NaNoWriMo 2014 (sort of)

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If you’re going to go back and give an existing story a second draft/rewrite then it should at least be a story you like.

I’m not going to admit that I like all my stories. In that respects I’m actually a terrible “parent” to my literary creations, because I do have my favourites that I like putting time and energy in to.

As for some of the others…

Well, there’s a damn good reason all writers have a graveyard they don’t like to talk about. You know the place I mean: The place where stories and ideas go to die. It’s a place in the back of our mind’s eye, a place – not exactly hidden – but one we rarely go to visit, because… Well, because it’s where all the dead stories are, where all the half written, unfinished prose has been lain to rest, where forgotten ideas have become overgrown with weeds and vines and are slowly vanishing from sight… Some may refer to it as a creative wasteland, others a dead-zone. For me it is, in very real sense, a graveyard. Because it’s where I lay ideas to rest that are never going to be. It’s where my unfinished stories end up.

It’s not a quiet graveyard either.

Sometimes things don’t go quietly, sometimes I have to, well, “murder” them. But only because I know deep down that they will never be, they will never go anywhere and become anything. If I do “murder” an idea or story of mine, it’s always for its own good (and for that matter, mine).

But damn it, some of them do not go quietly – sometimes they fight back. And don’t get me started on the ghosts…

Just because an idea has been laid to rest, or an unfinished story has been buried, doesn’t mean it’s going to stay forgotten. Some of them like to haunt you, remind you, tease you. And sometimes – sometimes – it’s possible to resurrect an idea/half-finished story and breathe new life into it. I’ll leave that imagery to your own imaginations (Frankenstein and Igor raising a monster story/idea from the dead… Or, a god like being literally breathing new life into it. Take your pick, or even add your own).

A story I thought I was going to bury has kind of surprised me by not being dead at all. In fact, it’s very alive (kicking, screaming and all the rest. Not sure how I missed those signs, lol).

So I’m abusing NaNo this year and writing a second draft of an existing story. In no way shape or form will I promise that it will all be brand new words. If something in the original draft is good, it’s going into the new one. For once I’m not interested in writing fifty-thousand new words – I already have that for this piece. I’m interested in improving and polishing up what is a not bad story and kneading it into a shape I am more happy with.

I know, I know… A second draft should be used to write a second take on something, a redo. Yeah, pretty much that’s what I’m doing, although I am referencing the first draft in places and copy the odd paragraph over as and when. The rest is so far new words. Which is all good.

006j1So this year for NaNo, I’m writing a second draft of a story called “Nothing Perfect” – which falls into my usual type of prose; romance. It’s about a thirty-something year old called Matthew who is a little insecure about a few things (maybe he has a right to be) and the trouble he has accepting that he can be loved for who he is.

Speaking as a disabled person myself, I find it very difficult being told that the reason my partner loves me is because of who I am. I’m a forty-three year old man who has to use a walking stick to get around, riddled with arthritis, and a fun born-with cardiac problem to boot.

Someone loves me because of that?

Riiiggghhhttt….

Ok, well I know there’s more to me than all that, it’s a part of the tapestry – not all of it (I’m not THAT screwed up, lol). But there was a time when it was hard to see past it and the idea that I was going to be alone in my life seemed very real. I drew on that somewhat last year when I started writing Matthew’s story. Although the big difference between myself and Matthew is that I was born with my problems; his disability came via a car accident. There are a lot of other difference as well, but the point is: I had fun writing it. There was a large element of comedy (believe me, taking socks off when you’re trying to have sex can be a mood killer – trying to take a leg brace off?). I had some fun with it.

In fact, “Nothing Perfect” burned so bright in my creative eye last year that I didn’t wait for November to come round. I didn’t want to wait for NaNo to start it, so I started at the end of September 2013. “Nothing Perfect” became a sort of NotNaNo project and led to an almost melt-down about the way people were doing NaNo, and why should I wait if I have a good idea now.

So having had a crap few months with my health, and having been “told” (does being yelled at count?) to do it this year – what the hell, why not give this story a second take and see what more I can do with it.

In fact, as some of the more keen eyed of you might have spotted with my use of tense I’ve already started… No don’t shoot me, or ask “what the fuck James?” As I’ve already said, the NaNo format is a good one, but not the only one. I am a disabled person with a limit on how much time I can spend in front of a keyboard, so doing it over forty days rather than thirty days is something I can achieve. If I stick to the letter of how to do NaNo, I’m screwed, because I can’t cope with that much typing in one day.

It’s a fine format, but you have to adapt to fit your ability. In 2009 when I first took part, it was no problem. Things have changed. Hell, this journal took me two days to write.

NaNo purists will argue that what I am doing is far removed from what NaNoWriMo is supposed to be.

Fine.

But, you know what? I seriously don’t care. I know far too many people who are doing something similar this year. Hell, the ML for my own region is abusing the format to finish his NaNo novel from last year. So I guess I’m in good company.

So, there you go. My cards are on the table. Who’s going to call me on them?

;)

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PS: My NaNoWriMo profile can be found by clicking here -> LINK

PPS: Please, please, please don’t leap all over my “confession” regarding my health. It’s a part of the tapestry, a few threads – not all of it. There is so much more to me, like the artwork heading this blog, and my NaNo cover-art (my handy work) ;) Those are things I prefer to talk about.

To NaNo, or not to NaNo…

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NaNo 2014

If you used to follow my ramblings on DeviantART, you’ll know that last year (2013) I had something of a melt down with regards to NaNo – aka NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I went as far as deleting my NaNo and Camp NaNo accounts.

My beef with NaNo was not what it stands for, or what it encourages people to do; but rather that regular participants can end up stuck in the mind-set that they only need to focus on writing once a year (or however many times a year NaNo is now running), and do it just for NaNo.

Of course that’s missing the point of what the event is actually about. It’s supposed to encourage people to write, not be the be all and end all of formats for doing so. The NaNo format, 50,000 words written in 30 days, is a damn good one. It helps to focus people’s minds on what they are doing. The target of 1,667 words a day isn’t actually that much when you break it down, but it does add up over time.

But

It should not be the only format that you follow as a budding writer.

If you’ve never written a long piece of prose before, then I encourage you whole heartedly to sign up and take part in NaNo, I encourage you to challenge yourself into writing something new, something longer, than you would normally.

But if your story only ends up being 40,000 words long once complete, you’ve not failed. That 40,000 word complete novella is your masterpiece and something you should be proud of having achieved. And hey, if you do hit, or go beyond the 50,000 word mark; that’s good too.

But if you don’t finish, if you find the format too much, if you find 1,667 words a day – or setting aside only 30 days to write your novel is not enough – or that your story idea didn’t have 50,000 words in it… That’s ok too. Because you’ve learned something from taking part.

And that, I think, is the biggest lesson we as individual writers need to learn very early on; writers are individuals and have individual ways of writing. You need to find a system/format(/whatever you want to call it) that works for you and not be frightened to adapt formats if you need to. We also need to accept that some stories, no matter how we spin them, are not novel length, but work better as novellas or even just as short stories.

So that brings me back to my question: To NaNo, or not to NaNo… I’ve kind of been “encouraged” (ie kicked up the backside by the other-half and told to do it).

I have plenty of ideas that would love the chance of a first draft. I have a few first drafts that could do with a second draft. And I also have plenty of unfinished stories as well…

So… I’m going to (more than likely) abuse the NaNoWriMo format and write a second draft of an existing story of mine. Yeah, I know… I know… You’re supposed to write something new. But I don’t feel like doing that. I feel the need to work on an existing piece and have another go at it. In fact… Ok, no point in beating around the bush, that’s exactly what I’m going to do; work on a second draft of an existing story.

You know what? I don’t actually care if people think what I’m doing is wrong either. If NaNoWriMo is about anything, it’s getting to people to write – and that’s exactly what I will be doing; writing ;)

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PS: My (new) participants page on NaNoWriMo -> link if you feel so inclined to have a look.

PPS: I guess my next blog will about my NaNo project. Sunday (as in tomorrow) sound good to you my follows for that one? Cause that’s when it’s likely to be ;)

I’m back. No really, I am…

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I’m going to have to say humbug.

Why?

Because in spite of my last proper post (link), I’ve ended up spending more time away from my PC than I planned because of one illness followed by another.

*sigh*

In last month alone I’ve been hospitalised with a major chest infection, only to get home and three days later end up rushing back because of a soft tissue infection in my leg (cellulitis for those interested).

So once again, let me say: *sigh*

2014 is certainly going to go down in my personal history as unhealthy one. No idea why this year should be any different. Maybe it’s just things catching up with me. Or maybe it’s plain old bad luck.

Either way I am back. No really, I am… If you hang on for a moment I’ll prove how back I am with another journal…

8 Steps All Writers Follow When They Edit

James Snaith:

Useful tips and ideas for all us writers!

Originally posted on WordDreams...:

Every author has a different approach to writing. I know this because I read Rebecca Bradley’s wonderful series on how writers do their thing. Each author she spotlights adds a personal twist that intrigues me.

Not so surprisingly, no one’s approach is like mine. Here’s how I write a novel:

  •  Draft out events for the novel in a spreadsheet program like Excel. This gives me room to add columns and rows with new information, new ideas, notes to track an event through the story. Here’s what my spreadsheet for my latest WIP looks like:

plot with Excel

  • JK Rowling’s is low-tech, but still an obvious spreadsheet:

jk rowlings plot

  • Convert the draft to a word processing program like MS Word. Mine is usually 70+ pages.
  • Add details about timing, setting, characters, clothing, transitions, chapter breaks.
  • Start at the beginning and read for flow, timing, pacing. Edit diligently. I do this a day at a time. I…

View original 527 more words

Restored, repaired – and perhaps renewed…

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It’s been a fair few weeks since my last journal entry. Ok, months is a little more accurate. Silence can be a powerful thing – and like any void (seems as good a term as any); it tends to be filled up with things that have nothing to do with why such a “void” came to exist in the first place.

My “silence” on here (and in other places) comes down to two things; physical and mental.

The physical is simple; when I was younger my mind/body/hands suffered a lot of abuse, breaks, strains and… Well, life should just about cover it. You name it, I did it, or it was done to me when I was younger. The marks and scars on them are a story unto themselves, (one that I don’t need to dwell on), and there are consequences to that entire story… I’ve ignored them all, foolishly, and nearly crippled myself in the process. I had to stop and get it sorted out, I had to stop ignoring what was going on. Physio, pain medication, splints, surgeries… And of course the nastiest one of all; rest. I’m a writer, so I need to look after my tools better – and that means looking after my hands and not ignoring the problems with them.

And that nicely moves onto the more complicated and hard part of all this; mental.

I think I’ve been very open about the state of my mental health. I have MDD (Manic Depressive Disorder) – aka Bipolar, which I take medication for. There has been years of therapy (some not so good, some very helpful). I’m not crazy. To coin a phrase from a current comedy show “I’ve been tested” – but it’s amazing just how differently people treat/view you for a simple act of honesty. Seriously, if we never talk about these things… Well, I guess we never talk about them, and the mystic, ignorance and misinformation remains about them.

It’s a chemical disorder that affects mood and perception (keeping it simple) – it’s not contagious (although it may well be hereditary – yes mum and dad, I’m looking at you both). With the right help it can be managed – and by that, I mean it’s like any other condition that can be managed with medication and a forms of therapy. It wasn’t caused by anything, it was something I was born with (like my eye colour).

I have good days, I have bad days.

The good days… I imagine are like most other peoples good days, with the exception that I can be very, very, hyper. The bad ones… Decades of therapy and I still find it difficult to explain the darkness, how it haunts me, taunts me, follows me, drowns me at times… And my darkness was fed for a long time by a “monster” (calling them a “person” belittles the rest of humanity, “monster” is a more apt term), who had a hand – pun intended – in what happened to m when I was younger. (And children, I can tell you that story had a happy ending of sorts, because that “monster” is no longer with us).

So dealing with the physical problems my hands have has also meant dealing with (facing?) the mental problems (memories?) – which meant taking a step back from things for a time so I could deal with them and feel…

Well, not so crap about them (again, keeping it simple).

I wasn’t dealing with the problems I had with my hands because I didn’t want to talk about what had caused them… Sounds so ridiculous and simple…

But…

It’s not so simple. It never is. But, I’m getting there.

Things are healing, getting “better,” although to be fare that’s something of a relative term, but maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself and should stick with “yes, things are getting better, and I’m getting back into things again. And my hands are doing fine as well ;)”

So yes, I’m back and confessing again… writing as well (the joy!). It’s a good place to be at the moment.

Coffee table guest chat with Dominic Murray – Part 2.

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What do I mean by “this is Coffee table guest chat?” – I mean that I sat down and actually chatted with the guest rather than just interview them. This is a little longer than a normal blog, but I hope you bear with it and enjoy :)

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Someone recently suggested that as an openly gay writer I have a responsibility to the LGBTTQI community at large. I was a little surprised by this, and the more I thought about it, a little annoyed. The fact I write is not connected with my sexual orientation. I was writing long before I realised I was gay. Neither do I wish to be confined to writing about just one subject for the rest of my writing life. In fact, my last published story was about a straight guy.

What I write is fiction – character driven mostly. In order to be able to write what I do, I have to be able to engage with those characters. If you can’t “connect” with the character you can’t write about them. Not all the characters that spawn from my fervent imagination are actually gay. The majority of them may well be straight…

I don’t know.

I mean, I’ve never sat down and taken a census of them.

Should my sexual orientation drive what I write? Looking at the subject of my last guest blog I think we all know the answer to that one (NO!). So why does being gay automatically mean I have to become a spokesperson for a community? Maybe the truth is, we ask people to stand up and speak for us to challenge the very perceptions of who we are.

I liked to once again welcome my friend, fellow writer and blogger, Dominic Murray to gab with me for a while about this;

James Snaith (JS): Welcome back! Let’s dive right into the deep end on this: Do you think as an author yourself – and an openly gay man – you have a responsibility to write fiction that better represents us?

Dominic Murray (DM): That’s a very good question. I don’t feel that I have a responsibility to write good gay fiction. But I often naturally find myself writing about gay characters who have real relationships. I don’t write for other people – I write for me. I think I have a responsibility, as an author, to write good fiction.

JS: I agree with you on that score. I find it…insulting when someone suggests that I have a wider responsibility. It’s not why I write, but I find myself writing about gay characters – because, well, I can relate to them.

DM: And why shouldn’t we write about gay people? I have written about straight characters – male and female – but it’s natural to me that I end up with a gay protagonist.

JS: I’ve written both myself. A character that bugs me a lot (Jack) is a straight boy. It was as much a surprise to me as anyone when he ended up in bed with a woman. Romance is universal – but maybe it doesn’t have to be full of tropes. Such as the “fit man, with a well toned body.”

DM: I think it’s important to find new and fresh things to do with stories. I think it’s important that people disabuse themselves of the image that you – man or woman – have to look a certain way. I think it’s harder in gay erotica to move away from men with fit bodies – and that a man’s body can be represented in different ways – but in gay fiction? There should be more ‘diverse’ body types.

JS: I agree. How did you feel about the primary character in “Nothing Perfect” – the fact that he wasn’t a: in perfect shape and b: was disabled?

DM: I have to say that it was a breath of fresh air! Again, it was the sense of realness – of honesty – about it, and the fact he was well-written and presented with no apology made it all the better.

JS: One of the characters you created for your “Gay-To-Zed” anthology (the “Michael and Xuan” story) was an older gay man who was dealing with the loss of his partner from a heart attack. It’s actually unusual for a story to feature an older gay man as its protagonist. It was a standout story in the book. The character wasn’t looking to replace his lost love, but was still trying to deal with what had happened. I really loved that story. Really loved the way you wrote Michael. It felt very real to me.

DM: I think I wanted to play a little on the idea of the older, predatory, gay man and his young lover – a very definite and damaging gay stereotype – with Michael.

JS: That too comes across very strongly in the story. It’s one of the reasons I found it fascinating. That his grief would lead him to obsession, to chase something he maybe can’t have.

DM: There is also a wider story there that was perhaps too ambitious to be presented as a short – probably why there is not a satisfactory ending.

JS: Certainly several stories in that book could do with an expansion (hint hint).

DM: When you compare him with “Keelan” – the older, predatory ‘bear’ (in one of the other stories) – then you get a definite sense of variety.

JS: The Keelan story very much fits the Alpha/Omega dynamic. Although there was something else about it…

DM: It does, but that isn’t all that he is – something which I tried to bring out in the narrative.

JS: I have to say, it was a very “hot” story. Do you find it hard to write sex scenes between two men?

DM: Oddly, as I’ve got older I have found it more difficult to write explicit sexual scenes. I’ve purposely avoided writing them in the last couple of stories I’ve produced. In the current story – “Here Comes The Rain Again” – any scenes tend to end at the bedroom door (with one exception).

JS: Would you say that’s because it’s harder to write something that is based on actual personal experience, and there is a worry about sharing something that could be interpreted is being about you personally?

DM: *snort* After “Gay-to-Zed” I think I’m a bit past that. Besides, if I wrote about my own historic sex life people would die of boredom! But, yes, I think when you read sex – because it’s such an intimate part of life – the natural instinct is to wonder if the author is writing from personal experience.

JS: Do you think this is why male authors who write gay fiction tend to write about broader topics, and not just a “general m/m romance erotic” story?

DM: Perhaps they know that being gay is not simply about who’s swinging off your cock. That you can have a three dimensional existence that is not only about what’s gay or not.

JS: For instance, you mentioned Perry Moore’s debut novel “Hero” the other day.

DM: I did – and I like his presentation where the gay aspect of the protagonist’s character and burgeoning relationship is not the be-all and end-all of the story. Take that away and he still remains a well-rounded character and the story remains something that I would read.

JS: In your current story, “Here Comes the Rain Again…” you’ve created a character called Ryan who’s on the cusp of coming out – although he’s hardly been hiding away in a closet given his, um, level of “experience.”

DM: I don’t think that Ryan self-identifies as gay. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t messed around with other guys. I’m not sure if that makes him extremely, achingly modern with his view on sexuality (although I suspect not) or just a bit of a prick – or somewhere in the middle!

JS: Certainly in one of your after-sex scenes it’s clear that Ryan has been the passive partner in bed (the bottom) – something he had no problem with and certainly no discomfort from. I know you don’t like using tropes (such as first time bottoming experiences are always “amazing and fantastic”), which is where I got the inference that he was a lot more experienced than he was letting on.

DM: That’s true. There’s also an element of just because he’s had experience in being a bottom doesn’t mean that the ‘top’ had to have been a man. But, yes, Ryan definitely has a history, and Matt isn’t his first time at the rodeo, so to speak!

JS: A girlfriend with a strap on? Well, it does happen! I don’t speak from personal experience of course. Mind you I used to know a guy who’s wife liked to do that to him, and he enjoyed that as well (why do people always feel comfortable telling me things like this)… But you’re not using it as a way of one character dominating the other.

DM: Oh definitely not!

JS: Ryan is very most certainly calling the shots in your story.

DM: At the present time, yes. At the beginning of relationships I think its natural to be a little … elastic with things you tolerate. And there’s a certain amount of obsession coming from the other main character – Matt.

JS: That’s one of the main problems with the way romance is always portrayed in fiction. The roles are very static from page one. That’s what makes it feel so unreal – so contrived. The reality is that relationships can be very fluid – things change, dynamics take time to build. They don’t happen straight away.

DM: There may be balances that shift in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be true equal partnerships.

JS: If romance should be about anything, it should be about a partnership.

DM: One could be cynical and say that in this age of self-obsession and instant gratification, the concept of a true partnership is the fantasy!

JS: Is that why you write it? Is that why we’ve both gravitated to it?

DM: Perhaps it is, after all. But then I’m rather lucky in that respect – as you are.

JS: Very true. We don’t see enough of it in the world – get to read about it, get to see it on TV. It tends to be all about the instant gratification. Not what happens next. The prince and princess get married and live happily every after… End of story. But I think what happens next, is the actual story.

DM: A marriage is not a wedding. A relationship is not just about getting laid.

JS: It’s not just about two people getting off. Romance is something far more subtle, more lasting, harder to define at times. It’s interesting that within the whole story we’ve been writing together the only (so far) detailed sex-scene is one without gratification. The scenes not seen, but spoken of, are far more gratifying.

DM: Because I don’t think the very act of sex is important (in this instance). I think – with what I know about your story and your characters – that there is a level of importance to it, but in a different way.

JS: I prefer to write about intimacy, rather than the “get down and lets fuck” sex scene. Intimacy is far more potent I think, far more interesting.

DM: Certainly that’s the way I see it. Even within “Gay-to-Zed” there’s often a long lead up in a lot of the stories before you get to the fucking – and in some of them there’s not even any fucking of any kind. Yet that doesn’t detract (I hope) from the latent eroticism.

JS: Depicted eroticism is far different from depicted sex – and sex in general. I think sex, especially depicted sex within books, robs it of intimacy. When you make it all about the sex, you lose something between the characters. Relationships are never just about sex. And that brings me back what we talked about the other day, and why I think in general that a lot of romance fiction is no better than porn at the moment. It’s not about the intimacy between two people; it’s just about getting them to have sex.

DM: And if all you’re doing is manoeuvring people into doing that, haven’t you lost something as a writer?

JS: Exactly. I don’t want to read a book where Man A meets Man B – they flirt, have sex, drama, have sex, drama, sex again, break up and then realise they love each other get back together. Oh, and then have sex again.

DM: Especially when it’s followed by another in the same series of Man C meets Man D…

JS: Do you think this is one of the reasons you keep coming back to write romance fiction? Are you attempting to write the genre as it should be (when it comes to m/m fiction)?

DM: I can’t say that I had some kind of epiphany and made a conscious decision to right some terrible wrong. I wouldn’t peg myself as a romance writer above any other genre – but at the same time life is about relationships with other people, and the way in which that dynamic manifests itself is inherently fascinating to me. It would be nice to get away from such labels as “gay author” and “gay fiction”. I aim to write strong fiction that just happens to be about men!

JS: What plans do you have for future projects, and what themes would you like to tackle next?

DM: I have a few ideas rattling around in here – some of them have been there for a while. There’s the space opera, some supernatural fantasy, a 1980s crime mystery series (to be co-written with a friend) … And then there are the potential ‘spin offs’ from “Gay-to-Zed” – the “Michael and Xuan” story you mentioned earlier for starters. I’m not sure that I sit down and think to myself “Today I’m going to write about this”, it’s just not the way that I work. I write about people and I write about conflict. I’d hate to be so reductive that all my characters simply exist to represent a particular archetype or theme.

JS: I know what you mean, I write what I write – without thinking that it has to be about a particular subject or theme. I hate being bound that way. Well, we’re short on time again so I’m going to have to stop things here.

Thank you for coming back, and again for the chat. And again, thank you for being my first victim, umm, guest blogger!

Please go show Dominic Murray some WordPress love, and please have a look at Part One of this chat. I hope you all enjoyed this insight into a fellow blogger and myself as well.

More soon :)

Coffee table guest chat with Dominic Murray – Part 1.

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What do I mean by “this is Coffee table guest chat?” – I mean that I sat down and actually chatted with the guest rather than just interview them. This is a little longer than a normal blog, but I hope you bear with it and enjoy :)

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To quote a source: “The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.”

For me personally, that one sentence sums up the whole issue of tropes in fiction in general, and romance fiction (male-on-male) specifically.

I read a great deal. I love a swathe of genres when it comes to books, from historic adventures, science fiction and fantasy, contemporary urban, and romance fiction – currently I’m working my way through “The Life of Pi.”

Yeah, I know a lot of men would baulk at admitting they go anywhere near romance fiction (or chick-flicks either). But it is a field I write in, and I guess one way to find out something about the market it to actually read what’s currently available.

To be honest when it comes to fiction with gay characters, the shelves tend to be a little bare (or completely non-existent) in book stores. Thanks to online shops, and the recent proliferation of online publishing and eBooks, it’s far easier to find fiction that’s a lot more inclusive – and fiction that (supposedly) understands what it’s like to be a gay man today.

Romance fiction is where the bulk of these books exist; Male/Male romance has become the new hot genre to write in, and perhaps it’s not so surprising that most of the authors writing Male/Male romance and erotic fiction are women. Women, like men, have fantasies too – and many heterosexual women are just as, umm, “intrigued” by guy-on-guy action as heterosexual men are by girl-on-girl action. In a way, most of these books, whilst about gay men, are not targeted at gay men to read – but rather straight women to read.

Many of these authors have migrated over from writing Male/Female romance and erotica. Whilst the primary characters of these books are men and mostly out gay men at that, there is this trend that exists in most of them… A trend that follows the pattern of hero “rescuing” a weak younger man.

I’ve invited fellow blogger and (M/M) writer, Dominic Murray to chat about this;

James Snaith (JS): Afternoon Dom, I know you’ve read a few of these books yourself. What’s your general impression of them?

Dominic Murray (DM): If I’m going to put a line in the sand then that line is going to say that they…fail in some way. That is, they are not written as ‘gay romance’ or ‘gay fiction’ in the true sense of the terms: they are not primarily written by gay authors for a gay audience, (although there are gay authors and gay readers!). They are written by and for straight women.

JS: Definitely – it’s all so very trope-ish: The big strong Alpha Male (who’s also a fantastic top) and the weaker, smaller (younger sometimes) Omega Male (who loves to bottom) and needs taking care of. In some of these books, you could swap the Omega Male for a woman, and the story would still work.

DM: I think that’s definitely what some of the authors do: take the female perspective of love and sex, and put a man’s head (and cock) on it. Hence, you get the feminised ‘bottom’ who needs to be ‘fixed’ by a Big Strong Man. I understand that we’re dealing in ‘fantasy’ – and god knows that m/f romance/erotica has enough wrong with it – but at some stage, you have to reflect real life, don’t you? I don’t think it’s possible to take a homosexual relationship and apply the same heteronormative associations.

JS: You and I recently read an interview with M/M romance author A.B. Gayle where she discussed why she writes what she writes, and her reasons for staying away from certain types of male characters.

DM: The well-rounded ones? ;)

JS: That’s the one (link to the interview in question). It’s quite clear early on that one of the reasons she’s taken to writing M/M fiction is purely for the fantasy side of it.

DM: to quote “The easy answer is that if one man is good… then two men must be better. Make them gay (not suggesting that Thor or Wolverine are that way inclined :) ) and story ideas just jump out of the page.” I think it’s important to realise that “slash fiction” came out of women writing gay-themed fan fiction based on characters that already existed (I think one of the earliest pairings was Spock and Kirk). I think that’s the difference between a ‘gay fantasy’ and ‘gay fiction’ though – and part of a wider issue: how ‘real’ should ‘fantasy’ be portrayed?

JS: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. A lot of gay fiction is little more than fantasy/erotica. You and I have discussed before how sex scenes – hell, even simple scenes like kissing – tend to be written as little more than porn. They start kissing, clothes magically vanish, and then they’re suddenly at it and able to get into some interestingly difficult positions, lol. The fact that the primary characters are two men isn’t relevant to the whole mix. The problem is, it’s still considered gay fiction, and lots of younger gay men read this stuff. Personally I find books like “Boy Meets Boy” and “The Geography Club” better. They are in essence romance novels – but it’s a small part of the story.

DM: Is there also an element of gay culture being appropriated by women to satiate themselves? (I’m not saying that straight men haven’t done this to women for centuries, up to and including faux-lesbian porn.)

JS: Yes, I think some authors have appropriated this part of gay culture to sate themselves. But what annoys me – worries me even – is that many of them think they are serving the gay community with what they write, that this type of story is helpful to young gay men.

DM: I think some authors – and some women – deal with this better than others, but there’s certainly an element of naivety about it. I’ve read a lot of bad sex scenes in my time (both literary porn and, ahem, sleaze). You can always tell the authors who have had sex and those who are just detailing their wank fantasy: “It was huge and he put it in me and it hurt. But then I loved it and he loved it and he came after hours, and I came and he came again and then we fell asleep with him inside me. I love him and he loves me.”

JS: Certainly, when I was a teenager that wasn’t far off how I thought sex between two men happened. Then I had sex with a man and found out the reality. But sex between two men or two women or a man and woman – it’s not all that different as it’s cracked up to be.

DM: Although a woman can write about sucking a cock from her own experience, can she write about having a cock sucked?

JS: Some feel they can. And some do take the time to ask men about the experience.

DM: That’s true – and some of them even watch gay porn to insure a certain amount of positional veracity.

JS: But porn is a far cry from actual sex.

DM: And it doesn’t deal with inner monologues – or repercussions. Unless that repercussion is your straight roommate coming home and joining in…

JS: I have had to tell a guy to not use his teeth. It’s not instinctive as some authors make it out to be, and some guys do enjoy sporting teeth marks on that part of their body… The truth is, sex isn’t instinctive, it does require a certain amount of “yes, no, left a bit – bit more… yes, that’s the spot”

DM: Which leads back to the veracity expected from fantasy.

JS: Exactly, at most the inner monologue tends to be “am I really doing this?” or “did I wash enough down there?” or “I hope the garlic I had for lunch doesn’t repeat on me.” I’ve never had a straight roommate walk in – or be curious about joining in either, lol

DM: Neither have I – but isn’t that a porn thing?

JS: Yes, lol.

DM: Slightly digressing, however ;)

JS: Not too much, lol. I think that’s the point about a lot of these stories. They are just porn.

DM: Indeed.

JS: Porn with a little plot, but porn none the less.

DM: I like to read a well-written character. If I’m honest, I don’t necessarily care if the author is a man or a woman. Good writing always shows. The ability to get into a character’s head – into all the little dark spaces – is what wins me over. And I think that in a lot of instances (not all – there are some great female m/m authors) this is what makes them fall down. Gay men are not all uber-straight-men-who-like-cock or women-with-penises. If all you are able to present are these two polar opposites then I feel that you are failing the community you’re writing about.

JS: Exactly, some authors do get it right. We don’t all fit into the “Alpha Male” “Omega Male” roles either.

DM: Do men like that exist? Of course. But the line between the two of them is much wider – and full of much more interesting characters, to my mind. One needn’t be “only” a top or “just” a bottom.

JS: In fact the vast majority of gay men don’t engage in penetrative sex. Do you think the fact the characters are written this way is more about “dominance” in the relationship?

DM: I think so. But it’s a dominance that isn’t based on biological gender.

JS: It’s a fantasy dominance.

DM: Or rather a difference in that gender. It’s a form of safe domination.

JS: It’s the whole “Knight in Shining Armour” thing isn’t it?

DM: The woman can partake in the that domination whilst not being exactly a part of it. Which might be a bit of a strong statement ;)

JS: It is a strong statement, yes. But I think that is part of it – and part of why fiction like this is still being written. Maybe it makes some women feel safe to think that dynamic is the same between men as well?

DM: Why would they think otherwise? How would they think otherwise?

JS: Exactly – romance has always been about the dominant man rescuing the woman. It’s been translated over – and it doesn’t really work with M/M romance.

DM: I agree in that it has been translated that way – but I don’t think it fits. As I said at the beginning – you can’t take a woman, add a cock and end up with a gay man.

JS: No, because gay men are not women with cocks.

DM: Would I love a fabulously wealthy older man to whisk me away from all my troubles? If I wasn’t married, then yes, probably. Do I want to read about it over and over? Meh, not so much. There’s nothing wrong with the fantasy of it. However, when it’s the only fantasy presented then it can be damaging.

JS: It’s a trope – and a trap that some writers have fallen into.

DM: Do I want to read about how two men have a relationship of equals, not dissolving into fits of drama and hanky-flapping at the least provocation, or being emotionally stunted? Quite possibly!

JS: All stories have drama, but does it have to come from within the relationship?

DM: If it does then you’re having the wrong kind of relationship with the wrong sort of person. There’s a TV series in America (I can’t remember the title) about gay men in San Francisco, that’s loved by women and slammed by most of the gay community as being unrepresentative.

JS: “Looking.”

DM: That’s the one! thanks. Sex And The City was hardly representational either. However – one is about an ill-understood ‘minority.’ People didn’t suddenly think that all women (in New York or otherwise) behave like Carrie and Co. But when you have an ill-understood minority being badly represented then you have a problem. And I feel it’s the same with this element of gay fiction.

JS: Have you ever read a story where the couple were not only gay, but were already together and had been for years – and the drama wasn’t about them, but just involved them?

DM: Ha – no I don’t think that I have.

JS: I think we’re going to have to wrap this part of the discussion up for today. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we stop for cake?

DM: I think it’s important to stress that we’re generalising here about straight women writers of m/m fiction. There are amazing ones, and there are awful gay male authors of m/m fiction (in my opinion). The problem is not the gender of the author; it’s the way the subject is being used.

JS: I quite agree the gender of the author doesn’t actually matter. Maybe the best way to sum it up, is; simply writing M/M erotic fiction doesn’t serve or really help gay men – it’s just about the titillation, it’s not representative of anything other than fantasy. LGBTTQI fiction should be about more.

Thank you for taking the time to chat about this today Dom, I really appreciate it. And thank you for being my first guest blogger ;)

Please go show Dominic Murray some WordPress love, and look out for Part Two of our chat which delves more into what it’s like being an openly gay author.

More soon folks!

8 Things Writers Can Do No One Else Can

James Snaith:

Fantastic look at the craft, and what it is to be a writer.

Originally posted on WordDreams...:

writer There are a lot of difficult parts to writing. I mean, besides the whole write-edit-revise-rewrite thing. That cutting a vein and bleeding on the page can get touch-and-go at times. Channeling your muse at times gets someone you’d prefer to avoid. And it’s well documented that trying to make a living as an author is pretty near impossible unless your last name rhymes with ‘Fancy’ or ‘Brawling’.

Despite all that, it’s a profession people flock to, spend thousands training to be, and wouldn’t give up for anything. Widely-accepted studies show 80% of Americans have a book we want to share–despite that industry stats show it takes five years to hone and deliver an acceptable novel. It may–or may not–surprise you to know that pursuing a writing career has less to do with that magical feeling you get turning words into pictures and more to do with what writers get to…

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