TNA: Hi, Jake, thanks so much for being here with us today. Why don’t we start out by having you tell us a little bit about yourself? Hobbies, interests, odds and ends things that make you, you.
JW: Lisa, let me begin by telling you how much I appreciate being invited to be a guest on your blog. As “A White Coat is My Closet” is the first book I’ve ever published, this whole experience is proving to be quite an odyssey.
Let’s see, how can I succeed in telling you odds and ends about myself without making it sound as if I’m placing a personal ad? I’m one of those people who invariably find that there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I’d like to. In my real life I’m a pediatrician and have both a very busy medical practice and serve on a whole host of committees. My free time is splint between participating in a bunch of different activities. I used to snow ski professionally so one of my outdoor passions still includes hitting the slopes in the winter. I’m also a big dog enthusiast, love to travel, relish an opportunity to sit down with a good book, am an insatiable foodie, and believe that chocolate and red wine are among the best things in life. (I might also consider saying that I enjoy long walks on the beach but then I’d have to throw in candles and make it a date!!)
TNA: Who would you say was your biggest supporter when you began writing creatively?
JW: Definitely my partner. We’ve been together fourteen years. Between our professional obligations and social commitments, our lives can get pretty crazy. He recognized that for me, sitting down to write really represented somewhat of a reprieve from some of the chaos we tend to surround ourselves with. He created opportunities in our schedule to allow me some protected time to sit quietly in front of the computer. It’s really been wonderful. Additionally, I have two friends with whom I shared my desire to write a book. When I had completed few more than twenty pages, they read them and were subsequently relentless in encouraging me to keep writing. So, depending on what you think of my story, they either deserve a debt of gratitude or the burden of guilt!
TNA: A White Coat Is My Closet is your debut novel. What inspired you to write the story? Would you say any parts of the story are auto-biographical?
JW: It’s hard to say exactly when I first felt inspired. Writing a book has always been one of the things on my bucket list. When I hit fifty and was forced to acknowledge that my life was approaching the downhill slide, I thought why not start? And so, with a burst of enthusiasm, I began the project despite having no clue what I was going to write about. The progress was initially sure and steady and then, at about the forth chapter, I suddenly found myself thinking; “Shit, four chapters down, probably twenty-two more to go.” I wasn’t sure that I had twenty-two pages left in me much less whole chapters. Worse, I still hadn’t even begun to work out a storyline. Things came to a screeching stand still.
What occurred over the subsequent months was surprising. Despite trying desperately to give up the idea of writing a book, I somehow couldn’t shake it. Somewhere, in the deep recesses of my mind, the whole story started coming together. My novel is a work of fiction but it ends up describing issues that are exceedingly important to me. Because in my real life I’m a pediatrician, I’m extremely passionate about providing health care to children in a compassionate and loving manner. In addition, I’m a gay man who grew up in a small community and really struggled with accepting who I really was. Somehow, the combination of those two life experiences found a voice that evolved into a story.
That being said, is it autobiographical? The line between my own experiences and fiction sometimes got a little grey. I laughingly tell my friends that I’m neither as brilliant as Zack nor am I as emotionally insecure. I started my career working in pediatric intensive care so have taken care of a lot of really sick kids. The medicine part of the story was easy given that there is never a shortage of stories about kids. It was just a matter of melding a bunch of real patients into a fictitious few. All of my patients invariably made an impression on my heart so it was really more a matter of relating the feelings I had than it was writing about actual experiences.
Writing about Zack’s struggles with his identity was both personal as well as generic. I think any gay man remembers struggling with issues of self-esteem; the anxiety of what people would think when they discovered “the truth”. I’m delighted that our societal views are evolving but when I grew up, there were no gay role models. Being gay was essentially viewed as something to be ashamed of and being called a faggot was the ultimate insult. So, while the story is fiction, the concept of rising above the oppressive stigma perpetrated by society is something that is not only still relevant today, but is something that I think resonates with every gay man. Remember that it was just five years ago when you couldn’t turn on the television without being assaulted by pro prop 8 ads essentially saying that it was an abomination to be gay.
TNA: Do you remember the moment the idea for the story struck? Where were you and what were were you doing when it happened?
JW: When the idea struck, it came more in the form of a backflip. Like I told you, I had written a few chapters without really having decided what the book was going to be about. Then one day, I was driving home from the hospital just after having seen a patient in the emergency room. From out of the blue, I imagined exactly how the book was going to end. The last few chapters kind of began writing themselves. I remember finding the experience distracting. I was torn between concentrating on traffic and listening to the dialog playing in my head. As that moment, it became clear to me that the chapters I had written would be the beginning of the book and the chapters in my head would be the end. Then, it was only a matter of filling everything else in between.
TNA: Did you tell anyone about it, or did you keep it fairly close to the vest when you started writing the book?
JW: Funny you should ask. I really only discussed my writing with my partner and with the two friends I mentioned before. I guess I was hesitant to share my intentions because I wasn’t convinced that I would succeed in finishing it. In addition, having never taken a creative writing class, I was apprehensive about the fact that I had no worldly idea what I was doing. As a result, I worried that even if I did finish, the final product would represent little more than a compilation of meaningless drivel. So, I kept pretty quiet. When I ultimately scribed “the end” to the final page of my manuscript. I thought, “Now what?” Kind of deciding that nothing ventured was nothing gained, I carefully read the submission formatting requirements for Dreamspinner Press. On the one hand, they had published some of my all-time favorite books. On the other hand, I didn’t think that my manuscript had a snow ball’s chance in hell of being accepted. Then, one afternoon when my partner and I were taking a vacation weekend in the desert and I found myself feeling particularly impetuous, I hit the send button. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would receive a congratulatory letter from the editor-in-chief informing me that they would be delighted to publish my book.
TNA: You’re donating all the royalties from the book to the Los Angeles Homeless Youth Project. What prompted you to choose this particular organization to benefit from the sales of the book?
JW: You’re going to be sorry that you keep asking me questions that require I tell a story. Maybe you can advertise that my interview is a sure fire cure for insomnia!
I have been indescribably fortunate in my life and I fervently believe that good karma is best when shared. Because I never expected that my book would amount to anything more than a stack of wrinkled papers in the back of my closet, to me, getting it published represents a twist of good fortune. I want to play my good fortune forward. When someone purchases a copy of my book, they are not only lending their support to my dream of becoming an author but they are also contributing to improving the lives of homeless gay teens.
For me, it was kind of an easy choice. I have been committed to the work done at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center for more than two decades. When I was a pediatric resident, one of my mentors was the medical director at the center. During that time, I began volunteering in one of the clinics that offered services to adolescents. It is estimated that of all the nation’s homeless youth, forty percent of them identify themselves as being either gay or lesbian. It’s a staggering statistic. I have devoted my professional career to the health and well-being of children and adolescents. When I decided that I wanted to see the royalties from my book go towards supporting a good cause, it was a natural decision for me to again turn to the center. I appreciate their commitment to meeting the needs of a population that remains near and dear to my heart; high risk gay youth whose future might be made better just by being given a chance.
TNA: In a bit you’re going on a journey to help other children, tell us some more about that?
JW: Lisa, thanks so much for asking about my upcoming adventure. I’m travelling with a group of doctors and health care professionals to Tanzania, Africa. They’re a great bunch and this will represent their sixth trip. The subspecialties represented include infectious disease, plastic surgery, general surgery, orthopedic surgery and anesthesia. Because their itinerary includes providing medical care to children in remote orphanages, not having a pediatrician in attendance has historically represented significant challenge. This year, I’ve decided to accompany them. I look forward to having the opportunity to “give back” and suspect that my clinical skills will really be put to the test. We will be carrying all our medical supplies with us and won’t have the luxury of any sophisticated diagnostic equipment. With little exception, it will only be me, my bare hands and a stethoscope. I have no doubt that it will be a life altering experience and that I will return a changed person with an even greater appreciation for the wonderful life I have.
TNA: You recently attended your very first GayRomLit in Atlanta. What was your most memorable moment from the event?
JW: That’s an easy one. Despite this being my first book, I’ve been an avid reader for years. Many of the authors who attended GayRomLit (I won’t mention any names for fear of inadvertently excluding someone) are among my all times favorites. It was such a privilege to be able to meet them in person and to be able to really dialog with them. It enabled me to ask them not only from where they drew inspiration but how they succeeded in maintaining their literary productivity. I was also able to get a glimpse into some of their personal lives to better understand how they managed to juggle writing along with their other careers. It was educational, inspiring and motivating. In addition, it was a blast. Those folks know how to party!!
TNA: Those of us who don’t write tend to picture authors sitting down at the PC and effortlessly laying down a story start to finish. How much prep-work actually went into the righting of your book? Would you say you’re a plotter or a pantser?
JW: You look up the word pantser in the dictionary and you see my picture. (in fact, I was frequently so uncertain of exactly what it was that I intended to write that on any given day, you might catch me without any pants on at all!!)
The wonderful aspect of my personal journey was that I wasn’t under any deadline. I was writing for pleasure. Sometimes my ideas flowed beautifully, sometimes a couple hours at the keyboard failed to produce an intelligible paragraph. I think I learned a lot in the process. I know my writing needs to be more streamlined. I suspect many readers may ultimately feel that I tend to ramble. (are they getting that impression now?) I have ideas for other books and am optimistic that I’ll succeed in applying what I’ve thus far learned towards improving future projects.
TNA: Would you say you were more nervous submitting the manuscript, or is waiting for reviews to come in the more nerve-wracking part of the process?
JW: I just nervous period. The irony is that I’m not accustomed to being such a wreck. As a physician, though I’m FAR from infallible, I’m usually pretty confident. I guess twenty years of experience and working hard has its benefits.
As far as the “whole book submitting process” goes, I’m a basket case. Despite the fact that it’s mostly fiction, putting my story on paper ended up feeling like an intensely personal effort. Writing about insecurities, self-doubt, and a character’s frailties, meant really putting my heart on the line. Submitting it for publication seemed to be the equivalent of inviting my dreams to be squashed and waiting for reviews it reminiscent of running down the street naked with the expectation that a bunch of strangers are going to critique my “junk”. It leaves a guy fearful that what may perform perfectly well in private may fail to rise to the occasion under public scrutiny.
Are you now completely convinced that I’m neurotic?
TNA: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received with respect to writing?
JW: When I decided to write a book, the only solid piece of advice I was given was to “write what you know.” As a result, the book was initially a description of some of the experiences I had during my years as a pediatric resident. But, in the process of beginning to write, I remembered with absolute clarity that two things were actually occurring simultaneously during that period of my life. Certainly I was working to try to become a competent doctor but I was also falling in love for the first time. Though the story is indisputably a work of fiction, once I began writing about my early life in medicine, it was impossible not to also include something about my first foray into a meaningful relationship. The experience was too momentously important. As anyone who has ever been in love can attest to, when it happens for the first time, you’re consumed by it. What subsequently happened was sort of unexpected. I ended up writing a gay romance novel. The story continues to contain a strong medical element but I think the human element ultimately ends up taking center stage. As a consequence, the book is probably much better than it otherwise might have been. At least I hope your readers will think so!
TNA: If you could sit down to dinner with one person, past or present, who would it be, and what’s the one question you’d love to ask that person?
JW: Having just returned from Atlanta, I think I’d like to sit down with Martin Luther King, Jr. Given that he was one of the biggest champions for civil rights I think it would be fascinating to hear his take on our current political climate.
DOMA was just recently determined to be unconstitutional. As a community, gays and lesbians have been fighting an arduous battle for equal rights for decades. None of us are asking to be given special allowances, we just asking to be given the same considerations and protections afforded to every other segment of our society.
Sometimes, the disparities in the way our country treats its citizens in appalling. One of the charities I contribute to is the LA Gay and Lesbian Elder Housing. There are so many examples of couples who have lived together for years in affordable housing; both drawing from their social security benefits. Then, when one of them dies, the surviving partner can no longer pay the rent on a single income and ends up getting evicted. When the government doesn’t recognize their union, the surviving partner isn’t eligible for any of the deceased’s benefits. Tragic!
It would be interesting to hear Dr. King‘s commentary about situations such as these. Civil rights? Human rights? How much have we really evolved and to what extent are we still waging the same battles?
TNA: Do you have any other works-in-progress or ideas for anything you’d like to write in the near future?
JW: I currently have two projects in the works though I’m trying to take a different approach with these. This time, rather than being an unadulterated “pantser”, I’m trying to better plot out the sequence of these stories. One involves Rone, a runaway teenager who was turned out by an abusive father but who still has dreams of becoming a doctor….(do you think I’ve beaten the medical theme to death?) And the other…..wait for it……has nothing to do with medicine….. it’s the story of a ski instructor hoping desperately to find someone to keep him warm of the frigid slopes. Wish me luck!!
TNA: Where can readers find you on the internet?
JW: If your readers like my book, I can be reached at either:
or via Facebook at:
If they don’t like my book, please have them direct their correspondence in care of Santa Claus at the North Pole! :)
JW: Here is a short excerpt from A White Coat is my Closet. As I previously described, Zack sees Sergio in the gym weeks before he actually meets him. In this section, Zack has just finished a long shift in the hospital and despite being exhausted, stumbles into the gym determined to work out. In the process of trying to convince himself not to succumb to the fatigue he’s feeling and just blow the workout off, he sees Sergio on the bench next to him.
The inner dialogue consumed so much of my attention that I initially didn’t notice the guy working out on the bench next to me. In a split second, however, I was captivated. He was resting between sets. He appeared not to have a care in the world and seemed completely oblivious to anything going on around him. A little white wire wound itself from the iPod attached to his bicep up into his ears, and he seemed totally immersed in the music he was listening to.
Taking my cue from him, I tried to play it cool and pretend I hadn’t noticed him. In truth, however, I was taking in the whole picture, hoping that it would be permanently imprinted in my brain. He was about five foot ten and probably weighed a muscular one hundred and eighty-five pounds. He had perfect hair that, despite being messy, framed his face perfectly. He had an olive complexion and a five o’clock shadow that further accentuated his tall, dark, and handsome looks. As he mouthed the lyrics to the song coming through his earbuds, he parted his lips to reveal perfect teeth. His chest was a sculpted mound of muscle that tapered down to a thin waist. He had narrow hips but his thighs had great definition, and they were capped off by a solid, firm, round butt. Short, curly dark hair covered his legs and also peeked out over the tank top covering his chest. In a word: incredible.
Suddenly, the fatigue I had been feeling just a second before evaporated. Enthusiasm began to course through my body, giving me a renewed surge of energy.
I lay down on the bench and again grabbed the bar above me. Despite having put another ten pounds on each side of the bar, I pumped out another fifteen reps effortlessly. I was winded but felt invigorated. I sat up to rest and tried to inconspicuously divert my gaze over to the bench press next to me. The guy was in the middle of a set. He had two forty-five pound plates on each side of the bar but was pressing two hundred and twenty five pounds with seemingly minimal effort. I heard him whisper “twelve” under his breath, then he flipped the barbell back onto the rack. He took a deep breath and then sat up. In doing so, his gaze briefly caught mine. For a microsecond, he held my gaze. A smile flashed quickly across his face, and then he diverted his attention back to his workout.
I was exhilarated. He had smiled. Was that a sign? Was it an invitation that I could casually say “hi”? Maybe even ask for him to spot me on the next set so I could try to push some impressive weight? If he consented to spot me, I could use the opportunity to initiate a conversation. My mind begin racing through my repertoire of clever one-liners. Had to be something subtle, innocuous. Something clever and engaging but not something that could be interpreted as a come-on. An obvious come-on in the gym was not only uncool but gave the impression of being desperate.
My back was to him as I added another forty-five pound plate to one side of the bar, then, feeling a little self-conscious, I stacked on an additional twenty-five. Now each side of the bar would have one hundred and fifteen pounds. I looked at it a little apprehensively. I knew I was capable of lifting it but also had to concede I was tired and not at my physical peak. I mentally calculated the risk. I didn’t want to embarrass myself and have the bar come crashing down onto my chest, but if I mustered the courage to impose on him to spot me, the weight on the bar had to be enough to warrant asking for help.
At that moment, feeling a surge of self-confidence, I decided: I would ask him for a spot. If he consented, I’d casually say something like, “You look like you’re in pretty good shape. Do you work out here often?” An innocent question, beautifully framing a subtle compliment, which, most importantly, might be the opening to an engaging conversation. I put the lock on the end of the bar, sealed my resolve, and then pasted an appropriate expression of indifference on my face. I didn’t want to appear too eager. Rehearsing the request over in my mind, I began to slowly turn. I aspired that my tone would be inviting and sincere, but not give the impression of being too desperate.
When all systems were a “go,” I turned completely around, expecting to catch him sitting on the edge of the bench, resting between sets. My anticipation fizzled. In the interval that I had spent changing the weights and preparing my perfect line, he had moved on. I searched the gym desperately. He had vanished. For a few seconds I began to wonder if maybe, in my sleep-deprived state, I had just imagined him. Was I losing it? Had I fallen asleep on the bench and was Adonis just a product of my dreams?
I was about to give up when, on the far side of the gym, I saw him doing pull-ups. The stream of relief that swept over me was quickly replaced by a feeling of self-consciousness and anxiety. Striking up a conversation with him sitting next to me would have been easy. It was going to be impossible to walk across the entire gym and try to catch his attention without looking like a stalker.
THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED