There’s Just a Good Feel in Here

I’ll do anything to get closer to my characters.

You probably already know that. You’ve seen my status updates on Facebook, you’ve read my blog posts over the years. You know about the readings, the photo shoots, that night in the cemetery. Unlike many writers, I can’t imagine using notecards or outlines as part of my process.

I want to feel my characters. I want to get inside of them.

So maybe it’s no surprise that when it came time to move last month I gravitated toward a house in central Austin that was built in 1940. Oh yes, I said the moment my friend unlocked the door and let me step inside, This is definitely more me.

Or more Joel. Because really, I can’t stop thinking about how much he’d like this house. The old gas fireplace

Fireplacethe original tile in the bathroom that I can never quite get clean

Old tilethat ridiculously tiny sink.

So smallI can hear Joel’s boots on the hardwood floors of this pier-and-beam foundation, can see him sitting on the back porch with a cigarette. In some ways I can’t get out of 1994, and in other ways this house reminds me of the kind of house Joel would have rented–in east Austin, though–at the end of I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, in 2005. This room I’m sitting in right now, with the built-in bookcase

Bookcaseand those seventy-year-old windows

Broken Windowthat really do leave me shaking with cold when the temperature drops, is exactly the way I envisioned Joel’s studio. Here’s what happens when Adam sees it for the first time:

The room doesn’t hold a candle to the space I created for him at home. He’s dealing with a second bedroom in here, and though windows line three of the walls my guess is that he doesn’t get the light he needs. There’s no sink, no room to stretch his own canvas. But the work itself drops my jaw.

I’m ready to drop your jaw. Because this house is where I’m writing my third novel, the follow-up to The Crossing and I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden. I know from experience that I can infuse this house with an energy that’s palpable enough to register with anyone who walks through my door. There’s a good feel in here, James admits in The Crossing as he watches Joel work, and Joel knows exactly what he means.

I had a bit of hesitation about moving here. There’s no central air-conditioning, no central heating system. The third bedroom is really a converted garage, not necessarily the most inviting place for my son. But now that we’re here, I don’t even notice the window units. I’ve totally made that third bedroom work. Best of all, slipping into Joel’s head feels easier than ever.

How can it not, when he’s everywhere I turn?

Copyright © 2014 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved.

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

A Moment of Gratitude

Thanksgiving figures prominently in the lives of my characters. At this time of year I can’t help thinking about Joel coming home from college and sharing sketches of James with his mother. I love those years that Joel tags along with James to Fort Worth, especially the year he’s waiting for the results of his HIV test. And that moment he walks into BookPeople on a whim the day before the holiday and stumbles across Adam Atwater: I can almost see his smile.

I’ll be at BookPeople myself tomorrow, dropping off copies of The Crossing for Austinites desperate to have their hands on a paperback copy in time for the holiday. But otherwise my holiday will look remarkably different from Joel’s. I won’t be steadying myself because I catch a whiff of cigar smoke.

"The smell knocks me back a dozen years..."

“The smell knocks me back a dozen years…”

I’m not going to be taking a midnight hike through the Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth, watching my breath in the light of a full moon. I’m not shoving my creativity down deep inside of me because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t.

But if anything you’ve just read intrigues you, do check out my novel. I’ve been told it’s compulsively readable. (I can assure you it was compulsively writable.)

And in the meantime, please accept my profound gratitude for your support. Writing is such a solitary act, but when readers purchase my novel, when they take the time to dive into my stories, when they reach out to tell me where they are in the reading process… well, it’s that sort of connection that makes my experience as a writer complete.

Thank you for that.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Now Available for Your Reading Pleasure

The Crossing is now available for your reading pleasure (or displeasure; I’m getting a lot of feedback from readers who want to give Joel a kick in the ass because his behavior, like Adam’s in I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, is so appalling). Every time I look at the cover, designed by Virginia Hassell with Big Star Creative, I feel a little thrill.

The Crossing

Cover by Virginia Shurgar Hassell

And every time I open up my email to another message from a reader, I get that much more excited. Because that’s the point of this whole process, isn’t it? Not just to lose myself in Joel’s head (or Adam’s head, or James’s head), but to share what I’m seeing with others.

I was able to celebrate that experience a little over a week ago at my book launch party, which my lovely friend, Jennifer Bloom, threw for me at Chez Zee, in Austin. I’m never able to visit quite as deeply with my guests as I’d like at these events, but they’re still magical. Best of all, I was able to read from my novel, and that’s absolutely where I’m in my element. Are you nervous? my brother asked before my reading at Bookwoman back in July, and I laughed. I’m never nervous. Never. I’m just as comfortable in Joel’s voice as I am in my own, and I promise that everyone at that party last week would agree with me. What’s cool, said Amie Stone King, my wonderful marketing maven, Is that you say you need a moment to get into Joel’s head and you look down at your book… and when you look up you’re someone else.

Want to see what I’ve been lost in for years now? Take a look.

And please, tell me what you think in the comments below. I’d love to hear to hear from you.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Heartbreak

It’s heartbreaking to write a novel.

I’ve spent years lost in Joel’s voice, and in some ways I don’t want to let him go. But The Crossing is finally finished, and now it’s time to share my work with the world.

Thank you, Big Star Creative!

Thank you, Big Star Creative!

If you’re ready to hear Joel’s story, you can purchase a copy through Amazon.

For now, only a paperback version is available. But Virginia Hassell of Big Star Creative is working behind the scenes to have my novel available on Kindle within the next week or two.

And if you’re wondering about that book launch party of mine, the one with a dead date I had to meet… I rescheduled. Sometimes life doesn’t line up exactly as you expect. Joel knows that; so does Adam. Instead, my party’s this Friday, November 8th. I’ll be reading and celebrating and toasting Joel, and I’ll make sure to give you highlights.

To Joel. I hope you like his story.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Movement

Someone told me last week that I’m at a pivotal place in my chart, that for some reason I chose to have everything in my life shift at at once. I’m feeling it. I’m all over the emotional map right now, dealing with some craziness in my relationships, finding my way through new revenue streams, diving into a new project with someone who just might be the last person I would ever imagine as a co-collaborator. And I’m moving, too, downsizing to a smaller house closer to the core of the city. I’m not sure when that’s going to happen, but it’s going to be soon and it’s going to be quick.

In the midst of all of this chaos I’m finishing the last revisions of my novel.

Paint stains the denim, so thick and vibrant I almost can't bring myself to wash it.

Paint stains the denim, so thick and vibrant I almost can’t bring myself to wash it.

I’ve been promising you for a while that you’ll have The Crossing in your hands and now there’s no turning back. I have a book launch party planned for October 25th, and if that book of mine doesn’t get to my designer by October 1st I’m not going to have books to sign. So I’ve been flying through read-through after read-through, staying up late, working weekends. I’ve had a provocative tête-à-tête with my designer about the book cover and I’m so excited to show you what we’ve been dreaming up. And I’ve been working on Book Club questions, too, because I know from experience how much you like those. I don’t blame you; I like little more than listening in as you argue over whether or not you can forgive Adam his affair given the damage in his past, or lament that anniversary weekend.

The Crossing is coming.

In the interim you can see me at BookWoman next Sunday, September 29th. I’ll be there with JH Trumble and Russ Gregory, two novelists you should absolutely know if you don’t already. We’re having a panel discussion about what it’s like to write LGBT fiction, and we want your questions, the sexier the better. We’ll be ready to talk about love, loss and passion starting at 3 pm. And we want to see you there.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Want a Taste of Joel?

Someone once told me after hearing me read from I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden that I became Adam as I read. You didn’t even need the book in front of you, she said, You knew the story by heart.

Well, yes. Adam has held me captive for years. I know his words, the cadence of his speech. I’m intimate with his every inflection. So the idea that I become him when I read his story aloud makes complete sense to me.

The same holds true when I read from the point of view of my other characters.

Back in May I participated in a group reading at BookWoman, and I chose to read this vignette, told from the perspective of a peripheral character in the fictional world I’ve created. I needed a moment that day, after I introduced myself, to take a breath and find Travis’ voice, but once I did I was inside of him. Travis has a bit of a drawl, and I heard that drawl come from my own mouth. I felt the desperation he’s feeling, standing there between his parents at his brother’s funeral, watching as Adam–a senior in high school at the time–approaches to offer his condolences. My voice shook a little describing those afternoons Travis and Adam spent behind a locked door, and steadied with resignation as I read the last two lines.

I love reading my work, and I’ve been told that it shows.

This Saturday, July 27th, I have another reading at BookWoman. This one’s solo, and I’m going to be reading mostly from I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden. I’m not yet certain which scenes I’ll read, but I’m excited by the deliberation. Maybe I’ll read from the novel’s first section, where Adam finds Bobby kneeling in the garden. Maybe I’ll read the scene where Adam takes over that babysitting gig from Joel–an epic fail. Or I’ll read about James’s arrival in Austin, and what Adam does that night to end up in jail. Oh, and the scene where Adam meets David, and suffers through that wonderful, terrible kiss? That’s one of my favorites.

I have so many choices.

I’ll also have another treat for those of you in attendance: I’m going to read a bit from The Crossing, coming out so soon my heart skips at the thought. Just a taste, mind you, but I’m really looking forward to slipping into Joel’s voice, right there in front of you.

BookWoman this Saturday, at 7 o’clock. I’d love to see you there.

p.s. Is there a scene you’d especially like to hear? Leave a comment below and tell me what you’re thinking.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved 

That Question Is too Intimate

A friend of mine occasionally asks how my characters are faring. How’s Joel today? she’ll write in an email.

At first her questions took me aback. They felt personal and deeply intimate. But now those questions make me giddy.  Even when I haven’t had much time to write, instead of seeing those questions and feeling guilty because I haven’t had the opportunity to give my characters the attention they deserve, I pause for a moment and think, How IS Joel today?

I just finished my last major read-through of The Crossing.

I take notes as I go, instead of editing as I read. That way I’m able to maintain the novel’s flow in my head; I’m able to tell if sentence follows sentence, paragraph follows paragraph, scene follows scene, seamlessly. When I get to the end I look at my notes, usually a dozen pages of what needs to be changed. But this last time around I had less than one page.

That’s how I know I’m getting close.

From now on I’ll be looking for minor edits, keeping an eye out for stray commas and homophones. I’ll also make sure that the novel’s structure makes sense; in an earlier draft, Joel’s life was measured by James’s semesters. But now I’ve blocked the novel differently, and I want to make sure that works. I added a few moments during my last read-through, too, and I want to make sure they make sense when read against the novel as a whole. After my photography shoot in May, for example, we ended up with some great photos of James (Addison Roush) peeling off his coat to give to Joel (Evan Shaw) on the night of his 25th birthday.  (Look at this photo in dim light, so you can really see what’s going on.) That moment never happened in the original scene. But we ended up with those shots courtesy of Josh Baker and they were so perfect that just yesterday I added it in. I’ll make sure when I read through the novel that the addition wasn’t a mistake.

I don’t think it was.

Then I’ll be ready to work with my designer to get this novel into your hands. We’re already revamping my website in preparation.

Soon you’ll be able to see for yourself how Joel’s doing.

p.s. While you’re waiting, give I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden another look, and in the comments below, tell me what you thought. Did you love it? Did Adam make you crazy? (Oh, you still haven’t read it? Click here to purchase.)

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Swings, Bars and Cemeteries

I’m mere months from the publication of my next novel, The Crossing, and part of the revision process involves early readers. One in particular, Kristin, I can always count on to blast me with the unadulterated truth, the kind that makes me go back and rewrite the beginning. Again. But I trust her, and I know she’s not going to steer me wrong. However brutal it might have been to hear that my first paragraph was too precious, I had to admit she was right.

So I’ve been deep in revisions for a while, and I’m looking forward to that moment I read through the entire document and think, yeah, I’m done.

(As much as any artist can ever be done. Wasn’t it Degas who kept trying to work on his paintings even after he’d sold them?)

Kristin has read The Crossing more than once. I think she’s read it five times, actually–twice recently, twice the first time around, and once in between. She’s a careful reader, and thoughtful, and she’s not afraid to mince words (as evidenced by her “your first paragraph is too precious” comment, as well as a few other choice remarks). But what struck her the most about her latest read-through, she said, was that she really “felt the years.” Kristin read the first draft of The Crossing back in 2006, and now it’s 2013 and I’m still living with the same voices in my head. She wondered what it would feel like to write this book, to have a twenty-year relationship with certain characters (Joel first came to me so long ago I’d rather blush than mention my age). How could I still connect with them?

Oh, but I can. I slip into their heads so easily. I think about them so often, in fact, that I know the people who love me most think I’m a bit crazy.

So much of the time I’m somewhere else.

But I honestly can’t help myself.

And I don’t know that I want to change.

Does this mean I can’t be there for my friends? That my son doesn’t get my undivided attention later today when he comes home from summer camp and wants to race his radio-controlled cars with me? That I’m incapable of a connected conversation?

Absolutely not. But it might mean that you have to say my name more than once.

Because I might be thinking about that swing scene, the one where Joel says that he can “feel something building, a restlessness, a shiver of impatience.”

Or I might have in my mind the moment Joel meets Adam, and says, “His eyes, even in the dim light of the bar, knock me out.” (You know all about Adam if you’ve read I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden–and if you haven’t read that novel yet, OH. You so should. Click here to purchase.)

Or I might be thinking ahead, to the next novel, the one I’m already writing.

Tantalized?

I am. I always am. And each short story, each vignette, each photograph, feels that much more provocative than the last.

Twenty plus years and counting.

I have no intention of turning back.

p.s. Do you ever get lost in your head? Are you a writer, a photographer, an artist, a musician, an engineer? Tell me what you do and what that feels like in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Very Conservative Christians

Last night I had the opportunity to talk to a book club whose members had read I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden.

Every book club has its own dynamic, and I’m always curious to see how readers will respond to what I’ve written. This particular group was really stuck on Adam’s infidelity. We’re very conservative Christians, one woman said, which might have made me jump to the conclusion that their issue would be Adam’s sexual orientation. But that wasn’t the case. They didn’t like the betrayal of the commitment Adam had made to Joel; some of them, in fact, seemed downright angry. Though they eventually understood Adam’s motivation, his affair made them like him a little less.

Maybe even a lot less.

I get it. Adam’s behavior, especially when viewed outside of the context of his relationship with Bobby–his former lover who died of AIDS when Adam was twenty-five–seems pretty appalling.

Of course, we only see Adam’s perspective. That’s what happens when something is written in first-person. In I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, you’re in Adam’s head. And along with his viewpoint come his baggage and biases.There’s not a lot of space for anything else.

In The Crossing, coming to you later this summer, you’ll be able to get inside Joel’s head.

Of course, Joel has his own issues, his own baggage. He makes his own terrible decisions. You may be totally annoyed at times by his inertia, or his self-destructive tendencies.

At the same time, everything will start to click: Adam’s relationship with Joel, Joel’s relationship with James, James’s relationship with Adam. They’re all so intertwined, and it’s messy and complicated and actually kind of rich.

Like monogamy. And infidelity.

There’s a reason why those words were triggers last night.

I want to suss that out. Care to join me?

Start by reading I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, if you haven’t already. (Click here to purchase.)

Then join me on my author page on Facebook. Or ask your book club to read my book. I’ll chat with you in person, or Skype myself in.

Let’s talk about this together. There’s so much we can discover.

p.s. Want to get a jump-start? Tell me in the comments below what you thought of Adam’s affair.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Delaying Gratification

I promised to tell you more about my photo shoot. But I’ve been holding back.

I could lie, and say that I’ve been keeping those magnificent photos all to myself, but that’s not the truth.

I haven’t looked at them even once.

A few years ago, just before I published I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, I scrawled one hundred pages’ worth of what will eventually be my third novel. Then I got busy publishing and promoting, and then I went back to The Crossing, which you’ll get to read later this year. Those hundred pages of my third novel I saved on my laptop, and I’ve only looked at them one time since.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about Joel and James and Adam, or what’s happening to them. I think about them all the time. But reading through those pages: that brings me too close. Until I have the time to work on that novel in successive days, there’s no point in opening the document. If I do, if I read those pages again and again for my own gratification, then by the time I can really sit down and work, the words I’ve written might be dead to me.

I’m not willing to take the risk.

I feel the same way about the photographs from my shoot. For more than a week I’ve had an email in my inbox from Amie King, the friend who hooked me up with Josh Baker of AzulOx Photography. The subject line? Top Ten. She’s given me her ten favorite photos from the three hundred Josh took, and she wants to know mine.

But I’ve been delaying gratification.

That shoot was just so fantastic, and the photographs themselves are so enthralling, that I don’t want to treat them lightly. I want to look at them; of course I do. But I want to do so with reverence. I want to lock myself up in the darkness of my closet (which from a metaphorical standpoint I find pretty hysterical), and just let myself go.

At the same time, I don’t want them to lose their glitter. And I know that the more I look at them, the more I lose that moment when everything is so new I’m breathless.

I have more to tell you: about the spring, about the last-minute revisions I’m going to make to my novel because of what Addison and Evan brought to the shoot. About what I have coming for you later this summer.

But I’m going to delay that gratification just a little bit longer.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Twilight

*The photographs in this post are intentionally shadowed and are best enjoyed in dim light.  

In I, too, Have Suffered in the Garden, Adam thinks back on his relationship with Bobby and says,

If I let myself, I could spend my entire life reliving those six years. If I let myself, I could crawl inside and never come out.

I’ve had the same feeling the past few days, as I’ve scrolled through the photos from my shoot last Thursday; I have the same feeling about my work in general. If I let myself, I could crawl inside and never come out.

Sometimes it takes a seriously concerted effort to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Last Thursday a cold front swept through Austin, breaking all kinds of records for the date. But instead of freaking out as I shivered on my deck that afternoon, I couldn’t stop smiling. The scene we were shooting takes place late in October. Of course the universe would deliver up a blustery day to match.

Josh Baker of AzulOx Photography showed up at Zilker Park ready to work. I hadn’t known what to expect; I’d never worked with Josh, and I had no idea how I was going to marry the vision I had in my head with what Josh might be thinking. He hadn’t wanted to read the scene ahead of time; instead he wanted the barest of directions (tunnel under Barton Springs Road, for example), and emotion (desire, guilt, attraction). But I could see from the beginning that he was willing to do whatever it took to get the perfect shot.

What really blew me away, though, was that Josh disappeared into his work the same way I disappear into mine. I could tell by the expression on his face, and the way he was setting up. I could tell by the way he answered my questions, and talked to his assistant, Austin.

Except that we were working on a scene that I had created, so in a way it felt like we were disappearing together.

I stood at the back of the tunnel, Josh sprawled on the ground in front of me, belly down on the tracks. Ahead of us, James (Addison Roush) leaned against the railing. Across from him, Joel (Evan Shaw) lit a cigarette. Josh started shooting (click, click, click) and I couldn’t help myself. Holy shit, I said. Because this scene, the one I’ve had in my head for so many years that Zilker Park has become synonymous with this moment between Joel and James, came alive right before my eyes.

I mentioned in my last post that Evan Shaw, an actor currently studying at David Mamet’s Atlantic Acting School in New York, was a pro from the very beginning. How do you feel about a wig? I wrote to him in an email as we were preparing for the shoot, and he said, I’ll wear whatever you want. Are you going to be too cold? I wrote on Thursday morning, and he wrote back, I’ll keep warm, don’t worry. He was too focused on the character to let himself get preoccupied with anything else, and he took up the role the second he stepped into the tunnel.

Playing opposite him was my own version of a Hail Mary, a friend of a friend of a friend who said he was willing to step in after the actor I had previously booked canceled on me. I actually considered having a third actor on set, just in case Addison couldn’t deliver.

That would have been a bad decision. Addison could not have been any more nonchalant about the role–or any more perfect.

The chemistry between Evan and Addison was so tantalizing, and the photos were so beautiful–Josh stopped every so often so I could see the magic he was conjuring and tell him what I wanted to see next–that I decided to go with a little more light. My original idea was to keep the actors in shadow, because when I read a book I want to use my imagination. And while Addison is very much like James, and Evan is very much like Joel, neither actor looks exactly the way I envision those characters. But when Josh gave Evan and Addison more light this happened.

JenHritz-251-2 copy

Are you in awe yet? I am. Just writing this post I can feel myself sinking deeper into this world.

I have more to share with you, I promise. You’ll want to see some of the shots from the spring. But you’ll have to stay tuned.

Because for now I’m pulling out.

I’m teasing you, I know.

It’s my own little form of foreplay.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved