I actually started this book about 20 years ago. The storyline of The God Players always fascinated me. From the time I envisioned the alliance between the gay rights group and the fundamentalist Christians I longed to make the book a reality. I'm one of those people who works feverishly on something then moves on to the next project. Probably my ADD at work. I don't quite know why I put this particular book on the back burner. It wasn't the rejection letters. Every author gets those. It was more a change in life.
Shortly after I finished it and came close to securing a literary agent, my radio career changed. We moved from Philadelphia back to Nashville and I was busy re-establishing myself there.
As I've written in a previous post, the manuscript for The God Players actually got me a book contract for a non-fiction project. That was probably four or five years after I left Philly. I got into that project and that led to Tax Revolt then I produced a movie and before I knew it I was nearly 20 years removed. I know I must have gone back to the project periodically because the working title of the book was Xq28. That's the genetic location of the gay gene in the book. I'm not sure when I came up with The God Players as the title, but now it seems so natural it's as if it were the title from the beginning.
As to what made me revive it now? To be honest, I think it was a matter of having the time. I had finished the revisions for the second edition of The Conservative's Handbook. I had written another novel and a screenplay, and I guess I was still humming creatively. It had been so long since I wrote it I'd forgotten some of the plot line, so I was as intrigued by where the story was going as someone reading it for the first time. I thought, "This is pretty darn good. It needs some polishing, but this is really marketable." So, I set about going through the manuscript page by page, line by line, until I was satisfied.
I didn't really change a whole lot from the original. I added that scene at the very beginning about the wedding protest. I wanted to grab the reader and pull them into the conflict immediately so they understood the emotions at play. And I added the little twist at the end with Norm. I won't go into details, in case you haven't read it yet, but I thought that was a nice way to cap off his relationship with Kelly. It was also a great place to end the book, except, of course, for the little epilogue at the end tying things together.
I'd been so long away from the issue that I was afraid science had passed the book by. The Human Genome Project had just gotten started when I was first writing the book. They completed it in 2003. By that time, my book was sitting in a box in the basement. I didn't know if it was still relevant until I started researching again and found it was more relevant than ever. It was probably the whole gay marriage issue that got me to pull it out of the box.
It's funny how much times had changed when I started revising it. Originally, I had Dr. Penrose getting beeped in the restaurant and calling Carol on a payphone. I laughed when I read that and, of course, changed it to a cell phone. I had references to the Million Man March that had just happened, so I had to revise those, as well. There were several references to computers that were dated. Most of the storyline is timeless, but it's those technology and historical details that burn so fast. I was careful not to include too much that to keep it from going stale in the next few years.
That's something we struggle with as writers. I've always tried to avoid date references in books — both fiction and non-fiction. Once you include a date, the clock starts ticking on your book. On the other hand, I love reading books like Casino Royale by Ian Fleming because it's like a time capsule. I guess if you're going to date a book you probably need to go whole hog. That way it reads like a period piece, which is timeless in and of itself.
I suspect The God Players will read like a period piece one day, when technology has advanced past the point of gene editing, if that day is allowed to come. I somehow doubt anyone can stop it. Until then, it's just science fiction.
Phil Valentine is an award-winning talk show host, screenwriter, and documentary producer. His radio show is syndicated with Westwood One.