Congratulations on your new release. Please tell us a little bit about it. What’s your favorite aspect or part of the story? Do you have a favorite character? Who/Why?
Pursuing Happiness is the tale of a man struggling with the aftereffects of an ultra-reactionary and very isolated upbringing. Matt wants to be a happy, well-adjusted gay man with a partner, but he’s not quite sure how to get there, and just when he thinks he has life figured out, it throws him another curveball.
One of my goals for this story was to demonstrate how moving beyond religious abuse and toxic family is a process. Leaving home is only the first step. I believe it’s very important to show this ongoing progression, backward slips and all.
Matt is so incredibly close to my heart, and he was from the beginning because he is drawn from some of my own experiences. He’s honestly trying, but he has to work so hard to make his place in the world, and I just want to give him a hug.
What was the inspiration for your latest story?
My own childhood was not as extreme as Matt’s, but I had a lot of baggage to work through all the same. When you’re raised in an environment of fear, it can be incredibly hard to let go. Some people do it like flipping a switch. I was not one of them, and I started thinking that I hadn’t read a book which reflected anything like my experiences. Leaving a toxic family isn’t the end. It’s the beginning of a new struggle.
And thus, a novel was born out of my desire to see something like my own path portrayed.
Do you schedule a certain amount of time for writing each day/week, or do you just work it in when you can? Would you like to change this, or does your current method work well for you?
I write when I can and the muse obliges, both of which are happily often, though I’m not one of those 5,000 word a day writers. (Cue great awe.) Personally, I like this method. I write because I love it, so I don’t want it to be some scheduled To Do, which sounds awfully chore-like.
Now, Mr. Pinkham and I recently hosted our nephew for a week, and we had a great time with him, but I wrote not one word. I do not know how parents ever finish a manuscript. Maybe that’s where scheduling would come in handy: “You’re entertaining the kiddo(s) from 6:00 to 7:00 while I write. See you in an hour.”
What was the most difficult part of writing this book? Why?
The scenes where Matt reacts badly to a scare and pushes Collin away. I really wanted to convey that while his actions might seem irrational and paranoid from an outside perspective, he’s following a certain internal logic learned from his parents. He’s not a flake; he’s a man who defaults to fear and is trying desperately to do the right thing.
How do you develop a story idea? Do you always use the same method? Specifically, which do you develop first in your story building, the characters or the plot?
My stories are driven by the characters. I usually start with a vision for a character in a situation, which then tends to stay fairly consistent throughout the writing process. Only one of my MCs has surprised me so far in terms of his development.
Once I have the character, I start mentally fitting him into a premise and/or world. Then it’s time to start writing! I’m a complete pantser and I’ve never plotted out a single story. When it all goes well, the plot and conflict unfold organically as the character moves through their world.
This can lead to problems, to be sure. I have a whole graveyard of abandoned files consisting of characters with premises but no conflict. Still, if I had to have all my ducks in a row or, worse still, an outline, I’d never have finished a book.
What do you find to be the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Well, seeing as how I don’t have a penis, it’s tricky to write about a character that does. And there’s only so far an interview will take you. I can ask my husband what a blowjob feels like, but “Awesome!” is not an especially helpful answer, in terms of bringing a sex scene to life.
What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
I usually listen to music (and sometimes sing along) when driving. I find this helps keep me more focused on the road. I have missed turns and exits because I was thinking about a story and driving on autopilot, which isn’t a very good idea. Nothing dangerous and I’ve never daydreamed my way into causing an accident, but all the same, I find it best to keep my brain occupied on something other than my WIPs when driving. Basically, if not given anything else to chew on, my brain defaults to writing mode. It’s a blessing and a curse.
If you were arrested with no explanation, what would your family or friends assume you’d done?
They’d undoubtedly assume it was a mistake. I am a rule follower to the core, and in fact I am offended on principle when other people don’t follow the rules.
That being said, one summer in my grad school years when still living at my mother’s house in Maine, I went to a big rally of those who wanted to end the military’s homophobic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It was a major event headlined by Lady Gaga, where the mayor of Portland spoke briefly. All very law-abiding (except one or two people selling marijuana on the outskirts). Anyway, we showed our support for the cause, there were ex-servicemembers who spoke passionately, and Lady Gaga gave a heartfelt speech comparing freedom to prime rib (I think she’s a better songwriter than speechwriter). And then I got home and my mother said, “Oh, good, you didn’t get arrested.” Yeah, I was a rebel.