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Author Finds The Spirit Of Detroit While Completing Trilogy

By Bridgette M. Redman

"The Spirit of Detroit" was not the book that Frank Anthony Polito intended to write.

The author of "Band Fags" and "Drama Queers," Polito didn't really plan for the books to be a trilogy. Instead, he wanted to write the book that Michael Chabon's "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" had inspired in him. What he got instead was a cross between the two.

"Twenty years ago this summer, I read this book called 'The Mysteries of Pittsburgh' by Michael Chabon," Polito says. "It was the first book I'd ever read that had a gay character that was not a trashy romance novel. It was just a basic story,and it was about this guy who was graduating college and he met this other guy who was gay and they had a love affair. I was like, 'Wow, there are books with people like me that aren't meant to be trashy or negative.'"

Since that time he's wanted to write his version of "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," one set in Detroit and at Wayne State University where he had gone to school. But while he had always intended to write that story, he hadn't expected to use Bradley Dayton, a character from "Band Fags" and "Drama Queers."

In "The Spirit of Detroit," Bradley Dayton is heading to Wayne State University as a theater major in the early 1990s. He meets other theater majors and ends up in several different sorts of relationships as he navigates his way through life at the downtown college. Amid Bradley's classes, rehearsals and love affairs, Polito peppers the book with the history of Detroit and details of its dilapidated landscape.

Polito said several of his readers had been asking him when he'd be turning his books into a trilogy and furthering the adventures of those earlier characters. He decided to create the third book in the trilogy by revising his concept of the other book he wanted to write and pulling on his own experiences in college.

"When I was at Wayne State I met this girl and dated her briefly, and then met this guy who ended up being my partner of 24 years," Polito says. "I was a gay guy who had a thing with a woman and then had a thing with a guy. I always wanted to write that story, but I never intended it to be Bradley Dayton from 'Band Fags.'"

He also took inspiration from another of Chabon's books, "The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay," when he began filling the book with historical details both real and fictional about the city of Detroit. Polito himself grew up near Detroit and recently moved back. He recalled how there was always a "Michigan Week" in school where they learned the history of the state, but never one where they delved into the rich history of the city of Detroit.

"The Spirit of Detroit" is not a light-hearted read. Its drug use, violence and sex does not take place behind closed doors, though Polito said he is careful to not write anything he wouldn't let his mother read.

"It is darker than my first two, and intentionally so," Polito said. "Going to Wayne State, especially 20 years ago, it was very much a commuter college. Everyone had their reasons why they went there, and I tried to give that to my characters in the book."

While Polito had branched out after his first two books with a young adult novel set in the '90s aimed at a more general audience, this book represents a return to his original readers.

"I was definitely writing it for the people who have read my other books. I want them to read this one because it sort of completes the journey of that character," Polito says. "I wanted to write for people who grew up during the time so they can have a little bit of a nostalgia trip, but also for those who did not, so they can experience it."

Polito wrote these three books while he was living in New York, but it proved to be geographically life-changing for him.

"When I started writing the first book seven years ago, I still had this mentality that I would never move back to Michigan," Polito says. "Writing the stories, as cliche as it is, made me want to come back. Why live in New York and write about Detroit when I could be in Detroit?"

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