Okay, maybe not totally. I can’t put the blame on someone because they created something they were passionate about. But what art does, if it’s at its best, is to inspire other artists to create. So, in that case, it is totally Whedon’s fault. He inspired me. His storytelling for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (yes, I even endured the terrible movie version with Kristy Swanson and Rutger Hauer – in the theater, as a PAYING customer no less – so I get extra-slayer points for being a supporter from the very beginning). I didn’t buy the movie version. Not when it’s available to rent. I’m not that much of a freaky fan.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Whedon at Comic Con one year. I’d always heard he moves around in a constant state of exhaustion – the man works so hard all the time – and my meeting with him it was evident that even within the marketing hoopla of what he was there to promote that I was very judicious with my fawning over having a moment with him. I didn’t even bother him with a photo op because he just looked so damned tired – though it didn’t stop my daughter and mother from having me snap a picture of them. I’ve got it somewhere in my photo library … somewhere. Even my granddaughter made the rounds at the Con taking pictures with various Buffy actors when she had barely achieved her first year of life (she has the distinction of being Jonathan Strong’s very first baby pic – or so he told us as he took brief possession of my granddaughter so my daughter could snap the coveted pic of them). I already knew the do’s and don’ts of meeting him … chief amongst them was to NEVER mention his brilliant work for the movie Waterworld. That was a sure-fire way to make him walk away from you with a look that would melt you on the spot. We promptly took my daughter/mother’s pic with him and thanked him for his time and spared a thought to let that man rest soon.
He really did look exhausted. I felt enormously guilty for taking any of his time but don’t regret it happening at all.
But I digress.
I’ve always liked the paranormal or supernatural stories. Whedon’s take – when he emerged on the scene in the mid-to-late nineties – was a breath of fresh air. Not only did he have a great female protagonist but she was sharp, witty, assertive (when she needed to be), and completely three dimensional for a superhero sort of story. Who knew pop-culture refs would work in a serialized fictional story and that people were hungry for that sort of snark in their supernatural drama?
I lapped that shit up like mother’s milk.
So why write about Buffy’s influence on my works? And why wait so long between blog posts? Well, I haven’t been silent about my dealing with cancer. I am happy to report that my last CT scan showed that the cancer is gone and the residual lymph nodes that demonstrated inflammation and germicidal (the type of cancer cells for my type of cancer) cells that caused that inflammation had decreased by more than half after the second round of chemo was a complete. I was happy to discover from that bit of news from my oncologist. So the pause from my last post to this one has, thankfully, been a rosy colored one. Things are definitely looking up for me now. And having something like cancer hit you broadside (as it did for me) completely reset my clock – so to speak. What used to be important that was truly frivolous have all fallen by the wayside. Writing, now that I have some strength returning to my limbs and energy overall, has become forefront in my mind and efforts. I think I can return to the land of writing on a more consistent basis than before.
But back to Mr. Whedon and his inspirational scrivenings.
Aside from the Swanson led debacle, I pretty much own everything he’s ever worked on, written, produced (okay, maybe I’ve missed a couple there – but I’ve seen them). His character development, his ability to find tender threads within any character and make them relatable to a wide audience was something I wanted to harness and add to my own writing arsenal.
Before Buffy, words like “Owenness” (when describing the general aura of a character named Owen), or using the word “much” to proclaim complete astonishment (“Morbid much?”) or references to pop-culture slogans in the media at the time “Gee, Willow, I love your dress. How great that you’ve seen the softer side of Sears…” to establish a character’s snarky teasing/bullying were unheard of in night time evening offerings. Here was an over thirty-year-old man who was successfully capturing the rise in pop-culture use in teenage interactions was beyond brilliant.
If anything, it made me listen to my queer granddaughter and her friends far closer now as I write about my own crew of high school social misfits in Angels of Mercy. I want my kids to sound authentic. I think all writers serious about their craft do.
So why this ode to Mr. Whedon and Buffy? Because I’ve decided to do something completely bonkers. On the verge of ending my Angels of Mercy series, I am taking the entire cast of characters and recasting them all in a vampire/supernatural romp of my own. Only to make things even more interesting (at least for me) I’ve set them all back to the disco-laden days of the 1970s. Angel Flight polyester pants, candy heeled platform shoes, disco anthems on the transistor radios – what could be better for a fluffy Buffyesque vampire romp beach read? Only I’ve taken a page out of another author I admire and doing the new series as a freebie web series that I’ll compile during the month of November (using it as my NaNoWriMo) and adding some filler material and backstories to the web series to turn it into a YA book that will (hopefully) be slightly silly, slightly scary and even slightly sexy using the same cast of characters from my literary fiction series in this new scenario.
I sometimes think I need to have my head examined. I am hoping my readers who love Angels will join me and their beloved Angels of Mercy characters in a new story setting. The Same fictional town, same fictional high school, same snarky set of teens. Just toning down the over sex from the main series so it’s more YA audience bound. Maybe I’ll pick up new readers that way. Who knows? I just want to do this as a way to reexamine and explore my characters I know well and throw them into something completely off the wall fun.
I don’t think I would’ve seriously considered this pre-cancer. I think messing around with my own mortality has given me a certain freedom now that I’ve stared that mortality down and said, “Not yet … I’ve still got shit to do.”
I am confident I can pull this off. Whether my current readers will embrace it I can’t say. Fingers crossed and thanks to Mr. Whedon for giving me the idea (I am rewatching all seven seasons from the beginning while I write – giving my eyes a much-needed break from staring at the computer screen for long periods of time). Let’s see what I can do with Mercy’s Little Angels, shall we? The first “episode” hits my blog this Monday (fingers crossed). I hope you’ll join me for the journey in this retelling of my characters in a paranormal/supernatural frivolous romp.
Until next time …
How that simple phrase molded my young queer life back in the 1980s when we were quite literally fighting for our lives. The thing is, when I think upon it now, the phrase has lost none of its meaning. It is still relevant today as it was back then. Maybe even more so since the community has achieved so much from the time those signs first hit the pavement lo those forty years ago.
Recently, Levi Strauss introduced a line of clothing that carries that phrase and queer folks everywhere started doing the bash syndrome (something that really started to gain momentum when Roland Emmerich tried to create a movie about Stonewall). The same can be said for how we bashed the production of Looking on HBO. It’s far easier to bash what we fear is coming our way before we’ve even seen it or experienced it for ourselves.
So when Levi Strauss did the sneak peek reveal, peeps started chiming in and calling them out on the carpet for marketing a phrase that carries a ton of weight with the community. Yet not everyone back then agreed with Act Up! who created the campaign to have our voices heard when no one wanted to talk about the “gay cancer” scare going on.
Silence = Death.
But then I saw what Levi Strauss was doing. My queer granddaughter doesn’t have the context for what that phrase meant to the community. She’s grown up in a world where queerdom has its place in the mainstream conversation now. Sure, as her gay grandfather, I spend a great deal of time educating her on our past. We watch countless documentaries about what our community has gone through. At fourteen, she’s becoming quite the activist. I couldn’t be prouder of her if I tried. I sit in awe of how powerful a woman she’s becoming. My only fear with that? She’s extremely empathetic. She feels what others go through strongly. I know that under the wrong circumstances it can be used against her. So I educate her in how to detect that and how to channel that sort of negativity into something greater that accomplishes her goals. But there are times when things bother her and she’s been tight lipped about it.
Silence = Death.
I can’t have that. Not with her. And not with myself either. You see, recently I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Being over 50 I am one of the “lucky” ones in that most men who get it are between 18 and 35. Only 2% of the male population can get it at my age. Gee, thanks for that. Couldn’t I have been the 2% of the population that wins the lottery instead? No, my win had to come in the form of a cancer that within three weeks knocked me on my ass so hard that even after surgery I am still feeling its effects.
The thing is, I think I knew something was up but didn’t say anything to my husband.
Silence = Death.
At first it started out innocently enough. I went to the ER because I’ve had bouts with kidney stones and my lower right back was aching something fierce and I thought a stone was on the move. I didn’t want to miss work so I went to the ER with the thought that I’d get some pain meds to get me through the night so I could sleep and still get to work the next day. Well, I had the great fortune that I got the Asian equivalent of NPH’s Dougie Howser – the guy was YOUNG … like teenager looking young. But he was aggressive in that he wanted a CT scan to see if a stone was truly on the move. It was then that they discovered my lymph nodes in that area were inflamed – one so large that it was quite alarming. That was my first clue something bad was on the horizon. The cat was out of the bag, but for some stupid reason I didn’t give it a ton of thought about it. So shit is inflamed. What of it?
Silence = Death.
Yeah, that coulda been me. If it weren’t for my husband noticing that something was off in a moment of intimacy and (being the retired physician he is) made me book an appointment with my urologist to get that looked at. Unfortunately, I didn’t say the right thing when booking the appointment – ya know, the magic phrase that I guess I missed the memo on that all the other guys got – so my appointment was three weeks away from when I called. They must’ve thought it was routine or something. Well, in those three weeks I lost 45 lbs, my balance was way off – there’s video somewhere of me walking down a long hall at work where I was literally leaning against the wall for support but was so out of it that I didn’t realize I was doing it at all. Say nothing of the countless times during those three weeks where I’d get up to go to my car to buy something for lunch and nearly fainting in the parking lot (it was a far more regular occurrence than I want to admit even now).
So the appointment finally arrived. I was weak. I was a bone by comparison to how overweight I was before. Everything started to hurt. My blood tests were way off. My body was shutting down. I know that now. But then the operation came and removed the cancer – which appears from the pathology report was completely contained. So that’s a relief.
But now comes the part every cancer patient dreads … the chemo.
And here’s where it gets weird. They do these blood tests for cancer markers within the blood makeup. All of my numbers are within normal ranges, except for one. And it is slightly above the line in the sand they have for whether you can do outpatient chemo or you have to stay in the hospital on a drip for five days and then recuperate at home for 3 1/2 weeks. Guess which side of that little line I am on. Yeah – in-patient care. Needless to say I am fucking freaking out. My husband has been nothing but supportive as have the few friends and author pals I’ve told. For that I am extremely grateful.
But there are things in my life that I do to help others within the queer arts community. Chief amongst them is the Wrote Podcast. Y’all have no idea just how much time and effort it takes to put a podcast together and to keep it going. And it’s not like we’re getting paid for it. This is out of our love to promote others who write, sing, act, perform, sculpt, paint, etc about our queer lives. We want to champion them. But with my current state, I am having to pull back, leaving my co-host and co-producer Vance Bastian (who I can not ever come up with the words to describe what his involvement – both with the podcast and in my life – has meant to me. He is truly our superhero, our godsend and such a brilliant and caring man with a golden voice that could melt just about anything) to handle the podcast on his own. I’ll try to stay connected, but I’ve been told that energy will be a thing with me over the next four months while I go through the chemo.
Good news (if you can call anything remotely related to cancer – good) is that the success rate for my cancer is 97%. I’m clinging to that. That’s my light at the end of a very long and arduous tunnel I am facing now.
Silence = Death.
So while not totally the dramatic cause of the AIDS scare back in the 80s, I do see how that phrase means so much more to our community. It’s a bell-weather, a marker, a flare in the sky to remind us that we must be forever vigilant in keeping our voices out there. So while I step back, while I regroup and try to get better and hammer cancer back to the 9th level of hell where it came from, I call upon all of the authors, singers, queer content creators to step up and keep things rolling for Vance and Jayne while I find my way back to you all. Sign up for eps, encourage your author pals to do the same. Or if you know of singers, musicians, poets (GODS above, I would love to have a show on queer poetry), screenplay and playwrights – please get them to sign up for an episode.
With the current administration, we are at the precipice of our voices being silenced once more. And we can’t have that. We must not remain silent and think things will maintain the status quo. Because as I’ve learned from personal experience, you can’t remain silent. That silence might just very well spell death.
Until next time (and there WILL be one) …
That Oppressive Script … How Angels of Mercy Changed My Queer Boy Perspective on Sports
(Reprint from Rainbow Gold Reads Review)
Jocks have it hard.
They’ve got a lot to live up to as they pursue their passion in their chosen sport. This isn’t an easy thing to acknowledge on my part. I was one of those artistic queer kids that jocks loved to bag on. So why the change up in opinion?
Simple: I wrote Angels of Mercy.
When Angels presented itself (fully formed to the bitter end, mind you), I thought “Eh, I’ll bang this one out in a month.” I had the ending in my head already. I just had to write to that ending, right? Yeah, not so much it seems.
Here’s what I learned: you see, my main protagonist, Marco Sforza, is built upon my husband’s experiences playing football both at the high school level at Massillon, Ohio (the heart of high school American Football as we know it) and for Clemson U back in the day (admittedly a very different era than Marco’s present day story). So given the disparity in my husband’s and Marco’s timelines, I had to make some adjustments between my husband’s experiences and those that I was building for Marco. But what amazed me is that, at its core, very little has changed with regards to the institutionalization of homophobia within American football – be it, high school, college or pro.
We like to think “It gets better …” but in reality, has it? There are emerging stories about players in high school and college football that have appeared in OutSports where the players have come out to their teammates. In the cases that have been reported the response has been rather positive. Yet, we only have to bring up what happened to Michael Sam to understand that very little has changed with regard to players who hope to play openly and valued for their sportsmanship and not for who they love.
Angels taught me a lot. Not just about my characters and their road to happiness, but also because as I explored Marco’s having to follow that “jock script” all boys are indoctrinated to follow (bag the girl and draw some blood out on the field) Marco goes through some fairly difficult moments in his teenage life. In his desire to play ball and be one of the guys, he’s opened himself up to a major downfall that he can’t see coming – mostly because of the pressure to perform both on and off the field. That pressure is enormous. Yet, there’s a boy that has captured Marco’s attention in a way that no one, boy or girl, ever has. He finds himself on an emotional pendulum – swinging wildly from the life everyone else thinks he should have (girlfriends or friends with bennies, followed by marriage and rugrats), and the life he wants for himself wrapped up in a boy who requires darkness and shadows to survive another hellish day of high school.
It’s a ride my own husband had to play.
Simply put, hiding hurts everyone involved. No one ultimately benefits from that arrangement, despite how much comfort it may bring teammates in thinking that everything is cool, the dude is solid, a man’s man. Marco’s journey changed long held positions and baggage I carried from jocks that tormented me in my own past. I began to understand the pressures boys like Marco – who hide from themselves just to play the game they love to play – are under. But I didn’t want that discussion in my works to be so one-sided.
My granddaughter is queer and I spend a great deal of time with her and her friends. Queerdom is a very different monster with her crew. Just the fact that they embrace the word “queer” has changed my perspective on a word that used to torment me. So I realized that while things may not have totally changed, I also remembered the stories posted in OutSports of players who have experienced support from within their team. So while there is a clique within the team from Mercy High in my stories, I also balanced it with boys who really wouldn’t care if Marco was with a boy. I needed to show that line that things are changing. Maybe not at lightening speeds, but change is coming.
I am not kidding myself in thinking it will change in college or pro-ball in the next five, ten or fifteen years. That may be a long time in coming, but come it will.
With the release of Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part I: King of Imperfections and Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part II: Prince of Mistakes, I wanted to explore Marco’s journey. To be honest, while I started the main Angels of Mercy series from Marco’s boyfriend Elliot’s point of view, the story was really Marco’s to tell. He gets the lion’s share of the series (three books out of the six total).
I am thankful that Marco exists. He’s made me understand my husband’s past so much more. And I am far more sympathetic to athletes who take that courageous step to emerge and live a life out and proud. Their stories will always hold my interest.
I often wonder what I would say to my younger tortured teenboy self that would give my younger self context to understand what those boys go through. Don’t know if it would’ve made a difference or not, but I am glad I’ve grown enough as a writer and a queer man to give them a bit more of a pass and a modicum of understanding that many of them may not feel free enough to live openly and use oppression to express their frustration.
That’s what Angels ultimately explores. Here’s hoping that the trend toward acceptance keeps moving in a positive direction. I look forward to the day when it simply won’t matter.
Until next time …
SA Collins Store (support the author directly)
To start with, this isn’t some sort of pity party. What this is can best be labeled is a quiet contemplation of where I am as both a (queer) man and author.
You see, life has handed me that bag of rotten, incredibly sour, lemons. Lemons that no kind of sugar (coating) can be made into anything remotely useable.
I just released not one but TWO massive books in my Angels of Mercy series. The two books took close to year and a half to germinate and blossom into what they are now.
I am incredibly proud of the work – the entire series thus far. It’s broad in scope. While it deals with an ensemble cast, it’s main protagonists are trying their damnedest to have a fucking romance in the middle of the epic shit storm I throw at them. It’s operatic in scope – I can’t help it as I come from that world. Mundane thrown into the mass hysteria of opera like tropes. To me that’s when queer fiction can be at its best.
But as I said, while the release of those two books is complete, they’re out there, LIFE kicked me square in the rubber parts (literally).
Tomorrow I am going to go through a potentially life saving operation. I’m not going to sugar coat it – I’m fucking scared beyond belief. This, despite how many tales I’ve heard from “people who went through it” or “I have a friend/family member who’s been fine for the past XX years.” It’s always double digits. Which is good. Medicine has progressed to where things are getting better. Hell, even the doctor said that, “We no longer throw the kitchen sink at a problem. It’s finely tailored so that the therapy addresses your particular problem. We’ve grown that much in the past ten years.”
But life … I dunno, man. It has a way of keeping you down when you least expect it. Mundane with operatic overtones is where I am at personally.
But again, this isn’t a pity party. This is a “Jesus, have you ever really looked at the people who dot your life and provide so much color to it? Have you? I mean, really?”
People do cross my mind. I’ve grown to admire and love several of them since I’ve started to publish my works. Running the Wrote Podcast has only increased getting to know amazing writers and artists exponentially. I’ve been all the richer for it. Don’t know that I can spend it on anything other than my heart, but it’s definitely something to be grateful for, that’s for sure.
So while this list isn’t complete, these are just the names that cross my mind as of late. People who have come to mean a tremendous amount to me.
Brad Vance – you were the very first author I plucked up the courage to email and get to know. Given the Circumstances will always be at the top of my TBR list because it is simply that great a work.
Brandon Witt – you took a chance on a fledgling podcast that probably had next to no one listening to it. You were our second guest and you were as warm and engaging as anyone we’ve ever had on the show. I cherish those conversations with you about life, artistry and “the biz” – you never fail to bring your witty comments and ponderings to the table.
Angel Martinez and J. Scott Coatsworth – You two are powerhouses in the SF/Fantasy realm for queer fic. Not to mention amazing people to know. I cherish our laughs as much as our debates on the industry and writing in general. When you’re on the podcast I know we’ve got a great ep in the can before I even press the big red button to record.
Tuffy and Angie (Angle) Stanley – Tuff, I’ve known you since my first days out in gay land – cruising the bars, the fruit loop, and just generally hanging out and shootin’ the shit (as my dad would say). You’ve both been champions of my works. I don’t see or talk to you both nearly enough, but you’re always on my mind.
Jeffrey Merrell Davis – The first gay boy I ever met and we haven’t stopped talking for the past 35 years. I love that we quote movie lines back and forth in our conversations. We pepper our x-rated version of The Sound of Music where people least expect it. I’ve loved the fact that you’ve been like a brother/sistah to me and I’ve cherished each time we’re together. Some day I’ll have to write about Josie and Willy so the world can know about those drag personas we created and embodied. “Girl, did we have some times …”
Daniel A. West – Cuz, you mean a great deal to me even though we haven’t seen one another since you were a teenager many moons ago. But you’re family. You’ve been a solid cousin and bringer of positivity in my life. I am glad I got to share my boys from Mercy High with you and that you embrace them. There is no price I can put on how much your continued love and support means to me. And Jeffery’s definitely a keeper. Love that guy!
Now for the hard(er) ones …
Tia, Carmel, Pablo and Mom – My immediate family. I’ve grown so many ways in this journey of life. Knowing my own brother, Pablo, has dealt with what I am going through and he’s been fine for close to 20 years, has given me tremendous support and encouragement. Tia, you’ve been there and been a complete supporter of me when I was coming out. You showed me what that world was like. It was an education that cannot be measured or have a price put upon it. I thank you for that. Mom, it’s your voice (and Dad’s) that I hear whenever I have a difficult choice to make in life. You’ve taught me well. Your support through my coming out to you both, to embracing my boyfriends and now husband means more than I can ever express – and words are my thing. Carmel – We grew closest during our years of having braces. It’s never let up since. I am so proud of your accomplishments in life. Every time you post a pic of your bakery work I am truly astounded and sit there in awe of your creations. “That’s my lil’ sis …” You are a powerhouse of creation. I cherish that. I am proud to be a big brother to you and Pablo.
Now, this one’s gonna burn … but in the best way possible.
Vance Bastian and Jayne Lockwoood – Two people who have become family. Words fail me every time I try to describe what you both mean to me. Look at what we’ve created together. Just look at it! That was us, bay-bee! And we continue to do it every week! All the offline (and online) conversations, learning about each other in such profound ways, leaves me breathless and completely humbled by what you do. Vance you are, in every way imaginable, my superhero. You swoop in when I am really struggling and like the comic heroes of old, you know exactly how to lift me out of whatever I am spinning out about. You are the keel for our podcast. You are a brilliant writer and editor, not to mention gifted with such a golden voice that I sometimes want to put a pad of butter on the desk because I know you’d melt it even from where you are. Jayne, you are a true Lady in every sense of the word. We didn’t know fuck all about what we were doing three years ago when we started. But together we worked it out. You’ve taught me perseverance and the ability to make lemonade when you really don’t think you can. You both have been amongst the greatest teachers in life. You both are on my short list of peeps I can’t do without. I’d never want to know that day was like. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in. I revel in who you are a human beings and compassionate people who just want a better world for all.
Freddie Feeley Jr., Dr. Redfern Jon Barrett, Kate Aaron, and AJ Rose – Your incredible minds and passion to discuss world events has enriched me not only with your brilliant perspectives, but also because we’ve grown to know a bit more about each other along the way. While my current predicament has put the skids temporarily on our world talks, there is a part of me that clings desperately to continuing those conversations again.
Wendy Stone, Michael Rumsey, Matthew Gallien and Jimmy Thacker – Champions of my works and diligent beta readers. You keep me grounded and out there fighting the good fight just to get noticed in a field that is overwhelmed with daily releases. When I think I can’t go there, when I want to toss in the towel, I have you all to lift me up and keep me pressing forward. Your love of my boys from Mercy High won’t let me stop and wallow. That’s a very good thing. I count on it more than you’ll ever know. Don’t stop … I beg you.
J, Whitney and Keely (plus Katya and Zorro) – My daughter and granddaughter have taught me about family. Your immediate family. Whit, I’ve watched you grow and prosper into a brilliant and hard working woman (single mother’s need to take a course from you). And it was all on you to do that. You picked yourself up from impossible odds when you found out you were pregnant with Keely and you made something of yourself and provided for your daughter along the way. Womanhood is all the better for you playing for their team. Keely, if there is anyone I am most interested in watching blossom into womanhood, it’s you. At fourteen you possess a keen sense of self, of your sexual identity and your compassion and empathy for others who are less fortunate than you. Activists simply don’t know what’s coming down the pipe once you really get going. Your fearlessness, your sense of moral obligations and duty to help your fellow man and to “make things right” are truly astounding in one so young. You give me so much hope for our future. Your mother named you aptly – Keely Sloane – Beautiful and Graceful Warrior – I can’t think of a more prophetic name than that. J.L. – my husband of 22 years and fierce defender of what I do. YOU, more than anyone, sees me wrestle with that writing tiger in the room that constantly stalks me. You, more than anyone, pushes me to do better each time I put my fingers to the keyboard. And you gave me Katya and Zorro to give me cuddles and unconditional love when I need a booster. I know you’ll stand by me no matter what life throws my way. “We’ll deal with it, together.”
Angels of Mercy has taught me so much about life. It’s given me the means to explore what institutionalized homophobia in competitive sports is all about. Not all of it, mind you, but a good part of it because it’s built on my husband’s and my experiences discovering who we are as queer men.
I have a ton of characters sitting in the wings. I have a crap more to write. I have shit to do. That’s why this isn’t a pity party. It’s a take stock of what life has given you that allows you to put that damned bag of lemons down. That’s what this is. And these people, by no means a complete list (and please, forgive me if I’ve forgot to mention you and we’ve crossed paths. I’ve been enriched by every discussion, every Facebook posting, every story you’ve ever written or topic we’ve ever debated), but what it has done is given me a long look at the great things in my life. And for that, I am grateful.
Okay, LIFE, bring that shit tomorrow and let’s do this!
Until Next Time …
– SA Collins
Recently, I witnessed a good friend, someone who loves what I do get caught up in yet another terrible game of catfishing. The whole debacle was rather painful for her which only brought about pain on my part because you never want to see any of your friends go through something like that. What made this round particularly painful was that my friend only recently started writing herself. She is a champion of my works, something I still find astounding, so naturally I wanted to comfort and help in any way I could. You’d have to be living under a very large rock, and have been there since the early 2000s to not know what catfishing is. For those that don’t, I’ll give you a quick rundown – I looked it up.
Oxford’s online dictionary defines it as:
US informal [with object] Lure (someone) into a relationship by adopting a fictional online persona.
In the case of gay fiction writing, particularly in the MM Romance genre, it is generally a woman who professes to be a (gay) man in order to establish legitimacy within the genre. Catfishing should be a thing of the past – indeed, if there was any real reason for it to have existed at all – because I’d always assumed (yes, I know where that gets me) that the feminism cause was to have parity with their male counterparts in every way. Full equality, right?
Evidently, not so much.
I’ve come to think the real danger of Catfishing is that it sets the feminism cause back decades when someone does it. Sure the degree of that “resetting” is tempered by how prominent or prolific the catfishing author was at the time of exposure. But you see, that’s where I start to scratch my head. Why do it if you’ll run the risk of being caught? And you always get caught. I’ve not witnessed any catfishing author that wasn’t found out at some point in their career.
I get why authors use pen names. There are a great many good reasons to do so. Anonymity being just one of them. I use one. Not because I want to hide behind it – on the contrary, I’ve made it quite public via the Wrote Podcast how I came to use a nom de plume. It was a gimmick on my part. I used it because the book I was writing at the time was being told by the main character’s (MC) point of view. I thought, rather silly of me at the time, why not have him write his own novel? Thus, Sebastian Alexander Collins became SA Collins. That’s the only reason I did it. Which is now rather odd considering that I’d shelved that particular book’s development in favor of my current series.
So pen names, yeah. The reasons to use one are varied and have been used probably for as long as publishing has been around. I get that part of the game.
What I don’t get is the need to use one to purposefully to employ deceit in the name of legitimacy. That part escapes me. Why profess to be a gay man at all when you are a woman? I think that women who do this aren’t confident in their own work enough to let it stand on it’s own under your own (female) name or a pen name that doesn’t try to come across as a (gay) male. And that part is most puzzling to me.
I have a daughter and granddaughter that up until recently had lived with my husband and myself. A multi-generational home. I spend a great deal of my time worrying about their future. Fretting over what society will try and throw their way as they make their way though life. I’m a parent and grandparent – it’s part of the job. I want what’s best for them. I want them to have amazing lives that are (hopefully) better than mine. It’s how my parents reared (not raised, by the way – you raise corn, you rear children) to be. I want equality for them with as much passion and conviction as some of the staunchest feminists out there. The recent women’s march that consumed the globe a little over a week ago was so incredibly awe inspiring that I often misted up as I watched all the videos play from around the world. Truly breathtaking stuff.
Which brings me back to this whole catfishing thing.
I mean, even JK Rowling (arguably the most successful female writer of all time) used a male nom de plume for her first book written after the global phenomenon that is Harry Potter. But she was quickly found out and when asked, she simply said that she did it because she wanted to see if the work could stand (it was her first adult oriented novel) on it’s own – separated from her fame. It was an experiment of sorts. Got it. And she quickly copped to it when it was discovered. I don’t consider that catfishing – and if some do, then I’d like to understand how this fits into that category. Rowling didn’t do it to deceive and establish legitimacy as an author. She already had decidedly established that. I think her use of a male pen name was only to push that association with her even further out to watch if her work really was as good as people kept telling her. Could she be equally successful in the adult fiction category? Would it stand up under that level of scrutiny? Maybe the male pen name didn’t hurt in that regard, I suppose.
But back to the MM romance genre (which is where most of this catfishing seems to come from as of late). I struggle with their reasoning of why do it at all. MM Romance (as a recent genre) was started by straight women writing for other straight women – something that when pressed up into my grill I often fire back that while they can write what they want, they need to understand they are writing about a very oppressed community and with that comes great responsibility. I am all for women writing about we gay men. But if they cross that line and try to tell me how gay men are I’m gonna step up right into their grill and push back … HARD.
But maybe that’s where this catfishing thing stems from. I don’t have any answers here, just pondering the whole thing as I watched the recent events concerning a woman who not only professed to be a gay man writing MM romance, but a veteran, a staunch Trump supporter (which I think was the beginning of her undoing – that one is a real red flag for queers though there are some who actually do support him which is beyond all reason), and always tried to come across as if the IQ level in the room rose significantly the moment they arrived. She kept telling my friend that her male catfish persona was the smartest person around.
To which I replied to my friend, “Yeah, people who feel the need to profess their intelligence, often aren’t that intelligent at all. If you’re intelligent, people will glean that for themselves. You don’t have to go charging into a room like the proverbial bull and bellow I’m the smart one in the room. People will perceive that for themselves.” In reality, that was probably the biggest red flag of all. The audacity to presume they were the smartest at anything. This was revealed to great effect when the catfisher’s author persona “had a heart attack” but was released the following day. As someone who has gone through FOUR such situations as I have with my husband I can tell you that NO hospital would do such a thing. The catfish was unwittingly revealing herself. It was the biggest stupid move she could’ve made, thereby proving my earlier statement. Not the brightest crayon in the box by any stretch of the imagination.
This is something that my husband has always maintained – “Just keep giving those type of people rope. Eventually, they will hang themselves with it. You won’t have to lift a finger.”
But it was still painful to watch someone I cared about go through the reveal. Practically everyone in the writing community that writes MM Romance chimed in. I was just as angry as my other gay brothers. It bordered on nothing less than queer culture appropriation. And again, that brings me back to why not just be who you are (as a sex – not the name being used)? Some of these women don’t seem to get that on the social totem pole Queerdom is at the bottom and not likely to move any time soon – especially with Tyrant Trump and his ilk in office.
Some female authors have said to me on the topic (and we’ve interviewed several on the podcast) that females struggle to “make it” in the business. So let’s look at that, shall we? I think you’ll find the answer to that question rather telling at dispelling (to a degree) that myth.
The first interesting article I read came from the Guardian in the UK. This pretty much has been the established argument. But what I find particularly telling is that while women find it extremely hard to get their works reviewed and taken seriously, a number of those reviewers are women. Why would women not value or press to review other women’s work – if anything, just to give rise to it’s legitimacy? That particular point I find very troubling. I realize there could be extenuating circumstances that preclude them from doing just that. I don’t presume to “have the inside scoop” on the goings on of the reviewing side of the industry.
But it was this little ditty that really was an eye opener … while it doesn’t remove the stigma women face to get noticed, it does however show that in terms of moving vast numbers of book units, women are the dominating factor here. The headline alone explains it –
So while there are more male writers and reviews for their works, it seems that if you’re a woman who cracks the top and becomes a major player, you sell big. BIG TIME sort of big.
Admittedly, this was published nearly two years ago. But I don’t doubt it’s validity. So maybe it’s just getting the work noticed? Because once you do, female writers are extremely successful.
As I said before, I don’t have answers. I am only pondering this as I help my friend pick up the pieces of her burgeoning writing career (she was doing PA work for said catfishing author who insisted that she (my friend) personally endorse this author and recommend them to others). My friend’s personal and professional integrity were called into question because she had unwittingly put herself in the cross hairs of this recent catfisher.
So here’s my takeaway – ladies, write from who you are. I’d rather have truthfulness and authenticity in picking up a book and knowing who the author is to whatever degree they make their lives public. I don’t crave to know everything about them, but a little goes a long way to forming an opinion of their work. I’ve stopped reading other catfishers work simply because I can’t stomach it. That deceit clouds everything. And that probably is the hardest part to swallow. I know what goes into writing a novel. I do it myself. It’s lonely and (at times) grueling work. Literally your blood, sweat and tears go into it. So why run the risk of having all that hard work tarnished by publishing it under a lie? It’s a waste, that’s what it is.
Maybe that only points out the lack of confidence in the work or some form of self-loathing that is just convinced that the work won’t be taken seriously unless it is written by a man. But if women never push at that with author names that proudly proclaim it was written by a woman, will we ever see parity? JK Rowling did it. EL James, Toni Morrison, the list goes on. Women can be extremely successful in the industry. You just have to find some inner Rosa Parks and sit further up in the bus and demand that parity. I know it’s always easy to say, “but I’m not big enough to take this on.”
I would say, “Remember this: the history makers are those who put themselves out there, taking the risks; they don’t play it safe. They don’t go with the status quo. They lean into the hardness that come their way. You, my brilliant sisters, can do this. On your own terms. But it has to start somewhere. Why can’t it be you?”
I once asked an author on our show why she wrote MM romance and not MF romance with a strong female character. The response was rather telling – they claimed that they just couldn’t envision that type of strong female character within the confines of a MF romance trope. I was flabbergasted by that. My immediate thought (I just know the ghost of John Adams rages inside me) was, why not upend the trope then? Why can’t it be you? And maybe that’s the critical difference between male and female writers. Men take risks. They are not adverse to them because from our youth we are conditioned to be that way. Maybe that’s the cue women need to take then in order to bring their cause forward? I’ve always been a supporter of women moving into fields dominated by men. I think it benefits both when there is parity. The world would certainly be a better place if we did.
There is a brilliant book I think all women should read – Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance—What Women Should Know, ISBN 006223062X ASIN: B00DB368AY. It is written by two women I admire greatly. I think they’ve nailed it when it comes to women seeing the value in themselves and believing it. I highly recommend it to anyone. Men would find it fascinating.
But as I’ve said, I don’t claim to have answers, just musings on this recent catfishing scheme within our gay fiction writing community. One thing is abundantly clear: when it happens no one wins. That much is certain. I just wish that women wouldn’t feel the need to do it. Believe me, there is nothing lower on the totem pole than a gay man. Our lesbian sisters are oppressed, too. But in a male dominated society, gay men are still seen as the most perverted, the most reviled. To be honest, writing as us in the MM Romance genre is probably not going to win you any points as an author anyway. So why not be the “you” you’re willing to put out there (nom de plume or not)? I’d love to hear some thoughts on this topic.
Until next time …
– SA C