Finding Tulsa: A tale of memory and desire
By David-Elijah Nahmod, January 2021 Issue.
Prolific author Jim Provenzano covers some heavy ground in Finding Tulsa, his seventh novel. Written as an autobiography, this entertaining work of fiction tells the story of Stan, a gay film director making a film about his past. When he was a teen, Stan had an incestuous relationship with his uncle, which is the subject of his film. Cast in the movie is Lance, a boyhood crush who Stan reconnects with in Hollywood.
Finding Tulsa is an intense story, yet it’s an easy read due to the author’s vivid writing. 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, hoping that he and Lance will 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 little 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 some 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,” Provenzano tells Echo. “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.”
This 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.”
The story also serves as a peek inside the life of a filmmaker who’s been able to make a living from making films, but who hasn’t entirely made it to the upper echelons of the industry. Stan is a director with a bit of a cult following. He’s made B-movies and art films and even considers an opportunity to direct a gay porn film under a pseudonym. As the story unfolds, readers will get a glimpse of how the film industry works and the struggles filmmakers often have to go through to get their projects made.
Provenzano addressed what he hopes readers will take from the book.
“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 20 or 30 years ago.”
The author urges potential readers to purchase Finding Tulsa from www.bookshop.org, a site that supports independent bookstores.