My second book (From HarperCollins, in 2017)
Two gay colonels quietly battle for love and freedom inside the great American war machine rumbling through the Middle East.
A love story and a soldier's story — at war.
Written by a former solider, who has followed these soldiers a decade and a half, Soldiers First tells their gripping story, before, during and after the policy that played havoc with their lives.
Soldiers First began in 2000 with a long piece on three gay captains for Salon.com. I spent five months with several soldiers and Marines in Colorado Springs and was stunned to discover how their world was completely different than what I'd seen, heard and described on the outside. It was easy for them to find quick, meaningless sportsex under the policy, but nearly impossible to find a boyfriend. So we named the first half: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Fall in Love."
It was the best thing I wrote prior to Columbine, and it won the GLAAD Media Award for best on-line story of the year. The article was published in two parts:
I took my time writing Columbine and hopefully got it right. I set the bar even higher for my second book; I spent four years researching, writing and contemplating. The further I got, the more I knew: this is the story I have tell.
The gay captains I profiled in 2000 went on to lead even more tumultuous lives. Two were promoted to Major and then Lt. Colonel, serving in all three of our recent wars, as well as precarious missions on several other continents. I have been following their struggles for fourteen years and I could not invent fiction this intense. It is a love story and a soldiers' story—at war.
You can get a brief taste of what's coming in recent pieces I published:
- A Vanity Fair story "To Be a Gay Cadet at West Point These Days". (Hint: way better than you probably imagine.) June 2015.
- Two dispatches from Guantanamo Bay for The New Republic, during pre-trial hearings for the coming 9/11 trial. (Yes, there is still going to be one.) 2014.
- Daily Beast piece Michael Sam Is Not a 'Distraction.' It looks at the remarkable similarities to the NFL's unwritten Don't Ask, Don't Tell scheme, illustrated by "Drake's" adventure to de-gay his house before fellow soldiers arrived, and trickier attempts to de-gay his life. (Drake is the name we gave one of the soldiers in the Salon piece, who appears here 14 years later. He will reveal his real name in the book.)
You can read press coverage of the book acquisition and here is the official announcement. (Publishing imprints can be confusing: "Harper" is the flagship imprint of the HarperCollins publishing company):
(October 24, 2013) Harper Executive editor Tim Duggan has acquired North American rights to Soldiers First by Dave Cullen, New York Times Bestselling author of Columbine, winner of the Edgar Award and Barnes and Noble Discover Prize. A former soldier himself, Cullen offers a war story and a love story in this account of two closeted gay men whose lives and quest for love paralleled the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Sold at auction by Betsy Lerner at Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency.
We met with nearly a dozen publishing houses to discuss the project over two intense weeks, and I was really impressed by the Harper team. They share my vision for the book, and Tim is one of the smartest editors in the business. I am really excited about working with him. And bringing this story to you.
Over time, I hope to get many related resources up on this site. We will definitely create book club questions and hopefully we can create another Teacher's Guide, as we did with Columbine.
So start thinking about it for your book clubs and classes and let me know how HarperCollins or I can help with that. Thanks.
The support you all showed on my last book meant the world to me.