Honestly, we didn’t have high hopes when we opened the cover of Jay Bell‘s award winning novel Something Like Summer. We hadn’t heard much about it and based on a recommendation from a follower, decided to crack it open and see if there was any merit to the award winning novelist. We were quite pleasantly surprised, to say the least. Something Like Summer might easily be the best read we’ve had all year! Jay Bell is not only a storyteller…he is a writer; there is a huge difference. Storytellers simply tell good stories but struggle crafting their art. Writers can lift the story above and beyond to a place all of it’s own. With Something Like Summer, Jay Bell has created a space where love and romance; grief, understanding and change all resonate with the reader, whether gay or straight, much in the same way Annie Proulx did in Brokeback Mountain. Jay Bell, the writer, happens to be gay and his subject matter happens to be gay themed, but the theme and understanding is universal. Now, after having read several of his books in only a week’s time, we’ve learned that this universality in his writing is common within all of his characters. His attitudes towards writing are passion filled and enlightening while his thoughts on bullying and teenage acceptance warrant a need to look in a more realistic view of these headline-pulling issues. Simply put…he knows his shit! His writing is so raw and vulnerable that we wanted to talk with him and find out more about the guy behind the characters who will forever live in our minds, like friends we’ve known for a very long time.
1. How long did it take you to write Something Like Summer and what was your process?
For me, starting to write a book is like watching a movie trailer. I get a general idea of the plot, and there are flashes of exciting scenes. The process is then filling in the blanks. I usually know the beginning of a story and have a good idea of the ending, but all those parts in between are written as they are discovered. I don’t remember how long it took to complete Something Like Summer, but I became more fevered the further I went.
2. What inspired you to write Something Like Summer? What is the story behind Something Like Winter?
When starting Something Like Summer, I was burnt out on fantasy. At the time I had just finished writing my debut novel, The Cat in the Cradle, which had taken many years of struggle. I even started over from scratch at one point, discarding a complete novel many drafts in. After that experience, I wanted to write something totally different, so I drew from my own experiences, or those oft repeated stories that so many gay people go through when growing up. I hadn’t read many gay books at this point, so I was driven by a need to write the book I wanted to read. I think that’s what most authors do. They want to entertain themselves. It’s only later that the audience is taken into consideration.
As for Something Like Winter, my readers wanted the story to continue, but I had my concerns. There’s a gay manga series I love to bits called Gravitation. By the time that series ends, the two lovers are on equal standing. They’ve faced their demons and come out stronger. Finally they can live happily ever after, right? Except the success of the series demanded more, so naturally the author brought the characters back, shoehorned a kid into their lives, and made one of the guys have an affair. Soap operas are so terrible because they’re never allowed to end. The writers have to resort to more and more extremes to keep the plot moving.
With this in mind, I decided the best way to give the readers more of Something Like Summer was to flush out the story that’s already there. Not only does this mean showing what Tim’s life was like in the years apart from Ben, but there are also scenes of their time together to be revealed or expounded upon. When writing Something Like Winter, I wasn’t sure if this method was going to work, but having read through the book many times now, I’m extremely proud of the result. A good sequel should be “more and yet the same”, and I hope readers are as happy to return to Ben and Tim’s life as I was.
3. On your blog, you defined yourself in high school as a rebellious nerd. What made you a rebellious nerd?
Of all my characters, I probably have the most in common with David Henry from Kamikaze Boys. Like him, I was exceedingly uncool, engaging in long video game marathons and taking breaks to run around the woods while dreaming of magical realms. Also like David, I was never able to compromise when it comes to who I am. That meant getting picked on and being called names, but it would have been much worse to pretend I was someone that I wasn’t, or to not stand up for my beliefs. I gave teachers and principals hell, set stuff on fire, did drugs, skipped school, and got in endless trouble, all while collecting action figures and reading countless fantasy novels. I was all over the place, regardless of what society thought of me. But most of all, I was uncool.
4. What three pieces of advice would you give an aspiring writer who wants to be published?
Don’t take no for an answer. Agents and publishers might join the industry because of a love for books, but at the end of the day, they need to make money. Unfortunately, this means they focus on publishing what they perceive as marketable and profitable. A lot of original voices used to get culled by this process, but now with self-publishing, we all have a chance to be heard. The audience votes with their wallet. Focus on writing the best story you can. If a publisher wants it, great. If not, don’t let that stop you.
5. Can writers make a full time living off of their writing?
Yes, but it’s a marathon, not a race. Every book you publish adds to your income. Some will be hits, and others will help you pay your taxes and that’s about it. The more you try, the more hits you get, and the more you’ll make. But it takes years of trying and struggling and patience. I don’t recommend writing as a day job. Not at first, anyway.
6. What are 3 books you would suggest to a good friend?
The Giving Tree- Not only is it a gorgeous children’s book by the late great Shel Silverstein, but it’s a masterful example of how emotion can be evoked in just a few short pages and a handful of words. That’s powerful stuff!
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone- It’s not Rowling’s best book by far, but it got legions of her fans hooked. I don’t care for the movies and have ignored all the merchandising, but the Harry Potter book series is gorgeous. It’s flawed, clumsy, emotional, idealistic, and at times too grim… but anything worth reading is!
The Time Traveler’s Wife- Innovative storytelling and a brilliant presentation of sci-fi/fantasy to a mainstream audience. I suspect more and more fantasy novels will be set in present day reality but feature extraordinary events. Aside from all that, this book really tugged at my heart strings.
7. Tell us about your husband Andreas and why he makes a good husband.
Andreas and I were outside dining at a restaurant the other day, when the guy next to us finished eating and left. On his table was a near empty glass of juice, with just enough left inside to attract bees. Soon the bees got trapped at the bottom. The walls of the glass were too slick, the bees’ wings covered in juice the more they struggled. I couldn’t pull my eyes away, so Andreas took a straw and started fishing the bees out, one by one. The other diners were soon staring and the waitress came to clear the table, but Andreas kept at it until every bee was free. Then he put them in a nearby plant, where we watched them clean themselves and dry out. By the end of the meal, they had all flown away. When I thanked him for doing this, he simply shrugged and said, “I saw that concerned look on your face.” Obviously there’s a lot more to Andreas than this, but it’s a perfect example of why I love him.
8. What inspired your book Kamikaze Boys?
Mostly I wanted to write a love story where the conflict came from the outside. No bickering or misunderstanding between these boys! I wanted to show two guys in love that are assaulted by their world, but strong enough when together to fight back. I also wanted to show the effects of bullying and the options that victims have. Adults tend to give advice that’s very safe and within legal limitations, when truly I think people need to do anything they can to cope. The haters want you to roll over. They want to drive you to suicide or self-destructive behavior. Don’t do that. Spit in their eyes instead and fight back anyway you can, even passively, if that’s what it takes to survive being victimized.
9. Of all of your characters you’ve written about, do you have one you got the most attached to and why?
Tim Wyman from Something Like Summer. When the reviews of that book first came out, I was surprised that some readers strongly disliked him. The more I spoke with these readers, the more I realized that they didn’t see Tim through my eyes. To me he’s very misunderstood, and I feel very protective of him, so I’m happy to be able to reveal his story. I think I love him so much because of how much he has to grow. Tim doesn’t have an easy road ahead of him, but he ends up traveling further than any of my other characters.
10. If you had a theme song for your life, what would it be?
All right, this one is vague, but I’d choose The Quest for Glory theme song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WraS64YOT8A It’s from an old defunct video game series, and I’ve been humming it nonstop since I was a kid. I do a pretty mean opera version in the shower as well. … I mentioned how uncool I am, right?
11. What are three things we wouldn’t know by looking at you?
That I have abs of steel, x-ray vision, and that I’m not really a mild-mannered reporter.
12. If you were going to date any of your characters, who would it be?
Connor Williams from Kamikaze Boys. I guess I have a thing for misunderstood guys. Maybe that’s why I married a foreigner that I’m always misunderstanding. Anyway, Connor has the bad reputation, the sexy scar, and the killer body, but it’s really the gentleness of his heart that I find so appealing. He would never hurt David on purpose, which sounds so basic and expected in a relationship, but is rarer than some might think.
13. Tell us about the movie adaptation of Something Like Summer.
The Something Like Summer movie is being handled by the same talent behind the phenomenal Judas Kiss. We’ve got the same director and screenwriter, which I’m thrilled about, because I feel they are ahead of the game. Gay cinema isn’t just about coming out or falling in love anymore. People want to experience quality stories featuring characters that just happen to be gay. And we want movies filmed with just as much skill and care as mainstream cinema. I feel Judas Kiss delivers on all accounts. I’ve read early drafts of the Something Like Summer script, and I’m very impressed. All the important events are in there. Casting hasn’t started just yet, but I believe we’re in for a very big treat!
14. Tell us about a day in your life.
Oh man! There’s nothing more boring than an author’s life! Writing about exiting events means sitting in a stationary position for most of the day. Maybe it’s just me. I know other authors claim to have exciting lives. Stephen King plays in a rock band, doesn’t he? Really I think they just make this stuff up so no one discovers the boring truth. Basically I create butt dents in various chairs around the house all day until Andreas comes home. Then I become Suzy Homemaker, but it’s all good. I love my life.
15. What advice would you give a gay teenager who is wanting to come out?
Do it! Maybe your parents will hate you and everyone at school will point and laugh. So what? Life is full of ups and downs no matter what you do. You can be miserable in the closet worrying about what everyone might think, or you can be miserable out of the closet and have everyone judge you for the truth. Of course there’s always the chance that some of your friends and family will be cool, and that you’ll meet that person you’re dreaming of, but none of that’s going to happen while you’re hiding away.
16. Tell us about your experience at the Lambda Literary Awards and how it felt to win an award for Gay Romance?
Ask me again next year! I can tell you it felt great to be a finalist, but Something Like Summer didn’t take the prize. I honestly wasn’t sure how I’d feel about not winning until it happened, but I was okay with it. I got to meet other authors, which is a rare thing for such a solitary career. And I had a wonderful time in New York with Andreas. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
17. How do you define sexy?
I always say that hot guys are a dime a dozen. For me, sexy has very little to do with the physical. I like a guy that’s intelligent, but he doesn’t have to quote Shakespeare. In fact, I’d prefer he didn’t. A curious mind is definitely hot, no matter the choice of subject. A sense of humor is crucial, especially when the tide is high. Mostly I admire someone who isn’t ashamed to be their own person, no matter what that might be.
18. What is your attitude towards bullying and what do you think should be done about it?
I was bullied pretty bad for a couple of years in school, and before that, I did some bullying myself. I’ve experienced both sides of the coin, and I think the best strategy is to call them out. Make them go to the front of class and explain why they pick on someone smaller or different than them. Bring their parents in. Ask them why they raised a bully. If it keeps happening, put them in a segmented class or school, because not only is education being interfered with, but kids are killing themselves rather than facing more humiliation. Really it’s the people that bully who should be embarrassed. The more parents and teachers can attach a social stigma to such behavior, the less anyone will want to be known as a bully. The reasons behind bullying and how to deal with it definitely need to be a regular part of the class curriculum. Teach kids how to cope, because there are plenty more bullies in the adult work environment.
19. What would you like to have accomplished in the next five years?
I’d like to try a few more genres. Right now I bounce back and forth between fantasy and romance, so I’d like to challenge myself by trying something new. Eventually I’d like to write for television. Not regularly, I don’t think, but an episode or two of something would make for an interesting experience.
20. What are your three simple luxuries?
Time would be the biggest one. The great thing about writing for a living is the schedule. I work days, evenings and weekends sometimes, but I can also choose not to do anything at all. That freedom is wonderful, and I never take it for granted.
Living in Germany is a huge luxury in many ways, especially when it comes to travel. Visiting other European countries is like driving one state over in the US, so I’ve been able to see some amazing places. The quality of life here is exceptional too.
Finally, my action figure collection is my super big happy time. They’re toys, they’re simple, and they have nothing to do with staring at an electric screen. My little plastic people are characters made physical, and they often spark my imagination. Mostly I’m just a big kid who revels in not having to ask mom for all the awesome toys I want. … Yeah, I know. Hopelessly uncool.
Be Yourself. Be Fearless. Be Your Own Unexpected Luxury!
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