Jonathan Franzen Discussing Tennessee Williams and Living in St. Louis

Although I probably shouldn’t be, I am, in fact, a fan of Jonathan Franzen’s work. In this youtube clip, at the bottom of the post, he explains why I probably shouldn’t be a fan. When they discuss Tennessee Williams, and the fact that Williams was also from St. Louis, it shows a distinction between the mind-set of the gay male author and the straight male author. Franzen writes about St. Louis and speaks of it with mostly fond memories, where Williams never wrote about St. Louis and actually refused…so they say…to even be buried there. And even though no one can be sure, it’s suggested that Williams didn’t have the same fond memories of St. Louis as Franzen because he was gay. I mention both Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote in this previous post and what Franzen says in this interview helps back me up.

In this respect, I couldn’t agree more with Franzen on Tennessee Williams. Nowadays St. Louis is just as gay friendly as most places in America. I have a gay nephew who lives and works at Washington University and he loves St. Louis. But I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for a gay man living there forty or fifty years ago. From what I hear, it wasn’t even that great in New York. But at least in New York there was a strong underground gay community to help gay men like Williams survive.

But I am, however, still a huge fan of both Franzen and Williams. Because for me…and this might be generational…I find good fiction fascinating enough to love all fiction writers as long as they write well. I’ve been holding off sending book reviewer, Elisa Rolle, a list of my favorite authors because I don’t make distinctions about whether authors are gay or straight. And my list, without apology, doesn’t just consist of gay authors and m/m fiction. In this case, Franzen writes so well I couldn’t care less who he sleeps with (though, he is kind of cute in that book-ish way). I also like the fact that Franzen made the distinction between his work and Williams’ work so openly. A lot of authors, gay or straight, would have just brushed over it without making any important statements at all for fear of saying anything…heaven forbid…politically incorrect. As far as his being an elitist goes, I just don’t buy it.

The only area where I disagree with Franzen is this quote I read on wiki:
Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page. …But this is just a stylistic preference and one of those writing ticks all authors have been aruging about since the beginning of time.

If Truman Capote Were Just Starting Out Today…

It’s no secret that in the past two years I’ve written a lot of m/m romance novels with storylines that have been based on either classic m/f romances or popular romance films with m/f characters. I didn’t do this because because I’m a huge fan of fanfic. I did it because the lgbt community has been so starved for anything pop culture related I wanted to give them a sense of what the straight community often takes for granted. The simple things, like being able to walk down the street and hold hands, or kissing good-bye at the airport. Believe it or not, in spite of what we see in TV shows like Modern Family, most gay couples don’t show any affection in public because they fear they are going to be ridiculed…if not bullied.

When I wrote THE VIRGIN BILLIONAIRE, I decided to revolve the storyline around Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I wanted to do it with a contemporary take, and with two gay men as the main characters. In his day, Truman Capote was one of the most flamboyant gay men around…although I’m not sure if he ever actually admitted this openly. I’ve read his bios and his novels, and there’s always a hint of homosexuality, but never anything distinct. It’s the same with work that was written by Tennessee Williams, another gay writer who wrote mostly straight characters, with homosexual overtones.

But in Truman Capote’s day and age, writing gay fiction would have been author suicide. He may have found a small cult following, but in a general sense he would have been rejected by every agent and publisher in the world if he’d queried them with a gay version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He probably would have been laughed at and mocked. And I often wonder what writers like Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams would have been writing today. For all I know, maybe they’d still be writing straight fiction for a mainstream audience. Though a lot has changed since their time, certain things have continued to remain the same. If you look at the mainstream bestseller lists, there aren’t many lgbt oriented books. But I’d like to think they might have found an audience on some level with lgbt fiction. And I certainly would have enjoyed reading their works.