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 :)
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 :)