God, Gays, and Grits

James Hannaham's debut novel is a comic coming-of-age story set in the conservative South.



James Hannaham x390 (publicity) | advocate.com

You include a very relevant quotation from Of Human Bondage before the first chapter. Somerset Maugham wrote in a distant, third-person voice, and yours is incredibly intimate and first person. How did you arrive at that?I wanted this novel to be in the voice of someone telling their own, nonfictional story. Usually that voice is one of authority, but in Gary's case it's a sort of clumsiness of voice. It gives you the feeling that what you're reading could actually be true. The inspiration for that came from reading LaToya Jackson's autobiography -- no joke. I thought, "Someone wrote this, but who? Some of it must be true, but what?"

Gary's story will definitely resonate with gay people, but what do you think straight people can get out of reading God Says No ?It's surprising. I have a friend, a straight woman, beautiful and blond, who told me she feels like she is Gary. I think that's because through Gary I was trying to talk about Americans' quest for "normalcy," even if there is no such thing.

And what about conservative Christians? How would you approach them with this book?I guess I would just drop it in their hands and run! I want it to be read differently depending on what you already believe, and I'm not all that protective of interpretation.

The action in your novel unfolds exclusively in the South -- Charleston, Atlanta, Memphis, and Orlando. You're from Yonkers, N.Y. Have you visited all of those cities?I've been to all but one of them. Maybe I shouldn't say which one; I'll let people guess. But yeah, Gary's life is contained by the South. The reason that I made him come from Charleston is that Charleston is kind of like New Orleans in a straitjacket. It's a very sensuous, sultry place, but it's extremely repressed. It's really the most Southern city in the South. It's prone to hurricanes and even earthquakes ... you have to be a little nutty to live there. Also, Sullivan's Island is there -- that's where a lot of slaves in the U.S. came in. If there's a tongue-and-cheek slave narrative in the book, it's touched on there. There's no North in this book -- there's no promised land where Gary might go to be free.

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