Wyatt O'Brian Evans

There's a book in you

Filed By Wyatt O'Brian Evans | March 24, 2009 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay authors, racial discrimination, racism, racism in the gay community, writing a book, Wyatt O'Brian Evans

Editors' Note: Wyatt O'Brian Evans is a Bilerico-DC contributor. This is part of the series "The Cancer that Slowly Consumes Our Very Souls: Racism" that we're running here on Bilerico Project.

One hot summer night, right before Mom passed away, she commented, "You know, honey...we've talked about this before. You've got a book in you. So, what are you waiting for? Pull it out."

I knew that tone--humorous, nurturing...but pointed. She was urging me to take action.

I paused. Then, looking at her dead-on, I answered, "Yeah, I think I do have a lot to say. Just don't think I'm quite yet ready to say it."

"Well, don't wait too long. Think about it."

I continued to do just that.

But I kept it all on the backburner. The idea, however, grew and mushroomed...a little at a time.

But then, in March 2003, a few years after the passing of my mother, I finally made the decision to research and write that novel. What finally lit a fire under my ass?

Well, much of the gay fiction I'd read struck me as being a bit too formulaic and less than inspiring. I said to myself, "GLBTI readers, particularly those of color, must be hungering for something new and different." Subsequently, I got excited about crafting something fresh. Substantive. Assessable. Relevant. The idea was to entertain, as well as educate. But not preach.

Because I was positively bored with the main characters of novels bedding each other "right off the bat," I wanted to pen a story where both characters really got to know each other first, in various ways, before becoming physically intimate. My main protagonists, both openly gay, would be men of color--an African-American (Wesley) and a Latino (Antonio). Eventually, they would form a monogamous relationship.

Wesley (Wes) and Antonio ('Tonio) would be masculine and strong, as well as sensitive, and possess a richness of character. Of course, they would both have their own particular vulnerabilities and foibles. Wes and 'Tonio truly would be three-dimensional.

Wes would be a wealthy, influential, well-connected entrepreneur and entertainer, while 'Tonio would be his educated, very capable Chief of Security/bodyguard. Their lifestyle would be upscale and classy, not garish and "fab-u-lous."

I most certainly did not want this to be "ghetto" or "urban" or "street" lit, which is so popular and profitable these days--but can be demeaning to African-Americans. Much of this genre is filled with pimps and "hoes," and gratuitous, over-the-top violence and sex, without plausible meaning or purpose fueling it. Sadly, it appears that the bulk of this genre doesn't present a positive portrayal of Blacks.

Certainly, my novel would have its "urban elements." Additionally, I would explore and address such topical issues as the tension between Blacks and Latinos, the "down low," and partner abuse. And, I'd throw in a delightful twist: steamy, but tasteful erotica.

I committed myself to a completion date of on or before October 2004 (Mom's birthday month). Concurrently, I began the process of identifying agents and publishers who might be interested. However, I did not contact any of these sources during my writing process. For works of fiction, agents and publishers require a completed manuscript.

And now, the journey began.

Hey, Mom--Cake's Done!

In October 2004, Nothing Can Tear Us Apart (NCTUA) was born. NCTUA is the saga of Wes, the powerful and desirable openly gay African-American celeb, and 'Tonio, his accomplished, younger, deliciously muscular, openly gay Latino Chief of Security and bodyguard. Both men have failed miserably at love, and are very "gun shy" about taking another chance.

Soon though, that magical, irrefutable, and irresistible force known as chemistry completely and utterly engulfs the pair. And after discovering that they have much in common, they forge a solid, unique connection and bond. However, they're much too afraid to act on their escalating romantic feelings and sexual urges for each other.

Yet, events conspire to make the couple profess their love to each other. They celebrate their feelings in exquisite, red-hot lovemaking--which sweeps them away.

Unfortunately, tough challenges and obstacles threaten their monogamous relationship, not the least is Ruffkut. He's a conniving and deadly drug-lord, who has a major score to settle with Wes. After exploiting and preying on 'Tonio's insecurities, Ruffkut kidnaps and sets up Wes to make it appear he's been unfaithful.

As a result, the frenzied bodyguard physically batters his partner. The final blow is when Ruffkut reveals to the couple that he was behind the deception!

Does Wes forgive 'Tonio, the love of his life? How does 'Tonio cope with his guilt and the consequences of his despicable actions? And what of Ruffkut? What other nefarious plans does he have in store for the couple?

Even though my gut screamed out that I had a hot property on my hands (and I'm delighted that NCTUA is being well-received), I had questions about its prospects because of its genres: ethnic, gay, and erotica. And then, you've got two intelligent, highly successful gay men of color in a monogamous
relationship-- and who present positive images. However, I firmly and fervently believed in the force and appeal of Nothing Can Tear Us Apart.

But, I had no idea just how many obstacles I would have to face to convert my dream into a reality.

Selling The Dream

Before I approached publishers and agents, I worked hard to ensure that Nothing Can Tear Us Apart was top-notch. I retained a professional editor for a thorough evaluation of its merits. I attended writing workshops. After that feedback, I put NCTUA through a rewrite cycle.

Next, I created a focus group of about 50 persons of different ethnicities, genders, ages, and walks of life. I even included some heteros. Most importantly, the focus group was comprised of individuals who weren't personal friends or acquaintances because I didn't want bias in my favor.

During this review period, I was "sweatin' bullets." But after it was all said and done, three quarters of the group gave NCTUA the "thumbs up." I was relieved and very encouraged. And, I used some of the groups' comments--including some of those that I didn't entirely agree with--to refine and improve upon
NCTUA.

In June 2005, I chased the "big sell." I traveled the agent route first. I queried nearly 80 agents, and received about 15 responses. Those agents, after reading synopsis and a few chapters, said, "Different. Gripping. Flows well. But maybe a bit too much of a hard sell for us."

All the while, I networked. Also, I attended writing conferences where I sat down with three agents--two gay, one a straight female--all of whom were Caucasian. Two of the reps--the female and one of the males--were visibly "out of their element" when speaking with an African-American. They passed on representation.

Now, the other male rep, who I'll tag "Mr. GQ," was quite at ease. After reviewing my sample chapters, he smiled, "Mr. Evans, you certainly can write. No doubt about that."

I said to myself, "Whew. I've made it to first base." At the end of our meeting, he took my entire manuscript. He would get back to me in about six to eight weeks, pretty much the standard response time.

I said to myself, "Damn! This could be the ticket." At week nine, Mr. GQ agent mailed me a rejection letter, one I'll never forget. Here's a portion of it:

"Gay lit, and most assuredly gay lit whose main characters are men of color, particularly the types that you portray, is a hard sale. White publishers/editors will have a problem with what you've got. And it's not really the erotica element, because what you're doing is not porn. You present a reason, a purpose, behind the lovemaking. White publishers/editors are just not used to seeing strong, positive ethnic characters in gay relationships. And, you present a level of sophistication white publishers/editors just aren't used to seeing. Too many of them, gay and certainly straight, seem to want to see 'ghetto lit.' That's just the way it is."

He added, "Yours could be a tough sale. And honestly, I don't think I have the energy to do you justice. But hang in there. With your determination and talent, I believe you'll find a home for Nothing Can Tear Us Apart. Never give up. I wish you well." And that was that.

Now, that was a kick in the gut. But I soldiered on.

As I continued to search for agents, I began to query publishers--small, medium and large. In the fall of '05, I went to Manhattan where I participated in a reading held by various gay editors and publishers, which included Donald Weise, former head honcho of the Avalon Publishing Group. Impressed with my reading, Don asked for the manuscript.

A couple of months later, Weise got back to me. He wrote, "Nothing Can Tear Us Apart is a great read, with great potential. It's full of rich drama, and fully developed characters. Mr. Evans, characterization is one of your strong suits. Because of its romantic elements, your story should also resonate well with straight women."

But unfortunately, he didn't buy the manuscript. He said that it "didn't fit his list." He also hinted at what Mr. GQ agent stated--that Nothing Can Tear Us Apart might not fit the comfort zone of white publishers and editors. Another blow. But my resolve was still unbroken, my fire refusing to be extinguished.

In April 2006, a female friend of mine approached Janet Hill, Vice President of Random House's Doubleday/Broadway Publishing Group (and E. Lynn Harris' executive editor)--and an African-American--regarding NCTUA. She was intrigued and asked for my manuscript.

In June, she responded. Part of her letter stated, "You have crafted a bold and compelling story in Nothing Can Tear Us Apart, but it's not quite right for my list." I must say that that was the nicest rejection letter I'd ever received.

Later, two Caucasian publishers offered me deals--if you want to call them that. Both called for me to drastically alter my main characters--so much so that Wes and 'Tonio would've been barely recognizable.

As well, each wanted me to rewrite the manuscript to appeal more to the--you guessed it--"ghetto lit" audience. The final insult was the lame royalty rate. Guess what my answers were.

As this activity was transpiring, I sought out other aspiring African-American authors, both male and female, gay and hetero, who were shopping their work around. To this day, only a handful of them have obtained deals with publishers.

Although they all confessed that they've encountered racism--some more than others--during their march towards publication, they refused to be quoted for this series.

The fact of the matter is that by speaking out, they feel they have far too much to lose, that whatever success they've achieved could be temporary--snatched or ripped away from them at any moment. At any time.

I can relate to that.

This is part of the series "The Cancer that Slowly Consumes Our Very Souls: Racism." Originally published in Qbliss, the article has been modified slightly for online readers. For more information on Wyatt O'Brian-Evans, you can visit his website or check out his Bilerico-DC bio page.


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Wyatt. Thanks for this. I'm tinkering with writing on the same level. Not as far along as you, but I'm glad to get the info. It's a dose of honesty that most people won't admit. Your article made me curious enough to go out and buy NCTUA. Maybe you should self-publish and coordinate with Bilerico to put up a link so we can purchase it directly from you? Bypass all the hurdles.

Rick Elliott | March 25, 2009 4:09 AM

I've been in the struggle for almost ten years. I discovered that certain biblical passages couldn't be opened up by the traditional bible study tools. I finally realized that in each of the passages emotion was a significant part. That started me wondering how I could get people to experience the emotion. I started preaching short story sermons that were open-ended.
Now FAITH JOURNEYS OF THE HEART is available in print, electronic book and audio book. Doing the book-signings has been a real kick. I don't think I'll make much money on the book, but the fact that I got it done ix reward enough.
The leading expert in biblical storytelling wrote the foreword to the book. We believe that no one has done anything like what I've written.
Wyatt--it's worth the struggle isn't it?
My next project is a gay murder mystery called brothers. One brother is a macho policeman. The other brother is gay and coming out of the closet. The cop brother needs his gay brother to solve the case.

Wyatt O'Brian Evans | March 25, 2009 9:25 AM

Guys--

Thanks so much for taking the time to comment, and for your encouragement! Much appreciated.

First, to Jeff BD: Thanks so much for purchasing
"Nothing Can Tear Us Apart!" I have no doubt that NCTUA will "keep you warm at nite (smile.)" Mos' def. And thanks for the suggestion about the link. I'll look into it.

Now, (last but not least) to Rick: Congrats! Much continued success to you. Last year, I was on my "Nothing Can Tear Us Apart Tour," and I had a blast doing readings and signings--so I know what you mean. Hey--your next project sounds absolutely intriguing! Roll with it.

Finally, to both of you: Writing and publishing a tome is well worth the struggle--and so rewarding! I'd appreciate it if both of you would keep in contact and apprise me of your journeys. And do visit my website, www.wyattobrianevans.net, because I have LOTS of different projects I'm involed in this year.

The very best to both of you.

Wyatt, thanks for telling the story of writing that book...and keep on telling it. This is a very difficult time, economically speaking, to be publishing a book. Even good books can have a big fight to get into print.

There are a lot of new writers out there who are traveling the same road you traveled with "Nothing Can Tear Us Apart." They need to know that often the negative reaction they get from agents and publishers is not an absolute reflection on how good their book is. They need to know that it's important to not give up.

You should get a medal for hanging in there.

Patricia

Thanks! That means so much coming from you.

I share similar frustrations, however, from the reader's point of view. There are very few gay lit with compelling non-Caucasian central characters and involving stories without being overly trashy. While I appreciate an occasional cheap rise or two from my readings, they typically leave me feeling emotionally and intellectually unsatisfied, lamenting after the read about what the story and its characters could have been, what the abstract promised, yet utterly failed to deliver.

Perhaps I'm a rare breed of readers, but it's both sad and maddening to think that these reluctant publishers would reject a well-written story with compelling characters based on ethnicity. It's like the chicken or the egg problem -- readers are reluctant to buy gay lit with compelling minority central characters because of general lack of quality and publisher are reluctant to put out the same gay lit because they fear it would not sell....

Lukas

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! And, you make several good points.

Unfortunately, the publishing industry is run pretty much by white editors and publishers who, more often than not, don't consider manuscripts with gay or straight minority protagonists --particularly African-Americans--"accessible" and "marketable." And, when it comes to gay lit, it's even worse. I cannot tell you how many times I've heard that from editors and agents, who have been predominantly white. The bottom line ALWAYS is making money--even if it means regurgitating the same old tired stuff.

These editors and agents also have told me that "quality" isn't always the reason why a book IS or IS NOT published. Sometimes, an author taps into a hot topic, issue or hook that the publishing house thinks will sell. (Although
E. Lynn Harris has worked hard, he got lucky: he was one of those able to tap into something hot with the "down low" phenomenon.) Lukas, haven't you've walked into a book store, picked up a book with a great cover, read it and said, "How in the heck did that get published? What was that pub house thinking?"

Granted, you have a few "breakthrough" African-American talents in the pub world: Oprah,
Tyler Perry, Steve Harvey (as you know, he's had the Number One nonfiction for nearly two months straight). But that's definitley not the norm. And, these individuals already had a major platform, a huge fan base to tap into. Therefore, it's freakin' rough for a person of color who doesn't have those advantages.

I've read my share of well-written, fresh, quality manuscripts written by people of color, particularly Blacks. So, don't think that "lack of quality" is always the reason that there aren't more people of color in the marketplace.

The pub industry needs to catch up to the music industry. And if the pub industry really wishes to mirror and present today's diverse society, it absolutely must have more people of color as its decisionmakers.

gay literature could always use some more diversity, especially gay male lit. The state of the "genre" is deplorable. I hope you keep trying, Wyatt.

Alex

Thanks, my friend! I've got another one already "in the can."

Wyatt, I'm in complete agreement with you. My point was that I, as the reader, want the quality content with compelling minority characters, and the authors (of color) are more than capable of providing it, but it seems to be the publishers, who keep fumbling time and time again.

Anyways, I've just ordered NCTUA. I'm looking forward to reading and enjoying it. Keep up the fight!

Lukas

We are of the same mindset, which I really appreciate! And, thanks so much for ordering
"Nothing Can Tear Us Apart." It should engage you, and keep you warm at nite (smile)!

Best Always!

Hey,

Thanks for sharing your experiences in getting your novel published. It is a GREAT book (I purchased in early February, and am reading it for the second time) and has kept me and my lover fully entertained. We are both reading it, and have actually acted out a few parts of the book. ;-)
I totaly agree a link to purchase your novel should be on Bilerico. Might give them some extra exposure also.

Looking forward to your next piece of writing.

Steve

Wow! What a story-- and exactly the reason I've been trying to start up The Gay Publishing Company for the past several months. You'll find my reasoning and mini-testimonial here:

http://www.TheGayPublishingCompany.com/why.html

but those few lines don't come close to relating the journey that you had to endure. If you wouldn't mind, Wyatt, I would like to add a link to this piece from the Web page I referenced above, just to reinforce what I'm all about.

Glad the book came about; and thanks so much for sharing. Best wishes with the next one.

Lee and Low Books is an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity. They take pride in nurturing many minority authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children’s book publishing.

For more about their history and their books, visit:
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