Happy Birthday, Predestination Unknown

Two things I’ve been a big fan of at different points in my life are Outlander and the Salem witchcraft trials.

My Outlander phase was short. I grew weary of it after the first few books, and I have to say that when I re-read them now, I find them problematic. If Diana Gabaldon has a spanking fetish, she should just own that and not try to excuse it as women “needing” discipline, the physical dispensing of which was totally justified back-when because hot.

I don’t read Salem books anymore either, but they were my favorite thing when I was around ten. No idea why. I liked biographies about famous women in history (Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart, Abigail Adams), and I liked dramatizations of the Salem witchcraft trials.

So when someone suggested I write a historical time travel romance (Outlander, but M/M), I knew which era I wanted to send my guy back to. The one thing I needed to figure out was why. Why did this happen? There are various theories, and in order to write my version of the Salem witchcraft trials, I’d have to pick one. So I bought a book that details, in non-dramatic journal form, everything that was going on in Salem and the surrounding areas during that time period.

Turned out that a lot of what I learned as a child was wrong. The story we’ve been sold about what happened in Salem is framed by misogyny and racism. Hysterical girls, a black woman practicing voodoo. Arthur Miller’s play, The Crucible, which I used to want to direct, one-ups the misogyny by adding a vengeful teen slut character, trying to steal the “good” man from his God-fearing wife. The real-life girl on whom that character was based was a child at the time. If the imaginary John Proctor was fucking her, then the imaginary John Proctor was an even bigger shitheel than Miller already excuses him for being.

And Tituba, the “witch” who started it all, wasn’t from Barbados. She was most likely native South American, stolen from her home by slavers and sold to Barbados before being brought to the colonies. She was also Christian, having converted somewhere along the way. Whatever religious rites might have been practiced in Barbados, they weren’t Tituba’s, either by birth or by choice. But she was dark-skinned enough to be cast as the villain, I guess.

I refused to blame Tituba, and my appetite for blaming the hysteria of teenage girls was in likewise short supply. Fortunately, that journal of daily life in Salem gave me the germ of an idea for another theory, one that explains what happened then in light of what’s happening today. Have people really changed any since those days? Which is more likely: that there were witches, or that there were rich, power-hungry men using the most needy among us as scapegoats?

There’s a feature on Kindle called X-Ray. Because I spent a lot of time doing research for Predestination Unknown, I spent some extra time getting X-Ray set up for it. If you want to know more about which parts of Predestination Unknown are factual and which I made up, you can turn on X-Ray and check it out.

Or you can just read what I hope is a good story about two guys, one from now, one from then, enacting a little social justice and falling in love. As one of my beta readers said, Predestination Unknown has “the happiest of endings.”

Of all my books, this is the one I’m most proud of. It’s also the one least read. Go figure. So my notion of writing an entire series of “Queer heroes in history” will never come to fruition. I don’t necessarily write to market, but I made a promise to myself when I started writing that I’d at least not lose money at it, and Predestination Unknown is still in the red a year after its launch date.

So Happy Birthday to my favorite baby, Predestination Unknown. May you find those who’ll love you as much as I do.