Every writer needs a village to help raise her books. I feel very fortunate that my “village” includes Brian Peyton Joyner.
I met Brian in an online creative mastermind group last year, when he was preparing to publish his debut novel, The Wisdom of Stones. Aside from offering writerly expertise and encouragement, Brian made me laugh and dished up some fabulous recipes. He also gave me a treasured author moment when, after he and his husband had read an advanced copy of The Smallest Thing, he asked if I would call them and read the final chapter over the phone. We writers seldom get to witness the instant reactions of our readers, so that experience of hearing them gasp, ooh, and ultimately aah, will stay with me forever.
I got to read The Wisdom of Stones when it came out earlier this year. It’s a wonderful story about identity, tolerance, and being true to who you really are. Ben, the main character, has promised his dying grandmother that he’ll become a Baptist preacher, but in his heart, he knows his feelings for other men don’t match the teachings of the bible. Under the guidance of the well-meaning, but sorely misguided Pastor Hardy, Ben is thrust into a program designed to cure him of his “same-sex addiction.” Fortunately, Ben has another mentor, his Grandpa, who trades Ben stories of his own life in exchange for stones. But Grandpa has his own secret about the choices he made many years ago.
Brian is one of those courageous writers who isn’t afraid to take on topics of prejudice, sexuality, and religion, all in the same book! His special talent lies in showing us both sides of a story, so that, even though we might not always agree with a character or his beliefs, we understand where they are coming from.
In a time when we seem to struggle to acknowledge the other side of an argument, The Wisdom of Stones shines a glowing spotlight on both sides of the fence. I’m very pleased to be able to introduce you to Brian Peyton Joyner and share our conversation.
1. Where did the inspiration for The Wisdom of Stones come from?
One thing I encourage novice writers to do is to join their local writing group. When I first started writing, I joined San Diego Writer’s Ink. At a writing workshop in 2010, we were asked to write about a collection. This image popped into my head of a six-year-old boy searching for stones in the creek on his grandparents’ property. The boy would find a stone and give it to Grandpa in exchange for a story. This stone-for-a-story became the plot device of the novel. The main story line is based on my own experience coming out in my senior year of college, but I amped up the conflict so it’s not a memoir.
2. Ben’s grandpa is a wonderful character. He’s such an important figure in Ben’s life, but at the same time, he is far from perfect. Why was it important for you to tell Grandpa and Ruby J.’s story alongside Ben’s?
We are replaying history in our approach to same-sex relationships. The attitude towards interracial relationships in the 1930s mirrors that of same-sex relationships in our current time. People have tried to argue that in essays and articles, but I think messages are more powerful when they are subtle and not in your face. I thought that this beautiful love and redemption story for Grandpa would be a nice mirror that would help Ben look at his own life and his struggle in accepting his attractions to men.
3. The Wisdom of Stones is a work of fiction, however, as a gay man who struggled to reconcile sexual orientation and faith, you mentioned that some of Ben’s experiences are based on your own or those of people you’ve known. Can you tell us a little bit about your own struggle to reconcile who you are and who you were taught you’re supposed to be?
Many of the things that happened to the main character in the book happened to me. I didn’t have a formal plan to rid myself of homosexuality, but I did try to change behaviors and fix all of the things that I was told made me gay.
I listened to different music. I tried to have “healthy” relationships with other guys. I tried to get into sports. I threw myself into my relationship with my girlfriend, even going to the point where I asked her to marry me. But in the end, nothing that I tried cured me.
4. What would you say to young men and women struggling with their own identities? What words of encouragement can you offer?
Your sexual identity is an important part of who are you, but it’s not the only part. And don’t think that you have to “figure out” everything. I think that too many times, we feel like we need to have this perfect understanding of our identity before talking about it with other people. I would have liked to have been able to discuss my attractions to guys with someone when I first started having them, but I couldn’t. I could have saved myself all sorts of problems if I’d had a mentor or role model. Find someone that you trust to talk to about your feelings. Don’t label yourself. Just explore how you feel and what you feel. Go from there. And know that people’s first response isn’t where they’ll end up. I struggled with my sexual orientation for ten years before telling my parents. Of course, they weren’t going to be okay with it the first time I told them. But over time, they have become accepting and even embracing of the person I have become and my relationship with my husband.
5. You’re from the South, so we have to talk about food. What kind of food do you love to cook? And, living in health-conscious Southern California, what are the Southern comfort foods you miss the most?
My momma cooks simple food, but she has a perfect palette and always balances the flavors of salty, sweet, bitter, sour, fat and umami. She’s not conscious of this skill, but it’s what makes her the best cook I know. I love to cook with fresh ingredients, and even though we live in Palm Springs, I’m not afraid to fry or use butter. I’m more about portion control than adhering to any specific notions on how to prepare or season food. I love fresh buttermilk biscuits and cornbread. My husband and I were recently in South Carolina, and I think we gained a pound each day we were there because we had biscuits every morning. In my hometown, we had a mill that would grind local white corn. Their cornmeal was just corn and leavening ingredients. I’m not a fan of the cornmeal mixes you can buy in SoCal because the main ingredients are usually wheat and sugar.
6. What can readers look forward to reading next from you?
Danh, an Amerasian preacher, travels to Vietnam with his gay half-brother and their father to find Danh’s birth mother. Secrets are revealed, lies are exposed and addictions take over, but along the journey, they each discover the importance of family.
I can’t wait to read it.
The Wisdom of Stones
Abandoned by his father at age seven, Ben loses his mother to a car accident that same year and becomes his grandparents responsibility and their joy.
Handing his grandfather an arrowhead he finds at his mother s funeral, Ben sets in motion an agreement between them: Ben gifts his grandfather a stone and his grandfather gifts him a story. Months later when Mee Maw falls ill, Ben makes yet another deal this time with God that if Mee Maw recovers, Ben will dedicate himself to the church.These commitments inform the man he will become.
About the Author
Brian Peyton Joyner was an attorney for twenty years, until August 2016, when he quit the corporate world to become a full-time author, speaker and vlogger. He advocates for “agreeable disagreement” as the path for bridging the religious and LGBTQ+ communities. Although born and raised in Upstate South Carolina, Brian now lives in Palm Springs, California, with his saint of a husband and two ill-behaved dogs. Find out more about Brian at https://brianpeytonjoyner.com