On our last day at Saints and Sinners literary festival one year, Becky and I were sitting in the lobby of our hotel while waiting for the valet to retrieve our car. Suddenly, Trebor Healey appeared out of nowhere and sat down with us. It had been like that all weekend; Trebor appearing out of nowhere while we were at a random restaurant to join us for dinner, running into Trebor on sidewalk, attending a poetry reading to find Trebor reading a poem. Each time we saw him we really didn’t get to spend a lot of time talking, even though we enjoyed his company and felt he was a kindred spirit. In the hotel lobby we lamented the fact that we were leaving early and hadn’t spent as much time getting to know Trebor as we would’ve liked. My “think before speaking” filter wasn’t functioning and I heard myself say, “I think we should throw you in the trunk and take you to Houston.” Everyone had a good laugh at that idea and, before we left, Becky and I mentioned that we were about to start editing a romance anthology. We extended an invitation to Trebor to submit a story, and he said he was going to write a love story about a guy being kidnapped and thrown into a trunk. Again, we laughed. Oh, that Trebor. How charming and droll he is! A few months later his story, “Trunk,” arrived. It was an epic short story, with New Orleans volunteer workers, religious zealots, drug addicts, and, yes, kidnappers and a trunk. Because he’s a fine writer, Trebor managed to romanticize every moment of it.
Timothy J. Lambert: I’ll be honest and say that I thought you were kidding when you said you were going to write a love story for our anthology about a guy being kidnapped and thrown into a trunk. When I read your final draft, I was pleasantly surprised. You turned an idle conversation and setting into quite an original tale. Do you often find inspiration in your surroundings like that?
Trebor Healey: Any offhand odd remark is probably what inspires me the most. It opens up an alternative reality that I then dive into.
TJL: Was “Trunk” a fun story to write?
TH: Writing that story was a total blast. I’d been wanting to write about New Orleans for years and the idea of being kidnapped by the guy who offered to throw me in his trunk (I had a huge crush on him) was the key to the whole dilemma and suddenly the soul of New Orleans opened up to me. The preacher on the plane helped too.
TJL: I watched you at a poetry reading while we were at Saints and Sinners and thoroughly enjoyed listening to you read your work. You were quite engaging. I remember glancing around the room and noting everyone was either smiling or staring at you, rapt. Have you always been comfortable reading your work? Are you a natural performer?
TH: I love to read, not sure how good I am at it. But I guess it’s the only way I know how to sing, and singing to people is probably about the sweetest thing this life offers.
TJL: I ask about readings because I get terribly nervous in front of a crowd. What do you think makes a good reading?
TH: You really have to think of the audience. There are certain things that work well out loud and others that just don’t. It’s important to have some lightness, some humor, some poignancy. A mix is best. A monotone is suicide. And it’s important to make eye contact as much as possible. You can’t just stare at the page. Reading is a connection. Be flexible, change the reading midway through if you need to. Make a wave that the audience can ride. If they fall off, you need to rebuild it so they can have their fun and their ride.
TJL: Where do you write? Some people say they have to write X number of words or pages a day. Do you impose any rules upon yourself?
TH: I like to write out at cafes, with people around. I can’t do the daily discipline thing, my life is far too chaotic. I do more of a binge thing. I will create completely outrageous goals like fifty pages a weekend for the next month to finish my current novel. I’m on page thirty-six six weeks later, but I guess it helps.
TJL: In 2004 your novel, Through It Came Bright Colors, won the Ferro-Grumley Fiction Award as well as the Violet Quill Award. From talking with you, I know you’re somewhat self-critical about your writing. Writing and the business of publishing can be a daunting experience, and I think you have to have thick skin to deal with it. Does recognition, like winning awards, help?
TH: I think it helps, but there are always people who will take potshots at you when you win something, so you do need a thick skin, or at least a perspective–and always consider the source.
TJL: I’d think it would add a little pressure.
TH: I’m not sure if it adds pressure. I don’t think about those awards too much. I consider it a stroke of luck and am just grateful for the encouragement. There’s not a lot of encouragement out there, so that is a precious thing that I appreciate.
TJL: Do you get response from readers? Don’t they encourage you to keep on keeping on?
TH: I get fan mail, they say they like the book or my work, some encourage or ask what I’m working on. Often they share personal stories that resonate with their lives vis-a-vis my novel.
TJL: Do you remember the first gay book that you read, and how old you were at the time?
TH: Well I think The Great Gatsby was the first gay book I read in high school. But then Ferdinand the Bull was pretty queer too and I guess I was about 8 when I read that. Of course those aren’t ‘out’ gay books. The first of those was in college…The Best Little Boy in the World.
TJL: I was pretty lucky to grow up in an environment that nurtured my creativity. Did you? If so, how do you think that informed you as a writer?
TH: My dad is a wonderful storyteller and I credit him with my ability to write. Creativity was not really encouraged explicitly in my family, but my father had such an amazing imagination that he seems unaware of and that he sort of passed on to all his children by accident. My brothers and I fed off each other’s crazy ideas and had a lot of fun growing up. We spent a majority of our home life mimicking and acting. When I look back now, I laugh at the madness and creativity of it.
TJL:Did you study writing?
TH: I studied English. Writing I studied more as an autodidact once I left school. I never studied creative writing formally, other than a class or two and some workshops since.
TJL: I’m looking forward to your Queer and Catholic anthology.
TH: It’s already out, it came out in June and we’ve done a bunch of readings.
TJL: Oops. Sorry! I didn’t realize that. I suck. I’m adding it to my Christmas list. Was it fun to put that book together? What was it like working with Amie M. Evans?
TH: Amie and I have a great rapport and we worked really well together, even though we were 3000 miles apart. The contributors are all so enthusiastic. It’s a book full of stories that were aching to be told, and Amie and I felt really lucky to find one another as we’d both been longing to do such a book for years.
Fool For Love: New Gay Fiction, which includes "Trunk" by Trebor Healey, will be published in January 2009 by Cleis Press. Click here to pre-order from Amazon.com.
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