BookLife Talks with Zev Good
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'All About the Benjamins"
What inspired the plot of All About the Benjamins?
As with most of what I write, it began with “What if?” and grew from there. I’ve been out since I was five years old and got it in my head that I would marry Hoss Cartwright from Bonanza when I grew up. But what if I’d been born earlier, what if my mother hadn’t been so cool about it, what if I’d gotten married and had kids and then came out? As writers, we live in our heads a lot, so “What if?” is always there to spark something.
To what extent do you draw from real life, and what responsibility do you feel to reimagine or change characters based on real people?
I think any good fiction writer draws everything from real life, then forms it as needed. It’s the writer’s job to create a story, filled with characters, based in reality and not to borrow too heavily from people they know or situations someone told them about. I generally use all the different facets of myself in my characters, and I place them in situations I’ve been in or could imagine myself in. It’s safer that way. No one can get upset because they see themselves.
Why or how do you think this book is particularly relevant now?
There is a tremendous need for these stories, and we’re seeing them (in Amazon’s Transparent series, for instance), but there is always room for more. There are men (and women) in their 50s who are just coming out, and they’re elated and terrified all at the same time—that’s the reality, and it’s always been the reality. And from a legal standpoint, it’s somewhat easier than it was 30 or 40 years ago, but laws don’t cover the mental and emotional experience of coming out, so people need to read stories and find themselves in them.Your previous work, A Map of the World, was a story collection. How was the writing process different for All About the Benjamins?
Oh, wow. Well, for starters, the seven stories in that collection were written over the span of about 15 years, so the work was more digging them up and rewriting them, whereas All About the Benjamins was one massive, linear undertaking from the day I said to myself, “What if a guy’s wife died and he came out of the closet to his adult children, one of them being his gay son?” to creating those characters, to writing every single day for two years, and then editing it so many times I came close to hating it. I mean, I seriously believed that writing short stories was good practice for writing a novel, and boy, was I wrong!
Can you give us any information about your next book?
Certainly. It’s a coming-of-age story set one summer in the late 1980s in Randolph County, Ala., and it’s my answer to Call Me by Your Name and all those other gay coming-of-age stories I grew up reading that I never related to because they were about academics and musicians summering in the South of France or the English countryside. I didn’t have those experiences. I spent summers in Alabama, where there was country music and I was considered odd because I read books, and where the cute boys drove pickups and shot at empty beer bottles. Like there is for All About the Benjamins, I feel there’s a real need for a story like that.