CMU grad pens ‘witty coming-of-age’ novel

Ever since Brooklyn author Frank Anthony Polito read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh in college, he has been enamored with the Steel City.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon is a coming-of-age story set here in the early 1980s. It relates the story of Art Bechstein, the son of a mob money launderer who falls into a love triangle with a young man and young woman.

“It became my favorite book instantly,” Polito says. “It was so inspirational to me. I would meet people from Pittsburgh and would tell them they were so lucky to live there!”

But when Polito learned that a major motion picture based on the novel completely omitted the gay character of Arthur Lemcomte, who he described as the sole catalyst for everything that happens to Art in the story, Polito decided to stand up for the book he loved so much. So he initiated the Mysteries of Pittsburgh Film Boycott.

The film, directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, was filmed in Pittsburgh two years ago, and has not yet been released in theaters.

“The book was so wonderful, and the entire story was changed for the movie,” Polito says. “I guess that’s just the business of Hollywood.”

While the film version of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh has left a bad taste in Polito’s mouth, he said he still loves the city of Pittsburgh, adding that the city helped him write his first novel, Band Fags!.

Band Fags! is a witty coming-of-age novel about two Detroit boys, Jack Paterno and Brad Dayton, who come to terms with their sexuality. Jack and Brad play in Varsity Band together and have been labeled as band fags by their peers. As the teens make their way through junior and senior high, their friendship becomes more and more complicated, as the pair try to figure out who they really are.

“The main character [Jack] is based on a lot of my life and growing up in Detroit with my best friend,” Polito explains.

While originally from Detroit, Polito said the book’s roots began in Pittsburgh as he originally wrote the story as a play during his time at Carnegie Mellon University.

“I attended graduate school at CMU for playwriting and wrote this story during that time,” he says. “A couple of friends read it and thought it would be really great in story-form. So I turned it into a short story.”

After graduating from CMU in 2006, Polito moved to New York City to pursue a career in stage acting. A lack of auditions and roles he could identify with lead Polito to turn back to his play-turned-short-story to flesh out the details and turn it into a full-length novel.

According to Polito, his education at CMU definitely helped him during the writing process.

“I learned dramatic structure and how to show a scene, even if it takes place inside the narrator’s head” he says. “Playwriting definitely helped me tell a story more interestingly.”

Band Fags! was released in June after Polito put five years of work into the book. The response so far has been great, according to the first-time author.

“I’ve probably received a dozen e-mails from people I don’t know who have enjoyed the novel,” Polito says. “It’s really nice when other people, strangers, care for your work. People I’ve never met are taking the time to sit down and read a 400-page book. It’s really great.”

According to Polito, the book has even been well-received overseas.

“I received an e-mail from a young Malaysian kid who smuggled a copy of my book from Japan,” Polito chuckles. “I guess they don’t allow gay books in Malaysia.”

The response has been so warm that Polito has written a second novel, Drama Queers, which is not exactly a sequel to Band Fags!, the author said.

“In the first book, you don’t see the character of Brad Dayton for about 100 pages during his senior year. This next book explains what he’s doing during that time and fills in the blanks,” Polito explained. “[Drama Queers] is told from Brad Dayton’s point of view.”

According to Polito, writing the book was not as difficult as his first novel, as he was already familiar with the characters.

“Writing [Drama Queers] took about eight months to complete,” he says. “I had the experience of writing the first novel and figuring out the style of the book. This book was different though, because Brad is not as confident in his sexuality as Jack and it’s not as easy for him to be gay.”

Drama Queers is set to be released in June 2009.

Band Fags! is available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. For more information about the novel, visit bandfags.com.

For information about The Mysteries of Pittsburgh Boycott, visit www.myspace.com/mysteriesofpittsburgh.

The Q Archives and articles like this are republished here by the kind contribution of Tony Molnar-Strejcek, the publisher of Pittsburgh’s Out. Maintaining the cultural history of Pittsburgh's LGBTQ Community is made possible by contributions by readers like you.