Joel & Jennifer

Sometimes I wonder what Joel would think of me. What might we have said to each other if by some quirk of fate we’d ended up at the same party in college, or run into each other at BookPeople?

We’re not far off in age, just about a year and a half. Joel goes to the University of Texas and I did my undergraduate work at Southwestern University, just north of Austin. In 1990, when Joel’s a freshman, I could get from Georgetown to Austin in less than twenty-five minutes, a feat anyone familiar with current Austin traffic would find shocking. I went to Sixth Street; I hung out at the same bars where Joel talks for hours with James. What if we’d somehow been introduced?

I can’t imagine Joel would have liked me. In 1990, I was quiet and self-conscious. I liked my Gothic Literature class and read The Monk aloud; when I paused, my roommate called “don’t stop” from her bedroom upstairs in the condo we shared. I had a black cocker spaniel with a white goatee. My boyfriend went to Texas A&M.

I was boring as hell and Joel would have thought so, too.

Fast forward seven years. In 1997, Joel’s working his way out of what happened with James. He’s meeting Adam. He has his first art show, his first bad review, his first taste of cocaine. In 1997, I was taking my qualifying exams for my PhD. I was buying my first house, in suburban Fort Worth. I was obsessive about getting to the gym. I have a hard time picturing Joel coming to my pink brick house for a dinner party. I don’t think he would’ve been able to sit still. I think whoever he brought–Jess, most likely–would have put his hand on Joel’s leg under my glass dining room table to stop it from jittering.

Jump with me to 2002. Joel’s actually in a pretty good place: free from his father, living with Adam, painting in his new studio. I, on the other hand, had brain surgery that May, when I was pregnant with my son. I was still thinking about Joel, but for the first time since I’d started writing in his name I couldn’t get in his head. Hormones, probably. I was all MOTHER. Meeting me, Joel would have been polite; he learned small talk from his father. He might even have been nice. After all, living with Adam teaches him a certain amount of patience. I just don’t think he’d want to see how I decorated the nursery.

Let’s look at 2007. I don’t want to spoil what’s coming in Slow Burn, but I can tell you that Joel spends time in Austin, Chicago, Greece and Buenos Aires. Did I leave the city of Austin in 2007? I’m not sure. My son turned five that year. I bought another house, closer to Pearl Street than ever; I’m always trying to get closer. (Ten years and three houses later, I’m a mere 1.6 miles away.) I wrote when I could, mostly during the few hours a week my son was in preschool. I was struggling to find balance between writing, motherhood and a gym membership I wasn’t quite ready to relinquish. Maybe Joel and I could have bonded over yoga; I was just beginning my practice in 2007. Otherwise, we were no kind of match.

I know Joel so intimately, and still I crave more. Sometimes ours feels like such a one-sided relationship. Joel’s a gift I get to unwrap daily: receive, receive, receive.

Of course, I also give him life.

Copyright © 2017 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved

Raspberries, Wine, and Chocolate

Joel and JamesSomeone asked me recently what it’s like inside my head. I told him what some of you have already heard, that it’s all raspberries and wine and chocolate. I’m all filled up, because I’m always writing, even when I’m not.

Last week I met a friend for wine. He tells a good story, and I grilled him a bit about his fraternity days in Vermont. He was talking about hazing and drinking and I was completely focused on what he was saying until he paused and looked up at me. You’re not filing this away, are you? he asked, For one of your books?

Well. Maybe.

I wasn’t consciously thinking about my fictional world as I was listening to him, but as soon as he asked the question I realized that somewhere in the back of my mind I was all caught up in James. Because James was in a fraternity. Because the experience shaped his college years. Because in my third novel, the one I’m writing now, he still thinks about that year he quit.

So yes, it’s possible that part of my friend’s story will end up in my work. At the very least, I left the bar inspired.

Though I’m always thinking about my work, I’m not always talking about my work. People might ask me about my books, but they’re not asking about my characters. So I’ll hear, “how’s the book?” or “how’s your writing?” But the people who text me a photo of the train tracks at Zilker Park when they’re hanging out there with their kid, just because they know I’m going to immediately go in my head to my photo shoot last May (see that beautiful photo at the top of this post, and view it in dim light so you can really see the nuance) are few and far between. My friend who told me about his fraternity days texted after we met for wine and asked, “What are your characters up to now?” and I swear I felt a pang of something so sweet right in the center of my being. For someone to speak so familiarly about these men who inhabit my waking (and sometimes dream) hours feels incredibly provocative to me.

I have plenty of friends who haven’t read my books. Most of my family members, too. Sometimes it’s the subject matter that makes them procrastinate; sometimes it’s time. Their reasons always sound so strange. I don’t judge them; I get it. I really do. I’m busy, too, and the bottom line is that if one of them were to write a book about a subject that feels foreign to me–baseball, for example–it might take a little prodding to get me to read it. At the same time, I feel like my work is that proverbial window to my soul.

If you know my characters, then you know me.

Copyright © 2014 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

From Fiction to Reality

A friend of mine has been doing some writing lately, conjuring up her past and mining it for meaning. I’ve known Amie for almost ten years, but we didn’t connect that often until she started emailing me with questions. How do I manage my fear that what I’m writing might offend someone? How do I get out of my characters’ heads? What’s the best way to write a compelling sex scene? Her questions were insightful and curious, and I had such fun answering them, almost as much fun as I had reading her work, which is all about music and seduction and sex.

Then Amie emailed to say that a friend of hers, the fabulous photographer Josh Baker, wanted to play around with one of the scenes from my novel, The Crossing, which comes out this summer. So I met with him, and he was just as engaging and focused and creative in person as I might have assumed from seeing his work.

And suddenly I had a photo shoot on my calendar.

Initially I thought I wanted to do something without actors. After all, readers generally like to use their imaginations when they’re envisioning a character, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to a certain “look” before The Crossing is even published. But while Josh was willing to let me try to recreate Joel and James’s living room, I knew that working with models would be so much more provocative for him. And since Josh can create a rain storm on a clear night, I figured I should trust him when he said he could shadow the shots so that the models themselves are a mere suggestion but the chemistry would bleed through.

Of course, for that kind of chemistry I knew I needed some stellar actors. So I started searching.

I looked through a LOT of head shots. But Evan Shaw I kept coming back to. I could see that he was every bit the professional I needed. When he read the scene in question he said he could really sympathize with Joel’s longing and vulnerability. That didn’t surprise me, given the photo he’d sent.

Now I’m gearing up for the shoot itself: a bottle of wine, a corkscrew, a pack of Marlboros. I’m keeping an eye on the weather, which so far looks like it’s going to be a little cool for the date (how perfect, given that the scene actually takes place in October). I’m trying to find out if Evan has a pair of boots, the kind that Joel describes as “heavy Redwings I’ve worn so often that the leather has softened like a kiss” and that Shelton, James’s homophobic fraternity brother, says makes him think Joel’s “plunging toilets or nailing A-frames in his spare time.”

You want to hear how this photo shoot goes? Then you should check back in.

And in the meantime, if there’s a scene from my fiction that you’d love to see re-created, comment below. I just might be able to make it happen.

Copyright © 2013 Jennifer Hritz All Rights Reserved