What does writing GLBTQ literature mean to me?

Part of the Rainbow Book Reviews bloghop!

When I first confronted the fact that I was gay as a teenager, after years of denying it, I began to seek out books that featured gay male characters.  In a very real way, I was searching for role models — for examples of gay men who managed to find happiness with other men.  Unfortunately, I seldom found that.  Instead, what I found time and time again were tales of raunchy sex, misery, and death.

This was the early 1980s and the local bookstores didn’t carry many books featuring gay men.  For the most part, all of the novels I bought during these early years came from Annie’s Book Swap, a local used book store.

There was Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner, which I still love, in which a college gym coach has a wonderful romance with his star athlete — until the athlete is shot in the head and killed when he’s competing at the Olympics.  I consider this to be a great novel, but it certainly didn’t give me hope for a happy future.

There were a number of other novels in which the main characters were killed, or committed suicide, or ended up alone and miserable.  So many that I began flipping to the last few pages of any novel I picked up before purchasing.   If there was no mention of a partner — a living partner — at the end, I put the book back on the shelf.

Then there were books like those by Gordon Merrick.  Now Merrick was a pioneer.  He was one of the first American authors to portray happy gay relationships that were still happy gay relationships at the end of the book.  I have immense respect for him.  But as a teenager, I had a problem with his novels.  They were full of musclebound men with enormous cocks who flounced around calling each other “Darling” all the time.  That was about as far from me as it was possible to get.  I was just over a hundred pounds, not a muscle on me, and well…my cock isn’t enormous.  I have also never mastered the “gay voice.”  You know the voice I mean — the voice every gay man is either supposed to use in his day-to-day life, or at least be able to put on for company.  I can’t do it.

As a gay man, I’m dull, dull, dull.  (I was once interviewed on a show that featured drag queens.  Talk about contrast.)

Also, the Merrick books had romance, but it was wrapped up in tons of raunchy sex.  It was better than the short stories in the gay porn magazines Manhunt and Torso, which I’d picked up under much duress from a convenience store and stop doing it after I found out this could cause problems in men’s health, as I read in an article of How does Porn-induced erectile dysfunction affect a man’s health?.  Anyways those stories were nothing but sex.  I wanted romance — someone to love me forever.  My church upbringing had claimed that gay men were incapable of real love, and these stories weren’t doing anything to convince me that this was wrong.

This was a miserable time in my life.  I’d been a devout Christian, as a teenager, until I could no longer deny that I was gay, whether I liked it or not and no matter how hard I prayed.  That realization made me feel cut off from my church, my family and society.  I turned to these books for some guidance and reassurance and what I found was depictions of a future devoid of hope and devoid of real love.  According to gay novels in the 80s, I had nothing but raunchy sex in porn theaters to look forward to, in between nights of loneliness and despair, until I committed suicide or died of AIDS.

Then I stumbled across The Catch Trap, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Here was a novel with very little sex in it, but a very intense romance between two men in the circus in the 1950s.  And at the end…they don’t die.  They may, in fact, have a future together.  It was amazing!

The Catch Trap had an enormous impact on me.  It was about this time that I discovered Maurice, another gay romance with a happy ending (In fact, it wasn’t published until after E.M. Forster’s death, because the happy ending was considered too controversial!), but frankly it lacked the emotional impact of The Catch Trap.  Looking back, I think it was probably twenty years before I came across another novel with a gay romance in it that really drew me in, although that one ended unhappily (The Herald Mage trilogy by Mercedes Lackey).

Over the past decade or so, M/M novels have finally come into their own.  You can now find gay romance (for men) in all genres, with happy endings, sad endings, or ambiguous endings.  There are enough on the market that you don’t have to peek at the ending to see if the book will end badly — you simply buy one that’s advertised to have a happy ending.  For those of us old enough to remember how things were, back when homosexuality was still labeled a mental illness, the change is miraculous.  There is still a long way to go, I think.  The sub-genre is dominated by M/M, which I prefer, but I’d like to see more variety:  more lesbian romance, more trans romance, more polyamorous relationships….

I write GLBTQ literature for myself — for that teenage boy who was desperate to find love and acceptance, and had to wait decades for it.  The world has changed for the better, for the GLBTQ community, but there is still a long way to go.  That’s not to say that I only write serious stories about issues facing the gay community.  I don’t.  I write whatever strikes my fancy:  Victorian romance, science fiction, silly comedies, psychological dramas.  But I write the type of stories I wish had existed then, when I needed them, to add to the pool of stories available to today’s teens and adults, for when they need them.  Because we need to find ourselves in the stories we read.

As part of the Rainbow Book Reviews bloghop this weekend, I’ll be giving away a free ebook copy of my novel, By That Sin Fell the Angels, which will be out on August 29th from Itineris press.  It’s a drama about how the suicide of a gay teen affects the people in his small town.  Just comment on this blog entry or send an e-mail to jamesfessenden @ hotmail.com to put yourself in the hat for a drawing!

It begins with a 3:00 a.m. telephone call. On one end is Terry Bachelder, a closeted teacher. On the other, the suicidal teenage son of the local preacher. When Terry fails to prevent disaster, grief rips the small town of Crystal Falls apart.

At the epicenter of the tragedy, seventeen-year-old Jonah Riverside tries to make sense of it all. Finding Daniel’s body leaves him struggling to balance his sexual identity with his faith, while his church, led by the Reverend Isaac Thompson, mounts a crusade to destroy Terry, whom Isaac believes corrupted his son and caused the boy to take his own life.

Having quietly crushed on his teacher for years, Jonah is determined to clear Terry’s name. That quest leads him to Eric Jacobs, Daniel’s true secret lover, and to get involved in Eric’s plan to shake up their small-minded town. Meanwhile, Rev. Thompson struggles to make peace between his religious convictions and the revelation of his son’s homosexuality. If he can’t, he leaves the door open for the devil—and for a second tragedy to follow.


Filed under Life, Romance, Writing

39 responses to “What does writing GLBTQ literature mean to me?

  1. andreanook

    Thanks for being part of the blog hop. I’m finding a lot of new-to-me authors and it’s interesting reading what their writing and characters mean to them.

  2. Jessica_klang

    thank you for your excerpt. It’s always sad to read about gay teens in a small town because he have it worst in those secluded areas.

    thanks for the giveaway!


    • It was a year or two before I eventually found the gay community in my home town. There was one, of course — that’s probably where all those used books were coming from! But it took some digging to find them.

  3. Hi Jamie. I also was influenced by a MZB book, The Heritage of Hastur. She really had an impact on a lot of writers, I’m finding out. Congrats on your new release!

  4. laurie g

    i loved reading your blog about what writing this genre means to you. my brother has worked in the live theater/movie industry for years and thru him i have met a variety of gay/lesbian people who don’t always fit what the ‘stereotype’ is. but it has been a right learning experience for me meeting them and has certainly opened my eyes to a lot


    • I certainly hope my attempt to be humorous about the “gay voice” isn’t taken to be derogatory toward anybody in the gay community. I think the stereotypes came about from men rebelling against being forced into society’s rigid masculine roles and that’s fine. I just happen to be one of those boys who went the other way, when picked on in high school for being too feminine: I learned how to walk and talk the way my parents and friends expected me to.

  5. KimberlyFDR

    I always love these blogs hops, getting to know new-to-me authors and a deeper understanding of my favorites. Thank you for sharing!


  6. Anas

    I love this blog hop already, so many interesting posts!

    moonsurfer123 at gmail dot com

  7. Trix

    I hope LGBT literature makes people more sympathetic to their experience. I know m/m has made me feel more empathetic toward men’s lives in general…


  8. cindy

    Reading your story of your journey to where you are today – has me wishing that the writing gene did not jump right over me. While you were looking for young gay men stories, I was stuck reading about stick fiqure thin heroines and could never find a romance with a fuller fiqure woman/girl heroine. This blog hop has also got me thinking why I like the m/m genre so much. I think it is because most of the authors have the romance portion down to the point where I am reading a great romance not just a m/m book. So for those of us who can not write to save our souls – thanks for writing what we want to Read!!

  9. madisonparklove

    Hi, Jamie. I was really moved by your post. I’ve read The Catch Trap too, and it has stuck with me to this day. I’m glad there’s so much more reading material available for gay youth now. I think the increase in popularity (and lower cost) of e-books and online fiction makes it easier for young people to find books as well.

  10. I’m a new LGBTQ author participating in the hop. Just wanted to stop by. I write because there were no books for me growing up either. Great post!
    Stacey aka Coffey Brown

  11. Loh

    Thank you Jamie for writting your POV. it’s interesting and sad to read that gay community in small town never seem to be publicly found since sometimes I read in m/m romance that gay teens in small community are shyer However I’m glad that you found the gay community in your town.


  12. shawnyjeann

    I love the idea of the dull gay man. I think the thing this hop is reinforcing for me is that we’re all just people. Thanks for that.
    shawnyjeann @ gmail.com

  13. Thanks for sharing that story, Jaime. I remember that Manga also used to be all about suicide or murder of the homosexual individual. It’s no longer like that. I don’t read m/m’s unless there’s a HEA or a HFN.

    Your book sounds very heart wrenching and interesting. I have a hard time reading bully stories because I was bullied when I was a kid, but those are often the best stories. Yours is one I’d love to read.

    eripike at gmail dot com

  14. Sue

    My goodness, the blurb on your new book looks really, really angsty.
    I’d love to win a copy of such an edgy book, Jamie.

    corieltauviqueen at yahoo dot co dot uk

  15. akasarahmadison

    Every time I read something you post somewhere, I am struck at how much we have in common for two people so completely different in walks of life.

    I write GLBTQ literature for myself — for that teenage boy who was desperate to find love and acceptance, and had to wait decades for it. The world has changed for the better, for the GLBTQ community, but there is still a long way to go.
    This broke my heart just a little.
    akasarahmadison at gmail dot com

    • Perhaps I gave the wrong impression with that. I was specifically referring to finding that in books. In the early eighties, I did eventually find a local free paper that ran personals and there were a few male-seeking-male ads in it. Most seemed sexual and intimidating, but one young man, just a few years older than me, was looking for someone to be friends with and I responded. He turned out to be cute and sweet and eventually he became my first boyfriend. Unfortunately, his life was rather tragic and he died ten years later (long after we’d gone from boyfriends to just friends), but I’ll always be grateful to him for rescuing me from the loneliness and depression I was trapped in as a teenager.

  16. Hi, Jamie.

    You are a new author for but not for long. I look forward in reading your works. I enjoyed your post; it was in interesting and informative read.

    Tracey D
    booklover0226 at gmail dot com

  17. Good post, you’ve given me a new perspective. I’ve always looked at my writing from my adult self searching for answers to some of the tragic ‘whys’. Thanks for that.

  18. Great blog, Jamie. Very interesting insight into why you write the way you do. But *whispers* I don’t find you boring at all. lol
    moriamccain at gmail dot com

  19. Society has some straaange ideas of what people ‘other than me’ are like. It’s pretty comical, and distressing. Here’s to changing those misconceptions one book at a time!

  20. Cornelia

    Thanks for a great post.

  21. Gigi

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  22. kaylynd

    Great interview & I loved the excerpt. You didn’t bore me at all during the interview so I disagree with you on that point. lol

  23. Shirley Ann Speakman

    Hi Jamie
    I enjoyed reading why you write GLBTQ. I also Loved “Maurice” by EM Forrest I saw the film first and I was surprised and please my the Happy Ending.
    Please enter me for the Contest

    • It’s a beautiful film! I could wish that the lead was a bit more charismatic, but Scudder was very sexy. Still, when I read the novel, I kept hoping that Maurice would patch things up with Clive. I was taken for a loop when a new love interest was introduced so late in the novel.

  24. yganoe

    Thank you for the excerpt and I look forward to reading your book.

  25. Juliana

    Thanks so much for participating in this hop! I love the way two men can find love but there are many that do not have a happy ending. There was a boy in my grade that committed suicide sophomore year and I found out from a friend a couple years later that his (secret) boyfriend broke up with him so he could start a “real life” dating girls. I think in the M/M genre we tend to focus on the happy ending without remembering that it can be very hard to get there.
    OceanAkers @ aol.com

  26. Nancy S

    Loving this hop. Can’t wait to try one of your books and probably more than one, I am a voracious reader always looking for my next fix.

  27. Lilly

    I think books can save lives and I loved your post! Thanks for sharing, and thanks for writing 🙂

  28. Lyra L

    My problems with “older” m/m books is that they often don’t end happily, of course that’s life but I read to escape reality and not to be depressed by the books as well. I really like the writing in The Herald Mage but a friend warned me about the ending and I still cannot bring myself to read the third book. Can’t one have at least something happy in a fantasy book?

    lyra.lucky7 at gmail dot com

    • The Herald Mage trilogy has a very epic medieval tragedy feel to it, which I like, when I’m in the mood to be maudlin. I like Brokeback Mountain for the same reason (the film and the short story). But yes, tragic endings do get tiresome, after a while. I really prefer newer fiction for the same reason.

  29. Emiliana

    Oh, I not the only one looking at the ending first, after a few unhappy reads and you mentioned some of them, I was glad to discover there are bookstores like Dreamspinner, where I can expect a HEA.

  30. chickie434

    Thanks for your post. While I don’t mind the occasional raunchy romp, I read for the romance. And I don’t do titanic endings. I bawled at the end of that movie and never watched it again. I want happy endings or at the least, ambiguous ones. I rarely read tragedies. I can’t wait to read your book because it sounds like a good read, though it sounds like a tearjerker. One of the rare ones I want to read, so thanks for writing such a wonderful book!


  31. Thanks for a wonderful post, Jamie. And the book is going on my TBR list!
    seritzko AT verizon DOT net

  32. Hi. Great post. Thanks for being on The Blog Hop.


  33. bn100

    Very nice post.


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