David’s story is both intense and poignant. How did you come to write this story and what level of research was involved?
I wrote this book primarily for boys who discover that their romantic and sexual feelings are for other boys. I came of age at a time when gays and lesbians were not open or accepted. David Inside Out is contemporary—Gay-Straight Alliances have been formed in many high schools, Will & Grace plays often on television, the gay and lesbian community is vibrant. It’s a different world, yet the internal struggle still exists. This book is about how one boy got through his.
With a degree in journalism, I do most of my research by interviewing people. In the course of writing the book, I heard many coming out stories, a pleasure in itself, and this helped me shape the narrative. I also stayed abreast of the gay experience in high schools, from the nonchalance of Manhattan private schools to the ongoing legal cases challenging harassment in other parts of the country. My most interesting research involved traveling to Westport, Connecticut to meet with the Gay/straight alliance in the high school there.
Early in the novel David asks, “how can you be yourself if you don’t know who that is?”—a question many teenagers share. Does David overcome this conflict? How?
David certainly makes great strides in figuring out who he is. So much of one’s life flows out of sexuality. Whom do you date? Whom do you couple with? Whom do you marry? In the course of the book, David has a girlfriend and a boyfriend. He experiences sex on each side of the divide. And more than that, he falls in love. This reveals to him his sexual identity. The steps he takes in accepting that identity and coming out further teach him who he is.
Discuss David’s relationship with Sean. What makes David finally decide to stand up for himself?
Sean is handsome and sexy and David develops a powerful crush on him. But the emotional relationship David offers is too much. Sean, who is incredibly uncomfortable with his gay feelings, shoves David away emotionally, but then comes back for sex. David finally realizes that he likes himself too much to take Sean’s confusing and at times, mean, treatment. He moves on in hopes of finding someone able to return to him the love he has to offer.
David’s mother is a source of love and support for David. How does she deal with him coming out?
David’s mother has lost her husband to illness. David is her only child. She loves him unconditionally. When he finally tells her he is gay it makes her sad, and worried. She thinks life will be harder for him. But nothing has changed about the way she loves him. The night after his revelation, they go on decorating the Christmas tree and filling up on lefse just like always.
Describe the revision process. Did the story change much over the course of the revision?
This question made me laugh. The manuscript I submitted was my eighth draft, at least. After Holt bought it, another round of revisions ensued. Among other things, my editor suggested that I kill off David’s father and use the space to further develop David’s relationship with his mother. I think the book got stronger, more real, with each revision.
Some of the greats sit down and write a novel in one pass. When I start, I don’t even know the storyline. I plunge forward with a general idea. As the plot emerges, and the characters become clearer, I go back and change things. I overwrite and tighten. I fall back on clichés, then try for something better in the later drafts. Thank god for computers. If I had to use a manual typewriter, even an IBM selectric, I would not be able to do it. Revision is the only way I even get close.
You write dialogue in a very natural, authentic way. It this a challenge?
I have to give credit to my writing teacher, Nancy Kelton. She taught me how people talk. At least how they talk on the printed page. My dialogue was embarrassingly overwritten when I started with her. Nancy would draw long red lines through my sentences. “People don’t sound like that,” she would say.
What do you hope readers will learn and take away from David’s story?
Not so long ago, left-handed children sometimes had their left arm bound to their torso with a strap. This was meant to force them to learn to use their right hand. Why? Left-handedness, instead of being seen as a natural genetic variant, was somehow thought wrong or immoral. I hope readers will see the virtue of David embracing his “left-handedness,” realizing his feelings are natural and normal, and looking forward to a romantic relationship with another guy. Because that’s who he was meant to be.