When Worlds Collide
Writing is a funny business. And by funny, I mean peculiar.
The reason I say this is that what any given writer writes about has to come from a place of either economics (wanting to survive by your writings), passion (a story that just won’t let its author go), or as a means of vindication (having your opinion heard on a given topic – a reasoning and establishing your point of view in a debate).
But therein is where it gets peculiar (at least to my way of thinking). I am solidly in the middle camp. I write from passion. I don’t give a fuck if it’s embraced. I’d like it to be, but it is not a requirement. I’ve said this before. I am a successful writer because I complete a project. I see it through. It may not find its audience until I am well and truly gone. But it’s out there – my voice among the collective. For all time, as they say, because nothing in the internet really goes away (save a cataclysmic alien invasion that wipes out our tech in favor of their own). Right?
I recently had such an experience come to light with my works. I am writing to explore the institutionalized forms of homophobia in competitive sports – in the case of Angels of Mercy, American high school football. It’s done fairly well, given I don’t expect it to be the next Friday Night Lights or something of that sort. For one, I don’t concentrate on the hetero-centrist bullshit that permeates nearly all of literature and media out there. Jesus, how our straight counterparts are so weak that they have to have so many stories written about them. True, there is a burgeoning interest in our stories, but let’s be honest, it’s still small by comparison. Given the latest study on the GLBT impression in media – we are still in the single digits by way of exposure in the mainstream.
Part of that I lay fully at the feet of my own queer community. A large swath of queer men don’t partake of books, TV or movies that focus on our lives to really make their financial impact heard in the mainstream. And when we do have something that speaks to us, about our lives as we live them (*cough* LOOKING *cough*), it is bashed by its own community for not being representational of the whole.
“We don’t live like that. Not everyone is in the bushes looking for a hook-up.”
True on both counts. Yet, it was bashed so harshly by those of us in the queer community that now it’s gone. Now we’re relegated to tongue-in-cheek facades of Ryan Murphy’s worlds (Glee took a major leap off the cliff after the third season, American Horror Story, while great, is definitely over the top, and if AHS was out there, then Scream Queens left the planet for queer representation years before it aired). Yet with Looking gone, another of our voices became stamped out. And we did it to ourselves. Rather than engage the producers and creatives behind that show (a show I happened to have loved) it was torn apart at the seams.
What is HBO or Showtimes take away? Queer storytelling that focuses on the queer characters don’t sell. Even to our own community.
(Read that last part again, in case you missed just how cutting that is to our own stories.)
That’s beyond pathetic. It’s self-annihilation, or a fucked up internalized homophobia to the nth degree, if you ask me. Self-inflicted. How fucked up is that?
I just recently watched, with my husband, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend.
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It was a brilliant and intense queer story. It opened up so many reasons why I loved Looking as I did. It did NOT have a happy ending. It just ended – leaving you to ponder what happened next. Did the boy left behind pursue his lover to the US? Or did he just simply give up? I LOVED that. I loved the not knowing. Allowing me to decide for myself how it all ended.
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I also want to see Lilting.
Jesus, that one looks like it will emotively crush me. I live for those works. I recently watched Ben Whishaw in London Spy. That one also rattled me a great deal. It was queer storytelling that was epic in how brilliant it twist and turned on a dime. Ben Whishaw was brilliant in that work as well. I love my queer men and their simple complicated lives. I love talking to other queer men about their lives and loves and losses. They hold me spellbound. They truly do. Their stories are far more potent or powerful because they exist in the face of often monumental adversity. I admire them. They are my romance. Every single one of them. Even when we don’t agree. I still love and admire them. How could I not? They are from different mothers, but they are my brothers nonetheless.
This is partially why I rail at romance tropes. Not enough is being done to write about us as we are. It’s why I can’t write those things. Not when there is so much more to talk about. I get that it’s writing to “hope” – well, romance as a genre doesn’t have the lock on hope. It’s also why I can’t get all gushy about Disney fairy tales (though I will say I was pleasantly surprised by Maleficent). Because they’ve applied solid romantic tropes to stories that had none of that in it. Look at all the works those sweet retellings are based on – there’s none of that happy ever after in the original works. Mother Goose and Brothers Grim were outright scare monsters of fictional storytelling. Nothing short of it.
But I’m a bit off topic here.
What I wanted to get to with this post, is that the crossroads of queer fiction (or as I’d like to now call it – just plain literary fiction – because I am all about the equality) and romance. Somehow the works that take a solid look at our lives as they are get bashed because there is an automatic assumption that anything queer MUST have a HEA. Yes, there are genre and sub-genre works out there, but let’s be honest, their sales probably would do a helluva lot better if that HEA albatross wasn’t out there ready to sack any fictional work that has a queer protagonist/hero doing their damnedest to get to the last page of the story.
This came home to roost with a new reader who found my works and seemed to enjoy what I was writing. Or so I thought. I’ve since learned that no matter how much you put out there that the work is NOT romance, the prevailing winds are if it is queer then it MUST BE romance. Another reason why I rail at that genre. It’s poisoning the coffers of other works out there. I don’t fucking care if it sells. It still should not myopically mar the other stories that need to be told.
I write what I like to read, and what I like to watch. To give you context, I like heightened drama – Downton Abbey, ANYTHING by Shondaland (How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, etc), things of that nature. I like it when characters are pushed to their absolute limits of what they think they can handle. Then we get to see some real character development. Why? Because humans grow from adversity. It’s built into who we are. Whether we choose to collapse and withdraw (which is a choice) or to fight and press on. We evolve to one end of the human spectrum or another. THAT’S powerful storytelling. Safe stories with safe endings don’t provide that. They just provide the candy like feel good moment before it’s dropped and moved onto the next sweet morsel of storytelling. Police procedurals don’t interest me. Mostly because they are formulaic to a great degree. I have Sherlock (the Cumberbatch edition, if you please) that satisfies that far better than any NCIS or procedural out there. I’m a solid card carrying Cumberbitch, and proud of it!
I also come from the world of professional opera. I write operatic pieces set against the normality of life. I like watching my safe characters who, as its author, I want them to find happiness just as much as the next guy, struggle like hell to get there – whatever their HEA is (and it definitely doesn’t have to involve romance or a romantic theme). But in my worlds, as in life, none of it is guaranteed. I’ve said I am a pantser, in that I have tentpoles up that mark where I want the story to go, but I also let the characters drive the drama. Sometimes they’ve even surprised me. Actually, they surprise me a helluva lot.
So this new reader seemed to like what I was doing. But I thought, because I was careful to explain in ALL of my blurbs and marketing about the works, that they are NOT romance reads, that I was covered by that simple statement. I’ve never professed them to be romance in any stretch of the imagination. I don’t do romance. I can’t. I want to push my characters into very, VERY, uncomfortable places. I like watching them squirm and rationalize their own fucked up viewpoints, I want them to explore why they are doing what they are doing. I want my readers to see the dangers of their thinking. They are very, very specific works. Not for everyone.
But again, that is my passion. That’s what I write. Heavily influenced by my years in the opera world telling those types of stories to the masses.
I was once in the wings about to go on for the final tableau setting of Cavalleria Rusticana when one of my opera singing gay buddy besties came along side me. We loved to quietly crack jokes and goad one another backstage before we had to go on and be over the top dramatic. Keeping the balance, ya know? Humor before tragedy and all that rot. So I turned to him and said, just before the ear shattering scream one of our cast members was tasked with when the hero is killed in a duel:
“Why can’t we do a happy opera sometime?”
To which he replied:
“Who’d come to see it?”
He had a very valid point. His response is what’s guided my hand while I write what I write. I write opera. I write drama. No automatics in those works. In fact, it’s expected that shit won’t work out. That the ending will be cataclysmic and disastrous. If I can pull a rabbit out of my hat and give my characters a happy ending that works, then yay me. But I don’t do automatics. Hell, sometimes I only vaguely know how it’s going to end when I start. And even then, that ending is ALWAYS a moving target as I see it finally in my sight at the end of the work.
*Series Spoiler Alert*
Well, I asked this new reader to preview the next release – Angels of Mercy: Phoenix in the Fire. He said he’d love to read it and provide feedback. This book is dark. It’s not a happy book by any stretch of the imagination. How could it be? It is about being the victim of a very horrific beating by your boyfriend’s teammates. That is going to do a number on how you see your world, despite which avenue you choose to crawl out from that terrifying hole: to survive and become stronger (the hardest of the two) or to collapse inwardly and withdraw from everyone you know (sadly, the usual tract most take). I wanted to explore the former rather than the latter. It’s easier to implode from that sort of homophobic beat down. I wanted Elliot to climb out of that hole and find an inner strength to himself. Elliot struggles to accept the love that is freely given to him by many in his life. He thinks he’s not worth it. Many gay men have this struggle for one reason or another. I wanted to have that as part of his inner monologue.
Well, suffice to say that my new enthusiastic reader wasn’t very taken with the new book. In fact, when I asked him what he found that didn’t work (because I truly wanted to explore that) it became very clear to me he was reading it as a romance read. I tried to explain that I wasn’t writing that. It was too late. Phoenix had soured the work for him. I haven’t heard anything since my last email that tried to explain what the works truly are. Other betas advised me to leave it – to distance myself from that situation. But I’ve toiled with it in my head. It’s stuck in my craw, so to speak.
But it did point out why my ire at the romance trope exists. It is poisoning other works. The expectation that ALL stories must have romance tropic happy endings is destroying proper storytelling. It is also setting expectations out there for works that are nowhere near that form of writing.
I don’t do romance. I probably never will. I write us as we are.
There. I’ve stated it once again. Not that anyone is really paying any attention. Those tropic bullshit expectations will still be there. I’ll still rail against them and flip them the big ol’ bird and purposefully write darker works that put a magnifying glass on our community as we are just to spite those Disneyesque saccharine laden pieces of fiction.
I write drama. Operatic drama. Period. Deal with it, or move on. I’ll continue to write either way.
Until Next Time …
The Pen IS Mightier …
Truly. Who knew? I always thought that was a cliché. Guess not. That shit’s for realz, y’all!
So here’s the dealio … I’ve started this thing over a the Violet Quill Redux, another blog site. Yeah, I know, I KNOW. I barely keep up with this one. But ya see, this blog site is very different. It’s my blank canvas for a new work I am starting to form. This one is very close to the bone. So close that it’s about me. My life – with all it’s beauty, and inherent warts, too.
Totes Clamath Boy.
And that’s the scary part – the whimsy of it all.
I’m really bearing my soul here. Artistic endeavors aside, this is the real deal, kids: a no-holds-barred, unflinching look at where I’ve been and what I’ve done.
Make no mistake, this is terrifying. It’s also rather liberating. I find that I am resonating with readers, too. I’ve already had more than one person pull me aside (either through email or private message or what have you) and tell me things about their own lives, how what I wrote pulled memories almost forgotten or set aside from their darkened pasts.
Truly epic and deeply felt stories have been brought to me. So it seems I’ve struck a nerve.
But as with all things when it comes to my writings, I think this one will be a slow burn. I think it’ll catch fire though. I’ve led a colorful life. Well, let’s put it this way, there are some thing’s in my past I’ve had to quietly research to see if legal statutes of limitations still apply or not. Yeah, I wasn’t always the good guy I made myself out to be. Love, or rather lust, can make you do some very stupid shit. Sex was the greatest form of self-expression in my youth. I suppose for most gayboys that’s a very true statement. Sex is pure pleasure in our worlds.
But way I figure it, why not put it out there? There are Reddit exposés being released all the time that catch fire. So why not mine, eh?
What good is living all this stuff if you can’t relay it all?
I mean, how many of us live, love and die and our histories are lost the moment we take our last breath? Sure some family members or friends might recount some odd exploit of yours, but really, the bulk of your life fades away, doesn’t it? Those smaller details of every damned thing you’ve gone through simply slip into the ether. But it doesn’t have to, that’s the thing. You just gotta have the courage of your convictions (as they say) to get it out there.
I found I can’t have that; the losing myself to the ether after I am gone. I know I am not a celebrity. Yet, I’ve spent a fair amount of time on the stage as a professional actor and classically trained singer, so I’ve had my time in the sun where that’s concerned. But why not a “common man” tale? I think I am worthy of relating to. Might give some insight for those who aren’t queer to see what it’s like from the inside. But I realized that my thoughts, my impressions and perceptions will be lost the moment I let go of this mortal coil, as it were.
Who will speak for me then? I will, that’s who.
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And I’ve had rocky parts to my life, too. It hasn’t all been a bed of roses, ya know. Not by a bloody long shot, actually. Let’s just say that a few times I didn’t know if I’d make it out in one piece. I’ve been quite lucky. Probably why I haven’t won the lottery. I think I used up all my luck on my fool-hearty twenties and have now lived to tell the tale, as it were.
But that’s part of the challenge, isn’t it? To face what I’ve accomplished, what I’ve failed, where I’ve gone along with, who I’ve done. Make no mistake, and it’s not like you haven’t heard it before, but sex sells.
I just need to put it all out there – to write it all down. They’re not chronological in how they’re presented over on VQR. They need to waffle up from the pit of my belly and demand their time in the sun. Hedonistic weekends that I have to not only face, but write about or else none of it is worth putting out there. I can’t hide from it this time. I have to detail it all.
Because I am truly embracing my queerness. I am totally reclaiming what that means for myself. My life is queer. Those jocks who teased me back in high school were 110% correct. I am queer. But what I didn’t get, what I was too naive and green to see, was that I shouldn’t be shamed by it. I needed to embrace it. To take hold and ride that bitch into the night.
The thing is, it’s going to hit a fair number of people I know. No man is an island, as they say. Truer words and all that rot. I don’t think most of my friends and family realize that. I mean, it’s not going to be loaded with salacious tidbits of stuff left and right with them. They’re my friends and family. But I led a double-life back then. One way with them, another when I was alone or with my then boyfriend. My twenties and early thirties were somewhat of a voracious sexual rompfest. I was careless, I was brash and unthinking. And I was extremely lucky. But before anyone goes off the deep end with rantings about “self love” and “self respect” – fuck off, will ya? This is MY queer life, not yours. Yes, to a great degree while I didn’t go running off into the night to mimic Rechy’s characters in The Sexual Outlaw, or Numbers, while I was a teenager, I did my fair share of it in my twenties. Two completely different aspects to myself. One the loyal, front and center kind of friend and family member, the other? Yeah, let’s just say I’m amazed beyond belief I am still standing here. With a negative HIV status, no less. ‘Cause muthafucking shit got wild. A form of Russian Roulette that I some how came out unscathed on the other side.
But that’s the thing, I’ve got to put it all down. What was totally euphoric as well as the horrific. I’ve certainly had both. And great heaping spoonfuls of it, too.
And I’ll tell ya this much: I’ve never felt more alive then when I am writing out my past. It’s like a character in my book, like Elliot Donahey or Marco Sforza in Angels of Mercy, except I know this guy intimately. He can’t hide from me, because he is me.
There’s a part of me that is grateful that I severed my ties with my birth name entity across social media. Now only SA Collins exists. I’ve killed the other me. He’s history, well, as much as anyone can be in this day and age. Nothing ever truly disappears when it’s been on the net does it? But in that, he lives on in the posts on Violet Quill Redux.
But that’s cool, too. It’s definitely going to be interesting, that’s for dayum sure!
Scared (’cause Mom’s gonna read this shit).
But feelin’ so fucking alive …
Until next time –