Award-winning poet, playwright, journalist, and blogger, Collin Kelley is a writer who rises above labels. And now, with the release Conquering Venus by Vanilla Heart Publishing (August 2009), Kelley has added novelist to his list of titles.
Conquering Venus is a tour de force, a breathtaking tapestry of time, space, character, and events. Like Kelley himself, the novel defies labels. It is a psychological novel and a thriller, a love story and a coming of age tale. And although the plot is fast-paced, shifting back and forth in time and in location, the language is sensual and elegant, reflecting Kelley’s skills as a poet.
I’m thrilled to be hosting one of the e-stops on the Conquering Venus Virtual Tour. To celebrate the event, I’ve asked Kelley a few questions about aspects of the novel that hold particular interest for me.
Conquering Venus tackles some very serious social issues, particularly concerning young gay men. Has the climate changed in the US since 1995, the year the story takes place?
The ‘90s were a decade of hope with Bill Clinton in the White House and evolving attitudes toward GLBT people. That decade saw a monumental push toward gay rights and a refusal to go back in the closet. Businesses like Xerox began implementing policies prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and the visibility of GLBT people was off the chart.
After 12 years of tyranny under Reagan and Bush Sr., being gay or bi-sexual had an almost “cool factor” going, and there seemed to be more freedom to explore your sexuality without repercussions. We went back to the dark ages under Bush Jr., which stunted the forward motion for awhile, but I think what happened in the ‘90s paved the way for what we’re seeing now: gay marriage, full civil rights, adoption, etc.
It always feels like two steps forward, one-step back, especially in the last couple of years. The evolution of the Internet has revealed just how much ignorance, bigotry and hate there is, most of it fostered by right wing Christians, who are – pardon the pun – hell bent on shoving their religion down this country’s throat.
The character of David in Conquering Venus represents that awakening in the ‘90s, but also the uncertainty. Does he have the courage to explore his burgeoning sexuality or will he repress because his Christian parents will disown him? On the other hand, Martin is out and proud, despite the tragedies in his life, and refuses to let society dictate his moral values.
One of the themes I found in Conquering Venus is the exploration of different kinds of love, from physical attraction to love that lasts the ages, and how we fall in love with the essence of the person, not merely the outward expression of the body. Would you say a few words about this aspect of the novel?
The relationship between Martin and Irène is, in my opinion, the greatest part of the story. They are platonic soul mates, who have been together in past lives and will forever be linked despite their age difference. Irène is a combination friend/mother/sister for Martin – the ideal woman for a man who is not interested in women. No matter who Martin or Irene wind up with romantically, their bond will never be broken – tested maybe, but not broken.
The relationship between Martin and Diane is a little different. She had an unrequited crush on Martin, so there will always be an unspoken tension between them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t always going to be friends, but it’s more complicated and temperamental. I have friendships like that in my life, so I was writing from experience.
The scenes in Conquering Venus are very cinematic, the street scenes of Paris stunning and vivid. I’ve only been to Paris once, many years ago, but your descriptions made me feel as though I had an intimate knowledge of the city. From reading your blog, Modern Confessional, your poems, and your recent essay about the French actress Jeanne Moreau in My Diva: 65 Gay Men On the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press), I know you have a longstanding interest in film. How has your love of film shaped your writing style?
Conquering Venus’ first incarnation was in screenplay form, so that has definitely carried over into the novel. I’m drawn to the films by Wim Wenders, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Sally Potter and David Lynch, because they tell these epic, sprawling and sometimes confounding stories. They don’t wrap up their endings in nice little bows or send their characters down expected paths. I look for that in literature, too. Jeanette Winterson, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison and John Irving write in that same cinemascope, so I drew a lot of inspiration from them.
Are there any plans to bring Conquering Venus to the Silver Screen?
It’s available if there’s any directors or producers out there looking for a big budget art film. It is a trilogy, so it could be the next Harry Potter or Twilight saga. There’s even a little magical realism thrown in and I imagine the cast would be pretty sexy, too.
Speaking of film, if you were to cast the role of Martin, which actor do you think would make a good fit?
I have no idea. I’ve cast Diane, David and Irène in my head, but Martin is the toughest call. River Phoenix would have captured him beautifully I think, but alas… .
There’s a strong dream element in Conquering Venus that speaks to me as a reader. How do dreams influence what you write?
Dreams have always been a catalyst for my writing. Some of the sequences in the novel and many of my poems have been drawn directly from dreams. I have these vivid, Technicolor dreams that are often so realistic that when I wake up, I’m not sure which is the dream world. I’ve met complete strangers in my dreams, people that have no association with people I know in waking life. Sometimes, I feel like I go elsewhere in my dreams, almost like I’m living a double life. I keep expecting Morpheus from The Matrix to show up and ask me to choose the red or blue pill.
Will we see the characters Martin, David, Irène, and Diane in future novels?
Conquering Venus is the first book in a trilogy, so all four will return at some point in the next two books, although when, how and why will probably throw some folks for a loop. It’s even surprised me a bit. These characters are totally writing their own story now; I’m just transcribing it.
To read more about Collin Kelley and keep up with news about his novel, visit his new site, Conquering Venus: a novel by Collin Kelley.
Here’s a list of future stops on the Conquering Venus virtual tour:
Here’s the trailer, with lovely images from Paris.