Wednesday, March 11, 2015

How the story of 'Becoming Andy Hunsinger' is still relevant today

Greetings to Andi's Young Adult Books followers and readers. Thanks so much for having me here.

My novel, Becoming Andy Hunsinger, is designated by my publisher, Prizm Books, as an "Edgy Young Adult" book. The story unfolds in the mid-1970's in conservative Tallahassee, Florida, where I attended law school at the time, at Florida State University. My book's not autobiographical; it's a work of fiction, but certain events appearing in my novel actually occurred during my three years in Tallahassee.

My main character, Andy Hunsinger, is a 22-year-old college student who has just realized he's gay, after a sexual experience with a serviceman while Andy was on summer break from school. When Andy returns to FSU for his senior year, he embarks on a mission: he will find himself a boyfriend, no matter what it takes. And it's not an easy undertaking. Along the way, Andy finds out who his real friends are when he's involuntarily "outed" to friends, family, ad co-workers.

For this guest blog, I was asked a question: Does the story of Andy's struggle, which took place forty years ago, still have relevance in today's world, where attitudes have changed dramatically with respect to same-sex relationships?

It's a good question, one I'll try my best to answer.

We live in a time when same-sex marriage has become legal in many U.S. jurisdictions. It's an era where popular entertainers like Neil Patrick Harris and Ellen DeGeneres live in openly gay relationships without any negative consequences. So I think there's popular misconception about just how accepting teenagers and young adults are about gay relationships, particularly between boys.

Through my website, I frequently hear from gay boys in their teens and young men in their early twenties, and I can tell you, most of the messages I receive are not upbeat. There's still a lot of homophobia in our middle schools and high schools. Gay kids are bullied and ridiculed, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas. And even on college campuses, many gay students remain in the closet for fear of rejection by their peers.

It's these boys and young men I want to reach out to with Becoming Andy Hunsinger. In the book's first pages I include two quotes, one from E. E. Cummings, and the other from The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss.

The Cummings quote says, "It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are."

The Dr. Seuss quote says, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don’t mind."

And you know, those are statements that don't apply only to gay boys and men. In a sense they speak to all of us who are different, whether it's because of our ethnicity, our spiritual beliefs, our political creed, or even our sense of fashion. The message of Becoming Andy Hunsinger is, "It's okay to be different." And I think that message is still as relevant in today as it was back in 1976.

I want to thank Andi's Young Adult Books for hosting me today. It's been a pleasure, and if any followers or readers have questions they'd like to ask me, about my books or anything else, feel free to send questions through this blog and I'll answer them as best I can.

Happy reading, friends.

Becoming Andy Hunsinger

by Jere' M. Fishback

Genre: Historical romance, GLBT,
Historical,Edgy Young Adult
Publisher: Prizm Books
Date of Publication: December 30, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-61040-858-5
Number of pages: 208
Word Count: 65,800
Cover Artist: Fiona Jayde

Book Description:

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?

Read an excerpt:

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?"

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About the Author:

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.

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1 comment:

  1. I have always wanted to read this book. I don't know how it fell through the cracks. I put it on my WANT TO READ List immediately now! Thank you for the post and the giveaway!