For those who don’t know, to quote his bio: “Ryan Field is a fiction writer who has worked in publishing for almost twenty years. He has worked as an assistant editor and editor for magazines and non-fiction publishers. And aside from writing over eighty-four distinct published works, his short stories have been published in anthologies and collections by Alyson Books and Cleis Press.”
One of the most valid criticisms levelled at male writers in the m/m romance genre is about their inferior “craft”. Let’s be brutally honest here, some just don’t write as smoothly as the majority of good female writers. So for starters, that is one thing Ryan does well. His writing flows beautifully. This allows you to focus on the plot and the characters.
I’d heard of Ryan for ages, but never read any of his books, because I’d been put off by criticisms like “Oh, they’re just rip-offs of classic romances and not as good as the original.” So, for all those reviewers out there who try to protest that readers aren’t put off by your comments, think again!
Silly me! Now I have a hefty chunk of reading to “catch up!”
When I finally read “Four Gay Weddings and a Funeral” (FGWAAF), I was very pleasantly surprised. Perhaps because a) I hadn’t seen the original and b) I started to understand what Ryan was doing. So, I posed a number of questions which Ryan was kind enough to answer.
AB: As a writer, your “specialty” seems to be writing gay versions of m/f romance classics. Do you do these scene by scene and translate/equate that to what would be equivalent in the gay world? Or, am I reading too much into it?
RF: I actually see it as more of an overall picture, rather than scene by scene. And some things from the original story don’t work with m/m, so I had to change a lot. Sometimes, what I find works, is to take the opposite of what’s happening in the movie and put it into the m/m book. As in FGWAAF, I hated the movie and the weird love story. I wanted to just shake them both and say “grow up”" This is why I added a new character, changed the ending totally, and gave it my own twist. For me, the original was too boring and too sappy. So, when people say the books were rip-offs, they most likely haven’t read the books in full, to grasp what I’ve done. I change each and every storyline. It’s only the basic formula from which I draw the ideas. And it’s really my publisher who insists on using titles similar to the movies. If I had my way, I wouldn’t do it. But this is something that seems to be working and the publisher is right, so I let the publisher do what they want. The collaboration works.
I’d also like to mention “My Fair Laddie” wasn’t based at all on the play/movie. And I’ve been slammed by that over and over by “some” anonymous reviewers, “My Fair Laddie” was based on the classic “Pygmalion,” which most of these people/reviewers have never even heard of. It’s been remade by me, and tons and tons of others over the years. The basic storyline is classic: wealthy older man/woman, takes in poor uneducated man/woman, and transforms them into a well-polished socialite. Again, the reviews and things you read don’t even know about this, which is sad on a large scale...that people are so uneducated about classics. I love the classic storyline. I wish I could redo it and write it all over again in a completely different way sometimes.
AB: Personally, I think you have every right to do this. It’s a form of appropriation as I see it. Saying these sorts of romantic dreams are not the sole prerogative of females, but this is the gay man's slant on it.
RF: There are no such things as totally original storylines...at least I don’t believe there are in romance of any kind. It’s the same basic seven to ten storylines in each book/movie that's always being remade. Here's one link that touches on the subject. http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=210539
The other huge reason I started doing these quasi movie tie-in books was also because gay men like me, and the tons of others who read my books, have never had things like this to read before in the mainstream. There was nothing for us to identify with in mainstream movies/love stories at all. The only books and movies we saw, until recently, were depressing, downtrodden, “arty” things that only touched certain fringes of the gay community and revolved around suicide, depression, and dark subjects. I’m sort of making up for all the things I always wanted to see and read, but no one would take seriously.
AB: Can we go back to something you said above: “And some things from the original story don't work with m/m, so I had to change a lot.” I’d like to revisit that if I may. One of the fascinating aspects for me are these places where you can’t just change the sex of the participants, you have to change the scenario as the two aren’t interchangeable.
Take for example in FGWAAF, the straight husband coming onto gay guys. (I’m not talking so much about couples who swing, but “straight” guys who cheat on their wives, but feel it’s okay because it’s “only” with a guy). Do gay guys just see it as an example of Kinsey’s sliding scale at work? Do they feel demeaned because these guys have totally no respect for them? Or are some gay guys just so desperate for cock that they’ll take anything?
RF: It really depends on the individual gay guy. I personally would never even consider anyone married. I think it is demeaning to me, and some guys are just too bold and don’t care. I actually took that part from my own experience. I’ve never been to a wedding where I didn’t get hit on by a married guy. Sometimes old, sometimes younger. But for me, it’s just ick. For other gay guys, they would love it. In this case, like straight people, gays are just as diverse.
AB: So Neil’s comment here: “Neil despised infidelity of any kind. He’d had more than enough chances to cheat with married men, gay or straight, and he’d always turned and walked away—with pride, and not an ounce of remorse.” is you. But then later you have this:“With gay marriage being so new to gay men, it hadn’t occurred to him that cheating only counted now when someone was, in fact, legally married. Neil wondered if this was how the straights looked at it. He had to ask Portia or Thai. That would be an interesting question to ask on Facebook.
RF: Well, it's something I agree with, but I wouldn't say it was me. It would be impossible to remove myself completely from my characters in any book. And, I'm trying to write modern romances, and I don't think readers want to read about infidelity in a flighty, carefree way. Infidelity is so common these days in real life, I think romance readers want the escape from that sort of thing...Yes, the second part of this question would be interesting to ask on social media. I honestly don't know the answer to this. But I'm sure there would be a variety of comments and replies.
AB: There’s also some interesting and informative facts about the reality of being HIV positive. I remember reading your blog about it back in April: http://ryan-field.blogspot.com/2011/04/hiv-condoms-and-what-so-many-dont.html So I'm glad you brought things you said in that blog into your story.
RF: Thanks...the hard part about m/m romance is that it’s still romance, and it’s escapism, and it’s all about happy endings. So I try not to get too heavy in my books. I like to touch on subjects I think are important, like HIV and people living with HIV, though. There's not enough information out there, and I'm always astounded that people don't know all the facts. Most people don't know that HIV is considered a chronic illness now, not a death sentence. However, I don't think people read romance to get into heavy topics. I save those things for the blog and go into more details.
AB: Okay, now we’ve got all that out of the way, and I can see where you’re coming from, I’d like to get down to some specifics. If I were to ask you what point you’re making in FGWAAF, not the plot or description of characters what would you say?
RF: In this case, with this book, I would say the main point is that sometimes we are all blinded by what we think true, passionate love is. And we ignore the real aspects of love by chasing a dream or a fantasy, when we had it right there in front of us all the time and never knew it. This is the ultimate dream/fantasy.
AB: Neil comments at one stage that a character “plays the gay card” and how much it annoys him. Is this something that resonates with you also?
RF: Oh yes (smile). I see this happen sometimes and it makes me cringe. I don't want to be treated differently because I'm gay...or for that matter, treated better and given free passes. Most LGBT people only want to be treated the same as everyone else. But I have seen some capitalize on their sexual orientation and get away with it.
AB: See, I find a lot of Neil’s observations on life fascinating and wonder how much are they your little digs on life, the Universe and everything in it. Here’s another one: “There were no limits to what some gay guys would do for a buck.”Anything further to add, or does that say it all?
RF: I have seen gay men lay on the camp and effeminate mannerisms on purpose...for the sake of entertainment. And many times it's because these people profit financially from this kind of exploitation. It's insulting to those of us who don't live or act this way.
AB: I know the reader should never equate the character with the writer but some things inevitably creep in. Neil’s love for rap music?..... “They did the toast as a staged rap song, which took almost as long as the rap vows they’d sung for the ceremony. Neil applauded when they finished.” Sarcasm much? Or am I being too bitchy!
RF: I absolutely love rap music and can't get enough of it. I *despise* Broadway and show tunes. If you want to torture me, sit me down, tie me up, and force me to listen to Jerry Herman songs (or the TV show Glee). Show tunes make me gag. Piano bar sing-alongs make me heave. If I could choose to come back in another lifetime, I would come back as a rapper. So this, I will admit, was taken from my love for rap music. And the only thing I wanted to show was that we (gay men) don't all like Broadway music...or the music those kind folks who write movies like Sex and the Citywould have you all believe we like.
AB: A lot of your writing is little snippets of things I get the feeling you’ve seen or experienced, am I right? Here’s another one: “Poor Kevin had to pry Larson away from Blaine. The two of them started to sob on each other’s shoulders. If Kevin hadn’t pulled them apart, they would have continued to hug and cry for the rest of the afternoon.” In this case, the college buddies had slagged the guy off all the way to the wedding and then when faced with evidence of his happiness (however bizarre) found their cynicism disappearing. Do you find a lot of gay guys wear this cynicism as a brittle veneer to protect a mushy interior?
RF: This is one of those "it depends" answers. I wish I could pinpoint it. If anything, I've seen straight people do the same thing at weddings (smile). I think it's human nature, especially when people are so wealthy it's almost disgusting. So it's hard to really answer this one exactly. It worked with the characters this time. I didn't want them to come off as being too vicious...even though it would have worked both ways.
AB: Again I know we shouldn’t be gleaning facts of life from romance novels, but this statement also resonated: “Gay relationships are complicated sometimes. It’s never been about the sex for us.” This is one factor I feel a lot of females miss, and I have only started to understand after corresponding with gay male writers. A few have, or are in relationships with guys who are their best buddies (in some cases almost carbon copies of who they are). I sometimes wonder if finding someone “just like them” is reassurance that they are “okay” and from this springboard they are able to go out and have (casual) sexual relationships with other men. Most hetero people have had this “reassurance” from one of their parents when growing up, but by always feeling “different” gay guys have felt lost until they find someone to have this basic relationship with. To outsiders looking in, this is seen as promiscuity and unfaithfulness where, if they understood the true relationship of the “couple” in the first place, the rest would make more sense. I’m possibly not making a lot of sense myself here, but can you see what I’m getting at?
RF: I know exactly where you're going with this. Again, this really does depend on the individuals. I know many long term gay male couples who have been in relationships for a long time and the sex dwindles and yet they remain together. Some do, in fact, have arrangements where they can go out and fool around. But not all do this. There doesn't seem to be a set standard. I also think this happens with straight couples over a period of time, too. This is why they hit 40 and have a mid-life crisis. It's the strong couples that survive, gay or straight.
AB: You seem to draw a lot of your life experiences when writing or real people you’ve met and I’m correct in saying this?
RF: I take bits and pieces from everyone I've known. And then I put them together and form something new. But sometimes you can't write about all you know...people wouldn't believe it. So you have to make up it totally, which I do often. Besides, making it up is more than half the fun. I'd be too bored writing about people I know and I wouldn't want to do it.
AB: A couple of things get repeated quite often in your books: bad driving, guys whose legs bow slightly at the knees, the hand to the chest/throat/mouth yet I rarely see other writers using them. Is there any reason why you use these?
RF: I know a lot of gay men who are attracted to guys with slightly bowed legs...maybe it's the cowboy fantasy. And the hand to chest/throat/mouth is just a way to show how a character is feeling...or a way to express an emotion without actually getting into it. If you observe actors on stage or in film, they do it often. A character says, "You're an idiot." The other character presses his palm to his chest to show shock; that's he's been insulted, instead of actually saying "He was insulted." "He clenched his fists," shows anger instead of saying, "He was angry." Bad driving creates conflict and humor at the same time. I'm always looking for something that will do this. And, a lot of my books involve road trips and cars.
AB: One statement: “He said he could depend on Warren and he never had to worry about anything when he was with him.” And later the same character says: “I’m marrying for security and companionship. I need stability. I need to know what to expect next.” Is this a lot of what gay men are looking for? Not so much a sugar Daddy but someone they can trust? And they will forgo some of the other aspects for this?
RF: In the book, I wanted him to be more sensitive than a true gold digger, but that's really what he was. Neil just didn't want to face it because he was in love with the "image" of him and he couldn't see clearly. And in real life, there are certain younger gay men looking for sugar daddies, just like this character. I even know a few. But most gay men aren't looking for this, especially these days when more and more younger gay men are coming to terms with who they are. They are looking for the same things straight people are looking for: love, security, companionship, and happiness...family. They are hoping to find it in marriage, in a traditional sense, just like everyone else. If I had a choice between a rich sugar daddy and going short of a buck for someone I loved, I'd choose the love over the sugar daddy any day. I think most gay men would agree.
AB: One aspect that rang true for me was that Neil’s brain was often saying one thing but his body (cock) was pointing in the other direction (literally): “Just because they had an arrangement didn’t mean Neil had to adhere to it or agree with it morally. But he’d just kicked off his shoes and his pants.” Should gay guys get the guilts in these circumstances or is it the expectations of a hetero nuclear society with its different needs and standards kicking in when it shouldn’t? In other words, in the gay community, is their growing pressure to be monogamous and labelling guys who sleep around as “sluts”. The original trend when the laws changed was for a lot of free sex. AIDS put a damper on that. Assuming everyone takes precautions (another topic of conversation) is there a need for gay guys to be monogamous?
RF: This depends, too. Gay or straight, everyone has a different guilt level, so to speak. I've met straight women who can cheat on their husbands and look you right in the eye and deny it completely. This varies from person to person. In the book, I wanted Neil to feel something.
AB: the concept of “romance” is important in FGWAAF. Especially when one character, is described as: Evidently, Tom wasn’t the romantic, sentimental type. And later this In its own peculiar way, Neil thought it was romantic. It wasn’t by any means the kind of tender romance he’d once craved from a lover... But at this point, Neil decided to settle for what he could get. and also this priceless bit: “I love your ass so much.” Neil laughed. He wiped a few beads of sweat from Tom’s forehead and kissed him. “And I love your dick just as much.” A common criticism by female reviewers is the lack of “romance” in male-written m/m romance, but Neil (and Tristan in Gay Pride and Prejudice) actually seem to prefer this rough and ready non-romantic approach. Do you expect to get flak from some reviewers?
RF: Romance can be as complicated as it can be simple, and I don't like anyone to define what it is to me. I also think that straight couples joke around this way all the time. It's just that sometimes it's a bit too realistic for readers who are looking for more traditional romance. They'd rather have it less graphic. And I can understand this, and I never fault a reader for getting upset about it. But I try to diversify. In my story, "Strawberries and Cream at the Plaza," there's hardly any sex and most of it is along the lines of classic romance. It depends on the book and the story.
I don’t get freaked by bad ratings and reviews. Sometimes they work just the opposite. I would rather have ten bad reviews and ten great reviews, than twenty mediocre reviews. I know that sounds backward, but nothing kills a book more than “meh” reviews. To get a bad review, it means you had to piss someone off, and you had to spark an emotion of some kind. That’s better than not "touching" them at all.
I also receive hundreds of e-mails from readers that don't post reviews or make ratings or online comments. Erotica, and erotic romance is a discreet genre and the majority of readers never make public comments at all. It's a nice little secret erotic authors know, and we respect the discretion of our readers. They trust us.
AB: The scene mentioned above concludes with this statement: When the experimenting with other guys was over, they agreed to be monogamous. Is this something you think readers should expect/allow gay guys to do? It was interesting reading (in a private FB group) about how a gay guy had sex with a straight guy and years later talked to him about it. Turned out he enjoyed the experience but related much better with his wife as a person. He never regretted “experimenting” and actually found it invaluable when his son admitted he was gay. Is there a place for “experimentation” even with committed couples as a reassurance/reminder that what they have is special? Neil describes this episode as “sordid at best”. I suppose I’m just wondering why you included it?
RF: I tend to think all relationships are complicated in this sense. And what happens in the bedroom is different for everyone. In the book, they experiment this way because they are getting to know each other and building something even though they may or may not know it. In other words, they weren't taking themselves seriously at this point, at least not Neil. He thought he was only having fun and games.
AB: Given your sweet innocent outer shell (judging by your photos) can you relate to this or is there a “type” like this? Maybe he’d been a dirty little fucker all along and it just hadn’t occurred to him until now.
RF: Ha! I'm laughing because I think we can all relate to this. I know I have at certain times in my life thought about this. I've always been more conservative than outrageous. I'm still wondering, though.
AB: Okay, and now to my continued study of Gayology 101, the mechanics: He’d once been with a guy who had so much trouble coming he usually lied about it and pulled out before Neil had a chance to examine the condom. Neil had learned straight men weren’t the only ones who often suffered anguish of fake orgasms with their female partners, especially when there was a condom involved. Gay men could be just as tricky.
RF: This happens for a variety of reasons. And I have heard stories from gay friends where this has happened to them. Sometimes the guy isn't into the other guy and he wants to be polite so he fakes it. Sometimes the guy is just tired and has other things on his mind that night so he fakes it. And sometimes he's just not in the mood but doesn't want to hurt the other guy's feelings. It's not always personal, yet people tend to take it that way. I would imagine it's the same way with straight couples. This "image" about men being horny all the time is highly overrated on TV sitcoms like "Raymond."
AB: And can you expand on this? Is it accepting it hard and dry or does emotional comfortableness allow for easy entry” They’d reached that point in their relationship where Neil knew how to take him without needing any foreplay.
RF: It's a combination of physical and emotional. People get used to each others’ bodies and they know what to expect, which is a nice point to reach in a relationship. It's also easier when you're with someone you love and know than it is with someone you don't. I once had a friend who couldn't bottom unless he felt something special for a guy.
AB: (His) dick had a slight upward curve, which hit one of the most sensitive spots inside Neil’s body. Is this the prostate or are there other “sensitive spots”?
RF: It's usually the prostate, but there are, indeed, other spots. Depends on the person...and the connection between the two people.
AB: And another aspect interests me (if you have time, even a link would be fine) namely, the political aspect: Neil wasn’t about to go into a long explanation about same-sex marriage on a federal level. I assume it’s things like inheritance taxes etc that “Gay Pride and Prejudice” deals with. So the ability to “get married” is only one aspect I gather.
RF: It's very important to same sex couples, especially as they get older together, to have the same rights and legal protections as straight couples. It is about romance and love and all those good things, but it's also about cold hard facts of life and legal issues like owning property, businesses, etc... There are many links that get into this. But I haven't found one yet that actually spells it all out in one place. The American dream is different for gay couples who aren't allowed to legally marry, especially if they own property together. Inheritance taxes can wipe them out.
AB: If you ever read my reviews (and my book “Mardi Gras”) you’ll realise how interested I am in the whole concept of how the changing laws and society in place when gay guys first realize they are gay have had a profound effect on their attitudes and their ability to relate to gays from different generations. So I found this bit interesting: But when it came to gay weddings Tom did a turnaround that left Neil speechless. To me, there is a difference in attitude between those who came out pre-legalisation (still angry and bitter – resigned – the optimist who has been stepped on too many times), then you have those who came out during the AIDS era (fearful). Those that came out after, but prior to HIV becoming deemed “chronic rather than a death sentence” (cynical) to today’s generation (idealistic and not very sympathetic to those coming before) I know these are broad brush statements, but do you see generational differences?
RF: I see certain generational differences. But for the most part I think it really depends on the people. I know some older couples who think very differently than other older couples. I think this is just another example of we're all very different, which is important in breaking down the stereotypes.
AB: Apart from the characters at the core of the story, the tale of Craig and Luke really stood out for me. I loved this bit: The minute he walked into my classroom as a college freshman, a bright white light flashed before my eyes for a split second and I knew I had to get to know him better. I really loved the twist in this (I mean, I didn’t it was very sad) but I love the way you avoided the cliché. You had me in tears, not easy when it comes to books.
RF: I actually took that from a real life experience I had once. I met someone, I saw a flash of what I can only describe as a bright white light, and I did get to know him better. I think we all experience this at least once...I hope so anyway. It's a great feeling, even though it doesn't last.
AB: You’ve been very patient, so far, many thanks. Before we finish off, I’d like to touch briefly on your other writing. The first book of yours I ever read was “You Missed a Spot, Big Guy” which is pure erotica. No romance. Books written more for guys than gals. Do you think readers in general understand that writers slant their books to what publisher’s loyal reader base like and expect?
RF: I try to explain this on my blog whenever something new is released, so readers understand. I try to put it in the blurbs, too. I'm always telling readers that when they are shopping for books please check out author blogs and web sites. Most authors I know explain what they are doing in detail on their web sites. We really do care about giving readers all the information. And I'm always asking people to e-mail me if they have a question about buying a book or story I wrote. Many do this. I once had a woman e-mail me just to find out the ending of a book so she'd know whether or not she wanted to buy it. She didn't like the ending, didn't buy that book, but went on to buy others. I'd rather see a happy customer not buy something than a disgruntled customer.
AB: To wrap up. Neil didn’t see the same “white light”. Just standing next to Andre was an emotional roller coaster.... Oh, he was sick and tired of the drama, most of which he’d created on his own. The question for the reader then, is this settling? Or being realistic? To me, FGWAAF is a great exploration of what it means to commit, who to choose to commit to, and the perils and pratfalls that can occur along the way. I think readers of both sexes will relate to many parts of the story. It’s not even unusual to have these doubts at the altar. Relationships are tricky things at the best of times. There is no “Mr Right” and “Mr Wrong”. So who do you choose? The one who chooses you for who you are in reality?
RF: I wanted Neil to see that he came very close to losing true love because he was more focused on a dream. It wasn't settling, not in this case. And I agree, readers of both sexes can identify with this. I know I've been there myself.
AB: So, to get back to the original “rip off” accusation. I prefer to see Ryan’s “Covers of Classics” as first and foremost romantic love stories from a genuine gay male perspective, often with that twist and occasional stark reminder of how their world differs from ours. Sure there is diversity and you can’t make generalisations, however I found the insight into different standards/morals/codes of behaviour/fantasies and fears of gay men fascinating.
RF: Thanks, this is what I've been trying to do. It's not always easy because I don't want to get on a soap box and preach. And, even though the gay community is different, we are all individuals and it's hard to give definitive answers. There are times I honestly don't even know when I am giving stark reminders.
AB: Thanks again to Ryan for being so willing to answer my questions. Knowing what he’s trying to achieve and why sure makes me appreciate his writing just that much more in both this series as well as others not directly related to existing books, eg “Hot Italian Lover” and his less romantic books published by lyd. Check out my reviews if you want to know more, or better still read his books for yourself!