Paying It Forward – Love Letters to My Gay Brothers – Why I Write
A couple of weeks ago I made some comments from a question posed by an author pal of mine, Jayne Lockwood. We’ve been having an on-going conversation regarding the process of writing, why we write what we do, how it is perceived by others and the process we go through to create what we do. It’s a very rewarding conversation. Well, for me it is at any rate (I can’t speak for Jayne, but she seems to like it – at least so far she hasn’t told me to take a hike and shut the hell up so maybe it’s going good?).
The problem is I said somethings that many women writers took me to task about (both on my pal’s site and on Facebook). Being a father and a grandfather to two women of my own, when women express something vociferously I tend to really take in what they are saying and weigh it heavily. I do this because I fight just as vociferously for my daughter and granddaughter’s right to be equals and have whatever they want in life. Their gender shouldn’t ever play a role in what they do – other than bring their womanly experiences and points of view to any conversation which I certainly believe have merit and weight.
Anyway, one woman in particular really took umbrage with what I said. This despite my attempting to clarify what point of view I was after. Even after explaining myself she still thought my point was “asinine” (evidently in the extreme). Now, being a man, I wanted to do the knee jerk reactionary thing and bash back. It’s an inherently male trait that I am well aware of. It’s why men go to war, it’s why men wage war in the first place, I suppose. But, having the girls in the house I decided to temper that knee-jerk response and really weigh what she said to me. It was written this way:
I’m part of the community of authors who write gay fiction–regardless of what they do or do not have in their pants. I find the gender of the author to be irrelevant and I don’t consider myself to be a part of the ‘straight community’ or the ‘bisexual community’ or the ‘bisexual women married to men who also happens to gay MM fiction’ community. I’m a person before I’m anything else. I’ve read male authors who ‘feminized’ their characters to the point where they are crying every other page and had emotional conversations about love and other crap right after meeting a stranger, as well as women who write male fiction so well that men–gay men–have said they thought the author WAS a man. Fiction should be judged on its own merit–not based on the sexuality or gender of the author–and anything beyond that IS asinine. We need to stop dividing ourselves.
So I sat and thought about what she was saying to me. At first blush, like I said, I reacted strongly to her judgement of my POV being asinine. Then I realized why I was fixating on that word in particular and why I was taking umbrage with it. It occurred to me that it wasn’t the point she was making, because on the whole I agree with her 99%. Why the 1% hold out? Well, therein was my answer. And it was my fault entirely for not being accurate about my first response to Jayne’s query. A point I will come to in my summation below.
With regards to writing, there are various manners of writing. Technical writing, academic writing, literature (with varied genre and sub-genre classifications), etc. So first and foremost I am simply that – a writer. No different than any other. It is a community that I share with the commenter above and with all of the people who have responded on both sides of the discussion (and yes, I had some male writers approach me separately that didn’t want to voice their general agreement with me publicly – those were private and I will not be disclosing who said what – just know that there is still that prevailing difference of opinion out there). But as I say, I am a member of the community of writers. Yet in really examining my feelings on this issue I slowly started to see how I hadn’t clarified my own position or point of view to fully answer my writing buddy’s initial query.
Now to be fair, Jayne and I are doing what we’re doing because we want those surprises in our conversation. We both have bought into the “oh shit, I said that all wrong but fuck me, it’s out there in the heat of the moment and yeah, now I gotta eat crow so pass the damned salt cause this shit is gonna taste hella nasty.” (Sorry, ‘hella’ is a No. California expression that as I write about my teens in the area I live in I use to flavor my boys and girls of my stories – I am staying in the groove with them, so to speak). We wanted these moments in our on going dialog because as writers Jayne and I are all about the reveal. So we sort of know we’re gonna step in it from time to time. I accept that, and in a very real way I am giddy with glee that I did it. Why? Simple: it allowed me to examine where what I said in the heat of the moment came from and why it caused a bit of a shit storm response.
But as I said, I am a member of the community of writers. And it was in that that my answer lay in why I have the point of view I have. It is also where my most vocal critic’s argument runs afoul to my mind. It is the one percent on where I completely and whole-hardheartedly disagree with her and will NEVER give ground on it. You see, I am also a member of the LGBTQIA community. And more specifically, the gay community of brothers that while I rail within it about how badly we can cut and tear at each other when we’re amongst ourselves (bitchy twinky queen much?) I still love each and every one of them because they exist. With them, I don’t feel alone in expressing how I feel what I feel. And herein is why I am writing to finally clarify my point of view. It also serves to finally answer the question for myself on what I am doing here, and why I write.
As a gay man I share with my communal brothers the trials, tribulations, euphoric, insanely giddy moments of our community. It is something that we all share regardless of how we all came to the road we are on as gay men. As a matter of record, I have grown to become quite pissed at the “community” of gay men because we spend an inordinate amount of time not supporting each other as we should. Something our lesbian sisters have taught us time and again when they’ve nudged us (they were one of out greatest allies during the whole AIDS crisis in the 80’s and 90’s and continue to do so – for which I am grateful). But the work has to come from within. We, as gay men, must rise above the in-fighting and the bickering that permeates our own community and truly hold each other up. No one else will do it for us. Our allies commiserate with us on how our often our community is maligned and disparaged, but they are allies in the fight for dignity and equality. But they are not the community. That lies solely with my gay brothers and myself.
And herein is why I will never cede ground to my critic’s point on this 1% – where the 1% will always trump the 99%. I know this to be true because it happened to me.
When I was sixteen and dealing with the fullest meaning of what was going on inside of me – my budding emotional responses to the boys around me in school and in my day to day experiences – I felt utterly alone.
I wasn’t a member of the mainstream club.
Now to be clear, I had tons of friends, I had family members who knew about my burgeoning gay life as a young man taking up the reigns in what that meant for me going forward. So I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me in many ways. But let me be absolutely clear about this:
I was alone in a sea of people. People who were there for me in every way than could be save one – they weren’t like me.
I soon sorted out for myself that I craved another gay man’s voice. I needed to know there was a community of men who shared my passions (however varied they were) and also understood implicitly what that meant – from the inside as a man. I was hungry for their words, I wanted affirmation that what I was feeling meant I wasn’t alone. I had my parents and siblings unconditional love and support – for the 70’s/80’s this is rather astounding as there wasn’t much out there for parents to latch onto that what I was becoming was positive in any way. My parents, I suppose, just trusted that I was the same good boy they reared and as such I would apply myself to this new avenue in the journey that is my life. Despite all the love and support they had for me, they could never be what I needed most at this point in my life. I wanted to be amongst my own in the worst way. But I was sixteen. No way for a boy at that age to easily accomplish that.
But I could find a book to hear what they had to say.
So I began looking. I knew that what I wanted from it couldn’t readily be found in a library. Mostly because what I was curious about in my hormonally charged teen boy days, was the topic of sex and love between men. It took me several visits to the bookstores I’d disappear to in the local mall my parents would take my brother, sister and me to on occasion. It almost happened by coincidence. I found some books that were not in the right place on a shelf that was slightly above my eye level, I shifted them around and a book that would become one of my bibles was there – nearly glowing with angels singing it’s praises to me. That book was The Sexual Outlaw by John Rechy.
John’s book was transformative. It was gritty, unabashed writing that spoke to me in ways that no one else could. It was as if his words were for me and me alone. They were powerful, their imagery was stark and bold. I emerged a very different boy with that book. So here we’ve come to why I will never agree with my critic’s point of view. Because it is from my own community of writers: gay men writing about our worlds as we are. Those words I’ve said before but not in the context of how I truly meant them and why. As a boy I wanted that affirmation from my own kind and no amount of brilliant writing, witty and powerful prose from anyone outside of that sphere was going to satisfy. It just simply wasn’t. It never would. I wanted to hear it from the source – not some random author posing what they thought it might be like. I wanted other gay men’s voices in my head. I wanted to swim in them, I wanted to be immersed in their minds, in their worlds, in their lives. I needed to understand what being gay was all about.
John satiated my lustful thoughts. He colored them and gave them such a compelling narrative that I was living and breathing it every time I opened that book. But he didn’t have all my answers – I wanted more. So I sought out others as best I could and I happened again on another gay male author: Gordon Merrick. Merrick satiated my heart. He gave me the perspective of a gay man in matters of love and relationships between men. And you can bet your sweet ass, no woman’s perspective no matter how beautifully written was going to give me that. I wanted a definitive male perspective. And let me be abundantly clear about this – the nature of the writing, the quality of the characters, the style of prose didn’t matter. Not really. It was that I had another gay man’s voice in my head. That belonging to a group of men like myself was paramount — almost more than the work itself. And herein is a salient point I’d like to make to my straight women allies who write about us in the here and now, we may have M/M romance as it is today and many of my critics site that it came from the fanfic/slash fic of the 90’s and that it is from these straight women who have given birth to this genre – yet I say to you all, unless you were doing this in the early 70’s when this book broke and was on the NY Bestseller list, then no, Merrick was one of the first. And he did it at a time when no one else was doing it. I know because I was there. I lived through this period in time. And it could be argued that it existed before him – EM Forster’s Maurice was penned earlier in that century as no doubt there were a few others. These courageous men were the men I craved. Men I could admire, men I could aspire to and say to myself ‘I want a piece of that pie… I want me some of that.’
I know that the argument could be made that this was all before the advent of the internet, that now it’s easy to find them. And yes, you’d be right about that. BUT, herein is the subtle but profound difference, and herein is why I discovered why I write: I still require gay men’s voices. I still want to know why Zachary Quinto is taking umbrage within his own community in the here and now about his perception of how his fellow gay brothers have grown “lazy” with regards to protecting ourselves against HIV/AIDS when we have drugs like PreP out there (he is getting slammed for starting the conversation – I, for one, am THANKFUL that he took the time to pose the question in the first place). I still want to know from my gay brothers what stirs up our shit about things in general. And yes, that information isn’t as hidden as it was back in the day when I was struggling to find affirmation and confirmation that I wasn’t alone. It doesn’t matter – I still want more of my own. I want to know today why Perez Hilton goes off on a fucking tangent and makes an ass out of himself and fails epically, I want to know the struggles of Michael Sam as he tries to elevate us all by simply being and showing us how equal gay male athletes are in the larger sports context.
For me, and I think for a great many within my own community, gay men’s voices will ALWAYS trump another author from outside my community – no matter their intent, no matter the quality of their work, because they simply AREN’T a member of our community. They don’t live it day in and day out. They may write beautifully and profoundly but to my mind, there is still the inherent tick box that says – lovely work but not of our own. It is that nugget of living it that puts it over the edge for me. Not because of the quality of the writing – but that by their very existence they affirm that I am still not alone. I need them. I need them all. Good, bad or indifferent. I need them because together we still have a “community” (such as it is).
Does this mean I think others outside our community shouldn’t write as they do? Absolutely not. I’ve said so time and again even though most of my straight allies took me to task as if that is what I was saying. But in this my absolute truth began to emerge. I began to truly see what kind of writer I am. I’ve begun to define myself as a writer and the audience I am truly seeking. I’ve learned that my road won’t be an easy or profitable one.
I am a writer. Period.
But I write from my own rooted experiences. I write to my sixteen year old self – telling him about what I’ve learned along my varied and roller coaster past. And they are rooted in life, they are my own and my fellow gay brother’s shared experiences. We live them. The situations I put my characters through may be imaginary but they are deeply rooted in my own and my gay male brother’s experiences. Words we’ve shared amongst ourselves. Words that both soothe and harm one another. Love, anguish, hurt, coupled with friendship, camaraderie and bliss filled euphoria (as a sidebar my husband, a brilliant writer himself, rails against my using bliss and euphoria in the same sentence – he said to stop over stating – it’s redundant – I smirk at him and say that in my own way I am railing at convention and want to be over the top emphatic about my blissful euphoria – but this too is why I write). My stories will have strong romantic threads but they are definitely not romance novels. Not in the sense of that particular genre as it stands now. And herein I believe that the genre needs to grow beyond the limitations and restrictions or the genre will wither on the vine and it will grow stale from the same formula cranked out over and over again – merely swapping out vocations and locations to keep things fresh. That can only go on for so long. My men will fall in and out of love. Because that is how we are – but I won’t guarantee a HEA (happily ever after) or even an HFN (happy for now), because it doesn’t work that way in life. This I will not adhere to. That I think is ludicrous in the extreme. In that manner my straight women allies can have at it. It is not for me – but my stories will have strong elements of love and loss. To my way of thinking that makes them infinitely more compelling and powerful if you don’t have a guarantee. End it the way it is supposed to end – not because some prescribed “way it has been done before.” I rail against that too. But then again I come from a community that has had to fight tooth and nail for every inch of acceptance and happiness we can. Where simple expression of affection is ridiculed and denied us. That is a compelling dialog to write from. That is what I will explore and show how we as gay men struggle against that – culled from our own collective pasts.
This is what separates me from the straight women allies in the M/M genre (romantic or otherwise). I am not writing to them at all – and that was an amazing revelation for me. They are not my audience. They can certainly come to the party and I would welcome them with as much humility and humbleness I can muster for their wanting to see what I am all about.
But they are not the focus of my prose.
In that sense, I am a very different writer. I am not writing to become famous, I am not writing to make the all mighty dollar. I am not willing to write to a formula that sells. My stories are what they are. And you can believe that if there are gay characters then those points of view are coming straight from the community of gay men I surround myself with and delve into their pasts, carefully editing out names and distilling the shared experiences for future works. I cull from my own and my gay brother’s lives. So when I put a gay character down – I’ve walked through what makes him tick. I do this for that sixteen year old me and any others out there that are like me. They want that affirmation from another gay man. Because we are gay men.
Men are the object of my desire. Men are the object of my interest. Doesn’t mean I won’t write strong female characters in my stories (I have two very important women in my own immediate family that I must answer to so you bet your ass there will be very few weak women in my tales – I want my girls to know everything they can be as well – I am all about spreading the wealth). But in that, any women characters I create is more from a desire to express what I want my girls to take away from them. Doesn’t mean for one moment that I know what the hell I am writing about them from the inside – I am simply not a member of that community, and I don’t have the gender parts or psyche that make up the foundation for that community. I aspire to do it justice, just the same, but I must embrace that it will never be able to write from that intrinsic truth that comes from within. Are there shared human experiences between the sexes that I can speak to? Certainly. But I have to embrace that I am simply not a woman and being a happy well adjusted gay man – I can definitively say I wouldn’t want to. I am very comfortable in my skin and where it’s been in my life thus far.
But what I am doing is writing to my brothers – love letters of a sort. Words to add to the dialog amongst ourselves. I am putting my words out there in the odd chance that some gay man out there might find it and its contents to be of interest. I’ve come to embrace that it may be in vain. It may never be in demand. It may ultimately come to naught or may rise in popularity after I am long dead and gone. It wouldn’t be the first – EM Forster’s Maurice was only allowed to be published after his death. I am okay with this. I will write either way. Why? Because I am doing it as a matter of posterity. I want my work to be added to the annals of other men in my community, Gay men’s voices. For ourselves, to express what our journeys are to each other. Others external to us may pick them up, others may find them interesting and may even glean an understanding from them from inside the community and what it is like to live within it. This too, is welcomed – but not germane to my craft.
So in a way, I am glad for my critic’s words. They helped me define myself and what I am doing. I wish her nothing but luck with her own journey as well as any other writer out there. The stage is big enough for us all no matter why we do what we do.
What I want out of all of this is to urge my fellow brothers to step up and write about us – we need to define ourselves in a fictional literary sense that are rooted in who we are, as we live it. This is a call to action – to my own community. There are those of my kind out there doing just that. What I want is more of the same. I want to hear what my fellow brothers are experiencing, what their journeys have been thus far. Where have they stumbled, what have they achieved? I am inspired by them – by these men’s voices. They speak to me like no one else can. They enrich me.
Men like Jay Brannan (who I think is one of the most contemplative and imaginative men I have ever had the honor to meet).
Brannan’s work is my go-to. His words give me hope and such determination to aspire to his level of writing. I am enriched to know that as an older gay man, with this young out gay artist our story is in very, very capable hands. He is nothing short of a modern day bard. I have an on-going love affair with his prose. I admire his mind – the truly sexiest part of Brannan’s work. And his voice is like salve to the soul. It’s clarity and beauty is truly astounding. And he was gracious enough to allow me to quote his magnificent work within my own. One gay male artist supporting another. I am deeply humbled by his generosity and creative spirit.
Men like Steve Grand – who has taken his bold take on the mainstream country scene and through his profound presence and sheer will of the struggles of our loves and lives has garnered followers and fans from both within and external to our community. I admire his journey as a whole. It’s brilliant, it’s bright and all encompassing, and I am in awe of it taking off like it has. I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing him perform live but as a kickstarter supporter of his, I am already part of his conversation, if from a distance. I am still heartened by his journey.
Authors (in addition to EM Forster, John Rechy and Gordon Merrick) like Christopher Rice, TJ Klune, Gore Vidal, Larry Kramer, Felice Picano, Brad Vance, Eric Arvin and the like.
Men like Michael Sam, Jason Collins, and Tom Daley. Men like Dustin Lance Black, Shane Bitney Crone, Zachary Quinto (pictured below), Anderson Cooper, Greg Berlanti, Wentoworth Miller, Matt Zarley, Chris Salvatore, John Barrowman, Ryan Murphy and others – the list goes on. This includes gay men in the porn and sex industry – for many of them are my gay brothers too. Brilliant men who I admire for their minds as much as the work they do because they have productive lives outside of the industry (they are forward thinkers) – men like Colby Keller, Levi Michaels, Antonio Biaggi, Boomer Banks and Rocco Steele (pictured above) – such courageous and brilliant masculinity on display there. Even in this with them, I am inspired. What happens to them is of great interest to me – because it is reflective of my own in one way or another. Men who have to be weary of the world around us. A world where we are slowly seeing a rise in acceptance and tolerance (despite the occasional setback and fucktard conservative voice pushing back). In a real but absurd way, I am okay with the push back. It gives me a treasure trove to plunder for my characters to struggle against. And in that I also rail a bit at my critic’s sentiment above. She laments that we need to stop being so divisive amongst each other. Yet, I can’t help but think that while a lofty goal that may be, I don’t know that we’ll achieve it in what years I have left on this Earth. But again, it’s great fodder to write from certainly. We humans love our drama.
As my good fellow opera singer, Joseph, from my days in Opera once said, “No one wants to come see a happy Opera.” He’s right. Drama springs from life – it both reflects it and informs it. I am a writer of drama. More specifically, gay men’s drama. Might be limiting in scope but with the pathetically few books written by us rooted in our own collective experiences, I’ll stick to that course to add my own to my community’s slowly growing literary library.
I am a gay man who craves the voices of my own. It was that way when I was sixteen, it is that way now. I am thankful for those outside the community who want to write about us. I may even enjoy their work and praise them for what they do (I have done so with my carefully thought out reviews). But ultimately I am inspired and aspire to the men of my own world. I am enriched by their journeys and their experiences. I write to them. I write about them. I am informed by them. This is why I said what I said. I may not have clarified it as well as I should have but that was sort of the point with Jayne’s and my on-going conversation. In a very real way, this slight stumble has helped me define who I am and what kind of writer I am. For that, I can only be grateful.
So my fellow brothers, get out there. Write about us, write about our lives and our struggles, in a literature format. Root it in our lives, as they are or as you’d like them to be. Do it not for profit alone (though it certainly wouldn’t be frowned upon if you did), just do it to ensure our voices are present and accounted for – central to our experiences and our lives. Do it for posterity, do it so our thoughts in this point in time is captured in our own voice. Do it because we need to remind each other – both gently and, at times, purposefully – pressing against our own foibles, follies and prejudices. Teaching and enriching each other to aspire to be better with one another as much as we strive for equality in the greater mainstream community.
So, to my critic I say this – I agree with you up until we talk about my community from within. Then it is my own brother’s voices that hold sway, that have that nugget of truth, that sense of community that only they can speak to because they live it every damned day. It is our world – inherent to us because of the perceptions about us that we have to embolden or deride where they are true or are rooted in prejudice and bigotry. In this they will always hold my interest to a greater extent than any other voice out there. I may not agree with what they have to say but goddamn it, I will be thrilled that they are out there saying it – if anything just because it is still an affirmation that we matter, that our voices matter and should and need to be heard – from us – from the source itself. Only then, through our expression of our lives as they are, no matter the format of expression, will the narrative be central to our collective life’s experiences. I am tired of just sitting on the sidelines. What little years I may have left (I have recently reached my half centennial mark), I choose to be as forceful in presenting our world from our collected experiences as I can.
Others may claim that this is xenophobic in nature. It is not, I can assure you. I am being patriotic within my own community – there is a difference. I do not write against the mainstream heteronormative but rather try to embolden our own collective voices from within and champion them – doing what I can to promote and encourage them to do more and, at the same time, try to raise my voice — though not at the expense of others. And a word to those who would argue against that, they would be exercising the grandest form of bigotry.
If others, outside of our community, want to learn from my journey then great – I welcome them. But I write to my brothers. They are my love letters to them. I may not know them individually, I may not know their journeys or the road they walk in life, but if they stop and bother to tell me, I will always spare a moment to listen. That sixteen year old self is still hungry for their words, their thoughts, their minds. It is a hunger for which I never want satiated. When I take my last breath the only regret I want to have is that I’ll want more but be denied access in what is to come. That is what I will lament and rail against but know that it is for naught. Life just doesn’t work that way. I get that. But I lament the brilliant and colorful lives I will never know – lives to come that will be beyond my mortal reach. So I write from a fictional perspective to create those worlds that would explore what I crave from those voices as yet unheard.
Love letters to my gay brothers. I cherish each and every one of you. I admire your spirit, your courage and your minds. It is a love affair I am all to happy to be a part of. It is a love affair I never want to end.
I know no other way.
Our Dirty Little Secret –
A discussion with Savannah Smythe on the release of her new work – Dirty Little Secret and a few other topics that cropped up…
SA Collins: So when do you think you can recall when you found yourself bit by the whole writing bug? Was there some impetus that got you into writing?
Savvy Smythe: I’ve always loved weaving stories, even from a very young age, probably to get me out of some kind of trouble, I guess. But I never thought of writing anything down until after my first child was born. I think it was boredom more than anything else. I was hitting the treadmill at the gym and my daughter was in daycare, and my first character just kind of popped into my head and said “Hello.”
Actually, that’s a lie. He said something like “Hey, bitch, I want a woman and a decent story. Get to it.” He can be rude like that…
SA Collins: Yeah, that’s usually a hallmark of a writer: our characters really sort of control us – dictate when things need to get done.
Savvy Smythe: Absolutely. I think all writers with fiction should identify with this, and sometimes you need to go with the flow and see what comes out. It can surprise you. It sure as hell surprised me!
SA Collins: Did your writing always have the erotic slant it has now? If so, why do you think that is? If not, how did it evolve into that?
Savvy Smythe: It certainly didn’t start out as erotica, although I’ve never shied away from portraying sexual scenes between my characters. How the erotica thing started was simple. I couldn’t get the damned book published so I sliced, diced and spiced it as an experiment, because sex sells, right? I knew I had a juicy story, but it needed a lot more juice to interest the erotica market.
To answer your other question, I guess I’ve always been interested in, not the ins and outs of sex per se, but the interplay between characters, the growing intensity of feelings and setting moods where sensual happenings can take place
SA Collins: So, given that, did you find that your sales changed when your writing did? Or was it a slow evolving process? Do you still see your work as erotica? Because, here’s my take on it: I really don’t think that sexual situations make it erotica. Sex is a part of the human condition. I think what erotica is is a piece written to titillate and inflame, sometimes at the expense of a real story, but when woven into a real bona fide tale, then I think it crosses back over to adult fiction. I think you can have a sexually active and sex positive character without it being erotica. Do you know what I am getting at here?
Savvy Smythe: Yes, I do, and I agree on the whole. There are different levels of erotica though. In my mainstream contemporary fiction books, the sex is used as a potent way of luring two characters together and making them want each other, and when they do, it’s fireworks. But in my role as an erotica writer, the sex is definitely the most important thing. I wrote straight erotica for Virgin Books for five years, and sales were good enough that they kept renewing my contract, which was great. But after a while it became slightly boring to be honest because the sex was the main event (as it has to be in an erotica book, obviously.) The challenge was to make it interesting. Actually, I nearly got my editor fired because my attempt at making it interesting contravened several decency laws – oops!
So yes, there is a big difference between the role that sex plays in erotica and “mainstream” fiction. And this goes back to what I was saying about different forms of erotica. There are the one-handed reads, and books with characters that people can actually get involved with. Three dimensional characters with stories that don’t insult the intelligence of the person reading them. And that’s what I tried to do.
SA Collins: Fair enough. The reason I bring it up is that when I started I first listed myself as an erotic writer but after Angels fully took form it was clear that while sex was present, the sexual situations psychologically advanced the characters (more than just bringing them together) in that my shy boy became increasingly more assertive in his life – every facet of his life – which said to me that the sex, while erotic in nature, really was a different device altogether. I get the whole differing degrees of erotica writing – and I am not disparaging it as a whole genre, but I often wonder if we’re too motivated to label it as such when maybe we aren’t seeing the greys in those erotic levels as something else altogether. You know?
Savvy Smythe: Yes, and a lot of it comes down to marketing and being honest about the genre the book is for. And that isn’t necessarily the market you assume it is for when you write it, if you assume anything at all. Black Lace (Virgin Books) was obviously erotica, aimed at women, and that was easy because I knew my genre. Since then, I haven’t written any erotica until this year, when I began What You Wish For, which eventually turned into Dirty Little Secret. I wrote the book, knowing I was writing erotica, but I hadn’t given any thought about who it was aimed at, I was just writing the story. Because once you start getting hung up on markets, etc., your creativity can go out the window. In a way, this is what happened with What You Wish For, which is why it eventually became DLS.
And sex is obviously a great selling point, but just because there is a lot of it in a book, doesn’t make it erotica, necessarily. I’m saying that sometimes, erotica isn’t always there to give a thrill, but to engender all kinds of emotions in the reader. As well as giving a thrill!
SA Collins: So you mentioned Dirty Little Secret, which is your recent release, right? How did that happen – it started out as a straight erotica piece, right?
Savvy Smythe: It did, and I guess it was aimed at women because that’s the erotica market I’ve always written for. Straight men on the whole don’t read a lot of erotica. They like to see the T and A before their eyes.
SA Collins: True enough – men are very visual.
Savvy Smythe: But then a strange thing happened. My two male characters fell in love before my eyes. It was a natural process and I can honestly say I didn’t force the issue. It just came about. So I went with it, again not thinking about the marketing issue, although I wanted to publish the story in three parts. But when I had finished the story and had three parts, one of straight erotica and two of gay erotica, I immediately saw I had a problem. Maybe this is an assumption here, but I guessed that gay men wouldn’t be interested in straight erotica featuring women, but I wasn’t so sure about women wanting to read gay erotica. So I did some digging and began to read gay erotica. Actually, I had been reading gay erotica as soon as I knew I was going to write it, to find out what I was up against.
SA Collins: Is it something you find interesting to write about? Or was this a one off “walk in a different park” sort of thing?
Savvy Smythe: I feel very comfortable writing about men, either in sexual situations or in burgeoning relationships, but I’m aware that I have a lot to learn. I didn’t want to insult people by just swapping women for men and writing “dick lit” because men and women’s motivations are totally different.
SA Collins: Now you’ve hit upon one of the things that sticks in my craw about the M/M genre as it stands now. As a gay man/author I have collected a number of these writings and what truly astounds me is how very little it has to do with what our lives are like. I mean, I am all for the fantasy of a good yarn, but some of the emotive qualities are completely off the mark of how men feel – and often gay men at that. I think it stems from women not really getting that as a gay man you always, whether you can play off the straight male thing in society or not, are looking over your shoulder, sometimes swapping pronouns to make people around you comfortable. Yet the works in the genre never really reflect that. So while it’s “gay” it really is with air quotes completely implied. Do you think that the genre needs some evolving in that manner? Or do you think it is what it is…? I know it’s one of the reasons why I refuse to ally myself with that sort of market as my main market. Because my work will not follow those sort of entrenched guidelines..
Savvy Smythe: I think that every genre is evolving, mostly thanks to the ebook market. People have access (should they choose to accept it) to almost any fiction they please. But yes, to answer your last question, the gay erotica I read, written by women is very different to that written by men. It seems to be either fantasy (wolf/biker/shapeshifter) or the other stereotypes (soldier, cop, mechanic) and I think that says a lot more about what the writer finds erotic than what her audience will. Not that there is anything wrong with that but don’t mistake it for bona fide erotica aimed at gay men.
The erotica I’ve read by men is a lot more meaty, with more of their senses being used – which is surprising to me but very enlightening. Also, every book I’ve read reflects the “over the shoulder” situation you described, where as a lot of women tend to write about being gay and proud of it, or being completely and happily segregated from “normal” society. So in order to write erotica for the gay market, I want to learn to write more like a man, and that is something which I find really exciting. I’m not degenerating women’s writing AT ALL. There are some really gritty women writers out there. I want to be one of them. Dirty Little Secret is a bit of fun, a toe in the water, but I’ve learned a lot since then.
SA Collins: I sort of liken it to me writing about a young black woman – I might be able to imagine it, I might even be in the midst of the community, but there is something intrinsically truthful about the work when it comes from the source. I don’t blame women writing M/M erotica for their own pleasure but what I find sort of bewildering is all of the rainbow cons that really don’t seem to have very much to do with what we are working towards. To me its more about women who love the hell out of men (as do gay men) but write about them in gay situations as they would like to fantasize about men but the ‘gayness’ of them really isn’t much in play here other than its homosexual in nature. I think the genre as a whole needs to do a little soul searching and more gay male voices need to rise to the top and write about us as we really are. Only then will the genre as a whole evolve. Otherwise I think it will just be women fantasizing about men as they want to see them rather than what we truly are… does that make sense?
Savvy Smythe: Yeah, it does, although I would say that it isn’t the role of erotica to reflect the angst going on in real life. One of the big no-nos in straight erotica are characters with kids. No-one wants to read about child-care arrangements before the fucking starts. They don’t want to hear about women with problems juggling their lives, or non-consensual sex (another rule I broke – I’m all about breaking rules) or any of the other issues that people in “normal” life experience. It is a fantasy after all.
But, this also begs the question about what motivates women to write gay erotica. Yes, a lot of it is a fantasy about what gay men are like in bed. And I think some women do it because they feel SAFER writing about gay men.
SA Collins: Why? Because they think gay men aren’t reading it to say – hey, wait a minute there —where am I in all of this? What do you mean by safer?
Savvy Smythe: Because they can have their kicks writing and reading about it without feeling they have to compete. In erotica books, the heroine is mostly beautiful, or has some quality that makes her irresistible to the hero. Some women feel threatened by that and think, “I would never be like that. I don’t want to hear about some bitch with perfect tits getting banged by Mr. Hardjaw.” But put Mr. Hardjaw with Mr. Sexyabs and hell, yes!
SA Collins: That sort of seems rather simplistic in a way. I mean you’ve read a bit of my book… right?
Savvy Smythe: I’m reading it now, but as you said, your book isn’t erotica, it’s a character study. Erotica is there mainly for one purpose, and that is to get off, right? DLS is erotica. I want to make it intelligent but to be honest, I wanted to turn people on first. And THAT is the prime purpose of erotica
SA Collins: True enough but let’s talk character for a second. I think that in erotica (or hell, even mainstream lit fic) women make a very interesting mistake in my mind when writing male characters. I think because in their own lives they hear the brevity of how we communicate and make an assumption that things go on like that in our heads. That we think in bits and bytes and not strung together long trained thoughts. In Angels almost 70 percent of it is Elliot’s (my protag) inner monologue. Men do think quite intensely and prolonged as we analyze our world around us – the difference is we don’t talk a lot about it. Gay men more than our hetero counterparts to a degree, but even so – gay men have short hand talking that does the same brevity communication that our straight brothers do. Most female writers miss the boat on that. I found that to be rather telling. It was one of the reasons why Elliot’s part of my series is so inside his head. It was far more interesting for me to express him internally (thus, the character study) yet, walk you through what he feels and thinks while he’s having hot man-on-man action…
Savvy Smythe: Men are from Mars, women are from Venus?
SA Collins: The inner monologue men go through isn’t as developed as I think it can be. I think it is simplistic for most (definitely not all) female writers to assume that how the men in their world act are how we really are. I think the inner monologues are not as complex as we sometimes can be.
Savvy Smythe: Yeah, I get that.
SA Collins: Sure. I mean I turned you onto John Rechy’s work… you said that you found his voice to be very powerful and you were getting some of that from him, right? Did it surprise you to read his take on male sexuality?
Savvy Smythe: I think we women make the assumption that men are simple souls, because to be honest, men have told us that for long enough. Perhaps to stop us over-thinking things we have no hope of understanding? It wasn’t a surprise to read John Rechy’s take but it was enlightening, because I, like a lot of women have always thought that men are more visual than anything else.
SA Collins: True enough. I mean my daughter is on match.com looking for potential boyfriend material and one guy got playful with her and started to talk about the big trucks and tractors he drives around at work (like a big boy would). She got all over analytical about it and I stopped her in her tracks and said – “Sweetie, sometimes a tractor or a truck is just that. He’s being playfui, don’t make it a political statement.”
So I get we can be forthright in our statements and they get over-analyzed to the point of absurdity (in most men’s opinions).
Savvy Smythe: I think women are always looking for the hidden message. It’s a defense mechanism to stop them from getting hurt. It doesn’t work though.
SA Collins: When I read Rechy’s work as a gay teen (this was the late 70’s mind you) it was truly enlightening that all of the things I was questioning about myself as a man (let alone a gay one) were right there in his pages.
Savvy Smythe: A comparative work for women would be The Women’s Room, by Marilyn French.
SA Collins: All of the textures and the senses that we as men go through. This is what I often find missing in M/M erotica… the assumptions are never analyzed by the author – simply taken as hard cold fact about us and not inquired or asked about. I know some men won’t cough up the goods or admit to what really goes on in our heads. In fact, I spend more time talking to my straight friends about their emotional shit that would truly astound their wives and girlfriends. I often laugh that straight women and straight men don’t really get what a great ally gay men are to them. They assume that our sex is so perverse that they can’t possibly be of any help to them. But I know I’ve helped my straight co-workers on a number of occasions because I gave them some insight on why their ladies might be feeling the way they were or expressing themselves how they were. The dialog is changing but I always sort of laugh on how much of our POV on their own relationships go unasked. I always tell my daughter – I may be gay, but honey, I know my sex…
Savvy Smythe: I think straight women get the gay ally thing. Most women yearn for a GBF. (Sex and the City, anyone?) BUT, I think it’s become a bit like a status symbol, rather like a designer handbag. I’d be willing to bet that the women wanting a GBF want him so they can give some insight into men and make them feel good about themselves. Actually, if you examine that dynamic, it looks a bit one-sided. Are the women with GBFs any wiser about how gay men think, feel, function day to day? This is a genuine question because I haven’t a clue! Would be interesting to find out though.
It seems as if we are all shouting at each other over a divide the size of the Grand Canyon. Can women ever really understand what is going on in men’s heads, whether they are gay or not?
More on this discussion coming soon – in the interim I highly suggest you check out Savannah’s brilliant and provocative works via the following channels:
It’s a SMUTTY Book…
-or- Why I think that warning labels and smutty classifications are in the eye of the beholder.
But I can’t say it as eloquently as this man can… Enjoy! (I know I did)
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This one goes out to my author pal, Savannah Smythe who posed a comment question from my last blog post. I encourage everyone to visit this brilliant and engaging website.
To her question, here is my more eloquent reply (ala Tom Lehrer).
Anatomy of a Sex Scene
Why I did what I did and how I did it…
A recent blog discussion over on a group I belong to in LinkedIn for authors touched upon a topic that piqued my interest, that topic being sex.
The notice of the topic appeared in my inbox (if memory serves) and I thought it was an interesting topic to discuss.
I was particularly intrigued by the opening line –
“How’s that SEX SCENE you’ve written? You feel good about it, or as uneasy as a cat on a raft?”
I read through quite a bit of the posts (sex sells and these authors were definitely struggling or grappling or tangling with the subject matter by the looks of the posts). At first I wasn’t so quick to jump into the fray. The posts were hetero-centric and I just didn’t know if my hot man-on-man action was going to fit in with this crowd. Then I spied one entry that made mention of a gay romance story and how the sex scenes were handled there and I thought – oh, what the fuck -DIVE IN!
So dive, I did.
What I did do was rather than inundate people with a copy/paste of my sex scene on my website (an excerpt from my forthcoming book Angels of Mercy), I decided to simply reference the link to the work and give a general statement of how and why I did what I did. The forum moderator (who posted the topic) asked me why I made the choices I did (my main protag, Elliot, is the one in control in the book – it’s his POV through and through). And while I never pulled away from the intensity of these two young men and the serious sexual situations they found themselves in, I also knew that the sex wasn’t written to titillate and be a “one-handed” read (if you get my meaning). The sex in this book had to advance these boys further into the depths of their burgeoning relationship (so what’s new? – okay, I’ll grant you that one).
But here’s the kicker (from my perspective, at any rate): when I started out, I thought I was going to focus on romantic stories that I read when I was a teenage boy starving for some sort of recognition that there were other men out there who desired other men; yeah, not so much it turns out.
Gordon Merrick and John Rechy were my absolute go-to’s for that. Those men were my prophets – men of words and lust, of thoughts and hopes. I admired them greatly and still do. I often credit them for saving my young gayboy life. I am NOT mincing words here. These men, for whatever reason were inspired to write what they did, had absolutely no idea that some random kid in a Southern California city like San Diego, would find these books and hold them so close to his heart, taking the time to make paper bag book covers to disguise the truer nature of what was in them. I knew they were dangerous books to have (well, dangerous by others who might find them and think of them as such).
So yeah, as a writer, I thought my works were of an erotic nature because gay men like sex – we don’t have to procreate (though the tech is there if we want to use it – ala Neil Patrick Harris and his delightful hubby David Burtka) so sex is purely for pleasure and to bind the men involved together on a very intimate level. So I made that mistake to think I was an erotic writer. And more to the point – a GAY erotic writer. Sin of all sins in the mainstream literature world.
Then Angels evolved. It burgeoned into something else. Well, that’s not entirely true. It sort of was something else all along. I just knew there was some hella hot sex going on in there (because they’re hormonally charged teen boys and sex is on the brain every 8 damned seconds). So I thought that – hey, sex sells so I must be an erotic writer.
You see the book evolved along the lines of the thriller/high drama I’d always envisioned. It’s a very psychological book in that you, as the reader, are in Elliot’s head. He is aware of you and (at times) addresses you directly. You’re along for the ride, so to speak. It wasn’t the plan from the start when I saw these boys populate (nearly fully formed in a matter of seconds) in my head. But Elliot had other plans for me.
You see, Elliot was my sixteen year old self wanting to finally surface and play in the make believe world I’d created for him. Elliot is a shy, artsy, stay in the shadows kind of gay kid. He’s out – only because he made the tragic mistake of telling his then best friend in the seventh grade and that bestie turned on him and blabbed to the rest of the school about Elliot. So out but not by choice; to stay in the shadows, try to be unobserved, also not by choice. That’s survival, that is.
So how the fuck does this relate to the fucking, you ask?
It was clear to me that my boys were going to do something I hadn’t really read in LGBTQ YA or Adult fiction (romance or not). You were going to get into their heads and root around a bit. You were going to feel what they feel as they felt it (this includes their hard core fucking) – but from inside. I also had to keep in mind that book one was from Elliot’s POV, but the second book was going to be from his boyfriend’s (the star quarterback of the high school football team – the Mercy High Avenging Angels). So I had to carefully plan any situations between the boys so the two perspectives would jive when read side-by-side.
And my hubby, being the retired psychiatrist he is, put a golden nugget in my head to mentally chew on during the whole process – he said, “What is important for Elliot to remember and relate may not be important to Marco (the boyfriend).” That was far more helpful than I realized at the time he said it. It has been my lightning rod and bellwether and any other sign post I could have while I write the series. POV of both these characters is vitally important if the series is to work.
Okay, okay – so where’s the sex? I’m a-gettin’ to it… sheesh!
So the sex… yeah.
As I said, I knew that the sex was integral to the story. Hormonally charged teenage boys – duh! But I just didn’t want to throw it out there like a bone (pun intended – sorry).
First, a little context – if you haven’t followed my blogging about the story (then, where the hell were ya – just kidding!), my story centers around the question: what would happen if the quiet, shy, and in the shadows out gay kid became the boyfriend of the most high profile football jock on campus? How would it work? What would happen? Who would support them, and more importantly, who would try to tear them apart?
Angels is not an easy piece to write. In truth, while it is the first book I am going to release, it was not the first m/m romantic storyline I’d ever written. I have three other stories in the wings at various stages of development but put all of those on hold because I didn’t feel like those epics (and they sort of are – I tend to think Cecil B. DeMille epic – it’s just in my nature to do so) were quite ready for prime time. So when my boys come together (from the first chapter, mind you), I wanted to get the “chase” of their romance put quickly aside. Unlike most stories where they try to avoid the coming together of the romantic leads (because “they say” that once you do then all the sexual tension drains from the story-line), I was more intrigued to find out the “what happens next” in their romance rather than the thrill of the chase.
So the context: Marco has been secretly in love with my artsy gay boy, Elliot, for two years now. He’s stalked him in the background, biding his time, taking unobserved pictures of the boy he can’t seem to get enough of. All of this while he tries to lead a double life of the jock image everyone puts on him. That duality in his life is very much the crux of the whole story. How the hetero-sexist world pressures gay men (even more so than our lesbian counterparts) to conform to what makes them comfortable, that we’re one of them at the expense of who we are.
Once Marco has Elliot front and center in his life – he holds onto him with a ferocity that consumes them both. These boys are lost in each other (to the detriment of their own safety as danger definitely circles them). But they aren’t concerned with that in the heady and intoxicating draw they feel in one another.
But I had a few things to consider at this juncture:
- These are boys of the internet age. THIS IS SIGNIFICANT AND CANNOT BE UNDERSCORED ENOUGH. (A point I’ll come to later)
- Hormonally charged teenage boys and the proliferation of safe sex knowledge and avoidance in such boys
- How men/boys think about and (more importantly) execute sex – no girls involved so the soft pillows and lacy crap was out the window – men, despite protestations to the contrary to their lady folk (in the hetero world) like their sex like they live their lives – MESSY AS ALL FUCK. Marco and Elliot were no different. Why? Because when I was a lad – the messier the sex, the hotter it was. Plain and simple. We’re boys; it’s what we do.
Now for one other element that was of consequence but how and why I employed it was purely from personal experience and not, I repeat, NOT because I was pandering to the whole über-hung sex stud romance story stereotype. Simply put, my first boy was massively hung. He even had a nickname – Glo-bone. I didn’t give it to him – he had it all on his lonesome before I met him. So Marco is a BIG BIG boy. And like me, Elliot was a bit of a twink (don’t know what that is? Google it!), so I wanted to use what I had from my own past to color how they came together (I swear these puns are not wholly intentional, well, sorta).
Elliot is a boy on a mission. He contemplates the enormity of his boyfriend and knows he’s diving into the deep end of the gay pool – but like me, he realizes that if Marco is the one for him, then what he’s got to work with from his boyfriend is something he wants to become adept at. It is important to him that Marco sees him and only him. No matter the cost (pain or otherwise) that may come in the process.
Marco, on the other hand, has his own demons to face in his first time with Elliot. Those demons don’t fully realize themselves for the reader until we get to his part of the story in book 2, but I do hint at them during Elliot’s telling of their first time together.
So now – ONTO THE SEX –
From Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot [Chapter 3 – Shadowboxing and Champagne]
I already surmised that he was a man full of surprises. He was thoughtful, gentle and very passionate. But the most surprising thing about him was his patience. I was a jumble of nerves and conflicting emotions. Not about him. I knew I loved him. I was overwrought inside, concerned if I would make the grade, be an adequate lover the way he would wish me to be. Turns out, I needn’t have worried.
He was so sweet-tempered, taking his time to undress me slowly, gently batting my hands away anytime I tried to help him. With a lone small table lamp on the nightstand next to the bed, our bodies shadowboxed on the wall behind us. In that silhouette I became so ultra-aware of how inadequate my body was in comparison to his. I tried to hide it, painfully aware of how glorious he was, and how not, I was.
He smiled softly, but he said I was perfect for him in every way. He reminded me gently of how long he had watched me, how his desire to have me for himself had built over the past two years. Then he said the most amazing thing to me: he told me that he hoped that he would be everything I would want in a lover. That what I thought mattered to him so much that he was a bit nervous. He hoped it would be good for me. His hands were trembling, a slight quiver to his voice. My heart melted for him.
I just watched him. I heard the words; I knew what they meant. But for the life of me I couldn’t make it make sense. I could see he was becoming pensive, being so vulnerable with me about his insecurities. There was no way I was going to let him think he would ever be inadequate.
I wanted to make sure that Elliot set the tone. He was nervous as all get out but once he saw that Marco was right there with him, it completely transformed the whole scene. To Elliot, Marco is every bit the confident and studly jock that everyone says about him. To find out that Marco was just as vulnerable, even more so when (as the author) you know what demons he’s wrestling with that Elliot has no idea about. It’s quite the moment that will have to wait until book 2 for the big reveal on that front – but in the moment all we have is Elliot’s position – so let’s roll with that, shall we?
I pulled him to me and we fell onto the bed with a ferocity that I didn’t know I had. We tangled; we writhed, our bodies becoming slick with the passion we felt for each other. And it mattered to me that he was just as unsure as I was. Marco, my confident, sexy as hell boyfriend, was vulnerable with me. He allowed me to see that in him. And it mattered. It mattered in ways I couldn’t even fathom in that moment of our passion. It was something I found I would ponder from time to time thereafter. Truly astonished that someone who seemed so sure of himself and his place in the world, was worried about what I thought of him, of whether he’d measure up to what I wanted. If anything, it made my heart flutter just thinking about it, the way that sentiment from him did. But after that admission, I could see it in his eyes. Tucked there, in the furthest reaches, along with his abiding love for me was the fear that he’d fail me. Absurd. Completely absurd that he could ever fail me.
His kisses brought me back to the moment.
He whispered that he loved me, every inch of me, proving to me that he did by covering every inch of me in soft kisses. I tried to return each of his ministrations, but he wouldn’t have it. He said it was my night. He wanted to spend the night making love to me, pleasuring me. Letting me take from him what I wanted.
And make no mistake, I wanted him.
It was important to me that Marco’s revelation about being just as vulnerable and concerned with what Elliot would think of him as a lover was out there. It’s what Elliot clings to that allows his trust in everything Marco to become absolute. It was this trust that was critical in making the scene work. Without it the whole thing would’ve been something else – something more porn/erotic. Eroticism wasn’t the point. The sex was. There is an important difference. Erotica is by nature there to titillate the reader – sex, the sex between my two main characters was put there to psychologically advance their relationship – to establish that trust that Marco was Elliot’s and Elliot was Marco’s. Nothing new from any other romance, right? Yeah, not so much – only because I knew where this was all going to go – so I had to seed this from the first time they were together. The trust had to be absolute. It had to be pervasive for the rest of the story to work. The whole series is a question of who do you trust and why. The element of safe sex (with a condom) is addressed here because it’s just the thoughtful kind of guy Marco was reared to be. But the question of youth and safe sex does percolate in the background. Boys will be boys, and given the vlogging by sex-crazed teens who post their exploits on the likes of XTube and RedTube, there is a plethora of kids out there far more sexually active and proud to post their sexploits on camera (as a matter of record, I never viewed any vlog post of anyone who appeared younger than 18 – the age of my boys in the novel – I was VERY careful about this. It may be research, but I too am sensitive to jailbait postings. But while I didn’t view them, it was clear that they were out there). The folly of youth, it seems. In any event, it was more than enough evidence to support Elliot and Marco becoming fully conversant with the ins and outs of gay sex – and messy gay sex at that.
When the moment arrived, he looked into my eyes, and he spoke of our love again – of how he knew how much trust I was putting in him. I had reason to be concerned – he was no shrinking violet. Italian Stallion didn’t begin to cover it. But there was no way I was not going to do this. With an ample gob of lube, he worked his fingers into my ass to get me used to it. I knew he didn’t have to do that, after all, he was a hormone raging teenaged boy – as was I. He could have just plowed me for all I was worth. But he didn’t. That’s not my Marco.
After a few minutes of his fingering me because we’d watched it on a porn once (exchanging charged looks between us as we did so), I told him I thought I was ready. He leaned down and we kissed very tenderly. He asked me again if I thought I was sure. He wanted me to have a way out if I was worried. No way. I was in all the way. I wanted him to take me, no matter the pain, no matter the cost. He slicked up his sizable condom sheathed cock, my eyes wide at how much of him there was. I wasn’t sure how all of him was going to fit in so little of me. But I’d remembered the porn videos about it and saw that some twinkish guys like me were able to take some massively hung men – so in theory it was possible. A part of me was inflamed with the possibility, but the more reasonable part, the part that was speaking fairly loud at this point, wasn’t so sure.
He paused, unsure if we should do this. No going back. I reached down between my legs and gripped that slicked up monster cock of his and pulled him to me, letting him firmly know that we’d passed that point of no return the moment we became a couple. I wanted him to know that I was good with it. I wanted it. I wanted him.
I don’t know if he thought it would be sexy or if he was trying to distract me from that impressive cock of his, but when he pressed into me, kissing me while he was shaking it a bit with his hand as if that would get me to loosen up further, there was precious little that would have distracted me from what I was feeling. There was no denying it. It hurt. Far more than I was prepared.
At this point I knew I was deep in the mechanics of the sex the boys were going to have. This is where most erotica fails to even remotely draw me in. The mechanics are fairly well known to most people. Fucking is fucking… it may be creative, it may be damn near acrobatic in nature, but it’s still fucking. Fucking is fucking. That part didn’t concern me nearly as much as what Elliot felt during the process. Feeling the enormity of the man he loves as he takes Elliot’s virginity from him. The manner in which he moves Elliot from virgin to an adept lover happens fairly quickly – this wasn’t a mistake either NOR is it wholly impossible (drawn from real life, remember?). Elliot is a quick learner – he sort of has to be. It’s how gayboys survive in this world. We dance between our thoughts and our reality like a well-trained boxer. As with any boxer, some are better at it than others. Some are naturals, while others have to work hard at it. Elliot is closer to the latter rather than the former. He talks a good game, but he’s not as en-pointe as he likes you to believe he is. That’s important too. Having the über hot boyfriend, the man who is at the apex of their insular high school world, only serves to dull that carefully honed survival instinct that Elliot is ‘sorta’ good at. So their sex, their coming together, while it strengthens them as a couple, it also conspires to erode the foundation they both come to rely upon, the world that will eventually crumble from beneath them. But that was later – now I had to build upon their growing trust to be there for one another.
With my sharp intake of breath and a deep moan, he stopped – his eyes soft with fear, saying over and over how sorry he was – that we should stop. When he began to withdraw I found something within me clicked, I knew I didn’t want him to stop. I hooked my feet around his back and drew him forward. I was already committed to being there for him. I would endure anything for him – even if that meant enduring the pain as if he were cleaving me in two. I was determined for my body to learn of his passions and not only accommodate them, but become adept at pleasuring him. I never wanted to become so good at something as I did in that moment.
I once read somewhere online that Linda Lovelace had said that fucking John Holmes was like squatting on a telephone pole. That sister was preaching to the choir here. But he meant that much to me, so I begged him to continue, biting my lip as he pulled me to him. His next few thrusts into me burned, and I hissed – part in pain and part in a blossoming raw erotic pleasure. Then before I realized it, his fucking me caught fire, ignited an inferno of desire and then I couldn’t get enough of him. My legs had moved from being at his side to finding their way onto his shoulders as he brought our bodies together in a thunderous clap of sweat, flesh and passion. My toes curled from the largeness of his moving deep within me. I moaned – loudly. I tried to keep from calling out his name, afraid he would think he was hurting me. And he was hurting me – each time he withdrew, it hurt – hurt that he wasn’t there anymore and I needed him to be there.
He chuckled softly at my pleading for more. He picked up the pace – only because I told him I wanted it to be rougher. Before long I was demanding that he give me his all. And he did. He poured every ounce of his body strength into fucking me, and I met every thrust, hoisting my hips to meet his with a resounding clap of flesh. Panting with exertion, he asked me if I was sure I hadn’t ever done this before. For his cheekiness I clenched my ass tightly around his cock causing both of our eyes to bulge at that sensation. Hands down, that became our new favorite thing. He began begging me to bear down on him as he fucked. I was a quick learner. I could tell he was pleased.
“So good, baby. You’re so fucking beautiful. I just want to make love to you. That’s all I want to do,” he murmured as we kissed between his impassioned words. I just nodded. I was beyond words to tell him what I was feeling for him. I hoped like hell he saw it in my eyes.
Without much in the way of warning he leaned forward and bit down on that tendon from my neck to my right shoulder as he continued to take me. His teeth gripped that piece of flesh, rasping his tongue against it – the pull upon my skin burned while he fucked me with reckless abandon. I was in heaven. I was shuddering with how deeply he burnished his way into me. I was on fire. I didn’t want him to stop; I wanted that burn to consume me. I found I would always want him this way. There was no going back. I could feel him sucking very hard upon that tendon. I knew he was leaving a mark. Marking me – making me as his own. I’d wear that proudly. I was putting the world on notice: I was Marco Sforza’s. That put an extra spark in our fucking that had me abandoning any pretense of being quiet. I’d become a dirty little bad boy and I begged him to keep fucking me.
Surprisingly enough, he came after only a few seconds of my dirty talk. Leaning forward so our foreheads touched, he giggled and told me I got him so hot when I said those dirty things to him. I felt sort of cheesy saying them – like I was some sexy porn star, but fuck, he was doing me good and it just seemed to spill out without much thought on my part. I told him if he fucked me like that I’d always remember to do that for him. He smiled as we kissed. I felt him wane a bit, though never really slipping from me, but as the kiss blossomed in the afterglow his cock stirred to life and we went for another round right on the spot, laughing as we did so. Ever laugh while you fuck? I can tell you now, I highly recommend it.
Marco and Elliot are one. Their relationship on more solid ground than ever before. Elliot is confident in what they are to each other – insofar as he’ll allow himself, that is. He still grapples with why Marco wants him. He can’t reconcile that with the boy he’s stared at in the mirror each morning. He’s skinny (though not really – body image issues – another gayboy foible), he’s average looking (he’s not – image issues again), he’s boring and nothing special (he’s a brilliant singer and a great graphic artist), and for the life of him he doubts that Marco will be around for the long haul. This too was the impetus for the work. Gay men always carry a degree of doubt when they find a potential mate. All the love in the world is a wonderful thing to have, but there’s always the chance that it’s purely transitory. A wisp of the real thing. Nothing to cling to.
Only Elliot will come to learn that Marco is, if anything, a man of his word. When he tells Elliot that he is the one for him, he means just that. It is a promise and a binding that will be tested as the story progresses. Each time I use sex in the story, while I don’t pull punches in it (the boys get into some very messy and involved cum play – it’s just their thing and with that safe sex definitely goes out the window – but they are exclusive to one another so they think they are safe) I don’t want to use it for the sake of sex.
Eh, what would a drama infused story be if everyone were safe? Thankfully, the manner of sex is the least troubling for the boys of Mercy, but sex is an important tool, a device I employ to color ALL of the characters of Angels.
Sex sells. I just made sure that when I use it – it advances not only the story as a whole, but the characters as well. Sex may sell, but it doesn’t have to equate to a sell out.
So I know it’s been a while.
Life inserted itself fully. There was work to be done. There was more writing and editing. Honestly, I don’t know what I am doing most of the time. I know what I like and I write to that. It’s a contemplative and fairly lonely existence. It is not something I talk freely about. Not that I am ashamed of what I do. I’m not. Let’s be clear about that.
I think that I needed some distance from my last long winded entry. Turning 50 was much bigger than I wanted it to be. Not in the celebrations or in the thick of the moment – they were all well and good. They are what made me what I am today – a collection of experiences and moments that have molded (for better or worse) into the man I am today.
There’s the hubby, our girls, the two cats – all the hallmarks of domesticity. Yet I burn with other thoughts and ideas. I have men coming up to me (in my mind – head out of the gutter now) who have their stories to tell. They burn with it too. I try to put passion into what I do. Tweaking it here, imbuing it there.
So I heard back from a publisher yesterday (one that I had to ping several times to get ANYTHING from them – something the hubby kept asking “Do you really want to work with a group of people that you constantly have to chase down?”) The hubby has a point. I write fiction that is predominantly gay in nature – it’s what I know. It’s what I am passionate about because in a sea of how we are not like everyone else out there (the heterosexual norm) I think our voices are important enough that I can’t help but write from that perspective.
Anyway, the publisher didn’t get what I was doing. They took a pass on the material. They didn’t get that it was more of a character study than a standard cookie cutter narrative. They’re obviously looking only at the profile margin. I am not there. I never want it to be about the money. The comments back weren’t even that helpful. They were conflicted (rushed and fantastical vs. prose that broke momentum – I mean, what the fuck do you do with absurd commentary like that?). It was very evident that they didn’t even really read the material or try to understand what I was doing. It is not your standard cookie cutter formulaic m/m romantic fair. It was never intended to be that. I know it’s different – THAT’S WHAT I AM TRYING TO DO! Jesus, it was evident to me that publishers don’t have a fucking clue what the market will bear.
I have given the book to people I’ve just met – who don’t know me well enough to know what I am fully about or about what voice I am trying to put out there. In each and every case thus far I have heard how they have emotively connected with my protagonist. How his inner monologue was what pulled them in. They got it. THAT’S the audience I am after. Not some housewife who wants to be swept cursorily away on some cookie cutter adventure for a few hours on some vapid inane storyline that will be instantly forgotten the moment the last page is flipped.
I have two beta readers who have read it and both are not avid readers. Both have said that my characters stayed with them. They loved that they knew so much about them that they wrote back and said that they felt real to them. They both said that this was the first book they’ve gotten through that they actually read like a fiend to finish it. One of which hasn’t read a book in 20 years. But he read through mine like a bullet train with no signs of stopping – almost in one sitting. So there is something there. I can feel it.
Another one is a young man in Britain who I met through a LGBT support site. He’s smart, bright and funny. He’s also hard on himself. My heart goes out to him in so many ways. He embodies my main character (Elliot) in so many ways. He told me that he identified with him and that the voice is very much where his head is at and it rang true for him. He’s in his early twenties (just beyond where my main character is). But the publisher doesn’t consider the market really. They look at statistics, they look at data. And I get it that its supposed to be the business of selling. I get that it’s supposed to be about the bottom line.
My work is epically long for the standard M/M fair. I know it’s not an easy work to market. For god sake you’re inside my main characters head listening to how he processes all of the information that keeps coming his way. And he has issues – it’s what drives the drama forward. But they didn’t get that. I know they didn’t. They just aren’t seeing the work for what it is.
“And it’s only one opinion.” They said. Yeah, it is – and it’s fairly clear that they aren’t invested in finding new talent as they profess to be. They just are struggling to survive selling the same cookie cutter formula (sorry guys/gals I have bought close to 700 books from the genre – as research on what types of stories are out there) and 98.9% of it is pure schlock. It’s absolute rubbish. But they sell what sold yesterday because it’s just GOTTA sell today too. Well, guess what, eventually they will get tired of the same bland Cheerios that you’ve been spoon feeding them. And no, changing the protag from your last best seller from a fireman to a police man doesn’t count as being creative. It’s the same formula. Shake it the FUCK up, will ya? Or the genre will tank.
In short it was a waste of a very long period of time that they could’ve just piped up and owned their fuckedupness in not managing their time well (at one point they actually used deadlines looming as a reason for the delay). They are a small publishing house. If they can’t manage the deadlines they have now and I got added to the mix… see where I am going with that?
So I realized that I’ll either have to keep looking or self-pub it myself. I have author friends who self-pub. It’s not an easy path because the type of stuff I write (while it is deeply rooted in a M/M (sometimes more) relationship slant and thus carries a bit of erotic undercurrent as all relationships do) isn’t mainstream. It isn’t what I think will sell millions and millions of copies.
But is that the type of success I am looking for? I don’t know. I think I’d much rather be successful at putting out something I think is of quality but may fall by and large completely unnoticed by the masses.
I was contemplating all of this when I came upon this little posting on HuffPo Gay Voices on gay men reading 50 Shades of Grey and commenting on it. Gay boys reviewing straight porn/erotica. I thought it was something that would get me to smile a bit. Gay boys have such an aversion to anything lady part wise… so I certainly expected some giggles over that. I got it.
Now here’s the deal – what I didn’t expect was the actual lines from this world-wide bestseller to actually be as badly written as they were. It seemed very amateurish or slightly – awkward when it came to the sex that was portrayed in the book. I am sure that the context helps but the actual inner monologue that they were reading was like some fourteen year old girl was trying to describe a sexual situation.
I was stunned…
See for yourself –
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I like Neil McNeil’s stuff on YouTube. He’s clever and he’s certainly crafty in telling his amusing slices of life (from a gay man’s perspective) and it’s light, it’s funny but there’s also a thread of really bright and innovative moments where he’s pulling back the curtain on how gay men survive in this hetero-normative world we’re immersed in. I think he’s pretty fucking brilliant and I love that he’s unabashedly gay in a big way. I admire his courage and his fortitude to get his stuff out there. He believes in what he does, he’s passionate about it, he doesn’t accept that someone else may not – or rather, he is unfazed by it all.
Then I think about my musical muse for Angels of Mercy (Jay Brannan) and how he doesn’t have a big record company backing him up. He doesn’t have a marketing department or a promotional touring company to do all of his stuff. It’s just him cranking out what he does because he’s passionate about it. And his passion is infectious. It permeates wherever he is.
I need to take a page out these men’s book. They strive forward. They press when the world presses back. So I will continue to develop Angels because I believe in what I am doing. I believe in the nature of the work. I take heart that the people who have read it want to read more (it ends on a cliff hanger – which by the way I was told by a publisher that series of that nature are not really what’s selling). Yeah, that’s why sequels in film and serialized television doesn’t work. That’s why the Potter series languished in obscurity.
Elliot and Marco will see the light. Even if I have to figure it all out on my own. I may not command a huge audience from it all, but in the end they will be unabashedly mine. They will be my boys/men – telling their own stories. Why? Because they come to me in dreams – both waking and in sleep. They have things to say. They have surprises even for me.
The hubby commented that Thomas Wolfe (who wrote the hubby’s favorite book – Look Homeward Angel amongst other things) that he had to shop his masterpiece around and really didn’t understand what he wrote in its entirety until he sat down with the editor who he would continue to work with during his writing career and they discovered the absolute breadth of what he’d assembled. Even he didn’t know what was in there. He just struck a creative vein and went with it.
That’s what Elliot and Marco are to me. Life’s blood in writing. They feed me in ways I had never imagined. I have to finish their tale; I have no choice.
Will it ultimately find an audience (of any kind)? I don’t know. I may never know (hell, I’m 50 – it could take several years or decades before it finds people who get me and what I am on about). I may get recognized long after I’ve expired from this world. I may never see the success. Or it could languish for all time. But ultimately, does it matter?
I need to tell their story no matter what. That’s what matters. It’s the only thing that matters.
Elliot is a sea of conflicting emotions. He’s an out gay kid who is shy and sticks to the shadows to survive the hell that is high school. It isn’t until the brightest light from that hellish world sees him and says – you’re mine – that he has to deal what a life in the light means. It isn’t easy for him – for them both.
But then again, isn’t the work we have to strive for it worth it? Doesn’t it make the attaining and the having all the more sweeter because of it?
So I’ll press on – navigating waters I am not sure I know how to do. But I’ll press forward and figure it out. I have a brain, I have friends and family for support. What more do I need to make a go of it?
Not a damned thing…