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'Mainstream' and gay characters


albertnothlit

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Hi all,

 

   I've recently joined GA and so far I'm loving the community. I have a question that I think might spark some interesting discussion: I've had success in the past in selling stories to publishing houses that specialize in gay-friendly content, but I have tried unsuccessfully to get a larger company to show interest in my latest novel, which is science fiction-oriented but in which the characters are gay men. It is not romance, and their sexual orientation is not the focus of the story, but nevertheless I keep butting my head against this invisible wall of what 'mainstream' literature should be, i.e., straight characters or if someone is gay, then they better be supporting characters at most. What has been your experience on this so far?

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I don't have experience with trying to sell fiction, but I was talking with a small-town librarian about my editing work here and asking whether she would ever take in self-published books. She said yes, but that she has had to hold off on some gay-content manuscripts because of their high sexual content. There may possibly be a perception that gay = erotica every time.

 

I guess at some point you'd have to compare apples to apples by genre, right? I mean, science fiction and romance do tend to have a lot of sex. It doesn't seem reasonable to argue that straight sex is ok and the same amount of gay sex is not.

Edited by Irritable1
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I agree completely. There is this misconception that if a work of fiction is gay-oriented then it must have sex as a major plot element and that is not necessarily true. I think it will take some time still before fiction featuring gay protagonists is viewed under the same light as fiction with straight characters. I like to think progress is being made, though. If only a little at a time.

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If only a little at a time.

 

I think we may find that it's like a lot of minority experiences... the [mainstream] popular expansion stops at a certain point. Then again, it hasn't even started yet, really, so let's see.

Edited by Irritable1
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I don't have experience with trying to sell fiction, but I was talking with a small-town librarian about my editing work here and asking whether she would ever take in self-published books. She said yes, but that she has had to hold off on some gay-content manuscripts because of their high sexual content. There may possibly be a perception that gay = erotica every time.

 

I guess at some point you'd have to compare apples to apples by genre, right? I mean, science fiction and romance do tend to have a lot of sex. It doesn't seem reasonable to argue that straight sex is ok and the same amount of gay sex is not.

 

There are just so many ways to describe the act, and at a certain point one feels deja vu. Also, if a reader has matters in hand, then won't he just skip to the scene, then bounce when he's done? I mean, a one-handed reader certainly isn't going to care too much about the description of the garden or the relationship between Bob and his great-grandmother. I know it's a struggle to get people to read at all, but it seems to me where sex is concerned, video has always enjoyed a huge advantage.

 

I don't think publishers are down on gay writers from what I see on the shelves and what I've bought for my shelves. This is like the golden age of gay lit.

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I was always told to write based on your target audience. If your target audience doesn't want graphic sexual descriptions, don't include them. That's for mainstream. There are always authors that push boundaries, and that's part of their appeal -- but it's an appeal that isn't widely accepted. It's a smaller target audience who is looking for those things.

 

You could always do what Trudi Canavan did in her Black Magician trilogy: publish the first book and then in the second book reveal that one of the characters in the first book is gay...and make his romance a major plot element. I suspect the publisher was committed by that stage and couldn't say no :D

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If you are interested in finding a publisher, Dreamspinner Press has a new imprint that is specifically for fiction where the protagonist/antagonist(s) are gay, but it isn't driven by romance. They aren't necessarily taking submissions for that right now, but anything that crosses their desks is considered for DSP Publications.

 

Disclaimer: I'm an unpaid proofreader for all their lines.

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I miss literature with LGBTQ+ main characters that isn't romance based. I'm working on a detective novel myself, about a gay police detective. It has a romantic subplot, but subplot is all it is. I tried to think if I'd ever read or seen a mystery with a gay main character, and found that I hadn't. What's worse, I don't think I've ever read or seen a mystery or crime show where the gay supporting character wasn't brutally murdered, or turned out to be a villain. And that really bothers me.

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I've read two stories by Sara Bell (they were online before she revised and published them) that feature a gay policeman investigating crimes. Both were predominantly mysteries, the first having a romantic subplot (from memory):

 

The Magic In Your Touch

The Way You Say My Name

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I've read two stories by Sara Bell (they were online before she revised and published them) that feature a gay policeman investigating crimes. Both were predominantly mysteries, the first having a romantic subplot (from memory):

 

The Magic In Your Touch

The Way You Say My Name

Those are two of my favorite stories in this genre.  Do you know if she's still writing? 

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According to goodreads, yes. There's a comment that "The Magic In Your Touch" was her first novel, and there are a lot of other ones listed at that link.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I agree completely. There is this misconception that if a work of fiction is gay-oriented then it must have sex as a major plot element and that is not necessarily true. I think it will take some time still before fiction featuring gay protagonists is viewed under the same light as fiction with straight characters. I like to think progress is being made, though. If only a little at a time.

 

I agree that we are almost to the point of seeing films with gay main characters. It may be indie film at first, then the silver screen (I hope). Now to change the perception (very wrong on at that) that gay = erotica. To this point, I no longer call myself a romance writer, I call it gay drama with romantic elements.

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When I hear "mainstream character", I get the idea of Ward and June Clever- the Beaver's parents.

 

The word I hate my Mom used to say- why can't you act like normal people.

 

I don't know any. I wouldn't know how to write one.

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I agree that we are almost to the point of seeing films with gay main characters.

The kids' movie Paranorman featured one of the supporting characters as being gay. Now, I'll admit he wasn't the best role model, but it's a kids' film with an explicitly gay character (even if you don't find out until the end of the movie).

 

The TV show How To Get Away With Murder also features a gay character. Again, not one I'd consider to be a role model, but the character is one who fits the show who just happens to be gay. It's not something that is subtle, either -- he spends parts of the first two episodes (the only two I've seen) seducing guys to get things he wants.... The show would've worked equally well if he was straight seducing women, but they made him gay instead.

 

Being gay is definitely becoming part of normal culture, at least as far as TV and film is concerned. It's not there yet, but it's close.

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The TV show How To Get Away With Murder also features a gay character. Again, not one I'd consider to be a role model, but the character is one who fits the show who just happens to be gay. It's not something that is subtle, either -- he spends parts of the first two episodes (the only two I've seen) seducing guys to get things he wants....

 

The huge smash hit Netflix series House of Cards had an episode where the Vice-President's secret service agent stays late at the VP's house and has a couple of drinks with the man's wife. Minutes later, the VP comes in... and all three of them begin kissing each other! It was kind of a jaw-dropping moment where you figure, "the VP is such a manipulative, power-mad guy, he'll just grab anything he can get... men and women." Quite a stunning moment, even more so when you consider Kevin Spacey is the lead. Great show.

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