I will tell you the story of a story and how a certain character came to life since we're all blathering about choices in characterization right now. Lord knows, we need something to keep our tiny minds occupied between bouts of writing and marketing, so here comes my entry into this foray and you might not like what I have to say, but, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.
For those of you new to my world, I'll tell you that all of my stories begin with a character, then I build the story around that character. In the case of this particular story, it was a man and his name was Guillermo, and he was heterosexual. Guillermo's best friend happened to be another man, who was gay, and his name was Diago.
In the very first drafts of my character biographies, Diago was the stereotypical gay man much like what readers of 'Salem's Lot and The Fog were used to seeing. Author Lee Thomas gives an excellent summary of how gay men were represented in both of these novels: "Looking back, I see that they [the gay characters] weren’t flattering representations, but they were acceptable to the general public because anything queer back then was still perceived as 'provocative' and/or 'deviant.'" [Emphasis mine]
Because I have several friends who are gay, I wanted to avoid that type of characterization. I wanted a character who wasn't seen as provocative or deviant. So I reached out to author Robert Dunbar and explained a bit of the story and what I wanted to do with Diago's character. Robert very graciously set up a place for me to ask some questions in his Goodreads' group and pointed a few very well-respected authors in my direction. Vince A. Liaguno and Paul G. Bens took time from their busy schedules to address my questions. These gentlemen and other authors and readers spoke candidly about the traits that Diago might possess, and through their honesty and their comments, they totally changed my direction for his character.
One contributor in particular had a great deal of influence on both Diago and Travys (from The Broken Road). Nancy, said, "In short, I enjoy reading about gay characters who are just like everyone else."
That single point stuck with me, especially when I tried to find other stories with gay characters, who were essentially like everyone else in everything but the choice of a partner. I found a few, but not many. Most representations of gay men in literature were those safe, arm's length representations that the general public is comfortable with seeing. I could write a whole other blog post on the reasonings for this; however, I won't digress here.
In writing this particular story with Guillermo and Diago, I also spent a lot of time researching medieval attitudes toward homosexuality since the story took place in 1348. Gay men, especially on the Iberian Peninsula, were savaged and destroyed. Their possessions were burned as if every trace of them could be obliterated from history. None of what I found was pretty, and I didn't sugarcoat those findings in the novel.
As I wrote the novel, my focus narrowed on these two men, Guillermo and Diago. The story centered on how their relationship was destroyed by Guillermo's inability to accept his friend's sexualty, and Diago's lies (not only to Guillermo, but also to himself and his lover). Then I shifted the lens to show how they managed to begin healing their relationship through acceptance of one another and themselves.
There were only two women in the story, and I did this deliberately. I wanted to narrow the focus of the story on Guillermo and Diago. That was my choice as the author. I own it. The theme of this tale was what was important to me. I wanted no extraneous storylines to shift the focus away from these men and their issues.
BUT ... some of you will say, gay men are accepted nowadays. That's not really being diverse.
Of course. That is why there are articles with headlines like this: Gay Manager of Sydney Cafe Died a Hero Saving Other Hostages. Several people asked (as they always do) why did it matter if Tori Johnson was gay? I thought the author of the piece handled it beautifully. Jean Ann Esselink responded:
And one last personal note: Whenever we publish stories about the extraordinary deeds of gay men, someone will inevitably leave a comment asking,"What difference does it make if he was gay?" As a straight woman and ally, I would like to answer that question.
For years - for centuries actually - gay men have been called pansies. They have been characterized as weak, as ineffectual and cowardly. They have been painted as promiscuous, as man-whores, and even as child predators. The truth, of course, has always been something completely different, but because they stayed in the closet, no one knew that the war hero, or the movie star, or the athlete they admired was gay.
People are finally coming out, and gays are becoming accepted as part of the patchwork of America. But the struggle is far from over. So until lgbt equality is achieved, it remains imperative that we laud every gay success story, not just every hero, but every actor, athlete, and politician, every businessman, every clergyman, every faithful husband and loving father. We need to hold up successful gays as examples. We need to continue to tell their stories until we have put an end to the lie - to the damned lie - that gay men are somehow "lesser" beings.
I plan on telling those stories until there is no one left in America who needs to be convinced of that fact.
Then I plan to start persuading the rest of the world.
And that is why Diago is so important to me. I am not a journalist, but I am a storyteller. That is where my power lies. So I will tell you stories of men like Diago and Travys, because I want you to see heroes of all kinds and not caracticatures.
To look at Guillermo's story through a superficial lens, you will glimpse only a white, heterosexual protagonist. However, if you're of a deeper mindset, you will see Diago and Guillermo as two men who learned to accept one another and come to grips with their differences.
In Hisses and Wings, you see these two men years after their initial encounters. You see what they have become, but you do not see what they have overcome. One day, the world will be ready for that story, but not now. There is still too much denial.
And that simply makes me sad.