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.
SH: It’s a good way to correspond with people and also show a side to me that people wouldn’t understand just from reading my books. I feel like I’m a really funny person, but I can’t write funny material. I’m more interested in writing about the darker side of life, so it allows me to branch out in my writing in ways I haven’t done before.
There’s instant gratification about seeing your thoughts published instantly and world wide. Writing a novel is such a long process and is the opposite of that instant gratification you get with blog writing.
MM: There’s a trailer for your book on YouTube, which I think is a clever way for authors to pimp their work. Was that something you thought of and filmed yourself?
SH: The world of publishing has changed so much in the ten years since my last book came out. MySpace is such a great place for new bands to put their songs up and to gain exposure, and not a lot of authors have explored this. I wanted to do something for YouTube or MySpace that was indicative of the book, but I didn’t have much experience making films. Joseph [Gordon-Levitt] suggested I make it myself. And it turned out that iFilm is a really easy program. I have seen some trailers from other authors that, frankly, were horrible. Like dramatizations of scenes.
MM: Oh, God. Like a karaoke video!
SH: Yeah, really bad. I wanted to evoke a mood of what the book was.
MM: Tell us about this Thursday’s book party at the LGBT Center.
SH: Writing a book is such a non-social event, so it’s weird to have a party, especially when the book’s not celebrating something. But it will be really great to see friends and meet people who worked on the book whom I haven’t gotten a chance to meet.
Also, it’s an open bar so everyone will drink to their hearts content. I hope they don’t run out of booze.
Come celebrate with Scott Heim Thursday night at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center (208 W. 13th St. at 7th Ave.). An open-bar reception starts at 6 p.m., and the author reads a selection from We Disappear at 7. The $10 donation at the door benefits the center.
LOVE Mysterious SKin. Fantastic book.
Love Scott Heim. Fantastic person.
LOVE free booze! I’ll be there if I can get my book signed. And get free booze.
That’s really weird: I was kind of offended by the Araki movie being in our public library because it definitely could give the impression to straight people that incest is a precursuer to people being gay. That’s all that it shows-like case studies. I can just see straight parents picking it up and getting the wrong impression. I don’t think that incest in and of itself can make people gay. They may occur coincidentally.
The movie in and of itself isn’t offensive exactly; I’m not to inspired by kid victimization.
Well then, let’s all go out and remove from the public sphere anything that might cause straight parents to get the wrong impression. Siriano, Kressley that means you.
That’s foolish; it goes along with the notion that all gay people are child molesters., if that is all that you see.
“mysterious skin” was brilliant
the film was amazing as well… it absolves araki of all the films that made me want to strangle him
The subtitle of this interview is misleading. I want to see the inside of Scott Heim’s mind! Where is it?
The trailer he made for the book makes me really intrigued to read it.
M Shane wrote: I was kind of offended by the Araki movie being in our public library because it definitely could give the impression to straight people that incest is a precursuer to people being gay.
I don’t remember incest in Mysterious Skin.
Good point. There’s no incest whatsoever in that book. What’s more, it seems the author and director made a strong case for the Neil character having explicitly homosexual feelings before the molestation happened.
I could be mistaken, however, I think that I’m right; If you read the description (above) of the book from which the movie was made, “Mysterious Skin “, it was about “child abuse”.
Incest is generally regarded as being sexual abuse by someone more powerful, in control of a child.
Definition of incest:
“Nonforcible sexual intercourse between persons who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by law.”
In Mysterious Skin, the two protagonists remember their earlier sexual molestation by their Little League coach. The coach is not related to either boy. The situations described in Mysterious Skin, both book and movie, are not incest.
NORM Said:In Mysterious Skin, the two protagonists remember their earlier sexual molestation by their Little League coach. The coach is not related to either boy. The situations described in Mysterious Skin, both book and movie, are not incest.
M Shane Said:If you read the description (above) of the book from which the movie was made, â€œMysterious Skin â€œ, it was about â€œchild abuseâ€.
So…um…you didn’t read the book or see the movie? If you didn’t read the book or see the movie ….then it seems your offense is a bit miss-directed.
I saw the movie and it was definitely about incest. As a former incest therapist in the first federally funded program for incest suvivors, I can state emphatically that incest is theraputicaly defined as the exploitative sexual relationship between a (usually older) more powerful person and a vunerable (often younger) person. Fanmilial relationship can (coincidentally) be there but often is not. Whether or not there is an herediary relation is
irrelivant to the damaging influences of the damage done. “child abuse” is used as a descriptor of beating or other than sexual misusing of a youngster.
If you are referring to the sociological relational sexual taboos there needn’t be a
context of victimization. I.e. by the former clinical description two brothers the same age would not have an incestuous relation if they had sex together and would not be harmed.
whatever, Mary. by now you’ve succeeded in straying miles away from the original article, which is about Mr. Heim’s new book… which has absolutely nothing to do with incest, no matter which definition you want to ramble on and on and on about.
Don’t get hissy now Gladys, just a little metphysics.. Now that we know what we’re talking about there’s no reason to get further undone. Althiough, he does look like someone I tied up in a closet once.
I havin’t read either the old or new books, since I havn’t discovered that many worthwhile gay writers since Burroughs, Genet or White.
I like tremendously that Heims regards himself as a “literary novelist”. Not just an animal on the stale meatrack of this”culture” In fact, given the death of American literacy, taking up the task of an artist is admirable. That, in itself, should make the work worth a try.
At last we agree on something, Ms. Shane. Your last paragraph is spot-on.
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