Thursday, September 27, 2007

First, the bad news: these aren't heady days for gay literature and the men and women who write it.

Although the big chains continue to shelve many titles -- and good for them -- gay-specific bookstores continue to close, and InsightOut Books, the only LGBT book club, is selling off its remaining stock at deep discount as it prepares to go dark. Gay-friendly publishers and imprints like Carroll & Graf and Haworth are being closed or sold, which will inevitably mean a decrease in the number of LGBT books being published. Other publishers will pick up some of the slack, but will they be able to give their gay titles (and writers) the same sort of TLC and knowledge of the genre as their predecessors? I'm skeptical. I support mainstreaming, of course, but often the mainstream doesn't know what to do with our same-sex offerings.

It's easy to bitch about the dwindling supply, but that only reflects the demand. And, yeah, I've bitched enough about that over the years. If gay readers (or, rather, gay would-be readers) and gay publications don't care about gay literature, why should it be an outsized priority on the supply side?

So much for Macroeconomics 101. Let me add that things have been a bit disappointing -- albeit not critically disappointing -- on the personal side, too. While sales of my books have been all right, they have not exactly set the publishing world on fire. Unfortunately, when I try to do something about that, it almost seems counter-productive.

For example, that big book tour I was once planning for November isn't getting traction; despite numerous calls and e-mails, I've managed to get the cold shoulder from large and small booksellers up and down the East Coast. Even one independent gay bookstore -- a bookstore I have promoted by name many times over past years -- told me their schedule couldn't accommodate me until 2008. If that's the way my 'friends' treat me, I shouldn't be surprised that the managers of almost every Barnes & Noble from Washington to Boston have ignored my calls.

(Uh... with the exception of the reading I'll be doing in Rochester on November 24, that is. Love them. Details are in the sidebar.)

Oh well. Since these appearances would have been paid for out of my own pocket, maybe they've done me a favor. It's not as if I'm getting five-figure advances for this glamorous writing life. And it's not as if I'm alone; most of my fellow writers in the genre are in the exact same position. It's just the state of the art.

It can be frustrating, and the opposite of remunerative, and there are times I want to walk away and find a better use for my precious free time. But those moments are mercifully fleeting. Because -- to repeat the joke I share with my agent, except in this case it isn't a joke -- we do it for the love.

We do it because we have to do it.

As you know -- because you've read When the Stars Come Out, right? -- at the heart of my most recent novel is the concept that coming out of the closet is the single most important thing a person can do to influence and educate others. Throughout the book, a wide range of characters -- young, old, liberal, conservative, famous, obscure -- either come out or reflect on their personal journeys. In the process, they cumulatively cause a ripple effect that leads even a fearful, deeply closeted gay man to take his first bold steps into the sunlight.

Part of me -- the part that feels frustrated and channels Rodney Dangerfield at times -- knows that I invented some characters and a plot, typed 115,00 words, and collected my tiny reward. But the other, better part of me -- the part that has to do it; the part that does it for the love -- knows that there are deeper rewards:

Mr. Rob Byrnes,

I hope you aren't offended, but I don't know why I bought your book When The Stars Come Out. But I am glad I did. I could really relate to the way each person 'came out' in their own way, which ever best fit his personal circumstance. Noah could be brave, with his tolerant/sympathetic family, so he could 'come out' as a teenager, but even though he was the main character I liked it that you showed that everyone's case was different, and didn't make one way any better than the other.

I had been thinking about this for a while, but your book helped make my decision for me. October 11 is Natl. Coming Out day and I am ready to come out to my family and (straight) friends. Maybe if I come out, I can influence others, just like Noah and Quinn influenced others. And like you (thru your book) influenced me. Time for MY star to come out LOL!


Oh, hell... I guess despite the quotidian humiliations and lack of respect and unresponsive booksellers and paltry readership and small paychecks, I'm going to have to keep writing.

For the love.