Finding Myself as a Writer

What kind of books do you write?

That’s the first question I get when someone finds out I’m an author. “Writing stories true enough for government work” is my tagline, but says little about my novels. When pressed, I’ll say I write gay fiction which is…er… close enough for government work.

My first novel is a thriller. After Christmas Eve is more of a mystery. My next novel (scheduled for release by Dreamspinner Press on August 20), Happy Independence Day is — I suppose — an historical romance. The story includes two budding romances and the first glimpse of a couple who came together in After Christmas Eve. But the Stonewall uprising of 1969 is the  main attraction. As I was wrapping up the story, I realized a desire to show how things used to be was the motivation for writing all three of my novels.

Living as a gay man for nearly four decades has given me plenty to write about. Coming out when I did in 1979 and earlier was akin to joining a secret society. Meetings were held every night at the local gay bar — the one place outside of private residences where we could be ourselves. To keep straight folks out, some bars even had dress codes or required memberships.

In the bar I called my second home for more than a decade, straight “tourists” were a regular feature we tolerated and mostly ignored. But the nightly after-hours parties at various homes and apartments around town were gay-only events, often lasting until the sun came up. Along with the bar crowd, guys came who were too afraid of being outed to be seen anywhere near the gay bar. The later the hour, the wilder things tended to get.

My first decade out of the closet included some of the best and worst moments of my life. Maybe half of those highs and lows are common to anyone my age, gay or straight, male or female. A few are uniquely mine. For the rest, the particulars may vary, but guys who came out before 1985 will likely tell similar stories. Or would, had they lived long enough to tell them.

The trilogy I’m working on is a dramatic departure from anything I’ve written before. Or so I thought. But now I see only the approach has changed. The motivation still comes from the same place. Even the paranormal short story I wrote for A Taste of Honey (to be released by Dreamspinner press on August 18) is drawn from my experience.

From the earliest drafts of my first novel, I’ve resisted labels others have applied to my writing. Though I might not have known who I was, I’ve always been clear about who I was not. Even if I can’t name the genre, figuring out who I am as a writer is a huge relief. Now I can quit trying to fit into somebody else’s box.

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