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BOOKS 'In the City' author talks storytelling, Stonewall
by Frank Pizzoli
2019-06-26

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Taylor Saracen always had a passion for storytelling. Her parents warned her writing was not a lucrative profession so instead she chose teaching, she told Windy City Times with a humorous irony in her voice.

After 11 years of teaching, Saracen turned to writing, publishing three novels in 2018 that includes her new adult Rise Up series.

Her latest book—In the City by the Lake—has striking parallels to the period of time that spawned the Stonewall Riots, which mark their 50th anniversary this year. The book is work of historical fiction focused on the emotional journey of a 21-year-old closeted mobster living in Chicago during the LGBT emergence of the late 1920s to early 1930s, a period deemed the "Pansy Craze." In the mid-1960s, New York City Mayor John Lindsey wanted to clean up the city with the advent of the World's Fair taking place there. Many consider the Stonewall police raid an extension of this policy.

Windy City Times: There are amazing the parallels between the Chicago Pansy Craze in the 1920s, the 1969 Stonewall Riot, and the current political climate for the LGBT community.

Taylor Saracen: I'll say. Some things change. Some do not. And I wasn't explicitly thinking about the connections. I wrote the book over a period of time. It's more that we're going backwards in our current political environment.

WCT: The doorman at the Stonewall, a mob guy, is a closeted gay man.

TS: And my character Viktor Mikhailov, who follows in his father's footsteps in the Russian mob, takes on an assignment none of his comrades want. He's secretly pleased.

WCT: At the time, Chicago is a cesspool of organized crime, with several outfits fighting for a piece of the Prohibition pie—and Viktor's slice is the openly gay Towertown, also known as Boystown?

TS: Yes, Viktor's job is to provide whiskey to the queer clubs he covertly frequents. He gets rich while finding himself in an unconventional relationship with his top client's muse, an enigmatic redhead named Calvin Connolly.

WCT: And they're very different men?

TS: They are. Calvin, and his throng of idealists who pack the pansy parlors—believe they stand on the precipice of a revolution. Viktor is not convinced.

WCT: Viktor is conflicted?

TS: He's a skeptic by both nature and lack of nurture. He questions the conservative culture's capacity for real change while still hoping broad acceptance is imminent. Maybe then he could accept the parts of himself he hides.

WCT: And the collision of circumstances, same as today, creates problems for Viktor?

TS: The repeal of Prohibition leads to financial issues for Viktor. Generally, the Depression-era disapproval of 1920s liberal lifestyles ushers in a slew of deeper problems. Sensationalized news stories regarding a rash of sex crimes paint homosexuals as depraved monsters.

WCT: The backlash then, as now under the Trump administration, precipitates laws against the queer community?

TS: The government's intent is not only to eradicate pansy parlors—but homosexuality entirely. Eventually, Viktor arrives at a decision he feels unprepared to make, he struggles with the ramifications.

WCT: How so?

TS: It seems so regarding religion, especially with trans issues and general civil rights.

WCT: Why now? Why a backlash from the momentum gained by marriage and military service rights?

TS: In a down economy, those feeling left out grow scared. They need enemies to blame.

WCT: And the Enemies List seems to be growing…

TS: It's not just queer folks. There's also Anti-Semitism. I see it. I never liked it. In some ways, the Fascist writing is on the political wall. Everything's fine until it isn't.


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