Still, as I got older and my thoughts became oft distracted by romantic urges, even the beloved fantasy lands of epic narratives began to lose their appeal. There were no gay characters in fantasy fiction at that time. At least, none I was aware of. I understood that to read the type of adventures I wanted to read and to meet the type of characters I needed to meet, I was going to have to create them all by myself. And so I did, if mildly at first. After all, one does not jump into a gay relationship, fictional or not, without looking around to see if it’s safe.
Like most young gay people of my age in Middle America, I was starved for representation and looked for it everywhere. (I was crushed when I discovered the lead singer of Concrete Blonde was a woman and “Joey” was not, in fact, a gay love song. Oh, my poor little heart!) I did not identify with the characters whose adventures I was reading in the academically regulated books at Southwestern Jr/Sr High School. Sadly, though, I never really expected to. As a gay youth I assumed I would always be on the outside looking in.
The first time I can remember connecting to a book in a deep personal way was John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, which remains a favorite of mine to this day. I saw through to what the straight kids didn’t and to what the teachers would never discuss. I saw the love affair in that book. I recognized it and felt the pain. It was a beautiful experience. It was…cathartic. Yet there was never another book assigned in my pre-college education that dared to confront, or even tip-toe around, the same sex issue. Tennessee Williams wasn’t mentioned once in class. I still wonder what the hell that was about. I mean, it’s Tennessee fucking Williams!
My reading outside of school was a different matter. As I got older and less frightened by the rules of a confining religion, I became more daring in my reading choices, from Alice Walker’sThe Color Purple to Anne Rice’s…well, Anne Rice’s anything.
And then there was James Purdy. His work, beautiful and horrific, written in a style that still makes me marvel and grin, taught me that great writing did not need to stay in between the lines. More importantly for me at the time, Purdy’s work – especially Narrow Rooms and In a Shallow Grave – showed me that a gay romance could be just as sweeping as anything written by those depressed Bronte sisters.
My reading soon sped off into all different directions…all different gay directions, that is. Michael Cunningham, Jamie O’Neill, Geoff Ryman, Maria McCann. I started writing in an attempt to be published myself and my world opened even further, giving me the opportunity to talk to writers I had read, like Hal Duncan, Rick R. Reed, Ruth Sims, Dorien Grey, and Douglas Clegg.
Still, I knew I was missing out on some good stuff by my prejudiced reading habits. It took a few years, but eventually I started to read the hets again. I even picked up some Stephen King, something I had vowed never to do for the simple fact that everyone else was doing it. And while I do enjoy the occasional novel by a straight writer, maybe even with a straight lead character, I prefer the books I read to have at least one gay character, and this one gay character must not be the chief bad guy. (You hear me, Orson Scott Card?)
So, I’ve come full circle with my reading habits. I’m back on my fantasy kick again. Only now, the lands I’m visiting – both my own and those of other writers – come to even brighter life because the inhabitants are more diverse than ever. It’s wonderful, too, when a reader writes me to tell me how they have been moved by something I have written. The thought that maybe, in some small way, I have had an influence on someone…well, that’s just about all a writer can ask for. That and a spot on a college syllabus.
Eric Arvin resides in the same sleepy Indiana river town where he grew up. When he was young he played with unicorns and gnomes and was named Queen of the Faery-folk at the age of five. He graduated from Hanover College with a Bachelors in History. He has lived, for brief periods, in Italy and Australia and most recently in the dark chambers of the Caverns of Arvinia. He has survived brain surgery and his own loud-mouthed personal demons, though it is a daily battle. Eric is the author of THE REST IS ILLUSION, SUBSURDITY, SUBURBILICIOUS, SIMPLE MEN, and various other sundry and not-so-sundry writings. Willy Shakespeare once said of him: "That bitch got talent!" He intends to live the rest of his days with tongue in cheek and eyes set to roam.