And that perspective was widened by his being a proud gay man. Each teacher sees the job through his or her own eyes; being gay (in a world that is only now finally, and slowly, accepting gay teens) let him see his students, especially his gay students, with deeper insight than his straight counterparts. And that not only made him a different kind of teacher, but it has also made him a different kind of writer.
Russell lives in Texas with his companion of many years, whom he describes as, “the wacky, supremely talented love of my life.”
Connect with Russell J. Sanders on Facebook or visit his website: www.russelljsanders.weebly.com.
Q&A with Author Russell J. Sanders:
- If you could swap places with one of your fictional characters for 24 hours, who would you choose to be? Why? And what would you do that day?
Since I am, in many ways, the protagonist Aaron in Thirteen Therapists, I would love to jump out of Aaron’s skin and be his younger brother Paige for one day. Paige is fearless and lets nothing stand in his way. At age fourteen, Paige has already realized that the only way he can accomplish his goals is to “go for it.” He has the ability to barge right in, take charge, and convince everyone that they should choose him, rather than wait in line, hoping to be chosen. Since Paige is a theater geek, he is part me, but if I had just twenty four hours to wear his skin, I would use his brash, confident assertiveness to make contacts, forge friendships, and become the star I know I was meant to be.
- Can you please tell readers about your debut novel, Thirteen Therapists?
Thirteen Therapists is a wild ride through the wealthy elite world of Chicago. Aaron Hardaway is the son of a society matron who uses her wealth and influence to raise charity money for many great causes. But the one cause, in Aaron’s eyes, that she has neglected is raising her children. He feels unloved and broken. If his mother would just love him, the broken part of him would be mended. Instead, Sylvia puts him in therapy. And, as Aaron fails to respond to each therapist, she simply finds him another until he racks up a total of thirteen therapists. The last—whom he calls Thirteen, no doubt because he refuses to get emotionally involved with any of these shrinks—turns out to be his savior. Thirteen is unlike any of the previous twelve, and Aaron, at first reluctantly, finds himself opening up and navigating the choppy waters of accepting his mother for who she is.
Along the way, Aaron also embarks on his first romance with the scion of another wealthy family. Derrick is untamed and adventurous, everything that Aaron is not. Falling madly and passionately in love, Aaron has a hard time following Thirteen’s advice to keep his eyes wide open in life. The only fear that Aaron has regarding Derrick is that Sylvia will find out that he is dating a boy, rather than one of the girls she is hellbent on introducing him to. Aaron is out to his brothers and sister, out to Thirteen, and completely comfortable with being gay, but when it comes to Sylvia, he somehow feels that she has enough to dislike about him without finding out that he once again doesn’t measure up to her standards.
Thirteen Therapists takes Aaron through these two relationships, and with Thirteen’s help, Aaron comes out on the other side with new insights and new realizations about the two people who are foremost in his life: his mother and his boyfriend.
- Eyes wide open is the mantra for Thirteen Therapists. How does Aaron, your main character do with that?
Living life with eyes wide open is tough. We all know that it is so much easier to see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear. Hindsight is twenty/twenty they say. And we have all been guilty of saying to ourselves, “Why didn’t I see that coming?” or “I know that’s the way he (or she) is, so why did I fall into the trap once again?” Aaron is no different. He is so blinded by his mother’s imperious ways that he doesn’t see her for whom she truly is. [Although Sylvia grows a lot herself in the course of the story.] Aaron also is blinded by love. It happens to all of us: we meet someone who appeals to us, we love every little thing about him, we don’t notice or don’t care that little faults start revealing themselves. Derrick is far from perfect, but in Aaron’s eyes, he is. Aaron loves—and loves wholly and freely. He either can’t or refuses to see anything bad in Derrick. With Thirteen’s help and Aaron’s growth, he finally gets his eyes wide open and is able to deal with the developments in his life.
- What future projects can we look forward to?
I’ve poured myself into Thirteen Therapists for the last three years. And with its publication, I am now ready to move to another project. I am currently working on revisions of a novel about a high school musical theater star who was molested by his pastor when he was nine years old. When he once again encounters this man eight years later and sees that he hasn’t changed, the boy sets out to save the nine year old who has become the man’s current prey. Complicating this is the fact that the protagonist worries that his scholarship to a prestigious musical theater school will be endangered if he involves himself with a child abuse scandal.
Also in the works is a tale of a young man whose father is Titanic obsessed, which is annoying enough to his son, but when his straight son finds out his father is gay and is planning to marry his partner, the boy is overwhelmed.
And I have another story that involves a guy who works at the local community theater and encounters a mysterious young man who just appears at the theater one day. They fall in love, and along the way, have to solve a murder that occurred many years before in that theater.
So I’m keeping busy and will be marketing these stories soon. Who knows? Perhaps I will quickly become a multi-published author.
- What would you like young readers to take away from your novels?
The obvious message is that being gay is just a part of life. Most of us live productive, normal lives—and more and more people are accepting us as just like them, only different. But, in the case of Thirteen Therapists, I also want readers to realize that our parents do the best they can. They may make poor decisions, they may be baffled about how to parent, but in the long run, most parents want us to be happy and will accept us no matter what we do, no matter what we are. Maybe we have to cut them some slack sometimes, but that’s part of growing up. And growing up is a continuous process—it starts at birth and continues till death. Just ask a ninety year old if they still think like they did at sixteen. Most, if they’re honest, will answer affirmatively. Yes, we grow and mature, but we hang on to everything we’ve ever experienced. And it colors every decision. It’s hard being a teen; it’s hard being the parent of a teen. Just like with every task that ever gets accomplished, you have to work together—give and take.
Now Available from Russell J. Sanders:
Thirteen Therapists Senior Aaron Hardaway has a new bad boy lover and he wants his mother out of his hair---super therapist Thirteen warns eyes wide open, but will Aaron listen? He's the son of one of Chicago's richest families. He'll graduate from an exclusive Chicago prep-school. He cruises in a Benz SLK300, a grad present from his father. Aaron Hardaway has it all. But a boyfriend. And a loving mother. Sylvia Karnes Hardaway, evil Queen of Chicago society, long ago thrust her son into therapy hell. Twelve shrinks later, Thirteen enters Aaron's life. Thirteen's mantra is eyes wide open. Thirteen will transform Aaron's life. So will bad boy Derrick. Aaron hooks up with Derrick, and things will never be the same. Maybe he should have kept his eyes wide open.