At first glance, it’s hard to imagine two more different summers than 1918, when my first book, Flower of Iowa, takes place, and 1988, the setting for my newest novel, Floridian Nights. The trenches of Great War France, where a 19th-century world violently gave way to the 20th century, were as alien to my own life as the streets of New York and the highways and byways of Florida in the late 1980s were familiar. And yet …
Both were times when young men were at particularly high risk for early death, whether from the warfare of 1918 or the AIDS epidemic of 1988. Both were times when the world was undergoing cataclysmic change. For the soldiers of the First World War, that may seem obvious. But the gay men who were the first-line victims – and survivors – of the AIDS epidemic in the US simultaneously experienced a revolutionary positive change – the emergence, for the first time in history, of a true LGBT community – and abrupt, cruel devastation, in the form of a killer syndrome that decimated their ranks.
What a challenge, then, to write two novels about young men in love in such different yet similar eras. Tommy and Davey, the protagonists of Flower of Iowa, have no words to capture the emotions overtaking them, but in Floridian Nights, Gary and Becker – and later, Gary and Rick – do know and employ that vocabulary, even while experiencing a rush of love their predecessors would recognize.
But ultimately, as it turns out, all of these observations, though I think they’re sound, are secondary to the characters’ stories. If you’ve enjoyed and/or been moved reading Tommy and Davey’s story, set against the unimaginable loss of World War I, I hope you will find Gary’s story, of unbearable personal loss and facing the possibility of finding love again – even while resisting that very possibility – equally worth the read.