Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Chat With Author Patrick Dilloway On "Where You Belong"

I finished Patrick's masterpiece Where You Belong just in time for Martin's A Dance With Dragons. And Patrick's book really is a masterpiece...I can't say enough good words about it. If you like literary fiction, this has it all. Loveable characters, tragedy, love, loss (a lot of tragedy actually), gay marriage, and incredible dialogue. The story is told through the dialogue and through the narrative of Frost Devereaux who is one of the most likeable voices I've had the good fortune to stumble upon. Anyway, Patrick (who keeps a blog here) allowed me to interview him (one of the perks of having a blog myself--squee).


1) How would you define the literary fiction genre and what advice would you have for anyone that wanted to write a book similar to "Where You Belong"?

First off, thanks for interviewing me and I’m glad you enjoyed the book!

Some people define “literary fiction” as snobby or artsy or boring.  Mostly I think of it as books that put characters ahead of action.  It’s like “Tree of Life” versus “Transformers 3;” one is interested in the relationships between the characters and how they grow and the other is about giant robots beating each other up.

If you want to write literary fiction, the best advice is “Don’t!” because it’s not a very hot market.  You’re definitely not going to get rich off of it.  If you aren’t coming from a big writing program then you probably won’t even get noticed.  But if all that doesn’t deter you, then as with any genre you should read some of the masters.  There are the classics like Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and the Nab.  Then the more modern authors like my hero John Irving, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip Roth.  Or even more modern authors like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen.

2) How did you come up with the title?

The title of the first draft was “No Matter Who You Are” which was the name of a Bob Seger song.  For the second draft as I was writing my notes about what should happen and what it was about, I knew the main point was Frost finding where he belongs, so that became the title.

3) What kind of research did you do in order to get all the details in the book exactly the way you wanted them? For example, is there a KY Academy located in New York or did you base it off of something? CLAW is obviously a combination of the race riots of the sixties and the infamous protestors of the Westboro Baptist Church (which I thought was clever and made for a good villain).

I’m pretty sure there’s not a KY Academy anywhere.  I kind of hope not.  It’s a composite—and somewhat of a parody—of the private schools used in John Irving’s novels.  He bases his off his time at Exeter, so I guess mine would be somewhat loosely based on that.  I don’t remember any specific research about CLAW but it is largely based on Westboro and other radical right-wing groups.

My comment==>KY was a running joke in Dilloway's book because it was a school for many gay men to attend (all male student body) and the initials "K Y" smacked of the lubricant that is advertised on commercial television. I thought it was clever.

4) There are obviously many conflicts that you could have chosen for the book to revolve in and around. Why did you choose to center the conflict around the evolving definition of marriage and love? SPOILER ALERT: This book has several profoundly deep and meaningful gay relationships in it.

I wanted to find an issue that interested me and that I cared about and gay marriage was one that struck me right away because to me at least it’s such an obvious abuse of civil rights and the excuses detractors use are always so pitiful.  All they say is, “The Bible says…” or some nonsense about “Next people will want to marry trees!”  But I didn’t want to say those people are WRONG and DUMB because there’s not much of a book in it.  My take on it, which is somewhat cynical, is that it’s not about genitals; it’s about compatibility of the souls.  Hetero marriages blessed by God and all that fail all the time, to the point where in the US it’s about a fifty-fifty chance of it ending in divorce.

So then I needed to think of how to say that in a story.  One day the thought hit me, “What if a guy married a woman and then a man?”  That got the ball rolling.

5) Are the stakes much higher in this kind of genre? I noticed in reading it that oftentimes the conflicts in Frost's life had the worst possible outcome, i.e., death.

More than anything that’s another influence of John Irving.  You read books like “The World According to Garp” and “The Hotel New Hampshire” and “The Cider House Rules” and there’s always the presence of death in them.  Though I am a bit morbid too; Death is my favorite character in the Discworld series.

6) If you could have anyone alive today play Frost, Frankie, Frank, and Kaufmann...who would you choose for these roles in a big screen adaptation and why?

In all honesty I think I’ve given this question more consideration than any other.  The problem is that if I’m playing casting director is that I’d want actors in their early-mid 20s so they can play the characters from late teens into their 30s when the story ends.  I’m not all that familiar with who the best 20-something actors of today are, so it’s kind of tough.  But here goes.

Tobey as Frost would be awesome in my opinion.
Frost:  My first choice would be Tobey Maguire just because he was already in “The Cider House Rules” and Frost is based a lot off of Homer Wells.  The problem is that he’s probably too old to convincingly play the younger Frost.  Second choice would be Jesse Eisenberg/Michael Cera.  I think either of them (they’re interchangeable in my mind) has the same understated, easygoing vibe.  Dark horse would be Jon Foster, who was in “The Door in the Floor” (an adaptation of John Irving’s “A Widow for One Year”) and “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.”  He played the same type of character in both of those.  He’d probably be easier to get too.

I could see Shia LeBeouf playing literary agent Kaufmann.
Kaufman:  The best choice would be if you could get a time machine and kidnap Robert Downey, Jr. from about 20 years ago.  Because the adult Kaufman is a sarcastic smart ass spoiled rich boy.  But since we don’t have time machines I got thinking of Shia LaBeouf of “Transformers” fame just because he’s young and I don’t think he’d have to stretch to be a sarcastic smart ass spoiled rich boy.  He could pretty much play himself.
Jennifer Lawrence as Frankie. KATNISS!

Frankie:  You need a girl who’s got some dramatic acting chops.  I got thinking of Jennifer Lawrence who was in “Winter’s Bone” or maybe Saorise Ronan from “The Lovely Bones” although she might be too young.  Or maybe one of the Fannings.  I’m not familiar enough with Emma Watson from the Potter movies to know if she’d be a good fit.  Just not the girl from “Twilight!”

Abby:  You don’t list her but I got thinking of her anyway.  I think Ellen Page or Emma Stone would be good for her because she’s the sassy, cynical Lois Lane-type.

Alex Pettyfer is my vote for Frank Maguire.
Frank:  I have no idea.  The problem is that Frank is a complex character.  He’s a selfish, manipulative jerk a lot of the time, but he’s also tender and generous when he wants to be.  He’s also highly intelligent and often has an imperial bearing.  So you’d need more than someone who looks hawt.  Maybe someone else can figure out who could bring all of that to the table.

I'm intervening here and voting that Alex Pettyfer pictured at right plays Frank Maguire (Frankie's twin brother). Now I may re-read some of those sex scenes.

7) Why did you settle for the cover art that you did for this book?

Well the first cover was pretty much a generic template with a bit of Microsoft Office clipart.  Then for Xmas we got my mom a scanner thing and it came with Photoshop Elements and since my mom didn’t need it, I took it and put it on my computer.  Once I fiddled a little with that, I figured I could make a cover that looked slightly more professional.  If you look at a lot of literary books, or really any books, most of them don’t use art that’s drawn.  Most rely on photos, probably stock photos that are cheaper than paying someone to draw something.

I went to a stock photo site and looked for something with a sunset or sunrise because of the scenes where Frost and Frankie are sitting in her window and such.  I chose the one I did because I liked the desk and hat rack and so forth in it because the story is about Frost finding a home, so I think the picture conveys that meaning.

8) This book has obvious sequel potential. Are you thinking of writing one?

As a joke on my blog I wrote up an idea borrowed from “Spaceballs” called “Where You Belong 2:  The Search for More Money” that has Frost and company searching for buried treasure a la “National Treasure” or “The da Vinci Code.” 

In reality if there ever were a sequel, I don’t think it’d be for another 10-20 years or more.  Any sequel would have to cover what happens to Frost and company through middle age, into old age and I’m not at that point in my life where I could really write that.

9) I think that this book is a masterpiece. Did you even try to get an agent for it and were just unsuccessful? Why did you decide to self-pub?

I queried a couple-dozen agents and didn’t get much of a nibble.  To be honest I always figured that I’d have to self-pub because the book is very long and deals with controversial issues.  It’s not the kind of thing a mainstream publisher would be very interested in and smaller presses wouldn’t probably have the budget for it.  At the same time, I felt this one was too good to sit in a drawer or in a blog no one ever reads.  So self-pubbing was the way to go.

10) I think that Frost is a beautiful character and a gentle soul. Did it bother you to do so many horrible things to him? At times I was thinking...holy crap Patrick...ease up on Frost will ya? Let him have his happiness for Christ's sake.

I think Frost says it best when he says, “Were this a fairy tale I would have ended the story that night with "They Lived Happily Ever After." Certainly that's how I thought the story would end as I stroked Frankie's hair and listened to her soft breathing. 

But life is not a fairy tale.”

I don’t think anything really bothered me until I got to the very end.  I went through a number of different endings before settling on the one I did.  In one ending Frost goes back to Vegas after his father dies and scatters his ashes at the old casino where Jack used to hang out.  In another he goes back to help victims of the floods in Iowa and finds a new calling.  But I didn’t really like those.  Maybe because they didn’t really get back to the titular issue of him finding out where he belongs in love.  After everything that had happened I didn’t want it to be the kind of book that ends in some arbitrary place.  I wanted me and the reader to feel that this chapter of his life had come to an end without getting too dark or too happy.


  1. I love literary fiction, and I can't argue with the fact that it's hard to sell.

    I may have to look into this, it sounds great.

  2. Thanks for adding those pictures. That way a lot more people will come to read the interview!

  3. Great interview, Mike.

    Congrats on your book, Patrick. Best of luck with it.

  4. I will definitely be reading this.

  5. Kimberly: Yeah Mutt knows how to write.

    Thanks for stopping by everyone.

    Mutt: So does Alex Pettyfer work for Frank? He's an English actor too but knows how to disguise his accent well. The English can be very snooty.

  6. He might work for Frank. I'd have to have seen something he was in.

  7. Great interview!

    I liked reading his answers to the questions about literary fiction--it's an interesting genre.

  8. I love your description of what literary fiction is. Thanks for a great interview, Mike.

  9. Enjoyable interview (and this is one time the eye candy did not sell it)! You did a great service by your friend Michael!

    And great answers Patrick. I agree with you, don't write literary fiction unless you're prepared to take the hard road. Cheers! ~db

  10. Michael, nicely written.

    Patrick/Rogue -- I've got the book on the wishlist and will get to it. But: Telling people to read Franzen? At least warn them away from "Freedom."

    It's always interesting to hear how real writers do things. I think, Patrick, you should push this book more and keep shopping it around. Especially if you've had some sales, it might be more interesting to a publisher now.

    Or, in the alternative, maybe adapt it into a screenplay and shop that around. I know an indie director who might have some info.