Just a Bit of Good News

>> Tuesday, November 15, 2011

After a hiatus nearly as long as my eldest daughter's life, I'm going to be in print again with a fiction. At the prompting of my sister, the redoubtable Shakespeare, I entered a short story contest with Story Quest Magazine. Admittedly, I haven't been writing many short stories, recently, but I had been going through the ones I had trying to spiff 'em up a little. And the "speculative" part of the contest was right up my alley.

Well, I didn't win, but one of my stories did make it as a finalist and will be published in this winter's issue of SQ Magazine, so cool beans for me.

Feel free to get yourself a copy (I presume all the finalists and winners will be in there). I'll be doing the same.


Never Too Old To Learn

>> Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tired of squirming yet? I know, for many people, the whole topic ("boys love") is pretty squirmy. I think that's one reason I jumped on it. Topics that make us uncomfortable, that make us squirm, as it were, are too often glossed over or ignored, leaving them open for ridicule, stigmatizing, indifference, stereotyping, and, frequently, abuse and ostracism.

Admittedly, some squirmy topics are purposely picked up and brought center stage to highlight important issues by different writers and such. Sometimes, when done with a deft hand, such treatment is quite effective. When done with a heavy hand or in over-the-top ways, they tend to work against their own goals. But I digress. I wanted to pursue a topic that was a little uncomfortable for me until I understood it better, that maybe made me squirm a little. It's easy to become complacent in one's own little perspective, looking out at the world through a single set of lenses and thinking you see things clearly. Until you've tried on a few sets of specs, though, you're just fooling yourself.

It wasn't just the differences in romantic characters here, either, or the similarities I didn't expect. Many of these are shorter works, stories told in a handful of chapters, if not just one, as opposed to the volumes of chapters I'm used to to portray a moving story. That was instructional in and of itself.

I'm grateful I pursued a little different perspective and hope to use what I learned in my novels.

What did I learn?

(a) That my view, that real love is about devoting yourself to the happiness of someone else besides yourself, is not gender specific. Jealousy, to an extent, is fine for romance, but to the point of ownership? - well, there you lost me. So that really didn't change, except that I saw some ways I never thought of before to be romantic. So, cool beans.

(b) I still hate rape. I don't care how prevalent it is in this or that literature. You will not hear any of my characters being forced, gasp, "No! Wait! Stop! Please!" and snuggling up to their rapist later. I know it happens plenty in today's heterosexual romances, too. Still hate it and you won't find it in my books (unless I"m killing the rapist later). I will remember, however, that not everything that looks like rape really is. Motivation does matter (though perhaps not as much as some people think it does).

(c) People can have sex in the craziest positions, places, and times. Seriously, wow. Doubt, admittedly, that that will be a key element in my writing, however.

(d) A story must be more than a showcase for episodes of sex or even for a romantic hookup. Real love is frequently physical, but rarely just physical. If it's all about the love story of two people, but we don't really know who they are or care for them, if it doesn't affect the world around them (or isn't affected by the world around them), chances are it's pretty dull. I knew this already, but it was amazing how two different stories with similar story lines could vary in appeal, enjoyment, and overall readability. Even if the art was inversely proportional in quality to the story. 

(e) Characters, characters, characters. I knew this too, but there's a world of difference in the importance and impact of what happens to characters you're invested in, that you really like, and ones who leave you cold. Even if you don't always like what they do.

(f) No one said you get to choose who you love. Sometimes who you love is damn inconvenient, utterly hopeless, entirely inappropriate, or downright embarrassing . You might never act on that love, either for fear for yourself or in consideration of the object of your affection, but that does not make one's love less compelling or painful or powerful.

(g) No one said you get to choose who you love. Even, sometimes, if the one you love is entirely bad for you, it doesn't mean you can't love them, don't love them, won't love them. I've always been fairly harsh on women who let themselves be abused, at least if they had children. Seeing couples where children aren't a factor reminded me that, even if you leave to save yourself, that doesn't mean you necessarily stop loving someone, no matter how unhealthy that person is for you.

(h) A real connection between people is important for any kind of character interaction (not just romance, though definitely for romance). Stories are more interesting if there are other differences and challenges to overcome (personality, economical, social status, etc.). A story with people who respect each others' work or capabilities, who use those skills to do more than just romp in the bedroom, but interact effectively with the world at large, is far more rewarding than tossing too mismatched people in a room together and calling it love or even friendship. And you have to see those characteristics and strengths, that connection, not just be told the connection exists.

(i) People who are very quirky/off nominal pairings can make for extremely compelling stories. I read one author who's drawing style I don't care for in the slightest, even after reading more than a dozen works. So, why did I read a dozen works? I found them incredibly compelling. Some supernatural, some so freaking original I never saw it coming, some unbelievably sweet. Most were quite short but I found the universally ugly characters won me over time and time again often within a couple pages. I cared about them and always rooted for these often extremely weird couples. I've got more to read and what fodder for livening things up for my own work it is! Proof positive that every love story ain't the same.

(j) Very effective portraits of a characters personality can be drawn (with words in my case) very quickly, often with only a few tiny acts, little things that say something important about who a character really is. It's true when they're drawings, too, but often the gestures and expressions, the little acts, were far more telling than the conversation. You don't need pages of description. I knew that as a short story writer. It's easy to lose sight of that as a novelist, but that quick portrait can be just as effective in long prose (even if, for some characters, who want to study them and learn them over time). I needed the reminder.

(k) Life is messy. If you make it too tidy, it either feels contrived or dull. Neither is good in a story.

(l) Humor makes everything better. I have quite a list of favorites, and the quality you'll find most frequently if you troll through those favorites is funny. Extra points for those mangas that can laugh at themselves.

I enjoyed it, overall. I love to learn, you know. I wonder what I'll stumble into next.


Getting Physical

>> Sunday, November 6, 2011

So, two people of whatever age have become romantically interested in each other, specifically two men have acknowledged this interest to each other. Now, as I'd mentioned in previous posts, if these two guys are already gay and know it, they will probably move on to the next steps with minimal fanfare. They might even have travel sized bottles of lube or condoms in one or more pockets. But that's not particularly interesting to my way of thinking or that different from a similarly armed heterosexual couple comfortable with sex. And yes, I will be talking about it.

I'm more interested in what goes through the mind of someone(s) who never thought he was gay facing up to what that means. I mean, if physicality wasn't any part of the issue, hanging out all day and all evening, every evening, probably wouldn't even raise an eyebrow. That's the up side to same gender friendships (and some heterosexual friendships, actually). In fact, that's one thing that surprised me when I first read yaoi. I've read a LOT of shoujo manga and I can count on one hand the number that have moved beyond kissing and hand-holding, maybe some light groping, to sex. I've now read a LOT of yaoi (written, ironically enough by women for women, remember, just like shoujo) and I can count on one hand the number of manga that have NOT overtly including sex.  Which argues physicality is a key element.

 (No, boys and girls, I won't be putting up any actual sex shots, I swear, just pictures that illustrate my points on how complex the topic is, like this one that's quite pertinent from a practical little one shot called [inexplicably] Wild and Strawberry [link has sexually explicit pictures] by Suzuki Tsuta. But, again, I will be talking about it.)

But, whereas reference is plentiful on what men and women do together, including most sex education courses, and the jigsaw fits neatly, that kind of information is not as readily available and/or things may not be so intuitive for men, even men who have experience with women. There are several key differences known to even the most reticent and I would guess that your young man who'd never really considered male-to-male coupling before would be a bit daunted, quite probably a whole lot embarrassed, and potentially scared out of his mind.

It's not without it's up side, of course, aside from pleasure. One of the reasons why sex with girls is a "big deal," particularly among the younger sets just getting their hormones revving, is that pregnancy is a very real concern. Disease is, too, but, let's face it, most people don't think it can happen to them (which is, sadly, how they get spread), else the pill would not be such a popular method. A girl's got to be (or at least ought to be) careful who she, eh, spreads her legs for because, even today, the bulk of the onus and responsibility for the end results she bears. That particular boogeyman, getting someone pregnant, does not apply in homosexual cases. Disease, however, still does.

Now, there are many that assume gay sex is "just" anal sex, but, according to [warning: link has sexual explicit pictures] Wikipedia, it is far from ubiquitous (~2/3 of gay men) with various alternatives I will not describe here but that are mentioned in passing on the link provided. You are free to do (or not do) your own research.
From Yajuu de Hatsukoi [warning: link has sexual explicit pictures]by Yamato Nase
But it's a non-trivial thing. Places on your own body you probably never thought of anyone but your wife touching (and places you never expected/wanted anyone to touch) will be handled, even licked by someone else, another man. Men can (and have) been overpowered by other men and that's a real fear, too. As someone on the receiving end of sex, it's frightening to give up so much for trust. I don't regret it, but I can tell you, even with everything fitting together and hormones raging, my first experiences (yes plural) were very painful. Technique matters. Fear and anticipation matter, too. Ditto for trust.

That's even more true with something as invasive as anal sex. Technique and lubrication are considered key elements in the comfort of this technique even it's not your first time. And, and I've had no luck finding an answer in the yaoi, I've never figured out how one decides who is going into whom the first time. Is there a special formula? Does someone call dibbs? Is this a source of consternation and friction early on for many new couples? I'm not being flippant; I'm honestly curious. I would think the experience far more daunting for the never-did-it-before receiver than it would for his partner who is largely doing a variation on what is done with women. But if the first time's botched royally, I would expect it would be challenging for either partner to continue, at least together.

You know, that's a lot of pressure. More so than premature ejaculation or not getting your girl off, though perhaps on kilter with not making her first experience painful (though, from what I've heard from friends, most girls don't remember anyone being particularly considerate). The partners involved have to have an extraordinary level of trust and commitment (however physical that is) if they want the pairing to be successful over the longer hall. Talk about performance pressure!

Why talk about this? Because this is something I really haven't addressed before. Physicality is important for male-female romances, too, but it's different and distinct with different requirements, different hangups and different challenges. What's the same is almost as fascinating as what's different.

From a character interaction standpoint, the prospect, anticipation, and follow-through on something like this is outside anything I've written about or thought about. It seems earth-shattering to me, making me very grateful to be a girl, and gives me all kinds of ideas on how to bring intensity of feeling forward in my own writing. The stakes. The responsibilities. The impact.

Damn, I love to learn.



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