10.24.2006

Silence IS Death

Much exaltations, Miss Snark!

I have a question that's been troubling me for a bit now...if I am a homosexual American and I've written gay/lesbian fiction, should I try and publish it under a pen name? The thing is, I'm worried that when(and if *fingers crossed*) I'm able to sell mainstream and young adult fiction, agents and publishers would be reluctant to touch my stuff out of fear that it wouldn't sell once the public found out about the gay/lesbian work I've published.


Just when I'm about ready to scoff that "no one cares about this anymore" something like this pops up and reminds me that some people do care and whether I think they are nincompoops or not doesn't have much bearing on the question.

This is something you'll have to decide for yourself.

There are gay teens and young adults. They need to hear from writers who have a clue about what that's like. Be brave. It's the only way to live your life. If one publisher says no, there are always others.

29 comments:

Georgiana said...

Miss Snark,

You've got an extra http:// at the beginning of the link so it's not working properly.

Amen about being brave; there is so much anti-glbt junk that you can stumble across online that the more positive role models kids can find the better. I live in MD and I've gotten some really nasty spam from people who are trying to make same sex marriage against the law.

Best alternative sexuality thing I've read lately is a wonderful story called Oceanic by Greg Egan. It's in the 18th annual Year's Best Science Fiction collection. Just amazing.

pacatrue said...

It seems like there are three items to consider.

1) The impact on yourself. Since you've been publishing gay/lesbian lit under your own name, it sounds like you are out and there's no shocking your friends and family, etc. So just do what you feel is best for yourself.

2) Judging the market. Will you lose sales to young adults or children because their parents don't like the fact that you are gay and writing about it? I think that depends on the precise market. If you are planning on writing young adult Christian inspiration novels, you would have to guess that your other work could have an impact on sales if it got around. You might wish to go ahead anyway because there are tons of gay Christians and we should hear their stories, but there's no denying a potential problem in that market. I can't imagine it would have a big impact in general YA, since there's no sticker "warning: this author's gay" on the cover and, I hope, most in a general audience would not care either way if there were. The parents would care more if your YA work deals with gay themes. That's a different topic though. You asked, "is it going to limit sales to be an author who writes YA fiction and adult gay fiction?" not "is it going to limit sales to write gay-themed YA fiction?"

3) Will it bother you if the YA or children reading your new books find out about your other lit and read it since they loved the YA one? That would largely depend on the lit, I would guess. I can imagine a lot of erotica authors, gay or not, not feeling comfortable having their YA fans read their erotica, and so they might try to keep the two apart as much as possible, including by using a pen name.

I don't know the answers, but it seems those are the critical questions to ask yourself. My own hope is that one day there will be no difference between mainstream fiction and gay/lesbian fiction other than marketing. Perhaps you will be one of the people to make the transition for us. Cue John Lennon here.

Anonymous said...

There's nothing desperate or clandestine about using different names on different kinds of work meant for different audiences. Think of Lemony Snicket / Daniel Handler. Some romance writers have SEVERAL different psuedonyms they use depending on the orientation gender and steaminess etc of the piece. Think of six or eight good names if your work has that much range, and have fun with it. If you use your byline as a brand to help your various reader populations find work they like, it only makes sense.

Bonnie Shimko said...

I'm about the last person one would expect to know something about this subject. I'm an old, married, straight woman. Thing is, I have an amazing lesbian daughter. When she "came out" to our family, I was less than kind (surprised the heck out of me-and-her because I/we thought I was broad minded). Not in this case. After a few horrible months, I knew I was going to have to change or I was going to lose my Sarah. I contacted a psychologist who told me about PFLAG (a wonderful support group for families and friends of lesbians and gays). When I called for information, a man answered the phone. I gave him my name and poured out my whole tearful, blubbering story. After I finished, he said, "Lady, this is the Veterans Administration!" Little did I know, I had taken the first step toward recovery. I had told someone and the world didn't come to an end. The members of PFLAG took me under their wings and worked their magic, and now my daughter and I are closer than ever.

After I smartened up, I wrote my first published novel and dedicated it to Sarah. It has a young lesbian narrator. Then, miracle of miracles, the book up and won a Lambda Literary Award.

After that, Alyson Publications asked me to write a short story for an anthology they were publishing for gay teens. One of the critics called me "One of the best lesbian writers...." Both my husband and I got a kick out of that.

Just recently, my second novel was published. This time the narrator is a straight girl.

I've had nothing but positive experiences, both as a "lesbian" writer and as a straight writer. There's a big market these days for all kinds of YA literature. Go for it!

Racy Li said...

Like pacatrue said, it depends on what your goals in life are.

Ian McKellan is gay, but that didn't stop hordes of kids flocking to see him do readings from Lord of the Rings.

I've struggled with similar questions (though definitely not the same) as a writer of erotica. I can't have what I write connected with my professional life.

But what I've come to realize is that just because you write under a pseudonym, doesn't make it any less YOU. Your pseudonym can be as much your name as your birth name (and in some ways, it's probably more true because YOU chose it). I am the same person as Racy Li as I am with my birthname.

What writing under a pseudonym may in fact do is give you more control and more of a choice to who you want your identity revealed to. Moreover, just because you write under a pseudonym doesn't mean you're hiding; there are numerous authors out there who write under different pseudonyms for marketing reasons. (Kristin Nelson over at Pub Rants has blogged about this before.)

Good luck with whatever you choose to do.

M. G. Tarquini said...

"It's not healthy for America, it doesn't fit what we stand for," says Allen. "And they will do whatever it takes to reach their goal."

Wow. I kinda don't want to know what State Representative Gerald Allen thinks America stands for.

Kate said...

Well, thank heavens there weren't enough legislators there at the time of the vote, so it was killed. Makes you wonder though: was it scheduled deliberately at a time when no-one would be there, or did everyone just decide not to show up to avoid having to take a stand?

Dave said...

It's amazing how tiny words scribbled on paper can create such reactions.
Who would think that mere words could be so powerful?
Why one can barely believe that we, the people could be moved by a bunch of ink smeared on a page.

thraesja said...

I'm sorry kiddies, you can't read anything by Oscar Wilde or Virginia Wolff. And you can't study mathematics or computer science, because Alan Turing was gay. Oh, and watch out if you study philosophy, Francis Bacon might have been gay. Oh, and no British History....there are rumors about Richard I, y'know.
You have got to be kidding me.

Kate Thornton said...

Bonnie - what a wonderful story!

We have to do what we have to do.
I too am an old straight married woman, but frequently write as a gay man. Part of being a writer is that ability to get inside the character.

There's no harm in using a pseudonym if that's what you need to do for whatever reason you may have. You can change or modify the name you write as, but you can't deny who you *are* - and no one ever should.

Annie said...

This is an issue I've struggled with as well. I write lesbian romance and everyone who knows me know that. I'm out to everyone, including my employers. I am proud of my work and have no desire to hide the fact that I wrote it.

However, there is a very real possibility that in the next few years, I'm going to change careers and become a high school English teacher. While I will not lie about my sexuality to my students (I fully plan to be a faculty advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance, etc), I'm not sure I want them reading my romance novels because they contain explicit love scenes. (Not erotica, but explicit enough that I'm not comfortable with the under-18 set reading it, especially my students.) And I don't want to deal with any drama caused by conservative parents who read it and freak out. Honestly, I'd feel the same way if I wrote heterosexual romance novels with explicit love scenes.

So I've decided that if I am published, I will use a pen name for these books (the first of which I'm preparing for submission to lesbian publishing houses right now). I'm also working on a more mainstream novel that has a lesbian protagonist, but does not have explicit love scenes. I hope someday to publish this novel with a mainstream publisher so that it will reach a wider audience. And that book will very likely bear my real name.

So, that was a long way of saying -- I think it depends on the content of the novel, and also how you think it will affect your life. Only you can decide if using a pen name is right for you. But I don't think you should feel guilty if you do. Lots of authors use pen names for a wide variety of reasons.

Anonymous said...

And yet another reason why I do not live in Alabama.

Amazing.

B. Dagger Lee said...

You guys rock my gay kasbah!

yrs, B. Dagger Lee

Ryan Field said...

You state you're writing gay/lesbian fiction, but fail to mention the sub-genre...is it erotica, hardcore, semi-erotic? Is is highly sexual in content? If anyone studies the gay/lesbian publishers you'll notice a good deal of the commercial work is erotic in nature. I have no opinion about this at all; it is what it is.

But, if you're writing things like DIRTY LITTLE RENT BOYS for the gay/lesbian market, and then want to write young adult you might want to use another name and play down the erotic fiction. The crossover to adult mainstream would be easier, but when it comes to kids and YA I don't think it's a good idea to be associated with any type of erotic fiction (gay or hetero), if that is in fact what you're writing and failed to mention it.

Now, if you're writing wonderful novels like Bonnie Shimko does for the gay/lebian market, don't give it a second thought...and please use your name as often as possible. It can only help.

Stacy said...

Where I'm from, many people are still convinced you can 'catch' gayness from someone who has it - like a cold, only much, much worse. I hear the gay conspiracy theory everyday, but nobody to date has mentioned novels and other literary work by gay people or with gay characters.

Naturally, somebody here thinks Gerald Allen of Alabama is their hero. I look forward to hearing him praised and quoted by ministers and their congregations in the near future, and our libraries had better gird their loins for battle!

People are stupid.

And why is the word verification so damned hard? It's like a freakin' test. Or maybe I need to get my EYES tested.

Anonymous said...

The subgenre is historic-esque fiction (world that takes place in pirate times, is like Earth in every other way except countries)and contains lesbian protagonists and a romantic subplot (no sex scenes).

It's not been published yet, so now is when I have to consider how I want to be known. Also, the YA works wouldn't be gay-themed (fantasy and contemporary), and neither would most of the mainstream.

Thanks for sharing, Bonnie! Stories like your's give me real hope about this world. I grew up and live in the liberal suburbs of Philadelphia, but I'm not so sheltered as to not realize what goes on in other parts of the country.

It's sad sometimes, that writers have to face choices like this. Hate me if that's your belief, but don't hate my writing.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I know I'm about to be spammed by the supposedly tolerant left (tolerant unless I disagree with them), but I do object to the gay lifestyle on religious principles. HOWEVER, that being said, this article about banning books from libraries either written by or about gay characters is ridiculous. It turns out that I object to censorship and book-banning even more.

My approach to those who wish to ban books because they want to "protect our children" is this: I am protecting my children just fine, thank you, by teaching them my values and examining the very works I find objectionable. When we discuss thoughtfully with our children why certain choices a character makes are objectionable to us, or why we disagree with someone else's viewpoints, and when we examine those viewpoints in terms of logic and reason, I find that is protection enough. It teaches my children how to think, not what to think, and they can examine my attitude on the subject as well as others' and make their own decisions.

God save us from politicians who want to help me raise my kids.

Regarding the poster's dilemma, while I might not object to a novel written for children by a gay author, I would certainly object to one written about gays for the YA market. I would be unlikely to buy such a book for my children based on my religious beliefs, but I might discuss this with them if they wanted to read it. So, if the target market is my family, that might help in making the decision.

BTW, as a religious conservative, when my children came to me and said they wanted to read Harry Potter, for example, I didn't say no. I said, "Let me read it first and we'll see." Not only did I get hooked and read the whole series, but I saw nothing in it that disagreed with or mocked my beliefs. My kids enjoyed it too, btw. So let's not paint all religious conservatives with the same brush, shall we? So frequently we're portrayed as close-minded and uneducated, when in fact the exact opposite is often true. We believe as strongly as you do in the things we have come to accept as truth. Why is that such a problem? If you don't agree with me, fine, but don't mock me as a result, any more than I would feel free to mock you. It seems like making fun of religious conservatives is the only acceptable prejudice anymore.

Oh, well. Long answer to a short question. Now let me go get my rubber boots and umbrella, because I know people are going to start throwing *stuff* at me right away.

Thanks.

Kim Stagliano said...

This post got me. I'm not much of a cyber-hug kind of gal -- but you derserve one. If Dog is willing and the creek don't rise on 11/7 and if Rush can't convince more people that MKFox is "acting" is Parkinsons,and if N. Korea doesn't blow our asses into the Rapture next week, the political tides might make your quandary less inevitable. A dear, beloved, favorite relative of mine is gay -- and I often wonder just how alone he must have felt during his formative years. Write it! Let the shit storm from the people who also think Harry Potter is evil pass and please let me know when you're in print. I want several copies.

Kim

Anonymous said...

Horror fiction, move over. That article is the most terrifying thing I've read in a long, long time. It's scary on so many levels that I don't even know where to start.

A lot of authors use pen names when they switch genre, simply because they don't want readers to buy the book expecting A and be disappointed when they get B.

docbrite said...

Just a point: there is plenty of mainstream and young adult fiction that contains gay characters. You don't necessarily have to pick one thing or the other.

Anonymous said...

"It seems like making fun of religious conservatives is the only acceptable prejudice anymore."

Uh... woe is you? Wow. Just wow. Open minded? Just because you think you are doesn't mean that you are.

Harry Connolly said...

Actually, if you do get legislators denouncing you in the press, that's great publicity.

docbrite said...

Anonymous conservative, there's no such thing as "the gay lifestyle." We have lives, just as you do.

Anonymous said...

Anon conservative,

Coolness, I'm glad that you're responsible in your family decisions. Clearheadedness is what I value too.

However, the G/L book is targeted for adults, and the YA is just regular YA. Perhaps one day I'll write some G/L YA, but I don't have a good plot in mind right now.

People are allowed their beliefs, and allowed even to hate if they wish...my interest is my writing career.

Anonymous said...

Actually, author, I don't hate you. I don't even know you. I may disagree with you, but those are not equivalent concepts in my world. Besides, I don't have the energy for hate--too busy fighting off all the "tolerant" types who object to the very nature of my existence in the land of the free.

My point was, I don't care if you are gay, just what you write. And my point was that as long as your books are written as regular YA, and enjoyable and appropriate for children and young adults, no, I wouldn't have a problem with buying those, so a separate pen name shouldn't be an issue, unless you just want to clearly distinguish for your readers by using different names which books are which.

That was my point. I wasn't attacking the "gay lifestyle," either, docbrite. I have a life AND a lifestyle. (Boy, some English teacher really worked you over with a style guide, eh?) Maybe I'm luckier than you. I don't have to worry nearly as much about being politically correct all the time. How exhausting that must be for you.

And to the poster who said, "Just because you think you [are open-minded], doesn't mean you are," I completely agree.

I enjoy your blog, Miss Snark, but then, I LIKE reading about people whose opinions and LIFESTYLES differ from my own. It makes the world so much more interesting than if everybody thought like me. Now, I’ll just get back to my LIFESTYLE, being that I enjoy it so much. Grinding the faces of the poor, denying gays and lesbians their civil rights, burning and banning books...you know, the usual. All in a day’s work for us religious conservatives. ;)

docbrite said...

Anon, I was courteous in my response to you and simply stated what I believe to be a fact. There's no need to come back at me with insults. I'm not interested in political correctness; I just feel that the phrase "gay lifestyle" implies all gay people live the same kind of life. Perhaps I should have said, "There is no ONE gay lifestyle." At any rate, it has become a painful phrase that's frequently used to imply all manner of perversions and lump all gay folks together in one icky mass. It has become as loaded as any racial slur, and refraining from its use would be a simple courtesy, not a bow to the mythical demons of PC.

Ah well; pardon the pumping purple piss out of me for caring about language on a writing-related blog. You claimed to be prepared for "spamming," by which I think you meant flaming. I didn't flame you, and I certainly didn't expect such a load of heavy-handed, ugly sarcasm in response to what I did say. I guess I'm not the only one confirming sterotypes here.

docbrite said...

P.S. I do appreciate your position on the ridiculousness of banning fiction containing gay characters, keeping books out of libraries, etc. Although our encounter hasn't been very pleasant, it's good to hear from someone who doesn't wish to impose his own standards and beliefs on the whole world. If I came off as such a person myself, I regret it ... I just loathe that damnfool phrase!

tom sheepandgoats said...

If you visit the George Eastman house in Rochester, New York, you will see among the exhibits speculation as to whether or not the Kodak founder was gay. Eastman was a lifelong bachelor. When he was young he was too poor to marry, he explained. When he was middle-aged, he was too busy, and when he was old he was too set in his ways. Perhaps.

The exhibit concludes that he was not gay. But in this age where a person’s sexuality eclipses all other concerns, any bachelor is fair game for speculation.

Bonnie Shimko said...

Funny how people's minds work. My LETTERS IN THE ATTIC does have a budding lesbian narrator (actually, she's still not sure about her sexuality), but the book is mainly a mother/daughter story.

Even though there's no sex or even dialogue about Lizzy's feelings for her best friend Eva (just Lizzy's gentle thoughts) the book ended up on a challenged-books list. Some libraries have notes on their websites to "ask at the desk" for the book, and a lovely book/gift catalog added a warning at the end of their amazingly wonderful review. Sad.

My friend, Betty DeGeneres, wrote in her book, LOVE,ELLEN, "I pray for that day--a time when, instead of hate, love is carefully taught and children will grow up without hearing derogatory remarks about their gay and lesbian family members and neighbors; and the more enlightened among us who already accept each other without regard to race, color, or creed will include sexual orientation in that list."

Me too.