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