Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I was born in the middle of the twentieth century and grew up in a middle-sized city in the middle of Illinois in the middle of the country, a middle child in a middle-class family. But there was nothing middle about my hopes and dreams. I knew I was different from my siblings and other kids in the neighborhood, but I wasn’t sure what that was. I started writing plays for my younger sisters to perform in when I was ten. In high school I won a short story contest sponsored by the local newspaper. In college I wrote poetry. In the following years, I started several novels, wrote short stories and more poetry, and when I embraced my sexuality in my mid-twenties, writing became a way to express my new gay awareness. After college I began working as an English as a Second Language teacher both in the States and abroad. It was through this career I discovered travel and had the chance to live in and/or travel to many countries. My first published works were travel articles, mostly for gay publications about the experience of traveling as a gay man in other lands. After thirty-five years of teaching, I decided to take an early retirement and seriously pursue my writing, digging out a lot of my old writing and polishing it for publication. Since then, I have published seven novels and a book of short stories as well as having several of my short stories included in anthologies.
What inspired you to write your book?
One of my fans, after reading my novel Four Calling Burds, expressed an interest in knowing what happened next in the lives of the four Burd siblings. She asked me if I planned to write a sequel and I gave my standard answer, which was that I didn’t write sequels. It was up to the reader to imagine the rest of the story. At that point, I had published five novels and had almost finished writing the sixth without even thinking of doing a sequel. But she did have a point. I sometimes wondered what had happened to the Burds siblings myself. I struggled with the concept of how much I should write for my readers and how much for myself.
The book in question was a contemporary novel set around the year 2017, and at the end of the book, all the characters were living in the San Francisco Bay Area. To write a novel set in 2019-2020 they would have aged only a few years. I started thinking about characters from two of my other novels, who would also be living in the Bay Area and only aged a few years. Wouldn’t it be fun if some of the characters from the other novels met and interacted with each other and the four Burd siblings? And thus, the novel was born. In one case, a character from one novel meets and falls in love with the character from another. A woman from my novel, Tio Jorge, has become an immigration lawyer and helps the Mexican boyfriend of the Burd sibling, AJ. At one point, there is birthday party, which brings all the major and many of the minor characters from the three novels together. They meet, socialize, flirt, and at the end, all band together to search for a teenager who has gone missing from the party.
What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
I have a quote on my email page from Edward Albee that says, “All art should be useful. If it’s merely decorative, it’s a waste of time.” To me, that means my writing should have a strong message, educate if you will, as well as entertain. I have been accused of being “too political,” but I want readers to learn about other cultures and ethnicities. My writing has themes of diversity, racial equality, immigrant rights, an all the issues the LGBTQ+ community deals with. I have always enjoyed writing fictional characters who are very different from me in age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and culture. It is a challenge that thrills me. I have written many Latinx characters and though I speak Spanish, I am very much a product of the North American Midwest. I have written Black characters though my genealogy tells me I am 99.7% of Northern European background. I write lots of heterosexual characters though all indications are that I am homosexual. I have written a transitioning FTM character though I identify as cisgender. I have heard other writers express that they would never presume to write a character of a different race/ethnicity. A former editor gave a novel I wrote with lots of Black characters to a Black sensitivity reader without telling my background. Apparently, I passed, and she wanted to proceed with the book. I don’t plan to stop writing diverse characters, but I always keep asking myself if I am being authentic.
What drew you into this particular genre?
I write what I like to read: literary fiction and contemporary fiction. I grew up reading American and British literary fiction, particularly early twentieth century writers. Then I discovered literary fiction written by gay authors such as James Baldwin, Alan Hollinghurst, Michael Cunningham, and others. I have never been drawn to genre fiction though in recent years I have read a few wonderful books that focus on gay characters in the genres of science fiction, romance, fantasy, horror, etc. Currently, I would say my writing is contemporary LGBTQ+ fiction with a literary bent. I’ve never been comfortable with the tag “gay fiction” though I’m marginally more satisfied with the updated label of LGBTQ+ fiction. Gay fiction tends to conjure up the image of romance or a coming out story, and yes, my books have elements of those scenarios. I certainly do not shy away from fully gay characters and ultimately my mission is to present homosexual men dealing with the world around them in both the ways which are unique to us as well as the ways we are the same. In many cases the men I write are challenged in a foreign setting where they must cope with how another culture sees them not only as a gay man, but also a foreigner. I do, however, like presenting an array of characters of all sexual orientations and identities.
If you could sit down with any character in your book, what would you ask them and why?
A character named M appears in two of my novels. In Four Calling Burds, she is trying to deal with the strong maleness inside her and first starts thinking about transition. In First Born Sons, M goes through the process of transitioning FTM. A writer always hopes to get a character right, but particularly if they fall into a marginalized group. I would like to ask him if I presented him realistically. Did I do justice to the incredible process of transition? Did I adequately portray the pain and joy of becoming the person he wanted to be?
What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
I try not to have regrets, but I do wish I had focused more on my writing in those early years when I clearly had the calling. I didn’t trust it and kept abandoning projects, easily distracted by other things going on in my life. In the eighties, I had some good feedback on what would eventually become my first novel. Instead of diving all in, I put it aside for twenty years. By the time I got to publishing that novel, I was already past my prime and I wasn’t patient about finding a publisher and decided to self-publish. I rushed it. Never, ever rush your first novel. Work like hell to get it as perfect as you can. Work like hell to get a publisher. Believe in yourself. I’m currently reading the latest work by someone who is an icon in the gay writing community because of his first novel, which was a marvel, particularly for its time. He has ridden the wave of success for forty years. I find his latest work mediocre and almost unreadable, and yet he has reviews from all the major publications and is on the New York Times Reader’s Choice list. The reviews from actual readers, many of them probably unaware of his past glory, reflect the impression I had of the book. The point I’m making is to give that first effort the absolute best you can, and then go back and rewrite ten more times. An early hit can carry you through during more difficult times. I feel like I have gotten better over the course of my writing, but I can’t go back and have a redo of my debut novel.
What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
I’m very excited about the future of my writing. Early next year my first Young Adult novel will come out from my current publisher, Colton’s Terrible Wonderful Year. One of the characters from First Born Sons, Colton, is a fourteen-year-old mixed-race son of a gay couple. He is entering the “danger zone” for young men of color in the United States. I extracted his story from the novel, added a lot of new details about his life and wrote the story in his first-person voice. It has a lot of funny parts, but also tearful moments as he and his gay dads struggle with what’s happening in the world. I’m also about three-quarters done with the first draft of a sequel to The Mayor of Oak Street, but forty years later. We learn what happens to Nathan after getting together with the man of his dreams at the end of The Mayor. Now a man in his early sixties, he is often lost in his memories of his loves and losses, the traumas and joys that peppered his life. He is given one last chance at love. Will he take it?
“All art should be useful. If it’s merely decorative, it’s a waste of time.” – Edward Albee
About the Author
Vincent Meis grew up in Decatur, Illinois and graduated from Tulane University in New Orleans.
He has worked as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, Spain, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, publishing many academic articles in his field as well as articles about teaching ESL overseas. He has also traveled extensively in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Central and South American. He is fluent in Spanish. As result of his travels and time abroad he published a number of pieces, mostly travel articles, but also a few poems and book reviews, in publications such as, The Advocate, LA Weekly, In Style, and Our World in the 1980’s and 90’s. His travels have inspired four novels, all set at least partially in foreign countries: Eddie’s Desert Rose (2011), Tio Jorge (2012), and Down in Cuba (2013) and Deluge (2016). Tio Jorge received a Rainbow Award in the category of Bisexual Fiction in 2012. Down in Cuba received two Rainbow Awards in 2013. Deluge won a Rainbow Award in 2016. Recently his stories have been published in several collections, including WITH:New Gay Fiction, Best Gay Erotica Vol 1and Best Gay Erotica Vol 4. In December 2019, his fifth novel Four Calling Burds will be published. In 2021, he has published two books with NineStar Press, The Mayor of Oak Street, a novel, and Far from Home, a collection of short stories.