Danielle, the floor is yours:
Q: How long did it take you to write ‘Something Like Summer’ – from idea to finished manuscript?
Six to eight months seems to be my average to reach a completed first draft, but I believe SLS went a bit quicker since I was even more enthusiastic about the project than usual.
Q: So, ‘Something Like Summer’ is a very frank account of what it is to be a gay teenager. Everything from secret sleepover business to feelings of isolation is covered with honesty and tenderness. How much of the story is fiction and how much is autobiography that reflects your own life growing up as a gay teenager?
This is a very tricky question because SLS has so many yarns of truths tangled up in knots of fiction. A good example is when Ben’s poem is published in the school newspaper, but altered without his permission by the journalism teacher. This really did happen to me, except it wasn’t my super sexy boyfriend that trashed the darkroom with me but my best friend. The circumstances around me being caught were different too, and I took the blame out of fierce loyalty to our friendship and not because of love. This is the sort of twisted truth that frequently fills both the teen and adult portions of the story.
To complicate matters further, there are many truths in the book from other people’s lives. Ben and Tim weren’t the only ones to be caught having sex by the police, and I’m not talking about certain celebrity either. In this respect, Something Like Summer has its roots in truth but isn’t at all autobiographical. When I look at Ben’s life, I recognize the same feelings I had, but not the same events. Ben’s teen years are relatively calm compared to what I went through. Take the amount of trouble he gets into and multiply it by ten, and we wouldn’t even be halfway there.
Q: Gay fiction, particularly gay teen fiction, is notoriously hard to publish through conglomerate publishers. Is that why you decided to self-publish ‘Something Like Summer’ with CreateSpace?
My first novel, The Cat in the Cradle, was published through a small press and I found the experience extremely frustrating. I’m a control freak when it comes to my books. I want to chose how the type is laid out, the spacing of the margins, what the cover looks like, where and with whom the book is distributed… everything! The publisher was as accommodating as could reasonably be expected, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I wanted to see if I could do just as good or better on my own and I’m very proud of the end result.
I also realized that I didn’t feel like doing most of the work and sharing half the profits. Authors write the story, obviously, but these days are also expected to handle the majority of their book promotion. Since anyone can hire a cover artist and editor, this doesn’t leave much for the publishers to actually do. I can understand that learning typography or the ins and outs of publishing aren’t everyone’s forte, but if one is willing to put in the work, then there are many benefits to cutting out the middle man.
Q: Now, this must be asked (if only to keep hope alive!) – is Tim based on anyone from your life?
I try not to ever base characters on real people. I enjoy exploring my character’s faults, and few people are grateful for being publically exposed like that. So is there a Tim in my life? Not as such, but there might be a Jace.
Q: ‘Something Like Summer’ looks at the many aspects of being young and homosexual – Ben is ‘out’ and proud, but still struggling with loneliness and bullying. Tim, meanwhile, is in denial and firmly closeted. What do you hope your readers take away from both Tim and Ben’s approaches to their sexuality?
So many stories put readers in the driver’s seat of a closeted character, reminding them of the fear and anxiety that accompanies that state. Instead of doing this, I hoped that closeted readers would enjoy being Ben for a while, to experience being free of that burden while also seeing themselves from the outside. I wanted them to become frustrated with Tim, to realize how good his life could be if he would just take that leap of faith. At the same time, I wanted to ensure them that being closeted doesn’t make you a bad person, even if it might drive you make bad decisions. Even after all he puts Ben through, Tim is still worth loving. I think we can forgive him of his short comings because all of us, gay or straight, understand what it’s like to be scared.
Q: The novel begins in 1996, and it’s a very different world with regards to open homosexuality and acceptance. Do you think there’s a big difference between being a gay teenager in the 90’s and now? Would ‘Something Like Summer’ have been different if it started with Ben being a high school student in 2011?
I get a lot of letters from young gay people and the experiences sound very much the same. The biggest difference today is how high profile issues like gay marriage are, and how gay people and couples are being represented more and more in the media. The importance of this can’t be underestimated. I still remember the first time I ever saw a gay porn magazine, and being amazed that the guys inside weren’t leather daddies or drag queens. I honestly didn’t know that gay people could look just like anyone else. Thanks to the caricatures portrayed in films like Police Academy, my views were seriously skewed. I think that sort of naïveté isn’t as common today. Kids are growing up seeing a variety of gay characters on TV, and hopefully recognizing that their options are unlimited.
Q: I love the cover art of ‘Something Like Summer’! Did you do the artwork yourself?
No, the cover art is done by a ridiculously talented and handsome artist. His name escapes me at the moment, because I can’t stop thinking about how boyishly sweet his eyes are when he smiles, the way he moves his lips when he writes a letter, or the way he sings falsetto gibberish while taking a shower.
All right, all right, the artist’s name is Andreas and he’s my husband. Andreas has his own creative career, so being able to come together for book covers or the interior illustrations of The Cat in the Cradle has been very fulfilling for us both. Not as good as sex, mind you, but still pretty nice.
Q: Just from browsing your website and reading your blog, it sounds like you’re living a pretty romantic love story yourself. You moved to Germany to be with your husband (without knowing the language or anything?!)! Do you have any plans to turn your real-life romance into a novel?
Luckily, our relationship would be much too boring to make a good story. Conflict is what drives every plot forward and Andreas and I have had surprisingly little in our time together. However, I imagine that as time goes by, some aspects of our relationship will sneak their way into my stories, if they haven’t already.
Q: Do you read a lot of gay fiction? Who are some of your favourite LGBT authors and what are some of your favourite books?
I read a fair mix of gay and straight fiction. As for LGBT authors, I read all the usual suspects, but there are some names that don’t get mentioned enough. Chris Corkum’s “XOXO Hayden” really blew me away. The concept of a normal kid’s life becoming intertwined with that of a pop star sounds unrealistic, but he managed to make it completely believable and moving. I think this novel will be a hit if it ever comes out as a reasonably priced eBook.
I was late in discovering R.W. Day’s “A Strong and Sudden Thaw” but highly respect the novel’s class, heart, and especially the character voices. I was turning the pages of that one so fast that the book nearly caught fire.
Rick R. Reed hardly needs any introduction, but I think his novel “Orientation” deserves more love. The book's concept is original and the execution thrilling. I suspect it will one day be considered a classic and a must-read for the gay genre.
Q: What novels/short stories are you working on at the moment?
I have an upcoming short story called “Language Lessons” about an arrogant brat that thinks he’s too good for love. I expect it to be out in the spring if my dreadfully (ok, wonderfully) honest test readers stop giving me such a hard time about it. Later this year should see the release of my third full length novel, currently with the working title of “Purgatory,” which takes place entirely in the afterlife realms of different world religions. Here’s the blurb:
Q: What advice do you have for any budding novelists?
Never give up. Do everything in your power to get your stories out there. If you can’t find an interested publisher or agent, I promise you that you’ll still find interested readers, and their opinion is the only one that matters.
Many thanks to Danielle and Mr. Bell for a fabulous interview!!!
Jay Bell can be found here: