Banned By Association
Okay, maybe it was my fault.
So I hit a BIG learning curve here. Epically so. Why, you might ask? Because my first work, a novel that was released to the world from several selling platforms, Amazon being just one of them, got BANNED! But since it all took place this past week I didn’t want to do a knee-jerk blog post about it. I wanted some distance from it to sort it out. I’m like that. I can be wordy and preachy when my ire is provoked, but at times, like this time, I was able to quell that rash desire to lash out and opted instead to think things through.
I’m glad I did. And while I might not like Amazon’s decision, I recognize it was theirs to make.
I mean, they’re the big guns in the literary world, like it or not. Even the big publishing houses have to play ball with them. So a little guy like me doesn’t have much pull. I haven’t brought enough money to the table. And I know that it is all about the money.
I mean, I think it is interesting that my book, with a rough sex scene (the hero in the story is raped physically by the bad guy in the series) near the end of the book, could be blocked/banned because of that scene when say EL James 50 Shades (of crap, if you ask me) gets a pass. Though to be fair, I guess rape wasn’t in the cards for that drivel. But what about the Bible? It has rape, pillaging and all sorts of violence spread throughout the work.
TO BE CLEAR: I don’t consider the Bible (or any other religious text, for that matter) to be holy or sacred. They are books like any other – written BY MAN. So yeah, I so won’t get into that debate ’cause to my way of thinking that’s just messing with 9 bags of cray-cray (as my granddaughter says).
But as a newbie author, doing the self-pub thing on my own, I know I have a learning curve ahead of me. I know that my works will stumble and I might make some epically bad moves. I get that it’s part of the process. I don’t expect to be “the next BIG thing” when it comes to literary works. Though to be honest, I do write literature. I write character studies. I find them infinitely fascinating to write from. I want to immerse the reader into the psyche of the character who is telling you the story. All of the inner monologue that we all have in our day to day lives that never gets said to the outside world.
Those monologues are deeply fascinating to me. At times I listen to my own mental ramblings as I interact with others. Not that there are voices in my head – well, okay there are, but they are my characters working out their upcoming scenarios that I need to get sorted before I write them down – I SWEAR!
Anyway, so my first work was out there on all platforms –
- It was meant to be a fluff, fun and slightly scary read as part of my NaNoWriMo 2014 writer’s challenge project that I won last November -writing the bulk in what made it into the published work within 26 days out of the 30 for the challenge. The werewolves have this ease with themselves where sex comes into it because that is how pack life is for them. The sex keeps them rooted to their human existence.
- It was meant to be a story for my very first fan, Michael, who has a penchant for sexy guys and werewolves. I wanted to do some thing for him. I even made him one of my wolves IN the story. He loves it and I couldn’t be happier. The hot and heavy man action was a nod to him.
- Sex within my packs of werewolves (which are ONLY male, btw) is a way of exchanging power. It is a metaphor I am using in that submissiveness doesn’t equate weakness. Sometimes, it actually takes far more courage to be there for another in that way. I wanted to play with that dynamic. My wolves keep telling Hank (Henry) that, as the pack’s new Omega, he doesn’t belong to them – they belong to him!
We’re contacting you regarding the following book:HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega: A Sparrows Hollow Lycanthropic Adventure by Collins, SA (AUTHOR) (ID:5629640)During our review process, we found that this content is in violation of our content guidelines. As a result, we cannot offer this book for sale. If we identify additional submissions with similar content that violates our guidelines, we may terminate your account or you may lose access to optional KDP services.
To learn more about our content guidelines, please visit our Kindle Direct Publishing Help page at:
Kindle Direct Publishing
Since the work was classified as Erotica, I assumed that the first two sections of this lack of direction was the Pornography and the Offensive Content areas of this little policy write up. But how was I supposed to work with that?
It could’ve meant that ANY of my sex scenes were objectionable, right? I had to question it all. So I went out and offered a “hey, I’m new – what do I do to address this so I can learn from it and not repeat it?” I just wanted something or someone to direct me to what was in violation of the policy.
All I got was this (the bolding and underlining of the email content are mine as I am just drawing attention to what stood out for me when I read it):
We’re contacting you regarding the following title:
HO’M,O – Henry O’Malley, Omega: A Sparrows Hollow Lycanthropic Adventure by Collins, SA (AUTHOR) (ID:5629640)
We’ve confirmed that your book(s) contains content that is in violation of our content guidelines and we will not be offering this title for sale in the Kindle Store. As stated in our guidelines, we reserve the right to determine what we consider to be appropriate, which includes cover images and content within the book.
If you wish to re-publish your book(s) with content that meets our guidelines, it will need to be submitted as an entirely new ASIN and go through our standard review process. Previous customer reviews, tags, and sales rank information are not transferable because the title will essentially be a different product.
Our content guidelines are published on the Kindle Direct Publishing website.
To learn more, please see: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A2TOZW0SV7IR1U
We appreciate your understanding.
Paying It Forward – Love Letters to My Gay Brothers – Why I Write
A couple of weeks ago I made some comments from a question posed by an author pal of mine, Jayne Lockwood. We’ve been having an on-going conversation regarding the process of writing, why we write what we do, how it is perceived by others and the process we go through to create what we do. It’s a very rewarding conversation. Well, for me it is at any rate (I can’t speak for Jayne, but she seems to like it – at least so far she hasn’t told me to take a hike and shut the hell up so maybe it’s going good?).
The problem is I said somethings that many women writers took me to task about (both on my pal’s site and on Facebook). Being a father and a grandfather to two women of my own, when women express something vociferously I tend to really take in what they are saying and weigh it heavily. I do this because I fight just as vociferously for my daughter and granddaughter’s right to be equals and have whatever they want in life. Their gender shouldn’t ever play a role in what they do – other than bring their womanly experiences and points of view to any conversation which I certainly believe have merit and weight.
Anyway, one woman in particular really took umbrage with what I said. This despite my attempting to clarify what point of view I was after. Even after explaining myself she still thought my point was “asinine” (evidently in the extreme). Now, being a man, I wanted to do the knee jerk reactionary thing and bash back. It’s an inherently male trait that I am well aware of. It’s why men go to war, it’s why men wage war in the first place, I suppose. But, having the girls in the house I decided to temper that knee-jerk response and really weigh what she said to me. It was written this way:
I’m part of the community of authors who write gay fiction–regardless of what they do or do not have in their pants. I find the gender of the author to be irrelevant and I don’t consider myself to be a part of the ‘straight community’ or the ‘bisexual community’ or the ‘bisexual women married to men who also happens to gay MM fiction’ community. I’m a person before I’m anything else. I’ve read male authors who ‘feminized’ their characters to the point where they are crying every other page and had emotional conversations about love and other crap right after meeting a stranger, as well as women who write male fiction so well that men–gay men–have said they thought the author WAS a man. Fiction should be judged on its own merit–not based on the sexuality or gender of the author–and anything beyond that IS asinine. We need to stop dividing ourselves.
So I sat and thought about what she was saying to me. At first blush, like I said, I reacted strongly to her judgement of my POV being asinine. Then I realized why I was fixating on that word in particular and why I was taking umbrage with it. It occurred to me that it wasn’t the point she was making, because on the whole I agree with her 99%. Why the 1% hold out? Well, therein was my answer. And it was my fault entirely for not being accurate about my first response to Jayne’s query. A point I will come to in my summation below.
With regards to writing, there are various manners of writing. Technical writing, academic writing, literature (with varied genre and sub-genre classifications), etc. So first and foremost I am simply that – a writer. No different than any other. It is a community that I share with the commenter above and with all of the people who have responded on both sides of the discussion (and yes, I had some male writers approach me separately that didn’t want to voice their general agreement with me publicly – those were private and I will not be disclosing who said what – just know that there is still that prevailing difference of opinion out there). But as I say, I am a member of the community of writers. Yet in really examining my feelings on this issue I slowly started to see how I hadn’t clarified my own position or point of view to fully answer my writing buddy’s initial query.
Now to be fair, Jayne and I are doing what we’re doing because we want those surprises in our conversation. We both have bought into the “oh shit, I said that all wrong but fuck me, it’s out there in the heat of the moment and yeah, now I gotta eat crow so pass the damned salt cause this shit is gonna taste hella nasty.” (Sorry, ‘hella’ is a No. California expression that as I write about my teens in the area I live in I use to flavor my boys and girls of my stories – I am staying in the groove with them, so to speak). We wanted these moments in our on going dialog because as writers Jayne and I are all about the reveal. So we sort of know we’re gonna step in it from time to time. I accept that, and in a very real way I am giddy with glee that I did it. Why? Simple: it allowed me to examine where what I said in the heat of the moment came from and why it caused a bit of a shit storm response.
But as I said, I am a member of the community of writers. And it was in that that my answer lay in why I have the point of view I have. It is also where my most vocal critic’s argument runs afoul to my mind. It is the one percent on where I completely and whole-hardheartedly disagree with her and will NEVER give ground on it. You see, I am also a member of the LGBTQIA community. And more specifically, the gay community of brothers that while I rail within it about how badly we can cut and tear at each other when we’re amongst ourselves (bitchy twinky queen much?) I still love each and every one of them because they exist. With them, I don’t feel alone in expressing how I feel what I feel. And herein is why I am writing to finally clarify my point of view. It also serves to finally answer the question for myself on what I am doing here, and why I write.
As a gay man I share with my communal brothers the trials, tribulations, euphoric, insanely giddy moments of our community. It is something that we all share regardless of how we all came to the road we are on as gay men. As a matter of record, I have grown to become quite pissed at the “community” of gay men because we spend an inordinate amount of time not supporting each other as we should. Something our lesbian sisters have taught us time and again when they’ve nudged us (they were one of out greatest allies during the whole AIDS crisis in the 80’s and 90’s and continue to do so – for which I am grateful). But the work has to come from within. We, as gay men, must rise above the in-fighting and the bickering that permeates our own community and truly hold each other up. No one else will do it for us. Our allies commiserate with us on how our often our community is maligned and disparaged, but they are allies in the fight for dignity and equality. But they are not the community. That lies solely with my gay brothers and myself.
And herein is why I will never cede ground to my critic’s point on this 1% – where the 1% will always trump the 99%. I know this to be true because it happened to me.
When I was sixteen and dealing with the fullest meaning of what was going on inside of me – my budding emotional responses to the boys around me in school and in my day to day experiences – I felt utterly alone.
I wasn’t a member of the mainstream club.
Now to be clear, I had tons of friends, I had family members who knew about my burgeoning gay life as a young man taking up the reigns in what that meant for me going forward. So I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me in many ways. But let me be absolutely clear about this:
I was alone in a sea of people. People who were there for me in every way than could be save one – they weren’t like me.
I soon sorted out for myself that I craved another gay man’s voice. I needed to know there was a community of men who shared my passions (however varied they were) and also understood implicitly what that meant – from the inside as a man. I was hungry for their words, I wanted affirmation that what I was feeling meant I wasn’t alone. I had my parents and siblings unconditional love and support – for the 70’s/80’s this is rather astounding as there wasn’t much out there for parents to latch onto that what I was becoming was positive in any way. My parents, I suppose, just trusted that I was the same good boy they reared and as such I would apply myself to this new avenue in the journey that is my life. Despite all the love and support they had for me, they could never be what I needed most at this point in my life. I wanted to be amongst my own in the worst way. But I was sixteen. No way for a boy at that age to easily accomplish that.
But I could find a book to hear what they had to say.
So I began looking. I knew that what I wanted from it couldn’t readily be found in a library. Mostly because what I was curious about in my hormonally charged teen boy days, was the topic of sex and love between men. It took me several visits to the bookstores I’d disappear to in the local mall my parents would take my brother, sister and me to on occasion. It almost happened by coincidence. I found some books that were not in the right place on a shelf that was slightly above my eye level, I shifted them around and a book that would become one of my bibles was there – nearly glowing with angels singing it’s praises to me. That book was The Sexual Outlaw by John Rechy.
John’s book was transformative. It was gritty, unabashed writing that spoke to me in ways that no one else could. It was as if his words were for me and me alone. They were powerful, their imagery was stark and bold. I emerged a very different boy with that book. So here we’ve come to why I will never agree with my critic’s point of view. Because it is from my own community of writers: gay men writing about our worlds as we are. Those words I’ve said before but not in the context of how I truly meant them and why. As a boy I wanted that affirmation from my own kind and no amount of brilliant writing, witty and powerful prose from anyone outside of that sphere was going to satisfy. It just simply wasn’t. It never would. I wanted to hear it from the source – not some random author posing what they thought it might be like. I wanted other gay men’s voices in my head. I wanted to swim in them, I wanted to be immersed in their minds, in their worlds, in their lives. I needed to understand what being gay was all about.
John satiated my lustful thoughts. He colored them and gave them such a compelling narrative that I was living and breathing it every time I opened that book. But he didn’t have all my answers – I wanted more. So I sought out others as best I could and I happened again on another gay male author: Gordon Merrick. Merrick satiated my heart. He gave me the perspective of a gay man in matters of love and relationships between men. And you can bet your sweet ass, no woman’s perspective no matter how beautifully written was going to give me that. I wanted a definitive male perspective. And let me be abundantly clear about this – the nature of the writing, the quality of the characters, the style of prose didn’t matter. Not really. It was that I had another gay man’s voice in my head. That belonging to a group of men like myself was paramount — almost more than the work itself. And herein is a salient point I’d like to make to my straight women allies who write about us in the here and now, we may have M/M romance as it is today and many of my critics site that it came from the fanfic/slash fic of the 90’s and that it is from these straight women who have given birth to this genre – yet I say to you all, unless you were doing this in the early 70’s when this book broke and was on the NY Bestseller list, then no, Merrick was one of the first. And he did it at a time when no one else was doing it. I know because I was there. I lived through this period in time. And it could be argued that it existed before him – EM Forster’s Maurice was penned earlier in that century as no doubt there were a few others. These courageous men were the men I craved. Men I could admire, men I could aspire to and say to myself ‘I want a piece of that pie… I want me some of that.’
I know that the argument could be made that this was all before the advent of the internet, that now it’s easy to find them. And yes, you’d be right about that. BUT, herein is the subtle but profound difference, and herein is why I discovered why I write: I still require gay men’s voices. I still want to know why Zachary Quinto is taking umbrage within his own community in the here and now about his perception of how his fellow gay brothers have grown “lazy” with regards to protecting ourselves against HIV/AIDS when we have drugs like PreP out there (he is getting slammed for starting the conversation – I, for one, am THANKFUL that he took the time to pose the question in the first place). I still want to know from my gay brothers what stirs up our shit about things in general. And yes, that information isn’t as hidden as it was back in the day when I was struggling to find affirmation and confirmation that I wasn’t alone. It doesn’t matter – I still want more of my own. I want to know today why Perez Hilton goes off on a fucking tangent and makes an ass out of himself and fails epically, I want to know the struggles of Michael Sam as he tries to elevate us all by simply being and showing us how equal gay male athletes are in the larger sports context.
For me, and I think for a great many within my own community, gay men’s voices will ALWAYS trump another author from outside my community – no matter their intent, no matter the quality of their work, because they simply AREN’T a member of our community. They don’t live it day in and day out. They may write beautifully and profoundly but to my mind, there is still the inherent tick box that says – lovely work but not of our own. It is that nugget of living it that puts it over the edge for me. Not because of the quality of the writing – but that by their very existence they affirm that I am still not alone. I need them. I need them all. Good, bad or indifferent. I need them because together we still have a “community” (such as it is).
Does this mean I think others outside our community shouldn’t write as they do? Absolutely not. I’ve said so time and again even though most of my straight allies took me to task as if that is what I was saying. But in this my absolute truth began to emerge. I began to truly see what kind of writer I am. I’ve begun to define myself as a writer and the audience I am truly seeking. I’ve learned that my road won’t be an easy or profitable one.
I am a writer. Period.
But I write from my own rooted experiences. I write to my sixteen year old self – telling him about what I’ve learned along my varied and roller coaster past. And they are rooted in life, they are my own and my fellow gay brother’s shared experiences. We live them. The situations I put my characters through may be imaginary but they are deeply rooted in my own and my gay male brother’s experiences. Words we’ve shared amongst ourselves. Words that both soothe and harm one another. Love, anguish, hurt, coupled with friendship, camaraderie and bliss filled euphoria (as a sidebar my husband, a brilliant writer himself, rails against my using bliss and euphoria in the same sentence – he said to stop over stating – it’s redundant – I smirk at him and say that in my own way I am railing at convention and want to be over the top emphatic about my blissful euphoria – but this too is why I write). My stories will have strong romantic threads but they are definitely not romance novels. Not in the sense of that particular genre as it stands now. And herein I believe that the genre needs to grow beyond the limitations and restrictions or the genre will wither on the vine and it will grow stale from the same formula cranked out over and over again – merely swapping out vocations and locations to keep things fresh. That can only go on for so long. My men will fall in and out of love. Because that is how we are – but I won’t guarantee a HEA (happily ever after) or even an HFN (happy for now), because it doesn’t work that way in life. This I will not adhere to. That I think is ludicrous in the extreme. In that manner my straight women allies can have at it. It is not for me – but my stories will have strong elements of love and loss. To my way of thinking that makes them infinitely more compelling and powerful if you don’t have a guarantee. End it the way it is supposed to end – not because some prescribed “way it has been done before.” I rail against that too. But then again I come from a community that has had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of acceptance and happiness we can. Where simple expression of affection is ridiculed and denied us. That is a compelling dialog to write from. That is what I will explore and show how we as gay men struggle against that – culled from our own collective pasts.
This is what separates me from the straight women allies in the M/M genre (romantic or otherwise). I am not writing to them at all – and that was an amazing revelation for me. They are not my audience. They can certainly come to the party and I would welcome them with as much humility and humbleness I can muster for their wanting to see what I am all about.
But they are not the focus of my prose.
In that sense, I am a very different writer. I am not writing to become famous, I am not writing to make the all mighty dollar. I am not willing to write to a formula that sells. My stories are what they are. And you can believe that if there are gay characters then those points of view are coming straight from the community of gay men I surround myself with and delve into their pasts, carefully editing out names and distilling the shared experiences for future works. I cull from my own and my gay brother’s lives. So when I put a gay character down – I’ve walked through what makes him tick. I do this for that sixteen year old me and any others out there that are like me. They want that affirmation from another gay man. Because we are gay men.
Men are the object of my desire. Men are the object of my interest. Doesn’t mean I won’t write strong female characters in my stories (I have two very important women in my own immediate family that I must answer to so you bet your ass there will be very few weak women in my tales – I want my girls to know everything they can be as well – I am all about spreading the wealth). But in that, any women characters I create is more from a desire to express what I want my girls to take away from them. Doesn’t mean for one moment that I know what the hell I am writing about them from the inside – I am simply not a member of that community, and I don’t have the gender parts or psyche that make up the foundation for that community. I aspire to do it justice, just the same, but I must embrace that it will never be able to write from that intrinsic truth that comes from within. Are there shared human experiences between the sexes that I can speak to? Certainly. But I have to embrace that I am simply not a woman and being a happy well adjusted gay man – I can definitively say I wouldn’t want to. I am very comfortable in my skin and where it’s been in my life thus far.
But what I am doing is writing to my brothers – love letters of a sort. Words to add to the dialog amongst ourselves. I am putting my words out there in the odd chance that some gay man out there might find it and its contents to be of interest. I’ve come to embrace that it may be in vain. It may never be in demand. It may ultimately come to naught or may rise in popularity after I am long dead and gone. It wouldn’t be the first – EM Forster’s Maurice was only allowed to be published after his death. I am okay with this. I will write either way. Why? Because I am doing it as a matter of posterity. I want my work to be added to the annals of other men in my community, Gay men’s voices. For ourselves, to express what our journeys are to each other. Others external to us may pick them up, others may find them interesting and may even glean an understanding from them from inside the community and what it is like to live within it. This too, is welcomed – but not germane to my craft.
So in a way, I am glad for my critic’s words. They helped me define myself and what I am doing. I wish her nothing but luck with her own journey as well as any other writer out there. The stage is big enough for us all no matter why we do what we do.
What I want out of all of this is to urge my fellow brothers to step up and write about us – we need to define ourselves in a fictional literary sense that are rooted in who we are, as we live it. This is a call to action – to my own community. There are those of my kind out there doing just that. What I want is more of the same. I want to hear what my fellow brothers are experiencing, what their journeys have been thus far. Where have they stumbled, what have they achieved? I am inspired by them – by these men’s voices. They speak to me like no one else can. They enrich me.
Men like Jay Brannan (who I think is one of the most contemplative and imaginative men I have ever had the honor to meet).
Brannan’s work is my go-to. His words give me hope and such determination to aspire to his level of writing. I am enriched to know that as an older gay man, with this young out gay artist our story is in very, very capable hands. He is nothing short of a modern day bard. I have an on-going love affair with his prose. I admire his mind – the truly sexiest part of Brannan’s work. And his voice is like salve to the soul. It’s clarity and beauty is truly astounding. And he was gracious enough to allow me to quote his magnificent work within my own. One gay male artist supporting another. I am deeply humbled by his generosity and creative spirit.
Men like Steve Grand – who has taken his bold take on the mainstream country scene and through his profound presence and sheer will of the struggles of our loves and lives has garnered followers and fans from both within and external to our community. I admire his journey as a whole. It’s brilliant, it’s bright and all encompassing, and I am in awe of it taking off like it has. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing him perform live but as a kickstarter supporter of his, I am already part of his conversation, if from a distance. I am still heartened by his journey.
Authors (in addition to EM Forster, John Rechy and Gordon Merrick) like Christopher Rice, TJ Klune, Gore Vidal, Larry Kramer, Felice Picano, Brad Vance, Eric Arvin and the like.
Men like Michael Sam, Jason Collins, and Tom Daley. Men like Dustin Lance Black, Shane Bitney Crone, Zachary Quinto (pictured below), Anderson Cooper, Greg Berlanti, Wentoworth Miller, Matt Zarley, Chris Salvatore, John Barrowman, Ryan Murphy and others – the list goes on. This includes gay men in the porn and sex industry – for many of them are my gay brothers too. Brilliant men who I admire for their minds as much as the work they do because they have productive lives outside of the industry (they are forward thinkers) – men like Colby Keller, Levi Michaels, Antonio Biaggi, Boomer Banks and Rocco Steele (pictured above) – such courageous and brilliant masculinity on display there. Even in this with them, I am inspired. What happens to them is of great interest to me – because it is reflective of my own in one way or another. Men who have to be weary of the world around us. A world where we are slowly seeing a rise in acceptance and tolerance (despite the occasional setback and fucktard conservative voice pushing back). In a real but absurd way, I am okay with the push back. It gives me a treasure trove to plunder for my characters to struggle against. And in that I also rail a bit at my critic’s sentiment above. She laments that we need to stop being so divisive amongst each other. Yet, I can’t help but think that while a lofty goal that may be, I don’t know that we’ll achieve it in what years I have left on this Earth. But again, it’s great fodder to write from certainly. We humans love our drama.
As my good fellow opera singer, Joseph, from my days in Opera once said, “No one wants to come see a happy Opera.” He’s right. Drama springs from life – it both reflects it and informs it. I am a writer of drama. More specifically, gay men’s drama. Might be limiting in scope but with the pathetically few books written by us rooted in our own collective experiences, I’ll stick to that course to add my own to my community’s slowly growing literary library.
I am a gay man who craves the voices of my own. It was that way when I was sixteen, it is that way now. I am thankful for those outside the community who want to write about us. I may even enjoy their work and praise them for what they do (I have done so with my carefully thought out reviews). But ultimately I am inspired and aspire to the men of my own world. I am enriched by their journeys and their experiences. I write to them. I write about them. I am informed by them. This is why I said what I said. I may not have clarified it as well as I should have but that was sort of the point with Jayne’s and my on-going conversation. In a very real way, this slight stumble has helped me define who I am and what kind of writer I am. For that, I can only be grateful.
So my fellow brothers, get out there. Write about us, write about our lives and our struggles, in a literature format. Root it in our lives, as they are or as you’d like them to be. Do it not for profit alone (though it certainly wouldn’t be frowned upon if you did), just do it to ensure our voices are present and accounted for – central to our experiences and our lives. Do it for posterity, do it so our thoughts in this point in time is captured in our own voice. Do it because we need to remind each other – both gently and, at times, purposefully – pressing against our own foibles, follies and prejudices. Teaching and enriching each other to aspire to be better with one another as much as we strive for equality in the greater mainstream community.
So, to my critic I say this – I agree with you up until we talk about my community from within. Then it is my own brother’s voices that hold sway, that have that nugget of truth, that sense of community that only they can speak to because they live it every damned day. It is our world – inherent to us because of the perceptions about us that we have to embolden or deride where they are true or are rooted in prejudice and bigotry. In this they will always hold my interest to a greater extent than any other voice out there. I may not agree with what they have to say but goddamn it, I will be thrilled that they are out there saying it – if anything just because it is still an affirmation that we matter, that our voices matter and should and need to be heard – from us – from the source itself. Only then, through our expression of our lives as they are, no matter the format of expression, will the narrative be central to our collective life’s experiences. I am tired of just sitting on the sidelines. What little years I may have left (I have recently reached my half centennial mark), I choose to be as forceful in presenting our world from our collected experiences as I can.
Others may claim that this is xenophobic in nature. It is not, I can assure you. I am being patriotic within my own community – there is a difference. I do not write against the mainstream heteronormative but rather try to embolden our own collective voices from within and champion them – doing what I can to promote and encourage them to do more and, at the same time, try to raise my voice — though not at the expense of others. And a word to those who would argue against that, they would be exercising the grandest form of bigotry.
If others, outside of our community, want to learn from my journey then great – I welcome them. But I write to my brothers. They are my love letters to them. I may not know them individually, I may not know their journeys or the road they walk in life, but if they stop and bother to tell me, I will always spare a moment to listen. That sixteen year old self is still hungry for their words, their thoughts, their minds. It is a hunger for which I never want satiated. When I take my last breath the only regret I want to have is that I’ll want more but be denied access in what is to come. That is what I will lament and rail against but know that it is for naught. Life just doesn’t work that way. I get that. But I lament the brilliant and colorful lives I will never know – lives to come that will be beyond my mortal reach. So I write from a fictional perspective to create those worlds that would explore what I crave from those voices as yet unheard.
Love letters to my gay brothers. I cherish each and every one of you. I admire your spirit, your courage and your minds. It is a love affair I am all to happy to be a part of. It is a love affair I never want to end.
I know no other way.
Runnin’ with the Pack – Part 1
So my first day of writing in the NaNoWriMo contest is coming to a close. I do have other things to do and write, ya know. I think I’ve knocked this one out of the park though. It’s a solid first effort.
The average is 1600+ words a day to hit the target of 50K. I’ve been sorting out what I was going to do for the first day of solid writing that it all sort of flowed almost FASTER than I’d could type (which is fairly fast).
Don’t know that all of them will go as smoothly but at least I’ve got a solid start.
Today’s word count – 9,042 (or 20 pages)
Not bad for a first haul. According to the nanowrimo site I should be done in about 8 days at this rate. I don’t know that that will happen as I had a bit of time to sort it all in my head so when I hammered it out it was one long stream of consciousness brain dump I was on. Now that I am nearing the end of that ‘brain storming session’ I think that I will find that my pace might slow a tad here and there.
I do think that my total word count will easily eclipse the 50K bar. Only because I write like a fiend when I am in the groove of it all. But I just hope I don’t overwrite the whole damned thing. My goal is not the 50K, but that I can limit myself to an actual short novel.
As I’ve said before, I think Cecil B. DeMille epically when I write. It’s just how my gay perspective thing is on it. But yeah, with these weres, so gonna let them have a fun, scary and satisfying romp. It’ll be brief but hopefully not the only one of the series (because while I may give it a HEAFN at the end of this book, I will definitely leave it open-ended enough to carry if forward if people seem to like it).
Anyway, said I was gonna blog about the process – so yeah…
DAY ONE – 9, 042/20 pages!
Not too bloody bad in my book…
Now time to go make dinner – my work is never done, it seems.
Running with Wolves…
So the NaNoWritMo event is coming up. I have to admit this is the first time I’ve heard of it. I guess I had my head down on my own shit I was writing to think about any sort of writing event outside of my carefully crafted worlds.
Let’s see the line up, shall we?
- Angels of Mercy (Volumes 1-3) – This one isn’t a surprise that it’s first because Volume 1 is in the can and on its way for final smoothing edits from a highly qualified editor that I am over the moon happy to be working with. So yeah, the boys (and girls) of Mercy, California are first on the list but theirs isn’t a supernatural story (despite the mention of Angels in the title – that is a reference to the high school mascot – an Avenging Angel).
- Far Wars – Fear the Feigr – This is my fantasy story that has quite the sci-fi slant all over it. I am talking Fae. But not just any Fae of the Celtic sort, no we’re going further back than that – I am talking NORSE fae – their forebears, the Feigr. Only my Feigr are fierce. They are in your face, kick assed dangerous bad asses – and we humans had better just learn to give them a wide birth. This one is a dark tale with a big gay twist (in that for the Feigr, it’s not gay at all… what could I possibly mean by that?).
- The Cove Chronicles – My Lord of the Rings epic tale gone completely NATIVE (as in Americans). This one is bold. It begins in the small town of Hallet’s Cove, Long Island (which later became Astoria) in the early 1800’s but wends its way to the Gold Rush time in San Francisco. But the Chronicles don’t end there. They stretch all the way to our more modern times in present day Hallet’s Cove – relocated to an inlet bay in Northern California. The Natives are restless and there’s good reason for that. They’re only defending the world against total annihilation as we know it. Yeah, it’s another epic. I tend to think Cecil B. DeMille epic.
- HO’M,O – Yeah, you read that one right… I have a book called HO’M,O. They really are initials that just happen to spell that the book is one big euphoric gay werewolf romp fest. Okay it doesn’t imply wolves at all, but I am telling you that’s what it’s about.
This last entry is the one I want to discuss today. You see, I am starting this bad boy off with the NaNoWritMo event that challenges authors to write a novel in 30 days with a minimum of 50K words. Now for a guy like me who can hammer out close to 10K a sitting (I am NOT bullshitting in the slightest – just look at my blog entries – words and the speed in which they flow are NEVER a problem for me), 50K is gonna be a breeze. I am more worried that I’ll get into it by November 15 and go well shit, I am only half way through the story and I’ve just broken 150K words! What the fuck am I gonna do now, Blanche?
That’s the real worry I have with the NaNoWritMo event. I think I’ll get too far ahead of myself.
HO’M,O is a tale about a young man in his senior year in high school. He lives a quaint and generally quiet life in the fictitious town of Sparrow’s Hollow (Holler) in the southern part of West Virginia (I chose it because my hubby is from WVA and can give me the 411 on it since he grew up in that area around the time I am setting the book (the latter part of the 1950’s). So no cell phones, no social media, hell, there’s barely ANY media of any kind in this po’ dunk of a town! And there be wolves in dem thar hills!
I wanted to play with the whole supernatural werewolf/shifter element in the m/m genre.
Now, to be clear, I still don’t fully ally myself with the m/m romance genre that so many of my author contemporaries write to. My books, from my perspective as they are created that way, are Gay Lit Fic across other sub-genres – in this case, supernatural. It has the gay element (which is why the whole Gay Lit thing is first). With my work, that is implied. It will generally always have a gay element to it. Why? Because there is a boat load of that other straight shit out there that they don’t need me reminding them of why they fall in love. Their romances do not intrigue me in the slightest. They are fully represented by the masses of authors who have to keep reminding that crowd of why they do what they do. Our side is still woefully under-represented. So yeah, totally on-board with the whole gay lit thing. It’s a given.
Anyway, I also wanted to do classic horror setup from the 1950’s. I am utterly fascinated with the 50’s in that it was an era of absolute dullness (nothing really went on). The social upheaval of the 60’s was still around the corner and down the road a piece. The frantic forties (what with the War occupying a great majority of it) are also of interest but in this case I wanted the horror classic feel of the 50’s in this book.
So yeah, wolves. In West Virginia, no less. It just sort of popped up in my head. I’ve never been to WVA. I have no knowledge of the area first hand BUT I do have it second hand (as I said my hubby was born in Wheeling, WVA). So yeah, I got that part covered AND from the same era as the book (hubby is a tad older than me).
I am working like hell to get the character sketches down. To flesh them all out. To make my bad boys be more, I dunno, wolf like. Wolf primed? Wolf enabled? I gotta come up with something better than that when the contest begins (I have to keep reminding myself that I m not competing with anyone other than myself to get the job done). The contest is to complete a novel in 30 days with at least 50K words in the body of the book. I think I can do this.
So why the blog post?
Because I am on pins and needles about it all. About the whole crafting it by the seat of my pants. Yeah, I am pretty much a pantser (what writers call themselves when they write by the seat of their pants) when I write. I have a general frame work, I have fully formed characters (and I do mean formed when I say it). I also have a majority of the plot line fully formed in my head before I ever put a word down on digital bytes and bits. It’s all a matter of hammering it all out.
Alfred Hitchcock (an idol/hero of mine) often said that for him the fun of making his movies or telling his stories was in the planning of it. The rest was just busy work to get it all down. I sooooo, get that. Epically get it. Epically – to the nth degree – do I get it.
Hank O’Malley (my Omega – and if you don’t know what those are in Lycanthrope lore, you better do your homework like I have) is my protag. He’s an amazing character. I love him already. I can’t wait to throw him to the wolves of Sparrow’s Holler (so to speak).
NaNoWritMo – it’s just around the corner as the final days of October come to a close. November 1 is the date. I start writing my new opus then. It’ll be far shorter than my other works, but I can already see a path to writing a series on these boys. It’s an ensemble cast from many aspects, so yeah, it could definitely grow into a real series. Hell, it’ll probably be even gayer than that whole Teen Wolf thing on MTV.
Sort of a Happy Days cross with Teen Wolf – eh, no, wait. That isn’t what I was shooting for at all. Well, it’ll come together I am sure.
In 30 days.
Tic-toc, tic-toc, tic-toc…
Our Dirty Little Secret –
A discussion with Savannah Smythe on the release of her new work – Dirty Little Secret and a few other topics that cropped up…
SA Collins: So when do you think you can recall when you found yourself bit by the whole writing bug? Was there some impetus that got you into writing?
Savvy Smythe: I’ve always loved weaving stories, even from a very young age, probably to get me out of some kind of trouble, I guess. But I never thought of writing anything down until after my first child was born. I think it was boredom more than anything else. I was hitting the treadmill at the gym and my daughter was in daycare, and my first character just kind of popped into my head and said “Hello.”
Actually, that’s a lie. He said something like “Hey, bitch, I want a woman and a decent story. Get to it.” He can be rude like that…
SA Collins: Yeah, that’s usually a hallmark of a writer: our characters really sort of control us – dictate when things need to get done.
Savvy Smythe: Absolutely. I think all writers with fiction should identify with this, and sometimes you need to go with the flow and see what comes out. It can surprise you. It sure as hell surprised me!
SA Collins: Did your writing always have the erotic slant it has now? If so, why do you think that is? If not, how did it evolve into that?
Savvy Smythe: It certainly didn’t start out as erotica, although I’ve never shied away from portraying sexual scenes between my characters. How the erotica thing started was simple. I couldn’t get the damned book published so I sliced, diced and spiced it as an experiment, because sex sells, right? I knew I had a juicy story, but it needed a lot more juice to interest the erotica market.
To answer your other question, I guess I’ve always been interested in, not the ins and outs of sex per se, but the interplay between characters, the growing intensity of feelings and setting moods where sensual happenings can take place
SA Collins: So, given that, did you find that your sales changed when your writing did? Or was it a slow evolving process? Do you still see your work as erotica? Because, here’s my take on it: I really don’t think that sexual situations make it erotica. Sex is a part of the human condition. I think what erotica is is a piece written to titillate and inflame, sometimes at the expense of a real story, but when woven into a real bona fide tale, then I think it crosses back over to adult fiction. I think you can have a sexually active and sex positive character without it being erotica. Do you know what I am getting at here?
Savvy Smythe: Yes, I do, and I agree on the whole. There are different levels of erotica though. In my mainstream contemporary fiction books, the sex is used as a potent way of luring two characters together and making them want each other, and when they do, it’s fireworks. But in my role as an erotica writer, the sex is definitely the most important thing. I wrote straight erotica for Virgin Books for five years, and sales were good enough that they kept renewing my contract, which was great. But after a while it became slightly boring to be honest because the sex was the main event (as it has to be in an erotica book, obviously.) The challenge was to make it interesting. Actually, I nearly got my editor fired because my attempt at making it interesting contravened several decency laws – oops!
So yes, there is a big difference between the role that sex plays in erotica and “mainstream” fiction. And this goes back to what I was saying about different forms of erotica. There are the one-handed reads, and books with characters that people can actually get involved with. Three dimensional characters with stories that don’t insult the intelligence of the person reading them. And that’s what I tried to do.
SA Collins: Fair enough. The reason I bring it up is that when I started I first listed myself as an erotic writer but after Angels fully took form it was clear that while sex was present, the sexual situations psychologically advanced the characters (more than just bringing them together) in that my shy boy became increasingly more assertive in his life – every facet of his life – which said to me that the sex, while erotic in nature, really was a different device altogether. I get the whole differing degrees of erotica writing – and I am not disparaging it as a whole genre, but I often wonder if we’re too motivated to label it as such when maybe we aren’t seeing the greys in those erotic levels as something else altogether. You know?
Savvy Smythe: Yes, and a lot of it comes down to marketing and being honest about the genre the book is for. And that isn’t necessarily the market you assume it is for when you write it, if you assume anything at all. Black Lace (Virgin Books) was obviously erotica, aimed at women, and that was easy because I knew my genre. Since then, I haven’t written any erotica until this year, when I began What You Wish For, which eventually turned into Dirty Little Secret. I wrote the book, knowing I was writing erotica, but I hadn’t given any thought about who it was aimed at, I was just writing the story. Because once you start getting hung up on markets, etc., your creativity can go out the window. In a way, this is what happened with What You Wish For, which is why it eventually became DLS.
And sex is obviously a great selling point, but just because there is a lot of it in a book, doesn’t make it erotica, necessarily. I’m saying that sometimes, erotica isn’t always there to give a thrill, but to engender all kinds of emotions in the reader. As well as giving a thrill!
SA Collins: So you mentioned Dirty Little Secret, which is your recent release, right? How did that happen – it started out as a straight erotica piece, right?
Savvy Smythe: It did, and I guess it was aimed at women because that’s the erotica market I’ve always written for. Straight men on the whole don’t read a lot of erotica. They like to see the T and A before their eyes.
SA Collins: True enough – men are very visual.
Savvy Smythe: But then a strange thing happened. My two male characters fell in love before my eyes. It was a natural process and I can honestly say I didn’t force the issue. It just came about. So I went with it, again not thinking about the marketing issue, although I wanted to publish the story in three parts. But when I had finished the story and had three parts, one of straight erotica and two of gay erotica, I immediately saw I had a problem. Maybe this is an assumption here, but I guessed that gay men wouldn’t be interested in straight erotica featuring women, but I wasn’t so sure about women wanting to read gay erotica. So I did some digging and began to read gay erotica. Actually, I had been reading gay erotica as soon as I knew I was going to write it, to find out what I was up against.
SA Collins: Is it something you find interesting to write about? Or was this a one off “walk in a different park” sort of thing?
Savvy Smythe: I feel very comfortable writing about men, either in sexual situations or in burgeoning relationships, but I’m aware that I have a lot to learn. I didn’t want to insult people by just swapping women for men and writing “dick lit” because men and women’s motivations are totally different.
SA Collins: Now you’ve hit upon one of the things that sticks in my craw about the M/M genre as it stands now. As a gay man/author I have collected a number of these writings and what truly astounds me is how very little it has to do with what our lives are like. I mean, I am all for the fantasy of a good yarn, but some of the emotive qualities are completely off the mark of how men feel – and often gay men at that. I think it stems from women not really getting that as a gay man you always, whether you can play off the straight male thing in society or not, are looking over your shoulder, sometimes swapping pronouns to make people around you comfortable. Yet the works in the genre never really reflect that. So while it’s “gay” it really is with air quotes completely implied. Do you think that the genre needs some evolving in that manner? Or do you think it is what it is…? I know it’s one of the reasons why I refuse to ally myself with that sort of market as my main market. Because my work will not follow those sort of entrenched guidelines..
Savvy Smythe: I think that every genre is evolving, mostly thanks to the ebook market. People have access (should they choose to accept it) to almost any fiction they please. But yes, to answer your last question, the gay erotica I read, written by women is very different to that written by men. It seems to be either fantasy (wolf/biker/shapeshifter) or the other stereotypes (soldier, cop, mechanic) and I think that says a lot more about what the writer finds erotic than what her audience will. Not that there is anything wrong with that but don’t mistake it for bona fide erotica aimed at gay men.
The erotica I’ve read by men is a lot more meaty, with more of their senses being used – which is surprising to me but very enlightening. Also, every book I’ve read reflects the “over the shoulder” situation you described, where as a lot of women tend to write about being gay and proud of it, or being completely and happily segregated from “normal” society. So in order to write erotica for the gay market, I want to learn to write more like a man, and that is something which I find really exciting. I’m not degenerating women’s writing AT ALL. There are some really gritty women writers out there. I want to be one of them. Dirty Little Secret is a bit of fun, a toe in the water, but I’ve learned a lot since then.
SA Collins: I sort of liken it to me writing about a young black woman – I might be able to imagine it, I might even be in the midst of the community, but there is something intrinsically truthful about the work when it comes from the source. I don’t blame women writing M/M erotica for their own pleasure but what I find sort of bewildering is all of the rainbow cons that really don’t seem to have very much to do with what we are working towards. To me its more about women who love the hell out of men (as do gay men) but write about them in gay situations as they would like to fantasize about men but the ‘gayness’ of them really isn’t much in play here other than its homosexual in nature. I think the genre as a whole needs to do a little soul searching and more gay male voices need to rise to the top and write about us as we really are. Only then will the genre as a whole evolve. Otherwise I think it will just be women fantasizing about men as they want to see them rather than what we truly are… does that make sense?
Savvy Smythe: Yeah, it does, although I would say that it isn’t the role of erotica to reflect the angst going on in real life. One of the big no-nos in straight erotica are characters with kids. No-one wants to read about child-care arrangements before the fucking starts. They don’t want to hear about women with problems juggling their lives, or non-consensual sex (another rule I broke – I’m all about breaking rules) or any of the other issues that people in “normal” life experience. It is a fantasy after all.
But, this also begs the question about what motivates women to write gay erotica. Yes, a lot of it is a fantasy about what gay men are like in bed. And I think some women do it because they feel SAFER writing about gay men.
SA Collins: Why? Because they think gay men aren’t reading it to say – hey, wait a minute there —where am I in all of this? What do you mean by safer?
Savvy Smythe: Because they can have their kicks writing and reading about it without feeling they have to compete. In erotica books, the heroine is mostly beautiful, or has some quality that makes her irresistible to the hero. Some women feel threatened by that and think, “I would never be like that. I don’t want to hear about some bitch with perfect tits getting banged by Mr. Hardjaw.” But put Mr. Hardjaw with Mr. Sexyabs and hell, yes!
SA Collins: That sort of seems rather simplistic in a way. I mean you’ve read a bit of my book… right?
Savvy Smythe: I’m reading it now, but as you said, your book isn’t erotica, it’s a character study. Erotica is there mainly for one purpose, and that is to get off, right? DLS is erotica. I want to make it intelligent but to be honest, I wanted to turn people on first. And THAT is the prime purpose of erotica
SA Collins: True enough but let’s talk character for a second. I think that in erotica (or hell, even mainstream lit fic) women make a very interesting mistake in my mind when writing male characters. I think because in their own lives they hear the brevity of how we communicate and make an assumption that things go on like that in our heads. That we think in bits and bytes and not strung together long trained thoughts. In Angels almost 70 percent of it is Elliot’s (my protag) inner monologue. Men do think quite intensely and prolonged as we analyze our world around us – the difference is we don’t talk a lot about it. Gay men more than our hetero counterparts to a degree, but even so – gay men have short hand talking that does the same brevity communication that our straight brothers do. Most female writers miss the boat on that. I found that to be rather telling. It was one of the reasons why Elliot’s part of my series is so inside his head. It was far more interesting for me to express him internally (thus, the character study) yet, walk you through what he feels and thinks while he’s having hot man-on-man action…
Savvy Smythe: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus?
SA Collins: The inner monologue men go through isn’t as developed as I think it can be. I think it is simplistic for most (definitely not all) female writers to assume that how the men in their world act are how we really are. I think the inner monologues are not as complex as we sometimes can be.
Savvy Smythe: Yeah, I get that.
SA Collins: Sure. I mean I turned you onto John Rechy’s work… you said that you found his voice to be very powerful and you were getting some of that from him, right? Did it surprise you to read his take on male sexuality?
Savvy Smythe: I think we women make the assumption that men are simple souls, because to be honest, men have told us that for long enough. Perhaps to stop us over-thinking things we have no hope of understanding? It wasn’t a surprise to read John Rechy’s take but it was enlightening, because I, like a lot of women have always thought that men are more visual than anything else.
SA Collins: True enough. I mean my daughter is on match.com looking for potential boyfriend material and one guy got playful with her and started to talk about the big trucks and tractors he drives around at work (like a big boy would). She got all over analytical about it and I stopped her in her tracks and said – “Sweetie, sometimes a tractor or a truck is just that. He’s being playfui, don’t make it a political statement.”
So I get we can be forthright in our statements and they get over-analyzed to the point of absurdity (in most men’s opinions).
Savvy Smythe: I think women are always looking for the hidden message. It’s a defense mechanism to stop them from getting hurt. It doesn’t work though.
SA Collins: When I read Rechy’s work as a gay teen (this was the late 70’s mind you) it was truly enlightening that all of the things I was questioning about myself as a man (let alone a gay one) were right there in his pages.
Savvy Smythe: A comparative work for women would be The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French.
SA Collins: All of the textures and the senses that we as men go through. This is what I often find missing in M/M erotica… the assumptions are never analyzed by the author – simply taken as hard cold fact about us and not inquired or asked about. I know some men won’t cough up the goods or admit to what really goes on in our heads. In fact, I spend more time talking to my straight friends about their emotional shit that would truly astound their wives and girlfriends. I often laugh that straight women and straight men don’t really get what a great ally gay men are to them. They assume that our sex is so perverse that they can’t possibly be of any help to them. But I know I’ve helped my straight co-workers on a number of occasions because I gave them some insight on why their ladies might be feeling the way they were or expressing themselves how they were. The dialog is changing but I always sort of laugh on how much of our POV on their own relationships go unasked. I always tell my daughter – I may be gay, but honey, I know my sex…
Savvy Smythe: I think straight women get the gay ally thing. Most women yearn for a GBF. (Sex and the City, anyone?) BUT, I think it’s become a bit like a status symbol, rather like a designer handbag. I’d be willing to bet that the women wanting a GBF want him so they can give some insight into men and make them feel good about themselves. Actually, if you examine that dynamic, it looks a bit one-sided. Are the women with GBFs any wiser about how gay men think, feel, function day to day? This is a genuine question because I haven’t a clue! Would be interesting to find out though.
It seems as if we are all shouting at each other over a divide the size of the Grand Canyon. Can women ever really understand what is going on in men’s heads, whether they are gay or not?