It is no longer tolerated by the masses when a story (on film or on paper) comes out with all-white, all-straight characters. Diversity must be respected, and paid homage to, and it is up to the writer to come to terms with it. This is not to say that history must be reimagined; period pieces should still be true to the time being depicted, and perhaps this is the only time it would be allowable to present a cast of such homogenous characters. But even then, minorities and homosexual have always existed somewhere (they didn't emerge from a vaccuum), and if your story allows, it would be a good idea to touch on them.
And whereas characters of different colors/creeds/countries/religions/cultures SHOULD be presented according to their respective places of origin, writers need to take a different approach when writing characters of homosexual persuasions--the OPPOSITE approach, in fact! Writers should write them as they would write any other characters. That is the secret.
For as long as there have been written stories, writers have told tales from the point of view of a member of the opposite sex, so there should be no difficulty based on that fact alone. When a straight male author writes from the perspective of a woman falling in love with a man, it doesn't take much to replace the female character with a male one. To be able to do one should allow for the ability to the other. Unless there is some mental block that must be overcome.
And let's face it, writers are people, no different from anyone else, and come with their own sets of hang-ups and deep-rooted prejudices or phobias. It may not be possible for some to put aside these issues in order to write from that mind-set, especially when it takes a strong commitment and desire to walk around inside your main character's psyche, to deliver a persona that is real and true and reaches readers from the page. That doesn't mean such writers should be hated outright, especially when pity and/or understanding may be more called for. Each writer must decide for him- or herself whether they can write homosexual characters and write them in a way that is honest and believable. If unable to, there is the chance that the resulting work will be singled out for its insensitivity and inability to offer a realistic contemporary cast of characters.
And no writer would want that. There is enough stacked up against writers to have one more obstacle to a work's success. So unless the character and story calls for a particular stereotypical representation of a homosexual character, the character should be written no differently from any other.
I would like to end this with an explanation (and apology) regarding the lack of homosexual characters in my first novel, Canis Sapiens: The Dingo Factor. One of the characters makes a claim that there are no gay Canis sapiens (shapeshifters), implying that such would not fit with their lifestyle of abiding with the laws of nature (which was not really intended to be accepted as fact anyway). If the sequel is ever picked up, we will learn just how true (or rather untrue) this statement actually is. We will also be introduced to a Canis sapien of a different color (in human form I mean, of course). As they try to fit in among humanity, it made perfect sense that they would take the form of those that are the majority, those that they are exposed to the most. This standard is becoming less and less the case, and will be addressed as well. I just wanted to make it clear that I am aware of my own possible indiscretion and have made efforts to prevent repeating it.
In bocca al lupo!
In addition to joining the ranks of the many who've contributed to the legendary Arthurian mythos, the upcoming publication of my Lady and the Lake piece, "The Duty," will be another first for me: my first published poem.
I am always reading through submission calls, and a while back I came across one whose King Arthur aspect caught my eye. I then immediately dismissed it once I realized it was a call for poetry and not short stories, but throughout the rest of the day I couldn't get it out of my mind, until finally I had an idea for one. I wrote a poem--something I hadn't done for decades--and submitted it. It made it through to final selections, and then it fell just short of getting in, and I received the nicest, most flattering rejection letter any writer could ever hope for. It described the piece's "powerful vision . . . beautifully rendered in formal verse," and it warmed my heart to hear the editor say that "It will always be a part of the issue in my mind."
She would be glad to know that "The Duty" has received a home elsewhere, and in June of this year it will appear alongside other poets' contributions in Dragon Soul Press's Organic Ink, Volume 1. I will update my website's newly named "Short Stories & Poetry" page with more information as I receive it, including the cover art and how the book (which is supposed to be available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats) may be obtained.
And yes, it rhymes. I'm not that type of poet.
After being very disappointed with the last few books I have read, all of which were science-fiction, I have taken a break from the genre to give another one a chance. Beginning with an old police procedural, I actually was reminded of an early short story I wrote in college that I then expanded into the first novel I completed. It may surprise many to know that my first attempt at novel writing was not a horror or sci-fi story but a crime thriller. The next book I shall read will be one of these, although this one is actually over three times as long as the little 150-pager I just finished. I hope I enjoy it more. The procedural was not a great read, but it was a first in a series and interesting enough for me to check out another installment (especially to see if they improve).
Both hail from an earlier era (about fifty or sixty years ago), which is quite refreshing. I find the modern thrillers quite tiresome, burdened as they are with their overly technological plot elements. Yes, I have read every Dan Brown book published, but sometimes the high-tech details can get in the way and affect one's reading pleasure. My own story, if I ever decided to rewrite it and submit it to a publisher, could not even work in today's time and would have to be set in an earlier decade (the advent of the Internet alone would change certain plot elements, just as technology changed the way crimes are solved).
I suppose this next book will either help restore my interest in the genre or make me long for more of my preferred ones. Either way, it has given me a lot to think about in how I may wish to proceed with my own writing. Do I stick to the genres I have been engaged in for so long, or revisit one that I strayed away from long ago?
I suppose we've seen it before. A writer or filmmaker (heck, let's even include singer or actor) makes a HUGE hit with something, sparking a popularity that endears die-hard fans to digest everything he or she ever puts out again (whether good or not-so-good), and eventually the quality of work starts to reveal that the artist is not even trying. I suppose this is old news, to the point of being cliche.
I have recently read a collection of short stories by a well-respected writer of science fiction, and it amazed me that I did not enjoy one single story included in it. Not one! I have read this person's work before, and although I do not collect his works or go out of my way to find or buy more than the few books that I have already owned since I was young, I did always plan to check out more of them. After reading a sampling of his "choice" offerings, collected in a book that I came across for free and thus couldn't pass up, I was blown away by the truth behind the cliched concept I mentioned above.
Few of the stories had actual stories to them, and almost all of them were overly dependent on incorporating factual science to the point of making the stories less interesting. I actually always respected the author (I won't say his name, even though he is no longer among the living) and his adherence to "real science," but to be honest I was never encouraged to become a fan of his--and I even hated a book he wrote.
The short stories in this collection were each preceded by publication details, and later ones were very short on information pertaining to what it took to get them published. The reason was obvious; for those tales he had already attained a level of fame that was so great he no longer had to jump through hoops to get his pieces accepted. And apparently this is not a good thing. When all you have to do is meet a word count and send something off knowing it will automatically be accepted, you don't have to work very hard at coming up with stories that are all that interesting--or good. You can just write about whatever appeals to you at the moment, send it off, and bingo, another "hit" is attributed to you.
This is a very hard blog for me to write, and I have been considering deleting the whole thing every few minutes as I write it, but it's actually been nagging at me for weeks (that's how long I've been avoiding writing it) till I finally gave in. The reason it's so tough is because I do have a genuine respect for the author. But knowing firsthand the difficulty trying to get your beloved "child" adopted into a home where it will be appreciated and hopefully loved, it is galling when you see another deliver something so unimpressive and have it approved with the greatest of ease--all because it was crafted by someone with a household name.
An unexpected mystery I was faced with was how the earlier stories made it into a magazine in the first place and how the person became a name at all. Growing up, I just accepted it as given that he was one of the greats, but how did he become that? What was presented in the collection that I struggled to get through showed stories from different points in his career, but none impressed me or offered even a hint of how his reputation could have been secured. And to top it all off, there was little to no diversity in the tales. One thing that impresses me is when a creator proves his mettle by tackling a variety of themes from a variety of voices (this is also why I am more impressed with directors like Richard Donner over "auteur" directors like... well, I won't name names). And now you know why the late Richard Matheson is one of my favorite authors of all. But this selection was just a series of bland anecdotes that left me feeling glad about one thing--that I didn't pay a cent for it. I still don't know if I should delete this or publish it. I don't like to rant against an author's work, especially when he is not even here to defend it. It's a close call. Delete or Publish? Delete of Publish? Delete or...
I am thrilled to see my horror story, "The Mystified Morpheus," accepted for publication in the Millhaven Press anthology Fierce Tales: Shadow Realms, especially due to the fact that selling horror has become about as difficult as writing comedy in today's offense-sensitive times. Just as comedians have to deal with worrying about their material being declared "offensive" to certain groups or individuals (or the fame-seeking wannabes who simply want to be heard and look for any excuse to achieve it), horror writers are finding their hands tied in a similar vein.
I can't tell you how many times I was unable to submit this story in the past because the publishers announcing their call for horror stories have posted their "automatic rejection" list, detailing story elements that would exempt a piece from consideration. And sure enough, there would be something there that would eliminate my tale in their eyes. I began to feel that horror in literary form had devolved into "horror-LITE," a weaker, safer, more audience-friendly form of horror that is nothing but a pale shadow of its former self. Funny how televised horror is the exact opposite.
Perhaps it is a backlash to TV, or to the previous decades of horror fiction that had little to no boundaries and took things to outrageous extremes, that resulted in this, but I still contend that horror is supposed to be horrible. If it's restricted from being too horrible, it's only hurting itself and the genre these publishers purport to publish.
And I do get it. I was recently reading a slew of old horror anthologies I had collected in the nineties and never got around to reading, and I personally found them to be gross and over-the-top, but I was more offended by the poor stories than any specific plot element in them. And it was just that--a specific plot element--that was mostly hindering my attempts to get this story before an editorial submissions board. It got so that I finally caved in and allowed myself to make one change--a slight one--just so I could submit it to even more publishers and improve my chances. (I guess I will always wonder if this change was even needed after all, and if this piece would have been accepted in its original, unaltered form.)
Fortunately, there are still a few publishers out there who actually ask for extreme horror and don't shackle writers' creativity by putting limitations on what they are allowed to include in their tales. This one was actually the only horror piece I currently have for submission calls, the rest being mostly science-fiction, with some fantasy and even comedy, so I probably won't have to worry about this again for a while. But I still commiserate with my fellow horror writers who must struggle to get their vision before an audience. With the already-challenging task of competing against seemingly more writers than ever before (let's face it, the Internet has made it easy for anyone and everyone to find and submit to a call for stories), we don't need additional reasons for our stories to be culled.
So that's why I am even more thrilled that this story is the one that has found a home. I can't wait to see what will be its neighbors.
So just as the Canis sapiens of my series are looking for a place to live and thrive, so too is the series itself. Dissatisfaction with its previous publisher has kept me from submitting the sequel there, and I am endeavoring to find a publisher that would pick up the series and run with it in a more productive fashion. So if you were wondering whatever happened to Book Two, this will hopefully explain its delay, for the obstacle that I have to deal with is the fact that offering Book One to a new publisher (which I am able to do, now that all the rights have reverted back to me) involves finding one that is willing to accept what they will consider to be "a reprint" as it has already been published before. And since most publishers are not interested in (and strictly refuse to consider looking at) reprints, this limits where I can take it. I was given hope though in my discussions with some industry professionals, particularly an acquisitions editor I chatted with at last week's Book Expo in New York's Jacob Javits Center, so I am not discouraged. In fact, I am more charged than ever to find a home for my creation that will be a better fit for it. So stay tuned, and be patient, as I have not abandoned it--or you!
I am constantly checking for when magazines and anthologies post their call for stories. For those familiar with this process, the term "simultaneous submission" should be all-too-familiar. It's one of the most important aspects in the submission process, as well as the most dreaded. It refers to whether an editor will accept a story submission from you when it is "simultaneously" being submitted to other markets as well. Some refuse to accept anything that has already been sent elsewhere, while (and this next trend fortunately is showing up more and more) others understand the need to send to as many publishers as possible and will accept simultaneous submissions. Why is this so important?
An editor preparing for an upcoming issue or anthology will set a reply date (or, if not an actual date, then the number of days or months that it will take for you to get your response). This is not set in stone, however, and editors may stray from this time depending on how overwhelmed they are with submissions. Sometimes they will let you know; oftentimes they will not. And some publishers do not even give you a hint at how long it will take right from the start. I also can't tell you (well, I actually can since I keep detailed records of all my submissions) how many times an editor will not even let you know if your story has been rejected and only contact the ones whom they will be purchasing stories from.
So just how long can a story be held in limbo like this until it can safely, and in good conscience, be submitted to one of those publishers that will not accept simultaneous submissions?
I wish I had an answer for this. All I can do is post this in hopes that publishers will be aware of this situation (that not all editors reply according to such regulated schedules--if they reply at all!) and perhaps adjust their policies to be more lenient and accommodating to their submitting authors.
Thank you for patiently waiting to hear more about Beverly's experiences. No one is more excited about seeing this tale unravel further than myself, and now that certain obstacles have been removed which had deterred its progress, it may now continue as planned. In the meantime, I shall be bringing copies of my book to several places in the coming months to try to initiate more readers into the fold. First up is the Baltimore Book Expo, where I may be found at my publisher's table on Sunday, September 24th, from 11:00 AM to 2:55 PM. For more info about the show, visit: http://www.baltimorebookfestival.com/. After that will be the York Book Expo (yorkbookexpo.org/) on October 21st, where I will have my own table for the duration of the event, and a local store appearance (date yet to be determined).
My apologies for the delay with Book Two. A personal crisis derailed my life about a year ago and is yet to be resolved, and unfortunately it has robbed me of my ability to work on it as I had been doing. Seeing my post about the book finding its bones reminds me of the great strides I had been taking, and it quite frankly pains me that I have not been able to continue as I had planned. But rest assured, the second installment IS being worked on; it is just progressing painfully slowly due to the as-yet-unresolved situation that still plagues me. Beverly Journal's tale continues!