Sexuality in Horror Fiction

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Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Sat May 28, 2011 8:44 pm

I hope this doesn't offend anyone, but I was wondering if we could get a discussion going about sexuality in horror fiction. The reason I am bringing it up is because as a gay man who uses a lot of gay characters in my horror fiction, I have heard a lot from people about being careful not to "alienate the heterosexual male fanbase" of the genre. It was particularly a concern with my novella ASYLUM. Usually my characters are "incidentally gay" and their sexuality isn't a huge factor in the story, but because of the nature of ASYLUM, gay issues took center stage and there were even a handful of fairly graphic sex scenes. I ran up against some resistence when trying to find a publisher for it, the idea that straight male readers would balk at this and it would limit its audience. To be fair, there were other concerns from publishers, such as it focusing too much on character and not enough on horror/action, but the gay thing was always a concern. The Zombie Feed took a chance on it, and even I was nervous as to how it would be received.

And yet I was delighted to find that it rather flourished. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm not breaking any sales records or making a big name for myself or anything like that, but its sales have been better than I expected. And what pleases me more is the number of straight males I know who have read it and while their reactions have varied on the story itself, none of them seemed overly offput by the sexuality of the story. It actually has been a very positive experience for me, and made me realize sometimes I have a strange heterophobia and don't give enough credit to you straight guys.

So it has just got me to wondering, does a strong homosexual content in a horror story put anyone off or it is just becoming commonplace enough that it doesn't even phase you? No judgements here, at least not from me. If it is something that makes you think twice about buying a book, it won't offend or upset me. Everyone is entitled to his or her own feelings. I just thought it might make for a good discussion.

I know because of the strong sexual content of ASYLUM, it has been called a "gay horror novella", which doesn't bother me at all, just as it doesn't bother me to be called "a gay horror writer" (beats being just "some other horror writer" lol), but if a horror novel has a lot of graphic sex scenes between a man and a woman, it isn't called a "straight horror novel."

Anyway, I'm just throwing some stuff out there...discuss.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Suann on Sat May 28, 2011 8:53 pm

I won't be long winded...but I will say, as a woman, it does not bother me in the slightest to read stories where the protagonists or antagonists are gay. It doesn't bother me if it's men. It doesn't bother me if it's women. Then again, even though I'm "straight", I don't have any issues with homosexuality at all and no issues with reading or watching things with "gay" sex scenes. People are just people to me - some are cool, some are not - but their sexual orientation doesn't matter to me. So, no, I've never decided "not" to buy a book because the characters are gay. I'm pretty open minded and non-judgmental (or at least I try!).

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Sat May 28, 2011 8:56 pm

I will say this, Suann, when a publisher told me I needed to keep in mind the "heterosexual male fanbase" of horror, my response was, "There are other fans who aren't heterosexual males. There are gay people who love the genre, there are women who love the genre." So why only aim stuff at the heterosexual fanbase? Why not aim some stuff at those of us on the fringes? Smile

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Shiney on Sat May 28, 2011 8:56 pm

Firstly...Goddamn that was a long post!!

Second, I think if the sexuality serves the story what form that sexuality takes the back seat. (hahaha...bad taste pun!) Doing it for the story is fine so long as it isn't just a grab for extra attention. I think some authors are guilty of that "token gesture"...

usually in straight fiction gay sex between male charcters is presented as anything but love based...."Deliverance"...etc. But with woman, it is another story.

i'm not a huge fan of labels. Gay horror....horror...bizarro...splatterpunk...steampunk.

Fuck it, if it's good. It's good. That is the bottom line.


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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Sat May 28, 2011 8:58 pm

I was once told that the reader reacts differently to gay characters written by a writer who is known to be heterosexual than they do to gay characters written by a known homosexual... Interesting.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by JNewman on Sat May 28, 2011 9:00 pm

Shiney wrote:Fuck it

Sounds like Shiney's fine with it. The question is: Do you want to know every detail when he does?

Wink


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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Shiney on Sat May 28, 2011 9:01 pm

Sounds like bollocks.


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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Mercedes on Sat May 28, 2011 11:15 pm

It's an issue in every genre, I think. I was interviewing a writer who wanted to discuss sexual orientation in YA literature because it's becoming more accepted now, even though there is still a stigma. But there are plenty of stigmas. Women women writing horror, for example. Most female horror writers that I talk to say that they aren't treated any differently than male horror writers, but that hasn't been my experience at all. I think the more we discuss/write/publish something, the more accepted it will eventually be.

I'm with Shiney: if it's a good story, it's a good story. And welcome to the forum, Mark!

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Sat May 28, 2011 11:17 pm

Thank you very much Mercedes. Great to be here.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Suann on Sat May 28, 2011 11:18 pm

markgunnells wrote:I will say this, Suann, when a publisher told me I needed to keep in mind the "heterosexual male fanbase" of horror, my response was, "There are other fans who aren't heterosexual males. There are gay people who love the genre, there are women who love the genre." So why only aim stuff at the heterosexual fanbase? Why not aim some stuff at those of us on the fringes? Smile

Totally agree. In your situation, I think I'd be a bit "put off" initially. It's not like heterosexual men are the only fans of horror. Hell no!

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Kerr on Sun May 29, 2011 12:05 am

It used to be you didn't find much sex at all in horror and I was fine with that. I'd much rather have more horror when I feel like reading horror, though for me it's most often just that feeling of dread at what I might find, rather than actually finding it. That's the part I like dragged out and carefully orchestrated.

As far as writing though, I've had a great time the last few years finding my characters in strange situations with monstrous characters. Maybe I should start sending them out and paving the way of acceptance with the pubs for more human sex. LOL Anyhow, I get the feeling they're starting to ease up everywhere on such things. It's still story that means everything in the end.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Kerr on Sun May 29, 2011 1:17 am

Sorry, after getting offline I started to think that my comment was a bit silly and not quite on target. The fact is that things are changing in the world and I believe for the better, people coming to terms that there are more kinds of love out there than just the heterosexual kind whether they agree or not. Still, as far as sex goes, I personally like to know what's coming and choose. I don't care for it much in horror, but there are other genres where I expect more. Sometimes I'll look for that when I'm in the mood. I believe that's the attitude that publishers are speaking from.

Love, that's something different. You can bring a lot across even in horror that helps to change the way the people see things, and having a purpose behind the things you write often helps to bring to a piece deeper passion and meaning that will draw readers to your works regardless of how they feel themselves about the sexuality of the characters or the author. I personally love when a character has something important he/she wants to bring across. I've read a lot of gay horror and sci-fi and for the most part like it better because of that certain struggle going on. As for graphic sex, I'm afraid there's a line that will separate any sex scene in any genre when it's crossed. Dancing on it though is fine, and pulling them in first emotionally is great. Do it with finesse. Wink

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Sun May 29, 2011 1:58 am

I was told once straight men can accept gay sex in a story before gay love, because they understand the need to get off, but it is intimacy between two men that freaks them out.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Kerr on Sun May 29, 2011 2:33 am

That's interesting and I would probably have to agree with it in life, but as far as publishers go, and I'm thinking movies and books, I'd go the other way. A story tells so much more than reality because if done properly it can include everyone's reality. One story that comes to mind is Swing Blade. No sex at all, just a sweet gay guy that loves everyone and makes his point in the story. And an asswipe protag that also makes his point. And a somewhat crazy man that ends up seeming like the one who makes more sense than all the supposedly sane ones. I kind of loved that story because it drew such a grand contrast between different loves and no love at all, and of course the no-love was in the one place where it would normally have been accepted. That's great story telling.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Kenwood on Sun May 29, 2011 4:57 am

I'm off to bed, but figured I'd post a little bit on this.

I think Shiney said it best: "I think if the sexuality serves the story what form that sexuality takes the back seat." (Actually, maybe almost best, because that shit's missing a word or two. Haha.) And the same can be said about any aspect of a story, really. Too much is too much. Nor horse pun intended. (Only John and Nick will get that. Sorry.)

I know when I read Sacrament, by Clive Barker, some of the sex scenes turned my stomach. Yet in Ken Follett's Jackdaws, I wasn't bothered by it at all. Wait...is that right? Or was Jackdaws the one with lesbians? Eh...I can't remember. How about Imajica, then. Wasn't Gentle involved in some male-on-male sex?

Ah, whatever. Maybe I should have written this tomorrow when my brain is working. My point is, I've read plenty of gay sex scenes in fiction and rarely has it bothered me. More often than not the problem I have with gay sex scenes is the same problem I have with straight sex scenes: They're cheesy as hell. Haha.

Either way, it all depends on how it's done. Heterosexual readers can be turned off by graphic homosexuality in fiction because sexuality is a very intimate thing. The moment it pulls the reader in too far, it gets uncomfortable.

Or totally bonerific, depending on what you're into. Laughing

Yeah, time for bed. Haha.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by dgrintalis on Sun May 29, 2011 10:47 am

A character's sexuality does not matter to me. Characters, like people, are who they are. In truth, I find their personalities far more interesting than who they sleep with. There is nothing worse than reading a book with a cardboard character who has no depth.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Suann on Sun May 29, 2011 11:01 am

Amen! Very Happy

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by Tall Tyrion on Mon May 30, 2011 8:37 pm

markgunnells wrote:So it has just got me to wondering, does a strong homosexual content in a horror story put anyone off or it is just becoming commonplace enough that it doesn't even phase you? No judgements here, at least not from me.

Depends... Everything should serve the story, IMO. If a sex scene advances the plot, then it needs to be there. If it is put in just to be provocative or titillating, then it can take away from the story. A little bit might be fine, but too much and you're not really writing a horror story anymore, it's erotica with a supernatural gloss.

An example would be my absolute favorite series, ASOIAF by George RR Martin (spoilers ahead for those who have not read all of the books and seen the series). He has dealt very frankly and at times graphically with various subjects of sexuality, including rape and incest. Not an easy thing to do, but Martin's strong prose and eye on the story makes it work. There are a few lesbian scenes in A Storm of Swords, but they serve the plot, there is nothing overly provocative or pornographic about them.

A Feast For Crows is different, though. I know that Martin had a number of fans ask specifically that he bring more lesbian scenes into the series, so in AFFC, there is a story line about Cercei taking a woman as a lover, even though there has been no hint of her having any tendencies that way. In fact, it's just the opposite, he relationships with Jamie and Lancel stem from a seeming need to make love to herself as a form of narcissism. Her female lover is an exact opposite of that theme, and it comes off as forced and hollow. It seems pretty obvious to me that Martin was pandering to the fans and put in a sex scene where it didn't belong.

The TV series had a sex scene last night that seems along the same lines. The story that Littlefinger was telling was VERY important in terms of the eventual outcome of the episode and his motivations, but why was he telling it to whores who were "practicing" on each other? That served no purpose and took away from the story. My brother in law couldn't even remember hearing anything about the story that Littlefinger was telling. It's poor writing.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by DgB on Mon May 30, 2011 8:54 pm

Tall Tyrion wrote:
markgunnells wrote:So it has just got me to wondering, does a strong homosexual content in a horror story put anyone off or it is just becoming commonplace enough that it doesn't even phase you? No judgements here, at least not from me.

Depends... Everything should serve the story, IMO. If a sex scene advances the plot, then it needs to be there. If it is put in just to be provocative or titillating, then it can take away from the story. A little bit might be fine, but too much and you're not really writing a horror story anymore, it's erotica with a supernatural gloss.

An example would be my absolute favorite series, ASOIAF by George RR Martin (spoilers ahead for those who have not read all of the books and seen the series). He has dealt very frankly and at times graphically with various subjects of sexuality, including rape and incest. Not an easy thing to do, but Martin's strong prose and eye on the story makes it work. There are a few lesbian scenes in A Storm of Swords, but they serve the plot, there is nothing overly provocative or pornographic about them.

A Feast For Crows is different, though. I know that Martin had a number of fans ask specifically that he bring more lesbian scenes into the series, so in AFFC, there is a story line about Cercei taking a woman as a lover, even though there has been no hint of her having any tendencies that way. In fact, it's just the opposite, he relationships with Jamie and Lancel stem from a seeming need to make love to herself as a form of narcissism. Her female lover is an exact opposite of that theme, and it comes off as forced and hollow. It seems pretty obvious to me that Martin was pandering to the fans and put in a sex scene where it didn't belong.

The TV series had a sex scene last night that seems along the same lines. The story that Littlefinger was telling was VERY important in terms of the eventual outcome of the episode and his motivations, but why was he telling it to whores who were "practicing" on each other? That served no purpose and took away from the story. My brother in law couldn't even remember hearing anything about the story that Littlefinger was telling. It's poor writing.


Worst scene by far in the whole series. The thing that irritated me was that they spent four minutes or so on it, which could have been spent adding in some of the actual scenes from the book that they skipped.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Mon May 30, 2011 8:56 pm

Pandering...I remember an episode of Firefly where they threw in a lesbian love scene that felt so awkward, it was obviously an attempt to bring in straight male viewers and increase the ratings. So I know what you're talking about.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by DgB on Mon May 30, 2011 8:58 pm

markgunnells wrote:Pandering...I remember an episode of Firefly where they threw in a lesbian love scene that felt so awkward, it was obviously an attempt to bring in straight male viewers and increase the ratings. So I know what you're talking about.

The increase in ratings is the only reason I didn't completely hate that scene (in Game of Thrones). If it means getting a third season, they can add a few more if they want. Very Happy It just sucks that it takes that sort of thing to bring in viewers.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Mon May 30, 2011 9:00 pm

Didn't work for Firefly. And just my luck, they never throw in hot man-on-man action to try to increase ratings. Laughing

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by DgB on Mon May 30, 2011 9:00 pm

markgunnells wrote:Didn't work for Firefly. And just my luck, they never throw in hot man-on-man action to try to increase ratings. Laughing

Game of Thrones did. Wink

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by markgunnells on Mon May 30, 2011 9:02 pm

Hmm, I'm perking up. lol Actually I can't watch that yet because I haven't read the book. Need to get on it.

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Re: Sexuality in Horror Fiction

Post by DgB on Mon May 30, 2011 9:04 pm

markgunnells wrote:Hmm, I'm perking up. lol Actually I can't watch that yet because I haven't read the book. Need to get on it.

No better time than now. You can get all four books for under $20 total on Amazon at the moment. Here

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