I had no idea when I wrote Until Thanksgiving that a prequel would follow. The idea of writing a novel was intimidating enough — never mind a series. But something about Philip Potter, a supporting character, grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I wanted to know more about him. Readers loved him too, and shared my interest in his past.
After Christmas Eve, scheduled for release this fall by MLR Press, is Philip Potter’s story. Fans of Thad Parker’s uncle will find out what sparked his interest in helping gay teens who’d been abandoned by intolerant parents. They’ll also learn Philip’s deepest, most well-kept secret — unknown even to his precious nephew.
Discovering Philip required a trip to the sixties — widely recognized as a difficult decade in U.S. history for gays and lesbians. Homosexuality was not just a sin, but also a mental illness, against the law, and universally scorned. A relentless postwar media campaign linked homosexuals to communism, pedophilia, and a morally bankrupt lifestyle. Major cities across the U.S. declared war by shutting down gay-owned businesses, raiding gay gathering places, and destroying the lives of hundreds of men through entrapment, harassment, extortion, and/or brutal, often fatal assaults.
The gay experience, thanks to the free love movement and early activists, was different by the time I came out in 1979. Since then, for various reasons, gay life has changed again and again. The AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s, technological advances eliminating the need for gay bars in the early part of this century, Ellen Degeneres and other famous GLBT folk coming out of the closet, and now, Supreme Court decisions clearing the way for equal rights under the law — each rocked the worlds of me and my gay friends.
I was eleven years old in 1969 when the Stonewall Riots erupted in New York City’s Greenwich Village. I didn’t know I was gay at the time, and didn’t learn about the event until many years later. Before a conversation we had a few weeks ago, the only Stonewall my mother knew about was a subdivision in Lexington, KY.
Stonewall was the beginning — at least for those of us east of the Mississippi River. Folks who grew up gay west of the Rocky Mountains identify more with the Compton riot three years earlier and ongoing political events in San Francisco. The wheels of change were turning. The actions of a few pissed off queens on both sides of the country launched an amazing transformation in mainstream attitudes about being gay in general, and about same-sex relationships in particular.
The idea for a series of novels scanning the decades between 1966 and today, all with holiday titles and overlapping characters, came to me while I was writing After Christmas Eve. A big motivator was a desire to show, through my stories, how much gay life has changed in the last fifty years.
Many I knew committed suicide because they couldn’t handle being gay. More died from AIDS and related causes. Like Allen Schindler, Matthew Shepard, and others, a few were victims of brutal assaults. Somehow, I survived. I owe it to those who didn’t to tell our stories.
By the time I’d finished After Christmas Eve, the idea of working on another holiday story held zero appeal. The constraints of the genre and the limitations of the series were a prison from which there was no escape. I needed a break, and started writing a first-person coming out/coming of age story inspired by selected moments from my past. Progress came to a screeching halt when I ran into a huge issue that forced me to rethink where the story was headed.
For months, unable to move forward with my first person narrative and unwilling to take on another novel in the series, I didn’t write a thing. My brain was just too fried for more than a couple of blog posts a week. My spontaneous decision to return to the Athens Writers Group in June marked the turning point.
Working on revisions to After Christmas Eve last month and the great news from the Supreme Court got me excited about the holiday series again. I read David Carter’s Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution, to learn about the people involved and historical details I can incorporate into the series. Besides being helpful, the information is interesting to me.
I’ve read tons over the years and, especially after boning up for Philip’s story, consider myself to be fairly well-versed on the subject of gay history. Or at least, a USA Today version. I’m familiar with the headlines, and in some cases, maybe the first few paragraphs of the story. Beyond that, most of the rest is news to me. The backstory I never knew around Stonewall is fascinating, with lots of juicy tidbits I could never make up.
The stars are lining up for a sequel I’m tentatively calling Happy Independence Day that picks up in June of 1969, two years from where After Christmas Eve leaves off. Chapter descriptions have been completed, and I’m working on the first draft. As always, I’ll keep you posted.