I received a draft copy of a very nice and thoughtful interview by Richard Addison. Here’s a pdf version of the full interview here, with a nice layout: F_Gideon_Interview_Done
Behind the cut is a quick transcription. Enjoy – and thanks very much to Richard!
Intimate Spaces: My Interview with Francis Gideon By: Richard Addison
At Trent we appreciate talking about all kinds of love. Certainly there is nothing surprising about that–I think most people would say that our school community was a very open-minded one, and we get used to that kind of acceptance. So much so that I am sometimes caught off guard when I encounter what real bigotry looks like.
I had a somewhat distasteful encounter with an unexpected guest at Christmas, and while I had no idea of his rather outspoken and fundamentalist opinions, I found myself deeply (though politely) disturbed by his rather crass denunciation of homosexuality. We forget sometimes that while some otherwise conscientious people in our community may use the wrong language out of innocent ignorance, they simply aren’t part of this guy’s camp. Some people truly hate the idea of homosexuality and are outspoken about it. The encounter left me with a considerably bad taste in my mouth. I went home after Christmas and cleansed myself with the utterly delightful Stephen Fry and his documentary about homophobia, Out There, which I highly recommend.
Now, I am not generally a reader of romance fiction. Romance, however, is less of a genre in the sense that we might imagine it, but is actually akin to a community. It is a vibrant group of people who communicate in their work with each other as well as with the greater public, and between them they have been producing some of the most progressive, sexually thrilling and intellectually fascinating work I have heard of. It is as if the inherent vulnerability of nakedness and sexual intimacy have given rise to a forum in which all kinds of intimacy are possible.
I happen to share an acquaintance with a member of this community who, in my humble opinion, is an exemplar of this kind of literature. I hesitate to call it a movement, because I think it may have always been there, and I fear many of us may have been overlooking it for all our prejudices about the genre. I know I did before I met this man, Francis Gideon. He is a prolific writer, devoting huge portions of his day to exploring the infinite, and in the most intimate of spaces imaginable–that of gay romance. In my post-Christmas cleansing effort, I sat down with Francis for a glass or two of Cabernet and a discussion about his wonderful work that I have had the pleasure of reading.
RA: So Francis–Tell us about yourself. You’ve got a rather large bibliography here. A lot of your work is with different publishers and sometimes cover a broader range of subject matter than one might expect… I suppose our readers might like to know, what keeps you motivated to write? What fascinates you and compels you to compose a narrative?
FG: A lot of questions implied in there! I suppose in the most basic sense, my own sense of boredom and anxiety compels me to write. Anyone who has spent more than a day and a half around me will confirm this, but basically, if I don’t write for longer than two days or so, I start to feel as if I have stepped off a ledge and am in free fall. This extends to all type of work in general, but I feel this sense of aimlessness the most when I don’t write. Writing for me can be as simple as planning a story, doing a character sketch, or actually sitting down and starting a draft. I simply need to write, and I’ve only been lucky enough so far to find people to read what I’ve produced.
One of the major reasons I’ve gone to several publishers (and am still waiting to hear back from some others) is that I’m impatient and have a lot that I want to publish. If I’m able to send two separate stories off to two different publishers that have their own review times (which can be upwards of three months), then I’m going to scatter myself around. I’ve also invested myself into many places because I figure cross-exposure is another good way to almost incidentally market myself. I write genre fiction mostly, and these publishing houses are known for that specific niche market. The best way to market yourself, at least from what I’ve seen, is to scatter yourself around all places. Eventually, people will start to know my name and whether or not they like what I do. By associating myself with a press which has a large customer base, I hope to cultivate a happy audience. Right now, I’m jumping from platform to platform because I’m new. I’m still finding readers and figuring out what fits.
RA: It sounds like a good strategy! I suppose if that last question sounded a little airy, I think it’s because I intended for it to situate this next one.. Your work seems to cover a lot of ground–at times the atmosphere shifts from sentimental to sardonic, and from profound to almost a disdain for profundity! While I’m a lover of ironic black comedy myself, I think your readers would love to know where you stand–or more importantly *when* you stand. What things would you say you take seriously? In short, what is your take on meaning, and meaning in your own work?
FG: I have to say – I love black comedy. One of my favourite authors is Kurt Vonnegut, who in spite of writing a lot of really heart-felt and emotional work, never seemed to take himself too seriously. I want to believe in what I write and stand by my work, but at the same time, I feel as if I also need to keep in mind that I’m a very small person inside a large game. The sort of cosmic insignificance that most existential philosophers talk about – how the planets or the stars or anything else don’t care about what you’ve done in your life and how it will all disappear and mean nothing eventually – I find immensely reassuring. John Green, the YA [Young Adult] author of The Fault in Our Stars also seems to have a very similar attitude towards his fiction, too. He’s stated on numerous occasions that writing fiction does not make anyone immortal. He is very aware that there will be a time when his books really don’t matter at all. The world will end and everything that once mattered to someone will disappear. That may seem scary, but it’s also reassuring. I like to keep that attitude in mind – because it’s not the fact that all of this will eventually disappear that matters; it’s the fact that even in spite of cosmic insignificance, people still go on producing what they want to produce.
As for meaning, I know that the audience is the one that really makes meaning out of the text. I can say as much as I want about my characters, about what I ‘meant’ the moral of the story to be, but there comes a point after a book is published when I sort of relinquish my rights to the book as my own object. I still own it – in the legal sense that I have written it, helped to edit, and receive the proceeds from it – but myself as the only ‘creator’ in the work becomes a lot harder to distinguish. This is where fan fiction comes in and people who have different interpretations. I will never stop someone from writing fan fiction or having a different interpretation of a scene or about the entire moral of the book. Meaning always comes from the audience and they are the ones who truly make or break the book.
RA: Speaking of profundity and meaning, you have a lot of time devoted to a rich array of symbols. At times you reference great art, sometimes ancient philosophy, at other times history and politics. All of this depth, however, is nested in gay romance–something that the average reader might think was shallow–not pejoratively intended, mind you, but at least light-hearted by comparison. Why choose this genre?
FG: I completely agree with you that most people look at romance and gay romance with a roll of their eyes. Most people see ‘gay’ in anything and immediately dismiss it because of their own internalized homophobia or whatever other political term you want to call it. Sometimes people see gay romance and they don’t think ‘love story’ – they think ‘gay (often anal) sex.’ That’s a false equation in my mind. Gay romance does not have to be all about the sex; it is often not about the sex entirely in most of these publishing houses. It is about romance, about love, and often a compelling story between two male protagonists finding love must tackle deep political and religious issues.
As for romance being considered with another roll of the eyes, Janice Radway has done an excellent job analyzing the contempt behind the genre, and why it should be respected. Her basic conclusion in her book Reading The Romance is that since romances are often produced for women by women, they are maligned in a male-dominant industry and as cultural producers. Because love stories are so often seen as frivolous and meaningless (especially when focusing on the heroine with ‘heaving bosoms’), they are ignored for cultural depth. This is a false equation again.
One of the characters in my novella Divine Intervention tells another character that ‘every story is a love story.’ I really like that line (am I biased for saying so?) because I think it gets to the real centre of this matter. Love stories are not bad – they are part of human existence. Whether it is romantic, sexual, familial, or even basic love (like the love of an item, a book, a fine Cuban cigar, a TV show), everyone is moved by something. Everyone is compelled by something that drives them. Every story is a love story – and the only reason we see romance or gay romance as a frivolous domain is that our cultural perception of women and what amuses them still needs to be evolved, along with how our culture views homosexuals. It is far more than sex and heaving bosoms; a lot of really good stories can be contained inside a short novella that is packaged as a m/m [male/male] romance, if you just give it a chance.
RA: I completely agree. I think our cultural perception of men, too, must evolve!
RA: You have a lot of attention being paid to you by grassroots publishers online. Certainly there are a lot of things about you and your writing that can be called progressive with ease in a time when publishing appears to be undergoing a lot of changes! What’s your take on the publishing industry? How do you see things going in the future?
FG: I love the type of publishing that I’ve come into recently. I really like the independent presses like JMS Books and MLR Press, who are small in comparison to Harper Collins and the mega industries, but who still produce a lot of titles and do so with a great team and who are able to work on schedules. Do you know how hard it is to get academics, with PhDs and tenure, to work on a deadline? Impossible! But these presses, a lot of the ones I’ve worked with, are fantastic with deadlines and schedules. Perhaps it’s just my neurotic nature coming through, but I like this a lot. I feel as if my needs are being met and I’m around others who seem to also get the ‘itch’ when they haven’t written something new.
I don’t know if you heard, but there was a Kickstarter for a new publishing house called Big Bang Press late in 2013. Their aim was to publish fan fiction authors as ‘literature.’ I’m putting that in quotations because it was their term, not mine. There was a lot of backlash towards this press, but not for the reasons you may think. It’s not the fan fiction angle that was criticized – but this use of the term ‘literature.’ The thing is, people have become so obsessed with the author as wonderful genius, as the sole creator, and as books becoming Literature with a capital L. But literature isn’t real – it’s an ideal that people want to subscribe to. It’s an ideal that is created by academics and people who make syllabi for university courses. It doesn’t exist, and it is a flawed construction. What Big Bang Press was producing wasn’t literature; it was genre fiction, which isn’t bad. It’s great! But genre fiction, especially in the m/m or f/f subgenre, has been done before. It’s being done by these presses like JMS and MLR and Less Than Three right now. So while Big Bang Press wanted to be new and innovative, they stumbled onto an idea that was already being done. Many of the authors on these (JMS, MLR, LT3) presses started out in fan fiction. I started out in fan fiction. It does not have to be the end of the line – and I think, in the future, you will see more people paying attention to these typically disregarded genres of writing. Romance, fan fiction, and genre presses with e-book format will come into their own and gain their deserved recognition. And I can only hope that the big five companies that pretty much run the world now (Time Warner, Viacom, Disney, Wal-Mart, etc.) will lose some of their power over the audience. But I may be dreaming there. 😉
RA: Don’t we all!
Farbeit from me to think, as many men seem to, that sexuality is a binary. There is nothing so straightforward about it as to suggest one is either gay or straight. I know we like to keep things simple in our minds, but it’s just not so. You may consider yourself straight, but have had a gay dream at some point or another and woken up in a cold sweat, but that does not re-label you somehow, because all labelling is tyrannical. Sexuality is a gradiant of innumerable hues and intensities, and in this, Francis Gideon is remarkably forward thinking.
I couldn’t help but remember as we settled into our discussion after watching Stephen Fry together the wonderful point that Fry was trying to drive home to all of those who are gay and straight and all the myriad shades in between–that sexuality is not about politics, or even about sex. It is about love, pure and simple. The intimacy that comes from that is a state where many things are possible, and this is a territory Francis Gideon knows well.
-Richard J. Addison