Q&A with Eric Gober: Author of Secrets of the Other Side
My guest this week is Eric Gober author of the incredibly moving debut novel Secrets of the Other Side. He has very kindly stopped by to answer some questions I had for him concerning his book, as well as talk a little about his passion for equal marriage and the heartbreak of losing someone to AIDS.
Welcome to Boys on the Brink, Eric. It’s a real pleasure to have you here. Let’s start with something fun. Can you share three interesting facts about yourself?
Jamie, thanks so much for having me on your blog. I do have three fun facts I’d like to share with you and your readers.
I’m an outspoken advocate for marriage equality. When Prop 8 passed in California in 2008, I attended protests around Los Angeles dressed in a chicken suit. You see, during that election, Californians also passed Prop 2, which gave rights to farm animals ensuring they receive humane treatment. My fellow protestors loved it. They were as incensed as I was that some Californians voted to give rights to animals but take rights away from human beings. To my delight, Variety addressed those very voters and ran an article about the protestor in the chicken suit carrying a sign asking them to be humane to people too.
One of the first short stories I got published, The Pink Chili Heist, was a comedy of errors about a trio of ragtag drag queens that bungles robbing a high-end women’s boutique. I’ve turned the story into a feature length screenplay that’s ready and waiting for a producer.
Las Vegas has forever stamped my imagination and the way I write. Growing up, I was mesmerized by the city’s neon lights, feathered showgirls, slick entertainers, and flashy casinos. I remember as a kid I wanted to be a blackjack dealer. However, I was also cognizant of the city’s seedy characters, tough neighborhoods, blistering heat, and barren landscape. Now whenever I sit down to write, colorful quirkiness and stark reality juxtapose themselves in my stories.
And has writing always been in your blood?
I’ve always loved word play and storytelling. As a kid, I could sit for hours and listen to my mom and her friends tell jokes and stories about people they knew. I also delighted in getting lost in a good book. In junior high and high school I was fortunate to have excellent English teachers who encouraged creativity in writing. I relished when they gave homework assignments that allowed me to make up my own stories. By the time I graduated from high school, writing was my favorite subject, and I knew someday I would write a novel.
As anyone who has read my review of Secrets of the Other Side will know, I couldn’t find enough good things to say about this book. What inspired you to write it?
Secrets of the Other Side turned out very different from the novel I originally set out to write. I had envisioned a series of adventures for Neil as an adult with periodic flashbacks to childhood. The plan started out dandy. However, the more I wrote, the more the flashbacks took over. After about a hundred pages, I could no longer deny I had a big narrative mess on my hands. So I rethought the concept, stripped away the adult adventures, put the childhood flashbacks in chronological order, and began reworking the material. Incidents involving Neil’s mom, aunt, and grandma instantly came to life, and I realized all along I’d wanted to tell a story about family—one whose bonds are so strong it could overcome any kind of strife. No doubt the inspiration came from ups and downs experienced by my own tight-knit family.
I absolutely fell in love with your characters. They’re so quirky and larger than life, and yet incredibly real. Do you tend to base aspects of their personalities on people you know, or do they spring solely from your imagination?
I often study aspects of people’s personalities and experiences to jumpstart characters. Much like in the novel when Neil encounters Mr. Dolly at a Halloween party, a real person will transform into an interesting character inside my head. Then my imagination takes over, and I strive to make the character come to life in a big way, using layer after layer of quirky details.
Neil goes through so much during the course of this novel that it was truly heartbreaking to read at times. Did you find this a difficult book emotionally to write?
Yes, because as I write, I conjure images, actions, and phrasings that make me experience all the emotions the characters are feeling, in hopes that readers will experience them too. At times it’s fun—like when Neil falls in love with a new guy and has to navigate turbulent waters of romance. But other times it’s painful. It was particularly difficult to write the chapters Stories You Need to Tell and Hanging in the Stars in which Neil experiences heartbreaking losses from violent homophobia and AIDS.
This story encompasses many difficult issues, perhaps the most painful of which is AIDS. Is this a subject that’s particularly close to your heart?
The heartbreak of AIDS will be with me forever. I lost many dear guys—Leon, Peter, David S., Joey, David V., Greg, Ed, Vince, and Bob—and too many acquaintances to the disease. I wish I could have them all back. I sincerely hope young people today never have to experience painful, staggering losses like the gay youths who came of age during the eighties and nineties.
What’s up next for your writing? Any new novels for us to look forward to?
I’m actually working on two projects right now, both related to Secrets of the Other Side. The one I hope to complete first is a novella about Jason Campbell, Neil’s first love. It chronicles dark family events that compel twelve-year-old Jason to escape his abusive stepfather in Phoenix and seek refuge with his Aunt Mary in Las Vegas. The second project is a novel, which begins a few months after Secrets ends. The whole cast of characters returns and new ones arrive on the scene to duke it out in Hollywood amid California’s marriage equality battles.
Can’t wait to read them! Thanks so much for giving me this interview, Eric. Where can readers find out more about you and your work?