One of the things I enjoy doing for pleasure is reading - on all types of topics and both fiction and non-fiction. Among the genres I enjoy is quality gay fiction (perhaps making up for my decades in the closet) and I've belonged to a LGBT themed book club for some time now.
Recently, in placing a book club order, I selected a book that looked interesting titled Don't Let Me Go which from the description appeared to involve both drama and romance. Suffice it to say I loved the book and e-mailed the author J. H. Trumble to express how much I had enjoyed the book and the writing style.
To my surprise, I received a response that led to a series of e-mails between us and, best of all, an advance proof of Trumble's second book entitled Where You Are.
Again, I found myself enthralled with the characters and the manner in which the author conveyed their thoughts and emotions. Indeed, I found the writing style in some ways akin to that of the late Mary Renault who wrote a trilogy on Alexander the Great and a number of other books set in Classical Greece. Her book, The Last of the Wine remains one of my favorite books ever.
J. H. Trumble will similarly captivate readers as did Renault. Both Don't Let Me Go and Where You Are provide quality romance while addressing issues ranging from bullying in schools to family rejection of LGBT youth. Trumble vividly captures emotions and advocates for the worth of both LGBT individuals and same sex love. I, for one, hope that Trumble writes many more books.
After the break is my interview with the author.
1. Who or what first inspired you to start writing gay fiction novels?
Oh, wow. Where do I start? I guess the first spark came when I read James Howe's Totally Joe. I was completely taken with the novel and set out to read everything I could find in the gay genre. I was pleasantly surprised at some of the great books out there--Alex Sanchez's Rainbow Boys series, Nick Burd's The Vast Fields of Ordinary, Peter Cameron's Some Day This Pain Will Be Useful to You, Martin Wilson's What They Always Tell Us, just to name a few that really stuck with me. But I was always frustrated with the novels I found because the couples always split at the end. So there were those books and, at the other end of the spectrum, there was erotica. I decided I wanted to write books that addressed what I saw then as a gap in the literature. (Note: Since Don't Let Me Go came out, I've discovered there are actually quite a few excellent books in the gap.)
That's one side of the coin. On the other side, I was angry at the negative talk I heard all around me about gays and lesbians, but especially gays. It was ugly and mean and ignorant, and I decided I wanted to have a part in changing all that.
2. Why did you decide to place your first two novels in high school settings?
Public school is a world I'm very familiar with. And I'm always struck by the powerlessness of teenagers. Teens are on the cusp of adulthood, yet they remain dependent on their parents and trapped in an environment that is too often negative, stifling, and soul-crushing. Of course, that's not always the case, but when it is, it's heartbreaking.
3. Where did you get your inspiration for the character Nate in Don't Let Me Go? What about Robert and Andrew in Where You Are?
Nate is a composite of so many different people. I borrowed his name from a co-worker (then altered it slightly), his physical appearance from Nate Berkus (I saw an adorable photo of him at fourteen in an anthology about growing up gay), and his assault from an incident that happened in my own community. And I admit, he's part me too.
The idea for Robert came from an upperclassman in my son's marching band. He too was the sole male member of the color guard. A real cutie and quite popular. Gay? I have no idea. But I found him interesting and decided to build a character around him. The inspiration for Andrew came for a couple of amazing teachers that I know - dedicated, funny. They're both part me too.
4. From our brief correspondence I got the impression that you are straight and that you have a gay family member. Was my impression accurate?
Indeed it was. I am straight, but I do have a beautiful gay teenage daughter.
5. I found it amazing how you seemed to so accurately describe and depict the emotions of gay males. You said in response: "I believe that people are people, male, female, gay, straight. Emotions are universal - fear, rage, jealousy, insecurity, doubt, love."
I did say that. And I do believe that. And I hope I've proved that in my novels.
6. In Where You Are you describe how Andrew came to be married. The depiction resonated with me. Where do you get the inspiration for this part of Andrew's background?
I've known quite a few gay men who have married women and had children and then came out. Unlike those men, however, Andrew was not in the closet. Having sex with his best friend and fathering a child was just one of those things that happened. And while he tried to do the right thing by Maya, ultimately he had to be true to himself. In that respect, he is very much like the other gay men I've known. You just can't keep such an integral part of who you are as a human being shackled forever. As for Andrew's two-year-old daughter, I love writing really young characters because they're so honest and unfiltered.
7. What do you hope to accomplish through your books?
First and foremost, I just want to tell a compelling story. I want to make readers laugh and cry and scream at the characters and hold their breath when things seem to be derailing. But I also want to want to write a mainstream story about two people who just happen to be gay, people who have real flaws, who do stupid things in the heat of the moment, who have regrets and dreams. And I want to hold these stories up to the world and say, "Hey. Look at this two. How can you say that gay love is any less beautiful than hetero love?" I also want to show readers that you can get through bad things if you'll just hold on. Time is an amazing healer.
8. Who decided to include discussion questions in the back of each book?
My editor asked me to write them. I love writing discussion questions because it forces me to look back and ask myself, "What happened here?" Sometimes the questions send me back to the text to clarify and sharpen the issues the characters are facing.
9. I really enjoy your writing style and find that it flows very smoothly. What do you think helped you create this style.
I owe my style to Strunk and White's The Elements of Style, which I read many years ago and have reread many times. I'm always aiming for clarity and elegance. I'm not so sure how well I'm doing on the latter, but I think I'm getting the hang of the former. I have to give a little credence to Stephen King and his On Writing as well. I'm not sure if he's the one who said "Never be boring," or something like that, but I always strive to keep a story moving. And I like playing with phrasing and words. I have to point to John Green for making me aware of the power of a phrase turned on its head. I'm always looking for ways to make my writing cleaner, clearer, and more effective.
10. What else would you like to share with our readers?
Hmm. I will tell you where my ideas come from - every single moment in my life where someone or something pissed me off, made me fall over laughing, scared me to death, or embarrassed me. Yes, those moments that have stuck with me (often for decades) have a tendency to show up in my novels. I'll give you a for instance. In Where You Are, Robert is standing in the vestibule following his father's wake. His uncle tells him everyone is gathering at the casket. Robert doesn't want to go. His uncle says to him, "Don't be a pain in the ass. This is something you do for the family." To which Robert replies, "I am the family." That's almost the identical discussion I had with my brother-in-law at my mother's funeral. See what I mean? Warning: Don't piss me off or you will find yourself in the pages of my novels. Ha, ha. I feel better now.