As I've found out from personal experience you reply to every single letter you get. Why is that? Are you just an uberly cool person?
No, I'm insane. There's such a cycle of empowerment between readers and writers that I'd be insane not to embrace it. My reward is hearing how my work provides entertainment or enlightenment, inspiration or affirmation for others. It's a small sacrifice of my writing time and energy to say thank you.
Do your books resemble your own life at all? If so how?
Funny story. When I finished the manuscript for Keeping You a Secret and showed it to my partner, Sherri, she said, "Oh yeah. I see me in here. I see you. I see my mother. I see yours."
I said, "What? No. This is fiction. I made it up."
She went, "Sure you did."
I never think I'm writing about myself. Plotwise, I still believe it's rare. But on an emotional level, I do experience the joys and pains of my characters. Certainly, I know the challenges of coming out. I've felt unrequited love, the way Mike feels in Far from Xanadu. My parents divorced, so I know how Nick agonizes over having to choose between his parents in Between Mom and Jo. Emotional honesty is what brings characters to life on the page, so if I don't empathize with them it comes through in the writing.
A hard lesson was learned in writing Luna, the story of a teen beginning her transition from male to female. I began that book in the voice of Luna, the main character, but halfway through I knew in my heart, since I'm not transgender, that I'd never get to her truth. So I started over in the voice of Luna's sister, an invested observer. That felt more honest.
Authors are always told, "Write what you know." I interpret that to mean: Write what you know in your heart to be true.
Since you yourself are not transgender what originally possessed you to
begin to write a story from the voice of a main character who is transgender?
Luna, herself. She appeared to me in a nighttime visitation. At three a.m. she woke me up and said, "Write about me."
I said, "You just woke me up. Get out of here. Can't you see I'm exhausted?" I'd just finished two books and I wasn't ready to start another. I told her, "Come back later."
She was back the next night, waking me at three a.m. "Write about me," she said.
I growled at her. "You woke me up again." Also, I thought, This is weird. I know she's a character for a book, but she's so vivid.
I never see my characters as visually distinct. I feel them from the inside out. This girl was 17 or 18 with blonde, shoulder-length hair. She had this spray of freckles across her nose. I said, "Who are you?"
She said, "I'm Luna."
I'm losing it, I thought. Luna. I'm so sure. I did think, Wow, that would make a great title for a YA novel. But I wasn't ready to begin another book. I told her, "Go away. Come back in a month."
She was back the next night. Three a.m. "Write about me."
I grit my teeth. "What?" I asked. "Write what? What is your story?"
Luna made this gesture. She ran her hand down the back of her hair and rested her forearm across her breasts. She said, "I'm transsexual."
Whoa. What? This was insane. I didn't even know any transsexuals. Did I? None had ever revealed themselves to me. I said, "Girl, you landed in the wrong head."
She smiled and said, "Write about me."
Night after night she'd appear. This incessant, "Write about me, write about me." She wouldn't leave me alone. She wouldn't let me go. Finally, just to get some sleep, I succumbed.
After two years of researching transgenderism and interviewing trans people, I decided I couldn't get close enough to the experience to write from Luna's point of view. Unfortunately I figured this out halfway through the manuscript. I scrapped it and began again in the voice of Luna's younger sister, Regan. It felt more honest and authentic to tell Luna's story from the POV of an invested observer.
Later I figured out (duh) I hadn't listened closely enough to Luna. She never said, "Write as me." It was always, "Write about me."
Luna appeared in a nighttime visitation? Do you get many of these nighttime visitations? Are they more like dreams, ghosts or real people who visit you?
No, not like that. My characters never come so fully formed as Luna did. I do a lot of writing at night, working through a story in my mind, playing out scenes or extracting character motivations. I'm always living with my characters during the time I'm writing a novel, but their personalities are inside of me. Luna was a vision outside myself. Not even a dream. If I'd reached out to touch her, I swear I could have.