Saturday, January 3, 2009
I'd estimate that about 400 of the readers of my first novel, PINS, discovered it as a course requirement. From 2000-2003, having sent promo postcards to university library listings, and having really done my homework about promotions on PINS (unlike the subsequent two), a good chunk of sales were to college bookstores, including, my own alma mater, Ohio State.
It's interesting to wonder about students' take on the book. I do get fan emails here and there. But I wonder how it's interpreted. I get that people empathize with the characters, and the main story is understood. But I often wished it could be truly analyzed by an instructor for more than its surface story. I've sent course study questions to a few instructors, but don't know if they used them.
For me, the difference between PINS and other similar novels is the layers of symbolism, allegory, and biblical references that make it a more intricate weave than most young adult, and specifically, sports young adult books I've read.
A few days ago, I shipped about a dozen copies of PINS to the University of Wisconsin-Plattville. I got an order from the school's bookstore manager who told me that the instructor is Keith Hale, who wrote the acclaimed 80s coming of age novel, Cody.
While lookng up Mr. Hale online, I re-discovered Ian Young's online articles about Gay Fiction book covers and paperback fiction's history with gay lit. He also runs a rare books store in Toronto.
It's fascinating to look over this history, having read and collected pretty much all the books in early gay fiction. I remember ordering them from Giovanni's Room with a check and a little order form clipped from the back pages of a Mandate magazine, this while in college with few dollars for food or rent.
When I was asked by to co-keynote the literary conference at the University of Florida -Gainesville in 2004, I put together a slide show and essay about the path of 20th-century young adult sports fiction, culminating in why I wrote PINS, and what I knew was already prevalent in the genre, and how I pushed the boundaries with PINS, hoping it would be considered a crossover between genres, if not only for its explicit sexuality, but its more mature literary style.
I'd already compiled an expansive collected list of my own collection on my old Sports Complex site, which included sports fiction of all genres.
A more concise version of that essay was published in my syndicated column, Sports Complex.
By the way, along with getting PINS cheaply online*, you can also purchase it via Golden Gate Wrestling Club's store. All proceeds benefit the preimminent LGBT-inclusive wrestling club in the world, and you can help clear out coach Gene Dermody's garage while you're at it!
*Just an addendum; looking through the results of my ego-search on Amazon, it includes books that cite or quote my nonfiction articles. One, Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times: A Collection of All Original Essays from Today's (and Tomorrow's) Young Authors on the State of the Art --and ... Hustle--in the Age of Information Overload by Kevin Smokler, includes an essay about the fall of gay publishing.
In it, Smokler goes through a list of contributors to the first anthology to include one of my short stories ("Split Lip"). Smokler claims that with the exception of Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham, the authors in the Ethan Mordden-edited Next Wave, "crashed offshore." He claims that my "two novels have been published at much personal expense and effort."
Well, yes, but also three times as much profit, Mary. Along with the theatrical commission and translation rights sold, I lived off PINS for two years! Yeah, for a while, cartons of it covered in pillows served as my sofa. But with only 100 copies left, it's done quite well, thank you. Meanwhile, your book is selling at a penny a copy.
But I do understand his larger point. The hype for Gay Lit fell off and is now in a state of desperation. Most anthology calls for submission I get are for erotica, a genre that's limited and a safe sales bet. Potential publishers are limited, and they mostly choose a few books that are safe bets in a tough economy.
Yet, still, only last week, I got a copy of the December issue of Torso (yes, it's still being published) that included a near full-page glowing review of my latest novel, Cyclizen. I've scanned and excerpted it below.