Scroll down or follow the links below for answers to general questions about No Going Back, information about the writing process, and questions about story details.
What’s This Book About?
Questions About the Writing Process
Questions About Story Details
• In a nutshell, how would you describe No
• What would you like this book to accomplish?
• Who’s the intended audience for No Going Back?
• Is No Going Back a young adult novel?
• Is No Going Back family safe?
• Does No Going Back have a happy ending?
In a nutshell, how would you describe
No Going Back?
This is a coming-of-age story about Paul, a 15-year-old Mormon boy living in western Oregon in 2003, who is attracted to other boys. The story starts with him coming out to his best friend Chad — also 15, also Mormon, but completely straight.
The rest of the book follows the next year and a half in their life
and the life of their parents, as Paul tries to find a balance between
his feelings and his wish to remain a faithful Mormon. Over the course
of the story, the news about Paul being same-sex attracted becomes
known to an increasingly wider circle at both school and church. The
latter part of the story is told against the backdrop of a 2004
political campaign about same-sex marriage in Oregon.
What would you like this book to accomplish?
Tolkien said it best: “The prime motive was the desire of a tale-teller to try his hand at a really long story that would hold the attention of readers, amuse them, delight them, and at times maybe excite them or deeply move them.” In short, I hope you find this story engaging and come to care about my characters and what they go through.
Other purposes are an extension of that. I’d like to see more understanding for what those who are same-sex attracted and Mormon go through, and how those who are around them can support them in this challenge.
One of the best compliments I’ve received was the comment from my old professor Steve Walker from BYU: “I suspect much of the appeal of the narrative for others as for me will lie in its ‘this is part of life’ naturalness, in the goodnatured refusal (like the bishop character) to be prissy or unrealistic about gay realities.” I’d like it if reading this book would help people, and especially Mormons, to see same-sex attraction as an ordinary — if challenging — part of life for some people.
Who’s the intended audience for No
My primary intended audience for this book is believing Mormons who are doctrinally orthodox, but relatively liberal in their reading tastes and tolerances — by which I mean that they’re willing to read a story that’s a little more realistic about what it’s like to be a teenager than typical novels you’d find in an LDS bookstore.
I’m hoping the book will appeal not only to those with connections to gays (e.g., family members who are gay) but also to those — bishops, other leaders, and just ordinary folks — who may wonder what it’s like to be same-sex attracted in the Church, and how the rest of the LDS communitycan support those who face this challenge.
Is No Going Back a young adult
Not really, if by “young adult novel” you mean a story that’s primarily for teenage readers. It’s true that the central character is a teenager and that most of the novel revolves around issues in his life. However, my primary intended audience wasn’t teenagers. I prefer to call No Going Back a coming-of-age story.
Is No Going Back family
If this were a movie, I’d rate it a PG-13, both for language (which actually is toned down from what teenagers use in my experience) and for some scenes that deal with sexual themes and situation. Most of the book isn’t like that, but I honestly don’t see how I could write a story of this type without dealing with those kinds of realities.
I’m quite sure there’s nothing in this book that teenagers won’t already have encountered on their own. If a teenager picks up this book and finds it interesting, I’d let him or her read it.
Does No Going Back have a
If I had to sum it up in one word, the word would be bittersweet. Paul’s gone through some hard times and experienced real losses by the end of the book. But he makes it through — sadder but wiser, as the cliches have it. And the people who are most important to him stand by him through it all.
Some readers don’t find the ending fully satisfying. Certainly there are some elements of Paul’s story that aren’t really resolved, but are left for the future. I would say that the ending is realistic, difficult, but with elements of hope going forward.
• What’s the story behind your writing of No
• What was the actual writing like?
• Is No Going Back based a true story?
• Is No Going Back based on your life?
• Is the setting for No Going Back a real location?
• Are the characters in No Going Back based on real people?
• What were your sources of information for the story?
• Why did you choose to publish with Zarahemla Books?
• What’s your next writing project?
What’s the story behind your writing of No
Back about 2002, there was a conversation on AML-List, an email list sponsored by the Association for Mormon Letters, about homosexuality and Mormonism.
Rex Goode, an AML-List member who is also one of the relatively small number of Mormons who is both an active member of the Church and open about his same-sex attraction, made the interesting point that those in his situation — those who experience such attractions but are committed to staying in the Church — typically aren’t understood or accepted terribly well either in the Mormon church or in the gay community.
That’s not a perspective that’s been widely represented in Mormon literature. There are plenty of stories and personal narratives about those who have left the Church because of homosexuality, but not so many about those who stay in the Church — though sheer numbers alone suggest that there must be a fair number of them.
About the same time on AML-List, we’d been discussing some of the tough topics Mormon young adult literature tackles, like drugs and mental illness and child abuse. Someone — I think it was me — asked if there had been any young adult Mormon literature that treated same-sex attraction in a matter of fact way, as an ordinary part of life: the type of thing you might find out about your best friend. No one could think of anything.
Thinking about all of that gave me the idea for a short story that might start with a teenager coming out to his best friend and end with him being publicly outed. Basically, I had the front end and back end of what eventually became the novel. I didn’t try to write it at that time, though.
Fast-forward six years to Christmas 2007. I’d decided to put more effort into my creative writing, and was thinking about several stories that had been sitting in the back of my mind. One of them was the gay Mormon teen coming-out story, as I thought of it. Suddenly the idea occurred to me that the gay teen’s bishop might be his best friend’s father. More ideas flowed from there, and soon I realized I had the makings for a novel.
What was the actual writing like?
Exhausting! But fun. If you want to know more, go read a series of blog entries that I wrote titled The Writing Rookie over at A Motley Vision website.
Is No Going Back based a
Is No Going Back based on your life?
Is the setting for No Going Back
a real location?
Not really. I created Arcadia Heights, Oregon, because I didn’t want to be tied down to the specifics of any particular real place. At the same time, I tried to make the setting as realistic as I could.
Are the characters in No Going
Back based on real people?
Mostly not, although some specific incidents are taken from real life. For example, Chad’s memory of Paul tripping as he came down from passing the sacrament on the stand is based on something that happened to me as a deacon. (And yes, I wanted to die.)
What were your sources of information
for the story?
I did a lot of research. Arcadia Heights was my own fictional invention, but as best I could, I modeled it after what a community in that time and place might be like. For more about my research, go to The Writing Rookie #4: R&R (Research and Recordkeeping).
Why did you choose to publish with
No Going Back is a deliberately Mormon book, meant to communicate experiences that are in some ways general but also in many ways specifically Mormon. It seemed unlikely to me that a national audience — or a national publisher — would be terribly interested in this kind of a story. It also seemed to me that in order to reach Mormon readers, it would be most effective to work with a publisher that focuses on the Mormon market. However, given the subject matter and the relatively frank and realistic way I wanted to approach it, I doubted that the more mainstream LDS publishers would be willing to touch it — at least, not without a lot of changes I’d prefer not to make.
I’ve known and respected Chris Bigelow (owner and operator of Zarahemla Books) for a number of years, both through interacting with him on AML-List and seeing his work on projects such as Irreantum, the Mormon literary magazine that he founded, and Mormonism for Dummies, which he coauthored and which I reviewed in manuscript form.
Chris’s stated goal with Zarahemla Books is to publish “provocative, unconventional, yet ultimately faith-affirming stories that yield new insights into Mormon culture and humanity.” That’s a good description of the niche I feel No Going Back falls into. Looking at the books Chris has published and the way he’s promoted them, I thought it was a good match for what I wanted to do. I knew that if the story was good enough, Zarahemla Books was a place where it could be published. The fact that such a place existed was an important motivation in my decision to write the book. So far, I’ve been very pleased with the way things have gone with Chris and Zarahemla.
What’s your next writing project?
Don’t know. There are several story ideas that I’ve been floating around for a while, mostly science fiction and fantasy. I’m currently in the process of exploring several of those ideas to see where they take me.
• Paul says he’s known he was gay since he was 13.
How realistic is that?
• How is Paul’s mother able to accept him being gay so easily?
• Paul’s bishop seems to treat his problems with the law of chastity pretty much the same as if his experience had been with a girl instead of another boy. Why is that?
• After what happened between Paul and Jared, is it realistic for Paul’s bishop still to be talking about him going on a mission?
• Would Paul really be prevented from becoming an Eagle Scout just because he’s gay?
• How realistic is the way Paul’s treated at church and school after he’s outed?
• In the book, people don’t talk very much about the possibility of Paul’s orientation changing — for example, through reparative therapy or other approaches with a goal of reducing same-sex attraction. Why is that?
• Why does Paul move away at the end of the story?
• Isn’t it a step backward for Paul to go back in the closet when he moves to Utah?
• What lies ahead for Paul?
• Will there be a sequel?
Paul says he’s known he was gay since he
was 13. How realistic is that?
There seems to be a lot of variation in the age at which people become aware of which gender they’re attracted to. Some people claim to have known as long as they can remember. Others don’t realize until college. Based on my research, 13 seems to be a relatively common age for this.
How is Paul’s mother able to
accept him being gay so easily?
I don’t think it’s nearly as easy for Barbara as her reaction may seem. Her highest priority, though, is making Paul feel okay about it. Her real feelings show a little more after it’s over, when she’s alone in her bedroom.
Unfortunately, we don’t see an awful lot of Barbara in this story. It might be interesting to write something primarily from her point of view one of these days...
Paul’s bishop seems to treat his
problems with the law of chastity pretty much the same as if his
experience had been with a girl instead of another boy. Why is that?
From a perspective of worthiness, I’m not sure there’s any major difference between an incident of fondling between two boys and one between a boy and a girl. To the extent that there is a difference, it seems to me that it would lie in the area of emotional investment and implications for the future — whether something like this might make it harder for Paul to live a life of complete abstinence going forward, with respect to avoiding homosexual physical and romantic relationships.
There’s a big difference in how we as Mormons address homosexual attraction, versus heterosexual attraction. Heterosexual attraction is allowed and even encouraged, under certain restrictions. We provide church dances and encourage dating, at least partly as a way for young people to start becoming comfortable with their feelings of attraction to each other while not acting on them in inappropriate ways. And of course we hold out marriage as a circumstance in which heterosexual desire can be righteously satisfied. None of this is true with respect to homosexual attraction.
How this should affect the way a bishop might treat issues of sexual sin is hard to say. It seems counterproductive to make repentance harder for Paul than it would be for any other young man in an equivalent circumstance. A spiritually sensitive bishop would also be alert to dangers related to self-worth and feelings of despair that are especially likely in cases of same-sex attraction. All of this, it seems to me, would encourage the bishop to be personally supportive and to keep the young man as actively involved in the Church as possible — particularly in a case such as Paul’s where he’s come forward on his own with genuine remorse and a desire to do better. At the same time, Paul’s repentance process would certainly involve staying out of situations where he might be tempted to experience and act on these desires in the future.
After what happened between Paul and
Jared, is it realistic for Paul’s bishop still to be talking about him
going on a mission?
The LDS Church’s official website on same-gender attraction makes it clear that simply experiencing such attraction does not disqualify someone from serving a mission. As I understand it, current policy is that homosexual activity during the last three teen years (or later) normally disqualifies one from missionary service. Paul, however, is 15 when these incidents take place. Assuming that he lives a worthy life going forward, there’s reason why he wouldn’t be able to serve a mission.
In cases where a young man is worthy, I’d think a bishop would be
eager to encourage him to serve a mission, even if he’s same-sex
attracted. It’s the kind of testimony-strengthening experience that is
likely to be at least asimportant for someone who is facing this kind
of challenge. And working toward a mission as an eventual goal could
help provide the motivation for someone like Paul to avoid such
incidents in the future.
Would Paul really be prevented from
becoming an Eagle Scout just because he’s gay?
As of May 26, 2009, I found the following text on the Boy Scouts of America Legal Issues webpage:
“Boy Scouts of America believes that homosexual conduct is inconsistent with the obligations in the Scout Oath and Scout Law to be morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed. The conduct of youth members must be in compliance with the Scout Oath and Law, and membership in Boy Scouts of America is contingent upon the willingness to accept Scouting’s values and beliefs. Most boys join Scouting when they are 10 or 11 years old. As they continue in the program, all Scouts are expected to take leadership positions. In the unlikely event that an older boy were to hold himself out as homosexual, he would not be able to continue in a youth leadership position.”
There’s some ambiguity there. The first sentence mentions “homosexual conduct,” but the last sentence mentions “hold[ing] himself out as homosexual.” So it seems likely that self-identification as homosexual could in some circumstances be enough to prevent someone from being a youth leader.
In light of this policy, it seems plausible to me that a local board of review might interpret a boy being “publicly known” to be gay — and not denying it when asked — as evidence of unfitness to be advanced to the rank of Eagle Scout. Whether that decision would be upheld on an appeal to the Council level or the National level is something I couldn’t begin to guess.
How realistic is the way Paul’s treated
at church and school after he’s outed?
Hard to say. I’d like to hope that the youth in a Mormon ward might be more supportive than what I’ve shown, but I don’t think there are any guarantees.
I should also say that Paul’s situation isn’t necessarily as bad as
he thinks it is, and is partly of his own making — as Janice notes in
the scene from her point of view in chapter 23. Most of the kids aren’t
antagonistic; they’re just avoiding him, for a variety of reasons
including Paul’s own self-isolation.
In the book, people don’t talk very
much about the
possibility of Paul’s orientation changing — for example, through
therapy or other approaches with a goal of reducing same-sex
attraction. Why is
Results of therapy that is intended to change or reduce homosexual orientation appear to be mixed. As Elder Wickman stated in an interview on the LDS Church’s Public Issues webpage on same-gender attraction, “This is an issue that those in psychiatry, in the psychology professions have debated. Case studies I believe have shown that in some cases there has been progress made in helping someone to change that orientation; in other cases not.”
Why does Paul move away at the end of
It’s natural, I think, to want to see Paul triumph in his circumstances. I don’t think that’s terribly realistic, however, from several perspectives.
First, as Paul’s mother realizes, most of what Paul is going through is due to things he can’t change. They’re external pressures. Changing Paul’s external circumstances really will help matters for him. Moving to a place where Paul isn’t out, where he doesn’t have history with a group like the GSA, and where emotions aren’t being riled by a political campaign about gay marriage is going to immediately improve his qualityof life.
Second, staying to deal with the fallout of being outed isn’t going to help Paul in the areas where he needs to develop personally. At the end of the story, Paul’s made a choice to try to be a faithful Mormon despite his same-sex attraction. Being publicly out isn’t essential to figuring how to do that. In fact, it’s likely to be an added challenge — especially with the situation as it’s developed in Paul’s ward and school.
Finally, Paul isn’t the one who gets to make the decision. Given the character of Paul’s mother as developed in the book, I can’t imagine her choosing to stay once it’s become obvious that the situation is damaging her son. Remember that she’s already been in one situation (her previous marriage) where the right answer was to get out. I suspect she’d have little patience for the notion that Paul should stay and try to “tough it out.”
Isn’t it a step backward for Paul to
go back in the closet when he moves to Utah?
It’s certainly possible for someone to remain active and committed in the LDS Church while still being publicly “out” as gay. However, I think it’s a tough row to hoe, especially in high school.
An essential part of classic gay coming-of-age stories, from the ones I’ve read, is the main character coming to accept his (or her) identity as gay and then publicly coming out. The public coming-out is both a sign of inner self-acceptance and an assumption of public identity — rooted in the perception that being gay is a critical part of one’s personality, and that any healthy self-definition must therefore include both seeing oneself as gay and being seen and accepted as gay by others.
The orthodox Mormon view of homosexuality is rather different. Homosexuality is seen as essentially an affliction of the spirit and/or body — not as an eternal part of one’s personality. That being the case, insisting on it as a key part of one’s public identity is (from a Mormon perspective) basically misguided.
It’s my perception that the vast majority of those who are same-sex attracted and Mormon aren’t publicly out. Partly, I suspect this is because of the sense that it’s easier to be a faithful member of the Church if everyone around you doesn’t know this is something you’re struggling with.
In the case of Paul, I think it’s important that he has the support of people close to him who know about his situation and accept him anyway. It’s also important that he come to terms somehow with the conflict between how he feels and what he believes: a process that in many ways he’s only just started. Neither of these, however, requires a public gay identity for Paul.
What lies ahead for Paul?
A mission and BYU, definitely. Beyond that, I’m not sure.
There’s a point in the story where Richard tells his father-in-law that what worries him isn’t so much the choices Paul will make when he’s sixteen as the choices that lie a few years down the road.
It’s my perception that the mid-twenties are a critical time for many Mormon men who are same-sex attracted. Up to then, the accepted path is pretty much the same as for those who are heterosexually attracted. After these men get off their missions, though, they face some hard choices. Will they take the risk of getting married? How will that work out? Is it even possible for them emotionally? If not, how will they manage a lifetime of celibate loneliness? Most teenagers are too preoccupied with trying to establish an independent adult identity to even think about those issues in any depth, let alone work toward resolving them.
What does all this mean in Paul’s case? I don’t know. All I can really say for sure is that there’s still a lot ahead of him with respect to coming to terms with being same-sex attracted and Mormon.
Will there be a sequel?
I doubt it. So far, I don’t see anything in Paul’s future that would make a natural focus for another book. That could change, though.