Write It All Down

I was at a party earlier today at my son’s school, and I ran into someone who’s reading The Crossing. She pulled me aside and said in a hushed tone, “I just have to ask. Where do you get these stories?”

I knew what she meant. She wasn’t asking why I write about psychological trauma and memory and repression. She wanted to know why I write about gay men.

I’ve been asked more times than I can count, believe me. I mean, I could probably write one book with a gay narrator without raising too many eyebrows. But I have two novels published and another one on the way, not to mention short stories and vignettes. So what’s up with this preoccupation of mine?

I like to say that my stories are just there. I’m not creating a damn thing. I’m just tapping in, and giving voice to these characters.

But that sounds so trite. I’m a channel, I’m a conduit, I’m some sort of medium. Saying those words makes what’s really an incredibly humbling experience sound… I don’t know. Cheesy.

It’s also the truth.

Of course, I could tell you that men fascinate me. Because they do. The way they walk across hardwood floors in a pair of scuffed boots. The way they say bullshit under their breaths, with just the right drawl. The way they scrub their hands across stubbled jaws when they’re tired. I’m intrigued, enough that I want to know more.

I could also tell you that I’m curious about men’s relationships with other men. Because I am, and have been from the moment I read S. E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders when I was thirteen years old. Male friendships seem to me (and I realize this could just be my perception, or my experience) to be much more guarded than the friendships I’ve seen between women. Affection sometimes bleeds through the cracks, but there’s a reticence in male friendships, and I can’t help but wonder about the ones that cross a boundary into something more.

But I never thought to myself, hmm, what would happen if a college freshman who’s a natural caretaker, maybe in part because he ended up with a baby sister when he was barely a teenager, finds himself with a roommate who can’t seem to get his shit together? What if their relationship turns into a “codependent disaster?” What if they cross so many lines they can barely differentiate between themselves?

And I never sat down and wrote out an outline about some guy who loses his lover to AIDS, only to find himself entrenched in the past a dozen years later. I didn’t think, okay, in Chapter One I’ll open with a scene in the garden, and then I’ll make sure that I reference that garden again and again throughout the rest of the novel. I didn’t think: what would happen if I wrote some kind of tome about this particular generation of gay men?

I suppose there are some writers who are that intentional. I’m not one of them.

I write what I feel. And I can really easily feel my way into Joel and James and Adam. I can see them from my perspective, like I’m watching a movie, and I can also slip into their heads and see everything through their lenses.

It’s actually pretty cool.

And honestly, it feels so good. And I really base so very much on how I feel.

When I’m asked where I get my stories, when readers assume that I must have a wide circle of gay friends whose lives I’m pilfering for content, I laugh. “Maybe I was a gay man in a former life,” I say, and I’m only halfway kidding. Because these stories are there, and I’m just writing them down.

Trite or not, that’s the truth.

Copyright © 2013  Jennifer Hritz  All Rights Reserved

Reading in 2013

There’s nothing quite like losing yourself in a good book, especially during the winter months when the weather’s chilly and curling up with a book seems like the sensible thing to do. The week of Thanksgiving the weather here in Austin was so frigid that one day I never bothered getting out of bed. I’ll be honest; most of the time I was working. But I was also reading David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing, undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read this year. Lyrical and lovely, I found myself audibly catching my breath just a few pages in. That’s such a fabulous feeling, to be at the very beginning of a book and know that you’ve picked up something special and still have chapters and chapters to go.

I’ve seen so many lists lately, touting the best books of 2013. If I created a similar list, there’s no question that David Levithan’s novel would be on it. But I have to admit that I don’t always stick to what’s recently published when I’m looking for a good book. So yes, I read Two Boys Kissing this year. But I also read Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary, which was sparsely worded and yet so rich that I knew my reading experience would end too soon. I read Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, (and oh, did I want more of Jonah than I got!), but I also got caught up in Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden and I surprised the hell out of myself by loving Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. I relished J. H. Trumble’s newest novel, Just Between Us, but I also blew through her first two novels and am still trying to pinpoint my favorite of the three.

Ann Weisgarber’s The Promise arrived just a few days ago, and even the cover intrigues.

Of course, I spent more time in 2013 in my own fictional world than in any other. I’ve read The Crossing more times than I could possibly begin to count, and even made the mistake of reading through the novel after publication. I’m still trying to figure out a way to easily correct the editorial errors I uncovered on that read-through. But I never tire of reading about Joel, no matter how many times I feel like shaking him and telling him to get his shit together.

I get the impression that some of you feel the same. I hope so. That’s absolutely my goal as a writer: to tell Joel’s story so compellingly that you keep coming back for more.

I’ll be writing more about Joel (and Adam and James) in the new year, and I’m curious to find out what happens to them.  I have an idea, of course, but my characters like to keep me on my toes. I can’t wait to share with you what I learn about them. In the meantime, check back here every so often for new vignettes. I promise more eye candy, too.

And if you’d like, tell me in the comments below what books you lost yourself in this year. I’m always looking for a good read!

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved