|Vella Munn: From True Confessions to Cheyenne Summer|
Can it be true? Does Vella Munn really lie for a living? That's what she says, but she creates her mythic worlds of yesterday on a firm foundation of scholarly research, building them with verve and panache -- not to mention believability. Munn puts you into the heads and hearts of characters as diverse as modern day ranchers and Spanish padres, Hopi women and Cheyenne braves.
This diversity mirrors the scope of Munn's writing career. An award-winning veteran of over 40 "true confessions," almost as many novels and countless articles, Munn displays a versatility, creativity and longevity few writers can match. Crescent Blues sought to learn the secrets of Munn's broad-based success and the scoop on her current projects. We trust she answered truthfully.
Crescent Blues: Did you always want to be a writer?
Vella Munn: I'm not sure when I realized it was possible to be a writer. I've always felt compelled to put things down on paper. I was never content or comfortable with the here and now, the "real" world and had a need to put my own spin on things, to make order out of lunacy perhaps. I love creating fictional worlds and being able to control the actions of "my" people and understood, in a vague sort of way, that those who wrote the books I read went about their work in an organized fashion. I wanted what they had; I just didn't know how to go about doing it.
Crescent Blues: It's always interesting to discover whether a writer is building a writing dynasty or continuing one. Has anyone else in your family been a writer?
Vella Munn: My grandfather, Homer Eon Flindt, wrote science fiction short stories for the pulps, a book and a number of movie treatments. Unfortunately, he died when my mother was six. My uncle has written a couple of non-fiction books exploring his theory of evolution, and my teacher mother has written children's books for reluctant readers. Also a clinical psychologist cousin recently had her book on group treatment methods for sexually abused boys published so the writing bug is in the family.
Crescent Blues: Writing seems to be well scattered in your family's past, what about its future? Do you have children? Do they have any inclination toward becoming novelists? Doing other forms of writing?
Vella Munn: I have two adult sons. One shows no inclination toward writing beyond a few sports articles, and I'm trying to temper the other one's occasional interest with reality as I've learned it. These days he's up to his chin in grant writing and my hat's off to him.
Crescent Blues: Your grandfather died too young to have been your mentor and no one else ventured into fiction, so, in your opinion, what event or events in your past had the most influence on your eventual need to write?
Vella Munn: This isn't one of those trick questions that's going to get me committed, is it? I'm used to being asked what circumstances do I think led me to writing but as for the need -- I suppose it comes down to two issues. For one, I had a very rural upbringing. We were 18 miles from anything approaching a real town and in the winter, storms sometimes shut the small logging town where my mother was the only teacher off from the outside world. There was no TV reception and only one telephone (far from reliable). I loved my rugged existence, but I also longed to experience more than the surrounding mountains and fast-moving river.
Also, and this is where a shrink would probably have a field day, my father walked out of my life when I was five. Perhaps that loss bred in me a need to bring order to what in the real world I couldn't. Also, if I hadn't been separated from my mother for a year under circumstances that are best kept private, I might have grown up to be a different person.
Crescent Blues: How did you get your start in writing?
Vella Munn: For argument's sake, let's pretend we're talking about the "real " start, not my ignorant blunderings beforehand. After my first child was born, I wanted to stay home. However, that fascinating creature was a lousy conversationalist and my college educated brain felt as if it was drying up. I'd been a social worker and decided to put a fantasy spin on some of that experience.
I also shuddered at the idea of writing book length, so I took a gander at the confession market. My first effort didn't sell, but the second did. I was torn between being embarrassed by the lurid covers and titles and knowing I was writing from the heart about everyday people trying to make their lives into the best they could. I discovered The Writer and Writer's Digest and made some use of my journalism classes, but I was really flying by the seat of my pants. I knew no other writers and was totally ignorant of how the publishing business worked.
Crescent Blues: Why did you stop writing confessions?
Vella Munn: That's simple. I'd written about 40 of them and had confessed everything I could possibly think of to confess. When one of the last had the title, "I Was An Unwed Father, I knew I'd hit the wall.
Crescent Blues: Most of your earlier novels are contemporary romance. Did you find the leap from there to historicals difficult? Or had you always wanted to move in that direction?
Vella Munn: Historicals were not where I wanted to be. I'd never been particularly interested in history and didn't have a clue how to research my subjects. My agent, probably tired of my complaints about the constraints and uncertainties of the romance market, pushed me kicking and screaming at historicals because that market was really opening up then.
I live in a national historic landmark [an old gold town] so began poking around in its past. What interested me wasn't its gold history but the impact of all those newcomers on those who'd always lived here -- the Indians. Once I'd decided to write about them, the historical research took two very different tracks. The easy part, relatively, is determining the who, what, when, where, how and whys. What takes the real digging and fascinates me is bringing them to life.
Crescent Blues: Have you always been interested in Native American history and culture?
Vella Munn: Looking back, I think that, yes, I've always been interested in Native American history and culture without knowing it. As I said, I had a rural upbringing. I feel close to the earth. The land renews me, and from what I've learned of Indians, it was the same with them. Nature determined whether they lived or died and I'm endlessly fascinated by that basic reality. I'm also turned on by their reverence, their spirituality, when it comes to the physical world. They worship the sun, earth, water, the seasons, look to animals and birds for guidance and seek to live in harmony with their physical surroundings. There's an elemental truth in that belief.
Crescent Blues: River's Daughter, your first Native American novel, can be categorized as historical romance, yet your new release, Soul of the Sacred Earth, is mainstream. Was that a difficult transition?
Vella Munn: The transition was both difficult and in many respects the most rewarding thing I've done as a writer. I came out of a category romance background. (I've had over 20 romances published.) So when I started doing the historicals, I brought much of that with me.
However, as I became more comfortable with the past and the vast landscape it's painted on, I felt ready to accept the challenges my editor presented me. I've had the same editor for all but the first Forge book, so my evolution there reflects her evolution as well. Forge is known for its historicals and that's the direction Melissa Singer wanted me to take. I love being given the freedom to take relationships and characters beyond the limits placed by the romance umbrella.
Crescent Blues: The vividly drawn characters in Soul of the Sacred Earth ache with authenticity. The Southwest setting is almost a character. How did you go about researching such a clash of cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles?