Someone asked me to repost the speech I did as speaker on Saturday. People told me it was good (blushing), but probably it was more funny to hear me having it with my bad (Italian) accent... in any case I tried to summarize it here (hope you will enjoy it as well):
While I was preparing the outlines of my speech for the UK LGBT Meet in Manchester, a series of coincidences made it even more current. I realized that Maurice by E.M. Forster, the first gay novel I have ever read, was 100 years old. Maurice was written by Forster in 1913, even if, in the end, he didn’t publish, and left in his will that they could release it after his death. Forster died in 1970, and Maurice was released in 1971. The novel took inspiration by the real life romance of Edward Carpenter and George Merrill, and Forster wrote in the Terminal Note of the book that “A happy ending was imperative”, exactly like the one of Carpenter and Merrill: Edward Carpenter was a socialist poet and philosopher, anthologist, and early gay activist. Returning from India in 1891, Carpenter met George Merrill, a working class man also from Sheffield, and the two men struck up a relationship, eventually moving in together in 1898. In January 1928, Merrill died suddenly, leaving Carpenter devastated. In May 1928, Carpenter suffered a paralytic stroke which rendered him almost helpless. He lived another 13 months before he died on Friday 28 June 1929. They were happily together from 1891 to 1928, 37 years.
But I need to take a step back and to the reason I read Maurice. When I was 13 years old, I discovered the English literature, and with that, D.H. Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover; I loved that book and wanted to read everything that was good as that one. Plus I loved gay themed movie, and when James Wilby and Hugh Grant won Best Actors for their roles in Maurice at the Venice Film Festival, I knew I had to see the movie (I was 13 years old at the time); after the movie, I knew I had to read the novel, but as for Lady Chatterley’s Love, my mom didn’t think it was a right reading choice for my age… that said, I HAD to read the book and so I bought that one with my own pocket money, right as I did for the D.H. Lawrence’s one. I still own my copy (Italian translation), but once read that one, there wasn’t much else available into Italian with a gay theme. The next book was 10 years later, “Close Range: Wyoming Stories” by E. Annie Proulx… yes, that is right, we are talking of the very first edition of the novella from which Brokeback Mountain would be later adapted for the screen. Again an Italian translation, this time it wasn’t exactly pocket money, but it was still something odd, because basically no one in Italy knew about this book and that first edition had a very limited print run, and one of the few copies is probably the one I still own.
Between 1989 (Maurice) and 1999 (Close Range: Wyoming Stories) I continued to love gay themed movies, but in the fiction field I didn’t read anything else, if not a savage romance I still love, Defy Not the Heart by Johanna Lindsey. Yes, I confess, I was a Savage Romance reader, those trashy novels with almost pornographic covers. Fabio was THE cover model, you wanted a medieval knight? Fabio was the man, you wanted a Native American, a Sheikh, a Biker? Again, Fabio could be it.
In one of those novels, dating back 1989, Fabio is a medieval mercenary on the cover of Defy Not the Heart; his love interest is a black haired beauty, but to me, the most interesting character was Theo, the heroine’s best friend: Theo is gay and he even tries to seduce “Fabio/Ranulf” (and that is the reason why Ranulf doesn’t like him much), but once he realizes Ranulf is not interested, he moves his advances towards the chief of the guards. Theo is an extremely positive character, and I remember that, at the time, I would have love to read more.
Someone recently asked what if a very famous romance author introduced a gay love story in her novel, what was supposed to be the reaction of her straight readers? My reaction was, GOOD, please give me more. Johanna Lindsey is probably one of the queen of the Romance authors, she is on the level of Kathleen Woodiwiss, Nora Roberts or Elizabeth Lowell. She has a huge readership, and trust me, I don’t remember someone complaining for the character of Theo in her novel.
My feeling is that, you need to read a story, and the story has to be coherent with its development; you haven’t to follow the rules, otherwise you are not writing a novel, you are writing an “how to do” text book, and they are boring! Someone asked me, what is the best book you read this year? It was not an easy question, and my answer was more, what is the most surprising book? Atom Heart, John Beloved by Luke Hartwell. This was a totally unexpected book, a bisexual teenager who gifts his body to his best (gay) friend, even if he is in a relationship with a girl; he cheats the girl, and then he cheats the guy, he instigates his own rape, and he does everything in his power to destroy himself and his life, and when he is at the bottom of the pit, he realizes that, if Nathan, his friend, still loves him, Nathan, the perfect guy, then he has to be worthy of that love, than he is John, the beloved.
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