The Word Exclusive: Author Jake Biondi discusses his newest season of Boystown.
The Word recently sat down with Chicago author, Jake Biondi about his series Boystown. Here are some insights to how it all got started, how he developed the characters and who’s making guest appearances not to mention what he plans for the future.
TW: What inspired you to write the Boystown series?
JB: I have always been a fan of continuing, serialized dramas, whether they be classics such as the novels of Charles Dickens (which were released in magazines in installments, each of which ended with a cliffhanger to keep readers coming back for more) or more contemporary such as Dallas, Dynasty, and Revenge. I thought it was finally time for a well-written, intriguing drama that had gay characters at its core. And after living in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood for twenty years, I thought to myself, “What better place to inspire a continuing drama?” Thus, Boystown story was born.
Boystown has a very interesting history. I began writing Boystown as an online story and intended to release one “episode” online per month, each ending in a cliffhanger. The story became so popular — and the online reading audience grew so quickly — that people from all over the country began to email me demanding to know what happened to their favorite characters and wanting the episodes to be released faster. They also had suggestions for future storylines!
Readers then suggested that I publish the first 10 episodes as a book rather than leaving them online. I took their advice — and “Boystown Season One” was published in late November, 2013. In the meantime, I continued to write additional episodes. Episodes 11 – 20 were released as “Boystown Season Two” in July of 2014 and “Boystown Season Three” was just released on May 1.
Because of Boystown’s huge success online and the serialized nature of my writing, readers from all over have been able to correspond with me and influence the storylines of the Boystown saga as I write it. It’s really exciting to interact with fans in this way. I think it’s something very unique to Boystown.
TW:How do you develop your characters?
JB: Every good saga has a family at its core. The Mancinis are my main family. Everyone in the book is somehow connected to them.
Emmett Mancini, the youngest of the brothers, is a bright, caring guy whose boyfriend Keith Colgan has a past Emmett knows little about…yet. Derek Mancini, and his wife Joyelle, are Boystown’s straight couple…but an encounter with hunky Cole O’Brien could have life-altering consequences for Derek. And Justin Mancini, the oldest brother, brings with him a family history that both Emmett and Derek were hoping to forget.
I have to admit that some of the characters have taken on a life all their own. Officer Michael Martinez is one example. I created him simply because I needed a police officer for a brief scene and then, all of a sudden, came up with a huge idea and now he is one of Boystown’s main and most liked characters.
I have also been intrigued by the fans’ responses to certain couples in the series. For example, I never anticipated that so many people would be fans of “Kemmett” (Keith and Emmett). Fans are very vocal about what I did to that couple at the end of “Season One” and provided many ideas for how I should write those characters in “Season Two.” Fans of “Dole” (Derek and Cole) are also very vocal. While most readers like and connect with the character of Cole, some like him with Derek and others don’t. Finally, I was really taken aback by people’s reactions to Justin, who appears on the Boystown landscape toward the end of “Season One.” Readers really find him appealing and interesting – and want to know everything about him: his sexuality, his motives, his plan. And then there are the Ciancio twins, who are introduced in “Season Two”…
TW: Why did you set the Boystown series in Chicago?
JB: Chicago is the greatest city in the world and Boystown is my home; I have lived in the ‘hood for over 20 years and I love it. It’s an incredibly vibrant, diverse, evolving neighborhood and I knew it would make the perfect locale for my series. In fact, in a lot of ways, the neighborhood itself is a character. I try to use as many real places in the books as possible. I want people to get a real “feel” for the neighborhood when they are reading. Maybe my books will be good for tourism.
TW: What’s the best thing about being the author of Boystown?
JB: Writing the Boystown series has been one of the most fantastic experiences of my life. I have enjoyed every moment of the writing and marketing process. But what I have really enjoyed the most about the entire experience has been the interaction with the Boystown readers. Boystown fans are, quite simply, the best.
I have been so touched and humbled by the outpouring of kindness and support I have received from Boystown readers since the moment the first episode hit the internet in 2013. People began to email me from all over the country – and beyond – to share with me their thoughts and ideas about the Boystown characters and storylines. I make it a priority to respond to every email that I receive not only because I value the readers’ feedback but also because I want my readers to understand that I want them to reach out to me. I want to hear from them — their ideas, their suggestions, their reviews, their feedback. In fact, their comments and ideas actually can and do impact the future of the series because I have written some of their suggestions into the series. In short, by contacting me, the readers can actually impact what happens to their favorite characters.
TW: Do you have a favorite character in your series?
JB: I think every author incorporates his personal experiences into his writing. While the characters in Boystown are fictitious, my experiences with friends and family have certainly influenced them. We all know many people like the characters in Boystown.
I enjoy writing all of the Boystown characters because they are all so unique and different. And the fans’ responses to certain characters often surprise and motivate me as well. For example, the character of Justin Mancini was never meant to be a main character. I only intended to use him in a few chapters; however, the fans’ response to him was so overwhelming that I had to develop Justin more and keep him around. The same is true for Michael Martinez. I created him simply because I needed a police officer for a certain plotline, but he seemed to take on a life all his own, so I kept him. Of course, I love writing Derek and Cole because they are at the center of so much of the action. And Emmett is probably the most like me, so I love writing him, too.
TW: You use your Boystown series to spotlight and celebrate some local performers. Tell us about that.
JB: That is something that I started in the second book. There are so many people who have been so supportive of Boystown that I wanted to use the books as a way to say “thank you” and support up-and-coming artists as well.
Whiskey & Cherries is a Chicago trio consisting of singers Meredith Freyre and Danielle Kastner and pianist Brian Felder. I first met them a few years ago at Twisted Vine in Chicago and fell in love with them and their music. They are wonderful people and so talented, too. When I learned they were fans of the first Boystown book, I asked them if I could write them into the ending of the second book. It was my small way of thanking them for their support and celebrating their talent. They agreed and, I think, were really excited to see themselves in the book interacting with Boystown’s main characters. They appear again in the third book.
Also, singer Amy Armstrong has been a huge supporter of the Boystown series. In fact, she has given away copies of the books at many of her shows, not only here in Chicago but also in Indiana and even Mexico. To show my appreciation for all of her amazing support, I wrote her into book three as well. We artists need to support each other — and I am so grateful for all the support and love I have been given.
TW: You are a huge fan of singer Steve Grand and include him in the third book as well.
JB: I have always been a huge fan of Steve Grand. Not only is he very talented, but he is an inspiration and role model to me personally. He and I exchanged emails and I asked him if I could write him into my third book as a tribute to him. He graciously granted permission and so I wrote him in as the headline performer in the book’s final scene.
Then, by fluke, I happened to be at a bar in Chicago one night and I met him there. It was his birthday and he was out celebrating. So I introduced myself to him and we talked for a while. It was great to finally be able to chat with him in person. We talked about his birthday, his new album, and the Boystown books. We even took a few selfies together — he is the self-proclaimed “selfie king.” He’s a sweet, wonderful guy — and from Chicago, too!
When Boystown makes it TV, I would love to have Steve write and perform the show’s theme song. And I’d love for him to appear as himself in the series as well.
TW: Tell us about bringing the Boystown series to television.
JB: Boystown is written very much like a TV show so it’s only logical to bring the series to television. I even call the books “seasons” and the chapters “episodes.” I recently spent a great deal of time “converting” the books into TV script form. It was a lot of work, but well worth it. Since then, there has been a lot of interest from people in Hollywood. I am now working with two TV producers — great guys who want to bring the series to a TV network soon. So my fingers are crossed and I’m optimistic. We also have a new Facebook group called #BringBOYSTOWNtoTV that anyone can join to offer support for the books’ transition to television.
TW: Do you have any actors in mind for the series?
JB: Several of the “BOYSTOWN boys” whose images appear in the Boystown promotional materials are actors themselves and I would love to see some of them in the TV series. In addition, I have already reached out to several other Hollywood actors whom I believe would be great in the series — and their response has been very positive. It’s too early to name names, but things are in motion and I’m very excited about that.
TW: Where can people purchase the Boystown books and how do readers contact you?
JB: Boystown is available in paperback and all e-book formats through my website www.JakeBiondi.com as well as amazon.com, bn.com, and iTunes. Autographed copies of the books are available through my site as well.
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