INTERVIEW and GIVEAWAY
Stronger Than This
by David-Matthew Barnes
Stronger Than This is currently on tour with Bewitching Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my interview with the author and a giveaway. You can also read my review. Please make sure you visit the other tour stops as well.
Charlene’s soul mate, Samantha, has been killed in a car accident. Daniel’s partner, Martin, has been murdered in a robbery gone wrong. Seeking comfort, Charlene and Daniel attend a support group where they meet for the first time.
Emotionally devastated and discarded by their loved ones’ conservative families, Charlene and Daniel feel an immediate connection. Rather than reveal their pain to a room full of strangers, they decide to see each other through their shared anguish.
As a beautiful friendship emerges from grief, slivers of new hope are found.
An Unspoken Eulogy
For those of you who do not know me, my name is Daniel Pryor. We are here today to celebrate the life of Martin Thalberg.
Martin was many things to many people, but to me, he was my partner. My soul mate. The absolute love of my life.
I think it’s strange. I’m a man who writes words for a living. I can come up with a winning campaign slogan. I can create the best ad copy in the industry. I can convince you in the shortest amount of time possible to buy a product you don’t even need. But to describe Martin Felix Thalberg to you? To do this wonderful man justice and speak the perfect words to tell you about our love, our beautiful life together, the luminescence of his very magical soul? It is impossible. Words have failed me. And in this time of the greatest sorrow of my life, so has love.
What I can tell you is this: Martin was the kindest man I ever knew. He loved people. He loved life. He loved me. And for that, I am eternally grateful. When I met Martin Thalberg, he was a junior in college. He was twenty-one. He already knew who he was. He was an artist. He was a photographer. He was a gay man. He was the son of a very important woman who was ashamed of him. He tried to keep to himself—he was always sort of an under-the-radar kind of guy—but he was too handsome to go unnoticed. Everyone wanted to know Martin. They wanted to be in his presence. Especially me. From the very moment I laid eyes on him.
I was clueless and fumbling. I had just turned twenty-eight. My life was shit. I was flunking out of grad school and finally coming to terms with the death of my parents. I was accepting the fact I’d turned out to be a major disappointment to anyone I’d ever met. Pure and simple, I was a screw-up. I’d blown shot after shot, chance after chance. I’d depleted every ounce of luck. It was to the point I’d thought about running away somewhere that summer. I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go. Europe. Alaska. Jupiter. As far away from my loneliness as I could possibly get.
Before I met Martin in that university library on that fateful spring day in May, I’d given up on many things. I’d resigned to the fact that true love would always elude me. I would never find someone—a man—who would be satisfied to love me, and only me. It seemed every man I met suffered from the same disease—infidelity. I would never have the type of storybook love my parents had. I would be miserable and unhappy, just like my sister Julie. She just knows how to fake it a lot better than I do. I would forever be the guy everyone felt sorry for, the poor pitiful man who sat alone at dinner parties, who always stayed longer than he was supposed to, the one who just needed to meet the right guy. I’d sworn off blind dates and online hook-ups. Both left me exhausted and angry. Why didn’t I have the same thing everyone else did? Where was my shot?
Lucky for me, love was sitting all alone. As if he was waiting for me to show up. I found him sitting at a table not far from the German philosophy section. His eyes were cast downward, staring intently at the photograph of a painting in a book. It was Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, I believe. One of his favorites. And he looked up at me and said, “Isn’t it beautiful?” And I thought he was talking about the instant connection between us. Because it was there and it was intense and I know we both felt it. So I sat down beside him. I looked at the painting. I looked at his hands. And then into his eyes. Deeply. And I knew.
How can I put into words the beauty of his smile? The gentleness of his touch? The incredible sound of his laughter? How can I stand here and describe to you the way Martin made me feel? The way he made everyone feel? He was an artist who possessed the beautiful ability to capture the poetry and humanity in the world around him through his exquisite photographs. I just hope that today we can do the same for him. Yet I fear it will not happen. We cannot do him justice. No matter who stands up here and speaks to you, we cannot convey the true essence of his being.
Sure, we can try to summarize him in the simplest terms. Martin was a man who loved his friends, his dog, his art, this world, his life.
For the rest of mine, I will never be able to make sense of what happened to Martin on that night in that store. Do the men who murdered him know that the second they decided to pull their triggers, none of our lives would ever be the same? Now we must try to fathom a world without Martin in it. I, for one, find that unbearable to do.
When I leave this church, I will go home. Back to the apartment we shared. Back to our dog Luther, who has no idea when his other father is coming home but for whom he’s patiently waiting. Back to Martin’s clothes that still smell like him. His pillow. His toothbrush. His razor. His favorite cologne. Those black-and-white photographs that were an extension of his brilliant mind. The half-empty yellow cup of peppermint tea he left sitting on the kitchen counter. To all of these things I will return. But I do so alone. Without him. Without the man I’ve woken up next to every morning for the last six years of my life. I go home to silence. To an empty chair where my best friend used to sit. To no laughter. To no touch. To the absence of love. I return to the state I was before the very second I met Martin.
Again, I will become nothing. For without him, that is all that I am.
My Favorite Lines
"There in the middle of the living room, in the center of the greatest tragedy either of us had ever know, [*spoiler*] and I collided gently into a kiss. It was soft and slow, gentle. His lips tasted like cherry pie and coffee and the faint stain of tears."
"Outside, the symphony of a summer night in the city was being conducted. A melody of sirens, car horns, and voices shouting to be heard drifter up from the street below and thumped against the bedroom window, threatening to break inside and rip apart out reverie."
"So I'm going to pretend that God or whoever's up there reached down and scooped you up into his gentle hand and lifted you up. Maybe he heard you singing along with your music while you were driving to work that morning and he knew you'd make the perfect angel. Because God knows that's what you were for me."
By Lynda Dickson
Stronger Than This is an epistolary novel told through texts, emails, Facebook messages, and letters. It begins with a text conversation between Daniel and Martin, his boyfriend of six years, which has a tragic ending. It is followed by emails from Natasha, from the Survivors of Sorrow (SOS) group, to Daniel and Charlene, who has recently suffered the death of her girlfriend Samantha. Daniel and Charlene connect at the group and continue their relationship through a series of Facebook conversations. Natasha also prompts Daniel and Charlene to write letters to their dead loved ones, the only good thing to come out of their SOS meetings. After being rejected by their partners' families, both Charlene and Daniel receives comfort from each other and from other unexpected sources.
Stronger Than This is a very cleverly constructed piece of writing. Through their various forms of communication, we watch Daniel and Charlene go through the seven stages of grief: denial, guilt, anger, depression, the upward turn, reconstruction, and finally acceptance. The author has a great command of the language, making the mundane sound poetic. This was a touching and absorbing read. I look forward to reading more works by this author.
Warnings: coarse language, death, suicide, gay and lesbian themes.
Interview With the Author
Hi David-Matthew, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, Stronger Than This.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
Unlike my young adult titles, this particular book is aimed at adults.
What sparked the idea for this book?
Like many of my readers, I have lost people I have loved. Some deaths were accidental, others were due to illness, and some were self-induced. I wrote this novel from a place of missing people who are no longer here, of trying to understand and process the "why". It's my hope as an author that this novel connects with (and offers some comfort to) anyone who is still trying to come to terms with losing someone they love.
Which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
I’ve been inspired by both. Each of have been starting points for me in the writing process.
In its first form, this particular story was a ten-page play that was produced in Chicago over a decade ago. Only recently did I have a chance to revisit the script. It was then I saw the potential to develop the project into something bigger.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The novel is written in epistolary form, comprised of text messages, memos, online chats, letters, and interviews. It was by far the most challenging writing project I have taken on, but it’s definitely been the most rewarding.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I am very proud of the quality of this particular novel and the message of hope it carries. This is also my first novel to feature a lesbian protagonist. Growing up with two moms, many of the first novels I read were women's fiction, including most of Rita Mae Brown's titles. In many ways, this is a tribute to those books I read as a young person searching for representation and understanding on the page.
It’s really my goal with this novel to provide comfort to those who are grieving over the loss of a loved one.
How long did it take you to write this book?
This particular novel took a little over a year to write.
What is your writing routine?
I write every day. During the week, I’m up every morning by five o’clock, sitting at the computer in my home office. On Saturdays, I will typically write until noon. Sundays I usually write in the afternoon.
How did you get your book published?
I work with a wonderful publishing company in New York called Bold Strokes Books. They have published ten of my novels to date.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
The teacher in me says to study your craft. You owe it to your writing and your readers to know about technique and style. It is very important to write as often as possible. Frequency not only makes you a stronger writer, but it can help you strengthen your voice and lead you to discoveries about your work.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
When I'm not writing or teaching, I'm often traveling to literary festivals and writing conferences to talk about my work, meet readers, and instruct writing workshops. For fun I love watching classic movies. I also love playing board games, reading a good book, or just spending time with my family and friends.
What does your family think of your writing?
My mother knew from an early age that I was passionate about writing. When I was thirteen, she bought me a typewriter to encourage me to pursue a career in it. I taught myself to type and the rest, as they say, is history. My father has dabbled in writing poetry. He published a chapbook of his work when I was young. I have four younger brothers. One of my brothers is very involved in music and photography. Another is an artist. They’re very talented.
Without a doubt, the person is my family who had the greatest influence on me was my maternal grandmother. I spent a lot of time with her when I was very young. She really encouraged me to be creative. We often put on shows in her living room and made up fun stories. My childhood consisted of imaginary tea parties and soap operas, thanks to her. She always instilled in me that anything was possible. This is something that’s always stayed with me.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I was born and raised in California. I grew up primarily in the city of Berkeley. I also spent some time living in Sacramento. Today, I live in the city of Denver.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Yes. When I was young, I discovered my mother’s collection of Nancy Drew books. I read the entire series. I was fascinated by the sense of mystery and solving a crime. I also read a lot of young adult fiction, particularly Judy Blume, Norma Fox Mazer, and Lois Duncan. Anyone who reads my work will see the influence of those authors. At the age of twelve I read every Jackie Collins book I could get my hands on. She knows how to tell a great story – especially a glamorous one. Later I discovered Dorothy Parker and Jane Austen and fell in love with their words.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I was 13 years old, a woman named Norma Fox Mazer changed my life. Growing up, she was one of my favorite authors. My eighth grade world was lit on fire when it was announced she would be making a guest appearance at our school. After some serious campaigning to the junior high powers that be, I was one of the few students selected to have lunch with her in the library. I was beyond thrilled, having read every book she'd written. Although I was terribly star struck, I bravely showed her a section of a short story I was working on at the time and told her how much I wanted to be a writer. Norma Fox Mazer scanned over the first page and informed me, "You already are." Two years later, I published my first short story. And the rest, as they say, is history.
That's fantastic! Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Yes. I was a very imaginative child. I wrote my first short story when I was seven.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I really love the classics. I find myself constantly going back to books like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey and authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams to study the brilliant architecture of how and what they wrote. There's so much to learn from them. In terms of contemporary literature I really admire the works of Hubert Selby Jr. and Jo Ann Beard.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Anytime someone connects with something I’ve written and they let me know this is happened, it serves as a wonderful reminder of why I write. I often hear from young people who are struggling with their identity and have found comfort or representation in my words and characters. Those messages mean more to me than anything as a writer.
That's great. What can we look forward to from you in the future?
My next book is a young adult novel called Fifty Yards and Holding, which will be out in August. It’s about the unexpected friendship between the star of a high school baseball team and the leader of a violent street gang. The two men end up falling in love even though everything in their world stands against them. I’m currently writing a new young adult novel called The Marijuana Mermaids. It’s about three girls in high school who make a pact to see how much they can get away with. It’s an exploration of female rebellion. I'm also working on several new stage plays and screenplays.
Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to stop by today. Best of luck with your future projects.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss my work.
About the Author
David-Matthew Barnes is the bestselling author of ten novels, including the young adult novels Swimming to Chicago and Wonderland, which were nominated by the American Library Association for their annual Rainbow Books, a list of quality books with significant and authentic GLBTQ content for children and teens.
He is also the author of a collection of short stories, Boys Like Me, and two collections of poetry, Roadside Attractions and Souvenir Boys. He has written over forty stage plays that have been performed in three languages in eight countries. Collections of his theatrical works include Deuces: Stage Plays for Two Actors, Monologues That Kick Ass, You Think You Know Us: Stage Plays for Teen Actors, and more. He is the writer and director of the feature film Frozen Stars and the dramatic short film Threnody.
His literary work has been featured in over one hundred publications including The Best Stage Scenes, The Best Men's Stage Monologues, The Best Women's Stage Monologues, The Comstock Review, and The Southeast Review. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina.
He teaches college courses in writing, literature, and the arts.
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