“You know I’m gay, right?” asks one of my characters.

 

This blog was originally posted in September  2012.

Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel  (formerly Home Front) is a love story recounting the journeys of self-discovery of a young woman and a young man who also happen to be African American soldiers during World War II.

SoldiersinBarracksThey don’t face combat (most Negro soldiers never made it to the front lines of WWII) but their daily existence is one filled with heroic acts and small successes in the midst of demoralizing discrimination.

I was surprised when in the pre-dawn hours of half sleep one of my secondary characters nudged me to say:  “you know I’m gay, right?”  I awoke with a start of ‘what? Oh no!’

The character—Sergeant Moses a tough-as-nails career soldier charged with training Negro recruits—plays a pivotal role in the novel and serves as the reader’s moral compass as he reacts to the second-class treatment of the black soldiers in his care.

All of a sudden, I not only had to deal with how to weave the theme of race relations into my love story, now I was forced to think about what it would mean to be a homosexual soldier in 1943.   Remember this is seventy years before Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  In those days it was more like… don’t dare even think about telling.

I took a couple of days away from the writing to analyze my feelings about this character’s secret and to figure out how my narrative would be affected.

At first I resisted.

This novel is loosely based on my father’s military experience during WWII.  Was this

PFC Sam McGarrah  (my father)

PFC Sam McGarrah (my father)

revelation something about him?  Was I afraid of what I might find?   I also worried about what this theme might mean for the book’s potential audience.  I was already busily balancing a military backdrop with a romance narrative and hoping I wouldn’t lose my connection to the women’s market.  I was also constantly second guessing about how much weight to give to historical fact in the novel.

Then I remembered the wise words of a teacher in a writer’s workshop…only worry about the writing.   So, I let the needs of the story lead me and I started another wave of research.  Here’s a fact I discovered: there is very little fiction or non-fiction (other than memoirs) about gays in the military during World War II and nothing about black gays.

Ultimately, I figured out how to use this new information to enrich the novel

Sgt. Moses’ secret (and its revelation in the novel) is a precipitating incident in the coming-of-age journey of one of my protagonists.  I used my writer’s imagination to conjure the language characters would use within the story line–endearments between lovers; the words of curiosity, sympathy, hatred and acceptance.  Remember, the terms “gay” and “queer” weren’t commonplace in the 1940’s.  Even the term, homosexual was

The Lesson for me:  Characters are almost always right.

Long Way Home:  A World War II Novel is AVAILABLE in the Kindle Bookstore