When I asked Nicole Kimberling to write a post, as usual I had no idea what she would say. I’m always amazed at what authors write in these blog posts and what she produced was this little gem.
Recently I had a conversation that reminded me of the primary event that led to the formation of Blind Eye Books as a company, and the principle that guides it, which I think might be of interest to readers.
Back in 1992, my wife and I were living in Colorado during the Amendment Two battle. For those of you who did not live in Colorado, Amendment Two was a law designed to prohibit all legislative action at any level of government that would designate LGBT people as a protected class. It was three days before the vote. Propaganda flew thick and fast. Massive campaigns had been launched to register LGBT voters (mainly in bars) while equally massive campaigns targeted the state’s young Christian voters (mostly in churches). My wife was in art school at the time, and we were at the apartment of one of her fellow students whose name I honestly can’t remember, but let’s just call her Amy for the sake of narrative ease. Amy was torn about how she would vote. At her church, she was being told to support the amendment. She didn’t know any gay people–or rather she didn’t know she knew any gay people, because she didn’t know she was sitting in the room with two of them, but I digress. Amy’s apartment was absolutely full of crosses and pictures of horses. She was 18 years old. Tentatively, late in the evening, she asked if either one of us had read Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald Mage series. We said that we had and she lit up. She’d purchased the book because it had a picture of a white horse on the front of it and through reading the series she’d come to realize that the primary character, who she loved, was gay.
Amy asked if we thought that real gay people could be good people, like Vanyel.
Sure, we said, why not?
She asked if we knew any gay people and we said that yeah, we did.
All at once she decided. She said that if that were true, then she could not possibly vote ‘yes’ on the amendment. She said that for the sake of Vanyel she would vote ‘no’.
I was absolutely amazed. Never before had I heard of anyone changing their vote because of a fictional character. Moreover, a fictional character that I personally thought was kinda wimpy. Wouldn’t Renault’s The Charioteer have been the more influential book? Or Warren’s The Front Runner? Or any book that did not include talking ponies?
Apparently not. Not to Amy, anyway.
I completely reassessed my view of the purpose of speculative fiction that day. Rather than being a collection of sentences detailing how life really is, spec fic became about characters and about stories about how life could be if we could imagine it. When we started Blind Eye Books fourteen years later, I kept Amy present in my mind. I decided that the single most important thing about a manuscript for our company was whether or not the author allowed their LGBT characters to be heroes and whether or not they allowed those heroic characters to win and to be happy. Because even Vanyel never got a real Happily Ever After, but I was betting that there were young gay and lesbian people out there who wanted to see people like them reflected in fantasy fiction the way that straight people get to be–kicking ass, saving the day, and getting the hot guy (or gal) at the end of it.
My own personal goal in building a line of books is to connect to an audience that is starved not only for positive images, but nearly bereft of genuinely heroic characters. I want to publish books where the LGBT protagonists smite all adversaries, against all odds, superseding mortal limitations. I want to publish stories of characters whose greatest triumph at the end of the book is not simply to be allowed to live, but who get an epic win.
That was my ideal, my goal and my purpose—to give these kids somebody to want to be. I wanted to present characters who were as cool as Aragorn, as sympathetic as Harry Potter, as badass as Wolverine, as sizzling hot and relentless as Alice from Resident Evil while simultaneously being really, really unambiguously gay. I thought the gay community would be the primary buyers of our books. That, as it turns out, was wrong. The primary purchasers of our work are people just like Amy—M/M readers.
There has been a lot of talk in the last year or so about total authenticity—especially in the M/M writing community. Authors and publishers have essentially been asked to choose a battle line to take. Academic and political arguments have been advanced and subsequently parsed to death on every site everywhere. Is it all right for straight women to write gay men? Is it all right for gay men to like romance, especially the idealized stories offered by romance publishers? Do these genre stories misrepresent homosexuality? (The answers to these questions BTW are: yes, yes, and “not any more than Rambo misrepresents the capacity of an average Viet Nam veteran to engage an entire regiment of the US National Guard.”)
I decided to offer this anecdote—the Blind Eye Books origin story, as it were—because it is a real example of one vote being determined by something as seemingly inconsequential as a series of genre novels featuring a gay protagonist written by a straight woman and purchased by another straight woman.
One vote changed is not what one would generally describe as an epic win. But unlike the epic wins of fiction, that one vote was real. Because of Vanyel, Amy became what those of a political nature, such as myself, call an ally. Allies are important. Because, really, when it comes time to count the ballots, you can never have too many friends.
So I suppose the question I have for readers is: Has a book or a fictional character ever changed the way you perceive something or someone? It doesn’t have to be a gay book or character—I’m just curious to hear if there are other stories like Amy’s out there.