Difficult to Categorize | 6 | Is it Literary Fiction?

To be truthful, to be honest with myself, I fear that Famepunk belongs in the worst category of all. In my secret opinion it couldn't be worse.

To me, Literary Fiction sounds awful. The words conjoined, they look okay at first and then, no, they also look awful. This is the category with the gold leaf encrusted, the greedy of glittering prizes one. Literary Fiction: boom, there it is, dropped down and stuck on alphabetical lists smack between dozens of choices where its pretentious “as-opposed-to” tone insults most writers of fiction, actually; I think the majority of us hope to be read by the ages. Here is a box I’d much rather not click—except that I’d still like to qualify as a serious fiction-writer whose work is worth reading.

It’s a quandary. 

Because however putrid Literary Fiction sounds and is as a category, Famepunk is literary fiction. That is, it’s written specifically in relation and response to many other works of fiction, old & new, high & low, but especially in reaction to great literature; it’s a book about literature and about itself as literature. See, for instance, the title of Part 2. Or that in writing the many sex scenes in Middlemarch  I was directly influenced by D.H. Lawrence and especially The Rainbow (banned in Britain 1915-26), and maybe too much by Joseph Conrad whom I was reading devotedly last year. Sometimes I let influences like this guide conscious choices; mostly I was being as descriptive as possible, without any particular regard to influence, of the vivid scenes in my imagination which I was taking down as best I could. But I’m a reader (movie buff, play-goer, art lover, opera-to-rock music fan) of very long standing and somehow, I believe, everything in there is emerging and recombining into Famepunk. Experience is influence, too—everything is influence. All the material is autobiographical.

Maybe for that reason, I think of Famepunk as my personal contribution to literature. Is that pretentious? I don’t know. Pathetic? I don’t think so—not in my opinion. I think I’m doing well and that my writing is clear and straightforward and not pretentious at all. I know it’s different but then I mean it to be different. I intend it to be art. Am I ambitious to be classed among the great, inspired and visionary writers? Yes. Obviously I want this. Why not? What a scandal it would be otherwise—how could I want less than this when both heroines in my novel, among their few redeeming features, are great achievers and visionaries? Should I, their creator, aspire to be less? Never.

So am I untrue to my quest, my gestalt, if I choose something “less than” Literary Fiction to define not just the book but its reason springing from within myself for being? Or can I just say, honestly, you know, I still don’t like the way it sounds, namely snooty—as in entitled—and awful. Not to mention how the label has become practically a by-word for fakery and corruption and that it’s completely impossible not to picture a world encircled by writers sitting at desks in their faculty offices, slathering one another’s review copies with rapturous blurbs. They always mention genius. I can’t embrace the category because I feel so alienated from everyone who’d feel fitted to a T, who wouldn’t even think twice. Writers who wouldn’t accept anything less than a shot at a place in the pantheon—that rogues' gallery.


Difficult to Categorize | 5 | Is it Horror?

I won’t lie. The tally so far is a gypsy curse, one pair of poltergeist dance pumps, a goblin child, at least two ghosts and some working, profit-driven witches. Famepunk contains elements of horror, fantasy and the supernatural. Although it’s not about any of that, not enough to advertise at least, the horror’s essential, peripheral yet central to the plot. I didn’t plan it this way, it’s just how the story developed—I was glad, though, and really went along as I was writing. Especially witches I was glad to get in there. 

Because unless they really hate them, people love witches! They read about them constantly. A lot of people start with Harry Potter books and just keep going, maybe. A year or two ago I checked the Paperback Fiction Bestseller list in the New York Times and about 2/3rds dealt with witches and warlocks and witch clans. When they started showing up in the middle of Middlemarch, I thought, Good. Witches. Maybe this will really sell.


Difficult to Categorize | 4 | Is it Old-Fangled?

If this were a choice among on-line catalogue tags—Fiction: Old-Fangled—I’d surely choose it.

I was formed in a “less open” time when LGBT people sought arousal in reading because words were what was there—and that not consistently. Indeed, good arousing books with gayness or lesbianism or gender dysphoria (I enjoyed them all) were rare. I pored over Mary Renault and James Kirkwood’s books along with Lisa Alther’s Kinflicks--and of course I loved Rubyfruit Jungle which I remember approaching the cash register to buy at Paperback Booksmith in the Hanover Mall, c. 1975. 
The Mall (close approximation)
It probably cost $1.25 (if that) and had a nice bright white cover with big mod graphics embossed in metallic berry colors. Pretty quickly my younger sister lifted Rubyfruit Jungle from my bedroom and then passed it around among all her junior high school friends; it came back ragged, brutalized. I always liked the first part of the book better than the mother-daughter chapters in New York; as for Rita Mae Brown (who writes cat mysteries and books about fox-hunting with human and animal characters now--which is fine) I always preferred Six of One.

And I always preferred Kinflicks—which I first read when my mother had it out from the library on the strength of its reviews, liking books by women generally. I’m not sure how well she liked Kinflicks, with its women in and out of wheat jeans having sex together. She renewed it at least once that I recall, a sign that she found it tough going; it was a big thick hardback book that sat in a stack on her bedside table, where I found it. Up by their pillows, when my parents weren’t in their bedroom, I sat and read this best-selling, well-reviewed, mainstream novel about a lesbian, basically, cover to cover, back and forth, inside and out, c. 1976-77.

Our old street (photo date unknown)
I re-read Kinflicks just as closely when I acquired my own paperback copies; I’ve owned at least two. It’s the kind of book to buy at stoop sales and loan out on impulse. Ginny Babcock, the heroine’s name returns to me from years ago. I thought new books would always be this way. It was another time.


Difficult to Categorize | 3 | Is it LGBT?


An uncategorical chorus of up-votes for that one. Both Famepunk Part 2: Middlemarch and its precursor Part 1: US Open 1987 are extremely LGBT. There’s all the many lesbians plus gays throughout, along with definite bisexuals and at least one pivotal character who’s sexually transitioning. Start to finish, I’ve got this category covered.

Yet I didn’t publish Part 1 as LGBT (I put it up in the Sports Fiction category) specifically because that book contains no more than a smidgen of one lesbian sex scene not even involving the lead characters and I figured anyone coming for LGBT would want more sex. Because I would. That being, in my mind, the main part of the pact between LGBT author and reader, who through the magic of publishing meet in a space with that sign right on the roof: LGBT. Meaning: Here will be sex of that kind described; lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgendered sex acts will be depicted. For me and I suppose for my cohort, whoever we are, having the LGBT option at all makes the ADULT and Erotica tags feel strangely redundant and hair-splitting.

Is this generational? As I reflect, now, I recognize that to touch and arouse sexual feelings might appear as a chore and not a duty to the modern-day LGBT writer. Who might just want to write about characters while steering clear of their sex lives; maybe they want to write LGBT action with no sex at all—only, antiquing or something. Solving or committing murders at major antiques shows or racecourses. Teaching at a local community college while also being a shape-shifter. It’s possible. Writers who might have decided that if there were sex scenes they’d call it ADULT and stamp it Erotic but there are not, there aren’t any sex scenes, such writers could be publishing novels at this very moment and tagging them LGBT without a qualm. For all I know, Middlemarch with its shameless excess in the lesbian sex scene department might be greeted like an interloping pervert in the normal, default, ADULT-filtered LGBT catalogue—where the unwary moms of school-aged children go to buy their lesbian books, an old exhibitionist slouched in a playground raincoat.


Difficult to Categorize | 2 | Is it ADULT?

The fact is that Famepunk Part 2: Middlemarch concerns the birth and progress of a passionate, comical, highly combustible love affair between two teenage girls who also happen to be competing as champions on the international tennis circuit in 1988--and it contains a great deal of lesbian sexual content. It just does. In the Famepunk series, this is the book about young dumb love, the modern take on Romeo & Juliet & Heathcliff & Cathy; like Twilight. Except—importantly! importantly!—with actual sex scenes and lesbians. Lots of and quite long scenes, too, this book is 800 pages long.

RIP Roger Ebert 1942-2013
I don’t mean to exaggerate. Middlemarch is not a porno. It has erotic moments (many) but it’s not erotic like Judith Krantz’s Scruples, for instance, or The Story of O or Anne Rice’s Beauty novels. All of which, yes, while admiring them I would vote YES to save aside in the adults’ reading room at the public library as in the North American home. But Famepunk? Tons of sex, sure, but all plot-driven, not the plot itself. There are many other things that happen, many other characters. Ronald Reagan appears in a phone call, for goodness sake—there’s a potluck buffet in a Panhandle church basement. You ask me, is Famepunk Part 2: Middlemarch for adults? I answer: Certainly—all adults! All adult readers are welcome.

But is it ADULT?

I spend some days slightly flummoxed by this question. I’ve returned to Smashwords and as directed in the FAQ, I’ve clicked the homepage adult content filter ON to OFF. I see what they’re getting at right away when “Criss Cross Romance Short Story” gets replaced by “Fuck the Foreplay” at the top of the Gay & Lesbian Most Downloaded list; there are many additional lesbian ADULT titles to browse. I've now read two, one set in Japan and the other written by an extremely prolific young man from Oklahoma (male authors have always written a lot of the lesbian fiction that sees the light of day).

Clicking the ADULT box while publishing a book in the Lesbian Erotica category, as the hard-working author of Daisuki did, I can understand—if I believed Middlemarch belonged there, I'd do it, too. But what the hell motivation lies behind clicking the ADULT box for a book with hardly any sex? I’m mystified—although I assume there’s some concerted effort going into the pursuit of horny reader dollars, the ADULT tag here advertising the presence of sex to an audience that favors, for whatever reason, softcore material. Finally it hits me. This is the ADULT from the cable TV warning: The following program contains adult subject matter. Viewer discretion is advised. This is that category, out in the world now, inside writers’ heads, as a question: Would that warning be required up-front if their novel were a TV movie?

First: for Famepunk, yes, naturally. But: I do not accept that category. I think it’s bogus. I decry the strain of self-censorship it fosters, the infiltration of private imagination by market forces that it both invites and represents. I believe all art works, including those created for children, should aspire to excite interest and pleasure among the most sophisticated and discerning "grown-up" adults available. Only books that have no hope of doing so should come with warnings, in my opinion.


Difficult to Categorize | 1 | Is it YA?

I've been polishing these second editions and preparing files for print and re-formatting them for Kindle and formatting them some more for Smashwords through which I'll distribute to iStore and Nook. In the midst of doing this I find I'm still locked into Amazon’s exclusive-to-Kindle program for Famepunk Part 2: Middlemarch, dating back to when I'd published it for Kindle on the day before the hurricane, back in October; I really rushed out that first edition in case something happened. As usual not reading the fine print but especially not with a hurricane coming I missed the part about automatic renewal—I just went naturally for the 70% royalty and figured I could wait three months before putting it on Smashwords. Three months I do standing on my head, easy. But five months later I've made a lot of changes, I'm happy with the results, and I want to get both these books “out there” so I can move on to the next one. Period. Instead, because I missed the renewal, I’m back in month two again—five months, by the way, with nothing to show, 70% of nothing, zero. Annoyed with myself and none too pleased with Amazon or its customer base, I've unchecked the proper on-screen box and will be free at the end of April to complete its publication process when I post Famepunk Part 2: Middlemarch on Smashwords. Where, I've noticed, I'll have to check a different box to say whether it contains content unsuitable to be seen by readers under 18 years of age, or not.

What strikes me first about that is 18 being a high cutoff. As a young lesbian, say even at 14 or 15 I'd have seized on and embraced a book like this with all my attention, I’d have read it straight through on a school night, seriously. Granted I was intellectually precocious but lesbians are often intellectually precocious, this is not a necessary sign of lesbianism but it's an indicator. I think it might have done me some good, too, to read this book at that age. By 18, I'd already slept with the wrong woman—and I was not precocious sexually. Kids these days, not uncommonly, I've heard things, today’s 17 year-olds would be the equivalent to what childless divorcees represented experientially in my own youth.

Bieliebers: They just love that lesbian boy.
So, no. Even though the book is one big vast and tumbling cornucopia of lesbian erotic thoughts and deeds including public sex, rough sex, and masturbation, I wouldn't call it unsuitable for readers between 13 and 17 years of age. It’s a book about teens and that’s the kind of sex teens have—in real life. They know this. So is Famepunk Part 2: Middlemarch written for teens? No. Is it YA? Of course not. It isn't. Should teens read it? I say yes, if only because it will take them all a great many hours they would otherwise spend texting each other about blow jobs and cyber-bullying schemes, if media is to be believed. (It isn’t.)