2007

Music and Fiction: The Vegas Shark; You Are My Sunshine

I often use music in fiction to show how characters relate to events and situations around them. I don’t always do it because it’s not always needed. In The Virgin Billionaire I used a web site to show how Luis feels about great art and artistic male nudes. But I used rap music in Four Gay Weddings and a Funeral to show that some gay men…me…like rap music and don’t like torch songs and show tunes. I’m doing it again now with The Silicon Valley Sex Scandal, which I’ll post about soon.

In any event, most writers use music in fiction sometimes to make a point or to show something about a character. Music is fundamental to all of our lives and readers can relate to this. The trick is to not become too self-indulgent. In other words, if I were to write a novel like Four Gay Weddings and a Funeral and I were to give a detailed playlist that went along with the novel with all my favorite rap songs I might come off as self-indulgent and amateur…or unhinged. I think it would be overkill, unless the book is all about rap musicians.

The one time I’ve used music more often than not was in The Vegas Shark. The main character, Treston, truly has a love for life, he believes in all that is wonderful and good, and he’s always making the best out of a bad situation…in spite of always getting knocked down each time. He gets right back up and continues through life as if there’s a miracle around the next corner. There’s nothing he won’t do for the man he loves. He is the most positive character I’ve ever written, and the most vulnerable as a result. And one of the things that helps get him through life is the old song You Are My Sunshine. It was something from a childhood that most of us can’t even imagine.

I won’t give out any spoilers, but I can say this about The Vegas Shark. I don’t always write books that have moments that will bring readers to tears. It just doesn’t always work that way for me. But on those occasions when I have books like that, and I’m brought to tears while I’m writing the book, I know it’s going to work. It can’t be forced. If I’m not feeling it the reader won’t feel it. In this case, at the end of The Vegas Shark there is one scene that brought me to tears the moment I started writing it. It’s at the very end and it has something to do with the song, You Are My Sunshine.

And this time I planned it. I think I’ve posted about this before, but just in case I didn’t I’ll repeat it. When my partner, Tony, was on life support in the hospital six years ago I bought him a felt sunflower. The entire thing was felt…the brown fake pot, the green stem, the yellow sunflower itself. It looks a little like the one in the photo above, but not exactly. And when you pushed a small button at the bottom, a music box started to play You Are My Sunshine. I’d never seen anything like it before and I bought it without even asking the price. When I got to the hospital and played it for Tony it was one of the first times I knew he was going to recover just by the smile on his face. And you should have seen the nurses have fun with it. It was an interesting summer, 2007, and I’ll have to post about the praying hands sometimes in the future. One publisher has been asking me about a memoir of that year, and I’ve been putting it off because it still too soon to write about it.

If anyone would ever like to purchase one, here’s a link I found. I got mine at a small local gift shop. But they aren’t easy to find. And trust me, they will put a smile on anyone’s face. It’s like a kitten: you just can’t be depressed around one of these things.

The photo below is the actual flower I bought six years ago. This is one of those times when I realize that I have to get my act together with webcams. I would love to have shown what it really sounds like.

An Older Article About Why Straight People Don’t Read Gay Books

Sometimes I find it interesting to go back a few years and read articles and blog posts to see how things have changed in publishing. In this case, I think a great deal has changed.

The article to which I’m linking dates back to May, 2007. I’ve always thought of the year 2007 as being a pivotal point in publishing in general. Little things began to happen that triggered a string of events that would change publishing forever. And we didn’t know it at the time.

I remember well because I was there. In 2007 established publishing professionals laughed at e-publishing, and self-publishing was still considered vanity publishing and no one would even admit to doing it. In 2007 there were blogs written by literary agents and editors for large publishing houses that were considered the best places to get information about publishing, if not the only places. That’s the year anonymous blogger Miss Snark reached her peak and then vanished into cyberspace and left her dedicated readership shocked and saddened. That’s also the same year a publishing professional told me e-books would never be more than a half a per cent of the book market. I even remember that iUniverse was the place to self-publish if that’s what you wanted to do and take the chance of being laughed at. And the only means of hope for an author was the never ending query process…a flawed process in my opinion where some agents in 2007 still refused to entertain digital queries and insisted on snail mail queries.

And now a handful of literary agent blogs remain, Miss Snark is a distant memory, and self-published books are making some authors very rich…some are also making a decent living on self-published books. I know people are still querying agents, but not as much as they used to. But more than that, literary agents are starting their own digital services, the very thing many (not all) scorned five years earlier.

So some things have changed. In fact, with more and more people calling for less anonymity, I think if anonymous Miss Snark were still around she/he would have been outed and exposed. I think that’s because the Internet is becoming more professional and people are taking it seriously now more than ever. Amateur anonymity like Miss Snark’s can be entertaining and enjoyable (it was very entertaining at the time), but a lot of people who are tired of sockpuppets and Internet fakes are not willing to put up with the same things they did five years ago. And the goal seems to be make it more professional. I’ve been wanting to do youtube readings for my books and putting it off because I know it’s going to cost me to hire a professional. I won’t do it with an iPhone and a dream. I want it to be professionally done. Something like this might not help sell books, but it will be on the Internet forever and I don’t want to come off looking like Lucy and Ethel selling Aunt Martha’s homemade salad dressing in the 1950’s. (I plan to write a post about this soon.) There’s nothing wrong with amateur videos. Some are very clever. I just don’t want one of me turning up in the future where I’m wearing bad clothes and sitting slumped over.

When I found this article, “Why Don’t Straight People Read Gay Books?” I had to smile while I read it. This is the way many people thought five years ago:

As a gay man, I actually read very little “gay literature”. There isn’t that much gay lit published these days, especially since the demise of Gay Men’s Press, and anyway I consider myself a citizen of the world, not a member of some exclusive fragment of society called the gay community.

It’s a very good article. The author goes on to explain why he writes gay fiction and how his gay experiences motivate and inspire him. Then he talks about how frustrating it is when his books are received this way:

I first started to realise that heterosexuals were less interested, less open to, or perhaps even embarrassed by my world when a close friend declined to read my book. “Well,” he said simply, “I’m not gay.”

In this respect I think a lot has changed since 2007. Some things are still the same, I can back that up through my own personal experiences in publishing. Large publishers, most literary agents, and most mainstream editors are still not interested in LGBT material. But e-publishers and indie authors who have created sub-genres that include m/m romance and gay fiction have been slowly gaining a new readership with straight people since 2007. And the sales prove that those who don’t think straight people are interested in reading gay books are wrong. There is a huge market for straight women and gay fiction. I’m not sure about straight men. But from what I hear they don’t read much anyway, and those who do focus more on non-fiction. On the other hand, I actually know a few straight men writing gay fiction who are doing very well.

The author of the article talked about how he was treated by the press back then:

Emails and letters aren’t answered. Review copies go missing or appear directly for sale on Amazon marketplace. Replacement review copies again go missing. Finally, when the newspapers do acknowledge receipt of the book and maybe even concede that it’s “on the potential review shelf” that’s the end of the story.

With regard to the mainstream media, I think this is still true. But in the last five years web sites that review and discuss gay fiction have popped up all over the place. There are so many I can’t list them here. Some of these web sites are owned by straight women who read gay fiction. And authors who write gay fiction have found a fan base they never knew existed. I can back that up, too. When I was told that straight women were reading gay romance and gay erotica back in 2007 I was stunned and didn’t really believe it at first. It wasn’t long after that when I started to see it was true when straight women started e-mailing me about my fiction.

At the end of the article the author asks a few very interesting questions about why straight people don’t read gay fiction:

Now there must be an explanation of this, and that explanation interests me. Are my books so popular that people steal them for home? Are straight book reviewers embarrassed to admit that they enjoyed a book containing gay characters? I really don’t know.

I could be wrong, but my take on all this is that publishing has evolved in a way that authors and smaller presses are now able to reach more people with digital books and the Internet. The gatekeepers who would never have entertained gay authors or gay books because they didn’t think they could sell them are not determining what the public reads anymore. The print publications that used to review books are disappearing one by one because no one is reading print media anymore. My last copy of Time Magazine felt like it was ten pages thick. It felt more like a newsletter than a magazine. I look at books recommended in magazines now and think,”ick.” And as publishing continues to evolve into a more reader oriented industry where a handful of select gatekeepers don’t call all the shots anymore, who knows what might happen.

In any event, please take the time to check out the link I’ve provided and read the article in full. I know what the author is saying is true because I was there and I felt the same way he did at the time.