December 7, 2012

J. Tomas on The Man Next Door

Very rarely do I ever "see" a story completely when the idea for it comes to me. Usually I get a scene or two stuck in my head, maybe a quick character sketch, and after thinking about it for a while, the elements start to gel together into something that wants to be written. That wasn't the case with The Man Next Door, a short story I released earlier this year under my young adult pseudonym, J. Tomas.

I was lying in bed one evening, on the verge of falling asleep and trying not to think of anything in particular, when the entire story came to my mind in a flash. It stemmed from my interest in reading a lot of survivors' stories about the Holocaust, I'm sure, and included some of my own prejudices and concerns. I wanted to write a story about my experiences learning about the Holocaust, and I felt a young adult tale would be best suited for the task.

I know most people don't know where the pink triangle now used as a symbol of gay pride came from -- even a lot of gay people don't know. Many don't realize the Nazis persecuted anyone other than Jews. I didn't until college, when the Holocaust museum was created in D.C. and there was an extensive article about the concentration camps in a popular magazine, Time or Newsweek.

The triangle symbol is something I feel everyone should know about, if only to prevent something similar from happening ever again. I have it tattooed on my left arm, and when someone asks about it, I tell them the origin of the symbol (I'm sure they regret asking after that). Putting it into a story seemed to be a great way to spread that same message to my readers.

When fifteen year old Jake Allister learns the new neighbor in his apartment complex is an elderly man from Germany named Mr. Wagner, he fears the worst. The guy's old enough to have survived World War II, and to Jake's young mind, that makes him suspect. Because Mr. Wagner isn't Jewish, Jake assumes the man must have been part of the Nazi regime who tortured and killed millions before he was born.

Jake isn't religious, by any stretch of the imagination, and neither is his mother. He had to learn about the Holocaust at school; now he distrusts anything German, including Mr. Wagner. Then he sees the old man watching him and his boyfriend Thad make out in the parking lot. Jake just knows the guy is a Nazi.

But when he finally gets invited into Mr. Wagner's apartment, Jake discovers Jews weren't the only ones who suffered during the Holocaust. For the first time, he begins to grasp the scope of the tragedy that unfurled during the war ... and what it meant to be Jewish -- or gay -- in Nazi Germany.

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J. Tomas

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