Patti Davis Pens a Lesbian Love Story

Known for books about her famous family, the author leaves autobiography behind in her latest novel

by Laura Sinberg
patti davis image
Photograph: Courtesy of Kara Fox

MORE: Joan Baez once said to you, “When do you get to say what you want to say?” Was it nice to finally be able to write freely without a publisher setting guidelines?
P.D: Well, Baez was speaking in another context: It was the ‘80s at the height of the anti-nuclear movement. And I was protesting my father’s policies. But it was kind of a transcendent moment for me because even though I’d just met her, I felt like she was reaching way inside of me and was realizing not that I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say about that particular issue, but that I felt sort of imprisoned. Which I did. I felt imprisoned as a first daughter and as the offspring of this iconic figure, which is a typical response for children of famous people. You feel like you don’t have the room to say what you want to say.

Moving on to the publishing word to me was kind of an extension of that. There is something infantilizing about it. You’re asking permission for your work to be put out into the world. And so I feel like I can say what I want to say now not only about my work but about the experience of it being out in the world. Whereas before with every book it was like, “Well, no, you should say this.” In the past, I was reviewed for me. I wasn’t being reviewed for my book.

MORE: Till Human Voices Wake Us is written in first person, but you started the book in the third person. Why?
P.D.: I can’t quite remember if when I started it I had an instinct that it should be in first person, but I remember trying to force it into third person. And Jed Mattes said, “Why is this in third person?” and I said, “Well, I don’t want people to think it’s me.” And he said, “You know, the voice that a book is supposed to be told in, it’s inherent in the story. You can’t force it to be something that it doesn’t want to be.” And he said, “I think this story cries out to be in the first person. This is such deep stuff—the grief, the falling in love. It cries out to be told in this person’s voice.” And I knew he was right.

MORE: In a recent article, you said you didn’t want to write another Fifty Shades of Grey. How is this book different?
P.D.: There are some love scenes, but the emphasis is on love. And when I got to those love scenes, I didn’t want to be graphic. I didn’t want it to turn into something that took you outside of the love story. So I was very careful how I described it. And, really, what I thought about when I was writing it was, How would two straight women feel? Technically it’s not too hard to figure out what you’re going to do [in bed with another woman]. But if you’ve never done it before, I think you’d be very scared. They were both very scared and very nervous.

MORE: At its heart, the book is really about an age-old dilemma: inconvenient love. Why was that appealing to you?
P.D.: As I said, when I overheard the conversation, I thought, Well, this is a version of inconvenient love that at that point I had never thought about. And it had so many dimensions to it—the breaking apart of two marriages at the same time, the extended family and how they feel about that. It just had all these different layers to it.

MORE: The issue of gay equality and gay marriage is dominating the headlines—did you always plan to publish the book at a moment like this?
P.D.: No. That was one of those happy coincidences that happens to writers sometimes. You know, every writer loves those because it makes us look really smart, but the truth is, it was just a coincidence.

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