Vastine Bondurant – Take That, And That!

Perils of Pauline

Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.  — Albert Camus

I’m approaching—with caution—a subject that’s on my mind. It’s on my mind a lot.

Angst. Angst in our writing. My writing included. Remember as I progress that I said, emphatically: MY WRITING, TOO.

All who know me have heard me gripe and moan about my weariness of angst in stories. Authors just can’t seem to write enough of it and readers just can’t seem to read enough of it.

What is it about angst? Why do we like to cry so much? Why are books given a Kleenex rating? The more hankies it takes to get through a book, the better.

Why do we get giddy with anticipation when an author warns us that we’ll need to buy stock in the tissue company when we read this book or that book?

Why do we cheer like lazy, over-fed Roman spectators at a gladiator bout when an author tells us—with a fiendish gleam in their words—that they just off’d a character or maimed them in some horrific way?

Piano Falling on Head

Why is a book that is light on angst called ‘fluff’? (Which I kind of find demeaning, as it seems to imply silliness and emptiness simply because it doesn’t include trauma). When—in all fairness—books in which nothing traumatic and tragic happens are usually as well written and as good as stories with those elements.

There’s a lot of debate on the subject. Some suggest that those who don’t like angst in their books are not in touch with real life and, therefore, cannot take the stuff in their reading either.

On that, I can only say. Whoa. Back up, baby. I know angst, I’ve known angst in my life. Angst and I are old buddies. As a mother who lost her son (son-in-law, but he was a son to me) to a long battle with cancer, I am no stranger to tragedy and trauma. So to suggest I can’t handle constant Kleenex use while reading because I’m not in touch with reality? Nuh-uh. Not so. You take that back.

A confession…

My beta read for one of my WIP’s and questioned me. Seems I’d—oh, geez, I’m blushing—thrown a handicap into the equation and she confronted me. She wanted to know why. She knew my stance on angst-for-the-sake-of angst and wondered why I, of all people, had decided to use this handicap. She cornered me. What did this condition add to the story, she wanted to know? I had to confess. Absolutely nothing. It was, I will admit, for sympathy. I, Vastine Bondurant, confess. I wanted to make it more dramatic.

But the funny part…

My newest novella, Glory Lands, does have an angst angle. I didn’t take pleasure in incorporating the element into the story. And by that I refer to the fact that I see so much joking in the author community about how we enjoy torturing our characters. The worse, the better, I hear. I’m never sure if this pride—a sort of medal of honor—in maiming and torturing is for deep impact, to make the book so shocking you can’t forget it. Who knows? And I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, it’s just the way it is. And, sugar pie, I’m not even going to say I’ll never pull that myself. My earliest and dearest mentor—a lovely Sicilian gentleman—always urged me to kill, kill. They will remember it, he said.

Romeo and Juliet

Camille Death Scene

And now. To the reason I’ve taken a hard look—a very careful audit—of my own motives when I go the angst route.

I got hit with my personal bottom line. My big internal question.

Are my characters compelling enough, can they draw enough emotion on their own—just by being ordinary humans—without suffering additional handicaps?

In my heart, the crucial factor…

Character depth. For me, writing a character without an external angst element—whether it be physical or mental—is almost like walking a tight rope without a net. No props to make him/her interesting. Just the naked, pure, ordinary person. Is my writing strong enough to just take an everyday Joe off the street and get to a reader’s heart without wounding him?

Can he just suffer plain ol’, normal heart aches like any guy and still capture a readers’ heart? Depends on how powerful I can paint him.

But can I do that? Like I wondered, is my writing strong enough? Or does he need a physical ailment to grab a heart? Can he just die inside over a lover and you’ll want to die with him because you love him so much?

Can he just be so very human that you relate to him just because?

Believe it or not, to carry that off is not easy. To create a character who is that strong is difficult, not to mention scary. To write him without a crutch, a ‘sure thing’ to grip the mind and heart. Nothing to lean on but his soul.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying physical and mental obstacles are not as real and as huge a factor in fiction as they are in real life. They are, and I use them myself. Remember, I DID tell you I use angst in my writing, too. I truly do.


I crave the challenge of trying to present an ordinary Joe who you just love to love, and cry when he cries, laugh when he laughs. And you do so because you see yourself in him, your deepest self. Not because I threw him off a cliff or cut off his arms or legs to tug your heart. But because I bared open his soul to you, every human bit of it. Warts and all.

He’s YOU when you break up with a lover. You’re not in a body cast, you’re not maimed, but do you hurt like hell.

He’s YOU when you fall in love all over again and your heart is about to bust with the goodness of it. You’re not in physical pain but you cry anyway because you hurt so good.

This quote by Gilbert K. Chesterton hit home with me: Nothing is poetical if plain daylight is not poetical; and no monster should amaze us if the normal man does not amaze. 

It took a while for it to sink it to me. But then I saw it. Normal, just plain normal, is a mighty force in itself and can run very, very deep. The character is the foundation. He’s got to touch us first, he has to be strong enough to make us care (or hate sometimes) all on his own. The angst should only make us bawl our guts out because it’s happening to HIM, not because it’s just angst.

So I wonder about my own writing. Can I make my characters that deep? Can I create a guy who—just by being a guy, a real, nothing-wrong-with-him-except-he’s-100%-human guy—can still grab a reader’s heart?

I’m going to put as much heart as I can into every character I write. I’m going to try to make sure they have enough human element to be recognizable to everyone who reads them. Not their faces, their bodies, their circumstances. But their souls.

Oh, sure, I’ll have angst in my books, too. I like it as much as the next person. But my biggest goal will be the characters FIRST. Make them beautiful enough inside—and by beautiful, I mean nothing but pure, simple, glorious human hearts—and anything else that falls into their lives…well…

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Guest Author Lou Sylvre – Give ‘em hell! Or, Why I Write Hard Times in Vasquez and James

Hello! I’m Lou Sylvre, author of the Vasquez and James books, including latest release in the suspense series, book 4, Saving Sonny James. Before I start out explaining why I’m constantly afflicting them with dread circumstances, let me say thank you to Charlie Cochet for letting me visit the Tea House and blog a bit. Also, I’d like to thank a reader (I’ll call her Ruby, though that’s not her real name) who is generous with both her praise for Vasquez and James and her thoughts about the couple’s adventures, even when she doesn’t agree with me.

Ruby said she sometimes wishes I’d lighten up a bit on Luki and Sonny.  Some of this post is almost verbatim from one of my responses, and the thing is I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this as clearly (I hope it’s clear) if she had not given me cause to think about it. So, thanks Ruby.  I value thoughtful and thought-provoking feedback because as an author it helps me grow, just like Luki and Sonny’s hard times help them grow…

How’s that for segue?

Main character Luki Vasquez has changed over the course of the four books in the suspense series. In book one, Loving Luki Vasquez, he seemed nearly impenetrable ice outside and supreme confidence inside. Although most readers (including  Ruby) continue to identify with him, some people lament that those traits have progressively become less prominent and unsullied. But it’s almost a truism to say that in fiction, one of the things that has to happen for a story to have any meaning at all is character growth. In a single book, we can often see change in the character that is overwhelmingly positive—and I think probably that’s what most see in Luki in Loving Luki Vasquez, and in the second main character, Sonny James, in Delsyn’s Blues. But in “real life” I believe change in a person always comes with an upside and a new challenge, and in a series if that doesn’t happen—speaking for myself as a reader as well as a writer—the growth begins to seem artificial, and difficult to sustain.

Rubiks_Cube_1982_Hungary stamp wiki comm licI can illustrate the idea by means of the Rubik’s cube–are you familiar? Lines of colors formed into a cube, which the player is supposed to arrange in lines of a single color. But if you turn one segment, unexpected colors pop up elsewhere, and this newly expressed puzzle is certainly no easier, very possibly more difficult to solve than the first. Even if it is solved—dare turn the sections once more, and it’s imperfect once more—or perhaps perfect, but a puzzle.

In people that unpredictable and unstable kind of change, or growth, makes us vulnerable. Luki, that strong, capable, smart, sexy, and supremely protective character in Loving Luki Vasquez, was far too fearful to allow himself to be vulnerable. So I (the author, after all) did him a favor and made him face that fear—and grow through it. He had resisted emotion and love for so many years, guarding his heart with ice even when getting his sexual needs met, as demonstrated in this short bit from Delsyn’s Blues (book 2). This paragraph follows a description of how he would engage such random partners simply by letting them know he’d chosen them, then take them to a posh hotel and, after taking certain steps for his safety and theirs…

He fucked them. Though there was some tenderness on his part, it bore no resemblance to lovemaking. He usually granted the man something resembling a smile, which invariably turned the man to putty—though that wasn’t why Luki did it; he wanted Lawrence or William or Ray, or whatever name he’d picked up this time, to understand that his—Luki’s—ice wasn’t because he found him lacking.

The sequence in the book goes on to describe the cool, cool encounter, but it also shows what Luki does when it ends, and the reader gets a glimpse of the softness Luki fears, buried deep in his own heart.

In the first flush of love for Sonny, once he allowed it, the vulnerability was barely detectable, but, well, here’s another little bit from Luki’s own mind, this from Saving Sonny James:

The crux of the matter was that he’d lost himself, pure and simple—lost that fortress of self he’d previously constructed around all his history of need and trauma and—until Sonny—solitude. Luki’s therapist, Dee, had stated her theory that one big reason Luki’s most recent trauma—what she called moral injury—had been able to penetrate his toughened skin was because of Sonny. Luki had removed some stones from his figurative castle’s curtain wall in order to let love from and for Sonny inside; unfortunately, in doing so, he also let in some less desirable things. Fear. Empathy. Horror. Even, on some level, self-loathing.

Luki thought Dee might be right to a point, but he secretly disagreed when she said he had to knock the whole “castle” down and rebuild for his own good, his own well-being. She didn’t understand—at least not yet. Luki had been exactly who Luki Vasquez wanted to be. Sonny had been like dawn piercing deep, dense night, and Luki knew nothing, nobody ever could change Luki’s world like Sonny had. Luki’s heart had never been cold, and he’d never been free of fear. He’d only trained himself to act despite empathy and terror and horror. Yes, maybe Sonny’s arrow to his heart had created a path, or a weak spot. But Luki didn’t want to, and he’d swear he didn’t need to, stop being Luki. All he had to do was find a way to put the horror of the dying green-eyed boy to rest—for Sonny as much as for himself. And maybe for Kaholo, Jackie, Josh. Because he was what he was; simply put, he was their curtain wall. 

That was the self he’d lost—Luki Vasquez the protector, the first and last line of defense. It followed: for Luki Vasquez, getting back his self would require getting back the edge for which he was both famed and feared. That edge had been forged of equal parts reality and illusion, but it defined him in the eyes of others, and even in his own eyes much of the time. So he worked at getting it back.

Yes, Luki is more vulnerable, less confident even after he begins to “get it back.” But what I appreciate about the growth Luki showed me (yes, he showed me) as this story developed is that he is learning to integrate empathy and fear and hope and even to waver in his ability to make decisions, yet still do what needs to be done. In the “suspense” story line, this definitely shows in his finding Sonny and confronting the danger, but the vulnerability also shows–what if he stops the wrong IV pump, or the right one but the wrong thing happens? (How’s that for a teaser?)

To sum up, I think Luki has become more human, and I like him that way. I hope you do, too.

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Luki Vasquez and his still newlywed husband are back home after pulling off a harrowing desert rescue of their teenage nephew Jackie. But the events of the last couple of years have begun to catch up with Luki—loving Sonny James and letting Sonny love him back has left gaps in his emotional armor. In the gunfight that secured Jackie’s rescue, Luki’s bullet killed a young guard, an innocent boy in Luki’s mind. In the grip of PTSD, memories, flashbacks, and nightmares consume him, and he falls into deep, almost vegetative depression.

Sonny devotes his days to helping Luki, putting his own career on hold, even passing up a European tour of galleries and schools—an opportunity that might never come again. But when Luki’s parasomnia turns his nightmares into real-world terror, it breaks the gridlock. Sonny realizes what he’s doing isn’t working, and he says yes to Europe. Enter Harold Breslin, a dangerously intelligent artist’s promoter and embezzler whose obsessive desire for Sonny is exceeded only by his narcissism. When Harold’s plan for Sonny turns poisonous, Luki must break free of PTSD and get to France fit and ready in time to save his husband’s life.

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Author Christopher Hawthorne Moss: Where do you get your ideas?

Authors get this question all the time.  Well, so I hear.  I’m an author, of GLBT novels and stories, so just in case anyone ever asks me that, I’m ready.  I discovered with my first novel precisely where the ideas originate.

My own experience?  Or perhaps  my fertile imagination?  Those were what I thought at first, writing as I did a novel taken from stories an 11 year old friend and a 12 year old me wrote and turning them into a novel.  (I decided when I was much – much — older that since I had had sex now, I could write about it.)  It appeared to me that since the characters were good friends from pre-teenhood, I was writing through at least their experience and my imagination.

By the time the 600+ page tome was in print I began to realize something, pretty  much a spiritual vision, you could say, about just how that process came about – both times – that only providentially had anything to do with my experience or even my imagination.  I am here today, sisters and brothers, to share with you what I discovered.

You have heard of dimensions.  We talk about the three dimensions, this way, that way and up or down.  I seem to remember someone talking about a few more, of time and min.  I don’t know about those, but I do know about the one that is the source of fiction.  I don’t know what it’s called, but does that really matter?  Labels, labels, labels.  We don’t need no stinkin’ labels.

The dimension I speak of is where characters live.  They wait around from time immemorial for their author first to come into existence and then to get on the stick and draw them out into our own world.  Sad to say most characters are still in their dimension, waiting perhaps for the whole cycle to restart so they get another stab at an author.

Their recompense for all this waiting is that they get to stay once liberated from their Giant Waiting Room in the Ether.  Once an author frees them from Obscurity, they live as long as there are readers, or at least listeners and viewers.  The author shuffles of this mortal coil, but the characters and their stories are forever.  Or for a freakin’ good long time anyway.

I am surprised I did not realize this at first.  You see, the very reason I wrote my first novel at 56 is that I had revisited what my friend and I had called “The Story”.  Since the so-called friend had zero interest – zip – goose eggs – nada – in returning to the story, about which I learned she had never told a single soul – horrors – I’d better write them up and publish them as a novel or they would go the way of all flesh, including brain cells when said flesh was no more.  I fooled myself into thinking that I was the intelligence behind that decision.  Nuh-uh.

I mean, think about it.  Which is stronger: protective instincts or self-preservation?  These characters had once used my adolescent smash on my friend to get a toe in the literary door, only to see that they would slip back out through the same door.  They had tasted liberty, so they had more incentive to clamor for another chance and most characters do.  They found another way to get me, their predestined author, to start writing them again.  And it was then that realized my greater age this time meant they got to have sex.

I had one more reason to have figured this out.  Sometime through the writing of that novel I realized I was at a dead end with the plot.  It occurred to me to ask the characters what should transpire.  They helped wonderfully, at least until the conversation, a sort of panel discussion, inevitably deteriorated into a fist fight between the two rivals for the heart of the lady fair.

This crowd was lucky.  They grabbed my attention before I realized I was gay.  So the flagrant heterosexuality slipped in before I switched to nothing but gay fiction.  Ironically my second book was written when I still thought I was a straight female.  As such I wrote about a woman who felt more like a man, wanted to don a knight’s armor and live as a man.  Oh.  I see.  She’s me.  So now I know I am a gay man, transgender.  It seems like my characters have been writing me as much or more than I have been writing them.

I guess I must be doing justice by them, since they never act smug about my temporariness.  And I am grateful to realize that whatever crumbled pile of ashes I become they will always be here in the minds and, in the case of fan fiction, will continue to live as long as there are humans – or maybe uplifted cats and dogs – to read and write about them.

In other words, I don’t get ideas — they got me.


Christopher Hawthorne Moss lives with his husband and their godlike cats in the Pacific Northwest.  His books are:



Loving the Goddess Within, under the name Nan Hawthorne, 1991



An Involuntary King, the novel aforementioned, under that same author name, 2008,  You can find his pre-teen stories at An Involuntary King: The Stories


Beloved Pilgrim, formerly under the name Nan Hawthorne but soon to be released as a transgender historical novel by Christopher Hawthorne Moss, 2011 and 2014 Harmony Ink Press TBA


Where My Love Lies Dreaming300

Where my Love Lies Dreaming, by Christopher Hawthorne Moss published in July 2013 by Dreamspinner Press.  Frankie and Johnny are thrilled to be finalists in the 2013 Rainbow Books awards.


He reviews one book after another for That’s All I Read and is an editor/reviewer for GLBT Bookshelf .  You can find a few short stories of his about, including in the anthology Closet Capers, 2013



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Learn more about Christopher Hawthorne Moss at and contact him at Facebook at .