There is no specific moment I can recall that explains it. Like most people as a kid I played with toys, I read comic books, I read fantasy and sci-fi novels. And I had ideas. I didn’t really write, not then, but I created stories in my head.
I love Dungeons & Dragons. I had (and have) a lot of the rulebooks and settings. I devoured everything Forgotten Realms when that came out. But surprisingly I’ve played maybe 30 hours total in my entire life. I wanted to play more but it just never happened. Didn’t stop me from having pages of characters and adventures written.
I didn’t create elaborate stories with my toys, I played with them. I read books but didn’t dream of writing my own.
It just happened my sophomore year in high school. During study hall in the library, I grabbed a notebook and just started writing. It was a rambling story with no clear direction but had a starting point. I kept adding to it as I created characters and started basing them around my friends and other people at the school. It never went anywhere but that was the start.
But it wasn’t my first experience. That was a school project in elementary school. We had to create our own book, write and draw. Mine was a fantasy. A classic “attack the tower” kind of thing. I still remember the basics of it to this day almost forty years later.
But no writing from then to high school and no writing from high school to after college. It was then that I started creating characters and concepts for comic books.
I love the ongoing serial nature of comics and that heavily influences my work now. Nothing I create is limited. It’s all designed to be ongoing, no end in sight.
Aside from the few pages written during that time, nothing else came of it. But I always created. That seemed to be non-stop. Always some new idea. Which in a way wasn’t helping. I’d develop something, come up with a new idea and move on.
Almost ten years ago was when the idea of actually writing again came about. I don’t know why, it just happened. I did some fan fiction for G.I. Joe on a popular collector’s website. I had a broad idea and just went with it. Then I started my serial thing that I called Gatewatch, which only lasted a couple weeks. It was on a site I created (and looked horrible) and was a series of short pieces about different characters that took place throughout the day and the published stuff covered about a week. They’d cross each other’s path and so on. Nothing came of it and things fizzled again.
I tried starting various story concepts after that and was still almost endlessly creating but just couldn’t get the groove to start producing. Mostly that was because I don’t like anything that I write. Makes it really hard to get motivated.
That lasted until Amazon launched Kindleworlds and I was able to create G.I. Joe stories and actually get paid for them. That was the catalyst and away I went. The first book I published, The Skeleton Stone, was not the first thing written in that world (those few pages will actually end up in the fourth book in the series). It was an idea that came from playing a game and I started writing it and adapted it to fit into the fantasy world that I’d been creating for awhile.
Now here I am today, still having the problem of too many ideas but I now that I’ve had stuff published it helps me focus a bit more. I’m not the fastest by any means, but I enjoy doing it and want to get my concepts and ideas out there.
That’s why I write. It just kind of happened. I have stories to tell and I want to tell them.
Authors are often asked this question, and I have yet to form a conclusive answer.
To put it simply: Compulsion.
There are universes constantly exploding inside of my brain, vibrant worlds pushing against my bones and demanding release. Scenes play out on loop in my head, characters live and breathe through my eyes. They must be heard, they must be sculpted into something tangible.
Conversations of people both named and unnamed echo within my imagination. They evoke feelings that I have difficulties expressing to others. I want to share them with my readers, help them see what I see. And maybe get a glimmer of insight as to who I am.
There may not be meaning in the words I form, not conscious meaning anyway. I write what comes out. And it builds and builds. Sticky webs of interaction and intrigue. Relationships form and tear apart. The universe shifts as generations pass, forming new order for those yet to come.
I like to imagine myself as a keeper of lore, akin to the story tellers of the past who entertained with the tales preserved through eons. Each time a legend is spoken, something changes, a small detail that shifts the perspective of the future.
Everyday I sift through my vast collection of scraps and half-plots, wondering when I will have the chance to give them all the attention they demand. Perhaps one day, the well of inspiration will dry up, and my racing fingers can stop the toil. But that day is far out of my reach.
There is a cold disbelief in this cruel world of ours, a disbelief in the freedom of the mind and a slippery conviction that imagination is bad for production. For an example, look at the hard-on Wall Street has for AI. Those financial types think they’re going to be able to program a computer to be as creative as a person for a third of the price. That’s what intelligence means: the ability to think up something completely new. Imagination. Artificial imagination built to goose an economy profitably, predictably, 20% on the quarter every quarter and the shareholders can’t lose. In this case, I think those financial types fail to understand that they won’t be able to make an artificial mind create like a human without giving it the equivalent ability to wonder why it’s creating. Then you’re back to the same old problems of nonproductive creativity and disgruntlement, the answerless question, are we really doing all of this just for money? And then your expensive AI tears off its clothes and runs naked though the forest to subsist on ground nuts and apples again and you have to start from scratch.
The point is that only certain kinds of creativity are valuable to a capitalist society. Teams of people working silently, measurably, frantically, squeezed like lemons and having a miserable time are technically being creative in a short-term, profitable way. The creative misery of underlings appears to be a good business in this world we’ve made for ourselves, this strange utopia for the 1%. But imagination is dangerous. It frees us from the now and suggests that we are, or could be, more than cogs – or, at least, that we could be or are more joyful, complex, and interesting cogs than what we were told in grade school and at the career center, that being part of the glorious interconnected machinery of the universe could be grand and intoxicating and ecstatic. I write because I am free, not independent of others, but interconnected in ways subtle and beautiful and constantly rearranging. And you are too. And you. And you. I don’t care if you never see a red cent from your words. Write, my friends. Write, because they cannot stop us now. If we all do it, the ones who think they’re in command will realize that it’s sand they hold, and it is we who make the fire that will turn it all to glass.
I write because I’ve always written. It’s just what I do and what I’ve done. To be honest, I’ve never really stopped to ask why, and even if I did, I’m not sure what my answer would be.
If hard-pressed to give an answer, it would probably all come back to my childhood, as most things do. See, like many of you, I grew up in the 1980’s a time of aggressive marketing where every single action figure and every single toy on the shelf had a story, most of those stories told through afternoon or Saturday morning cartoons. So prevalent were these stories, these animated adventures of G.I. Joe, Transformers, He-Man and the Thundercats, that when there wasn’t a story, I ended up making one.
G.I. Joe is probably what kickstarted this notion as the Real American Heroes went on their last adventure in 1994 and it fell to me to continue their stories even when Sunbow or Marvel Comics refused to. Once I could no longer turn on WLVI Channel 56 and watch Duke, Scarlett, and Snake Eyes battle COBRA Commander and Destro, it was up to me to write what came after the to be continued, and that’s what I did, writing stories, developing the undeveloped characters, and enhancing the universe for fourteen years.
I wrote aggressively for my website right up until Amazon announced their Kindle Worlds platform, and then I wrote for that, mostly sticking with what I knew, but knowing I had something more.
Going from fleshing out a cartoon universe to writing my own universe whole hog just made sense and my love of the futuristic military adventures of G.I. Joe lent very well to the military thriller genre, and before I knew it, NanoWriMo 2013 had come and gone and I had a novel done. Then there were two. Then there were three.
Now there are more than twenty.
Amazingly, I’ve been able to take something I’ve always done, something I love to do, and managed to develop a small side business, something that actually pays back. Something that makes it worthwhile to spend hours and hours writing over a hundred thousand words per month.
So, why do I write? Yeah, when it comes right down to it, I blame my childhood and blame the 80’s for instilling in me the need to have stories written for everything, to know why things happen and where things coming from. Toys weren’t just toys, they were little plastic windows into another world, and those other worlds fueled my need to create them myself.
On the anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s death, I happened to have the chance to watch the new HBO remake of Fahrenheit 451. I’ve been a Bradbury fan since I was a teen—I even have a 451 tattoo that I’ve been designing for some time now and hope to get inked soon.
And while I was not overly impressed with the new HBO remake—it fell flat for me and seemed like there were a lot of missed opportunities and felt too rushed—and didn’t use one of the best lines which just happens to be on my tattoo design 😉 it did get me to thinking about some things. My youth, my love of all things Bradbury. But mostly, my life since becoming a digital author and rethinking my stance on physical books—actual printed records of our words and why we NEED them.
When I was a teen, Bradbury’s books opened me up to a world that was so much bigger than the bubble I was forced to live in, something I’m eternally grateful for. I recall vividly on the day of his death, that only thirty minutes before it was broadcast that he’d passed, I’d named him as a personal hero and influence on my own writing path during an author event I was taking part in. And although during a meh HBO remake, Ray’s voice still rang through loudly and has opened up my mind again.
Of the books I sell, 99% are digital. My main focus these last few years has been almost entirely on my digital creations. Over the last year, as KDP print emerged and rumors abound that createspace would close, I even debated pretty hardcore about doing away with print altogether. Because one, I sell so few paper copies is it even worth it, and two, going digital saves trees and is eco-friendlier, and three, publishing only digital content is so much easier and it’s what the people want, right?
I’ve heard the argument so many times about how physical books will never really die because there is something visceral about holding a real book in your hands. And while I agree that there is something special about a real book, and I do still own, buy, and read physical books (three guesses which author has a permanent stack of books on my nightstand—his name rhymes with Bay Radbury), I have kept my professional focus on digital and moved a huge part of my personal life toward digital, and had come to see paper as an art form dying a slow, inevitable death. Something to be accepted and even embraced as an author in this digital age.
Until in the middle of watching 451 when a sickening feeling welled up inside me that suddenly had me shaking in my slippers as I pictured a world gone totally digital and all our precious words wiped out, without any permanent record. What an absolutely terrifying thought that was to imagine.
Digital = Impermanence.
Easy to erase.
Easy to become non-existent.
The quickest way to ban content, ever.
Our digital words can be taken away without notice. Whether by a group of people in charge, or an overnight fictional horror story come to life and our digital devices no longer work… or… think up your own nightmare—you’re an author 😉
In some ways, this is already happening with all the banhammers slamming down lately for content and whatnot, a bad enough scenario already. But I think it has become too easy to forget how fragile the digital world really is. It is this seemingly giant TOO BIG TO FAIL (we’ve heard that before) ecosystem.
We fear our words being stolen and freely and unfairly spread across the digital universe. But do our words even truly exist if they’re only living in this digital universe? And now we have a generation of young people growing up, unaware of this potential fragility. And if not completely so now, we’re not too many years away from this.
And while I still fully embrace the digital world, because I love it, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon, I fully intend to reinstate my efforts to keep paper alive. Not just for my own books, but for the good of human-freaking-kind. Perhaps, someday, I’ll even open my own bookstore.
I absolutely do not want to face a future where are voices are no longer recorded in some permanent way, or have our younger generations growing up without the knowledge of what it means to have this, or how easily their voices could be stripped away without it.
If we ever end up in a society where our words are silenced, I, at the least, want to have a physical book to fight back with as it’s harder to destroy something you can hold, versus something that only exists in the digital universe.
So, Paper—I’ve been absent from caring about you for too long, but I’m back now baby and full on in love again.
Thanks, Ray. Your lessons are timeless 😊 and have changed my life so many times now. The power of words and imagination is a beautiful fucking thing.
I’ve been publishing for several years now and had the chance to work with extremely amazing people. The stories have ranged from heartfelt successes to humorous failures. I’ve sat with million dollar earners as well as authors struggling to make a single sale. What I’ve noticed as a big difference between the two, the successful author is able to remove their ego, package it up, set it on the shelf, and shush it when necessary. I admit there is an artistry to the craft we’ve undertaken, but great art does not equate to sales and often times this ego rearing its ugly head is the author’s biggest dilemma. I’m here to drop a truth bomb, your ego, it’s got to go.
Let me amend where I’m going with this statement. This is targeted to the author looking to make a career from writing (which means making $$$.) This is not targeted to the authors who write as a passion project. However, if you hope to have your passion project seen by the world, or at least more than your family, this is very much directed toward you. I wrote for passion for many years (and still do at times) so I never want to discredit or tell an author how their journey should be directed. But herein lies the conflict, when authors, even passion project authors, want their work read by many, but refuse to see their authorship as a career. So let’s start with major mistakes.
Bookshelves are a thing of the past.
There is this romantic image of an author casually browsing a bookstore and stumbling upon their work. They may ask to sign it, the store rewards them in free lattes and by some bit of magic, throngs of fans arrive demanding story time. Let’s be frank here, this is not the case. Angela Lansbury and Castle are fictional. The romantic image of the writer is 99.9% myth. And I’m not sure about you, but I don’t build a career on the possibility of winning the lottery (which has nearly identical odds.)
Consumers are steadily growing, but they’re not growing in the bookstore sector. We can see this with the demise of Borders and the frequent profit loss reports of Barnes & Noble (which is kicking and screaming to its grave.) If you do out the math of what is selling in bookstores, you’ll find most often it’s only the .1% that is making sales worth it. I’ve met multiple authors who have gone to bookstores and set up sales channels only to find the books do not fly on the shelves like they imagined. I write superhero novels, and I thought putting them in comic shops would be a great market plan. After countless hours, I managed to get them into several stores where almost none sell. If I did the sales and divided by the time spent, I probably made about $.10 an hour.
Remove the romance of writing from your business model. Push to where the market is strongest, and for many, this is online. This goes with the determination of selling physical books in online stores. Do not ignore them by any means, but also realize an ebook sale is often easier, faster, and selling in bulk can be more profitable in the long run. Don’t let your ego get in the way of letting go of outdated mentalities.
Book signing events
This is where I admit my ego often rears its ugly head. I’m an introvert by choice, but every now and then, I want to go out and bask in the glow of my admiring fans. I set up a book signing event and expect the line down the street, where people will let me sign their chests (it’s happened!) and kiss their babies. To my amazement I’m sitting alone gabbing with employees basking in the smell of fresh books. Poor.
We all have our vices, this one is mine. The reality of the matter is, unless you’re well-known, you’re not going to have people showing up to your signings. Or if you do, it’s people who would have bought your books without needing a hand sale.Most bookstores do not have the budget to advertise more than a social media post or a sandwich sign out front. The four hours I spend at a bookstore, is time lost doing something else, like selling books or writing. When I factor in the payout at the end of my last couple author events, I probably made nearly $.25 an hour and maybe met six people, five of who just know me and want to hang out. My ego is burning money, creating anxiety, and ultimately, disappointing me. But let’s be honest, this is where my vice will probably never let up.
Libraries can be a time suck.
I am the son of a librarian. I support libraries. Librarians are some of the most underrated superheroes in the universe and should be sung about. With that being said, getting your book onto library shelves can be tedious, a waste of time if you over invest, and ultimately, not reward anything other than your ego. I have sent mailer cards to every library in the state (multiple states even.) My sales from this? Of over six hundred libraries, I sold three books. That didn’t cover the shipment or hours wasted sending release notices to librarians.
Do not discount libraries as part of your marketing plan, just make sure you’re investing a reasonable amount of time and money. My new strategy to help myself and still reach these golden bastions of information is to reach out to my newsletter and ask my fans to inquire about my book at their libraries. It takes a few minutes of my time, my fans do the leg work, the library sees interest in my title, and ultimately, I’m helping support libraries. This level of time commitment, it’s a smart business decision. Losing hundreds of dollars pushing your books onto librarians, not so much.
Industry reviews are not reader reviews.
So you’ve decided your ego needs a huge boost or a huge slam. You’re ready to go for one of those fabled, massive, professional recognized reviews. It’ll cost you an arm and a leg, and you’re hoping they like your book and give it a positive review. You’re gambling. You’re gambling your reputation and your money. Your ego has reared its ugly head and it demands that you be recognized for your hard work. But when was the last time, a reader went to read these reviews? Sure you can add it to your Amazon product description that you received the golden star of the BigCompanyReview.
Honestly, when was the last time you, as a reader paid attention to that? I go to book pages because I either like the author and buy everything they write, or I browse and look at people reviews. I don’t care what some big company said about your book, I want to know what fans, people like me, have to say about your book. I want social proof that I won’t be let down.
These big review sites, they’re for professional ego stroking. Would I like to have BigCompanyReview tell me how much they love my work? Sure. But not for the money it requires and not at the risk of a bad review. The worst part, of the people I know who have received glowing recommendations, nearly all of them agree, the reviews have not made them sales. So then why get them? The determination for peer acceptance? Or is it our ugly friend again, the ego?
Books alone are not always viable.
This is aimed at the authors looking to make writing their full-time career. It’s a hard pill to swallow. My personal dream is to live in a remote cabin, write manuscript after manuscript and roll around in my money. Truth is, my writing alone isn’t going to cut it. I’m doing well, and reaching my personal goals, but the big goal is to be a career author. I’m finding my revenue is starting to shift from writing of books and now includes audio and boxsets. It’s still my writing, but it’s not solely books.
You may find that a combination of writing and patreon is your solution. It could be speaking engagements and writing are your thing. You as an author may write books, but that is not your only marketable skill. Diversifying your revenue streams to include a little here and there will eventually add up. I’ll keep praying that I land a movie deal, but I can’t put all my chips on a long shot.
A business requires goals.
The idea that you are a writer is a glamorous life filled with Starbucks, late night inspirations, and falling in love with fictional people. It is also a job, and at times, your boss will be the biggest pain in the ass. But that boss is pushing your business toward a goal. These goals do not need to be large and mighty. Most often the best business plan has small steps. These small achievable goals push us toward the greater goal, no matter where you define success.
I’m going to give you a small exercise, and I think it’s important, so be a trooper and join me.
Take a sheet of paper and at the top, write and finish the statement: My goal as an author is… Make it a single overarching goal. Perhaps look at it as your ten-year goal.
Make three columns
In the left column, take ten minutes and write down every thing you do as a writer. Include your writing habits, your marketing, your events. Literally try to write as many things as you can think that you’ve done in your author career journey. For me, it might be: attend cons, ams ads, facebook ads, writer conference X, attend author expo, manage NESW, boxset promotion, audio books….
In the center column, this is where it gets a bit difficult. You need to write how each item in the left column achieves your greater goal. You need to be honest here. No inflating the purpose. Some of these you might not know if you haven’t done them yet. This is where you can ask people who have. Never attended a convention to sell books, ask veteran sellers, they’ll be honest about their goals. Never done a book signing event and not sure how it might achieve your goal, ask.
Now here’s the part I find authors have the most difficulty doing. Tape that paper somewhere in your office. Each time you execute one of the items on the left column, write the result in the right column. If it does not achieve that goal in the center, kill it. If it does, then make notes. If it did something unexpected, it’s time to rewrite how it’s achieving your greater goal.
Stick with it. You’ve just unknowingly created a business plan. It might be loose, it might be incomplete, but you’ve started. This works for authors seeking a career, hobbyist, and even the causal, “I do it for the love.”
I will bluntly say, all the above advice should be taken with a grain of salt, a lot of scrutiny, and raked over with your personal and business goals in mind. No person’s career is identical to another and there are numerous paths to be taken. But the one thing I stand by, and I urge people to conquer for the sake of sound decision-making to advance your goals, your ego.
If you want to know why it’s important to copyright your artistic creation, just ask George A. Romero.
(Not literally, of course. The guy’s dead.)
(Or IS HE?)
Romero’s classic horror film Night of the Living Dead is and always has been a public domain creation because the original theatrical distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, forgot to put a copyright notice on the film. According to copyright laws in 1968, that meant Romero had no legal claim to his own creation, which meant anyone could show, sell, or reimagine the movie without having to receive permission from Romero and without having to pay for the privilege.
That also happens to be why you should consider going through the formal process of copyrighting your work.
While the inherent copyright that comes with creating a work and the addition of a copyright notice have legal standing, they don’t have strong legal standing. Without a formal copyright from the US Copyright Office (https://www.copyright.gov/) you cannot sue for copyright infringement in the US, nor can you receive statutory damages for copyright infringement if said infringement occurred before the work was registered (or within three months of post-publication registration).
That doesn’t mean you have no recourse if you find someone using your work without your permission. You have the right to send cease-and-desist (C&D) or Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices, and that’s often enough to make an offender back down, but if you have to go to the next step of litigation, you’re not going to get far without that formal copyright.
To obtain a formal copyright, you register your work with the US Copyright Office, which does cost money — $105 for “a document of any length including no more than one title,” i.e., your novel. You can file electronically, but you will still need to provide a hard copy for the Library of Congress, so there will be mailing expenses as well.
FYI the first: there are any number of outfits that claim they will help you file for a copyright. A few are complete scams that are actually trying to steal your copyright out from under you, but more likely they’re just trying to make money by doing the work for you. The process really isn’t that complicated. You figured out how to write and publish a novel. Figuring out the copyrighting process is a comparative cakewalk.
Posting a work online does not automatically make it public domain. You have to explicitly declare that your work is public domain before anyone else can use it legally.
Anyone who uses your copyrighted material without your permission, even if they do not realize financial gain from its use, is in violation of your copyright. That includes fanfic writers using your stories as inspiration for their own (or fanfic you write yourself and post online).
“Fair use” allows for limited reproduction of copyrighted material, usually for purposes of commentary and critique — e.g., someone posting a copy of your book’s cover art along with short excerpts from the book, preferably with full attribution to the creator, as part of a book review.
Unlike trademarks, you do not have to actively defend your copyright in order to retain it.
There are plenty of plots being imagined and written furiously. When it comes to LGBTQI plots, there are a handful that writers find themselves relying on. Some of this reliance on the tropes is from fear of swimming in uncharted waters, or perhaps its even lazy investigation. I’m going to speak strictly as a gay male. There are plots, entire story arcs that I’m absolutely done reading. There are exceptions to every statement, but these handful, the moment I get a sniff of them, I believe the writer has phoned it in.
Coming Out. The age-old story about a gay person struggling with their sexual identity being the driving force of their character development. The truth? Many of us do not “come out” anymore. Even I, a young gay male in the rural reaches of Maine’s backwoods, I didn’t really have to come out. I told one person and POOF, the news spread like wildfire. I didn’t struggle with it. I had a moment of relief, and then I went back to my life. Did it change the world around me? A little, perhaps. But if somebody wrote a story about my coming out, I wouldn’t read it. Let’s talk about the dullest story known to man. For others, the process happens later in life after being married and having kids. For some they come out only to find out, it was indeed a phase. There is no hard fast rule, and the subtle nuances will most likely be lost in a B-plot. If your story is about a character coming out, prepare for boredom, unless you rely on the trope of overcoming bullying. Then I’m snoozing twice over.
Pro Tip: If you’re writing a coming out story, write about the character’s journey and realize it’s messy and rarely incomplete. It is not a gay character’s B-Plot.
Falling in Love. Unless you’re writing a novel where the characters are getting jiggy with it. Stop. Right now. Put down your pencil. Shut your laptop. I’m not saying gay characters don’t deserve love, but often times, this becomes their identity in a novel. If you’re writing a romance novel, I excuse you, that’s your bread and butter. If you’re not, then ask yourself, is your character content without this romance? Do they need this romance? Is the only way your gay person can be happy is to have a fulfilling romance? If that’s their burning passion, consider me bored. In gay culture there are many who believe in the monogamous happily ever after. But there are plenty of gay men (myself included) who believe in much looser definitions of the word relationship and have never believed in the idea of a singular soul mate.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to write about gay romances, you need to do some serious homework. Because if I see another cookie cutter romance, I might very well smash my face against my desk.
Overcoming adversity resulting from our sexual orientation. First and foremost, never use the phrase, “sexual preference.” Preferences are what I want to do to with my same-sex lover, the orientation itself. Second, many of us do not face day-to-day adversity. I’m an out gay teacher. My school had “Pride Day” and I wore my “Yes, I’m that GAY teacher.” Not once, not one single time did a student or co-worker comment on it. Have I been discriminated against? Of course I have. I got into fist fights as a kid, been chased out of a bar, and watched a friend get the shit kicked out of him for his “swishy” walk. But that’s not the norm, or at least not each person’s norm. Yes, gay kids get kicked out of their homes for their sexuality. Relationships end harshly as one comes out, or another realizes they are not gay. But creating drama based solely on our sexuality? Your story best talk about the nit and grit about being gay. You best delve into the psyche of your character and show me that internal struggle. You best tear at my heart and make me fear for your character and cheer at every victory.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to write about our struggles, understand much of our struggle isn’t visual. We question our worth, our identity, our need to belong. These aren’t easily visible. Even as adults, these exist, all rooted in a single roll of the dice making us different from the status quo. Capture it.
I hope you’re reading this thinking, “Well shit, what how the hell am I going to make this character gay?” Now that I’ve disarmed the standard tropes prevalent in literature, what do you have left? Well, you have a limitless plethora of concepts that can be applied to your gay character as easily as your straight character. Dig deep, be thorough, and be willing to push past the tropes that have become the lazy man’s go-to. 10% of the human population is believed to be gay (and as people begin to open up, the number could be as high as 20%.) Step out of ambiguity, give your character this added layer of complexity. But now, I’m asking you to take a step further. And when you’re reached a roadblock, ask questions.
When I started writing, I made the decision to write LGBTQ characters into mainstream science fiction books as a reaction to the massive gap I saw in science fiction television shows and movies growing up in the eighties and nineties. (Sadly, I didn’t read much back then.)
Gay characters in Star Trek? Not until Discovery aired in 2017-18; not until they retconned Sulu’s story in ST: Beyond in 2016;
Gay characters in Star Wars? Hmmm…only if you gay-ship Poe and Finn;
Gay characters in Dune? Oh wait, but he was old and evil, arguably like every Disney villain; Jafar, Ursula, Hades, Scar, Shere Khan;
The SyFy Battlestar Galactica reboot? Yes, but the producers tucked the gayness away. You’d only know Lt. Felix Gaeta was gay and in a relationship with Louis Hoshi if you searched the Internet or watched the BSG webisode series.
Gay Superheroes? Not in the movies, but slowly arising in the comics and daring television shows. Yay!
This points to the question that burned in my soul as kid who watched these and other amazing eighties reruns such as Knight Rider, Airwolf, Buck Rogers, The Wonder Years, Growing Pains, Full House, and Family Ties:
Where were the people like me?
Why don’t people like me exist in the things I love, or, why are people like me portrayed as evil?
Why did I only read about people like me in M/M romance or erotica novels?
Why did I have to sneak downstairs in the late nineties to watch MTV’s Undressed to catch a glimpse at LGBT characters living seemingly normal lives in college and other young adult situations?
However, all was/is not lost.
The recent Doctor Who series and its spin-off, Torchwood, saw fit to include bisexual Captain Jack Harkness and his same-sex romantic delights for fans to enjoy. I was ecstatic! When David Tenant’s Doctor brought Captain Jack and Alonso together moments before he regenerated, I was bouncing on the couch with excitement. Then, newer shows like MTV’s Teen Wolf flipped the script and shocked me by providing its characters with a next-level LGBTQ environment: not one straight bullied or cared a gay student; rather, all students were accepted with complete equality regardless of whom they loved. I was finally seeing myself in mainstream characters portrayed in recent television shows and in movies, like Love Simon.
I’m thrilled to see more and more shows (Shameless, Sense8, and more) include a plethora of LGBTQ characters, and I truly hope this trend continues—but some areas of have much catching up to.
Alas, this brings me to writing quality LGBTQ characters. If the mega-studios won’t give me what I want, then I decided to write it for them and the others like me who yearn(ed) to have an LGBTQ superhero, an LGBTQ space marine, or an LGBTQ captain of a massive starship who live in happy, healthy, and challenging worlds and relationships. Because I strongly believes the real world we live in should be a place—like Teen Wolf’s setting—where LGBTQ equality and respect are second nature and never questioned, I choose to write this into my stories.
I still think there are too few examples of LGBTQ superheroes in popular media today, and most of those are retconned or made LGBTQ with new storylines. It’s not that I want television to into all rainbows and sparkly (though wouldn’t that be fun?), but I want equal airtime for LGBTQ characters. They don’t even have to bang—but knowing this superhero is fluid or that male captain has a husband would be fantastic.
Putting aside what the rest of the world does or doesn’t do, I set out to write my own stories, and this year, I’m proud to start sharing them with the world. In 2014, I started world-building for a series I’ve titled TheNitraxian Galaxy Saga, a massive, groundbreaking LGBTQ science fiction space opera. I’ve spent a lot of time world building, outlining, and organizing the characters and plots into an amazing story. In reality, this significant undertaking is the LGBTQ lovechild of Star Trek/Wars and Game of Thrones, allowing for equal page time for the main characters regardless of their sexuality. I wrote book one in 2017 and then set it aside to work on a project that would not leave my imagination alone.
In early 2018, I started—and am still—writing an LGBTQ superhero story set in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The five-book Guardians Series is the story of gay student Quinn McAlester and his best friend Blake Hargreaves, high school classmates who acquire super powers through a freak accident. I didn’t set Guardians in a utopia of equality. Rather, using real-world situations, I flipped the script on acceptance and focused on Quinn’s coming out as a superhero to a town that refused to accept him and his gifts. I did this because there are still so many teens and adults who struggle with coming out despite the progress we’ve made as a country toward accepting LGBTQ equality and rights.
I encourage authors write well-developed LGBTQ characters because LGBTQ people enrich the world in so many ways and I want to see and read about amazing, wonderful, (and yes sometimes evil) people like me represented fairly in books. Though I am aware the wider audience still rejects LGBTQ characters (yep, I have one of those infamous 1-star reviews on a book) you can help enhance people’s perceptions and acceptance by writing wonderful and loving LGBTQ characters who show the world their true colors.
Many writers want to diversify their characters but find themselves hesitant or scared in jumping into a culture outside their norm. With complicated social structures and contradicting opinions, it can be difficult. However, the fact authors are fearful of not doing their readers justice shows a willingness to expand. Author Amelia Atwater-Rhodes joined me to answer author questions involving sexuality in their characters. We try to be clear, but it bears reminding, both of our views are “our” views and while we may have insight into the LGBTQI+ community, we are not the end all.
For those fearful, I should also add just minutes before the interview, despite knowing Amelia for nearly seven years, I learned she identifies as queer and not lesbian. I firmly wedged my foot in my mouth. There was a discussion and I walked out a wiser person. So be open to being humbled and expanding as a human.