ERIE — Author Julian Jones may live in Los Angeles, but his heart will always be in Kansas, where he was born and raised. His debut novel, Bohunk’s Big To-Do, is set in Erie, KS, where Jones grew up.
The novel features protagonist Bo Mickey, who has run away from home to get away from his mother, who just married his boyfriend. That synopsis may sound like heavy material, but Jones describes his book this way: “First and foremost, I wrote this book to be a fun and sexy read–easy entertainment–endearing characters–a conversational rural voice–humor derived of quirky characters and small-town values.”
Liberty Press recently spoke with Jones about his debut novel.
Liberty Press: You’ve lived in Los Angeles for 20 years. Why set your first book in the Midwest?
Julian Jones: Growing up gay in rural Kansas, I wanted to read books about guys like me. But so much LGBT literature is set in big cities. And when I was growing up, most gay characters were either ashamed or victims. That never interested me. I wanted to read about gay protagonists in rural settings who liked themselves. I made do with the strange characters and derelict settings of Southern Gothic fiction, and I came to love that genre. That off-kilter humor is still my favorite. Bohunk’s Big To-Do is borne of that. I couldn’t find the book I wanted to read, so I wrote it myself.
LP: The idea first came to you in the mid-90s. Tell us a little about that journey.
JJ: I initially thought I would write it as a screenplay. I’d had some success with stage plays at K-State and I was newly arrived in L.A., so I was trying to conform to the medium. But I got distracted. I needed to be young in my new city. Next thing I knew 20 years had passed. I wish I’d gotten the story on paper sooner, but I had a lot of fun killing time.
LP: Your protagonist gets distracted too, doesn’t he?
JJ: He does. Bo Mickey’s been hurt by the two I people he loves most. His mom recently married his boyfriend. That’s his focus. He’s hurt, and sometimes he’s vengeful, and he’s 22-years old so he’s always selfish and horny. These preoccupations keep him from seeing everything that’s happening around him.
LP: In literary terms, Bo Mickey is what’s known as an unreliable narrator. Tell us more about that.
JJ: A narrator can be unreliable for different reasons. In A Clockwork Orange, he’s a sociopath. Holden Caulfield is an admitted liar. Bo Mickey is neither malicious nor dishonest. He’s naive and not very bright. He tells his story in earnest, it’s very important to him, but even so he sometimes jumps to the wrong conclusion or lets his pride color the facts. Sometimes he withholds the truth intentionally because he doesn’t want to admit his own blame in it. Most of the time, he’s just too single-minded. Meanwhile, a whole second story unfolds around him that he doesn’t see at all.
LP: Why is it important that Bo not see the whole story?
JJ: Bo isn’t able to ingest all of the facts and still resolve his problems from a place of truth. He’s too impressionable. A couple times early on, when he thinks he has made up his mind about Mom and Troy, it’s because of what someone else said or did. If he were to have all the facts, the choice he makes at the end of the book would be a reaction to that. Who Bohunk Mickey really is would still be a question mark, to the reader and to himself.
LP: Readers find themselves in a unique position at the end of Bohunk’s Big To-Do. They know more than the protagonist who narrated it.
JJ: Bo will get there eventually, when he’s ready, just like we all do. It’s never too late to look back on things differently. A little more experience, a little more maturity, and everything we thought we knew takes on a different meaning. It’s the big to-do that lingers well after we’ve closed the book.
By Ciara Reid, staff reporter