Just in time for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Atlanta writer Elliott Mackle backs his steamy “Captain Harding’s Six-Day War” with a personal perspective from his Air Force service in the 1960s.
Way before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” became the official compromise to an outright seek-and-discharge ban on gays in the military, a fresh-faced lieutenant Mackle (top photo) remembers that keeping quiet about sexual orientation was a way of life that worked better than DADT in some cases.
“It worked pretty well,” Mackle says. “People did their jobs and knocked on doors. Off duty meant off duty.”
Today, Mackle (second photo) has turned to gay fiction after longtime stints as food critic at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a columnist for Creative Loafing. He was a Lambda Literary Award winner for his first novel “It Takes Two,” and his “Hot off the Presses” put the gay into Olympics-era Atlanta last year. He introduces “Captain Harding’s Six Day War” (bottom photo) at Outwrite Bookstore & Coffeehouse with a Wednesday reading on the day that repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is enacted.
A fast-paced, romantic adventure, the novel’s handsome title character is assigned to baby-sit a loose-cannon colonel at a remote Libyan air base. Off duty, Joe’s busy bedding an enlisted medic and a muscular major, then begins a nurturing friendship with the American ambassador’s teenage son.
The boy develops a crush on the man, feelings that Joe feels he can’t acknowledge or return. Further adventures and misadventures include a clerk’s murder, a straight roommate whose taste for leather gets him in trouble, the combat death of Joe’s former lover, and participation in an all-male orgy witnessed by two very married but somewhat confused fighter jocks.
Fear not. All that sexual intrigue does leave time for the titular “Six Day War.” As the tensions with Libya intensify, an attack on a U.S. embassy and an attack by the deranged colonel on an Arab warship bring on the drama. To bring the pilots and their airplanes safely home and keep the United States out of the war, Joe must decide whether to come out to his straight buddies or consider himself a traitor to the morals he holds dear.
If our interview is any indication, look for a lively, enlightening appearance by Mackle on Wednesday at Outwrite.
As a veteran, what’s your perspective on the changes for gay members of the armed services?
Service members will be able to serve their country better because, for gays and lesbians, the fear of exposure will be gone and, for homophobes and other malcontents, the power to destroy careers anonymously will be considerably lessened if not entirely ended. I was as out as an Air Force officer could be during the Vietnam era. But my last six months in uniform were hell. One of my clerks got busted for coming on to his drinking buddy, another sergeant. It was small base in Italy and everybody knew each other’s business. I had a gay roommate, and we lived off base. Although I wasn’t doing anything, I might have been busted, too.
What do you think of first when looking back on being gay in the military, and what’s the fact or idea that people are usually surprised to hear?
The band-of-brothers thing is no lie. One of my Air Force buddies is coming to visit next weekend. He’s gay, he was decorated for valor in Vietnam, and he made the service his career. It’s been 40 years. Another buddy, one I’ve lost track of, was pretty much my complete opposite: an engineer, a country music fan, a New York Jew, straight in an undemonstrative way, clearly comfortable with me being different. For instance, he took off his clothes to let me sketch him. There was no sexual tension. Some people imagine that gay men join the military to take showers with straight men. Real soldiers, sailors and airmen don’t care who they shower next to, just as long as the water is hot and there’s plenty of soap.
What has been the feedback so far, and how do you hope the book resonates among readers in the current climate of DADT repeal?
The book is set in pre-Qaddafi Libya, shortly before the revolution that overthrew the old king. Libya’s current revolution is in the news every day. The Middle East continues to boil. Gay and lesbian military service is also in the news and sure to be an issue in the upcoming presidential tussles. Michele Bachmann, instance, favors reinstating the ban on openly gay and lesbian people serving in the armed forces, essentially restoring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “Captain Harding’s” moment is now. Readers of adventure fiction and historical romance want good stories, believable characters, plenty of action and a happy ending. Reviewers are saying this novel delivers on all counts.