I’m thrilled to welcome Edmond Manning to visit my blog today. The Lost and Founds captured my head and my heart from the beginning, and King John had me crying in public, which only happens in darkened theaters while I’m sitting in the back row. Now let’s see what makes this storyteller tick.
Answered by Edmond Manning
- When did you realize you were a writer?
I’ve been writing fiction since I was 20 but swear to god, I never really thought of myself as a writer. I always just kind of…wrote. People would ask me if I had hobbies and I’d say, “Writing fiction” and they’d say, “Oh, you’re a writer.” I’d look at them in horror and say, “No, no. Not at all. It’s just a hobby.”
When I finished the first draft to King Perry, a book that spiralled out of me, dancing, laughing, out-of-control, utilizing literary techniques and a strong voice that left me dizzy and rewriting the same sentences 15 times for the perfect nuanced meaning, I finally realized, “I’m a writer.”
- How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?
Oh, I think that ship has already sailed—offending people by sharing too much. Hahaha. It’s interesting to me…people often make the wrong assumptions about autobiographical elements. They assume the physical stuff is autobiographical: Edmond, you look like the narrator Vin, so did you grow up in foster care? Did you ever spend the night on Alcatraz?
The real autobiographical “reveals” are in the small sentences that hurt, when a character says something significant, but nobody notices. In King John, there’s this line thought by the narrator:
Yes, there are worse tragedies in the world than a pianoless piano player who wants to play. But his heart is breaking because he expected love and got none, and that burden, whatever the circumstances, breaks us all.
Shhhhh. That’s me. Right there. I’ve experienced that hurt, and it kills.
- Your king books don’t have a traditional HEA, which is the kiss of death for sales. You expect readers to endure a story told by a disjointed, word-fixated narrator, and assume they will adapt. You tell the story from Vin’s perspective, but drive readers mad by letting them inside his head selectively, forcing empathy with the other main character in each book. Nobody can figure out who is the true protagonist is! Why on earth—as an unknown writer—would you make these choices?
Here’s the thing. For decades, I played it safe with my fiction writing. I was trying to do it “the right way,” which is always a trap for someone like me, a rule-follower. I had read books about writing and followed the rules for writing good fiction. I was a decent writer. But on some level, I didn’t really get how to play and dance with words. I didn’t push myself.
In 2008, I wrote a short story I didn’t think much about. I was writing it for a friend, and it was a distraction from my serious fiction, the Great American Novel. Didn’t care much about this short story…I just started throwing in Joseph Campbell hero journey stuff, ancient masculine archetypes, shamanistic healing, and married it to an insane kingdom with ridiculous kings who felt more real than illusion. The wounded and loveable narrator, Vin Vanbly appeared in that short story.
But guess what? This insane, blow-off story was richer, more fascinating, than anything I had ever written before. The writing challenges were immense. Yet the language flowed around me, refreshing me and feeding me as if I were standing under a waterfall. I never had so much fun writing!
The challenges I set for myself may not be smart, but they make me alternately laugh and swear, which is the wild passion I had been missing in my decades of carefully-controlled writing.
- Do you read the reviews of your books on Goodreads? What do you think of the reviews from folks who clearly don’t like your books?
Yes, I read reviews. At first, I did respond to a few but have since then decided that this space is the reader’s time to air their beefs, share their love or hate, and not get feedback from the author. Well, that’s my opinion. I want to respect the reader’s right to yell and scream. Some days it’s hard not to chime in.
For example, one reviewer who didn’t like King Perry ranted about my not including enough details and glossing over certain points. This person kept calling the main character “Van.” I really wanted to respond and say, “Hey, speaking of glossing over details, you haven’t got the main character’s first name—mentioned 3,000 times—correct.” Authors want to be bitchy sometimes.
But I do learn a lot from the reviews, positive and negative. One negative review was so well written that I started laughing. She hated my book, yet I couldn’t help but laugh at her eloquence. I almost wanted to email her to thank her for the clever, thoughtful review but was worried my email would come across as somehow snarky or placating, so I never contacted her. But I respected how she wrote her review.
Some negative reviewers have absolutely NAILED future plot points or things I was hoping someone would notice. The people who have been upset by Vin’s manipulation – yes! YES! I’m dying to talk about that myself but can’t or else I’ll give away plot spoilers. But short version: you’re right. He shouldn’t manipulate others this way. There will be a price to pay.
There are others who just don’t like the books I write, and that’s fine. I don’t love everything I read either. My friend Tony used to call each king novel “A book of spells” and I’m inclined to agree—you either fall under the spell or you don’t. If you don’t fall under its spell, you’re left saying, “I don’t get it. What happened? Did anyone else think this narrator was insufferable?” My magic writing mojo won’t work on everyone. And that’s okay.
Of course, I enjoy reading reviews of people who really loved the book and how it opened their heart. That makes me crazy happy. On days when I am discouraged, I will go read those reviews.
With either positive or negative reviews, I’ve learned to develop a thicker skin, so I don’t let the poison in too much, nor do I let the flattery go to my head. It was definitely a skill I developed the first year after being published. For a while it was difficult to read reviews. Now, less so.
- Can you explain something about what it means to find the king or queen within you?
I think to live life as a king or queen you have to look around the flawed, impossible world we live in and say, “What can I do with this broken world today? How do I make it all better?” And not necessarily by donating money or picking up trash (although those things are wonderful) but by living out your unique flavor of giftedness, the love nobody else in the world can give but you. Living from that inner glow, that sparkling presence, is what kingship or queenship means to me. When I look around, I can spot a few people living it. They’re awesome.
- How did the character of Vin Vanbly first come about? I understand you’ve written him in the past.
As mentioned a few questions ago, back in 2008, I took a break from writing the Great American Novel to write some fun, frothy raunch about a chunky bear who happened to possess this spooky, sexual prowess. I wrote two chapters which I posted online and didn’t even know this character’s first name. (Narrated in first person, he never spoke his name, not once.) And because this was a writing exercise, nothing more, I let the character just go where he wanted to go. He was physically ordinary, obsessed with food, had crazy word issues.
I kept asking the character, “Are you a Bob? A Robert? Is your name sexy, like Luther? Do you go by something aristocratic, like William or Percival?” This character never answered. After two weeks of pondering this, he finally revealed his cheesy name: Vin Vanbly. Sounded fake but I went with it.
I posted 16 chapters total (no longer available online) and heard from hundreds of readers around the world. The response overwhelmed me, actually, the things people shared and how they felt, why they loved Vin. I was shocked by the raw emotions Vin unlocked in others.
A few weeks after that, Vin’s whole life flashed before me and at last I understood the chain of events unleashing this loving, sexual weirdo on the world. Looking back, I think the character revealed his whole history to me because I listened and agreed he could be Vin Vanbly even though at the time I thought it was ridiculous name. Now, I love his name.
- If you could choose to have a different creative gift, what would it be?
Easy question: painting. I’m fascinated by painters. Anyone who can stare at a blank canvas and see colors and shapes instead of white nothingness, well, it astounds me. In writing, sure you face a blank white screen, but you just start typing anything—gibberish sentences if you please—because you can go back and delete whole chapters if they’re terrible. In painting, it’s hard to hide a brush stroke that’s a misstep. I realize painters sometimes throw away canvases that aren’t working, but still, I find the whole process from original vision to careful color selection—and then daring to make those first broad strokes—to be genius. I own several original works of art and I still stop in my own living room or dining room to stare at them.
- Why do you hate Peeps so much?
Meh, I don’t. Not really. The texture bothers me and if I’m gonna eat sugar, I’d rather get it from a better-tasting source. But the Peep thing is one of those Facebook jokes that grew out of control.
- If you could be one of your characters – Who would you be? And why?
The King of Curiosity. I think it’s the most awesome king name, and I love that curiosity applies to an incredibly wide range of topics. I myself am frustrated that there’s not enough time in this lifetime to have 12 different careers and read every book on my list. In addition, nobody truly understands the King of Curiosity’s power, it’s quite a mystery, even to all the Found Kings. I like that.
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Edmond Manning is the author of the romance series, The Lost and Founds. The books in this series include King Perry, King Mai (a 2014 Lambda Literary finalist), The Butterfly King, and King John. King John takes place at Burning Man.
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Winner’s Prize: An eBook copy of King John
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About King John:
English attorney Alistair Robertson can’t quite believe an astonishing tale of kingship and transformation he hears at Burning Man, the annual counter-culture art festival in the Black Rock desert. Who are the Found Kings? Is “being kinged” as magical as it sounds?
Determined to find the mysterious garage mechanic named Vin who helps men “remember who they were always meant to be,” Alistair catches his quarry amid the extravagant sculptures, fire worshipers, mutant cars, and lavish costumes. After searching for three years, he’ll finally get to ask the question burning inside him: “Will you king me?”
Wandering together through the desert, Vin Vanbly and Alistair explore Burning Man’s gifting culture and exotic traditions, where they meet the best and worst of their fellow burners. Alistair’s overconfidence in Vin’s manipulative power collides with Vin’s obsessive need to save a sixteen-year-old runaway from a nightmarish fate, and the two men spiral in uncontrollable, explosive directions.
In this fourth adventure of The Lost and Founds, beneath the sweltering summer sun and the six billion midnight stars, one truth emerges, searing itself on their hearts: in the desert, everything burns.
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