Readers, today we welcome Richard Pearson, a fellow “Rubenite” novelist (part of my agency family) and a Twitter-pal of mine. I’m excited to host him here not just because of that, but because this interview is new territory for a blog that frequently discusses real life issues only when they have a magical spin. Richard has some fantastic things to say, so sit back and prepare to absorb some of his wisdom.
Hello, Richard, and welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your work.
Sure! I write LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender) Fiction. When I’m not working at being an author I’m also and actor and attorney. So I’m a triple A threat. I grew up in Arkansas, but have lived right outside NYC for the past 5 years.
What made you decide to write LGBT fiction?
The first LGBT novel I ever read was The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt. I adored it! While I loved a lot of novels that featured women (I remain a huge fan of Amy Tan) I was so happy to finally read a novel that spoke to the LGBT universe I lived in. A novel that talked about how difficult it can be to come out, the uncertainty of how to act with a potential lover in public, etc. It was a novel that spoke to me in a way no other novel had before. It made me feel like I wasn’t nearly as alone as I thought I was.
In college I wrote a lot of LGBT short fiction, and my class was a bit scandalized by it. I went to Rhodes College, a small Liberal Arts College in Memphis, Tennessee. After that, I decided that I wanted to write more LGBT fiction, to show kids like me that they are not alone.
What types of stories does LGBT-focused fiction make possible?
Being LGBT is unique because, in addition to being a sort of culture in and of itself, any person (regardless of race, class, or gender) can end up also being LGBT. It can lead to a lot of additional struggles, especially since people realize and accept that they are LGBT at different times.
However, there are also stories like mine, which don’t focus as heavily on the fact that the cast of characters are mainly gay men. In my novel the LGBT status of the characters has very little to do with the conflicts they are forced to deal with. Stories featuring LGBT characters, without harping on that, is something I am hoping we see more of in the future. I love stories where being gay is tantamount to a character having grown up on the farm. It informs their characters, but is not their sole identifying characteristic.
What audience do you think this genre attracts? How does that alter the types of stories you tell and characters you write?
The audience for LGBT Fiction is wider than I expected. I thought it mainly was for gay men. However, I’ve been equally pleased and surprised to learn that women (straight or otherwise) also make up a large portion of the audience. Those are the readers I know of, but I hope there are straight men out there who read it as well. The symbol for LGBT pride is the rainbow for a reason, we happily accept anyone. It takes all colors to make a rainbow!
How does an LGBT focus affect the stakes for your characters and your audience?
I think that it depends on the story, but if the novel is focusing on the fact a character is LGBT it is often because it is a secret. As a result, the reader tends to feel included immediately. After all, they now share a secret with a character, and it’s fun to be in the know. Often times it is uncertain how people in the story will react to this news, so it can build tension to a variety of different reactions. When a person or character comes out it can result in an explosive “You are dead to me!” kind of reaction, but it can also lead to a humorous “Finally! I’ve been dying to ask you about these shoes!” joke.
Characters in any novel are fighting to overcame the conflict. When you’re writing about LGBT characters, who are often marginalized by society as a whole, the conflict is often enhanced. It makes their struggles even more difficult to overcome but also more interesting to read about.
Why do you think people love to read LGBT fiction? How do you think the genre affects its audience?
I think many people love to read it because they are either LGBT themselves, and want to read about the lives (fictional or otherwise) of other people like them. Of course, I think that some people are just curious what the life an LGBT person is like. Given the unfortunate situation, especially in terms of bullying these days, it can be really enlightening to walk a mile in the shoes of someone overcoming the additional challenges LGBT people are forced to confront on a daily basis.
I think readers enjoy insights into parts of the world they know about, but are somewhat wary to explore without someone to guide them. It’s like when I go to a football game, I enjoy it more because I watched and loved “Friday Night Lights.” So when I ask what some position is, my friends can tell me “A fullback is what Tim Riggins did, they are both on the line to guard/rush the quarterback, but they can also catch the ball or run with it.” Without context, that’d go over my head, but since I liked that character, I want to make the extra effort to understand it. I think it can be similar for readers. It’s easier to think of going to a gay bar or pride parade, if you first dip your toes in the water by reading about it.
Also, many age old stories feel fresh and interesting when sexual orientation and gender is flipped around. It adds a new layer, and often deepens the meaning of certain themes. One of my favorite versions of Romeo and Juliet had Tybalt played by a lesbian, and it really made that age old story feel fresh and interesting.
For fun, what is your favorite genre to read? Why?
Favorites are hard, but I’m a real sucker for any coming of age novel. I love seeing someone discover who they are. It’s a big part of being LGBT in general, so I’m sure that is why.
That said, I have a HUGE love of any novel that features kids, teens, or adults attending a magic school. I was like that LONG before Harry Potter came out, but that series was especially fun for me as a result. I like it the idea of having your homework be “learn this spell.” It seems like the coolest thing on the planet.
I also love anything about the life of actors in the theatre.
Readers, if you haven’t gotten enough, here’s how to contact Richard!
My twitter handle is: @PEART10
The website (which includes a sneak peak at the first chapter) for the novel I’m hoping to publish is: http://therole.wordpress.com/
Awesome post, Richard!
I have two moms, and I grew up around a lot of LGBT music, but not too much fiction. I’ve explored a bit, but not as much as I’d like to! I did read one very interesting novel a couple years ago called First Person Plural by Andrew Beierle (who’s local in my area and gave a talk/reading at a literary schmooze I attended).
And amen to this:
“I love stories where being gay is tantamount to a character having grown up on the farm. It informs their characters, but is not their sole identifying characteristic.”
That’s how I try to write the gay characters in my novels. I also went to a very conservative university and was the first person many of my gay friends felt safe coming out to, so I try to keep anything I write as true to the experiences they related to me (and which I observed in my own upbringing with family, friends, neighbors, etc.).
Thanks for a phenomenal post!