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10/25/2010

Comments

Katie

I started reading your blog recently, and have really enjoyed it. This particular post interested me a lot. My first novel (which I just finished) probably places me in category #2. A major plotline of my book is a love story between two men, but I'm, er, non-nonheterosexual. I couldn't tell from this post whether you would like to see more straight writers include gay characters, or not. While I was working on my book I often wondered what business I had writing about these characters, and as a huge supporter of gay rights the last thing I wanted to do was somehow position myself in the middle of a community I don't actually belong to, where I and my big mouth might not be totally welcome. I can easily think of arguments for and against. I have realistically low hopes of being published, but if I were, I wouldn't want acclaim for "playing gay." I didn't make the characters gay for attention. They're gay because that's who they are and I couldn't imagine them otherwise.

Anyway, I'm just curious whether you see there being a possibility for another category: straight writers who just happen to be inclusive, not because they want a prize, but because that's the way they see things.

Looking forward to reading your book and hoping for critical and commercial success for you!

Matthew Gallaway

Thanks for the note (and kind words/encouragement!), Katie -- and yes, I think you fall squarely into category two, which not that Im king of the world or anything sounds awesome and frankly necessary and even courageous. I think one of the most compelling love stories ever between two men was written by Carson McCullers (THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER), who was probably straight, Im not sure, but anyway, I dont think there should be any rules, and there should be plenty of room for anyone who wants to tackle the subject matter. What matters most is whether its great writing, etc. Best of luck with the novel!

francis s.

So, are we supposed to fill in the dashes here...? Or are you going to do it? Winkity wink.

Matthew Gallaway

I mean, I got the ball rolling with Alan Hollinghurst, right?

Chris

This is like Gawker gossip, only this time I think I have a few of the answers.

____#5 must be Michael Cunningham since David Sedaris is not really a novelist.

for #2, Julia Glass comes to mind, but I don't think that's who you mean?

Matthew Gallaway

Thanks, Chris -- I think Julia Glass is a great example of a str8 lady who did a very nice job writing about gay characters and should be commended for it. There are others, however, like ____, with whom I was less impressed!

nil blur

At the risk of being rude; is all of this this just a little too label obsessed? I've been tired for a long time of people categorically saying so-and-so is straight or gay or whatever, people that they have probably never met. I'm sure everyone would say Norman Mailer was straight, but who knows what he may have felt or done or not done, even if he felt it. Aren't we over this? How about a writer writing their book, getting it published (major achievement,) seeing what happens, and then beginning the next thing? I'm not sure that creating with an eye toward sales or posterity or ranking has ever been a very strong position. I feel like I'm on the 5th or 6th round of this kind of thinking in MY life and it's finally registering that it's pointless and counter-productive. Some people think it's clever or entertaining; I don't anymore.

Matthew Gallaway

Thanks for reading, Nil, but I have to disagree with the tenor of your comment. To endorse the status quo (which you seem to do) is not a good solution in my opinion. Novels about gay characters (and particularly those written by gay writers) are seriously underrepresented in the literary canon: this is not even worth arguing about, its a fact. Moreover, this state of affairs has serious implications far beyond sales or posterity or ranking and adds to an extreme level of cultural homophobia that makes life even harder than necessary for those of us (and not just gay ppl, although thats an obv answer) seeking solace/comfort/wisdom/entertainment in these stories. The gay experience is an essential (not optional) component of the American experience and its time for people at every level to start acknowledging that truth.

nil blur

I'm not at all interested in the status quo. I love it when things get changed, messed with or fucked up. I'm ready for someone to shoot something above all the walls and make it all look silly. It IS silly, all this labeling and categorizing and canonizing, ugh. Do something fantastic and overarching (or over reaching.) And I'm not just saying that to you, I'm saying it to us all. And I'd love it to be a gay person. We need a revelation.

Matthew Gallaway

We can agree about that, Nil!

Jeff

Hey Matthew. I'm wondering if perhaps category 4 is a little nebulous. I feel like Chris Adrian and Adam Haslett, two authors I found without know they were gay but felt incredibly moved by their work in, for lack of a better phrase, a gay way, would probably fit in that category. I don't know. Sometimes though, gay themes can be represented without gay characters, yes? It makes me wonder if your point is really about the world of sex in a particular novel and whether nonheterosexual sexuality is represented. Which is valid, I just think that gay writers are out there writing about gay themes.

Matthew Gallaway

I agree with you 100 percent, Jeff. I think its safe to say that some of the greatest novelists ever were nonheterosexual (Melville, Proust -- who did write about gays, but as someone horrified -- Henry James, etc etc) and wrote about gay themes without explicitly mentioning gay sex/characters. Which is great if you can pull it off. I think one of the problems in the modern era is that literary fiction has evolved to a point where theres an expectation that sex will be graphically described, which is why gay writers who attempt to do this are often ushered to the side because some significant percentage of ppl arent ready to hear about it.

Chris

Isn't part of the reason that books are categorized just a reality of how books are sold in book stores and presented in libraries?

I get frustrated that it is so hard to find good fiction by/about LGBTQ writers. As an out gay reader, I think it is okay to want to read books about people like me. This always reminds me of when I read my first novel about a gay person (Lost Language of Cranes), furtively delivered by just launched Amazon to my off-campus college apartment.

Three Lives in the West Village, NYC has a sort of gay section. I really appreciate their curation of the section -- though it has been slim pickins' lately.

Does anyone remember the book written a couple of years ago by a straight novelist? It is about a professor, his son, and a student who lives with them for the summer in Italy? They ride bikes to go to a bookstore and go to Rome. That was a "gay" book written by a straight writer that drummed up a bit of drama at the time.

@Jeff: Cheers for Adam Haslett.

Matthew Gallaway

Chris, you raise all sorts of interesting and unresolved questions about how and whether novels should be categorized, particularly when they are written by non-male, non-white, or non-heterosexual authors. Ultimately I think the answer is always going to depend on the book in question and what kind of publicity treatment it gets, and how its sold to bookstores, etc. I think theres a perception that with the increasing acceptance of gays on a societal level, the importance of having our own section in the bookstore is reduced, but at the same time, theres still plenty of homophobia around, which prevents many books from seeing the light of day. Plus I think its relevant that some huge and (from a book-marketing perspective) number of men (in particular) who would otherwise be buying gay books are dead now, which is just one more effect of AIDS. (Not to sound crass.) Also problematic is the fact that the big gay blogs rarely if ever cover books, because theyre not really what younger guys tend to be interested in (a situation I think is not unrelated to the AIDS effect I just mentioned.) So yeah, Im not sure what the solution is, but I think it can only help to identify the problem, so to speak. As for the book you mention from a few years ago, I was not a fan (not because the writer was straight, but because I found the story not believable):

http://www.matthewgallaway.com/2008/02/on-call-me-by-your-name-or-the-book-of-closet-cases.html

Chris

" I think its relevant that some huge and (from a book-marketing perspective) number of men (in particular) who would otherwise be buying gay books are dead now, which is just one more effect of AIDS. (Not to sound crass.) "

I don't think this is crass. It is a market reality, but then again I work in ad sales.

I think that there is a new generation of readers, say ages 25 - 40, who want to read these books and do not know how to find them. It is also frustrating that many of these gay fiction titles are not available on Kindle.

Have you seen Modern Tonic? I LOVE that they cover books for a youngish, urban audience: http://moderntonic.com/category/show/6

Matthew Gallaway

Thanks for the tip, Chris -- I just tried to sign up for Modern Tonic, which may or may not have worked, but it looks like a good site. One of the problems with getting the word out to the 25-40 yo gay demographic is that publishers are going after big audiences first, and the gay audience is viewed as something of a niche. Im obviously more than curious to see how my publisher deals with all of this -- and cross your fingers for me! -- given that my novel is definitely gay, but I think/hope should have appeal among general readers. 

Colin Fitzpatrick

James Baldwin, #5, ftw

Matthew Gallaway

Hey Colin -- yes, hardly a day passes when I dont think about how much better off we would be if JB were still alive -- its difficult to imagine an openly gay African-American novelist (and yes, a category 5 who also writes explicitly about gay characters) on the cover of a national magazine in the year 2k10 (as Baldwin was in the 1960s, I believe), which just goes to show something, Im sure we could discuss/argue about exactly what lol.

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