Thursday, October 24, 2013

Many years ago, I bought Flesh and the Word on a lark at Lambda Rising Bookstore. The book totally enthralled me, primarily because editor John Preston really pushed hard to establish erotica as a genre of good writing rather than something whose pages will stick together after the second "reading." I edged for nearly a year, until Flesh and the Word 2 came out.

Preston died of AIDS while editing the third volume. A relatively uninspiring editor, Mike Rowe, took over. Rowe was a fetish author who specialized in BDSM fiction. The third volume reflected quite strongly Rowe's own taste in fiction, and I think the volume suffered measurably for it.

Nevertheless, I was willing to give Rowe the benefit of the doubt. When his book of author fiction, Writing Below the Belt, came out a year after Flesh and the Word 3, I eagerly picked it up. I was disappointed. For one thing, most of the interviews were with no-name authors rather than the demi-gods of fiction who I'd expected him to interview. Second, nearly all the interviewees were from the BDSM school of writing. It became painfully clear just a few interviews into the book that nearly all these authors had some sort of personal issue to work out through their writing. Worse, all the issues seemed the same. Reading "how I need to work X out" over and over just got boring. I nearly gave up on the book, but plowed ahead through sheer obstinacy. I guess I really hoped to find some gems in there, but found only slag.

I did get one good thing out of all of this. Flesh and the Word 2 introduced me to Aaron Travis (aka Steven Saylor), a BDSM author. Uninterested in the genre, I nevertheless read his story. It was amazing. I finally understood why Preston had argued so vociferously that "good writing is good writing, whatever the genre." The short story was goddamn good writing.

A few years later, I was looking for a gift for a friend who is an erotic fiction writer. Travis/Saylor had written at least one novel that I was aware of, Slaves of Rome. I decided to see if Saylor had written other novels, and thought I might build my friend a little "BDSM library" for his home library.

Imagine my surprise when I found that Saylor had written only the one erotic novel.

Like many authors, Saylor tasted fame and found it good. He quickly gave up on BDSM and erotic fiction in order to write relatively tame "historical novels" about the Roman period. He has now written some seven or eight novels, with many more on the way.

I remember reading in Writing Below the Belt how Saylor adamantly asserted that BDSM was his ouevre and One True Love and that nothing would deter him from writing in that style.

But suddenly, he gave it all up.

I know I'm judging the man on precious little evidence, but I feel really ripped off.

How many times has the gay community finally developed a truly good artist, only to have that artist run off in search of fame and wealth -- abandoning the genre which made him or her popular in the first place? Bryan Singer did superb small homoerotic films like Apt Pupil, then sold out to do X-Men and Superman Returns. Instead of helming the first gay Gone With the Wind, he did comic books.

It all sort of ticks me off, to be honest. Many LGBT artists wonder why the gay community won't support them. I now think their complaints are naive at best, hypocritical at worst.

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