Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Prejudice is Alive and Well ...


King Rolen's Kin book one has its first one-star review on Amazon from someone who doesn't like gays. There is one gay character - Orrie, who is loyal with a wry sense of humour. He's one of my favourite characters. (If you liked my book, please go to Amazon and write a good review. this bad review is bringing the average down).

Here's the review. The reviewer said he couldn't get past page 50 because there was a gay character.

It never occurred to me that including a gay character in a minor role (no sex, actually no sex for any of the characters, straight or gay - equal lack of opportunity) would cause people to give up on the book. Perhaps I am rather idealistic and naive.

I'm not going to justify having gay character/s. I'm going to move right on ...

E-books Market surges to $1 Billion. According to this report by the end of 2010, customers will have bought $996 million in e-books.

And now e-readers come in colour, too. See article here. All of which makes getting an e-reader really tempting. Especially when the fantasy books I read are huge, and take up so much space in my briefcase. If I know I'm going to finish a book before I get home, I can't fit a second one in my case.

Back to gay characters. I am more likely to get turned off reading a book if the character is not believable, or if they do stupid things that make me want to shake them. Would you be turned off a book because one of the supporting characters is gay? What would turn you off a character?

42 comments:

jasoncordova.com said...

Rowena,

You shouldn't let one person's hangups get you down.

Characters are their own people, we don't really control them all the time. So really, the only character hangup I have is when you can tell that the character is doing something very unnatural and against his or her usual self. If it doesn't help the story, it makes me wonder what happened.

Kate Sheeran said...

I would never stop reading a book because a character was gay. Or black. Or female. (or straight, white, or male for that matter!) I only care that it's well written.

However, it doesn't surprise me at all that someone else would refuse to read about a gay character. Unfortunately, all you have to do is look at the way the LGBT community is treated to see this :( Like your title says, it's prejudice and it's not about your book. It's about this person's very sad hangup. They are missing out on a lot of literature (and I'm guessing missing out on knowing some pretty kickass people, too).

MataPam said...

Any given society is going to have a small percentage of homosexuals. Thus any realistic fictional society, likewise.

My only problem with writing gay characters is the over done PC. The gay man can do no wrong, the straight guys can do no right. It's the same with some attempts at feminist writing.

Have I mentioned that I've read a whole lot of bad slush?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Jasoncordova,

Yes, the characters have to act in character. And if they act out of character, there has to be a reveal that peels back some aspect of their personality.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate Sheeran,

I might stop reading a book if the character was straight, white middle class, watched football on the weekend, cheated on his wife, resented his boss, never tried to make his life better ... he'd be too boring. LOL

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Matapam,

I agree, there will always be a percentage of homosexuals in any given society, just as there will always be a percentage of bigoted people who believe they know best!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Oh, and PC characters drive me crazy, too.

Females who can kick butt unrealistically. (No matter how much martial arts you know, men are just physically stronger than females. Don't get into a fight if you can avoid it. I know I've done 17 years of martial arts).

Males who are overly sensitive and talk everything through to the nth degree. (Bearing in mind my darling sons are very kind and sensitive. But they are not necessarily chatty).

Anonymous said...

I prefer to read about a diverse assortment of characters. Anything less, and they might as well all be the same character.

It's this guy's loss as the the rest of the book, and if he wants to waste his money being a bigot, then so be it.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, that was me :).

Linda

Chris L said...

Having a gay character should bring something unusual to the story - or why is he there? We don't usually specify a character as hetero, so the gay character must be there for a particular reason. As long as that flows, everything should be fine.

In the end I guess sexual orientation is just another device. But if it gets to the point of affecting book sales, pulblishers may think twice, if they don't already.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena,

I have gay characters in almost every book and -- up till now, anyway -- have yet to see a bad comment on this, including from some very conservative/religious fans.

So I don't know what to tell you.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Anonymous Linda,

LOL. Yes that was my feeling.

Another reviewer said he didn't know why the book was called the king's bastard, when Byren was 7 minutes younger and a twin. That didn't make him a bastard.

The character the title referred to was Lord Cobalt's father who was the king's bastard son. And because of him, Cobalt felt he had a claim on the throne.

I figure if someone can't figure this out, they aren't trying.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris L.

My publishers didn't give it a thought.

Orrie was there for a reason.

That fact that he was gay complicated the plot. He was there to give Byren the chance to prove that he valued loyalty and friendship.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah,

Now that is interesting. Is it because you write more SF than fantasy?

Are SF readers more open minded and fantasy readers more traditional?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Rowena,

My very first book had a gender-changing elf, which admitedly isn't gay as such, but still. My SF has a gay couple as an important subplot and legal gay marriage in a colony world. And in my mystery series, the character's best friend is a gay man.
Now, at a guess, I'd say the main reason no one has given me grief is that in each case, it was essential to the plot. I mean, I don't drop gay people in like confetti, just like I don't drop any other character in for the heck of it. (Well, most of the time.)
AFAIK tolerance actually goes fantasy - sf - mystery. At least that's what my editors tell me "Mystery readers are very conservative."
OTOH it might be luck of the draw. I mean, I did get someone who gave me a low rating because my second mystery under Elise Hyatt has rats in it and she hates rats, so who knows?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Sarah said:

I did get someone who gave me a low rating because my second mystery under Elise Hyatt has rats in it and she hates rats, so who knows?

LOL. My niece was breeding rats.

Kate said...

As far as I can tell, if it looks like a character is X for the sake of being X (whether gay, "ethnic", Eleventh Day Calathumpian, or whatever), people who have issues with X are more likely to find that objectionable. If the character's X-ness is obviously essential to the story, it's less likely to be a turn-off.

Of course, for some people you have to put up big signs saying "This is relevant to the story", where others will see the relevance.

I hope that I'm going to have the strength to a) not complain about "I hated it because you have X in it" reviews, and b) respond politely to people who have content issues with anything I write. I guess I'll find out when Impaler comes out and the question stops being abstract for me.

Stephen Simmons said...

Rowena,

I know of at least two of my friends who are big fans of the "Arrows of the Queen" series, but had trouble with the "Magic's Promise" and "Magic's Price" sub-series, solely due to the central character being gay. Their loss, the way I see it.

I just get annoyed at the stories that feel like ther author added "compulsory diversity", just to avoid being labeled as excluding this that or the other "type". Give me characters who are PEOPLE, and don't even mention gender/race/orientation unless it becomes meaningful to the plot. Think "Starship Troopers", for a minute. With the exception of the Japanese recruit whose name escapes me at the moment and the hillbilly (Breckenridge, I think?) who gets his arm broken sparring with Sergeant Zim, Heinlein mever bothered to provide any real secriptions of anyone. He didn't mention race/ethnicity etc. throughout the vast majority of the story, and the reader doesn't miss it -- and I know a whole lotta folks who were shocked at the end to discover that Johnny Rico was Philipino.

Synova said...

I haven't looked this year but a good list might be compiled from the NaNoWriMo message boards taking in every post going on about the wonderful, edgy and "new" thing the author is going to explore. Nine times out of ten it will be a gay main character or some similar daring exploit.

I will admit that I'm a little bit sensitive to the introduction of a "gay" character, but it's either a reaction to what seems to be a "PC" inclusion (Dumbledore is gay!) or the sort of adolescent newby gushing about pushing limits.

Orrie, for example, didn't hit any of those triggers for me. I liked that there was an additional reason given that "good" people might distrust gay men, because otherwise it probably would have felt like a preachy statement that prejudice is bad, stuck in there because the author wanted to include a "message."

Synova said...

Oh, I do have a pet peeve though, that would knock me right out of any story... and that's the "Ernie and Bert are Gay" syndrome. By *that* I mean the assumption that profoundly close male relationships must be sexual.

It ranks right up there with "Miss Hathaway is a Lesbian" syndrome.

Synova said...

Hm... should I say that *obviously* the injustices Orrie suffers are unjust? I read back what I wrote and I'm not sure if it sounded like I figured that people were right to feel the distrust they felt. Knowing what contributes to it doesn't make it *right*. What the additional Historical complications do is make his being gay not feel like a gratuitous moral lesson shoved in there sideways.

Chris McMahon said...

I have nothing against gay characters. Like you say its all about making them and their aspirations believable.

I would have to say though that I found Byren being damned as gay along with his friend (falsely) upsetting. I guess I figures it interferred with his machismo. I had not consciously identified this, but from the heroic fiction point of view I like the male straight hero.

twittertales said...

Rowena, I'm so sorry that happened to you.

I was raised to believe homosexuality was a sin, and then later realised it really isn't. I respect the right of parents (even the wacky religious ones) to know what their children are reading, but to say a book is bad because you disagree with the author's beliefs is ludicrous. I know many atheists who object to the Narnia series on that basis, too - they weren't told in advance it had Christian implications.

So to sum up, that person is an idiot.

Louise Curtis

Mike said...

"I won't read a book because it has an X character."

This is kind of interesting because of the assumption behind it. Apparently reading a book that has an X character somehow conflicts with personal beliefs. Now why would that be? About the only thing that I can see offhand is that reading such a book might make me empathize with such a character, making them understandable. Which of course is what fiction is all about at some level. When we read an antihero, we begin to see why he revolted, why he cannot simply go along with society. Even when we read a book with melodramatic villains, all too often they offer explanations, backstory, motivations so that we begin to understand just why Snidely Whiplash waxes his mustache.

I think perhaps refusing to read a book because it has an X character is actually a compliment to the author. After all, the author has made that X character understandable. Which certainly can be scary, especially when seeing why such a person does the things that they do might make personal prejudices harder to hold onto. It's easy to demonize labels, stereotypes of people that we do not know. When we meet them, shake their hand, talk to them, watch them hold their children... suddenly it becomes much harder to keep them in their place.

Does it strike you as odd that someone would read fantasy or science fiction who didn't want to explore X characters? I mean, isn't part of what we're doing with these genres going where no one has gone before, thinking strange thoughts, drinking dandelion wine and other delights? Is grokking Michael Valentine Smith's ways any different from the poor X character? Where would epic fantasy be without an X, or even a Y, for readers to ponder and learn about?

elfyverse said...

Rowena, I got bad comments for giving a children's book, "Keeper," a good review because one of the characters is gay. And I got bad marks at Amazon (where they say the review didn't help, rather than the reverse), because I stuck to my guns -- so I know full well what's going on.

There are some people who are reactionary and will cause trouble for anyone, whether you're the writer (as in your case) with a gay character, or if you're a reviewer (like me) who says it makes perfect sense that a character is gay (and that it's tastefully done).

I don't know why these people exist, but I do know _that_ they exist.

I'm very sorry you had someone like that give you an undeserved one-star review; as for that person who gave you the undeserved bad review solely due to the gay character, the paucity of common sense, ethics, morals and good taste continues to astonish me whenever it is exhibited. (And I'd call the person who gave you this bad review a "Neanderthal," but that would insult those poor, peaceful Neanderthals.)

I'll definitely seek your book out if I can find it -- money is tight as I am unemployed, but perhaps one of the Wisconsin libraries has a copy or has it on order -- just so I can read it and give a fair review. (I can't promise a four or five star review, sight unseen, but I can promise you that my review will _make sense_.)

elfyverse said...

Btw, Rowena, my name is Barb. ;) And my blog is called "Barb Caffrey's blog," mostly because I felt like writing whatever I felt like and didn't see the point to dreaming up a new title every week. ("Elfyverse" refers to my novel, "Elfy," which is complete, with a follow-up nearly completed also.)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate,

There is a whole art in learning how to handle reviews.

You might be 10 good ones and then someone will say something negative and you'll shrivel up.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Stephen,

I read a short story once where the author used non-gender specific names and avoided using he/she anywhere.

It was interesting how the mind kept trying to apply gender to the person.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

LOL, Synova.

Your meaning came through clearly.

Yes, it wasn't enough that Orrie was gay, because (I thought) the modern reader would have trouble working out why characters were prejudiced against him.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris Mc,

Interesting point. It is OK for the sidekick to be gay, but the hero must be hetro. Hadn't thought of that.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Louise,

I'm not too worried about the reviewer. It came as a total surprise that someone would object, which just shows you how sheltered I am!

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Excellent points, Mike.

I would have thought we read SF and F because we like to visit vastly different places and experience the world through the eyes of the people who live there.

Also refusing to read a book in which there is a gay character, does make you wonder why they are so 'touchy' about the subject.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Elfyverse,

Thanks for the support.

What's your address? I'll post you a copy of the book?

Email me:

rowena(at)corydaniells(dot)com

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Barb,

I should read down to the bottom before replying.

Dave Freer said...

I've yet to be called on it - which considering Slow Train - where one of the two lead characters is well, well, sexually ambivalent shall we say (it's a core to the book - the Aliens (much like some fish -oddly:-)) change sex with age, and thus find concepts like homosexuality bizarre. It's something that occurs in lesser parts in several of my books for plot reasons and as part of a normal human world.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Dave,

I really do think SF readers are more open minded. After all, they are willing to be in the POV of an alien, so a gay character won't faze them.

MataPam said...

I think the main character can be gay without a problem, depending on the type of story.

A heroic fantasy needs a He-man, with women fainting all over him. Well . . . sort of.

Probably one of the best examples is in a mystery. The main character is a _wonderful_ absent minded professor. Who's gay. C.S. Laural's B. Quick which I think Naked Reader's got. Reginald Hill's mystery series has a secondary character that's gay. Popular British writer. They both do a good job of the charaters, because they write them as men. I have trouble with the writers who just don't seem to grasp that.

Ellyll said...

Um. I like Orrie. (And here I insert my "when do we get the fourth book" shameless begging.) ;)

It's an interesting thought. I can't imagine tossing a book aside just because a character in it was gay, or - well, much of anything, to be honest. I can envision books where I'd get squigged out if I had to spend too long in the head of something truly evil, but I haven't found it yet.

This may sound a bit elitist, but I'm kind of surprised that a fantasy/sf reader would dump a book for that. These are the books that usually push the boundaries, at least in my experience. And yours was hardly a graphic book in any sense. I guess I just shrug.

Personally, I loved the books. The reviewer missed out.

st34lth said...

Somebody should force this a$$clown to read Richard K Morgan's excellent book "The Steel Remains" which not only has the lead character as gay but also features a fairly graphic sex scene.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

If you don't mind reading gay characters, I HAVE to put in a mention of some of my favorite favorite mysteries -- written by a gay male for a female audience. Fictionwise classifies them as erotica but really they have less sex than most straight mysteries I read, so I guess it's to keep the kiddies off the gay stuff? who knows?
Anyway, I tend to skip over the sex in those, as I do in the straight books. However, The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks by Josh Lanyon gives you a fairly unvarnished and (I'm sorry to say this, for the faint fo heart) view of the publishing industry; his Adrien English mystery series is also excellent, though quality varies, as it always does for a series. I have yet to find any of his outright unreadable (though I confess I haven't had the nerve to try the fantasy)which is high praise coming from me, as even Terry Pratchett and Heinlein have managed to produce a couple of books I couldn't finish.
I'm not saying, understand, that this is great literature, but the books are fun and SOME of them are great character studies.

Anyway, I figure it behooves us as writers to put in plugs for books we enjoy. :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Gosh, misplace my own head next. Not The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks -- which is fun but lighter than air. Somebody Killed His Editor is the best snapshot I've read of the publishing industry. The man should have pulled his punches there. BUT the book had me laughing and crying at his hits on publishing at the same time, sometimes.

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