Monday, July 31, 2017

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

How long did it take you to write The God Players?

I started writing The God Players back in the '90s. It was the first book I'd ever finished. I think I completed it sometime in 1996 or '97. I was really excited about the concept and had several people read it to give me feedback. I took that feedback to heart and re-wrote portions of the book based on what I heard.

We were living in Philadelphia at the time, and I sent the manuscript out to various literary agents and publishing houses. I have a stack of rejection letters to show for it. Yeah, I still have them. I draw
strength from rejection. I know that sounds odd, but I always have. The best thing that can happen to me is for someone to tell me I can't do something. I'm bound and determined to do it.

As it goes with book manuscripts there are various stages. Usually you start with a query letter. If you're lucky they want to see a synopsis. If they like the synopsis they want to see a sample chapter or three. If they like what they see they'll ask for the entire manuscript. I got to the sample chapter stage a couple of times and, as I recall, only got to the entire manuscript stage once. I remember sitting in my home office in Philadelphia and I got a call from a major literary agent in New York. She was gushing about the book. She asked me all about the concept, how I came up with it, character development, things like that. I was so excited. Then she said, "It needs more sh%*s and fu#*s." I said, "Excuse me?" She repeated what she had said saying I needed to go back through and pepper the manuscript with those words. It wasn't a matter of needing more, I didn't have any. I said, "But that really doesn't fit the characters." She said, "If you're not willing to do that, I can't represent you. I can't sell a book without sh%*s and fu#*s." I said, "Have you ever heard of a guy named John Grisham?" She said, "He's an anomaly." We discussed it a bit more and I finally told her I wouldn't do it. So, the manuscript sat in a box in my basement for 20 years.

It's not that I'm some puritan who refuses to use profanity. Roy Kirsch throws out a little salty language. So do Greg Wently and Bill Dumaine, when it makes sense. But I am a purist as far as my characters are concerned. Gratuitous cursing just didn't fit. I can't imagine a traditionalist like Dr. Clark Penrose throwing around the F-bomb. It would sound ridiculous.

One would think that would be the end of the line for my book career. 

Here's an interesting twist that will give some of you prospective writers some hope. I'm a big believer in throwing a lot of lines in the water. Several years after I'd moved back to Nashville I got a call from a publisher. They were looking for someone to write a book on Ronald Reagan. They were having a staff meeting and someone brought up my name because they had read my synopsis. As it turned out, this was one of the companies I contacted when I was pitching The God Players. They had passed on the book because it didn't fit what they were doing, but they remembered that I could write and they thought of me when they were brainstorming about a Reagan book.

I told them I was wholly unqualified to write a book on Ronald Reagan but I did have an idea for another non-fiction book. That eventually became my first published book, Right From the Heart, which eventually became the bestseller The Conservative's Handbook. Who knows what would've happened had I taken the advice of the literary agent and sprinkled The God Players with curse words. To this day I believe it was bad advice. You need to stay true to your characters. You know them better than anyone. Don't have them doing or saying things that are out of character.

And keep casting those lines. If you're using good bait something will bite.

Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

What made you revive 'The God Players' after all these years?

I actually started this book about 20 years ago. The storyline of The God Players always fascinated me. From the time I envisioned the alliance between the gay rights group and the fundamentalist Chrisitians I longed to make the book a reality. I'm one of those people who works feverishly on something then moves on to the next project. Probably my ADD at work. I don't quite know why I put this particular book on the back burner. It wasn't the rejection letters. Every author gets those. It was more a change in life.

Shortly after I finished it and came close to securing a literary agent, my radio career changed. We moved from Philadelphia back to Nashville and I was busy restablishing myself there.​
 As I've written in a previous post, the manuscript for The God Players actually got me a book contract for a non-fiction project. That was probably four or five years after I left Philly. I got into that project and that led to Tax Revolt then I produced a movie and before I knew it I was nearly 20 years removed. I know I must have gone back to the project periodically because the working title of the book was Xq28. That's the genetic location of the gay gene in the book. I'm not sure when I came up with The God Players as the title, but now it seems so natural it's as if it were the title from the beginning.

As to what made me revive it now? To be honest, I think it was a matter of having the time. I had finished the revisions for the second edition of The Conservative's Handbook. I had written another novel and a screenplay, and I guess I was still humming creatively. It had been so long since I wrote it I'd forgotten some of the plotline, so I was as intrigued by where the story was going as someone reading it for the first time. I thought, "This is pretty darn good. It needs some polishing, but this is really marketable." So, I set about going through the manuscript page by page, line by line, until I was satisfied.

I didn't really change a whole lot from the original. I added that scene at the very beginning about the wedding protest. I wanted to grab the reader and pull them into the conflict immediately so they understood the emotions at play. And I added the little twist at the end with Norm. I won't go into details, in case you haven't read it yet, but I thought that was a nice way to cap off his relationship with Kelly. It was also a great place to end the book, except, of course, for the little epilogue at the end tying things together.

I'd been so long away from the issue that I was afraid science had passed the book by. The Human Genome Project had just gotten started when I was first writing the book. They completed it in 2003. By that time, my book was sitting in a box in the basement. I didn't know if it was still relevant until I started researching again and found it was more relevant than ever. It was probably the whole gay marriage issue that got me to pull it out of the box.

It's funny how much times had changed when I started revising it. Originally, I had Dr. Penrose getting beeped in the restaurant and calling Carol on a payphone. I laughed when I read that and, of course, changed it to a cell phone. I had references to the Million Man March that had just happened, so I had to revise those, as well. There were several references to computers that were dated. Most of the storyline is timeless, but it's those technology and historical details that burn so fast. I was careful not to include too much that to keep it from going stale in the next few years.

That's something we struggle with as writers. I've always tried to avoid date references in books — both fiction and non-fiction. Once you include a date, the clock starts ticking on your book. On the other hand, I love reading books like Casino Royale by Ian Fleming because it's like a time capsule. I guess if you're going to date a book you probably need to go whole hog. That way it reads like a period piece, which is timeless in and of itself.

I suspect The God Players will read like a period piece one day, when technology has advanced past the point of gene editing, if that day is allowed to come. I somehow doubt anyone can stop it. Until then, it's just science fiction.


Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What techniques did you use to write the book?

There have been truckloads of books written about the proper way to structure your novel. Some novelists are seat-of-your-pants writers. Ideas just flow and they throw it all on the pages and sort it out like some huge jigsaw puzzle. I have two other novels I'm readying for market and that's exactly what I did with those. The ideas came and I just started writing. On one of them, I hit a wall and set it aside for six months before going back to it.

With The God Players, it was different. The reason it was different was because there was so much technical data that I had to get right. Not just medically, but legally. I grew up with lawyers so I had picked up a lot of the jargon, but you can never go on what you think you know. You have to know. That's why I did lots of research on the legal process in a civil case, how it plays out in a federal court, who the players are, what kinds of motions they file, and things like that. I then ran the legal parts by real lawyers and asked for their advice.

I also had to make the extremely complex medical end of it easy to read. That took months and months of research and planning and note-taking. I read countless articles, made copies of them, then jotted notes in the margins. I asked various doctors questions, read medical journals, and immersed myself in the issue of gene therapy. I, by no means, come close to being an expert on the subject. Like an actor studying for his lines, I used the information where I needed it in the book, then promptly forgot most of it. I'm sure doctors will find certain aspects of the book an oversimplification of the issue, but we writers have to put the cookies on the low shelf or we lose the reader. I have a doctor friend who cringed at Casino Royale when Bond's heart stopped in his car as he was trying to defibrillate. He said it was ridiculously unrealistic. I was just enthralled by the whole defibrillator-slides-out-of-the-dash-in-the-Aston-Martin thing. If it makes you doctors feel any better, as a radio guy, it used to drive me crazy when the DJs on WKRP in Cincinnati didn't use headphones. You probably never gave it a second thought.

The trick in The God Players was getting the big picture right and worrying about as much of the small stuff as I could without bogging down the story. You Harvard geneticists may be able to nitpick the minutiae but you'll miss the main point, which is the conflict in changing someone's sexual attraction.

But back to the question at hand. Ultimately, my technique for writing this book was arranging scenes on notecards. I found that the easiest way to do it. I tried the outline method, but it was too much of a hassle to change, and the notecards gave me something to physically hold in my hands and arrange on a table, stare at for several minutes, then move around and place in the proper order. It made the process three-dimensional, and that helped me arrange my thoughts and plot out the storyline. That's not to say that I'm ready to write a book on the definitive way to write a novel. I'm just saying what worked for me on this particular project. Your results may vary.

Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.

Friday, December 11, 2015

How realistic is 'The God Players'?

This is probably the most-often asked question I get. Could this really happen? I probably did more research for this book than any book I've written. And that's saying something, given my first three books were non-fiction with copious endnotes and references. The search for the gay gene is not new. What's interesting is there hasn't been a lot of effort put into finding it. Sure, there have been studies, but nothing like one would think given the contentious nature of the subject.

There are theories as to why that is. One line of thinking is any discovery would be inconsequential. In other words, the political argument has shifted away from 'why.' In fact, I've read articles arguing that gay advocates shouldn't allow themselves to be dragged into the debate of nature vs. nurture. One article in the Daily Beast tells of a Sex in the City star who caused a ruckus by saying her lesbianism is a choice. The LGBT community jumped all over her and she jumped right back in their face. She says gays and lesbians should demand respect no matter how they came to be gay. That's assuming no moral objection to homosexuality is legit, and she's going to get some push-back on that.

Another reason there hasn't been an APB out for the gay gene is many people simply believe it doesn't exist. Or they believe there are multiple genes or numerous biological factors that go into making someone gay. They think searching for a single gay gene is oversimplifying a complicated issue.

What most of these people haven't considered is the very place we take the argument in the book. The real controversy isn't finding the gay gene. It's finding it and changing it. Especially if it can only be changed in the womb. Asking a grown gay man if he wants to be straight is one thing. Putting the choice in the hands of heterosexual parents is another.

They say timing is everything. The week we were preparing to release the book, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing was meeting in Washington. I saw a news story with the headline "Ethicists square off over editing genes in human embryos." The story sounded like it was ripped from the pages of The God Players. The next day I saw the headline "International 'Gene Editing' Talks Hit a Catholic Brick Wall." The religious groups were behaving just as I'd written they would in the book.

I think it's inevitable that we'll find a gay gene or something like it that can be altered. I think it's also clear that neither side is even close to being ready for when we do.

Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.

The novel is finally here

This has been a long, long journey. I'll be going into more detail in future blogs, but suffice it to say, this didn't happen overnight. The reason I stuck with it and kept coming back to this book all these years is the subject matter. The idea of genetically changing a human being in the womb from homosexual to heterosexual has got to be one of the most controversial subjects anyone can dream up. But it's not a dream. Although I know of no one who is outright trying to do this, gene editing in utero is becoming a reality. It's only a matter of time before we're to the point where parents can choose. Whether they have the right to choose is what this book is all about.

I took great care in exploring all sides of this issue, and presenting the story in a manner that exposes the pros and cons of each. This is not an agenda piece. Far from it. This is a highly-researched, thought-provoking novel designed to chronicle what very well may play out if and when science advances to the point where it becomes a reality. And I believe that day is not too far off.

As you'll read in the acknowledgements, I got some valuable advice on different aspects of the novel. A lot of the story revolves around a lawsuit, and I drew from my family's vast experience in law to make those parts as real as possible. My father practiced law for the better part of 60 years in between and among his stints in the state legislature and later in the United States Congress. He took the time to painstakingly go through my manuscript some years back and make notes, and I incorporated his advice into this book. As fate would have it, he left this earth just as the book was going to press and never got to see it to fruition. I regret that I had not done it sooner. It was too late for an official dedication page. So I take the opportunity here to dedicate this book to my late father, Tim Valentine, who would have taken great delight in sitting in his easy chair and reliving the story one more time, knowing he had made it that much better.

Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.