Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 4 months ago

WB S1E2: Ron Block- Pride Month Special

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITER'S BLOCK: Celebrate Pride Month! Members of the LGBTQ community join host Ron Block to discuss their latest books and writing journeys. Guests are: Steven Rowley (The Guncle), P.J. Vernon (Bath Haus) and James Beard Award winning Chef, Virginia Willis (The Secrets of the Southern Table).

Welcome to the Friends and FictionWriter's Block podcast. Five new york times, bestselling novelists, endlessstories, joined mary Kay andrews, Kristen, Harmel, Christie Woodson,harvey paddy, Callaghan, Henry and mary Alice Munro along with librarian RonBlock As novelists were five longtime friends with more than 80 publishedbooks between us and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating authorinterviews and insider talk about publishing and writing. If you lovebooks and are curious about the writing world, you're in the right place. Friends and fiction is sponsored byMama Geraldine's bodacious food. Cathy Cunningham was a successful butunfulfilled radio executive in Atlanta one night while sipping wine andsnacking on expensive cheese straws, she realized her mama Geraldine's owncheese straw recipe was far superior. The idea for Cathy's company was bornMama Geraldine's cheese straws now come in six varieties and they are the bestselling cheese straw in the United States plus the cookies are melt inyour mouth, delicious yummy snacks and a woman owned empire. Now that issomething that we here at Friends and fiction can get behind. Try them,you'll be so glad that you did get 20% off on your online order at MamaGeraldine's.com with the Code Fab five Snack on Y'All. Welcome to a specialepisode of Friends and fiction writer's block. Today, we're celebrating PrideMonth. This is the month for members of the L G B T Q Plus community to shine,celebrate and reflect. I'm beyond excited to welcome three extremelytalented writers who each writing a little bit different genre. We'll bejoined by P. J. Vernon, author of the thriller, Bathhouse, Stephen Rowley,author of the touchingly hilarious book, the Gunkel and rounded out by JamesBeard, award winning chef Virginia Willis. First up is P. J vernon, P Jwas born in south Carolina. He was called a Rising Star thriller writer byLibrary Journal. His debut when You Find Me was both an audible plus numberone listen, An Associated Press Top 10 US audio book. His next novel,Bathhouse, praised as a nightmarish white knuckler by O the Oprah magazineAnd on so many top 10 lists of things to read and it's gotten so muchattention. Chris Bohjalian, who I admire greatly said bathhouses rivetinga gripping thriller about how quickly a life can unravel after a single baddecision. P. J. Vernon definitely reminds us that the terrifying traumasfrom childhood are often, but a prelude to the nightmares we will walk into hisadults. This book is stylish, smart and scary as hell. Welcome P. J. Thank youso much for having me Ron I am just over the moon excited to dive into thisconversation with you today. I am so excited about this because you know,I've read it already and I have told every living soul, I know that theybetter be on the list for this book. I think when we air it will have been outfor a few days. So I'm anticipating that we can have a part to when thepaperback release is that we can finish up how the success of the launch was.Love it game. Okay, let's do it. So, uh, Bathhouse, tell us about the book. Tellus the story. So Bathhouse is a thriller. As you say, it's pitched asgone girl with gays and grinder. It's about a young gay man, Oliver Park whomakes an epic mistake, many a string of epic mistakes. Um, and is desperate tokeep a very, very dangerous and discretion from his seemingly perfecthusband. Yes, Oliver and Nathan. So...

...what's the original the story I alwayslike to know like what was the colonel that kind of put this idea in your head?Yeah. I always joke. 2013 was a hell of a year for me in terms of in terms ofresearching and you know, I did all my grinder research exhaustively before Iever even knew I was going to be a writer writing about it. Um, so, sothat, you know, well of creativity was sort of baked in already. Um, but Iactually I had been, I had drafted what would become my debut when you find mea few years ago and was in the process of seeking literary representation forit. And um, you know, kind of as many authors, most authors I would I wouldguess could relate racking up rejection after rejection. Um, and so I thoughtto myself, you know, if I can't sell this book that I had, should back upand say written gay characters out of My initial instinct was to center anyany book I write on a gay couple, but because I was insecure, because Ifeared that it wouldn't sell, I preemptively took those characters outof it. Um which, you know, in retrospect is incredibly, you know, I Idon't punish myself for making those kinds of decisions, but it is certainly,you know, restrictive for my own work when when I'm not allowed to act whenI'm not giving myself permission to access, you know, my own livedexperiences. Uh and and to get that onto the page. But while my first bookwas sort of flaming out, I kind of had a screw at moment, I thought, you know,if I can't. Um so this one, why am I holding back? Why don't I write what Iwant to write? Which is something which is myself, might not autobiographically,but people like me on the page. Um and you know, I wrote like no one waswatching and no one cared because no one was watching and no one cared andit was liberating and I could be very honest and unflinching and go all sortsof places that felt natural to me. And that's sort of where the story camefrom, as far as, you know, the bathhouse aspect and how it opens. I Iwrote it simply with making it as gripping as I possibly could as earlyas I possibly could with the idea that, you know, if an agent lets me send apage along, um hopefully they won't be able to stop reading, they'll ask formore. And then of course that would translate into uh I hope casual readersfeeling the same way. Yeah, a couple of things. I think that you your firstbook was really, really good, very well received, but I think it's when youfind your true voice that you really hit your stride and I think this reallykind of pitch you in a really wonderful direction. But I also want to say thatit is a thriller that anybody can access. It's not something that youhave to be knowledgeable about the world of growing up gay or anything todo. Just, it's the kind of book where for me, it was so fast paced and youdid exactly what you said, You started right out of the gate with somethingreally kind of ah and then from there it just kept going and going and going.And I was turning page after page. I read it in one sitting and I think alot of people will do that to and who doesn't love a book like that right now.I I appreciate that so much. And it captures my own feelings entirely. Ididn't want to sit at the diversity table, I wanted to sit at the thrillertable just with characters who happened to be queer. And it's been incrediblyheartening to be reminded that readers literally just love a good storythriller, readers literally just love a good thriller and if you deliver that,that's all that they expect. Um and that's been incredibly encouraging tosee firsthand. So, um, tell everybody a little bit more about Oliver and Nathanwithout giving any spoilers, but it's kind of who they are and what theybring to the table in the story. Absolutely. So, Oliver and Nathan are,are two very different uh, sis gay men. Oliver is from small town indiana. Um,I'm from small town south Carolina and you know, never, never grew up in themidwest, but there's a lot of...

...similarities from small town to smalltown and a lot of things that, you know, folks can relate to their, but he, hehad arrived before. The story starts at a moment in his life where he was, hehad hit a rock bottom with personal challenges. He struggles with a brokenhome that he comes from a lot of, a lot of dark things that that happened um,there and in his past and of course, uh, in an opioid addiction, which he hadsort of bottomed out was right there on that precipice of finally getting help.He was in a rehab program. And, and that was when he met Nathan who waseverything that he isn't uh, Nathan is East coast, you know, monied familyvery for all intents and purposes. Waspy. Uh However you imagine uh thatthat to look and a successful trauma surgeon at walter reed in D. C. Andolder than Oliver by about a decade. And you know the two of them together.Their relationship is complicated. Um It's got you know as so many folksexperience co co dependencies um you know riddle it. There's it's being withsomeone is just as much about them being the right person for you as it isthe right timing when when you cross paths with them and unfortunately andthis isn't a spoiler. You know Nathan and Oliver everything else aside crosspaths at a time which might not have been the best because instead of Oliveryou know getting himself together and pointing himself in the right direction.He now had someone in Nathan who has um a Savior syndrome and very muchbelieves that if he abandons Oliver, Oliver will relapse and die. So thoseare, those are Nathan stakes before, before the story starts and it's justnot a good combination, it's not good timing. Um, and it's often easier to goalong with the inertia. So by the time the story starts, the relationship hassort of reached a homeostasis of stagnation. Uh, and you know, it'seasier just to go along with it than to open up and tell someone that you careabout what you're feeling and what you're missing and what you need. Yes.So I want to know about how you put the two points of view together and kind ofhow the story evolved, but in hearing you speak, I'm wondering also if thereare differences in their things are actually what you used to propel thestory. Yeah, so it's it's an interesting story, the original, I'm anunderwriter, meaning my early drafts of novels read like probably screenplays,not good ones. And you know, I just sort of have, I'll throw in like insertaction beat here later or develop this character later or win a Pulitzer witha line that you put here later. Um and I feel like it, you know, at that pointit was literally just Oliver's point of view. Um and that changed the story somuch or it made it into an entirely different animal. We didn't get Nathan,we didn't get a sense of again, what's at stake for him, what's motivating himand all the sorts of things that he's willing to do to mitigate what hebelieves is Oliver's impending relapse and ultimately um destruction. So it,the Nathan's point of view actually came quite a bit later after my editorrob bloom a double day, who was amazing, had taken a call with me, love thatfirst kind of a little underwritten manuscript and said, you know, I'd loveto take this on, but can you, can you add that connective tissue that thestory was sort of missing? And it was really the best thing I could havepossibly done because it just made the story, the stakes, the conflict pop ina way that just did not exist from one point of view. And as a uh genre thathinges on suspense, you know, nothing...

...genes that up more than readers gettinguh sneak peeks into two different characters minds, um where they'rewithholding things from one another, um, and interpreting events quitedifferently as well. Um, So Nathan Nathan P. O. V. Was a late add and itwas a great ad for sure. It was a great ad and it's so cool because you're kindof in both of their minds, but then you think, how can they pull that off? Andso that's how they do it and you think you don't know where it's going to goand boom, just, you think you're gonna be able to put the book down and youcan't, because you leave every, every chapter, like at the end, it's like, ohGod, trying to find out what happened, as I said, you have gotten unbelievablereviews for this, What's your reaction been to that? Oh my, I live in like, Ifeel I've never been asked this question before and uh it's almostfeverish, like I feel like I'm sort of in this like dreamlike state becauseyou know, every, every day I opened up my inbox, there's, there's somethingjust incredible um that just sets me off spinning in all the best ways.Super excited and it's, I'm trying really, really, really hard to staypresent and experience these moments at in some sort of timeline that's closeto how time actually progresses, because it feels like a whirlwind. Umand it's, it's, I'm incredibly fortunate to be experiencing it and Idon't, you know, I know that nothing is guaranteed in the future, life isuncertain, certainly, um there's, this could be uh maybe the only time Iexperienced all of this and I'm trying my damnedest to to hang onto everysecond. Um it's been a fever dream in all the best ways, I would say, I'd belike who are they talking about? Um So a public, we're kind of at the end of apandemic, but we're still in a pandemic. What does your public look like? Oh,it's a wild lots of panels. So I think on the day of publication I'll be atsan Francisco public library doing panels, got instagram live scheduledfor so many evenings bookstore events. I'm the official launch US launch willbe with a very good friend of mine and seriously, once in a generationstoryteller, um S a Cosby who of course, yeah, blacktop wasteland, incrediblerazor blade tears. Had me hearing an 80 piece orchestra in like the mostcinematic climax I could have imagined. Like, well, I I didn't matter. It was Ismelled everything, I smell gasoline, I smell, you know, all of these sorts ofthings. It was just incredible. So he'll be hanging out with me at viamurder by the book down in Houston. Um and I'm looking forward to that becauses a Cosby is just an incredible human being and any excuse to hang out withhim. I'm going to jump all over. I hear you, I'll be tuning into that. You kindof talked about this a little bit about not being true to your voice throughyour first book. What other obstacles might you have gone through in order toget here? Yeah. Um, so I'll be quite candid about it as well. Um, so I hadmentioned, I had sort of written Bath house before I sold my debut and then Isold my debut. Um, my agent chris Buchi is, is incredible. He's been just themost relentless, fabulous advocate for, for me and my work. Um, and, you know,unfortunately we didn't receive a very, you know, sort of the enthusiasticresponse for bath house that we were, we were both eager for, and, you know,because of all sorts of contract things and, and uh, first rights of refusalsand all all those sorts of things. We wound up having to wait um quite a bitbefore we were able to take bath house, you know, out into the wider publishingum world to see, you know, if if an editor out there just, you know, wouldpipe up and say I'm the right one for for this book, which fortunatelyhappened. But again, it wasn't easy, I...

...think, like, the waiting, you know,when you're insecure about about a book or or anything that's that's close toyou, um and, you know, will main mainstream, you know, readers acceptthis, will they love it? Will, you know, will I be sort of putting the niche uhspot? Um and, you know, everyone generals around it's it's time to readthe book, but no other time, sort of a sort of a thing. So to sort of have a,you know, less, again, less than enthusiastic response was a little like,oh, maybe my fears are valid. Maybe this is going to be a bit of a bit of astruggle. Um, and then, you know, again, just the process of, you know,submitting it to publishers, you know, receiving rejections, which, you know,writing is so subjective and I can't control a business case for acquiringanything for that matter. But, you know, some of the, some of the pastors wouldsay things, you know, like, oh, well we published a gay book or not exactly inthat way, but they would name check a title that's like nothing like, um,like my my novel and say, well we publish something just like this. So,you know, no, no thanks or those sorts of, so those sorts of things were quitechallenging. I will say for a project like this, it certainly needed to be incapable hands, but it needed to be in the right capable hands. And if nothingelse with my agent chris, my editor rob and the whole team a double day, I cansay that that absolutely happened. Um They're incredible with what they'vedone for this book and the resources that they put behind it. I'm sograteful for them. That's great because I love it that that they're still doing,Oh, you we've reached our quota. I'm sorry, but I'm so glad that they did.They've done a fabulous job with this and every aspect of the rollout hasbeen incredible. So there's rumors. I'm as a librarian. I have one of mysuperpowers is research. So I understand you have some ties to thelibrary system up in Calgary. Can you tell us about that? I sure do. I am alibrary advocate. Um I think libraries are literally every city's living room.They're incredible. Um I actually, when I moved up to Canada in a past life, Iwas an immunologist for the Defense department and I met my husband Barry,who's from Calgary up here in Canada, but at the time was doing a rotationover in europe, he's in um oil and gas and um you know, we were in a longdistance relationship, uh had to make a tough choice at the end of his rotationof who's gonna move where. Um and so I came up to Canada and um abandonedgainful employment. I'd love to be able to say I was courageous and going toredefine myself as an author. But what really happened was I I came up herewith without a job and for me that was quite a, quite a trauma as as someonewho had sort of defined himself for so long by a degree, which I'll alsomentioned, I was so driven to get because, you know, I'm a queer personfrom a very conservative community and and certainly wanted to compensate and,you know, bring something to the table for folks, you know, that might mightnot be making me feel so great for for being um for being who I am, um whichmeant a terminal degree and all of this other stuff. But once I, once I got uphere, um started writing and so I I had time on my hands. Um you know,publishing is a glacial process. Uh so I was like, you know, I I saw that thelibrary system Calgary public library was embarking on there huge capitalcampaign, the biggest one um in the history of Canada uh embodied by ournew central library here. Um, and I was like, I love books, I love people wholove books. I used to pay myself with grants that I would write. So I'dimagine I could, you know, fundraiser for the Library Foundation. And so Iwas for a few years, the development officer in charge of all of thecorporate government and philanthropic...

...funds development um, for that librarysystem. And I still volunteer in that capacity whenever I'm, I'm usefulenable. But libraries librarians, uh, love them. I don't know what world we'dbe without them. Um, and and all the things that they do um, for, for somany people. Yes, yeah. It's a great organization. It's open for all. Soit's, it's kind of like the great unification for everybody is a placeeverybody can go and learn and, and to take advantage of um, any favoriteauthors or L G B T Q books that you can recommend. Yeah, absolutely. So as uh,we've sort of touched on, it's been incredible watching all of these um,new splashy sort of large press queer books moving forward. Um, I think of,you know, john franz, the bright lands, which is a sort of southern Gothicfriday, you know, night Lights meets twin peaks, um, beautifully written andhorrifying uh, stunner of a book mike and Emma Rivers, these violent delightsabout two in 19 seventies Pittsburgh, which is where I went to grad school, acouple of uh college freshmen in a, you know, absolutely head over heels,soulfully infatuated with one another in an almost sort of eruptive violentway, because everything that they're doing is so transgressive to society atthe time. Um, and so they've got, you know, when two young people are headover heels in any situation, it can be thought, but when you're against abackground like that, it can be downright dangerous, and it is justbeautifully told story of how that kind of thing might unfold. Um And then I'vealso one more kelly j ford's um Cotton Mouth, which was out in 2017, I believe,from Sky Horse, about character, who's kind of forced to return to her smallsouthern hometown um which she had fled from as as a as a queer person andconfront that past unrequited love of a high school sweetheart who's there. Uhand, you know, it's a heartbreaking story um that's just got so much tosink your teeth into, specifically as a queer um reader myself. Wonderful.Wonderful. Well, PJ I cannot thank you enough. As you know, I'm a huge fan ofthe book and I I wish you every success with Bath House. I know it's going tobe big and anybody who's any sort of a thriller fan, this is the book for youthis summer. It's it's really, really worth every second of your time. Andyou will not be sorry, thank you so much for saying that and thank you forhaving me on. This was an absolute blast and I can't wait to do it again.Me too. I'm ready, paperback tour, maybe live there we go. Okay, well,Happy Pride and thank you again. Happy Pride. Next up is steven Rowley,Stephen Rowley is the best selling author of lily and the Octopus, AWashington post notable book of 2016 and the editor named by NPR in esquiremagazine as one of the best books of 2019, his new novel, The Gunkel arrived,may 25th, 2021. Oh, magazine hails it is one of the LGBT books changing theliterary landscape. Rolland's fiction has been published in 20 languages andyou can read a lot more about him at his website, which is www. Rowley.com.Stephen Welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being here. Thank youso much for having me. Your book is on a gazillion most anticipated list andreads of the summer list. It goes from Lambda Literary to the Oprah and thenright back to the christian science monitor. So you are everywhere. So,congratulations on the success of the book. I know it's out just a little bit,but how is it going? It's been a while.

Two weeks. Yeah. Um and I'm just sothrilled with the attention the book has been getting. I think it helps thatthere's an actual swimming pool on the cover to be on the most anticipatedbooks of summer, but, you know, it's a joyous cover and I think it's it'sstrangely, you know, the right book for the moment, you know, and that it isabout a character who's been very self isolating for a long time, um, andfinding his way back to the light and isn't that, you know, sort of whatwe've all been doing these past few months? Yes, it's a perfect segue forour time. Uh, so, tell everybody a little bit about the book in casethere's one or two people that haven't heard about it already. Yeah, I guesswe should start all the way at the very beginning, which is with the title, ifif there's anyone out there who doesn't know what a Gunkel is, it's become verypopular slang in the past five or 10 years for a gay uncle. And, and morethan that, it sort of has a connotation of a larger than life persona. Allah uh,auntie mame figure. And I'm not sure exactly why that is. Other than, youknow, gay gay men, maybe slightly less likely to have Children of their ownand they can devote more lavishly on there, nieces and nephews or they flyin from, from big cities, home for holidays and they, you know, I know formyself in particular, I live in the California desert, I have a swimmingpool. My nieces and nephews, they don't see me go to an office like otheradults, they know they don't quite have a hold on my life, but uh, they're veryfascinated by it. Yes, there are a lot of us out there. I know when um, I usedto go home and visit my nieces and nephews get something from me and oneyear they all got t shirts and that I hired Uncle Ron. So they had to posefor pictures for me. So I totally get it. Um So tell me about the researchthat you did for the book because it does feel kind of as though it might bepersonal, but but it might not be. Yeah, well the jumping off point wascertainly personal. I am a Gunkel to five nieces and nephews, so that theoldest of whom is 12. Um and I've had a long fascination with with Auntie Mameand and also mary Poppins and Maria from the sound of music and all thesesort of magical caregiving kind of characters. And I wanted to create myown entry in the genre, you know? And so this is a story of Patrick O Harawho is a sort of retired television star who's living a reclusive life inPalm Springs, sort of nursing his own grief when a fresh tragedy strikes. Andhe is tasked with taking in his niece and nephew for the summer and it leadsto a season of healing for All three of them. The inspiration came actuallywhen my brother came to visit me with his two boys who were three and five atthe time, uh and then was called back into work on the east Coast where he'sa trial attorney and had to appear in court for one of his clients. And heleft me with the two boys uh, for the weekend. So I felt like a supporting orlike an understudy thrust into the lead role for the first time. And uhcertainly my week was a lot less tragic, but I did documented on instagram atthe end of that week. my very astute editor at my publisher pointed out andsaid, you know, I think there might be something to write about in there. AndI had envisioned a light comedic novel like, like name uh Auntie Mame, the1955 Patrick Dennis novel, which then has had many innovations on broadwayand on the big screen. But early in my writing process, I actually lost one ofmy best friends to breast cancer. She left behind a six year old son. So itgot me thinking much more seriously about grief and Children. And and uhMame had sent her, you know, orphaned nephew off to boarding school and sortof sidestepped the whole issue of grief, but I very much didn't want to do that.And so I think the book is all the better for it. I absolutely agree. Theyare adorable kids and you just kind of feel for them and feel for all thecharacters too because they're really...

...trying to make their way. But what Iwant to point out, anybody who hasn't read it, this book is absolutelyhysterical. But it's it's it's a great mix of heartbreak and hysterical though.Can you talk about how you mix those two? Yeah, it's uh you know, and Ithink that's not unusual for the queer community, you know, who hasexperienced so much tragedy and yet we are very joyous and we embrace life andwe are still, you know, hopefully wildly funny and uh and you know, as mymom would say herself, you know, live and that's you know, something we verymuch do even though comedy and tragedy can be very much two sides of of thesame coin. So it was, you know, finding that mix, finding that balance of boththe humor and and certainly humor and sometimes even dark humor as a copingmechanism in a way we pull ourselves through. But finding that right balancewas something that was very important to me. And certainly it's the storiesthat I love. You know, we think of think of the movie terms of endearment,for instance, we remember it as the movie where Debra winger has to saygoodbye to our kids, but it is one of the most hysterically funny movies ofall time. And that's that's sort of the stories that I've always been attractedto. Yeah. And they're wonderful to read to. Like and you mentioned a lot of theHollywood films that influenced you, but Hollywood is a big part of this,this book. I think a lot of the observations that you make and thingsare there is that something that you've been involved with and that you pulledfrom that to put into the story, or you kind of just from memory and reading?Yeah, well, I came to novel writing from screenwriting actually, you know,I went to film school and thought that I would be have a career as a filmmakerand here I have now this sort of career as a novelist. And and strangely, itcircled back around and has led me to uh back to filmmaking and that allthree of my my novels are now in development as as feature films. So asmuch as I have tried to leave Hollywood, I've never been fully able to escape.And it's much like Patrick the character who thinks he's leftHollywood behind, but he hasn't gone that far. And and it was interesting insetting the book in Palm Springs, you know, which is a town that reallypopped up as a Hollywood get away, you know, in the forties, fifties andsixties. And so, uh you know, the city itself has such a rich Hollywoodhistory as a playground for movie stars. Yes, it does. One of the things thatalso strikes me about it is even with unexpected circumstances, Patrickespecially, but a lot of the other characters really find themselves, sois that kind of reflective of what you were doing for switching fromscreenwriting to novel writing? I hadn't thought of it that way, butthat's actually a perfect observation. Um you know, filmmaking, I love it asan art form, it's very different, it's it's very collaborative and uh you know,we're novel writing, you can have the benefit of a slightly more singularauthority away voice. And and in switching and writing novels, I think Ireally found myself as a writer. So I hadn't made that connection. Butobviously it's something that is deeply meaningful to me. And I think it wasmaybe inevitable that that color some of the past for the characters as well.That's wonderful. So, let's go back a little bit lily. And the octopus wassuch an amazing book. The editor was such an amazing book. And this one istoo they're not all totally similar, they're a little bit different. But doyou want to talk about the progression that you went through for each one toget here? Sure. In fact, you know, I like to be up front about this in casethere's any listeners who are who are writers or who have writing ambition.Um you know, lily and the octopus was a book about a gay man grieving, um youknow, so that the impending loss of his of his dog, which is a very intenserelationship sometimes for for queer people in particular who sometimes, youknow, it's getting better now that we have marriages and Children andfamilies and but you know, for a long...

...time I think a lot of queer people puttheir sort of, you know, that sort of nurturing side of themselves and intoum you know, their dogs or their pets. But but as I said, I like to be honest,because when I wrote the editor as a follow up, which is a complicated storyabout a gay man and his and his mother, I had to switch publishers to do that.My my original publisher did not see that as a follow up for me. And andagain, the Gunkel is probably not a natural follow up to the editor, it'sjust there and it probably maybe I would have a better career if I if Iwrote this, you know, different versions of the same thing again andagain and again, but that's not the writer that I aspired to be. I see, youknow, there's a through line, through through the books, in in I think myvoice and an exploration of grief and estrangement um and that hopefullythey're all also very funny, but they do, as you say, explore slightlydifferent topics and relationships. They do yeah, please stay away from theformulaic thing, You're just your voice is just something that we really needright now, I think, and on going to it's just going to get better andbetter. So, I want to know a little bit more about your early life, becoming awriter and as a member of the gay community, how did that affect youryour path? Yeah, it's um interesting, I've been giving some thought aboutthat recently. Um, you know, I just turned 50. I've been thinking a lotabout that, about aging uh, in the gay community, which is something that wedon't always embrace. And how fortunate I have felt to celebrate this pastbirthday when so many beautiful gay men in particular never lived to see um,this birthday and you know what they wouldn't trade to to be able to be hereand do that. So, you know, and it made me think a lot about how much of mylife I wanted to be invisible and you know, when we're closeted and certainlywhen I was young and going to high school in the 80's and what not, youknow, it was a very different time and I spent, you know, so much of that timenot wanting to be to be seen to be invisible. And yet when your closetedlike that, you are still observing your very, you start to remain sometimes asstill as possible, but you're observing other people very carefully. And so Ithink that probably a writer was born then. Uh, but it wasn't until I had thecourage to to put myself out there and realize the importance of telling ourstories out loud that you know, that I could find some success. That's I loveit. I love it. I'm going to jump back just a little bit because you didmention that two of your books are on their way to becoming films. Um Is theGunkel going to join them? And can you tell us the status of the other two?Yes, The Jungle is joining them. Um, for yeah, it will be a big screenadaptation for Lions Gate Studios and uh producer Kristine Burr who just didCruella. Um so I'm very excited about that, about bringing a big screenfamily film with a very untraditional family to the to the big screen. Theother two movies, you know, Covid really slowed things down, but they'repicking up steam really quickly Lillian. The octopus is going to be a movie fromamazon Studios. Uh The Editor also with 20th Century, which is now owned by thewalt Disney company. So, um things are things are moving forward on on on bothfronts and it's been fascinating. I I am writing the adaptation for the Uncle.I did write the adaptation for the Editor. I did not write the adaptationfor lily and the octopus because my first novel, because that was such adeeply personal and semi autobiographical story and I justthought I'm not necessarily the best person to do that. I was too too closeto the source material. This sort of...

...break it apart and reassemble it forthe screen. Yeah, I've talked to other people who like once you handed over itgets changed a lot sometimes and you'd want to hold on to it probably youcan't be precious about the source material, which is sometimes hard to dowhen you're the author of that source material. Exactly, exactly. Do you havea dream cast for the Gunkel? Well, you know, I think there are a couple namesat the top of everyone's dream list right now, certainly dan levy comingoff of ships can do no wrong. Um You know Billy Eichner is someone, I thinkit's hysterically funny jim Parsons I think I think what's essential to mefor this role and I don't I don't always have a hard and fast rule thatum you know an out L. G. B. T. Q. Plus actor has to play a role. You know Itake it more on an individual basis. But for this one i really it really isessential to me. You know we're talking about you know say mary Poppins as anexample someone who has some literal magic to her. Patrick's magic as acaregiver for these for his niece and his nephew. It all comes from his livedexperience as a gay man. His empathy, his humor, his pop cultural references,his politics, his worldview. It's all informed by his lived experience as agay man. So I think it's truly essential that an out actor play thisrole. Yeah I couldn't agree more and I think they would relate better to allthe Gunkel rules. Yeah envisions themselves as a modern day auntie mame.Yeah. Patrick is a number of bond markets that he puts forward as theseGunkel rules sort of rules for living. Yeah. I think he's been like aninfluence, it's going to affect these kids in such a positive way for therest of their life. So it's it's just so well put together this going back alittle bit. Um When did you first see yourself in a book? Oh, that's a greatquestion because yeah, representation so matters. You know, i it was now puton the spot. I'm gonna be hard pressed to come up with a single title. But Ijust, you know, it was it was it's hard to remember how quickly things havechanged for the better. Um You know and representation was not something umthat I saw a lot of or certainly um when when queer people were in booksthey were often sort of written this coded or they had a sad or tragicending. Um, and so I just feel so very proud to be able to write queer storiestoday about people sort of finding their way and that there are, you know,not not to hopefully spoil anything, but you know, happier endings for uh,for all of my characters. Yes. Yes. And I think that's very important and it itshows the progress that we're seeing. So I'm all on board with that. So Iwouldn't leave you without asking about Byron's book and what happened at theend of that book. So yes, I live with another writer, Byron Lane, who wrotehis debut novel called The Stars Board, which came out last summer. It's afantastic, if you like my books, I guarantee you will like his as well.And uh, and uh you know, since we're both writers and in a relationship, welean on each other heavily were our first, each other's first readers. Weoffer notes along the way. And so I thought I knew that book for frontwords and backwards, but he snuck in, uh, four extra words at the back of hisacknowledgements. Will you marry me? And uh, so for anyone who had readByron's book and was waiting to see what happened, I actually answer thatproposal in the Acknowledgments for the...

Gunkel. So this is a very slow movingrelationship for outsiders to sort of follow along, but it's like aepistolary love story happening in the, and the Acknowledgments for our books.But spoiler alert. Uh, you know, if you follow either of us, you sort ofrealize that, that it worked out, uh, to work out what a great story, it'ssuch a great story. It's true. It's very funny to imagine our, you know,our proposal and acceptance now now documented in the Library of Congress.So I don't know anyone who else can say that about their relationship. I don'tthink anybody, I don't think anybody. Um, so what's on the horizon for you?Um, well, I'm very busy sort of moving these three movies, uh, towardsproduction. Um, I have been writing, obviously we'll see, we'll see. I, Ihave to sort of revisit what I've written over the past year and see ifit's any good. It's, it's an interesting time because I always thinkof writing as an input output business and it's been very difficult to get theinput in the past year and a half. You know, it's been difficult to be out inthe world observing, um, and, and, and picking up all those rich details thatmake, uh, that make writing um come alive and so, you know, and even whenyou've been able to observe people there behind masks and whatnot, whichwhich makes it harder to, to really um I feel like that that creative coffersare full. So I'm excited to be back rejoining the world and hopefullythat's going to bring fresh inspiration and, and uh but I'm always working onsomething and so excited to see what happens. Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, Ican't thank you enough for joining me today. This has been a gas and I coulddo this for 17 weeks. The Gunkel is amazing and everybody should go grab acopy of it right away and it really is a joyous book. There's so much in itfor everybody to, it's not just a targeted book. Everybody can findthemselves in this book. So congratulations on that and Happy Pride,Happy Pride. Thank you. Next up is Virginia Willis. Virginia Willis is aGeorgia born french trained chef. Her biography includes making chocolatechip cookies with Dwayne the rock johnson, foraging for berries in theAlaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcanoin Sicily and hunting for truffles in France. She's a talent and chefinstructor for the new digital streaming platform on the food networkkitchen. She was given multiple high profile talks to people all over theplace. She's cooked for the James Beard foundation and she has beguiledcelebrities such as Bill Clinton, morgan Freeman and jane fonda with hercooking. But it all started in her grandmother's kitchen and I can't waitto talk to her about that. She is also the author of Secrets of the SouthernTable, which is one of my go to cookbooks. Uh it's a food lover's tourof the global south and she's written many, many other award winning booksthat are all listed on her website Virginia Willis dot com. So don't missgoing there and learning all kinds of things about her. And you're gonna wantto after our talk today. She has been the tv kitchen director for MarthaStewart living, bobby flay and Natalie du Pre. She's worked in Michelinstarred restaurants and she's traveled the world producing food stories andbeen on chop cbs this morning. Fox family and friends, Martha Stewartliving and also as a judge on throw down with bobby flay. She spent inevery major newspaper and food magazine with the Chicago tribune, calling herone of the seven food writers you need to know and I would second that herlegion of fans love her down to earth attitude, approachable spirit andtraveling exploits. And we're going to talk a lot more about her consultingcompany because there's a lot there. This woman never ever, ever stops, soplease welcome Virginia,...

...thank you so much for having me. Ichuckle when you're reading my bio, it's like, hey, right, that and I guessI operate that, but it makes, yeah, I have a great variety of career as evidence by everything there andthere's so much more more than that is there. You've been such an inspirationfor so many and I'm thrilled to be able to talk to you today, but my firstquestion is, do you ever sleep? Yes, I do know, I do. You know, um, well,first of all, I want to say, thank you so much for having me today. I'mhonored to be on. It's always a pleasure to get to to tell a story andhopefully, you know, get people in the kitchen cooking and eating. So yes, Isleep, I love to sleep okay. Your bio mentioned and I mentioned a minute agoabout your grandmother's kitchen. Can you tell us about that beginning?Because it sounds like it was kind of a kernel that kind of made you who youwere today? Yes, very much so. So when I was a very little girl, my parentslived right next door to my grandparents and my grandparents wereessentially my babysitters from birth to three years old and I remember, Idon't really remember much, of course being a toddler, but I remember alwaysbeing in the kitchen and I don't have a photograph of it, but I have been toldthat when my grandmother would be shelling peas or something like that,she had a double steel sink and she would put me in one side of the sinkand shut piece or whatever, and the other side of the sink. And so I feellike that I came into being essentially in a kitchen. Yes, you did. You did. So what was yourpath from there? When did you first realize that this was going to be yourcareer? Well, I mean there's a lot between three and career, but you know,Yeah, but I did, you know, I started their photographs to be making biscuitswith my grandmother, you know, standing on a chair. My mother was always anavid cook, a great cook. Um, I just was, well, I was in the kitchen my wholelife and it just felt like, well, it felt like home, but also I come fromthe country we put up, we preserved food and homemade food was, was as mucha part of my life as anything. So I will have a degree in history from theUniversity of Georgia. Um I graduated in 1989. I sort of wound up in retailand Floundering at 25. That's awful, awful young to be floundering. Um and Irealized that I'd always love to cook. I'd always loved to cook. Well, Ineeded to pursue that. So essentially, uh, 25, age 25, I started on this pathof becoming a chef and a food writer. Well, I, for one am so glad you did. Umwhat was, what was it like entering the food industry that was a member of thegay community? Well, I have to be honest, I wasn't super out in thebeginning, right. Um, but I will tell you that because, you know, I'm so, I'm50 for uh, you know, 34 years ago, it was a very different scene. Um Yeah,very, very different Now. Having said that my first job cooking was onNatalie decreased cooking show and I met Ray Overton who was her culinarydirector at the time. Um we met in this very scandalous debar um, in Atlanta,my interview, um, and I got the job as an intern there. So with certain, uh,certain groups, I was out and able to be myself and then with southern,certain groups, I wasn't able to be, but that is, that is also greatlychanged over the years. It has. And I...

...want to say that so many of us wereexactly like that and you're kind of a beacon for people and you kind ofrepresent. And so it kind of makes you a treasure now because you have ahistory. Um what are some of the biggest things that you've seen changein the industry for people in the community? Oh gosh. I mean, I think thefirst thing is just not lying or not, not lies by a mission. I mean that Iactually wrote something that I just posted a few days ago or yesterday onfacebook and I've gotten such response by it and I didn't mean it to beAnything other than just what I was thinking about it, right? I mean, Ididn't mean it to be necessarily inspirational and just heartfelt, right?Like when I came out at 20 years old, it was not well received by all of myfamily and all of my friends. And um, when, I mean not well received, uh,some, there are degrees of, you know, real dislike to just to mild discomfort.But um, I felt like it was what I needed to do. It's me and I, I feelstrongly even more strongly now about it. It's no different than I have greeneyes, bright green eyes and I'm gay just to to things and you're a talentedchef. Yeah, but but the talented chef has been through training and exerciseand and I was born with green eyes and I feel like, and I feel like I was borngay, right? So this is something I can't change nor nor now, maybe onceupon a time, but not even really, I've never wanted to be anyone differentthan what I was, but I have definitely over my life, wanted to have morecomfort than who I was and so um what has changed in the industry over theyears? Um you know, I remember being, I was outed when I went to LA veteran, Iwas outed by an unscrupulous gossipy chef to ANne Willan and I was terrifiedand horrified. And I had just gotten this three months Taj living andworking in France and this happened. He was trying to sort of use thatinformation is bait to get to get on her good graces and you know, God blessand she didn't skip a beat. I was a good cook, I was a good student, I wasa good editorial assistant and it didn't, it didn't matter to her, I'm sohappy to hear that I'm backing up one second. You mentioned um working forNatalie debris. I got the extreme pleasure to meet her for the first timelast year and I just wanted to bow at her feet. She's just so graceful and,and kind and it's wonderful to know that you worked with her uh Natalie. Somy first job in a kitchen was working on Natalie Depres cooking show. Natalieis a very, very dear friend um and mentor still and um she is truly one ofthe moving forces in my life and and and a guiding light. Yeah, and she's adear friend of the fab five authors, The friends and fiction authors too.Who? Yes, So what was life like in the pandemic? Oh dear. Well, um I actuallymoved back to Atlanta in the fall of 19, unfortunately a long-term relationshipthat I was in ended and I have been living in New England and so I movedback to Atlanta and I was very happy to be back in Atlanta and then all of asudden um you know being back with...

...friends and family and then poof, nofriends and family or no, so um it really uh it was an opportunity for agreat deal of reflection and introspection. Of course I wasterrified for my friends and family. Um I was concern for everyone's help themwelfare, but I knew that for me personally, it was important for me tosort of stay on the path of health and wellness that I had started and it wasvery even more so important for me to make sure that I was taking care ofmyself, both, you know, mentally, physically and spiritually. So I Itried very hard two stay healthy in all the ways during the pandemic. Yes, you did. And Congratulations onyour health journey. I think that's been documented and you really, youreally have worked very, very hard headed. What what tips might you havefor people who are thinking to go down the same path? Gosh, well, so first ofall, for those that don't know, I've lost £65 and and that's prettysignificant. Um It's taken about, it took two years. I'm still I still feellike I'm still on the journey though, you know wellness is not, I heardsomething the other day that I really love, wellness is not a destination,it's a state of action. So God willing I'll be in the state of action as longas I'm on this earth. Right? So tips. I think that the biggest tip that I haveto say is that if a southern born french train southern chef can get herhealth in order then damn it. You can too. That's my first tip. Yeah. So uh Ifeel it's not about a size, it's about how we feel. That's that's the secondthing I would say. That's very very good. Thank you. Um One other thing Inoticed that during the pandemic that you did was that you started a facebookevents cookbooks with Virginia. So can you tell us about that? Yeah, thank youso much for asking Iran. Um so cookbooks with Virginia. I lovecookbooks and I've written cookbooks and I know I am a cookbook authors andyou know, there's 10 million and 12 videos a day on how to chop the onionand so I didn't want to do that. But I wanted to be able to highlight some ofthe wonderful cookbooks that come out and also to highlight those that maynot be, you know, someone like, I don't know re drummond or in a garden, likethe big ones that everyone that people magazine features. Right. I wanted toto highlight some of the lesser known works and uh expert with Virginia livestreams on facebook and Youtube every friday at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Standardtime. And then after the livestream, I upload it to instagram and it's got agreat little following and it's really fun for me. So thank you so much forasking me about it and you've had some really wonderful guests on some biggernames. So even some of these, I'm obviously a big cookbook collector andif I bring any more into the house on, have to move but but lesser known onesthat really deserve the spotlight and you bring them out. So thank you fordoing that. Yes, it's nice. Right. I mean I know what it's like for peopleand like small university presses that don't have big marketing departmentsand and you know, it sounds a bit pompous but the deal is it's calledcookbooks with Virginia. So I get to make the decisions and I get what Iwant to have on but I am excited. I've got some great guests lined up. Aaronmodel is going to be on and nancy...

McDermott's coming up again and uhCarla Hall has said that she would want to be on, I'm there for that one. Yeahand Dorie Greenspan is that Dorie Greenspan is going to be a guest on inoctober so it's a it's a little engine that could, that seems like it'sgrowing, that's wonderful. I love love Dorie Greenspan too. She's fabulous. Solet's talk about cookbooks but let's talk about yours. Um as you know,secrets of the Southern table is one of my favorite cookbooks. In fact, I mightgo to recipe for braised collards with the parmesan, tomato broad is a go toevery time I try to think I'm gonna make it another way. No, we go back tothis, that is like the thing is the mommy right? It's like mommy! Mommy andthe tomato Emami and the parmesan and it's like boom, boom, boom. So muchflavor. Yeah, everybody I cook it for loves it and they're what we call it,party in your mouth. Thank you for having me at your table. I greatlyappreciate it. So, talk to us about that book because it um it's such awonderful book. Thank you so much. Secrets of the Southern Table. What Ireally wanted to do with that. It's my cookbooks are highly personal. So myfirst cookbook was bon appetit y'all, it's recipes and stories from threegenerations. And then, you know my over the 10 years of my career I wrotedifferent books, but secrets of the southern Table was the evolution oftrying to tell everyone what my South was. And I feel like that people herepeople that talk like me and they make these automatic assumptions about umeducation and politics and all the things right? People here Southernaccent and they expect to see, you know, dixie waving things likeCharlottesville or something. And and I feel very strongly that, that I'm notthat right. I'm not that and that is the truth for some people, but it's notmy truth. So secrets of the Southern table is about sharing recipes andstories from the very multicultural region that the south is. You know,there it's not just black and white. Um, there have been chinese in Mississippisince the 18 hundreds. Uh, the second oldest synagogue in the United Stateshas founded in charleston south Carolina. Right? I mean there's so muchuh, so many different cultures in the south and I wanted to share that withpeople and thank you for doing that. Uh, whatI want to say also is that I've I've come to know that cookbooks are morethan just instruction. They are. So their stories and their they don't gettheir due and there's nothing I love more than picking up one and learningso much about a region or a food or a people and I just learned so much fromthem and everybody should really look at them that way and that this is sucha prime example and you didn't just stay in one area. You kind of went allacross the south and and brought in all kinds of different cuisine andinfluence and it's just a wonderful book. So I thank you for publishingthat. Thank you so much on angie measure. The photographer. A dear. Yes,love Andy measure. Um so she and I visited 13 states over the course offour seasons. We went from Texas, basically texas all the way east andthen up through Virginia. It was it was an incredible journey as much as Ithought, as I knew about the south, as long as I've lived in the south, asmuch as I've traveled through the south, I learned so much more about the southand I certainly hope it's apparent in that book. Very apparent, very apparent.So everybody run out and get this book,...

I want to talk about you giving back.You're such a strong advocate, not only for the gay community, but for womenand people in the food industry and food insecurity and I don't know whereit even ends, but um talk about how important your advocacy is to you. Mhm.Mhm. I think it's just as simple as do the right thing. I don't know how toget any other way. It's kind of that kind of got me. Um because it's your No,it's OK. This response to uh me being so vocal about coming out 34 years ago.I didn't realize it was going to have so much impact. And it's it's kind I mean, in a wayit's not gone viral, like gone viral. Crazy, gone viral, but it's gone prettyviral. And the response has been overwhelming and people are thanking mefor my leadership and thanking me for advocacy and you know, gosh, I justwant to say I'm just trying to help some scared little girl that hadn'tcome out yet. That's what I'm thinking of. And I just think it's the rightthing to do. Yeah, you continue to inspire. I I'mjust so thrilled. I'm so thrilled and I haven't read that piece yet, but I'mgoing to right after we're done and then I'll start sharing it everywhere.Well, thank you. I mean, you know, I don't mean to sound like Pollyanna, Iknow that the world is complicated. Right? Right. And I know that um I knowthat there are lots of different opinions and things, but if we wouldjust try to focus on what's good and if we would just try to focus on doing onegood thing a day for somebody else, I just think the world would be a betterplace. I couldn't agree more. I could not agree more. So unfortunately we arerunning out of time and a Virginia. I could talk to you forever and I I hopethis is just the beginning of lots of collaboration and when we can actuallybe in the same city, we'll grab Kathy Trocheck and go have dinner somewhere.That sounds fabulous. I know where you come have dinner, you'll come havedinner at my house, how about that? I mean, I'm totally for that. That'sawesome. So thank you again and happy pride and thank you for everything youdo. Thank you so much. Happy pride to you as well, bon appetit y'all. Thankyou to all the guests who joined us today. What a great way to celebratethe month of pride. Please go out and be nice to people and just celebrateand reflect and happy pride to everyone. I want to end with a quote fromGertrude Stein who said you look ridiculous if you dance, you lookridiculous if you don't dance so you might as well dance. Yeah, mm thank you for tuning in, Join us everyweek on Facebook or YouTube where our live show airs every Wednesday night atseven p.m. eastern time and please subscribe to our podcast and follow uson instagram. We're so glad you're here.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (121)