Jake Biondi :: Running with the Boys of ’Boystown’
Writer Jake Biondi needed to look no further than his own neighborhood for inspiration. His serialized novel "Boystown" is set in the area of Chicago known by that same name, and constructed like a sprawling Dickensian potboiler, with multiple story threads, a large cast of characters, and a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.
Correction: "Boystown" isn’t told in chapters. The saga proceeds in "episodes," ten per "season," with Season One now available as a book.
"Boystown"’s array of characters include Derek and Joyelle Mancini, a married couple; Cole O’Brien, a student of Notre Dame who’s just graduating, and who has fallen for the bisexual Derek after a fling; Cole’s roommate Jesse Morgan, and Jesse’s boyfriend, a Notre Dame gardener named Ben Donovan, who can’t let go when Jesse graduates and leaves for his new job in Chicago.
The cast also features Emmett Mancini, Derek’s gay brother; Keith Colgan, Emmett’s boyfriend, who plans to pop the question come Christmas time; and longtime couple Max Taylor and Logan Pryce, whose relationship is headed for the rocks due in part of Logan’s heavy drinking. Logan has a new distraction from his personal woes in the form of Jesse, who’s about to become a new hire at work; meantime, as Max and Logan drift apart, Max harbors a secret crush on Emmett.
With each episode ending on a cliffhanger, the tenth episode of Season One -- the season finale, if you will -- had to close on a bang... and boy, did it, as a volley of gunfire erupted during a tense standoff in a warehouse. Fans will be chomping at the bit to see what Biondi has in store for Season Two.
But in the meantime, Biondi has been creating plenty of excitement around his ongoing novel. Biondi, who is also a playwright, tends to segue from scene to scene in a manner that’s downright televisual; it’s only natural that his readers would see his stories as a TV series on paper just waiting for someone to pluck it off the page and put it on the screen. Just such a push is now underway, with Biondi exploring possible avenues to bring his cast of characters and their complicated lives and relationships to TV.
And, as though to help us visualize the story with him, Biondi recently conducted a national contest, soliciting photos from hot men and women to match up to his characters. Those photos have all been chosen now, giving each of the characters a face for readers to attach to the names. That includes faces for several new characters Biondi plans to introduce in Season Two, such as sexy brunette Rachel Carson and hunky twins Gino and Marco Ciancio.
EDGE chatted with Biondi via email recently. Biondi turned out to be as much a man of mystery as any of his fictional creations; charming and enthusiastic, if unwilling to talk overly much about himself, the writer kept the focus on "Boystown" and its inhabitants.
Intrigued? Read on...
EDGE: Has writing -- especially gay fiction -- been a longtime interest for you?
Jake Biondi: Writing is something that I have enjoyed since I was a very young kid. I can remember writing all kinds of stories at a very young age. As I grew up, writing became a sort of "stress reliever" for me; it was something that I very much looked forward to doing whenever I had time. In college, I continued to write -- not just stories, but plays and potential TV pilots as well.
When I was a senior at the University of Notre Dame, I was awarded their prestigious William Mitchell Award for Playwriting, which was a really big deal. I was so excited. Since college, I continued to write a bit, on and off, but last summer, as I began to toss around ideas for "Boystown," I really got back into writing and it felt great.
EDGE: This is an incredibly twisty, knotty plot with all the story threads you have going. How do you keep it all straight? Did you have to plot out everything in Season One in advance, or were you building the story as you went?
Jake Biondi:Great question! Yes, the "Boystown" storylines have a bunch of twists and turns; they keep the readers interested. And because I always end each episode with a cliffhanger or two, I have to carefully sequence the scenes so that they build toward the end of every segment.
Some of the storylines were in my mind when I began Season One and others developed along the way. Some even began because of readers’ comments and suggestions! For example, Michael Martinez was just going to be a minor character that I introduced to help with the investigation into Emmett’s disappearance halfway through Season One; however, I saw a lot of potential in the character and decided to keep him in the story permanently -- and the audience seems to like him. As I am writing Season Two, I again have main storylines in mind but am open to surprising myself with ideas that pop up along the way.
EDGE: Your way of changing from scene to scene, and building toward each episode climax / cliffhanger has gotten increasingly cinematic throughout Season One.
Jake Biondi: I do think in cinematic terms; that comes naturally to me. My mind seems to be "wired" that way. So this type of storytelling is really fun and incredibly natural for me. I guess that’s why I have "connected" with serials all of my life -- from daytime soaps to nighttime dramas to the classic novels of Dickens.
EDGE: I get the impression "Boystown" has a lot of female fans, as well as gay male readers. Is that accurate? What do you suppose is going on there?
Jake Biondi: The evolution of "Boystown"’s audience has been really interesting. At first, especially when the episodes were only online, it felt like all of "Boystown"’s readers were female because I was only hearing from female fans. They reached out to me in great ways -- to ask questions and offer suggestions.
And the female readers were also the ones who initiated a lot of the "Boystown" promotion ideas such as online book tours. Once the book was published, however, the audience seemed to "balance out" more. I began to hear from male and female readers, both gay and straight. And the recent "push" to bring "Boystown" to television has come primarily from my gay male fans who really want to see these characters on the screen. I am very glad that "Boystown" now has such a broad fan base and appeal.
EDGE: The stories have taken off in a dramatic way with your readers. And they’re not just reading -- as you mentioned just now, fans of the series are offering you support and even story suggestions!
Jake Biondi: Fans of "Boystown" are the best; they are very dedicated. One fan from Massachusetts loves the book so much that she organized an "online book tour" with 20 bloggers from all over the country -- all on her own. Another reader has created social media accounts to help with promotion. I’m really humbled by and grateful for the kindness and generosity of my readers.
As I have been working on Episodes 11 - 20, I have "leaked" them to some fans of the series to get their responses and input. I love this interactive creative process with my fans.
Because of "Boystown"’s huge success online and the serialized nature of my writing, readers from all over the globe have been able to correspond with me and influence the storylines of the 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."