Wednesday, January 8, 2014

M.N. Thomas Talks Gender in Fiction

Good morning, all!

Today we are delighted to be hosting M.N. Thomas, author of Choices (among others), which Samuel will be reviewing this afternoon. A professional who has traveled significantly throughout Southeast Asia, Thomas has encountered many people from different walks of life, different realities, different histories, and different sexualities.

It is Thomas' sincere belief that the best way to write transgender fiction is to simply tell the story of people dealing with the life they were given, and the challenges encountered along the way so, without further ado, please allow the story to unfold . . .

♥ How did you happen to write "Choices?"

The funny thing about Choices was it was never meant to be written as a book. The basis of the book was a much shorter version that I had written as my very first offering for the Big Closet Top Shelf web site a couple of years ago. It was the first thing I had ever done that I allowed someone else to read. The response to that initial story, and the helpful input of other writers on that site, was the springboard that motivated me to write Princess of the Desert. After I had finished Tears of the Innocent last spring, I was cleaning up old files on my computer when I ran across that original story. As I started reading through it, I almost mindlessly started editing it, adding things, changing things, and before I knew it a whole book was sitting in front of me.

♥ When did you move from online stories to published novels, and how did this come about?

The answer to this one is really not that straightforward. I have been an avid reader for most of my life, and always had the dream of being able to write a story similar to the ones I was reading. As mentioned before, I took my initial plunge on the BCTS web site a few years ago when I decided to gamble and post the first version of Choices. I wasn't sure what I expected from that posting, but I didn't expect what I got.

Reading back through that original work, it was poorly told, and full of grammatical and punctuation errors. Despite the issues, the feedback for my efforts was quite warm and accepting. One of the members of the website, Holly Hart, basically took me under her wing, helped me clean up the work, and encouraged me to continue writing. I had another unfinished story stuffed away on my computer, so I sent Holly the fifty or so pages that I had written. Her response to me was, “You need to finish this.”

Over the next six to eight months that is exactly what I did, with Holly’s help, and Princess of the Desert was posted on BCTS. The feedback and response that I received for Princess was so overwhelming, that I immediately started work on the sequel, and a number of months later posted Tears of the Princess. I never really thought of either of these as actual novels, they were just stories to me.

I wanted to do something different with my next story, and it took a number of months to develop the storyline of Stolen Innocence before any words were actually put on paper. The responses on BCTS for that were far more emotional, deeper, and in some cases very touching. When I finished the story, I was told by Holly, as well as a number of other readers, that I needed to publish it. After some coaching and research, I did exactly that, and Stolen Innocence became my first book released on Kindle in March of 2013.

So, after all of that, the direct answer to the question is I truly began writing novels with Tears of the Innocent, as that was the first one that I actually planned on being a book. Holly Heart was probably the person most responsible for nurturing my desires to write. Her constant coaching, questioning, and support were the things that made me believe I could actually do this. Sadly, the world and all of the members of BCTS lost Holly this past year. She is missed.

♥ She will definitely be missed - she was a friend and mentor to many. You write eloquently and knowledgeably about human trafficking, slavery, forced feminization, and forced prostitution. How did you become interested in these areas?

A little over ten years ago I began traveling extensively throughout Asia as part of my job. I have spent a fair amount of time in Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, and a few others. Getting to know the people and the cultures, reading and watching the local news and issues, opened my eyes to many things happening in the world that I had either never known, or chosen to ignore. Though the classical sense of slavery, being bound in chains with no free will, still does exist in parts of the world, the most common form of slavery is not as obvious.

Poverty is a worldwide issue, and those living in poverty are often gullible to the false promises made by traffickers of better lives, better jobs, and a better future. Young girls and young men are pulled into the world of prostitution, construction or service industries where they receive substandard pay, are required to work long grueling hours, and are often ‘chained’ by debt. Through my travels I have been privileged to get to know a few of these people and hear their stories. Many of their stories become parts of my books, and many of my characters are based upon people I have met.

For those who have read the Trail of Tears series, the characters of Maria and Charlie are based upon real people that I have the honor of calling my friends. Maria’s story, and how the two met, is told pretty accurately in Tears of the Princess. Hearing their story, and similar stories of others, drove me to more research, more questions, and talking to more people. I felt their stories needed to be told, but told in such a way as to protect those that told me the stories.

♥ In your bio, you state that you are "well north of 50." Tell us a bit about your life to date - what you have done for a living, what are your interests besides writing and how did you happened to arrive at this point?

By trade and training I am an Electrical Engineer, and have been working with the same company for a going on 28 years. I grew up in the mountain country of the Pacific Northwest where I lived a pretty sheltered live in small town USA. Interests evolve over time, and my earlier years were all focused on hunting, fishing and living in the great outdoors. Once I was given the opportunity to experience other parts of the world, my interests grew to the discovery of new cultures, people, ideas and the variety of experiences in life.

I have lived in Singapore and Taiwan, as well as spending a fair amount of time in the Philippines, Thailand, Malaysia, and a number of others. Having the opportunity to experience, live and learn in other cultures has been eye opening in more way than one.

♥ Can you tell us a bit about your interest in transgender individuals and how you gained such keen expertise in this area?

I read somewhere that everyone in the world falls somewhere on the transgender spectrum. None of us are purely male, or purely female, we each have a trace of the other, some more, some less. With that being said, I will honestly say that I fall to the lower end of the scale, and don’t consider myself to be transgender. However, I have always found myself with an interest in understanding those that are, and why they feel what they feel. Again, I have felt myself privileged to have the opportunity to get to know a number of people from all parts of the transgender spectrum, and hear their stories.

One point of education that I have come to realize is acceptance and discrimination are mutually exclusive things. I have seen many cases were a person’s transgender desires are accepted, but they are still discriminated against because of their choice of lifestyle. Most people in Asia are far more accepting of how people choose to live their life, but that doesn't mean they are accepted as equals in society. Both Thailand and the Philippines are famous, or maybe better infamous, for their transgender populations. Even thought the societies of both countries accept that some wish to live a different life, discrimination is still obvious and many are forced into the sex trade just to survive.

Back in 2008, I met a young transgender lady from Thailand who was working in a bar in Singapore. Her English was exquisite, and it only took a few minutes of our conversation for me to realize she was quite intelligent. Through a couple of hours of conversation I discovered that she had a Bachelor’s degree in Business, a Master’s degree in Hotel Management, and was fluent in four languages. I was shocked that someone with her background would be working in a bar until she explained to me that in Thailand, where being transgender is common, even after she had her full SRS, the law would not allow her to change her national ID card from ‘male’ to ‘female’, and that stigma prevented her from getting work in her field. Discrimination and acceptance do not address the same issue.

However, to be honest, my writing stories with transgender characters has less to do with why they are transgender, and more to do with showing them as real people in real life. I think that is probably the biggest thing I took away from those that I have met, they are just people trying to live life the best they can. In my stories, I try very hard to make them real people, and rarely is the focus on why they are, but more on who they are, and the struggles they face trying to just live their lives like the rest of us.

♥ A lovely sentiment indeed! Your novels (at least those that I have read) have a "male" hero saving the "female" protagonist. You seem to be quite a romantic, and an optimist who believes in happy endings. Is this true?

Those that know me will readily admit that I am a romantic, but not an optimist. I can’t tell you why I am a romantic, other than I have always believed the guy should get the girl, and there is always a knight in shining armor out there somewhere. In reality I am probably best described as a realist, as I understand that things in the real world rarely work out the way we want them to and real life has very few truly happy endings.

All you need to do is turn on the television or pickup a newspaper and you can get a fill of the often sad, but realistic endings that occur in real life. I decided a long time ago that I didn't need to add to the pain of realistic endings that people see every day. Instead I would like to show that hope is possible, and sometimes things work out they way we all want them too. So, yes, I do push for happy endings, and I would readily say that is the true fiction in my stories.

♥ Which authors have influenced you the most?

This list would be huge - I have enjoyed the work of so many different people over the years. I will admit that most of my personal reading falls into the action/adventure or suspense categories. I have read everything written by David Baldacci, W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, and so many others. I think it would be easier to talk about what influenced me the most, not so much who. The stories that I have enjoyed the most, and the effects I try to emulate in my own work, are those that the characters came to life, became real people, became my friends.

It is pretty easy to tell a story of events, but its better if the reader develops a connection with the characters, good or bad. I really want my books to be about the characters, and the stories just the events that the characters go through. One of the biggest complements that I get is when people ask me for sequels, because they miss the characters. That is when I know I have accomplished what I set out to do.

♥ Do you have some other writing ideas you are fleshing out now or new "books in the oven" for release in the near future?

I have a number of things in the works right now, but the release dates are questionable because of my real life work.

I have an erotic thriller that is about 70% complete that I am currently calling Escort. The story grays the lines between transgender and gay, as the main character is not sure what he/she is. This is my first story that I would call adult fiction, as it deals with the adult film industry, transgender escorts, and a serial killer.

I am well into outlining my first non-transgender novel called The Valley of Hearts. This will be a pure romantic suspense story centered in a high mountain community.

I have the forth book in the Trail of Tears saga mostly outlined. This book will bring Dan McNeil and the other characters back to continue to battle human trafficking, as well as their own demons in the continued search for the elusive Mr. Smith.

I have a few other ideas being played with, including a sequel to Choices that has been requested, but I would predict that all three of the above will be released during 2014.

A heartfelt thanks to M.N. Thomas for agreeing to join us today, and to Samuel for taking the time to arrange the interview and bring us all together!

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