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Young gay writer Tom Dolby was born in London, but grew up in San Francisco. His first novel The Trouble Boy was published to critical acclaim last summer and it's now available in paperback. Powerfully written and keenly felt, it's a truly exciting read about going after what you want without losing yourself in the process. OutUK correspondent Josh Aterovis has been reading it and talking to Tom.
The Trouble Boy is Tom Dolby's much acclaimed debut novel. At first glance, one might be tempted to write it off as a frothy gay version of a chick-lit book -- a sort of gay Sex In The City.

While there's plenty of sex, fashion, pop-culture references, and name dropping, there's also a lot more happening beneath the surface. At heart, this is a book about a young man finding himself. Dolby writes with great flair and wit. You come to care deeply about his young protagonist despite his mistakes and bad choices.

The Trouble Boy buy online at Amazon The Trouble Boy is available online from Amazon in the UK.
Even at his worse, you fully understand Toby's motivations -- a true testament to Dolby's skill. Dolby himself is a young writer, and I recently had to opportunity to ask him a few questions about his life, his beliefs, and his book.

OutUK: A bit of background first, tell us where you live, where you grew up, and any other background that might help readers know you a little better.

Tom Dolby: I was born in London, and I grew up in San Francisco. I currently live in New York, in the West Village, where I've been writing full-time. Assuming that they're not filming the latest Sex In The City knock-off on my block, the peace and quiet of this part of town makes it a nearly perfect place to be a fiction writer. Tom Dolby
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 www.tomdolby.com, I 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 Amazon

 

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