The Tara Vanflower Interview
Author, Musician, Mother — and much more
We all have our favorite writers, our favorite artists and musicians. Sometimes an artist will have more than one creative outlet, like music and art, or filmmaking and writing. Tara Vanflower is one of those artists. She channels her artistic abilities in both music and writing. She’s published several novels, and is vocalist in the band Lycia. She’s also worked with a number of other bands, and with artists like Daniel Serra, whose work was featured in our summer issue. Having just released a new album with Lycia, and continuing to work on her novel series, Violet, Tara is always busy working. She also finds time to raise her son, along with husband, Mike VanPortfleet. We are pleased that she had time to talk with us about her work.
Writing Disorder: You’re known for your writing and your music. Which one is more challenging, which one do you prefer?
Tara Vanflower: I find music more challenging because you have to fit everything you want to say/evoke into a certain pattern, into a limited amount of space. With writing you can expand and elaborate. So, finding the right set of words to properly express your feeling or what you’re trying to say, and making it fit rhythmically/sonically, is very challenging. I think I prefer writing because there are really no limitations but your own imagination.
What has been the more rewarding for you personally?
Really, it’s hard to choose. Lycia has given me a whole life I would have never had, with experiences and relationships and travel, I never would have had, but writing is an entirely different kind of reward. There’s more pressure with music because a lot is expected, whereas with my writing I’m the only one that expects anything at this point. I’m only ever letting myself down. Well, that’s true in both regards. HA!
Talk about your life growing up. Where did you live? What was your family life like?
I grew up in NE Ohio in a small town called Mantua. My family are factory workers, blue collar, normal.
What was your youth like, and what made you want to become a writer?
Very simple and very fun for the most part. Typical kind of exurban life. I played outside all day with friends. Group baseball games, hide and seek, football, whatever. I twirled baton competitively, so I always did some travel with that. Having stories to tell is what made me want to become a writer. My imagination never stops and these people want their stories told.
When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?
I haven’t begun to think of myself as a writer. I don’t know what flip needs to be switched for that to happen. Maybe some level of success? I honestly don’t know. But I don’t consider myself a musician either.
What music did you listen to as a child? Were your parents artistic? Or siblings?
I grew up listening to country & western, (the old GOOD stuff) bluegrass, southern gospel, that sort of thing. It definitely has had an impact on me. My parents are creative in their own ways. My mom painted and always sang around the house, as well as planting flowers and trees, which to me is a form of creativity. My father can build things with his hands like barns and dog houses and crap like that and I consider that creative. My brother played the sax for awhile but never pursued that. He was an athlete. But he could’ve been a great musician.
Before music and writing, what kind of work did you do? What type of work did you envision yourself doing?
I started young so I never really did “anything” before I started in music. I floated from job to job – cleaning hotel rooms, factory work, amusement park, whatever. I went to cosmetology school for a while, but I quit to go meet Mike and the rest is history. I never saw myself as really BEING anything. In my head I had random plans, but nothing was ever concrete. I didn’t care about anything enough before music.
What does your family think of your work and success? Do you ever get their input on your work/writing?
They’re proud, I guess. My mom is friends with a lot of people who follow our work and she randomly tells people in the store about Lycia. It’s not honestly a huge topic of discussion. I don’t talk about my writing much with family because it still feels like sharing my diary.
Who influenced your work early on? What books, authors did you read growing up? Which authors do you like to read now?
When I was really young I liked George Orwell and Ray Bradbury. But I can’t say anyone really influenced my work. I basically read trashy novels, or did. I don’t have time anymore. My desire was to tell the stories I had in my head. I didn’t use anyone else’s path or style to follow. I know my “style” is pretty improper, I imagine, I don’t really know. So I wouldn’t want to offend anyone by saying I was following their path anyway. If I am I’m doing it poorly.
Did you read any comics or graphic novels growing up? Name some titles that stood out.
Nope! Sadly I never got into that. I simply wasn’t exposed to it. It makes me sad. I still haven’t read a ton, but of the few I have, I love Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. The art is phenomenal. I think that Superman is my favorite version. I may or may not be in love with Superman. Just throwing that out there.
Where do your stories begin? What is the process?
The first three books were inspired by dreams I had. The others have built upon those characters and their own tales evolved from there. I have very detailed dreams and gain a ton of inspiration from them. Or random fleeting images I catch from the air.
When was your first work published, and what was it?
Violent Violet originally came out in 2004. It has since been re-released.
Describe what happens when you write a story.
It’s on my mind nonstop. I never leave the characters or their world fully and every spare moment I have my mind is on them. I describe it like they’re sitting in this waiting room, pacing back and forth, waiting me to come back and spend time with them so they can tell their story. They get antsy and impatient. Some of them have been waiting years.
Your write lyrics, do you also write poetry? Is there a difference for you?
I started off writing poetry. The poetry I wrote naively gave me the belief I could write lyrics and thus I got involved with my first band. There is a difference. I don’t have to “fit” poetry into a finite box.
How much of what you write do you throw away?
Very little. But I do abandon things to return to later when I’m “feeling it” more. I have ten stories in various stages of completion.
How do you balance a story so it’s not too extreme, too violent, etc.?
I don’t believe in writing (or music for that matter) being “too” anything if it’s honest to the story/characters. The story dictates the level to which it reaches, not me.
Talk about your Violet character. Is she based on you or someone you know?
Violet is definitely her own person. The scenarios in which she found herself in the first two books were based on my dreams, but she is most definitely her own person.
What are you working on now?
Way too many things. Right now I’m editing the next two “Violet” books. Then after that I will be finishing up a book called Black Owl. Then editing the two that I’ve already written that come after that one called Ilya and another called Mourning Glory. I’m also working on a music collaboration.
What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do for fun?
All of my time is spoken for, so honestly, writing has to fit in the cracks where I’m not doing something else. I work fulltime, I’m a mother and wife, plus I have the music business. Writing is the last on the list because it has to be. What do I do for fun? Write! Ha! I love watching stuff on Netflix when I can and talking to people online.
What are the challenges of being a writer today?
Finding anyone to give a shit. You can write the best book in the world, but if no one reads it, who cares? I care because these characters mean something to me, but finding anyone else to care, there is the problem. I think there’s so many books out there, so many writers, that unless you stumble onto some magic wave of pure chance and luck, you fall through the cracks.
Are there limits to how far a writer can depart from the real world?
I don’t think so, but you still have to be able to relate to the characters. I think the problem with a lot of writers is they’re so busy trying to be clever they forget to tell a story that anyone can relate to or care about. I write about vampires, but they are real people first. The fact that they’re vampires isn’t the point of their stories, it’s secondary, and being a vampire is just a fact of their reality.
Where do you write? Describe your work space.
A lot of different places. From my work comp, to the bed, to the couch, to the recliner. Wherever, whenever. I write in my head while I’m driving then rush to write notes when I get wherever I’m going. The beauty of using Google Docs is I can write from anywhere I have internet access. I would love to have a specific place, like an office, but that’s not my reality.
When do you write?
Late at night once everyone’s gone to bed, after work between the time I finish and the time I pick up my son from daycare, and during his naptimes on the weekend.
Does anyone else in your family write?
No, but they should. Everyone should.
Was writing encouraged at home?
It wasn’t a “thing”. I was more into twirling baton in my youth and didn’t start writing until I was in high school and I didn’t talk about it with anyone but a couple friends. They would spend the night and we would write these teenage romance novels back and forth. I miss those days. But no, it wasn’t encouraged because no one knew it was a thing.
How do you feel about turning people you know into characters in your stories?
I fucking love it. I’ve killed several arch nemeses in my books. I write aspects of people I know/love into some characters but they are never “that person”… just hints of their personalities or their looks.
How much research do you do before you begin a writing project?
None. Since I write from my personal experiences and a brand new world I’ve created, I don’t really need to do research. I will do random google searches on certain topics as a reference, but generally speaking, nothing I do requires researching. Is that good or bad?
Once you have the basic story written, does the editing process take longer than the initial writing?
This is a really hard question for me to answer. I think I’ve changed through the years since I’ve been writing for awhile now. Violent Violet and the three follow ups have been heavily edited. They were written a long time ago and VV was the first thing I ever wrote. So it has needed some work once my style kind of evolved. I think the books I’ve most recently written are more about editing grammar and less for sentence structure or continuity etc.
Do you have other creative talents?
Hmmm, I think talent in any regard is debateable. Ha! I’m an excellent swearer and work at a high level of sarcasm and self deprecation. My wood burning skills are up for debate.
What music did you listen to growing up? What do you listen to now?
I listened to the music I noted earlier. But then I discovered punk and post punk music and that’s been pretty much it. I like a lot of stuff from 1920s-1940s, still listening to punk/post punk, I like a lot of bands like Ides of Gemini, Godflesh, Swans, Ulver, Pyramids, Killing Joke, White Lies, etc. A sort of mix of darker, brooding, slow motion, melancholic stuff. I provide music lists in my books to share the stuff that is influencing me while I’m writing as well as setting an overall mood for the story/world I’m creating.
What is a typical writing day for you?
I don’t have writing days. Basically I just write when I have time allotted for it. God, I would love to have “writing days”.
Do you spend a lot of time on the internet? What do you do, what sites do you visit most often? Is there a point when you have to turn everything off?
I spend way too much time on the internet. My problem is that I love people and I love interacting with them. I’m mostly on the usual haunts: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter. I have boards on Pinterest dedicated to writing inspiration and each book/character I’ve created, which I love. I do have to turn it all off sometimes, but it’s hard for me to check out. I used to feel bad about that but I don’t anymore.
How do you find time to write with a family and music projects? Would you like your son to be a writer or musician?
As I said earlier, basically when there isn’t anything going on with the family, that is my writing time. I won’t sacrifice my family time for my own selfish pursuits. I think it would be really cool if my son did something creative, but I would never push that if it wasn’t something he was into. I will support and encourage whatever he chooses to do. That having been said, he’s already making music and writing books. Ha ha.
What are you looking forward to in 2016 and beyond?
I’m scared to even answer this question. I just want to be happy. God knows the desires of my heart, I don’t need to speak them to the air.
When working on a project with your husband, Mike VanPortfleet, what is the process like, who does what?
Lycia is Mike’s project. I get involved when I’m asked to get involved. So, basically he’ll tell me “this is your song” and then I start working out my parts and get them recorded. I’m another instrument he uses.
Does he have any input on your writing?
No. I rarely discuss writing with him.
Would you rather tour with the band, or do a book tour?
Book tour. I wouldn’t have to worry about bullshit sound problems on a book tour. I could focus on meeting rad people and not worry about the technical side of playing shows. It would be awesome.
Any plans for a tour in the future, for your music or your writing?
Definitely no plans to play live shows. I wish I could do a book tour because I think that would be a hell of a lot of fun. Who knows what the future holds.
Thank you for your time.