Author Jim Provenzano, whom I sometimes work with at San Francisco's Bay Area Reporter (Provenzano is the nightlife editor), is a hopeless romantic. He's also a staunch advocate for people with disabilities. In his 2012 novel "Every Time I Think of You," he chronicled the tender love story of Reid and Everett, two young men who fall deeply in love during the late 1970s. Everett, a paraplegic, is confined to a wheelchair, while Reid is fully able-bodied. The boys also come from opposite sides of the tracks — Everett is from a wealthy and influential family while Reid's parents are working-class.
Provenzano, a 2012 Lambda Literary Award winner, tells a heartfelt tale of how the boys met, fell in love and Everett lost the use of his legs soon after. Their relationship, and their love, was put to the test as Everett rehabilitated himself.
The couple returns in "Message of Love,” a just -published sequel in which readers find Reid and Everett in college. It's the early 1980s, and their love is tested once again.
Provenzano chats with SFGN about his enchantingly romantic and thought-provoking saga.
How would you describe the Reid/Everett stories to potential new readers?
"Every Time I Think of You" is a romantic novel set in various towns in Western Pennsylvania in 1979. While it has an almost corny plotline, boy meets boy, something bad happens, but they find a way to stay together. I like to think that I found a way to rethink the contemporary gay romance.
In the sequel "Message of Love," Reid and Everett go to college, first together, then separated at different universities in Philadelphia. Their attempt to sustain their passion and create the idea of a home together become their challenges, as well as the encroaching AIDS epidemic, which becomes a part of their lives in a surprising way.
What do you want readers to learn from the stories?
I don't expect people to learn anything, except whether I'm a good writer or not! Even though the story has what could be, in the wrong hands, a sort of "Afterschool Special" theme, I deliberately chose to make it more explicit, with smart teenage guys who are self-aware and intelligent. They encounter a lot of difficulties but find ways to work it out. I suppose the "message" is obvious from the second book's title.
What inspired you to write these stories? Are they based on real people?
The first four chapters from "Every Time I Think of You" are from a sequence of dreams I had in mid-January 2011. Thank goodness it was a weekend because I woke up at five in the morning, cranked up the coffee and wrote for about six hours. At first I thought I had a short story or a novella, but I didn't stop. I decided to give myself a deadline of 500 words a day. It's really not that much, considering that I write twice that much at work each day. I then decided to give myself to the end of the year to finish it.
Are they based on real people?
In parts. Physically I could point out a few celebrities or high school crushes, but they are each only a part of who the characters became. I let the characters do what felt right.
Is there acceptance of disabled people in the LGBT community?
That's a big question and should be answered by someone who's dealing with a disability. I've gone out to gay bars with gay and straight wheelchair-using friends, and people have been polite. They deal with bumps and curbs quite well.
But there are still examples of horrendous discrimination by able-bodied people. I follow several Facebook groups, which chart the news of innovations as well as images of stupidly designed ramps and terrible abuses. It's quite amazing. The first thing anyone should stop doing is call people "wheelchair bound.” That's a stupid, antiquated term. And yet lazy writers in corporate media continue to use those terms.
July 2014 is the 25th Anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Can you address the importance of this law?
When I was researching this pair of novels, I bought and read a lot of history books and essay anthologies about disability rights. I couldn't help but compare it to my own AIDS activism: how people fought, their techniques for turning anger and protest into action. What was frustrating for me is that the setting for both books is before the ADA, so I had to avoid a lot of anachronisms. Things are more difficult for Everett, but it's as if the future is at hand for them, meaning more accessibility.
Anything you'd like to add?
Support independent authors and bookstores!
"Every Time I Think of You" and "Message of Love" are available in print and Kindle editions. All five of his novels are available on Bookshare.org, a site for visually impaired readers.
More info: www.Facebook.com/JimProvenzanoAuthor and www.JimProvenzano.blogspot.com