Because I no longer write blurbs, but still very much want to help other authors, I'm launching a blog series called Better Than Blurbs. The authors and I will have in-depth discussions about their books, which I hope will help readers identify whether they'd enjoy reading them.
This is the first post of the series. The author is Laura Preble, and the book is OUT. Which I'd like to announce is FREE for Kindle, but today only. So read the interview, and if it sounds like your kind of book, go grab a copy.
Laura, will you start by telling us about OUT in your own words?
Laura: The Nature of OUT
My new novel, OUT, was born in a manger.
Well, not exactly. It was more like a mountain lodge, with a fireplace and a cocktail bar. But it was out in the middle of nowhere. I think there were farm animals in the vicinity. I know for a fact that there was a stuffed bear on the porch.
I had gone to a writing conference where the goal was to work on novels intensively. I was so fired up about this—as a high school teacher with two kids, I barely had time to go to the bathroom by myself let alone write. But of course, on the first day the electrical current in the quaint mountain cabin zapped my laptop, and that was that.
I took to the lodge to drown my sorrows in Pinot Grigio. I took a yellow legal pad along for company, figuring I'd draw uncomplimentary doodles about the universe. Instead, I got the idea for OUT.
It popped into my head as an iconic image of the parallel and perpendicular symbols. In my book, Parallels are same-sex couples, and they are the ruling class, the government, and the church combined. Their symbol is two sets of parallel lines formed into a cross. The Perpendiculars are opposite-sex couples, a small minority. However, because of strict political and social controls, the Parallels have criminalized the opposite-sex couples. Chris Bryant, a minister's son, discovers that he is Perpendicular, in love with a girl. He has to decide whether he should remain faithful to what he has been taught by his church and his society, or follow his heart and risk imprisonment and possibly death.
I've already had hate mail about this book, and it's not even out yet. People read the description and decide I'm a gay-basher, which is as far from the truth as you can get. I've been a Gay-Straight Alliance advisor for nearly twenty years, my own son is gay, and I've worked for PFLAG, GLSEN, and many other groups. This book is not about anything except love. It's a love story, just as the story of same-sex couples in our country is a love story.
My goal was to give people who are in the lucky majority, the opposite-sex couples, a glimpse of what it would be like to be told that who you are and whom you love is deviant and unacceptable. LGBT people live every day with discrimination, both subtle and direct. I've seen it happen at my school, with my son, and with other people less close to home. I've done research; there are still people who believe in reconditioning LGBT people, or "praying the gay away." This isn't fiction or far-fetched. It exists. There are people who still believe that aversion therapy is the way to go, that psychological torture will "heal" people of their "addiction" to their same-sex attraction.
The world of OUT is, of course, fictional. It is heightened reality. Our society does not physically imprison people for being LGBT. But in many subtle ways, the system does imprison them. People are still beaten, killed, ostracized, and disowned for being gay. I know students in my high school GSA who cannot be in the yearbook picture because if their parents found out, they'd be without a place to live.
So, I suppose people who read the book will have lots of reactions to it, but at the core, I meant it to be a love story between two people whom society did not see as acceptable. Love is love. No matter what anyone else says or thinks, I know that is the message of my book.
Me: I think you’ll find that when people start reading the book, any idea that you are gay-bashing will disappear. Your message is quite obvious from the start: that it’s pointless and wrong to persecute people for who they love. Now the question is, are you ready for the second kind of hate messages? The ones that tell you how horrible you are for trying to teach their kids that it’s wrong to persecute people for who they love?
Laura: Hate messages do not bother me. I’ve been a GSA advisor for more than 20 years, and have had to live with persecution on my own school campus from administrators and parents who think it’s wrong to teach kids to love who they are. I do wish people would read it before judging it, though. I’ve already had really nasty, spiteful messages from people who haven’t even read one page of the book.
Me: This is a concept that’s bound to open a lot of discussion. What would be the best thing you can see coming from that dialogue?
Laura: The absolute best outcome for me would be for people to honestly admit that being gay is not a choice. Also, I think that love is to be honored, and I hope that comes through in the book. Tolerance is not enough. LGBT people must be honored and appreciated as people. It makes me ill that I know my own son, who is gay, may not be able to marry in this country, a place that is supposed to stand for freedom.
Me: This is not a complaint, by any means, but I found that I wished the same-sex people in the book hadn’t had to take on the characteristics of right-wing Christian Republicans. I know they had to (and I was pleased to see, as I read on, that many didn’t) otherwise the comparison would have been lost…I guess my question is, do you think it’s possible for human beings to be part of a majority without turning into oppressors? (In life, I mean. In fiction I know there has to be conflict.)
Laura: I wanted to make the Parallels in the book righteous, but not evil. In our world, the people who think they are fighting God’s fight in this issue believe with all their hearts that they are right. It was necessary to portray the absolute conviction that people like David (the main character’s father) have to their cause, to show how they think allowing Perpendiculars to flourish would literally destroy their world. I didn’t want them to be sympathetic, but it was important that I showed them for what they believe themselves to be: holy and righteous.
I also think it is absolutely crucial that people in the majority are in this fight. In the book, some Parallels (same-sex couples) understand that persecuting Perpendiculars is wrong. They fight for the rights of the minority. Throughout history, no revolution in civil rights has ever been achieved without the assistance of people in the majority. In racial integration, it was necessary for President Eisenhower to demand desegregation. Men had to legislate to give women the right to vote. Straight people have to be allies for things to change.
Me: I can’t help noticing that the word Anglicant—the church in your novel—sounds like an antonym for the word Anglican. Purposeful?
Laura: Yes. I had done quite a bit of research about the struggles within the Anglican church over same-sex ministers. I don’t suppose they’re the worst of the lot; obviously, the Catholic Church has some very negative attitudes about it. But I loved the wordplay, so I went with Anglicant.
Me: So much of the point of your book is how we can’t change who we are. And yet I was interested in the fact that when rampant “breeding” threatened society in your book, society changed to a homosexual norm. And since it’s not possible to deny your true nature for long, it got me thinking of a point in my head, regarding the Bible, that I never hear anyone else discuss. It’s this: In Biblical times, the call was, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Yeah. There weren’t enough humans on the Earth. Now there are, if anything, too many. I wonder if more people are gay now than in Biblical times (if in fact they are, rather than just being more open about it) because Nature knows exactly what it’s doing, how to prevent overpopulation. Was this something of what you had in mind for your fictional societal transformation? Or am I overthinking it?
Laura: I had to really spend a lot of time living in that world, and the book was actually a lot of work because of this very question. It’s the one everyone asks right off the bat. I did think it through quite a bit, and I thought that the model of reproduction in OUT makes lots of sense. It’s fictional, a construct designed to facilitate the book’s idea, but I thought, “wow, if we had no unwanted pregnancies, no children born of rape, imagine how that would change things.” So much of the pain and anguish of our society comes from people having unwanted children and passing on their resentment/hatred/ illness/abuse in those children for generations. But in reality, I would not want a government controlling my ability to have children. I think in this case, the move was engineered by human beings, but nature may have played a part. I’d love to write a companion piece with the details of the history if the book ever became big enough.
Me: You said in your description of the book that this is heightened reality. And of course it’s not the U.S. we live in today. But as I read it, I kept thinking… In Nazi Germany, people were imprisoned, starved, experimented on, and slaughtered for a number of reasons. Being Jewish was the most common, but being gay would get you there as well. In Uganda, they’re trying to pass a bill instating the death penalty for gays. In South Africa, and maybe many other places, men illegally conduct “corrective rape” on any woman they suspect to be lesbian, ostensibly to “cure” that orientation. And then there are the Pray Away the Gay clinics you mentioned. Not to mention the hate crimes. I’m sorry to say it, but for every example you gave, I couldn’t help thinking someone, somewhere, suffered all that and more because of his or her sexual orientation. It’s not so much a question as a comment, I guess. But if you like to speak to it, please do.
Laura: I actually did quite a bit of research on this before writing the book. I bought a video called CHASING THE DEVIL: INSIDE THE EX-GAY MOVEMENT by Bill and Mishara Hussung, a chronicle of several people who were sent to reconditioning camps to change them. I also watched a tragically funny DVD called DOIN’ TIME IN THE HOMO NO MO’ HALFWAY HOUSE by Peterson Toscano, a funny but sad glimpse into his own experience in ex-gay ministries. People do not believe me when I tell them that there are still active ministries where people send their loved ones to be “reconditioned.” Politician Michelle Bachmann and her husband practice this. Huffington Post states that “Documentary filmmaker Kristina Lapinski, who is currently at work on "GAY U.S.A. the Movie," went undercover at Bachmann & Associates, the Minnesota-based Christian counseling clinic co-owned by Marcus and Michele Bachmann, and once again captured a staff member conducting what she described as "reparative" therapy.” I personally know of one student whose parents, psychologists, practiced aversion therapy with patients, trying to change them. So this is not extreme exaggeration, unfortunately.
Me: This is not a debut novel by any means. Will you tell us about your earlier books, and how they differ from OUT?
Laura: I have published three novels with Penguin/Berkley Jam: Queen Geek Social Club, Queen Geeks in Love, and Prom Queen Geeks. They’re much lighter, funnier, and skewed toward a younger audience, I think. I still love them; I wrote them for all the girls in high school who don’t fit the cheerleader paradigm, the readers, the sci-fi lovers, the gamers. I still get email from girls who read them, and they’re ecstatic that somebody gets them! That makes me feel great. I also self-published a paranormal novel called Lica’s Angel that deals with voodoo and is set in New Orleans. I’ve written several other books, but haven’t found homes for them in the traditional publishing world. I guess I don’t fit well in a pigeon hole.