Writing about what you're not

Dear Miss Snark,

What do you think of women who write gay fiction?

You've said many times that we should just focus on writing well and I'm constantly striving towards that goal. But with publication eminent (I bet you mean imminent) how do I handle promoting myself if I'm not a member of my audience or even close to my being one of my cast of characters?

I'm not suggesting pulling a J.T. Leroy here, but should I sell myself like the male writers who write historical romances under women's names or even create a more gender ambiguous pseudonym--expecting any confusion to be revealed at book signings or interviews? Or should I just come out with it and risk frightening off some of the target demo. In this age of writer as celebrity, how do you suggest writers handle this issue when addressing agents, editors and the public?

First, you write a novel that is so "true" and so emotionally compelling that everyone in the audience faints dead away when you come to the podium to speak.

Then, after smelling salts all around, when some grim visaged matron huffily asks how you knew all this stuff about dykes when you "clearly aren't" gay/straight/ambidexterous/curly/kinky/slinky/size two shoe, you fix her with a beady eye and sweetly say "thank you for the great compliment of thinking my novel sounded so true it had to be real. It is in fact, a novel. I made it all up. Next question please."

The idea that you have to BE something to write about it is hogwash. It's a left over from a much more compelling situation which was that some literary voices were ignored or considered unsaleable. I've heard publishing execs say with a straight face that "Terry McMillan proved black people would buy books". Black people were buying books long before Terry McMillan started writing, or even before Terry McMillan was born. What Terry McMillan did was show the publishing industry that books written by black women with black female characters in romantic situations would sell by the car load. You don't have to be black/gay/straight/snarky to write about people who are. Bad writing is patronizing and leads people to think you are clueless about them. Good writing makes people think you ARE them.

And once again when people get huffy, it's really a compliment. I'm hardpressed to think of a better thing to say to someone about a novel than "It felt so real". Well..."it won the Pulitzer Prize", sure...but Miss Snark isn't in charge of that, sadly.