What Binds Us, from Larry Benjamin
I wanted to write an m/m love story but I didn’t want it to be full of angst—I often joke that the book is Brokeback Mountain without the angst and poverty. Seriously, it was important that the characters in What Binds Us be open and accept themselves from the beginning and learn to surround themselves with those who support them. I wanted to tell a happy story but because the characters are so young, I thought it was important to capture the insecurity, the hesitation, the self doubt (he couldn’t possibly love me) that comes with youth, and show them growing up to overcome the obstacles they placed in the way of their own happiness. And finally I knew from the beginning I wanted to touch on the AIDS crisis but I didn’t want it to be the main focus of the story. Also I wanted it to come unexpectedly like it did to so many people at the very beginning. As Thomas-Edward says in the epilogue: “this is the story that had to be told: the story of the sun, the earth and the moon.”
Tell us about Thomas-Edward – why is he so special?
Thomas-Edward is special because he doesn’t realize how special he is. Early on he describes himself, with some bitterness, as “ordinary as dirt.” Yet he is the one who holds the family together, he is the one with the courage to return to Dondi’s mother not because he wants to but because he thinks Dondi needs her. And his capacity for love is enormous, even when their relationship ends he manages to hold on to and love Dondi despite how badly he was hurt. And let’s not forget he falls in love with two brothers and manages to keep them both in his life. How amazing is that?
And Donovan Whyte, your second hero; why is he so well-suited to your Thomas – or not?
I loved the Dondi character. He was so fabulous and so much fun to create. But he really was “too much” for Thomas to handle. Dondi is kind of the Suzanne Sugarbaker of young gay men. His appearance in Thomas-Edward’s life was pivotal and he introduced him into that “looking glass world where everything was familiar yet larger, more exquisite, more precious than anything he’d ever known,” but he wasn’t quite right, he wasn’t THE ONE. But he values Thomas-Edward above all others and even at age 19 he knows Thomas will always be in his life. And he prepares Thomas-Edward for the love of his life, introduces them in fact.
Same goes for his brother Matthew –how does he fit into this complex relationship?
Matthew is the absolute opposite of Dondi; if Dondi is the sun, he is the moon. “A mystery like a dark corner, or the far side of the moon,” it isn’t easy to tell what he’s thinking or how he feels about Thomas’ sudden appearance in hi s life. Quieter, less sure of himself than Dondi, he’s desperately in love with Thomas but unsure of Thomas’ relationship with Dondi, unsure Thomas even thinks of him that way he doesn’t confess his feelings. It’s this very reticence, this mystery, that captivates Thomas who is equally enamored of his former lover’s brother. Matthew is calm, loyal, a one man man, just the sort of man Thomas needs. To Thomas’s surprise he replaces Dondi in his heart.
What draws you to write in m/m romance genre?
All the How-to-write books advise you to “write what you know.” (laughter). As a gay man, it was important for me to get a positive story of two men in love and committed out there and for me that meant a story that wasn’t just about sex or romantic love but about friendship and family. I think we all have romantic dreams (God knows I do) but few of us actually live them. I wanted to show a romantic couple also faced with reality. They are perfectly happy when it is just the two of them yet when Dondi falls ill they take him in without a second thought. At one point when Dondi is sickest, Thomas mentions he and Matt no longer have the energy for sex, yet their love for each other never wavers.
What challenges have you faced in getting your stories out there?
Well you know this manuscript sat in a drawer for nearly 20 years. It was originally typed on a word processor. Publishers would tell me there was no market for the story. Agents would tell me the same thing, would advise me to read the best sellers list and write what others were writing. I never stopped believing that eventually this story would be told.
Recently a publisher rejected a collection of my short stories saying they liked the stories and thought I had a unique voice but my writing was “too literary” for their audience. I understand that books need to sell –publishers are running a business after all but I do think they need to broaden what’s available. There’s got to be readers interesting in reading fiction that’s a bit out of the ordinary that maybe challenges them a bit.
What books/heroes did you like growing up, and how have they inspired you in writing this story?
I read everything when I was a kid— F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, Jacqueline Susann, Kyle Onstott. Kyle Onstott wrote Mandingo, Falconhurst Fancy, Drum, among others, becoming a scandal and a sensation at the time. He inspired me most because his books were racy and they were totally different to anything widely available at the time. Later I discovered some amazing gay writers: James Baldwin, Felice Picano, Christopher Isherwood. I think outside of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kyle Onstott, the gay writers were my biggest inspiration.
What are you working on next?
I just finished a collection of short stories, tentatively titled: Damaged Angels. In it I attempt to give literary voice to the usually invisible: hustlers and drug addicts, the mentally ill, people of color. Then on to my next novel; I have two ideas and am just trying to decide which to pursue next. I really want to do a prose poem with wonderful illustrations along the lines of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, The Hunting of the Snark. So, we’ll see.
You can find Larry’s new release, What Binds Us, at these good sites: