Vanda Talks About Her Historical Fiction Series

On this episode of The Lesbian Review Podcast Vanda Talks About Her Historical Fiction Series, Juliana.

In this episode:

  • How Vanda turned Juliana into a play
  • The research she needed to do to get the facts right
  • What she learned that shocked her
  • What she wants to do now with her books

Listen to this episode here

Juliana by Vanda


She went looking for fame, and found her true self, instead.

New York City, 1941. Alice “Al” Huffman and her childhood friends are fresh off the potato farms of Long Island and bound for Broadway. Al’s plans for stage success are abruptly put on hold when she’s told she has no talent. As she gets a job to pay for acting classes, Al settles into a normal life with her friends and a boyfriend. It all changes when she meets Juliana.

A singer on the brink of stardom, Juliana is everything Al isn’t: glamorous, talented, and queer. The farm girl is quickly enthralled, experiencing thoughts and feelings she never realized were possible. Al finds herself slipping between two worlds: the gay underground and the “normal” world of her childhood friends. It’s a balancing act she can handle until the two worlds begin to collide

In a city bursting with change, can Alice find what she was looking for all along?

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please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect

hi there I’m Sheena and this is the lesbian review podcast this podcast is a spin-off of the popular review site where we review the best books movies and music was leading lesbian bi or queer woman the goal of this podcast is to bring you closer to the best queer media and give you access to interviews with people who are behind the scenes in creating it I’m joined today by the fantastic waterbender who’s talking about how she turned her book into a play Vanda thanks for joining me today I’m glad to be here let’s start with your book Juliana which is the first in your series right that’s right so tell us a little bit about it Juliana starts off in 1941 and I’ve cellphone commented that you know well she’s not in it as much as the other character the main characters telling the story there’s a reason for that and hopefully people will go get it eventually but anyway al the character was coming from Long Island comes and at that time Long Island was a bunch of potato fields and she comes with her friends and she’s coming there to make it on the Broadway stage and she runs into Giuliana and her life has changed she has never ever thought of being with a woman or any of that but everything changes with Giuliana so that’s basically where it takes off and the two of them really struggle because Giuliana although she’s actively gay she is married and struggles with her religion about it so there’s a lot of stuff that goes back and forth between the two to two women of that time so this is the 40s in the war World War two so it’s a very World War two novel Giuliana is entertaining the troops al is working in the stage to a canteen so anybody who lives World War two stories this is totally a World War two story of people being very dedicated there’s both men and women and it who are totally devoted to the cause but it also has the highlights what was happening to gaze at that time during that time period what kind of things happen for them so it’s a history history for everybody and but it’s also has specifics about Belle gbt people so you must have done a lot of research in creating this mobile yeah every little detail has to be researched you can’t assume what’s you have to be everything you say even you know the things that are normal to in normal speech now is not normal for them so it’s in order to not make it sound too contemporary you don’t want to sound foreign to people but you because they did speak our language obviously but there are certain phrases that we use now that would never be used in that time period so I would often have to go through and say oh there’s one of those phrases I got to cut that that’s part of my editing process is getting rid of phrases that are contemporary that’s interesting yeah hard-hearted I actually could even imagine we chatted briefly once and you told me about the the inspiration for this book oh right I was walking down the street it was a beautiful day it was probably around April probably maybe me and I was on the opposite side of Washington Square Park and on there are trees and the buildings there are some great novels have have been patterned from some of those books and and this is just beautiful things and I was walking across and getting ready to cross the street and there was a woman standing there coming the opposite direction crossing the street and I didn’t really notice her but I noticed her necklace and as she came closer to me the necklace came in view and so they got hurt and neck and from there Julianna came out and I can’t explain it but that was the beginning of my character Julianna and I had to write that character and you’ve written how many books in the series now I’ve completed four I’m in the middle of book five but you have didn’t just stop with like a whole series of books you’ve actually turned your book into a play well it’s not it was never a play play I was a playwright so my writing is always influenced by dialogue when I was in eighth grade and my eighth grade teacher first discovered that I could write I was very encouraging used to you know he helped me with a knob my first novel that I wrote when I was in eighth grade and he happened to say you’re really good with dialogue he never said write a play but he just said you really good dialogue so it was happening then I don’t you know I just dialing he’s always come naturally to me so when I wrote my novel a lot of its dialogue say I set up the scene but then I have people talking to each other and that’s kind of what’s natural to me so there’s so much dialogue and changing it to a play was not really that hard the hardest part is that the book is written in the main character’s perspective it’s written from Alice Hoffman or Alice she’s called the book her perspective and so there was the large portions where she would be making comments about what was going on and some of those comments are very important it’s not just narration you know like go from this point A to point B but her perspective on the world and and how that changes so some of that I had to me preserve in the play which was often difficult to hear and how much preserve and how much to cut you don’t want to bore the audience with having an actually talk too long but it was important to the play we did this played over an 18-month period we took the book and we showed various chapters of it once a month for 18 months and these were actors who were not being paid and you can’t expect them to spend hours and hours on rehearsal so basically we would rehearse it like four hours and before the show went on which was not a lot of rehearsal so we were actually still using scripts but they were so good at it it wasn’t notice they couldn’t see them using the scripts and it was just and we had costumes and we had music they sang the songs from the 40s and everything we had a nice sized audience that would come regularly so it was never up lately I’m just right now trying to do something with it and it’s into a play this is never written in the structure of a play except that everything I write probably has a play structure in some kind of way I think I learned to write a novel by writing a play because everything you need for a novel is in a play okay so let’s take a step back listeners who don’t know the story of how this all got started so explain how you broke it down and where you were showing it somebody when I was I was reading sections of it at a writers group and I belong to a playwriting group and I couldn’t find a good novels writing group a lot of people went to master’s schools and they had all this intellectual stuff that they talked about and I’m just not that kind of writer so I couldn’t find a group to belong to so I asked my playwriting group if I could just pretend this is a play and cast it with actors because it’s the way we could Tico work and I’m bring it in and they said yes so I did that and then they started saying this is this is a play you can make this a play easily and why don’t you show it somewhere and we couldn’t figure out where that could be done with not so much expense and then finally we we said well I got I contacted the people at the Stonewall which was kind of cool and we actually did the first two shows at the Stonewall Inn which is of course famous was the Stonewall Riots I couldn’t stay there because they have a very loose way of operating and when you have actors that we had sometimes we have nine or ten actors you can’t change the date all of a sudden or you want to bring an audience you can’t change the date so we ended up signing a contract with the the duplex which is just down the block from them and the duplex has also been around since the 50s and has been a gay place that the gay bar gay cabaret and so we did that there for the rest of the run from the eighteen months we were at the duplex which is a great experience how did you manage to get a whole bunch of actors to commit for a year and a half of when cements performances see we didn’t know we’re gonna do it that long we just started we said let’s do this you know and the thing is it was explained to me by some of the actors like what the woman who played Juliana I always always say I’m sorry I’m a paying you I can’t pay you you know cuz I was paying for the space and that I could afford I’m not paying for costumes but I didn’t have leftover money to pay actors she said are you kidding me she says I am now working every month I have a job even though in acting in New York if you are working as an actor it doesn’t matter if you get paid or not it’s a job every month I couldn’t get people to come here and see me I’m working all the time as an actress this is a thrill I’m fine and that’s what its kind of what was happening he said the actors were working they were actually could tell their friends their family but yes I have a regular gig and it worked for them yeah I would have loved to pay them but it just wasn’t possible I ain’t had that kind of money that’s pretty cool and you say you working now on trying to get like something more formal happening but so many of my reviews say this needs to be a movie this could be a miniseries and I don’t know the right people to make that happen but it’s true because it has it’s already written I decide to do some juggling so I’m yeah I’m gonna play with it maybe and see if I could submit something some parts of it around and see what I can do to make it happen because I would like to see it that way because I think see the one thing that’s about this it’s it is it’s gay yeah yeah you know it’s an LGBT it has both women and men the two women are the core characters but the men have a part to play and it’s not just for gay folks it’s about history it’s about but I don’t like my history feeling all this drawing you know some dry classroom history no it’s it’s very alive I have a lot of straight readers who read it I have men male straight readers women straight readers really because it’s interesting because they had no idea what was happening with gay folks and so it’s crossed over to some other populations I I’ve scored high on Amazon in just history plain history not just LGBT history so the history people the history buffs are reading it so it’s it’s I think it could be you know a serious because it could hit a larger audience I just have to know the right people I’ll get something started I put it down somewhere you sound like quick go-getter you hustle and make things happen so I’m sure that’s not a pipe dream well I’m gonna try I’m gonna try and see what you know what I have to do to get it happening yeah are you more interested in turning it into a play or like a miniseries at this point like what are you thinking I think if play is too confining the characters go all over New York and and you can do that in a play you just do put it in the dialogue and it’s longer a play is usually a restricted amount of time you don’t usually do years in a play you usually do you know a couple months a day you know you don’t usually do tears in a film or in a miniseries you can go overtime now I want to see the whole series done the characters they age you know when the book starts al is 18 and innocent and learning all this stuff the book I’m working on now she’s 30 32 so she’s seen the world a different place and all kinds of new things are happening to her and then the world is changing because under the surface and although actually the world doesn’t know it yet but the Geisha folks do because there’s just the beginning of people organizing for rights it’s just starting and that’s kind of an interesting place to be and before when they heard the word gay rights even themselves they would laugh they said yeah right right what rights you know we don’t have a right so that it would that’s silly but now they’re taking serious no we do have a right to keep our jobs to have to love it’s just starting to make sense to them and so it’s kind of an interesting place to be writing that so they I need to change you know otherwise you you leave people in a very uncomfortable place if you stop in the forties you know not you know not much a chain there I mean this could be a miniseries that continues over several seasons yes yes I said well that’s my dream I said I want to take the book into more current times I’d like to see my two main characters who go through the book I’d like them to live old enough to see what happens because you know they don’t have real high hopes for anything happening excited you know they don’t expect what was coming nobody did and you know it was always it was hopeless to be gay I mean you weren’t going to be accepted it was you know when I went to fun home you know the play fun home and I said and these Bleacher like things and he’s very very old women came hobbling down it’ll go down to get your seat and I thought what these women have seen and now they’re getting to see a play on Broadway about being gay how incredible and I said I gotta take my characters right see through to the you know right to into the modern times I have to they got to see this you’re listening to the lesbian talk show the lesbians olkhon you have a podcast information was there anything that you felt particularly like you had to include in the book and you found a space just for that yes I was unaware about the amount of Jim Crow and bias against blacks in New York City I had no idea how bad it was and when I started reading it because you when you get into cage you start getting into all of minority groups and all the things that going on I was appalled and I put little hints because what I want to do with this bit is the white people don’t notice it it’s not even that they’re bad people and you know they’re not necessarily even they don’t know that this is happening they’re just living their lives and they don’t know what’s happening and I want to kind of show that like even in the main character because sometimes the review say well you know they didn’t like what this character did but you know that’s the way it was they have to have like a whole Awakening and that’s not coming late till much later and so even the main characters they see things that are off but they don’t you know they don’t get react in any way that we would today and this next book is gonna be tough because I’m probably gonna get killed but I’m gonna use the language they use those days it was so much bias in the 50s just incredible bias for every group not you know we have we have the black saying we have gays and stuff but there were a bias for Italians Irish polish juice everybody I feel like to tell the time about the time period and it lets people talk the language they used so I’m probably gonna get knocked around like this there’s people that often just they they make mistake of thinking the way the character talks is the way the author thinks instead of that this is you know that this is separate so I have to just do it that’s a that’s a tough one to overcome I think as an author I’ll probably write an essay about it in the book yeah good idea yeah something so explain it yeah well even there’s a simple thing that I’m gonna have to explain is one of the characters is going is becoming Bush she’s learning to become butch and she and and I had to do some research that I had to personally say this is not an on the Internet and how does she get the clothes how did she get her first set of clothes a woman can’t buy men’s clothes she can’t even wear a man so there’s a real complicated thing I’m gonna write a lecture about how complicated with the woman’s address but I found out that she would find somebody you know I should get some clothes on some men’s clothes on and she would go into a men’s store and pose as a man and those people in the 50s would accept that no think of that they didn’t question that if she’s dressed as a man then she must be a man think of the kind of thinking that is we would never do that now no not at all yeah I’m mad too because I have to write some kind of footnote something his people are gonna go all right she walks into a store and everybody lets to change into men’s clothes and goes you know nobody questions it they’re not gonna believe it but that’s what happened people were very wide open in there and they really had almost no jacala it’s kind of a concrete way of looking at things and I like to think of it as instead of looking at them and us I like to think of it as all of us growing together as information has become more accessible and media has become more prevalent in society our views and our experiences have grown exactly I can experience what it’s like to be a woman living in India today just by watching TV right and you can empathize with something that probably you wouldn’t empathize back in fit in the fifties yes we can even like you know now all women and this is not easy for everybody but like especially in New York where they’re all right probably where you live where there’s lots of different kinds of people we we can now understand and connect to people who wear clothes that are different than us it’s not a big deal some that’s still an adjustment issue for some of us but back in the 50s forget it you know everybody had to dress alike because that’s how we knew and there’s a actually a biological reason for that which I don’t know if I’ll get into in my book about there is a reason that people cling to their own but it’s a thing that comes from you know back and back in a day we need to protect ourselves from true predators but now it’s different it’s differently and we have brains that we can change and we have adaptability and we don’t have to stay the same as our ancestors they had different issues and I think because we’re so exposed to ideas and education and Technology and other cultures and other people we aren’t stationary the way we used to be so we’re always evolving and changing look at the difference now within the LGBT sector this is 20 years ago oh my god just the way that she transgenders transgender people were treated up but this million the LGBT community was horrible and now it’s very accepted it was horrible in New York and now the United States I don’t know I didn’t you were in your country but in the United States it was bad and now it’s getting better it’s not complete but it’s getting better okay so is anything else you’d like to talk about in terms of your book you’ll play where you you going from here oh where I’m going huh I don’t know right now I’m working I’m always yeah like people sometimes say which one that your books your favorite it’s always the one I’m working on has today I get through it and I’ve just finished working at the school and I teach professor at uh much at Metropolitan College in New York and I just finished up that so now I’m gonna be spending major time catching up on the book and I’m really like into it because it’s there’s a lot of new characters coming because I’ll now it’s going to hitting the lesbian bars which we haven’t seen before shooting that we haven’t seen the lesbian bars yet but this is now you know was that’s where the movement started and so she’s gonna be in a lesbian bars and meeting lots of new people and and lots of changes and stuff and it’s kind of fun to be writing this and a lot to do and a lot this is major research is more research than I’ve ever had to do about everything this morning I was looking up when did the first reel-to-reel tape player come out that was available to consumers you could get music on it and you could tape yourself that was a big deal but I didn’t know what year I came out and so I have to get that I have to get all those invention really years right so that I know how they affect the people that are in the thing got the hula hoop coming soon next year I mean in my next you know it’s I’m in 57 58 when the hula hoop came out that’s interesting my storehouse of useless information and the reel-to-reel that consumers could use with 64 it’s actually so interesting because you don’t think about something as simple as people being able to record yourself as being so Wow is we’re literally talking to each other we’re on opposite sides of the world isn’t that incredible and and yet the stuff that we we had to adjust to you know like you know all this stuff it used to be such a big deal like I remember we were we recorded a TV we recorded my grandmother was in Florida on one of those reel-to-reel so we’d have a tape recording of her voice oh he talks to the phone and it was so like well first how much does the call cost that was major because you know long distance was so expensive and then it was like can you hear me can you hear me is it really working is it working and Grandma screaming into it that’s fantastic okay so if people want to read your series can they pick up any book in the series or do you recommend they start with book one and work their way through anyone’s book one two or three they’re all those are all stand-alones but I would recommend starting with one because it’s more fun to watch the characters change and grow as they get older and learn more things but it you can understand the book no problem if you start with one two or three four it would be hard to understand by that point okay cool and we can people find you online online you can do what my website is calm and are you on social media yeah on Facebook and I’m also that’s slash Ben the writer okay cool I’ll add links to your online presence in the show notes oh great thank you so much for joining me today thank you for having me this has been a great time and I admire what you do so much this has been the lesbian review podcast you can find this and other awesome shows by searching for the lesbian talk show anywhere you get your podcasts we’re even on Spotify now find more information on our guests in the show notes as well as links to what we spoke 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