Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reading About Reading

I'm such a slow reader this year. At this time in 2015, I'd read about 30 books. My year-to-date count is about eight. Meh, at least I'm using my non-reading time productively and not just sitting around beating off. ;)

I'm presently reading two books. One of them, of course, is my standard indulgent of my Trekkie side. The Star Trek book I'm presently reading is Star Trek: Voyager: A Pocket Full of Lies by Kirsten Beyer. This is one of those books that takes place after the TV series, so it goes in a lot of unexpected places. However, I don't think there are many Star Trek fans reading this, so I'll move onto something a little more interesting.

The other book I've started is Pulp Friction, edited by Michael Bronski.

Here's the blurb:
Long before the rise of the modern gay movement, an unnoticed literary revolution was occurring, mostly between the covers of cheaply produced pulp. Cultural critic Michael Bronski collects a sampling of these now little-known gay erotic writings -- some by writers long forgotten, some never known, and a few now famous. Through them, Bronski challenges many long-held views of American postwar fiction and the rise of gay literature, as well as of the culture at large. Pulp Friction is a fun, entertaining anthology and an enlightening, groundbreaking work.

I've literally only read the introduction so far, which gives a general overview of Bronski's research in compiling this book. From here on in, it looks like it's broken into smaller thematic sections that each have their own mini-intro, and then there are sizeable excerpts from gay pulp novels.

However, I'm already fascinated.

In my day job, I work in an LGBT centre that has a large library of LGBT books.  I've been told by a few people in the know -- and it's something Bronski acknowledges -- that back in the day when gay and lesbian literature was considered obscene, writers were forced to give their books an unhappy ending. To make their books enticing and erotic to LGBT readers, the writers would write a romantic and erotic book exactly the way they wanted, then tack on an ending chapter where it all goes wrong and everything is destroyed. This would be acceptable for censorship laws, and LGBT readers would know to stop reading at a certain page (at the true ending, not the actual ending of the book) to get the story they wanted.

Bronski, in reading hundreds of books in researching for this anthology, found that to be actually an atypical practice. Yes, it happened, but it was nowhere near as common as we are led to believe. (That being said, he focussed much more on gay literature, and I've been told that bad ending thing is common in older lesbian literature. However, if I recall correctly, Bronski read some lesbian books and came to the same conclusion as he did with the gay books.)

So why do we have this perception that all gay and lesbian literature was forced to have a bad ending when, in fact, that's not true? As a writer, I found Bronski's explanation rather depressing. Bronski believes it's because most literature is forgotten shortly after it's out of print -- and, culturally, we just remember a few of the more significant books.

This isn't the case only with LGBT books, but also with general books. If you were to look at a bestseller list from ten years ago, how many of the books would you remember? What about a bestseller list from fifty years ago?

As a society, we have remembered a few pieces of literature and largely forgotten the rest. Thus, I assume, we have remembered the books that all had a bad ending because, presumably, they stick out more in our collective memory. (Are you more likely to remember the steamy read that was great from start to finish or the steamy read that is perfect if, and only if, you stop reading at page 237? Because of remembering the page number, that's probably the book you'll remember.)

I mentioned it's a bit of a depressing fact as a writer -- because this implies that after I pull my stuff from print, or perhaps even long before that, I'll be forgotten. Sure, they'll be a few people who remember my works (I have a super-fan on Twitter that probably won't forget me anytime soon), but for the most part, I'm forgettable. We all are.

At first that was super depressing, but then I realized why I write. I don't write to be remembered. I certainly don't write because I feel I have an important message that will be contemplated for generations to come. I write because I want to entertain. I write because I have stories in my head that will eat at me until I start to type them out.

I don't write for fame and fortune, though I would not refuse either if they were to come my way. I write to allow someone to dive into a story and escape their world, even if only for fifteen minutes a night. If I'm forgotten in ten or twenty years, that doesn't really change what I'm doing right now.

Maybe one day I'll turn up in an anthology like this one, exploring the best of forgotten erotic literature.


Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Seduced by My Best Friend’s Dad (co-written with Sandra Claire). 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.


  1. I know of several big-name science fiction writers who wrote pulp fiction under pseudonyms way back in the day, mostly because it paid better than the science fiction in those early times, and/or because they weren't big names yet. I'm not sure how many were writing gay pulp fiction, but I know for sure that at least a couple of them were.

    1. Apparently a number of current big name authors started out writing smut (but generally of the straight variety)... I read it on the internet somewhere, so it must be true! ;) (Seriously, though, I think it was actually true. I can't remember any names, though.)

  2. Really interesting about the ending thing—I've heard that tacked-on unhappy ending thing many times myself. I actually find the research you cite comforting. I don't mind being forgotten. I'm glad to know censorship didn't have the stranglehold I thought it did.

    As far as tie-in novels, have you read any of the Star Trek books written by Christie Golden? I've been reading her Warcraft tie-ins and really liking them, and was thinking of following her to one of the other fandoms she writes for. I believe she's done several Voyager books.

    1. Hehe -- I just looked up which ones are hers. I think I've read 14 of her 15 Star Trek books. (So, basically, I read all the Voyager books -- I didn't read her one original series book, as I don't enjoy that series so much.)

      She wrote Trek back in the days when it was very heavily controlled. Each book was about 275 pages long and there were very rigorous guideline of what could or couldn't happen in the books. For the most part, books from that era (not just hers), don't really stick out as great works as they were rather bland. I would be fascinated if she were to write a Star Trek book now, as the artificial limitations are pretty much all gone; I'd like to see what she could do with a much larger sandbox.

    2. Wow, you really are a fan! Thanks for the reply. Sounds like that may not be the first place to check out more of Golden's work, but it also sounds like some interesting changes have happened with Star Trek novelizations.

  3. I think I saw the Bronski book reviewed somewhere. It might have even made it onto my "Want To Read" list on Goodreads (which means I probably never will!)

    As for writing to be remembered... I think I'll be pleased if one or two people remember me. Society? Neh. One of my life's peak experiences was going to a dinner party that Totally Bound threw for their authors as RWA. Another author (whom I really didn't know) came over to me and said, "You're Lisabet Sarai? Raw Silk is one of my favorite books!"

    I guess I can die fulfilled!

    1. I think I can deal with being forgotten, too. :)

      In my day job's workplace, we have an LGBT library. One of my new friends this year, who didn't know about my writing, started visiting our library several times a week and reading smut books.

      About a month after he'd been visiting several times a week, I let it slip that I'm a writer in my spare time. He asked me about my writing. I said I write gay erotica under the name Cameron D. James. Seconds later, he texted back "Go-Go Boys of Club 21???" He'd been reading my book that week and he was in awe that I was the author of it.

      That's my little moment of being a recognized name. The fact that this friend is super-duper cute added to my little jump of joy.

  4. You never know who has heard of you, or who has read your work. One thing that intrigues me about literary history is the way that certain writers of a certain period are grouped together and sometimes called a "school" (which I think my university students take literally -- they would like to see the actual Romantic School founded by Will Wordsworth and Sam Taylor Coleridge). I'm sure none of us Grippers think of ourselves as a "school," since we are each so distinct, but in years to come, we might be included in a book about the erotica of the early 21st century, whether it has been forgotten or not.

    1. I definitely think of the Grip as my "school." If we are remembered together, I would be so honored. :)


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