In the Author Spotlight: Jim Provenzano

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spotlight on booksMessage of Love cover

ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords is happy to host Jim Provenzano today, talking about his latest release, Message of Love, the sequel to the Lambda Literary Award winning, Every Time I Think of You.

Giveaway:  Jim has brought with him a Kindle ebook copy of Every Time I Think of You to give away today along with a copy of Message of Love to a 2nd winner.  To enter to win, leave a comment below as well as your email address so you can be contacted. We would also appreciate it if you left your Amazon email address in the body of the comment to make it easier to send the book to you as it is a Kindle edition.  Contest closes 4/19. Thanks.

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Getting It Right, the Second Time Around

by Jim Provenzano

When I started writing my fourth novel Every Time I Think of You, the first few chapters came to me in a dream in January 2011. I’d already had a few other novels nearly completed, but the story of Reid and Everett basically took over my life.Every Time I Think Of You

After finishing it in early December of that year, I agreed with the almost unanimous suggestion of friends who had read early drafts, and cut an epilogue where Reid and Everett are living ‘happily ever after’ as college roommates in Philadelphia. I realized that the last chapter was actually a draft treatment for a sequel. What happens after the rush of romance concludes with the blossoming of love? Well, a lot happens.

In the sequel, Message of Love, Reid and Everett attend separate universities in Philadelphia. While Everett’s studies focus on politics and world affairs, Reid remains devoted to his Forestry studies. And while the symbolic aspect of the City of Brotherly Love offers new adventures for them, the urban environs tests their relationship, and in particular, Reid’s once heartfelt passion for nature.

I prepared for my new novel, Message of Love, with funds generated from a small yet successful 2012 Kickstarter project. The week before attending the Lambda Literary Awards in New York City, where Every Time I Think of You won the Lammy for Gay Romance, I spent a week in Philadelphia. Combining my journalism experience with a bit of adventurous tourism, I researched the campuses, the city and Fairmont Park, where most scenes are set.

I also spent several days in the archives at both Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and at the Philadelphia Public Library, where I scanned issues of the Philadelphia Gay News, converting page after page into saved PDFs. I even found a house where the fictional version of an apartment would become their home.

Numerous personal interviews with current and former Philadelphia and Greensburg residents, and graduates of Penn and Temple, led to an insightful perspective on the novel’s setting. Sometimes a single detail or correction would lead to an entire chapter revision. But what surprised me were how often real-life events aligned with the story I had already outlined.

I spent months researching the disability issues relating to Everett’s experience, both from the perspective of a paraplegic and someone who loves him. Personal interviews with wheelchair users led to new insights into their daily lives.

As a former professional dancer, one of the most inspirational aspects came from other dancers. Like my first novel, PINS, about high school wrestlers, I took my own physical experience as a sort of muscle memory. By watching and talking with a wonderfully talented dancer and a choreographer from the Oakland, California AXIS Dance Company, I was able to feel and visualize the practicality and athleticism of a young active paraplegic.

But with a specific time frame, thirty years ago, I didn’t have the advantage of relying on contemporary aspects of disability. I bought several books from that era, specific to the limitations of the early 1980s, before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and before most sidewalks and buildings were made accessible.

As with Every Time I Think of You, the story is written from Reid’s point of view and his attempts to comprehend and understand Everett’s challenges. Despite being a pair of romance novels, I worked within the popular genre while crafting a decidedly new approach. I also read many gay and straight romance books with disabled characters. Some of them were touching and sweet. Some were uninformed and misguided.

But at the same time, while I endeavored to ‘get it right’ about such a relationship, I kept asking myself, ‘Is this a Romance?’ Reid and Everett are already boyfriends. The quest of finding love has been achieved. Their new challenge is to sustain their love through some separation. Veering from the standard romance, they live together for most of the story.

With the advantage of having already established the love between Reid and Everett, I faced new challenges with an historic time and urban setting, placed against the encroaching threat of a plague.

Many contemporary romances quickly dispense with AIDS and other difficult issues, and that’s fine. That is the decision of other authors, to make a fun, sexy escapist story. But having set this sequel after the ‘halcyon’ days of the late 1970s, when being gay wasn’t a big problem in some communities, the sequel would have to deal with realities of the era in which I came of age; infidelity, identity, and the growing, then unnamed, epidemic.

A major symbol, a small evergreen tree, served as an actual gift in Every Time I Think of You. For Message of Love, a single ivy leaf, used on the book’s cover, becomes a significant gift of apology in a crucial moment when Everett and Reid’s relationship is at its most fragile. Yet Everett’s life as a paraplegic is not a mere metaphor, but a realistic aspect of his life that’s given a thorough focus.

In the first book, the two young men’s time together is sporadic and passionate. In the sequel, their extended time together offers a new perspective on moving beyond the initial rush of first love, and growing toward a stronger form based on trust.

This four-year ‘distraction’ has led to creating two of the most endearing characters I’ve created. I really grew to love these guys, and I hope readers will, too.
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Author Bio:

Jim Provenzano is the author of the novels PINS, Monkey Suits, Cyclizen, the 2012 Lambda Literary Award-winning Every Time I Think of You, its sequel Message of Love, and the stage adaptation of PINS.

A journalist in LGBT media for two decades, and the guest curator of Sporting Life, the world’s first gay athletics exhibit, he also wrote the syndicated Sports Complex column for ten years. Currently the Assistant Arts Editor at the Bay Area Reporter, he also edits its weekly BARtab nightlife section.

For more information on Jim Provenzano’s books, visit

Watch the book trailer, which features a performance of Dudley Saunders singing “Message of Love,” the title song (by The Pretenders), and enjoy the companion video playlists for Message of Love, Every Time I Think of You and PINS on Jim Provenzano’s YouTube channel:

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Every Time I Think of You by Jim Provenzano

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

 

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect.
Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”
– Alice Walker

Every Time I Think Of YouIt’s winter, 1978 in the small town of Greensburg,Pennsylvania and for teenager Reid Coniff everything is about to change.  The woods are calling him out into the night and snow.  Not exactly to admire nature, although Reid does that too.  But the thin walls of his house make it almost impossible for a teenage boy to find sexual release and these woods are a perfect place for privacy.  Or so Reid thinks.  Because after a short hike, Reid comes across another boy with the exact same purpose on the mind.

Everett Forrester, scion of the Forrester family who founded their town, has come to the woods around Forrestville, a wealthy community, that separates the rich from the rest of the citizens of Greensburg, to escape his family and have a moment of sexual self pleasure.  With divorced parents, home now consists mostly of a controlling mother, a housekeeper who is more friend and ally than servant, and a beloved sister who lives in Pittsburgh far outside the sphere of his family and their wealth.  Everett is not prepared for the tall, lanky boy that finds him almost naked in the woods, in the middle of masturbing.  But one sloppy wet kiss later, both boys find release and a new destiny together.

What follows that remarkable meeting is a relationship that grows and deepens over time.  It didn’t matter that townie Reid attended the local public high school or that wealthy Everett attended a prestigious prep school just outside Forrestville, the next months found them constantly together.  Trips to visit Everett’s sister Holly is Pittsburgh served as a way to be alone, exploring their newly discovered passion for each other and sex.  They share their hopes, their dreams and their problems and their relationship deepens even as they hid who and what they were to each other.

High school is still such a difficult time made more so by a first love and being in the closet. Everett and Reid have not only to deal with hiding their relationship but the fact that they come from two very different backgrounds and two diverging views of their future. Most couples have only a few obstacles to overcome, but Everett and Reid face the most daunting obstacle of all when an accident on the playing field changes their lives forever.

Every Time I Think of You  by Jim Provenzano is a true revelation. I have read many coming of age stories.  And I have also read just as many coming out stories but none of them have the depth, texture and power of Every Time I Think of You.   Winner of the Lambda Literary Award in 2012, this is storytelling at its most intimate and perceptive.

The journey of Reid and Everett will make you hark back to your own adolescence, it will make you laugh and cringe in acknowledgement of the trials and tribulations of high school and the throes of a first love. This elegant and moving tale will pull forth all feelings possible when we remember what it felt like to be young and in love for the first time. In the telling, the author and his characters ask for our understanding and get it by the descriptions and in the remembrances of being young. For the very bravery of youth itself in its outlook and optimism and the pain that experience and time often inflicts.  Even now I want to reach for that book again and start at page 1 as Reid embarks on his journey once more into the woods where he will meet Everett and his future.

The characters Provenzano created for his story are remarkable for their complexity and authenticity as children of the 70’s. With all the references we would expect from the late 70’s Jim Provenzano frames out his setting and time period and puts the reader into the mind and heart of Reid Coniff, a teenager of the threshold of an explosion of self discovery in 1978.  Our narrator is a product of a loving family in a small town in Pennsylvania. Reid is that extraordinary voice that strikes a recognizable note in all readers. He is introspective with a passion for plants and nature in general.  He knows what he wants to do with his life and has the support he needs from his parents.  But that one night in the forest changes everything for him.  Here is a small excerpt just as Reid ventures into the woods in chapter one:

Entering the edge of the small woods, I felt warmer and secure. I’d rarely encountered other people in that small expanse of trees and its charming creek, which is why I’d long considered it my own private refuge.

A thick blanket of snow lay at my feet, sleeves of it bending the limbs of shrubs. Bluish whites contrasted the dark limbs of the evergreen branches above.

Further in, the snow under the tall evergreens was softer, quieting my footsteps as I encountered something unexpected; a pair of grey sweatpants and a green parka hanging on a tree limb.

Then I saw him.

The following scene beautifully delivers the urgency of youth, and the first fumblings at sex. It’s delivers the realistic joy of the first sexual discovery with another person and the shyness that comes after their first kiss and sexual release.  It’s that moment where Reid thinks for the first time “Where the hell have you been all these years?

And then you remember that these boys are only seventeen with their life spread out before them, and that thought becomes one of wonder but also of the pain because we realize how much of life is still before them.

And you are not even out of the first chapter.

Everett Forrester’s voice feels so true to that age and time period.  It’s full of bravado and charm and yet it hides so much feeling and insecurities that you find yourself falling in love with him as much as Reid.  The combination of these two young men, so full of life and the awkwardness of youth, is both captivating and painful.  We watch them venturing out of their self described roles and into a journey of personal growth, love, and sexual discovery.  A time when all their futures are full of the impossible and where they will always be together.

And from our remembered perspectives, their jubilant bravado and youthful innocence is received with the understanding and compassion of age, letting us relate to and empathize with these young men on their journey together with all its attending highs and lows.

Provenzano doesn’t shy away from the warts and issues of the times and of being a teenager during that era, homophobia included.  Nor does he gloss over the brutal facts of the impact that a debilitating accident has on these boys,their families and their budding romantic relationship. Everett’s accident is one that almost singularly destroys Everett and Reid’s relationship as well as Everett’s dreams for his future.  It is one that can happen on any playing field across America, this time it just happened to Everett.  That doesn’t make it any easier to accept for Everett, Reid or their families.  Or for the reader for that matter.

The story ends in the winter of 1979.  Less than a year has passed but somehow it feels as though I have walked miles and lived years with these boys. This amazing narrative, at times honest, tender, and raw, has left me so well acquainted with their characters, that to see the end actually hurt.  And that’s after 266 pages.  Reid is now at Temple University in Philadelphia.  And Everett? Well, that joy of discovery awaits you within these pages.

And it doesn’t end here.  The sequel, Message of Love, continues Reid and Everett journey into adulthood and their possible future together. But first there is Every Time I Think of You, an evocative and immensely powerful “coming-of-age”  tale so compelling in its truth that you won’t want to put it down.  The strong adolescent voice that is Reid Coniff, wise ,uncertain, tentative and brave.  It is the voice of a 17 year old…so full of everything it means to be 17. It is real, painfully so at times. Reid will entice  you back to his story and that of the young man he loves with all his heart.  And Everett with the burdens and struggles to come will hold fast to your heart, never to let go.

This is one of ScatteredThoughts Best of 2014.  Go, get it now and start your journey along with Reid and Everett into their future.  Trust me, this story is one that will always stay with you, heart deep and full of love.

Cover Art; Getty Images. Used with permission. Cover Design: Kurt Thomas.  Cover is simple and elegant and references a major element in their story.

Every Time I Think of You
Message of Love (sequel)

 Book Details:

Kindle Edition, 266 pages
Published November 26th 2011 by CreateSpace/Myrmidude Press
ASINB006EVNCJK
edition languageEnglish
literary awardsLambda Literary Award 2012

Buy Links: Amazon  also at Barnes & Noble (nook)