Carol Boehm: The first question always has to be, is this story autobiographical?
Marty Beaudet: (laughs) Well, if you’re asking if I was a Mormon missionary–turned–CIA agent in Vienna, the answer would have to be no. But, as they say, you should write what you know. So, many of the individual elements in the story are drawn from my own experiences.
CB: Such as?
MB: First off, I’m a gay Mormon who served a two-year mission—not to Vienna, but to Puerto Rico and among the Cuban population of southern Florida.
CB: So, is this book intended for a Mormon audience? Or a gay audience?
MB: No and yes. It is, first and foremost, a political thriller. I very consciously wanted to write a story that would appeal to a broad cross-section of readers. I was very adamant that I was not writing “gay fiction.” But, as I said, I had to write what I know, so it’s only natural that it has gay characters and weaves Mormon theology into the plot. I’ve never lived in world without gay and Mormon characters! That said, I certainly expect this story to have wide appeal among gay Mormons because they can relate to both those elements. And readers who are either gay or Mormon will also be able to relate better than those who are neither.
CB: Do you worry that non-gay, non-Mormon audiences might be put off by those elements because they can’t relate?
MB: It was a concern at first. But test audiences dispelled it for me. The personal journey of the protagonist relates to the human condition. We all—regardless of sexual orientation and religious affiliation—have experienced conflict at one time or another involving our deeply held beliefs and the realities of life. The expectations of our friends, family, job, and so on, often challenge us to reassess and make difficult decisions, just as the protagonist does. Several non-Mormon reviewers said they found the insight into LDS theology and history interesting and instructive. And at least one straight Mormon reviewer said he had no trouble with the “gay passages.”
CB: Is the book racy, then?
MB: (laughs) My brother-in-law put that question more directly: Is there sex in it?
CB: Well, is there?
MB: I’ll tell you what I told him: the sexual relationship is alluded to through dialogue and casual affection. But, no, it’s not pornographic. It’s PG rated. You have to use your imagination for any R-rated action! Remember, it’s a political thriller.
CB: Why did you choose Vienna as the venue for much of the action?
MB: For two reasons. One, Vienna is synonymous with espionage, even in the post–Cold War era. It’s a very international city, and a likely place for disparate individuals such as a Mormon missionary and a Kuwaiti to cross paths. But, practically speaking, it was again a matter of “write what you know.” I have spent a lot of time in Vienna and I know parts of the city fairly intimately. Almost all the places I describe in the book are drawn from my own memories. Of course, Google Street View helped me refresh those memories and bring them current at times. But the feel of the place is definitely drawn from personal experience.
CB: Are the other venues in the book also drawn from personal experience?
MB: Well, I haven’t been to Guantánamo Bay! Thankfully! (laughs) I have been to Washington, D.C. a few times, as well as Munich. But my street-by-street knowledge of them is nothing like Vienna. Prineville, Oregon, the hometown of my protagonist, was once a place I was looking to buy a home when I was relocating from San Francisco. I know it quite well. The one venue that appears briefly in the book that I haven’t been to is Ceský Krumlov. They have an amazing website though; you can walk through the entire medieval city in 360-degree panorama views that go beyond even Google Street View. I’d love to go there.
CB: So, your venues were drawn from personal experience; were your characters too?
MB: Is this where I’m supposed to issue the standard disclaimer that all persons and events are fictional? (laughs) No, really, again it’s a matter of “write what you know” (am I sounding like a broken record?). Of course I drew on people with whom I have interacted in similar situations. I did have a missionary companion that was much like Elder Pearson in the book. And my husband and I met a Kuwaiti who was our tour guide on our first visit together to Vienna in 1995. While he was my inspiration for the Kuwaiti character in the book, none of the events in the book actually took place.
CB: What do you want readers to take away from the story?
MB: Above all, I want them to be entertained. Beyond that though, I wanted to break down stereotypes by having my characters break from the molds that the reader might expect them to fit into. That’s the way real life is. We are all more complex than we first appear. You can’t take for granted that every Mormon is inflexible or that every Muslim is a terrorist. Then again, some are–in both cases. But the joy of reading comes from guessing, but not knowing, what the characters will do next. My favorite thing about novels—and movies for that matter—is the element of surprise. I hope By A Thread is both instructive and entertaining.
CB: Is there anything else you’d like your readers to know about the book?
MB: Yes. Men typically prefer plot-driven narrative; that is, action. While women prefer character-driven stories; the personal journey of the characters. Rarely do you find both in a single work of pop fiction. There seems to be a formulaic template for each genre, and the target audiences are segmented. I wanted to bring together both plot- and character-driven narratives, as well as add unexpected elements, such as the gay and Mormon threads, that would keep both sexes interested. I hope I have succeeded! Leave a comment and let me know!
NOTE: To schedule an interview with author Marty Beaudet, please call 503-658-294 between 9 AM and 9 PM, 7 days a week. Mr. Beaudet is available for book readings and book signings in Washington and Oregon.