The Romance of the Washing Machine

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Once upon a time, romance was all about feelings and finding a partner… Nowadays, it seems to be shifting from the heart to between the sheets. I have nothing against what two consensual adults of any sex, persuasion, hue, height, shape or sexual interest do between the sheets, in toilets, on the washing machine (which apparently is now as much a sex toy as a vibrator), in bushes or on the beach. What I am concerned about is that romance may, or may not, depending very much on what we, readers, want it to be, be losing touch with the heart. If this is maybe true in society, it is certainly true in books. Far too often do I find romance books that are erotica. Again nothing against erotica. But I would just wish romance to keep its focus on the heart, or otherwise, call itself by its correct name.

My understanding is that books that deal with the passion that comes from love are romance, those that deal with the passion that comes from sex are erotica and those that simply describe sex…I don’t like the negative connotation we give to the word porn, but let’s say, for argument’s sake, porn without any bigoted and judgemental hues.

Why am I now talking about this? What has it got to do with literature or gay literature? Directly, nothing; you are right. LGBT literature is charactised by honest depiction of sex, but not primarily concerned with sex itself. Far and few between are the examples of gay literary erotica. The trinity of gay literature is, in my experience, sexuality (not sex), society and relationships. So why am I talking about romance?

In a recent interview, an M/M romance writer, Anne Tenino, (see the interview here: http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=12539&cpage=1#comments), sates, ‘Romance itself is the emotional side of literature’ and ‘that’s what we are bringing to gay fiction.’ An interesting comment to come back to from my holiday… My first response was to go down on my knees and thank our superior supporter for granting us the gift of emotion. Of course, coming from within a genre that clearly gets closer to the human heart (as shown on virtually every cover of M/M romance novels) of us gay men by stripping our clothes off to show off our muscles (as it appears every gay man is a Swatzenagger just waiting to be discovered), the great focus on emotion she purpots to have at heart rings…true, naturally, what were you thinking?

So, as I can’t honestly be asked to read her novels, I checked what she herself puts as the highlights of her writing, and here’s a selection:

‘…with Sebastian, the sex is something else entirely-hot, mind-blowing, affirming, and a little domineering in a way that drives him wild.’

The cover of the book thus described by her clearly speaks of relationships, feelings and emotions…or does it?

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To her credit, Tenino is one of the more romantic and less sex-driven writers in the genre… But even when the book description does not talk about sex, but love, most reviews seem to spot the other word as a leitmotif instead:

‘Sweet and sexy’, ‘harbouring a wishful longing… sexy’, ‘very hot, sexy, sweet read’, ‘hot and good spank story’ and so forth. I checked 25 reviews of this novel which she states is about love, the word sex (and related words) appeared 40 times; the word love (or any other word related to feelings and emotions)…you’ll never guess…nought!

Again, I repeat, I have nothing against sex, but double speak, misnomers and hypocrisy. I wonder how the writers mentioned in my post ‘Gay Authors to Look out for’ feel, as some of the books mentioned are so poignant, so packed with emotions, so intense that it would take a few hundred M/M romance stories to convey the feelings one of them can pack in a chapter.

Apart from the insult to writers, apart from the homophobic and misogynist content of the statements in the interview, apart form the superficial knowledge of literature, apart from the bitchiness and aggression of the comments, apart from the ignorance of what being gay really is demonstrated by the writers interviewed, what really annoys me is the hypocrisy of how they are consciously (in my opinion) using sex to sell books under the pretence of the word romance.

You have been telling us how we have sex (as if, get a real, ladies) ever since your book one; now don’t try to tell us how we feel!

Naturally, author Ann Tenino is very welcome to present her version of the events. A guest post is reserved for her. So far, no comment has been received.

A Plea to all M/M Readers

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This won’t be an easy post for me… After having argued that M/M romance is not gay fiction and that some of the perspectives in M/M romance are as remote from gay experience as lesbian porn for straight men is from lesbian life, a plea may seem to come for the wrong person.

However, I do trust that M/M readers will have the acumen to see that I am representing what has come to be a minority within the minority, and minorities need to say it as it is. I also trust that M/M readers are friends of the gay community, and in this, they shouldn’t just fantasise about gay men, but should also try to understand them with an open mind. And the only way to do so is by listening to them. Imagine we are all at a big Gay Pride demonstration, would you not listen to what an LGBT person has to say? Wouldn’t you find it interesting to find out what they have to say about themselves, even if what they have to say does not match your fantasies, even if their voices will sound, naturally, different from the ones you are used to hearing?

The truth is that there are many of you and fewer of us. The truth is that M/M romance sells by the bucketful, while gay fiction is struggling to get noticed. My plea is the plea of a friend to a friend, and I am not a fair weather friend, nor a friend that tells you what you want to hear, but a real friend, one who is ready to express opinions that may be unwelcome, one who brings issues to your attention, not sweep them under the carpet. The choice remains yours, whether to give my opinions a go, or decide that you prefer to disregard my points. But I believe that friends can get on well even having different tastes. Actually, I believe the world would be boring if we only had one point of view. Friends are meant to enrich your life, not stroke your ego.

Here is my plea: every now and then, try a gay book. I’m not asking you to stop reading M/M, but to try something different, yet something coming from the very people you fantasise about. It’s fine to read that we are sexually incredible, and I can read it as a compliment, but what we are is much more than sex machines: we are human beings, with a variety of facets, many different sides to our personality, sides that we would like you to know. maybe that could even enhance your appreciation of our now mythical sexual prowess? I take compliments with a bigger smile when I know it is based on a real acquaintance…

Now, look at my list of authors who are leading gay literature, which, please remember, is not comprehensive, and think, ‘Have I given this voice a second thought? Am I ready to listen to what they have to say?’ There’s one who offers adventures, one who offers subtle emotions, one who offers a personal journey to freedom, one who offers a completely new voice for the whole world, one who offers poetry, one who offers humour, one who offers the language of the younger generation. They don’t want to speak to gay men only; they want to speak to the world. But the world, even the world of readers, is full of homophobes who won’t listen. To make gay fiction and literature mainstream, we, gay men, need to start speaking to someone, and who better than one’s friends? It’s hard to go out and tell our story to people who hate us. Please help us have a voice for this world: read a gay book.

Thanks.

Here is a selection of really original and inspiring authors you could start with: https://martindavies90.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/contemporary-authors-to-look-out-for/

Altternatively, check out: http://www.gay-literature.com

Please note, there are a lot of comments still to be ‘approved’ on this post, I’ll try to catch up. The only reason why they need to be approved is for swear words, spam, insults. All opinions expressed with respect will be approved; just give me time to read them and check.

Heteronormativity

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I was reading an interesting discussion on heteronormativity on the Brandon Shire Website. What a long and interesting word! For those who may be puzzled by the meaning of this term, it means ‘representing the gay experience in heterosexual terms’. The post focused on how sexual relationships in some m/m romance books (please remember these are not gay literature) present the sexual relationships between their characters in terms of top and bottom, while lots of gay men are versatile and switch. I think this is a very good and clear point to start my thoughts on heteronormativity.

If m/m romance makes the mistake if seeing gay sexual relationships as straight, I believe it doesn’t stop there: the gay experience, or experiences, does not start or end with sex. Being gay is not just having sex with people of the same sex, there are implications in terms of identity, often imposed by society, which we cannot forget. The experience of most gay men is often, I would say in the almost totality of cases, one of total isolation in the formative years of your life. This makes the formative years of gay men different from all other minorities: put simply, if you are a member of a minority and are bullied for it at school, you have a family as reference, a family who has very likely told you and taught you to be proud of your identity. You will also likely have friends in your own minority with whom you can discuss your identity: you are not alone. This is not the experience of the great majority of gay adolescents: if you are bullied because you are (potentially) gay at the age of thirteen, it is very unlikely that you will be speaking to your parents about it, and even if you are one of the few lucky ones who can rely on their parents’ support, assuming you have already come to terms with your homosexuality (another journey we so often have to take on our own) and already come out to them, the chances are that they are straight, so, even if they can give you support, they are not likely to be able to be an example for you. Sometimes elder siblings can, with gay families, this may change in the future, but at the moment, growing up gay often means being alone.

What is more scary in life than loneliness? Not even death in my opinion. I would so welcome a real study that investigates how such experience affects social and emotional relationships later in life. Maybe that will explain why, in percentage, gay men seem to have less stable relationships than other groups? It is hard to trust a partner for life when you grew up not being allowed to communicate your deepest feelings.

Unless you have had a very intimate experience with this ‘hidden adolescence’, you are unlikely to be able to communicate it in your writing. That is why I believe the great works of literature in the gay world have often focused on the formative years.

This has also a big effect on how gay literature relates to literature as a whole: diametrically opposite to m/m romance, which takes previous formats and adapts them by substituting straight relationships with gay ones, gay literature has a very deep, Oedipal relationship with other works of literature: when a gay adolescent reads a classic at school, he (or she) dos not only see that the relationships do not describe his sexual orientation, but often sees that the very structure of the book does not represent his (or her) way of seeing the world: taking the example of lesbian literature, The Color Purple starts with total isolation: Celie can only speak to God. This experience means that the bonds she creates later on in life are deeper, they are based on the bond with God, not the bond she has with her family. At the same time, when reading, for example, Great Expectations, a gay boy will not simply think that Pip doesn’t fully represent him because he is straight, but also because Pip can talk to Joe, as well as Biddy etc. The fact that he keeps his guilty secret for himself is a choice, in a gay adolescent’s case, there is often no choice…

This is also why, as a consequence, I think contemporary gay writers are more original and more creative than others: gay literature, because of the ‘gay experience’ finds it easier to break given patterns and find new ways of expression.

If you wish to follow the discussion on heteronormativity on the Brnadon Shire website, here’s the link:
http://brandonshire.com/heteronormativity-in-mm-romance/

Selling Dreams

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We all love dreams; we all have dreams. Not long ago, while walking on Amazon Street, in search for something new to add to my life, I was surrounded by a gang, all dressed in very camp, very flash clothes. They were loud. They were very forward. I had to stop and ask them what they wanted…

They were selling dreams. Not just any dream. But wet dreams, dreams of love and fantastical dreams. So, I bought a few. I bought a wet dream, and I found out that it ended in the rubbish bin together with packages and tissues (not provided). I bought a dream of love: I felt short changed. Why? Because that was  my dream that had been sold to me. There was nothing new that that dream added to my shelf of dreams. Ashamed to give it to a charity, it is now gathering dust in the garret. I then bought a fantastical dream and I found myself in that dream, but not as the dreamer, but as the dreamed about, and not just, but I was less than me, I had lost my identity and what is more, I lost my status as a human being. In fact, I was the alien, I was dead, I was evil… I was a vampire.

Then, I went back to my youth. I started thinking about why I read… I started thinking about what I want from a book. What I want a book to give me, not what I want to give a book. I already know what I give a book: my time, my attention and my money. What should the book give me in return? Are dreams enough to justify my time, my attention and my money? I thought about it all night and the answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’ So what had gone wrong? Why did I feel that I had been shortchanged? Simple: if a book sells me a new dream, I gain something, I walk away from the book with new pictures, new images, new sounds, new feelings. But if a book sells me my dream back to me…then I have paid for something I already have. That was a boom I should have written, not read. So why did I buy it?

In the modern world, we love to be flattered. It doesn’t matter where the flattering comes from. How many times have you bought a pair of shoes because the shop assistant told you, that they are ‘really you‘. But who’s the shop assistant to say who I am? How nay times have you then gone back home and realised that you were wearing a pair almost identical to the ones you had just bought?

The gang saw me, they worked out that I was gay, put on masks and clothes that would identify them as gay friendly, and sold my own dreams back to me… I felt short changed.

Writers must give us their dreams, not sell us back our own. But we, as readers, need to smarten up and stop falling for flattery, stop looking for things we already have, and stop trusting the loudest and most flashy sellers, and check what they really have to sell us.

Eating Books

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Stop buying only pre-cooked 'burger books!'

Stop buying only pre-cooked ‘burger books!’

Let’s imagine you are hungry, not a difficult thing to do… Let’s imagine you are not at home, but in the streets, with your friends, after agood night out. You walk along the streets and you see many signs, lots of them in red, telling you that food is available… Now, your friends have left, caught a cab to go home, but you know your fridge is empty, or there is nothing in it you want to eat, maybe lots of ready-made meals that you bought because they were on offer, or because you were in a hurry. So you walk along the streets in desperate search for something to quench your hunger and fill your stomach. You see the famous McCrap, the super-oily FatChicken and a haute cuisine restaurant that serves lobster, delicacies, great food prepared by real Cheffs, and made not only to earn a living, but out of love for food.

Checking your wallet, you realise that you only have some change on you. There’s nothing wrong; we all need to save our pennies, especially if we want to have a life on top of just surviving… You turn back to check the prices: the restaurants is extortionate, you would need to put a week’s wages in it just to sit down. atChicken is very cheap, but you know that the oils in which they downed the poor bird, assuming it was ever a bird and not a rodent, has been in the frying machine since before the Discovery of America; with McCrap, you have some reservations: you know they are mass-produced burgers that contain a fraction of meat, but the overall flavour is something you are accustomed to, and on the whole, you know what you will be getting, even if you know that exactly 17 minutes and 32 seconds later you will be hungry again because that is what the chemicals in the burger are devised to do: fatten you without feeding. You can only afford food from the red-sign eateries, so, the choice is between McCrap and FatChicken. You choose one, that will keep you happy till you get home, where you will be munching on chocolate but you wish you had had the money to at least try the haute cuisine restaurant. Wouldn’t that have been a real treat?

The same happens with books: nowadays, we are flooded with red-sign books, and books that just repeat the same recipe over and over again, with mechanical accuracy, but never give us any real nutrients nor any new experience. If only you could afford a book that is really a treat? A book that is not just written to get the last of your change and which was written with real expertise and love? A book that is unique, original, that says more about your real self than just the fact that you are an anonymous (maybe tipsy) person walking along a street… A book where the writer really meant to share something with you…

Hey, but here’s the difference! For the same price as a McCrap burger, you can sit down, be served and buy lobster! You can try food that is qui query prepared for you! You give yourself a real treat!

In fact, excellent and off-the-cuff books often sell at the same price: some spare change. So why is it that readers often don’t do what sensible eaters would love to? Wy don’t you try an exotic cuisine, whether it is a gay book (really gay, not one of those books that are passed as gay but are not…more on a future post), or a historical novel, literary fiction, something creative, something new, something that will stand out and you will really remember?

In the current market, I believe, I strongly believe that it is hard to remember which book is which. So many red-sign books are nothing biut formulaic ways of emptying your pockets of your spare change. So why? Why don’t read try? The price of a book is the same as a cheap take away, but you may finally discover something new, something important, something beautiful, if instead of the burger you choose the lobster… The choice is yours, readers. Be smart.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

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Don’t judge a book by its cover is an old saying that seems to have been contradicted by the recent market, much more so when it comes to gay literature…

What do I mean by this? I have done a tiny bit of research, mainly on sites that sell books (I won’t say the A-word, but you know). I have found that there are an awful lot of books that are bought by many of us, readers, especially over a short period of time. Fine, you’d say… It would be, but if then you check what readers say about those books, especially readers who enjoy good quality books, critics, writers etc… The picture changes. Not all, by no means, but a large percentage of these books turn out to be disappointing reads.

What do these books have in common? The cover art. Two models (let’s be honest, the faking starts here) in quasi-erotic poses, half or fully naked.

If we, as readers, just want an erotic or semi-erotic picture, my suggestion is simple: there are so many we can download free from the Internet… Just browse.

But when it comes to books, browsing should not be simply browsing for covers. No doubt a book cover is the first thing that catches our attention, but discerning readers know that that is simply the first step. The market, on the other hand, is strongly encouraging us to just look at the picture and download. Let’s outsmart this market: if this is what it wants us to do, it can only mean one thing, that it’s after our wallets. Choose a book like you would choose a partner, meaning, do have a look, but remember that that’s not what you are buying.

I have read article online on how to ‘sell books by the cover’; there are quite a few of them. I can’t say I was pleased with it. It’s an attempt to fool us readers. Mumble, mumble…

Think about what you will be doing with that book, which is, presumably, reading, so why not invest a bit of reading before buying? I feel the best way to find out if you will like a book is by reading excerpts. Otherwise, it would be like getting together with someone without having ever spoken with or communicated to them. The first few pages are available on the very sites that sell the book. Those may be enough, but some books are even better later on in the story (let’s not give them a chance to write a few great pages, sell, then fob us off with a lot of drivel to follow, and this is a marketing technique which is widespread… Food companies do similar things: have you ever noticed in jars the best ‘goodies’ are visible, then you get second-class ones? Have you ever noticed that when a new product is launched, both quantity and quality are better, then, after they get us hooked, lots of them change the recipe and size?)

So, if possible, check if there are other excerpts online . Books that are keen to direct you to excerpts are often good quality ones.

Reviews… Well, I know what the problem is. How reliable are they? Let’s see… Think about them as getting to know your perspective partner through what your friends say about him or her. They are, by definition, opinions. Take them as that. If the general feel is that you are going to spend all (or a big chunk) of your life with a good person or book, then you can add these ‘voices’ to your calculations. Make sure you read both expert reviews, those you find on specialised websites, in magazines etc, and readers’ reviews. Both can be skewed, though, usually, expert reviews are more reliable. Why? Simply because the very magazines, websites etc will not stake their reputation on a book. Readers’ reviews can be skewed though. How? And how do we find out? Authors and companies can get friends to write reviews, which is fine, as long as they are not influenced. How do we find if they are influenced? Simple: if they all more or less say the same. ‘This is a great book’ tells me nothing, nor does ‘I could not put it down.’ What you want to see is how readers have engaged with the book you wish to purchase. The more readers find different aspects of the book interesting, the more the book is likely to be good, and simultaneously, the more likely it is that the reviews are honest.

So, look at your partner’s clothes (the cover), spend time with him or her (excerpts), hear what others have to say, make sure that they are not trying to ‘fix you up’ (reviews).

Kindle, or the New Gay Closet

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Speaking to gay men a few years older than me, I realised that ‘once upon a time’ in a past not that far from now, reading gay literature, or books with gay characters, was an act of courage and defiance.

Nowadays, if you care to look on Amazon, you will find many books with gay characters, some which I would class as gay literature, others simply tapping into a fascination with gay sex (where the divide between sex and romance is in fact quite blurred), with covers often portraying two hunks in very erotic positions.

Although most gay literature has refrained from going for the easy catch of the erotically overcharged cover art, m/m romance, mainly novels written about gay men, or what is perceived by some as being gay sex life, seems to have championed this type of cover art, so much so that I personally find it hard to distinguish such titles by the cover, as there is only so much variation that can be offered on a theme.
But I am digressing… Or am I?

This seems, at first sign, to be an encouraging sign, the sign that finally we can read what we like and not risk discrimination on trains, buses, on the underground, in parks! But hey, there’s the rub: while men a generation older than myself really risked being bullied (beaten up, assaulted…let’s not forget even murdered) for being openly gay in our very cities and towns, and a book cover can say so much about a person’s sexuality… Book covers are no longer what we present to fellow passengers on the train. In fact, we now present a sterile and anonymous device, called a Kindle (or similar appliance), which has liberated us from fear of homophobia…or has it?

I wonder how many of these readers could open a paperback copy of the very same books on a nigh bus, even in London…

So, just a reflection…isn’t your Kindle just another closet?

Contemporary Authors to Look out for

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I have said a few times that there are great authors of gay fiction out there; I think it is fair to draw my ‘short list’ of writers who make gay literature and literature with homoerotic themes great.

This is not a comprehensive list.

How have I selected these living (and writing) authors? I have not done it on the basis of how ‘gay’ they are, in fact, you will see that some of them only touch on sexuality as a theme. I have not done it on the grounds of their popularity, in fact, some are just appearing on the literary scene. I have done it based on their writing qualities, on their ability to create convincing yet innovative stories, on their style, on how courageous they are in ‘pushing literature forward’ and on how I believe, in their different ways, these authors are contributing to the good name of literature with gay themes or characters or books by gay authors.

These are a few authors who buck the trend of ‘disposable’ novels that exploit the recent fascination for gay sexuality to simply sell books. These are authors who write because they love literature, because they are more similar to us readers and enjoy books, thus contribute to developing ways of writing and finding new ways of expressing ourselves and themselves.

These are authors who will stand the test of time, I believe, those that years from now we will be thankful for having read, unlike the many who we will soon forget and shelve in the attic.

The list has no order, the names are given alphabetically: this is not a chart… These authors are not in the silly competition of ‘chart topping’, but in a joint effort to produce good literature.

I shall try to put them in their literary context, not just gay, but mainstream too, and give you an idea of their style and achievements.

So, in alphabetical order…

Adriano Bulla

Both a poet and a novelist, this writer has been the focus of quite a lot of attention recently. We cannot say he is new, as you can find his poetry being published back in 2005, and being a pioneer of the Internet. In fact, on the page count of ‘Between Dreams’, a poem which some regard as a gay classic, I read more than 100,000 readers…

However, he is new to novels, and his first novel, The Road to London continues his journey of experimentation with style and form he started with his poetry, very successfully and creating a unique and ‘hallucinatory’ style in a novel that fuses as remote and improbable elements as music, clubbing, dreams, poetry and art and which has both the vivid colours and flavour of classic literature and the taste and readability of modern fiction.

It appears that most reviewers and critics, as well as readers, have spotted the huge literary potential of this novel: it has been compared to as disparate a classic as Wuthering Heights and The Pilgrim’s Progress, with a plethora of classics in between. What is important, I think, is not so much which classic it resembles, if anything, it resembles all and none, as it is extremely original, but the fact that it is constantly compared to one or more of the great classics we all love. This says a lot. If you read a novel and your first thoughts go to the great classics…well, that does not happen often.

I need to be careful here, as I know the word ‘classic’ can be off putting. When I read the many comparisons to the great, the very top, works of literature, I do not read any implication that this novel is a drag, on the contrary, it seems to appeal to such a wide range of readers, and it is, in many ways, easy to read, surprising and very enjoyable. I think this is the main literary achievement of this author: to make the classics enjoyable and approachable. Even a little quote from scary Ulysses put in the right context, as this novel does, is easily digestible and very meaningful, without having to resort to annotated editions.

The mix of realism and symbolism in the novel creates a beautiful dynamic between reality and dreams, as does the mix between prosaic, sometimes harsh sentences and ‘poetry in prose’. What this novel does to put gay literature on the map? Easy…it simply is great literature, and the fact that the character is gay is, well, fundamental, but tangential.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Road-London-Adriano-Bulla-ebook/dp/B00GXFOHZ0

 

John Collins

This, so far less well-known, author plays an important role in mixing metaphor and slang in some of his recent work. There seems to be a trend within gay literature to bring the metaphorical within the reach of the new generation, and this is where John Collins works and the direction towards which his novels pull.

He is an extremely prolific writer, with nigh on 100 works to choose from, but I shall focus on one, as I will for all authors.

Virgin to Life explores the potential of extended metaphors pushing them towards the verge of symbolism, while being an urban gay story, it does not forget the power of words is not in what they say, but what they mean. The language is that of the street, which, in a way, makes it less accessible to many readers, but if a reader only wants to read words he or she knows, then, maybe he or she should not attempt literature at all.

There is, in this novel, a clear intention to talk about universal themes such as growing up and self-discovery through the life of a gay man and his development. Firmly rooted in the Bildungsroman tradition, the literary achievement of this work is to bring such tradition into the contemporary world and into the experience of being gay.

This author has the potential to present the gay experience in a non-stereotypical way, with his use of street language and themes, he represents a reality where gay men are not just either the middle class beaux who dance and shag their lives away in fashionable clothes, nor the improbable shadows of popular legend presented by many m/m books nowadays, rather, he presents a reality where gay men are, in many ways, edactly like many youths of today: frustrated, disadvantaged and disenfranchised.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Virgin-Life-John-Collins-ebook/dp/B00BOXPGLA

 

Robert Dunbar

Robert Dunbar is at the very cutting-edge of experimentation with language, style, form and structure. The first word that comes to my mind when thinking about his extraordinary books is avant garde.

Dunbar is proud of his skills as a writer, and he should be, as he is a very courageous innovator of literature. We, as gay readers, should be honoured to have such a creative and uncompromising author to lead the way into new forms of leaterature. When I say ‘uncompromising’, I mean that it is clear that this great author does not care an iota bout fashion and trends: he writes his own novels, and indisputably his!

The experiments he carries out in each of his novels start at the very root of literature: language itself. So, in Willy, for example, we find a voice slowly getting to grips with the grammar of English, growing as the novel progresses, starting with an incident which at first appears to be insignificant, a graze to the knee, and growing into something much more serious and sinister.

The novel is for me a reflection on how little things that may seem to be irrelevant at first, can in reality influence out life. A quirk of birth, an episode as a child… Being born…well, gay, for example…

Where does he place himself in terms of the literary tradition? Some may see him as a post-modernist, but I would disagree: I feel he is much more along the path of deconstructing Modernism itself. He follows Joyce but he disagrees with him, clearly, in the way literature should lead readers along the path and not throw obstacles into the reader’s journey.

To even be able to argue, in a literary way, with the Great Master of All Modern Literature is an achievement in itself, and we should be, as I have said, extremely proud to have a trail-blazer such as Dunbar writing today.

http://www.amazon.com/WILLY-Robert-Dunbar-ebook/dp/B0052AI04G

 

Christoph Fischer

Fischer is an established author, and has done a lot for the gay community, even if his writings do not necessarily focus on the gay experience. And there is nothing wrong with it! In fact, I see Fischer as (a bit) the contemporary E.M. Forster. Why? For him, homosexuality is one of the many themes he can write about with great ease and accomplishment. His novels demonstrate that he can virtually choose any topic and different genres and give us an original and innovative perspective on them.

Like other writers on this list, he was not born in an English-speaking country, which again, suggests the pattern that Post-Colonialism has penetrated deep into the roots of gay literature. In fact, he was born on the borders with Austria. There is a general trend of excellent European writers who have appropriated the English language much more skilfully than many UK authors and have made it their own favourite expressive medium. Fischer is a leading figure of this trend. I see this as a homage, as an honour, from the point of view of a British (Welsh) critic: English, through our volition, has become the lingua Franca of the world, and our literature must be the literature of the world, which does not mean telling the world what we Brits want to say, but sharing the same literary platform.

The Luck of Weissensteiners is only an example of how this writer can master literary styles and add new perspectives to well-established genres.

It is a novel, broadly speaking a historical novel, based on the horrors of the Holocaust. Apart from great historical accuracy, and with dealing with a particularly poignant theme, this novel does not fall into the temptation of exploiting the theme for sensationalistic and melodramatic purposes. There is an underlying honesty in the accounts in this novel which is difficult to find in texts on WWII. This does not necessarily mean objectivity, nor is a novel meant to be objective, but honest. Please mark my words.

When dramatic scenes occur, Fischer keeps them within the realm of credibility and within the tone of a sorrowful whisper, rather than the loud cry of pain we can find elsewhere. This does not make the pain less penetrating, less strong, but even more touching. It is up to the reader to cry out, not to the characters.

Of course, this novel also reflects reality insofar as the plot is quite complex and complicated, which is what one would expect under such circumstances.

What this author achieves, with this novel, in terms of putting gay literature on the map is to counteract the impression that is so rife out there that gay novels, or novels by gay writers, have to be exaggerated, fantastical and…not credible…moving gay literature one step closer to the door of the mainstream

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Luck-Weissensteiners-Three-Nations-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00AFQC4QC

 

Stephen Fry

How can we forget that the ‘Good Uncle of All Brit Gays’ is also an outstanding writer? There is not much I can say about this extraordinary figure that the British (and I suspect worldwide) readers do not know, but I shall start with his acting career…why? You will find out later…

Apart from having given life to the hilarious General (eh, eh, eh) in Black Adder Goes Forth (and who can forget?) he also played the lead role in the film Wilde where our national treasure sustained the role of one of the greatest icons of gay literature ever extremely well, despite the script being poor (this is my opinion, as aphorism after aphorism does not make a good film…)

But the parallel with Wilde do not end on the big screen: maybe because there are many similarities (not only in appearance) between Wilde and Fry, I think our contemporary legend has taken his predecessor to heart. Both, in fact, have a deeply rooted reason for presenting the world through quips and aphorisms that makes their writing, if read in the right light, not just incredibly funny, but poignant at the same time.

Life is presented through the filter of humour to hide, or maybe to highlight (?) the deep sadness rooted at the bottom of the heart of the writers, and of their characters as well.

In The Liar, my favourite novel by Fry, we follow the path of a young gay man through school and beyond. This journey is constellated with witticisms, with funny and light moments, as well as with a real sense of introspection. In fact, I believe this is one of his most autobiographical works.

But why should someone present one’s own life as funny, when we know that fun is only part of it? I feel both Wilde and Fry want to fight against that horrible monster which is depression, depression in its darkest and most dreary form, and humour has always been the strongest weapon at our disposal to counter it.

I don’t for a minute believe Wilde ever really meant that art has no content; if it had been so, he would have avoided content in his works, instead they are often rich in meaning and more often rich in social criticism. What Fry does is turn the ‘Wilde paradox’ on its head and propose not social criticism as the theme of his art, but criticism of himself. In fact, the big difference between Wilde and Fry is that, in order to write The Liar he must have distanced himself from himself. He is not judgemental about his past, but critical, which is a life lesson I wish we all followed.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Liar-Stephen-Fry-ebook/dp/B004071TAY

 

Roger Kean

Roger Kean, an established author, follows in the footsteps of Mary Renault, but of course, with his original touch.

Why do I keep going back to Mary Renault? Because I believe that, like in ‘ethnic’ literature, in gay literature too there is an intrinsic need to ‘re-write’ history including the point of view of the minorities. This is a necessary step towards being accepted in the mainstream, and let’s remember that history and literature are not at all dissimilar…

Roger Kean contributes to the emancipation of gay literature in a very significant way: his novels have gay characters, no doubt, but they also bring forward the structures of historical fiction beyond what we normally expect in mainstream (or straight) novels. Let’s take Robert Graves, for example. He based I Claudius, arguably the most popular historical novel of all time on annual ism and diary writing. This offers an advantage insofar as it allows the reader to be very intimate with the narrator, read his/ her thoughts etc… But it also gives us a main disadvantage: the loss of perspective and the loss of reliability. Kean must have realised that in order to present characters as reliable witnesses, annalism and diaries are not the way forward.

Instead, he makes his narratives more fact-based, more impartial, yet giving them gay protagonists and at the same time telling the world that gay people have contributed to history. This makes Kean the leading historical fiction writer in the gay community.

What is more, he mixes historical fiction with stronger elements of adventure than we usually find, which make his novels extremely pleasurable.

His is the work of a modern illuminator: he adds the missing touches to the history of the world in gold leaf, with colour and entertaining the reader…

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Apart-Roger-M-Kean-ebook/dp/B00AZMTOUK

 

Brandon Shire

Mixing romance, eroticism adventure and thriller elements is not a sin, in fact it is part of the gay experience. What Shire does is provide a perfect formula for successful gay novels. There may not be that many elements of thriller in our life (at least I hope so), but those are necessary for fiction to be…just that..thrilling.

One of the many examples, but in my view my favourite, of how Shire writes successfully, almost making readers forget (and I will come back to this in a minute) that what we are reading is gay fiction is his beautifully entitled Listening to Dust: here Shire shows how his influences, from Poe to Wilde, can work perfectly together to create an explosive novel.

I think he takes a flair for the witty sentence from Wilde, but his witticisms seem to be, at least to me, much more related to universal truths and revelations than to ‘the ways of society’ which we find in the late Victorian writer.

He also knows Edgar Allan Poe quite well, his writing style, as he introduces elements of mystery and thriller with a similar pace and a keen eye on producing an effect on the reader as that which we find in the Father of Horror and Thriller.

Now, back to my previous point (I did say I would get back to it…) Why is it important for readers to forget that they are reading gay fiction? I think this is because, among many straight men, there is a general reluctance to reading anything which has gay themes or characters… Maybe this latent literary homophobia can be won in two ways, one, when the reader actually puts aside all preconceptions and prejudice, two, when the writer allows the reader to forget that the characters are gay, and enjoy the story as if the characters were…well, straight.

This is something all gay readers do most of the time: when I read most of the books I read, I can easily put aside my gay nature and empathise with straight characters. Women seem to find doing the same for gay men more easy than straight men… Thus, Shire’s novels allow those straight men who regard themselves as ‘gay friendly’, but not friendly enough to be reminded that the novel is about being gay, yet just about as friendly as to accept some gay sex if put within the bigger picture of adventure, thriller and suspense, to open a gay novel and start on the path towards finally embracing characters that are not necessarily exactly like them… Maybe, one day they will also realise that no character is exactly like them, but at this stage in gay literature, Shire’s novels are exactly what we need to bring more readers towards our cause…

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Listening-To-Dust-Brandon-Shire-ebook/dp/B007JB6ATS

 

 

Wrulf Gunkul VonGlashaus

We should never forget the leading role of poetry in developing new ways of expression: poetry is by nature experimental, intense, and dense, and forms used in poetry can, as I have pointed out about another writer, be then transfers to prose very successfully.

No Quatrains, But Refrains is his latest effort, and I think it is more successful in being ‘poetic’, by which I mean being an ‘exceptional use of the language to convey emotions’, than many renowned, celebrated and mainstream straight (forgive me) UK poets.

The title itself explains that the choice to do away with a fixed structure should not take away from the musicality of the poems themselves. The poems do have a consistent alliterative structure, though, which, I must remind the readers, is a look back at the Anglo-Saxon tradition. There are often unexpected metaphors, that partly remind me of the Metaphysical Poets (maybe I have not pointed out that Adriano Bulla, of whom above, is clearly engrafted on the Metaphysical Tradition, do I start to detect a pattern within gay poetry?). The reason is for me that the contradictions (mainly between the soul and society) that the ‘gay experience’ provides cannot be explained through a Romantic kind of sensibility: the ‘gay world’ is contradictory, complex, and cannot be easily explained through traditional means of expression. This is possibly why I believe gay literature will be the ‘engine of mainstream literature’, if we play our cards right.

http://www.amazon.com/Quatrains-Refrains-Wrulf-Gunkl-VonGlashaus/dp/1496131401

A Boy’s Own Story, Edmund White

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Maybe the secret of the fairly high popularity among gay men of this novel is in the publication date, 1986. In fact, I can’t even find a kindle edition of it. Why? Because when gay novels had to be bought in paper format, and, if you dared, read with the cover facing the other passengers on the train or bus, it took some courage to buy them.

I will go back to the publication date, and do a bit of maths…barely thirty years ago. How things have changed in some countries! How much kindle has changed reading habits is hard to say but easy to guess…

A Boy’s Own Story is nothing exceptional: a Bildungsroman of sorts, which portrays a boy discovering he is gay with his experiences on holiday, and clearly accepts his sexuality without much questioning. Where I think Edmund White missed a chance is just here: in 1986, being gay in the UK was still taboo, if not everywhere, at least on the media. Let’s remember that even Boy George, clearly gay now, wasn’t out yet publicly at the time, and his sexuality was only alluded to by his mannerism, and the only public figure who would openly defend gay rights was the one who was meant to become, for good reasons, the greatest gay icon of all time: Queen of Pop Madonna.

Edmund White, I was saying, misses the chance to tap into the emotional turmoil that is discovering that you are gay. Even nowadays, even if you have a supportive family, if you go to a ‘normal’ school (I’d think that things are rather different at Eaton), you still have to face discrimination and bullying, and the horrible feeling of being ‘different’.

Yet White has none of this. What is more, I am not even fully convinced the protagonist enjoys sex with Kevin, and the concluding scene, though politically charged and sensational, is as dry as the Sahara Desert.

The portrayal of sexuality as passionless has, I think, done so much damage to the perception of gay like and identity, as well as to the recent developments of gay literature, especially with the recent boom (and soon to follow bust) of m/m romance, that I believe this novel has been, in some ways, more detrimental than expedient to the gay community.

I read in The New York Times Review that this novel is compared to Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, and I wonder if the reviewer ever read either of the texts: there is nothing more diametrically opposite to Wilde’s heart-rending letter to Andre Gide than White’s novel… Does it make the cut into literature? Just about, more for it’s influence than for it’s literary values.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Boys-Own-Story-Picador-Books/dp/0330281518

The Road to London, Adriano Bulla

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This continues my series of posts on great gay literature by contemporary authors…

We meet a boy about to jump to his death, then a strange voice swears it will save the world, the universe, and…you? Who is you though? The boy? His life flashes before the reader’s eyes, from birth to when he… We can’t say that.. Why? Because the end of this story depends on you, the reader…

In the meantime, we penetrate deep into the boy’s life, into his dreams, his nightmares, his hallucinations induced by drugs, but also into his soul: his desperate need to be one of the lads fighting with his need to be himself, a submissive and gay boy, which he denies to himself. His sexual experiences, sometimes narrated with the icy cold of the toilets where they take place, sometimes with the poetic magic of his dreams and passion; his great loves, his confusion between friendship and love, but, above all, his angst and insecurity.

Whether the much talked about ‘letters’ to his great love, My Dear, which conclude every chapter, are real or letters to an imaginary friend, they take place in his ‘alternative’ life, the future only the reader can give him, his life in a gay night club in London.

This novel is hypnotic, very unusual, daring and extremely innovative. The style sways between curt realism and total surrealism, the perspective changes between the outside world and the boy’s subconscious with unbelievable ease and beauty.

If there is a rising star in the pantheon of literature, gay or not, this is for sure The Road to London, already described as a ‘gay classic’, ‘the future of literature’, ‘profoundly original’ and ‘one of the greatest and darkest’ novels ever…by critics, reviewers and other writers.

There are speculations that this novel has been entered for no less than the Man Booker Prize, after critics, in an unusual move, have been asking for it to be submitted for the most prestigious prize in literature. Although I am not privy to this, it appears that the publishers, Mirador, seem to be nodding with assent. It clearly is Booker material; and wouldn’t it be great to finally have a gay-themed novel as a Booker Prize (finalist)? For sure it has left so many readers impressed and blown over…if you don’t read it, it’s your loss… It is an incredible experience. This is a ‘different’ book, but really beautiful and touching.

Although it would be a fallacy to say now, in its early stages, what the impact of this novel is, it is clear from its intrinsic and impressive literary value that this is a book with the potential to influence not just gay literature, but literature as a whole, a bit like The Color Purple has done from the ‘lesbian literary corner’ of our bookshelves.

I forgot…the name of this boy? We never find out…

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Road-London-Adriano-Bulla-ebook/dp/B00GXFOHZ0