Friday, August 8, 2014

Indie Spotlight: Jessica Null Vealitzek

Almost every author, at some point in their career, will find themselves writing books from points of views that are foreign to them. A female author narrating her novel from the POV of a middle-aged male. A male author writing from the POV of a single mother.  And every author worries if they are coming across authentic enough, if they can truly get inside that characters head and portray them appropriately. 

Today, Jessica Null Nealitzek takes a look at a similar question. Can she convincingly write a gay character? Take a look at her thought process as she worked on her novel The Rooms Are Filled..... 

Can a Straight Person Write a Gay Character?

I’ll admit, I was uneasy from the start. My novel, The Rooms Are Filled, is loosely based on a true story centered on the friendship of a nine-year-old boy and his closeted teacher. The fact that the teacher, Julia, is a lesbian is central to the story. But I worried—could I treat her sensitively enough? Could I accurately portray what it might feel like to be gay and in the closet? Might gay audiences brush me off as a straight person trying too hard or not hard enough?

The discomfort continued through the writing of my first solid draft. And my second. Beta readers kept responding, “I want to see more of Julia. What drives her? What’s her deal?”

I was avoiding her—so worried was I about somehow offending anyone. I was too worried to write Julia well.

Then one day, I had a simple realization: I’m not a nine-year-old boy, either. I’m not a single mother, or a father, or a cop, all of whom make appearances in the book.

Julia, like several characters, is a person struggling to accept herself. “Well, ok,” I thought. “I can relate to that.” And then, for me, the writing took off.

The response from readers, both gay and straight, has been wonderful. Some in the industry, though, are having a harder time placing my book. It doesn’t fit neatly on either side of LGBT or Otherwise. One industry person told my publicist, skeptically: “It’s a gay book written by a straight person.”

I don’t know, and I don’t care, whether the person who said that is gay or straight.
The implication, though, is clear: I don’t know what I’m talking about. I wonder, though, how J.K. Rowling knew how to write about wizards? And do you think James Patterson has actually murdered people?

My dad always told me to imagine what it might be like in someone else’s shoes.  Growing up, I often actually did this: I’d close my eyes and imagine a scenario and try my hardest to see it, smell it, feel it. I think very often this is the first step toward becoming a writer.

Isn’t that what we writers do? We observe, we stand in someone else’s—or our own—shoes, and we feel. We learn what we think is worth learning, and then we write it and try to help others know, too. At our best, we create understanding. So that you can say, “I’ve been there, too,” and she can say, “You’re not alone,” and he can say, “I see. Now I get it.”

We entertain, yes. But in the greatest sense, we writers create understanding—for our readers and for ourselves. We don’t write only what we already know, we write what we want to know. We close our eyes and find the parts that unify us, and extend a hand. Even a sliver of understanding is better than nothing, and worth the try.


Jessica Null Vealitzek is the author of the coming-of-age novel, The Rooms Are Filled. She lives and writes near Chicago. You can find her online at

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