Finding Your Voice… Then Sticking To It
Today I’ve been mulling things around. I do this, as I am sure you do it too, from time to time.
But here’s my dilemma, of sorts: I’ve gotten caught up (with my mental ramblings) in a conversation going on with other gay authors and the lack of our representation within the M/M genre and what that means to our voice within our own community. By that I mean real gay men’s voices writing about our own experiences, or at the very least experiences that reflect the reality we all live in. I mean you can have gay vampires, weres or what have you and still have it rooted in what we, as gay men, have to deal with in our lives. How we feel, how we cope.
I know I’ve preached from the Rechy alter before. I just love his work, I have since I was a boy. There are others, but he was the first one I found – sentimentally clinging to his work more than any other, I suppose. The hubby actually found his website out on the net. Well, that’s sort of redundant, isn’t it? Where else would one find a website? Isn’t it funny how I’ve been such a pro-Rechy reader that I never thought to see if he had a website? That really fascinates me. The idea that I can be so vocal about something that has dominated my views on reading for so long and never once seeking him out on the web. I think I know why that is and I’ll come to it anon.
I suppose that some part of it has to do with what I’d built up in my head that was his allure. Well, I’d like to think so – he’s one helluva sexy man – Hollywood sexy. If anything, I am still that 15 year old boy who found Sexual Outlaw on a low shelf in the Gay and Lesbian Studies section of a bookstore. Believe me, I was just as surprised that there was such as section like that in 1979. But there we were…me in my shorts and t-shirt on a hot summer day, and there it was in all of its seedy and semen soaked glory:
I know I’ve written before on how amazing this work is and how it saved me from plunging headlong into a wanton and lascivious chain of sexual exploits. Exploits and adventures that in that era (we’re talking the cusp of the HIV pandemic) might just as well have killed me. I know I’ve covered that before. What I haven’t said is that while that book “opened doors and windows I never dreamed existed…” (paraphrasing Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame now), it also allowed me to mentally and sensually let myself fall into the main character’s exploits. Okay, I’ll be blunt about it. I rubbed several of my own creative juices out while reading it. It was like heady, sperm filled porn to me and I was fucking hooked. The odd thing was, it wasn’t porn by any stretch of the imagination. I was titillated all right, but only because I had no other outlet to explore the sex that was contained in that book.
But it was more than that too.
When my parents found out about me, when I confirmed it to them, my dad didn’t really have a huge reaction to it. Just told me that sex with a woman was pretty damn great, but if I wasn’t into that, then maybe sex with men might be great too. And that was about it. Conversation over. It wasn’t like I couldn’t bring it up again with my dad. I didn’t have a problem with that, nor did he, it seems. My dad was pretty goddamned awesome. I’d like to think he knew that. But even with a great male figure in my house to give me guidance and unconditional love, he was right in thinking that he didn’t have much in the way of advice with what I was dealing with inside.
That’s where John came in. John Rechy became my mentor, of sorts. Not that I put any of the responsibility on him. I wouldn’t presume to think such a thing. But I needed something, mind you. I needed someone male to give me a heads up on what was out there and how it sort of worked. I needed a primer. Sexual Outlaw became that primer. He was like my kinky Mr. Rogers (wow, there’s GOT to be some therapy in that statement somewhere), and I soooo wanted to be a part of his neighborhood.
I explored that part of my sexuality. I had anonymous sex in the park, I had encounters with nameless men. I had sex. Quite a bit of it too before I ever had my first boyfriend. No one knew about this, of course. I put on a very good face to friends at school and the new gay social friends I’d made. But I still found time to have anonymous sex. I was careful – well, insofar as I could be back then. I didn’t go off to some john’s house or somewhere I knew could literally be a dead end. Yeah, there was a degree of fear in the whole equation. But that also heightened the sexual tension. It made it come alive. That wasn’t Rechy’s fault. I’d already had those thoughts, those desires. Rechy just gave me the wherewithal to admit to them, to embrace them to some small degree and let me know that I wasn’t half crazy with the thoughts and feelings I’d been having. Somehow, I’d survived. Somehow I got very lucky. I know that, believe me I do. It’s not something that I would advise anyone else of doing either.
Women don’t get how powerful and potent testosterone can be. How intoxicating and bewildering and utterly dominating it can be within a man. I saw a documentary on men and their penises called Private Dicks. It was a somewhat humorous way to look at men and how they view their dicks. Sort of the Vagina Monologues but the men’s side of the fence. There was a trans (F to M) man in the film named Spencer. Spencer had spent part of his life as a woman. After the sexual transition, he became acquainted with testosterone very intimately. He said to any woman who was watching it that having been a woman and now was a man, he could say without a doubt, that women have no idea just how potent and powerful that hormone drives men to do what we do.
He’s right about that. It is potent. It is powerful, heady, and lusty. The need to seed is intense.
Anyway, that’s what I want to explore with my own writing. That incredible rush that men get when our sexual potency is heightened. That’s why Angels of Mercy doesn’t shy away from my boys sex lives. It permeates the book because that’s how teenaged boys are. If they could have sex they would – no questions asked. Marco and Elliot have quite a bit of sex in the book. It’s honest. It’s forthright and it is unabashedly male in all of its splendid semen laden fornication. I did quite a bit of research on the topic – mothers would be surprised just how much their teenaged gay boys are having sex – and how much of it they’re posting online. And just to be clear, there was no under-aged stuff within my research. All 18 and above, but there were several postings from these boys that it became quite clear they’d been at it (posting their sexual encounters) for years. Marco and Elliot toy with that as well – sex and social media. These are boys of the internet porn age. They act accordingly but not beyond the realm of their natural characteristics. I don’t call upon the reader to make a huge leap of faith when Marco or Elliot explore their sexual relations. The sex happens organically, as it should.
But, as my hubby keeps reminding me, it is NOT erotica in the sense that I am writing sex to titillate – because he’s quite clear that I am not. The sex Marco and Elliot is very hot and heavy, but it also drives the story forward as these two boys discover how sex becomes another character in their story. The sex they have is varied and pointed and sometimes downright angry. I didn’t want to shy away from it. It’s also why I think it will never get picked up by a traditional publisher. I think it warrants a decent publisher. I believe in the work that much, but I am also a pragmatist – there are too many cards stacked against a ‘gay’ novel already. To use cum play like I do because my boys are into it is definitely pushing the envelope too much. But again, it is a very intrinsic part of who they are – both as a couple and individually.
In Elliot’s book (Volume One of the series) I never really allow Elliot to give voice to how his orgasms are. He says that he has his orgasmic release, but he never gives it any weight – you never get to experience it from his perspective. It’s always about Marco’s ejaculate that Elliot fixates on. For Elliot, it is all about Marco’s release. That’s very much a theme between them. Elliot talks a lot about every time Marco makes love to him. How much he applies himself to learning what pleases Marco as a lover. But Elliot never gives his own desires much voice. My husband says many times over (as he’s had to read it many times over) that what I have is a character study of these men’s lives. Their lives happen to coincide with the love they feel as they come together – BAM! Like a head on collision of two bullet trains – it’s hard, fast and intense – almost to the point of being violent. The hubby also says that I shouldn’t ever refer to my work as erotic. He thinks it is far more than that because of all the little things I’ve woven into Elliot’s psyche. The hubby ought to know – being a retired psychiatrist himself.
Maybe he’s right.
The hubby also did something else: he looked up Rechy’s website and sent me a bunch of blog entries he’d posted. Several of which I have opposing points of view on. I guess this is why I cringed when the links to the blog entries were in my inbox. I knew what he was trying to do. He was trying to get me to see why Rechy’s work meant so much to me and how far I’d gone into left field – over thinking elements of my work when I should be just concentrating on the work itself and not the minutiae that surrounds it. He also knew the temptation to reach out to Rechy would be too great. I knew then as I stared into the iphone this morning at all of those links to Rechy’s site, why I’d never looked him up.
Fear – plain and simple. Over the years I’d built Rechy up as a monolithic mentor. He’s never been anything of the sort, just to my 15 year old eyes and in my 15 year old heart. I sort of fell in love with him through his works. He was my first (virtual) boyfriend. I know how that sounds. But I remember that feeling that Rechy was talking directly to me, because I needed it. I needed someone. Sexual Outlaw was it. Then it was City of Night, then Numbers. Yeah, I pretty much did them all. Rabid about it, I was.
So yeah, I was fearful that whatever I’d say I know I’d embarrass myself somehow. And I am not usually like that. I come from theatre and opera. Working with big names in the industry is second nature to me. But John Rechy is different. No one wants to be thought of in those epic monolithic tones. He’s human, same as the next guy. I get that, I do. But my romanticized 15 year old self, yeah, he’s not so convinced. It’s this duality when it comes to him that colors what I write. It’s that strong voice that I am constantly striving for, trying like hell to lock it down for myself. Try to make my own mark – no matter how big or small it may turn out to be.
So yeah, fear… fear that I can’t or fear that I won’t. But I know I have to try. Writing is what I want to do. Writing is what drives me each and every day now. I could lament on the years that I did nothing with that passion, but I’d much rather concentrate on the here and now, right? Rather than the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s…huh?
I hope it wouldn’t be fear of something that I’d say or write – though thinking on it now, yeah I could so gush all over Mr. Rechy and it wouldn’t be pretty. I’d go all Japanese fangirl on him, I’m sure. I wrote him a decent sized email this afternoon (and felt immensely guilty for doing so right after I sent it). He’s a busy guy, I am sure he didn’t need me to prattle on about my life to him. I know I embarrassed the fuck out of myself. I sort of liken it to being that Japanese fangirl walking up to one of those waifish boys from One Direction and just well, sort of fall apart. There might even be some tears involved. How fucking embarrassing would that be? Uh, VERY… he’s gonna think I am some sort of fucktard and will investigate the steps he’ll need to take to ensure his safety from my impending fangirl moment.
Let me lay that to rest for ya, John – I’m too damned embarrassed already. I’ll stay put under my rock if it’s all right with you.
But it’s done now. I’ve had my say to him – thanking him for the inspiration, for being a guiding light in my young gay boy life to the man I’ve become today. I suppose actually, in some strange way he’s left such an imprint upon me that some part of me that was 15 has never grown up. Like a sexually driven Peter Pan, he’s still tucked in there. I still get giddy when I open Sexual Outlaw now. That same feeling never fails to rear its head when I open that book. I immediately go back to that moment when I first found it. My skin sort of tingles, knowing what’s in those pages already – the surprise has long since worn off – only to be replaced by something far greater: my younger self. I am there, trapped and forever lost in those words. Words I can’t fully escape, nor would I ever want to. They’re what gave me the courage to seek out my own voice in this world. Outlaw gave me the balls to seek it out for myself.
So yeah, I may have just fangirl’d all over John (sorry!) in that email I sent to him (I am too afraid to even reread the copy in my sent mailbox because I know I’ll cringe). How teenaged girl can you get? Not that I am disparaging teenaged girls – on the contrary, I am commiserating with them. I’ll take the embarrassment. At the very least I can say that I’ve had my say on it. I’ve told him what his works have meant to me – let the chips fall where they may, right?
Fifty years in and I am still trying to sort out my own voice. I think I am close. Angels of Mercy is helping me get there. And when I do find it, by the gods, I will make sure I stick to it and never let it go.
So it’s been a while. I’ve been busy writing. I found a publisher that really seems to get what I am about as a writer. I don’t know if I’ll rate. But it’s something I’ll definitely work toward.
There was just a small problem. My book was too big. I get it. It’s a business. At my age I don’t wander around in a daze of euphoric writers bliss thinking that anything I put down onto digital paper is golden. That I’ll be adored by the masses. I mean, I write MALE on MALE Gay Lit Fic wtih a heavy slant on the erotic element of the story. I mean, I am a gay man. I need to write what I know. It is my world. Been my world since the first guy I boned back when I was a teenager back before the heady days of HIV and AIDS. So I got an eye opener of a entrance into all things gay when being that way wasn’t talked about openly nor was it even evident on TV. Okay, we had Billy Crystal’s Jody Campbell on Soap. He played it brilliantly if a bit over the top fey. But that character was a product of its time. Gay men were supposed to be the laughed at. It was the only way we were palatable back then.
Yet, that never was an answer for me. It wasn’t who I was. Whatever that was at the time (hey, I was barely out of my teens, how the fuck did I know what I was – other than being into men). Being into men was about all I knew about myself back then. This was the era of Jeff Stryker and his huge porn cock from hell – even though there ere plenty of other men who had bigger cocks and could fuck a helluva lot better than he could. Chad Douglas, much? That man was my wet dream of a fuck back then. As a gay boy I wanted to bed that porn star more than any other. It never happened, except in my head and in my hand. From what I’d heard he isn’t around any more (I don’t know if that’s true or not) but if it is, then maybe it was for the best that I never did get my wish.
So why the ramble about fucking? Well, it sort of colors the men in my works. Sex is important to humans – whether or not they choose to admit it. Being a gay author I have a playground to probe, prod and work through the vagaries of being a gay man in this world. Even going so far that in my first work I am seeking to get published is harking back to my youth and the mental ramblings that went through my brain while I was caught up in the euphoria that some other boy was just as interested in an intimate and physical relationship with me as I was with him. That was pretty heady stuff back then. I am sure that gay boys float on air as they discover their first loves and how incredible the simple act of fucking can make your heart soar. Fucking is great. In fact, it’s fucking great.
So with the MC’s of my story – Angels of Mercy, I am having to recall those heady days. The work begins as a contemplative piece. And therein lies the rub, I suppose. Not that any publisher has had a real chance to look at it. It is a book about GAY men written BY a gay man. I know it’s a hard fact to face but I am surrounded by female authors who are writing characters of which most of the work seem to have little in common with the world I grew up in. The world I surround myself with others like me. Not to disparage those author’s works, but inwardly I liken it to writing about a black Jewish three legged lesbian. I have absolutely no reference for me to even begin to hope to have an honest work. Yes, I get the counter argument that human frailties are human and that we have that element in common, despite the variances in our worldly experiences. But you see, that is the one element that I find in the whole m/m romance segment of the business. It has VERY little to do with me as a gay man. Other than it’s men poking and fucking other men. And even in that, it’s polite. The men are not messy. They are not really piggy. There is no cum play, watersports, and even the S/M elements simply don’t even scratch the surface of what men feel or more importantly don’t feel as they experience those elements of gay culture.
So when I heard about a publisher that wasn’t caught in the trap of the same old formula being reworked and reworked – with little hope of a singular voice to break out and really transform the genre, I decided to throw my hat in the ring. So I began to write. There might not be a publisher that will come within miles of it. Though I’ve had beta readers with positive, constructive commentary to assist in tightening it. But in that I have exclusively stuck to other gay men. It is this intrinsic truthiness (apologies to Mr. Colbert) that I am seeking. I am not writing for the audience that wants the formulaic shape shifter work. Nor am I writing for that singular vampire story that has been so overwrought that there is nothing really separating it from other work out there.
And I got it honestly. The three books that changed my life would prove prophetic in how I am writing today:
Gordon Merrick’s Charley and Peter series beginning with The Lord Won’t Mind (my views on M/M romance began here). John Rechy’s two masterworks – City of Night and The Sexual Outlaw. Three books that shaped my young gay boy world before I even put a toe out into that world.
These books color everything I do now. That isn’t to say that the works of Gore Vidal, EM Forester and Thomas Wolfe didn’t inspire. They most definitely did – and still do. Hell, TJ Klune is my go to right now. In fact, pretty much I am influenced by male authors because I find their voice speaks to my own. So along with TJ, Eric Arvin, Josh Lanyon, Jay Bell (a very personal fave) Ethan Day, Brent Hartinger, and Brad Vance, there are many others who’s works inspire. But those men I named give me something a bit more. I am deeply indebted to their creativity as it gives life to my own. That may make me sound gay militant. Maybe. But I don’t think so. As I said before, I am tired of translating other’s works into my own experiences. I can appreciate the work for itself, but it fails to completely inspire. Now give me a male protag struggling with his own gay maleness – and I’m all in.
With my work, Angels of Mercy, I wanted to do something really different. Different in that it has quite a bit of influence from my own experiences. My own sense of sexuality as A MAN who desires and has sex with MEN. A point where my protag rails against his own mother knowing about his life as an out gay youth but he is adamant that she doesn’t understand fully what that means. She can translate it to a degree, but she’ll never know what that means for him. Elliot, my main character, is deeply in love with his boyfriend. The hottest jock on the varsity football team – Marco. I wanted to pose the question, what if the geeky artsy gay kid got the hot jock – what then? For a geeky gay kid who was used to the shadows, what would happen if he was dating (on the DL, that is) the highest profile boy on campus? How would it work? How would it fail? And what would be going through his head throughout it all. And I wanted, for once, for the Jock to be the solid one, the unquestioning one in the relationship.
But there again lies the rub. It’s contemplative. It’s introspective. Elliot’s a bit of a mess. Being a out gay kid in a small town (even in Northern California) can do a number even on the strongest psyche. Elliot can’t believe his good fortune when during a completely uneventful summer Marco, the hottest guy in town, not only comes in to his family run DQ, but he tells Elliot he’s been in love with him for the past two years and he can’t hold out any longer. It turns Elliot’s whole world upside down. They have the summer to discover all things about themselves as a couple head over heels in love before the oppressive monster that is high school descends and nearly drowns them in the process. Do they go back to their separate worlds? Do they seek out a way to be openly together? Very tough calls for two gay boys deeply in love. And they are. Deeply. Profoundly. At eighteen they’ve found their soul mate. But what if the world around you didn’t see it that way – what would they do to be together?
So the screws on my characters tighten. The story goes dark – very, very dark. Matthew Shepard with a little Hannibal Lecter dark before the boys will see any light. So the work is deceptive. It begins introspectively in Elliot’s head and heart. It’s messy. It’s erotic, it’s raunchy as only two gay boys could be. Then it all implodes pushing hard to separate my lovers until they’re able to find a way out and back into each others arms again.
I had a discussion with a published author of some renown in the m/m romance field. When I explained the work, she said that my boys could come off as being a bit pervy. My immediate reaction (though I withheld it from her) was ‘gee, do you know any gay boys and what they get into?’ I get that it’s romance, but honey, if it is men on men – you better believe it will be HELLA PERVY by those terms. Men thrive on messy, pervy fun when we’re together. Even our straight boy counterparts bear that out. Ever watch them on an ATC out in the dessert? Thrashing around in the mud? Men love their messes. It’s what makes us happy. I’ve ranted about this before but I truly think I need to defend my boys in Angels. If they are anything, they are honest. Honest in that they are as close to my own experiences in growing up gay. Honest in that they are equal parts raunch as they are euphoric in their love for one another. But most of all they are definitely male. No chicks with dicks in my books.