Scott Heim’s debut novel, 1995’s Mysterious Skin rocked the literary world with its stark portrayal of child abuse and sexuality in a sleepy rural town. Ten years later, director Gregg Araki adpated Skin into a film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose daring performance transformed the sitcom sweetie into an indie darling.
Heim’s third and latest, We Disappear, finds the former New Yorker returning to Western Kansas. But this time, dude gets personal. Queerty correspondent Megan Metzger recently sat down with Heim to discuss this latest tome, how writers must adapt in a world where we’d rather read a blog than a book, hiding inside his characters and why we should all join him at a reading this Thursday. Hint: it’s more than just the free booze.
Megan Metzger: You’ve been on a pretty extensive book tour since February. Any surprises along the way?
Scott Heim: The tour’s been good. But I’m kind of getting burned out on it. There’s something weirdly lonely about spending just a couple of days in one town. You don’t really get to see much of the city, you stay in hotels. I really haven’t had much to complain about. But I don’t envy rock stars or people who do this all the time.
New York was amazing. I lived there 11 years, so I was hoping it would be a pretty good crowd. It was at the Barnes and Noble in Chelsea, and my reading was the last event before they closed. There were 170 people there. It was amazing. I was kind of speechless. Definitely an emotional experience.
MM: We Disappear includes a character named “Scott” whose mother’s name is “Donna,” which was also your mother’s name. Why did you choose to name the characters after yourself and your mother?
SH: It didn’t start out that way. I planned it to be a totally fictional narrative. During that time my mom was getting sick, I was dealing with depression and drugs, but I certainly exaggerate that in the character.
I had writer’s block, so there was a lot of working on it and then putting it down, but at some point when my mom got sick and I went to Kansas to take care of her, I started writing again. Memoir and diary stuff. I realized at that point that the characters in the fictional book were similar to what I was writing, so I melded the two. For the first time in my life I was writing feverishly.
MM: Weren’t you afraid of coloring the readers’ perception that the author Scott Heim was the same as the character in the book?
SH: There were all these different disappearances in the book–including Scott Heim the writer disappearing into Scott the character–I liked this idea of readers not knowing where one starts and the others begin. There are a lot of things in the book that are total fiction. The danger of doing this blurring is when people do read this as a memoir.
If people want to know what’s true or not, I’ll tell them. Like, all the back story about my mother is fiction. My mother did have a mysterious childhood, and when I came back to Kansas to take care of her I wanted to learn about it, but she died a lot earlier than I thought she would. The book is sort of my substitution for learning the stuff I wanted to but couldn’t.
MM: You have one novel already adapted into an acclaimed film. Do you feel pressure to churn out film-worthy material?
SH: I don’t. I dislike it when fiction writers are fueled by writing a scene and thinking “this will be a great movie scene.” I try not to get in that frame of mind. As a literary novelist, your characterization should be the most important thing.
MM: I don’t want to “out” you, as it were, but I know you love reality TV. What are some of your favorite reality TV shows right now?
SH: [Laughs]. It’s okay, you can “out” me. I love Survivor, Amazing Race and the original Mole, which I’m really excited [ABC] is bringing back. I love trashy TV and I don’t know why. I guess it’s because I spend a lot of time in the private and insular world of writing a book, without the world of being around other people.