Gay Love in A Magical Land :: Andrew Grossman on ’Lost Sky’
One of the novel’s most refreshing aspects is the way that Matthew and Salal deal with the darker aspects of any relationship: Jealousy, lost love, aging, possessiveness, even deception all factor into their life together, which continues for years. And yet the couple works their way through it all, sometimes by hashing things out and sometimes through sheer generosity of spirit.
"The relationship between Matthew and Salal is what makes the book believable," Grossman noted. "It’s actually far more important than any of the fantasy elements. Recently I re-watched the original ’Star Wars.’ Although by today’s standards the special effects are outmoded, the movie remains a classic because of the character development. Generating empathy is key to making a work of fiction compelling."
But this isn’t a book that simply transfers human traits onto nonhuman characters. In one of the book’s most interesting and provocative twists, Salal, though having been a lover of Matthew’s great uncle Alexander and now is deeply in love with Matthew, isn’t gay in the usual sense of the word. Indeed, he couldn’t be; for his species, sexual activity is a novelty, engaged in only on a couple of occasions in the course of an ordinary lifetime. Salal’s life is hardly typical for his people (for reasons that won’t be spoiled here), and his sexuality has little to do with his love for either Alexander or Matthew. As for sexual activity, when it happens, it’s satisfying--but it takes more preparation for Salal than pillow talk and hot foreplay.
"That’s true," Grossman said when asked about Salal’s sexual nature, "he isn’t gay, and his sexuality is very different from that of humans. Salal isn’t motivated by desire and primarily engages Matthew sexually to keep him happy."
It’s in the book’s subtext, though, that this aspect of their relationship is truly, and cleverly, significant for gays. This isn’t merely another book about gay men finding one another and seeking to turn their sometimes-fractious relationship into one of enduring love; this is a story in which sexuality serves a need for companionship. The media (in any form) loves to views gays as being all about sex, but "Lost Sky’s" depiction is closer to reality: Sex is part of the story, but a far less important part than the essential connection between two sympathetic, if very different, souls.
"I agree," Grossman said upon hearing EDGE’s take on the novel’s core relationship. "In fact, a few readers have asked why I didn’t make the sex scenes more explicit. While I realize that doing so might have been titillating, I felt it was more compelling to focus on what happens before and after lovemaking rather than the act itself."
The world that Grossman constructs, along with the history of that realm and its people, is rich with detail and specifics. Grossman has clearly put some time into working out a plausible way for Salal’s world to have come into existence and to function.
The individuals he’s populated his novel with have some connection with the real world, as well, Grossman indicated. "The characters are an amalgamation of different people who have crossed my path," the writer said. "Jason’s character is loosely based on a roommate of mine, though I wasn’t in love with him. One reader, who knows me quite well, commented that Salal and Matthew represent two sides of my own personality. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it’s been said that all first novels are autobiographical."
EDGE, feeling mischievous, asked which character more reflected the author--and which might be the more ideal life partner for him.
"That’s a pretty close call," Grossman allowed, "but if I had to choose I’d probably pick Matthew’s character" as the one that is closer to himself in real life. However, "I don’t think either of them would be my ideal partner. Certainly Salal would be much too complicated for me to handle. I tend to be attracted to people who are not tormented. My ideal partner would be calm and stable."
EDGE couldn’t help asking about the connection between the book’s environmental consciousness, Matthew’s love of growing things, and Grossman’s current career as a landscape designer based in Seekonk, Massachusetts.
"Definitely!" Grossman said when asked whether his own green thumb left fingerprints on the story. "In fact, the idea for ’Lost Sky’ came to me one day while I was working in my own garden. My home office, where I do most of my writing, looks out onto a large garden that borders a river and a small woodland. The view from my window was undoubtedly a source of inspiration."
A deep-rooted source, it would seem. "I had a garden when I was a kid and have always been interested in design," Grossman added. "When I stopped dancing, I decided to start a landscape design business."
Another inspiration that has found its way into the novel is travel. Grossman’s Facebook page contains a picture of the author at Machu Picchu (the ancient city is "amazing! Definitely worth the trip," Grossman enthused. "It is truly a spectacular spot"), and the story involves quite a bit of globetrotting, with a focus on unspoiled South American jungles. Indeed, environmentalism and travel dovetail in this element of the novel.
"Yes, I love to travel, which is odd because I’m also a home body," Grossman reflected. "I try to take a trip every winter during my downtime. Unfortunately, there are many places on my bucket list that aren’t great winter destinations."
In this age, in which commercial publishing is tough on authors that don’t write easily pigeonholed books, one might have expected that Grossman would have had to turn to some form of self-publishing. ("I received positive feedback from a number of agents and other publishing houses, but they didn’t know how to market ’Lost Sky,’ " Grossman told EDGE). As it happens, however, there’s a publishing house that takes in interest in stories like "Lost Sky."
"It was published by Queered Fiction, a boutique publisher that focuses on gay-themed sci-fi and fantasy," Grossman noted. "My relationship with them is the same as with any publisher. The staff edited the book, put together the cover art, etc. I am paid royalties, but was not given an advance.
"I probably could have self-published, but I guess I needed the validation of being chosen by a publishing house," the author added.
For the moment, Grossman is focused on putting out the word about his debut novel. But that doesn’t mean he has forsaken the writing life. "This winter, I’ll probably doff my writer’s cap," the author reassured EDGE.