Welcome to BOYSTOWN
A book series with gay characters, soon to be developed into a television show? Yes, please! What’s that? You want to know more about the series? Perfect! I sat down with Jake Biondi, author of the successful series, BOYSTOWN, to get all the deets… Inside The Green Room.
As a wee lad, the first openly gay character i can recall seeing on television, was Pacey (played by Joshua Jackson) on Dawson’s Creek. … Or maybe it was was when the same actor portrayed the character Blaine in Cruel Intentions, I’m not sure which came first, and I’m not sure it mattered, because Joshua Jackson became the image of my romantic fantasy. I’d never known or seen an openly gay person before, so what else was a baby-gay to do? I understand your introduction to gay characters on television came from shows like Dynasty and Melrose Place. Were these characters your first image of homo-romantics? When in life were you able to meet openly gay people and what value did the gay characters of television hold for you?
JB: Yes, my first introduction to an openly gay character was Steven Carrington on Dynasty. And while the dramatic plots on the show weren’t necessarily ones I could connect to personally, the struggles that Steven had with accepting who he was certainly paralleled what I was going through at the time. Of course, this was the ’80s so they never showed Steven kissing another man, but he did share affectionate hugs with his boyfriends and those were moments that I eagerly anticipated because, like many gay men at the time, I longed so see some representation of our lives on the silver screen. And we ate up whatever little morsels they threw our way.
Over time, the character of Steven went from being gay to being bisexual to being gay again, depending on the writers and the advertisers. And, of course, two of Steven’s boyfriends were killed — one by his father and one in the show’s famed Moldavian Massacre. Nonetheless, the mere presence of a gay character was ground-breaking and I loved that the show at least gave me that.
Years later, as a fan of the original Melrose Place, I experienced my second gay character, Matt Fielding. Matt was young and handsome, coincidentally with hair the color of Steven Carrington’s, and he too had an occasional boyfriend. I remember there was a great deal of hype surrounding a scene where Matt and his boyfriend were going to share an on-screen kiss; however, the scene was cut at the last minute when advertisers complained.
Watching these two characters on television was really the only interaction (if you could call it that) that I had with anyone gay until a good friend came out to me years later.
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I grew up in a military family and i traveled quite a bit (I attended 13 different schools during my public school career). In that time, I mostly lived on or near an air force base and it wasn’t until I went away to college at the age of 17 that I was able to experience my first gayborhood in Philadelphia and see the lgbtq community living openly. How was it coming of age in Chicago, having one of the largest gay villages, Boystown, in your backyard?
JB: Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I was in the city all the time. However, I really never experienced Boystown until after graduating from college. I have lived here in Boystown for over 20 years and I love it. I love being able to walk down the street and see friends and neighbors — and to be able to walk to the grocery store, the hair salon, the restaurants, the bars, the clubs, and even Wrigley Field. There really is no place quite like it anywhere. In fact, I believe it was one of the first neighborhoods in the country to be officially recognized and designated as a “gay neighborhood.” Halsted Street is lined with plaques featuring historically significant members of the LGBT community — in some ways it’s like an outdoor museum. And the neighborhood is becoming more and more diverse — and, in fact, more and more straight.
When I began writing the BOYSTOWN series, I wanted to make the neighborhood itself a character in the series. I wanted to capture the diversity and flavor of the neighborhood in the books. Consequently, readers find in BOYSTOWN characters of diverse ages, races, and sexual orientations. I also wanted to highlight all the wonderful things about Chicago in general. It’s the greatest city in the country and so I use as many landmarks as possible in the books to show off all that Chicago has to offer. Who knows? Maybe the books are good for tourism.
When was it that you realized your potential to contribute to the landscape of literature and television, particularly concerning lgbtq themes?
JB: I have always been a fan of continuing, serialized dramas, whether they be classics such as the novels of Charles Dickens (which were released in magazines in installments, each of which ended with a cliffhanger to keep readers coming back for more) or more contemporary such as Dallas, Dynasty, and Revenge. I thought it was finally time for a well-written, intriguing drama that had gay characters at its core. And after living in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood for twenty years, I thought to myself, “What better place to inspire a continuing drama?” Thus, BOYSTOWN was born.
BOYSTOWN has a unique history. I began writing BOYSTOWN as an online story and intended to release one “episode” online per month, each ending in a cliffhanger. The story became so popular — and the online reading audience grew so quickly — that people from all over the country began to email me demanding to know what happened to their favorite characters and wanting the episodes to be released faster. They also had suggestions for future storylines!
Readers then suggested that I publish the first 10 episodes as a book rather than leaving them online. I took their advice — and “BOYSTOWN Season One” was published in late November, 2013. In the meantime, I continued to write additional episodes. Episodes 11 – 20 were released as “BOYSTOWN Season Two” in July of 2014. “BOYSTOWN Season Three” was released on May 1 2015 and “BOYSTOWN Season Four” was released on November 13, 2015.
Because of BOYSTOWN’s huge success online and the serialized nature of my writing, readers from all over have been able to correspond with me and influence the storylines of the BOYSTOWN saga as I write it. It’s really exciting to interact with fans in this way. I think it’s something very unique to BOYSTOWN.
I am currently working on “BOYSTOWN Season Five” which will be released on June 1 — and audio book versions of all the books will be released this Spring.
Considering the overwhelming demand for more gay characters and diversity in the types of those characters, do you ever feel any pressure to live up to expectations? How do you handle that?
JB: BOYSTOWN fans are the best and I am so grateful for them. From the moment BOYSTOWN appeared online, they have been supported and encouraging. So the only pressure that I have felt comes from myself. I want each season of BOYSTOWN to be better than the previous one. And I want to make sure that the twists and turns continue to surprise and entertain readers. By maintaining a focus on the series’ “core” characters as well as adding in some intriguing new ones along the way, I hope to keep BOYSTOWN fans interested and engaged.
Were you at all concerned about starting a book series in this age where many are seeing literature as a dying art? Was it difficult to get the ball rolling with the public?
JB: Again, I think BOYSTOWN is unique in this regard. Because I began the series as a single episode online, I was able to gauge reader interest right from the start. I was surprised and humbled by the immediate, positive feedback I received from readers who encouraged me to continue. It’s because of the fans that BOYSTOWN is the success that it is. But you’re right — fewer and fewer people seem to be reading books these days, which is one of the reasons why I’m releasing the audio book version of the series this Spring. I hear about so many people who listen to books in their cars or on their phones at the gym that I am excited to introduce BOYSTOWN to an expanded audience with audio books.
When I worked at a theater in Philadelphia, I remember the artistic director marking resumes with “TGTF” during auditions. Afterward, he asked me to remove all resumes marked with said acronym and put them in the “no” pile. So, I asked, “What does this mean?” to which he responded, “Too gay to function.” With your plans to continue BOYSTOWN as a television series, do you plan to seek out gay actors, many of which often have their masculinity heavily policed when playing “straight” characters?
JB: I am so excited to be working with two wonderful TV producers — Weston Mueller and Gabe Fiscale — who, like me, know that BOYSTOWN belongs on television. Together, we are in the process of making that happen and I know the series will be a hit with viewing audiences, especially because the series already has such a diverse audience of readers worldwide. This isn’t a gay series so much as it is a series featuring many characters who are gay.
In terms of casting, I have a “dream cast” in mind and it’s a combination of gay and straight performers. What’s most important to me is that we get authentic, talented actors to portray the characters as I have written them. I would never support selecting actors based on their perceived “masculinity” — I would support selecting actors based on their talent and abilities. And it’s also very important to me that everyone on the BOYSTOWN team — the models on my book covers, the actors cast in the TV series, everyone — be quality, talented, professional, ethical, friendly people. That’s why I chose to work with Weston and Gabe — they are amazing. When people think of BOYSTOWN, I want them to think of an amazing series consisting of fantastic people.
What does the success of BOYSTOWN mean to you personally?
JB: BOYSTOWN has been the greatest experience of my entire life. And it has all happened so quickly, too. Five books and a potential TV series in less than three years? It’s been a fantastic, frenzied experience. But in the end, the best part about the whole experience has been the wonderful people that I have had the pleasure to meet and work with. I love every single one of my “Boys of BOYSTOWN” models who appear on the book covers; they are wonderful, generous people. I love every single one of the BOYSTOWN fans who have reached out to me with their kind words and generous offers to help spread the word about the series. I love Michael Vargas who designs all the BOYSTOWN book covers and publicity materials. Meeting and working with Weston and Gabe has been a blessing. And getting to celebrate and feature some real-life performers in my series — Steve Grand, Chadwick Stadt, Amy Armstrong, Whiskey & Cherries — has been an honor. I am so grateful for this entire experience.
What is the biggest struggle you have overcome with the series?
JB: I would say that publicity and marketing has been the biggest struggle. I had no idea when I started BOYSTOWN that I would spend so much of each day dedication to marketing, whether it be posting on social media, reaching out to publications and websites, sending out posters, etc. It’s like a full-time job in and of itself — and I am a one-man show here doing it all myself. And, to be honest, I have been surprised by how difficult it has been to get the attention of the larger, national gay publications. The smaller, more local publications have been very supportive and I truly appreciate them. I am doing my best to use BOYSTOWN as a way of “paying it forward” by featuring up-and-coming artists in my series. It’s my small way of “giving back.”
Where do you see BOYSTOWN in 10 years?
JB: I always tell fans that I will keep writing BOYSTOWN as long as they want me to. In ten years, I may be on Season Twenty! Who knows? And in ten years, I hope that the BOYSTOWN television series is in its eighth or ninth season and continuing to keep fans interested with its characters and plot twists.
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