JHT: I’m utterly boring and alternate between being a hopeless procrastinator and positively driven. (You might want to skip this question. 🙂 )
TNA: Was there someone who inspired and encouraged you to begin writing creatively?
JHT: Not directly. I’ve been a reader since I was a little girl, and I’ve always admired authors and their ability to enchant and enthrall and rip your heart out and keep you up at night. I wanted to do that too. I studied creative writing in college, did a little writing for my university’s review and my local newspaper. It took me a long time, though, to take the plunge and pen a complete novel.
TNA: Why did you start writing M/M romance?
JHT: The first novel I ever read featuring a gay character was James Howe’s Totally Joe. I so adored that middle grade book that I set out to read every LGBT YA book I could get my hands on. And there are some terrific ones out there. But I felt like something was missing. So I decided to write a story that I didn’t think had been written yet, the story that I really wanted to read. It evolved and I found myself drawing on all kinds of experiences that I’d had and tragedies that I knew of. I never dreamed it would be published. And then I fell in love with the characters and just kept going. I wanted to find out what happened to Luke, and then Robert. My novels were actually written in that order—Don’t Let Me Go, Just Between Us, and then Where You Are. But they were not published in that order. Just Between Us took a little longer to become.
TNA: How are you doing now that your son is away at school? Are you settling into a new routine?
JHT: He told me recently I was clogging up his Facebook newsfeed with my comments on his posts and tags. The brat! Letting go is hard. As for a new routine, the beginning of every school year is a crazy time for us. I still have a 16-year-old daughter at home who’s just starting driving. I do hope to settle into a routine soon, though, and get a new book off the ground. Getting my son ready to leave for college and all the anxiety that came with that (mine, not his) completely consumed my spring and summer. As I’m writing this, I’m watching the Longhorn Band’s pregame performance and trying to spot him on the field!
TNA: What is the perfect writing atmosphere for you?
JHT: Quiet, early morning, when the house is cold and my brain is firing on all pistons. Sometimes I listen to music; sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the TV is on; sometimes it’s off. But I always do my best work in the early morning hours before anyone is up. I pour a cup of coffee that usually goes cold before I drink it, turn on a small heater at my feet, and lose myself in the story. But even when I quit writing for the day, I’m always thinking and jotting down notes.
TNA: Many of your characters are in their late teens and early twenties. What is it that draws you to characters in this period of their personal growth?
JHT: Older teens are right on the cusp of adulthood, yet they are not yet independent, and their parents still wield considerable power. It makes for some interesting power struggles. I write parents (the good ones) the way I want to be.
Also, some of the neatest couples I know were high school sweethearts. I think that’s such a romantic thing—to meet young and grow up together. I just believe that teenagers are capable of so much more than we often give them credit for.
TNA: The photos on your book covers are all beautiful. How much input do you have in the design of them? Do you have a favorite photographer?
JHT: They are beautiful, thank you. I had very little input. My editor and a cover designer chose the covers. I didn’t see any of them until they were a done deal.
TNA: Have you ever seen a particularly sexy photograph and knew you had to write a book based on that picture? If so, which book(s)?
JHT: Not photos, but I am often influenced by people that I find interesting. Nate and Adam were influenced by Nate Berkus and Adam Lambert. I always intended to change their names, but they became their own people and they were just Nate Schaper and Adam Jefferies to me and that was that. Luke and Robert were both influenced by young men in my son’s marching band. I didn’t know either of them—just names and what I observed, but I found them fascinating. Danial was influenced by a young man I knew when he was a 7th grader, long grown now, but one of the neatest kids I ever met. Andrew was more of a compilation of a couple of really cool teachers I know. Curtis was completely original, though, to me, he looks a lot like Daniel Tosh.
TNA: In Where You Are you wrote about a really controversial topic. What was your motivation in that? Also, you have a son who was close to Robert’s age. Did you find yourself putting Danny in Robert’s shoes and experiencing how a mother might feel in the situation?
JHT: I’ve been asked that question before—what if it were my own son. By the second semester of his senior year, my son was very much a grown man. If he’d met someone six years older, I’d certainly have been concerned, but I doubt I would have had much influence on the relationship. While he is still financially dependent on me, he’s very much his own man.
As to your first question—my motivation for writing Where You Are—that’s kind of complicated. I guess the idea originated with a lawyer friend of mine who met his wife in high school. He was a first year history teacher and she was a senior cheerleader. About a month after she graduated, he asked her out. They recently welcomed their third grandchild. That’s the first part. The second part is that public school is an environment I know well, including the scandals that pop up from time to time, and the harsh Texas law that makes felons out of consenting adults. I wanted to blend the two. I wanted to write about a good person, a good teacher, and a relationship that simply launched too soon. I wanted to know under what circumstances someone like that would cross that line between student and teacher. I find nothing shocking about Andrew and Robert’s relationship except for the fact that for four more months, they were student and teacher.
There are quite a few books out there exploring predator/victim relationships. This is not that book. Nevertheless, I knew from the get-go that there had to be consequences.
TNA: In your new book, Just Between Us, you again take on controversial subject matter. I think it is courageous of you to do that. Do you feel it makes you more vulnerable to criticism?
JHT: Perhaps. I don’t know. I don’t think about whether or not my books will be controversial when I tackle a topic. I just want to explore difficult relationships and the heroics that keep them together. With Just Between Us I wanted to write about stigma and I wanted to give Luke a chance to prove his mettle. I didn’t even know when I started the novel that Curtis would be diagnosed with HIV. It was several rewrites later when I finally knew what was really going on. His earlier ailments just didn’t have the kind of gravity I needed for the story.
The idea came from my own experiences. When I met my late husband, I already knew from friends that he didn’t have many more years to live. He was just 27 when he was diagnosed. When it came to relationships, many considered him a Dead Man Walking. I saw how the stigma of terminal cancer affected him. That’s what I wanted to write about—the humanity of someone who is dealing with a devastating diagnosis. I chose HIV because I don’t think there’s a disease with a greater stigma, and ultimately I wanted Curtis to live.
TNA: You keep a relatively low profile in social media. Do you feel one way or the other about your low profile in comparison to other authors who maintain an extensive on-line presence?
JHT: How do they do that? I always ALWAYS feel like I should be doing more. At the same time, I want to just shut out the world and focus on my writing. I’m fairly introverted, pretty awkward socially, and easily overwhelmed by the demands of social media, so I hope fans will forgive me. But I always respond when readers reach out to me. I appreciate them so much for reading my books and for sharing their thoughts with me. It makes all that time I spend alone in front of my computer so worthwhile.
TNA: Of all the characters you’ve created, do you have a favorite? If so, who and why?
JHT: I hurt for Nate. I adore Adam’s openness and loyalty. I feel Robert’s longing and Andrew’s passion. I admire Luke’s courage, and I want to see Curtis live and love until he’s an old man. They are all my favorites!
TNA: How would you describe your sense of humor? What makes you laugh?
JHT: I definitely have a funny bone. I hope it shows through in my books. I used to follow a blog called Gossip Candy that had me rolling on the floor, my eyes streaming, day after day. She’d post these hilarious gifs and add conversation bubbles to photos. It’s down now (I miss it!) but that blog definitely influenced my writing in Don’t Let Me Go. I don’t know. Silly things make me lose it. Kids are great source of hilarity. I’ll get the giggles and sometimes it’s hard to stop.
TNA: Do you have a favorite literary character? If so, who and why?
JHT: No favorite that I can point to.
TNA: You publish through one of the large New York traditional publishers, Kensington. They aren’t known for their LGBT presence. How did this relationship come about?
JHT: Kenginston is the largest independent publisher in the U.S., I believe. My agent pitched Don’t Let Me Go to Peter Senftleben at Kensington. He loved it, helped me clean it up. And the rest is history.
TNA: Would you care to share a little bit of information on any of your current WIPs?
JHT: I have a couple of projects I’ve been playing around with, but I haven’t settled on anything yet. I feel very committed to writing gay characters, though, so I’m sure there will be more to come.
Where can readers find you on the internet?
TNA: Would you like share an excerpt from Just Between Us with us?
JHT: Sure! Here you go:
Excerpt from Just Between Us
Curtis takes an HIV test
By Wednesday morning, there’s no denying I’m run down. I’m achy, tired. The fever is in its fourth day, and I promised Dad. I make an appointment at the health center for late morning. Maybe I can get a vitamin shot or at least some assurance that this fever has just about run its course.
The health center is located on the far side of campus from my dorm room, but it’s a short walk from my ten o’clock class.
A heavy-set woman with graying hair pinned in an old-fashioned bun calls me back and directs me to a treatment room. She smiles as she closes the door behind us and asks me to step on the scale. “We’re seeing a lot of flu right now. Happens every fall.” She notes my weight—162. I step off the scale and take a seat on the treatment table as she pulls a cuff from the wall. My hands tremble. Doctors’ offices always do that to me. Maybe that’s natural, or maybe it’s a throwback from my head injury when I was a kid.
“Just relax,” the nurse says as she wraps the blood pressure cuff around my arm. She places a stethoscope on the inside of my elbow and pumps up the cuff. “You’re warm. How long have you been running a fever?”
“About four days.”
“One twenty-two over eighty-four,” she says, releasing the air from the cuff. “A little high, but understandable.” She wraps up the cuff and places it back in the plastic holder on the wall, then takes my temperature. “Are you taking anything for the fever?”
“When did you last take it?”
“A couple of hours ago.”
She notes everything on the computer, then pats my leg and tells me the doctor will be in shortly.
I check the time on my phone: 11:32. Luke is probably having lunch right now. I wonder who he’s sitting with. Jackson? Spencer? Phoebe? I make a mental note to ask him. And then I think about our second first date. I wonder if he dances. I imagine holding him close in some dance hall, whispering in his ear, nuzzling his ear, kissing his ear. Breathing in the great peppermint smell that always wafts from his skin. Soon, Luke.
I scan the pamphlets tucked in an acrylic display case hanging on the wall—Alcohol and Substance Abuse, Depression and Suicide, Eating Disorders, Stress, Prescription Medication, STDs . . . . I look at my phone again and think about texting Dad to let him know I’m okay.
A firm, quick knock on the door. “Curtis,” the doctor says, stepping in. He reaches for my hand. “I’m Dr. Nguyen. So, I understand you’ve been running a fever,” he says, checking the nurse’s notes. “Let’s have a look.” He feels the glands around my neck, then checks my throat, my eyes, my ears. “Cameron. Hmm. I went to UT with a Cameron. Derrick. We called him DC. Any relation?”
“That’s my dad.”
“No kidding? Small world, huh? How’s he doing? I haven’t seen him in years. Is he designing skyscrapers?”
“Mostly bridges and roads.”
“Yeah? And what about your mom? How’s she doing?”
“She died when I was a baby.”
He studies my face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” He presses a stethoscope to my back and chest.
“Chills? Body aches?” I nod. “Well, I’d say you’ve got the flu. Your chest sounds a little rattley, so I’m going to go ahead and start you on some antibiotics just in case you’re working on a secondary infection here—we’ve been seeing some cases of pneumonia already—but I suspect this flu’s about run its course. You should be feeling much better in a few days in any case.”
“No blood test?” I ask.
He scoots his stool over to the computer. “Any reason why you think you need one?” He taps out some notes on the keyboard.
I take a deep breath to steady myself. “I thought maybe you could test for HIV while I’m here. It’s just, I’ve never had one, and I thought it would be a good idea.”
“Sure. No problem. We generally do that with a mouth swab though. We can have results in about twenty minutes.”
“I wish all our students would get tested. It should be part of everyone’s routine health screening.” He stands and reaches for my hand again. “Let me get the nurse back in here. Be sure and tell your dad hello for me.”
He’s not planning to come back in again. I take that as a good sign. Routine test. Routine results.
I hadn’t actually considered asking for an HIV test until I did. But I’m relieved to get this out of the way. Twenty minutes. I expected to have to wait weeks. I breathe a little easier knowing that in twenty minutes, I can take off that emergency brake and move on with my life. Because I’ve got some making up to do to a cute, blond, high school kid next weekend.
“All right,” the nurse says, coming through the door with a small package from which she removes a plastic stick with a pad on one end. “This will only take a second.”
I open my mouth so she can swab my outer gums on top and on bottom. “That’s it.” She drops the swab in a vial with some liquid and gives me a reassuring smile. “Can I bring you some magazines to read while you wait?”
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
I check the time again: 11:50. If I text now, I might catch him before he heads back to class. Still running a fever, but antibiotics ordered. I intend to collect on that rain check soon. I miss you.
I stare at that last sentence for a moment. It’s funny . . . telling him I miss him seems like more of a declaration than a kiss or a rain check. But I know he’ll like that. And it’s true. I’m smiling to myself when I press Send.
In a moment, he texts back. Spencer just asked what I’m smiling about. J I miss you too. After game Friday?
Can’t. Have my own game. Drum major coaching on Saturday?
Drum major coaching—riiight. Ha ha. I appear to have some deficits. Be prepared for some intense one-on-one instruction.
One-on one-instruction, huh? The flirt. I’m still sitting on the treatment table, smiling down at the screen, when there’s a knock, and Dr. Nguyen steps back into the room. Despite the fever, my skin goes cold. He takes the stool and swivels to face me, then clasps his hands in his lap and studies them for a moment.
My eyes blur. Please. No. Tell me I’ve got pneumonia. Tell me I’ve got herpes. Anything. Just—just not this.
He lifts his eyes to mine. “The HIV test came back positive, Curtis.”
Many thanks to JH Trumble for taking the time out of her writing schedule to be here with us at The Novel Approach today.
THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED