Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Standing Up For My Nerdery

I've always been a reader, but it took me a long time to find books that I actually enjoyed reading.

During silent reading time in elementary school (up to grade 6), I would usually pick some book at random that didn't really interest me and then I wouldn't finish it. Though I loved reading, I found it boring.

All of that changed once I hit grade 7. There were two "new" types of books that I discovered -- thrillers and Star Trek.

If I remember right, the first Star Trek book I read was a novelization of the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I think the appeal was that I saw these characters on television, so they were familiar to me -- I wasn't actually a huge Star Trek nut at that time, I think it's my habitual reading of the books that helped spark that flame.

The first thriller book I read was Jurassic Park. I was enthralled that books would have swears, violence, and people dying. It was a gripping read -- far better than what YA novels consisted of in the early 90s (at least the ones the school library had).

From then on, I was hooked. I read almost ever Star Trek book that came out after that novelization. (I'm not a fan of the original series, so I think those are the only books I haven't read that have been published in the last 25 years.) I also read my way through much of Michael Crichton's back catalogue, discovered Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and read pretty much any thriller that my aunt passed my way.

In grade 8, our Language Arts teacher gave us the assignment of writing three short stories. I worked so damn hard on those. I ended up with something that was a hybrid of the Star Trek and thriller stories I was reading -- my three short stories were sci-fi thrillers. When I felt I had perfected them, the teacher then announced that we didn't need to hand the stories in ... they were just for us to practice our writing skills. And that was the end of the creative writing unit that year.

I was furious. I was a mega-nerd that had 100% in Language Arts that year, so to not have my hard work acknowledged and graded made me really mad. So what did I do? As a sort-of revenge, I just kept writing short stories. If my teacher wasn't going to appreciate them, then I would appreciate them myself and write tons more. (I know, the logic of that revenge doesn't quite make sense.)

So I continued on through middle school and high school, reading mostly Star Trek and the occasional thriller and writing short stories about aliens and distant planets and creatures in the night. My Language Arts teacher in grade 9 was aware of my interests but didn't say much, which was fine with me.

In grade 10, though, when the Language Arts teacher found out I read Star Trek books, he very loudly (and kind of mockingly) said in front of the whole class "Oh... you're one of those people." He might not have meant it in the way it sounds here on the screen, but that's my only real memory of him, mocking my reading interests. I do have a few other memories where he asks me about my interest in Star Trek, but it's clear he was not a fan and thought there were better things I could spend my time with.

In grade 11, when that Language Arts teacher found out I read Star Trek books, he very loudly and snidely said in front of the whole class "How can you like that stuff?" I never told this teacher that I also write "that stuff" in my free time.

By the time grade 12 rolled around, I was ashamed of my reading choices. It didn't stop me from reading Star Trek, but if no one asked, I didn't make it known. I was also feeling battered with my short story writing; by that time, I'd written a couple dozen short stories, I think, and while most of my teachers had known I wrote stories, none of them showed even the slightest interest.

For grade 12 Language Arts, we had a few assignments throughout the year where we had to respond to things in creative ways. The best example I remember was that we had to respond to Hamlet through a creative medium of some type. I tentatively asked my teacher if I could write a sci-fi retelling of Hamlet. I was shocked when he said yes, and even more shocked when he marked my story and handed it back -- and it had positive and constructive feedback. I was blown away.

Later that year, we had to do a research project. Taking a risk, I asked the teacher if I could present my research (which was about racism) through a short story, provided I included a bibliography and could explain how that research impacted my storytelling. He said yes. Again, I got positive and constructive feedback. I was again blown away. As well, in our conversation on the project, he dropped a few hints that not only is he aware of Star Trek, but he knows the franchise in some detail.

My biggest lesson learned in grade 12 was to stand up for my reading and writing interests and not be ashamed. I had gone into grade 12 ready to abandon writing for good and had learned to hide the covers of the books I read so the teacher won't make a comment. I left grade 12 not caring who knows I read Star Trek and with an enthusiastic new energy for writing.

(A few years later, I found out that my teacher's wife was bestselling romance author Elizabeth Thornton and their son had published a few sci-fi / horror novels. It was certainly this teacher's involvement in genre fiction that had led him to be accepting and affirming of my interests, which really put me on the path to where I am now.)

From there, I actually had a Star Trek short story published by Simon and Schuster (under a different name than this) and had a taste of publication. I was hooked. And if I didn't have that teacher in grade 12, I never would have entered this short story contest, so I really do have him to thank for this. It still took several years for me to explore my path in sci-fi and then eventually end up in the pool of gay smut.

But when I did get into stories of dudes boinking, I had a resurgence of that shame I felt during much of high school. Yeah, I'm writing, and yeah, I got published by a small publisher, but it's (awkward whisper) gay erotic romance. It took a few years to build up my confidence so that I can talk about my interest in it like I talk about my interest in Star Trek.

Those who are in authority positions regarding language and culture far too often disregard romance, erotica, and other genre fiction as "lower class" or "that stuff". These attitudes are damaging. If I had let those attitudes take over and if I didn't have that amazing grade 12 teacher, I wouldn't be writing and publishing now. I probably would have abandoned writing and gone into some boring 9-5 job. (I mean, I'm in a boring 9-5 job, but that's not my life -- my life is writing.)

I love to read stories and I love to tell stories. It doesn't matter what genre or who wrote it or what it's about -- if the story makes me feel something, then it's worth the time and effort to write and/or read it. I have no more shame over this.




Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Silent Hearts. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press, member of the Indie Erotica Collective, and hosts two podcasts, Deep Desires Podcast and Sex For Money. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.

11 comments:

  1. I had no idea you had a Star Trek story published. That's awesome!

    My high school experiences were similar. I remember having one teacher who kept pressuring me to read a "real" book, going so far as to give me books I had zero interest in.

    At the same time, I had another teacher who encouraged my writing, supported me, and actually gave me an award at graduation. Two teachers, both with the best of intentions, but only one I have made the effort to reach out and thank in the years since.

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    1. Yeah, I generally don't talk about the Star Trek story -- mostly because I wrote it when I was so young and (like all writers, I'm sure) I sometimes look back at it and cringe at the quality. But it was definitely a fun and super motivating experience!

      I reached out to that grade 12 teacher a couple times to update him on what I've been doing and to thank him for his impact -- I've always gotten such nice notes in return from him. He's really the only teacher that I've ever connected with like that.

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  2. Though I'm still a certified English teacher, I've aged out of the opportunity for any interviews. I've been a sub for 15 years now. When I see kids in any class with their noses in a book, I usually casually ask them if it's for a class, or for fun. If the latter, I ask them if they would recommend that book. I've discovered series' that were so excellent that I blew through them in a couple of weeks, because of the kids' recommendations. And I always ask them if they write also.

    I've had kids share short stories and poems with me. Their poetry is so naked, expressing things they will be too guarded in the future to ever put down into words. But I give them feedback and I always encourage them to submit it to anywhere...the school literary magazine at a minimum, but also to look for publishers of YA stuff on-line. I know I'm not a "real" teacher, but like you said, any adult who validates what students are into is a positive influence. And readers/writers are still considered nerds in high school. Anything that makes them feel better about themselves is a good thing.

    BTW, I find it a totally sad example of the perfidious influence of patriarchy, that in high schools these days, gay girls are open about their feelings, even holding hands with their loved ones, and snogging in the hall against a locker, right before the bell rings. But even boys who had told me they're gay, never hold hands with another boy. Why not? I've always thought it was so sad they still feel so wary. I blame the fact that white men still set the standards, and they can understand being attracted to women, since they are, so they accept lesbian love in public...maybe they even make jokes about wanting to watch. But they can't understand how/why a man would "lower" himself to be attracted to a man. Or maybe they find it frightening, worrying that it will rub off on them? Either way, it's a sad statement.

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    1. Your students are so lucky, Fiona!

      You're as real a teacher as anyone. It's not your job title, it's who you are.

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    2. I totally agree with Lisabet that your students are so lucky!

      As for your last paragraph there... I didn't come out until my late 20s (and didn't really know that about myself until my mid 20s), so I didn't really have experience with trying to be gay in high school. I agree that it's patriarchy at play -- most straight men love the idea of two women kissing, so that makes expressing FF romance in school hallways okay... but MM romance in school hallways? Yikes -- straight men wouldn't want the gay men to think they're gay too.

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  3. I'm really glad you didn't get discouraged, Cameron, because everything I've read of yours suggests you're a dynamite writer.

    Alas, all too many kids today are totally disconnected from reading anything longer than a text message or a Facebook comment. Your story is a clear lesson in how important it is to encourage young people to enter the magic world of the written word.

    I get you, too, about feeling sheepish about writing popular (or even perverse) fiction instead of "literature". Keep writing, keep standing up for yourself. (I've always loved nerds.)

    BTW have you encountered the anthology Geek Love, edited by Shanna Germain and Janine Ashbless? One of the absolute best erotica collections I've ever read -- a true celebration of all things nerdy!

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17797577-geek-love

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  4. This is an encouraging story, Cameron.

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  5. This is a really cool story, Cameron. I'm glad you found someone who supported your writing way back when, and that you learned to stand up for your interests! I've always been frustrated by the literary/genre divide, especially since there are so many examples of genre work that is daring and literary and literary work that is trashy and prurient and every combination in between.

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    1. I've also found that some of the strongest writing I've ever seen comes from genre fiction. Literary fiction is often artistic and I can appreciate it for what it is -- but it's the ending of "Orphan's Triumph" by Robert Buettner, a military sci-fi novel, that had me shook for days, it's Karin Lowachee's "Warchild" and "Cagebird" sci-fi novels that had me first being enthralled by the fluidity of sexuality and the intimacy that can exist between two men, it's the James Rollins thrillers that explore the mysteries of the world around us and have me captivated by nature, and it's all of the really great romance novels I read that have my heart swelling with emotion because it's so beautifully written.

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