Wednesday, April 04, 2007

In the most recent edition of the Lambda Book Report (sorry; not available on-line), there is a review of When the Stars Come Out by Tom Eubanks, a writer-editor-agent. Let's just say that he wasn't in love with my book, and I'm fine with that. It wasn't blistering -- and I know blistering -- but it was... eh.

One thing, though: in his review, Eubanks writes:
Coming out, old (and new) gay Hollywood, power, forgiveness, and love are some of Byrnes's larger themes, but what one takes away is how Will & Grace-ified gay male culture has become... Instead of HIV status, politics, or sexual proclivities, we hear the young gay lovers argue over "long-term monogamous relationships." Noah's only feeling of shame is that he doesn't appreciate all that he has. His ailing father has always been accepting of him, and his boyfriend is not only beautiful, but drug-free, single, gainfully employed, and (inexplicably) head-over-heels in love with him.
I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm being thin-skinned when I object to this characterization. Let me state clearly that I know what I write, and I write -- follow me here, because some people don't seem to grasp this -- Light. Gay. Commercial. Fiction.

I set out to write books that make you feel good. I want to make you laugh. I am trying to create a fantasy world where, when bad things happen, they happen for ultimately comical reasons. It's a world in which an innocent can find himself hiding in drag to fit into a Mafia family; where a failed actor's attempt to climb the social ladder to success spins disastrously out of control; and where an older gay man's reminiscences and his ex-wife's cartoonish fury serve to accomplish what no amount of self-righteousness can in bringing the famous and obscure out of their closets.

Now, I am not saying I always succeed, but those are my goals. If, in the process, something makes you think, that's a good thing. I have written about the liberation of being free from the closet; the vitality of older gay people; the imperatives of taking risks; and the joy of pure love. I've touched on the petty racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and internalized homophobia that exists within and outside the gay community. But...

But that's not my purpose. There's a lot of 'message fiction' on the shelves already, and it's written by men and women far more skilled than I am. My singular purpose is to keep you entertained for a few days. That's it.

In three books, I think I've mentioned AIDS once or twice, and I don't have a problem with that. There are a ton of books that have HIV and AIDS as a central or secondary theme, and if that's what you want to read about, you can and should look elsewhere. My HIV-positive friends really don't feel that it's a literary imperative to have to read about the virus every time they crack the spine of a book.

You want to read about sexual proclivities? Or, hell, sex? Almost every other LGBT book written is positively dripping with sex, so knock yourself out. As a human being, I enjoy and (I'm told) am quite good at it; as a writer, it's not my thing.

You want your characters to be druggies? Perhaps that would lend a touch of verisimilitude in small doses, but the gay men I surround myself with aren't druggies, and I really wouldn't know what to write about. My characters may be self-destructive in their own ways, but -- with the exception of a character in Stars who frequently escaped his anguish through marijuana -- I don't write drugs. Of course, in every one of my books, almost every character drinks like a fish, so I'm not claiming any sort of moral superiority.

When my characters talk about concepts like monogamy and long-term relationships, and when they fall "head-over-heels" in love, it's because that's the sort of thing I've seen and heard discussed at length in my social crowd. Now, you can say that my circle of friends is a bit vanilla -- except for the liver damage, that is -- but that's just comparing your experience to mine, and not a truly valid commentary. Someone else's comparative decadence -- or worldliness, or subversiveness, or whatever other name you want to give it -- is fine with me, too, as long as you can live with my Will & Grace-ification.

Hmm. In re-reading this, I may be giving the impression that Tom Eubanks's review was wounding to me. It really wasn't, but it's clear that he isn't into the type of novels I write, and therefore was probably not the best choice of a reviewer, just as I'd be ill-suited to review gay erotica vampire novels. But since he didn't seem to know in advance what he was getting, I figure I'd better warn the rest of you.

In the meantime, I'll continue to write the light comic novels that speak to a large slice of the gay population that wants to escape. It isn't Great Important Literature, and I know it. But there's nothing wrong with that, either.