JW; I’d like to start by asking, have you always wanted to be a writer? And what gave you the idea for By Way Of Sorrow?
RG; “Always” is probably not the right term, but since around the age of 25, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I started my first manuscript around 1980. I never finished it and it sits in a briefcase to this day, but that’s when I first had the itch to write. As to where the idea for By Way of Sorrow came from—after a 30-year hiatus, I started writing again in 2010. Around 2014, I finished a manuscript, which resulted in me finding an agent, who was shopping that manuscript around (thankfully it never sold). Since I had some time, I reread To Kill a Mockingbird. It had been a long time since I had read it and I had forgotten just how much of the story involved the trial of Tom Robinson—a young Black man in 1930s Alabama accused of raping a white woman. As I read it, I was frustrated because I wanted to know what Tom was thinking—he had to know he had no chance with a jury of all white men. But the whole book is told from the point of view of Scout, a six-year-old girl. As a result, we never get into Tom’s head or hear his point of view. So, I decided I wanted to write a novel involving a crime that dealt with race, gender identity, and the inequities in the legal system, where the accused had very little chance of being found not guilty. That’s how I came up with the basic story—a young trans woman of color (Sharise Barnes), accused of murdering the son of a very rich and powerful politician. But I quickly realized that couldn’t tell the story primarily from Sharise’s POV because I’m not a trans woman of color. However, since I am an attorney and a trans woman, I could come at the story from that perspective and that’s how Erin McCabe was born.
JW; How important is it for you to see transgender and members of the LGBTQ+ community written as lead characters in mainstream fiction?
RG; To me, it’s huge. LGBTQ+ people, and trans people, in particular, are marginalized in so many ways and so often when they do appear as characters in fiction, they’re there as nothing more than a prop or a victim. I wanted to normalize trans people because we are normal, despite rarely being portrayed that way. And while I think it’s critically important for LGBTQ+ folks to see a positive representation of themselves, I think it’s even more important for cisgender, heterosexual individuals to get an accurate representation of who we are and not an image distorted by the media or politicians.
JW; I adored Erin McCabe so much and found the legal side of the book really interesting and easy to understand, how much of Erin McCabe is you?!
RG; While Erin McCabe is not me, she certainly reflects many of my values and attitudes. It’s not a secret that I drew on some of my own experiences both as an attorney and as a transgender woman in developing her as a character, but I also took pains to make sure she’s not me. Erin is a young, attractive, and fearless woman—I’m not.
JW; As a child growing up, were you an avid reader or watcher of television? Did any part of your childhood make you the writer you are?
RG; Yes, I was both an avid reader and, although I don’t watch a lot of television now, I certainly watched a fair amount growing up. I guess the difference between the two, at least for me, is that television is visual and leaves nothing to the imagination. When I watch television or see a movie, I feel like I’m merely an observer, not a participant. Whereas, again, for me, a book is more participatory because I’m using my imagination to see the scene the author created and to visualize how the characters look, so I feel like I have a more active role in the story. As to whether any part of my childhood made me the writer I am today, I honestly can’t think of anything.
JW; As we’re now in November, which books that you’ve read this year have been your favorite? OR which are you most looking forward to?
RG; HELL OF A BOOK by Jason Mott—truly an amazing book!
JW; Do you have a favorite author or favorite book of all time?
RG; I won’t say that I have a favorite author, but my favorite book of all time is CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller. I read it when I was about 15, and it changed my view of what a novel could do. It was tragic, hysterically funny, satirical, and had a profound message. I had never read anything like it. The first manuscript that I started 40+ years ago was designed to be the CATCH-22 of the legal profession. Who knows, maybe I’ll still write that story.
JW; Have you ever been starstruck by meeting one of your heroes in real life?
RG; The answer is no. Not because I wouldn’t be starstruck, but because I’ve never had the opportunity to meet one of my heroes.
JW; What is something you are passionate about aside from writing?
RG; My family. I know it may sound a cliche, but there is nothing more important to me than my kids, grandchildren, siblings and, although we have been separated for 14 years, my wife. I’m also passionate about my role as an advocate for the transgender community.
JW; If you could go back in time, to one historical event, to witness it, what would it be and why?
RG; August 26, 1920, the day that the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, giving women the right to vote, became official. There was no huge celebration, but it was still a monumental historical event.
JW; Can you share a shelfie (photo of your bookshelf) with us?
RG; See Above – You’ll be sorry you asked. I’m shopping for new bookshelves.
JW; You can pick 4 famous people, dead or alive, for a dinner party, who would you pick and why?
RG; Barack and Michelle Obama, because they are two of the most intelligent and inspirational individuals I have witnessed in my lifetime.
Christine Jorgensen was the first famous transgender individual in the US. I’d love to discuss with her what her experiences were like.
Jesus, because there is no one more famous and I would love to meet the historical Jesus, find out what he truly believed in, and discuss how he feels about what has been done in his name over the centuries, up to the present day.
JW; What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
RG; Be yourself. It was given to me as advice on how to handle myself in a courtroom, but it is advice that I have tried to apply to all aspects of my life.
JW; What’s next? When can I read Erin McCabe 2? (I cannot wait!)
RG; Erin McCabe book 2, SURVIVOR’S GUILT, comes out as an ebook in the UK on March 16, 2023, the same day the paperback of BY WAY OF SORROW is published in the UK. SURVIVOR’S GUILT has been out in the states since January 2022, and book 3, REMAIN SILENT, comes out in the states on May 23, 2023. I’ve just started work on Erin McCabe book 4, which remains untitled.
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