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Billie Joe's Journal – Book 1, by Rick Beck.


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Billie Joe's Journal - Book One
By Rick Beck.
 

Growing up gay, in small town middle-class America, hasn't gotten much easier today than it was twenty years ago, when this was first written. The question is, as it always has been, can a teen or young adult survive being who and what they are?

BOOK LINK
https://castleroland.net/story-synop/?id=2690

 

Extract


I looked at Raymond studying the shadows on the floor. He didn’t seem like the same guy I met in Hank’s truck. Even his expression and the way he carried himself had changed. Holding him with my naked stomach against his naked back made him shiver for a few minutes. He grabbed my arms and held them hard and close to his chest. I could only feel him crying. I tried to just be part of the warmth. It did seem to fight back my own demons. I don’t know if it did anything for Raymond’s.

 

Reader comments

The story is awesome in that you can relate to each person... It makes you smile and at times teary eyed... It is a fine story that is well worth the time to read.

 

Review by Mark Christensen

I will admit right off, this was a hard story for me to read and review. I like to read to escape the world and it’s troubles but this story immersed me in Billie Joe’s ‘not so nice’ world and would not let me go, as much as I thrashed around, trying to escape. Reading this was like watching a train wreck - horrible to watch but you can’t stop looking - and I suspect that was one of the author’s intents. However, the ‘train’ is beautifully written, flows well and has some memorable characters in it. 

Initially, I was not fond of Billie Joe as he appeared to be a self centered typical teen with an attitude. Then his friend commits suicide and Billie Joe needs to go find a community where he fits in and can be accepted. He travels to stay with his brother, meets his life’s love on the way and then when they have to separate for a year, Billie Joe hits the road for San Francisco. He meets both good and horrible people, is forced to do and exposed to things no one should have to see and experience and although you want to shake him and tell him to stop it and get to safety, by calling his brother, you understand why he needs to explore this world. 

The author forces you to acknowledge that young homeless gays are exploited, used and abused and their plight is usually ignored by the vast majority of people. I dare anyone to walk by a homeless teen on the street and not think of their plight after reading this story. I don’t know if there are any autobiographical elements in the story but if there are, the author has risen above the story elements and hopefully is proud of himself. 

This story will make the reader run a gamut of emotions, ranging from heart warming to heart stopping moments and every emotion in between. There are three books to this story and will I read the second and third book? You bet. I want to see if Billie Joe has found his equilibrium and lifelong love after his gut wrenching book one. And that is a sign the author has done his job well, that while journeying through a dark place, a reader still wants to tag along for the rest of the story. 

 

INTERVIEW

The following is a series of conversations between myself and Rick Beck the author of Billy Joe's Journal. Unlike previous author interviews which have taken the format of questions and answers, here the reply from Rick is much more far ranging. He explains not only how he came to write the book, but how he became an author. His response covers some important LGBTQ issues and history, these include the AIDS epidemic and the treatment of homeless gay youths.

Rather than interject my questions to Rick I prefer to give you his response, which I have simply put into what I hope is a logical order. 


HOW BILLY JOE'S JOURNAL CAME TO BE WRITTEN.

I did not set out to write gay novels. In January of 1997 I went in search of a gay love story. I had learned to use the computer the year before, and was just then exchanging email with a couple of friends. In late March of 1997 I found the Nifty Archives. It wasn't nifty and it turned out to archive 4800 of some of the worst two and three page sexually twisted renderings anyone could imagine. I was repulsed and left the site after trying to read two or three of the offerings. I never got beyond the first paragraph. It wasn't simply bad writing. It left me feeling sick. 

After leaving Nifty, I paused to think about what I'd found. I found no gay love stories. I found no gay stories of any kind. In 1997, gay people were loathed and hated in most circles. I began to wonder what would happen if I wrote a gay love story. I'd written in junior high and high school. Once I began learning the computer, I was writing again. 

I decided to write the first chapter of a love story and see what happened after I sent it to Nifty. I'd know after one chapter if I wanted to continue, and since there was no downside, it's difficult to be more loathed and more hated, but hey, I was willing to give it a try. There was another thought. There might be other gay men out there looking for gay love stories. 

'It Happened on a Bus,' began with Billie Joe leaving home to stay with his brother. After his best friend killed himself, he needs to go in search of himself. He has never gotten along with his brother, but it's a reason to leave home. On the bus, Billie Joe crosses paths with the soldier Carl. They discover each other. 

Remember, everything at the Nifty Archives is totally sexualized. There are no sentences not leading to or away from a sex act. I would try my hand at having Billie and Carl become sexual. I wrote and sent in the chapter the day I found Nifty. I went about my business and at eight that evening I checked my email. Twenty emails came out of my inbox. At the end of each email was the same notation: 'Don't stop writing this story.'

I had no plan beyond writing a few chapters of a love story. I would write four or five chapters. I already had my answer. People would read what I wrote and they wanted to read real stories and not simply descriptions of sex. 

 

HOMELESS GAY YOUTH – THE BOOK AND THE REALITY.

Once in Seattle, I had to make up my mind where the story would go. Readers were still asking for more. I decided I'd give it to them. The topic that took Billie Joe away from Seattle and SEATAC, was a subject that concerned me. A long time ago, while hitchhiking around the U.S., and yes it was safe and no I never was threatened. It was a wonderful journey filled with caring people and amazing discoveries. 

While in San Francisco, I made it to San Francisco, The Golden Gate Bridge, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman's Wharf, and Powell St. As cities go, and I loved Seattle's charm and friendliness, San Francisco was seductive. I eventually found my way to the Castro. It was amazing because of the people, but it was amazing because of the street kids. I met one right away and he showed me where to go to get fed and to sleep inside overnight. Each day there were places you could go to get fed no matter where you were around the Castro. There were houses where you could crash on the floor if you wanted to sleep inside.

I learned a lot about the kids and the people. It was the most loving atmosphere I'd ever experienced. The owners of the homes, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals that I met were concerned that the kids should not be in a desperate situation. 

That trip I learned about love. I was young enough to travel with the homeless kids. It wasn't a harsh life. The streets were not dangerous because there were so many safe houses. Ten years later, traveling in my work, I returned to San Francisco as the Moscone Center was being opened. I inevitably ended up in the Castro. I went looking for the kids I once ran with. 

I found the kids. They were as plentiful as before. They were even younger. They sat in doorways with their hands out asking for  money. I gave some money. I fed a few at a diner that was still there. Gone were the safe houses and the generosity. The streets were dangerous and kids got in cars to make enough money to survive in doorways and such. 

Once Billie Joe got on the ramp on Route 5, hitchhiking away from Seattle, I decided he'd go to San Francisco.  He'd become a street kid. It would be hard, harsh, and mean, but Billie would survive.

If this was going to be my first novel, it was going to have a purpose. I'd always related to homeless gay kids and I knew there were more and more out there all the time. People needed to know they were out there and they needed help. 

As with most kids, the last thing any kid wants is to end up in the system. The system is homophobic, run by the toughest kids, and worse than being on the street. When you are locked up with the dangerous kids, you can't run away. The state does to the homeless kids what it does to most people who have no power, they claim to be helping them while spending as little as possible taking care of them.

 

SEX, LOVE, AND CHANGING TIMES.

Because Nifty stories were so sexual, my story was very sexual. I intended to put a sex scene in each chapter. The stories I found were all sex all the time. Once I'd started down that road I stuck with it. The two sequels to 'Billie Joe's Journey,' 'The Return Home,' and 'The Center', are not nearly as sexual as the original story. 

By the time I wrote the sequels, I was an established writer on the Internet and I'd found Awesome Dude, a site where the literature is read before it's posted and only real stories make the cut. I waited ten years to do the two sequels, because they wouldn't have worked at Nifty and once I found a place where they would work, I wrote them.

In late 2003 and early 2004, I had three major eye operations. I had to stop writing. I couldn't even look into the glare of a computer screen. I gradually lost contact with writing, the Internet, and even email. In the later stages of 2005, I began to hear the buzz on television shows about 'Brokeback Mountain.' I realized that if they were making a movie about homosexual love, I might be able to start writing mainstream gay literature. It seemed like the time was right to write for a larger audience. 

I sat down and wrote The Farm Hand before March of 2006. I still consider it one of my best stories. I realized anyone could read it and not go away feeling assaulted. I realize that the stereotypical gay stories, 'Will & Grace,' or 'Queer As Folk,' are what's thought of as being representative of the LGBTQ experience. There is a problem with the accepted stereotypes in 'gay' media. 

The first day I opened my email after writing the first chapter of 'It Happened On A Bus,' twenty emails came out. One third, eight of those emails started the same way, 'I'm a married gay man.'

As a construction worker, truck driver, and all around independent fellow, I rarely went to a gay bar or lived inside the inner city gay ghettos. What I realized the day I wrote that first chapter, there were a lot of gay men like me. 

 

THE GAY COMMUNITY

The story, 'Billie Joe's Journey', was not a warning to gay kids not to run away from home or get thrown out of their homes. No, no matter what, gay kids will leave home when they can't tolerate it any longer. Gay kids will be thrown out of good Christian type homes. 

How many of you ran away or were driven out of your homes? 

We know we are related to each gay child. One day we will take responsibility to see that homeless gay kids belong to us. We are the only ones who can relate to their experience. We know how lost and lonely they feel. The LGBTQ Nation is all of us. We are very, very, young as a people. Most of us can relate to being the only gay person we know. I was the only one when I looked up the word homosexual in the dictionary sitting at the dinner table. 

One day we'll have LGBTQ lawyers, institutions, and we will take responsibility for homeless gay kids. We'll see that they’re housed, fed, clothed, and educated in a fashion that makes the most of their potential. Or we can let the state lock them up and hold them until they're eighteen and then open the door and say, 'Good luck.'

Billie Joe's Journey is about seeing the problem and doing something about it that helps the kids without destroying any hope of a future they might have. When I began to write Billie Joe's Journey, I knew some young gays would read it. I tried to write something they could read and not laugh at it. I wrote about the harsh reality of the streets. Yes, in that context, it was a warning, but there was always hope. Billie Joe went in search of himself. He went in search of what it means to be gay. As most of us can relate to being highly sexualized, it's not over the top. It's simply presented as one chapter after another and the sexual component was in each chapter. Few homeless kids don't face the reality that they have only one thing of value on those mean streets. 

As a LGBTQ Nation that we will become, we need to take care of our kids. We need to give them a place to go. For the last twelve years I've been writing mainstream gay literature. In time I hope it can be read by mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters that discover they are living with or know someone who is LGBTQ. 

Like it isn't time for us to demand to take care of our kids yet, it's not time for mainstream gay literature to be on straight folks reading list, but as we become more integrated as a people that are a part of this society, we'll do what's right. 
Less then ten years ago, Prop 8 passed in California. It was like being gut punched. California, the beacon of liberalism had failed to do the right thing. Gay marriage died that day. We had not put up a proper fight and we'd lost big time. Today we have gay marriage in most states. We have gone farther in the last ten years than we'd gone in all the years before. Once we were the only one we knew and today we are the LGBTQ Nation. We need to grow as a people and we need to take care of each other and make sure that no one is ever alone again. It's what I try to present in my stories. You can read one and feel hopeful. 

I try to write about how many ways there are to be gay. I write about the unlimited possibility for each person who comes out. There are as many ways to be gay as there are people. I also write about where gay people are found, everywhere. Billie Joe's Journey was a tough story to write, because I decided to write about something that concerned me and that was very real. It is honest and as heartfelt as I could make it.

 Billie Joe made it and he returned home to finish high school, 'The Return Home,' and then he went back to San Francisco to do something about the homeless kids on the streets there, 'The Center.' 

This is the story behind the story. This is how Billie Joe's Journey was written and why. I hope it leaves an impression on you and you come away realizing that all gay kids are our kids. We know what they are going through.

 

AIDS

I posed the question to Rick: “Given that we are at the debut of the AIDS crisis (in the story), there are two questions here: why would kids ignore the risks? Why would they be so promiscuous?”

There are two parts to this answer. 

As a cross country trucker, big rig driver, from early in the eighties until into the nineties, I was always on the move in the middle of America somewhere. In America the word AIDS wasn't mentioned by the president of the United States until 1987. By then 25,000 men were dead of AIDS and 10,000 haemophiliacs, mostly children. The only thing on the news about AIDS were the preachers calling it 'God's plague on the gay.' There was no conversation about AIDS and the ones there were didn't deserve a response. 

In the mid nineties, after AZT became available, I learned my best friend and roommate from when I was first on my own died of AIDS. Upon calling his mom, I'd spoken to her before, and she said, 'Oh, Donnie died of a brain tumour.' She then described a hundred and sixty pound athletic man who died at eighty-eight pounds. He'd wasted away, but he died of brain cancer. 

What I knew about AIDS in 1997 you could put on a 3x5 index card. We knew nothing, because AIDS wasn't talked about until it began to kill straight people. Then there was concern. 

At the end of The Gulf & the Cove, the Epilogue is titled 1980s. I tell what I had learned about what did happen in America in the eighties. Gay men were victims of a political and religious genocide to wipe us out. The politicians and the preachers danced on the graves of gay men. The nation sat by quietly and watched the dying.

When I found Nifty and I decided to write, I knew I had to write something sexual. I met the kids in the Castro for the first time in early 1968. They accepted me as one of them and I ran with them. As I said it was an amazing experience. When I returned to the Castro as a cross country trucker delivering AT&T phone equipment to the new Moscone Center, I got to park my truck in the city center, until my turn to unload. I was there three days and I went back to the Castro. 

AIDS was gaining a foothold in the major cities, but even in the major cities, the knowledge about what AIDS was and how you got it was sketchy. I was hardly aware of AIDS at all. "Clusters of gay men in the inner cities are dying of strange diseases that kill no one. Their immune systems seem to be compromised, doctors say."

I wrote Billie Joe's Journey being true to what I knew. In the case of AIDS, in 1997, I knew little. Once I was off the road and living where I could pick my media and seek out the truth about AIDS, it was no longer an instant killer. In fact, one of my earliest readers had AIDS since 1985. He thinks he had it as early as 1983. He was on AZT. Larry invited me to visit him in San Diego. It's the last drive across country I ever made. My eyes were about to go bad and I didn't drive after 1999. A tough road to go down for a truck driver. I came away from Larry's being very angry. I now knew and was friends with a man who had survived the genocide, but the fact we were left for dead became real to me. 

It's a different day. When I wrote Billie Joe's Journey, I was naive and uneducated concerning AIDS. I have been scolded for not having the boys practice safe sex. I understand that narrative. If I wrote BJJ today, it would be very different, but when I wrote it, I was as honest as I could be to the boys I wrote about. It wasn't meant to be a quick easy read. I was writing a novel and I wanted it to mean something. 

 

A FINAL WORD

By the time I left Larry's in 1998, I knew my job was to offer hope and encouragement. I would do it my way. I would offer options and choices for LGBTQ people. I won't write the stereotypical gay line. I had a reader send me an article from Hawaii. James wrote, 'If you wrote vampire stories, you could make a fortune.' A woman in Hawaii made $84,000 dollars one month on her vampire stories. I wrote James, 'I'd rather gouge my eyes out with a rusty spoon.'

I've been told if I just didn't have gay characters in my story, I could sell them with little trouble, but my characters are gay and they live their lives in a world that still isn't very accepting or friendly. All you need to do is read the notes kids committing suicide leave behind. They are gut wrenching. If I can save one of those kids from that fate, what I do is a success, regardless of the pay I receive.

Anyway, off the soapbox. Some questions, inquiries, can't be answered yes or no. My life is long and atypical. I don't claim to be anything but what I am. I'm a flawed man who happens to be gay and I was unable to follow societies instructions. I lived my life my way and when push came to shove, I learned to write and I wrote for a people who have little in the way of literature to support and make them feel good about who they are. 

I've tried to correct that and some day my stories might be found and read by more than a small fringe that gets their literature via the Internet. Because those sites give away the stories, they have no commercial value. No one is going to promote stories they can't enrich themselves off of. Why in the world would a successful gay media want to promote free stories. What's the point? 

Time will be the best judge of that attitude. There is the answer to the two situations you presented me. I'd always like to do more but I've said enough for today. 

Thanks, Will. You've given me a good reason to tip toe down Memory Lane. 

I would like to thank you for taking time out to reply to my questions, and I'd also just add that personally I was hugely impressed by the quality of your writing, how you handled the subject matter, in fact the whole book. Thank you.
 

 

Extra - What's happening today.

Writing BJJ was a journey in itself, because of how it came to life. I have tried to explain what I wrote in the interview. My writing has always been more about presenting an alternative to stereotypical gay literature. My primary goal, offer hope and encouragement, especially for the young. I view my writing as mature. The best thing I ever did was to stop writing when I had some difficult time with my eyes. I stopped dead and I didn't turn on the computer for most of two years. When I did, I saw my work differently and as I wrote something in response to 'Brokeback Mountain,' my writing entered a new phase. 

There were attempts to publish books on Amazon and I found a great editor and a new place to post stories. In 2014 I began work on The Gulf Between Us. At chapter four I started to understand this was going to be a gay epic and the two main characters were amazing as evidence of my life's experience. I'm now finishing book 3, The Gulf & the Cove. This is my gay epic. It follows the boys from shortly after entering their teens and as G3 ended, they were turning 30. 

For all the years of work I've done, these are my best stories and my best characters. I've merged the history they live through, weaving it into their lives. It also documents my life and times.
 

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I simply have to comment here.

This is the most comprehensive review and author dialogue we have had, to date. I was utterly fascinated by the process that Rick became such a good writer. Thank you Rick, for responding in the manner you did.

Thank you Will and thanks to your reviewers, for providing such quality reviews. I do understand that it takes a lot of of you all.

For those who have read and followed the two books in the "Gulf" series, Rick has has promised that we may host the third book, when he has completed the writing.

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I started finding gay fiction on line, but the quality was horrific.  Then I chanced upon a Rick Beck story, and everything changed.  It was serious but never tedious, and his characters were alive and vibrant. 

There were a few typographical and simple errors.  Having taught English, I wrote Rick and offered to assist with minor corrections.  He took me up on my offer and, over time, we became friends.  He has honored me with the title editor, but I do almost nothing to change the stories, only to add a bit of polish.  (I did make one observation which he took as a suggestion, and followed.  It had to do with the career chosen by a character, and I think marine biology was already in his future.)  I now call him, not just a writer, but an author.  He's earned the title.

I feel privileged to know Rick, and even more so to assist with his stories.  If they were heterosexual they'd be in the young adult section of every library in America, and many beyond.  But the bias against gay youths extends to the reading material made available to them.  That may change; it's possible that some of Rick's work will find its way into English classes.  If it does, it will enrich the world.

And, though he probably wouldn't see a cent of royalties, he'd be very pleased about that.

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