Reading is one of my favourite things. I adore it. I love how a book can take me to a different time, place, or another world. I love how someone can craft a page-turner that keep you up until 2 a.m. even when you’ve got work the next day. Or a book that makes you cry, proper big fat sobs, or one that makes you laugh and smile at the beauty of our universe, or one that does both! And I’ve learnt through my reading, about different places, customs, ways of life; different thoughts, behaviours, ways to be; and it’s helped me to have different dreams and ideas and it’s given me a head full of facts. And this is just reading fiction. If you factor reading non-fiction into this, well you can potentially learn about everything that’s ever been written to date- if you have the time.
For a writer, reading is as essential as looking at the world is for a visual artist (although writers need to observe as well). Reading can show us examples of how to write well or not so well. We learn structure, flow and how to tell a good story. It also reminds us why we write, to create new worlds, to problem-solve this one, and to have fun doing it. So, I read heaps.
I recently read The End Games by T. Michael Martin. It’s a YA, dystopian, sci-fi horror novel. It has a really different take on the zombie novel. Along with that the primary relationship focus was around two brothers and their father issues. It dealt with issues around stopping compliance in an abuser/abused relationships and the inner turmoil, guilt, and outer behavioural impact that can have. It’s really good. But towards the end, it also raised another issue that has been annoying me for a while now (spoiler alert). Although about the brothers, to highlight the emotional learning and inner conflict that the main character underwent, the story resolves through the use of a heterosexual love interest. After being so different and focused on the boys, this almost ruined the book for me. And more importantly it raised a realisation that so many books present as detective stories, murder mysteries, or horror but end up as mere heterosexual love stories.
As humans (in my culture at least) we’re pretty obsessed with our sexual/romantic relationships, consequently (or because of our stories (?)) there’s an expectation that within books people have to develop sexual relationships. I’m talking sexual relationships, not just a romantic or familial relationships. The distinction being, sexual/romantic relationships are not just about love and getting to know someone, even with love and affection, that could also be a friendship, but in these books there is always a ‘kiss’ of significance. And mostly we don’t have kisses of this type with our friends, mostly. And this year, that has really made me fuming mad, which was actually really good because until then I’d just growled, ranted and sucked it up. Sure I’ve researched lesbian and or gay stories, but that irritates me because a list assumes difference. Think about it, how many lists of ‘heterosexual’ books are there.
But, just these last two weeks, I’ve read two other books which don’t fit into the hetro-norm. Both I picked up by random. One was from the sale table at a local mega-store, mainly chosen because I liked the cover. The other was an audiobook from my local library, which I chose and downloaded because of the title and cover. (Sometimes I don’t put a lot of thought into the books I chose.) The point being here, that both books were easily available as mainstream books. One was The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco which has a character who questions normalised gender roles. Then there was also Carnivore by Jonathan Lyon which works around a male gay/bi love relationship. Reading Carnivore, as a long-term dyke/lover of women/lesbian/queer (whatever you fancy labelling me- but keep it polite) was so natural I didn’t even think about it. It was just a guy and guy working out how they wanted to be together. But then I started writing this post and thought about the difference for me.
When I was studying for my Masters in Creative Writing, I researched potential markets a lot. Everything I read told me to write from a heterosexual perspective or be relegated to a tiny niche market. That made me very sad. There was a world which was growing tolerant and even starting to accept queers, but still here we were having to hide out tongues, which funnily enough gave me a massive writer’s block. Why write when no one wants to listen? But, regardless of that nonsense, I worked my way out of my block and found a ‘fuck it’ attitude. I’d write my truth no matter what. And now, 7 years later, things are changing. We have gay marriage (and divorce) and more acceptance (in my part of the world, at least). And finding those stories so easily (and not side-lined under a warning: ‘gay fiction’), shows how things have changed in the publishing world. I suppose with self-publishing and online book sales, it had to. So I’ll keep writing my truth. After all, if ideas and words underpin culture, we can’t change cultures without creating the words to do it.
As for what I’ll write, I do think what I’ve read recently has inspired me to write more things that aren’t necessarily linked to a sexual-based relationship. I’ll probably write more about friendships and other types of connections which are equally valid, if not more so than a solo sexual partner. After all, the concept of the sexual partner being ‘everything’ and ‘essential’ is just daft really and goes against my feminist (person-ist) soul’s desire for equality and independence. I do think, as long as people remain independent, romantic relationship can be good, but phrases like ‘other half’ are not beneficial to humans, and stories that focus on finding a sexual mate, miss so many other essential relationships. After all, we do all go a little mad sometimes, but without our friends we’d go absolutely crazy, right? And, like I said earlier, if reading can teach us new ways to be and different perspectives, I feel I should add my voice to the mix.