Sunday, November 30, 2008

Self-based Protagonists - Truth or Dare?

In a recent BLOG, a question was raised concerning writing novels based on an author’s direct experience. The crux of the matter was whether an author could remain objective while presenting situations that they had personally lived through. Would an author gloss over darker detailed to obscure their own warts, dimming the truth by shining it up? On that BLOG, I gave a cursory answer that needs elaboration in light of my own direct-experience novel — Surviving an American Gulag.

Early drafts of Gulag were written in the first person, and although I assumed the name of Winslow Gibbs, I set out to express my thoughts directly to the reader through terse narrative — a narrative that I must admit was biased with a gay agenda. This is a case where the author has an axe to grind and does it at the expense of the reader’s enjoyment (it is a novel after all) and an overlay of themes that dull the senses to any compromise or rebuttal. I was marching through Georgia like Sherman, burning the world with my own opinions. I thought I was being objective. I presented myself as a fat slug, who went through an Army hell to survive, but in the end, I lost objectivity — that objectivity being the truth of novel authoring, which is to bend the truth for the sake of characterization and the reader’s pleasure.

In the case of Surviving an American Gulag, I decided to recast the work in the 3rd person and draw the self-based protagonist — Winslow Gibbs, as any character that emerges from my pen. As a result, Winslow observes and experiences far more than I ever did, and without all the gay preaching. "It is what it is." The work is about surviving, not victimization. It presents basic hurdles that all young American men need to face — questions of sexuality, patriotism, loyalty, companionship, and peer pressure. In the 3rd person, I found warts I never knew I had until now — forty years after the fact.

Ultimately, an author needs to distance themselves from personal experience to engage the reader. In my opinion, the creative process is hampered when the author develops a character from the inside out. I must enjoy my characters and the situations that beset them. If I can’t enjoy the landscape, how can I expect my reader to sign on for a really good read? As Private Avila says: "There are white lies, black lies and pink lies." Well, there’s a fourth lie — a highly crafted, premeditated one. It’s called — a novel. Happy reading.

Edward C. Patterson
visit me at Dancaster Creative

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Internalized Homophobia

Many years ago, before I met the Jewish American Prince of Darkness and settled down with him, I had a single date with a clinically depressed psychologist named Abe. I remember talking with him about the book I was writing at the time, which became Mahu Fire.

I told him that the big early action in the book was a bomb going off at an event celebrating gay marriage, and that I was going to have my hero's best friend, Gunter, killed in the blast. I wanted Kimo to have a real motivation to solve the crime.

Abe was horrified. He kept insisting that it was my own internalized homophobia that made me want to kill off a gay character. No matter how much I argued about character development and plotting, he was adamant.

That was our only date, but it did make me reconsider killing off Gunter. I was thinking about Abe the other day because I'm working on the fifth book, and once again, Gunter has an important role to play.

I'm glad, now, that I didn't kill him off. But Abe's comment does make me wonder, sometimes, if I still have any remnants of that internalized homophobia. I know, for example, that my early dislike of effeminate men was rooted in my own issues-- if I was friendly with such a person, would others think I was "like that" too?

Today, I admire those guys, because they were the ones who could never hide who they were, and had to be strong just to be themselves. I've tried to give Kimo that admiration and respect as well.

And if you're out there, Abe, hope you're feeling better.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Question of Bambi Stern - Symbol or Stereotype

Lately, there has been some discussion on the character of Bambi Stern in my novel Cutting the Cheese. Bambi is a hefty Lesbian, who smokes cigars, wears a man's suit and fedora, and is motivated by cocktail weenies. She is also the president of the Gay & Lesbian Activists of New Birch and Sipsboro. The character has caused some anxiety (not to say, resentment) in some quarters of the Gay Community. Of course, the novel is my "bad boy" work, which goes out of its way to highlight many of the more outrageous foibles found in the Gay Social order. Without doubt, the various characters are based on people I met when I first emerged from the closet.

The community, being mapless otherwise, has created its own clue set for any newbie on the scene, who would need a pink compass for navigation otherwise. So, while some characters like Kelly Rodriguez, the snippy hustler or the even cringing Paddy can be received with wicked laughter, when some confront Bambi Stern, the portrayal cuts just too close to the bone. Harumph. Stereotypes. Truth be told, of all the characters in Cutting the Cheese, Bambi Stern is closest to the real life Lesbian she is based upon.

When I first came out of the closet and took up the mantle of Gay Activism, I was set to my first important task - cutting blocks of cheese into small cubes to be served at an executive board meeting. It was an important task, because it tapped into the heart of gossip and provided my first glimpse into the nelly, campy world. It scared the bejeebers out of me. Then I was comfronted by the president of the group, who roared with her bull-moose voice, slapped all the fairy backs and was famous for having made an entrance at a fabled party by strutting down a staircase wrapped in naught but cellophane. If I left Bambi Stern out of Cutting the Cheese, I might as well scrapped the book. Of course, while most readers find outrageous humor by looking in the mirror, some do not, and had even suggested I withdraw the work from review. One reviewer stated (code) "there were issues with this story that took away from my complete enjoyment." Such reaction only encourages me to step up to the plate and dish out some more. Thin skins beware.

The question here is "what is a stereotype?" I often wonder about this. Is a stereotype a cruel set of crude and rude attributes grafted on scapegoats to make them bigger targets, or are they a collection of traits that communities adopt for identity? It's a fine line, but having caroused at Gay Activist meetings and at the general mayhem of a Gay Pride celebration, my observations record that members of the gay community tend to slip into camp whenever they feel the need. It's the yellow brick road to our own private OZ. Therefore, Bambi Stern and her Edward G. Robinson cigar manner is a living, breathing reminder to my gay friends (and enemies) that we haven't cornered the market on self-righteousness. We need to be proud of identities no matter how much cellophane we wear. 'Nuff said? Not nearly.

Edward C. Patterson
Dancaster Creative
Cutting the Cheese

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Men Need Romance Too

Men Need Romance Too

by Erastes

When I first had the idea to write a gay historical romance I decided to do a bit of research to find out whether there was such a thing as gay romance (yes, but not much) and whether people would:

1. publish it
2. buy it
3. read it
4. like it

I wasn't sure of the answers, even though I did as much research as I could do.

I was told so many things and they all turned out to be wrong.

- That only women wrote it (wrong)
- That only women read it (wrong)
- That gay men wouldn't read a gay romance book by a woman writer. (wrong)
- That I'd never sell it (wrong)
- That there had been an attempt in the 1980's ("Gaywyck" by Vincent Virga) to kick-start such a genre (true)
- but it had fizzled out (wrong)

I had a gut feeling that that gay men would read gay romance as opposed to – or in addition to, gay porn. I read both - why not men? From my fanfiction days I knew that a lot of women liked it, but even there male writers were rare.

When I looked on the net I found one site "Romentics" established by two gay men, Scott and Scott, who were so disillusioned by the paucity of gay romance in the gay fiction world that they decided to start up their own publishing house, and it's doing pretty well, too, by the looks of it. I got in touch with them and they were very helpful. However, even they said that it was difficult to get the stuff accepted by the publishers.

From the first page of Romentics Website:

"Gay men may be more willing than ever to claim their inner Cinderella and read up on Prince Charming. Certainly, most people's everyday lives could use a little more charm and a lot more prince..."

So it was after Standish was released, and when I started to receive emails from male readers, I found they were more than happy to have some romance in their novel.

I punched the air, I felt so bloody amazing. I replied to them, and I voiced my concerns. I couldn't say "Are you gay?" because it seemed rude, although it also seemed rude for me to assume it, too, but I said that I was glad they'd like it, and that I was worried that men wouldn't read it.

"Are you KIDDING?" they said, whole heartedly. "Why wouldn't we read it?" One man, a member of a large internet book club said that he knew at least ten other men who were reading Standish and reading it slowly because they didn't want it to end.

I can understand this, not for any big headed reasons about my book, but merely for the point that the gay historical romance is a rare beastie.

I got talking to a tutor of creative writing - his son was gay - and he often bewailed the fact to his father that there were no gay romance books, no Mills & Boons, no Harlequins, no books where he could read - knowing that gay men like him could find love and end up happy ever after.

Going back a few years, gay "romance" seemed to be separated into distinct categories.

1. Porn (the one handed goodness from publishers like Starbooks)
2. e-books (Lots of it there, with an emphasis on fantasy)
3. High Literature (At Swim Two Boys, The Charioteer, Maurice, Wicked Angels etc)

Thank goodness for them all, say I.

.... But... There was nothing much to compare with "Love's Savage Splendour" or "His Faithful Heart" or whatever. No "formula" (and yes I hate that word too, even though I write romance) romances. There *are*, however a very few writers writing it, but so few of us that each book is snapped up and read voraciously by an eager audience of women who like gay romance, and gay men themselves. Then they wait (im)patiently for the next one to come out. They are active, they share books and recs, they post on Amazon to share their new finds. They are passionate, and there's not enough of it to satisfy their voracious appetites.

Slowly the publishers are catching on. Let's hope that trend continues. In this financial climate, we all need romance - not just the men!


Friday, November 21, 2008

The Reluctant Muse

The Reluctant Muse by Dorien Grey

I invited my muse over this morning to talk about selecting a topic for this blog entry. Normally, I don't need his—and yes, all my muses are male—help on what to talk about, but after having headed off in various directions only to have my eyes glaze over in less than a paragraph, I decided I could use a little help.

"You got a beer?" he asked.

"Its eleven o'clock in the morning," I pointed out.


I got him his beer.

"Now, about today's blog," I began.

"Did you watch Lost the other night?" he asked, sitting on the couch and putting his feet up on the coffee table.

"Yeah," I said. "But I wasn't thinking about a possible blog topic when I watched. What do you suggest?"

"Nothing…I just wondered if you saw it. Good show. I still think Jack and Sawyer should run off together."

"You want me to write a blog about Jack and Sawyer getting it on?"

"There are worse topics."

"Well, I'm not sure anyone would be interested in reading about my erotic fantasies."

"So what do you want to write about?" he asked.

"That's why I called on you. You're the muse."

"You don't have to do a new blog every day."

"I know, but I hate to have someone take their valuable time to come to the site and not find anything new. I'm afraid they won't come back."

He took a deep swig of his beer and started flipping through a magazine. "You worry too much," he said.

"I was thinking of maybe doing one on the pets I've had through my life."

He glanced up from the magazine and raised an eyebrow. "Oh, there's a winner. I bet it'll end up with you getting all puddle-eyed, won't it?"

"Well, I'd hope not. But it's true they all died."

"Death's a bummer," he said.

"Yes, but it's a part of life. It's part of my life. It's part of everybody's life."

"So's a good laugh. You should try for that a little more often. Or at least a grin."

"I'm not Henny Youngman," I said.

He gave me a blank look. "Who's that?" he asked.

"Forget it," I said. "The point is, I can't think of a single thing to write about for tomorrow. You're my muse! Are you going to help me out with this blog or not?"

He finished his beer, stifled a belch, tossed the magazine back on the stack with the others, and got up, heading for the door. "I just did," he said. "See 'ya."

And with that he left.

Originally posted on Dorien's Blog HERE

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Homage to that Old Chestnut - Moby Dick

My first post to this lovely new Blogsite. Since this is about gay writers, and Herman Melville was tres gay, and since I have written a novel emulating his themes, I believe this is an appropriate tidbit.

Ever since I picked up Herman Melville’s tale of the Whale, that great leviathan of beauty and destruction, I have been struck by the sheer poetry of Moby Dick. It teams with detail, buoyed up by a natural elegance that truly makes it a literary treasure.

In my novel, Turning Idolater, the title of which comes from Melville’s work and intones the ability (or inability) to compromise, I blend unlikely elements using Melville’s basic theme that each life is a journey that needs to come to terms with earth’s organic unity. The sea is prominent in the work, but instead of Melvillian detail — nine hundred shades of white and every knot that can be tied for any reason, I developed the characters along a different course – a Dickens course. Smashing Dickensian characters into Melvillian amplitude gives the work a unique feel. Add to that the juxtaposition of romance and mystery, a good, old fashion whodunit (here a herring, there a herring – mostly red, but some a shade of pink), and the reader is provided with a memorable experience. The dichotomies are further maintained by placing the sleazy world of Internet porn beside the hoity-toity universe of literary circles.

Finding the balance between many diverse elements is the shell surrounding this nut, but at its heart is Melville and the sea. Young Philip Flaxen’s voyage across an uncharted ocean in a vessel that leaks like the Dickens and flags in bad weather provides the reader with a hero’s journey. Philip is taxed by the many anomalies that he cannot digest, yet somehow he remains afloat. In hindsight, I have achieved what I wanted to achieve. Besides my usual attention to the reader’s needs, I sought in Turning Idolater to fire up old Melville, who is sometimes more admired than read — to reach down and scrape off the Pequod’s barnacles — bring it ashore for a modern day inspection. I am happiest when a reader tells me, as they have, "Now that I have read about Philip and Tdye and Sprakie and Old Charlotte, I think I’ll pick up Moby Dick again and give it another try." For every chapter in Melville that drones on about the nine hundred shade of the color white, there are others that sing:

"Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can."

It’s a fine clear day, mateys, and the dolphins are calling, the gulls leading the way. You only need to be Turning Idolater to see your way clear through this damp, drizzly November.
Edward C. Patterson - dancaster creative