Irving takes on sexual intolerance in new book

John Irving on "CBS This Morning."
John Irving on "CBS This Morning."

(CBS News) John Irving's new novel "In One Person," tells the story of Billy Abbott, a sexually conflicted writer who begins life in a small Vermont town and ultimately navigates his way through the darkest days of the AIDS crisis in New York City.

The author said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning" that he didn't expect to return to issues of intolerance toward sexual differences in his writing. "I somehow thought I was done with that the late 1970s. I thought I won't write about that again or won't have to write about that again.' But I think sexual intolerance is still with us in a different way, and this may be a somewhat less radical, more realistic novel than 'The World According to Garp.' But it is still on that subject.

Irving said the novel was formed in his mind 12 years ago, but he didn't begin writing it until 2009. He said that may be because it's has a first-person narrator. However, Irving assured that he's not the novel's protagonist.

"No, he's not me," Irving said. "But I think there's so much in my novels that comes from a 'what-if' proposition. As a young boy, I suspect like many young boys growing up or coming of age in the '50s and '60s, I was attracted to just about everyone. My friends' mothers, girls my own age, even the occasional older boy on the wrestling team. My attractions were all over the map."

When asked if he was confused, Irving said he wasn't, but felt a sympathy for that time in life. He said, "I thought, 'Well, just because it turned out that I liked girls and I was straight doesn't mean that I'm allowed to forget that moment of coming of age when I felt these desires and attractions to a disturbing variety of people. Therefore, how can I judge other people who act upon those desires?'"

Irving's books, which include "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and "The World According to Garp," have sold tens of millions of copies. Irving won an Oscar for his screenplay of "The Cider House Rules."

For more with John Irving, watch his full "CTM" interview in the video above.