I was facing a very uncertain future in 2008. Therefore, when I finished THE HANDYMAN’S PROMISE, I wanted the ending to work as an ending for the book, and, if need be, the series. Although I didn’t know what was going to happen to me, I DID know what was going to happen to Ed Stephens (kind of), which is the advantage of living life within one’s imagination. Everything turns out the way you want it.
I thought a lot about Ed and Rick and Porterfield over the years. I never really gave up hope that I’d someday land in the right circumstances to get more of the story into the world. In fact, as early as 2009 I had the next book planned in my mind. I wasn’t terribly satisfied with it, though. I felt it took the story too far away from where I had left it. Something, I thought, needs to happen before I can take “the guys” (that’s how I think of them) to another phase in their relationship. Too, there were the supporting characters, who mean as much to me as Ed and Rick. I’ve always felt the need to be as honest with them as I am about the guys.
I think it was was around 2012 or 2013 when the idea for what became THE HANDYMAN’S HISTORY first started to form in my mind. It had always bugged me that Ed seemed to be just existing until he met Rick in the autumn of 1980. What happened before that? How on Earth did a guy like Ed survive in a place like Porterfield all those years? I wanted to know as much about his past as his future.
I also began to wonder about Ed’s deceased dad, Tim Stephens. Ed obviously thought highly of him. What was his story?
Writers are like bag ladies; we are constantly picking up scraps that may appear unimportant to other people, but often become the kernels from which good stories grow. Somehow the idea of exploring Tim Stephens’ life became intertwined in my mind with a backstory based on bits and pieces of real life stories I’d collected over the years. It finally occurred to me that the best way to learn more about Ed’s past was through Tim.
I didn’t want it to be a “prequal,” though. I wanted to move Ed’s story with Rick forward as well. I began to conceive a book set in the present (well, present for the guys), with flashbacks to Ed’s earlier years. (SIDE NOTE: I cannot tell you how annoyed I was when I first saw THIS IS US on TV and watched the writers pull this concept off brilliantly. Shit, I thought. I should have gotten this book out years ago. Now it looks like I’m copying!) I began to see that something in the present, which turned out to be 1985 as I wanted to move past the terrible sadness of a main character’s death in early 1984, would allow Ed to turn inward and think about the past and his discomfort with it. So I dug around in my scrap bag and began tracing the history of both Tim Stephens and his son.
Putting this together made me realize that Rick would be put in the position of saying “Yes dear” a lot, and constantly providing support as opposed to drama. I liked that idea, though. I thought of this as Ed’s book, and I wanted him firmly center stage. Plus, Rick could have been impatient with Ed and not so supportive of his determination to lay the ghosts of the past to rest. The fact that Rick was next to Ed through every step, always having his back, said more about Rick and his relationship with Ed than I could have said in mere words.
The main goal for me as a writer and for Ed as a gay man living in a small town in the eighties was to align the past and the present and prepare Ed for his future. As the writing progressed I was amazed at what I learned. You may think that the writer dictates everything that happens in a story, but that simply isn’t so. Quite often the characters tell the writer what actually happens, and it’s not always what the writer had planned. THE HANDYMAN’S HISTORY is not the book I originally envisioned; with Ed’s input it came to life as a truer description of Ed and his quest to be a better man. Frankly, that’s when a writer turns into a doting parent of sorts. I am so PROUD of him! My mental picture of him has changed as well. I’ve always seen Ed as kind of boyish, in fact in this book Rick kids him at one point about losing his boyish charm. Ed has lost it. I now see him as a man in every sense of the word — tall, broad shouldered, and having a maturity that has made him a good deal more handsome than I ever pictured him previously. And for some reason I see his hair a good deal longer and his mustache thicker. I don’t know. That must have come from some picture that Ed emailed directly to my brain.
With this book, Ed Stephens has grown up. Again, I can’t tell you how proud I am of him. He is now ready to face whatever comes next. Not only that, but observing him with Rick in this book clued me in to the fact that Ed alone is strong, but together with Rick they are a force to be reckoned with. I expect great things of them going forward.
I did not see this coming. For the longest time I was stuck on the image that begins the book, Ed waking up on a dangerously cold morning in January to Bruce Springsteen’s “Cover Me” on the radio. My mission, if I would accept it, was to get Ed out of that bed and finish growing up with the help of the man sleeping next to him — the lover that would cover him, no matter what.
Mission accomplished. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I do.