Eowyn Wood
Eowyn Wood

Award-winning author Eowyn Wood dishes about her debut novel, Naked in the Rain.

Author Eowyn Wood’s debut novel, Naked in the Rain, is rife with queer teen drama: a troubled boy named River and a piano prodigy named Brian, one gay, one bisexual, forge a bond after surviving a suicide attempt and abusive homes, only to find themselves in the land of milk and honey (aka Los Angeles) smack dab in a seductive web of sex, drugs and power. With a lesser writer, it’d be a clichéd trappings of a tired plot, but in Wood’s deft hands the book is like a Rorschach test, asking readers to determine whether it’s a modern subversive fairytale or a gritty post-gay drama.

Naked has won several awards, including the international 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards in the GLBT category, charming readers not just with its readability but with the built-in soundtrack (each chapter includes lyrics from musicians ranging from Tori Amos and PJ Harvey to the Cure).

Like one of her main characters, Wood says she “moved around a lot as a kid, so I don’t really feel like I’m from anywhere. She’s called Portland, Ore., home for 12 years (”I absolutely love it!”), where she lives with her partner, three cats and a Chihuahua.

“We’re thinking about expanding our family in the near future—as in, having kids,” Wood smiles. “I want to get the sequel out, then we will see about that.”

Wood, the daughter of a very creative stay-at-home mom (she was also a writer, opera singer and piano player and both parents were voracious readers) was influenced by her parents in both literature and music (Wood herself plays the flute in a local band and a bit of guitar and piano as well). They also left the wordsmith with another marker of her lit roots: a name inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien.

By day she works with a local AIDS service organization, which, “is really rewarding and fun and sometimes emotional and sad”  and at night she’s busy working on a follow up to her debut, which takes place immediately after the book. We caught up with her at Portland’s Q Center for the low-down on her literary leanings.

I thought Naked in the Rain had a really lovely My Own Private Idaho feel to it. What do you think of that kind of comparison?

I love it! Love that movie and Gus Van Sant. I did name the character River in honour of River Phoenix. His death was the first, and only, celebrity death that I felt affected me on a personal level. It’s interesting to see how some things influenced me subconsciously—when I go back to watch a movie like My Own Private Idaho or read a book, such as Cry to Heaven, and see similarities with Naked in the Rain that I didn’t realize exist.

You’re an over-30 bisexual woman writing about gay teen boys. Was there inspiration for your characters or pure imagination?

Well, a little bit of both. First let me say, one of the boys is gay but one is bisexual. I am always disturbed by the lack of bisexuals portrayed in media entertainment. I don’t know where it came from, except my strange mind. I did get some initial inspiration by listening to lyrics from the alternative rock group Placebo. The singer is openly bisexual—the lyrics, too.

One of the features of Naked is how it feels like it was written with a soundtrack in mind. Were you actually listening to all these great bands as you wrote?

I don’t listen to music when I’m actually writing, but I certainly listened a lot at other times working on the story: sitting on the couch working on the outline, driving and thinking about the story, etc. Sometimes the music would give me ideas. All that stuff mills around the subconscious. You never know what will pop up.

You have lyrics from the Cure, Tori Amos, Placebo, PJ Harvey, Smashing Pumpkins, Bauhaus and more. Why these bands?

Mostly because while listening to music I would hear a lyric phrase that really fit in with what was happening in the story. So they ended up being a lot of my favourite bands since that’s what I was listening to. And the main character, Brian, is a big fan of Robert Smith and the Cure. Music is important to him, so that’s another reason it made its way into the story.

Naked is set in Los Angeles, where you used to live. Does the sequel take place in the Northwest?

Yes, partly. The sequel starts out in L.A., but then moves around and finally ends up in Portland. I really love it here, so it was a lot of fun to write about the area—and hopefully will be fun for local readers, too.

What can you tell me about the sequel? Had you planned to follow up with those same characters when you wrote Naked?

Before I even started writing either book, I had the whole basic story in my head, through to the end of the sequel. I originally intended it to be one book, but it got to be so long I cut it in half. So it’s really one story cut into two books. I wrote initial drafts of the whole thing, both books before I went back to work on getting Naked in the Rain edited and published. There’s no time break between the two books–-the sequel picks up literally the next morning. But I do think it goes in some unexpected directions.

There is one misconception about the book, right?

A lot of people assume, because of the age of the characters, that Naked in the Rain is young adult fiction. But it’s not: it has adult themes and adult content.

What did you learn from writing your debut novel?

So much! It’s my first real writing venture, so a lot was just learning to be a better writer, though of course, that’s an unending process. It also gave me a better feeling of self-worth. Like I’d always been searching for “who I am,” and once I started writing, I didn’t feel like I was searching for that anymore.

What has surprised you the most?

How much work it is. You always hear that, but until you do it, you have no idea.

Since you used to be a Los Angeles resident, any visions of going Hollywood with River and Brian? Turning Naked into a screenplay?

Of course, in my fantasies, I would love that. Although it’s such a long and sometimes complex story, it would probably be better as a series on Showtime. I have no plans to actually try to make either of those things happen any time soon, though. No time, plus I’m not sure it’s realistic, considering the controversial ages of the characters.

I love that you’re named after a character from The Lord of the Rings. Were your parent’s early fans or lit professors or what?

My parents were, and still are, huge Lord of the Rings fans. My sister was born before they read the books, or I’m sure she’d be Arwen or something. My parents actually read the books aloud to us as children, so again, there was a huge influence even though I didn’t read the books myself until I was older.

What’s next for you?

First priority is to finish the editing process for the sequel and get lyric permissions. I also need to take a couple of research trips before we finalize the sequel. Oh, and settle on a name: it’s tentatively titled The Afterglow but that’s not firm yet. It’s due out in early ’09, so we’re a little behind. Once we finally get it out to the public, I’ll hold some more reading events, but mostly I want to take a break! I’ve been working on the story of Brian and River pretty much non-stop since January 2000. Time for a vacation.