NEW YORK – Lightning can strike twice – or at least it did May 26 with the release of “Drama Queers!,” the second novel by Hazel Park native Frank Anthony Polito that explores gay teen life in the 1980s.
“Band Fags!,” Polito’s first semi-autobiographical book released last June, follows the deeply closeted Jack Paterno as he navigates his way through the halls of Hazeltucky High. His gay best friend Bradley Dayton stars in this latest tale.
“‘Drama Queers!’ is the story of a 17-year-old thespian who is bound and determined to become a famous actor one day, but along the way, he learns that perhaps it’s not as easy as he thinks it will be,” Polito revealed recently from his home in New York. “He has this whole mantra of being who he is, and that’s why people like him so much and why he’s so popular.”
Unlike Jack, who goes to great lengths to keep his sexuality a secret – even from his best friend – being gay is never an issue for Brad. Nor, seemingly, is it for the other students at Hazel Park High. “He’s just who he is.”
And it’s that contrast – along with the two characters’ distinct voices – that makes reading the books quite fun. Originally, however, Polito didn’t plan to tell their stories in two separate books.
“When my editor first approached me about the first book a couple of years ago, one of his suggestions was that I could write each chapter from a different character’s point of view; it would alternate between Jack and Brad. Since I had lived Jack’s side of the story to an extent, I knew I could tell his side of the story in the nine months or so I had to write it. But I wasn’t sure if I could get into Brad’s world so easily.”
The idea was dropped, and “Band Fags!” became Jack’s story. “So once I finished the book and (my editor) approached me for a second book, I felt like I had gotten to know Brad a lot better,” Polito said.
Building a story around Brad wasn’t difficult, the author explained, since events in “Band Fags” drove the aspiring actor out of the story for awhile. “But as a writer, I had to know what (Brad) was doing. So in the second book, I got to write about it.”
Much of Jack’s life in “Band Fags” reflects Polito’s own personal experiences at Hazel Park High, but Brad is based on someone else – Polito’s best friend since seventh grade. “But in a way, Brad is me,” the author said. “There are parts of me in Brad that I didn’t put in Jack – the love of acting, for example, which wasn’t something that my ‘real life’ Brad did. He wasn’t in the drama club; he didn’t want to be an actor. And he absolutely hated ‘Grease 2!'”
Although “Band Fags!” was well received by national publications such as The Advocate and Instinct, Polito is most pleased by the fan reaction to the novel. “The reviews were nice, but I got e-mails from people who read the book from as far away as the Philippines and Germany, and it was nice to know that people would take the time to read something that I wrote – and that they actually enjoyed it.”
But with the fan mail came a revelation. “The biggest surprise, really, was how many people accused me of stealing their life story,” Polito chuckled, “in that they too grew up with a gay best friend, and how much of my life experiences were so similar to their own. I found out that while my own life might not have been unique, many people found it to be interesting.”
Plans for a third novel in the series have been shelved for the time being, as Polito – with an master’s in dramatic writing from Carnegie Mellon University – is now focused on screenwriting. Yet Jack, Brad and all their friends may live again – but in a different medium.
“I’ve gotten some inquiries about film rights, which is always where I saw this story going – being that ‘Band Fags’ started out as a stage play, and how I wrote each chapter as sort of a mini-television episode.”
Plus, a noted gay television creator requested a copy of the book. “My fingers are crossed,” Polito said. “Patience is a virtue!”
Frank Anthony Polito
“Drama Queers” signing
6:30 p.m. June 18
Barnes & Noble
500 Main St., Royal Oak
After-party at Pronto!