Brandon Shire is an author who lives in Atlanta, and publishes independently. His first novel, The Value of Rain, was chosen by Indie book bloggers as a Top Read book of 2011, and Best in LGBTQ Fiction for 2011. His second novel, Listening to Dust, was released in March of this year, and already has some fantastic reviews. (links for purchase after interview). Monday (7/23) was the one year anniversary of the publication of The Value of Rain.
J: The Value of Rain is a powerful exploration of what happens to LGBTQ teens in our country, the vulnerability to religious and ideological extremists that they live with, the predatory institutions that those extremists use to victimize them. I imagine you’ve been asked this question a million times, but I’m curious—what was the inspiration for the project?
B: Actually you are the first to ask this question, I don’t do many interviews because I’m such a private person and I think the book basically speaks for itself. The reason behind The Value of Rain was very personal and there’s quite a bit I can’t, and won’t, talk about.
Rain was originally written well over ten years ago and even then the story had sat in my brain for a few years demanding an outlet. Back then, over the course of a few weeks, I sat down with young men who had been abused, incarcerated as kids and as adults, and spoke with others who went through the so-called reparative therapy for being gay. Their stories were the horrors that struck me the most and Rain was a result of those conversations. So I guess you could say that Rain was my apology to those men as well as a testimony to underbelly of LGBTQ youth reparative therapy that you’re hearing more and more about these days. I didn’t realize that anyone else had even sought to discuss the subject until after I had published and came across Tomas Mournian’s Hidden, who also did a documentary on the problem.
J: I’m very interested in genre, and the ways that genre expectations and characteristics form a project. I would say that TVoR participates in the transgressive movement, along with such novels as Less Than Zero by Ellis, Fight Club by Palahniuk, etc. The genre is characterized by things like minimalism, and an attention to subject matter that makes the reader uncomfortable. Was it a goal to write in that style, or did the novel find its own “voice”?
B: A little bit of both. Once I was finally coerced into publishing I wanted readers to feel uncomfortable. If you don’t feel uncomfortable reading Rain, well… you have some serious problems. I want people to feel the pain and the hurt and the longing. You can never really know another person’s pain, but too much of what I read today is simply a description of an emotionally impactive event and not a connection to, or a personal exploration of the emotion itself. A reader brings everything to the table, so should the author. I think not getting right into the grit of emotion does a disservice to the reader and the events which inspire writers. On the other hand, not everyone is ready for that kind of emotional connection, some with good reason. So you really have to consider your audience.
But that deep gut reaction, that’s what makes people pay attention and make changes. There are also some very positive lessons in Rain which are not going to jump out at you. I wrote it that way on purpose, to make people feel, think and (hopefully) to give them the understanding that will help them act.
J: One site that does book reviews said that they would not review my book because of the slavery and prostitution issues within it—have you had reviewers turn down reviewing the book because of its content? If so, what did you do in that situation?
B: I, and my readers, have turned some people away from Rain and advised them not to read it because of its emotional impact; specifically victims of abuse and LGBT people that have survived this type of underground therapy. It just has too many trigger points. So I have no problem with someone saying no thanks. I completely understand that. But I was also fairly selective in making review requests when it was published. Just now I’m starting to get people/reviewers that can’t handle the angst and emotion Rain encompasses.
Someone asked me if I got mad about bad reviews from these people. The answer was no, absolutely not. None have ever complained about the writing, they have been upset with the emotional impact, or simply sit in disbelief as they read. Rain is something you will love or hate, there is no in between. And I’m okay with that.
J: Another question that I’m sure you get a lot—you’ve made a commitment to donate the proceeds from the book to charities that benefit LGBTQ youth. Can you talk a bit about why?
B: Yes, half the proceeds from Rain go to two nonprofit organizations that are helping LGBTQ youth. Both organizations are on the front line making differences right now with gay kids in desperate situations. Rain evolved from my speaking with men who were basically tortured for being young and gay. It was appropriate to give back and help todays LGBT kids.
J: What projects are you working on right now and how are sales going so far for the books already available for purchase?
B: Sales are very steady across the board. I never set out to be on the bestseller’s list, so for me, the slow and steady path is good. I won’t ever stop writing, but I still don’t know that I’ll continue publishing. That’s a decision that’s up in the air for me even now.
At this moment I have two complete novels sitting on my desk in completely different genres which need to be edited and several more stashed away in long hand. We’re getting ready to release Afflicted in September which, per request of fans, has a happy ending and plenty of sex but still explores some issues that need to be addressed. I’ve set it up for a sequel but haven’t started on that yet. And, I have several other works in progress which I’m not ready to discuss quite yet. Fans have request more about one of the characters from Rain so I might dive fully into that by the end of the year. We’ll see. Like I said, I’m always writing but it’s my muse that’s dictating the schedule, and like most she’s a bit unpredictable.
J: Finally, I’m always curious about what people read, so 2 questions: what’s your all-time favorite book, and what book are you reading right now?
B: I’m one of those irritating people that doesn’t have an all time favorite book. I’ve enjoyed too many books in too many genres through the years to pick one out of the thousands I’ve read. Right now I’m reading Brooklyn's Journey by Coffey Brown.
J: Thanks for the interview, and for some great books.
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To purchase his books from Amazon
The Value of Rain in Hardcopy
The Value of Rain in Kindle format
Listening to Dust in Hardcopy
Listening to Dust in Kindle format
From Barnes and Noble