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"The Wives of Marty Winters"

Volcano scribe Alec Clayton wrote a heartfelt tale

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Some irresistible people showed up and took over Alec Clayton\'s mind.

Marty Winters; his wild wife, Maria Perez; his second wife, Selena; their kids; and some good friends: They come to life in Clayton\'s third novel.

And beware: They\'ll burrow into your mind, too. 

"The Wives of Marty Winters" opens with a stunning description of the Seattle Pride Day rally, where we meet Marty and Selena and move with them through a harrowing scene.

Then it turns far back in time to when Marty found Maria at an Olympia High School dance.

"The heart senses moments of magic," Clayton writes, putting us amid the teen-agers as they\'re swaying beneath a mirror ball.

Maria and Marty "slip off the dance floor ... help themselves to punch and sit at one of the small tables and watch the aurora borealis cast on walls and ceilings by that magical glass ball."

So begins a saga about how the past haunts a man and how homophobia affects his family.

"Wives" is Clayton\'s heartfelt tale, a book he had to write.

In it Marty and Selena\'s gay son is attacked and brutally beaten, but he survives, unlike Clayton\'s own bisexual son, Bill, who was assaulted in 1995 and committed suicide a month hence. Bill was 17.

What does Clayton hope to give the readers of his self-published book?

"Compassion," he answers without a pause.

This isn\'t Clayton\'s memoir, though. It\'s a novel he\'s worked on for two years, writing, rewriting, taking breaks, coming back.

"I reach a point where the characters are telling me what they\'re going to do," Clayton says.

"I think about them while I\'m driving, taking a bath, washing dishes ... ."

A shocking crime is committed within the first few pages of "Wives," and we don\'t learn the outcome until the latter half of the book. But this is no mystery novel. It\'s an odyssey through family relationships playing out across the country over a few decades. And it will ring familiar to readers, Clayton believes.

"They\'ll run into these people in their own families or through other people they know," he says.

"Wives" is overwritten in spots, but it also pulses with vivid, authentic scenes and delicious moments. The story rolls like a train through Marty\'s life — high school in the Pacific Northwest, service in the Navy in Norfolk, Va., tours of the Mediterranean and back to the United States where he meets a girl named Marigold from a religious commune. 

Clayton\'s other novels — 2000\'s "Until the Dawn" and "Imprudent Zeal" from 2004 — also unfold in various towns across America. They\'re informed by Clayton\'s own life — as a kid from Tupelo, Miss., who grew up in the ’50s and then took off for New York City, where he worked for Everything for Everybody, an organization that provided housing, meals and clothing for the poor.

He met his wife-to-be, Gabi, in New York, and together they moved back to Mississippi to start a similar operation, the Persons Service, and a literary and arts magazine. After much financial struggle, they moved to Olympia in 1988. The couple, married 33 years, are now leading activists with Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.

This Saturday Clayton, also a painter and art and theater critic, will be among the authors and publishers in the Literary Open House (noon to 4 p.m.) at the first Tacoma Word, a literary festival at Freighthouse Square. He’ll offer “Wives” hot off his press.

"I\'ve never done a festival of this type before," Clayton says. "I probably will be a little self-conscious." No matter. He and Gabi have another new venture to present: Clayton Works, their new publishing company (see They also plan to write a memoir together.

“The Wives of Marty Winters” is available for $15 at and at the Tacoma Word! literary festival Saturday, Nov. 3. The event, also to feature authors\' readings and a book fair.

[Freighhouse Square, Saturday, Nov. 3, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., free, 2501 E. D St., Tacoma, 253.229.3518]

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