Wednesday, January 25, 2017

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: The Sound of Rushing Waters

by Robert Vaughan

I will never forget the first time I was called FAGGOT.

I used it in the premise for the poem called “What Some Boys Do” (included in my book, Addicts & Basements). You see I was too young to know what that word meant. What I did know: men liked me. I’d been raped the previous year by a complete stranger. He had a deck of cards, and beer, and lured me into his tent. What I remember: his hunting knife at my throat, face suffocating as it was pushed into the tent floor. The sound of rushing water in the adjacent creek. And pain. Searing pain like I had never ever felt before.

So, when those boys on our bus called me FAGGOT… 
I was pretty sure I didn’t like men. Certainly not my father.  And his friends were equally gross. Revulsion. My escape was on my horse, or bicycle, and mostly books. In eighth grade, I started a journal to document (in drawn codes) how often I either drank, got high, or both. It’s a practice I have never stopped, journaling, although what use the journal has for me continues to grow exponentially.

As a college freshman, my teacher, Karen, sat on her desk, talked about writers like Gertrude Stein and Jack Kerouac. Symbolism or writing as investigative journalism. Liked my enthusiasm for our group projects. Suggested I take a creative writing class. I was too busy—I was lead singer in my second band, Traiil, and we were booked for paid gigs on most weekend nights. It took that year for me to realize that my music career, gigs, bands, and mostly groupies, were not for me. It also happened to be the same year that my first gay mentor, Harvey Milk, was shot and killed while serving as city supervisor of San Francisco. The message was clear: nowhere is safe, if you are gay. Not even in America.

Two years later, I transferred to Brockport State University. I took mostly theater and dance courses (with Garth Brooks). Eventually, an invitation to join the Writers Forum came from director, Peter Marchant. This was intimidating, simulating, and I allowed myself to dream about a writing life for the first time. My poetry was pedantic, my prose as stiff as my Izod shirt collars, and yet when I heard Grace Paley read (and went to her interview), I vowed I would never give up. Her books, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute and The Little Disturbances of Man inspired me. Also Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, Jayne Anne Phillips, Donald Barthelme, Janet Frame. We read so many new authors (to me) that year and the next. Short stories! Short fiction! I was hooked.

During my 20s, I was a flip-flopper. Men, women, men, women. And sure, there is bisexuality, and the Kinsey scale defines us all sexually somewhere between 1 and 10. My problem: I was a 5. Always in the middle, always searching for myself through others. Trying to lose myself through love. Then my best childhood friend, James, was murdered in Bangkok. That upheaval was devastating. James was a writer and our love of books and writing was instrumental. I took an extended period off from work, and had an undiagnosed (at the time) breakdown. Fortunately, with guidance from dear friends, I ended up on Maui’s Makena Beach. Clothing optional. Bare and pared down to essentials, I chose to live. And nature brought me, quite literally, back to life.

Fast-forward through three long-term relationships, buying houses, setting up joint accounts, couples therapy. It’s been a long road, but here I still am, slogging away. I was a buddy in the mid-80s when you were trained at a hospital to attend to your HIV positive “client’s needs.” All three of my clients died within one year. When I moved to Los Angeles to get away from the carnage, too many people dying in NYC, it just continued on the west coast. Somehow in 1987, my first play was produced in San Francisco’s One Act Festival. It gave me hope, and buoyed me- yes, I am a writer! That same year, I had a short fiction piece published in The L.A. Weekly (“Night Life,” included in my fourth book, RIFT). These were early signs that bolstered my confidence.

Chaotically, I grew into that faggot. There are numerable other stories, other avenues I have explored. But those are transmuted for fiction, poetry, and memoir. I am slowing, now, to a gentler pace. I’ve been with my boyfriend since 2003. Living in the same house in the Midwest (really? This coastal guy?); the longest I have ever lived in any one place, even as a child. One of the greatest gifts my partner gave to me was this full time writing life. So many books surround me, including five of my own. These are all nods to him, of course. I teach part-time, an editor on my fourth journal (b)OINK). I co-hosted a radio show called “Flash Fiction Fridays” on the local NPR affiliate. I’ve published fiction and poetry in over 500 literary journals. Four of my plays have been produced.

And I am still that faggot. In fact, I’m every faggot now. And why do I write? For anyone who doesn’t have a voice: my elementary school janitor, my high school nurse, my hen-pecked mother, cousin John who died on the street. And for all of my friends who no longer exist in human form: James, Terry, Ron, Sally, Mel (Snow Dove!), Frank, Dan. I continue to share your stories, our stories.

And I’m so fortunate, and grateful to be alive.


The irony is never ever lost on me.

What Some Boys Do

I sat on the bus
same seat as yesterday
heat of  a mid- June afternoon.
Earlier my teacher,
Mrs Starr, asked:
Why is the sky?
How is the ocean?
“What’s in the bag?”
Joe Ferris presses.
His breath smells of
tuna fish. I squeeze the
soft bag tighter
between my legs.
Craig Neff peers
over their seat.
“Answer him, faggot.”

This is what some boys do.

I’m tight-lipped, breath held,
face flung.
I am flying through the sky now,
skimming over the ocean.
The brakes squeak as
the bus pulls over.
Mrs. Nolan, bus driver,
bellows “Turn around, Neff!”
My mother never warned
about the scarf I was
knitting for Grandma Meyer.
It was pink, her favorite color.
My mother never explained
this is something you do
at home. She never said
this is what only some boys do.
What she did say is
when your grandma sees
this scarf, you will make
her very proud.


Robert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction, and hike/ write. He has facilitated these at locations like Alverno College, UWM, Red Oak Writing, The Clearing, Synergia Ranch and Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He leads writing roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. He was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award for Fiction twice (2013, 2014). He was the head judge for the Bath International Flash Fiction Awards, 2016. His short fiction, ‘A Box’ was selected for Best Small Fictions 2016 (Queen’s Ferry Press).

Vaughan is the author of five books: Microtones (Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs + Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits (Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements (CCM) and RIFT, a flash collection co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press). His new book, FUNHOUSE (Unknown Press) is scheduled for release in December, 2016. He blogs at

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

JOURNEY TO PLANET WRITE: From Zero to 60 and Then Sum

by Nancy Cole Silverman

Nellie Bly
Growing up, I wanted to be the next Nellie Bly, a nineteenth-century investigative reporter who would risk it all for a story. In grade school, convinced I was going to be a journalist, I launched my own newspaper and wrote a lot of short stories. Most of which my teachers gave mixed reviews. I was hardly a child prodigy. In fact, my successes back then were largely zero. Spelling and grammar evaded me. But ideas? Well, even then I was a lean in type of gal.

My professional journey as a writer began inside a radio and television station in Arizona, in the sixties. At the time, I was one of the few female voices on-the-air, and most of what I did–in addition to making coffee–was soft news. Things like; an interview with a woman who had found her mother’s engagement ring. Tips for cooking the holiday turkey. And on a particularly busy news day, updates on roadblocks and traffic signals. Back then, women’s voices were considered too light for serious news. After all, who would believe hard news, coming from the mouths of the fairer sex? To quote a popular expression: We’ve come a long way, baby!

I started my career writing ten, thirty and sixty-second news and commercial copy, and if I was lucky, I got to voice it as well. What I learned was to stick to the facts and to write tight, smart and visual. If I was writing for television, to accompany film, less was more. While if I were writing for radio, I needed to use words that would make the listener believe he or she saw the story as it unfolded. In a sense, I suppose my career as a writer began by writing short–very short–works of flash-fiction. Albeit at the time, I was writing news and not fiction.

The hardest part of my growth as an aspiring novelist was giving myself permission to blur the lines between fact and fiction. Which didn’t come easily. Nor did going from seventy-five words or the equivalent of a thirty-second spot to a three-hundred plus page novel. That took time. About twenty-five years worth. Up until then, the closest I got to doing anything fictional was entertaining my cohorts in the newsroom on a slow news day. Like a stand-up comedian, I enjoyed blending the elements of several top news stories to make for a more ratings-driven read. Ha! Ha! The joke was on me when I realized my news director was standing behind me like the Grim Reaper. “Do that again, Nancy, and you’re out of here.”

Okay, I could be stifled. And for the sake of being a single parent with two kids to support, I adapted. But I’d be damned if I’d be quelled. So I socked away a lot of those story ideas for a later date.

In 2001, I retired from radio. Not with a gold watch, as was befitting in my father’s day, but with a brass ring. Enough money under my belt to start fresh and to pursue what had been my life-long dream. An equestrian newspaper and a horse to go with it. Talk about out to pasture! I was in my hay day, excuse the pun, and founded The Equestrian News, a SoCal equestrian pub that allowed me to ride and write twenty-four seven. I loved it, and I probably would have contented myself with the life of a newspaper publisher, if it weren’t for the fact that I had an accident.

In 2011, I got bucked out my life. That’s right, BUCKED! My beautiful, bomb-proof horse showed me otherwise and dumped me on a trail with much more than a bruised ego. It wasn’t until I was home from the hospital, after two surgeries and lots of physical therapy that realized it was time to hang up my stirrups.

Once again, it was time to reinvent myself. Find a new career and settle on a new venture.

I’ve always believed the story picks the writer. And if ever there was a story that picked me, it has been those that I write about in the Carol Childs Mysteries.

Writers know about what they write or learn it on the fly as they research and invent those instances to which they are drawn. For me it was easy. I had spent the better part of my adult life in and around newsrooms. And since I’d been bucked out of semi-retirement, I figured returning to a newsroom, at least in my imagination, was safer than risking it all on the back of a horse and a delightful way to return to an industry I loved.

The Carol Childs Mysteries have been fun to write. Not easy, but fun. Like I said, the hardest part for me was letting go of my journalism roots and trying to forsake the image of a crazed news director standing over my shoulder wielding the Grim Reaper’s sickle. I think the discipline of working nine to five with constant deadlines was a big help. As for the rest of it, when I face the blank page, I think of it like I did when I was writing for radio, as theater of the mind. I’m not only the director, but I'm also the foley artist for sound effects and the actor for dialog. As for the story ideas, I’ve got a headful from my days in a newsroom and blended and punched up for effect's sake. 

Stay Tuned. Book four, Room For Doubt, debuts July 2017.


Nancy Cole Silverman says she has to credit her twenty-five years in radio for helping her to develop an ear for storytelling. In 2001 Silverman retired from news and copywriting to write fiction fulltime. Much of what she writes Silverman says is pulled from behind the headlines of actual events that were reported on from some Los Angeles busiest radio newsrooms where she spent the bulk of her career. In the last ten years Silverman has written numerous short stories and novelettes some on which have won awards and/or been picked up for publication. In 2014, Silverman signed with Henery Press for her new mystery series, The Carol Childs’ Mysteries. (Shadow of Doubt, December 2014, Beyond a Doubt, July 2015, and Without A Doubt, May 2016.

Nellie Bly Photoprint copyrighted by H.J. Myers
via Library of Congress