If you haven’t heard of Harker Jones, you most likely soon will — and you should.
The Los Angeles–based writer and editor has charmed readers with his first published novel, the beautiful and tender gay coming-of-age story Until September, and two short films he wrote have racked up numerous awards at festivals. Meanwhile, he’s shopping around a feature-film screenplay and more.
“I was painfully shy as a child, so I found solace and companionship in books, and that led to an understanding of both human nature and language,” says Jones, who grew up in Manchester, Mich., and graduated from Eastern Michigan University. “I also learned the power of stories, how they can heal and illuminate in addition to entertain. I think that’s what set me on the road toward writing and storytelling.”
Jones, who had a double major in written communication and telecommunications and film and a minor in literature at Eastern Michigan, in has been making a living with words for a while. He worked for a time with LPI, then parent company of The Advocate, as a copy editor for all the company’s publications, then as managing editor of Out. Now he’s development editor at Level 4 Press. He writes reviews for Broadway World and is a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.
Until September is set in 1966 on an island where wealthy families vacation. The protagonist, Kyle, and his tight-knit circle of friends are uniting for their last summer before college. Kyle is gay and closeted, and during the season he is captivated by a boy new to the island, Jack, and they begin a love affair.
It’s a book about many things, including first love, the closet, family dynamics, and the nature of friendship. When Kyle’s friends learn the truth about his relationship with Jack, they don’t react in a homophobic manner, but their reaction does show the fragile nature of friendship and how bringing a new person into a group upsets the balance of things.
“I didn’t want it to be about homophobia,” Jones says. “It seems like that is done all the time.”
Not that homophobia doesn’t figure in the story at all, but it’s not the main thrust. Jones says he set out to avoid other clichés of gay-themed fiction, such as the gay character who’s in love with his straight best friend, or the supposedly straight friend being secretly gay. Kyle and his closest male friend, Trent, have a deep love for each other, but it’s not romantic or sexual, Jones explains.
The story is not at all autobiographical, he says, although it’s somewhat informed by an experience of unrequited love he had right after college. But the characters and their relationships are all products of imagination. In creating Kyle, who has a wealthy family, went to a private prep school, and is bound for Princeton, “I kind of gave him the life that I wanted,” Jones says.
Jones wrote the book 20-plus years ago. He moved on to other projects afterward but periodically returned to the story. He shopped it to a few editors and publishers, but traditional publishing is a long and often frustrating process. So he decided to self-publish.
Until September has now sold about 1,500 copies. It’s available on Amazon and other online platforms as well as at Skylight Books in L.A.
He’s surprised that it’s sold so well, and he’s also surprised that he’s gotten feedback from numerous readers, most of it positive. “It’s bizarre that someone is so moved they write to me about it,” he says.
The two short films he’s written have received a positive reception too. Cole & Colette and One-Hit Wonder — both thrillers, a genre Jones loves — have been accepted into more than 60 film festivals and have won numerous awards.
Jones is working on a lot more. There are three projects he’s particularly focused on getting made now. The Alexandrite Ring is a feature screenplay about a man's search for his husband's missing wedding ring. “It’s kind of a mind-bending thriller,” he says. Then there’s Never Have I Ever, a screenplay for a feature he describes as both a slasher film and a whodunit. “It’s about repression, and so is The Alexandrite Ring,” Jones says. The third is a miniseries based on Until September, which he is shopping around.
While these are his focus, they’re not all he has planned. He’s written some more shorts as well as another feature-length screenplay titled Green Means Go, a satire of the pop music industry. He sees similarities between writing thrillers and writing comedy — they’re building up to either a scare or a laugh.
“Comedy comes easily to me, but I like mystery, I like suspense, I like to be surprised,” he says. “If you’re not surprised, you’re not telling a very good story.”
Most of his works have gay characters, or at least a gay sensibility. “All of my scripts are connected in some way, although they’re very different,” he says.
He intends to reach beyond novels and film at some point and adapt Green Means Go for the stage. “It would make a fantastic Broadway musical,” he says, acknowledging, “That’s not even a plate I’ve started spinning, and I have a lot of plates spinning.”
Trying to get novels published and screenplays produced often requires a lot of patience. “I know it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Jones says. “At the same time, it’s also very frustrating.” But he’s met people who’ve told him he’s doing everything right to further his career, and he’s keeping his eyes on the prize — more than one prize, actually, with the hope of winning major film, stage, and television awards.
“You’ve got to have those goals,” he says.