Paying It Forward – Love Letters to My Gay Brothers – Why I Write

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.

Michael Sam - a man I admire with the brilliant simplicity to his message.  I watch him with a very interested eye.

Michael Sam – a man I admire with the brilliant simplicity to his message. I watch him with a very interested eye.

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.

Isolated.

Exiled.

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.

The book with the cover I saw as a young boy of 16. It transformed me.

The book with the cover I saw as a young boy of 16. It transformed me.

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.’

 

Merrick's compelling and controversial Peter and Charlie gay romance trilogy.

Merrick’s compelling and controversial Peter and Charlie gay romance trilogy.

 

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).

Jay_Brannan_Rob_Me_Blind_Cover_Art

The album that inspired me to write Angels of Mercy.

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.

Grand fanboy here and proud of it! #teamproud #teamgrandfam

Grand fanboy here and proud of it! #teamproud #teamgrandfam

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.

 

Rocco Steele and Boomer Banks -  two men who's lives are very fascinating...They inspire me too.

Rocco Steele and Boomer Banks – two men whose lives are very fascinating…They inspire me too.

 

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.

Zachary Quinto - a man I admire greatly. He has a deftness to his words that I think is greatly needed in our community.

Zachary Quinto – a man I admire greatly. He possess a deftness with his words that I think is greatly needed in our community.

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.

Comments (9) | Trackback

9 Comments to Paying It Forward – Love Letters to My Gay Brothers – Why I Write

  1. Lady Jaguar says:

    Wow. No other words. Just “Wow.” I’ve put a link to your site from mine, and hopefully, the relevant people will see it and take note. Well done yet again for such an insightful post. You’re so generous with your thoughts, time and words, and I learn something new every time I read one of them. Thank you. 🙂

  2. S A Collins says:

    Thanks for that Jayne. It’s funny because I wrote a different response and the hubby thought the way I was going about what I really wanted to say was too contrived and argumentative. He told me to go back and let it just flow. Odd part was the more ‘contrived’ rebuttal took me a helluva long time to write – the one that is posted took me less than 30 minutes to get it all down. The difference, I just let it flow and let my heart, rather then my brain, do all the thinking. I hope it comes out in the piece.

  3. Thad J. says:

    S.A.

    Your posts are really moving for me. Like you, when I write, it’s not for fame or fortune but because I enjoy it and like to share stories from my perspective. As a millennial, I never experienced some of the more horrendous forms of discrimination in the past yet like you I see the same formulas and stories only with inter-changeable professions and locations. I don’t begrudge anyone who writes that way, but it is beyond stale to read stories that more often than not do a disservice in portraying realistic gay men. Not to mention the lack of diversity in characters, motivations, and so on. I mean sex is fine, but the way it overshadows the story sometimes and the dialogue during has made my eyes get stuck in the back of my head from how hard I roll them. But I guess my main point is that like you, I’m missing the diversity. The more contemporary stories that are more reflective of today’s world while still acknowledging our past.

    • S A Collins says:

      Thanks for that Thad. I was very touched by your comment. You know really, you blog and write these things with the thought somewhere in the back of your head – “no one’s gonna read my shit” – then you look at your web stats (if you have access to them) and discover like I did: Hey, I’m big in China. What’s that about? I don’t even write in Chinese! And Saudi Arabia is quite a following too. As is Russia. A thread there perhaps? But yeah, as a writer I think you doubt yourself all the time. You spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing what you do and why you do it. I think, if you do, then as a writer that can only help you perfect your craft. It’s a good (if at times painful) thing. I am with you on the romance element in the genre M/M romance (which, like you I don’t disparage) – I just can’t see the whole point after you’ve read a few of them they all sort of end up in the same place. And the automatic HEA or HFN are so totally against the grain of how it all works and I thoroughly believe in my heart of hearts that those stories will never be as powerful as they could be because as a reader if it is GENRE M/M ROMANCE then the given is “it’ll all work out” where’s the risk and the drama in that? There is no real risk in my eyes. Just wait it out long enough and you’ll get your HEA. I just don’t get how that works and it’s sustainable. It’s akin to being in love with love – not necessarily the players. My works are far more character driven – you know them completely by the time you’re done with my works. That’s not to say I haven’t read a few of the genre and actually liked them. I have my favorites (some of who I follow on my site under the “about:” section, for starters). Anyway, I just wanted to say THANK YOU for taking the time to post a comment – it was truly a very pleasant and touching surprise for me. I am humbled that you said anything. If you are like me, shameless plug – ha! – we’re always sort of marketing and talking about our stuff, aren’t we? Anyway, if you’re like me (as you profess) then you’d probably love Angels when it is released at the beginning of the year because I play with very dark themes that gay men deal with every day – homophobia, violence brought on by it, infidelity, self-worth issues, the things that we have to struggle with just to hopefully eke out a little slice of happiness for ourselves. Please keep in touch and let me know what you’re up to in your works as well. I feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit. Maybe you can even join my buddy Jayne Lockwood and I in one of our author discussions that she and I post on each other’s sites from time to time? Think about it. I would so love to hear what you have to say on it all. Peace and much love – SAC

  4. Kris says:

    I watched this whole “SA versus all the straight lady gay romance writers” thing go down from afar, and since I don’t have a horse in this game (being neither a gay man, nor a straight lady romance writer), I was gonna keep my big mouth shut. But I keep thinking about it, so I’m back.

    Many of the things you say in this post resonate for me. I’ve spent a lot of years reading books that don’t reflect my life, or the lives of the people I keep in orbit. Unlike you, I never found books that hit me on this level. I also never found a home in the wider queer community that felt like mine, and I say that as a kid who was the president of the gay club for three straight years in high school. I went to the rallies and marched in the candlelight vigils, and still never felt truly included. That may just be my personality, or the time I happened to be born (I adore all the conscious gender fuckery the kids today get up to, but their sense of entitlement to pronouns and acceptance is entirely foreign to me). I still go to Pride every year and feel that ethereal sense of community around me like a phantom limb I can’t quite touch. (And it still fucking hurts, man.)

    So that’s where I’m coming from, when I read your words. It must be lovely to feel like part of a brotherhood so strongly. I can only imagine, with my nose pressed up against the glass.

    I wrote for a long time for the little locked up thirteen year old me, and in some sense I likely always will. But the second you hit “publish” on a book, you’ve carried forth an intention to write not just for one group or one person, but for everyone. Or else why would you publish it to worldwide distributors? And I’d like to caution you, gently, to remain open to readers, whoever they are, whatever assumptions you make about them or experiences they represent to you. Because the vibe I get from you is this: “Hey, straight lady romance readers! You can totally come to my party, but you’re never, ever gonna sit at the cool kids’ table, because that’s for gay guys only. No offense!”

    Writers can talk honestly about writerly motivation without also launching into patriotism and a pervasive sense that no one who hasn’t shared their direct experiences will be able to truly relate. And we should talk about these things. We should talk about how amazing it is to reach people we never dreamed would find meaning in our stories. We should rant, privately, to each other, about the readers who probably shouldn’t have found our stories and left biting one star reviews about their lack of merit. (If you’ve written a book with romantic elements and no HEA, you’ll get these. Drop me a line. Seriously. I got your back.) But some straight lady romance reader is going to read your book, consider it life-changing, feel inspired to find your blog and read everything you’ve ever written, and when she reads this post she’s not gonna be angry at you, she’s not gonna be defensive, she’s just gonna feel sad that you’re magnanimously willing to take her time and money, but she doesn’t really rate for you as a reader.

    And you don’t owe her more than a good book. But hell, my heart twists a little, because I don’t exist in your narrative, S.A. In this story you’ve outlined absolutely no one is writing for the mes in the world (except maybe me), so while I can feel you thinking that romance readers can get a fix anywhere, there’s a lot of people who still don’t see themselves in the pages of books, and I’d hate for those of us on this side of the page to give them even more reasons to feel left out in the cold.

    You can write all the love letters to your brothers that you want without making it about exclusion. But this post doesn’t feel like that. And your back-and-forth with your writer pal definitely didn’t feel like that. It felt like a flag planted in the middle of gay romance land like you were moving in, and that’s not even your battlefield unless you’re actually writing romance novels. (HEA endings are a whole other rant of mine, but I’ll do that on my own turf. I’ve got a tag for it and everything.)

    Which brings me to the last bit I want to say. You wrote this, above, about writing female characters: “I must embrace that it will never be able to write from that intrinsic truth that comes from within.” That shit right there is about the most dangerous stance a fiction writer can take. Intrinsic truth is a myth. There will be gay men who don’t feel your story, because they had different experiences. I hear all the time from female friends that sometimes they pick up a book by another woman because at least it won’t be full of stupid female stereotypes, only to discover that it is. It sounds like you haven’t been sitting down to write fiction for that long, so perhaps in five years you’ll feel differently, or perhaps you’ll feel exactly the same. I don’t know. But that attitude is how white people justify writing books full of only white people, and it’s how a whole lot of men justify writing books with limited women in them. “Well, see, it’s not my experience, I can’t do it justice.” I call bullshit, on all of that.

    I don’t believe, as the critic you quoted, that we need to stop dividing ourselves. I believe we should celebrate the places we come from, and the different flavors we bring to the table. But a fuckin’ kitten dies every time a fiction writer shies away from something because they don’t think they have the intrinsic knowledge from which to write it. I realize you’re saying you write female characters in spite of feeling that you can’t bring them to life as well as a female writer might, but that shit makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

    (This belief is, of course, self-serving; if I could only honestly write genderqueer characters who self-inseminated at home alone in bed with insanely expensive frozen sperm, I’d be pretty damn bored.)

    I should have made this into a motherfucking blog post. It’s going to explode your moderation queue, for which I apologize.

    In any case, I’m really not trying to fight with you about any point but the last one. (You’re just flat-out wrong about that one.) I have a slightly different perspective, so grain of salt, etc.

    Last, but not least. Hella. So, I moved to Southern California in 1999, and when the SoCal kids mocked me for using “hella,” they called it a Northern California word. I related the story to my mom, who said when she moved from Oakland to San Francisco in 1973, the San Francisco kids mocked her for using “hella” because only an East Bay person would do such a thing. Aw. I love the Bay Area.

    • S A Collins says:

      Thanks for that Kris- I admire voices of differing opinions even if I don’t wholly agree with them. At the half centennial mark in my life I have come to the realization that I just don’t get females from a centered perspective – I see what they go through, I understand how they work and move through life (or try to) but inwardly, and as a sidebar NO ONE can say this is right or wrong about me because it is my truth as I lived it – you weren’t there and yeah, all that rot. Life lessons and all, but I just don’t emotively feel centered when I write female characters because I really don’t connect with them emotively very easily. That is not to say I don’t love my own girls and commiserate with them whenever they need some love and cheering on, nor does it mean I am surrounded by women who berate me and don’t love me. None of that is true. There is just this big disconnect when it comes to where they are motivated from. For me I have to invent (and yes, I get the whole writing fiction thing and yes I have been writing for many, many years just haven’t pubbed a damned thing yet). I know how to spin a yarn, I know how to hold an audience (been doing it in theatre professionally for years) but for me there is just a disconnect when I go to that one point in my writing. It doesn’t mean I cheat the character or make them less. That part is just work for me. The men in my stories, eh, not so much. It just is what it is.

      And as a sidebar, I am not saying anyone cannot sit at the cool table – I am just being brutally honest in that for me I connect emotively with men very easily – even the straight ones – but all are welcome. When I entertain you’d be hard pressed (if you didn’t know or read what I just wrote) to see me not pay attention with absolute sincerity to any and all of my guests. That’s not it either. It really stems from me being honest on how it all works for me.

      Eschew anyone who wants to talk about something? – Never. I’ll always have an ear for that. No exclusions here. My life lessons, such as they were, have brought me to where I am. A father, a grandfather, (legally) married to a man I’ve been with for 20 years. I have solid friends (of both sexes) and can be extremely social at every turn when needed. BUT, I have also come to a point in my life at 50 where I could just as easily write my stories – set them out to the world from a small house in the middle of a fjord in Norway and not see another living soul besides my husband and our little family. I truly mean that. I don’t require the attention. Actually I broke down and had a small melt down recently (last Friday to be exact) where I was just going to chuck the whole damned thing because I didn’t know if I had the stomach to deal with the promotion part of it. I don’t want to do it – quite plainly. I will, but I won’t be very good at it. So why the melt down? Because the ONLY person I came to realize who I valued their opinion on what I was doing was my husband. He’s my editor, my inspiration, my go to for just about anything – and I never took a moment to tell him that I was writing it all for him. So I broke because I never said. It was a very poignant moment for me.

      So anyone and everyone is welcome. That wasn’t the point of my little rant. It was that, for me, it is the men in my life, those that I am inspired by that will be quickest to catch my attention. They won’t be the only ones mind you, but they will be the quickest. It’s just how I am built. I’ve never been one to worry what others think. Which is why I don’t take any umbrage at all for what you’ve said. We’ll just have a difference of opinion on that point. But i’ve lived my life – you haven’t. Just as I haven’t lived yours. Each life has it’s own pair of glasses with which we see the world – right or wrong it’s just how the journey goes. I am learning different things every day. I pride myself on that. When I don’t want to learn any more than that’s when I’ll hang it all up for good. Doesn’t mean that I’ll change much from what I wrote above. Because it’s how it is now and I am fairly sure that it won’t change much in 5 or 10 years down the road. It just is what it is.

      I won’t do the cons, I won’t do the circuit that other writers do. I just don’t have the drive to get into all of that. My works will either find an audience or they won’t. I am good with that. My works don’t fit into a box. They never will. And I am good with that too. If ANYONE finds them interesting – yay! Icing on the cake. But the cake – yeah, that’s something I hold close at heart.

      Thanks for the sharing – I sincerely appreciate every word you wrote. I enjoy conversations like this even if we don’t meet up in the middle. I am good with that too. Peace!

      • S A Collins says:

        Oh, and one other point – That woman who felt slighted about my taking her money – yeah, the market works when a reader wants to read something – it is often irrespective of who actually wrote it – esp. true for a new author. The story just appeals to them. So I didn’t take her money at all. She paid what I said was a fair price for the work. She isn’t buying a piece of me. Theatre taught me that. It’s why I completely take umbrage for fans who get all uppity with celebs as if they have a right to dictate to them what they should or shouldn’t do. And the reverse is true. In many cases stars should just keep their traps shut on things they don’t really know about. But we’ve become a society of sound bytes and gotchas. I just don’t want to play that.

        But yeah, from my perspective no one put a gun to the hypothetical lady to buy my book. She may enjoy the work, she may laud me with praise (of which I’d be thoroughly shocked but that’s just me being me – I am always shocked by praise) but it doesn’t mean she gets any right to sort out what she thinks I should think and feel about my own life. She bought the book fair and square. I will always be humble in their thoughts on the work, good or bad, but the only opinion that reigns supreme in my book is the hubby. The line is there. So yeah, everyone else is on the same playing field where that’s concerned. Just my 2 cents. I am not being harsh. I am being a realist in where the product stops. My life is my own. Which is why I am not all about the sales. That part is NOT for sale at any price. Just sayin…

  5. Kris says:

    Yeah, man, I’m sorry. I misinterpreted what you were saying. I thought you were offering your experience as representative of all writers, which I took a bit personally. Forgive me. I would never attempt to tell you anything about what you know or what you’ve lived, that’d be ludicrous.

    I figure you’re kind of a passive promotion role model, no? You seem to do it very seamlessly (here on the blog, on Facebook), and without all the hand-waving screaming-in-your-face irritating bits that exemplify what most writers consider “promotion”. (I’ve turned off all Facebook group notifications. I can’t take BUY MY BOOK a thousand times a day, multiplied by however many groups.)

    I’m gonna go wipe the egg off my face now and make cookies before the power goes out. (Because you gotta have priorities.)

    • S A Collins says:

      No worries – as I said before – it is all good in the hood. I roll fairly easily. Being in the professional theatre gave me the tough skin for it.

      What I will say is I find it very interesting (not intending to gain anyone’s ire over it) is that I get tagged for the same thing each time and when I reexplain it then it is the ‘oh, now I see.’ I know I haven’t mistyped anything, I know I covered the bases there. Even read it aloud to my hubby and we talked quite a bit about it before I even posted it.

      The difference between how I write what I write is significant there (to my way of thinking). My stories are all in first person. Why? Because I love the intimacy you get from being inside someone – having their voice rattle in your head and heart. I know this because one of the women who openly challenged me on my first posting there that started this bruhaha actually asked to see my first novel and after reading it she wrote me a very long praise for the work. Validating my suspicion that I write literature and not genre (anything). My works are deeply personal (the characters and the worlds they inhabit are fictitious but not the scenarios). The scenes and the emotive events in my worlds are culled from my own and others in my life (as I said before). And these aren’t idle conversations I’ve had with them about their lives, These are hours long discussions where we often walk through an event in their lives and I dive pretty deep into why they did what they did and how did they feel about all of it. It also helps enormously to have a psychiatrist in the house. Plus my years as an actor is why I have to draw my worlds as I do – it’s how i built a performance from the ground up.

      I don’t write to promote myself. I don’t write to promote my work. I write because I just feel I must. That is the major difference here. One that I know separates me from the pack. When I say I write for the boy who was like me wanting to read something that could resonate with their harsh existence, that boy is also me.

      I am not saying that another author doesn’t write from a personal standpoint. But I’ve gotten to the point where if I see another 3rd person omniscient story I think I’ll go mad. Those stories are so disconnected to me – omniscient just screams impersonal, and observational. It creates a distance from the actual MC. I’ve reached a point in my life where those stories are already one down in my book because I want to emotively connect to the MC. Others may love them. Yippee Kiyay for them. It’s just not how it works for me. Might be an impediment for others who read my stuff. That’s okay too. Their loss by my way of thinking (as I am sure those writers who write 3rd person would say to me – I am good with that too). I truly don’t care. It is just important to me that I put what I want to out there – more for any posterity than anything else. As they say, nothing in the internet ever truly disappears. So on some level it is a way for me to reach beyond my mortal coil. I am good with that too.

      But I’ll promote (actually I am thinking of pitching my Angels story to HBO or Showtime as I think the ensemble work could be extremely powerful storytelling). But that’s just me wanting to get it back to a performance art sort of thing (my own comfortable world).

      So no egg. I just find it curious that women seem to not get me as much as I don’t emotively connect with them all that well. But that’s something I write about too. Elliot Donahey (the MC in Angels Vol 1) has real connection issues with women (extending to his own mother who doesn’t have an issue with his being gay). I wrote his mother in a very sympathetic, contemplative standpoint. Very supportive. Heartfelt. BUT, she was work for me to get it right. The pay off? My cousin who struggled a bit with her own son (who is also gay) through out his teen years read my book (which she never read a gay oriented story at all) and found that I answered questions for her about those troubling years between her and her son (my second cousin). She cried over it as well. She found a way to connect with Elliot as a mother of a gay son and the story resonated with her in that manner. It was one of the highlights of writing the book (it STILL hasn’t been published yet). It is one of the proudest moments and comments I cherish quite well. So I get the whole readers will…

      Yeah, that’s great but that is the very point I make about what is work for me and what a reader takes away from it. They are very different things. When a reader says something I write resonates with them – what that really translates into is that I put into words what they’ve felt all along one way or another and either my words woke them to that or they just never were able to articulate how they felt until they came across what I wrote. That’s a cool thing – but from a writers standpoint – it had nothing to do what why I wrote it in the first place. That is the reader putting something of themselves on it. Not my position at all. Was I glad that my cousin got something unexpected from it? You betcha. But that was something she worked through that my work ignited, but it wasn’t me. It was the reader imbuing themselves into what I write. So Kayla Donahey (Elliot’s mom) is a great character. I worked really hard to get her right, to do her justice. BUT I never had it in mind that she could have the potential to help parents struggling with the “I am trying so hard to be supportive to my gay/queer kid’ but we just aren’t connecting – then read Angels and discover (as my cousin did) that the child in question is working just as hard to make the connection and failing as well too. A realization that had never occurred to my cousin in all those hard years where she was trying to do what is right and support my killer of a cousin (I love the crap outta him – we haven’t talked in years but we’re connected on FB). As a mother she internalized everything. Thought she was doing something wrong. It never occurred to her that he was struggling too all those years. So yeah, major win there – completely unplanned. I get that they happen BUT again, I really had nothing to do with that other than write what I wrote but for very different reasons.

      A cool effect but it is always a signal to me (as it is in theatre and acting) the audience puts themselves into the world/work and come up with their own perspectives and often they aren’t remotely what the writer was writing from. I think that is a VERY fascinating thing to discover and write from.

      Sorry for the longish response – just thought I’d finish the whole discussion out. You’re good Kris. Things couldn’t be better between us. And keep an eye out – your FONT request blog post is coming soon! – SAC

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