WIPs Conversation: Vic Sizemore on his work in progress

vic sizemoreVic Sizemore’s fiction is published or forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, Southern Humanities Review, The Good Men Project, Connecticut Review, storySouth, Sou’wester, Blue Mesa Review, Real South, Superstition Review, A River & Sound Review, [PANK], and elsewhere. Excerpts from his novel The Calling are published in Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Prick of the Spindle, Burrow Press Review, Pithead Chapel, Letters and elsewhere. Sizemore’s fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction, and been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading and a Pushcart Prize. You can find Vic at www.vicsizemore.wordpress.com

Vic, in “A Fisher of Men,” an excerpt from your novel Seekers, Caleb, a preacher’s son, knows that “Satan doesn’t miss an opportunity.” He finds himself sexually attracted to his college roommate, bandmate, and friend John, but pushes his feelings away with the help of the Bible and “prays and thanks God for forgiving his iniquity.” He confronts temptation head-on with Bible verses and plans to proselytize the wayward souls of a neighborhood gay bar. Does his faith and family background preclude deeper forms of soul-searching and acceptance of his own homosexuality, or do aspects of self-realization and self-acceptance take place later in the novel?

Caleb’s torment is born of the tug between his earnest resolve to have victory over his sexual orientation, which he honestly believes to be a sin against God and nature, and his longing to explore this facet of his identity because it feels so natural to him. He does engage in deeper soul-searching later, and even questions the tenets of his childhood faith, but he cannot shrug off an entire life of Fundamentalist teaching–at least not in time to avert tragedy. This leads him to swing between extremes, which is not an uncommon way young people raised in this environment struggle to figure out who they are.

Caleb’s understanding of The Bible is rich and cultivated and the narrative possesses an authorial command of the text that impressed this reader. Does your own background include a good deal of Biblical study, or have you had to gather knowledge on the fly in researching material for Seekers?

I was raised in the home of a Fundamentalist Baptist preacher, the King James Bible was our air and our milk, and as a young man I graduated from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. Though I am no longer Christian in any way they would acknowledge as legitimate, all that scripture is still sloshing around inside my head. Caleb’s interpretation of the passages is entirely his own.

The chapter ends at the Stony Creek Tavern, where no one but the bartender appears gay to Caleb, and Caleb begins drinking one of the first alcoholic drinks he’s ever tried. On the face of it, things could turn comical. How does his evangelizing there go? What’s Caleb’s M.O. later in the novel? Does he try other locales?

Stony Creek Tavern is an important place in the novel–a character in its own right, really. It is not a gay bar, though everyone at Pinewood University thinks it is because the atmosphere is open and accepting, which is unusual in this conservative, southern town.

While he tells himself he is there to evangelize, he is really there to sate his curiosity about gay culture. Later he decides to do personal one-on-one evangelism with a drinking buddy, Monica, an atheist from Seattle. In high school, Monica’s best friend Stevie, who was gay, committed suicide, and she takes Caleb on as a project of her own, hoping she can break him free of his religious oppression, do for him what she believes she was unable to do for Stevie.

The bartender Drew, who truly is gay, is integral to Caleb’s story.

Caleb’s upbringing has obviously had a profound influence on his life. Do his family members, particularly his father, appear as key characters either before or after the scenes here?

Anyone who was raised in a Fundamentalist home understands how difficult it is to break free. It is the inner battle against a cult’s mind control. This worldview is all Caleb has ever known, and he has no other context from which to view his sexuality. Add to that the fact that changing your beliefs quite often means letting go of family and loved ones as well.

Caleb’s parents play a huge part in the novel, particularly his father. His dad is an authoritarian Baptist preacher, and has expectations for Caleb to follow him into the ministry. His beliefs and actions have a lot to do with how Caleb’s story plays out.

How have things been coming along with the novel? Do you have a completed manuscript, something you’re shopping around?

I’ve put the novel through several drafts with the help of my mentor and friend Sandra Scofield. She tells me it’s ready, and that it should be my first published full-length work. Of course, every time I go back to it, I notice problems that need attention.

What other creative projects have you got going these days?

Seekers is one of a cycle of four novels I’m working on. For now I’m calling I’m calling it The Pinewood Cycle. While the novels sometimes have related characters, the strongest link is Pinewood University, a conservative (Fundamentalist) Christian school. I did attend a specific one, and I do live in Lynchburg, Virginia, but Pinewood is not a single school. It is a conflation. Growing up, I was exposed to a number of them–Bob Jones, Appalachian Bible College, Tennessee Temple, Pensacola Christian–and Pinewood is a distillation of their characteristics, which I believe encompass the characteristics of Conservative Evangelical Christianity generally. What the writing process appears to be revealing to me is that–recent political events notwithstanding–I am chronicling nothing less than the death throes of an American religion.

Thanks, Vic. Is there anything else you’d like to share with or explain to readers?

Thank you so much for including this chapter. You can read the first chapter of Seekers at Vol. 1 Brooklyn.


Read “A Fisher of Men,” an excerpt from Vic Sizemore’s novel in progress, Seekers