OutUK: How did you get started writing?
Tom: I’ve been writing short stories since I was a teenager, and I started contributing
nonfiction pieces at the age of twenty to publications like The Village Voice. While
I was still in college, I sold the pitch for a downtown guidebook called CityTripping
New York, out of which grew a city guide website. After the dot-com bust, I knew I wanted to
write a novel, so I started working on The Trouble Boy.
OutUK: How has your life changed since The Trouble Boy was published?
Tom: I've met some wonderfully talented people, and I've gone from being someone
who writes and publishes periodically to a writer in the very public sense. I don't
think that being published makes one's work any more legitimate; as far as I'm concerned,
anyone who writes is a writer. But the difference is that now my work is out there, and it has a life of its own.
OutUK: What made you decide to write The Trouble Boy?
Tom: In the three years I lived in New York after college, I had experienced so many romantic
and professional misadventures, and had seen such incredible contrasts of culture -- high
and low, rich and poor, gay and straight. I was an avid fiction reader, but I hadn't
yet encountered a book that encompassed that whole post-millennial downtown Manhattan scene.
My work is often compared to Bright Lights, Big City, but I also see it in the vein of
books like Tales Of The City -- a chronicle of a certain moment in urban history, a slice
from the lives of these young people.
OutUK: Toby is extremely realistic. You feel as if you know him—and you often want to give him a
good shake. How much of the book is based on your personal experiences? Is any of it autobiographical?
Tom: There are bits and pieces of autobiography that are woven into Toby’s narrative. At this point,
the fictional stuff seems more real to me that the actual! It was my hope that Toby would be
a challenging character, and I think that's proven to be true. People love him, but they also
want to smack him. He's very specifically drawn, but I've also learned from my readers
that there's a universality to him and his friends. I think it's that sense of early
twenty-something hubris that they embody; I don’t know many people who haven't experienced
that first-hand. When you're twenty-two, you think you can conquer the world.
OutUK: For much of the book, Toby is obsessed with Subway Boy, a guy he only saw briefly
on the train. Have you ever had one of those inexplicable crushes? Did anything ever come of it?
Tom: I am so much like Toby in that way. I can see a photograph of someone and
create an entire scenario of what he's like. I think a lot of people do that, though
fiction writers do it to an acute degree! I've learned to give up on those crushes
because they so rarely come true. My own Subway Boy was actually someone I met
on my 25th birthday, and I think it actually was love at first sight, if such
a thing is possible. We spent a year and a half together, and it was wonderful,
and then I needed to move to LA to write my novel, and he moved to London. But
we're still in touch, which is nice.
OutUK: One of your characters deals with HIV. Do you think today's generation of young
gay men take the threat of HIV seriously?
Tom: Most recently, with this new strain of HIV being publicised and increasing
awareness about the dangers of crystal meth use coupled with unsafe sex, this
generation is hopefully becoming more aware. In general, though, until we reach
the point where there are no new HIV infections in the gay community, no, I don't
think we're all taking the threat seriously enough.
OutUK: What can we do to change that attitude?
Tom: It's pretty simple: people need to be more responsible about their behavior,
and focus on activities that are good for them, not those that are harmful. I think
it was Harvey Fierstein who said something to the effect of, “Happy people don't
need to practice unsafe sex.” If you have a healthy level of self-respect, you won't
endanger your health or that of others. There's so much self-hatred in the gay community
that people often devalue their own lives.
OutUK: The screenplay Toby is working on in the book has some serious camp potential. Any
chance Breeders could be coming to a cinema (or festival) near you?
Tom: I certainly hope not! My intention was to make it as bad as it possibly could
be, while still keeping it within the realm of something that could be dreamt up
by a twenty-two year-old Film Studies graduate. Of course, secretly I think it's genius,
in that way that seriously bad movies can be. But let's hope The Trouble Boy hits
the big screen before Breeders ever does.
OutUK: Do you have any upcoming projects in the works?
Tom: I'm currently working on my second novel. It's set at a boarding school in Massachusetts,
and it's about the manipulative and dangerous relationship that forms between a thirty-five year
old female English teacher, her young male student, and his best friend, who is in
the process of coming out.
OutUK: Who are some of your favourite authors? What books would you recommend to readers
who liked your book?
Tom: I think anyone who enjoyed my novel might want to read some of the books that
I've loved over the years, stories that inspired me to write long-form fiction:
David Leavitt's novels, for example, or Armistead Maupin's Tales Of The City series.
Nowadays I read everything from Virginia Woolf to Candace Bushnell, Colm Toibin to
Nick Hornby, just to name a few. I don't limit myself to one type of literature any
more than I would limit myself to one type of food.
OutUK: Is there anything you'd like to say to your readers?
Tom: Every day when I read the emails that I get through my website
am amazed and humbled by the passion that readers have for Toby's story. When I got my first
fan email in February of 2004, I realized that having your novel published is about so
much more than being a bestseller or getting accolades or even good reviews. Those
things are wonderful, but it's knowing that you’ve touched someone, and hopefully
enriched their life -- that's what makes it all worth it.
The Trouble Boy by Tom Dolby published by Kensington Publishing is available direct from