BG: I am thrilled beyond words that my coffee date today at The Shepherd’s Bean is none other than Michael Murphy. I love this guy! Not only his writing, but personally. He truly is a friend. Why, when I went to Baltimore to get married, Michael sent a surprise email asking if he could crash, and came down from Washington to be one of our two legally necessary witnesses, and he photographed it! That is the kind of guy he is. Like, wow!
So as you can guess, I am happy about today. And look! Here he is. Good morning Michael!
Michael:: Thank you so much for inviting me. I love the smell of fresh ground coffee when I walked in—such a heady smell. It’s great to see you again. I wish we lived closer so we could see each other more often.
BG: Great to see you too. (((BIG HUGS)))
Michael:: If I’d realize the weather in Kansas City was so delightful I would have visited before this.
BG: I’ll tell you something Michael—if you don’t like the weather in KC, just wait an hour—it’ll change
Michael:: Sounds like Hawaii when I first visited there. If the weather didn’t change seven times by the end of the day, you knew something was wrong.
BG: Well, sit down. Get comfortable. I was just telling everyone that you “crashed” my wedding and how much it meant to me. How in the heck did that happen? Was it spontaneous or what?
Michael:: Yes, it was somewhat spontaneous. I love to celebrate the joys of life. Birthdays are special, and weddings are especially important now that we can finally get married. When I saw on Facebook that you were going to get married, I was so happy.
But then when I saw that you were going to get married in Baltimore, I decided on the morning of your wedding that I had to be there. Baltimore is only an hour from where I live, so instead of going to work that morning (I hope my boss isn’t reading this!), I went to Union Station and got on a train to Baltimore. The timing worked out great, so I did indeed crash your wedding. Like I said, weddings are joyous occasions that should be celebrated and to celebrate you need family and friends. We are family, joined not only by our shared love of storytelling, but also by being gay and going through the same experiences to get to the point where we can finally get married. I’ll never forget that day. The smile on your face was huge! You were so happy. The purple and black that you wore that day was so eye-catching, so distinctive. And I was so happy to be able to witness your partner legally become your husband. And that kiss! I’ll never forget that kiss when the officiant pronounced you married. That kiss was beautiful (and hot!).
BG: I have to say that being legally married is unbelievable and still makes me buzz and it’s been a year and a half for me. I mean, when I realized I was gay, I just figured I would have to be satisfied with a public ceremony that I created just for us—which is what I did in 2005. I never thought I would be legally married. I am getting misty eyed saying it right now.
Now you’re legally married, Michael. Care to comment? How it happened and all that?
Michael:: I’ve been together with my husband for 33 years. Just saying that makes me feel old. I guess I should add that I was very young when we met. Yes, that’s it. I had moved to Washington, DC to go to seminary and he had moved to DC to work at the National Institutes of Health on biomedical research. We met in an MCC service one Sunday and both of us knew from the start – yep! This is the one!
When marriage became legal we were so excited and decided that this was one right that needed to be exercised, so we immediately went down to the Court House and waited in line to get our license. The only problem was that they needed to know who was going to perform the wedding. We had planned to just do a simple thing right there, but we were devastated to hear them say that it would be a seven-week wait for the next available opening. We were very concerned that Congress was going to step in and do something stupid to suspend the new law in DC.
So we left the Court House and went home to start calling everyone we could think of. While many churches were slamming their doors shut in the faces of gay couples that wanted to get married, we found one that had just voted to marry anyone who came to them who legally met the requirements of marriage. That same day we had a call from a retired United Methodist minister, who it turned out, had been my ethics professor while I was a seminarian. He lived two blocks from us! The next day we met with him, went back to get our license, and the day after that, he and another retired minister married us in our living room in front of four friends (plus our dog!).
It was a beautiful ceremony even though it wasn’t a huge, elaborate production. It was just a small, intimate gathering, the memories of which I will always cherish. Two of the friends who attended are a couple who have been together for 40 years. Oh, and one last thing I have to mention – we got flowers from a local nursery, including a flower to go on the dog’s collar. He was the best dressed one present.
BG: I have to tell you right off that when I got married, and that very day got the idea for the anthology A More Perfect Union, where I would ask three of four gay legally married men to write a story about being able to get married, you were of course, immediately, one of the first people I thought to ask to be a part of it. Can you say anything about your story?
Michael:: Oh, yes, most definitely I can tell you about that. When you first contacted me about the anthology I was so excited. It is such a great idea. I wanted to have a perfect story, a wonderful story to submit, so I started thinking… and thinking. And nothing was coming to me. I tried everything to make the Muse talk to me, but he just wasn’t cooperating. It was getting right down to the deadline and I was close to panic. I don’t like doing things at the last minute.
Just before the story was due I was on a business trip to Chicago. Every day for eight days I was in meetings from 8 am until 9 pm. And wouldn’t you know it. mid way through the meeting I woke up at five one morning and said, “That’s it!” I had my idea.
I jumped out of bed, woke up my laptop and starting writing. And the story just wrote itself. I combined elements of our experience getting married, the upset and panic about needing to find someone to marry us and not knowing who to turn to. I included the couple that witnessed our wedding who had been together for forty years. I even put in a hint of that horrible woman in Kentucky who thought she was above the law and refused to issue licenses to gay couples to get married.
A distant relative (she’s 94) told me about an experience she had. Her brother was gay. When he got sick and could no longer be cared for at home by his devoted partner, he was moved to the hospital. But the hospital refused to allow his partner to have any information about the patient or his status. They had been together for decades, but legally he was nobody, just some random person not legally entitled to anything. The relative who told me the story also told me she set the hospital right in no uncertain terms that they had been together just as any other couple and they damned well were going to include the partner in any and all discussions and decisions. She’s a bit of a pistol, so I can just imagine the tongue-lashing she gave those people.
So I took all of those pieces and I wove them together to tell the story of Jeordi and Tom, a young gay couple in Kentucky. They had no money to speak of, but they had a passionate devotion and love for each other. I believe in happy endings, even in dire circumstances, so I wrote a story that tracked the journey this couple was forced to make to get married. I wove all of those pieces together and put a smile on everyone’s face at the end. I hope everyone likes it as much as I do. And again, thank you for asking me to be part of this experience.
BG: Michael, you were one of those authors that just seemed to suddenly appear one day. Have you always written—like do you have a fandom background—or did you just decide one day to write? What? Tell me all!
Michael:: Excellent question. Yes, I had been writing for years. First I kept a journal for twenty years, which sort of trained me to observe and to write. When I discovered slash fiction I was like a pig in… manure. Yes, let’s go with that term. I couldn’t get enough. Finally, people like me who could see characters in existing television shows who should be together. So I wrote a story and submitted it to an online group. They reviewed it and accepted it for publication on their site. I was so excited.
But then people actually began to read it. A lot of people. And they liked it! So I kept writing and have slash fiction stories that cover a variety of shows, including the new Hawaii Five-0 where we all know Steve and Danno just have to be together. I wrote some sci-fi using characters in Stargate Atlantis. Some of those stories proved to be incredibly popular. When I reached the point where I had more than 165,000 times when people had accessed my stories I decided to take the leap and try to write a story with my own characters.
BG: The first book of yours I ever read was Little Squirrels Can Climb Trees. Hilarious and so sweet. How in the world did that story come about?
Michael:: My story came to me in a flash. One Sunday during the social hour after church I saw one man, a very very tall man standing by himself in this room full of people. You couldn’t miss him because he was so tall. He towered over everyone. I felt so much for him, to be alone in a crowd. So I knew I had my lead character.
The other lead character is a blending of me and some of the other New Yorkers I grew up around. The story came together quickly, but I didn’t know what to call it. But one day I sat looking out the window and I saw this little tiny squirrel stand on the ground and look up at a giant tree. It leapt forward, grabbed the trunk of the tree, and started to climb. And I knew I had my title – Little Squirrels Can Climb Tall Trees.
It’s the story of Joseph and Kyle, two very different men who meet by accident and in a most memorable way in the gym one Sunday afternoon. They watch one another for a while and then are brave and start to talk. And they find conversation so easy that they just keep talking. Between dates they miss each other and can’t wait to be back together. When they hit a bump in the road, they stubbornly resist the easy path of just walking away. They fight to get back together, and when they do, things are hot. It was so much fun to write. I’m delighted to hear people tell me they enjoyed it. It was my first book and it sold remarkably well. It’s now also available in Italian, French, Spanish, and as an audio book. German is in the works and should be out sometime later this year.
BG: Now you’ve had this breakaway bestseller recently with your novel The President’s Husband. What a great idea and why it hasn’t been touched on before I don’t know. I mean there are books about a gay President, but not the husband of. Not that I’ve seen anyway. I would love to hear anything you have to say about the book.
Michael:: This one had been rolling around in my head for a while. When I first wrote it, the manuscript was huge – more than 100,000 words. With the help of my editor at Dreamspinner Press we got it down to a more reasonable level, while also tightening the story. In terms of the idea, I think it is high time this country got over its fear of anything “gay.” So I thought why not have an open, gay man who is elected as the running mate of a much more conservative man. When the conservative President is assassinated, his running mate unexpectedly becomes President. He’d expected to be mostly a ceremonial figure, but suddenly he was thrust into the big chair.
But I wanted to focus on his husband. The loving man who stood by his side. I wanted to explore how their sudden change would impact the President’s husband. So that’s the story I told. The President is there, of course, but the book is about his husband and the journey he is pushed into when their lives change so suddenly and dramatically. And by the way, I’m 75% finished writing a follow-up book that shows more of the journey he is on in the White House. While he hits many speed bumps along the way, when he finds his focus he runs with it and I hope the publisher will consider it for publication. On the recommendation of Elizabeth and my editor, I’ve also been working on a sort of a spin-off book that features one of David’s (the President’s husband’s) Secret Service agents and his sudden encounter with a Marine just back from Afghanistan. Let’s just say that their meeting is memorable.
BG: Now I have to say I am excited and particularly intrigued by your newest novel A Night at the Ariston Baths. I mean I am really excited about the whole concept. Would you call it a historical?
Michael:: Yes, it is fair to call this a historical novel. This is the first time I’ve ever done something like this.
Ben: Please tell us about the book. I mean I know bathhouses were a very big part of the gay man’s experience in the 1970s. When I first saw the book on the “Coming Soon” feature on the Dreamspinner Press website, I instantly figured it was set in that time period. But 1902? I guess I had no clue something was going on like that at the turn of last century. You’ve got to fill me in. What was the inspiration? How did you find the historical information to write the book? I’ve found it almost impossible to find information on gay life at that time period and writing my novella It Had to Be You, set in the 1920s, was particularly difficult. Talk about looking for needles in a haystack!
Michael:: When I first learned of the Ariston Bathhouse and read about what happened there in February 1903, I was horrified. Gay men have always been present. As long as there have been people, we have been there.
At the turn of the century in New York, gay men had found and carved out a sliver of safe space where they could get together, see one another, and have sex. But when the police got wind of immoral behavior occurring at the Ariston, they sent in 6 undercover officers (I wonder if they can be called “undercover” when they were naked?). When the police raided the place hours later, they swept up more than 80 men, customers and staff, and put them through a grueling process. But I couldn’t find anything about the men who were involved. I wanted to know about them. I wanted them to be more than just a footnote in history, someone forgotten through time.
So I started digging. I made trips to New York City, visited archives to review District Attorneys files on each case, I found actual trial transcripts in a University archive, and in Albany I found books with records of their incarceration in Sing Sing prison.
BG: Oh my God! What a find!
Michael:: With this and some unexpected finds along the way, I was able to put some details to the names and could see the actual men involved. I happened to see Elizabeth North right after one marathon session digging in archives in New York City. When I told her about what I was doing, she suggested I write a fictional story around the actual events. She suggested who I could use as my main character—and it worked, remarkably well.
BG: Elizabeth is wonderful that way!
Michael:: The story came together slowly because I was obsessive about details. I had to rewrite parts of it, but it finally came together. The raid at the Ariston was the first large-scale raid on a gathering of “inverts,” as we were called at the time. My lead character was there and saw everything, but thankfully was not arrested. Sixty-six years later, as an old man of 90, he is excited beyond words to see everything come full circle. He had seen the horrors of the first raid in 1903, and he lived to see the way the police raid on the Stonewall Inn went down. No longer were gay folks going to lie down and just take the abuse. That night, Theodore could sleep easy because he had lived through the long, slow birth of the gay revolution. His people were not going to be beat down any longer.
BG: Well, I cannot wait to read it! I am just bouncing and I hope it is another big hit for you.
Michael:: Historical novels are notorious poor performers. There just aren’t enough people who read and buy them. I have no idea how this one will do, but I really don’t care—it was a story I had to tell.
BG: Well I love the idea and everything you’ve said make me want to read it all the more. I even love the cover. So different than the “typical” romance cover. Can you say anything about that?
Michael:: The day when the cover drafts arrived I went through them. They were all magnificent, but that one stood out. I kept coming back to it over and over again. I think it was the eyes of the man depicted on the cover. They were what got me. It seemed to communicate everything I wanted. I wrote back to Paul that night and told him we had a winner. The art folks at Dreamspinner are an awesome bunch who can work magic. I adore them all and cannot believe how brilliantly they can capture the essence of a story for the covers of our books. I’m sorry to go off on a tangent, but I’ve had the great joy of being able to supply some photos for use on book covers. I’ve taken photos for years and thought maybe some of what I did might be of use. A number have been now.
BG: I would love to see some of the covers you’ve been a part of.
Michael:: You may see a trend with the bearded guy. He is a local actor who has been magnificent to work with. If I tell him what type of mood the cover artists need, he is able to give me just about any emotion. I must have thousands of photos of him now (clothed and unclothed) and every time I go back and look I am amazed at how well he can act for the camera.
BG: Oh! Michael! *laughs* I was so happy to see you that I pulled a complete rudeness! I have you meet me here at The Bean and I didn’t offer you any coffee! The coffee here is incredible! Tell me what kind of coffee you like and I’ll get you a cup.
Michael:: I like my coffee dark and strong. Coffee like food should have some authority. A nice Italian roast is good if they have that.
BG: I know they have a very rich and strong Columbian. I hope that will do.
Michael: I’m sure it will.
BG: Nothing makes me happier than a really good cup of coffee and a new book. And now I have A Night at the Ariston Baths.
Michael: I hope you like it.
BG: Trust me! I will.
Title: A Night at the Ariston Baths
Author: Michael Murphy
Genre: M/M, Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Release Date: April 25, 2016
Edition/Formats Available In: eBook & Print
In rural Pennsylvania, Theodore McCall lives on his family’s farm and works as a clerk at the local general store. While his best friend, Martin Fuller, thrives in New York City, Theodore trudges through life. But on New Year’s Eve, 1902, Theodore’s world is turned upside down, and big changes call for bold action.
Theodore, who has never ventured more than eight miles from home, undertakes the daunting journey to New York City to join Martin. But the Martin he finds in New York is a stranger, a different man, doing things Theodore finds shocking. After just two months in the City, Theodore’s world is upended again as he and Martin are swept up in the events at the Ariston Baths.
Haunted by his experiences in New York, Theodore returns home, wondering whether he’ll ever find happiness in life. When he meets Jasper Webb, Theodore must boldly risk everything for the love he so longs for.
The evening news usually didn’t make Theodore jump up and try to dance and do a cheer, but it did on Saturday evening, June 28, 1969.
“Theodore, stop!” Jasper warned. “You’re going to fall and break a hip.”
But Theodore didn’t care. “They did it. By God, they did it!” he said as he thrust the fist at the end of his skinny arm into the air.
“Who did what?” Jasper asked, confused.
“Our people,” Theodore gasped out, as he fell back into his chair. “Our… people.”
“Mr. McCall, you having trouble breathing, baby?” a health aide asked anxiously when she saw Theodore panting for breath.
“The old fool was just trying to dance a jig or cheer or something ridiculous,” Jasper said critically but with a hint of concern. “What were you thinking? You’re nearly ninety years old. You can’t do things like that anymore. Especially after being in the hospital just two weeks ago.”
“Oh, hush,” Theodore said. “This is a day… that will go down in the history books. And I lived to see it. I’ve dreamed of this, but I was afraid I wouldn’t live long enough. But I did. What a glorious day.”
“What are you talking about?” Jasper asked, looking more concerned about Theodore than he was about having an answer to the question he’d just asked.
“That last news story. Didn’t you hear it?”
“I must have, but I couldn’t tell you what it was about.”
“There was a riot last night—this morning, I suppose.”
“Who rioted about what?” Jasper asked.
“Our people. The homosexual youngsters.”
“Right here in New York. Some place called the Stonewall Inn.”
“Have you been there?”
“No. And you know that, because you haven’t been there, and you and I go everywhere together. We have for more than sixty years now.”
The health aide had been taking Theodore’s pulse while they talked. “You’ve known each other how long?” she asked.
“More than sixty years now,” Theodore said.
“Sixty-five years,” Jasper corrected.
“Good Lord,” she said admiringly. “My mama wasn’t even born yet when you two met. I’m not even sure if my grandma was alive yet.”
“That’s because we’re older than dirt,” Theodore said.
“Hey,” Jasper said, “speak for yourself, old man. I’m younger than you are.”
“Only by a couple of months,” Theodore said. “It’s not like I robbed the cradle.”
“Whatever you say, oldster.”
The health aide laughed. “You two are too much. My job wouldn’t be half as much fun if I didn’t have you guys here.”
“Thank you,” Jasper said.
“How did you meet?” she asked.
“I hired him to work in my store in 1904,” Theodore said. “Best decision I ever made too.”
Looking at Jasper, she asked, “Now don’t you know you’re not supposed to have workplace romances?”
“I was the only employee. It was him and me. We didn’t have any rules like that back in our day. And let me tell you,” Jasper said, leaning forward as if to share confidential information, “if you could have seen him… oh, my goodness. Just the sight of him made my heart race. The man was quite a looker.”
“You weren’t so bad yourself,” Theodore added.
“We were much more focused on living without attracting a lot of attention. It was hard to be homosexual back then,” Jasper said.
“Hell, it’s never been easy to be gay in this country. Doesn’t matter that we’ve been here right from the start, a part of every single generation that made this country what it is today.”
“We had to conduct business, live our lives, and help everyone believe they couldn’t see and didn’t know what was going on between us. Everybody knew, but God forbid their safe little worlds be disrupted by something that didn’t fit their concept of what was what.”
“Everybody had their heads buried deep in the sand. Sometimes I wondered how they managed to breathe,” Theodore said.
“You spoke about something going down in history. Gentlemen, you are history.”
“You trying to say we’re old?” Theodore asked with a smile.
“I didn’t say anything about you being old,” she said. “I said you two are history, not historic.”
“This day, today, what just happened last night, is finally our people not quietly letting the cops beat us down and abuse us and treat us like less than dirt. This is for Martin.”
“Well, one of you better start and tell me that story.”
“Well, you see, it started on the last day of 1902, New Year’s Eve. But let me back up a little. It was Christmas Eve, 1902….”
Michael Murphy’s Bio:
Anytime I’m asked the question of who I am I have to stop and try to decide how in the world to answer. I might biologically be middle age, but inside I feel like a randy teenager anxious to explore the world. Dreams of writing have been a part of my life since I was five years old.
Two of the greatest influences on me as I was growing up were my two grandmothers. Both were strong women who had unbelievable burdens thrust upon them when they were widowed very early in life. Both of these incredible women loved stories. They loved reading stories and telling stories, and the stories they had to tell were incredible.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been writing stories. What has been different over the last five years is that I’ve finally been brave enough to allow someone else to read what I’d written. When that happened I found that others liked what I’d written which made me beyond happy.
In addition to writing, my other love is photography. Taking photos of some of the beautiful men of the world is my current focus. With any luck, one of those photos will grace the cover of a Dreamspinner novel in the near future.
My partner and I have traveled the world, trying to see as much as possible. When not traveling, we live in Washington, DC with our best friend, a throw-away dog we adopted twelve years ago. To pay the bills, I am Director of Information Technology for a national organization based in Washington, DC. While I’d rather be writing full-time, I haven’t figured out how to make that a viable option – yet.
Want to keep up with Michael as well as his latest releases? Then just click on any of the links below!