In "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill," a closeted gay teen discovers a secret from actual history that could change the world – Abraham Lincoln was in love with another guy!
Synopsis: 15 year-old Wyatt lives in homophobic small-town Lincolnville, Oregon, where his parents own the Lincoln Slept Here Bed & Breakfast. Figuring that since everyone loves Lincoln, if the world knew Lincoln was gay, they’d treat gay people differently and it would solve everything about his life, Wyatt outs Lincoln on his blog. The post goes viral, and suddenly Wyatt’s overwhelmed in a media firestorm that threatens to destroy everything he cares about.
There’s a girl best friend: Mackenzie saves Wyatt from being beaten up by Wyatt’s nemesis Jonathon by kissing Wyatt. Wyatt knows the bullies are watching the kiss, so he responds—which Mackenzie misinterprets, thinking he likes her. (And she’s always secretly liked him…) Now suddenly Wyatt has a girlfriend! He reluctantly goes along with being boyfriend-girlfriend as a way to survive 9th grade, but the guilt is killing him. Wyatt judges dating Mackenzie the right thing to do, but he doesn’t feel the emotions he knows he’s supposed to…
Inciting incident: For their 9th grade Lincoln book reports, Wyatt’s book includes primary source letters (real world letters, cited in the novel’s endnotes) that convince him Lincoln was in love with Joshua Fry Speed. That leads to Wyatt outing Lincoln…
There’s an impossible romance: When things get really crazy, Wyatt calls in a civil rights attorney to help—and her openly gay son, Martin, may be just the kind of guy Wyatt’s been hoping to meet. But if he comes out now, no one will believe him about Lincoln. (It’s very different for a gay kid to say Lincoln was gay than a straight kid saying it.) And Wyatt needs the world to believe it! Because if Lincoln saved the slaves, maybe he could save the gays, too. Maybe, just maybe, he could save Wyatt.
The story behind the story: I didn’t fully come out as a gay man until I was in my 20s. As a teenager, I dated women, and always judged it to be the right thing to do, even though I didn’t feel it. And, for years, I hoped the feeling would come… it never did.
Seven years ago I heard a speaker mention Lincoln’s letters to Joshua Fry Speed, letters that lead some people to believe that Lincoln loved Speed. I’d never heard of it, and thought it was completely made up. Then I got a book from the library with the letters reproduced inside. The first letter I turned to was Abraham Lincoln writing Joshua Fry Speed eight months after Joshua had married a woman named Fanny. And Lincoln was desperate, asking Joshua “…are you now in feeling, as well as in judgment, glad that you are married as you are?” We don’t have Joshua’s letter answering Abraham, but it was only a month later that Abraham married Mary Todd!
To me, this was the smoking gun of history—hidden, queer history. And as I dug deeper, and found more and more evidence of Lincoln and Speed’s romance, I couldn’t stop thinking about how if I had known that Abraham Lincoln was in love with another man when I was 15, how it would have changed my life. How it might have changed the world. How it could still change the world.
I had to write that as a novel for teens! Eight drafts and a mentorship by National Book Award-Winner M.T. Anderson later, "Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill" is ready for readers.
I also realized that there should be a nonfiction book sharing the hidden queer history of historical figures like Abraham Lincoln (and Mahatma Gandhi, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Pharaoh Hatshepsut) with young people. That became the nonfiction book "The Queer History Project: No Way, They Were Gay?"
Too controversial for traditional publishers:
Two years ago the nonfiction book sold to a major New York publishing house. I worked on it with my editor and their team, finished developmental editing, and we were talking cover design… and then Trump was elected President. Two weeks later, my literary agent and I got a call from the publisher. They were no longer willing to publish my book.
It was going to be too controversial.
And the novel, with its focus on Lincoln loving another man as the foundation for all the modern action and drama? It got responses from traditional publishers like, “I’m eager to be a customer for this book, even if I can’t be its editor.” Bottom line?
It’s too controversial.
Going Directly To Readers: I have a popular award-winning blog for teens, I’m Here. I’m Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?, which gets 900 page loads a day. It’s where I’ve been serializing the “Queer as a Five-Dollar Bill” novel, one chapter a week, since September 15, 2017.
5,000 people are reading along.
And in February 2018, there will be a crowd-funding campaign to raise the funds to self-publish the novel.
But first, we need an amazing cover!