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."
EDGE: I understand that "Boystown" started off as a lark -- something fun you were sharing with friends. Could you say a little more about where the idea came from, whether you populated your story with characters modeled on the friends you were sharing with, and how the whole thing took off?
Jake Biondi: "Boystown" has a very interesting history. Late last spring, I started to toss around in my head the idea of writing a continuing drama that focused on gay characters. I considered some ideas for characters and storylines. Then I finally began actually writing "Boystown" in June of 2013 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!
I was surprised and excited by the readers’ response and began to write and release installments more quickly. By November, I had released 10 episodes, and the reading audience had expanded well beyond the borders of America.
Readers also 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. The book is selling very well locally and nationally. In the meantime, I have continued to write additional episodes. Episodes 11 - 20 will be released this spring as "Boystown Season Two." The books are available in local bookstores as well as on amazon.com, bn.com, and through my website www.JakeBiondi.com.
EDGE: You’re writing "Boystown" as a literary "TV series," which is structured episodically with "seasons." Do you plan out "season arcs" for your story and characters? How many "seasons" do you suppose you’d need to tell the whole story you have in mind -- or is the story still unfolding as you work?
Jake Biondi: I think readers really like that "Boystown" is written like a TV series. It moves quickly and keeps people on the edges of their seats! The serial nature of the stories allows me to interact with readers and alter storylines based on their feedback.
I do have major story arcs in mind ahead of time, but I’m very flexible and often incorporate readers’ suggestions into future installments. Once the episodes are published in book form, they cannot be altered and are set in stone. But until the publishing stage, readers may influence what’s happening as I write.
EDGE: Is there some definite end that you have in mind or you’re working toward?
Jake Biondi Nope. I will keep writing "Boystown" as long as there is an audience out there interested in reading it.
EDGE: You’re working to see "Boystown" jump off the page and onto the screen. How did this all happen?
Jake Biondi: When my friend Aaron Savvy, who is a model, personal trainer, and actor living in Los Angeles, read the book, he called me right away and said, "We have to get this made into a TV series." What’s interesting is that I created one of the characters with Aaron in mind, but I didn’t tell him which character until after he read the book. Luckily, he identified the character right away and has been working ever since to promote the book and bring it to people in the entertainment industry who may be interested in bringing it to television or the Internet. Aaron appears on the cover of the book.
Then actor Billy Santoro became interested in the project as well. Billy expressed an interest in playing one of the characters and has also been working hard to get the book into the hands of entertainment executives. In the process, we have become good friends, which has been great. He has been so proactive about giving the book to directors and producers he knows.
Another actor, Boston Miles, first learned about "Boystown" when he saw people talking about it on Twitter and Facebook. So he ordered a copy on his own and read it -- and then got in touch with me. He immediately recognized the huge potential of the project and offered to assist me in any way he could. So he is also promoting the book and interested in appearing in the television version. Boston is such a great guy and outstanding performer -- and we have become friends in the process.
Most recently, I was excited to welcome actor DeMarco Majors onto the team. DeMarco is a phenomenal guy who also realized the potential for "Boystown" and has already been in contact with producers, directors, managers, and other actors to make the dream of turning "Boystown" into a series a reality. He has such a great sense of "vision" and really pushes me to consider things from a variety of points of view.
Things are moving very quickly and I am really excited. All of this has happened in less than 8 months!
EDGE: The "Boys of Boystown" is such a creative and interesting way to put faces to the characters. Tell me about that.
Jake Biondi: I recently sponsored a nationwide photo contest to find new "faces" to use in the promotion of "Boystown." I received entries from people all over the country, which was really exciting. In the end, I selected five winners and revealed them to the country last week, one each day.
The winners are Brad Jan of West Hollywood, Brennen Cooper of NYC, Patrick Murphy of Chicago, Christian Tyler of New Orleans, and Nick DiCristina of Chicago. Since announcing the winners, several other models from around the country have contacted me to inquire about being involved with "Boystown" as well. That’s how our newest team member, Richard Mathews, joined up.
EDGE: When you were choosing the winners of the photo contest, were there some portraits that made you say, "Yes, that’s exactly how I imagined him!" And were there other portraits that made you say, "Hmm, I wouldn’t have pictured him this way, but now that I see this photo, this really is the guy?"
Jake Biondi: Selecting the "Men of Boystown" has been a really fun process. My friend Aaron Savvy was the first person selected because I actually wrote the character of Cole O’Brien with him in mind. The same thing happened with Boston Miles, for whom I created the character of Derek Mancini.
When I met DeMarco Majors, I immediately thought of the character of Max Taylor; luckily, when DeMarco read "Boystown," he connected with the character of Max. Billy Santoro contacted me and expressed an interest in "Boystown" all on his own and, as we began to talk more, I realized he would make a great Justin Mancini.
Once those four characters had "faces," I launched the photo contest to discover others to represent the remaining characters. Patrick Murphy is a friend of mine and I encouraged him to enter the contest because he has the "look" I imagined for Emmett Mancini; he sent me a few photos and I selected him as a winner.
The other four winners were people I have never met in person, but whose photos "jumped out" at me to represent certain characters. When I saw Brad Jan’s photos, I immediately thought of the character of Michael Martinez and the same thing happened when I saw Christian Tyler’s photos -- I knew he would be perfect as the character of Jesse Morgan.
I didn’t really have a set "look" in mind for the characters of Logan Pryce or Keith Colgan, but when I saw the photos submitted by Brennan Cooper and Nick DiCristina, I knew I had found my guys!
Most recently, I was introduced to Richard Mathews who turned out to be perfect for the new character of David Young, who is an important character in Season Two.
Getting to know all of these people has been an absolute pleasure -- and it’s cool that they are from all over the country. I think "Team Boystown" is a phenomenal group of guys!
EDGE:The series is called "Boystown," but there are some strong female characters here, too, including a new face for Season Two. What can you tell me about Rachel Carson?
Jake Biondi: Yes, "Boystown" has some great female characters, and we have just recently updated our promotional materials to include more of the women.
The book appeals to a very large audience, far beyond just gay readers. [Jesse’s mother] Jacqueline Morgan and Joyelle Mancini are very important characters. As for Rachel Carson, I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you. Haha. She’s a woman of mystery in Season Two.
EDGE Can you preview anything about Season Two for us? (Like, what’s up with those sexy new twins?)
Jake Biondi: Well, I don’t want to give too much away -- that spoils the fun. I can tell you a little bit, though. Season Two opens with the aftermath of the warehouse shooting. There are three victims, one of whom dies. Those who do survive have lives that are forever changed as a result.
Season Two also introduces the much-anticipated Ciancio twins. I have been advertising them for some time now and readers will first meet them a few episodes into Season Two. They "spice up" the story quite a bit. The Ciancio and Mancini families are bitter rivals bent on revenge and their family feud is a focus of Season Two. Justin Mancini is very much involved in that storyline.
Season Two also introduces the characters of Tyler Bennett and David Young, both of whom are connected to characters readers already know. Season Two also features an engagement, a few dark secrets, and an explosive finale.
EDGE: Your fans love all this, but what do your family think? Do you ever have the thought many writers have of, "Oh my god, what is my mother going to think when she reads this?"
Jake Biondi: Haha, yes, I do have those thoughts. Enough said.
"Boystown" is available at local bookstores and online at amazon.com, bn.com and www.jakebiondi.com