by David-Elijah Nahmod
(A version of this piece appeared in EchoMag.com.)
Written in the form of an autobiography, this entertaining work of fiction tells the story of Stan, a gay film director who’s making a film about his past. When he was a teen, Stan had an incestuous relationship with his uncle, which serves as the subject of his film. Cast in the film is Lance, a boyhood crush with whom Stan reconnects with in Hollywood.
The town of Brookside Ohio, where Stan grew up, comes to life in Provenzano’s deftly written prose. Whether remembering his teenage sexual fantasies or recalling the time spent with his brother making amateur films, Stan takes the reader on a journey back through time, back to a place where being gay often wasn’t accepted. But Stan accepts his sexuality without shame. Years later he casts Lance in his film in the hope that he and Lance can have the love affair Stan wanted when they were younger.
Finding Tulsa gets its title from the classic musical Gypsy. When they were young, Stan and Lance had appeared in a community theater production of Gypsy–Lance played Tulsa, a character in the show. Stan never forgot his Tulsa, and when they are reunited years later, Stan is elated, if also a bit nervous.
Since Stan grew up during the 1960s and 70s, there are many retro pop culture references in the book, so Stan’s story will serve as a trip down memory lane for many readers. The awakening sexuality of Stan’s youth is also an aspect of the story that many gay men may remember from their own younger years.
“Unless a story is set in the future, it’s all going to be based on memory,” says Provenzano. “I’ve read many literary and romance books that take place in what I call ‘novel world.’ No one references reality, TV, or pop culture. That’s fine as an artistic decision. But I prefer to set all my books in a specific time, reference pop-culture as signposts, metaphors, or just for fun. The writing started in the mid-1990s, where the bulk of the novel is set, so I was sort of writing in real time.”
Provenzano admits that the book has its dark moments.
“But mostly it’s about nervous joy,” he said. “Stan’s potential rise to fame and reconnecting with Lance, his Tulsa crush from summer theater, are the highlights. It helps to know some musical theater to get the jokes.”
Finding Tulsa is the second Provenzano novel in a row to feature an Ohio setting. Though born in New York City, he and his family moved to Ohio in the mid 1960s.
“Like anyone, I have many profound experiences from my childhood and teenage years,” he said. “The only other novel that’s set mostly in Ohio is my sixth novel, Now I’m Here, about a piano prodigy and a pumpkin farmer’s lives together. In that novel and Finding Tulsa, the contrast between rural Ohio and big cities makes for a more diverse landscape.”
Provenzano addressed what he hopes readers will take from Finding Tulsa.
“If a sense of our collective history is shared in a fun and sexy way, I’ll be happy,” he said. “Most of the reader comments and reviews have mentioned the 1990s in a nostalgic way. But I hope readers will remember, or discover, how different things were for gay artists only twenty or thirty years ago.”
Finding Tulsa can be found at Bookshop.org, a site which supports independent bookstores.
David-Elijah Nahmod is an American/Israeli dual national of Syrian descent who’s lived in New York City and Tel Aviv. Currently in San Francisco, his eclectic writing career includes LGBT and Jewish publications and monster magazines. Find him on Twitter at @DavidElijahN