Welcome my first guest, Vance Bastian, who has kindly put up his hand to be part of my Q&A series on where gay writing is at the moment.
Vance loves being a professional storyteller. He writes urban fantasy about sandmen and reapers. He has grown his acting and voice background into to a career performing voice-over work and narration for both radio and audiobooks.
He is also a founding host of two podcasts. The first, WROTE (Written On The Edge) – delivers interviews and news of authors who write, perform, and tell LGBTQ stories. The second, The Campfire Podcast – delivers chapter-a-day narration of stories from up-and-coming LGBTQ authors.
When nobody’s looking, Vance is a complete sci-fi and fantasy geek.
Kevin: As you were growing up, where did you find queer literature?
Vance: I couldn’t, or didn’t. There wasn’t an internet yet. I lived in a small town where everyone knew everyone back through generations – and if I’d tried to wander into the ONE store that sold adult magazines, my parents would have been instantly alerted. When I was finally able to drive, and visit other towns, I was too scared to actually reach for the plastic-wrapped magazine I wanted. It wasn’t until college when I finally explored any sort of queer literature.
Kevin: We’ve seen a lot of authors write gay romance, but we’ve also seen a lot of authors been mistaken for gay romance writers when there’s no evidence that their books are romance. Why do you think this is?
Vance: We gay/bi/lesbian/queer folks aren’t judged by country of origin, religion, or our skin. We are judged by our attraction. I believe that difference alone causes people to wrongly classify all of our work as “romance” because they won’t take the mental time to separate us from sexual activity. Compartmentalization makes snap decisions easy, and all levels of the publishing industry take advantage of that. But my counter is: “We are more than just creatures of the bedroom.”
Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in GLBTI writing?
Vance: Authors I interview on our podcast seem to be cosmically linked. So many with whom I’ve spoken are focusing on “story first” – which makes me so happy! Authors that do include romance, or sex, in their work are comparing themselves to [straight] mainstream fiction and saying, “I’m not showing any more or less than my favourite authors. Snogging’s part of life, but it’s not all of life.”
Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in the romance genre? Is the genre being reinvented?
Vance: I want to say I’ve seen changes, but in staring at your question, I can’t think of any. Which may not be bad. Romance sells. They know what their readers want. If anything, I worry that the boundaries aren’t always tested like they are in science fiction – but business is business. If I had to drag one example out of my brain, it’s that male authors of m/m romance seem more visible. Though I can’t say if that’s because I’ve been more aware this past decade, or if the numbers are growing.
Kevin: What excites you about modern GLBTI literature?
Vance: Self-publishing’s rise in acceptability because it’s leading to more hybrid authors. As businesses, publishers understandably have to weigh the risks of trying new things in the market. Yet self-published authors can put in the blood, sweat, and tears to try something they believe in. If it works, and there’s measurable success, the publishers will jump on it. Enter the GLBTI authors trying new things, finding readers, selling books. Publishers are acquiring more and more of us these days, lending an air of authenticity. I firmly believe we should have both self-publishing and traditional publishing. Each will always have strengths and weaknesses. And as these two methods come together in a strange sort of symbiotic relationship, I believe together they will introduce more queer authors and stories to the world.
Kevin: What topics, character types and situations are discussed now that weren’t around ten years ago.
Vance: Can you imagine a transgender character being the primary focus of a well-advertised novel in 2005? I couldn’t have. I’m pretty sure there were novels about same-sex parents, but they were a lot harder to find. And I never would have ever believed there’d be a gay, Imperial agent in a Star Wars novel. But there is now! The trend that’s really encouraging is in YA writing, where a character’s sexual identity isn’t much of a big deal. “You’re gay? Cool <shrug> Umm… dude look out for the monster behind you!” Comics/graphic novels and television/film are way ahead of publishing on that score… but we’re getting there!
Kevin: And what topics have dropped from gay lit these days?
Vance: I still see a coming out story surface once in a while, but nowhere near as often as I used to. The other category that seems to have disappeared is the HIV/AIDS-related drama.
Kevin: What do you see as the next hurdle facing GLBTI literature?
Vance: Categorization, which I hinted to earlier. BISAC codes aren’t keeping up with the changes in literature. Readers DO need a way to sort and find relevant works. Authors DO need more accurate categories for their work. “LGBT” no longer means “romance.” If a queer youth is looking for heroes with whom to identify, what search term should be entered? We saw with metatags that if you leave “keywords” open-ended, the system will be abused. So how can the static choices be updated quickly enough to be meaningful? What categories can we, as authors, demand for our works?
Thank you Vance for being the first cab off the rank. Next week, Sandy Lowe joins us with her unique perspective as a Senior Editor with Bold Stroke Books.