In my paranormal thriller Struck, my main character, Barry, is gay. His best friend and another main character, Martin, is gay. Obviously, Barry's romantic interest is male, another gay character. And because of a twist I planned (but didn't use), I made the antagonist gay.
But Struck isn't a "gay novel," in that it's not about being gay or the gay lifestyle or dealing with issues of being gay. My characters' sexual orientation influences them, just like a character who's taller than most would be influenced by his height, or a one-armed character would be influenced by having one arm. Struck is a paranormal thriller in which the main character and several others just happen to be gay.
This "just happen to be gay" thing wasn't an accident. I knew before I began writing this novel that I'd have a gay main character whose sexual orientation is simply part of who he is. No big deal. That's the way I think life should be. I'm happy with the result and very proud of Struck.
I faced a bit of a quandary once I began selling Struck locally. I wondered if I needed to tell potential buyers the main character is gay. I chose not to hide it but not to go out of my way to point it out. After all, I wrote Struck for a wide audience, not a gay one. I feel no need to point out the characters in Struck that are straight, no obligation to mention that all my characters in all my other novels are straight.
Maybe all I've done is to adapt the way I live my life to match the way I sell my novel. I don't hide that I'm gay, but I don't wear a sign around my neck. I don't believe my sexual orientation adds to or detracts from my value as a human being. It's not a reason for anyone to like or dislike me. Why should my character's sexual orientation affect whether or not people like my novel?
Now I've been selling Struck a few months, time enough for folks to read it and respond if they've a mind to. I've had very few comments about my character being gay from locals who know me, and none of the comments have been negative. Perhaps that's because most people who know me know I'm gay and aren't so surprised my main character is gay.
It's not the same story at my book signings. The people buying my novel there don't generally don't know I'm gay. Struck isn't about being gay, so there's no mention of the gay main character on the back cover. Most people who've taken the trouble to email me (I always ask book buyers to let me know how they liked it) don't mention the character being gay. A few wrote that they didn't realize the main character would be gay, but they found it interesting. Their emails were to tell me they enjoyed the book and recommended it to friends, or they were writing a review or suggesting it to a book club. Yay!
I got an email this past week from a woman in eastern Canada. She bought the book from me at a local book signing when she was visiting. She wrote that she would have stopped reading once she discovered Barry was gay except that she bought it directly from me and we chatted. So she read it all. And she liked it! She loved what it showed her about New Mexico, and she wants to come back to the state to explore Chaco Canyon, which plays big in the novel. I don't think she's ready to welcome another gay character into her bookshelf, but hey, that's okay.
Do other readers stop reading and just don't bother to tell me? Possibly, but I'm not going to worry about that. I'm also not planning to start making a point of outing Barry in bookstores.