Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Special Snowflake Syndrome Redux

First-time author Ryan Quinn penned an opinion piece that appeared on June 9 in the Huffington Post. Mr. Quinn, who's always been an athletic guy, was understandably proud to see his sports-related coming-of-age novel, The Fall, reach #2 on Amazon's bestseller list for sports fiction.

The book also hit #1 on another Amazon bestseller list -- that for gay and lesbian fiction. 
In spite of the fact Mr. Quinn happens to be gay, he's not so thrilled about nabbing that spot.
I understand his qualms. He doesn't see his book as a gay story; he never intended it to be a gay story. The novel has straight characters and hetero couples in addition to a gay character -- in other words, the same mix of young people one would expect to find on most college campuses. "The Gay Fiction tent has gotten too big," laments Mr. Quinn, and he believes gay authors and/or books with gay characters shouldn't automatically be shoved into it.

This is an excellent point, and well taken. The one queer character in Mr. Quinn's book (which, by the way, I haven't read) is apparently no more or less important than the other MCs, and his experiences don't either delineate the plot or define the theme.

So far, so good. The author has a legitimate gripe.

However, it's unfortunate Ryan Quinn didn't quit while he was ahead, because he soon goes off the rails and right into Divaland with subsequent statements. Like these:

 . . . Grouping a coming-of-age campus novel (to throw out some more bookseller labels) with titles whose main premise is lusty homoeroticism is a disservice to readers. . . . I don't want readers to come to The Fall looking for erotic tripe and leaving disappointed for lack of throbbing and thrusting. I want readers to come intrigued, and then leave entertained and a little more conscious of this world we live in.

Uh-oh, what happened to my sympathetic understanding? Well, damn, it just left the building! 

"Reasonable and Compassionate Self," I called after it, "what's wrong?"

"Now the dude's talking out of his ass," it answered, and kept going.

I couldn't dispute the observation. Mr. Quinn, it appears, has literally been judging books by their covers and not their content. I doubt he's even so much as read their blurbs. Why do I assume this? Because he makes a point of mentioning the 15 out of 20 Gay Fiction top-listers "that feature [covers with] shirtless male torsos, or men embracing, or both." (Seems to me the logical target for his umbrage should have been publishers and their often-questionable preferences for cover art.) And his concern about "doing a disservice to readers" strikes me as a bit disingenuous. I get the impression, although I could be wrong, he's more concerned about a disservice being done to him and his novel. 

I don't think I've ever written a book -- not since my days at Ellora's Cave, anyway -- whose main premise (emphasis mine) is lusty eroticism, homo or otherwise. And I believe the vast majority of gay fiction/m-m romance authors can justifiably make the same assertion. When readers consider buying my "erotic tripe" -- especially the contemporary tripe -- I, too, want them "to come intrigued, and then leave entertained and a little more conscious of this world we live in." I want this very, very much and work hard to make it happen. Dollars to donuts most of my peers feel the same way.

But . . . maybe we should cut Ryan Quinn some slack.* He is a first-time author, after all, and a lot of writers with literary aspirations are pretty full of themselves when their initial efforts are accepted for publication. I guess it’s understandable** he feels soiled through association with genre fiction.
Anyway, read this article to get the whole picture. Bet you're going to see more blog posts about it. ;-)

And, Mr. Quinn? ====>

* Nah, fuck it. If he's so conscientious a writer, he should be able to choose his words more carefully.

** I’m bullshitting you.


Tam said...

Poor baby. Being at the top of a list, ANY list. *tsk tsk*

I agree to a point, just because you have a gay character in a book (I'm assuming not as the main character), it doesn't make it gay fiction, just has having an African American character amongst many doesn't make a book African-American lit. However turning up your nose at books that do fall into those categories, endears you to no one, except other snobs I suppose.

And I agree, having sex in a book doesn't make it erotica. It may, but not necessarily.

Marian said...

I read this and shook my head in near disbelief. The Gay Tent is too big? As my 102-year-old stepmom might say, "Honeychild, the tent ain't big enough!"

Yes, I have an issue with some erotic romance covers, gay or straight. They can be nearly as hilarious as the old "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" ads.

But I know they're a boon to marketing, and we need those steamy covers to get our readers' attention in the genre. The covers that 'work' in literary fiction or SF&F often don't, on ER books.

The writer's fixation on ER covers shows that he's never bothered with the stories inside. Many of those, in addition to sex, contain some profound writing on culture, relationships, good vs evil, and all the other things seen in literary fiction. Or science fiction. Or great mysteries. Or - gasp! - even sports novels.

Teddy Pig said...

Well, hmmmmm...

OK here is how I see it.

Why is Gay FIction all lumped in together anyway?

I think this is more of a listing issue due to the seller or publisher making specific choices in labeling but it points out the problem of limited Kindle eBook shelf space for Gay oriented anything.

You only have one prominent Gay oriented choice on the Kindle site listings...

Fiction/Genre Fiction/Gay & Lesbian

Gay Non-Fiction I can't even find but it's not like anywhere as detailed as the regular book listing area at all.

I won't even bother to get into his other crap that's just snobby self hating drivel anyway. I am always amazed by writers believing they can control everything about a book they are working with a publisher on.

If that publisher decides to market you as a "Gay Romance" and labels your book to show up that way you probably should blame the publisher.

K. Z. Snow said...

"If that publisher decides to market you as a "Gay Romance" and labels your book to show up that way you probably should blame the publisher."

True, TP, come to think of it. I believe Amazon's (like ARe's) categorizations are determined by information the publisher provides.

And why is all gay fiction lumped together? Damned if I know.

K. Z. Snow said...

Yes, Tam, he makes some valid points. But whining about being at the top of a list, then disparaging all the other books on that list? Uh . . . sorry, but Argentina's not crying for you, honey.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Marian, and welcome!

Great observations. Whether we like 'em or not (and I don't), those covers do hook readers. And I agree that this author hasn't read even excerpts from the very books at which he's turning up his nose.

Charming said...

I don't think he even has a valid point. If he didn't want to be categorized or lumped in with books dissimilar to hi own, he wouldn't be so proud of being on the Sports Fiction list. To quote:

"it was my ranking on a different best-seller list that I was most proud to tout: #2 on the list of best-selling Sports Fiction books, sandwiched between none other than John Grisham and a wonderful novel called The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach."

Nope. This is pure snobbiness

Chris said...

Sounds like he needs to take it up with his publisher, as others have mentioned. :D

Jason said...

You know what is really funny? The only place on goodreads that has mentioned his the m/m romance group. Maybe he needs to stop talking shit and take the fans he has.

K. Z. Snow said...

Yay, Charming, you made it here!

I hadn't thought of that, but you're right. Why is the "sports" classification more flattering than the "gay" classification, if the sum of the book is greater than any of its parts (or tropes)?

K. Z. Snow said...

Yes, Chris. That's the logical thing to do. But I doubt he'll turn down the royalties he garnered through that list. :)

K. Z. Snow said...

Yo, Jase! Cut it down to the bone, baby! Heh.

sylvan65 said...

Hmmm, kinda feels like he has no respect for readers. Like those of us who do troll for particular forms of entertainment, can't read a blurb? I read a lot of what he refers to as "thrusting...blah blah", I also read classics, point is, I know what I'm looking for and how to weed through the listings to find it. I have a great respect for all authors, some more than others, true, and it's not always based on how well I like their books.
I'm feeling a little dissed as a reader, never heard of this guy before in my life, why's he dissin' me? LoL!

Kiernan_Kelly said...

Great post, K.Z.!

I have a problem with his (although he is far from alone) assertion that all erotic romance and erotica is tripe. Just because it doesn't have hidden meanings stacked to the eyeballs within the text, and just because the action starts and ends in bed does not lessen its value or make it unreadable tripe. Bad writing makes it bad writing. What makes a book worth reading is the skill of the author coupled with the tastes of the reader, no more, no less.

While I admit most writers I know lean toward books heavier in plot and character development rather than sex-driven stories, the fact remains that this trend doesn't make the work of those who prefer more bang for the buck, so to speak, any less professional or of less value, no matter what the writers of so-called "literature" say.

Btw, according to Merriam-Webster, the definition of literature is "writings in prose or verse; especially : writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest."

Seems to me there's no topic with more universal interest than sex. Also worth noting: no where in the definition does it limit said writings to non-sexual situations with fully clothed individuals on the covers. Just sayin'.

K. Z. Snow said...

What you said is right on, sylvan65. Readers are surely able to, uh, read and figure out what any given book is about. I don't know anybody who would approach a gay and lesbian fiction list with the assumption that all the titles were equally erotic . . . and the work of hacks.

Anonymous said...

Am I allowed to be offended that some sucky genre sports novel is mucking up my awesome gay genre list?

Seriously? How groundbreaking is a novel about football?

Anonymous said...

p.s. Grisham can write a page turner but he's hardly *profound*

K. Z. Snow said...

Hiya, Kiernan!

"Bad writing makes it bad writing."

Yup. Even the most sex-driven stories, deftly handled, can be minor works of art. However, I sense a fear on this author's part that he doesn't want his target audience thinking his novel is sex-saturated.

But . . . that takes us back to the fact he isn't giving readers much credit for their discernment. Cover art, blurb, excerpt, promo, and reviews will clue them in about the book's content. What's more, they know damned well not all fiction featuring gay characters is of the same caliber -- which is way more than the author himself knows.

K. Z. Snow said...

Clancy Night! Another name I recognize from our awesome genre!

Darlin', you can respond any way you want. :-D

But shame on you for making that Grisham comparison. This book is a college-based CoA novel with athletes. (Hmm. What makes me think CoA stories with campus athletes now make up their own subgenre? Or category? Could it be there are quite a few others out there -- with or without masturbation scenes?)

H.B. Pattskyn said...

When I read Quinn's article I was immediately reminded of the reactions I got from my critique group. I still work with them, because some of them are totally awesome people, but... (always a 'but', huh?) when I said I was going to give writing full time a try, I got statements like "you don't want to write that stuff [gay romance] forever", "you HAVE to write other genres", and "your genre is lucky to have you FOR NOW". (I think that's my favorite, since it implies facts not in evidence, i.e., that I have any desire whatsoever to write other genres).

Okay, sure, I've got a couple non-romance ideas rattling around the ol' noggin, but it happens that I LOVE what I write (as in the genre, not my own personal words ;-P) I'm a romantic at heart, and I happen to really love m/m.

I guess it comes down to the idea that all genres (including literary fiction) are created equal, but SOME genres are MORE equal than others (said the pig to the other animals on the farm...)

Unknown said...

K.Z. said: "I hadn't thought of that, but you're right. Why is the "sports" classification more flattering than the "gay" classification, if the sum of the book is greater than any of its parts (or tropes)?"

I think that has to do with how he has built up his own self-identification. For the same reason I find someone saying "She's an awesome writer" to be more exciting and gratifying that someone saying "she's an awesome mom."

Not that I am not proud as all get out of my kids or that I don't do everything within my power to do right by them, but my own personal definition of self holds the thing I work most diligently at (the thing that I have to work most diligently at, because it requires more conscious thought and effort on my part than being a mom) in higher regard, if that makes any sense.

Being gay is what he is, just like being a man is what he is. It isn't who he is, perhaps. Who he is is based on what he has consciously gone out and made himself to be. So he holds it in higher regard. Because he had to work for it, and he's proud of his accomplishments, as any of us should be, and have every right to be.

And don't think this is me wholesale agreeing with everything in his post, because I don't. It's just my take on where he's coming from, even if I don't agree with some of the judgments he's made along the way to getting where he's at.

K. Z. Snow said...

I see what you mean, Jaime. RQ wants to be identified in a certain way, a way that brings him the greatest self-validation. And he sees his book as an extension of that identity.

Understandable. And I would've been squarely on this guy's team if he'd stuck to his original point: that he doesn't want himself or his work defined by a single descriptor he finds not only limiting but fairly insignificant.

But that's not how the article came down. For a person who's so averse to restrictive or misleading labels, he sure didn't hesitate to fling a batch of them around.

Unknown said...

K.Z. said" But that's not how the article came down. For a person who's so averse to restrictive or misleading labels, he sure didn't hesitate to fling a batch of them around."

And that is the part of the post I find objectionable, as well, KZ.

Mercy Celeste said...

I've been at the top of the Gay and Lesbian chart at Amazon with two books. And I've been on the sports list as well. I've also been dead center of the regular contemporary romance chart with two books, one sandwiched between two Nora Roberts books. And I am damn grateful for all of those rankings. I'm especially grateful and incredibly proud that my piddling little M/M romances are as well received by the people who shop that particular list as they are. Because next week it all might end but I'll have had that and say thank you for it.

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Helen!

" . . . but SOME genres are MORE equal than others (said the pig to the other animals on the farm...)"

Ha! Good thing you paraphrased Orwell and not James Lear. ;-)

K. Z. Snow said...

Amen, Mercy.

BlueSimplicity said...

I have to say, I’m having a big problem lately with how so many “serious” authors are looking at m/m, and particularly m/m fans, so disparagingly. I remember, several years ago, there was an author who had some success with her series, and after it was all over and done, she said what she was writing was NOT m/m, but literature, and she wasn’t going to write anything with gay themes because she wanted to be taken seriously as an author of (again) literature, and not homoerotica.

And this is the main issue I have lately. It seems like its OK to attack m/m fiction, because it’s something that women love to read. (Kind of like, while I can’t stand all the hubbub about 50 Shades of Grey, that fact that women are its main audience seems to leave it wide open to all sorts of disparaging debate.) Ryan Quinn wants to be taken as a “serious” author, like John Grisham, not one of these piddling romance/erotica/tripe writer that seems to appeal so much to da women folk. As if, because it’s something that women love to read, it’s OK to insult. Nevermind that women read all types of genres and subgenres, for a MULTITUDE of reasons.

As other posters have said, if he actually read the blurbs to some of these books, he could see that they are so rich and varied – there’s something there for everyone. For the sci-fi fantasy fan, to the historical fan, to the COA and YA fan, to a thousand other stories ideas. Some of these stories has very graphic sex scenes, and others of them fade to black. And that’s the wonderful thing about this entire genre – there IS something for everyone. Perhaps, as a result of that, Mr. Quinn just doesn’t feel like there’s enough room on the stage for him. Well, tough. With an attitude like his, I can guarantee that his book won’t be joining the many on my shelves (nekkid torsos included.)

K. Z. Snow said...

Hi, Blue! It always brightens my day when you show up here. :-)

I hadn't thought of that "shallow entertainment for silly females" perception of m/m fiction ... but you're absolutely right. Women do comprise the majority of our readers, and women's fiction is, in general, perceived as sub-par in the literary world. (Wish I knew who that author is whom you mentioned. I'd steer clear of her stuff, too.)

Damn, now you've given me another reason to be pissed off! ;-)

S.M.Bidwell said...

Hmm...He started off well with an excellent point but didn't know when to stop. Dissing other authors' work that he doesn't know and hasn't read isn't going to engender any affection. And besides, you can't judge all the books by even a sample of them, or their covers in many cases. And if we're going to talk covers the same often applies to any and all pairings -- gay romance titles are subject to the same marketing as hetero, and there's such variety out there.

You can't even judge an author by one piece of work. Yes, I've written some books some may class as ER, but they still have a story in them. I've also written romances that I hope reflect on some issues everyone has to face. There are stories out there with no sex. The gay and lesbian lists don't just include one genre of writing. It covers many mainstream books and I'm happy to read any and all no matter the sexuality of the characters -- I just want a good read. The only point I agree with is having a gay character does not automatically make it a gay book (although I'm well aware some would argue that point), but it's still likely to get that tag by the publishers, distributors and marketeers.