Thursday, September 19, 2013

Made it to the Meet-Up, if Only Just

Last week was busy, and most of it wasn't very pleasant. I was horribly sick with the usual on Tuesday, and it hung around through Friday. Which had me worried because I had a houseguest coming over Friday night, and an event to go to downtown on Saturday, and I was hoping I'd be duct taped back together by then.

Luckily I was, and I got to have Pam Singer over for a couple of nights. She was in town for the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up; we actually managed to get a decent amount of sleep on Friday night, and went downtown together on Saturday.

I mentioned the Meet-Up here before, but briefly, it was a one-day conference for writers, publishers and readers of gay romance. The sessions were held at the Seattle central library, in an auditorium with stadium seating. The Keynote speaker, Marlene Harris, went first.

Marlene is a librarian at the Seattle library, and also reviews books online, including gay romance. She talked about how libraries manage their collections, and what readers can do to influence what books libraries acquire. Most libraries have a way to request books through an online form; if you're a user of a particular library, you should feel free to request books that you'd enjoy reading. They're more likely to acquire a certain book, or a certain genre or subgenre of book, if they know they have patrons who want them and will check them out. Note that it's not a good idea for writers or their families to request books just to get them into the library. First, librarians catch on to this and will figure out what's up. Second, if your book is requested and purchased, but then not checked out, that'll make it that much tougher to get similar books -- whether later books of yours, or books in that genre if its one they don't usually carry -- in the future. Readers who use the library should be the ones requesting books, but organic requests from actual users can certainly influence acquisitions for a library's collection.

I'll admit I haven't been a big library user in a while, and even longer if we're talking public libraries as opposed to university libraries, but I had no idea there was a way to request books. If you're a writer whose readers use their local library, encouraging them to request your books for the library collection, if they'll check them out, is a good idea.

Marlene told us that the Seattle library acquired over 200 gay romance books before the event, which was awesome to hear. :) Thanks to Marlene for supporting us and our genre.

The best panel, or at least the one I enjoyed the most, was the last, where we talked about expanding and diversifying the genre. Some publishers publish only gay romance -- only men allowed, although you can have more than two at a time if you like. Some reviewers review only gay romance -- only men allowed, and one will review books about only cis-men at that. Other publishers and reviewers deal with books representing other facets of the queer spectrum, but in reality it's the gay romance, erotic romance and erotica that is published the most, reviewed the most, and which sells the most. And the vast majority of the gay male characters are white, able-bodied, middle- or upper-class, and neurotypical. When religion is mentioned at all, the characters generally come from a Christian background, whether they're devout or practicing or not. (And given how some religious folks treat gay people, it's very realistic for a lot of the characters to be non-religious, or at least non-practicing.) Still, aside from the homosexuality (or very occasional bisexuality) there's a whole lot of privilege on display here.

There's a lot of room for expanding our character set, though, and this discussion was livelier than the others. One of the major reasons why is that early on, Rick Reed, who was on the panel, turned a question directly to the audience, and from then on there was a lot more back-and-forthing. Up to that point, the panels had been more group interviews than panels per se, with the moderator asking a question, each panelist answering, and then the moderator answering another question. Which works, I suppose, but you can do something like that just as well online as in realspace. The reason to get people together is to have an actual discussion, with people talking together, questioning and debating, and disagreeing sometimes -- a real conversation, rather than just a series of answers to a series of questions. Props to Rick for knocking the thing off its rails, whether that was what he intended or not.

There was a book drive for the Gay City LGBT library; each donated book was worth one raffle ticket, and there were a bunch of prizes raffled off, from free books to a couple of Kindles. I won a free book (which I still have to redeem -- thanks Amber! -- and was one number away from a Kindle both times. :P

After the sessions, we all trooped across the street to the Hotel Monaco for a "Happy Hour" that lasted more like three and a half hours. The University Bookstore (which also hosted my reading last month) was there selling books, at the library during the day and then in the evening at the happy-three-hours. I got some books and had them signed, and signed some books for other people, which was cool. And I did a reading, of the first couple of pages of "Learning to Love Yourself," which is currently out of print but should be back up by the end of the year. [crossed fingers] We only had five minutes for our readings, which is ridiculously short, but "Learning" is funny and it got some laughs at the right points, and applause when I was done, so that worked out nicely.

I met a bunch of people at the event, some for the first time and some I'd met before. I'm not going to try to remember everyone because I'll fail miserably, but I spent a few hours in the evening sitting next to Heidi Belleau (we were seated alphabetically) who's very friendly and bouncy. After the event wrapped, I went out with Pam and Amelia Gormley looking for food. We ended up in a restaurant with a wonderful looking menu, although we ended up sitting in a very loud and crowded bar, it being late at night in the wrong part of Seattle if you're looking for casual dining. I couldn't eat any solid food (see above re: sick) but the chef agreed to make me a smoothie. I'm not going to name the restaurant because the smoothie was pretty bad tasting, but I give the chef props for making me something that wasn't even close to anything on the menu; I'm assuming he just sort of winged it, and had never made a smoothie before. I was hungry enough that I didn't really care what it tasted like, and drank the whole thing anyway, so that worked. Pam and Amelia got burgers and fries and I was horribly envious -- the place has duck fat fries, which I've wanted to try ever since I first heard of them. I'm going to have to drag the husband back there some time when my stomach is functional.

We got back home late, and unfortunately had to go to bed way too soon so Pam could get up in time to make her flight. I'm going to have to figure out how to kidnap her for longer next year. :)

And yes, they're doing it again next year. The event was a wonderful success, and will be happening again on 13 September 2014. This is definitely worth saving the date for, if you have any interest at all in gay romance. It was fun, it was cheap, and it was packed front to back with great programming and activities. Good stuff -- looking forward to next year's meet-up.



Suzan Harden said...

Glad to hear you made to the Meet-Up! I was a little worried about you making it.

Talk more about the debate. What kind of things are readers looking for. Even I get bored when it's a perfect white guy discovering his true calling with another perfect white guy. *grin*

Charles Gramlich said...

Glad you had fun. "Neurotypical" is an interesting word.

Angie said...

Suzan -- mainly people were looking for more main characters who weren't basic white guys. [nod] Also, this conference was specifically about gay romance, so there was some discussion about the rest of the initials in the rainbow, particularly lesbian, bisexual and trans characters. On the one hand, I have to sympathize with publishers who need to keep the bills paid and the servers up going with what sells the best. Online, for whatever reason, gay romance sells better than lesbian (although some discussion in a publisher's mailing list a few years ago pointed out that with more traditional small presses, selling paper books through bookstores, lesbian romances sold better than gay). Bisexual characters are pigeonholed into poly relationships, reflecting the myth that being bi means you "get" one of each, which is crap. But if a bi character is in a monogamous relationship, they have to be with someone of the same sex or they're not seen as being "really" bisexual. I've even seen this in real life, where someone who's bisexual but currently with (perhaps married to) someone of the opposite sex gets crap for saying they're bi. Apparently you're only "really" bi if you're in a queer relationship, and even there you're "actually" just too chicken to say you're gay, or you're trying to keep your options open, or whatever negative interpretation the person speaking can come up with. So there are a lot of issues there for bisexual people, whether in realspace or in fiction. And of course trans folks get a whole different load of crap, from various directions, which again stems from ignorance. But romances about trans people haven't sold wonderfully well, although it's hard to tell whether it's because there are so few of them that nobody knows it's even a thing, and people who would like them have just never come across one to give them the idea of looking for more.

Also mentioned were characters of different races, of course, and disabled characters.

The question Rick asked the audience was about why there are so (relatively) few effeminate gay men in gay romance. I answered that effeminate gay men in romance, especially if the writer is a woman, pretty much draw a crowd of people waving torches and pitchforks and chanting "Chicks With Dicks!" [eyeroll] Yeah, there are times when it really does look like a writer wrote a het romance, couldn't sell it, and just did a search/replace to change the woman character to a man and sold it as a gay romance. But in my experience there's a difference between an effeminate man and a male character being written with a lot of female stereotypes, including in how the (other) guy treats him (her). Sometimes the criticism is valid but often it's not; it's like some readers have a checklist, and if your character hits more than a couple of items on it, you get buried in some really nasty criticism. And it's not just of the book -- I've seen writers who wrote an effeminate male character be accused of not knowing how to write real men, or of exploiting and perpetuating negative stereotypes of gay men just for the money. It's gotten very nasty.

I get what Rick was saying, about including this chunk of the gay community in our fiction, but I've never written a particularly effeminate man myself and would have to think hard before I did so. Nobody needs that kind of backlash. I think if we want to move some of our books in this direction, it's going to have to happen slowly, educating the audience as well as getting some of the writers to change modes. For right now, though, male characterizations range from "ordinary Joe" type guys up to a truly ridiculous level of Alpha Male(TM), and not much at the other end of the spectrum. I honestly don't see that changing any time soon.


Angie said...

Charles -- "neurotypical" came out of the community of people with autism and their supporters. I'm sure they're not a hive mind any more than any other group, but what's coming out of the public discussions is that people with autism generally see themselves as different rather than broken. "Neurotypical" is a word to describe the majority population, as a way of avoiding the use of "normal," which implies that anyone else is "abnormal," which has negative connotations. It's like using "cisgendered" instead of "normal" when discussion transgender issues.