The Long Run

Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone,  I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).

To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.

I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed. 

Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love.  David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)

(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)

My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress  had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.

Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.

Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.

One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t  remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.

And what about desire?

A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. Some interesting points, no?

Now, check out this one. 

I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)

I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.

I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.

It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.

And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)

Fooled Around and Fell in Love

It’s Sunday morning in New Orleans and I am already awake and swilling coffee. It looks kind of gray outside my windows this morning. The sun is trying to come out from behind the cloud cover so I don’t think today is going to be one of those rainy days like yesterday, but it’s kind of nice. The humidity has returned–Friday was miserable–and it’s only May. The true dog days are yet to be upon us. Heavy heaving sigh.

Yesterday I was moving stuff around, trying to lessen the appearance of clutter as well as to figure out where to put all the extra paper towels (thank you, Costco!) and put the things I was moving into places that I would remember when I discovered a copy of the first anthology I ever published a short story in, released way back in August of 2000: Men for All Seasons, edited by Jesse Grant, and from Alyson Books. It’s an erotic story, of course; my first two published short stories were erotica an d I don’t think I published a story that wasn’t erotica until “Smalltown Boy” in Rebel Yell 2, several years later. It was also interesting to look at the table of contents and see that my original by-line for fiction was Gregory Herren, not Greg; I do think I switched to Greg for the second story that was published that same month in Men magazine. Going through the list of contributors, I was struck by how many of those writers are no longer writing–or if they are, they aren’t using their “erotica” pen names anymore.

Back in the day, if you worked really hard you could make a lovely little income writing gay erotica. I was paid $300 for the story in Men; I published a second story there a few years later for the same pay. I think I got $75 for the story in Men for All Seasons. I started writing erotica primarily as a lark; Alyson’s publicist advised me to start writing short fiction for their anthologies, primarily for the publication credits and the money, as well as to make my name better known and more familiar to the Alyson editorial staff. He was right; Alyson wound up buying my first novel Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and I stayed with Alyson for the first five Chanse books, as well as several erotica anthologies I edited for them. I always called myself “an accidental pornographer” because it wasn’t anything I’d ever wanted to do, but the money was nice and the books actually did very well. But now…now there’s no market for actual gay erotica. Anthologies don’t sell and so no one is doing them anymore; the only market for erotica is novels, and reality is most of those are written now by straight women for other straight women, and that’s not the kind of erotica I write. (This is not to say straight women cannot write gay erotica geared toward gay men; in my editing days I worked with a lot of straight women who wrote horny, nasty, raunchy men on men erotica and you’d never know the author was a woman.) But the women who like to read the m/m stuff don’t like the erotica I write, and so I don’t really write it anymore.  I don’t miss it, to be honest–there are only so many ways to write about male on male sex originally, only so many words–and I even at one time wrote a column for the Erotica Writers Association on how to write good porn. I think my favorite column title was “Sometimes A Cock Is Just A Cock.”

I didn’t do much writing yesterday–actual physical writing–but I did do a lot of thinking and rehashing and going over my notes for the WIP. I doubt very seriously I will get as caught up as I had wanted to get this weekend, but you know, that’s just how it goes sometimes. Today is May the 5th, and I am going to dig into Chapter Six again in just a moment, with the hopes that Chapters 7, 8 and 9 will fall into place as I go…and then maybe I can start with Chapter Ten. I got so far off track with this WIP that I don’t really remember the story I was trying to tell in the first place, which is terrible–my memory, once so incredibly dependable I didn’t really need to take notes, in now completely unreliable. Part of the reason I decided to go back and redo the chapters I’d already written was to get myself immersed back into the story, get a feel for the characters, and maybe find the flaws and mistakes and holes in the plot. I’ve managed some of that, of course, which makes it all worthwhile, and I did find the outline for Chapter Ten in my journal (which I’d completely forgotten I’d written down), so yes, not actually spending time at the keyboard yesterday while actually simply reviewing notes and rereading things was a pretty smart thing to do.

Going through the current and previous journal also reminded me of some short story ideas I’d had that had somehow slipped, unbidden, from my memory. I also managed to page through The Gulf by Jack E. Davis yesterday, and I believe it will be a rich source of ideas and materials for me to write another book–my spring break murders novel, Where the Boys Die–and many others. Nonfiction is a great source of material for fiction, in case you were wondering.

And now I am going to sign off with this entry as I have another, Game of Thrones specific one I started yesterday that I would like to finish this morning.

170856_177996562235912_122584814443754_340422_5816097_o