Monday, July 22, 2013

Contrast in Supporting Characters

Guest post by James Lear

 Nearly all the characters in my novels are based on real people – either people that I know, or men that I see at the gym or in the cafe or walking down the street. When I’m putting together a plot and need a certain type in a certain situation, I have a mental card index of men to draw on. The hero of The Hardest Thing, Dan Stagg, is modeled on a regular at the gym – physically, at least. He’s very attractive, I’ve hardly exchanged five words with him, and he has no idea that I’ve made him do all these appalling things in fiction.

Of the supporting cast, the one I like most is Kenny, the dark-haired, furry young guy that Dan encounters in the woods, who helps him to evade the police. In the first draft of the novel, Kenny played a much bigger role – in fact, he was going to be the main romantic interest. But it turned out too complicated, and I decided to focus on the much more dramatic relationship between Dan and the vain, troubled Jody. 

The inspiration behind Kenny is pretty typical of the James Lear method of characterization: I was on holiday in New England a couple of years ago with my husband, and we were stocking up in Wal-Mart in a small town in New Hampshire, just near the Vermont border, when we spied a very sexy young guy wearing mechanic’s coveralls waiting at the check-out. He was short, slim and dark-haired, and from what we could see he had a very hairy chest. I didn’t exactly stalk him, but I did engage him in conversation – he was buying a gas lighter, and made some joke about using it to light a bong. That was all. Later on we saw him in the car park, sitting in a beat-up old Chevrolet that he was obviously fixing up. There was something very sexy about that encounter, even though nothing happened, and it got elaborated into the character of Kenny, the closeted, cock-hungry mechanic.
    The important thing about characters like Kenny is that they provide the essential ingredient in gay erotica – contrast. You can’t have two handsome young men banging away: it’s really dull, there’s no drama or tension. Fine in visual porn, very tedious in fiction. You need an imbalance in age or status to get the fireworks going. In The Hardest Thing, the hero is a masculine man in his late thirties – so most of his significant partners are younger, of junior ranks (for the military flashbacks) or, in one case, a good deal older. Kenny is young and very naive, which again contrasts to the extremely experienced Jody. Straight porn has the enduring dynamic of male and female; gay porn needs to capture something of that friction without resorting to stupid cliches of ‘top’ and ‘bottom’. It’s also good for the plot, because there’s drama built into every encounter. A lot of gay erotica is desperately dull because authors want all their characters to be perfect model types. It’s like and Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue, with fucking. That might excite some people, but to me it’s the literary equivalent of MacDonalds.

I'm delighted to have James Lear here -- I'm a big fan of his books. I hope you'll check out The Hardest Thing, which is very sexy and very noir, and very much a gay version of Jack Reacher.

His historical mysteries, including The Back Passage, The Secret Tunnel, and A Sticky End among them, are a great combination of erotica and mystery, and lots of fun.


Jon Michaelsen said...

I've had The Hardest Thing queued up in my "wish" list on amazon since it was first listed for advance purchase...reading Lear's guest blog about his characters sealed the deal and I purchased right away! Thanks for having James Lear as a guest, Neil. I am so looking forward to reading this one...

Neil Plakcy said...

I'm eager to hear what you think of The Hardest Thing, Jon. I had the chance to read an ARC and thought it was terrific.