“Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”
At some point or another, every writer is advised to avoid clichés. Why? Because we’re told they make our work sound pedantic and/or banal. I’m not so sure that I agree. I happen to find clichés quite useful, which makes it rather tempting to lean on them when I want to prove a point. After all, it is universally agreed upon that a bird in the hand IS worth two in the bush. (If you don’t believe me, just pull down your pants and give a duck call; I’m sure you’d prefer to have Mr. Quackers eating out of your palm than pecking at your pubes any day.) And that’s precisely why clichés get passed around like a sorority girl at a toga party– they are proven truths. One might say they’re unavoidable. Especially when you are one.
Allow me to introduce myself (since I’m fairly certain that you’ve never heard of me before). I’m Jeremy Scott Blaustein, former Broadway producer and author of the new gay novel The Home for Wayward Ladies. Let’s play a game, shall we? It’s called “Spot the Cliché”. Did you catch it? Well, my father did. That’s right- I’m gay so, naturally, I grew up in the theater. But my streak of unoriginality doesn’t end there. I am a writer so that means I smoke too much, and brood too much, and when it all reaches a boil I spew a steady swirl of ego and humility like I was the soft-serve machine at a Pinkberry. All of this just fell into place; I swear that it was never my plan, but it seems that I was put on this earth merely to invoke the bitchery of the late Truman Capote.
My novel, The Home for Wayward Ladies, is about three gay friends who have just graduated from conservatory for musical theater. They move to New York and think they’re going to instantly get their name on a marquee. It’s the kind of dream that all stars-to-be carry in their pockets. I certainly did. And, if I’m being honest, this story is inspired by the cliché: “Write what you know.”
But when I sat down to begin work on The Home for Wayward Ladies, the question of relying too heavily on cliché kept crossing my mind. When it comes to gay fiction, I wondered, is it possible for an author to create completely original characters? That paralysis must have become transitory because as I sat pondering my typing fingers began to numb. In an attempt to seek a cure, I sought solace in my old journals.
I found them right where I left them- in my parent’s basement, where all memories go to die. The first one I cracked open was from my senior year of college. Unfortunately, I’d spent the better half of that year desperately in love with my best friend. As you can imagine, it was unrequited. I nosed through passages where I came off as pathetic as Pip in Great Expectations or, worse, Laurie in Little Women. Against my better judgment, I kept reading.
I was reminded how my two best friends and I had formed a society (of sorts). The three of us queers called ourselves “The Ladies” and spent the better part of four years strutting around campus like peacocks, all loud and proud. It must have never crossed our minds, but with a little perspective it is easy to see that we were pearl-clutching clichés. At the time, we felt so original. It was fun to address each other with feminine pronouns, and to watch The Golden Girls while eating cheesecake, and to have epic show tune sing-alongs. Millions of others had tread those board before us, but if you’re young enough, love has the power to make you feel like you’re the only one.
It wasn’t long before I reached the journal’s last entry. All the pain and enthusiasm I felt on the night before our graduation was right there on the page. The three of us Ladies had popped pills and broken into the theater on campus. We needed to say goodbye. After reading with tears stuck in my eyes (another cliché), I closed that journal and marched back to my computer. The Home for Wayward Ladies is what happened to me next.
I’d like to think that there is no blanketed homosexual experience- that our community is comprised of nothing but snowflakes. I’d like to think that, but I don’t. There are some inherent things that we all share. (Coming to terms with our “differentness” being chief among them.) And that is precisely the universality on which I have based my characters. My characters fight, and fuck, and I’ve even thrown in a few rim-jobs thrown in for good measure. But what keeps them together is love. Always love.
The story I’ve written is one of friendship. Like in the pages of my own journal, these “Ladies” have made a vow to stick it through thick and thin. That idea is universal and, therefore, clichéd. But that’s a cliché I’m happy to write. Our community has earned the right to celebrate that kind of friendship. Those friendships have gotten us through tough times- police raids, epidemics, the right to pick out matching wedding rings. And hopefully I’ve packaged that celebration into a nifty little book that you can enjoy with a cocktail next to the pool.
With this book, I hope to say, “It’s okay to be cliché,” just as long as you never forget that you’re one-of-a-kind. But don’t get me wrong; if anyone ever dares call me “un-original”, I will just as easily say that I’m “homage”. There but for the grace of Jacqueline Suzanne go I.
So, to borrow another cliché- happy reading.
The Giveaway: THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED