In my long life, I’ve had thirteen therapists, some for only one session, others for a few sessions, and one that changed my life. Obviously, I believe that everyone can benefit from psychotherapy, and I’m not shy about telling friends of my experience. When I mentioned I’d had thirteen therapists to my writer friends one day, they immediately said that that would be a good title for a novel.
While many writers would write the book first, the title last, I set out to develop a story around that title because the idea intrigued me. Since I write young adult novels and my protagonists are usually gay young men, I knew that this would be a story of a highschooler. My first task was to determine if a sixteen or seventeen year old could even have had thirteen therapists in his young life. Once that was certain, the story started writing itself.
As a lifelong Texan, why did you decide to set your novel in Chicago?
As the seventh of my novels (sing along: “six little manuscripts, sitting in a drawer”,) I knew I had to break out from my comfort zone with this one. I wanted to concoct a story that was totally different from any I had done before. I wanted characters that felt more deeply than the ones I’d created before. What better way to do that than to plop my characters down in a city far away from my home city. And “they” say to write what you know. Chicago is my favorite US city. My friend, who was born there and lives there, jokingly says that I know more about the city than she does. So I knew my setting well, and the challenge became to let my characters grow in this environment different from my usual.
Why did you choose the world of the ultra-rich?
Again, I wanted to stretch as a writer. How would the son of a rich, powerful person act? Would he be any different than one who grows up blue collar? As Aaron lived his life through me, I realized that people are people. They have the same loves and desires and emotions. Circumstance may place them among the privileged, but we all want to be loved by our parents, find someone to love us, and live full meaningful lives. I hope that I have beenable, in Thirteen Therapists, to show that Aaron is me, you, and all your friends, rich, poor, middle class, Black, Hispanic, white, Asian, gay, straight, or whatever—and yes, male or female.
Your protagonist is not into theater and ballet, yet his family members are. Why was that important to you?
Again, write what you know. I’ve lived in that world. I know that world. I know how the theater works, how people in the theater think. As for ballet, if I’d had the right training and the right body, I might have been a professional dancer. So it felt natural to use these worlds as Aaron’s brother’s and sister’s passions.
Is the book autobiographical in any way?
I grew up as an outsider. There was no way to grow up in the1950s in Cowtown, USA (Ft. Worth, Texas) as a strange, gay little boy and not be on the fringe. Add to that the fact that I was sheltered by conservative parents who never mentioned sexuality. So I was a confused little kid.
My mother and father were very accepting of me, however, and urged me to follow my dreams. So I became a performer. My mother was an avid reader, so I became a voracious consumer of the written word and a writer. I think I put a little bit of me in all my characters.
I don’t want to have to issue any spoiler alerts here, so I can’t go into detail but suffice it to say that my family members are reflected in my characters in many ways.
What are your hopes for Thirteen Therapists?
I want it to be a best seller, of course. I want it to be bought by a major filmmaker and become an award-winning movie. I want to garner all the accolades that an author can get--he says, a sly smirk on his face.
Does that sound arrogant? Or am I speaking the truth of “speak it and it shall be so”?
But more than success for me, I wish success for the novel because I believe that parents of gay teens can learn from it, that gay teens can find comfort in it, that all teens can walk Aaron’s journey and apply what they learn to their own lives, and that all adults can become a little more tolerant after living with Aaron and Sylvia and Derrick and, especially, my beautiful Thirteen.