Jerry L. Wheeler, what is Gay Lit?

I met this week’s guest at the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival several years ago. At the time I was fairly new to the gay lit scene and didn’t realise his importance. He’s edited countless books for queer authors, including my new ebook. He also puts together anthologies of gay writing, and shares his own short stories.

I fell in love with his writing in Strawberries and Other Exotic Fruits and am looking forward to his novel, The Dead Book, to be released in the future. Oh, and did I mention he’s a Lambda Literary Award finalist? So welcome this week’s guest, Jerry L. Wheeler.


Kevin: Where did you discover gay lit?

Jerry: When I was growing up, the last thing I was interested in was gay lit. I wanted to be a horror/SF (sorry, I guess we call it spec fic now) writer, so that’s all I read – Poe, Bradbury, Heinlein, Bloch, Lovecraft, Sturgeon, Ellison, Asimov. However, even then I was strongly attracted to outsider-themed material. When I discovered gay lit, it was in my senior year of high school. Not being attracted to sports, I never would have picked up anything like “The Front Runner.” Instead, my first gay lit was E.M. Forster’s “Maurice,” pressed on me by the same English teacher who insisted I read “A Separate Peace.” She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know.

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. Why do you think this is?

Jerry: I think M/M romance is so pervasive and popular that people automatically assume you write romance if you’re a gay novelist. There is no other subject for many of those readers. They either don’t know other categories exist or they dismiss them entirely because it doesn’t sound like what they’d enjoy.


Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in GLBTI writing?

Jerry: A proliferation of gay or gender fluid spec fic. When I was growing up and reading SF, the gay was very hidden away. Now, it’s part and parcel of world building, and I think that’s a marvellous trend. If we don’t have equality now, at least we can write about the day when it’s not an issue.

Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in the romance genre?

Jerry: I was a latecomer to the romance genre and really hadn’t read much of it until I started editing, so I have no baseline by which I can mark any changes in the landscape. I am, however, all for reinventing any genre. The more you shake them up, the better I like it. Is anyone doing it? Not that I can see.


Kevin: What excites you about modern GLBTI literature?

Jerry: I’m loving the diversity and sheer number of different voices that we’re finding in our community due to technological innovations. The more stories we share, the stronger we become.  That said, I’m sometimes frustrated by the fact that those voices don’t reach the audiences they deserve and that the audience doesn’t seek out a different experience more often than it does.

Kevin: Is there a genre that fits your own writing?

Jerry: My writing? I really don’t try for any specific genre. My mind usually takes a possibility and runs toward either the dark forest or the gutter. Sometimes there’s a detour to a lighter space, but those are the go-to destinations.


Kevin: What topics, character types and situations are discussed now that weren’t around ten years ago.

Jerry: I see a lot more material from the transgender community in the past few years -Elliott DeLine and the queer comics artist Dylan Edwards come to mind – than five or six years ago. And less substance abuse porn. Coming out stories are still pretty strong, and I really don’t see them declining. ‘Gay for You’ stories are also on the rise, unfortunately.

Thanks again to Jerry L. Wheeler for joining us. His latest project is an anthology of gay love stories he’s chosen and edited for Bold Stroke Books. Check out Men In Love where you will discover a range of queer writers who each have their own unique style. Oh, and I should disclose I’m one of them, but that’s not why I’m raving about it. As a modern gay writer, it’s great to see how your own work stacks up against your contemporaries, and there were many here I can learn from.


Next week we have another guest blogger, but he’s not part of this Q&A series. ‘Nathan Burgoine will be here to teach us not to stay silent.

In the meantime, read the What is Gay Lit posts of the last five weeks, and add your voice in the comments section.

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