Author Liz Faraim talks with Jeff about her debut novel Canopy, which kicks off the Vivian Chastain series. Liz discusses the origins of Vivian, why this became her first novel, and how she shared early versions of the story through live readings. Liz also shares what got her into writing and what’s still to come with this series as well as her next one.
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Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.
- Big Gay Fiction Live Event: Holiday Storytime on Facebook (Event takes place November 18 at 7pm ET)
- Equal on HBO Max
- Dateable Podcast website
- Liz Faraim Interview
- Liz Faraim: website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Queerromnace Ink
- Canopy by Liz Faraim on Amazon
- Pat Henshaw on Amazon
- Queer Sacramento Authors Collective website
- J. Scott Coatsworth on Amazon
- Haruki Murakami on Amazon
- Michelle Tea on Amazon
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern on Amazon
- Liz reads from Pinned during a Queer Sacramento Authors Collective Reading on Facebook
- Liz reads from Stitches & Sepsis during a Queer Sacramento Authors Collective Reading on Facebook
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Libro.fm Audiobook Gift Memberships on Libro.fm (available through December 31, 2020)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
Interview Transcript – Liz Faraim
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Jeff: Liz, welcome to the podcast. I’m so excited to have you here.
Liz: Thank you so much. I appreciate it being here.
Jeff: I am so excited the “Canopy” is coming out. It’s been about two years almost since the first time I heard you read some of this at a gathering for the Queer Sacramento Authors Collective, and I’m like, “This is going to be a great book and I need to read more of it.” So, I’m excited to finally be able to get one and read it. So, first off, congratulations.
Liz: Thank you so much.
Jeff: Tell us about what “Canopy” is about and a little bit too on the bigger “Vivian Chastain Series.”
Liz: “Canopy” is set in Sacramento, California in 2004. It follows the main character whose name is Vivian Chastain. It’s following her as she’s adjusting to civilian life after having been in the military. She settles into a new routine while she’s finishing up college and working as a bartender. And she has some PTSD after her time in the military, so she’s covering up a really intense level of anxiety with sort of fake bravado and swagger. And now, that she’s out, all she wants is some peace and quiet, but her whole trajectory changes when she stumbles upon a really heinous crime in progress and literally has to fight for her life to get away.
And while she’s recovering from that fight, she falls in love with someone who, I like to describe her as being tall in stature but short on emotional intelligence, and that sort of toxic union gives Vivian the relationship she thinks she needs. But given her insecurities and traumatic past, she’s clinging to this relationship even while it’s destroying her. I will add that the relationship is polyamorous, which is not something that comes naturally to Vivian. And throughout the story, all of her relationships end up sort of being strained to the breaking point as she continues to seek out balance.
And she turns to her best friend for support, but she comes up empty-handed there and ends up finding camaraderie and care from the last person she would have thought. “Canopy” does not have a happy ending. It’s the first of a three-book series. So, the end of it sort of hops right over into book two, which is called “Stitches and Sepsis.” There’s a very abrupt end to “Canopy.” And as you’ve asked earlier about the whole series, so the whole story arc follows all three books, follow Vivian over a three-year period.
Jeff: And since we do talk romance on the show, does Vivian get her happy at the end of the trilogy?
Liz: Well, you know, without giving any spoilers, I will say that by the time you get to book three, Vivian’s starting to…yeah, I would say that the relationship she’s in in book three is very good for her.
Jeff: That’s good. I like that. From the first time I heard it, I’m like, “I hope she comes out good on the end of all this.”
Liz: I mean, it’s a really rough path. She’s got some challenges. But, you know, and I will say that I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a romance writer. This is not a romance series, but there are some relationships in it and it does smooth out by the end of book three.
Jeff: That’s good. As long as somebody comes out happy for them, I’m really good with that. What was your inspiration for Vivian? She comes across as such this rich, vibrant character, even if she goes through all this stuff in her life. She’s just…the first time I heard it, it’s like, “She’s interesting. I want more.” Where did she come from for you?
Liz: You know, I had this sort of really loose idea bouncing around in my head for quite some time, honestly, based on some of my own time in the military and as a bartender afterwards. So, I just had all these experiences and things that were all sort of needing to be put down on paper. So, but as a writer, there are several writing styles and I’m what is called a pantser. So, you’re either a plotter where you really meticulously plot everything out before you sit down to write, or you’re a pantser where you just sort of fly by the seat of your pants and just go for it without a plan. So, I’m a pantser, so I didn’t plot anything out. And as I sat down to start writing, Vivian just sort of formed herself every time I sat down to write. So, there wasn’t really any master plan there. She just happened.
Jeff: Did you have a plan for like where the trilogy would end up as you started or did it all just kind of roll itself out as you went?
Liz: Yeah, there was no master plan there at all.
I knew when I started the first book that it would take me three books to tell the whole story. There really was no master plan there at all. And I didn’t know what was gonna happen in book three, just like I didn’t know what was going to happen in book one or two.
Jeff: As you looked across the whole arc of it when you were done, because you’ve got all three books basically done at this point, how much revision did you have to do to pull the story arc through? Or did it all kind of work out? Because I know when I’ve pantsed before, sometimes it’s like I started here and I ended up there, but boy, the middle doesn’t necessarily make sense anymore.
Liz: Yeah. So, when I finished book one, so when I finished “Canopy,” I sent it out to my beta reader, who is also sort of my writing mentor, Pat Henshaw. And she provided me with some very Pat-style feedback, which is kind of cuts close to the bone, but I appreciate her for that. And what I learned was, being a very new writer at the time, that I was trying to do too much in “Canopy.” And based on the feedback that I got from her, I had to pull out over half of the story and take it out and then fix it. So, a big chunk of what I pulled out of “Canopy” actually ended up starting to be the foundation of “Stitches and Sepsis,” which is the second book. So, you know, and that’s what happens when you don’t plot out ahead of time, right?
Jeff: Exactly. Luckily, you were able to take that material and spin it into another book. So, you didn’t necessarily just leave stuff on the cutting room floor either.
Liz: Oh, that would have hurt. That would have hurt a lot.
Jeff: You shared so many chapters early with the readings you were doing here in Sacramento. I know a lot of authors cringe at the idea of sharing chapters, in some cases, before beta readers have come across it or while it’s still so new or even when the book’s not slated for release. What was it like for you to share that work, and what feedback were you getting as you did that in those early readings?
Liz: You know, I did that because I just didn’t know any better. I’m so new to all of this, so it didn’t even occur to me that sharing my work publicly before having a contract or a release date could even be an issue. But what I got out of that was a lot of really great feedback and results from those readings. So, I am glad that I did it. It was very difficult at first, as a new writer, to put myself out there like that and share publicly in front of lots of people this work that, as you said, in some cases, hadn’t even been to a beta reader yet. It was straight, raw writing, you know, work in progress, but I’m glad I did it.
Jeff: How much did things change from beta readers to when you got it to your publisher to, you know, as it comes out and all the editing’s now done for “Canopy”?
Liz: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I did have to literally rip “Canopy” in half, you know, and take out a big chunk of it. So, that was a drastic change for the first book. The second and third books, not as much. A few scenes that I had to rework or cut based on beta feedback here and there, but nothing too drastic, nothing nearly as drastic as what happened with “Canopy.”
Jeff: What kind of research did you do for this book? You said it, you know, in the near past of about 15 years ago, was that stuff that you’d all lived through in Sacramento so you didn’t have much research to do? Or were there things you had to brush up on?
Liz: Yeah. So, honestly, as you say, I didn’t have to do much for “Canopy.” I did live in Midtown Sacramento during the time period the story takes place. Not all, but many of Vivian’s experiences came from my own. And the two other books in the series did require research but I guess I’ll save that for another interview.
Jeff: Well, I was going to ask, kind of connected to that, what can you tease us about what’s to come? You hinted a little bit there talking about the series.
Liz: I can say that it gets worse before it gets better as far as Vivian’s journey. I don’t make it an easy ride for her at all. And she has, you know, several struggles that she has to overcome, but I’m glad with the way it all resolves in the final book.
Jeff: What was it that grabbed you about this story to make it the thing that you started putting out there as what you wanted to be your author debut?
Liz: You know, Vivian was just screaming to be put down on paper and have her story told. I did try to write a few other things in between, but this story arc was just too much of a draw and I kept coming back to it. I can’t really pinpoint why, but, you know, just the way my creative mind works, I guess. I was just really focused on circling back, circling back, and getting this one done.
Jeff: What got you started writing in general?
Liz: When I was little, my mother had an author friend named James D. Foreman. We called him Jay, and I was enamored by the fact that authors were real-life people. And I can remember typing away on my father’s old manual typewriter when I was like seven or eight years old, drafting my first story ever, which I sent in the mail to Jay in the hopes that somehow I’d become this amazing author and make it big, you know, as this little kid. And he was kind enough to send me a reply with feedback on my writing. But after that, I wrote on and off through adolescence and early adulthood and had a total lack of focus and drive at that point. I never finished anything that I started.
But on my 38th birthday, I made a promise to myself that I would get serious about writing and really give it my all and stick with it. And now, here I am writing my fourth full-length novel, and I have one that’s about to be released or has been released. It certainly hasn’t been an easy process by any means. Having setbacks while writing, hard to swallow feedback from beta readers, and projections from publishers and agents, I’m just happy to still be standing and still writing.
Jeff: Well, it’s quite the testament too, not only from, you know, getting that spark at 38 that you wanted to write and wanted to write the story and then the arc of you just getting it done, right? I mean, so many people want to write a book and don’t ever either start one or ever finish it. And having watched you over the span that I’ve known you, it’s been inspirational. I mean, even as somebody who’s been published, to watch you keep just driving forward, I think, is a great story.
Liz: Well, you know, and I owe a lot to the writers’ groups that I’m a member of, especially for QSAC, the Queer Sacramento Authors Group. That is where I went when I was just getting started, and you guys welcomed me with open arms. And my very first, I went to one of the group’s readings just as an audience member and afterwards J. Scott Coatsworth, who’s sort one of the founding members of the group was so warm and welcoming. And he just came up, started talking to me and he heard, you know, that I was trying to start writing and he invited me to join. And I was like, “Who? Me? I’m nobody. I don’t…” You know? And having, getting to spend time with everybody in the group and hear everybody’s, you know, really great advice and they’re just a supportive group. And that’s really helped me just to keep moving and keep trying.
Jeff: Who are some of your author influences? I love that Jay, that you knew Jay early, and that he in turn encouraged you when you sent him that first manuscript. I mean, that’s awesome. I don’t think every writer would necessarily do that, to take that time. Who else kind of influences you as you write and as you read?
Liz: I think the two that are at the top of my list are Haruki Murakami and Michelle Tea. They have been my longtime favorites. I have an entire shelf of books right here of just their work. They’re two totally different writing styles, different genres, but something about both of those authors really resonates with me.
Jeff: For those who aren’t familiar, what kind of books are those?
Liz: Haruki, he writes sort of magical realism. There’s a common theme throughout most of his books about sort of an isolated single man trying to just figure things out, but the way he paints the picture of the worlds that he develops, I don’t know what it is about them, but it just really draws me in and I find myself thinking about them months and years later. And I re-read the books over and over. And Michelle, she just really writes very…shoots from the hip about her experiences of living in San Francisco and Arizona and addresses, you know, drug addiction and just struggling to pay the bills. And she’s just very real, very real.
Jeff: What have you been reading recently that you might recommend to our listeners?
Liz: I just finished reading a book called “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. It involves a little bit of, or a lot of magical realism, which I just can’t even…it’s just such a colorful novel. There’s so much in there to absorb. I almost feel like I need to read it again, but the library told me I had to give it back.
Jeff: Please bring it back and you can check it out again later sometime. You mentioned a fourth book. So Vivian’s going to be a trilogy. What is this fourth book you’ve been working on? What can you tease us about?
Liz: Let’s see. What can I share without getting too far ahead of myself? It’s a different story arc. The book’s working title right now is “Pinned,” and it is proving to be a real challenge to write. It takes place in the East Bay. The main character’s name is Randy, and she has a cat named Pork Chop. I will say that Vivian, Buck, and Bear who are all from the Vivian Chastain Series do make appearances in “Pinned” though “Pinned” is not part of the Vivian Chastain Series. This is really Randy’s story. But it’s coming along…I found it challenging because I’ve been writing…I write in first person. So, I’ve been writing from Vivian’s perspective for years now, writing these three books. And so, having to switch gears to write from Randy’s perspective has been so challenging. I’ve had to keep going back and re-editing the dialogue and everything because it’s…I’m like, “Oh, it sounds like Vivian, not Randy. I need to fix that.”
Jeff: It’s cool how you’re building what I’ll call a universe where like Vivian and the characters from there can cross to the other book and not be in that series, but, you know, be in this larger universe. It’s obviously fun when you find that crossovers like that.
Liz: Yeah. It’s neat to be reading a different book by the same author and a character you recognize sort of pops up. That’s always fun.
Jeff: How would you describe the writing that you’re trying to do? Like looking at Vivian and looking at the new book with “Pinned,” what kind of makes a book by you a book by you? Have you kind of found your trademark yet?
Liz: I’m trying to ensure that my books are generally focused on a really strong female lead, generally, you know, somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. I try to make my, especially my lead characters, just real people that the readers can connect with and that I connect with as well. So, I think that’s sort of my basis. And while they may be people that are very relatable, they may run into some situations that might not happen to everybody in everyday life, but as how they navigate those, I try to make how other people would respond. So, you know, we don’t have some like super-spy, you know, guy, MacGyvering stuff. You know, it’s a real person handling a situation.
Jeff: Grounded in reality?
Jeff: Do you think you’d go down to the magical realism path? You’ve mentioned magical realism a couple of times as we’ve talked. Is that somewhere you’d want to go?
Liz: You know, I’ve thought about it, but I haven’t ever sat down and actually tried it. So, I don’t know if I could be successful in writing something like that. I do enjoy reading it though.
Jeff: I’m right there with you. Sometimes I read those things like, “I don’t know if I could do that.” Build that whole world out and everything. It’s kind of scary. So, Vivian is written in that near past, the near history. Are you going to continue to play in the past a little bit or are you going to come more contemporary?
Liz: Yeah. So, “Pinned” is taking place loosely in like 2019. So, I’m bringing it up a little bit. If there is a call for more books in the “Vivian Chastain Series,” which would be like 2007, 2008, 2009, I would gladly write more of them. So, I could potentially go back to writing in that era as well. And I’m already sort of loosely, again, I’m a pantser, not a plotter, but I’m already getting distracted by thoughts of what I’m gonna write after “Pinned,” and I think that will be around this timeframe as well.
Jeff: Nice. And it’ll be cool to see Vivian as she makes her cameo like 10 years out from the end of the third book. So, that’s kind of fun.
Liz: Yep. I had a lot of fun when I was writing that. Just trying to figure out, you know, what’s Vivian like now? What’s she up to? What’s going on in her life? How has she changed? Has she changed?
Jeff: More books for the TBR to keep up with, if nothing else, to find out what she’s doing in the future.
Jeff: How can people keep up with you online to know when the next books in the “Vivian Chastain Series” are coming plus “Pinned” and everything else?
Liz: I can be found on my website, which is lizfaraim.com. I’m also on Facebook and kind of on Twitter. I’m still trying to figure that one out, but I’m definitely on Facebook. I have put a few of the videos from my readings on a channel on YouTube. And I also have a profile with buy links on queerromanceink.com. And those are all the places you can find updates about me anyway.
Jeff: Excellent. We will link to all of those, especially the YouTube stuff. Folks who have not read this yet, you should go and look at those videos because it will help just draw you right in the Vivian’s world, just like I got sucked into it. So, we’ll definitely link to those. Liz, thank you so much for coming to talk to us, and congratulations again on the release of “Canopy.”
Liz: Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you, and I’m so glad to have been on your show.