Did Lewis and I know each other in college? That was so long ago, I no longer remember. What I do know was that hmm-hmm years ago, when I was putting together an alumni book event for a significant reunion, Lewis was one of my first classmates to respond. That meant I had a chance to read his first novel, Chemistry, which takes on mental health and relationship issues in a very real and relatable fashion, and I’m looking forward to reading his latest, Channeling Morgan. As should you. Doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, or nonbinary – some things are simply human, and Lewis’s honesty and sense of humor shine through.
How does a book start for you?
That’s a tough one, because every book seems to take a very different path. I think the commonality is that they all start with a question. My second novel, The Heart’s History,was inspired by a memorial service for someone I’d never met. He was the partner of a work colleague, and at the service I heard his friends talk about him in so many different ways that I couldn’t get a picture of him in my head. Who was this guy?, I asked myself. And then I realized that everyone is a mystery, and nobody has all the pieces. That phenomenon became the theme of the book—how a single life can be interpreted in contradictory ways and yet, at some level, they’re all true.
My most recent novel, Channeling Morgan,came to me out of the blue. My favorite novelist is E.M. Forster, and one day I just found myself wondering what would have happened if he had written A Room with a Viewas a gay love story, something more authentic to his own experience. And before I knew it, I had a whole cast of characters modeling in the 21stcentury a freedom that Forster could never have imagined a hundred years earlier.
Who in your latest book has surprised you most—and why?
Forster is famous for, among other things, the concept of flat vs. round characters, so that distinction was very much on my mind as I was writing the book. There were a number of small characters I created as foils for the others rather than fully fleshed people. But as I got deeper into the story, they took on lives of their own. For example, I envisioned the character of Graham Whitcomb as simply a vain and pretentious guy, but suddenly he appeared in a scene where he wasn’t supposed to be and, deep in his cups, he let his vulnerability and self-criticism come pouring out. He became much rounder at that point, and I learned some things about him that I could then sprinkle into his other scenes to make him come alive as a character.
When and/or where is your latest book set and is there a story behind that setting?
Channeling Morganis divided into two parts, the first taking place in Provincetown and the second in New York City. I was modeling the structure of A Room with a View,which begins with the characters on vacation in Italy and then finds them at home in England for the second half.
Provincetown has always been a very special place for me. There’s something about beach towns that brings out a sense of romance and possibility, and that’s exactly what I wanted for the beginning of the book. In Provincetown, the characters feel free from social convention and can relate to one another on a deeper level. When they return to New York, the walls go back up and concern for reputation stymies expression of their true selves. But what they’ve learned in Provincetown can’t be tamped down so easily, and therein lies the primary conflict in the story.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing up a novel about a family in 1979. It’s set against the backdrop of the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, so it’s quite a change of pace from a romp about movie stars and drag queens, but I’m enjoying every minute of it.
Which question didn’t I ask that I should have?
Let me just say how grateful I am that you didn’t ask the dreaded “Do you write every day?” question, which always makes me hang my head in shame.
More important, of course, is the question of whether my cats appreciate my writing. Cleo is indifferent, but her brother, Harvey, is really into it. B
Lewis DeSimone is the author, most recently, of the satirical comedy Channeling Morgan(Beautiful Dreamer Press). His previous novels include Chemistryand The Heart’s History,which was cited in several “Best of 2012” lists. His work has also appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Christopher Street, Chelsea Station, Best Gay Romance 2014, My Diva: 65 Gay Writers on the Women Who Inspire Them,and Not Just Another Pretty Face.