Wednesday, August 15, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Kyell Gold on Writing From The Heart

I had to become someone else to write the things that were important to me.

Let me back up a little. You’ll hear this phrase, “write from the heart,” a fair amount as you navigate the world of writing advice. When I suggested the topic to Deborah, she immediately pointed me to a podcast in which Betsy Wollheim of DAW spent fifteen minutes giving just that advice. So I want to talk a little about why it’s important, why many people don’t do it, and how you can.

Writing from the heart is scary. It means exposing yourself to the world. In a way, it’s like having an intimate conversation with hundreds or thousands or (if you’re lucky) millions of strangers. It’s talking about the pain of breaking up, the fear of not having enough to eat, the loneliness of losing a parent, the depressing reality of falling short. It’s talking about falling in love, about the joy of discovery, about those words your mother said when you were six that you carried with you all your life. It can mean describing your journey from realizing you’re different to realizing that that’s okay.

If this scares you or disturbs you (in an emotional sense rather than a horror sense), that’s good. Tap into a place where you’re not comfortable: those are the raw places from which powerful writing comes. You guard them because they are important to you. And when they are important to you, that passion comes across in your writing. When you put yourself on the page, the reader can feel that, because your characters reactions feel authentic.

Here's how I did it: I’d been more and more openly gay for about a decade when I moved in with my then-boyfriend (now husband), but I still kept it private from my co-workers and other casual friends until I got a better sense of how it would be received. What was fueling my writing then was the urge to show gay characters falling in love, the way I was falling in love.  And I wanted to write them in the aesthetic I was discovering, using animal-people to represent character archetypes.

This was important to me, but it was also scary, not just because of having employers who knew, even then, how to use search engines, but also because I would be writing intimate emotional details. Hidden behind other characters, yes, but it would be exposing who I am in ways I didn’t even do with people I’d worked beside for years.

So I created a new identity. I wrote stories, then a novel, then another novel. Eventually, I wrote a book called “Waterways,” about a teenager coming to terms with his attraction to another boy. And here’s where I come to the part about why writing from the heart is important.

“Waterways” has generated and continues to generate more fan mail than any other book. I have gotten many, many e-mails from teenaged boys (mostly) telling me how the book changed their lives, made them realize that it was okay for them to be gay. I have heard from people who said they didn’t realize that gay relationships were about anything other than sex until they read my book.

Everyone has these intimate experiences and secrets that they keep close to them. One of the most terrifying things we face as a human is being alone. It’s why one of the oldest impulses we have is to gather with others of our kind. And when you read about someone, even a fictional character, going through the same things you did, that can be a revealing, momentous experience. That story will never move away, stop talking to them, pass away. It works the same for you, too. Turning your inner demons into outer fictional demons makes them a lot less scary; watching your creations wrestle them successfully gives you hope as well.

Think about the books that are important to you. Chances are they taught you something: that a goal was possible, that other people felt the same things you did, that what is important to you is important to others. 

As I became more comfortable in my relationship, I thought back to the first dates I’d had with other men, and how secretive they insisted on being. From the conflict between respecting my previous partners' desire for secrecy and my own growing realization that the best thing for gay rights was more openness came a book called “Out of Position,” a story about a gay activist and a football player falling in love. This one became my best-selling book, I believe in part because many gay couples right now are struggling with exactly that conflict. It explores the relationship from the viewpoint of both characters: Lee, the activist, and Dev, the football player. In this small scene, following a fight about being seen in public together that ends with an unexpected display of affection from Dev, Lee reflects:

For the past several months, I've been struggling to figure out who I am. I thought I knew. Running around with Brian, I was so sure of it, and so proud, in many senses of the word. For Brian to come back and cut like he did hurt me, and part of what hurt, of course, is the realization that he is right. I am more concerned with getting laid than with advancing the cause of gay rights everywhere.
And what Dev did, just now, is take all that selfish behavior of mine, that betrayal of my Fellows of the Pink Triangle, and make it right.
Because that's what being gay is about. No; that's what being alive is about. It's love. Whether we articulate it or not, what we're fighting for is the right to love whom we want in the manner we're born to. Sometimes we lose sight of that, in all the politics and symbolism we get caught up in. Dev just reminded me of it. This dinner, the look in his eyes, the night in the hotel in Chikewa Falls, it's all because I chose him over the movement. It's the reminder that my betrayal isn't really a betrayal. It's the exercising of the rights we are fighting for. That he came from where he did to the point where he can express affection—love—for me, that is a gift, and a victory.

A lot of that comes from my own experience and struggle. Dramatized for fiction, of course, but no less real for that. My latest book, "Green Fairy," draws on some of my experiences with people being not what they seem, and also touches on my own experiences with my parents: estrangement and loss.

At the end of the day, writing from the heart is good to do not only because it will result in a better book, a more truthful, passionate, and real book. It’s important because when you write with passion, you touch the hearts of other people, and grow more in touch with your own.


Kyell Gold writes primarily anthropomorphic ("furry") fiction, often centered around gay relationships. He has won twelve Ursa Major awards for his novels and short stories. Out of Position also won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Novel of 2009, and in 2010, his short story "Race to the Moon," published in "New Fables," was nominated for a WSFA Short Story Award. Other strange things he likes to write about include mystical decks of cards, superheroes, and sports.

-E-book (Kindle):

Out of Position:
-E-book (Kindle):

Green Fairy
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