Thursday, December 6, 2012

If You Were Gay in 1959: A Life Filled with Awesome Love

First, if you were gay in 1959 the odds are you were either sipping from the gin pail or in a very good mood. And if you were attracted to the same sex you were homosexual in clinical terms or any number of offensive pejoratives on the street.

On December 21st I have a new book coming out that's titled,"A Life Filled with Awesome Love," that's set in a remote western town, takes place during 1959, and has a story that revolves around a younger gay man trapped in impossible circumstances. So when I wrote "A Life Filled with Awesome Love," I took into consideration how difficult it must have been for young men who lived in small western towns to meet other men like themselves.

From what I've heard from older gay men I know, one of the biggest reasons why men who were attracted to other men moved to large cities was because they didn't dare come out of the closet in the small towns where they'd grown up. I just happened to set my story in a western town because it's a love story with two cowboys. But I could have set it anywhere in the US, from the deep south to the smallest town in Vermont. And from what I read in e-mails from many of my most discreet readers, things haven't changed all that much in those small towns.

Although the Internet has many issues to work out yet, one of the most freeing things about it is that it's opened up a whole new world for people in small towns who are gay and can't come out. I'm keeping this ambiguous because it's not just men; it's everyone in the isolated part LGBT community. And one of the things I find interesting about writing stories set in time periods like the 1950's is that there is a lot more hope for LGBT people when you compare then and now. And from what I gather, a lot of these people feel connected with the books and articles they read in digital format. So those of you who claim you love the smell of print books and you'll never give them up for e-books, take a moment to fully understand the impact e-books have had on gay people living lives where they just can't come out of the closet. My iPhone is something I use often and love, but I know someone who thinks of his iPod as his lifeline to the world.

In any event, I could ramble on about this forever. So here's the story description and an excerpt from "A Life Filled with Awesome Love." I don't think the excerpt I'm using now will be posted anywhere else. And I will post more when the book is released on December 21st. It's not actually a Christmas story, but there is a Christmas scene at the end.

It’s 1959 and young Travis Swanson discovers that living in the same small Montana town where he grew up is suffocating. So he devises a long term plan to get out of his situation and change his circumstances, but there aren’t that many options for men like him and he has to settle for the best thing that comes along. In his case, this comes in the form of an advertisement at the back of a rodeo magazine. He answers an unusual ad for a ranch hand job in Western Montana and finds himself communicating with a cowboy named O’Dell Johnston. After a series of letters pass between them Travis decides to take the job and move into O’Dell’s house. But he soon learns that although some things are better than he expected and O’Dell is an articulate lover, some things just don’t make sense. And Travis is not sure he can live with a man who has so many secrets, won’t install central heat, and rarely ever discusses his past…a past that includes the mysterious deaths of the two young ranch hands before Travis.          
At times, Travis felt invisible. As he watched everyone else’s life move forward, his didn’t seem to move at all. At other times, he felt their eyes on him, as if they were scrutinizing him and wondering why he seemed so different from other young men his age. He didn’t look different; he didn’t sound different. To see him at a glance, no one would have looked twice. But he knew the people closest to him were wondering about him, and he wasn’t sure what to do about that.

Whenever Travis thought about the future, he felt uneasiness deep in his gut that lasted for hours. He knew he had no future there.

His only viable option was to marry the girl who lived up the road and settle down just like his mom and dad. He’d been dating her for two years. Her name was Sally Mae Somerloon, and she worked at a local bank as a teller: a pinched-face girl with wide hips and thick ankles. It would have been the easiest thing for him to do. But he just couldn’t seem to get rid of that uneasy feeling deep in his gut every time he thought about what his life might be like twenty years from now.

So, he started looking for other ways out. Though his options were limited, he figured if he could move away, at least he’d be able to live his own life in peace and quiet without having to live up to anyone’s expectations…in a place where no one knew him. He knew the things his family wanted from him were never going to happen. He’d begun to reach a point where going out with the insufferable Somerloon girl up the road caused his heart to race in a way that left him both terrified and depressed. At times, he felt so overwhelmed, he thought he might lose his mind. But most of all, he didn’t want to wind up being that peculiar old bachelor in the small town where he’d lived his entire life.

Then, one afternoon in late August of 1959, he went to the dentist’s office and found an interesting advertisement in the classifieds of a rodeo magazine he’d read millions of times in the past. He found the ad in the help wanted section at the back of the magazine and read it aloud in a soft whisper. “Strong, young man willing to work for room, board and a small salary on a small ranch. No experience needed. Just easy to get along with and looking for privacy.” The mailing address was in western Montana, far enough from where he lived right now to start a new life on his own.

He glanced back and forth to make sure no one was watching, and then he tore the ad out of the magazine and put it in his pocket. Later that same night, he replied with a note and dropped it in the mailbox the next morning on his way to work. He kept the note brief; he mentioned he had experience as a ranch hand and that he didn’t mind privacy. At first, he didn’t expect anything from it. The only reason he’d answered the ad was because it might be a way out of the situation he was in right now. In fact, he forgot all about it the moment he dropped his letter in the mailbox, and he went right back to his normal routine.

A week later, he received a reply. When he came home from work and his mom handed it to him and asked him what it was, he shrugged and said, “Just a letter from a fella I knew at work. He moved away last year.” Then, he put the letter in his back pocket, sat down in his usual seat at the table and read it later that night when he went to bed.


A.B.Gayle said...

Sounds good, Ryan. I do think those of us living in big cities in "enlightened" countries do tend to forget what it's like for those who don't.

Even now, I strike homophobia amongst my colleagues and even friends at times. Especially those from non-Aussie backgrounds.

There are so few acknowledged gay bushmen/cowboys here that when one does come out it's newsworthy.

I can understand why so many men over forty have married and are in the closet or just coming out now that their children are grown.

Looking forward to seeing what insights you will be able to add.

ryan field said...

I agree. I think it's so rare it is newsworthy.