Month: December 2010

Cheers!

I found a great web site with all kinds of quotations to start the new year off. Below is an anonymous quote, and the link to the site is here.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe New Year’s Eve.

To Start A New Year. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Anonymous
“A new year is unfolding—like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.
Lord, let this year be filled with the things that are truly good—with the comfort of warmth in our relationships, with the strength to help those who need our help and the humility and openness to accept help from others.
As we make our resolutions for the year ahead, let us go forward with great hope that all things can be possible—with Your help and guidance.”

Will Indie and LGBT Bookstores Survive?

I often post about how things used to be for the lgbt community. Just yesterday, in the post below this, I talked about how I personally craved reading m/m romance when I was younger and wished there was more of a selection. But I’ve never discussed my own thoughts on indie bookstores and lgbt bookstores, or the way things have changed in the last ten years or so.

I’m lucky to have grown up in an area where I had access to both New York City and Philadelphia. As soon as I was old enough, I headed directly to small indie bookstores in both cities to fill my need for both entertainment and knowledge. And though I rarely ever found novels that satisfied my taste for m/m romance, at least I had exposure to lgbt books in a general sense.

After college, I worked for Conde Nast for a few years as an associate editor. But I wanted to write fiction and knew I never would if I spent most of my days editing the work of other writers. So I moved to touristy New Hope, PA, where I still reside, and opened an art gallery, which gave me the freedom to write fiction part time. At the time, which wasn’t that long ago, there were at least three different small indie bookstores in town that catered to the lgbt community. Now there is one, and it’s not even lgbt oriented. (There were also three gay bars/restaurants in town; now there is one, barely hanging on.)The shop next to my gallery was a lesbian bookstore, owned by a wonderful woman who passed away about seven years ago. But even back in the l990’s indie bookstores were having problems surviving. The owner of the lesbian bookstore next door to me was always complaining about how bad business was. The large chain stores had started popping up by then and the small stores simply couldn’t compete with them.

After the large chain stores started giving indie lgbt bookstores huge competition, the Internet came along and created even more havoc. And now, with e-books becoming more popular every day, I’ve heard about all indie bookstores (and not just lgbt stores) closing up left and right. In Philadelphia, the gay bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, just announced it will be selling e-books, which I think it a very smart move.

These days, thankfully, as a gay man I don’t feel the need to be separate from the mainstream anymore. It’s nice to have lgbt oriented businesses, and I always support them, but I don’t think the same way I did ten or fifteen years ago. When it comes to my own reading list, I don’t have time to drive to New York or Philadelphia anymore just to go book shopping. I read only e-books now, on an e-reader, and I buy them at places like amazon, allromanceebooks, and fictionwise. And I love oneromanceebooks. This doesn’t just pretain to books; it spills over into other areas of my life as well. Due to lack to time, and some serious deadlines this holiday season, I did a great deal of Christmas shopping on amazon. And I was happy with the results. Everything arrived on time, I didn’t have to drive around and waste precious energy with gasoline, and I didn’t have to stress out with Christmas shopping crowds. Though I’ve learned not to pay attention to amazon product reviews (I’ll post about this soon; most product reviews are just plain dumb), I’ve been happy with amazon in general.

So if there’s a plausible way for indie and lgbt bookstores to survive, I hope they find it. If selling e-books in retail bookstores does the trick, I couldn’t be happier. I’ll be in Philadelphia next month and, as usual, I’ll make a point of stopping by Giovanni’s Room to buy something. I still love small bookstores and I truly hope they stick around.

New Release: BIG BAD AND ON TOP

BIG BAD AND ON TOP is a book about two gay men in the military who find each other, fall in love, and have to deal with their furtive situation. The live in fear they will be discovered, and sneak around so no one will find out about their relationship. It’s loosely based on the old movie, Top Gun, with Tom Cruise. And, once again, I didn’t write it as fan fiction. Personally, I didn’t even like the film when I first saw it. If anything, my book is more like anti-fan fiction. And because the main characters are two gay men in the military during DADT, the characters in this book, not to mention the ending of the book, don’t follow the original storyline of the film.

Growing up when movies and books like Top Gun were released in the mainstream, I would have killed to have had something I could identify with. And there was nothing but the same old arty, over-written, gay fiction that satisfied a small sub-culture of the lgbt culture. The books I read about gays were elitist and far too political, with creepy titles and long drawn out narrative, and I couldn’t identify with any of the characters. The books I read in the mainstream never went near the topic of gay men, so I couldn’t identify there either. (This is one of the reasons I love Toni Morrison’s books so much…though I couldn’t identify with characters of African descent, I could identify with oppressed characters.) But if there had been a book like BIG BAD TOP GUY I would have read it for sheer pleasure. To feel good and to be entertained without having to think too hard. And sometimes that’s what reading is supposed to be all about.

Still Reading Toni Morrison…

Actually, I just re-read Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE. I read it back in the late 80’s, and wanted to go back and revisit the characters this winter. It’s probably the book that has had the most impact on me both personally and professionally.

Right now I’m in the middle of BELOVED, and then I’m moving forward with JAZZ. But I wanted to post something a lot of people may or may not know about. It was something that I didn’t know about until I read BELOVED. Morrison describes the use of an iron bit as a torture device used for slaves. Though it’s painful to read, not to mention comprehend that human beings would ever do something like this, I think it’s important to know.

Below is an excerpt from a web site that goes into far more detail.

Morrison writes candidly of “the iron bit” (70) in describing Paul D’s slave experience, and carefully details the horrific nature of its use as a torture device. Marilyn Sanders Mobley writes of Paul’s “personal stories of enduring a “bit” (69) in his mouth – the barbaric symbol of silence and oppression,” (196) outlining the item’s cold, constraining capabilities. Morrison uses the symbol of the bit, carefully woven into the novel’s interchange between Sethe and Paul D, to represent Paul D’s slave experience, and, taken on an allegorical level, to represent also the slave experience in general. Her introduction of the bit into Paul’s “rememories” ushers in comment on the iron’s structural qualities, i.e. “how offended the tongue is, held down by iron,” (71) indicating the metal’s constraining, unyielding nature. The author’s inclusion of rich imagery in explaining the bit to the reader aids in delineating the iron’s less obvious characteristics aforementioned. She writes of “The wildness that shot up into the eye the moment the lips were yanked back,” (71) a reminder of the metal’s unyielding, thoroughly rigid conformation and related effects. Immediately following, Morrison affirms “Days after it was taken out, goose fat was rubbed on the corners of the mouth but nothing to soothe the tongue or take the wildness out of the eye,” (71) thus reinforcing the concept of metal’s hard, unyielding nature. Essentially, the metal symbol of the bit becomes the slave experience through the shared characteristics of metal. Rigidity of the slave experience, represented by the metal in the bit, with Paul’s “own mouth jammed full of iron” (96) earns its own symbolic explication, as does slavery’s physical and mental constraint, itself discussed by Trudier Harris as “confining them in bits” (330). Even more importantly, the context of Paul’s “licking iron” (72) generates the symbol’s analogous context with slavery, as Paul literally cannot speak to Halle, whom he discovers freshly delusional as a result of witnessing Sethe’s rape. The animalistic nature of slavery reveals itself in the metal bit’s confining nature, with Paul kept from communication with his friend and forced into inhuman silence by the rigidity of the cold metal. The bit renders Paul incapable of sharing his friend’s grief, itself brought about by the nephews of schoolteacher, themselves representative of slavery.

Read More…

New Release: BIG, BAD, and on TOP

Here’s a sneak peak at the new cover for BIG, BAD, and on TOP. I’ll post more about it this week when it’s released, but I wanted to share the cover right now. It’s a little more risque than my other RR book covers. But to be perfectly honest, I like readers to know what they are getting. This is, in fact, an erotic romance and I don’t want readers thinking otherwise. The romance is there, with a happy ending, but it’s not pg rated. And, again, if anyone has any questions about the book, please feel free to e-mail me and I’ll answer any questions you have. We now have all this communication and it’s nice to take advantage of it.

How Real Should Gay Fiction Be?

A friend of mine who is just starting out in the gay fiction genre e-mailed me last week about a review he’d received on goodreads.com. This is his first book, and probably his first bad review. (Seriously, it wasn’t pretty at all.) And let’s face it, all authors who have been around for a while know and expect at least several scathing reader reviews on web sites like goodreads.com. This falls under the category of you just can’t please everyone no matter how hard you try. And sometimes it also falls under the category of what can I learn from the comments in this review as an author.

I tried to explain this to my friend, to help him understand there’s nothing an author can do to avoid receiving scathing reviews. I told him one thing that always helps is to check out the reviews for well sold mainstream fiction authors, like John Irving and Anne Tyler, and read how a few readers have trashed their books. Because if someone has a problem with books that the majority of the public loves…especially Pulitzer Prize winning books…there’s usually a problem with that particular reader, not the book or the author.

But when my friend explained to me that he was mostly upset about how this particular reader reacted to his portrayal of gay men in relationships, and the dynamics and the way gay men relate to each other, I wasn’t sure what to tell him. He said the review questioned his personal experience as a gay man, and he said the reader who gave him the review was a woman who reads gay fiction as a hobby. And rather than read with an open mind about what it’s really like to be gay, she trashed his book because she wanted some type of fantasy about what she thinks being gay is supposed to be like. Again, I was at a loss for words.

My friend was also insulted, on a social and a political level. He said no one would ever dare to question the experiences of any other author writing about the experiences of a specific minority. And I told him he wasn’t totally correct. Though readers seem more comfortable attacking the lgbt experience, other minority authors experience the same thing from time to time. I have, indeed, seen a prolific author who writes about the Asian experience, from his own personal background, and readers actually had the audacity to question his personal experiences. I’ve read mean reviews that said his book wasn’t authentic, and these reviews were written by people who probably know very little about Asian culture.

Ultimately, my friend wanted to know how real gay fiction should be. And there’s only one way to answer that: you do what you think is best, based on your own personal experiences and from observing the experiences of other gay people you know. In fiction, there’s a certain amount of fantasy and poetic license you can get away with, but the basics have to be authentic. Nine out of ten readers will get it and thank you for it. And that one lone reader who writes a snarky review won’t be taken seriously. If anything, from what I’ve observed by reading countless numbers of reviews for books in varying genres, that one lone reviewer usually winds up looking like an amateur.