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.