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Boys in our Books welcomes author Jay Bell to take the hot seat after a 3-way group read of his book “Something Like Winter”. Jenni, Sheri, and Susan had all read and were…well…enraged (sorry!) after reading the 1st book of the series “Something Like Summer”. Jay asked us to give book 2 a try and see if our thoughts on Tim, especially, might change.
JAY! Welcome to Boys in our Books! We have to say we are all EXCITED and a little bit NERVOUS to have you join us.
JB: Thank you! There’s nothing to worry about. I’m happy to be here. Um… Could you take the handcuffs off me now? I mean, I’m behind bars already and you have about six armed guards with their weapons trained on me. I promise to behave!
(but, but…we want to keep you! :) )
Ok, we want to start by just telling the readers that…YOU. ARE. AWESOME. Throughout this whole experience, you’ve been supportive of us to have an opinion, good or bad. And you’ve really encouraged us to be honest. So thank you!
JB: Aw, shucks! I’m a big fan of honesty, especially during the creative process. I’ve worked hard to cultivate a relationship with my editors and test readers where they feel comfortable in telling me the ugly truth. This means I’ve had a to grow a thick skin and shut my trap instead trying to argue a point. Honesty from the audience is great too and has helped spawn entire book ideas, as we’ll soon discuss.
So…admittedly, none of the 3 of us were huge fans of Summer. We all thought the writing was fantastic, but the character of Tim just RUBBED us the wrong way. Do you get this reaction by many people (because we’ve seen a LOT of people who LOVED Tim!)? Did you realize this book would be so polarizing?
JB: I never anticipated this reaction, no. With very few exceptions, I pretty much love all my characters, even the villains. At the end of Summer, I was equally crazy about all three of the guys, and I hoped everyone else would like them too. The first critical review I got actually complained about Jace being too nice! Only later did it become clear that a certain percentage of readers were very vocal about not liking Tim. Jace’s detractors were fairly silent on the matter. Only after writing Autumn did I hear from people who hadn’t warmed to Jace before, but now loved him after reading his story. So no, I definitely never expected opinion to be so divided.
I have noticed an interesting pattern though. The majority of female readers tend to prefer Jace, while most male readers like Tim more. There are of course many exceptions, but this does seem to be the general trend. I suspect it’s because women—aside from being smarter than men—care more about how a man conducts himself. It doesn’t matter how smoking hot Tim is, or if he’s got a big sob story… or big other things. What matters is how he treats the person he’s with. We men, on the other hand, are willing to put up with a lot of bullshit for a pretty face. I also suspect that for gay men, Tim represents that straight guy most of us had a crush on, but could never have… or that we had before he got scared and ran away. I’ve also heard from many readers who have been in Tim’s shoes, or still struggle with the same issues that he does.
“Something Like Winter” is basically some of book 1 told from Tim’s perspective as well as filling in holes in the timeline from Tim’s life. Was your strategy when writing this to defend/redeem Tim? What was your thought process in writing and developing his character? Do you like Tim? What are his best qualities?
JB: Most of the criticism about Tim puzzled me, and I found myself talking to readers and explaining his motivation. Through this, I realized that there was still a lot of story to be told. I promised myself I wouldn’t cheat and try to make Tim a good guy. I never have him rush into a burning barn to save a basket-full of adorable kittens or anything like that. My goal was to explain him and to show how many obstacles he has to overcome. Summer presents him as this guy who has it all, when really, he’s a freaking mess. It’s Ben that has it all figured out, and even though high school doesn’t reward people like that, the rest of life does. So Tim’s at a huge disadvantage at the beginning of our story.
I definitely like Tim. He’s easily my favorite of all the characters I’ve created. As for his best quality, that’s simple; He’s interesting. Nice characters like Ben and Jace have external conflicts, since being kind or proud isn’t always easy in a cruel world. With Tim, most of his conflicts are internalized. He’s his own worst enemy, and even when he slowly takes charge of himself, he still has all that external conflict to face too. So Tim has a long perilous path to navigate, and instead of calmly handling each problem one at a time, he often screws up and makes things worse. The results are surprising and infuriating and you never quite know where he’s going and if you can trust him. Regardless of if anyone likes Tim or not, he’s probably the most talked about character for that one specific quality; The guy ain’t boring!
Wow…he’s your favorite character? Didn’t expect that, for some reason. You like the bad boys! Hee!
Well then, this one is just straight up…does Tim really love anyone other than…Tim?
JB: Even if you don’t buy into his relationship with Ben, there are two people I feel Tim clearly loves. One is his mother. Most people aren’t scared to come out of the closet because people will call them names or beat them up. Most of us face such threats in our youth regardless of our sexuality. The scariest thing about coming out is that you think the people you love will stop loving you back. I definitely feel that Tim loves his mother. There’s a part in Winter when she cries for Ben—who she feels is damned to Hell—and then Tim considers how much more his mom will hurt when learning the truth about himself. So while their relationship isn’t perfect, I think his love for her is the main reason he’s scared to come out. It can’t be underestimated just how crippling this sort of fear can be.
Then there is Eric, and while Tim definitely has a lot of material reasons to stick around, he also does so after the will is signed and things get really bad. Anyone that has cared for someone on their death bed—especially when the other person becomes comatose—can tell you any number of horror stories. I refrained from doing so in Winter, because it’s the sort of thing I hope most people never have to learn about or experience. But those who have been through it know that only love keeps you at someone’s bedside. Unless it’s one duty stemming from a medical career, love is the one force that can get you through such a difficult time.
How would you describe Eric’s role in Tim’s life. At first it seemed Eric a fatherly figure, but then you threw us for a loop when Tim stated he would have had an intimate physical relationship with Eric, if that’s what Eric desired. So, what exactly was Eric to Tim?
JB: I suppose the easiest way of describing Eric, is to say that he’s a much older version of Ben, one tempered by time and experience. He’s certainly a lot more patient. Ben tried shoving Tim in the right direction, while Eric is a bit calmer and understands how to guide him. There’s a reoccurring theme in Summer and Winter of loving who you take care of, or being loved by those who take care of you. Both Eric and Ben want to take care of Tim, so in that way they are similar. Perhaps if there hadn’t been a generation gap (or two), then Eric and Tim might have developed romantic feelings for each other. Tim’s line about how he would have slept with Eric has more to do with his willingness to return that love and make Eric happy, no matter how, more than any sort of sexual desire.
What definitely contributes to our Tim-rage is that we’re all fans of Jace. And without giving too much away, Jace is one part of a love triangle…and, *sigh*, AMAZING. Eric, a character developed more in “Winter” was also amazing. They both had, erm, similar’ish story endings. Why was this necessary? WHY?????????
JB: People die and it sucks. I know some readers feel I kill off certain characters to make room for others, but that simply isn’t true. Eric could have remained a Yoda-type figure to Tim. I could have made Ben and Jace grow apart, or made them break up over some misunderstanding, or had Jace fall for Tim and welcome him into the relationship. So why didn’t I?
When it comes to Jace, I was working through my fear of losing my husband. My world revolves around Andreas, and as twisted as it might sound, killing off a character with a similar disposition made me feel better. I was able to sort of live through the experience, robbing it of its mystique. I was able to show Ben surviving this horrible trauma and finding light on the other end of the tunnel. Then again, I still worry about losing Andreas, so maybe my version of therapy sucks, but such was my mindset at the time. If I’m not drawing from my past, I’m usually writing about my hopes and fears.
After writing Summer, my father was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a fatal type of cancer. I remember being a little spooked, since Summer has three father figures who die. Allison’s father, Eric, and in his own way, Jace. Hell, even the first book I ever wrote (which remains unpublished) started with someone losing their father. So I guess that was another of my fears that kept cropping up, one that I ultimately had to face. My father died before Summer was published, an event which definitely had an effect on the books that followed.
Sorry for your loss, Jay. :( To be honest, the reader really can tell that you channeled some personal emotion into these characters and books. It was palpable.
Here’s a comment that came out of our buddy read: “Seems to me, with each new book, he (Jay Bell) takes the “shine” out of the characters and makes us really wrestle with their personalities (I’ve heard this about Jace in Autumn too). I think he may be a genius. And I also think he’s written some of the most aggravating/annoying books I’ve ever read.” Fess up…do you do this on purpose? :)
JB: Sort of! How I handle each character is how I try to view people in real life. I’ve always valued explanations over apologies. Anyone can say they’re sorry. That takes no effort at all, and it never makes me feel better. Let’s pretend some jerk cuts you off in traffic and shows you the middle finger. If he then pulls over and apologizes, are you really going to feel happy again? But if you found out that this guy had just lost his job, or that he mistook you for someone who once broke his heart, then maybe you wouldn’t need an apology. You might not like the guy, but you’d understand the reason for his rudeness. Personally, I find that more helpful in terms of moving on. I’m like that in romantic relationships too. I’d rather understand why someone betrayed me, or lied, or whatever. If I can accept their reasons, then I can deal with what happened and decide if I want to stick around or not. In real life it’s rare that we get to find out the convoluted truth behind all the events that affect us, so I do delight in such voyeuristic peeks in the Something Like… books. This also seems like the most thorough way of telling a story, although if I were a genius, I’d probably be able to do so in one thin volume instead of a big ol’ series. ;)
Just to let you know, while we read this and posted status updates on Goodreads, there were a LOT of readers who kept telling us that they loved Tim. So, you just happened to have found the “tough crowd” when it comes to the 3 of us. :) Sensing as you must that we didn’t LOVE Winter, what would be a compelling reason, if any, to continue on in the series?
JB: If you don’t like Tim, then this would be the absolute worst place to stop! Tim is barely in the next book at all. Autumn is Jace’s story, and there’s so much to learn about him. With Jace I felt I needed to explain why he seems so nice, or why he can appear a little too forgiving at times. I don’t try to tarnish his character. Instead I feel we finally get to see just how strong he is. He’s human and he struggles, but he bears his burdens well. Jace is a thinker, and showing how he grows up to become the wonderful man he does was a joy to write. Autumn is a love letter to Jace, so if he’s your favorite, then definitely give it one more go. Past that is Spring, and while Tim does have a role to play toward the end, you’ll at least be amused to learn that the main character shares your misgivings. He also thinks Tim is an asshole, since the poor guy sucks at first impressions. Second and third impressions too.
Jay, thank you so much for letting us grill you about this book/series! I’m sorry it didn’t work for us. But, we swear the truth when we say that you are a fantastic writer (and, frankly, a really nice person!). And it made for a compelling buddy read for us!
JB: My pleasure! Occasionally I’ve seen a really good movie with friends, and afterwards we’re all “Wow, that was great!” and “Yeah, it sure was!” That’s fine, but there are other movies which perhaps weren’t so polished and perfect, and those are the really fun ones to talk about and pick apart. Personally I love Winter and I love Tim Wyman. I’ll always proudly defend both. But even if I didn’t convince you guys, I’m glad I was able to give you something to poke and prod together. You’re all incredibly awesome for being open-minded enough to try another book in the series. So thank you. And uh… third time’s the charm? :)
(GAH! Obsessed with Jay Bell! See? He’s kinda the nicest person EVER!!!!!!)
Jay Bell never gave much thought to Germany until he met a handsome foreign exchange student. At that moment, beer and pretzels became the most important thing in the world. After moving to Germany and getting married, Jay found himself desperate to communicate the feelings of alienation, adventure, and love that surrounded this decision, and has been putting pen to paper ever since.
Boys in our Books is offering a chance to win ALL FOUR books in the Seasons series! Leave a comment on this post to enter! Winner will be chosen and then announced on February 26th!