Thomas Dolby: What it Feels Like for a Girl

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Today is the day to figure out what to leave a bad but friendly waitress.

Once again, today this site is a stop on the Virtual Book Tour
and today I'm proud to welcome Mr. Thomas Dolby, who is not related to the fellow who has been blinded by science. He is here to talk about his book The Trouble Boy which is now out in paperback. Oh and by the way, he is easy on the eyes.

What it Feels Like for a Girl

While I was writing my first novel, The Trouble Boy, I never thought about who was going to read it. I wrote about what I found interesting, characters I liked, and situations that fascinated me. When I was finished, it finally occurred to me: this is a very gay book. I don't mean just a little bit gay. I mean gay as Carson Kressley, Elton John, and that actress on Desperate Housewives who refuses to come out. I was convinced that my audience would be limited to gay men.

True, the novel had a handful of straight female characters. There's Sonia, the editrix of the webzine where my main character, Toby, works; Elizabeth, Toby's film world friend; and Toby's mother Isabella, a fashion designer. A few more women were among the villains of the book: the celebrity uber-publicist, the decadent and destructive Hollywood starlet, the ball-breaking film producer. Aside from them, most of the characters in the novel are gay men, and the story is told from a young gay guy's perspective.

While these female characters--most of whom were secondary in the plot--came to me naturally, I think a part of me was afraid of writing about women. After all, what did I, a gay guy, know about straight women? I have many straight female friends, but I was nervous about trying to get inside the head of a member of the opposite sex.

As it turned out, I knew much more than I thought I did, and I had been writing about issues that concerned women without realizing it. When The Trouble Boy came out, I started getting comments and emails from straight female fans. "I couldn't put it down!" they would write. "It stayed with me even after I finished reading it!" One forwarded to me an email she had written to all of her girlfriends recommending the book: "The gay men in this novel are just like us: boy-crazy, insecure, daydreaming about the potential, and always looking for 'the one.' It's like a juicy "Sex and the City" episode."

These comments emboldened me in the writing of my next novel, tentatively titled The Sixth Form. I had gone through several drafts of the book over a period of two years, and most of it took place in the minds of two seventeen year-old boys who form a complex and manipulative friendship with their thirty-five year-old female English teacher at a New England boarding school. A young woman, Christine, comes into play in the second half of the book, as she tries to uncover a story from her past, the truth of which involves all three of the main characters. While the plot was working, something was missing on an emotional level; the narrative felt flat. I realized that Christine was a much more important character than I had originally envisioned, and that I needed to give her a voice. I decided there should be entire chapters devoted to her, interspersed with those of the two young men, that would take readers on her journey.

At first, Christine was murky. I had an idea of what she looked like, I had some key phrases in my mind, things she would think or say. Then slowly, gradually, she came into focus. I gave her a place to live, a relationship, a career. More importantly, her voice developed--smart and acerbic, alternately analytical and emotional, both arrogant and insecure. I could picture her precisely in my mind; if she came walking down the street, I would recognize her.

In a simple sense, encouraged by the comments I had gotten from my female readers, I took a portion of my own personality and infused it into Christine; I have joked to my friends that she is what I would be like if I were a woman. ("Oh," one friend said, "so she's a big bitch, right?" No. She's just…misunderstood.) In creating her, I started to trust my gut and see where the character took me.

To quote that pop cultural prophet, Madonna, I wouldn't be so bold as to say that I know exactly "what it feels like for a girl." But I hope I've come pretty damn close.