Rainbows & Unicorns, or Truth in Fiction

An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards. 
— F. Scott Fitzgerald

I, like most writers with a modicum of self-control and a soupcon of good sense, don’t comment on reviews. But I do read each and every one. Mostly out of curiosity. I’m genuinely curious about what readers think of my work, of the stories I chose to tell, of the words I choose to tell them with—and yes, I realize that can be two very different things. I realize reviewers write not for writers but for other readers to either steer them to books they liked or away from others that somehow disappointed them.

I don’t read reviews to learn what readers want—I decided long ago when I started writing seriously that I wasn’t writing to market but rather writing the stories that burned in me and let the market find me. Perhaps a stupid approach—certainly not a lucrative one, but one that allows me to feel good about my work. And on those dark days, that all writers experience, when I doubt my talent and despondency threatens to consume me, I remind myself that The Great Gatsby—arguably one of the best books ever written—was, at the time it was published, a commercial failure.

Like I said, I read all my reviews and there are often common themes reflected in these. I’ve decided to address the most common themes in this post.

Timeline

While the timespan for all three off my novels vary from 10 to 40 years, all three encompass the period from the late 70s to the late 80s. Quite simply that is because that is when I came of age. I write not so much to remember as to ensure we don’t forget. I write to honor those no longer here. I write to tell their stories, to keep them present. As Lincoln says in Unbroken: “And in between all the faces that were present, all the faces that weren’t; I saw Maritza smile and Thibodeaux nod.”

All three books explore similar themes. The explanation for that is simple. I saw these three books as a sort of triptych. They are “stand-alone” novels but taken together they are a like a series of painting exploring the same subject. Somewhere in my mind there is an idea to bring the characters from all three books all together in a fourth book.

Bad things/Dark things

Sure, bad things—sometimes terrible things--happen to my characters. But with the bad there is good—just as in real life. And as in life, every night is followed by a dawn. So, no one is leading a gilded existence (well except for Dondi & his brothers in What Binds Us), but hell, in life most of us aren’t farting rainbows; and if someone shoves a unicorn up your ass, you’re gonna bleed.

It is often observed that my stories focus on a dark time. The observation is often buffered by the ingenuously added, “things are so much better now.”
And things have gotten better. Yes, incrementally they have but for a large portion evidently not much has changed. Our youth still struggle to come out, are often met with derision and violence when they do. Look at these statistics:
  •        Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.1
  •        LGBT youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.2
  •        LGBT youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. 2

And, just last Saturday Donald Trump became the first sitting president to ever speak at a gathering of a recognized anti-gay hate group, promising them their anti-LGBT views would “no longer be silenced.”

“I am honored and thrilled,” he said, “to be the first sitting president to address this gathering of friends, so many friends.” (Read the news story here.)

AIDS

AIDS hangs like a shadow just over our shoulders for a generation of gay men, just as the Holocaust, and slavery, hangs like a shadow over the shoulder of others. We cannot forget or tidy the past.

I’m not a writer of an airbrushed, photoshopped, prettified gay experience. I tend to address what is in the world around us—drug addiction, sex work, domestic violence, the singularity of the black gay experience, and yes, AIDS.

Last week, a Mississippi High School removed To Kill a Mockingbird from its shelves because it made people uncomfortable. Isn’t that the point of fiction—to take people out of their complacency to show them truths they may not have been aware of? I know that is certainly my goal when I sit down to write.

It’s a big, bad ugly world out there, but there is also joy, and beauty, and love—if you have the courage to look for it. Same with my books.

SOURCES:
[1] CDC, NCIPC. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [online]. (2010) {2013 Aug. 1}.  Available from:www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars.

[2] CDC. (2016). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Comments

  1. To be honest. I review to express my emotions. Sometimes a book grabs me by my heart and I desperately want to share my feelings. To find companions...More even I want to stand on a roof and shout out what that book did to me...and maybe I can find a soul with who I can connect...Your books did that to me...
    I'm glad I found Goodreads to express myself, even when some authors hate the site.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for sharing why you review books. I get why you do it. I don't hate Goodreads. I think as a writer, I value platforms that give voice to the otherwise voiceless. I think you write really good reviews--I don't mean of my books alone, but in general. And I appreciate your support. Writing is such a solitary task, it's always nice to learn about a reader's experience.

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