Neil S. Plakcy for almost a decade now. Neil constantly comes up with fantastic themes and subjects for his releases for the fine folks at Cleis Press -- surfers, blue collar handymen, and the military among them. His books are thoughtful and literary as well as hot reads, and I'm always inspired when one of his fresh calls for submissions goes out. So was the case when the policy preventing gays from openly serving in the United States Military, Don't Ask, Don't Tell, was repealed and, in early 2013, Neil put forth a call for stories where love between military servicemen was not only no longer forbidden, but celebrated. I was thrilled and had the perfect story idea floating around unwritten called "Candy Man", and quickly set about penning a first draft.
The idea came to me years before, during the early days of the Iraq War. A news report about a soldier trying to win hearts by giving out candy to the families he met on the streets of Baghdad while on patrol had imprinted upon my psyche. It was one of those rare feel-good stories during a very dark time -- you couldn't help but fall in love with the man, and I did. So I dashed the story's first draft off in short time, about a similar soldier who also wins another's heart through his good actions, and readied to edit it on my laptop. Only during that same time, I and my small family bought a house. As we lined up ducks and set about for a monumental move from our apartment to our new home, the folder containing my first draft accidentally got packed up into a box and stacked in a corner of my soon-to-be-former Writing Room, lost until the move was complete. The deadline passed. We moved in. My new Writing Room emerged from the mountain range of boxes, and the folder for "Candy Man" went into the file cabinet. I figured I'd be able to place it when another appropriate call for manuscripts presented itself. And then in early June, Neil emailed me -- he needed one more story to round out Active Duty, and did I have anything already written that fit the theme? Did I ever!
Several of my Active Duty co-contributors were kind enough to share the back-stories behind their wonderful stories.
Neil S. Plakcy on "Marine Guard": "As soon as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, I
began to read all kinds of personal stories online -- from soldiers coming out
to families to sailors marching in pride parades. I realized, in a way I hadn’t
before, how this decision affected so many people on a very individual level.
That’s when I decided that I wanted to put together an anthology for Cleis,
exploring what it would be like for military members to be open about their
sexuality. I know what it’s like to long for someone, and I used that experience
in writing my story ‘Marine Guard', which is included in the anthology under my
nom-de-porn, Dirk Strong. I wanted a location where a military member and a
civilian would come in regular contact, and in my research I discovered that
Marines guard our embassies around the world. When Adam Burr, the narrator of
the story, shows up for work at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, his first encounter
is with Lucas Roemer, the Marine at the gate, and right away there’s sexual
tension between them. But they can’t act on that because of DADT. It was a fun
story to write, and I hope to read."
Logan Zachary on "Ready Reserve": "My dad was a Marine, and he had saved his pup tent and camping
stuff. In the summer, I
loved setting up the tent in the backyard and playing in it, no matter how hot
and humid it was. I’d even
sleep in the backyard with my dog, or my best friend.
Dad had two heavy sleeping bags that
would zipper together and make one big one and that was perfect to use. Most nights it was so hot, I’d sleep
on top of it, but some nights it would cool off and I’d crawl inside.
Sleeping in my underwear was another
rare treat, and I didn’t understand the excitement I got from seeing my friend
in his briefs. Those cold
mornings when I awoke, snuggled next to him were magic. As we grew up, the
sleepovers became fewer and fewer, and he found beer and girls. I stayed home
with my books and my studies.
But now I know why I enjoyed that so much. That memory inspired me to write ‘Ready
Michael Bracken on "Soaring": "My contribution to Active
Duty is the story of an Air Force captain near the end of his career who
turns his back on the love of his life rather than risk losing his military
pension. Then the repeal of DADT turns his life upside down, and the story
begins and ends on the most important day of his life."
Emily Moreton on "So, Then": "‘So, Then’ is actually a sequel to
another story, published in the Sexy Sailors anthology (‘Home Is
The Sailor’). So, picks up where ‘Home Is The Sailor’ left off, pretty much,
and it mostly takes place during a Pride festival, because I love gay pride,
even though my city celebrates the same weekend as my sister's birthday, so I
never make it these days. In the story, Mike and Danny are old friends who hook
up whenever Mike, a navy officer, is in town. This visit, Mike brings his
shipmate Freddie along, for more than just a trip to the parade. Sadly, hot
women never invite me into their beds at pride (more's the pity, though I'm not
a naval officer, so maybe that's why!) -- but I did once get a kiss from a
stranger when I was marshalling a parade, so maybe there's still hope for me."