If you’re a reader, I’m sure you have. That’s one of the reasons we read books. And that was the experience I had when I read Edmond Manning’s King Perry. At the time, I was going through a very painful flare of a chronic illness and was looking for anything to distract me. And that’s all I expected—a distraction to take my mind off the pain. What I got was so much more. It contains incredible insights into loss, suffering, trust and the nature of love, while also being incredibly funny and uplifting. The main character, Vin Vanbly, is one of the most fascinating characters I have ever encountered. It’s a book that benefits strongly from going in completely blind, so I’m not going to spoil it for you. (Although I will say two things: 1) Put your trust in Vin, even when it seems like he doesn't deserve it; and 2) Nothing bad happens to the duck.)
You can buy it on Amazon here, which I suggest you do ASAP. And wonderfully, there are SIX books in the Lost and Founds series: King Mai, The Butterfly King, King John, Come Back to Me, and King Daniel. The series is complete, so you lucky readers who are coming into it now for the first time won't have to wait for the next book!
These books also meant a lot to me as a writer. All writers have their heroes, but most of the time, those heroes are either totally inaccessible, or dead. It really never occurred to me that I could actually, you know, talk to the guy. But then one day I decided why not try? And guess what? HE WROTE BACK! AND HE AGREED TO AN INTERVIEW! Without further ado, here it is!
Do you remember which came first—Vin or the idea of the Lost Kings? Or were they a packaged deal?
Package deal. This answer starts out sounding a little pervy. But here goes.
In 2007, I started chatting online with this nineteen-year-old. (I warned you…sounds pervy.) He was closeted and confident he could never come out. Never. He confessed he was aroused by some “weird stuff” in his opinion, and he doubted he would ever find anyone into similar expressions of his sexuality. He was very cagey and secretive because he didn’t want to share his “weird stuff” with me. Which was fine. We didn’t start out chatting about sex. We were just chatting online. I think he wanted an out/older gay man to talk to about his issues.
Over a few months, he eventually confessed his secret lusts: he fantasized about being dominated by another man. He didn’t want a “Get me a beer, you faggot bitch” kind of experience. He didn’t want to be tied to a wooden cross or chained to a wall in someone’s basement. He was turned on by the idea of being lovingly dominated…loved by a man who truly had his very best in his heart.
(He was also aroused by the idea of cigar smoke, which he thought was just too eccentric for any other man to share. He was shocked when I explained that there are entire fetish weekends devoted to cigar fetish. ☺)
I also tried to convince him that ‘loving domination’ wasn’t that unusual but he refused to believe me. He had never seen anything like that in books or in movies or anywhere, really. What he had seen was controlling and questionable in terms of whose benefit it served. I’m sure loving domination books were available but at the time I wasn’t very well read in M4M, so I couldn’t direct him toward anything.
When he and I started chatting, I was busy writing the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL but I took a break to write him a short story about a loving, dominating guy named Vin Vanbly. Vin’s passion was to discover the very best inside the rich loving hearts of the men he dominated. Since this wasn’t serious fiction, I tossed in some Joseph Campbell hero’s journey stuff, masculine archetypes (warrior, lover, magician, king), and ridiculous stories about kings. I posted the short story online and promised to let my young friend know if I received any feedback.
Wow, did I get feedback.
Emails poured in from men and women around the world who really responded to Vin’s strange love, his goofy approach to domination. I realized that I was more interested in writing this story about Vin and his kings than the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL I had been working on. Because I didn’t extend the same enormous expectations and pressure on Vin’s story that I did the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, I wrote in a much more relaxed, freer way, closer to my authentic writer’s voice than I had ever done before.
I shared a number of email responses with my online friend who was thrilled to know he wasn’t a freak. I’m no longer in contact with that nineteen-year-old (who would now be twenty-nine). I hope he came out of the closet. I hope he realized he didn’t have to be alone.
I will always be indebted to this young man for introducing me to Vin Vanbly, a fictional friend who would shape the next decade of my writing.
This is really fascinating! I think that this is something that’s very important to being a writer—opening yourself up to other people and seeing what comes of it. You can’t really write good fiction if you don’t understand people. I think it’s awesome that you were able to help that young man explore his desires, and you’ve obviously touched a chord with many other people.
Thank you. Like I said, I have no idea what happened to him. We lost touch. The last time I had any contact with him, King Perry was getting ready to be published by Dreamspinner, and I was able to tell him how much my life had changed by interacting with him.
I LOL’d at the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. It’s a little depressing that as a culture, we have this idea of what constitutes Important and Literary writing, when, as you said, writing is better when you develop your own voice. I’m so glad that you were able to find yours!
Yeah, it’s pretty fucked up. I spent so much time focused on the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, potentially a decade or more ignoring the stories that were mine to tell because they weren’t grand enough or wouldn’t earn me enough praise or something. I can’t really blame culture for that—that’s on me. It took me a long time to listen to my voice.
Over the weekend, I had dinner with a friend’s friend, and she likes to write. She has a desire to tell stories, but she’s worried she doesn’t have a GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL inside her, and therefore, nothing to say. We spent a lot of time talking about that fallacy, and how to move beyond it—so at least I know I’m not alone in being distracted by that seductive call.
If I tell people that the Lost and Found series is about people going on a spiritual quest toward self-enlightenment, it sounds way fluffier than the books are. It’s more like the most hardcore exposure therapy that has ever existed, with enormous pain and struggle. At the same time, humor is a big component of the series. Was it difficult to balance those elements?
Nobody ever asks about how these three conflicting icebergs of therapy, ideology, and humor come smashing together, so thank you!
I have a Masters degree in Instructional Technology, an emphasis in how adults learn. What experiences change them? My specific area of study in graduate school was the affective domain: how do people learn and internalize beliefs, attitudes, and emotions? That’s what I’ve been studying for my work career for twenty-five years.
In some ways, the king books are an extension of my career. How do people unlearn emotions? Learn new ways of opening their hearts? There’s an entire psychological scaffolding behind each kinging—certain interior walls are deconstructed and new mental/heart structures erected. That kind of mental deconstruction and construction can’t happen non-stop. But you can get a person to do a lot more if you intersperse humor, food, and sex. Those three make everything more palatable. So, really, I used my study of how people learn to develop a plan for how those elements came together.
It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ve got a degree in this! It makes sense that the process is more effective with those little “release valves” of humor and sex. I know as a reader, there were definitely times when I needed to catch my breath.
Absolutely. Emotional intensity, psychological intensity, not knowing what’s happening next…these are exhausting for readers. I get negative reviews online from folks whose biggest complaint is that they “…didn’t know know what was going to happen next—and I hate that!” I get it. Living in “limbo” for 250 pages is tiring.
The books were written non-chronologically—how did you decide which story to tell when?
I wrote Come Back To Me First. (The short story I wrote for the guy online was Mark and Vin’s story, how they met in a parking lot for the first time and had great sex in a motel room.) It had a different title and wasn’t very polished, quite frankly.
As I mentioned earlier in this document, the story brought me lots of feedback and a new appreciation for voice and the character, Vin Vanbly. I thought to myself, “I bet I could write full novels leading up to how he and Mark met…his strange and lonely life prior to Mark.”
As I pondered the concept and how to work it, I realized that the first book would show Vin polished and powerful—the magician working his craft. He’d be very good, almost flawless, and readers would see a *little* behind the curtain, but not too much. This is “Vin the magician.”
I also realized that this same approach would be boring to read in a second book. Or third. King Perry—as a premise—could only work once exactly like that. And since it wouldn’t be interesting to see Vin get even BETTER at this, that meant we’d have to see Vin get worse. And the way to show him get worse was to show his earlier experiences.
I kept thinking, “But you can’t have the sequel be a prequel and then a prequel to the prequel…you just can’t!” I’d go round-and-round with the premise, what I could show and how, when to show it, what would be revealed. I eventually decided going backward chronologically would give me the opportunity to delve into Vin’s mistakes. One book post-KP (which ended up being King John) would show Vin fail in a completely new way, but also show the toll all these times of being in love and never working out were taking on his already-fractured psyche.
So, I decided that I could work this king premise a total of four times before the books became predictable or just not-as-good.
I could write another 30 paragraphs on why Mai’s tale comes after Perry’s story but chronologically comes before Perry’s story, and why Rance comes after Mai, but before Mai…lots of weird justifications around those decisions. A lot of it had to do with:
• Where Vin was at in his life
• The personality of the man
• The messages about love to be revealed
• Which masculine archetypes (lover, warrior, magician, king) were focused on in each book
All of these were part of the equation. That’s a high-level answer. Ask follow-up questions if you like.
This actually confirms a lot of what I already thought, so yay to me being right! I feel like the order tells the story of Vin and the Kings perfectly. I am surprised that Come Back to Me was written first, though. That makes sense with how different it is from the rest of the books. It also makes sense as the fifth book in the series, since that’s where you really see Vin come undone. The last book brings it all full circle.
I’m so glad it works and confirms some internal knowing for you! When I explain this process, how the books came about, the reason for the sequence, people instantly get it. The premise of King Perry could only work once. The craziness of plans awry in The Butterfly King could only work once. Told in the wrong sequence, people would be like, “Yeah, saw this coming a mile away.” I wanted to keep each book a surprise.
There's a mystical component to the books that I was never quite sure how literally to take. I think that the books are better with the ambiguity, so I'm not looking for a direct answer! But I was wondering how you approached it as a writer.
I like the ambiguity myself. For the first two books, I really wanted that air of, “Is this real or is Vin Vanbly mentally deranged?” Even after all the good he does, you’re not quite sure. In King Mai, the second book, Mai asks, “Who’s Perry?” Vin will meet Perry three years later. But…Perry might also be the name of a boy Mai knew as a kid, so it’s not clear if he’s channeling some sort of secret king wisdom or it’s a childhood friend. Those kind of moments are fun, I think, because you can take the interpretation however you want.
On the other hand (and this gets back to the obligation an author owes a reader), there comes a point at which the author can’t keep shrugging his shoulders and saying, “Maybe…” The popular television show, the X-files, kept jerking around viewers for literally YEARS with “are aliens real or not?” Just when they convinced you the aliens are real, it turns out that it’s a government cover-up operation for a drug ring or something mundane. But the drug ring is a cover up for the alien black goo! But the alien black goo is a biological weapon sponsored by a corrupt judge. But the judge was abducted by aliens!
They kept going back and forth, never committing to a narrative until they just lost peoples’ interest. I like ambiguity…and I do feel the series ends without ever really explaining too much about that mysticism. But during the third book, The Butterfly King, I realized I had to get off the fence. One of the characters, Aric, confirms through his observation of Rance that somehow, the king thing is real. But in the next scene, we finally meet Malcolm, Vin’s brother, who has known Vin for years and doesn’t believe (it seems) in the Found Kings and Lost Ones. The series ends without readers knowing how much Malcolm believes or doesn’t believe.
It’s the point you raised earlier—what’s the author’s obligation to explain? Ultimately, I wanted the readers to decide: is this a fun story or could there be another reality layer to our reality? It boils down to this: do you believe?
Ha ha, don’t get me started on The X-Files! Lost was another show that really struggled with that. I think there’s a difference between being ambiguous and being misleading. One respects the audience’s intelligence, and the other just jerks people around in an exhausting way. I don’t think I’ve really decided where I stand with the Lost and Founds, but that’s the way I like it!
LOST! Those &@#^$^#@$!! During Season 1 of that show, I kept telling people, “It’s like someone watched the X-files and learned from that show’s messy narrative…it’s going to work out great on LOST. There’s a plan!” Ugh. Not so much. I mean, not a satisfying one in any way. (Although I did like Season 5, I will admit.)
People have asked me what happens next for Vin and Mark. If I keep writing those books, and I definitely have ideas…it will destroy all the delicate balance of mysticism in the first six books and I’m not quite ready to do that.
If you ever change your mind, I’d totally be up for it!
Thanks again for chatting with me—it’s been a pleasure!