Homoerotic Fiction: Straight Up And With A Twist

Homoerotic Fiction: Straight Up And With A Twist

By Tim Parks

 

There is a new trend in the writing of homoerotic fiction, an offshoot of “slash fiction,” which started back in the 1970’s with stories of man-on-man action between fictional television characters, such as Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock of “Star Trek.” Today, what began as a fan fiction phenomenon, thanks in large part to the Internet, still thrives on sexualized depictions of figures from popular culture.

 But, there is a new emergence in the genre of homoerotic fiction that is also known as “m/m” erotica, with its tales of two male partners and “yaoi,” which is featured in Japanese anime and manga (a Japanese term for comics) fandoms.

There are a group of up-and-coming authors writing this type of fiction, such as Alessia Brio, Karen Frontain, Kay Derwydd, Emily Veinglory, Fae Sutherland, and Marguerite Labbe, who are all straight women that are taking homoerotic storytelling to a whole new level. Even James Buchanan, author of such fare as Twice The Cowboy, Twice The Ride,  is a she!

I talked with one such author, who goes by the penname of I.M. Cupnjava and has an upcoming book Full Circle due out this year, to get the scoop on this new wrinkle in an old formula.

Gay and Lesbian Times: How did you get involved with writing homoerotic fiction?  

I.M. Cupnjava: I started with fan fiction and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I am, however, ashamed of the quality of my early work. One day, I had a “wouldn’t be hot if…” moment and typed it up.

 I had never heard of the genre “homoerotica,” or its brothers “yaoi” and “slash.” Needless to say, I was surprised to learn of the vastness of the genre.

Shortly thereafter, I participated in a discussion where we basically complained about what was available for fans of gay erotica. I mused, “Why is it so wrong to present a hot story with a solid plot about two men, who not only have great sex, but also genuinely care for each other?”

 GLT: And, what is your favorite part of writing for this particular genre? 

I.M.C.: What’s not to love about homoerotica? From the inquisitive looks I get when I tell people what I write, to the nuts and bolts of putting font on the screen; I love every aspect of writing this genre.

The best element has to be the readers. Homoerotica fans are intelligent, discriminating, and loyal. I get letters from sexual assault victims who tell me they’ve found healing in my work, and that makes all of the long hours and low pay worth it. I adore my reader base. My readers have patiently stood beside me when my publisher closed and they’ve cheered for me when those orphaned stories found new homes.  

My fellow homoerotica writers are wonderful, too. I’ve never met such a diverse group of people who intentionally find common ground. We’ve been the clichéd stepchildren of romance writing for a very long time. Some organizations refuse to recognize anything with same-sex couples as romance, some places will not allow us to advertise our work, and many writing groups will not allow us to discuss our genre.

This article was first published in January 2006.

Augusten Burroughs: His Life As An Open Book

Augusten Burroughs: His Life As An Open Book

By Tim Parks

So much is known about Augusten Burroughs, who was born Christopher Robison, through his mega-selling works that he feels like a person we know; a friend off-the-page, because of the accessibility he affords readers on-the-page, with each literary glimpse into his life.

Although there is a certain amount of inherent knowledge and name recognition that comes along with the author, there is also a wealth of facts regarding the man, who has become synonymous with the word memoir.

While Burroughs’ first novel, Sellevision, a work of fiction which was published in 2000, it was abundantly clear that there was an excitingly fresh and funny new voice in literature.

But, what has made Burroughs’ literary career has been mining his own colorful past to produce brilliant gems in book form; beginning with his first memoir, Running With Scissors in 2002, which made him a #1 New York Times best-selling author, and he followed up that blockbuster book with another one – his tell-all battle with getting sober, chronicled in 2003’s Dry.

His more recent works, 2003’s Magical Thinking and 2006’s Possible Side Effects, consist of essays with what has became a hallmark of Burroughs’ writing – mixing the ordinary events of his days into humorous romps, and his observations are as wry and cutting as a pair of newly sharpened scissors.

Speaking of Scissors…in 2006 the film version of Burroughs account of being sent off during his formative years to live with his mother’s psychiatrist, and the doctor’s highly unorthodox family, hit the big screen (with Annette Bening portraying his mother and Joseph Cross tackling the role of the teenaged Burroughs).

In 2007, Vanity Fair ran an article entitled “Ruthless With Scissors,” in which the Turcotte family, (featured in both the book and movie version as the Finch family) explained that their lawsuit against Burroughs and that Scissors had falsely portrayed them. The author and his publisher, St. Martin’s Press, settled with the family, and Burroughs felt he had emerged triumphant because “we had a very strong case because I had the truth on my side.”    

With his latest tome, A Wolf At The Table, Burroughs delves back into memoir territory with his recollections of his strained relationship with his late father, who is termed as “a shadowy presence in his life.”

During the midst of his latest book tour, Burroughs kindly corresponded, via e-mail, with me to talk about his past, present and future writing projects, being a gay author with crossover appeal, and about relinquishing his tales to be told through the camera lens of Hollywood.         

Burroughs’ ability to write about his life with an unflinching bird’s eye view has been a coping mechanism for the author for many years now.

“Well, writing has always been cathartic for me,” he explained. “I’ve been writing about my life for most of my life. As a young teenager, suddenly hurled into extraordinary circumstances, I found myself under profound stress. And I kind of had a choice to make: kill myself or focus on the absurd. This wasn’t a conscious choice, but it was a choice nonetheless. And the lens was ground.”

And if not for that choice, and his innate talent at juggling a copious amount of curve balls, which life has thrown his way, Burroughs may not have been able to hit home runs in book form later in life.

The separation of the comedy amongst the tragedy has proved to be a saving grace throughout his existence.

“It was at this age when I began to focus on the silly, the absurd, the ridiculous even in the midst of something horrifying or profoundly disturbing,” Burroughs stated. “Humor became a sort of life raft, allowing me to float from one catastrophe to the next.

“But Wolf takes place before this highly refined defense mechanism was in place,” Burroughs said of his latest work, “As a result Wolf is a much more brutal, harrowing book than any I have written before.”

A Wolf At The Table focuses on a dream Burroughs had as a child, in which his father takes him into the woods to show him where he has buried a body, and is sworn to secrecy to never tell of the event. But Burroughs is inclined to believe that the dream is, in fact, a memory.

The underlying theme of the father-and-son dynamic is at the heart of A Wolf At The Table, and Burroughs feels that readers will be able to latch onto that ongoing and ever-present struggle that surrounds most families.

“I hope readers who had a difficult relationship with their own father will feel less alone,” Burroughs recanted. “There aren’t a lot of memoirs about bad relationships between fathers and sons. And yet, many men – and women – experienced terrible fathering. My father was dangerous; he was sociopathic, so he is an extreme example. But again, I think people are able to relate to the emotion behind the specifics. I have had so many come up to me and say, ‘me too,’ after reading Wolf. And this makes me feel wonderful – and not so alone.”

Another way that Burroughs is able to touch readers’ lives is by writing about “human issues, not sexual orientation-specific issues,” which has made him a gay author with a vast amount of crossover appeal. He explained to us what that means on a personal and professional level, of why his books carry such a wide grab, from the bookshelves to the readers hands, for all walks of life. 

“I have always been comfortable with my sexuality; indeed, have taken my comfort for granted; just as a heterosexual person might,” he said. “And I love my readers: old people, young people, male, female, straight, gay, undecided, somewhere in between. Love, longing for love, losing love, life, death, pain, addiction, overcoming adversity –these are all issues every person deals with.”

One thing popular authors, like Burroughs, must also deal with is when Hollywood comes-a-calling to turn their books into a film version. Hopefully (but very rarely) this procedure won’t bastardize the written word equivalent of a child, which has gestated inside an author’s fertile mind, until it goes through the birthing process onto a blank page, is ultimately accepted into the open arms of a loving family of readers, and then is passed into the shaky hands of Hollywood.

And while most authors express displeasure at the treatment that their books go through in the studio system, Burroughs was very happy, and held not an inkling of trepidation with placing his life story into the hands of strangers, and how the film version of Running With Scissors ended up when all was said and done. 

“I loved the performances in the film and I thought it was a fascinating experience. I accepted – right away – that this was going to be another person’s vision of my memoir – the director’s,” Burroughs detailed. “So I wasn’t trying to assert control or imprint the movie with my own sensibilities. I just allowed it to happen and felt grateful that it was happening and featured such a hugely talented cast.”

 Burroughs happily reported that “Sellevision is currently being cast. Wolf will be a film. And Dry will, as well.”

Since Burroughs writes primarily about his life and foibles – one has to wonder if the author finds that the people in his life are cautious about what they say in front of him. Or, if he experiences the opposite end of the spectrum – where they are always at the ready with something clever to say, in the hopes that it will make it into print? 

 “I have had my friends for many years and they aren’t concerned about what I will or will not say about them,” he said. “It’s just never been an issue.”

As far as what morsels are to be served next on his literary plate, Burroughs gave me the dish on his upcoming projects, and it sounds like his plate will be plenty full.  

“Well, a number of things. I’m working on a collection of horrible/funny holiday stories called, You Better Not Cry,” he replied. “And I’m working on a memoir and on two novels. I’m also trying to think of a Unified Theory of Everything – but this is tricky, because I still don’t know my multiplication tables.”

To read reviews of A Wolf At The Table, and all things Augusten Burroughs, log onto http://www.augusten.com    This interview was first published on May 29th, 2008.

Armistead Maupin: More “Tales” To Tell

Armistead Maupin: More “Tales” To Tell
By Tim Parks

It is time for fans of Armistead Maupin’s “Tales of the City” novels to rejoice, as the author has chronicled another chapter in the lives of the residents that once populated 28 Barbary Lane. Specifically, the focus is on one character, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver, in Maupin’s new novel “Michael Tolliver Lives,” but characters from the previous novels do make appearances throughout the book.

Maupin initially penned “Tales” in 1976, first as a serial in The San Francisco Chronicle, which was the first fiction to be featured in a daily newspaper in decades. Then “Tales of the City” became his first novel in 1978, and five books in the series followed (“More Tales of the City,” “Further Tales of the City,” “Babycakes,” “Significant Others,” and “Sure of You”), which all became international bestsellers.

Now almost 30 years after the first book became a staple of reading for gay and straight readers alike, and 18 years since the ink has dried on “Sure of You,” Maupin delivers one of his best novels to date; a finely woven tapestry of characters both familiar and new ones to embrace, along with a strong message about the family that you make along the way.     

I had the distinct privilege to be the first reporter to speak with Maupin about his literary homecoming, and why these characters that people his books has left such an indelible impression throughout the years and have such a universal appeal.

“I think it has something to do with the way I inhabit all of my characters and make all of their follies acceptable,” he surmised. “I think a lot of gay people like to feel part of a tribe, but also want to feel hooked in with the world at large, and that’s what my books try to do.”

Even though Maupin has achieved great success through his written words, his creative process is very similar to any writer.  

“Frankly, I struggle to be entertaining; I don’t let a page go by unless there are two or three things on there that amuse me or interest me. I’m a very slow writer for that reason,” he explained. “I get two manuscript pages done at the most each day, and I’m generally not pleased with it while I’m going along. I was pleased to finally sit down and read the book a few weeks ago, and realize that there was a story there.

“Because the work itself is so microscopic, I can’t quite see what’s going on when I’m doing it. It’s like laying mosaics, one tile at a time – it’s only when it’s done that you can step back and see the whole picture.” 

For months prior to the book’s publication, Maupin had gone on record as saying that this book was not a part of the “Tales of the City” series, but rather a look primarily at Michael Tolliver at age 55 and living with HIV. He explained to us about his initial trepidation of having the novel be considered as book seven in his vastly popular series. “Very early on I declared this not to be a continuation of “Tales of the City,” because I was nervous that people would be disappointed in the change of format,” he recanted. “It is, after all, a story being told by one character, his voice. I was deathly afraid that serious DeDe fans, for instance, would be disappointed that I wasn’t tracing her trajectory as well.

“But, I’ve since had enough people convince me that it captures the spirit of the earlier books, to such a degree that I shouldn’t be worried about that. One of the early reviews from Publisher’s Weekly said, ‘Maupin claims this isn’t the seventh book, but, happily it is.’”

And Maupin gave me further scoop on the future of even more new “Tales.”

“This could very well be the beginning of a new series that relates heavily to the first series, but I haven’t quite made up my mind about that,” he said (for the record, I pleaded with him to do so!).

The experience of revisiting the character of Michael Tolliver decades later holds this connotation for Maupin.

“In the first place, it reminded me of my own aging process,” he explained. “Michael is seven years younger than I am, so I was shocked, for instance, to discover he had a great nephew. It was also very lovely to be able to record some aspects of my happy domestic life at the moment. This is not an autobiographical novel, Michael’s never been me, but I’ve tried to use some of my spirit, some of my attitudes, whenever they’re appropriate to the character.” 

Maupin takes a very hands-on approach with adaptations of his works, he has served as the screenwriter on “The Night Listener” and the first three miniseries of the “Tales of the City” series – the first of which won a Peabody Award when it aired on PBS in 1993, before the last two miniseries’ moved over to Showtime.

“I’m not a control freak when it comes to that (being involved with adaptations), but I have had fun being a tourist on the set. When the three miniseries and the feature film were made, I tend to stay out of the way. If you don’t trust the director and the actors by then, you’re in trouble anyway. Every now and then, I step forward when there’s something that only I’m aware of – in terms of the meaning of a line, for instance. But, I can let it go, if it’s the right folks doing the work.” 

And, as far a new “Tales” miniseries coming down the pipe anytime soon, Maupin broke this bit of sad news about the status of “Babycakes” becoming the latest in the incredibly well-received televised versions of his books.  

“I really don’t think its going to happen,” he said with frank honesty. “Our last hope was that Showtime could be persuaded to do it, they simply aren’t doing one off movies; they’re committed fully to doing series.” 

From the traces of his relationship with ex partner, Terry Anderson and the real-life telephone friendship he struck up with 14-year-old memoirist, Anthony Godly Johnson, which became shrouded in mystery and was the basis for “The Night Listener,” the adage of “write what you know” certainly applies to Maupin. And his newest tome is certainly no exception to that rule.

One of the core elements in “Michael Tolliver Lives” is the nature of intergenerational love – Maupin and his current partner, Christopher Turner, are separated by a few decades and were recently married in Vancouver, BC.

“I practically chased my husband down the street when I saw him, it helped that I knew he liked guys over 45, and I told him when I confronted him that was a position for which I was overqualified,” he said with a chuckle.

 The theme of being a gay man of a “certain age” is also one of the threads that tie the book together. And now at age 62, Maupin had these thoughts on what it’s like being an older gay man in today’s ever changing society and some of the challenges facing the older set.

“Their own residual self loathing,” he stated and continued. “I still run into way too many gay men my age who feel unworthy of love and that only ensures that love won’t come along. I think we have to keep up our nerve. To be honest with you, I don’t feel that different from the rest of the gay community; that’s one of the things that I like about it, I do think it’s still very much a tribe, and I feel connected with all sorts of gay people.

“But the challenge of getting older is pretty much the same for everybody, gay or straight. But there is a special breed of gay man now whose been expecting to die for many years, and now have come to the realization that there probably going to die the regular way, and that requires a whole new at of looking at things. I tried to capture that, to a certain degree, in “Michael Tolliver Lives.”

“Michael Tolliver Lives,” published by Harper Collins is out in bookstores now. This interview was first published on June 14th, 2007.

Clive Barker exorcises his demons

Clive Barker exorcises his demons
by Tim Parks

Openly gay author Clive Barker has been able to utilize his vivid imagination ever since he became a literary fixture in the 1980’s, with his blend of horror and fantastic elements in his novels.

Beginning with The Books of Blood Volumes 1-6, it was evident that there was a new kid on the supernatural block, especially when horror meister, Stephen King proclaimed, “I have seen the future of horror and its name is Clive Barker.”

And, that future included both writing and directing films based upon his works, including: Hellraiser, Candyman, Nightbreed, and Lord of Illusions. With over 14   books under his belt (including Weave World, Imajica, Galilee and The Great and Secret Show), recent years have seen Barker branching out onto another limb in the literary tree, with books geared towards a younger demographic with the Abarat series, of which he also illustrated.     

While Barker might seem an unlikely candidate to pen books aimed at young adults, it should really come as no surprise to anyone that has ever read his tremendous fantasy tale, The Thief of Always, circa 1992, which initially broadened his younger fan base.

Barker’s brand of dark fantasy has always been able to illicit nightmares on a cerebral level, and his latest novel, Mister B. Gone, is no exception to the rule.

This is Barker’s much anticipated return to adult literature with a tale that encompasses the timeless battle of good versus evil. His last adult novel was Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story in 2001, since he has been hard at work on the Abarat series.

In Mister B. Gone, a centuries old autobiography written by a demon, Jakabok Botch, the titular Mister B. Gone, holds secrets that could unravel the very fabric of all that civilization holds near and dear.

And, Mister B. Gone has its roots based in a reality that frightens Barker, as the very gracious Englishman, (who resides in Beverly Hills with is partner of 17 years, David Armstrong) explained to The Gay and Lesbian Times.

“What I do believe, and what is reflected in the book, is that this easy division into evil and good, which our President finds so very easy, and such an easy justification for pretty odious maneuverings.” he said. “There’s definitely a sense I am trying to get across in the book that these simple divisions just don’t work.

“They are just essentially two sides of the same dirty, grubby little coin – and isn’t that why wars are fought? Isn’t it always about that, finally? Is it always about a closed room, and a bunch of people, whose faces we don’t know, and whose names we don’t know, carving out the world behind our backs?” He lamented. “There’s a lot of anger in that book, and it comes from watching Cheney and it comes from watching Bush. I also think we need to find ways to tell stories that get the dialogue going about anger, and about how we are being fucked around with constantly behind our backs.”      

Politics aside, writing Mister B. Gone for Barker was akin to a homecoming in a literary sense.

“It’s like a return, not to the kind of horror that I’d written in The Books of Blood, which was very visceral, very gory,” he summarized. “Mister B. Gone is scarier in a different way, but it felt like a return in one very particular sense, which is going back to the discipline of a much shorter form of fiction.

“I also loved the idea of writing in the first person, the demon, that seemed like so much fun and I could hear the voice very clearly in my head. So, yes it was a homecoming in many ways, but in a lot of other ways it had its own particular challenges.”    

In most of Barker’s novels, the worlds of the supernatural and sexuality collide in an explosion of one feeding upon the other, symbiotic night creatures that are intrinsically linked.

“I just think everything that is primal in our nature is the stuff of my fiction,” he recanted. “I’ve never been interested in pussyfooting around. So much horror and fantasy is sublimated sex, I mean the vampire, it’s not even subtle, it is very obvious what’s going on there. The werewolf with all these images of transformations overtaking bodies, and people becoming other than themselves in the grips of feelings they can’t entirely control –that’s sex, right?” 

 Barker believes these elements are key in his writing approach, where he can exorcise his own demons upon the page with the written word.

“I’ve always tried to be honest about my feelings in my fiction. Yes, I’m writing fantasy, yes, I’m using imaginative worlds and characters to embody my feelings, and dramatize my feelings,” he stated. “But, what you get in the books is Clive, it’s what I believe.”

One of the novels where this philosophy came into play was 1996’s, Sacrament, an allegorical tale of a gay male photographer chronicling wildlife species nearing extinction, while dealing with AIDS decimating his tight knit circle of friends in San Francisco.

Whereas most writers within Barker’s genre shy away from gay characters and subject matter, he feels there is a place for us among the things that go bump in the night.

“What I wanted to do with Sacrament was write what it was like for a gay man in the real world. What it is like going out on Folsom Street looking for sex one night – how does that actually feel with adding the supernatural stuff to it?” He replied, before shifting into his contemporaries take on the matter.

 “I think where people are writing in this area have a caution is, if you dramatize the hidden message of the material, you essentially remove its power. That’s always been the fear that people have had that, ‘Oh shit, if I put sex into this book, then what’s the hidden taboo?’ And, the taboo has always been, I believe, in horror, sex,” Barker declared. “Which is why, particularly, of course, sex of a ‘perverse’ kind (is taboo), and I have always thought that was the reason they were doing it (excluding gay characterizations and sex). My theory was, ‘Well, I’m going to put the sex in and still be scary.’ I wanted to wipe all that away, and say, ‘Get over yourselves, let’s start again and put everything you know about human nature on the table, including sex – why not?’” 

Barker’s notoriety as a horror visionary was all but cemented with the 1987 film, Hellraiser, and now twenty years later, it has been announced that a remake is being launched. Unlike, some recent horror movie remakes, Barker will have some involvement in the re-launching of the original project that essentially made him a household name; which holds a tad bit of excitement and realistic trepidation about bringing something new to the table, while maintaining some semblance of his original film .

“Well, they’re still in the process of working out how my relationship will work with this project,” he related. “There are two Frenchmen who are presently attached to do the actual writing and directing of the project. And I will produce and have some hand in the story. But, I feel as though, twenty years on, there’s a whole new generation of make-up and prosthetics and CGI – and I say that reluctantly, because I am not a fan of CGI. But, I think it could do amazing things for, say, the opening of the box. I mean I think that would be something that CGI could do miraculously well.

“We’ll see how it all goes. I’ve been around movies a long time now, and one thing I know is you are wasting your time if try to predict with any degree of accuracy how things are going to go down.”     

Something that Barker can always bank on is his multi-talented Renaissance man approach to his creativity. Aside from his literary skills and involvement in the world of filmmaking, Barker is also proving himself to be a man of many talents with his other artistic endeavor, painting.

“In a way painting is taking color out for a fucking romp, I love to be surrounded by color; there is something so sexy, and powerful and appetizing about it,” Barker proclaimed. “The speed of our pulse increases when we look at the color red, blue soothes us – there’s emotional responses we are having to all of these things, so when I get into my room of colors, my studio, all of the intellectual stuff goes out of the window and instinct takes over.”

With all of these facets of his phenomenal imagination at the ready, Barker explained which areas of his artistry bring him the most joy, and another he would be more than happy to not partake in again.

“Every day I paint and I write, and I can’t imagine anything more satisfying than that combination,” he said. “If I never involved myself in another movie, it would not break my heart.”

For Barker, even though he is dealing with amazing worlds that reside solely inside of his mind until he gets them out as a written gospel, the creative process unfolds from a very real place, and utilizes a different side of his brain than his artwork.

“I’m a very analytical writer, and I might try to erase as much of the signs of analysis in the final polish; so that it seems to be naked emotion, but its naked emotion within a structure I have very meticulously created first. Otherwise, it would just fall apart.

“When you’re dealing with the fantastic, structure is very important. You’ve got to have the time to build the characters and to tell the back story, and to give people an understanding of what the issues are.” 

              

Published Thursday, 15-Nov-2007 in issue 1038