Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Gay Fiction.

Hey Dr. Bill, since you're an author (among the many other hats you wear), I was wondering if you could recommend some of the best gay fiction books you've ever read. Time for me to catch up on some of the classics that you may have been inspired by or just found really entertaining. I haven't read all that many..."Front Runner," "Dancer From the Dance," and "Best Little Boy in the World" (not fiction but a bio) come to mind. Any suggestions would be great! C.

Oddly enough, I read all three of the books you mentioned but wasn't all that carried away by them, though it was too long ago for me to remember specific complaints. I've no doubt they all had their good points. Now this is a little embarrassing, but I haven't kept up with gay fiction as much as I should. Although I've published several novels, some with gay characters, I've never really authored a "gay novel," either. (I could certainly be wrong, but I've gotten the impression that most gay novels these days are written by and for twenty somethings.) These days I read far more non-fiction than novels, regardless of the genre. I read a lot of biographies. Off the top of my head books of gay interest I would recommend include James Parish's biography of Katharine Hepburn, William Mann's biography of gay director John Schlesinger, as well as his book Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood, and Matthew Kennedy's book on gay director Edmund Goulding, Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory.

What am I reading now? I just finished the new James Bond novel Devil May Care, which takes place during the Cold War. Just as I was thinking that there's not a heck of a lot that's gay in it, the author introduces a homosexual double-agent and very minor character named "Carmen" Silver, who succumbs to blackmail and turns on the good guys. Yes, a "nasty double-dealing faggot," although he's not referred to as such. A couple of the other characters don't seem especially put off by his homosexuality but he's still an awfully old-fashioned stereotype. The book may take place in the sixties but it was written in 2008. As well, the time period of the book doesn't stop the author from presenting a very positive double 0 agent who is female, which Ian Fleming never did. The more things change ...

I recall that I was put off by much gay fiction of old because I found it unremittingly negative. I didn't expect authors to present only rinso-white, totally perfect gay characters, but often the books were written by authors who were still struggling with their own issues over being gay, and the books reflected that. Some of the writers felt they had to be social critics and play up what was allegedly wrong with the gay community (weren't there enough straight bigots doing that?), but what they were really playing up was what was wrong with them. Books like Dancer from the Dance and Faggots seemed to present one type of gay man as if he was the only type of gay man, ignoring everyone else that didn't fit their narrow profiles. The authors would claim they had a right to be dramatic and politically incorrect -- and of course they did -- but I've always maintained that one can present fucked-up gay characters without making it seem as if their being gay is the reason they're fucked up. Maybe the fact that they can't accept themselves, or society's homophobia.

If anyone can recommend some good gay fiction, please feel free to leave a comment.

[Anyone old enough to remember Gaywyck? Or the gay novels of Gordon Merrick (think that was his name)? ]


Zathyn Priest said...

As an author of both gay fiction and contemporary fiction, it's co-incidental I stumbled on your Blog while the topic of good m/m fiction is a hot one right now. Someone mentioned m/m fiction can only ever be about sex with little room for strong plot or romance. Something I, and fellow m/m writers, totally disagree with.

I do, however, agree that gay fiction in the past was sterotypical and hence never read it myself. Hopefully - fingers crossed it continues - there's been a turn around to this and readers are after much more than what was previously available.

Best Wishes,
Zathyn :)

Bill Samuels said...

Sounds like a lot of gay fiction was just porn or erotica in a fancy package. You're right that it needs to be about more than just sex -- real characters interacting, dealing with llfe's issues and the complications of relationships. Glad to hear that that's the trned these days. I've got some catching up to do.

Thanks for your comment and continued good luck with your writing. Best, Bill

Anonymous said...

"Men From the Boys" is a good example of fiction that combines strong characters and interesting plots with some rather hot sexy parts -- definitely worth reading.

Bill Samuels said...

Thanks for the suggestion. That book is definitely on my reading list. I've enjoyed Bill Mann's biographies and other non-fiction very much, so I'm sure I'll enjoy his fiction. Recently finished his superb bio of Katharine Hepburn. Another winner!