Author David Jay Collins is experiencing some sort of a ubiquitous feeling as of late. Why is that? The acclaimed writer had a great amount of success with his fantastic first novel Gaybash, which profiled a character named Matt and how he stood up to his attackers in many different ways. With that success not only behind him, but within him, David is ready for the next chapter (pun, indeed) of his career with his new novel that hopefully will be one of the biggest LGBTQ themed books this fall and beyond.
For me, and many other people, David Jay Collins is an aesthetically pleasing kind of dude with the kindest disposition behind him. This sort of attitude helps with the level of caring and thought process behind Gaybash, and will undoubtedly be the same with his next novel Summerdale, which once again has an LGBT themed to it, but this time it is all things horror. Gives a whole new term to “Reading Rainbow”, right?
We first caught up with David two years ago, when Gaybash was all still coming together in the public eye and so much has happened since then. David chats with us at Manhattan Digest about the reaction to Gaybash, the personal impact it’s had on his life, all about his new book “Summerdale”, and what we can expect from this talented guy moving forward. Take a look!
What’s the reaction been to your first novel, Gaybash?
The key reaction is that readers feel an emotional connection to the characters and story. Which is amazing, as an indie author, because the book was rejected over and over. I felt it was a strong story and could find an audience. So instead of taking No for an answer, I chose to go the DIY route and self-publish. Authors today have so many paths to bring their work to market and manage it on their own terms. It’s the hardest route of course, but it’s also the most satisfying. And I’ve found a reversal in the old thinking that if a book is self-published, it’s no good. Since I did this on my own, when I talk about the book there’s also a story behind the book and I think that gives Gaybash additional depth.
What I’ve heard from gay men mostly is that they identify with main character Matt, who doesn’t feel like he fits in the gay community. Matt has always played safe and hasn’t really tested himself in life, in a way that would build his confidence. That changes through the story. Men, both gay and straight, have also identified with the lopsided relationship between Matt and his best friend Greg, whose A-List privilege both attracts and repels Matt. For anyone who identifies with Matt, his journey is both emotional and exhilarating. And that’s how I wanted it to end: that Matt, and the reader, both live in a world of possibility.
One thing that surprised me early on was that women enjoyed reading Gaybash. But hearing why they enjoyed it validated something I set out to do differently with my contribution to gay fiction, a genre that often reduces female characters to stereotypes. The three main female characters in Gaybash are strong, and they stay strong right to the end of the novel. (And yes, it’s unnecessary and redundant to say “strong female.”) Women who read Gaybash also told me they enjoyed the dialogue and complex relationships among characters. It’s a dialogue-driven novel and I worked on each character’s speech pattern so that when there’s a rapid-fire group conversation the reader would know who was speaking. That female readers felt I got the female characters right is an incredible compliment.
You told me how you got a personal message from someone who was profoundly impacted by the book. Can you tell our readers a little bit more about that?
Not long after I released Gaybash [as an e-book in 2014] I started receiving messages from readers who opened up about the bullying and abuse they endured growing up. It broke my heart. I have no idea how these men got through their childhoods. There are violent attacks in the book, and though Gaybash is fiction, the circumstances around the attacks are firmly rooted in our reality.
So I replied to readers who messaged me and as I gained their trust, I learned that the challenges Matt faced helped them release some of the pain they’d buried. It was astounding that I could connect so intimately with someone I didn’t know. And that’s when I decided that writing would become my creative focus. I respond to every message, whether it’s “Hey cool book!” or “Your book was there for me exactly when I needed it,” which is the message I received very recently and it became the focus of my video post. For a long time I’ve felt that once a reader opens up the first page, the story no longer belongs to me—it’s the reader’s. And for this particular reader, this novel gave him hope. Messages like that encourage me to keep writing, because creativity is consequential. In my vid, I encourage everyone to bring their own voice out into the world. Because you never know how your voice will help someone else. Why keep that in?
I also see you are doing some sort of “live” updates about some of the characters in “Gaybash” at the end of this month. What is exactly happening? It sounds exciting!
The action in Gaybash starts the Thursday evening before Memorial Day, so on the evening of Thursday, May 25, I’ll start posting on the Facebook fan page exactly when and where the action is taking place with pics and live updates such as “Right now, Matt and Greg are leaving their gym. Do they know what lies ahead?” or something like that. On Friday in the novel, when the characters are having lunch at Roscoe’s, around Noon on the 26th I’ll post a pic of Roscoe’s with dialogue from that scene with Matt and Mara. Same for Sidetrack on Sunday and when Matt is running errands on Broadway. It’s fun to surprise readers with “live” updates through the holiday weekend and add some fresh backstory. The posts are also a great way to promote the small businesses in [Chicago neighborhood] Lakeview, where Gaybash takes place.
Some of the novel’s backstory includes my friends, who inspired many of the tribute characters. Last year, I asked them to make their own posts and they shared really inspiring pics and vids. I posted those “live” as well, exactly as their characters came into the story, so the people behind the characters spoke for themselves. Everyone signed on to do it again so I can’t wait to see what they come up with. I hope to do this every year as a way to honor some amazing people in my life.
So this is all culminating with the release of your second novel, which is awesome! Tell us more about it.
Summerdale is a horror novel about addiction: four gay men, four addictions, one landlord from hell. It’s set in [Chicago neighborhood] Andersonville, not far from Lakeview, where Gaybash takes place. Summerdale is a cross-street in the neighborhood, and it’s also the name of a rooming house run by a friendly-seeming landlord named Mr. McGreevy. In each chapter, the story follows one tenant as he enters the house and slowly surrenders to his addiction under Mr. McGreevy’s deepening influence. Does Summerdale House exist? It’s certainly real to the tenants who live there.
I’m serializing the novel, releasing the first chapter as an e-book in October of this year and the next two chapters on a mystery timeline in 2018. I like the suspense of waiting for the next chapter—it’s something Mr. McGreevy would do! I’ll release the fourth and final chapter in October of next year along with the complete ebook and paperback versions. Those who support my Kickstarter will get some nice bonuses with it.
For the cover artwork of Summerdale, I’m very excited to partner with artist TD Collins [no relation], who writes and illustrates his own graphic novel series, Occultation (I’m the model for The Hammer in Occultation III). TD has an amazing eye for detail and context and each ebook chapter will have its own cover that depicts the character. I’m very proud to debut the Summerdale full-novel cover with Manhattan Digest!
What do you hope your fans (and new ones) will take from this? Will it be similar to Gaybash?
It’s fiction and it takes place in Chicago, but that’s about the only connection Summerdale has to Gaybash. Each chapter will have something to satisfy a horror fan’s taste: suspense, grindhouse, graphic sex, supernatural, and the sweet tension of characters slowly surrendering to Mr. McGreevy. But above all, Summerdale has a strong narrative and I hope that at times, readers forget that it’s horror, that the characters and situations just feel “normal.”
And there’s the real horror of Summerdale. What I hope readers take away is that enablers like Mr. McGreevy are real, and they’ll stop at nothing to gain your trust, isolate you, and finish you. Many of us know someone like Mr. McGreevy. The most frightening scenes I’m writing aren’t the slasher scenes but the ones where he’s the friendliest, kindest person you’ve ever met and you just want to open up and spend more and more time around this sweet old man. And unfortunately, that’s what each character does.
Tell me more about the special events you are doing for the new book this coming October. You seem to be full of surprises lately!
Thanks for saying that, Ryan! My celebration for Summerdale will be in October of next year when I release the final chapter with the complete ebook and paperback. I’ll do a few readings here in Chicago and also on Facebook Live this October and November. But before then, I’ll launch the Kickstarter in June and I’m very excited to have a tent at Northalsted Market Days on August 12-13. I can’t think of a better place to promote my new book and sell copies of Gaybash, since so much of the story takes place right on Halsted Street.
Once Summerdale is on its way, it’s back to my artwork. Since high school I’ve made artwork from paper. All handmade. Some are houses, birdhouses, even a box for a sorority pin. When I was finishing Gaybash in 2014 I was also finishing a piece for Chicago House’s art auction. It was a challenge to work full-time and also have two big projects on a deadline, but that’s when I realized my writing and artwork can be complementary. When the dialogue wasn’t flowing, I’d go pick up my X-acto knife and cut out some roof tiles. When I made a mistake with a window or something, I’d go back to Gaybash and suddenly the dialogue flowed again. I like having several projects going on at the same time. My next piece with be more sculptural in form, and will test my cutting skills! I enjoy challenges.
You have such an optimistic and upbeat sort of personality, which rings true in what you write. Where does that come from?
I appreciate that! I try to keep my posts upbeat. It comes from being introspective, from knowing where my strengths—and limits—lie. There’s a lot in the world that angers me but it doesn’t go on my social media. It goes into my writing. Posts fade. Books last.
In Gaybash, when that truck pulls up alongside Matt and Greg, it’s as threatening today as it was three years ago, maybe more so because of the current political climate. But by the end of the novel, Matt isn’t living in fear, he’s fully embracing his whole self and that’s one helluva journey for anyone. It’s from that point of confidence and self-awareness that I try to make every post, whether it’s Instagram or something on the fan page, to encourage others to bring their own voice and vision into the world. We need that now, desperately.
On Instagram, I show a lot of sunsets and, well why not, a few gym selfies. But I post a lot of flowers. It’s not just because I think they’re beautiful. It’s because they withstand resistance. Wind, frost, heat, rain, lack of rain. And still, every day, they open up to a waiting sun. If a flower is eaten by a rabbit or stomped on or cut away for a bouquet, fuck it. At least that little seed tried. Against every threat, it tried, and it never gave up on living in truth. That’s optimism. And that’s why I post them.
In closing, what are you most hopeful about in the future?
I’ll turn 46 this month and I’m grateful for the confidence I’ve found in my 40s. I’ve often thought that my own story parallels Matt’s—from middling self-confidence to finally believing that I can do anything I set my mind to. With Summerdale I’m commenting on the evil in the world today, but I live every day in gratitude—for my parents and family, my faith, my friends, my job, and the confidence that comes with sharing my creativity with others.
I’m hopeful about small business, something I support not only over the Holidays on the fan page but also every chance I get. For Indie Bookstore Day, I thanked three Chicago bookstores that carry Gaybash: Women and Children First in Andersonville, Bookie’s in Beverly, and Unabridged Bookstore in Lakeview. Shop local! Our dollars count, and we need to support the businesses that support us.
I’m very hopeful for our future but we have battles to fight and each of us has to find our own way to contribute, to speak out, to stand up. And I hope that my writing does exactly that.
For more information on David Jay Collins, check out his official links below!