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

In her four books about her family, Patti Davis, the rebellious daughter of the late President Ronald Reagan, has been outspoken and honest, committed to telling the truth as she sees it no matter how uncomfortable others may be. But in her latest work, Till Human Voices Wake Us, she tries her hand at a different kind of tale—a delicious, scandalous yet entirely fictional love story. Till Human Voices Wake Us is about a woman who tragically loses her young son, then falls in love with her sister-in-law.

Davis talked to MORE about the book, finally having the freedom to write what she wants and, yes, her dad.

MORE: Where did the idea for Till Human Voices Wake Us come from?
Patti Davis: I actually started it 12 years ago because I overheard a couple of strangers talking about two sisters-in-law who had fallen in love with one another and simultaneously divorced their husbands. The only other part of the conversation that I heard was that they had no history of being gay or bisexual or anything; they just fell in love. So when I sat down to start putting it into a novel, I thought, Well, there has to be some way into this story. I mean, two women, sisters-in-law, don’t just sit across the lunch table and go, “Oh my god, I just realized I love you.” That’s when I remembered another story from my past that was tucked away in my brain. I knew a woman many years ago who lost her toddler, a little boy, in a swimming pool accident at home. And what really struck me was that she said, “I don’t know to this day who left the screen door open.” I read into it that she thought maybe it was even her and that she had blocked it out. So that’s how I started the book. It made sense to me in that when everything inside of you just breaks apart, something totally unexpected like falling in love with your sister-in-law could move in.

MORE: The book is self-published. In fact, you’ve spoken publicly about publishers not wanting to take the book on. Why do you think they were reluctant?
P.D.: Oh, I know exactly why: I am known for nonfiction work. Even though I’ve written a few novels, I’m known for writing about my family. And I think something that happens in the world of publishing is, you are put in a box, and shame on you if you try to get out of it. This novel made the rounds a couple of times, and editors loved it but yet no one would publish it. The agent who really took this book under his wing and nurtured it with me until he passed away in 2003, Jed Mattes, said to me, “You know, if you weren’t you, I could sell this book really easily.”

MORE: You published it through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and their print version, CreateSpace. How is it selling?
P.D.: It sold really well right away. I promoted it on Twitter and on Facebook. Now it’s kind of up and down and I do sort of obsessively check the rankings, but that’s another thing I think that self publishing shows you: Putting your work out there is supposed to be a marathon, not a sprint. And when you are conventionally published, if you don’t sell a lot of books right out of the gate, you’re looked at as a failure. I’ve been called a failure.

Kindle Direct Publishing and CreateSpace are really giving writers the opportunity to put their work out in the world, and I just can’t say enough about them.

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