Ever since I was a kid, reading classic series like The Forsythe Saga, I have wanted to write a series myself! No one else has done the fictional saga of gay family life through decades of American time, so it's there to be done.
Many people have asked me why I waited 20 years to write the sequel to The Front Runner. Some stories, like some wines, need some years to mature.
The original plan – for which I had a contract with William Morrow in the late 1970s – was to write Billy's Boy as the next book. But when I started working on it, a problem confronted me. In the book, the kid is born in 1977 and I wanted to write about him as a young teen...which meant writing about the early 1990s in the 1970s. This was science fiction, which didn't appeal to me. The story just wasn't working. Who could know what the U.S. would be like in fifteen years? So William Morrow and I tore up the contract.
After The Beauty Queen and the Billy's Boy fiasco, I felt like I had temporarily run out of things to say. There were some urgent issues about personal spirituality and what being a woman really means. About this time – 1979 – I read Seven Arrows by Cheyenne author Hyemeyohsts Storm, who turned out to be a cousin of mine. So the 80s were a time when I took a sabbatical from gay-themed fiction and wrote One Is The Sun, a historical novel about native American women healers that I'd wanted to do for a long time, but had no idea how to go about it. With a new agent – Morty Janklow – and a contract with Random House/Ballantine to do the book, I forged into a new cycle of my life. Hyemeyohsts – "Wolf" to the family – opened doors to me in the native world, and shared some important information with me.
Through that decade, I gained new insights into myself and craft, and it's safe to say that I couldn't have returned to gay themes with the maturity I have now if I hadn't written One Is The Sun, which was published in 1991. By then it was time to think about Billy's Boy again, and I realized that there needed to be another book between it and the first one. With hindsight I realized how much I had needed to live through the '80s myself in order to see where my characters' lives wanted to go from the point where I left them in The Front Runner. This "bridge book" was Harlan's Race.
It's a dark story, and I had a hard time writing it. Unlike The Front Runner, which rolled out of the typewriter, Harlan's Race was more like polishing jade...a slow process on a resistant material. It took me two years to get it right.
From the beginning, it was clear that the book needed to be about Harlan's long-term healing. One doesn't recover overnight from a traumatic loss like he suffered in the first book. I also wanted to bring forward the two bodyguards as important characters, and thread them into the healing, because they would have been impacted deeply – the death in The Front Runner happened on their watch. With this thread I could also deal in passing with the personal issues of gay and lesbian Vietnam vets, who have been so ignored by the so-called "community." I talked with many gay veterans, especially Special Forces men. I wanted to send the message that gay people in the U.S. face a peacetime kind of Vietnam.
In spite of all that, the Harlan's Race story line stayed infuriatingly meandering...till I went back to my sources on sniping and was reminded that military snipers usually work in pairs. The "second sniper" gave me the idea that finally galvanized the story line to life.
The kid, of course, was another story thread – we see him as a toddler, than a grade-schooler, with the hints of the passionate nature that become the focus of Billy's Boy.
Copyright © 2001 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights Reserved