Author Interview with Brad Boney

September 5, 2014

Dreamspinner Press: Let’s start with your first novel, The Nothingness of Ben. If readers know your name, it’s probably because of that book, wouldn’t you agree?

Brad Boney: Absolutely. Lots of readers in this genre have read Ben, and it continues to sell two years later. I’m fortunate to have had that experience.

DSP: What’s your response to critics who claim The Nothingness of Ben fails because Ben Walsh is something of a dick?

BB: [Laughs] I’ve read a few of those reviews. The first thing that struck me was how engaged with Ben they were. People wrote about him as if he were real, and that felt like a win to me. I also noticed some of those reviews were marked DNF at 30%. I understand—life’s too short. If my writing doesn’t grab someone, they should bail and move on. I’m the same way. But Ben does grow in the book. I don’t think he’s a dick at the end. He’s a flawed person who was lucky enough to meet a man who is truly his better half.

DSP: So you think Travis is the better man?

BB: Is that wrong? I kind of do, at least for me. Ben is brilliant and charming and funny, but he’s also rudderless. He needs someone like Travis to steady him. I would date someone like Travis before I’d date someone like Ben.

DSP: Is that because you and Ben are too much alike?

BB: In some ways, yes. I’m pretty self-absorbed, but I can also be worthy and faithful and true.

DSP: What about the criticism that the tone of the opening chapters, given the death of their parents, is too lighthearted?

BB: On that one, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I understand those comments and where they come from, but maybe those people aren’t Catholic. My family has a powerful sense of denial around grief and sadness. We don’t express it. We cover it with humor. We act out like Cade does, or withdraw like Jason does. And then at some point, it boils over and brings us to our knees, like it does with Ben when he kisses Travis in the street and breaks down crying.

DSP: How do you feel about the M/M genre as a whole?

BB: It’s easy to trash romance novels because so many of them are awful. But the argument that they’re all bad is ridiculous, and I don’t even have to include my own books to defend that. T.J. Klune won a Lambda award this year. Jay Bell has been nominated twice and won once. Anyone who points to those books and calls them trash is an idiot, and should be dismissed as such.

DSP: We’ve heard you have some issues with the term M/M.

BB: Where did you hear that?

DSP: People talk around the office. Are you saying you don’t have an issue?

BB: I don’t understand the term because I don’t come from a romance background. I’ve never read an M/F romance in my life, and I assume that’s where it comes from. M/F, M/M, M/F/M, M/M/M, F/M/F. I don’t know why M/M is necessary when the word “gay” works just fine. Those designations seem very tab/slot to me, like it’s all about genitals. In some cases, I also think it gives writers permission to divorce their stories from the lived experience of real gay men, including all the social, medical, and political baggage that comes with it. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what I’m doing. Ben Walsh is recognizable to me as a gay man I might know. Maybe that’s why some readers have a problem with him. He’s not an idealized romantic hero.

DSP: How does it feel being a gay man in a genre dominated by women?

BB: [Grins] It depends on the women.

DSP: Do you think a woman can write a good story about two men falling in love?

BB: Yes. I’ve read them. I’ve been vocal about my admiration for books like Faith & Fidelity by Tere Michaels, and Promises by Marie Sexton. The female factor is unexpected, that’s all. When I tell my gay friends that most of my readers are women, they’re very surprised. They don’t understand it, and at first I was the same way. But I’ve gotten to know many of my readers, and that changed everything. I love them and I now understand what draws women to these stories—both as readers and writers.

DSP: You mentioned you don’t come from a romance background. What are your influences?

BB: I spent years in the theater as an actor and director, which explains why my books are so dialogue heavy. Most of the gay fiction I’ve read were books by Violet Quill authors like Andrew Holleran and Edmund White. I’m a huge fan of rom-coms and directors like Cameron Crowe. I think as romance writers, we’re all trying to create a moment like John Cusack holding that boom box over his head.

DSP: We’ve noticed on Twitter that your second book, The Return, has a smaller but more passionate following.

BB: The Return was a tough sell. It doesn’t have a conventional set-up. It spans two generations. It’s got a huge canvas—someone pointed out there are actually 10 main characters. The romance is resolved at about 75%. I had to keep the blurb vague, and once you read the book, you understand why. But that only hurt it in terms of sales. I get it—people like to know what a book is about. I don’t blame them. Still, the people who did read it are grateful I didn’t give anything more away. It’s a story I’m very proud of, and the fact that some readers have embraced it in such a profound way is extremely satisfying to me. I don’t think I can write a better book than The Return, which is why I took a totally different approach to The Eskimo Slugger.

DSP: What do you mean?

BB: The Return was that book every writer has in their back pocket. The one they were born to write. I didn’t think I could top it, so my only option was not to try. As a result, The Eskimo Slugger tells an intimate story on a small canvas, about two simple guys caught up in an impossible situation. It takes place over ten days in the summer of 1983. It’s like a pop song. Readers who are expecting another symphony like The Return should brace themselves for disappointment.

DSP: But you set The Eskimo Slugger up in The Return, which leads us to our next question. Are you writing a series or not?

BB: Yes and no. I believe you can pick up any one of my books and enjoy each as a standalone, but there is certainly something to be gained by reading them all. That doesn’t mean they have to be read in the order I wrote them. I’m a child of postmodernism and enjoy a certain random element. The order in which you read them will determine your experience. If someone out there has never read one of my books, I’d say jump in with The Eskimo Slugger. Chronologically, it’s actually the beginning.

DSP: Is it a book about baseball?

BB: It’s a book about a baseball player. There is only one scene set inside a ballpark.

DSP: Were you a baseball fan before you wrote it?

BB: No. I didn’t know anything about baseball.

DSP: Really? What did you do for research?

BB: I watched the entire Ken Burns documentary twice—all 18 hours of it. I went to a lot of baseball games in Austin and elsewhere. I talked to my dad and a friend of mine at work who used to play college baseball. I read the Billy Bean autobiography called Going the Other Way, about his time as a closeted gay man in the major leagues. I listened to the Baseball Tonight podcast for an entire season, just to hear and understand the way guys talk about baseball.

DSP: Are you a fan now?

BB: Oh, absolutely. I’d love to meet a guy who thinks a baseball game is a great date.

DSP: You mentioned Austin, where all your books are set. How long have you lived there?

BB: Twenty-six years. I’m a naturalized Texan. But as many people have learned from my books, Austin is nothing like the rest of Texas. It’s the blue center of a red state. Austin is very gay friendly and boys walk around holding hands all the time.

DSP: What would you say are your strengths and weaknesses as a writer?

BB: My weaknesses are easy. I have virtually no powers of description. I’ll never be L.C. Chase, the way she can take you into a horse stable and bring it to life. But I also believe that writers should draw the outline and readers should fill it in, so at least my practice matches my theory. I’m very bad when it comes to narrating the internal life of a character. I’ll never be J.P. Barnaby, the way she can spend pages and pages inside Aaron’s head and make it interesting. I can’t do that. But I think most readers would say I spin a good yarn. I understand set-up and payoff. I’m a better-than-average storyteller.

DSP: Of all the chapters you’ve written, which is your favorite?

BB: Do you have one?

DSP: Yes, but we want to hear yours first.

BB: “Cover Me” from The Return. In every season of Mad Men, there’s that one episode when everything happens. The shit hits the fan. That’s what “Cover Me” is. Topher has his inter-dimensional phone call, then he sits down with his bandmates and explains what’s going on, then Stanton shows up, then Topher sings…. It’s just bam, bam, bam. It made my head spin writing it.

DSP: It took us awhile to figure out that all the chapter titles were Bruce Springsteen songs.

BB: I tried not to use the most famous songs. Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite?

DSP: Chapter seventeen from Nothingness. We call it “the earth is flat.” Anyone who’s read the book knows what we’re talking about. We don’t really know exactly what Travis is thinking, but it doesn’t matter. Ben’s surrender is delicious.

BB: That’s where point of view worked to my advantage, since we only get to know what’s going on inside Ben’s head.

DSP: We noticed you favor third person and past tense, with a single point of view. Is that a conscious choice?

BB: Yes. The Return is actually told from two points of view, though.

DSP: Okay, technically that’s true, but it’s almost two separate stories, so… We’d argue that each of your stories is told from a single point of view.

BB: That’s fair. Single point of view works best for me. I’m looking for stylistic choices that foreground the story, not the storytelling, and sticking with one character does that. I find it jarring when the point of view shifts back and forth within a chapter, simply because the author thinks I need to know both sides of the story. I don’t. A good writer looks at single point of view and sees opportunities, not limitations. What can I hide in the negative space? As far as tense goes, past tense is the most “invisible” way to write. I know present tense is all the rage now, and I have no problem with it. I adapt pretty easily when I pick up a book that’s written in present tense. But I do notice it before I adapt. The writer’s hand becomes visible to me, and that’s something I’m personally trying to avoid. I also think first person is vastly overused, and in too many cases exposes a writer’s weaknesses. I may take that risk someday, but only after I’ve written several more books.

DSP: We can’t all be J.D. Salinger.

BB: Exactly. Unless you can write a first-person narrative with a voice as distinctive as Holden Caulfield, stick with third person.

DSP: Your stories seem to have a spiritual undercurrent to them. Is that intentional?

BB: I think so. I’m not trying to beat people over the head, but it’s there. It’s also there in The Eskimo Slugger, but by the fourth book, I’m just trying to have fun.

DSP: Tell us about that.

BB: It’s called Yes. I finished it last week, so now it’s in the hands of my beta reader. It’s about a man on his 40th birthday who wakes up twenty years younger. It’s like that Tom Hanks movie Big—only gay and in reverse.

DSP: Thanks for sitting down for this interview. It’s been fun to get to know you!

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Brad Boney lives in Austin, Texas, the seventh gayest city in America. He grew up in the Midwest and went to school at NYU. He lived in Washington, DC, and Houston before settling in Austin. He blames his background in the theater for his writing style, which he calls “dialogue and stage directions.” His first book was named a Lambda Literary Award finalist. He believes the greatest romantic comedy of all time is 50 First Dates. His favorite gay film of the last ten years is Strapped. And he has never met a boy band he didn’t like. Visit Brad on his website and on Twitter

5 Responses to “Author Interview with Brad Boney”

  1. Kathy says:

    GREAT interview. But? Readers DNFed Nothingness???? They sure missed out on a beautiful novel.

  2. MaryMary says:

    I can’t believe anyone would DNF either of those books. LOVE THEM SO MUCH!

    I can’t wait to read Eskimo Slugger and a 4th book is on the way, too! Brad – you’ve made my day :) Thank you!!

  3. Ardent Ereader says:

    Fabulous interview, makes me want to go back and re-read your books. I have pre-ordered Eskimo Slugger, can’t wait to read it.

  4. Sadonna says:

    Looking forward to Eskimo Slugger and the 4th book :)

  5. Dee says:

    Thank you for your stories. I’m on an emotional rollercoaster when I read them. I listened to the audio books last month and concurrently reread passages in the ebooks. I saw Springsteen again this year. My first time was in 1984. So your narrative about the concerts is special to me. I even watched his keynote speech on YouTube. I never would have known about it if not for you. I wish this interview touched on your music knowledge because I absolutely love The Greatest Game. Thank you for writing those scenes in both time periods. I have great fun digging around the web for the songs I don’t know. I’m excited about your new books. Please keep writing!

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