Thursday, November 29, 2012

Genre-fication


“Don't classify me, read me. I'm a writer, not a genre.”  -- Carlos Fuentes



I'm fairly new at this writing thing. But, even so---in such a short time---I've got a past. What I call fondly the good ol' days.

With a smile in my heart, I cling to memories of my beginnings as a writer. Everybody starts out differently. For me, it began as fantasy stories shared with a friend, all involving Rudolph Valentino. My friend and I were hopeless Valentino fans and we blissfully lost ourselves in writing scenarios in which we, of course, were his lovers. We'd write installments and trade them.

The one night I dreamed of Russell Crowe and Valentino got tossed to the side of the road in favor of swarthy Maximus in my new Gladiator fantasy.

Then...then...I had this relentless drive to actually...write. A real story, as in submitting it. It was going to be shocking, it was going to be a best seller. I was going to be famous.

So I took off on a new journey with a new destination...fame.

A Mafia story, it was. Funny thing, though, as illustrious and famed as I planned to be, I still wrote for fun. What more could there BE to this writing gig, after all? One simply wrote a story, thumbed through a list of agents then simply plunked the manuscript into the mail. I'd like this to be published, please. The lucky agent, all a-flutter at the most magnificent manuscript they'd ever received, would hasten to find me a publishing house and there it would be. In like Flynn. I would soon be famous.

Please. Are you going to make me humiliate myself by telling you the outcome to THAT dream?

The thing was, it was so much fun. I was so new, so green. So full of hope. I was doing something I loved, and----joy of joys---it would make me money and make me famous. But, bottom line. God, how I loved it.

My first serious stab at writing was a Mafia story. It was, at first glance, what is known in the publishing world as a 'hetero' romance or a male/female romance, a story between a man and a woman.

I tossed in a gay couple as secondary characters. The genre bible said, this still falls into male/female romance. Whew. So I know still had that genre thing on track, that gave me a good insight into where I could publish. Which publishers accepted what.

Oh, but one thing. It is still male/female romance UNLESS the gay couple have on-screen sex.

Uh-oh. Okay, so they DO have sex on the page. So, does that mean...?

Oh, that's different. You've now ventured over into mainstream. It can no longer be a hetero romance if there is an other-than-heterosexual sex scene or scenes in the story.

Very well, so I'll start looking for a publisher who...

Now you COULD take the gay characters out of the story.

Nah, I really like these guys, couldn't I just...?

Not in this story, and still call it a hetero romance. Now, you could perhaps put them in their own story? THEN that would be classified as male/male romance. Another division.

But they belong in the story.

Then no sex from them, and everything will fine. Unless, of course, you go mainstream.

So, that story was shelved for a while. I did try to extract the gay characters and give them their own vehicle. But you know how characters are. The boys had none of that. So, hell. Nobody gets a story. Right?

Mainstream, remember?

No, this is too much of a headache. I'll just come back to them later.

On to another story. My first published story (under my C. Zampa pen name), CANDY G. Piece of cake. Two men in a two-man romance. Male/male romance. That was easy! Gender-ising, that is.

But here I am again. My current story is just the opposite. A story of two gay men with a woman in the mix, a woman who has a huge point of view in the story. She's the soon-to-be ex-wife of one of the characters.

This time, it's the woman's presence raising the flags.

She is allowed, but no sex scenes including her.

Yes, very well. I can manage that. The sex between her and her husband isn't crucial to the story anyway. Or is it? I must decide IF it's important, based on genre guidelines, not by on how important the sexual changes are in the relationship.

So it is still a male/male romance.

At this point, I'm torn.

The bottom line? Life is not compartmentalized by genres. Real life drama is a big mix of everything. Straight people and gay people interact in real life. Gay men are parts of the lives of straight couples, and they all have sex lives.
But, to keep in perfect genre-fication, we have to pretend that one of the genders does not really have sex. Well, I take that back. They can have it, just don't tell about it. It'll just be their little secret.

And I understand, before you say it. Readers are selective. They don't want the two mixed.

Silly as it is, I have friends who write male/male fiction who act like they'll get cooties if they look at pictures of straight couples kissing. And, vice versa,  author  who do the same if male/male pictures are posted. Genre, baby, genre. (In truth, it's bias and prejudice, but that's another, much bigger issue). Never the twain shall meet. So I DO know about reader selectiveness.

For me, personally, sex is just sex. If it fits a character---any character---in the book, it belongs. It doesn't turn me off, doesn't offend me. But others might not feel the same, and they are completely right in their own feelings. That's the beautiful part of human nature. We are all different, and it should be okay that way.

And I'm not complaining about the fact that it IS what it is. These guidelines are for specific reasons, and I understand them completely, and I adhere to them.

But...But...

I just DO miss the early days when I was just writing my heart away, beautiful, no-genre writing, everybody all in the same story---gay, straight. Everybody had their place in my book. It was so simple, so pure. And fun.

And I miss that. I don't resent the way it is. I just miss the absence of inhibition in my writing from those good old days. When I could just write without having to aim my writing to a genre, but to the heart of the story, whatever that heart might be.

“My favorite genre is Beautifully Written Books of Any Genre. Could we make that a genre?”  - Kristin Cashore