Jere' M. Fishback
Genre: Historical romance, GLBT,
Historical,Edgy Young Adult
Publisher: Prizm Books
Date of Publication: December 30, 2014
Number of pages: 208
Word Count: 65,800
Cover Artist: Fiona Jayde
It's 1976, and Anita Bryant's homophobic "Save Our Children" crusade rages through Florida. When Andy Hunsinger, a closeted gay college student, joins in a demonstration protesting Bryant's appearance in Tallahassee, his straight boy image is shattered when he's "outed" by a TV news reporter.
In the months following, Andy discovers just what it means to be openly gay in a society that condemns love between two men.
Can Andy's friendship with Travis, a devout Christian who's fighting his own sexual urges, develop into something deeper?
On my seventh birthday, my parents gave me a Dr. Seuss book, The Cat in the Hat.
I still have it; the book rests on the shelf above my desk, along with other Seuss works I've collected. Inside The Cat in the Hat's cover, my mother wrote an inscription, using her English teacher's precise penmanship.
"Happy Birthday, Andy. As you grow older, you'll realize many truths dwell within these pages. Much love, Mom and Dad."
Mom was right, of course. She most always is.
My favorite line in The Cat in the Hat is this one:
"Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
Loretta McPhail was a notorious Tallahassee slumlord. On a steamy afternoon, in August 1976, she spoke to me in her North Florida drawl: part magnolia, part crosscut saw.
"The rent's one-twenty-five. I'll need first, last, and a security deposit, no exceptions."
McPhail wore a short-sleeved shirtwaist dress, spectator pumps, and a straw hat with a green plastic windowpane sewn into the brim. Her skin was as pale as cake flour. A gray moustache grew on her winkled upper lip, and age spots peppered the backs of her hands. Her eyeglasses had lenses so thick her gaze looked buggy.
I'd heard McPhail held title to more than fifty properties in town, all of them cited multiple times for violation of local building codes. She owned rooming houses, single family homes, and small apartment buildings, mostly in neighborhoods surrounding Florida State University's campus. Like me, her tenants sought cheap rent; they didn't care if the roof leaked or the furnace didn't work.
The Franklin Street apartment I viewed with McPhail wasn't much: a living room and kitchen, divided by a three-quarter wall; a bedroom with windows looking into the rear and side yards; a bathroom with a wall-mounted sink, a shower stall and a toilet with a broken seat. In each room, the plaster ceilings bore water marks. The carpet was a leopard skin of suspicious-looking stains, and the whole place stank of mildew and cat pee.
McPhail's building was a two-storied, red brick four-plex with casement windows that opened like book covers, a Panhandle style of architecture popular in the 1950s. Shingles on the pitched roof curled at their edges. Live oaks and longleaf pines shaded the crabgrass lawn, and skeletal azaleas clung to the building's exterior.
In the kitchen, I peeked inside a rust-pitted Frigidaire. The previous tenant had left gifts: a half-empty ketchup bottle, another of pickle relish. A carton of orange juice with an expiration date three months past sat beside a tub of margarine.
Out in the stairwell, piano music tinkled -- a jazzy number I didn't recognize.
McPhail clucked her tongue and shook her head.
"I've told Fergal -- and I mean several times -- to close his door when he plays, but he never does. I'm not sure why I put up with that boy."
McPhail pulled a pack of Marlboros from a pocket in the skirt of her dress. After tapping out two cigarettes, she jammed both between her lips. She lit the Marlboros with a brushed-chrome Zippo, and then she gave me one cigarette.
I puffed and tapped a toe, letting my gaze travel about the kitchen. I studied the chipped porcelain sink, scratched Formica countertops, and drippy faucet. Blackened food caked the range's burner pans. The linoleum floor's confetti motif had long ago disappeared in high-traffic areas. Okay, the place was a dump. But the rent was cheap, and campus was less than a mile away. I could ride my bike to classes, and to my part-time job as caddy at the Capital City Country Club.
Still, I hesitated.
The past two years, I'd lived in my fraternity house with forty brothers. I took my meals there, too. If I rented McPhail's apartment, I'd have to cook for myself. What would I eat? Where would I shop for food?
Other questions flooded my brain. Where would I wash my clothes? And how did a guy open a utilities account? The apartment wasn't furnished. Where would I purchase a bed? What about a dinette and living room furniture? And how much did such things cost? It all seemed so complicated.
Still . . .
Lack of privacy at the fraternity house would pose a problem for me this year. Over summer break -- back home in Pensacola -- I'd experienced my first sexual encounter with another male, a lanky serviceman named Jeff Dellinger, age twenty-four. Jeff was a Second Lieutenant from Eglin Air Force Base. I met him at a sand volleyball game behind a Pensacola Beach hotel, and he seemed friendly. I liked his dark hair, slim physique, and ready smile, but wasn't expecting anything personal to happen between us.
After all, I was a "straight boy", right?
We bought each other beers at the Tiki bar, and then Jeff invited me up to his hotel room. Once we reached the room, Jeff prepared two vodka/tonics. My drink struck like snake venom, and then my brain fuzzed. Jeff opened a bureau drawer; he produced a lethal-looking pistol fashioned from black metal. The pistol had a matte finish and a checked grip.
"Ever seen one of these?"
I shook my head.
"It's an M1911 -- official Air Force issue. I've fired it dozens of times."
Jeff raised the gun to shoulder height. He closed one eye, focused his other on the pistol's barrel sight. "Shooting's almost... sensual," he said. Then he looked at me. "It's like sex, if you know what I mean."
I shrugged, not knowing what to say.
Jeff handed the pistol to me. It weighed more than I'd expected, between two and three pounds. I turned the pistol here and there, admiring its sleek contours. The grip felt cold against my palm and a shiver ran through me. I'd never fired a handgun, never thought to.
"Is it loaded?" I asked.
Jeff bobbed his chin. "One bullet's in the firing chamber, seven more in the magazine; it's a semi-automatic."
After I handed Jeff the gun, he returned it to his bureau's drawer while I sipped from my drink, feeling woozier by the minute. Jeff sat next to me, on the room's double bed. His knee nudged mine, our shoulders touched, and I smelled his coconut-scented sunscreen.
Jeff laid a hand on my thigh. Then he squeezed. "You don't mind, do you?"
Did you always want to be a writer? If not what did you want to be?
After I read To Kill a Mockingbird at age eleven, I knew I wanted to be a trial lawyer like Atticus Finch. But I got my undergraduate degree in Journalism, and that first stirred my interest in writing. Still, writing and editing news pieces is entirely different from writing fiction. I only decided to write fiction after I retired from practicing law. That was back in 2004.
When did you first consider yourself a “writer”?
When I sold my first short story to a publishing house, for inclusion in a short fiction anthology.
How long did it take to get your first book published?
My first novel, Josef Jaeger, was published in 2009, so five years.
Do you do another job except for writing and can you tell us more about it?
No writing is my sole occupation now, and it's a good thing I made wise investments when I practiced law. I couldn't make ends meet on what I earn from my writing.
What is the name of your latest book, and if you had to summarize it in less than 20 words what would you say?
The book's titled Becoming Andy Hunsinger. My novel's about the importance of being true to yourself, even if it hurts you sometimes.
Who is your publisher? Or do you self-publish?
How long does it usually take you to write a book, from the original idea to finishing writing it?
Writing a full-length novel takes me six to nine months, depending on the book's length.
What can we expect from you in the future? More books of the same genre? Books of a different genre?
Having said that, my current novel-in-progress is unlike anything I've ever written . I'm about 90% of the way through the first draft. I've worked on it since last spring and I won't finish the first draft until March or April of 2015. So that a full year.
It's a huge book, already over 115,000 words, and it involves elements of the occult. I've had to do quite a bit of research on astrology in order to write it. The main character, Nate Ziegler, is an eighteen-year-old high school student who's gay and a cross-country runner. He has a ghost living in the crawl space above his bedroom closet, and one of his teammates is a neo-Nazi who wants Nate to buy into his racist way of thinking. Needless to say, it's a complicated and quirky book.
What genre would you place your books into?
Josef Jaeger and Tyler Buckspan are both Young Adult novels, while Prizm Books has classified Becoming Andy Hunsinger as an "Edgy Young Adult" novel because there are sexual situations occurring throughout the book. The scenes aren't graphic, but they are there.
What made you decide to write that genre of book?
I enjoy writing Young Adult and New Adult fiction. It's a market that's growing in popularity, and so far my books have met with critical success. Tyler Buckspan was one of twenty YA novels selected as "recommended reading" by the American Library Association's Rainbow Project in 2014. It's now on the shelves of public libraries in many states, as well as eleven branches of the Toronto Public Library.
Do you have a favorite character from your books? And why are they your favorite?
Main characters are like your kids; you don't really love one more than another. But I'd say Tyler Buckspan is my all time favorite character. He's such a sensitive and courageous guy. I would love to meet Tyler in person, just so we could talk for a couple of hours. But somehow I don't think that will happen.
How long have you been writing? And who or what inspired you to write?
As I mentioned before, I only began writing fiction in 2004, after I retired from practicing law.
The first book I wrote was titled Josef Jaeger. It's a Young Adult Historical novel set in the early days of Nazi Germany. In the late 1990's I hosted two German exchange students who I later visited in Germany, and then I fell in love with their country. The people there are so nice. I've always been a history buff, and I simply couldn't understand how such an advanced society could have allowed the Nazis to come to power in the first place, so I decided to write a novel about it. Josef Jaeger was the result. It won first place in the Young Adult division of the international Rainbow Awards competition in 2009.
Do you have a certain routine you have for writing? You listen to music, sit in a certain chair?
Absolutely I have a routine. I'm a believer in the "Butt In Chair" (BIC) method for writing fiction. At least five days a week, and sometimes all seven, I'm in my desk chair, fingers on the keyboard, at nine AM sharp. I don't read the paper or listen to the radio or watch TV beforehand; I don't want the creative part of my head cluttered with distractions. I don't take phone calls or answer my front door. I make myself stay in the chair for at least 2-1/2 hours, only taking breaks to re-fill my coffee cup or visit the bathroom. Some days, I don't write much while other days I'll write 1,500 words. Either way, I stay in the chair those 2-1/2 hours. You'd be surprised how productive the BIC method makes a writer.
By the way, I know perfectly good writers who tell me they could never be a BIC writer; they only write when they're "inspired." I'm the same, really. I just make sure I'm feeling "inspired" at nine AM, at least five days a week.
Do you read all the reviews of your book/books?
Yeah, I read reviews. I know some writers don't, but I like to hear what people think of my work, even when their remarks are less than complimentary. At the same time, I don't take reviews too seriously. After all a review is just someone's personal opinion, and people's tastes very in fiction.
Do you choose a title first, or write the book then choose the title?
I'll choose a working title at the outset, but that will often change during the course of the story. You see, I don't outline a novel before I write it. I'm what's called a "pantser." I write by the seat of my pants. Even three-quarters of the way through a first draft, I still don't know how the story is going to end.
How do you come up with characters names and place names in your books?
I've never written a book set in an imaginary place; all my settings are in real localities.
As to my characters' names, I think it's terribly important that your main characters have unusual names that people will remember long after they've read the book. I went to school with a friend whose last name is Hunsinger, and I always thought that would be a cool name to give a character. That's how the main character in Becoming Andy Hunsinger got his name. I saw the last name "Buckspan" on a doctor's office sign and the name just resonated with me, so I used it in Tyler Buckspan. And the name "Jaeger" is the German word for "hunter", and my title character, Josef Jaeger is hunting for love throughout the course of novel he appears in.
Are character names and place names decided after their creation? Or do you pick a character/place name and then invent them?
As to characters' names, I always give a character a name the first time he or she appears in my story, but often I'll change that name, sometimes two or three times, during the course of writing a book. Also, it's important that no two characters in a book have names that sound the same, or readers get confused and then the pacing of your book slows. So you don't name your two main characters "Rick" and "Nick" when you write a book.
Do you decide on character traits (ie shy, quiet, tomboy girl) before writing the whole book or as you go along?
I'll definitely bestow certain traits on a character the first time he or she appears, but those traits may change as the story progresses, either because the character's evolving, or because I'll decide I don't like the traits I initially gave to a particular character. In Josef Jaeger the main character starts out a shy young teenager who lacks confidence. By the story's end, he's come into his own and the world doesn't seem so threatening to Josef any longer.
Are there any hidden messages or morals contained in your books? (Morals as in like Aesops Fables type of "The moral of this story is..")
Well, yes, but I wouldn't call it "hidden." The moral of Becoming Andy Hunsinger can be found in a Dr. Seuss quote appearing on the book's first page. The quote comes from The Cat in the Hat. It says, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind."
Which format of book do you prefer, eBook, hardback, or paperback?
When it comes to reading, I'm a bit of a dinosaur. I like hardback books when I read at home and paperback books when I'm on the road. I always take books with me when I travel. Paperbacks weigh less and take up less space in your bag. Having said all that, I'm not blind to what's going on in the publishing business. The digital versions of my books sell far better than the print versions.
What is your favorite book and Why? Have you read it more than once?
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. It's the Great American Novel, in my view. The characters are all well-developed and realistic. Every scene has a "hot spot", and the story's timeless. I'll bet I've read it six times.
Do you think books transfer to movies well? Which is you favorite/worst book to movie transfer?
Oh, sure. Many books transfer well into movies. Gone With the Wind is a good example. The Wizard of Oz is another. And To Kill a Mockingbird transferred beautifully to film, even though the book's narrator was a child. But I don't think The Catcher in the Rye would translate well into film because so much of the book takes place inside Holden Caulfield's head. I don't suppose Crime and Punishment would work too well as a film either.
Your favorite food is?
Chicken Bryan at Carrabba's Italian Grille. If you've never had it, you're missing out on something wonderful,
Your favorite singer/group is?
I have two: The Rolling Stones (especially their early stuff) and Green Day.
Your favorite color is?
Navy Blue. It's simple and it goes well with most other colors.
Your favorite Author is?
Michael Chabon. He's just amazing, a true genius. In his novels he creates complex worlds full of quirky but lovable characters, plus he is the master of literary comparisons: the simile, the metaphor, and the analogy. I recommend his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. It'll blow you away.
Jere' M. Fishback is a former news editor and trial lawyer. He writes Young Adult novels, short fiction, and memoirs. A Florida native, he lives on a barrier island on the Gulf of Mexico, west of Tampa/St. Petersburg. When he's not writing, Jere' enjoys cycling, surfing, lap-swimming, and watching sunsets with a glass of wine in hand.