In May 2020, Samford student Tristan Mullen published his first novel, “Freddie and Andrew.” The story is set in the 1970s and follows the two title protagonists as they navigate racism, classism and homophobia while they come of age in Mullen’s hometown of Demopolis, Alabama.
Mullen began writing the novel when he was 13, but didn’t have the opportunity to finish until students were sent home after spring break last year.
“Really I wasn’t planning on writing a novel. I was just writing the things that I saw around me, and the things that I interacted with,” Mullen said. “The reason that I finished it was because we were out this past spring because COVID sent us all home. I was finishing my assignment early and I was kicking butt getting stuff done, so I just ended up writing and finishing it.”
Topics in the novel that weren’t inspired from Mullen’s own life came from hearing the stories of his grandmother and his aunt.
“I set it in that time period because pretty much every Southern gothic novel that you encounter is set in the 1960s and before. But from hearing stories from my grandmother and my aunt from the late ‘70s, I knew there were still kinks and bumps in the transition into this post-Jim Crow segregation world. I wanted to write about people just trying to figure it out,” Mullen said.
In order to ensure that he was being as historically accurate as possible, Mullen researched every spare detail and had three different Samford professors read the book.
“If a part of the story is set in June 1976, I wanted to know what song was top 100 that week, what was the number one TV show. They were in the living room watching Diana Ross’s Midnight Special. They were listening to Johnny Taylor’s disco on vinyl. They’re watching Soul Train. I tried to really put them in the time period,” Mullen said.
Mullen has come under some criticism for the amount of LGBTQ representation in his novel, but again, cites the real life experiences of his relatives as his main source.
“I remember my aunt talking about in the ‘70s in that time that she had about six or seven closeted LGBTQ classmates,” Mullen said. “A lot of people have told me that my book isn’t really realistic because I have so many gay and bi characters in the setting. But look, gay and bi people have always exisited.” ”
Many events and places in the novel coincide with real things from his hometown. Mullen claims that the reaction from the people of his hometown has been overwhelming. He was asked to do a book signing when COVID was over, and several copies of “Freddie and Andrew” are available at his local library.
“It feels great to see people from your hometown validating your work and being proud of you,” Mullen said.
“Freddie and Andrew” is set to be the first novel in a six book series, and Mullen is currently working on the second. The book is available to purchase on Amazon.