Hi Lovelies and Welcome to my Blog Tour Post for Music from Another World by Robin Talley hosted by Harlequin / Inkyard Press. Today, I’ll be sharing an Excerpt and Author Q&A.
Published: March 31, 2020
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Genre(s): Young Adult, Historical Fiction, LGBT
Format: Hardcover 384 Pages
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It’s summer 1977 and closeted lesbian Tammy Larson can’t be herself anywhere. Not at her strict Christian high school, not at her conservative Orange County church and certainly not at home, where her ultrareligious aunt relentlessly organizes antigay political campaigns. Tammy’s only outlet is writing secret letters in her diary to gay civil rights activist Harvey Milk…until she’s matched with a real-life pen pal who changes everything.
Sharon Hawkins bonds with Tammy over punk music and carefully shared secrets, and soon their letters become the one place she can be honest. The rest of her life in San Francisco is full of lies. The kind she tells for others—like helping her gay brother hide the truth from their mom—and the kind she tells herself. But as antigay fervor in America reaches a frightening new pitch, Sharon and Tammy must rely on their long-distance friendship to discover their deeply personal truths, what they’ll stand for…and who they’ll rise against.
A master of award-winning queer historical fiction, New York Times bestselling author Robin Talley once again brings to life with heart and vivid detail an emotionally captivating story about the lives of two teen girls living in an age when just being yourself was an incredible act of bravery
Excerpted from Music from Another World by Robin Talley. © 2020 by Robin Talley, used with permission by Inkyard Press.
Tuesday, June 7, 1977
I hope it’s okay for me to call you Harvey. In school, when they taught us to write letters, they said adults should always be addressed as “Mr.” or “Mrs.,” but from what I’ve read in the newspaper, you don’t seem much like the adults I know. I’d feel wrong calling you “Mr. Milk.”
Besides, it’s not as if I’m ever going to send you this letter. I’ve never kept a diary before, but things have been getting harder lately, and tonight might be the hardest night of all. I need someone I can talk to. Even if you can’t answer back.
Plus, I told Aunt Mandy I couldn’t join the prayer circle because I had too much homework. Tomorrow’s the last day of school, so I don’t have any homework, but she doesn’t know that. If I keep writing in this notebook, maybe she’ll think homework is really what I’m doing.
I guess I could write to my new “pen pal” instead. That might count as homework. It would be closer than writing a fake letter to a famous San Francisco homosexual, anyway, but I can’t handle the thought of writing to some stranger right now.
Technically you’re a stranger, too, Harvey, but you don’t feel like one. That’s why I wanted to write to you, instead of “Dear Diary” or something.
It’s ironic, though, that my pen pal lives in San Francisco, too. I wonder if she’s ever met you. How big is the city, anyway? I read a magazine article that said gay people could hold hands walking down the street there, and no one minds. Is that true?
Ugh. The prayer circle’s starting over. Brett and Carolyn are leading the Lord’s Prayer again. It’s probably the only prayer they know.
We’ve been cooped up in the church basement for five hours now—my whole family, plus the youth group, plus a bunch of the other Protect Our Children volunteers. Along with Aunt Mandy and Uncle Russell, of course. The results from Miami should come in any minute.
You probably already know this—wait, who am I kidding? Of course you know, Harvey—but there was a vote today in Florida. They were voting on homosexuality, so our church, New Way Baptist, was heavily involved, even though we’re on the opposite side of the country. Everyone in our youth group was required to volunteer. I worked in the office Aunt Mandy and Uncle Russell set up in their den, answering phones and putting together mailings and counting donations to the New Way Protect Our Children Fund. We had bake sales and car washes to raise money to send to Anita Bryant, too.
You know all about Anita Bryant, obviously. You’re probably just as scared of her as I am. Although, come to think of it, whenever I see you in the newspaper, you look the opposite of afraid. In pictures, you’re always smiling.
Don’t you get anxious, having everyone know? I’m terrified all the time, and no one even knows about me yet. I hope they never find out.
Maybe I should pray for that. Ha.
Okay, the Lord’s Prayer is over and now Uncle Russell’s making everyone silently call on God to save the good Christians of Florida from sin. I hope I can keep writing without getting in trouble.
Ugh, look at them all, showing off how devout they are. The only two people in this room who aren’t clasping their hands in front of them and moving their lips dramatically are me and Aunt Mandy, but that’s because I’m a grievous sinner—obviously—and Aunt Mandy keeps peeking out from her shut eyes at the phone next to her.
I’m not sure how much you can concentrate on God when you’re solely focused on being ready to snatch up the receiver the second it starts to shake. Maybe she’ll grab it so hard, it’ll crush to a pulp in her fist like one of Anita Bryant’s fucking Florida oranges.
I wonder what you’re doing tonight, Harvey. Probably waiting by your phone, too. Only you’re in San Francisco, and if you’re praying, you’re praying for the opposite of what Aunt Mandy and everyone else in our church basement is praying for.
It seems pointless to pray now, though. The votes have already been cast, so we’re just waiting to hear the results. There’s a reporter from my aunt and uncle’s favorite radio station in L.A. sitting at the back of the room, ready to interview Uncle Russell once we know what happened. Even though we basically already do.
My mom showed up at church tonight with a box of balloons from the supermarket, but Aunt Mandy wouldn’t let anyone touch them until the announcement, so at the moment the box is sitting in the closet under a stack of old communion trays. The second that phone starts to ring, though,
I just bet Aunt Mandy’s going to haul out that box and make us all start blowing up those crappy balloons.
I wonder if you’ve heard of my aunt. She wants you to. She knows exactly who you are, of course—you’re her enemy.
Which makes me your enemy, too, I guess. I’m not eighteen, and it’s not as if I could’ve voted in an election in Miami even if I were, but I’ve still spent the past two months folding up comic books about the destruction of Sodom to mail out to churches in Florida.
I’m a soldier for Christ. That’s what Aunt Mandy calls me, anyway. And since I do everything she says, she must be right.
Writing to you instead of praying with the others is the closest I’ve ever come to rebelling. That’s how much of a coward I am, Harvey.
I wish I had the nerve to tell my aunt to go shove it. That’s what I’d really pray for—the nerve, I mean. If I thought prayer ever helped anything.
Shit, the phone’s ringing. More later.
Q: What inspired you to write in the Harvey Milk era?
A: The history of activism for LGBTQ equality has always been a big interest of mine. Before Music From Another World I’d written two books that both focused on queer characters living in the 1950s, when being a member of that community meant, almost by default, being closeted. I wanted to explore a later era when, for the first time, some LGBTQ people began to see coming out as a real option — but an option with consequences that could be catastrophic. The late 1970s was also when the anti-gay community first started to emerge as a major political player, so that was interesting to explore as well.
Q: How did you come up with the letters to Harvey?
A: From the beginning, my very first kernel of the idea that led to this book was the image of Tammy in her church basement, writing a secret letter to Harvey Milk while around her, everyone she knew was celebrating the victory of Christian singer and TV commercial star Anita Bryant’s campaign to overturn a gay rights law in Miami. I imagined Tammy surrounded by people, but still completely isolated, and reaching out to the only person she’d ever heard of who she thought might be able to understand how she felt. At that time, Harvey was getting a lot of media attention nationwide as one of the most outspoken gay rights activists (he also served as a convenient bogeyman for anti-gay right-wing activists).
Q: What was it like researching this project?
A: It was alternatingly fascinating and depressing. I read one of Anita Bryant’s memoirs — that was the most depressing part. I also read up on the early days of the fundamentalist movement in southern California, which was fascinating, and I read as much as I could about life in the LGBTQ communities in San Franscisco during this period, too, which was even more so.
Q: Are there any parts of Tammy and Sharon’s lives that reflect your own?
A: Their lives are pretty different from mine — for one thing, I wasn’t born yet when their story takes place, and I’ve always lived on the East Coast. I did grow up in a more right-wing community than I live in now, though, and I was part of a pretty conservative church community there. Though my church wasn’t politically active, thank goodness.
Q: Did you listen to any specific music while writing the book?
A: Music permeates this book (it even permeates the title!) so it was definitely a part of my writing process. Whenever I was writing or revising a scene where the characters are listening to music, which is a lot of them, I did research to determine what they’d be listening to, then pulled it up on YouTube. Patti Smith is both Sharon and Tammy’s favorite artist, so I lost track of how many times I listened to her Horses album while I was writing. But I also listened to music the other characters like — for example, Sharon’s boyfriend is a big fan of Journey (who, I learned in writing this book, got their start in San Francisco), so I listened to a lot of Journey music from this period, too. And I listened to more obscure 70s punk bands too, some of which I referenced directly in the book, and some of which I used to help develop the fictional bands and music in the story.
Q: How do you choose which era you want to write your historical fiction in?
A: It’s a combination of thinking about which eras I want to spend time in and learn more about — because there’s always a ton of research that goes into writing historical fiction, so I need to make sure I write about an era that I’ll be happy researching for long periods of time — and which eras I can envision characters living in. In the case of Music From Another World I immediately thought of Tammy living in a time and place where she knew exactly who she was but also exactly what she was up against if she was honest about that fact, in a way that was very much specific to a conservative church community during the era of Harvey Milk and Anita Bryant.
Q: How do you balance the intensity of the time period and subject with the love story?
A: That’s just the thing — we’re all living our lives against the backdrop of history, one way or another. We’re living through an incredibly turbulent time in the world right now, just like Sharon and Tammy were in the late 1970s, but people are still going to school, fighting with their parents, getting their first jobs, etc. And, yes, falling in love. For all of us, just like for these characters, we have to figure out how the minutiae of day to day life (and sometimes the drama of it) fits in with the bigger picture, and not lose sight of the contributions we make to the larger world, too.
Q: What is one thing you hope readers take away from MUSIC FROM ANOTHER WORLD?
A: I hope they’ll go on to read more on their own about the events that followed the end of this story. There were a ton of both highs and lows in the movement for LGBTQ rights, and although this story focuses largely on 1978’s Proposition 6 in California, also known as the Briggs Initiative, that was just one campaign out of a much larger movement, and it was the larger movement that laid the foundation for events that we’re still seeing play out today.
Q: What was the most difficult part of the story to write, and why did you feel it was important to include that part?
A: I had a lot of trouble writing some of the things that happen to Tammy near the story’s midpoint (trying to be vague here to avoid spoilers). I hate to ever write about the characters that I care about experiencing anything negative, but the reality of the situation required it. The stakes Tammy faced were simply too high.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Tammy or Sharon?
A: I love the close connection between Sharon and her brother, Peter. That was another element of the story that came to me very early and was crucial in how I envisioned the characters’ lives. They’re siblings and best friends who know exactly how to get on each other’s nerves when they want to, but when it comes down to it, they’ll do absolutely anything for each other.
Robin Talley studied literature and communications at American University. She lives in Washington, DC, with her wife, but visits both Boston and New York regularly despite her moral opposition to Massachusetts winters and Times Square. Her first book was 2014’s Lies We Tell Ourselves. Visit her online at robintalley.com or on Twitter at @robin_talley.
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