The cover I just designed for my friend Roberta’s book… out soon.
The cover I just designed for my friend Roberta’s book… out soon.
For LGBT History Month I’ll be posting a different story about LGBT history every day on my Facebook Page. Stop by and check it out or watch my tweets!
Last night Boystown 7: Bloodlines won the Lambda Award for Best Gay Mystery. Thanks to the Lambda Foundation and thanks to my longtime editor Joan Martinelli and everyone else who’s been so supportive over the years. (I’ll be doing a longer thank you later) …
In the seventh book of the best-selling Boystown Mystery series, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself simultaneously working two cases for his new client, law firm Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. A suburban dentist has been convicted of murdering her adulterous husband. Nick is asked to interview witnesses for the penalty phase of the trial–and possibly find the dead man’s mistress. At the same time, he’s deeply involved in protecting Outfit underboss Jimmy English from a task force out to prosecute him for a crime he may not have committed. While juggling these cases Nick slowly begins to rebuild his personal life.
I first began to understand that I was gay and what that meant in the late sixties. I was around nine or ten. There was a Mike Wallace report called The Homosexuals in 1967. I can’t imagine that my parents would have let me see this at nine years old, but this is what was out there. This is how the world thought in 1967. I do remember reading at least one article in The Reader’s Digest and one or two others in Time Magazine. The image presented of homosexuals was one of a diseased deviate incapable of carrying on a relationship. Needless to say, as a teenager I had a bleak view of what was to become of me.
When I was nineteen, Anita Bryant was big news. Her fight against an anti-discrimination law in Dade County, Florida—a fight she won, keeping an anti-discrimination law off their books for twenty years—was in the newspapers, on the nightly news and on magazine covers. But she didn’t just garner a lot of attention for herself. She also brought to the forefront gay activists. Gay people who boycotted orange juice—for which Bryant was a spokesperson—and campaigned on the slogan “Anita Bryant Sucks Oranges.” They were the ones who caught my attention.
Of course, I was a kid so I don’t remember having the conscious thought, “We can fight back.” And, I certainly wouldn’t have known how to fight back in a small town in Upstate New York. But knowing that there were people out there, embracing the term gay, claiming it, fighting for it, defining it, made things just a little bit easier for me and I began slowly, friend by friend, to come out. To say, “I’m gay.”
In the late 70s, more than two thirds of Americans had a negative view of homosexuality. Today that number is down to around a third. Remarkable progress in less than forty years. So, how did it happen? Did straight people randomly wake up and think, “You know, gay is okay”? No, what happened was someone close to them, a family member, a friend, a parent, a child, a teacher, a co-worker, someone came out to them. Someone stood up and embraced the label “gay” and changed their minds. So, without those millions of people coming out we would not be where we are today. And believe me, coming out and claiming a label are the same thing. You can’t do one without the other.
This morning on Facebook there was a meme attributed to the actor Josh Hutcherson that said, “I’m so sick of saying the words gay and lesbian. Can we just—people. I’m so tired of that. One day I want my son to come home from school and be like, I found this guy and I love him. And I’m gonna be like yes, you do, and that’s okay.” I don’t dispute that Hutcherson is a wonderful ally to the gay community, and I can’t argue that it isn’t a lovely sentiment that we might live in a world were it wouldn’t matter. I do, however, find statements like this one, which happen all the time, problematic.
Rejecting labels, whether it’s done by a straight ally—who, granted may be weary of our constant struggle to find inclusive words or acronyms that actually make all people feel included**—or a young celebrity who doesn’t want to label themselves and so attacks the idea of labels—which is quite likely a marketing ploy meant to keep a gay audience without losing a straight one—these acts, these statements erase the millions of people who stood up and claimed their label. These statements erase the very people upon whose shoulders we stand on.
It is vitally important that we all remember our history. Today didn’t just happen; it’s result of all our yesterdays. So, if you’re a straight person who wants to be an ally, it’s okay to do that because people labeled themselves. If you’re a straight person who wants to write about gay people, it’s okay to do that because of the gay people who took that label. If you’re a gay person and struggling to come out, as hard as it can still be, it is easier because of the people who came out before you—we’re still out there, ask for help if you need it. If you’re a gay celebrity, don’t crap on labels to make a buck—be honest or don’t be honest, up to you, but stop dissing labels. And to gay celebrities who come out after twenty years in the business, don’t let people rush to label you a hero, the real heroes are the people who embraced their labels and by doing so gave up an acting career, a music career, a career in journalism, or sports, or whatever else they were denied because they were honest about who they are—you can become a hero, but you do not get to start there.
Labeling matters. It’s how we got to where we are. I’m gay. That’s my label.
**In the ’70s and ’80s the word gay was used inclusively. Given the historical nature of much of the blog, I decided to use the word gay in that inclusive way, rather than use the QUILTBAG or the word queer. Since each can be as divisive as they are inclusive.
One of the questions I get a lot about the Boystown series is, “How many books will there be?” Of course, since the question is about the future the most honest answer is, “I don’t know.” But at the same time, how many books to write and where to leave Nick Nowak is something I think about and obviously something that interests my readers so I thought I’d put down a few thoughts…
Typically, as I finish one book I get ideas about the next one. Boystown 8: The Lies That Bind came out a few days ago and I already have about fifteen percent of Boystown 9: Lucky Days written in the form of notes and first draft scenes. This is important as I have to keep track of the mystery arc in books 7-9 about Jimmy English, and of course the ongoing lives of the recurring characters. I imagine if I finish one of the books and have no ideas, or very few ideas, about the next book I’ll know that the end has arrived.
The first eight books cover the period from January 1981 through August 1984. I definitely want to do two more books set in 1984 and have one in mind for 1985. That would bring me up to eleven—Joseph Hansen, one of my idols, did twelve in his series. I hope that I’ll write more than eleven. I wouldn’t mind getting all the way to nineteen or twenty like Michael Connelly, another of my idols. It would be nice to take the books all the way to the first glimmers of hope in the AIDS epidemic, but that wasn’t until the mid-nineties, which right now is a long way off.
As a gay man who lived through the eighties there are so many stories from that period I feel I can tell. So many stories I think are still important. One of the most satisfying aspects of writing this series has been collecting the little bits of real life that I remember from that period and weaving them into the mysteries. Quite a few of the characters and situations I’ve touched on in the stories come from people I knew during the period, in many cases people who can no longer speak for themselves. Collecting those stories matters to me a great deal on a very personal level.
There are many ways to classify the Boystown series. I think it would be fair to include it as AIDS literature. Most of AIDS literature took place in the eighties and nineties, and most of it was a cry for help, a warning bell rung as loudly as possible. Writing about AIDS from this vantage point is a very different experience. I’m able to focus on the way very real people reacted to the crisis. Knowing that things improve, allows me to focus on the ways in which individuals reacted, sometimes heroically, sometimes not. Of course, AIDS is still an issue. It hasn’t gone away. Reminding people of how it began and how we got to where we are is something I find to be vital.
I think if the Boystown series were a romance series with mystery elements—as opposed to being the opposite of that—I would have would have stopped at two or three books as I find manufacturing “conflict” in a happy couple uninteresting. Some writers do it well; I don’t think I’m one of them. Several of the Boystown books have ended in a happy-for-now kind of way, but if Nick ever finds a truly happy ending it will likely mean the end of the series.
An important indicator of whether a writer should keep writing a series is sales. Not for financial reasons—certainly many writers do well writing multiple series of three or four books—but because each sale represents one or more readers. The last year has been very positive for the Boystown series. Boystown 7: Bloodlines opened better than any of the previous books, and even though it’s only been a few days it looks as though this year’s book is on tract to exceed that. Equally important is that last year the first book in the series actually sold more copies than it had since it was published five years before. The audience is finding the books and I’m so happy about that. With all of that said, I’d like to send out a big thank you to all who’ve bought and supported the series over the years. It means a lot.
The eighth book of the bestselling Boystown Mystery Series begins with a phone call in the middle of the night. Private investigator Nick Nowak is pulled into the troubled world of freelance journalist, and all around pain in the ass, Christian Baylor. When Christian can’t stop lying about the corpse in his bathroom things slip slowly out of control. Meanwhile, Nick’s relationship with former priest Joseph Biernecki takes an unexpected turn and the Federal case against Jimmy English proceeds toward trial.
Available at Amazon. Also at Kobo and Barnes & Noble.