Vincennes native J. Patrick Redmond is leaving it up to his readers to determine which parts of his new novel, Some Go Hungry, are real or which parts are fiction.
“But it is absolutely inspired by my own experiences,” he said.
The author’s first novel recounts his experiences of working in his family’s restaurant and wrestling with his sexual orientation at a time (the 1980s) when the unsolved death of a local teenager created speculation, rumor, and fear mongering throughout the community.
The novel’s protagonist, Grey Daniels, returns to his hometown after 20 years and is caught between trying to maintain a public facade and realizing his own happiness by being himself. Fictional news reports of a local murder of a gay teen, an overzealous youth minister with skeletons in his closet, along with characters and situations that highlight stereotypes, “Some Go Hungry” is a quick, enjoyable, and enlightening novel.
Redmond’s fiction isn’t an attempt to recap historical events. The fictional news reports of character Robbie Palmer’s alleged murder interspersed between chapters, and the “homophobia” that engulfs the fictional town of Fort Sackville, is a platform from which the author can express his sincere concern regarding real-life situations that occur in our modern world.
The publisher of Some Go Hungry is Kaylie Jones, the daughter of author James Jones (From Here to Eternity, Thin Red Line) of Robinson, Ill. Kaylie Jones Books is a New York imprint that is working to “create a cooperative of emerging and established writers” who focus of social issues and serious topics of relevance. She and Redmond will be in Vincennes, with author Barbara J. Taylor, for an event at ArtSpace on July 9.
Coming full circle
Redmond’s own journey in dealing with his sexual identity seems to have come full circle, and he is an outspoken advocate for LBGT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender) rights.
“My activism is my voice and my writing,” he said. “I’m using that as a platform to stand up and speak out.”
Redmond says he is a voice for “the others,” those who may struggle with their sexual identity, but also others who are either shunned or afraid of revealing themselves or any problem with which they may be struggling. He is speaking out for social justice, equality, and common sense. He fights prejudice, fear, and hate.
As a teenager in Vincennes, Redmond struggled with his own sexual identity, but did not dare to talk about it. The 1980s was when the AIDS epidemic became prominent, and then actor Rock Hudson died of the disease. Then there was the death of local teen Brent Brand when Redmond was in high school.
“That rocked my world,” Redmond said.
He didn’t admit to his parents that he was gay until he was 23 years old.
Writing Some Go Hungry was cathartic, Redmond said, as he came to grips with his past. He wants to bring awareness to the inner struggles of young people, especially those struggling with their sexual orientation.
“You don’t know what kids struggle with,” he said. “Anyone could be struggling with their sexual orientation. It could be the basketball player, the volleyball player, the popular kid, or the kid that never gets noticed. No one knows what kids go through, and they don’t always know how to deal with it.”
Redmond said teens struggle with other issues, too, not just those who think they might be gay. Often those who seem the happiest may be struggling with issues no one knows anything about.
“I became a skilled chameleon in high school,” he said. “I had friends, I was happy and popular. I could adapt to whatever situation I encountered. I was also fearful of being found out.”
Forty percent of homeless youth identify themselves as LBGT, Redmond says, and that nearly all of them report being kicked out of their homes by their parents. Well over 50 percent of LBGT students are verbally or physically harassed at school, and a LBGT teen is four to six times more likely to commit suicide.
“If kids are being kicked out into the streets because of their sexual orientation, we have a problem,” he said.
A graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School, Redmond is pleased that there now is a Gay-Straight Alliance organization at the school for students.
“That is incredible,” he said. “I have never been more proud of those kids and my alma mater.”
He stops short of saying that things are “better” with regard to acceptance of LBGT persons, but he said there is “more awareness” of LBGT issues and a willingness by more people to talk about them.
“There also are more resources and support than there used to be,” he said. “We now have social media and that has helped tremendously.”
At the same time there continues to be considerable “misinformation” about homosexuality and LBGT persons, he said. One such stereotype is exhibited in his novel when a teen is sent to a religious-based retreat designed to “change” one’s sexual orientation.
“The idea that a kid, or anyone, could be sent to a reparative clinic to change his or her orientation is as ludicrous as sending someone to an eye doctor to have their eye color changed,” he said. “It just can’t be done.”
Redmond doesn’t mean to imply that religion or spiritual belief is wrong, only that hypocrisy and fear-mongering in the name of religion is wrong. Likewise, politicizing the sexual orientation issue is wrong, too.
The book’s title is derived from a Biblical passage in Corinthians that is published at the start of his novel. The title is a reference to all those “others” who “go hungry” in not having anyone to talk to or depend on with their inner struggles.
Becoming a writer
When his family’s restaurant, Charlie’s Smorgasbord, closed in 2006 after 55 years, it was the end of an era.
“It was the same as losing a loved one,” Redmond said. “We went through stages of grief about it. This was my father’s identity.”
Redmond had been living in Miami for several years, earning a B.A. in English from Florida International University and teaching middle school students in the Miami-Dade County Public School system. In 2009 he decided to get serious about his writing. He went on to earn an M.F.A. in creative writing and literature from Stony Brook University in Southampton, N.Y.
“I wanted to tell our story,” he said.
He was also wanting to express the pent-up feelings of her growing up years. Serendipity helped to bring it all together. By chance he and his mother were visiting Books & Books, an independent bookstore in Miami Beach. Kaylie Jones just happened to be speaking there.
“I told her my story and what I hoped to do,” he said. “She gave me some advice and said to contact her when I was ready.”
When not publicizing Some Go Hungry, Redmond is at work on a second novel. His hope is to write short, easy-to-read stories of 300 pages or less that will incorporate social justice or deal with the human condition.
“I hope to write about small town, Midwestern life,” he said. “There is a richness to stories here.”
He writes at an old, oak desk that once sat in the office of the family restaurant. He returned to southern Indiana over a year ago to engage himself in the job of being a fulltime writer. He lives with his partner, Jeff (his first true love), in a farmhouse in rural Posey County.
Redmond hopes his book displays stereotypes that can be broken, and that it highlights issues involving teens and others that struggle with sexual orientation. Writing it has helped him soothe the anxiety of his growing up years.
“The point of the Robbie Palmer character in Some go Hungry is that there are thousands and thousands of Robbie Palmers and Trace Thompsons whose deaths, be they brainwashed, beaten and/or murdered are a direct result of hate and fear,” he said. “I am trying as best I can to give those souls a voice.
“We have to confront bigotry and fear,” he said. ” There are a lot of good people out there who want to do the right thing. I have faith in people.”
By Bernie Schmitt
“Some Go Hungry” is published this month by Kaylie Jones Books. The book can be purchased for $17.95 from most online book retailers, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. An e-book is available for $4.99 at KaylieJonesBooks.com. or Akashibooks.com. For more information see JPatrickRedmond.com.