Branding or Catfishing?

Writing is hard. It’s really hard. Especially if you have the crazy idea that you’d like to make a living as a writer. A friend recently sent me a link to a study from Author’s Guild that states the average full-time fiction writers’ yearly income is $17,500. To put that into perspective, you can expect to make around that working the same amount of hours at McDonald’s flipping burgers. Ouch. I’m having a good year and will end a bit below the average. I told the friend who sent me the link, “Oh my God, I’m really successful, and really broke.”

Every writer trying to make a living, or even just trying to maintain the paltry living we make, is constantly trying to cage the system. We’re always doing promotions, begging for reviews, chasing trends, writing short when that pays more, writing long when that pays more, doing whatever we can think of to present our works, and ourselves in a way that will make readers hit that buy button.

Sometimes I like to write mainstream (read not-queer) stories and books. Certainly, mainstream is a much larger market so the potential to make a living is greater. In the past, I published my mainstream writing as Marshall Thornton. In fact those were my first forays into self-publishing. I actually did pretty well for a while, then I began to establish myself as a gay writer and the sales on my mainstream work evaporated. My longtime editor suggested that I put out a mainstream book I had lying around under a different name. At first, the idea of doing this felt like going back into the closet. After all, the point would be to hide that I’m a gay writer. But then I thought, why should some else’s homophobia cost me money?

Eventually I did decide to publish my latest book, Death Comes to Happy Acres under the name JT Moss (which is both of my parents’ names; Marshall Thornton, which I’ve been writing under since 1992, is part of my grandfather’s name) with the caveat that I would be open to my existing fans. And for that matter any new ones I make as JT Moss.

As I’m launching my new book this week, Josh Lanyon finally came out as a woman. This has been a longtime rumor, which was confirmed for me more than a year ago by someone I trusted to actually know. Though, to be honest, I’m not sure I ever truly believed she was a man. In the broadest sense, Josh Lanyon is a brand just as Marshall Thornton is a brand and JT Moss is a brand. And I don’t have a problem with that and don’t think anyone else should either.

On the other hand, a great deal of this business is very personal and when you pose as a different gender both publicly and privately then you are skating dangerously close to catfishing. There have been instances where female writers have deliberately catfished gay male writers in order to pump them on how they “really” feel about straight women writing gay fiction. To my knowledge this is not something Josh ever did, and I’m not suggesting that.

However, everything Josh has said about straight women writing about gay men does now needs to be taken with a grain of salt. I’ve seen several comments about instances where she used her authority as a “gay man” to tell people how they should be writing about gay men, in fact I’d say she does that a lot in her book, Man, Oh Man: Writing M/M Fiction for Cash & Kinks.

In a 2010 article at by Dick Smart at Lambda Literary Josh is quoted as saying “There’s a great deal to appeal to gay male readers in M/M fiction.” That statement has weight coming from a gay male writer, from a gay man it means “hey you should try these books, I like them, you might too.” From a straight female writer, even though it may be a sincerely held opinion, the subtext becomes “buy my books.”

I want to stop for a moment and say that Josh has always been nice to me. She has gone so far as to recommend my books to her readers, mentioning me on her boards, on twitter, and in her newsletter. Writers don’t have to do things like that, especially successful ones, and I appreciate the support. I’m not writing this to suggest that she be punished or penalized for what she’s done. If you thought she was a man and you like her books you should keep on reading them. That said, I do think there needs to be some examination of when branding goes too far.

I also have few issues with her “coming out” blog, well, many issues. To me it feels like she’s trying to paint herself as some kind of victim. She writes “This is the blog post I kind of hoped I’d never have to write…” Really? I was told she was coming out last year. That means she’s been thinking about this post for at least a year. Did she think she could pretend/not pretend wink-wink to be a gay man forever?

“…I really did believe in my heart that the M/M genre had surely moved past this kind of nonsense.” You know, I think they have. Lots of women use male pen names. They do it transparently. They don’t create “open secrets,” they don’t spend fifteen years clouding the issue. And they answer the gender question when it’s asked. But it’s usually not asked because they show up at events and use actual author photos.

In the blog, she references a dust-up at and takes the position that refusing to state her gender is somehow admitting she was a woman. Certainly, she’s right that it increases suspicion (just as it does when an actor refuses to state a sexuality, and we’ve seen that a lot) but I fail to see how refusing to answer a question, over time, becomes honesty. It’s not.

And, that dust-up took place in 2008, yet in 2010 she’s described in an Out Magazine article as “one of the M/M genre’s few male authors…” I have no idea if Josh herself provided this info to the reporter, but somehow among all the male-named authors in M/M the reporter decided Josh was actually male. As nearly as I can tell, Josh did nothing to correct this very public mistake. Certainly, there was no blog about it. To me, whether actively or passively allowing the gay press to identify you as a gay male qualifies as catfishing.

To turn this around a bit if, in my new JT Moss brand, I allowed a publication to refer to me as a heterosexual and I didn’t correct it, that would be catfishing. Yes, casual readers will assume I’m straight, just as casual readers of any m/m male-named author might assume they’re reading gay men. But, the minute a reader takes the time to ask a question I think they deserve an honest answer.

And, if you’re an author who really wants to remain anonymous then don’t have an online presence. Don’t Facebook, don’t blog, don’t send out newsletters. The only thing you really have to do to be an author is write books. Yes, if you don’t do the rest of it, if you don’t actively create a brand, then you may not, in fact probably won’t, sell a lot of books. But that’s a choice freely made. There are downsides to being successful and if you don’t want to experience them, then don’t try to be a success.

I appreciate that in the year 2000 when Josh began publishing it may have seemed like a good idea to create a gay male persona as a brand. And during the ensuing fifteen years she did a lot, either actively or passively, to create that gay male persona. The problem – for Josh – is that in 2015, creating a false gay male persona is a really, really bad idea. And it has been for quite a while. This is why she’s been playing “open secret” for several years.

Had she “come out” with a blog that said, “this is what happened, this is why it happened, and this is how times have changed” I think there would have been a lot less hullabaloo about the whole thing. Certainly, I would have respected her more. Choosing to paint yourself as the victim of a brand you yourself created. Not cool. Not cool at all.

The Perils of Praline, Or the Amorous Adventures of a Southern Gentleman in Hollywood is now available at Amazon and Kindle Unlimited!

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Before Kim Kardashian broke the Internet with her butt…Peter “Praline” Palmetier brought it crashing down with his. When he falls in love with a contestant on a reality TV show, Praline decides to leave his home in rural Georgia and—failing to realize this might be considered stalking—travels to Hollywood to find and meet his soul mate, Dave G. Once in Tinseltown he encounters a collection of startling, and often horny, characters in his quest. They include a studly steward, the Godfather of the Gay Mafia, a bondage-crazed landlord and casting assistant Jason Friedman, who always manages to be there in time to save Praline from total disaster. But it is conservative pundit, Malcolm Wright who propels Praline’s derriere into the Internet hall of fame when the two are filmed in the backseat of an SUV. Will Praline eventually realize his dream of becoming a same-sex celebrity spouse? Or will he find everyday, ordinary love?

From Kassa at Three Dollar Bill Reviews, “It’s fun, humorous, and a wild romp with outrageous characters and ridiculous actions but that’s what makes it so absorbing and engaging. It’s a crazy whirlwind that is only eclipsed by the next even more ludicrous antic. Sit back and enjoy the humor without thinking too closely at the reasons.”

Available at Amazon and Kindle Unlimited and in Paperback.

Boystown 7: Bloodlines Available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

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In the latest book in the Boystown Mystery series, Private Investigator Nick Nowak finds himself simultaneously working two cases for his new client, law firm Cooke, Babcock and Lackerby. A suburban dentist has just been convicted of murdering her adulterous husband, Nick is asked to interview witnesses for the penalty phase of the trial—and possibly find the dead man’s mistress. At the same time, he’s becoming involved in protecting Outfit underboss Jimmy English from a task force out to prosecute him for a crime he may not have committed. While juggling these cases, Nick slowly begins to rebuild his personal life.

Boystown 6: From the Ashes is a finalist for the Lambda Award in Gay Mystery!

Boystown 6 Cover 2nd Edition2It’s winter 1984, Private Investigator Nick Nowak has allowed his life to fall to pieces: he’s stopped taking cases, given up his apartment and taken a job as a bartender at a sleazy joint tucked under the El. All he wants to do is stay hidden and lick his wounds after the death of his lover, Detective Bert Harker. But, when the least likely person in the world shows up at the bar and asks him to take a new case he finds himself investigating the very un-suspicious heart attack death of a priest. Nick is convinced he’s wasting his time until the clues begin to add up to something entirely unsuspected. Release date: May 23rd, 2014.

Excerpt available at Goodreads.

My Fiction Nook: Best of 2014

Boystown prequel Little Boy Dead

Little Boy Dead 2nd Edition

If you haven’t already begun the Boystown Mysteries you can sample it by reading the prequel novella, “Little Boy Dead.”

A former Chicago police officer turned private investigator, Nick Nowak is haunted by a traumatic break-up and his abrupt departure from the department after being gay-bashed. In this Boystown prequel, it’s fall 1979 and Nick has just received his P.I. license but has no clients. Short on funds, he takes a temporary job as a driver for Film Fest Chicago. In a very short time, Nick deals with stalking fans, a crowd of protesters, and a critic’s stolen wallet that leads to murder.

Available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Christmas Short Story Snowman With Benefits Available Now!

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Desperate to win a neighborhood snowman contest, Trey pulls out all the stops. He and his boyfriend, Landon, work all morning to make a snowman along the lines of Michelangelo’s David. Unfortunately, all does not go well, and the two break up over Trey’s relentless perfectionism. Struggling to take a nap that afternoon, Trey is awakened by the sound of someone in his house. He goes downstairs to find the snowman has come to life – and he’s horny!