My ideal book for Out in Print is three hundred pages or less–a number which allows me to get it read in about a week, think about it, and write the review. This is not a hard and fast rule, but when you’re writing your own novel, running an editing business, and riding herd over various elementary school classes to keep the dogs in jerky treats, the shorter the book, the better. Sometimes if I’m ahead or a guest reviewer has kicked in with a piece, I can do the occasional four hundred page book. But, in general, shorter books will rise to the top of the TBR pile.
So, when I received a package from a publisher with two books of less than two hundred pages each, I was ecstatic. This meant if I hustled, I could get two read in one week, write the reviews in one sitting, and actually come out a week ahead so I could start one of the longer TBR books. Great. Love having a plan. But like most plans…
Here’s where the post gets tricky. I really don’t want to call anyone out, so I have to keep the details vague while trying to explain my point. The first book? Essentially, this straight author/protagonist (for I believed them to be the same and the author bio seemed purposely vague) makes the gay man the villain. Not only that, but the gay guy deliberately breaks up the straight guy’s marriage because he lusts after him, explained in a pretty turgid “you don’t want her, you want me” scene.
Certainly scenarios like this have happened in real life. Not all gay men are nice. Some are, indeed, villains – but straight people don’t get to write them. That boat has sailed long ago on a sea of misrepresentation, coding, erasure, censure, and any other means of denial and exclusion you care to name. To do so is not daring or retro-edgy, regardless of whether or not the author is gay. It’s been done so often it’s ham-handed. It’s picking low-hanging fruit. It’s fucking lazy. And to see this coming from a gay publisher leaves me absolutely gobsmacked. As I’m not a fan of negative reviews, I can’t really review the book. I’ve now wasted half the week plus a day or two being pissed off.
My mood soured, I begin the second book hoping to salvage some of my time. This book ends with the gay man trying to kill the “man who done him wrong” and then turning the gun on himself. I throw this one across the room because I just can’t even anymore. Why do we always have to die in the end? Again, it’s not a case of it shouldn’t be discussed or written about because it never happens. We all know what the queer suicide rate is like. But let’s talk about it responsibly and in some detail, not reduce it to a plot device implemented because you needed an ending. Because that’s what it was. It was not set up in the character, nor was it consistent with his actions up until that point. It was an out. And a cheap one. And as a reader, regardless of who the author sleeps with, I resent his use of it. So, I can’t review this book, either.
However, I can write this post and get something out of two weeks of reading, thinking, cursing, and hyperventilating. My final word to authors and publishers of every stripe everywhere? Stop blaming us and stop killing us. Because if it’s ever going to happen in real life, it needs to happen in your stories first.
© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler
2 responses to “A Tale of Two Books, Or, One Reviewer’s Lament”
I completely agree with you, Jerry! Thank you for pointing out these issues, and, as you say, it’s even more egregious if one of the publishers is an LGBTQ press. I’m not saying all gay fiction should be PC–in fact I wonder if we’re bending over a bit too far in general on this subject, fearful of backlash (and I’m talking about all sorts of topics, not just gay ones), but we, as readers, don’t need more negativity and killer or abusive gays and lesbians.
Pingback: Judging for Yourself | 'Nathan Burgoine