Gay Historical Panel at GLBT UK MEET

On 23rd July, the 2nd annual GLBT UK MEETUP was held and it was a resounding success. In a year we went from 12 attendees to over 40 and we are planning even better next year.  Here’s the panel hosted by Alex Beecroft, Charlie Cochrane and Erastes. Hope you find it useful.

Alex Beecroft: Characters in your Historical Novel

1. What makes a historical feel like a historical? Characters.

If you were to ask me “what is the most important part of establishing your book as a historical?” I would have to say “it’s the characters.” I really don’t think that any amount of scene setting, even if it’s done in the most exquisite detail and with scrupulous historical accuracy, can convince the reader that they are in another era the way you can by having a character whose attitudes are historical and firmly embedded in their time.

I have read books where the setting certainly appeared to be 100% authentic and full of detail, and yet the characters who moved through that setting were so modern in their thoughts and actions that the overall experience of reading the book was similar to going to a mediaeval theme party. Where the character doesn’t match the setting you get a sort of cognitive dissonance that just screams fake fake fake, and it’s almost worse – imo – when the author has clearly got all the other stuff right. If they’ve gone to all that trouble and researched their physical world so well, it makes it even more jarring and unpleasant to see it populated by characters who would fit right at home in a contemporary if they only changed their clothes.

Some historicals I’ve read go as far as having aggressively modern main characters – characters whose role appears to me to walk through their world criticizing the way everyone else behaves and holding them up to 21st Century standards. These are the characters who are horrified at the barbaric practices of the doctors of their era (forgetting that these practices are the pinnacle of modern knowledge to the rest of their society,) who are unaccountably squeamish about standard forms of discipline (such as giving a child a thrashing, clipping a disobedient wife about the ear, or flogging a criminal) and who, for some reason, know better than everyone else in their society about matters of hygiene and diet, and are not ashamed to look down on their ignorant compatriots with all the smugness of a different century.

I mean, yes, if you really hate a particular era so much that you’d enjoy writing a book about how rubbish it was, by all means do so. But don’t create a character who could not have existed in that time to do it with. It would be far better to use a modern main character, who came by his attitudes honestly, being sent back into the past by freak wormhole incident or TARDIS.

2. So how do you write characters who don’t think like modern people?

This is tricky of course because you as an author think as a modern person does, and – as a modern person – you abhor many of the attitudes of the past (such as gay people are rubbish, women are rubbish, slavery is necessary, leeches are good for you etc.)

The first thing you have to do is to parcel all that up and leave it aside for a while, while you read as many of the original sources as you can get hold of. If the original sources exist, then listen to the voices of people from that century. You usually find that in some things they are indistinguishable from the voices of modern people – they still worry about their appearance and their income and what their families are up to. They have the same needs for love and wealth and respect that we have. But if you listen harder you can start to pick out the framework of assumptions that governs the way they go about fulfilling those needs.

For example, I read a journal of an 18th Century woman bewailing the sexual double standard between men and women – so far so modern – but she concluded that men ought to behave with more chastity rather than women with less. So far so unusual, so strange – so much an attitude that if you read it in a book you would be instantly convinced that you were in a different time. Just a little throwaway thought, and it’s different enough from what we take as written nowadays to make you feel like you’re in a different time.

Or, for a different example, it’s become quite fashionable to claim that Ancient Greece or Rome was a sin-free happy time for gay people. But that’s because we’re modern and we’re not paying attention to the nuances. Suppose you’re an Ancient Roman senator, and you fall in love with a barbarian gladiator – you’re fine if you want to be a top, but shame, shame upon your name and your ancestors if you don’t. There’s another attitude that makes no sense today, but if you based your characters internal or external conflict on it then the book could only be a historical, because it’s a conflict specific to that time.

3. Modern attitudes in historical characters.

This doesn’t mean that your characters have to have some kind of standard set of era-specific beliefs. In no age has everyone all believed exactly the same thing. For example, in the same century, there were people who loathed slavery enough to dedicate their lives to fighting it, people who dedicated their lives to fighting for it tooth and nail, people who might not have campaigned but who bought slavery-free sugar when they could, and a large set of people who were too busy with their own lives to have a position either way.

You can give your characters almost any attitude you wish, so long as you can show how they came by it given the conceptual framework within which they have to work. For example, gay people in the past had to come to some kind of reconciliation or rejection of their society’s views that allowed them to accept themselves, but how they achieved that will be specific to their time and society. They can’t – eg – say “God is love, therefore my love is holy,” before Christianity. They can’t say “this persecution is against my human rights,” before the invention of the concept of human rights.

On a less serious note, your characters probably shouldn’t say “ew, this cheese is full of mites, take it away!” in the 18th Century. In fact they should probably say “ooh, lovely, I do like to see a cheese with a bit of life to it. Bring me a spoon!” If they did, you’d certainly know you weren’t in 21st Century Kansas any more. And that is my whole point.

Erastes on Striking a Balance

I’m going to talk about balance, because sometimes I think writers have difficulty striking a balance when writing. not just historical either. It’s a Fine Line between THIS IS MY RESEARCH LET ME SHOW YOU IT  – and just getting the details right.

Don’t get e wrong—you got to do the research. You’ve got to try your very best to get those details right. Readers are forgiving if they can see you’ve worked like stink, but have made one or two silly errors. In Muffled Drum I made a big thing of the Red Light District in Berlin – and too late too late two people pointed out that the street I mentioned was actually in Hamburg and not Berlin.

But readers will be less forgiving if it’s patently obvious that you haven’t even bothered to use Google to check the most basic of facts.

But you shouldn’t over do relating that research to the reader and it’s this that is a little unfair to the writer, because you are going to learn a LOT more than you’ll ever put in the book.

I have to reference Dan Brown here, who does—and i have to grit my teeth to say this—write a damned good page turner. I actually own all of his books, because they are like crack. But whereas he writes a racketing good read and I for one can’t wait to turn the page and find out what’s happening next, he lets himself down with his signature move of telling us everything about everything.  I remember reading one of them, don’t know which…and it told you about the engine of the car he was driving and the type of plane he was on, down to –it seemed, every grommet and washer. I found myself flipping over pages of STUFF HE HAD TO TELL YOU BECAUSE BY GOD HE’D DONE THE RESEARCH AND YOU SHALL SHARE IT rather than simply absorbing some of the facts as the flavour of the book.

I got the impression that he was saying to the reader “Look, i slaved over this book. i did research about Russia and China and every conspiracy theory known to man. Look, I seriously worked hard. I spent hours in libraries. you need to see my research or you’ll think i just made it up!!!! It will all be wasted if I don’t write it all down!” and that’s not good, that’s not the message you want to give. I don’t want the author to intrude at all.

I can relate to this, and I felt much the same when I first started to write, but luckily my mother was around when I first started and she pointed out that we didn’t need to know every single detail and she went through and deleted many descriptive words and passages. After that I found it much easier. The trick to it for me was to walk across my own room and described how I did it. I left the sofa, walked past the tv and the dining table to the kitchen. What I didn’t do was to leave the Gillows sofa, walk across the Wilton carpet designed by XXXX in 1792 and the flat screen 32” plasma screen Sony TV (I wish) and into the bespoke B&Q kitchen stencilled with green and yellow flowers.

Modern books don’t do this (or at least they shouldn’t!) and so neither should historicals. Whether the chair is made my Chippendale or whoever doesn’t really matter. Unless it does, of course. If the story revolves around Chippendale and perhaps the theft of a chair made by him, or whether the provenance of the chair is IMPORTANT then that’s fine. But if the detail doesn’t add anything to the story — and in fact, as often happens (Dan, I’m looking at you) intrudes and distracts from the story — then leave it out.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t make the description lush and tangible. Alex, for example, particularly in her 18th century paranormal “Wages of Sin” WORKS magic with her details. How cloth feels, how candle light looks and smells (never forget the smells) what happens to wig powder when it rains. But none of it is infordumping. She is simply creating a real and entirely believeable and visual world that the 21st century reader isn’t familiar with. The details immerse the reader, so they are actually there, and they are participating in historical events rather than distancing the reader, and makingit more clear that they are simply reading a book.

A good beta is worth their weight in gold. A good beta (and not just one who will tell you how great you are!) will tell you if you’ve turned into Dan Brown and you are oversharing that research.

The depressing fact of life is, that 99 percent of the research you will do for your book will (should!!) never appear on the pages of your book, but you can’t skip that research because it will make your book and more 3-dimensional, and in response to that, more enjoyable to read.

 

Charlie Cochrane on Setting the Scene.

Erastes and Alex Beecroft had proper, typed up notes. I had scribbles, which I’ve just rescued from the recycling bin, and lots of busking, Gist of what I said was:

My heart sank at the start of Downton Abbey, when almost the first scene involved discussion of the Titanic sinking. Wouldn’t have been so bad if that had happened later, when we’d got to know the characters, and why it mattered to them, but as it was it just felt clichéd and lazy. Please, writers, if you can’t create a sense of era/place subtly, just put London, 1912 or what/wherever it is and get on with the story.

 

Also, can we have some less clichéd images/descriptions for setting place? Big Ben + Routemaster bus + cockney newspaper seller shouting “King Edward abdicates” = London, 1936 has been done to death. Anyway, using such obvious symbols risks making huge mistakes; I’ve read stuff set in the time of Queen Anne where the hero hears Big Ben striking (he must be psychic as it wasn’t even built then). Check everything, even the “obvious”.

The past can surprise us, though. I’d love to write a book full of seeming anachronisms (like watching a floodlit rugby match in 1880) so people could shout me down and I could prove them wrong.

It’s the people and how they think/act which best depicts an era. Go to contemporary sources for the best way of getting your head around this. For example, if you want to write about a late Victorian bank clerk, you could do worse than use Three Men in a Boat as your source.

There was more. There were jokes. Can’t remember a word of them.

Headless Naked Torsos: A Note on Cover Art

by Tracey J. Pennington

I must say something about covers which feature the ubiquitous headless naked male torso. Please note–this is not a criticism of authors, who typically have no control over what gets put on the covers of their books.

I will state here that publishers of gay romances are generally coping with numerous costs and are trying to find a cheap way of dealing with expenses. Costumes and wigs are costly. A naked male torso, on the other hand, looks roughly the same in any era. Cut off the head, and you’ve removed any evidence of a hairstyle that might identify the time period in which this is taking place. In fact, you can use the headless naked torso over and over again, and no one will know the difference. I know that it is a cost issue, and I do sympathize.

(I cannot say that it is as much a cost issue for the larger publishers of mysteries, who seem to adore using headless women, or women turned away from the viewer, on their covers. But I digress.)

Despite my knowing that expense plays a large part in the use of such covers, a headless naked torso suggests a couple of things about the book before I even pick it up. First, the nakedness tells me–rightly or wrongly–that this is essentially a book about sex. Not about love or romance. Certainly not about characters or characterization, since the man on the cover has no face and therefore no individuality or identity.

Now, I’ve had enough friends write books that were published with headless naked torso cover art to know that the axiom “you can’t tell a book by its cover” is never more true than in the field of gay romance. Nevertheless, I do wish that more gay romance covers looked as if there was more to the book than “Woot, lots of sex!”

The second thing that pops into my mind when I see a headless naked torso cover–and I’m sure this isn’t typical of everyone–is murder. I don’t see a headless torso as a man I can visualize as anyone I like; I see the dead and mutilated victim of a serial killer. (It probably doesn’t help that when I was about seventeen, there was a case at a Travel Inn Motor Lodge involving two young women who had been tortured, sexually abused, mutilated and beheaded. And as recently as 2007, a serial killer was leaving headless torsos outside the New Delhi jail, and had been doing so for more than a year.)

I’m sure this is anything but intentional. But the image chills me just the same, and it does so whether the headless or faceless body on the cover is that of a man or a woman. And my repulsion for such covers does indeed affect whether or not I’ll buy the book. In fact, it’s a determining factor. I don’t want to buy a book whose cover disturbs me.

Which, again, is not fair to authors, who may have a wonderful story ensconced between horrible covers. But that’s how much of a selling point that headless naked torsos are for me…or rather, how much of a non-selling point.

And I suspect that I may not be alone.

Also, while I’m sure the use of naked torso pictures is mostly an economic choice, and an understandable one in this recession, I think that it’s vital to show pictures of gay lovers as individuals and as people. Running Press’s covers are superb in that respect, displaying men in historical garb and realistic settings which say mutely, “This could have happened to real people who loved each other. And maybe it did. Read. Read and see.”

I suspect that showing pictures of specific men wearing clothes does a lot to counteract the common misperception of non-fans (and often critics as well) that “gay romance = gay erotica.” The men’s faces and clothes indicate that “male/male romance” is not a polite term for “sex with any random man,” but about one particular person above all else. That same-sex romance, like the more heteronormative variety, is about love.

And honestly, if you’re selling love stories, then use the covers to sell the love…not just the sex.

The List – Revisted

The List has been fiddled with and I’ve put it into historical order.

We have:

Anthologies
Ancient World
Dark Ages
Middle Ages
Renaissance
17th Century & Regency
18th Century
19th Century
20th Century

Then, ebooks (which I still need to put in the same order), graphic novels, free fiction, text books.

I hope it is a little easier to navigate – when I started the List, I had no idea it would get so big and get bigger and bigger every month – it’s fabulous and it’s all thanks to YOU the readers for wanting to read more of it and convincing publishers to publish more of it.

I’ve also added the star value where a book has been reviewed, not only on The List, but also to the Review Done page (which I may also put into date order when I summon the energy, who knew we’d done so many reviews?)

I also need to polish up The List because I started to get date-blind and couldn’t remember when the Dark Ages began and started and the Middle Ages and when they bled into the Renaissance.  There’s plenty of time!

Anyway – enjoy – and don’t forget, please let me know if there’s a book I’ve missed off!

Erastes

Turns on and Squicks: a rebuttal

By T J Pennington

Were it possible, I would have posted this response on Erotica Readers & Writers Association. Regrettably, while Jean Roberta’s’ editorial on women who write male/male romance was there, there was no reply button, and thus no way to discuss or debate her statements…or beliefs that she stated as fact. So I am compelled to answer her comments here.

Ms. Roberta begins by saying, “Sexually-explicit literature comes in various genres and genders these days. Explicit sex scenes can appear in literature of every genre, as well as in “erotica” per se. “ I would agree with the first comment and raise my eyebrows at the second—after all, according to the rules of punctuation, a word or phrase separated from the rest of the sentence by quotation marks implies rather strongly that she doesn’t find explicit sex scenes in the least erotic—but no matter. We will let this, and her assertion that butch and femme are genders on the level of male, female and transgender rather than two different forms of sexually oriented behavior, pass.

However, she then says that “[o]ne genre which interests me is male/male erotic romance” while saying that male/male pairings were more rarely posted to ERWA’s Storytime section than the male/female and female/female pairings. This does not surprise me; ERWA is run by a woman who prefers het pairings above all, and who prefers f/f to m/m. It takes very little time for a member of ERWA to learn that while all pairings may be posted, writers of male/male stories are likelier to find positive feedback on lists and in communities where the webmistress and the membership do not favor the exact opposite of what they’re writing.

Ms. Roberta, though, does not mention the strong het bent of ERWA as a possible reason that male/male writers might be posting elsewhere. Instead, she offers a theory that, allegedly, an unnamed person in an unlinked thread told her. This nameless someone, she said, “explained that heterosexual men (who largely ruled the world) were squicked by images of men with men, but no one was squicked—or threatened—by images of women with women or by more conventional sex (men and women together, provided there was no coercion or incest).”

The theory does not make any sense when applied to ERWA. The membership is overwhelmingly female, and the webmistress and her two associates are female. Therefore, there is little reason for straight patriarchal males to have the influence that Roberta’s unidentified source claims over what gets posted to Storytime—especially as the tales are posted directly to the e-mail list. Nor does the unnamed source, who claims that squicked heterosexual men were the reason that there were were so few self-identified gay men on ERWA’s lists, even consider that gay men might not want to be hanging around a predominantly het-and-lesbian list or website.

All this, she says, was in 1998, when she first joined ERWA. “Some said [male/male erotica] would never fly,” Ms. Roberta says—though again, she does not tell us who said it. Ms. Roberta and these unnamed people seem unaware that gay erotica and literature involving gay characters and gay romances (which is not the same thing as gay erotica) have both been around for a while. “Gay fiction never existed as a distinct genre until the 1970s,” says David Seubert, but, he adds, gay pulps—primarily erotica and exploitation stories, dealing as much with stereotypes, neuroses, the difficulty of coming out and so on as they did with love and sex–existed in the 1950s and 1960s. One of the earliest of the pulps was Andre Tellier’s Twilight Men, which was originally published in 1948. As for literature involving gay romances, I do not think that it would be a stretch to go back to Ancient Greece, with its tales of the Theban Band and the myth of Zeus being smitten by the beauty of the boy Ganymede.

Ms. Roberta does not mention the history of gay literature or gay erotica, however. She cites slash fan fiction and the popularity of yaoi in manga and anime as ways that women became exposed to and started writing male/male romance. “Both the history and the appeal of m/m erotic romance are clearly complex,” she says, and in this I agree with her.

But then, alas, Ms. Roberta hits her stride. She does not like women writing male/male romance, and she says so: “The motives of women who write sex scenes featuring two or more male characters have never seemed self-evident to me.

I confess that I am perplexed. The motives of a writer have never mattered to me in the slightest; all I care about is whether the writer can tell a good, believable, well-characterized story. Why on earth would it matter to anyone why a writer was writing a story, as long as he or she was doing a good job?

Conceding that there is good work being done in the male/male romance genre and that many of the characters are well-written, interesting people—things that she dismisses a couple of sentences later—Ms. Roberta then raises two peculiar arguments.

First, she says, “describing bodies which are different from one’s own is bound to be a challenge.” Apparently she feels that women are inherently less able to write about men because they are not men. Yet she does not make the same complaint about male writers. Men have been writing about women for thousands of years, yet Roberts does not seem to consider their female characters invalid simply because their creators lacked vaginas. But in her discussion of females writing m/m romance or erotica, their lack of a Y chromosome is the first thing that she brings up.

Secondly, she claims that “[t]here seems to be no corresponding genre of f/f erotic romance written by men—aside from the work of a few very versatile writers such as M. Christian.” It astonishes me that she would say that no men seem to be writing f/f, as the genre has been around for some time. Indeed, Edgar-winning mystery author Lawrence Block, to name but one male writer, admits freely that he got his start writing f/f erotica. Some of his books have recently been reprinted. Perhaps it has not occurred to Ms. Roberts that males writing f/f fiction might have female pseudonyms. Consequently, it might be somewhat difficult to discern whether a f/f book was written by a man or not.

Ms. Roberta also makes it clear that she has asked women who write male/male romance why they write on the subject—and that she will not be satisfied by the answer. She has received answers, certainly: that the writers find men interesting, that they like writing about gay men, that they became used to writing about male/male romance in fanfic, that men historically had more freedom than women. She takes great exception to the last, disingenuously comparing maidservants who were seduced or raped by lustful employers to men facing imprisonment and execution if, as she puts it, they wanted to express their love for another man. The argument that men had freedom in the past while women had none does not hold up to scrutiny as a reason to write exclusively about men,” she says.

To me, Ms. Roberta is arguing apples and oranges. Men DID have greater legal, economic and social freedom in the past than women did, simply by virtue of being born male. Men, in general, had access to parts of society that women did not: the military, the law, medicine, the church. If you want to write stories set in the past…well, yes, there were women who ran businessess, wrote books, painted pictures, sculpted statues, healed the sick, ran forges and went to war. But they were all operating, to some degree, outside of the established society, and all were facing a great deal of static–societal and legal. Most women did not do this.

It is possible to write about a woman historically operating in a man’s world, of course, but then you would have only two options: to write an actual biography or a historical novel/romance based on a real woman, or to write about a romance heroine being anachronistically revolutionary and trail-blazing in ways that would not have been legally possible in order to satisfy the outraged sensibilities of readers who do not wish to think about the fact that men and women were not, for most of human history, considered equals.

Now, were gay men liable to lose a great deal if penetration and emission could be proven? Of course they were! Imprisonment and hanging are no joke. I think that is part of the appeal of gay historical romance—the reader’s awareness of how much is on the line for such a couple. There is a certain charm in knowing that someone will hazard all they have and all they are for the sake of the person he or she loves. (And the legal and social consequences for gay historical couples, should they be caught, blackmailed or arrested, means that conflict is built into the story from the beginning.)

Not content with muddling the difference between the legal, economic and social liberties granted to those who were born with a penis and the lack of freedom suffered by males who’d been caught violating sodomy laws, Ms. Roberta then states that there is no reason for women who write male/male historical romance to bother their heads about historical accuracy. “And if it is true, as I suspect, that fantasy literature has had an influence on this genre,” she says, “writers of m/m romance are not trapped in the pillory of historical reality anyway!”

In other words, why bother being historically accurate? Why bother writing historical novels at all? You could write male/male fantasy romance and not have to deal with the problems of gay men in history at all!

And there, as in so much else, Ms. Roberta misses the point. People write what they write because they want to write it. If a writer wants to write accurate historical novels, it is foolish to complain that she could write fantasy novels and not have to deal with actual historical problems. Presumably if the writer wished to write fantasy novels instead of historicals, she would choose to do so.

Ms. Roberta then proceeds to lambaste women who write male/male romance for being self-hating females. “Choosing to write about males need not be based on an aversion to females,” she says primly (strongly implying, by her sentence structure, that it usually is), “but several women writers have explained why they write m/m by explaining why they don’t write erotica about female characters.”

To write about characters that one person does not like or one group of people do not like, is not the same as expressing hatred for characters that a writer does NOT choose to write about. Writing is about freedom–saying what you have to say in the way that you choose to say it. There are not and should not be any restrictions on this. Women can write about gay men. Men can write about gay women. Blacks can write about Asians or Amerindians. Jews can write about Catholic saints. And so on.

Given that the tenor of Ms. Roberta’s comments is “Why can’t women writers write about women?”, I’m not surprised that some of the writers she queried responded by politely explaining why they preferred not to write about women—not realizing that she would misinterpret this as gender hatred. “Invariably,” she says, (contradicting her earlier statement that “several women”–no more than three or four—said this), “these reasons are based on the supposed negative qualities of women in general, or of supposedly unbreakable female roles.”

I have no idea what she means by “supposed negative qualities of women in general.” I suspect that it could have been as innocent as “I like reading and writing about men more than I like reading and writing about women.” As for “supposedly unbreakable female roles”–well, here we are, dealing with Ms. Roberta’s dislike of historical accuracy again. Let’s face it—if a writer who likes historical accuracy wants to write about a love affair in the British army circa 1790, she’s not going to be writing about Lieutenant Elizabeth Farrell, the noblest and bravest officer in His Majesty’s forces. There are plenty of scriveners already composing drivel of that sort, blithely ignoring the fact that the past was not, with respect to women’s rights, an exact copy of the present.

“In addition to the claim that actual women in the past lacked the independence to inspire fiction centering on female characters,” she continues, “several writers have mentioned the difficulty of writing sex scenes involving females who can still be respected afterward. This looks to me like an internalized double standard presented as an objective fact.”

This, more than anything, shows me that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Trail-blazers, whether male or female, are never the norm. Most women in the past—and most men, as well—were not trail-blazers. They were not independent; they simply tried to fit into society as best they could while remaining individuals. And women lived in a far more circumscribed world than men did—one focused on marriage, children, society and religion. Of course, this also limits the kinds of stories that a historically accurate writer can tell.

As for her protest about an internalized double standard about the respectability of sexually active heroines…I’m not sure if the writers she cites were talking about whether the other characters would respect a sexually active unmarried woman during, say, the Regency (which they obviously wouldn’t) or whether they were discussing the fact that while readers rarely have problems with male characters being sexually active in any sub-genre of romance, there is often a division between those who will accept sexually active heroines and those who will not. Those who prefer virginal heroines—especially virginal historical heroines–are often passionate about them, protesting those who write about sexually active women and promising to boycott future books by such an author. I think that the reluctance to write about sexually active women has less to do with an internalized double standard than an awareness of historical vs. anachronistic attitudes and a canny knowledge of what the market will bear.

Ms. Roberta then states that she sent a draft of this article to the women who replied to her questions and asked that she be allowed to quote them anonymously. I don’t understand why she wanted to quote them anonymously, rather than putting names with specific quotations. Perhaps it would have been more difficult to make all of the women who write male/male romance sound as if they thought the same way. In any event, one of the writers refused permission. Ms. Roberta seems to feel that she got around the issue by not quoting directly but paraphrasing. Given her lack of comprehension of the women she is paraphrasing, I can only wonder how accurate the paraphrases are.

“It is clear to me by now that I can’t find a non-controversial way to report other writers’ squicks,” she continues. Again, she puzzles me. Up till now, she has been discussing why women write male/male romance. Squicks have not come into the discussion. Nevertheless, she comes up with an entire laundry list of squicks at this point—a list so long it only serves to demonstrate that one person’s squick is another person’s turn-on.

Then she delivers her polemic:

My comments here will probably squick a number of readers who will want to expose me, not themselves, as irrationally biased and therefore undeserving of this platform. One of the ironies of a commitment to tolerance is that it has to involve “zero tolerance” (to quote the anti-abuse movement) for hatred presented as fact.

I will not discuss whether or not Ms. Roberta is irrationally biased. I will say that she has stated a dislike for women writing about men based on female biology, an aversion to historical accuracy which does not stress of radical feminist view of women and a granite conviction that women who write about men are self-hating females—without supplying proof of any of her assertions. I feel certain that the readers of Speak Its Name can decide for themselves if this is biased, irrational, both or neither.

(However, I do find it amusing that she has zero tolerance for hatred presented as a fact while presenting her own considerable hatred for male/male romance and women who write it as a fact.)

“In my world,” she continues, subtly suggesting that she does not live in the same world as the rest of us, “men are approximately half the human race, and no more than that. Women are approximately half, and no less.” I think that this is her way of saying that men are disproportionately represented in romance, but I’m not entirely sure.

At any rate, she goes on…only now what she’s saying has no connection with the rest of the article. “The occasional lurid accident which happens when a sadomasochistic scene goes wrong is overshadowed by the constant, nonconsensual, institutionally-enforced oppression of whole demographics in most cultures on earth.”

Nonconsensual oppression? As opposed to what? Consensual oppression? And what, oh what, does constant, institutionally-enforced oppression of most cultures on earth have to do with women who write male/male romance? And what does a lurid accident in S & M have to do with either? If there’s a connection here, I’m not seeing it.

“Heterosexuality”, she goes on to say, “is culturally taught and enforced. It is not instinctive in all people, most of whom are not white.”

I don’t know what a cultural bias toward heterosexuality or the non-whiteness of most of the human race has to do with the subject of male/male romance. Again, I’m baffled.

Finally, she contradicts her entire article with these words: “Human beings are sexual and complicated, and these qualities can be found in the literature they write. That’s my view and I’m sticking to it.”

As it happens, I agree. Human beings are complicated, and they have multitudes of reasons for the things they say and do and paint and write. Those reasons are not always easy to understand, particularly if what is being said and done is not to one’s taste, but trying to understand is better than projecting one’s beliefs and prejudices on others and reporting those prejudices as stone cold fact. Projecting one’s assumptions onto a group one does not like does not really fit a vaunted ideal of zero tolerance.

I would hope that Ms. Roberta is not given the opportunity to use ERWA as a bully pulpit again. There is quite enough hatred in the world already without her adding to it. Frankly, Ms. Roberta should forget about the mote she sees in the eyes of women who write male/male romance, and concentrate on removing the beam from her own.

Best GBLT book of 2007?

I’ve been contacted by Dear Author and Smart Bitches and they’ve asked if Speak Its Name would like to help nominate some of the books for ther upcoming awards, namely the GBLT category. Rather proud to be asked, have to say.

Now, I know my favourite books of this year, but I’ve only read a fraction, and I’ve read NO lesbian, Bi and only one Trans – so PLEASE (please please) if you have a recommendation can you comment here and I’ll knock together a short list. 

I’m assuming that they want Romance.

If it helps you, Lambda nominees are here

Many thanks to you all btw for making the comm the success it has been in such a short time.

Dear Author’s Query Saturday

Dear Author have started to showcase Query Letters on a Saturday and this week they have a query regarding a m/m story based in 1919 New York. The Query Letter itself needs a little work, but I think the story could be as good as any of the m/m historicals I’ve read, given the chance.

The comments to the post are positive for the most part, which is greatly encouraging, but one or two of them made me bite my pencil in frustration. Also a few people don’t seem to know the difference between a back of the book blurb and a query letter.

I hope some of you go and comment.

Opinions Please? Improvements?

Hi,

Thanks to everyone who has helped this community to grow in popularity it’s very much appreciated and it makes us feel great that you agree with us that this genre is one that deserves its own place in the world, with publishers, with awards and reviews.

I’m always wanting to provide the best service I can, and the accessibility to the List and the information shown on it.

Is there anything we can do to improve the list?

These are a few of the ideas I was thinking of:

1. Do you want a clear difference Historical Fiction as defined by the Historical Novel Society and fiction that just happens to have been written in the past?  The HNS defines Historical Fiction as:  “a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).”

E.g. A list of stories that were written contemporarily and a seperate list of books that fall into the above category.  Maurice in one list, At Swim Two Boys in another.

2. Would it be useful to have the star rating showing in the List?  And/or on the Reviews Done page?

3. We’d like to review f/f but so far we are having difficulty finding enough people to review m/m, so sadly unless that changes, it will have to stay m/m for now.

4. We’d thought we’d slip films in here and there – anyone want to do them?  Films good idea? Or not?

Anything else, just let us know.

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