Why Do You Write Gay Characters?
by S.M. James
A question I’m asked a lot is: “Why do you write gay characters?”
My answer: “Because everyone deserves to see themselves in a book.”
Young adult books have always been my jam and when I began writing them around ten years ago, I was real unsettled by the lack of diversity in the books I was picking up to read.
I didn’t know what my issue was at first. The plots were great, the characters were engaging, but there was just something … missing.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but the ‘We Need Diverse Books’ movement took hold and it was like this massive haze had been lifted. I started to actively seek out diverse books and consume them by the truck load. I couldn’t get enough. And with the reader demand, publishers stepped up. At one point I thought I’d read close to every diverse book I could find, now my TBR pile is overflowing.
It was at this point I really fell in love with LGBT+ literature. While it was a big part of my real life, I’d failed to see it represented well (or at all, in YA) and it was very clear the ‘bury your gays’ trope was alive and running rampant.
Why the hell couldn’t a non-hetero, non-cis person have a happily ever after? And why couldn’t they – GASP – be the main character?
I started to go beyond traditional publishing to buy up just about every happy-ending queer book I could find, no matter whether I planned to read it or not. And there were a lot more options than I thought.
Up until that point I’d only ever written in the fantasy genre, but as I read more and more contemporary, I was itching to try and write one. I still had far too many ideas to get to my agent but in between those projects, I quietly worked on bringing Archie and Landon to life.
It wasn’t until I was scrolling through Twitter one day, that I saw an announcement I remember making me stop. A book had sold—a GAY book had sold. Traditionally. For a lot. The author had sent out a random query to a well-known agent, who offered her representation the next day. A week later, the book went to auction, and Becky Albertalli’s career was launched. I picked up Simon vs on release day and fell in love.
It gave me hope that Archie and Landon could have the happily ever after I planned for them.
I finished That Feeling When late last year, assuming it would join the line of titles waiting on my agent to read. While I waited, I started work on a high fantasy with a FF romance.
TFW just … sat there.
And sat there.
That’s when I decided this one would be my indie debut. I had a heap more planned for the series, with characters I couldn’t wait to get out there, and indie authors had been leading the way in LGBT+ romance for years before the traditional publishing houses caught up. It just made sense.
I knew it would be expensive. I knew there’d be people who wouldn’t read it because it wasn’t from one of the Big 4. I knew it would be a hell of a lot of work.
And I was totally cool with all that.
Because everyone deserves to see themselves in a book.