Research, experience fuel for young adult novel

Aniko Nagy

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Jamaica Plain resident Steven Goldman is the author of an acclaimed young adult novel about a teenage boy and his gay friend.

How does a Jamaica Plain man in his mid-40s living with his wife and small sons in a home with no television write a novel filled with pop-culture references about the struggle of a teenager to grow up with a gay best friend in a conservative town?

“It took a little work,” said Steven Goldman, author of “Two Parties, One Tux, and a Very Short Film about The Grapes of Wrath,” in a recent interview. The young adult novel published by Bloomsbury is currently being sold in hardcover and came out in paperback on Sept. 1. “It was more spot research than anything else,” he said.

Research included time poring over prom web sites. Well, what middle-aged father of two young sons doesn’t want to know the latest in teenage haute couture?

Goldman chuckled good-naturedly as he talked about the research he had to do for “Two Parties.” It wasn’t always easy for him to keep up to speed on the necessary information to write a convincing young adult novel.

“I tried not to get too many popular references in there. It took me a long time to write the book, and I found that a lot of references that I had that were pop references when I began the book were out of date by the time I finished it.”

Ten years of on-and-off writing of a single work can do that. But for Goldman, it has been worth it, with reviews like this one from the School Library Journal: “A side-splitting slice of male adolescence, this novel turns the spotlight on the ridiculousness that is the average, contemporary American high school experience.”

“It’s really exciting for me,” Goldman said.

The great reviews are for a book with passages like the following:

“Sometimes a man got to do what he got to do. At seventeen, your mother can no longer choose your deodorant for you. I make my stand in the personal care aisle of Walgreens, ready to decide what kind of male I really am…I take a deep breath and choose a high-endurance gel that sounds masculine…I then put it back on the shelf and instead take the same spray that my mother bought me last time….”

The novel takes place in the South. And it was from personal experience that the idea for it was born. In the book, the best friend of the protagonist, Mitchell, acknowledges to him that he’s gay. Mitchell struggles with this knowledge throughout the novel.

“The initial premise of the book came from an experience I had in high school with a friend of mine who came out. That was in the 1980s in North Carolina,” Goldman said.

Even though JP, which Goldman describes as “a very friendly place and interestingly diverse,” is in some ways very unlike the setting of the book, Goldman said he finds a contemporary relevance in the experience the book describes. “I think it’s an issue in a tremendous number of places…. I think it’s still realistic.”

To have his first novel-length work published and received well is impressive. But Goldman isn’t stopping there. He is now working on his next young adult book. In it, a young man devises a plan to pay his parents back everything they ever spent on him and to do it by working in an amusement park.

Research just got even more fun.

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