Jeff & Will talk about the final season of FX’s Pose and the film adaptation of In the Heights.
The guys discuss author Steven Rowley’s Audible Original The Dogs of Venice and his delightful new novel, The Guncle. Jeff then talks with Steven about The Guncle, its Auntie Mame influences, and how Steven struck the balance between humor, grief and a little bit of romance. Steven also shares his experience recording the audiobook, offers some book recommendations, and shares what Pride means to him.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find many more outstanding podcasts at frolic.media/podcasts!
Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase. These links are current at the time the episode premieres, however links are subject to change.
- Love is All anthology by Various Authors on Amazon | Kobo (available until July 8, 2021)
- Pose Season 3 on FX | Seasons 1 & 2 on Netflix
- In the Heights website
- The Dogs of Venice by Steven Rowley on Amazon
- The Guncle by Steven Rowley on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Steven Rowley Interview
- Steven Rowley: website | Twitter | Instagram
- Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Tennessee Williams on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Mary Poppins on Amazon Prime Video
- The Sound of Music on Amazon Prime Video
- Uncle Buck on Amazon Prime Video
- Baby Boom on Amazon Prime Video
- The Editor by Steven Rowley on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Less by Andrew Sean Greer on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- A Star is Bored by Byron Lane on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm
- Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin on Amazon | Kobo | Libro.fm (pre-order until July 6, 2021)
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast on Patreon.com
- Big Gay Fiction Podcast patrons on BGFP website
- Libro.fm website (use this link to receive your Big Gay Fiction Podcast special offer)
- Frolic Podcast Network website
This transcript was made possible by our community on Patreon. You can get information on how to join them at patreon.com/biggayfictionpodcast.
Jeff: Coming up on this episode, we’re taking a trip to Palm Springs as we talked to author Steven Rowley about his latest book, “The Guncle.”
Will: Welcome to episode 316 of the Big Gay Fiction Podcast, the show for avid readers and passionate fans of gay romance fiction. I’m Will Knauss and with me as always is my co-host and has been Mr. Jeff Adams.
Jeff: Welcome back rainbow romance readers. We are so glad you could join us for another episode of the show.
As we get started this week, we wanted to remind you that this year’s “Love is All” anthology is now out. The charity anthology feature stories from Xio Axelrod, Meg Bonney, Rachel Lacey, Susan Scott Shelley and Chantal Mer, R.L. Merrill, Conner Peterson, Sophia Soames, and me. The e-book is available everywhere. And the paperback is at Amazon and Barnes and noble. You’ll want to grab this edition soon as it will disappear on July 8th. Plus, you’ll be supporting a great cause as all the proceeds for this year are going to the National Center for Transgender Equality. So, we hope you will pick that up soon and enjoy some great short stories.
TV & Movie Reviews
Will: So this past week also marked the series finale for the TV series “Pose.” Do you have any final thoughts?
Jeff: I’m sad it’s gone, but yet I also think it ended exactly where it was supposed to. These 20 something episodes that they did across the three seasons were to me, some of the most perfect television that we’ve seen in terms of the arc of the characters that they presented.
And really this final season brought it all home as we got to see things like how Elektra became Elektra and what had gone on in her past to turn her into the woman that she was. We got to see Prey Tell make some really wonderful closure with members of his family and where he grew up. And I have to say that if you look across the series, the romance that we saw play out between Angel and Papi was just magnificent.
And really to me across the show, and I haven’t done a deep analysis on this, but thinking about it and the fact that we just rewatched seasons one and two, before we watched three. I think their story hit most of the basic romance tropes across the seasons from when they met through them getting their happily ever after at the end of the show.
It was really, I’ll say it again. It was perfect. I was thoroughly satisfied with where it ended and if they could find a way to show us those characters again sometime, I would totally tune in to do it.
Will: Yeah, the only other thing that would have made season three more perfect is if they had more episodes.
Will: I’m selfish. I wanted more.
For instance, we could have an entire series of Elektra’s adventures with the mob.
Jeff: Oh my God.
Will: But instead, we got a short montage before the opening credits of one of the episodes. And we’ll have to be satisfied with that. Like you said, I think it was perfect. it ended where it needed to end. And I really enjoyed all of it. And I’m looking forward to all of the future projects from the stars of the show.
Jeff: Absolutely. I think there’s bright futures for all of them, for sure. If you have not checked out the final season of “Pose,” you can find that on FX on Demand. And if you’ve got the right kind of Hulu subscription, you can find it on Hulu. And the first two seasons continue to stream on Netflix.
And I want to give a quick shout out to “In the Heights.” The movie premiered this past week after a delay of a year. We sat on our couch and took it in on HBO max, where it is streaming through July 11th. It’s also in theaters right now. Speaking of perfect. This movie was kind of perfect as well.
This is the film adaptation of what Lin-Manuel Miranda was up to before “Hamilton.” “In the Heights” was on Broadway from 2005 to 2008. It looks at the residents of a block in Washington Heights, which is part of New York City, over a few days in a summer where it’s super hot and there’s a blackout in the middle of it. But we’re looking at these residents as they’re going through the gentrification of their neighborhood. They’re looking at the discrimination that they face as members of the Latinx community. It was a powerful and magical and joyous musical back in the day. And they have managed to update it in a way now to take a look at what’s going on in 2020, 2021 in terms of discrimination and what’s going on with dreamers and immigration, and really amp up the power while also keeping the sweeping magic that is this show while adding in a wonderful dose of movie magic as well.
I was totally blown away by this production, and I think everybody needs to spend two and a half hours with this movie, this summer, a really wonderful time. I just can’t praise it enough.
Will: Yeah, like you said, I think it’s utterly perfect. And I think it is probably the most joyful representation of New York I have ever seen on screen. It’s wonderful. It’s amazing.
Jeff: Yeah. You can’t say enough how joyous it was. For all of the very serious issues that it dealt with at times, it’s absolutely joyous. I mean, it takes me back to things like, go way back to “On the Town” a little bit with how that made New York look. And even certain scenes from the film “Fame,” the original “Fame,” like dancing out in the streets, the main title song. But it’s two and a half hours of just magic. I may have to watch it again before it leaves HBO Max.
And do stick around towards the end of the credits. You don’t think to do that when a movie is not like a Marvel movie or something, but there is a nice little treat after the closing credit. So don’t leave the theater or don’t turn off that streaming until you’re absolutely done. You won’t regret it.
Will: And quickly, before we get to our interview with author Steven Rowley, we want to mention some of the books that we’re going to be talking about in the interview.
Steven has a terrific short available on Audible right now. It is called “The Dogs of Venice” and it is about a guy who unfortunately gets dumped before a big trip to Europe but he decides to Eat, Pray, Love his best in the magical city of Venice. And it’s not quite going, how he wants. He’s feeling a little sad and alone and a little dejected about the situation that he’s found himself in.
But he does manage to find some joy when he notices a stray dog, walking along the colorful, vibrant streets of Venice outside the window of the apartment he’s in. He becomes obsessed with this little mutt. He has so much confidence. And even though he spends a magical evening in the arms of a very sexy waiter, he still can’t stop thinking about this dog.
Until one afternoon, he manages to locate him and follow him as he walks around the city. As he sits on the street, with this confident little pup in front of a cathedral, he comes to some realizations and make some choices about his life moving forward.
Jeff: I really enjoyed this nice little short, which happens to be narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. He needed to Eat, Pray Love as you put it across Venice defined himself again. And I really liked the way that the dog is described and its confidence and it’s it doesn’t beg for food, but it’s kind of indifference to wanting the food, lets it, get the food.
It just really put some nice perspectives on how getting away and focusing on something else, and in this case the dog, could just give you what you need to be able to essentially reset yourself.
Will: Yeah. If you’ve got an hour this summer, we highly recommend you give it a listen. It’s really charming.
Also really charming is Steven Rowley’s new novel, “The Guncle.”
And I’m just going to, I declare it right here. I think this is the feel good book of the summer. I really recommend everyone give it a try. It’s a little outside the purview of what we normally talk about here, romance fiction. But if you’re looking for something just a little bit different and a whole lot of fun, please pick up “The Guncle.”
It’s about a guy named Patrick. He is a former sitcom star and after a family tragedy he finds himself becoming the guardian of his niece and nephew, Maisie and Grant, for the length of the summer. And at first he’s got a completely under control. He can Auntie Mame the shit out of this. No problem whatsoever. He explains the importance of brunch and how his high-tech Japanese toilet works.
Jeff: That is my favorite scene in the book. It is hilarious because Grant is a little terrified of this toilet.
Will: But he quickly comes to realize there is a whole lot more when it comes to taking care of two young children, especially two who have suffered such a loss. While the story is incredibly funny and heartwarming, it also deals a lot with coming to terms with grief as the two children are dealing with.
And Patrick himself is also dealing with a loss. After his television show ended, he lost someone that was very important to him, and he sort of sequestered himself away in this luxurious mansion in Palm Springs.
And over the course of the summer, as he’s taking care of Grant and Maisie, he comes to realize that getting back out into the world, is not only something that he needs to do for these kids, but he needs to do for himself.
This book is filled with so much heart and so much humor. And it just so happens there happens to be a really cute dog and this book as well. So I really recommend everyone give “The Guncle” a try. I think you’re really going to enjoy it.
Jeff: It’s such a sweet book and you’re coming up on the perfect time to read it because there’s Christmas in July in this book too.
Will: Oh, definitely.
Also I want to mention that the audio book is read by the author. This is a pretty rare occurrence, especially when it comes to fiction. And I think Steven Rowley does an amazing job. He’s really good at it.
Jeff: And we’ll actually be talking to Steven about his experience in narrating the audio book. He had to audition for that. Just cause it’s your book and you wrote it doesn’t necessarily get to do the audio book right off the bat. I had such a good time talking to Steven about this book. You’re right, it has so many Auntie Mame influences. All over it. And we talk a little bit about that, how he actually balanced the grief versus the humor aspects of it. And it’s a really lovely conversation. So, let’s just get to that.
Steven Rowley Interview
Jeff: Steven, welcome to the podcast. It is so wonderful to have you here.
Steven: Thank you so much for having me.
Jeff: Very excited to talk about “The Guncle,” which has come out recently. If ever there was a cover that screamed, read me during the summer, this one would so be it. Around the pool, the palm tree and everything.
Steven: I know on a recording, you can’t always see. Yeah, but it is a big Ray of yellow sunshine on this book cover, and I couldn’t be happier.
Jeff: Please tell everyone what they will find when they pick up “The Guncle.”
Steven: Well, yeah. I’ve been doing press for this book, and I always start with, well, in case any of your listeners don’t know what a guncle is, but I don’t think we need to start that basic.
But you know, I’ve long had a fascination with “Auntie Mame” first, the Patrick Dennis. Novel and then a Broadway play and a movie with Rosalind Russell, and then a Broadway musical with Angela Lansbury, and then a movie musical with a slightly miscast Lucille Ball.
But it sort of got me thinking, and we’re time for a modern-day retelling of this and Patrick Dennis, who created the character, was married and had children, but came out later in his life. He died relatively young, but you know, he was active in the gay scene in Greenwich Village in the late sixties and early seventies.
And, you know, it was at least bisexual. And it got me thinking about, you know, sort of writers from the mid-century, Tennessee Williams, who sort of created these, larger than life women. And is that maybe, perhaps, because they were sort of stand-ins for not being able to openly write about gay men.
And so now that times have changed. I thought, oh, well, let’s put a gay man in the heart of “Auntie Mame” where perhaps, maybe that’s where he was intended to be.
Jeff: That makes total sense. I mean, because there is so much of the “Aunite Mame” vibe here, some of the adventures they get up to, but also much like that story did, there’s also some more heavier issues inside this. Everybody’s got a little bit of a loss that they’re dealing with, and coming back from that.
Steven: Yeah. So Patrick O’Hara is the main character, the title Guncle, and he is a sort of former television star who’s retired to Palm Springs, and it’s sort of nursing his wounds after losing his boyfriend years earlier in an automobile crash. And when fresh tragedy strikes, and he’s tasked with taking in his niece and nephew for the summer, and in doing so, that sort of brings about a season of healing for all three of them.
But you’re right. I set out to write a light comedic novel, I thought, you know, there were sort of in fashion in the fifties and sixties, and I loved the idea of it. But Mame sent her ward off to boarding school. I had sort of sidestep having to deal with the grief, and I very much did not want to do that.
And coincidentally, I lost a best friend of mine from college to breast cancer early on in the writing process, and she left behind a six-year-old son. So it made me think very deeply about grief in children and about what roles, the sort of, her larger friend community had, or could fill and reminding this child how much he was loved, because how much would a six year old maybe remember of his mother as he grew older? So, you know, I started thinking about these issues in a much more serious way.
I do think the book is still very funny. I think it’s outright the funniest book I’ve written, but it’s also a deep exploration of grief. But it doesn’t take a gay person to tell you that comedy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin.
Jeff: Exactly, and that’s kind of time and again what is in this book. It’s like, funny. And sometimes it’s the funny that trips back into the grief of what these characters have lost.
I’m curious from your writing perspective, based on what you just said, that, some of these things came as you were writing it. So from that end, did you go into this thinking, here’s my plot for this book, and I’m going to do this, or are you more of the discovery writer to see how things pan out as you go?
Steven: Yeah, I’m more of the discovery writer. I mean, I had a general sort of sense of what… and this isn’t obviously like, there’s been “Mary Poppins” is Maria from “The Sound Of Music.” There’s John Candy’s “Uncle Buck.” There’s a genre of this story. So it’s in the execution and executing it in a new way. And that’s where I wanted to leave room for surprise because I really wanted this to have a fresh voice. It’s not just an uncle inheriting his children. It’s a guncle.
So, what from the queer experience could he offer as his sort of superpower? And so the book is infused with the you know, a pop cultural references to humor the empathy, the politics, the sort of worldview that are informed by my life experience as an out gay man. You know, it sort of all worked its way into this book and I don’t have kids. So it was an interesting exercise to think about what I might have to offer. You know, on the subject of child-rearing and that’s where there were, you know, a lot of surprises, and some of the humor comes from Patrick, not necessarily knowing how to communicate with children.
And yes, that can be funny and there can be miscommunication, but also it’s kind of his hidden strength and that he treats them like small adults and children can handle oftentimes much more than we give them credit for particularly on very serious subjects where they don’t want to be handled with kid gloves. They don’t want things sugarcoated for them, and they’re certainly not from Patrick.
Jeff: Which I agree is his superpower, because he’s not going to hide stuff from that, that they kind of need to know. He might sugar coat it a little bit, but they’re still going to know, the situation in the long run.
Jeff: Have you played a guncle role before you don’t have kids of your own, but do you have children that can play that role too?
Steven: Well, yeah. I’m a guncle to five. Three nephews and two nieces, and I do live in Palm Springs, California. So that’s one thing I have in common with Patrick.
But our senses of humor probably overlap and some of our references, but you know, Patrick’s sort of a sadder clown than I am. I will say though that one thing about being a guncle is you know, my nieces and nephews are in all in the Northeast and I live out here in California and I have a swimming pool and there are Palm trees and I don’t go to an office like they see most adults do.
I don’t think they have quite figured out my life. I seem like a bit of an oddity, a bit outside of the, you know, step of life. So, you know, I guess they might view me. It was some of the same skepticism as the kids view, Patrick.
Jeff: Now while you haven’t had to have them with you for that long. Are there any particular scenes in the book where it’s like something you’ve done with one of your five nieces and nephews that kind of worked its way into the book is one of the many things and adventures they kind of go on.
Steven: Well, yeah I don’t know, you know exactly. They certainly come to visit me here in Palm Springs. Certainly some of the, you know, we must inflate every pool float so that you can’t see even an inch of blue water surface on the pool. You know, some of the details like that are absolutely from real life, but it’s more sorta like like the emotional feeling of, you know, Patrick feeling overwhelmed, you know, the relentless questions that kids ask. The endless why.
And then, again, it’s not necessarily original. We’ve seen, you know, from Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom”, to you know, you know, all sorts of examples of people being tasked with caring for children and feeling out of their league.
You know, Patrick is still a gay man. He’s very capable. You know, I don’t want the like, oh, if it were a straight man, like I can’t make pancakes. Oh no, know there’s syrup on the ceiling, cause it turned into such a disaster. No, Patrick’s a more capable character than a hapless say straight man.
But you know, I wanted to sort of play up the exasperations of constantly being needled by kids when he’s used to having the, you know, the spotlight a little bit.
Jeff: And needled at all hours, too. There are so many great fish out of water element in the story, especially in the beginning, as everybody kind of gets used to being around each other.
I adored the entire thing with the toilet, the smart toilet that the kids don’t understand in the middle of the night comes up and the lights come on. How did you kind of pick and choose the various situations that these kids and Patrick were going to deal with?
Steven: That was me sidestepping an issue, which was that kids do love bathroom humor.
I always think bathroom humor is kind of cheap that there is a better way, you know, there’s a better laugh to be had, so instead I was like, well, what if the actual toilet were $20,000 Japanese, washlet. Which is the pride of Patrick’s you know, that there could be humor that stems from that.
Again, it’s like, as you mentioned the fish out of water thing, they’ve never seen a $20,000 toilet with a, ionized light and maybe speakers and jets that spray every which way. So that was really fun to write.
Everyone asked if I have. I do not have this $20,000 toilet, but just having researched it online, the internet now thinks I’m a toilet fetishist because all of my sponsored ads are for very expensive porcelain bowls.
Jeff: The things that can do to the algorithms.
Steven: Yeah, and that’s the least of my problems, you know? Like I worry about, you know, thriller writers, you know, and if the NSA are listening in or whatever.
Jeff: Right, right.
The other thing that you did so well, and we talked about this a little bit, was just really finding that balance between that humor and some of the grief and the things that all these characters are going through.
How did you go through, and I’m guessing this was through revisions, to find that balance, to just make it all connect together as perfectly as it does?
Steven: Yeah, that’s the real challenge, right? Hopefully the book strength is that it gets that balance right, but that is the biggest challenge.
Cause sometimes I get off on a comedic riff, and I’m enjoying writing in that sort of tone or voice, and I realized that, oh, it’s gone on too far. Or we haven’t addressed the serious issues. Grief isn’t something that we always wear on our sleeve it’s it would be very easy for children to, you know, to write a scene of children sobbing in the corner. That’s the easy way to do it.
But grief sort of seeps into the fabric of who we are and it’s something we live with for a very long time. So, that there can be long stretches where it doesn’t appear outwardly that someone is miserable or, really distraught. And sometimes humor comes from that. It is a coping mechanism and it’s a way that we pull ourselves through. And certainly, you know, in those instances, humor is necessary. Humor is life. And there are, you know, other times where humor just comes from situation from these characters, interacting with each other, as you said, the fish out of water elements, which are, you know, sort of irresistible and fun to write.
But it’s interesting writing humor for a novel because, you know, I could type something and think, oh, this is going to get such a big laugh. And then I realized that it could be three years before anybody reads it because of the length of time it takes to write a novel, and then get it into bookstores. So yeah, that has to be the longest lead time between the punchline and laughter.
It’s always a challenge, in finding the right humor, because you do hope that your book has a shelf life. So you want people not to just read it this summer, but to hopefully find it in five years in 10 years and beyond. And so the humor has to really come from an honest place and from character more than anything topical.
Jeff: Because, certainly there’s that with the pop culture references too, you don’t want them to date too quickly.
Steven: Right. So all of the pop cultural references are already dated. That’s how you fix that. Yeah. But that’s not uncommon, right? So like, gay men we can often celebrate the actresses of the past. Or a lot of times it’s because they don’t make these types of movies anymore. So, you know, some of our things that we worship culturally are just happened to be older already.
Jeff: That’s a very good perspective on that.
We love romance on this podcast, obviously because we’re primarily romance driven and there is the sweetest little romance starting to re-bud for Patrick in the middle of all this. How he finds time for that, with these precocious kids. I don’t know, although they kind of help push him towards it sometimes.
What made that into an imperative piece of the story for you to tell for him?
Steven: That’s a prime example of where I surprised myself a little bit when writing that. Cause I didn’t think there would be room for that in this story that focusing on the central sort of you know, Patrick and the kids was really all there was going to be room for.
But you know, if it is about people who are grieving and finding their way back towards the light, that opening oneself to the possibility of love again is certainly the biggest way to, to open yourself up. So, yeah that sort of surprised me by finding a way in the story. And there’s a very dreamy character named Emory. I adore him, I think he’s a dreamboat.
I’m not going to spoil whether, say they, they end up together or not. He’s not exactly right for Patrick, but I think this is where You know, there’s a line he’s not exactly right, but he’s not necessarily wrong either.
And it’s sort of Patrick figuring this out whether he’s preemptively closing himself off to this, or you know, for reasons other than he should.
Jeff: And I found it at least to be a nice counterbalance, to always kind of dealing with the kids, because then there’s this kind of other, more adult thing happening for Patrick too, in the middle of all this other stuff.
Steven: Right. Well, you know, and it gives him an opportunity to deal with, you know, any internalized homophobia he may have. Like, is it weird to show him as a romantic being, or, you know, in front of the kids and, you know, it was an opportunity for me to say kids get it. You know, I’ve certainly brought my husband home to meet my nieces and nephews and it’s like, oh, you’re with him. Okay, great. Like they, they have it. That’s all they need to know. It’s us who make it a bigger deal sometimes than it needs to be.
Jeff: Yeah, absolutely, us pesky adults
Amongst all of this humor and everything. Did you have a favorite scene within this to write?
Steven: Oh, goodness. There’s a big Christmas party at the heart of the story, even though it takes place over the summer, there’s a little Christmas in July. And that was the sort of first moment of healing, I think. Where it’s a real sort of pivotal moment in this book, but it was an opportunity to write this big boisterous happy scene, and it’s a sort of homage to Mame, you know, We Need a Little Christmas, Right This Very Minute.
But also, you know, setting the whole story in Palm Springs, where you have these characters feeling very bleak, very dark, very, you know, they’re grieving. And then to place it in a place that is just filled with relentless sunshine. You know, everything is just clean with the sun and Palm Springs and to explore that dichotomy. But that was fun to write a little bit of Christmas in the summer amidst the relentless heat, and also they’re sort of gloomy moods, but then seeing the cobwebs pushed away. Now I’m mixing in some “Annie” look, I’m mixing my theater references here.
Jeff: That’s okay. You’re allowed to mix those cause they’re all wonderful and the Christmas scene. I love Christmas. First of all, I’ll watch a Christmas movie anytime of the year. Maybe read a story anytime a year, and to see that be there lifting, but also the reactions, like there’s a Christmas tree in your house, all of a sudden if he wouldn’t know what was there.
Steven: Yeah, and then the Christmas tree be pink also in tinsel in that sort of mid-century wonderful Palm Springs way. There may be familiar anchor points for the children, but even those will be different or interpreted in a new way.
Jeff: Now you narrated your own audiobook for this, for the first time.
Steven: I did, Yeah.
Jeff: How did that feel? Getting to interpret your words in that way?
Steven: It was a really interesting exercise. Writing a book, I mentioned is a solitary occupation and the words exist in your mind and your mind alone for so long until we get to, you know, this week where it’s finally out in the world.
But they’re yours and exclusively yours for such a long time that it’s weird to hear someone else, interpret them. And obviously I have no control over the way a reader reads the book. They may go up when I go down or, you know, in my head or whatnot, but it was an interesting opportunity too. Okay. I can put out in the world, my interpretation of the material for the record. If anyone is interested, they can buy the audiobook and see how it sort of exists in my head.
But I’m also very happy to have other people put their spin on it and Michael Urie, who’s a wonderful actor has narrated my first two audiobooks, my first two novels. And I have loved working with him. He’s such a gentleman and, you know, we’ve had conversations about the books before he goes into record. But it’s not always how I hear it in my head, but it shouldn’t be. That’s his job, you know, an actor should put their interpretation on something.
So, yeah I don’t know if one’s better than the other or not. We’ll see. Hopefully this wasn’t a huge mistake.
Jeff: What kind of prep did you do? Cause I’ve talked to various audiobook narrators for the show and I’ve had some of my own works, converted to audio. And there’s always that moment of, you know, the prep that they’re doing to find the characters and decide how everybody’s voice is going to be.
What was the process for you to be, you know, Patrick sounds like this and the kids sound like this, and this is, how all of this will kind of come together?
Steven: Yeah, well, Patrick was going to sound like me cause that’s just easiest. That’s the bulk of the book. And also by the way, he’s the character closest to me also.
So, you know, that, that was not a stretch. Grant the boy, the young boy has a lisp in the book and writing it. I wanted to thread just enough of the lisp in there so that the reader would hear it, but I didn’t punch every single word that would slow down the reading process.
And again, it was interesting exercise then as a performer how much of that do you perform to where it’s cute and it distinguishes his voice from anyone else speaking, but also doesn’t become annoying. So, you know, I did work with a great director and thankfully that is not something. I didn’t go into the, into a closet and throw some sheets on the wall and record it in a vacuum.
I was in the studio and there was a, sound engineer and a director and a great crew that really helped it happen. I also auditioned to do it. I’m not sure the publisher thought that necessarily the author should be the one to do it, but the whole thing was really fascinating.
Jeff: Do you see yourself returning to the booth for either more of your books or even going off on an audiobook narrating career?
Steven: I well, not gonna give up writing for that. I think an interesting challenge would be to read someone else’s I don’t know. We’ll see what books I write in the future.
I just felt like this was an easy natural extension. This book of my natural voice. So in some ways it made the most sense out of any of the books I’ve written. But you know, I don’t know that the next book I’ll be right for either. I don’t know. We’ll take it a case-by-case basis.
Jeff: Now your previous novels, “The Editor”, and “Lily and The Octopus” are both option to become movies. This seems like such an ideal one for a great big splashy movie. Anything you can maybe share around that?
Steven: I don’t have any news that I am allowed to share yet, but you know, just hear the smile in my voice and I’m very excited about the possibility for this, and hopefully something that I’m allowed to talk about very soon.
But the other two are indeed making their way to the big screen. Covid slowed things down a little bit, but they’re both picking up steam. Now I did write the adaptation of “The Editor” which was a fun, interesting process. You know, more so than narrating the audio book. At least reading the audiobook, I’m, allowed to keep the entire text, you know, when you adapt a book for the screen, and particularly a book like “The Editor” that’s written in the first person, it’s very internal a lot takes place inside this character’s head. You know, and finding ways to, to translate that into dialogue and action and things you can see on the screen. That’s always a challenge and you have to tear apart your own book and learn how to put it back together in a more visual way.
I left that to another writer to do for “Lily and The Octopus”, just because that was a very autobiographical book. And I don’t know. I feel like I appreciate that I had my say in the novel and now it was time to let someone else interpret that, that I wouldn’t be the best person to do that.
Jeff: What made “The Editor” one that you wanted to adapt?
Steven: Again, I think it’s as simple as it was. It’s less autobiographical. So “The Editor” is a story about a young writer in early 1990s, New York who gets his big break when Jacqueline Onassis buys his first book when she was an editor at Doubleday, which she had this incredible 15 year career as an editor after her second husband died and edited more than a hundred titles and really prolific sort of third act to her life, which was so exciting.
Part of it was that it’s just less autobiographical. Part of it was you know, I don’t need to tell you that gay men love actresses. And so the writers mother plays a big part in that book too. So there were two great roles for women who were say 60. And so the idea of being able to write for these women was sort of irresistible. I was up for that challenge.
Jeff: And of course I have to ask with “Guncle” we talked early on here about the various permutations that Mame went through from play to movie, to musical movie.
How many permutations would you like for “The Guncle” and do you have a favorite one totally agnostic of what it may become? Would you want a “Guncle” musical at some point?
Steven: Oh my goodness. I miss theater and live performance so much. I miss it so much. And I would absolutely love to see a theatrical production, not a movie, but onstage production of any one of my books. You know, “Lily” was something I thought could be… ‘there was a wonderful adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” which I believe won a couple of Tony awards for that. It was brilliant production. Unlike say when I walked in the theater to see “Jurassic Park,” I think we have an acceptance of special effects now and that we can really see anything on screen, but when you see something on stage, with, you know, interpreted in such a magical or inventive way that that’s really where my heart still skips a beat, and there’s nothing like it.
So I would love to see one of my books on stage. The thing is now that since Patrick has a little, in the book and “The Guncle”, he has a little riff on the Walt Disney corporation, but I won’t get into it here, but because of the Walt Disney corporation, having such success with their theatricals, you know, “Lion King” and “Aladdin”, and whatnot.
It’s not unfair to blame Disney, like look “Hairspray” was a John Waters movie and then a musical and then a movie musical, and then an NBC live production of the musical. So, you know, it’s not just Disney but you cannot sell film rights to a property anymore, without them also acquiring the stage rights.
So, you’re right. It’ll have to go through all the stages, before I see it you know, on an actual stage,
Jeff: That’ll be terrific if that happens, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it has a musical trajectory.
Steven: Yeah, me too, I’ll keep taking paychecks. Whenever I can collect another paycheck on something I’ve already done like that’s a win-win. Yeah.
Jeff: So, it’s June, it’s pride month. Can you share to our listeners what pride means to you?
Steven: I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. So I just turned 50, like two weeks ago and I know when I came out, when I first came out in 1991 say early 1990s. You know, more gay men were dying of AIDS in the early nineties than in the eighties.
You know, it was the death toll was, you know, kind of at its highest. And that was a really scary time for me. you know, It was before the internet really, before cell phones, before ways to connect and to find community. I thought life would be lonely and sad and short. That was my fear.
Having just turned 50 now and having such a rich community and being married, which is not something I ever thought I would see in my lifetime when I first came out. Life has been full of community and has been full of joy. You know, not that there haven’t been difficult moments, but full of joy.
And it has been comparatively long to what I was afraid my life would be. So, you know, pride to me is to honor those people we lost because, if I were five or 10, it’s just a matter of circumstance. If I had been born five or 10 years earlier, I was one who left a small rural state and went to the big city and was desperate to find love and feel accepted.
You know, I don’t know that I’d be here. So it’s an honor, those that are not still with us and to live life with an openness and honesty and a celebration that they would. People asked me, you know, was it hard to turn 50 or somebody I said, you know, how many people would have traded anything to be able to live to 50.
So that’s part of it, but it’s also because of AIDS there, wasn’t a huge, visible generation of mentors above me because we lost so many of them. And so it also means to be a mentor, hopefully and to live as an example for younger people who are coming out today.
Jeff: Thank you so much for sharing that.
Steven: That was a long-winded answer but it’s hopefully honest.
Jeff: And an important one to put out there too.
Jeff: You know, from where things were as you were coming up to where we are now. I’m 52, so I’m kind of right there in that same space with you.
Steven: It’s hard to remember how quickly things have changed. You know, this has just happened to me the headlines this week. The show “Friends” is having a reunion and there’s a lot of like redressing of “Friends” now that and you know, and it was problematic on queer issues, but I watched friends at the time and I laughed and I thought it was funny.
Instead of being angry at things from the past that feel dated, we really need to honor the work of the people who made change happen so quickly. So quickly and celebrate the change I think that we have accomplished because a lot has changed, and the work continues. There are, our trans brothers and sisters are, you know, things are hard for them and for queer people of color, and there so much work still to do, but we’ve made a lot of progress, and it’s not time to take our foot off the gas.
As we prepare to wrap up here, “Guncle” of course, just out, but is there anything else coming up next for you that we should be on the lookout for?
Steven: Well, hopefully I get one of these movies across the finish line. Yeah. And, you know, I had a a story just come out in the audible original story narrated by Neil Patrick Harris called “The Dogs of Venice” short story that they got to write during quarantine, which was, you know, fun to be able to travel, at least in my writing. And hopefully it’ll be fun to listen to and travel that way until we can all vacation again. So I have that and then we’ll see what I’ll be able to talk about soon with The Guncle.”
We love getting book recommendations from our guests. What’s something you’ve read lately that you would recommend.
Steven: Well, so. I’ve been looking at comedic novels. So I recently re-read “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer, which I think is just… obviously won the Pulitzer Prize, I think it’s a masterpiece.
To keep peace at home. I will say my husband is also a writer. Byron Lane wrote a very funny book that came out last summer called the “A Star’s Bored”, which was loosely based on his friendship with Carrie Fisher. Very, very funny novel.
And there’s a great novel called “Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead” by a queer woman named Emily Austin. And it comes out in July. She’s a debut writer and it’s very funny, it’s wickedly funny. Despite the title.
Jeff: It’s a hilarious sounding title though.
Jeff: What is the best way for everyone to keep up with you online for news of future projects?
Steven: Yeah, my website is always updated with events. I’m doing a bunch of virtual events for the book launch and so links and everything on my website, stevenrowley.com. And I am on Instagram at Twitter @MrStevenRowley, and I love to connect with people there.
Jeff: Fantastic. Well, Steven, it has been wonderful discussing this book with you best of success with it. And we’ll link to everything in the show notes so people can find everything we talked about.
Steven: Oh, that’s so great. So kind, it’s been great to talk to you and happy early pride month.
Will: This episode’s transcript has been brought to you by your community on Patreon. If you’d like to read the conversation for yourself, simply head on over to the shownotes page for this episode at biggayfictionpodcast.com. And don’t forget the shownotes page also has links to everything that we talked about in this episode.
Jeff: On the shownotes, you’ll also find links to Libro.fm for the books that we talked about on this show that are available through them. Remember that Libro.fm is the place that when you buy audiobooks, you’re also supporting a local bookstore of your choice. So, we highly recommend that you get your audio books through them.
Listeners are the Big Gay Fiction Podcast get to take advantage of a special offer where you can get a two month audiobook membership for the price of one. You can check out the details for that and take advantage of the offer at biggayfictionpodcast.com/librofm.
And thanks again to Steven for coming to talk with us.I really loved hearing how he set about structuring this book with the kids and Patrick, and even giving Patrick a little bit of a romance as well. We should note that in the time since we did this interview as well, that “The Guncle” has officially been optioned for a movie. You could really hear as Steven put it, the smile in his voice, as he was talking about it. And it has come to pass. He will be serving as an executive producer and screenwriter on the film. So very much looking forward to that in the future.
Will: All right. I think that’ll do it for now. Now coming up next Monday in episode 317, the authors from the “Love is All” anthology will be joining us to talk about this year’s brand new, fancy-schmancy really amazing edition.
Jeff: It was so much fun to host many of the authors during our live episode to celebrate the book’s release.And we’re looking forward to sharing that conversation here. We’re also going to get to hear from Sophia Soames and Meg Bonney who could not join us during the live show. We’ll get a little bit from them within the podcast episode.
Will: Thank you so much for listening. Until next time everyone, please stay strong, be safe, and above all else keep turning those pages and keep reading.
Big Gay Fiction Podcast is part of the Frolic Podcast Network. Find more shows you’ll love at frolic.media/podcasts. Production assistance by Tyson Greenan. Original theme music by Daryl Banner.