinful and evil, it created a huge rift in the family. Russ and his father became a separate family from Addie and Caroline and that continued until Russ was well into adulthood. Russ is also to blame for a lot of the distance between him and his father. It wasn’t intentional, they still loved each other, but he was working himself into exhaustion to pay for school and he just didn’t have the time to visit his father. Alan is pretty gruff and quiet, doesn’t like to talk on the phone, and doesn’t use email, so communication between them was pretty limited. They sort of drifted apart until the wake-up call of Stephen’s father’s death and Addie’s assault shocked them into realizing that they needed to make changes.
Question 10: I firmly believe that no one is born racist, sexist or homophobic. It was really sad to me that Addie was raised to hate her brother and gay people in general. Hatred should never be taught to children and I wished everyone wanted their children open-minded and accepting. She is trying hard though and I loved that she wasn’t the only one with prejudices. We all have certain expectations about what is ‘normal’. We love to put people in boxes and we do it instinctively. Do you think Addie should be off-the-hook for her very hurtful behavior in the past and have you ever had a moment like Stephen, when you realized your own prejudices?
I don’t think Addie should be off-the-hook for the way she acted toward Russ in the past at all. I do think she should be forgiven though. She worked toward becoming a more open-minded person and learning from her mistakes and I think that goes a huge way. People makes mistakes, they get things wrong, but being willing to admit that you screwed up and learning from it is everything. I would never hold someone’s past actions against them once I was convinced they made a sincere, honest change.
A class I took in college about disabilities made me very aware of my prejudices about people with disabilities. It was a real eye-opener for me and I took a long hard look at how I spoke to an interacted with people with disabilities of all sorts. It’s something that really helped me in my day job working at a hospital and really has carried through to every aspect of my life and made me think about all type of prejudices. I am sure I still make mistakes but I honestly try my best to be aware and constantly learning and I think that’s all anyone can do.
Question 11: Do you plan to continue the series in some way, turn it or other books into audio or do you have other upcoming books or projects you want to tell us about?
Audio books are something I really haven’t looked into. I know a lot of readers are huge fans but personally, I don’t enjoy them. They are probably something I would look into if there was enough interest, but for now I feel like I’m juggling enough.
I do plan to continue the series. In fact, I have already continued it. As I mentioned above, I wrote a spin-off novel based around Evan Harris, the young man working at the funeral home in Putnam who Russ meets. I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a longer story, so it was planned as a novel from the get-go. Connection takes places before Husbands starts and ends at roughly the same point Husbands takes place (plus a little epilogue that gives a glimpse into the future of all four men).
The bulk of Connection was written before Husbands and it is going through its second round of beta edits. I’ve planned a tentative release date for early June.
I am also working on putting together paperback books for all four of Russ and Stephen’s stories (probably combined into one volume) and then a second volume for Connection.
Later in the summer I’ll be releasing a novel I’ve been working on for quite a while. It’s about a hockey player and a theater student called Bully & Exit that I just finished the first round of beta edits for this week.
*waves* Thank you all for listening to me ramble and thanks for having me here, Marc!
Russ is ready to make a lifelong commitment to his partner. That means marriage to him, but Stephen grew up believing that was out of the question. With marriage equality still not recognized in Georgia, Stephen is only concerned about the legal protection available to them.
Someone from Stephen’s past reappears and drives a wedge between them as Russ and Stephen struggle to agree on their future. Russ tries to understand Stephen’s complex feelings about marriage, but the differences in their background stresses the relationship further. Can the relationship they’ve built overcome the issues they face?
Russ had been fourteen when Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. State after state joined the ranks, and in the last few years it seemed to be gaining momentum. It was only a matter of time before marriage equality swept the nation. He’d grown up with the idea that someday he’d have the right to marry the man he loved. If he wanted it–and right now, he wanted it more than anything else in the world–there would be nothing to stop him.
Except, his partner–the one he’d been so sure wanted the same thing–apparently didn’t.
“How’d you know I was up here?” he asked hoarsely.
Stephen’s gaze lifted, his smile sad. “Because I know you.”
Russ’ tongue felt thick all of a sudden, unwieldy in his mouth. “I thought I knew you.”
The look of hurt in Stephen’s gaze was shattering, but no more so than the earlier rejection. “Can we talk?”
“I’m not sure what there is to say.” Russ walked out of the pool, limbs heavy after the grueling swim and time spent floating in the water. It was almost like the feeling of being back on land after spending a day on a boat. Except that made him think of sailing with Stephen, which was too painful to consider right now. “I asked you to marry me, and it’s not something you want. There really isn’t a compromise.”
Word Count: 44,434
10% of the proceeds from Husbands will go toward Atlanta’s Lost-n-Found Youth center.
Brigham Vaughn has always been a voracious reader with her own stories to tell. After many years of abandoned plots, something finally clicked. Now she’s eating, sleeping, and breathing writing and is excited to have finally figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. In the little time that isn’t spent writing or reading, she loves cooking, yoga, photography, and remodeling her ninety-year-old home. Brigham lives in Michigan with her three cats and an amazing husband who has always been her biggest champion.
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