Fair warning… this post may be long. It’s not a Monday, when I normally post, but I can’t seem to get this out of my head.
I was asked by a friend of mine recently who’d finished BOATK what should have been a simple question: “I thought your book was great. Imagine what would happen if you wrote about straight characters! I could see you on the New York Times Bestseller list! Have you thought about writing a straight book?”
Now, of course, I was enthused that a straight guy would read my book and have a good reaction to it. It showed me, at least at first, that BOATK had the potential to reach across lines and have an effect on people, regardless of sexual orientation. After all, it wasn’t really supposed to be about whether a person was straight or gay (at least, not for the most part) but rather what an individual would do in an impossible situation. How would you react? What would you have done differently? Would it have mattered at all? These were questions I asked myself constantly, from the point of view of the characters I was bringing to life.
I have no illusions of extraordinary success. I’d like to think that one does not get into writing simply because it’s potentially a financial boon (trust me, it’s not—we can’t all be James Patterson or Stephen King, as much as we’d like to think we could be). I wrote because I had these voices in my head that just begged to be heard. What’s funny really, and it’s something I’ve learned ever since I started telling people I was getting published, is that a lot of people want to be writers. I find that fascinating and amazing. I love that. Write away, I say. Let it all out and see what happens from there.
But what my friend said caused me to pause. Do I want to be on the NYT Bestseller list? Fuck yes. Who wouldn’t? That would be pretty dang cool. But why would it have to be about straight people that would allow me to get there?
Do I consider myself an M/M writer? Yes, in the fact that my stories so far have been centered around guys who fall in love with other guys. I’ve read over and over how the M/M genre is booming, how more and more people are reading books about “man love” than ever before. How great is that? There are some very well written, deserved authors that I am a fan of that I could see breaking that seemingly steel barrier from “genre success” to “overall success.” I won’t name names, but you know who they are. They are the people, regardless of what story they write, seem to capture the imagination of those lucky enough to read them.
(And this brings me to a sidebar—I’ve seen arguments that make no sense to me: how people prefer women who write M/M stories as opposed to men and vice versa. Really? WHO CARES! If the story is good, does it matter the gender of the writer? No. It doesn’t. What matters is the story you just read and how you reacted to it. So what if women write about the psyche of gay men? Have you read Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner? If not, then stop what you are doing and read it right now. I guarantee you that you will be amazed, devastated, and come out profoundly moved.)
Man, I’ve gotten way off tract. My bad.
My point? My point…
Well, I guess my point would be this: why would a book have to be about “straight characters” to be able to be on the NYT Bestseller list? Sure, there are some writers that seem to end up there (Christopher Rice comes to mind—read his first two books, and not the last one. PLEASE not the last one. Ugh.) I could easily step on my soap box now and say it’s because of because of American politics and how gay people are still seen as second-class citizens (but really, does that apply to reading preferences?) and therefore stories about gay people don’t rank up with popular fiction. But I won’t, at least not right now. I think it’s because there is almost a preconceived notion, that M/M is only erotica, that it’s essentially porn with a plot. (well, most of the time it has a plot. Ish.) While there is erotica yes, and some very well written erotica, that’s not all M/M fiction is.
It’s romance. It’s love. It’s family and hardships and triumphs and failures. It’s how people would react in situations both mundane and fantastic. It covers all genres, from the hard-boiled detective stories to the supernatural. It’s not always successful in its execution, but for a writer to put their work out for the world to judge what it will is a scary and wonderful thing.
I’m a gay man. I write about gay guys, much like many straight authors write about straight people. I have straight characters in my story, much like they could have gay characters in theirs (case in point: read Stephen King’s zombie novel Cell. One of the three MC is a gay man. There’s no romantic foil for him, but it doesn’t matter. The fact that he is gay is only mentioned a few times and really has no bearing on the story, but I remember thinking how much of a badass Mr. King was for putting that in the book, especially when I realized that the character’s being gay DIDN’T MATTER to anybody else in the story. He was gay and then zombies attacked. Great read.).
My point? I don’t want to be on the NYT Bestseller list if it means I can’t continue to write what I’m writing about now. I love writing about love. I love writing about people make real decisions, decisions that could impact the rest of their lives. I could write it about it forever, if I’m allowed. So keep your NYT Bestsellers, your Oprah Book Club Stickers, your reviews in the Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus. I’m fine where I am.
(Caveat—if someone from any of the above mentioned publications is reading this blog and would like to review my book, feel free.)