What the Beck Is Happening to Books?
At a recent book signing for my queer comic mystery Sawdust Confessions, a customer told me about another author’s event he had attended a few days earlier. That one was in The Villages, a Central Florida community known for its ultra-conservative political leanings and a place where ideologues like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck make frequent appearances to keep their base happy. The gay man had decided to attend Beck’s latest autograph party.
As he recounted his story to me, the man waited patiently in line with scores of blue-haired ladies who shakily clutched their copies of the Fox haranguer’s tomes, cordially agreeing with them that this was indeed an “exciting day to be alive.” When he finally reached the signing table, the man recounted, “I leaned over, stuck my head inches from his face, and stuck out my lips all smoochy-like. Then I said, ‘Glenn, sweetie, I watch you every night. Do you realize how absolutely HOT you are? I could just give you a big old kiss on the mouth.’”
Beck reportedly blushed, his complexion turning even ruddier than usual—and for one magical moment he was speechless. The author said nothing to his gay suitor, simply waving to the next person in line to come to his rescue.
I laughed at my customer’s story and considered offering him a wet kiss in reward for his guerrilla-theater antic—until he told me he really does find Beck sexy and, yes, he actually had purchased a copy of Beck’s new novel because “it was the only way they would let me in line.”
“If you bought a copy of his book, you’d better buy two of mine,” I demanded.
After all, I’m on record as saying I won’t rest until my novel outsells Beck’s latest piece of fiction. (All of his books are fiction, but he accurately describes the new one as such.) Unfortunately, I’m not getting much rest these days. While Sawdust has topped amazon.com’s chart of best-selling “campy” books and has been among the top 10 in “gay humor,” the closest I’ve come to Beck’s sales rank on the overall list of four-million titles is 51,000 spots behind him.
So, I still have my work cut out for me. Of course, having a regular presence on television helps a lot. I’ve decided to apply for my own Fox program, a reality competition I hope to call “Are You Smarter than Glenn Beck?” It should draw huge ratings because everyone would win.
Not that the game would be easy to play. In the bonus rounds, quotes from Beck’s TV shows would be aired, and contestants would have to name the topic Beck thought he was addressing when he spoke. For example: “If you change the language and make it about love, that is, there is no answer to that. When it comes to incest the answer is, well, you couldn’t procreate. You would make mutants for children, so that’s where it gets bad, but if you take the children out and say you are only going to adopt, well then there is no, because you can’t procreate as two women, or procreation is not part of the marriage deal anymore. We have minimalized that, so if you got fixed and your sister got fixed, why couldn’t you get married?”
The correct answer: Gay Marriage.
Besides meeting fascinating folks at my book signings, I’ve learned much about their reading habits. For one thing, a lot of people don’t read books. At Gay Days in Orlando, I repeatedly was asked if Sawdust is available as a DVD. “The story sounds great,” said one man whose comment was typical of many others. “I’d buy it in a flash if it was on video.” (Maybe, someday…film at 11, as they used to say.) Another guy admitted, “The internet has ruined me. I no longer have the patience to read anything longer than a Twitter post.”
Yet another gent, age 60, who did purchase a copy said, “I haven’t read a book since high school, but I do have bookshelves.”
The younger the person, the less likely that reading for pleasure plays a part in his or her life. As a twenty-something put it, “I have to read enough stuff at work. I go for video games and music when I’m off the clock.”
Age aside, I quickly discovered that the public can be divided into two groups: readers and non-readers. Because of the vast amount of traffic passing my book booth at Gay Days, I instructed friends who were assisting me to target potential buyers by first asking passersby a simple question: “Are you a Reader?”
As if they were members of a very special minority, Readers were quick to respond with pride. “Yes, I read!” And many of them soon walked away with a copy of Sawdust.
Based on my experiences, considerably more women than men are Readers, which is probably why more titles in the publishing marketplace are aimed at them. (My campground-based story is truly queer in that it is intended for and features characters representing the wide diversity of LGBT people, male and female.) Several lesbians have told me that they don’t read books but that their partners read to them. I rather like that.
Many gay men have asked if my book has lots of raw sex in it. When informed that it’s a laugh-out-loud comedy and that the sex is more implied than described, they sometimes express disappointment. I’ve had to stop myself from reprimanding them: “If all you want is porn, that’s what the internet is for.” Most of those guys aren’t Readers anyway. They’re preoccupied with their hand-held (ahem) devices.
Fortunately, for every potential buyer who prefers a story full of steamy body contact another has been delighted to discover that Sawdust Confessions is a smoldering heap of madcap adventures. Humor, especially camp comedy, is a category few published LGBT writers have attempted in recent years (other than playwrights such as Del Shores and reality-based humorists like David Sedaris and Letters’ own delightful Fay Jacobs). Gay writing organizations like Lambda Literary don’t even have a category for humorous fiction.Yet, we never outgrow the need to laugh at ourselves—and to laugh along with one another. While video has become a primary source of gay humor today, there’s only so much character development possible in a two-minute YouTube post. With a book you can make friends you’ll take with you through your lifetime. Still, I’m hoping someone posts a quick clip of the man who smooched at Glenn Beck.
Bill Sievert’s comedic mystery novel “Sawdust Confessions” is available on most internet book sites and at billsievert.blogspot.com. Email him at email@example.com.